A powerful, sometimes poetic account of Black life in America.

NI@$AS AIN'T ASTRONAUTS

An educator’s memoir chronicles growing up in Black Detroit.

As an educator, Murphy has seen firsthand “the beauty, and ugliness, of life,” particularly in the experiences of his Black students. He recalls one pupil who was caught smoking marijuana at school. After seeing the anguish on the student’s face when his mother warned him about “ending up like his father,” the author decided to write this book. Murphy wanted to recount his own struggles to overcome the pain of growing up with an absentee father and grappling with his racial identity in America. This story focuses on an average Black youngster growing up in 1970s Detroit whose unassuming life included a stern mother with an acerbic tongue (a “vulgar Shakespeare”) and an extended family known by an assortment of nicknames. While many chapters explore the morose urban life of the ’70s, including learning the “rules of survival” and earning “Hood credibility,” some of the book’s strongest moments address the innocence of childhood. For example, after being shot in the eye with a BB gun that nearly left him blind, the author recounts that his most vivid memory was wondering about the tooth fairy after losing a tooth while under anesthesia. The second half of the work centers on Murphy’s academic experiences, beginning with a “liberating” stint at Grand Rapids Community College, where he earned a reputation as a “militant” after serving as vice president of the Black Student Union. The author would go on to Morgan State University in Baltimore, where he had a daughter with a girlfriend whose early death would leave him a single father.

Murphy’s story is a compelling coming-of-age tale of a successful educator and loving father who surmounted obstacles and tragedy. But along with the memoir’s immensely readable narrative are passages of poetic reflections on Black life in America. The book’s descriptions of Detroit, where “every day” the author “lost a little more humanity and compassion,” and his debilitating “white folk fatigue” are particularly poignant. Equally potent is his defense of historically Black colleges and universities, whose value transcends academic rankings. They provided Murphy a curriculum centered on “pride about what my people—African people—had done,” teaching him lessons about the African diaspora that were completely ignored in his public school classes. Though the memoir’s message is one of triumph, Murphy does not shy away from his own mistakes, particularly his failed relationships with women. Indeed, humanity in all its complexity—from complicated relationships with parents to embarrassing sexual escapades—seeps from every page. The book’s title, which harkens to an episode in the author’s life as a 6-year-old boy when he was rebuked by his mother for wanting to be an astronaut, reflects the story’s approach of avoiding romanticizing the past while not wallowing in its unfairness. Despite living a life that could have easily broken him, Murphy constantly reminds readers (as he does his students) of their own agency in choosing “to be a victim or a victor.” Some may consider the volume’s warning not to “blame white people” or “the system” counterproductive to ongoing conversations about systemic racism. But this work is a testimony to both the destructiveness of racism and the strength of Murphy’s resiliency.

A powerful, sometimes poetic account of Black life in America.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 253

Publisher: Manuscript

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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The heartbreaking story of an emotionally battered child delivered with captivating candor and grace.

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I'M GLAD MY MOM DIED

The former iCarly star reflects on her difficult childhood.

In her debut memoir, titled after her 2020 one-woman show, singer and actor McCurdy (b. 1992) reveals the raw details of what she describes as years of emotional abuse at the hands of her demanding, emotionally unstable stage mom, Debra. Born in Los Angeles, the author, along with three older brothers, grew up in a home controlled by her mother. When McCurdy was 3, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Though she initially survived, the disease’s recurrence would ultimately take her life when the author was 21. McCurdy candidly reconstructs those in-between years, showing how “my mom emotionally, mentally, and physically abused me in ways that will forever impact me.” Insistent on molding her only daughter into “Mommy’s little actress,” Debra shuffled her to auditions beginning at age 6. As she matured and starting booking acting gigs, McCurdy remained “desperate to impress Mom,” while Debra became increasingly obsessive about her daughter’s physical appearance. She tinted her daughter’s eyelashes, whitened her teeth, enforced a tightly monitored regimen of “calorie restriction,” and performed regular genital exams on her as a teenager. Eventually, the author grew understandably resentful and tried to distance herself from her mother. As a young celebrity, however, McCurdy became vulnerable to eating disorders, alcohol addiction, self-loathing, and unstable relationships. Throughout the book, she honestly portrays Debra’s cruel perfectionist personality and abusive behavior patterns, showing a woman who could get enraged by everything from crooked eyeliner to spilled milk. At the same time, McCurdy exhibits compassion for her deeply flawed mother. Late in the book, she shares a crushing secret her father revealed to her as an adult. While McCurdy didn’t emerge from her childhood unscathed, she’s managed to spin her harrowing experience into a sold-out stage act and achieve a form of catharsis that puts her mind, body, and acting career at peace.

The heartbreaking story of an emotionally battered child delivered with captivating candor and grace.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-982185-82-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2022

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A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

TANQUERAY

A former New York City dancer reflects on her zesty heyday in the 1970s.

Discovered on a Manhattan street in 2020 and introduced on Stanton’s Humans of New York Instagram page, Johnson, then 76, shares her dynamic history as a “fiercely independent” Black burlesque dancer who used the stage name Tanqueray and became a celebrated fixture in midtown adult theaters. “I was the only black girl making white girl money,” she boasts, telling a vibrant story about sex and struggle in a bygone era. Frank and unapologetic, Johnson vividly captures aspects of her former life as a stage seductress shimmying to blues tracks during 18-minute sets or sewing lingerie for plus-sized dancers. Though her work was far from the Broadway shows she dreamed about, it eventually became all about the nightly hustle to simply survive. Her anecdotes are humorous, heartfelt, and supremely captivating, recounted with the passion of a true survivor and the acerbic wit of a weathered, street-wise New Yorker. She shares stories of growing up in an abusive household in Albany in the 1940s, a teenage pregnancy, and prison time for robbery as nonchalantly as she recalls selling rhinestone G-strings to prostitutes to make them sparkle in the headlights of passing cars. Complemented by an array of revealing personal photographs, the narrative alternates between heartfelt nostalgia about the seedier side of Manhattan’s go-go scene and funny quips about her unconventional stage performances. Encounters with a variety of hardworking dancers, drag queens, and pimps, plus an account of the complexities of a first love with a drug-addled hustler, fill out the memoir with personality and candor. With a narrative assist from Stanton, the result is a consistently titillating and often moving story of human struggle as well as an insider glimpse into the days when Times Square was considered the Big Apple’s gloriously unpolished underbelly. The book also includes Yee’s lush watercolor illustrations.

A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

Pub Date: July 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-27827-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2022

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