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Gretchen Sorin and her son, Gregory Sorin, enjoy a moment together
Monday, Sept. 13, before he returned to Los Angeles. (Greg Klein/

AllOtsego People
For Sorins, film success is contagious

By GREG KLEIN • Special to

For Cooperstown’s Gretchen Sorin, the only thing that might top the success she has had in the past two years is seeing one of her children share in and build off of that success.

Sorin, the director of the Cooperstown Graduate Program, author of the best seller, “Driving While Black, African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights,” and co-director of the PBS documentary based on the book, has had an amazing couple of years.

Her book came out in the winter of 2020, and immediately was a best seller. Sorin was just a few cities into a month-long tour when the coronavirus pandemic shut down most of society. It turned out to be a mixed blessing for book sales and promotion, she said.

“The only saving grace is I was able to do 75 talks. I don’t think there is any way I could have traveled to 75 talks. I did 75 talks, all from my living room,” she said. “I did talks at 11 at night, because it was for people on the west coast.

The success stretched into 2021. Sorin’s book was a finalist for the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work. She lost to Barack Obama.

“I was happy just to be a finalist,” she said. “People were saying to me, ‘I hope you win,’ and I would reply, ‘I am not going to win. Have you seen who I am against?’”

Recently, Sorin got a new round of recognition for her work. The American Bar Association gave the documentary, which is co-directed by Sorin’s friend Ric Burns, its Silver Gavel Award for Media and
the Arts.

Sorin’s work was also featured in Motor Trend, and honored by the Society of Automotive Historians. Although the book is about Black families and their road travels during and after the Jim Crow era, Sorin said the response has been from people of all races.

“It’s cars. It’s travel. I think everybody relates to it,” she said.

PBS has picked the series up for its “Learning Media” program, which teaches the material to students.

“The book is being used by high schools,” she said. “It never dawned on me that would be the case.”
Whenever she speaks, Sorin said people want to tell her their travel stories, too.

“People need to testify,” she said. “That is what I call it.”

Of course, sharing the success has made it even better, Sorin said.

Her son Greg, a 2008 Cooperstown Central School graduate and 2012 SUNY Geneseo graduate, had already been working on documentaries with Burns when they filmed “Driving While Black.”

Since then Greg has been working in Los Angeles, making the transition from documentaries to television. He got a break when he caught onto a Hulu streaming show, “Helstrom” as a show runner’s assistant.

“I am hoping to get staffed as a writer on a show,” he said Monday, at the end of a recent visit home.

“Before that, I got to work on some films in New York, including my mom’s,” he said.

He recently got another break when he signed with Good Fear Content, a Hollywood management company that will help place him at the start of each television season. This season is set, he said, although he can’t disclose the name of the show, Sorin did say he would again be working as a writing room assist to a show runner.

His mother, meanwhile is moving on to a new project of her own, researching and writing about Juliette Derricotte, the Black dean of women at Fisk University in Georgia, who died at age 34 after a train accident in Chattanooga, Tennessee, when no hospitals would admit her and no medical staff would treat her.

Sorin said she started learning about Derricotte when she was asked to write for the series, “Lost Lives Recovered.”

“I am fascinated with her,” she said. “It was a scandal in the 1930s but nobody knows about it today.”


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