An often charming family saga.



Goodwyn tells the story of an African American family in this debut blend of history and memoir.

The author lost his mother to kidney disease in 1970, when he was a high school freshman in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Soon afterward, he was involved in a car accident that put him in the hospital for six weeks. The shock of these events instilled in him a great desire to find out where he came from: “Sometimes Mama would talk about her ancestors,” he remembers. “Mama’s great grandmother was a slave until she was twelve, when her father bought her freedom.” Goodwyn set off on a decadeslong genealogical journey to discover the story of his forbears, and this book is an account of that search and a presentation of its results. It includes the stories of Levin Huston and Esther Polk Huston, married slaves who lived on a Maryland plantation; their son, Solomon Huston, who was born in bondage and died as the founder of a bank; and the author’s great-grandfather Samuel Garnett Thomas, who, like the author’s father, eventually served as a high school principal. Goodwyn’s prose is conversational in tone and possesses a cheerful buoyancy, as in a discussion of the Hustons’ children: “For whatever reason, Hester and her family never knew what happened to Levin Delans Huston. But 158 years after Levin D. sent his niece, Willie, that jade necklace, I now know what became of him.” It’s a long read at more than 500 pages, and it feels more like two books in one; the first half is essentially a memoir of Goodwyn’s life, and the second is a series of profiles of his ancestors. None of the individual stories are particularly compelling, but the overall family history—and the account of Goodwyn’s rediscovery of it—gives readers a touching portrait of an American family. The book, which includes occasional photos of family members, also effectively shows how ancestry-research websites have helped many black Americans reconnect to their pasts. Goodwyn is an empathetic guide, and although some sections are more interesting than others, he manages to lend emotional weight to the project as a whole.

An often charming family saga.

Pub Date: May 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-950724-07-9

Page Count: 510

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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This early reader is an excellent introduction to the March on Washington in 1963 and the important role in the march played by Martin Luther King Jr. Ruffin gives the book a good, dramatic start: “August 28, 1963. It is a hot summer day in Washington, D.C. More than 250,00 people are pouring into the city.” They have come to protest the treatment of African-Americans here in the US. With stirring original artwork mixed with photographs of the events (and the segregationist policies in the South, such as separate drinking fountains and entrances to public buildings), Ruffin writes of how an end to slavery didn’t mark true equality and that these rights had to be fought for—through marches and sit-ins and words, particularly those of Dr. King, and particularly on that fateful day in Washington. Within a year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed: “It does not change everything. But it is a beginning.” Lots of visual cues will help new readers through the fairly simple text, but it is the power of the story that will keep them turning the pages. (Easy reader. 6-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-448-42421-5

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2000

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