After four tries, celebrated black filmmaker-photographer-Renaissance man Parks finally gets his autobiography right, the...


VOICES IN THE MIRROR: An Autobiography

After four tries, celebrated black filmmaker-photographer-Renaissance man Parks finally gets his autobiography right, the last full shot being 1979's To Smile in Autumn, which covered most of the highlights spelled out here. Aside from an update on his love life and the revelation that his son David had an illesitimats daughter (and grandchild) neither David nor Gordon knew about, not much new appears, and some earlier highlights have received much, much fuller treatment before. So what's up? Well, the new version cuts the excessive poeticizing down to perhaps only two percent of the text. What's left is pure narrative, with connective monologues or thoughts about what's happening after each major peak in the tale--thoughts that hit home with their aptness, are movingly modest, and yet lay open bone. Also part of the updating are Parks's receiving the National Medal of Arts at the White House in 1988; a double-edged hometown celebration of his achievements, in Fort Scott, Kansas; the mounting of his ballet Martin in Washington, D.C., and the sabotaging of his stunningly well-received film Leadbelly by Barry Diller's reign at Paramount. The rest of the story grows on the reader until there is no question that Parks has at last distilled his life down into a classic of black autobiography that deserves the widest possible readership and will be an educational bench-mark in the lives of many young black--and white--readers. Bitter poverty in Fort Scott finds Parks cast out on his own at 15; playing piano in whorehouses; waitering on trains; swabbing out flophouses; working for the CCC's federal reforestation project. Slowly Parks hits the big time in many arts as he becomes the first black staff photographer for Life and fashion fotog for Vogue; writes a piano concerto and books and is the first black movie director for a major company; and lays down big tracks everywhere. The strongest passages are about his documentaries for Life on world poverty; crime in America; and the black revolution of the Sixties, along with tying himself in with Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver, Muhummad Ali, and other black nationalists. Did he settle for the easier path, of success in the white world? Far from it: he cleared the way for others for that same success. Deeply satisfying, with many basso profundo notes of torment.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1990


Page Count: -

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1990