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Gouster Girl is the coming of age, risky affair between Valerie Davis a cute black girl from the South Side of Chicago and nerdy white Jeffrey Stark.
While the two are somewhat smitten they are late to realize that falling in love on Chicago’s South Side in 1963 is a highly risky business for an interracial couple.
Opportunities arise for both of them to help one another out of tough fixes—he saves her from attack at an all-white amusement park and she saves him from injury in a racial brawl at their high school. But as their romance becomes more serious, so do the racial dangers. White police target Valerie as a prostitute and black gang members see Jeffrey as trying to sexually exploit a black girl. Seemingly inevitably, the blossoming romance collides head on with the realities of Northern-style racism one hot summer afternoon at one of Chicago’s most beautiful Lake Michigan beaches, when a racial protest turns ugly, confronting the couple with terrible choices.
Read an excerpt...
My opportunity to finally approach Valerie came unexpectedly on a Monday, when I received an official note in home room that I was being penalized with two extra study periods that week for “creating a disturbance in the hallway.” That meant I would have to stay at school for an extra fifty minutes on two days, sitting in a room with similar “problem” students.
At first I was upset—I’d never been punished this way, and I was afraid it might affect my college application process, due to begin the following fall.
It was clear at the first study hall that these penalty periods were gouster affairs. I was the only white student of the maybe twenty-five present. Booker sat near the back, looking as sullen and distant as in gym. Near the front was Valerie, the only Ivy Leaguer I could identify, and one of just three or four girls.
It didn’t make sense that she was being penalized, since she was the one who saved the event from becoming a catastrophe. How did her involvement in the fight even get noticed?
My upset turned to nervousness as it dawned on me that this was my big chance to make a move on Valerie. I sat about halfway back in the room of mobile wooden desk chairs, at the end of a row, with Valerie in the front and Booker in the back. Valerie was a study in concentration as I watched her from a side angle, intently focusing on some homework, not glancing up or around. The air was heavy, stale, from the dozens of students who had been in and out of the classroom over the course of the day, and she looked as tired as the room felt, her normally buoyant wavy hair limp, and nearly drooping. She didn’t look like she welcomed contact with anyone.
I pulled out a notebook with blank 81/2 x 11-inch sheets of white paper. I had homework as well—a few geometry problems, some reading about World War I for social studies, and an English composition essay to write based on readings we had been doing about Ralph Waldo Emerson. But instead, I retrieved some colored pencils from a case and began sketching Valerie’s profile.
About David E. Gumpert...
David E. Gumpert grew up on the South Side of Chicago, in South Shore and Hyde Park. In the years since graduating from the University of Chicago, he has attended Columbia Journalism School and worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and an editor for the Harvard Business Review and Inc. magazine. He has also authored ten nonfiction books on a variety of subjects—from entrepreneurship and small business management to food politics. His most prominent titles include How to Really Create a Successful Business Plan (from Inc. Publishing); How to Really Start Your Own Business (Inc. Publishing); Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Food Rights (Chelsea Green Publishing), and The Raw Milk Answer Book (Lauson Publishing).
He spent ten years in the 1990s and early 2000s researching his family's history during the Holocaust. The result was a book co-authored with his deceased aunt Inge Belier: Inge: A Girl’s Journey Through Nazi Europe (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing).
He spent much of the last half-dozen years going back to his own roots in Chicago to research and write the historical novel, Gouster Girl. While some of it stems from his own experiences growing up in South Shore and Hyde Park, he also conducted significant additional research to complete the book in late 2019.