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NOLA FACE

A LATINA’S LIFE IN THE BIG EASY

A compelling collection that explores a unique life from many angles.

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A writer reflects on her craft and the inspiration she’s drawn from the vibrant chaos of her family and her New Orleans hometown.

Champagne opens her essay collection with a discussion of when she started to teach creative writing at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge: “Often, we sucked. Still, we taught anyway.” Champagne eventually learned to play the performative role of “expert-cum-doofus” and build rapport with students through games such as “Two truths and a lie,” which becomes a recurring theme. The essays weave in and out of her memories, offering shifting perspectives on the Big Easy and her boisterous family members. Among the most influential person in her life was her tough, Ecuadorian grandmother, Lala. In “Cielito Lindo,” Champagne describes their late-night hunts for beignets through the French Quarter and begins a dialectic on the different “worlds” of English and Spanish. In “Lying in Translation,” she grapples with how some of Lala’s actions might be seen by others as abusive: “I still ask myself if I can be trusted to know what I felt across my two languages and cultures,” she writes. These ideas come into focus much later in “Bobbitt,” in which Champagne’s searing analysis of the Lorena Bobbitt trial ties together powerful reflections on culture, gender, false memories, and translation. In “What I Know About the Chicken Lady,” Champagne’s French Sicilian father recounts his use of crack cocaine and his dalliance with voodoo, and later, in “Exercises,” Champagne simultaneously deconstructs their contentious relationship and her efforts to find her own voice as a writer.

Violence seems to lurk around every corner in Champagne’s essays, like the active shooter present at the hospital during the birth of her daughter (“Push”) or the harrowing carjacking at the center of “Nice Lady.” The latter is a standout, allowing Champagne to push further into her ideas on false narratives, address her thoughts on racism, and completely change the way readers will think about the word pop forever over the course of one terrifying paragraph. Whether she’s recounting a cruel game played by her mother or taking her sister to a job interview at a strip club, the author draws from a dizzying number of influences before distilling them into singular, powerful moments. Her family stories are somehow simultaneously soulful, comforting, electric, and possibly dangerous—much like her well-studied setting, the city of New Orleans. Her descriptions give the place an alluring sense of magical realism, which she then balances with a deadpan sense of observational and self-deprecating humor. Some tangents and metaphors—such as her extended analysis of her place in the Gen X spectrum, or the metatextual piece “McCleaning with the Dustbuster”—have less impact than others. She’s at the height of her powers when she focuses on telling and re-telling her lived experiences. Each essay and stray thought invites readers further into her processes, even when they feel contradictory or convoluted. As she notes herself, “Humans contain multitudes.”

A compelling collection that explores a unique life from many angles.

Pub Date: April 1, 2024

ISBN: 9780820366531

Page Count: 192

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2024

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TANQUERAY

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

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  • New York Times Bestseller

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 27, 2022

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LOVE, PAMELA

A juicy story with some truly crazy moments, yet Anderson's good heart shines through.

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The iconic model tells the story of her eventful life.

According to the acknowledgments, this memoir started as "a fifty-page poem and then grew into hundreds of pages of…more poetry." Readers will be glad that Anderson eventually turned to writing prose, since the well-told anecdotes and memorable character sketches are what make it a page-turner. The poetry (more accurately described as italicized notes-to-self with line breaks) remains strewn liberally through the pages, often summarizing the takeaway or the emotional impact of the events described: "I was / and still am / an exceptionally / easy target. / And, / I'm proud of that." This way of expressing herself is part of who she is, formed partly by her passion for Anaïs Nin and other writers; she is a serious maven of literature and the arts. The narrative gets off to a good start with Anderson’s nostalgic memories of her childhood in coastal Vancouver, raised by very young, very wild, and not very competent parents. Here and throughout the book, the author displays a remarkable lack of anger. She has faced abuse and mistreatment of many kinds over the decades, but she touches on the most appalling passages lightly—though not so lightly you don't feel the torment of the media attention on the events leading up to her divorce from Tommy Lee. Her trip to the pages of Playboy, which involved an escape from a violent fiance and sneaking across the border, is one of many jaw-dropping stories. In one interesting passage, Julian Assange's mother counsels Anderson to desexualize her image in order to be taken more seriously as an activist. She decided that “it was too late to turn back now”—that sexy is an inalienable part of who she is. Throughout her account of this kooky, messed-up, enviable, and often thrilling life, her humility (her sons "are true miracles, considering the gene pool") never fails her.

A juicy story with some truly crazy moments, yet Anderson's good heart shines through.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2023

ISBN: 9780063226562

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2023

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