Author Visit: A Place Near the Front by William G. Herbert
Detroit-area author William G. Herbert writes about the immigrant experience in America through the eyes of his father Gordon in his first book, A Place Near the Front. His father, born on the island of Trinidad in 1897, came to the U.S. in 1915 as a teenaged merchant seaman. Facing discrimination as both a black man and an immigrant, the senior Herbert’s coming-of-age story recounts his experiences as an undocumented newcomer to the U.S. and his service in World War I.
A Place Near the Front tells how Gordon grew up in Trinidad dreaming of bigger things, and takes a job as a merchant seaman aboard the SS Mariposa in January 1915. After several trips to New York City, Gordon jumps ship and slips into the streets of Harlem. He works his way through Howard University and ultimately makes his way to the trenches of World War I, serving as a second lieutenant with the Buffalo Soldiers, earning his citizenship along the way. Whether it’s dealing with the mob that’s chasing him through the dangerous streets of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, battling German soldiers, or facing his most insidious enemy – his own military commanders who resent black officers – Gordon never stops reaching for his dreams.
“Writing this book about my dad has been a labor of love,” says Herbert. “My dad passed away when I was 18, but he shared with me and my siblings many stories of his life as an immigrant in the US. – initially as an undocumented immigrant. Unfortunately, he died before he could tell me all the details of his life so I filled in the remaining pieces based on my memories of him. This book is a testament to his commitment, sacrifices and the love he had for the U.S.”
A Detroit-area resident, William G. Herbert has had a long career in computer science and engineering and served as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army. Born in Harlem to a West Indian father and an African-American mother, Herbert credits his upbringing, time served in the military and his longtime membership in Alpha Phi Alpha, the nation’s oldest black fraternity (he sits on the executive board of the Detroit alumni chapter) for making him the person is today. Herbert is married with three daughters, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild. A Place Near the Front is his first novel.