A few of the parts are more powerful than the whole.

Uneven collection of nine essays by Alexander (African-American Studies/Yale) examining the role of the black artist in the larger culture and within the black community.

Early on, the author articulates her intent: to reveal what she calls the “black interior . . . black life and creativity behind the public face of stereotype and limited imagination.” She pursues this goal variously. Several essays explore the lives, imaginations, and creations of black artists and pioneers, among them Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Michael Harper, and Anna Julia Cooper. Others meditate on the significance of various cultural artifacts and historical events, including the murder of Emmett Till and the O.J. Simpson trial. Another group provides lengthy and not always engaging explications of poems by noted black poets. (Alexander is herself the author of three poetry collections.) The pieces here certainly display the considerable range of Alexander’s interests as an essayist, though the results are mixed. Her literary analyses, overly technical for general readers, will no doubt interest professors of prosody. The more personal essays are appealing and even riveting, especially one about the evolution (or lack thereof) of Jet, which she calls a “little lozenge of a magazine.” Another very strong essay, “A Black Man Says ‘Sorbet’,” explores the image of African-American men in American culture by focusing on Johnnie Cochran, Colin Ferguson, Basquiat, and David Hampton, whose weird story inspired John Guare’s play Six Degrees of Separation. She again pursues the issue of the black man’s image in “Denzel,” indulging in an overlong exegesis of the film Ricochet before emerging with the unremarkable observation that buddy movies frequently float on streams of homoerotic energy. It’s also hardly necessary for Alexander to tell us that Louis Armstrong was a jazz trumpeter. Her concluding piece on the Rodney King case, however, is a tour de force.

A few of the parts are more powerful than the whole.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-55597-393-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2003



This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996




An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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