TOUGH TALK

HOW I FOUGHT FOR WRITERS, COMICS, BIGOTS, AND THE AMERICAN WAY

A memoir so engaging that one wishes it were longer. For 40 years, Garbus (Ready for the Defense, 1971) has been one of our premier lawyers in the fields of First Amendment, publishing, and copyright law. He defended Lenny Bruce in one of the obscenity trials that drove the stand-up satirist to death; turned back the libel suit that delayed publication of Peter Matthiessen’s book on the Wounded Knee shoot-out; advised Daniel Ellsberg on bringing the Pentagon Papers to public attention; negotiated Spike Lee’s purchase of the Rodney King tapes for use in the film Malcolm X; represented Samuel Beckett when the Nobelist felt that a US theater company had altered the meaning of his play Endgame; and was Prodigy’s attorney in one of the first major “cyberlaw” cases. Publishing clients dropped Garbus after he helped John Cheever’s family enjoin publication of the author’s unpublished early stories, and his fellow libel lawyers turned on him when he represented a rape victim who was unjustly accused by a columnist of fabricating her story. He went to Prague in 1979 to defend Vaclav Havel against a charge of subversion; ten years later, he returned to help draft the new democracy’s constitution. Along the way, he brought seminal lawsuits on behalf of welfare recipients in the 1960s and was shot at while aiding Cesar Chavez. Garbus and co-author Cohen (The Man in the Crowd, 1981) are especially deft at laying out complex legal issues for the general reader. Disappointingly, Garbus says little about what seems to have been a fascinating personal life; in particular, his growth from a timid youth convinced that he would spend his life in his father’s Bronx candy store might have been fleshed out to the reader’s pleasure and instruction. A fine read for anyone interested in the interaction of law and public life.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-8129-3017-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Times/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1998

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS

Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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