Soothing the Senses, Shocking the Conscience
Friday, December 20, 2013
Still looking for the right holiday gift for the readers on your list? If they're good at what they do, journalists know the craft of writing, they keep readers engaged and their facts are unimpeachable.
Below are eight additional nonfiction books by or about journalists of color published this year. They continue a list begun in this space on Nov. 27. They include a story 30 years in the making about one of America's jazz legends, a memoir from an icon of the black press and the profile of a school that produced the greatest generations of African Americans.
Simeon Booker with Carol McCabe Booker, "Shocking the Conscience: A Reporter's Account of the Civil Rights Movement (University Press of Mississippi, $30 hardcover)
This book has been quoted in "Journal-isms" at various times over the year in recalling coverage of the civil rights movement. For good reason, Booker covered so much of it that it deserves to be in the library of anyone interested in the era. Now a movement is afoot to award Booker the Presidential Medal of Freedom or the Congressional Gold Medal. "The 94-year-old African-American magazine and newspaper reporter has been giving Blacks news through the lens of their own eyes for more than 65 years," William Reed, columnist for the black press, wrote in March.
Reed also wrote of Booker, "He is steeped in race and Black culture. He became interested in journalism through a family friend, Carl Murphy, the owner and operator of Baltimore's Afro American Newspapers. In 1942, after receiving his bachelor's degree in English from Richmond's Virginia Union University, Booker accepted a position as a reporter with the Afro American newspapers. By 1945, he worked for the Black Cleveland Call and Post newspaper, where he won Newspaper Guild and Wendell L. Willkie awards. Then, Booker received a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University to study journalism where he developed his reportorial talents. In 1951, Booker became The Washington Post's first full-time Black reporter.
"Not to be confused with contemporary journalists who "just happen to be Black," Booker has a long history of engagement in civil rights. His book, "Shocking the Conscience: A Reporter's Account of the Civil Rights Movement," is legend. . . ."
- Eric Arnesen, Washington Post: ‘Shocking the Conscience’ by Simeon Booker with Carol McCabe Booker
- Todd Franko, Youngstown (Ohio) Vindicator: He forced America to see what white press dared not report
- David E. Kendall, Washington Independent Review of Books: Shocking the Conscience: A Reporter’s Account of the Civil Rights Movement
- William Reed, Washington Informer: Presidential Medal of Freedom Awards Snub Booker
- Adam Serwer, MSNBC: Witness to history: Simeon Booker remembers fight for ‘ideal America’
- The Vindicator, Youngstown, Ohio: Two congressmen want to award a Congressional Gold Medal to Simeon Booker
Stanley Crouch, longtime jazz writer and columnist for the Daily News in New York, has "Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker" (HarperCollins, $27.00 hardcover; $14.99 ebook)
The opening lines of this book are, "In West Africa, a man dances atop stilts rising more than nine feet in the air. His bold turns, leaps, and spins suggest the power of human beings to master the subtle-to-savage disruptions of rhythm and event that define experience."
More than any book on this list, "Kansas City Lightning" draws attention to its writing, and the reviewers have noticed. Dwight Garner wrote in the New York Times: The book is 'Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker,' and it isn’t yet available as a recording. (Audible, please.) It’s going to require a charismatic speaker, a Samuel L. Jackson or a James Earl Jones or Mr. Crouch himself.
“ 'Kansas City Lightning' is all about polyrhythmic cadences and percussive thumps. It’s a book about a jazz hero written in a heroic style; it’s a tall tale, a bebop Beowulf. You’ve got to be in the mood.
"Mr. Crouch’s sentences frequently trace a biblical arc. 'They had seen the high and mighty get low-down and dirty, the low-down and dirty get high and mighty,' he declaims about Kansas City jazzmen in the 1920s and ’30s. 'They learned a great deal about what music did to women.'
"More often he doles out vernacular pops of phrasing, of the sort now sometimes called Dan Ratherisms. Parker and his future first wife, newly in love, 'stared at each other with the amazement of two moo cows watching choo-choo trains.” Chicago traffic “was thick as freckles on the face of a redheaded cracker.'
Some view this as overwriting, but in Britain's Guardian newspaper, Richard Williams notes another distinction: "This is the first full-length study to view the life of Parker, a uniquely significant musician, from a black perspective."
Crouch has been writing this book on and off for 30 years. He collected so much material that it could not all fit in one volume. "By the time Crouch gets Charlie Parker to New York and his first recordings . . . It is only 1942, and Parker has just begun to invent the music of his legacy," David Hajdu wrote this month in the New York Times Magazine.
- John F Goodman, jazzinsideandout.com: Kansas City Lightning
- Gene Seymour, Newsday: Bird, Duke and all that jazz
Wil Haygood, a reporter for the Washington Post, has written "The Butler: A Witness to History" (Atria Books, $18, hardcover; audio download, $9.95; $10.99 ebook)
At a book party for Haygood in October, Pamela Oas Williams, lead producer of the film "Lee Daniels' The Butler," said her film "is the only movie of 2013 to be No. 1 three weeks in a row at the box office and has grossed $120 million. That's a $90 million profit."
The movie, of course, was based on Haygood's Washington Post story about Eugene Allen, who worked for eight presidents in his 34 years at the White House. Haygood's 96-page volume serves as a souvenir for those who enjoyed the movie, and it became one of the few books by a black journalist to make the best-seller list this year. "The Butler" includes Haygood's story about finding Allen, as well as an essay on black images in Hollywood and 57 photos.
In the audio version, Haygood's story is read by the film's stars, David Oyelowo, Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey."
Asked in September whether there was a lesson for black journalists from his success, Haygood told Journal-isms by email, "not to shy away from our history, no matter how painful. There are still folks who have a difficult time dealing with the term BUTLER."
Pilar Marrero, senior political writer for Los Angeles-based La Opinión, the nation's largest Spanish-language daily, has written "Killing the American Dream: How Anti- Immigration Extremists are Destroying the Nation," (Palgrave Macmillan, $27 hardcover; $12.99 ebook)
Marrero, who immigrated to Los Angeles from Venezuela in 1986, leaves no doubt where she stands.
The book jacket states, "By exploring the evolution of the modern immigration debates, Killing the American Dream reveals how hate groups have capitalized on the growing divide between political parties to exploit the fears of Americans in a malicious campaign to rid the nation of any foreign elements. . . . Not only do these policies hurt the thousands of immigrants who come to the United States for a better life, but they deprive the nation of an educated, skilled work force whose contributions would greatly improve the devastated economy and dwindling social service funds."
Predictably, not everyone will agree.
John F. Rohe, who wrote a biography of the founder of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which the Southern Poverty Law Center calls "the most important organization fueling the backlash against immigration," wrote in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, " 'Killing the American Dream' capably lays out the claims of open border advocates. If, however, you seek substantive information on ethical criteria in formulating a long-range, sustainable immigration policy, you may have to keep looking beyond the four corners of this book."
In a more detailed critique, Kelly Thompson of the Webber Law Firm Policy Group wrote for immpolicy.com, "As a journalist, Marrero has written articles — snapshots on a particular theme or view — without necessarily feeling beholden to achieving consistency in the details that make up the whole image. I see this book as a 1,000 piece puzzle. Most of the pieces are there and I get the bigger picture, but I fear that the missing pieces are important, so my mind's eye cannot be set at ease.
"Marrero’s book does deserve a place in the discussion of immigration. In true journalistic fashion she attacks lies, exposes conspiracy and controversy, and serves as a counter-balance to the sensationalized, under-researched, sound-bite happy voices found in the restrictionist camp. She fights back with both passion and data, but at times is guilty of some of the same missteps she finds in her accused. . . ."
The publisher says there are no plans for a paperback edition.
Steve Penn, former columnist at the Kansas City Star, has written "Case for a Pardon: The Pete O'Neal Story" (Pennbooks, $24.95 paperback).
Penn, fired from the Star two years ago for running unaltered or barely altered press releases in his column, turned his attention to writing about Felix Lindsey "Pete" O'Neal.
O'Neil, now 73, led the Kansas City chapter of the Black Panther Party from 1969 until his arrest in 1970 for transporting a shotgun across state lines. While out on bail, O'Neal fled to Sweden, then Algeria and eventually Tanzania.
Penn's self-published book could benefit from better editing, but he bolsters his case with a foreword from Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, D-Mo., who writes that O'Neal's "courage helped to create the America we know today." Cleaver appeared with Penn in appearances promoting the book.
Penn writes, "O'Neal has long served out his punishment. He has been in a type of isolation, in a sort of cage unable to see his mother, attend his father's funeral, unable to enjoy the city he was born in. Now his only hope of return may be in the form of a presidential pardon. And that's a tall request indeed. It's the ultimate long shot. It may or may not ever happen. What is clear is that without a full explanation of his life, each section examined and reexamined, it probably will never happen. This is that autopsy."
Alison Stewart has written "First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America's First Black Public High School," (Chicago Review Press, $26.95 hardcover; $21.99 ebook).
"After zig zagging from MTV to CBS to ABC to MSNBC to PBS, Stewart's latest incarnation is as author," Gail Shister wrote in August for MediaBistro. " 'First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America's First Black Public High School,' her inaugural book, was released earlier this month. Both her parents graduated from the Washington, D.C. school.
"Stewart began working on 'Dunbar' in 2006, while at MSNBC. Five years later, she left her job as cohost of PBS’s 'Need to Know' to focus fulltime on the book, and to care for her ailing parents. They later died.
" 'I always wanted to write a book,' says Stewart, 47, a Brown alum. 'I had been offered a "Hey, I was at MTV, then at the networks, what did I see?" deal, and maybe I'll write that book someday, but I wanted to dig into something that would have some kind of lasting value beyond being entertaining.'
"Stewart found herself in a race against time, since many of the early Dunbar grads were in their 80s and 90s. She recorded their memories of the legendary school, which in its prime produced the first black member of a presidential Cabinet, the first black general of the U.S. Army and the first black federal judge.
" 'I loved talking to people, going into their homes, spending hours with them,' says Stewart, who often traveled by bus from New York and crashed on friends' couches to minimize expenses. 'The research was my favorite part. You discover things. It’s a little bit art, a little bit archeology.' "
Stewart writes in the book, "The story of Dunbar shows what can happen in spite of huge legal, societal, and professional hurdles. It shows what is possible when a group of people focus and band together to make something better. Dunbar shows what happens when a stable middle class exists. And Dunbar shows us that politics pollutes education. And through all this, Dunbar helped create the greatest generations of African Americans."
Touré, author, cultural critic and MSNBC co-host, has written "I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became an Icon" (Atria Books, $19.99 hardcover; $10.99 ebook).
"This extended essay — based on a series of lectures that Touré delivered last year at Harvard — argues that Prince tapped into the zeitgeist of the late 1970s and ’80s, when such albums as 'Controversy' and '1999' provided the soundtrack to so many coming-of-age stories," Jen Chaney wrote in the Washington Post.
"Though Prince is a baby boomer — born in 1958, roughly a decade before Xers arrived on Earth — he has lived a life, the author argues, 'that uniquely prepared him to understand the gen X experience.'
"According to the book, that experience was defined by several factors: an increase in the divorce rate, a phenomenon that, as the child of a ruptured marriage, Prince subtly alludes to in his music; apathy toward solving socio-political problems (Touré cites the song '1999' as a prime example of apocalyptic indifference); and heightened sexual awareness, which is conveyed in, well, pretty much every Prince song ever.
"If this all sounds a bit too academic to be enjoyable, that’s not the case. Touré, co-host of the MSNBC program 'The Cycle,' is an engaging and smart writer, one who makes his arguments with plenty of backup via fascinating interviews with Prince’s colleagues, friends, notable proteges (Questlove, drummer for the Roots and self-proclaimed Prince scholar, makes several appearances) as well as the book’s subject himself."
Dave Bry, writing in the New Republic, dissented, writing, "The project would better serve as an article in an academic journal or a short lecture."
But David Chiu of CBS News said the book "serves as both a reaffirmation of Prince's greatness and a look at the aspects of his life that perhaps people don't know about. 'I think he goes into more proper context when you understand the depth of the religious conversation in his music," said Toure, 'and not just this sort of sexual being. His devotion to Jesus Christ is really clear through his music. The religious discussion is far more specific than even the sexual conversation. And you notice that religion sometimes creeps into the sexual songs like 'Adore,' never the other way around. The religious songs have this sanctimonious place to him. The religion is part of the sex to him.' . . ."
Chaney concluded, "Touré will surely persuade Prince followers to revisit their messiah's work and, perhaps, see something wholly new underneath the purple rain."
- Cliff Parks blog: Book Review: I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became An Icon
Celia Viggo Wexler, a freelance journalist and a lobbyist for the Union of Concerned Scientists, has written "Out of the News: Former Journalists Discuss a Profession in Crisis (McFarland, $40 hardcover, $40 ebook, $14.99 Kindle.)
With the number of former journalists increasing every year, Wexler's book should strike familiar chords. The American Society of News Editors said in 2012 that approximately 800 minority newsroom positions were lost in both 2008 and 2009 and that 500 more were lost or disappeared over the next two years.
Wexler is not one of those former journalists of color, but she devotes a chapter to Wayne Dawkins, a self-described "race man" and the unofficial historian of the National Association of Black Journalists.
"That man is so impressive — his generosity of spirit and his lack of bitterness," Wexler told Journal-isms in an email.
Dawkins teaches at Hampton University after spending a career at daily newspapers, most recently the Daily Press in Newport News, Va., which he left in 2003.
Wexler writes that her book offers "hope to aspiring journalists and those who have lost, or fear they will lose, their jobs as journalists. It demonstrates that the skills and experience derived from a career in journalism are fungible. Former journalists were able to craft new careers from what they had learned working in the news media." She also observed, "Being a journalist isn't something you get over, I realized. It's a way of thinking about things that is forever a part of who you are."
- Association of Opinion Journalists: 'Out of the News' in two reviews
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