In-Your-Face Holiday Reads
Thursday, December 6, 2012
Richard Prince's Book Notes™: Stocking Stuffers (Part 1)
Books by and about journalists of color might make provocative holiday gifts, and more of them are available in ebook and audio versions. This list of nonfiction includes humorous, in-your-face takes on being black; collections of columns by legendary opinion writers; an answer to a Pulitzer Prize-winning book on Malcolm X; a 30-years-later look at journalists of the 1970s; a study of how television covered the civil rights era; and an examination of Michelle Obama's multiracial ancestry. A continuation of this list will be published in coming days.
John Avlon, Jesse Angelo and Errol Louis have edited "Deadline Artists: America's Greatest Newspaper Columns" (Overlook, $29.95, cloth; $17.95, paper; Nook version, $10.99), and "Deadline Artists--Scandals, Tragedies and Triumphs: More of America's Greatest Newspaper Columns" (Overlook, $29.95, cloth; Nook version, $14.99).
The publisher argues that, "At a time of great transition in the news media, when obituaries for newspapers are being written every day, Deadline Artists makes the case for the continued relevance of opinion journalism. Beloved but half-remembered columns that were gathering dust in libraries or moldering on microfilm are now available in one volume, celebrating the near-miracle that stories composed on daily deadlines can resonate with beauty and power decades later."
Bloggers might note the art and skill that accompany good opinion writing.
Avlon is senior columnist for Newsweek and the Daily Beast as well as a CNN contributor. Angelo is editor-in-chief of the Daily, the made-for-iPad "newspaper" that announced this week it was ending publication. Louis, a black journalist, is the political anchor of NY1 News.
Unlike comparable collections, these volumes make an effort at diversity. Alongside Thomas L. Friedman, Ernie Pyle, Red Smith and Mark Twain are Langston Hughes, Frederick Douglass, Carl T. Rowan, Stanley Crouch, William Raspberry, Leonard Pitts Jr., Eugene Robinson, Cynthia Tucker and Bob Herbert, all African Americans. The first volume, released last year, featured no Hispanics, Native Americans or Asian Americans. A sequel, "Deadline Artists--Scandals, Tragedies and Triumphs: More of America's Greatest Newspaper Columns," was published last month, and slain Los Angeles Times journalist Ruben Salazar is included.
Jared A. Ball and Todd Steven Burroughs, who teach communication studies at Morgan State University, edited "A Lie of Reinvention: Correcting Manning Marable's Malcolm X" (Black Classic Press, $18.95, paper).
The late Manning Marable's "Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention" won this year's Pulitzer Prize for history despite strong dissent from several politically active black scholars when the book was published. Ball and Burroughs have assembled the contributions of 19 of the critics.
"Marable's 'definitive masterpiece' was to us a mere tombstone: a 600-page eulogy that attempted to lay permanently to rest the Malcolm X that we knew and revered," Ball writes. "Indeed, it aimed to bury the very ideas that produced Malcolm X and those he made his own, our own. The book attacked the very ideas that made Malcolm X and all Black people then, and now, dangerous." Burroughs writes that the book had to be written to correct the record. ". . . Our larger commitment to historical memory dwarfs any concerns about offending Manning Marable's admirers, colleagues, friends, and students."
Aniko Bodroghkozy, an associate professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, has "Equal Time: Television and the Civil Rights Movement" (University of Illinois Press, $50, cloth).
"Equal Time" examines the news media's contemporary coverage of the civil rights movement, including that by the black press, and the effects of the movement on prime-time television entertainment in the 1960s and '70s. Chapters are devoted to coverage of the March on Washington in 1963 and the Selma-to-Montgomery march of 1965, and in entertainment to Diahann Carroll's "Julia" and the Norman Lear-produced "Good Times."
Bodroghkozy writes, "Both civil rights activists and Southern segregationists understood the political power of television, and both were interested in using this new instrument to speak to national (read: non-Southern) audiences.
"The former were clearly more successful in negotiating with the medium, but network television was not interested in doing the bidding of even the most moderate of civil rights groups, nor was television bent on always demonizing and dismissing the segregationist position. If a civil rights group could be labeled 'militant' — and we will see NBC's Chet Huntley so label the NAACP in 1959 — then that group could be legitimated as a political player as segregationists cheered and welcomed Huntley in as potentially one of their own."
In an epilogue on the Obama era, Bodroghkozy writes, "While it is both reductive and simplistic to suggest that network television's circulation and audiences' embrace of certain types of black representation have led to the election of a black president, this book has traced the mobilization of a certain type of image that, when appropriately paired with figures of whiteness, were presumed to make whites less anxious about social change."
Television news personnel, engaging in "a certain amount of utopian gushing" after Obama's election, "probably had no idea that they were borrowing from an old script. . . . "
Donna Britt, former columnist for the Washington Post, has "Brothers (& me): A memoir of loving and giving" (Little, Brown and Co., $25.99, cloth and audio; $12.99 ebook; Kindle edition, $11.04; Nook version, $12.99.)
Britt wrote a version of this message to fellow columnists last year as this book was released:
"The holidays are perfect for diving into and for sharing with readers Brothers (and me), an exploration of women's intriguing penchant for giving. Library Journal calls the book 'more personal but no less significant' than Condoleezza Rice's memoir, and the Boston Globe describes it as 'alternately raw and elegant… a wrenching examination of a life through the prism of racism, sexism, and unconditional devotion.'
"Brothers traces how my male-steeped life as the twice-married sister of three brothers and mother of three sons taught me to give — sometimes unwisely— to men, a problem shared by millions of women. My own giving was inspired by loss: The inexplicable, decades-ago death of my brother at the hands of hometown police, an uncalled-for killing that years later would be echoed in Trayvon Martin's slaying.
"Darrell's death taught me how inextricably loss and giving are intertwined for black women, whose experiences with the endangerment, diminishment and deaths of our husbands, lovers, sons and, yes, brothers causes many of us to reflexively protect, support and give to them in response. Brothers (and me) encourages giving women to trace their own journeys to giving and to utilize this gift more wisely."
Britt believes in plumbing her emotions and has delivered an Oprah-ready saga that includes some surprises about her personal life. She also adheres to a principle followed by the best writers: every word is carefully selected.
This month, Britt writes on her website, "in the spirit of the holiday, I'll for the next 25 days give in to the giving impulse that's all too natural to me. Each day until Christmas, I'll offer a different mindful gift: to students, seniors, friends, total strangers, even to myself. . . . Brothers (and me) described my journey from questioning to celebrating my giving. My goal now is to demonstrate that mindful giving expands the giver regardless of how the gift is received. But real life is unpredictable, so stay tuned as I test my theory while blogging — frankly, honestly — about each day's gift and what emerges."
Wayne Dawkins, assistant professor of journalism at Hampton University, has "City Son: Andrew W. Cooper's Impact on Modern-Day Brooklyn" (University Press of Mississippi, $35, cloth and ebook; Kindle edition, $19.25; Nook version, $22.75.)
As Dawkins writes on the book jacket, the City Sun was "a feisty Brooklyn-based weekly that published from 1984 to 1996. Whether the stories were about Mayor Koch or Rev. Al Sharpton, Howard Beach or Crown Heights, Tawana Brawley's dubious rape allegations, the Daily News Four trial, or Spike Lee's filmmaking career, Cooper's City Sun commanded attention and moved officials and readers to action."
The weekly tabloid broke the mold for the black press, criticizing African American officials along with other powers that be.
Cooper, who died in 2002, gave Dawkins a start in journalism at Trans Urban News Service in the 1970s. Cooper's widow, Jocelyn C. Cooper, asked Dawkins to write her husband's biography. In a cover blurb, Dawkins' Hampton colleague Earl Caldwell, the veteran journalist and Maynard Institute co-founder, calls the book "chock full of significant and compelling stories not previously told."
Written for academic audiences as well as a more general audience, Dawkins told Journal-isms, "Since July publication, City Son is listed in at least 110 mostly campus libraries [dominant states, NY-NJ, Calif., Miss.-Tenn.], including Canada, Wales, Australia and the Netherlands.
"Journalists of color should read this book if they want to understand the resurrection of Brooklyn as a destination [AWC can take credit for the Brooklyn Nets dribbling along Flatbush and Atlantic avenues]. 'City Son' also chronicles the hot-button cases of the '80s: Howard Beach/Tawana Brawley/Central Park Jogger assault [subject of a new Ken Burns documentary]. And, it's a good read about a newspaper that had a remarkable 12-year run. Dozens of their journalists continue to practice at other outlets."
Patrice Evans, a staff writer for grantland.com who created the "Ghetto Pass" column for gawker.com, has "Negropedia: The Assimilated Negro's Crash Course on the Modern Black Experience" (Three Rivers Press, $14, paper; Kindle and Nook versions, $9.99).
Evans told the New Yorker's Jason Parham in October 2011: "In a way, when you write a book like 'Negropedia,' that's the moment when you turn into a character or persona. When the straight-forward, intellectual territory has been mined, it's tough, at least from a creative standpoint, to be fresh and original. Negropedia is a very personal, idiosyncratic, and quirky manifestation of my perspective on race. Hopefully, it's a gateway drug of sorts to more 'Negropedias.' This is a time when minority Americans can use the voice of the Internet to post content and find an audience. The whole beauty and joy of this moment is that we aren't constrained by the paradigms of the past, the orthodoxy surrounding the conversation about civil rights, politics, and social activism.
"Now, even though many of the same issues still exist, there are more outlets and opportunities to voice your quirky, personal take on something — and it can become a joke, or a play, or a Web series like Awkward Black Girl, or it becomes a Web site like the Root or Black Voices, or even gets channeled into more mainstream cultural or political entertainment. I think that's where the conversation goes. It becomes a sort of prism, some fractured perspective that you can’t predict."
Stephen Hess, senior fellow emeritus in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, has "Whatever Happened to the Washington Reporters, 1978-2012" (Brookings Institution Press, $29.95, cloth and ebook; Kindle edition, $16.17; Nook, $16.77).
In 1978, Hess surveyed 450 journalists who were covering national government for U.S. commercial news organizations. A generation later, Hess and a team from Brookings and George Washington University tracked down 90 percent of the original group, interviewing 283 of them.
"Diversity" gets its own chapter in this book on the results. Fifteen African Americans were surveyed in 1978, including Roy Betts, Warren Brown, Diane Camper, Karen DeWitt, Mal Johnson, Harold J. Logan, Barbara Reynolds, Marilyn Robinson, Lee Thornton, Carole Simpson and Betty Anne Williams. Hess has accounted for all but three. The late television anchor David Garcia, whose obituary called him "a pioneering Latino journalist with a velvet voice," is also among the interviewees.
Hess is disappointed at the lack of more diversity progress. ". . . None of the black network correspondents have reached the highest rung since Ed Bradley died in 2006, although Byron Pitts of CBS Evening News is starting to appear on 60 Minutes," he writes. The chapter closes with a 2005 quote from Frank James, formerly a reporter at the Wall Street Journal and Chicago Tribune who is now at NPR:
"When I go to press conferences in Washington, D.C., I'm often the only black reporter. I'm lucky if there's another one. This might be twenty or thirty people, and I'm the only black. It makes me ask myself, 'How could it be that in 2005 you have a press conference in Washington, D.C., a city that is majority black, and I'm the only black reporter here?' . . . Does it have a personal effect on me? Sure, it saddens me that here we are in 2005 and I'm the only. I don't want to be the only."
Rachel L. Swarns, a Washington-based New York Times reporter, has "American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White, and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama" (Amistad, $27.99 cloth; ebook, $16.99; audio, $23.62; Kindle version, $12.99; Nook editions, $16.99 and $17.99, enhanced).
The Dec. 2 print edition of the New York Times Book Review listed this book among the "100 Notable Books of 2012," and John McMurtrie of the San Francisco Chronicle included it among his gift guide for stocking stuffers and doorstoppers.
"American Tapestry" started as a Times story by Swarns and Jodi Kantor in October 2009.
"I found the first lady's family story fascinating — and I think many journalists of color will as well — because it reflects the history of this country in all of its complexities," Swarns told Journal-isms by email.
"Her ancestors were African American slaves, mixed race people who lived free for decades before the Civil War, and Irish Americans who fought for the Confederacy. And they had front row seats to some of the biggest moments in our history: slavery, the Civil War, Emancipation, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Great Migration. So many of us have similar stories in our own families. I hope that 'American Tapestry' will inspire journalists — who spend so much time reporting on the lives of other people — to take the time to dig into their own family stories."
Writing in the Washington Post, Martha Southgate said circumstances conspired against complete success for Swarns: "What works against her, and against the full success of the book, is the sketchiness of the history that the system of slavery created and enforced and the rareness of literacy among slaves and their immediate descendants," Southgate wrote. "Few letters, journals or notes have survived, all the written ephemera so crucial to the historian in discovering the mindset of his or her subjects. Further, many of those in the generations immediately after slavery maintained a staunch silence about the experience, as though to blot out the horror. . . ."
Baratunde Thurston, director of digital at the Onion, cofounder of Jack & Jill Politics and a stand-up comedian, has "How to Be Black" (Harper, $24.99, cloth; $14.99 paper; Nook version, $2.99). Thurston added in this message posted on Facebook Friday: "Are you afraid to read How To Be Black in public? Now you can get it for just $2.99 on Amazon Kindle."
Reading the book in public can draw curious reactions, as a white woman calling herself Cinnamon explained on goodreads.com:
"I am loving this book so far. If nothing else, the conversations, smirks, giggles, and very confused looks I've gotten while reading this book in public have been great.
"Having an older African American woman point at the book, smirk and say 'Good luck with that!' was a highlight of my week. And then just a few days later an older African American gentleman went on a rant to me about 'in his day' black people were trying to be white and now there were too many white folks trying to act black, but you have to be born black, you can't become black. And when I explained that it was humorous social commentary intended to discuss subtle or latent racism, he scoffed even louder and told me 'of course y'all take that from a funny black guy, if he was angry y'all would ignore him and run away from him. . . .' "
Thurston keeps busy. His website says, "In the past two years alone he has spoken at South by Southwest, Google Atmosphere, the Online News Association Conference, Netroots Nation, the Mashable Awards, Web 2.0 Expo, Personal Democracy Forum, Internet Week NY, Social Media Week, TribeCon, the ACLU Annual Dinner (Mass., Mich. and Okla.), Surf Summit 14 (Mexico), The AtlanTech Dinner (Paris), The FD Summit (Amsterdam), The Guardian Changing Media Summit (UK) and Digital Directions (Australia). In May 2011, he spoke at the presidential palace in Tbilisi, Georgia (the country) on the role of satire in a healthy democracy, and he advises The White House on digital strategy.
"Baratunde performs standup comedy regularly in New York City, resides in Brooklyn, lives on Twitter and has over 30 years experience being black."
Program Note: "Black in America"
"The issue of racial identity within the African-American community will be the focus of a Dec. 9 CNN Black In America documentary, according to network officials," R. Thomas Umstead reported for Multichannel News.
"Hosted by Soledad O'Brien, Who is Black in America? — the fifth installment of CNN's Black In America documentary franchise — will examine how much race and identity are personal choices versus reflections of what society thinks and believes. . . . "
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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