An impressively edited volume commemorates a canonical literary figure.

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THE SELECTED LETTERS OF RALPH ELLISON

A rich collection reveals a writer’s aspirations and frustrations.

Drawing primarily on an extensive trove of correspondence at the Library of Congress, Callahan (Emeritus, Humanities/Lewis and Clark Coll. In the African American Grain: Call and Response in 20th Century Black Fiction, 2008, etc.), Ellison’s literary executor, and Conner (English/Washington and Lee Univ.; editor: The Poetry of James Joyce Reconsidered, 2012, etc.) have created a model of scholarship in their volume of letters by acclaimed African American writer Ralph Ellison (1913-1994), author of the 1953 National Book Award winner, Invisible Man. Organized by decade beginning in the 1930s, the letters are contextualized by a comprehensive general introduction, a focused introduction to each chapter, and informative footnotes where needed; a detailed chronology appends the volume. Ellison’s long, candid letters trace his transformation from a “savvy and street-smart” kid born and raised in Oklahoma to a sophisticated world traveler, award-winning author, college professor, and literary celebrity. As he worked on essays, stories, and his first novel, Ellison revealed his ambition to change public consciousness. To Gotham Book Mart owner Frances Steloff, he cited Bernard Shaw’s plays, which he read as a teenager, as a decisive influence, especially the prefaces, which illuminated “the relationship between ideas, art, and politics.” “Frankly, we are angry,” he wrote to a friend in 1939, but the prominence of figures such as Richard Wright and Langston Hughes was proof that African American authors “have overcome the cultural and intellectual isolation” that, until recently, they experienced. Ellison’s cultural landscape expanded vastly when he was in residence at the American Academy in Rome in 1955: “Ruins, architecture, art, palaces, churches and graveyards, my head is whirling with it all.” Surely, he said, “human aspiration found its most magnificent expression here.” Among Ellison’s many literary correspondents was Saul Bellow, with whom he felt aesthetic camaraderie. Together, he wrote in 1959, “we’re moving toward an emancipation of our fiction from the clichés of recent styles and limitations of conception.”

An impressively edited volume commemorates a canonical literary figure.

Pub Date: Dec. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9852-8

Page Count: 1004

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2019

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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 Books

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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