AIR TRAFFIC by Gregory Pardlo


A Memoir of Ambition and Manhood in America
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A celebrated poet shares the stories that defined him.

Near the beginning of his first work of nonfiction, Pulitzer Prize winner Pardlo (Digest, 2014, etc.) discusses the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization strike of 1981, which served as a way for Ronald Reagan to demonstrate his presidential power. The author’s father, an air traffic controller at the time, was fired from his job and forced to start anew in a society that posed systemic obstacles for black families. “I learned from my father that there was no glory in just winning,” writes Pardlo. “Capricious, pendular, my father’s wont was to sway by the rope of his devotions, to and fro, and winning was a one-way trip. What point was there in winning if it precluded the possibility of a comeback?” Punctuated by anecdotes and explorations of his relationship to his father and heritage, the book is a careful and delicately crafted window into the private life of the author, imparting knowledge and insight on identity and race politics in 20th-century America. Pardlo tells of the aftermath of his father’s termination, which led the author to join the Marines, travel abroad, slide into alcoholism, and, ultimately, find love. "I imagined freedom as a kind of armor that would protect me….I wanted to remake myself as a cosmopolitan artist with a magical blue passport,” he writes, “but I had only a two-word vocabulary for escape: money and power.” Pardlo’s work is masterfully personal, with passages that come at you with the urgent force of his powerful convictions: “What’s shameful is when poets, writers, artists deny culpability for perpetuating stereotypes or, worse yet, when we champion stereotypes to pander to our readers’ need to believe in a predictable, knowable world.” The author manages to distill stereotypes to their very core, providing a genuine and productive exposition of issues of masculinity in the contemporary world.

An engrossing memoir of history and memory.

Pub Date: April 10th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-5247-3176-2
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2018


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