In this sharply written, emotionally resonant rendering, the author makes crystal-clear the heartbreaking realities of...



An empathetic report on the longest wrongful incarceration in the history of the United States to conclude with exoneration.

In his debut book, an expansion of his popular Cleveland Scene feature, Washington Post journalist Swenson weaves together the dramatic details of a 1975 incident in Cleveland in which three black men were falsely accused and convicted of the murder of Harry Franks, a white man, outside of a convenience store. The author begins with a sweeping history of Cleveland, especially the 1960s and ’70s, when increasing racial tensions and unrest haunted the region alongside rampant discrimination, urban infrastructural decay, and the crack epidemic that ushered in and decimated the city in the 1980s. Swenson introduces us to Kwame Ajamu, Wiley Bridgeman, and Rickey Jackson, boys for whom Cleveland had become their playground and true home. The author’s portraits of the boys are carefully and lucidly drawn, as he captures their maturation into young men who were in the wrong place when Franks was fatally shot. At their trial, the prime witness, a 12-year-old neighborhood boy named Edward Vernon, testified against them, and all were charged with the murder despite a glaring absence of physical evidentiary support. Swenson also delivers a vital portrait of Vernon’s adult life, plagued by drug abuse and unhappiness, and of his shocking retraction just as Bridgeman was paroled after 27 years in prison. Compelling and heartfelt, the author’s cinematic chronicle moves swiftly through these events, and embedded in this tale of gross criminal injustice is the frustrating history and scarred legacy of Cleveland, a city harboring a “deepening woe” and mired in political corruption, racial conflict, and unbridled crime. Through in-person interviews and extensive, diligent research, Swenson brings this travesty of justice into impressive, necessary focus.

In this sharply written, emotionally resonant rendering, the author makes crystal-clear the heartbreaking realities of wrongful imprisonment, race, and the many flaws of the American criminal justice system.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-12023-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: Nov. 12, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.


Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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