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Pressure Makes Diamonds: Becoming the Woman I Pretended to Be


The powerful memoir of a female African American advertising executive’s unprecedented and unlikely success, which began in the Mad Men era.

$15.95 $11.96

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What people are saying…

Presented with the Best Biography/Memoir Award at the 13th Annual African American Literary Awards Show!

“Written in a highly polished yet informal style, this book will appeal to readers interested in memoirs of accomplished businesswomen and African American success, as well as those who want a glimpse into the fast-paced world of a top-level ad executive.”
Library Journal

“Graves established herself as a fierce force in the advertising field and a greatly admired role model for black professionals establishing themselves in American business. In a moving book steeped in perseverance and empowering determination, the author fully embodies the challenges of her culture and those of being a motivated businesswoman . . . Optimistic and galvanizing, Graves’ message of hope and hard work is timely and applicable.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Barrier-breaking, highly celebrated creative director and advertising executive Graves is about more than glittery and impressive national advertising campaigns and her association with international celebrities and various Fortune 500 companies . . . No one was looking for her, but she showed up, spoke directly to the public, and captured the world’s attention. Graves’ well-told tale, set against a detailed social and cultural backdrop, of courage and success both personally (including a happy marriage) and professionally is moving and inspiring.”

“When you get dealt a tough hand, you might choose to fold or you might decide to hold. If you’re Valerie Graves, you reshuffle the whole damn deck . . . Graves’s can’t-stop-won’t-stop energy offers a jump start toward meeting objectives and renews hope. Pressure Makes Diamonds is about more than overcoming.”
Essence Magazine

“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.”
New York Beacon

“Graves paints the picture of how she was a determined woman who faked it till she made it—and made it big. [An] inspirational memoir.”
Black Enterprise

“A story about an accomplished woman who is the epitome of grit . . . Whether recalling the guilt she felt as a working, absentee parent, or how she came to adopt new age thinking, the author’s storytelling skills and use of humor, imagery, and figurative language is noteworthy. At an early age, Valerie decided she would fake it until she made it. Now a success by most standards, she no longer has to pretend. Anyone who enjoys reading about those who travel difficult paths in life will find Pressure Makes Diamonds to be inspirational.”
Foreword Reviews

“The road to being as one of the most successful advertising executives in the country was not an easy one for Valerie Graves. As an African-American woman trying to ‘be somebody’ in the 60’s and 70’s, she faced criticism and discrimination on the path to success. In her new memoir, Graves shares her stories of struggle but the inspirations and hope that kept her going. Readers will see a new side to the advertising mogul and learn that nothing is impossible.”

“A gem of a book . . . Valerie Graves has spun an appealing narrative with a protagonist who reads like an African-American female counterpart of Horatio Alger. Her journey from Mud Lake, Pontiac, an exurb of Detroit, to a corner office on Madison Avenue is exhilarating, marking her rise to the upper echelons of advertising and providing readers with an exposé of her creative life and the world ruled by ‘Mad Men.’”
New York Amsterdam News

“Valerie Graves reflects on her prodigious journey from the projects of Michigan to the prestige of New York’s upper echelon as a high-powered advertising executive in a historically white and male arena.”
Nia Magazine

“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 welcome relief from those who decry America’s future. Valerie Graves is a poster woman for achievement despite racism and gender discrimination.”
—Allen Rosenshine, Chairman Emeritus, BBDO Worldwide

“Valerie Graves’s first book is her story of an African American teenage mother who fights her way into advertising in Detroit in the 1970s. Then in New York she uses her uniqueness to become one of the top ad writers in the world. Enjoy.”
—Robert Downey Sr., Writer/Director, Putney Swope

“I never knew what it was like to be black in this industry until I read Valerie Graves’s book.”
—Peggy Conlon, Former CEO, The Advertising Council

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 are perceived in the media.”
—Byron E. Lewis, Chairman Emeritus, UniWorld Group


This is the unflinching memoir of a female African American advertising executive’s unprecedented and unlikely success, which began in the Mad Men era. It follows her 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.

Please visit Valerie’s website: ValerieGravesBook.com.

Read a excerpt from the book at BlackPage Turners.

Watch an interview with Valerie at Writers on Writing, hosted by QBR/The Black Book Review and Harlem Book Fair founder Max Rodriguez.

Read an interview with Valerie at the Smart Set Magazine

Listen to an interview with Valerie Graves on Michigan Public Radio (WUOM)’s Stateside.

Read a guest piece written by Valerie at COMMPRO.

Watch an interview with Valerie Graves on BK Live / BRIC TV

Watch an interview with Valerie Graves on the Drexel InterView.

Book Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Published: 11/1/16
  • IBSN: 9781617754937
  • e-IBSN: 9781617755200


VALERIE GRAVES, whom Advertising Age magazine named one of the “100 Best and Brightest” in the entire industry, is a nationally recognized creative director of such Fortune 500 accounts as Ford, General Motors, AT&T, Burger King, General Foods, and Pepsi. A former teenage parent from the factory town of Pontiac, Michigan, Graves broke barriers in advertising as one of the first black copywriters at BBDO, Kenyon & Eckhardt, and JWT. She went on to an award-winning career as chief creative officer at the UniWorld and Vigilante/Leo Burnett agencies, senior vice president of creative services at iconic Motown Records, and creative consultant to President Bill Clinton. In 2007, recognizing Graves’s stellar career and public service via the Advertising Council and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, industry coalition ADCOLOR granted her the title of “Legend.” She resides in New York City. Pressure Makes Diamonds is her memoir. Visit her website: ValerieGravesBook.com.

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