A balanced, colorfully depicted portrait of a Southern LGBTQ+ movement.

A NIGHT AT THE SWEET GUM HEAD

DRAG, DRUGS, DISCO, AND ATLANTA'S GAY REVOLUTION

A history of gay culture in 1970s Atlanta.

Padgett revives a significant decade of the South’s queer history through the experiences of two pivotal figures: activist Bill Smith and drag performer John Greenwell. The author dutifully paints his home city as a place formerly seething with open hostility toward queer communities, with rampant homophobic harassment, bar raids, and arrests. But change was inevitable, and Padgett leads us through the revolution via archival research and interview material. Greenwell, who left his Huntsville, Alabama, home a couple years after high school, found strength, solidarity, and unique stardom at the Sweet Gum Head nightclub as stage persona Rachel Wells. Meanwhile, Smith, despite being raised by devout Baptists (“his mother had begged him, and his military father had ordered him, to change”), “lurched into politics” and protested against anti-gay legislation while organizing the Georgia Gay Liberation Front group. His efforts were greatly aided by the election of Atlanta’s first Black mayor, Maynard Jackson, who advocated for gay rights. Smith became a city commissioner and went on to oversee the region’s gay newspaper, the Atlanta Barb, often using its pages as an activist platform. Padgett sketches both profiles with evenhanded journalistic precision while grounding the book’s core at the Sweet Gum Head, a venue incorporating “an intoxicating blend of drag, drugs, disco, and revolution” until its closure in 1981. The author illustrates both the intimacy and the nasty melodrama of nightclub life, and he demonstrates the significant achievements of Smith’s activism, the scourge of Christian crusader Anita Bryant’s anti-gay campaigns, and Smith’s eventual downfall due to his drug addiction. Padgett also acknowledges Sweet Gum owner Frank Powell, who made his club a mecca of self-expression. The author’s analysis also encompasses themes of identity and gender fluidity and creatively marks the progress made by Southern queer communities in terms of sexual freedom and equal rights.

A balanced, colorfully depicted portrait of a Southern LGBTQ+ movement.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-324-00712-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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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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