It’s clear the editors made dozens of nips and tucks to maximize their stated goal of “clear and engaging reading” while...

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THE ROBERT PENN WARREN CIVIL RIGHTS INTERVIEWS

An anthology reinvigorates Robert Penn Warren’s long-overlooked collection of civil rights interviews.

Published in 1965, Warren’s oral history Who Speaks for the Negro? received mostly lukewarm reviews and little fanfare. Among critics, the 450-page volume of interviews was billed as everything from “the very best inside report” on the civil rights movement to “boring.” The interviewees include Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Stokely Carmichael, and the volume brims with Warren’s own reflections, revealing as much about the author as it did the movement (critics claimed it had nothing new to say). After decades of fading from memory, Yale University Press reprinted Who Speaks? in 2014. Here, Smith and Ellis (co-editors: Say It Loud: Great Speeches on Civil Rights and African American Identity, 2010, etc.) present a modified, highly relevant version of Warren’s enormous undertaking. “In this edited anthology,” they write, “the focus is on the interviews themselves.” Not all of the interviews are retained—but two are added: Septima T. Clark and Andrew Young—and Smith and Ellis stripped away the poet’s personal observations and digressions, returning to the raw transcripts and allowing the stand-alone interviews to drive home their own measures of insight. One example is the opening interview with the Rev. Joe Carter, the first African-American to register to vote in Louisiana’s West Feliciana Parish. What is now published as pure monologue describes in powerful detail Carter’s 1963 experience of harassment and arrest by a mob of whites as he defiantly attempted to register. Among other changes, the editors shed Warren’s interview titles, replacing them with the subject, date, and location followed by a page of “biographical and historical context.”

It’s clear the editors made dozens of nips and tucks to maximize their stated goal of “clear and engaging reading” while remaining “faithful to the spirit and substance of the conversations.” The result is an anthology that arguably holds more contemporary importance as a historical document than the original release.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-59558-818-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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