That's me. Shani Gilchrist, née Raine

That's me. Shani Gilchrist, née Raine


My father was born on a day of much dispute in Alabama. Some claim he was born on October 24. Others say he was born October 31. The consensus seems to be that, given the traditions of the time, the doctor stuck around to celebrate my dad's birth with my grandfather over a few drinks, then forgot to record the birth until a week later. I've always been a little jealous of my dad's two birthdays. He rightfully enjoys them quite a bit. I would, too, if I were as smart as he is.


My mother was born in Lowndes County, Mississippi. The world has not been a dull place since that day. Thank God for her fiery soul.


I was born at St. Luke's Hospital in Racine, Wisconsin a few weeks too soon.  I would have spent some extra days in the yellow-hued ward even if the roads hadn't been a major health hazard due to six-foot snowdrifts blocking the views at intersections. My dad still managed to finagle a way to ease a brand-new black Cadillac El Dorado through the black ice and blind crossways to a spot below the window where Mom and I were located. He honked the horn like a maniac until Mom came to the window, then pushed his large frame through the sunroof to blow her a kiss. Back then it was unusual for a woman "of her age" to give birth to a healthy baby, and since I was the first girl and the youngest in the family by 13 years the drama seemed appropriate.

What a push present! 1979 Cadillac Eldorado. via

What a push present! 1979 Cadillac Eldorado. via


At some point around the time I became cognizant that books were pretty cool I also realized that my dad and my godfather both had rooms that smelled and felt like places where I wanted to live. They were libraries. They had piles of books, legal pads, mementos, loose papers, open Oxford English Dictionaries, globes, maps, tobacco pipes propped up by pewter ashtrays, beer mugs, pens, pencils, spinning Rolodexes, and junk that made me feel welcome and safe. I knew I would always have to live my life surrounded by books.


Michael Jackson set out on tour for his album "BAD." His stop at The Rosemont Horizon in Chicago was an affair for the entire Raine family. My godfather, an editor with Johnson Publishing, had written about Jackson extensively and the two had become friends. Godfather was known as a fair and engaging journalist and made friends with the famous easily due to his indifference to the idea of a talented human's personality being stripped down to the moniker of "celebrity." Unfortunately that wasn't yet true for me. As a special treat, Godfather arranged for me to ride in Jackson's limo to the concert. Not long after we left our house to rendezvous with the limousine I become excited and agitated. I mean--I was about to ride in a limousine with Michael. Freaking. Jackson. I started to feel lightheaded. I started to hyperventilate. My dad pulled the car over. I started barfing. I missed my ride to the concert. I never did get to meet Michael Jackson.


On a rare summer day when the Wisconsin sun seemed to wash the world in bleached heat, my dad informed me that he, my mother and I would be moving to a place called Orangeburg, South Carolina. I didn't quite believe him and went on with my life as usual.

September 1989

Despite the fact that I'd gone on with life as usual, we drove to Orangeburg to move in to a freakishly long one-story ranch house that sat on a dirt road. I'd never seen a dirt road before. I thought it was unnecessarily dusty. I'd also never been to a neighborhood that only contained one race of people. The neighborhood kids and I thought each other to be weird and we stayed out of each other's way. Two weeks later, Hurricane Hugo arrived. Because we were Wisconsinites we were the only house in the neighborhood with a generator. For the next several weeks we got to know our neighbors entirely too well as my dad came home from work every single day to find a lively cook-out already in progress--whether the rest of us were home or not.


Noting the lack of children in my wake, my mom and dad decided to purchase a friend for me. His name was Mr. Hitch. He was an ornery, retired Thoroughbred race horse. By ornery I mean that he was a total asshole. But I loved him and together we learned how to jump over things.


I spied a real estate listing for a horse farm in Eastover, SC. My parents were busy, so I called the listing agent myself and made an appointment for my parents and me to see the property. They all started out thinking that they were humoring a precocious kid, but my parents put a contract on the property the day they saw it. None of us realized that the man who answered the phone when I called was to become like a family member to the family I would eventually raise, or that the (other) man who made the sale would eventually leave the firm (and eventually, whether directly or indirectly, the real estate business itself) after stating on a nationally syndicated radio program that the Confederate flag was a symbol of hope and change (yes, he beat President Obama to the phrase) for oppressed people all over the world, especially in places like Germany and Africa.


My beloved Godfather, Robert E. Johnson, Jr. succumbed to his battle with cancer. A group of us flew up to Chicago, where we met my brother and his first wife, who was extremely pregnant, to sit through The Longest Memorial Service In the History of The Midwest. We admired and were awed by my godmother's devotion to shining a spotlight on all of the wonderful, pioneering things he'd accomplished. We missed him very much and cried often during the service. We also knew that he was somewhere up above, cursing us all for the amount of fuss, pomp, and circumstance when we could have been at his apartment drinking (except for those of us who were entirely too young) and telling stories. On this day I learned four things:

  • That Louis Farrakhan was actually a pretty great guy
  • That I had (and still have) a very strong opinion of Jesse Jackson that, as an adult, I only share in its entirety with close friends after a very specific amount of wine has been consumed.
  • That my 2-year-old nephew was quite a bit smarter than his teenage aunt whom he had to instruct on how to change his diaper.
  • That "celebrity", while laid upon certain people as a compliment, was really an illness that was capable of stripping away all forms of propriety, dignity, and privacy (click here for an explanation).


The headmaster of my school asked what I was to major in at college the following year. I said "business." He laughed as if I'd told a dirty joke and said, "No you're not. You're a writer." He was correct.


I met my husband. In a bar. At 1AM. With my mother. On my 19th birthday.


I married that country kid I met in the bar at 1AM three years before, quite pleased that I was old enough to legally drink at my own wedding.

2001, Team Gilchrist begins in full force

2001, Team Gilchrist begins in full force


I gave birth to a bald-headed, mild mannered, affectionate boy who amazes me with his sweetness and curiosity and (sometimes) exhausts me with his many questions.


I quit the medical research job (working for my dad) that I wasn't quite enjoying and became a stay-at-home mom when my husband took a job with a British medical device company that wanted to get a new type of device into American hospitals.


The recession was in full swing. 2008's idea didn't go quite as planned, and I realized that I loved hanging out with Jr., but I didn't love my seemingly stagnant brain. Then I realized that I hadn't written a thing since 1998. was born as my way to regain the habit of writing and eventually pick up some freelance work.

Things that prevent the top of my desk from seeing daylight

Things that prevent the top of my desk from seeing daylight


I gave birth to a bald-headed, wise-eyed, opinionated little man-child who is determined to make everyone around him feel something--whether it is amusement, comradery, pain or unadulterated laughter. 


This wild idea occurred to me that the rest of the world might not see the South as I do, and that most individuals in the South, while united in so many ways, have completely different ideas for what the "modern" South is or could be.

Figuring out this writing stuff...

Figuring out this writing stuff...

2014 - 2015

The aforementioned notion takes the form of a book idea. Add in 3 tablespoons of divergent ideas about diversity and 1/2 cup of crazy-yet-true stories and here I am, working my arse off at a computer every day.

...and here we are today...

...and here we are today...