A formally inventive celebration of Black womanhood.

BLACK CHAMELEON

MEMORY, WOMANHOOD, AND MYTH

Houston’s first Black poet laureate weaves mythology and magic into a genre-bending memoir.

Mouton remembers sitting on the porch of the Poetry Foundation when a butterfly perched on a fellow poet’s skin. When the poet smiled and said that Mexican mythology identifies butterflies as visiting ancestors, Mouton thought about her enslaved ancestors’ separation from African mythology, which should have been her birthright. “When have Black people in the Americas,” she asks, “had the time to create a history outside the one they were just trying to survive? And in the few moments we get to dream aloud, who is there to record our origins beyond a whitewashed dictation?” These questions drive Mouton’s memoir, in which she uses incidents from her personal history to create a new Black, female mythology. For example, in one chapter, a memory of sexual harassment leads to the myth of Acirema, a god of White supremacism whom Mouton kills but ultimately cannot vanquish. After the author chronicles how her weight prevented her from enjoying multiple amusement park rides, she writes an alternative reality in which her body is too powerful for the park to contain, which she follows with a myth she tells her daughter about how the graceful movement of her female ancestors’ curvy bodies allowed them to save the children of a plantation from hungry alligators: “The waves were rising and falling to the motion of their hips. This hypnotism was the perfect way to stop the gators.” At best, the book is lyrical, tender, and generous, celebrating the beauty of the oppressed with wildly imaginative and artfully rendered prose. Some of the devices—such as referring to the writer’s past homes with mythical names, like the Empire, the City of Angels, and Space City, instead of their actual names—feel overly dramatic. Overall, though, this innovative mix of myth and nonfiction is a pleasure to read.

A formally inventive celebration of Black womanhood.

Pub Date: March 7, 2023

ISBN: 9781250827852

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2022

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

TANQUERAY

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 28, 2022

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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

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