A revealing and rewarding biography documenting the life, work, and historical relevance of a great American author.

LORRAINE HANSBERRY

THE LIFE BEHIND A RAISIN IN THE SUN

Acclaimed biographer Shields explores the life and work of one of the most celebrated American playwrights of the 20th century.

Drawing on meticulously researched sources, including previously unpublished interviews and private correspondence, Shields offers an illuminating portrait of Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965) and her tragically brief but formidable career. Shields, author of biographies of Kurt Vonnegut and Harper Lee, deftly sets the particularities of Hansberry’s life against a backdrop of relevant themes. These include the Great Migration of African Americans out of the rural South, housing crises in urban centers such as Chicago, intensifying civil rights battles on a variety of fronts, acute concerns over nuclear proliferation, and the appeal of the Communist Party for America’s disenfranchised. The author’s analyses of his subject’s intellectual and literary growth are especially admirable. Raised in a family whose wealth depended on an often predatory mode of capitalism, Hansberry embraced Marxism as a young adult, and the tension created by her commitment to socialism forms one of the most striking subplots of this narrative. Moreover, Shields skillfully locates Hansberry’s evolving ideology within contemporary literary and political movements. For example, the author gives us a clear sense of the influence of Irish playwright Seán O'Casey, of fellow American authors and public intellectuals such as James Baldwin, and of a range of figures interested in critiquing conventional gender roles. As Shields notes of his subject’s immersion in avant-garde critical perspectives, “when there was, as yet, no national feminist discourse coming from any quarter, Hansberry was schooled in woman-centered intersectional thinking by some of the most progressive black women of her day.” The book’s subtitle ultimately delivers on its promise, as the author provides a fascinating view of the personal and cultural forces informing Hansberry’s dramatic masterpiece, A Raisin in the Sun.

A revealing and rewarding biography documenting the life, work, and historical relevance of a great American author.

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-20553-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2021

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

Did you like this book?

more