A fresh, incisive, and uplifting biography/social history.

JAMES BALDWIN

LIVING IN FIRE

A concise biography of the celebrated black author’s radical voice.

Mullen (American Studies/Purdue Univ.; W.E.B. Du Bois: Revolutionary Across the Color Line, 2016, etc.) believes the time is right for a new biography of Baldwin (1924-1987), one that focuses on his political life and development. He argues that Baldwin’s role in campaigns for social justice has been “underappreciated,” and his emergence as an “icon of the global Black Lives Matter movement” requires a new assessment of him as a popular-culture touchstone. Also, as a queer black man, he is now seen as a forerunner in today’s debates on gender and race issues. Mullen’s approach is chronological: He moves from Baldwin’s youth as the oldest of nine children in a poor Harlem family to his radical student years and development as a writer to his years abroad (Paris, Istanbul) and his return to America to become a tireless, politically astute spokesman for civil and sexual rights, including AIDS. As poet Amiri Baraka noted at his funeral, Baldwin served as “God’s revolutionary black mouth.” Paralleling Baldwin’s personal story, Mullen deftly recounts the historical backdrop—the Vietnam War and protests, the Young People’s Socialist League, the Communist Party in America, the Palestinian liberation movement, the Nation of Islam, Black Power, Malcolm X, and the FBI’s relentless and crushing surveillance of Baldwin and black radicals—to more clearly assess Baldwin’s substantial role in the political and literary worlds from the 1940s to the 1980s. Throughout, Mullen discusses Baldwin as an influential novelist, playwright, essayist, and critic, quoting generously from his works. Giovanni’s Room was an “avatar of contemporary gay literature.” In The Fire Next Time, “Baldwin’s combined role as mentor, historian, and advocate for struggle on the streets found its literary complement.” A “somber, simmering, angry novel,” If Beale Street Could Talk is his “most damning single fictional indictment of the criminal justice system.”

A fresh, incisive, and uplifting biography/social history.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7453-3854-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Pluto Press

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US

A MEMOIR

In her first nonfiction book, novelist Grande (Dancing with Butterflies, 2009, etc.) delves into her family’s cycle of separation and reunification.

Raised in poverty so severe that spaghetti reminded her of the tapeworms endemic to children in her Mexican hometown, the author is her family’s only college graduate and writer, whose honors include an American Book Award and International Latino Book Award. Though she was too young to remember her father when he entered the United States illegally seeking money to improve life for his family, she idolized him from afar. However, she also blamed him for taking away her mother after he sent for her when the author was not yet 5 years old. Though she emulated her sister, she ultimately answered to herself, and both siblings constantly sought affirmation of their parents’ love, whether they were present or not. When one caused disappointment, the siblings focused their hopes on the other. These contradictions prove to be the narrator’s hallmarks, as she consistently displays a fierce willingness to ask tough questions, accept startling answers, and candidly render emotional and physical violence. Even as a girl, Grande understood the redemptive power of language to define—in the U.S., her name’s literal translation, “big queen,” led to ridicule from other children—and to complicate. In spelling class, when a teacher used the sentence “my mamá loves me” (mi mamá me ama), Grande decided to “rearrange the words so that they formed a question: ¿Me ama mi mamá? Does my mama love me?”

A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6177-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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