United States of Grace

A Memoir of Homelessness, Addiction, Incarceration, and Hope

United States of Grace

A Memoir of Homelessness, Addiction, Incarceration, and Hope

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"This lyrical testament to life as 'a blind date with mercy' will challenge and inspire." --Publishers Weekly [Starred Review]

In 1991, when he was thirteen years old, Lenny Duncan stepped out of his house in West Philadelphia, walked to the Greyhound station, and bought a ticket--the start of his great American adventure. But little did he know that his great American adventure would include a winding path through sex work and drug deals, prison, and eventually ministry and social justice activism.

Now out in paperback with a new afterword, Duncan brings us his deeply personal story about growing up Black and queer in the US. In his characteristically powerful voice, he recounts hitchhiking across the country, spending time in solitary confinement, battling for sobriety, and discovering a deep faith, examining pressing issues like poverty, mass incarceration, white supremacy, and LGBTQ inclusion through an intimate portrayal of his life's struggles and joys. United States of Grace is a love story about America, revealing the joy and resilience of places in this country that many call "the margins" but that Lenny Duncan has called home. Fierce and incisive, Duncan challenges us and America to seek life out of death. "I was born starving for the good," he writes, "and this country can be a feast of good if we open ourselves up to it."


"United States of Grace traces a remarkable and completely relatable life. From the throes of addiction to the joy of a Grateful Dead show, in this honest, unflinching look at his own life Lenny Duncan tells his personal story of love, triumph, failure, and pain while ultimately leaving the reader with an immense sense of hope."

Leslie Mac, community organizer and digital strategist

"Lenny Duncan weaves together history and memoir in a book rooted in journeys across the beautiful and bruising landscape of the United States, where the pointed stare of a Black mama at the Greyhound station and a voice whispering sobriety at a Grateful Dead show become ciphers of ordinary grace. In this astounding book that is both fierce and generous, jagged and hopeful, Duncan makes space for the thorny topography of addiction, freedom, sexuality, despair, and race, refusing to flatten the path for our comfort. Instead, he invites us to walk with him, to see what he sees, to inhabit the adventure and heartbreak of a Black life in a country built for Blackdestruction. A book written with tenderness and joy, United States of Grace points us toward prophetic signposts of what is possible for America, if we have the courage to imagine it together."

Melissa Florer-Bixler, author of Fire by Night

"Lenny Duncan's tale of escape from the miserable lot that life dealt him is reminiscent of Claude Brown's Manchild in the Promised Land--powerful and beautifully told--but with a twist: Duncan's triumph comes through an encounter with redemption. I can hardly imagine a more profound story of salvation. You will be inspired by Duncan's strength but also jolted by his anger that the odds are so heavily stacked against all who are trapped by oppression and injustice. This is the work of a truly gifted writer."

Tom Gjelten, Religion Correspondent, NPR News

"Lenny Duncan's prose has the momentum and pull of a powerful river; this alone would carry both the beauty and pain of the story he's here to tell. But it is the author's insight, candor, and wisdom that set United States of Grace apart. Simply put, Lenny Duncan is telling the truth; we'd best take heed."

Marya Hornbacher, New York Times bestselling author of Madness

"A next iteration of church in America is blooming. It is Black and queer, and it shows us all how to love as Jesus loved. The really good news here is that this church knows how to embrace us all, without exception. Lenny Duncan privileges his readers with up-close glimpses of what this radically hospitable community feels like, and how it holds potential to reshape the civic life that continues to be broken by our nation's foundational sin of enslavement. Allow Lenny Duncan to be your gentle guide. He may take you someplace you did not plan to go."

Dori Baker, senior fellow at the Forum for Theological Exploration and co-author of Another Way

"Lenny Duncan tells his story of psychic and social trauma as an experience of grace outside the bounds of societal norms and theological orthodoxy in the midst of dire circumstances and through some of the most unexpected people. It is a profoundly moving account of a divine grace so deep and so wide as to subvert the status quo, and the substratum of white supremacy that undergirds it, and offer hope and healing to those who have been damaged, marginalized and neglected by it."

Raymond Pickett, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary


"In this passionate memoir, Lutheran pastor and social justice advocate, Duncan shares his unconventional life journey in order to illustrate the beauty and horror of life in the United States...He is fierce in both his criticism of America's institutions and his love for its people. This lyrical testament to life as 'a blind date with mercy' will challenge and inspire."

Publishers Weekly, starred review

Product Info

  • Publisher Broadleaf Books
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781506483061
  • Dimensions 5.5 x 8.5
  • Pages 180
  • Publication Date August 2, 2022