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Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden and Whoopi Goldberg (Credit: Pat Cuadros)

Book Talk: ‘Bits and Pieces’ by Whoopi Goldberg

During her visit to the Library of Congress, actor and comedian Whoopi Goldberg (Sister Act, The Color Purple) admitted that she is avid audiobook listener. To anyone looking for recommendations, she suggested Will and Ariel Durant’s The Story of Civilization and Shane Jordan and Rick Hendrix’s soon-to-be-released The Rainbow Parade. “I’m desperately waiting for Stephen King’s new book, because I can’t make a move without him,” she said.

Librarian Carla Hayden interviewed Goldberg about her new memoir, Bits and Pieces. At the Q&A, someone asked if there’s a role that the EGOT winner still wants to play. “The one I always wanted to do but probably will not actually get to do is Eleanor of Aquitaine. I started out as a straight actor, not a comic,” Goldberg said.

On Saying What Needs to be Said

The title Bits and Pieces comes from how she’s remembered her early life with her mother, Emma Johnson, and older brother Clyde. “I wasn’t anticipating how much I would forget. I have an idea of what happened [but] I just couldn’t tell you what year it was.”

After both relatives passed away, Goldberg waited for but never went into deep grieving. She realized that she didn’t have any regrets about those relationships because she’d said everything to her loved ones. “I always knew that I needed to always let everybody know where I was at, how much I loved them and appreciated them.”

Those conversations aren’t always easy because relationships have their ups and downs. “What I recommend to people is try to make sure you tell the people in your life—who are meaningful to you—what they mean to you … Even in a fight, end your fight with ‘In spite of everything, I still like you.'”

Photo of Whoopi Goldberg smiling at a book signing table
Whoopi Goldberg ready to sign copies of her book (Credit: Bruce Guthrie)

Keeping Magic Alive at Home

Goldberg—who was born Caryn Johnson—spoke of her mother’s talents as a magician. Holidays were always a big deal at their home. “My mother never met a holiday she didn’t like!”

That was particularly true in the lead-up to Christmas. Emma would decorate every night little by little while Goldberg and her brother were asleep. When they woke up one morning during the Christmas season, Goldberg and Clyde found that “all of the windows [were] stenciled. [My mother] never said anything about it. She’d just gone on about her day like she hadn’t been up all night doing it.”

Goldberg marveled at her mother’s strength and positivity in the household. “Apparently, we were poor. I never saw that. She never really talked much about it, and she never put that in our lap. She just made magic for us.”

“Can I Tell You a Secret?”

Still, the Johnson household faced its share of challenges. Emma had a nervous breakdown and went to a hospital, where the medical team administered electric shock treatments for two years. Goldberg was seven or eight years old, while Clyde was about 13 or 14 at the time.

Because of how it was in those days, she and her brother didn’t get to visit their mother and learn of the details back then. “When my mother came back, we knew she was a little bit different. We didn’t really get what was happening but we went with it.”

Goldberg wasn’t prepared for the moment when her mother revealed this secret. “She lived with this for almost 40 years without telling anybody—by herself, alone. She never shared it and she was remarkable for that because we never knew.”

Photo of Whoopi Goldberg
Courtesy of the Library of Congress

On Dyslexia

Another challenge Goldberg faced while growing up was dyslexia. She had a great memory for facts, but when it came to reading, she couldn’t make out what was on the board at school. “Fifty, sixty years ago, they didn’t really have a word for it. They would just say, ‘You’re not trying,’ or ‘You’re not applying yourself.’ My mother knew that wasn’t true.”

Goldberg left school after eighth grade. She made a deal with her mother, occupying her time with visits to the American Museum of Natural History, the New York Public Library and other centers of knowledge around New York City. At those places, Goldberg also attended free lectures to learn what she could.

“It was wonderful. You could get all this great information. As long as I told [my mother] what I’d gathered that day, she was comfortable with how we were doing it.”

Visit Blackstone Publishing’s website for more information about Whoopi Goldberg’s Bits and Pieces.

About Pat Cuadros

Pat Cuadros is Pop Culture Editor for Blogcritics Magazine. She frequently covers TV, film and theater. Her portfolio includes interviews with Ndaba Mandela and actors Juliette Binoche, Fran Drescher, Derek Jacobi and Brent Spiner. She's also spoken with notable voice actors Petrea Burchard, Garry Chalk, Peter Cullen and Brian Drummond.

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