Richard Prince’s Book Notes™: Holiday Offerings
Our latest list of nonfiction books by journalists of color or those of special interest to them — part one of two — includes:
- a forthcoming memoir by the late Coretta Scott King that is 17 years in the making
- the frustrating history of African Americans in the newspaper comics
- the story of an escapee from war-torn Biafra
- an academic inquiry into diversity among television news journalists that is weary of the notion of “palatable Blackness,” in which “Black and marginalized journalists” are “constantly navigating social spaces in which their presentation of self is constantly under attack or review.”
The second installment will be published in the coming days.
Darrell Dawsey, communications director for ACLU-Michigan and a former Detroit newspaper and radio journalist, has co-written “Ten Ways Not to Commit Suicide: A Memoir” by Darryl McDaniels of Run-DMC, half of one of the first rap groups to reach the top (Amistad, $26.99 hardcover; $18.99 digital audiobook; $15.99 paper; $10.99 ebook).
“The short of it is that it’s a memoir that focuses on DMC’s assorted personal struggles, including his alcoholism, depression and trauma over learning very late in his life that he was adopted,” Dawsey told Allan Lengel of Deadline Detroit in April.
“We strip away the stardom to get at the core of the man. I put the book together by drawing on extensive interviews with DMC that I conducted in various locations over the past two years.” He added for Journal-isms on Monday, “Obviously, he was the guiding force, but I put pen to paper.”
Publishers Weekly said of the book, “Remarkably candid, very hip, and genuinely soulful, McDaniel’s star-studded memoir of depression and hopelessness ultimately transitions into a reflective, inspirational mediation of rebirth and renewal.”
- Leonard Greene, Daily News, New York: DMC opens up about alcohol, depression in his new book, ‘Ten Ways Not to Commit Suicide’ (June 28)
Michael I. Days, editor of the Philadelphia Daily News, has “Obama’s
Writing in October in the Daily News’ sister paper the Philadelphia Inquirer, Michael D. Schaffer called Days’ 292-page first book “a meticulously researched volume that serves as a useful primer on the Obama presidency. In his introduction, Days, editor of the Philadelphia Daily News and a former managing editor of the Inquirer, writes that his purpose is to ‘examine Obama’s accomplishments . . . in a straightforward, factual manner. It is not about what his ideas, plans or promises were; it is about what he actually got done.’
“Days delivers. . . . The book’s tone is frankly adulatory. It’s not about failures or opportunities missed. As the subtitle says, it’s about what Obama accomplished as president, not what he didn’t accomplish. Days believes history will judge Obama a ‘transformational’ president. ‘I would argue that ultimately historians will portray him favorably, well beyond that obvious citation that he broke the color line,’ Days writes. . . .”
Days is not the only black journalist or commentator assessing Obama’s presidency. Others include social commentator Michael Eric Dyson, “The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27 hardcover); columnist Julianne Malveaux: “Are We Better Off? Race, Obama and Public Policy” (self-published via Black Classic Press, $19.95 paper); columnist Earl Ofari Hutchinson’s forthcoming “The Obama Legacy” (Middle Passage Press); and Obama pollster Cornell Belcher’s A Black Man in the White House: Barack Obama and the Triggering of America’s Racial-Aversion Crisis (Water Street Press, $11.76 paper; $9.99 Kindle).
The trial of Dylann S. Roof, the young white supremacist who killed nine black parishioners at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., culminated in a guilty verdict last week, and put the horrific tragedy back on front pages.
Preparing for the first anniversary of the June 17, 2015, mass shooting, Herb Frazier, Bernard Edward Powers Jr. and Marjory Wentworth produced “We Are Charleston: Tragedy and Triumph at Mother Emanuel” (Thomas Nelson, $24.99 hardcover).
Frazier, a former journalist at the Post and Courier in Charleston; Powers, an AME church member and professor of history at the College of Charleston; and Wentworth, South Carolina’s poet laureate, collaborated on a book that covered the context surrounding the Mother Emanuel events. That means the histories of slavery, racism, the AME church, Jim Crow and the civil rights movement in Charleston, including the Denmark Vesey slave uprising of 1822.
“We Are Charleston does not, however, dwell upon the scene of the crime, nor does it spend much space on Roof,” Colette Bancroft wrote in October for Florida’s Tampa Bay Times.
” . . . Racism is nothing new in Charleston, nor are crimes born from that root. The book’s authors go back to the city’s beginnings as a port that was one of the hubs of the slave trade from the earliest days of the nation’s history. . . .
“The authors cover Charleston’s immediate response to the murders — not just the black community but the entire city and state came together to honor the dead, culminating in President Barack Obama’s moving speech” at the funeral for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the church’s pastor and a state legislator. “They also look at the ongoing effects of the crime, on the victims’ families, on the city and on the larger canvas of the nation’s racial divide.
“We Are Charleston brings readers inside a remarkable community that met tragedy with resilience and grace, hatred with forgiveness. It’s a lesson for every American.”
- Adam Parker, Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C.: Putting attack in context (June 17)
Maudlyn Ihejirika, a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times who has
worked there for 23 years, has written “Escape From Nigeria: A Memoir of Faith, Love and War” (Red Sea/Africa World Press, $24.95 paper). The book is an “as told to” written by Maudlyn Ihejirika’s mother, Angelina Ihejirika.
“It has taken me 17 years — between raising a family and working full-time — to complete the memoir of this extraordinary woman, who through her faith and the love she and my father shared, was able to save the lives of her six children by propelling a chain of miracles that would help us escape a horrific war,” Ihejirika told Hermene Hartman of N’Digo on Dec. 4.
“At the end of that three-year war, the genocide of millions of Igbos would rank fifth amongst the worst crimes against humanity of the 20th century, behind the Jewish Holocaust in Germany; the Ukrainian famine in the Soviet Union; the slaughter of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire; and the Khmer Rouge massacre of the Cambodians.
“Without her, and without those miracles — wrought through Catholic missionaries who did not abandon a war-ravaged region, and five families from Chicago’s North Shore — I would not be here. I’ve shared bits and pieces of my story with readers during my 25 years as a Chicago journalist, and I’m pleased to finally bring this 17-year labor of love to fruition. . . .”
Kai EL’ Zabar wrote in July for the Chicago Defender, “you will be moved to tears, and the joy will permeate you causing an experience of pure delight. And if you are a man or woman on the fence about where you stand with God, should you allow yourself to be open to truth through another’s story you will definitely become a believer.”
Tim Jackson, a nationally syndicated cartoonist who drew for the Chicago Defender for 14 years, has “Pioneering Cartoonists of Color” (University Press of Mississippi, $35 paper; $23.49 Kindle; $85 printed casebinding).
Jackson’s book makes an informative and entertaining stocking-stuffer for buffs of black history, black cartooning and African American journalism. After an endearing introduction in which Jackson describes growing up in Dayton, Ohio, with a drive to draw but finding only white cartoonists in his local paper, he tells readers of being mentored from afar by the late, Oakland, Calif.,-based Morrie Turner, who drew “Wee Pals,” the first multicultural comic strip in mainstream newspapers.
Jackson’s research takes him back to African American artists in 1880, and the book comes with a directory of those artists’ successors. White cartoonists get a mention, too.
“Evidently, not even comic book superheroes were willing to lend their awesome powers to protect African Americans from abuse,” Jackson writes. “In a 1940s issue of Fawcett [Publications’] Captain Marvel, “The World’s Mightiest Mortal” in the human guise of Billy Batson, smears his face with burnt cork, the traditional material used in minstrel blackface makeup, saying, ‘If Mr. Smith asks me who I am, I’ll tell him I’m Rastus Washington Brown from Alabama.’ ”
Jackson also writes, “The comics I found provided an invaluable perspective on America’s history through the lens of the Black press and filtered through the life experiences of the artists’ externalization of the daily indignities imposed by a nation brutally divided on racial lines.
“They also satirized the class hierarchies in both the nation as a whole and within Black communities themselves. I recovered cartoons that casually commented on events like the Great Migration northward and the unsophisticated country relatives awkwardly learning to assimilate into big city life. . . . ”
- Tim Jackson on WGN-TV, Chicago: Midday Fix: Pioneering Cartoonists of Color author Tim Jackson (Aug. 11)
Libby Lewis, a lecturer at the University of California, Los Angeles, has
“The Myth of Post-Racialism in Television News” (Routledge, $118.40 hardcover, $38.47 ebook).
Lewis argues for the widest possible diversity, even noting that “there are currently no transgender or transsexual television news anchors or reporters working on air at any of the major news networks and network affiliates.” She also writes, “If white straight men in management cannot see LGBTQ journalists as assets to the news organization, they need to be replaced.
“The reins of power are weakening, and as [retired CNN anchor Bernard] Shaw so astutely observes, so to must control over the ways in which ‘Blackness’ gets represented in terms of palatability in the White imagination.
“These changes are going to require that managers get comfortable with being uncomfortable . . .
Lewis also writes, “What remains constant in all of the interviews with Black journalists is the understanding that they must work harder than everyone else in the newsroom in order to stay employed.
“They rarely take sick days even when they should stay home. Some have hidden cancer diagnoses in order to keep the jobs and keep those looking to take their position at bay. Most marginalized journalists make reference to a higher power governing their lives and careers and speak about honoring their ancestors’ struggle that brought them to where they are today. . . . ”
- Dezarae Muhammad, the Final Call: Echoing Ida B. Wells (May 10)
James McBride, who wrote for the Washington Post, the Boston Globe and People magazine before moving on to books, film and fiction writing, has “Kill ’Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul” (Spiegel & Grau, $28 hardcover, $17 paper).
The Boston Globe this month named this quest to explain the Godfather of Soul one of its “Best books of 2016.”
Gerald Early, who teaches at Washington University in St. Louis, wrote in the Washington Post, “McBride, who won a 2013 National Book Award for his novel ‘The Good Lord Bird,’ makes a curious (and, for some, gratuitous) confession that he is doing this book for money and that music journalist Gerri Hirshey was the superior author for the subject.
“In this respect, ‘Kill ’Em and Leave’ turns out to be more revelatory about its author than its subject, although the Alan Lomaxesque ‘seeking the subject’ aspect is engaging. And the author’s honesty gives the book an authority that is never snobbish. McBride writes well, and the fact that he is also a musician allows him to open up dimensions of Brown’s creativity that a non-musician critic could not. His comparison of jazz soloing to funk soloing, for instance, is illuminating. . . .”
Rick Moody wrote in the New York Times that McBride “has written a collection of diverse meditations and interpretations in search of James Brown, more than he has written the story of the man. Readers embarking on ‘Kill ’Em and Leave’ would be wise to bear this in mind.
“That said, when McBride digs in, especially when describing the music — that massive, unstoppable, titanic, world-shaking accomplishment — by virtue of his own training as a saxophonist, he does so with great warmth, insight and frequent wit. The results are partisan and enthusiastic, and they helped this listener think about the work in a new way. . . .”
Ethan Michaeli, a journalist and author who worked as a copy editor and investigative reporter at the Chicago Defender from 1991 to 1996, has “The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $32 hardcover and ebook).
In the promotional material for “The Defender,” named one of the best books of the year by the New York Times Book Review, the Washington Post and Amazon, Michaeli was asked what he hoped readers ultimately take away from his 539-page work.
“First of all, I see ‘The Defender’ as a great American story of underdogs who defy all the odds to achieve, of a dedicated band of men and women from different backgrounds who come together to win, if not a total victory, then at least a symbolic one,” Michaeli replied. “But ‘The Defender’ is a history as well, and the truth of that history is that Race is a pernicious lie woven into our national origins, our legal system, and our cultural self-portraits.
“We only have to scan today’s headlines to realize that race remains an entrenched understanding of how our country came to this point.” Referring to the Defender’s founder, Michaeli continued, “If I really let myself dream, though, I do also hope that this book will reach and inspire a young Robert Abbott out there, a media entrepreneur struggling to establish his news source in this new age of rapid transformation in the American media.”
- Todd Steven Burroughs, newblackmaninexile.net: Biography of Chicago Defender is Incredible Story of a Powerhouse Defender of Black Rights (May 2)
- Wendy Smith, Boston Globe: A newspaper story that’s a great read (Jan. 14)
- Brent Staples, New York Times Book Review: ‘The Defender,’ by Ethan Michaeli (Jan. 4)
The Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds, veteran journalist, ordained minister, author and former longtime editorial board member of USA Today, has written “My Life, My Love, My Legacy,” by Coretta Scott King “as told to” Reynolds (Henry Holt and Co.; $30 hardcover; Kindle $14.99; audio CD $39.99). Publication date is Jan. 17.
“It is hard for me to imagine that a book that I started working on in 1999 has finally come to pass despite incredible setbacks,” Reynolds told Journal-isms by email. “I saw this woman as a hero, who was not only married to Dr. [Martin Luther] King [Jr.], but was also wed to the civil-human rights movement that has dramatically changed the lives of countless individuals in the 20th Century and beyond.
“I started covering her as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune in the 1970s and our relationship deepened for the next three decades. I thought I was covering her as a journalist, but she was really showing me her depth, her values, her courage and how the cause she projected was worth dying for.
“Since she plowed so much of her time in me and trusted me to tell her story, I felt I could not stop until I helped bring her out of the shadows, from behind the labels of the wife of, the mother of, the founder of and let the world know how much she contributed to the world of her own talents and hard work and what it cost her to stay focused as a mother, the architect of the King legacy and an international spokeswoman in her own right.
“This was my sixth book, but without a doubt the most difficult because she spoke prose and I thought poetry. I had to find her voice and keep reminding myself this was not my voice but hers, but yet as I changed from a hell-raising journalist to a minister it became much easier to understand her, because she was as solid a Christian minister as her husband was, she just did not have the title.”
Juan Williams, author and Fox News Channel commentator, has “We
the People: The Modern-Day Figures Who Have Reshaped and Affirmed the Founding Fathers’ Vision of America” (Crown, $30 hardcover; $17 paper; $13.99 ebook).
In a discussion of the Electoral College this week on “Fox News Sunday,” Williams reminded fellow panelists, “I just finished a book about the Founding Fathers. The Founding Fathers did not design the Electoral College to be a rubber stamp. To the contrary, they think the electors should have the capacity to exercise some discretion.”
In “We the People,” Williams argues that a new group of founders is responsible for today’s America — one that the original Founding Fathers most likely wouldn’t recognize.
“To my mind, the great men and women of postwar America include Eleanor Roosevelt, Thurgood Marshall, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Ted Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Bill Bratton, Billy Graham and many others,” Williams writes. “To understand them is to understand America in the twenty-first century. It is the story of a family — a new founding family for today’s America. They have kept faith with the ideals of the Founding Fathers while reshaping the country.
“They advanced the Founding Fathers’ audacious concept of a nation of free people forever able to maintain their own independence and liberty. These recent innovators have met the never-ending challenges, even threats, to the idea of a strong, free creative people. . . .”
In the Washington Post, Vikram Amar wrote in April, “Williams covers a lot of territory and does so in ways that are creative, thoughtful, readable, nuanced and, most of all, informative. . . .”Support Journal-isms
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