A fresh and realistic depiction.

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RICHARD WRIGHT

THE LIFE AND TIMES

Australian biographer Rowley (Christina Stead, 1994) offers an insightful look at the African-American cultural icon and iconoclast.

Best known for his novel Native Son (1940) and his autobiography Black Boy (1945), Wright was a Mississippi sharecropper’s son, born near Natchez in 1908. His father abandoned the family for another woman, forcing them into extreme poverty, and Richard was placed in an orphanage for a time before being shipped off to Jackson to live with his grandmother (who tried to break him of his writing aspirations and other “soul-defiling habits”). Chicago became Wright’s Promised Land—until he actually moved there when he was 19. Segregation was in full flower at the time, and the young author found he was only welcome in the miserable South Side ghetto. He managed to secure a job with the post office and then worked for the Federal Writers’ Project, first in Chicago and then in New York. He read voraciously and wrote, publishing his first story, “Superstition,” in 1931. Rowley presents him as less single-minded and serious than other accounts, however, drawing on Wright’s packrat trove of first drafts, appointment books, bills, letters, photographs, and newspaper clippings. She posits the reasonable theory that the great attraction communism held for Wright (and for other black authors such as Ralph Ellison and Langston Hughes) was the Party’s acceptance of blacks as intellectual equals. Wright became the Harlem editor of the Daily Worker in 1937, and he married white Party member Ellen Poplar four years later. He eventually broke with the Party over its conformist ideologies and moved with his family to Paris after WWII. There he wrote two more novels, several long political and sociological works, another collection of short stories, a second memoir, and 4,000 haikus before his death in 1960.

A fresh and realistic depiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2001

ISBN: 0-8050-4776-X

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2001

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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