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Notes on a Silencing by Lacy Crawford

Notes on a Silencing

by Lacy Crawford
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Quick take

A woman grapples with abuse she suffered at an elite institution in a memoir poised to challenge privilege and power.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_400

    400+ pages

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Literary


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_GraphicViolence

    Graphic violence

  • Illustrated icon, Icons_Serious



When the elite St. Paul's School recently came under state investigation after extensive reports of sexual abuse on campus, Lacy Crawford thought she'd put behind her the assault she'd suffered at St. Paul's decades before, when she was fifteen. Still, when detectives asked for victims to come forward, she sent a note.

Her criminal case file reopened, she saw for the first time evidence that corroborated her memories. Here were depictions of the naïve, hard-working girl she'd been, a chorister and debater, the daughter of a priest; of the two senior athletes who assaulted her and were allowed to graduate with awards; and of the faculty, doctors, and priests who had known about Crawford's assault and gone to great lengths to bury it.

Now a wife, mother, and writer living on the other side of the country, Crawford learned that police had uncovered astonishing proof of an institutional silencing years before, and that unnamed powers were still trying to block her case. The slander, innuendo, and lack of adult concern that Crawford had experienced as a student hadn't been imagined as the effects of trauma, after all: these were the actions of a school that prized its reputation above anything, even a child.

This revelation launched Crawford on an extraordinary inquiry into the ways gender, privilege, and power shaped her experience as a girl at the gates of America's elite. Her investigation looks beyond the sprawling playing fields and soaring chapel towers of crucibles of power like St. Paul's, whose reckoning is still to come. And it runs deep into the channels of shame and guilt, witness and silencing, that dictate who can speak and who is heard in American society.

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Content warning

This book contains scenes that depict sexual assault.

Why I love it

As a black girl who grew to become a writer, the only way to parse the wounds and gifts of my St. Paul’s School education was to write a memoir, Black Ice. Otherwise, the school’s self-regard pulls the gaze from the self to the treasured narrative of white male achievement; eventually it blots other stories, especially those that contradict. Lacy Crawford has not let that happen.

From the beginning of her memoir, there’s no mystery about what happens. As a 15 year old, she is lured to the room of two seniors who assault and rape her. Then the book slows down to walk us through the institutional gaslighting and humiliation; her own emotional shutting down; and only years later, finding documents that confirm her assaulted memory.

Crawford has managed an adult life of love, marriage, and children. That’s the life work of reclamation. But a writer must reclaim the language, too. She has done so. Her prose is by turns elegant and subtle, ragged with embedded grief and rage—and then astonished by life’s stubborn beauty. When the incident comes round again at the book’s end, her adolescence will not be silenced. The corrupting power of power will not change until truth be told.

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