By Saul, Assistant Professor Of English Scott
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Extra resources for Becoming richard pryor
Though her family was part of the working poor, Gertrude was likely exposed in Springfield to a more glamorous lifestyle. Her father’s employer lived in the tony neighborhood of Leland Grove and was the business manager and personnel director of Illinois’s State Division of Highways, administering one of the larger money pots in Illinois government. A more attainable sort of glamour was on display at Rosalie’s, a two-story brothel with a black madam and black prostitutes, a few blocks away from Gertrude’s home.
The book is different, too, because it approaches Pryor as a historical figure and uses a historian’s tools to reconstruct his life and unpack its meaning. Pryor and his family were powerfully dramatic people, and the drama of their lives left an extensive paper trail—though often the documents were not so easy to locate. I needed to constellate my own “Pryor archive,” since Richard Pryor, for all his gifts, was not exactly the most punctilious record keeper; he left no set of papers on deposit.
The boy’s whimper has opened into a full-on wail. Shwoo-shwoo. “‘Ma-ma! I don’t want. . Mama, please! ’” The boy starts darting from one place to another, cowering while dodging blows that seem to rain over his entire body. ” he howls, his voice the same pitch as a baby’s scream. At this point the routine takes the less expected tack. It would be easy for the comic, looking back at the beatings that framed his childhood, to paint his grandmother as the villain of this tale. He does not. When he plays her, his voice assumes a honeyed drawl, a more confident register, as if he were relishing her strength.