My Long Trip Home

A Family Memoir

My Long Trip Home

In a dramatic, moving work of historical reporting and personal discovery, Mark Whitaker, award-winning journalist, sets out to trace the story of what happened to his parents, a fascinating but star-crossed interracial couple, and arrives at a new understanding of the family dramas that shaped their lives—and his own.

His father, “Syl” Whitaker, was the charismatic grandson of slaves who grew up the child of black undertakers from Pittsburgh and went on to become a groundbreaking scholar of Africa. His mother, Jeanne Theis, was a shy World War II refugee from France whose father, a Huguenot pastor, helped hide thousands of Jews from the Nazis and Vichy police. They met in the mid-1950s, when he was a college student and she was his professor, and they carried on a secret romance for more than a year before marrying and having two boys. Eventually they split in a bitter divorce that was followed by decades of unhappiness as his mother coped with self-recrimination and depression while trying to raise her sons by herself, and his father spiraled into an alcoholic descent that destroyed his once meteoric career.

Based on extensive interviews and documentary research as well as his own personal recollections and insights, My Long Trip Home is a reporter’s search for the factual and emotional truth about a complicated and compelling family, a successful adult’s exploration of how he rose from a turbulent childhood to a groundbreaking career, and, ultimately, a son’s haunting meditation on the nature of love, loss, identity, and forgiveness.
  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 368 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781451627565 | 
  • October 2011
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for My Long Trip Home includes an introduction, discusMark WhitakerChris Cleave. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


In My Long Trip Home, Mark Whitaker, a renowned journalist and editor with over thirty years of experience reporting on the world around him, turns his eagle eye inward. My Long Trip Home traces the fascinating paths of Mark’s parents and grandparents, from the French countryside during World War II to segregated, wartime Pittsburgh, before settling in with his own personal story. Mark’s father, Syl, struggled mightily with alcoholism and anger issues; Mark’s mother, Jeanne, wrestled with depression and financial hardship raising two young sons on her own; and Mark spent much of his childhood angry at his parents for separating, and confused by their bitter divorce. But after years of emotional turmoil, Mark began to make peace with his family’s past, doing so in time to have one last meaningful visit with his father before his death. In this family memoir, Mark explores and retreads the many paths that converged to create his own life, and discovers the healing power of forgiveness and compassion along the way.  

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About the Author

Mark Whitaker
© Jennifer S. Altman

Mark Whitaker

Mark Whitaker is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir, My Long Trip Home, and Smoketown. The former managing editor of CNN Worldwide, he was previously the Washington bureau chief for NBC News and a reporter and editor at Newsweek, where he rose to become the first African-American leader of a national newsweekly.