Richard Prince's Journal-isms™

Turning More Pages, 2006

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Thursday, December 21, 2006
  • Turning the Pages, 2006

Richard Prince's Book Notes™: Into the New Year

As noted Tuesday, many journalists have been hard at work over the past year, practicing their craft in book-length form. Here are more of the nonfiction fruits of some of those labors, by, about or of special interest to black journalists. Some are suitable for holiday giving. Also included are some overlooked books from 2005.

Christopher John Farley

Christopher John Farley, an editor at the Wall Street Journal who has been pop music writer at Time magazine and USA Today, wrote "Before the Legend: The Rise of Bob Marley" (Amistad, $21.95).

 

 

Farley's look at the international reggae icon in his formative years was excerpted in the Wall Street Journal when it was published in April. One of its revelations is that Marley's father was not white, as is widely believed. Black Issues Book Review chose this and Margo Jefferson's "On Michael Jackson" as "best books on music icons" for 2006.

"This was a difficult book to report," Farley told Journal-isms. "And by difficult, I mean insanely impossible. Many of Marley's friends, band mates and relatives took months, sometimes years, to convince to talk to me. In the end, though, I interviewed everyone that mattered: Marley's widow, his mother, his children, Bunny Wailer, Lee 'Scratch' Perry, Chris Blackwell, and many others.

"I'm not certain I would have gotten through it if it wasn't for Marley music. Whenever I was down, all I had to do is play 'Get Up, Stand Up,' 'Redemption Song,' 'Slave Driver,' or 'Three Little Birds.'

"I found myself having to travel around Jamaica to write this book. I had to haunt libraries in Kingston, visit homes in Trench Town, and take trips out to the Jamaican countryside. But if you're going to do research for a book, Jamaica is a great place to have to spend your time!

"One thing I can pass on to others: Don't give up. If a book is hard to report, that can indicate that it's important to write. Marley's life is wrapped in myth — that's part of why his greatest hits album is called 'Legend.' Some have gone so far as to say that there are no 'facts' in Jamaica. I found that there are plenty of facts — and I uncovered new revelations about Marley's parentage, his music and his life — and all it took was lots of legwork and loads of time.

"But when I go back to Jamaica and college-age kids ask me to sign their books, and ask me about getting into writing and journalism, it's all worth it."

The paperback is due out June 1.

Margo Jefferson

 

 

Margo Jefferson, who took a buyout in February after nearly 13 years at the New York Times, where her tenure was capped by the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for criticism, wrote "On Michael Jackson" (Pantheon, $20), a 138-page rumination on the "king of pop" that Black Issues Book Review named, with Farley's, one of the year's two best books on music icons.

"Little freak, who made you?" Jefferson writes. "Dost thou know who made you? Genes made you. Disease and illness made you. Religion made you. Show business and science made you. History made you: the norms and needs of your time and place made you. Your family and your psyche made you."

When she left the Times, Jefferson said she planned to concentrate on writing books.

Natalie Hopkinson and Natalie Y. Moore

Natalie Hopkinson, a Washington Post reporter, and free-lance writer Natalie Y. Moore wrote "Deconstructing Tyrone: A New Look at Black Masculinity in the Hip-Hop Generation" (Cleis, $14.95, paper).

 

 

"'Deconstructing Tyrone' represents the journey of two black women examining masculinity in our own lives, through the eyes of interview participants, and also through the lens we as professional journalists have come to know intimately: the media," the authors write in their introduction.

Hopkinson, who is also a Scripps Howard doctoral fellow at the University of Maryland, said in the publicity material, "It is probably no coincidence that 99 percent of my biggest moral, ethical and professional challenges as a journalist have come from trying to publish articles about black men that are fair, even-handed and non-stereotypical. The book offered the opportunity to do that, as well as critique the way black masculinity is constructed in the media while being really transparent about the women doing the (de)constructing."

Annette John-Hall wrote last week in the Philadelphia Inquirer that the black man "whom the authors mention only in passing — and the media fail to acknowledge — is Everyday Tyrone. He's the hard-working, law-abiding, around-the-way brother. He could be your son, brother, husband or boyfriend who, chances are, has overcome plenty of obstacles and not only survived but thrived.

"For every fallen gang banger regaled in rap lyrics and lamented in headlines, there are at least four or five carpenters, SEPTA [public transit] drivers, "marketing majors, and doctors whose stories don't get told. It's not sexy to do the right thing."

Charlayne Hunter-Gault

Charlayne Hunter-Gault, the journalist who has reported for the New York Times, public television's "MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour," CNN and National Public Radio, wrote "The New News Out of Africa" (Oxford University Press, $23) in order to present "an Africa we rarely see," as the dust jacket says.

 

 

"We have to understand that the audience is not tuning out on Africa. It's the media decision makers who decide that Americans aren't interested," Hunter-Gault, who now reports from Africa for NPR, said to AllAfrica.com in October.

In the 142-page book, which grew out of three lectures Hunter-Gault gave at Harvard in 2003, the author writes, "as an African American in journalism, a profession that requires detachment, I have experienced the 'double consciousness' phenomenon captured by the activist historian W.E.B. Du Bois: 'One ever feels his two-ness, — an American, a Negro, two souls, two thoughts, two unrecognized strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.'

"Of course, Du Bois was writing of the conflicts African Americans experienced living in America. But I often find myself thinking about this description as I am challenged to reconcile my spiritual, cultural, and historical connections to Africa not only with the detachment my profession requires but also with the way I am perceived in Africa: as a foreigner, as an American, and sometimes even as white!"

Gil L. Robertson IV

Gil L. Robertson IV, who writes a syndicated lifestyle and entertainment column called "The Robertson Treatment," edited "Not in My Family: AIDS in the African-American Community" (Agate Press, $16, paper), a collection of personal essays from a cross-section of African Americans from the Rev. Al Sharpton to singer Patti LaBelle. The book was inspired by Robertson's own brother's living with the HIV virus and has a companion CD of gospel music, "Not in My Family: Songs of Healing and Inspiration," sold separately at $17.98.

 

 

One of the essays is by Linda Villarosa, who remembers writing, in 1986, the first article about AIDS in a major African American publication, Essence magazine.

However, "Robertson is proudest of the essays from people most of us are unlikely to have heard of," Jabari Asim wrote last month on washingtonpost.com. "They include a 15-year-old high school student in the Washington area, and a retired schoolteacher in St. Louis. The teacher's brief essay, both chilling and heartbreaking, recalls her loving 34-year relationship with a bisexual man who died of AIDS. After his diagnosis, she writes, 'the dread of telling our family about our well-kept secret was overwhelming, but because of the nature of this disease, we had to share certain information with our immediate family members in order to protect them.'

"The importance of sharing critical information is a theme that runs throughout the book, Robertson said. Equally crucial is the need to reach out to every member of the black community, regardless of economic class, education or background. 'This book isn't just for middle-class black professionals,' said Robertson. 'It's for Pookie, Sheniqua, for all of us. It's a conversation we all need to be a part of and we all need to feed from.'"

Harriet A. Washington

Harriet A. Washington, a medical journalist who is a fellow at DePaul University School of Law, wrote "Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans From Colonial Times to the Present" (Doubleday, $27.95).

 

 

"This historical and ethical work is the only comprehensive treatment [of] medical research with African Americans," Washington told Journal-isms.

"Journalists of color should be interested in this well-documented history (and present) of black medical research because medical research is becoming increasingly sophisticated as well as increasingly pervasive — research is coming to drive 'evidence-based medicine' and to dominate medical theory and practice. Yet only 1 to 2 percent of U.S. biomedical researchers are black, and black people remain far less likely than whites to be voluntarily included in research. If black people are not included in unbiased, therapeutic research, they will be left behind, as has already happened in AIDS research and treatment.

"Additionally, if black people do not learn to discern the difference between mythical dangers and real hazards in medical research, they will continue blindly to opt out of medical research, with the same result: We will be left behind.

"Both as investigators who reveal the dangers of medical bias and as educators to whom black patients turn for accurate, unbiased medical information, we trusted black journalists bear a responsibility to elevate the dialogue around medical research, its hazards, and its blessings."

Not by black journalists, but of interest:

Robert S. Boynton

Robert S. Boynton, assistant professor of journalism at New York University, put together "The New New Journalism: Conversations with America's Best Nonfiction Writers on Their Craft" (Vintage, $13.95, paper).

 

 

Among the 19 writers profiled is Leon Dash, the former Washington Post reporter who is now Swanlund Chair at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Dash is profiled and discusses the "immersion journalism" he practiced, most notably with his eight-part 1994 series "Rosa Lee: Poverty and Survival in Washington," winner of the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism.

"What I am seeking to do in my writing is to get as close as I can to the whole truth about someone's motivations as I can," Dash told Boynton. "I'm pursuing something that, while not 'absolute truth,' is a lot closer to the truth than most people have, including the policy formulators and social experts. . . . long-form nonfiction does something that none of the other media do. We take people on an extraordinary kind of a voyage, a voyage that can change them and the way they look at the world. Television can't compete with the experience of reading a really powerful piece of long-form nonfiction."

James T. Campbell

James T. Campbell, an associate professor of American civilization and Africana studies at Brown University, wrote "Middle Passages: African American Journeys to Africa, 1787-2005" (Penguin, $29.95).

 

 

Campbell's book includes a chapter on coverage of Africa by three black American reporters in the 1990s: Keith B. Richburg and Lynne Duke of the Washington Post and Howard W. French of the New York Times. He examines their backgrounds to explain their varying conclusions about the continent, as expressed in the book each wrote afterward.

"As products of the African American middle class in the post-civil rights era, as black reporters for white-owned newspapers, and as African Americans in Africa during the bloodiest decade in the continent's history, all three faced complex questions of interpretation and identity," Campbell wrote.

Richburg, who is now foreign editor at the Post, was repulsed by what he saw on the continent and later declared he wanted "no part of it." Duke and French, Campbell said, sought stories that "lay in 'the space between the archetypes,' stories that confronted suffering and trauma but also conveyed the resilience and dignity of real people."

After the Rwanda genocide and the mass killings in Zaire, those reporters, too, "often struggled against despair and hopelessness."

Writing in the Nation, Richard Wright biographer Hazel Rowley said of the book, which also discusses such literary figures as Wright, W.E.B. Du Bois, black conservative journalist George Schuyler and Langston Hughes, "Campbell's narrative is beautifully told and dense with detail. It is also singularly devoid of heroes, owing to the complex burdens of race. In this tangle of myths, contradictions and paradoxes, a visiting African-American is lucky to come away with his sanity intact. What place is there for heroes?"

Michael Gartner

Michael Gartner, veteran newspaper editor, principal owner of the Iowa Cubs, the Triple-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, and president of the Iowa Board of Regents, produced, with the Newseum, "Outrage, Passion, and Uncommon Sense: How Editorial Writers Have Taken On and Helped Shape the Great American Issues of the Past 150 Years" (National Geographic Books, $30).

 

 

This coffee-table book features a chapter on race that includes a 1937 column by Hodding Carter Jr. in the Delta Star of Greenville, Miss., in which Carter felt compelled to defend running a photo of African American sprinter Jesse Owens; an 1857 editorial in the Albany (N.Y.) Evening Journal disagreeing with the Supreme Court's pro-slavery Dred Scott decision, along with an editorial from Milledgeville, Ga., defending the ruling. It has an 1862 demand to Abraham Lincoln from New York Daily Tribune publisher Horace Greeley that the slaves be freed, and Lincoln's response — that his primary objective is to save the Union, not emancipation.

The chapter also includes a 1942 editorial from the San Francisco News urging Japanese Americans to cooperate with internment plans, as "the best possible way for all Japanese to demonstrate their loyalty to the United States."

Between the editorials is a replica of the front page of the Aug. 16, 1945, issue of the Chicago Defender, with the bold red headline, "Negro Scientists Help Produce 1st Atom Bomb."

Ira Katznelson

Ira Katznelson, Ruggles professor of political science and history at Columbia University, offers "When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America" (Norton, $25.95).

 

 

With cover blurbs from celebrity professors Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Cornel West, this book from 2005 should give pause to anyone who thinks affirmative action for people of color is unnecessary. Katznelson outlined the premise of the book in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post after Hurricane Katrina:

"Between 1945 and 1955, the federal government transferred more than $100 billion to support retirement programs and fashion opportunities for job skills, education, homeownership and small-business formation. Together, these domestic programs dramatically reshaped the country's social structure by creating a modern, well-schooled, homeowning middle class," he wrote.

"But most blacks were left out of all this. Southern members of Congress used occupational exclusions and took advantage of American federalism to ensure that national policies would not disturb their region's racial order. Farmworkers and maids, the jobs held by most blacks in the South, were denied Social Security pensions and access to labor unions. Benefits for veterans were administered locally. The GI Bill adapted to 'the southern way of life' by accommodating itself to segregation in higher education, to the job ceilings that local officials imposed on returning black soldiers and to a general unwillingness to offer loans to blacks even when such loans were insured by the federal government. Of the 3,229 GI Bill-guaranteed loans for homes, businesses and farms made in 1947 in Mississippi, for example, only two were offered to black veterans.

"This is unsettling history. . . black Americans were mainly left to fend for themselves. Ever since, American society has been confronted with the results of this twisted and unstated form of affirmative action."

Guy T. Meiss and Alice A. Tait

 

 

Guy T. Meiss and Alice A. Tait edited the three-volume "Ethnic Media in America: Images, Audiences, and Transforming Forces (Kendall/Hunt Publishing, $62, paper).

With subtitles such as "Strategies of Patriarchal Resistance and Containment" and "Hegemonic Devices and Film Translations of Women's Writings," this set is purely academic. However, it examines African American, Latino, Asian and Native American images in a variety of media, and it even includes a narrative on the creation of the Native American Journalists Association.

Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff

Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff have written the 528-page "The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation" (Random House, $30).

 

 

Roberts, former executive editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer and onetime managing editor of the New York Times, teaches at the Phllip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland. Klibanoff is managing editor for news at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. They spent more than a decade working on this book.

"Over and again, 'The Race Beat' demonstrates how honest journalism, most often led by liberal publishers and editors, changed the American South by exposing the cruel reality of segregation," E. Culpepper Clark, dean of the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, wrote in a review in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"The movement did not begin with white liberals. To be sure, editor Harry Ashmore of the Arkansas Gazette got to it early, but the black press got there first. Black journalists had access, and they had eyes. The most reliable accounts of the Montgomery bus boycott came from the Birmingham World, part of the Atlanta-based Daily World chain owned by C.A. Scott.

"But as the movement heated up — beginning in Little Rock in 1957 — and as radio and television began to dominate the scene, heroic black reporters found their skin color to be a hindrance and the overwhelming power of visual media to be a displacing phenomenon.

"By the 1960s, white journalists were fully on the scene. The movement itself, led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., became hyper-aware of the benefits of being seen, and it therefore welcomed, even calculated, media coverage."

Richard Prince's Journal-isms originates from Washington and is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It began in print before most of us knew what the Internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a "column." For newcomers: The words in blue (on most computers) are links leading to more information. The Web site BugMeNot.com provides passwords and user names to some registration-only news sites, but use may be illegal in some states. Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.

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