Air Traffic

Thank you to the lovely people at Alfred A. Knopf for my copy of Air Traffic by Gregory Pardlo.  All thoughts and images are my own.


Title: Air Traffic: A Memoir of Ambition and Manhood in America
Author: Gregory Pardlo
Genre: Memoir
Pub date: April 10, 2018
Read if you like: Multi-generational memoirs, addiction stories, beautiful nonfiction prose.


Air Traffic is the perfect example of a memoir that grounds one man’s story in the generations that came before him and that will follow. Pardlo looks foward as well back, from the ghosts of his father and his grandparents to the future of his child and of his relationship with his wife.  Pardlo’s beautiful prose explores how he got where he is, but doesn’t assume that he knows all of the answers. There are still questions about life, time, addiction, and love that he can’t answer. That none of us can answer.

This memoir includes a number of perspectives on institutionalized racism through the years; not just the prejudice and discrimination that Pardlo’s father faced, but also that Pardlo faced, as well as his brothers.  In elucidating this racism through these stories that span time and place within the United States, Pardlo truly puts the structures of our country that we take for granted under a microscope.  Racism is ingrained in our country, and it will take effort to change that.

I found this memoir both educational and incredibly emotional.  Addiction has affected those I love – it has probably affected someone you love as well.  My heart was touched and pained from reading the accounts of the addiction of Pardlo’s brother, father, and himself.  It’s truly a disease that reaches an entire family & support system. I found strength in Pardlo’s mother – someone to cheer for, someone who was trying to do something.  Addiction is such a fascinating topic in a memoir – not only did Pardlo’s father’s actions have a direct result on all of his children, this disease is it a part of Pardlo’s DNA.  He is predisposed to suffer from it as well.

Pardlo’s prose is laced with the feel of his poetry and with the words of other brilliant writers.  Reading this memoir is a thoroughly moving and enjoyable experience. It is biting and witty and sometimes funny and sometimes sad. I absolutely would recommend it.   


Gregory Pardlo’s father was a brilliant and charismatic man – a leading labor organizer who presided over a happy suburban family of four.  But when he loses his job following the famous air traffic controllers’ strike of 1981, he succumbs to addiction and exhausts the family’s money on more and more ostentatious whims.  In the face of this troubling model and disillusioned presence in the household, young Gregory revels. Struggling to distinguish himself on his own terms, he hustles off the Marine Corps boot camp.  He drops out of college again and again. He moves across the world, returning the the United States only to take a job as a manager-cum-barfly and his family’s jazz club.

Air Traffic follows Gregory as he builds a life that honors his history without allowing it to define his future.  Slowly, he embraces the challenges of being a poet, a son, and a father as he enters recovery for alcoholism and tends to his family.  In this memoir, written in lyrical and sparkling prose, Gregory tries to free himself from the overwhelming expectations of race and class, and from the tempting yet ruinous legacy of American masculinity.  

Air Traffic is a richly realized, deeply felt ode to one man’s remarkable father, to fatherhood, and to the frustrating yet redemptive ties of family.  It is also a scrupulous, searing examination of how manhood can be fashioned in our cultural landscape.

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