A noted African-American journalist’s account of his hardscrabble youth and its consequences in later life.
Poet, journalist, and essayist Powell (Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and the Ghost of Dr. King, 2012, etc.) grew up the son of a struggling single mother who dreamed he would become “somebody important.” Though loving and encouraging, his mother was also ferociously strict and often beat Powell to keep him on the straight and narrow. Between her brutality and the poverty and violence he faced in the New Jersey ghettos where he grew up, Powell felt as though he were living in a “concrete box” from which there was no escape. Despite the many obstacles he faced and his flirtation with a life of petty crime, he still excelled academically. Yet his suppressed rage and sadness often erupted at unexpected moments and led to arrests and his expulsion from high school. Powell still managed to gain tuition-free acceptance into Rutgers University, where he became involved with black student activists. After the university suspended him for pulling a knife on a fellow student in a fit of frustration, Powell left for New York determined to make a living as a writer. His experiments in poetry and journalism eventually led to a job writing about hip-hop music and culture for Vibe. But his anger at working for two white editors at a black magazine caused him to eventually be fired. Powell’s life spiraled into an abyss of alcoholism, depression, and dysfunctional relationships, one of which ended after he physically attacked his lover. After two unsuccessful runs for Congress, Powell went to Africa, where he finally began to experience personal healing. The author’s story is powerful and unsparing. By the end, his narrative bears witness not only to the life of one black man, but to an American society still bound to a tragic history of racism.
Raw-edged honesty at its most revealing and intense.