WHAT I KNOW FOR SURE by Tavis Smiley


My Story of Growing Up in America
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PBS host Smiley (Hard Left, 1996) tells his rags-to-riches—or, more precisely, trailer-park-to-television-station—story.

Born in Gulfport, Miss., in 1964, the author grew up in a large family that included first cousins who were more like siblings. He was attached to the church from his earliest days, attending prayer meetings, choir rehearsals, worship services and Bible classes. When papa Smiley, who served in the Air Force, was stationed in Indiana, the family headed north, cheerfully cramming into a trailer and adjusting to life in a predominately white town. The portrayal of his family is confusing. The clan is seemingly warm and snuggly, but suddenly, Smiley’s father begins beating him, and the boy lands in foster care. The parents’ marriage seems happy, with hubby garnering lavish praise for his loyal, family-man values—and then that’s it: They divorce. As a youth, Smiley visited with a local councilman and saw the power of government to “come to people’s aid.” He admired and memorized the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. During his years at Indiana University, he discovered African-American artists and musicians, particularly Richard Pryor and Prince. Smiley traces his evolution as an “advocate-maverick” and journalist, putting positive spins on such seeming setbacks as getting canned by Black Entertainment Television and getting caught on tape raving and cursing about National Public Radio. Though he affirms the American creed that people can overcome adverse circumstances through hard work, he argues forcefully that the government has a crucial role to play in making America a just and equitable society. Even readers who agree with him will be annoyed by his incessant use of motivational slogans on the order of “View yourself as a winner, and you become a winner.”

Alternately inspiring and anodyne.

Pub Date: Oct. 10th, 2006
ISBN: 0-385-50516-7
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2006

Kirkus Interview
Tavis Smiley
author of DEATH OF A KING
November 6, 2014

Martin Luther King, Jr. died in one of the most shocking assassinations the world has known, but little is remembered about the life he led in his final year. In Death of a King, New York Times bestselling author and award-winning broadcaster Tavis Smiley recounts the final 365 days of King's life, revealing the minister's trials and tribulations—denunciations by the press, rejection from the president, dismissal by the country's black middle class and militants, assaults on his character, ideology, and political tactics, to name a few—all of which he had to rise above in order to lead and address the racism, poverty and militarism that threatened to destroy our democracy. We caught up with Smiley at the Texas Book Festival to ask him about the book. View video >


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