Required reading for education reformers seeking to broaden community connections and benefit minority constituencies.

WON'T LOSE THIS DREAM

HOW AN UPSTART URBAN UNIVERSITY REWROTE THE RULES OF A BROKEN SYSTEM

An urban university strikes a determined path to improve the academic performance and graduation rates of minority students—and does much more in the bargain.

Georgia State University is scattered across several campuses in Atlanta, long a choice of black and Latino students who lacked the means to go to schools farther from home. It barely ranked among institutions of higher learning until, during the last financial crisis, the university’s president made it a priority to improve conditions, thereby earning what journalist Gumbel calls “a national reputation for its pioneering work in retaining large numbers of students.” One example is a young man who, though “poor, black, and struggling to make it as the first in their family to attend college,” earned a degree in computer science. GSU initiated reforms along several lines, including enhanced financial aid even in a time when an increasingly conservative legislature was reducing educational funding. The administration also took an activist position in identifying parts of the culture of higher education that automatically assumed that minority students would not succeed. In the process, the GSU administration not only recruited more minority students than ever before; they also saw them graduate in higher numbers than the national average. Money was part of the equation; so was raising the number of student advisers substantially and changing certain pedagogical methods. “Committed leadership is of course essential,” writes Gumbel of such transformations as the one evidenced by GSU. But it’s not enough: The faculty must be invested in the change, and university representatives impressed upon Georgians, including legislators, the thought that adding college graduates to the urban mix by way of cost-effective educational programs would improve the economy, offering “a solid return on investment and moral justice, economic growth and social mobility.” Drawing on extensive on-the-ground reporting, Gumbel offers a richly detailed narrative of how such changes are effected.

Required reading for education reformers seeking to broaden community connections and benefit minority constituencies.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-62097-470-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

HUMANS

The creator of the hit internet series Humans of New York takes it global, chasing down a panoply of interesting stories.

In 1955, Edward Steichen staged a show called “The Family of Man,” a gathering of photographs that emphasized the commonality of humankind. Stanton’s project seemingly has much the same ambition. “You’ve created this magic little corner of the Web where people feel safe sharing their stories—without being ridiculed, or bullied, or judged,” he writes. “These stories are only honestly shared because they have a long history of being warmly received.” The ask is the hard part: approaching a total stranger and asking him or her to tell their stories. And what stories they are. A young Frenchwoman, tearful, recounts being able to see things from the spirit world that no one else can see. “And it’s been a very lonely existence since then,” she says. A sensible teenager in St. Petersburg, Russia, relates that her friends are trying to be grown-up, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, whereas she wants to remain a child close to her parents: “I’d like these times to last as long as possible.” A few stories are obnoxious, as with a Dutch incel who has converted himself into a pickup artist and outright cad: “Of course it’s manipulation, but why should I care? I’ve been manipulated so many times in my life.” A great many stories, some going for several pages but most taking up just a paragraph or two, are regretful, speaking to dashed dreams and roads not taken. A surprising number recount mental illness, depression, and addiction; “I’d give anything to have a tribe,” says a beleaguered mother in Barcelona. Some are hopeful, though, such as that of an Iranian woman: “I’ve fallen in love with literature. I try to read for one or two hours every day. I only have one life to live. But in books I can live one thousand lives.”

A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11429-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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