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 The result is an anthology that arguably holds more contemporary importance as a historical document than the original release.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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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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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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