Tuesday, May 8, 2012

New novel 'Home' brings Toni Morrison back to Ohio

 OBERLIN, Ohio – At 81, Toni Morrison, who's won the Nobel Prize for her novels about the sorrows and joys of African-American life, has a new book and a new hip.
Her 10th novel, Home (Knopf, $24), released Tuesday, features an angry and troubled black Korean War veteran in the 1950s. It's set mostly in Georgia, where Morrison has never lived. But it's brought her from her home in New York back to Ohio, where she was born and raised.
In an interview during a three-day visit to Oberlin College, she says that despite a hip replacement, her back is "problematic." Her diagnosis: "Two little discs seem to be engaged or something." She gets around by wheelchair or supported on the arms of others.MORE
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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Kadir Nelson paints 'the heart and soul' of America

NEW YORK – Author/illustrator Kadir Nelson, 37, went to college on an architectural scholarship, but quickly fell in love with painting, which led to his first job.
  • Image on the cover of 'Heart and Soul;' author Kadir Nelson.
    Image on the cover of 'Heart and Soul;' author Kadir Nelson.
Image on the cover of 'Heart and Soul;' author Kadir Nelson.
"A dream job," he calls it, with a new film studio named DreamWorks.
In 1996, Nelson worked as a "visual development artist," creating artwork that, as he puts it, "would fuel the director's vision."
The director was Steven Spielberg. The film wasAmistad, based on an 1839 mutiny aboard a slave ship that led to a case at the U.S. Supreme Court.
That job stirred Nelson's interest in history, especially African-American history, which he remembers as being treated as a "sidebar" in school. He now sees it as "essential to understanding the great story of America."
And that's the theme of Nelson's latest illustrated book,Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans (Balzer & Bray, $19.99, for ages 9 and up).
In 108 pages, including 44 full-page color paintings, it goes from Revolutionary-era slavery to President Obama's election, told in the voice of a woman who's seen it all.
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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Book News: Oprah Winfrey to produce ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ for HBO

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” the nonfiction best-seller by Rebecca Skloot, will become an HBO film.
And it has some big names behind it. The executive producers include Oprah Winfrey and Alan Ball(”True Blood”). Other executive producers are Kate Forte and Peter Macdissi.
In its synopsis, HBO says the book “tells the true story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black mother in Baltimore, whose cancerous cells — taken without her knowledge – enabled some of the most significant advances in 20th century medicine, but with devastating, and later liberating, effects on her family.”
In announcing the movie, HBO had no news on casting or production. But because of HBO’s recent efforts in long-form programming — “The Pacific,” “Temple Grandin,” “You Don’t Know Jack” — “Henrietta Lacks” has found the best possible home. MORE
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Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Trials of Phillis Wheatley by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

By Henry Louis Gates Jr. 

While telling the astonishing and ultimately tragic story of Phillis Wheatley, he includes an equally compelling meditation on how the questions of race and equality that haunted our Founders 250 years ago are considerably changed from how we think about race today.
With a good flair for storytelling, Mr. Gates jump-starts us ahead to a day in October 1772 when 18-year-old Phillis is brought before a panel of the most powerful government and cultural officials of the Bay Colony to decide a momentous issue that had become an international cause celebre: Was it possible that an African slave - and a female slave at that - had the intellectual capacity to write classical poetry in English?
This was not an idle question of literary quibbling, as Mr. Gates emphasizes. The issue at root was whether Africans were, according to many of the leading thinkers of the day - such as Francis Bacon, David Hume, Immanuel Kant and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel - descendants of another "species of men," related more to apes than Europeans. The fundamental question of the basic humanity of African slaves underpinned the moral juggling that most found necessary to justify the forcible enslavement of fellow creatures.
That underpinning was already starting to crack. That same year, the British high courts ruled in the famed Somerset case that a slave brought into Britain could not be taken against his will out of the country and back to slavery. It was a long time before Britain outlawed slavery inside its borders, but the fact that anti-slavery advocates could bring such a legal action and win it was truly earthshaking.
As Mr. Gates tells it, the questioning of Phillis about her literary gifts was another such tremor that shook the moralistic justification for slavery. The incident also marked the seminal moment in the development of black American literature and, with irony, another of the trials she would undergo. As it turns out, the panel of Boston's great and good - most of them slave owners - came away convinced that the poems they examined had in fact been written by her.
It seems Phillis had been something of a prodigy from the start. John Wheatley testified that within 16 months of her arrival from Africa, Phillis had learned to speak and read English. Her first poem was written by the time she was 11, and at 13, she had her first poem published in a local newspaper. By 1772, Phillis was in correspondence with well-known literary figures in England and her owners were busy arranging for a London printer to publish a collection of her poetry, which became the first book ever to be published in English by a person of African descent. Its release in 1773 on both sides of the Atlantic made her a true international celebrity. MORE
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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Pam Grier''s New Book, Foxy: My Life in Three Acts

In her new memoir, “Foxy: My Life in Three Acts” (Hachette Book Group), Ms. Grier, 60, revisits a career that took off in the early 1970s when she became blaxploitation cinema’s first female action hero. She sprang to prominence again in Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 film, “Jackie Brown,” and she popped up in the 21st century in the groundbreaking Showtime television series “The L Word,” about the lives of lesbians.
“Foxy,” however, reveals a darker personal life, including, for the first time, the details of her sexual assault at 6. It also recounts the diagnosis of cervical cancer Ms. Grier received in her late 30s and the untimely deaths and suicides of family members and friends. There is space, too, for her romances with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (who wanted her to convert to Islam), Freddie Prinze (who battled drugs and wanted her to have his baby) and Richard Pryor (who thought she could help save him from drugs).MORE
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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Book Notes: Guyette explores African-American history in state

Historian Elise A. Guyette is the author of "Discovering Black Vermont: African-American Farmers in Hinesburgh, 1790-1890" (University of Vermont Press/University Press of New England).

The book explores three generations of a black family in Chittenden County, starting in the years after Vermont's statehood.
In news material about the book, James Brewer Stewart, professor emeritus of history at Macalester College, writes:
"By so vividly illuminating the history of a truly forgotten people -- African-Americans who lived in a small, rural Vermont community -- 'Discovering Black Vermont' is a revelation."MORE
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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Coretta Scott King Book Awards

The Coretta Scott King Book Awards

Tuesday April 27, 2010
Cover Art - My People by Langston HughesSince today is the anniversary of the birth of Coretta Scott King, it seems like a good time to highlight the Coretta Scott King Book Awards. According to the American Library Association, the purpose of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards is "encourage the artistic expression of the African American experience via literature and the graphic arts, including biographical, historical and social history treatments by African American authors and illustrators." I was pleased to learn that Charles R. Smith Jr. is the recipient of the 2010 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for his sepia-toned photographs that illustrate My People by Langston Hughes. See my review of My People. The 2010 Coretta Scott King Author Award winner is Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, author of Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal. The 2010 Coretta Scott King Book Awards also include two Honor Books and the John Steptoe New Talent Award. See my article about the Coretta Scott King Book Awards for more about the awards and previous winners.
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