Pressure Makes Diamonds: Becoming the Woman I Pretended to Be

This is the unflinching memoir of a black woman's journey from the projects of Motown-era Michigan to the skyscrapers of Madison Avenue and beyond. With marches, riots, and demonstrations as the backdrop, and rock 'n' roll as a soundtrack, this book accompanies Graves as she traverses the seismically shifting terrain of 1960s and '70s America on her quest to "be somebody."

In the '80s and '90s, as Graves makes her ascent to the East Coast heights of the white male–dominated advertising world, she turns familiarity with harsh realities like racism and sexism into robust insights that deeply connect with African American consumers. During the golden era of black advertising, she becomes an undisputed "somebody." Soon, though, she learns that money, success, a good marriage, and connections that reach all the way to the White House cannot entirely insulate her against the social ills that threaten to crush black Americans.

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Read an Excerpt:

"…As I scanned the crystal and china–laden room, I could see the tension in the bodies of the white-uniformed, brown-skinned waiters and female attendants who looked like my cousins and great-aunts. All evening I had tried to read their averted eyes as they quietly went about their jobs. Now those eyes were all on me, the only black person in the room not serving canapés or drinks. Would mine be the cringe-worthy words of a happy-to-be-here Uncle Tom, or some militant mess that would make the white folks scared and mean? No one knew, least of all me. I was about to perform live at the Bloomfield Open Hunt Club, direct from the Lakeside projects on the shores of Mud Lake. The Thing picked me up and threatened to throw me back into that polluted pond. “Go for what you know, kid,” it snarled. It didn’t give a damn whether I could swim or not. In the grip of the Thing, I said the only words I had been sure would come out of my mouth: “Valerie Graves.” Then, something else safe: “Copywriter.” I looked at my half-drunk colleagues waiting to see if the Thing would drown me, then I listened as the next words tumbled recklessly out of my mouth: “And token.” There was an audible intake of air from both white and black folks, for entirely different reasons, followed by gales of laughter from the agency crowd. My black brethren gave me looks that said, “Girl, I hope you know what you’re doing.” I didn’t, but whatever it was, the Thing would not take me under that night. The next morning, the CEO paused as he passed my doorway. “Token, huh?” he said with a beaming smile and an Oh, you’re such a kidder gesture. Two weeks later, I was out of a job."

Praise for Pressure Makes Diamonds

          I never knew what it was like to be Black in this industry until I read Valerie Graves’ book.”


Peggy Conlon, Former CEO, The Advertising Council of America

         Valerie Graves first book is her story of an African-American teenage mother who fights her way into advertising in Detroit in the '70s. Then in NYC she uses her uniqueness to become one of the top ad writers in the world. Enjoy.”

—Robert Downey, Writer/Director, “Putney Swope”

         Valerie Graves has written a no-holds-barred account of what it was like to grow up on the wrong side of town in the 1960s, become a teenage mother, and end up being one of the most celebrated copywriters in advertising history. Her book is raw and riveting."

—Nancy Hill, CEO, American Association of Advertising Agencies

        Pressure Makes Diamonds is an important and timely book that brilliantly details Valerie Graves's pioneering life and transformative career in the historically segregated advertising industry. With world-class creative skills and gritty determination, Graves achieved award-winning mainstream success; opened doors for aspiring minorities; and helped to change how blacks were perceived in the media."


—Byron E. Lewis, Chairman Emeritus, UniWorld Group

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