“Down the Road a Piece” is a fictional historical memoir written by Burien resident Joseph Gaylloyd Sisson.
The book follows the protagonist Gaylloyd, a 13-year-old African-American boy on an eye-opening family vacation to the Deep South in 1957. Living in San Diego with his parents and five brothers, Gaylloyd is a student at a private school and a Boy Scout, enjoying his diverse group of friends and the life his parents have worked so hard to build for him and his siblings.
As Gaylloyd’s family takes to the road, his confusion begins to mount when they pass through segregated states and Gaylloyd is confronted for the first time with the realities of Jim Crow laws, separate bathrooms, and Dixie flags. While his parents at first try to dodge Gaylloyd’s questions, a series of new experiences and traumatic events brings Gaylloyd’s anger and confusion to a fever pitch causing his father to explain the reality of the differences between the Deep South and the West Coast.
A staggering coming of age story that grapples with identity, family, and culture, “Down the Road a Piece” is a scintillating snapshot of how our own self-perception is formed in the petri dish of our surrounding societal narratives.
The B-Town Blog recently sat down with Sisson to learn more about his book and life story. When the idea of self-perception being influenced by culture is mentioned, he tells a story of his brother, a filmmaker who intended to document the culture of a tribe of people in Papua New Guinea.
“My brother went to Papua New Guinea” Sisson said, “asking the tribe for permission to film there. And they asked him ‘where are you from?’. Now, you have to understand, this was a Black man who looked like them when it came to skin color, but he was clearly from somewhere else. My brother did his best to explain what America is, where it was. In unison, every tribe member who was there got up and left the room and a spokesperson said, ‘We know the world, and you are not a part of that.’ Their world was New Guinea. That was what they knew the world to be.”
A long-time resident of Burien and an active member of the community, Sisson is a published poet, short story author, storyteller at “7 Stories” and political activist, serving the City of Burien as an Arts Commissioner.
Community involvement also led Sisson to several writer’s groups where “Down the Road a Piece” was fine-tuned.
“The first draft of the book was 86 pages,” Sisson said with a laugh. “And that includes the table of contents.”
Sisson went on to explain how the community of writers he was involved with helped hone his writing skills and expand his knowledge.
“One of my big problems was using passive words. I’ve got them in front of me now, on a bulletin board, so when I’m reading back, I can see if I’m using them.”
Sisson has been a guest speaker for the American Association of University Women, and hopes “Down the Road a Piece” will make its ways into middle schools and high schools as a study.
Sisson will be doing readings and signings of his book in the coming months. Dates, times, and locations, can be found on his website.
“Down the Road a Piece” can be found in the King County Library System, or for purchase on Amazon and other local locations.