Paul Gaston is a consummate Southerner. He was born and raised in Alabama, then came to UVA in 1957 to teach American history to “the fortunate sons of the South,” as Gaston describes them. He’s written several books about his much-loved landscape and speaks with affection in his honeyed accent about the legacy of Jefferson or the beauty of the Gulf of Mexico. Yet his devotion is informed by an intimate familiarity with a painful and tumultuous period in American history. In his memoir, Coming of Age in Utopia: The Odyssey of an Idea, Gaston reveals his struggle against racial injustice and documents the great changes that came during the civil rights movement.
Coming of Age in Utopia offers an important and often unknown side of Charlottesville’s and the University’s history from one of its beloved professors. It also traces a personal history through the monumental events and famous personalities of the second half of the 20th century. It is a coming-of-age story not only of an individual but of the South itself.