Jessica B. Harris

Everything doesn’t have to be an Instagram photo. Does it taste good? What’s it doing in your mouth? My theory about food is if you put together things that you like, you’re probably going to come up with something you like.

 PEN OPen Book Award Finalist

award-winning food historian

Jessica Harris.cred John Pinderhughes.jpg



Peppered throughout with favorite recipes, Harris’ book is a warm recollection of life-changing friendships and personal connections...A deeply felt and lovingly remembered memoir.
— Kirkus Reviews
My Soul Looks Back is a great New York City memoir; I thought of James Wolcott’s Lucking Out and Patti Smith’s Just Kids, both documents of the city in the seventies, as well as books from an earlier New York, like Anatole Broyard’s Kafka Was the Rage and Mary Cantwell’s Manhattan, When I Was Young ... I finished the book eager to find a noisy neighborhood restaurant where the wine is served in mismatched glasses and the specials are under twenty dollars.
— Epicurious

Jessica B. Harris is an award-winning food historian and one of the world’s  leading experts on African Diaspora cooking. She’s the author of the memoir, My Soul Looks Back (Simon & Schuster, 2017) about her youth in Harlem in the Seventies, where her social circle included James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Nina Simone and other leading black intellectuals and artists of the time. A finalist for the PEN/Open Book Award, Publisher’s Weekly raved, “This is a lively, entertaining, and informative recounting of a time and place that shaped and greatly enriched American culture.”

She is the author of twelve critically acclaimed cookbooks documenting the foods and foodways of the African Diaspora as well,  including Iron Pots and Wooden Spoons: Africa’s Gifts to New World Cooking, Sky Juice and Flying Fish Traditional Caribbean Cooking, The Welcome Table: African-American Heritage Cooking, The Africa Cookbook: Tastes of a Continent, and Beyond Gumbo: Creole Fusion Food from the Atlantic Rim. Harris also conceptualized and organized The Black Family Reunion Cookbook. Her book, High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America, was the International Association for Culinary Professionals 2012 prize winner for culinary history.

Discussing what prompted her to write My Soul Looks Back, Harris notes about the era and the literary icons she socialized with, “Remember when icons could preach and boogie? I think that’s an important thing. Yes, they were icons. Yes, they transformed the world for all of us. But they could also hang out, and suck some Scotch down. It’s important to know that they had that. They had that with each other. They were a tribe. They read each other’s stuff. They sustained each other. They did amazing things together. They were my tribe, too, but now they’re gone.”

Harris holds a PhD from NYU, teaches English at Queens College, and lectures internationally. Her articles have appeared in Vogue, Food & Wine, Essence, and The New Yorker, among other publications; she has made numerous television and radio appearances and has been profiled in The New York Times.  Harris has been inducted into the James Beard Who’s Who in Food and Beverage in America, received an honorary doctorate from Johnson & Wales University and recently helped the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture to conceptualize its cafeteria.

She lives in Brooklyn, NY.



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