Gracelessly written, but indispensable to students of Ellison, Oklahoma City in the 1920s, or Harlem in the ’40s.

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RALPH ELLISON

EMERGENCE OF GENIUS

Painstaking biography covering the first half of the noted African-American writer’s life, through his acceptance of the National Book Award in 1953.

Ellison (1914–94) grew up in Oklahoma City. His beloved father died when Ralph was three; thereafter he shuttled from address to address with his mother, whose ferocious self-respect made both employment and housing opportunities precarious. The intelligent boy’s struggles with poverty and racial strife were mitigated by exposure to a good library, a visionary music teacher, and exceptional local jazz. Later, he won a scholarship from Tuskegee Institute's prestigious music school to study trumpet and conducting. The need for money led him in 1936 to New York, where he was introduced to Langston Hughes and within weeks had shifted his orientation to literature and left-wing politics. With Hughes as his mentor, Ellison launched himself in literary and political circles both up- and downtown. He served as editor of The Negro Quarterly and consolidated his reputation as a critic with his advocacy of Richard Wright's Native Son. Jackson (English/Howard Univ.) illuminates the complicated ways in which Ellison's career was shaped by his relationship with Wright, with whom he shared a rural background, modernist tastes, and an ambivalent relationship with the Communist Party, and whose success spurred Ellison's desire to write fiction. After WWII, his second wife Fanny's income and companionship allowed him to concentrate on the protean novel that eventually became Invisible Man, the masterpiece that catapulted him to fame in 1952. Jackson's scholarship is thorough, his insights valuable, but his prose, marred by idiomatic blunders and muddy sentence structure, is only just adequate to convey the complex temperament of his subject. Ambitious, original, dedicated, and lucky, Ellison seems at once isolated from and excessively dependent on his professional milieu; despite the biographer’s emphasis on effort and integrity rewarded, sadness and desperation haunt this life.

Gracelessly written, but indispensable to students of Ellison, Oklahoma City in the 1920s, or Harlem in the ’40s.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2001

ISBN: 0-471-35414-7

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Wiley

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2001

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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