An occasionally unbalanced yet probing collection grappling with the true meaning of “Black Cool.”




A collection of essays focused on the “cool” cultural legacy of African-Americans.

In her latest work, writer/editor Rebecca Walker (Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence, 2007, etc.) assembles the writings of 16 prominent thinkers in an attempt to define “Black Cool,” a phrase utilized to encompass African-American’s self-confidence and swagger. Staceyann Chin’s “Authenticity” recounts her coming-of-age in Jamaica, during which she stumbled upon the healing powers of cool. “My newfound swagger sustained me through the rest of my teens,” she writes. “It nurtured an unyielding sense of self that served me well when I moved from Montego Bay to attend college in Kingston.” In “Geek,” Mat Johnson defines black cool by describing how it feels to lack it. A self-tagged “black geek”), he admits that “[b]lackness can be a rigid, didactic identity, with people stepping out of line facing ridicule and admonishment or worse: condemnation.” Yet Hank Willis Thomas argues that black cool needn’t be naturally possessed; it’s simply a commodity for purchase: “A crisp, clean pair of brand spanking new Air Jordan sneakers was a supreme status symbol for anyone who wanted to be cool and ‘down with the streets.’ ” Thomas takes the intangible concept of black cool and quite skillfully grounds it between a pair of Nike swooshes.” While the aforementioned essays employ personal anecdotes to spur thoughtful debate, a few of the pieces feel tonally at-odds with the rest. This is particularly true of Michaela Angela Davis’ contribution, which reads more like a fiery manifesto in which she makes clear that non-blacks can never possess “our cool ass Black style.” It’s an interesting concept, but the author’s informality and defensive tone proves less successful than the collection’s subtler pieces. Other contributors include Margo Jefferson, Veronica Chambers, Dawoud Bey and the ubiquitous Henry Louis Gates Jr., who provides the foreword.

An occasionally unbalanced yet probing collection grappling with the true meaning of “Black Cool.”

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59376-417-3

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Soft Skull Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2011

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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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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.


A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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