A recommended biography that offers a welcome addition to the roster of lesser-known, pioneer African-American educators.

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A Black Man's Journey from Sharecropper to College President

THE LIFE AND WORK OF WILLIAM JOHNSON TRENT, 1873-1963

A biography of the remarkable African-American educator William Johnson Trent (1873-1963) that gives readers a close look at the tumultuous times of his long life.

Trent was born in North Carolina in 1873 to an African-American mother, Malinda Johnson, and a white father, Edward Trent, who eventually left them. Malinda then married an African-American man named Mack Dunn; they were sharecroppers, which was a hard life. But young William showed promise, and by scrimping, they managed to start him on the path to education, which eventually led him to Livingstone College, the first black-founded and -run school of higher education in North Carolina. Trent was a stellar student and also proved himself to be a natural leader and organizer. After graduation, he put those talents to work, involving himself with the YMCA as secretary for the all-black Third North Carolina Volunteer Regiment and with the Young Men’s Institute. It quickly became apparent that if a situation was dire, involving a lack of funds or a lack of membership, Trent could solve the problem; time and again, he worked slow, patient miracles. After Reconstruction, the era of Jim Crow, Ku Klux Klan attacks, and lynchings prevailed well into the 20th century. Trent walked a fine line between dignity and despair during this time, during which he was twice widowed. Finally, in 1925, he was made president of his alma mater—an institution in financial straits that was saved, eventually, by his strong hand. In these difficult times, the story of a well-lived, selfless life like William Johnson Trent’s provides a welcome uplift. Scales-Trent, a retired academic from the State University of New York at Buffalo, is Trent’s granddaughter, and her book is clearly a labor of love. Her biography is largely well-written, as in the opening, which addresses the predicament of newly freed slaves in an epic style: “They heard the news from black people walking down the road, from Union soldiers riding by on their horses, perhaps from the slave master himself. And so they left.” That said, there are long stretches of fairly numbing detail, particularly involving financial woes. Of necessity, the author also often qualifies events with “probably” and “we can assume.” However, the book is exhaustively documented and indexed, and it also includes some period photographs.

A recommended biography that offers a welcome addition to the roster of lesser-known, pioneer African-American educators. 

Pub Date: Feb. 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-942545-46-0

Page Count: 388

Publisher: Monroe Street Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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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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