Praying For Sheetrock


A Work of Nonfiction

Finalist for the 1991 National Book Award and a New York Times Notable book, Praying for Sheetrock is the story of McIntosh County, a small, isolated, and lovely place on the flowery coast of Georgia–and a county where, in the 1970s, the white sheriff still wielded all the power, controlling everything and everybody. Somehow the sweeping changes of the civil rights movement managed to bypass McIntosh entirely. It took one uneducated, unemployed black man, Thurnell Alston, to challenge the sheriff and his courthouse gang–and to change the way of life in this community forever. “An inspiring and absorbing account of the struggle for human dignity and racial equality” (Coretta Scott King)


Finalist for the 
National Book Award
Finalist for the
 National Book Critics Circle Award
Winner of the
 Robert F. Kennedy Book Award
Winner of the
 Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize

Winner of the
 The Salon Book Award For Non-Fiction
Winner of the
 QPB [Quality Paperback Books] New Voices Award
Winner of the
 Annisfield-Wolf Book Award
Winner of the 
Lillian Smith Book Award
Winner of the
 Georgia Historical Society Bell Award
Winner of the 
Georgia Author Award


“Greene’s achievement recalls Jane Austen’s description of her novels as fine brushwork on a ‘little bit (two Inches wide) of Ivory’… What Greene has written is political history of a rare kind…”

–James Lardner, The New Yorker

“Melissa Greene is a journalist who writes with the lyricism of a poet and the skill of a novelist… She is an extraordinarily fine writer able to bring a people and a place to life without sentimentalizing or refashioning human beings into heroes and villains. She knows it is enough to be human. Her writing is characterized by a genuine love of whom and what she is writing about as well as a genuine love for the act of writing itself. This is a rare combination and the result is a rare reading experience.”

–Julius Lester, The Washington Post Book World

“Let there be no suspense about my reaction to this book. I intend to try to make a joyful noise here. Melissa Fay Greene has written a superb account of life and struggle in a tiny place. Because of its themes and the brilliant way the author has handled them, this book could stand as a metaphor for the halting American effort to become something better than we have been… Most of all, it is a story of simple black people enduring and rising very, very slowly and then a little faster on the broad back of a flawed leader who ultimately breaks because he is human and has aspirations and burdens that push him past his limits. 

–Roger Wilkins, Los Angeles Times

Praying for Sheetrock isn’t a novel: it is a highly original work of sociology with elements of what we seek in serious fiction…. the personalities in this remarkable book are like Faulknerian characters. The lost cause of the Confederacy is still alive in one of the Deep South backwaters of apartheid… Praying for Sheetrock is rare for a book rooted in oral history: it is stylishly written… her imagery and selectivity come alive in this imaginative work of nonfiction.”

–Herbert Mitgang, The New York Times

“Everyone has a story, and if you wait long enough, you just might get to hear it. For 15 years, Melissa Fay Greene waited and listened to the stories of McIntosh County, Georgia — black, white, young, old and down-right ancient. ….The result of all this talking — ‘the numberless secret and eccentric tales’ — is Praying for Sheetrock, a monumental social history with implications that go far beyond the borders of a tiny coastal Georgia county. Through a combination of oral history and interpretive narrative, Greene has created a work of great drama, a chorus of voices that is both disturbing and inspiring.”

The Boston Sunday Globe

“The facts and much more spring to life in Melissa Fay Greene’s dazzling first book…The civil rights movement will never look quite the same.”

–Michael P. Johnson, The Nation

“There is nothing conventional about the book…Libraries may have difficulty classifying it, but I will keep it on the shelf next to James Agee, another irreverent natural writer who tried, through his appetite for life and language, to drive inconsequence from the world.”

–Theodore Rosengarten, New York Times Book Review

“In prose that is both sharp and elegiac, Melissa Fay Greene catches the pitch of a voice, the simmering heat and the tensions of human contact. But she also catches the essential unity of the human experience of this insidiously beautiful, treacherous land with its history that is both placid and bloodstained.”

–Godfrey Hodgson, The Independent, London, 1 August 1992

“…a luridly entertaining nonfiction debut… a cautionary tale as wonderfully knotty as a plank of Georgia pine…”

–Malcolm Jones, Jr.,Newsweek,January 20, 1992