Our annual holiday season list of nonfiction books by journalists of color or those of special interest to them: Ta-Nehisi Coates; Lewis W. Diuguid; Angela P. Dodson; Chike Frankie Edozien; Darcy Eveleigh, Dana Canedy, Damien Cave and Rachel L. Swarns; Gerald Horne; Gerrick D. Kennedy; Jeff Pegues; Byron Pitts; Otis Sanford; Anya Schiffrin; Matt Taibbi
“One of our premier public intellectuals, [Ta-Nehisi] Coates puts black life at the center of our understanding of the American experience with lyrical critique and political storytelling,” the Los Angeles Times wrote Nov. 30.
It named “We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy,” (One World: $28, hardcover; $30 trade paperback; $40 unabridged CD) to its list of the top 10 nonfiction books of the year. “Eight Years” was also one of Time magazine’s top 10 non-fiction books and one of USA Today’s top 10 books, fiction or nonfiction.
The Times continued, “In this book, he gathers nine of his essays published in the Atlantic, including ‘The Case for Reparations,’ and writes new introductions for each.”
Writing for Slate, Jamelle Bouie concluded that “We Were Eight Years in Power” is “more than a ‘loose memoir’; it’s Coates giving himself a deep read, and inviting us to join him in this look at his intellectual journey. And by showcasing a range of essays — some his strongest work, others deeply flawed — he asks his readers to consider him as a writer, nothing more and nothing less.”
Bouie said Coates had evolved into a symbol.
As the publisher explains, “ ‘We were eight years in power’ was the lament of Reconstruction-era black politicians as the American experiment in multiracial democracy ended with the return of white supremacist rule in the South. And so it was over a century later, when the Oval Office was passed from a president who overcame the forces of white supremacy to a president whose ideology had been formed around those very tenets. . . .”
Constance Grady of Vox.com was impressed by the writing. “Beautiful prose, for Coates, is necessarily honest prose. Honest prose must tell the truth about America — and the truth is, he argues, that white supremacy is not incidental to America’s history or to its current wealth, but foundational to it. . . .
“The drive to render this reality with honesty and clarity creates Coates’s evocative, emphatic sentences: To make the reader experience the horror of white supremacy with honesty, Coates must kill cliché,” Grady writes.
“Over the course of Eight Years, you can watch Coates develop the particular habits of diction and syntax that he falls back on in service of this quest: the repeated rendering of the black self as a black body, upon which racism works with physical force; the use of the word plunder to describe how white supremacy takes possession of black wealth and labor; the preacher-like repetition of sentence structure in a long cascading litany of American sins . . . .
“These writerly habits are not crutches or safety blankets; they’re carefully developed tools that serve a specific argumentative purpose. Part of the pleasure of reading Eight Years lies in watching Coates discover and refine these tools and then slowly discard them as they live out their purpose. . . .”
Associated Press: Ta-Nehisi Coates deletes widely read Twitter account
Lewis W. Diuguid, who left the Kansas City Star after 39 years in October 2016, most recently serving as an editorial writer and columnist, has “Our Fathers: Making Black Men” (Universal Publishers: $45.95, hardcover; $25.95, paper; $24, ebook)
“For more than 50 years, Lincoln I. Diuguid worked as a researcher and inventor at his Du-Good Chemical company on South Jefferson Avenue in St. Louis,” Mary Delach Leonard reported Aug. 29 for St. Louis Public Radio. “But it was his formula for community engagement that would have a lasting impact on countless African-American youths.
“It’s a story that his son Lewis Diuguid believes people need to hear today. His book ‘Our Fathers: Making Black Men,’ details how Lincoln ‘Doc’ Diuguid mentored the children of the neighborhood, stressing hard work and education. He and the other African-American businessmen along the 1200 block of South Jefferson were role models in the 1950s and 1960s as they strove to live the American Dream, despite segregation and the nation’s racial divide. . . .”
Diuguid told Leonard in a Q-and-A: “In writing a column for the newspaper every so often I would feature Dad, his company, his work ethic. Back in the late Eighties, my mother had implored me as a writer for the newspaper to focus more on black men because black men at the time were getting a pretty bad rap, in part because of drugs and crime and just everything that was negative about our cities, our communities. And she knew that these were not the black men that she had grown up with. This was not the black man she married, and it had nothing to do with any of the black men she knew.
“So I turned my attention as a columnist to writing columns about African-American males and boys and families and how we love our families and our children just as much as anyone. And so that became sort of the instruction for doing the book. I began the research on the book in December 2008, and I would work on it a little at a time. And then many, many, many trips to libraries and institutions here in St. Louis to actually do the research.
“I had memories because I grew up in Du-Good Chemical Laboratories and knew many of the people that frequented the company. But I needed to do the research to make my memories whole. . . .”
Angela P. Dodson has “ ‘Remember the Ladies’: Celebrating Those Who Fought for Freedom at the Ballot Box” (Center Street, $26, hardcover). Dodson is a former senior editor and former Style editor for the New York Times, an online editor and book reviewer for DIVERSE: Issues In Higher Education, and former executive editor of Black Issues Book Review.
“Remember the Ladies” surveys the woman suffrage movement in the United States and women’s political gains up to the present. Unlike many other authors on this subject, Dodson makes a connection with the abolitionist movement.
Many African Americans, she said, don’t know of the role blacks played in the suffrage movement, or that many white women were active in the Underground Railroad. Some of the anti-slavery societies started as early as 1835. Sojourner Truth delivered her famed “Ain’t I a Woman” speech at a women’s convention in Akron, Ohio, in 1851. Black women started forming their own organizations about 1890.
While identified as a Nigerian journalist, Chike Frankie Edozien is a clinical associate professor at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute and former 15-year reporter for the New York Post.
He has directed the Institute’s Ghana-based “Reporting Africa” program since 2008.
Edozien’s “Lives of Great Men” (Team Angelica, London: $14.99, paper; $8.99, Kindle), is presented with this blurb: “From Victoria Island, Lagos to Brooklyn, U.S.A. to Accra, Ghana to Paris, France; from across the Diaspora to the heart of the African continent, in this memoir Nigerian journalist Chike Frankie Edozien offers a highly personal series of contemporary snapshots of same gender loving Africans, unsung Great Men living their lives, triumphing and finding joy in the face of great adversity. . . .”
Diriye Osman, an author, critic and visual artist, wrote for the Huffington Post, “There’s nothing that gets this reader’s pulse going more than an intense page turner. Chike Frankie Edozien, the author of the brilliant Lives of Great of Men, goes one better by giving us an intense page turner of a memoir that is also laced with ache and longing, optimism and defiance in the face of injustice. . . .”
No list of books for holiday giving would be complete without a coffee table book, and “Unseen: Unpublished Black History from The New York Times Photo Archives” (Black Dog & Levanthal: $29.99, hardcover) by Darcy Eveleigh, Dana Canedy, Damien Cave and Rachel L. Swarns, all at one time on the Times staff, might fit the bill.
In the introduction, Swarns writes, “These stunning images from black history, drawn from old negatives, have long been buried in the musty envelopes and crowded bins of The New York Times archives. Unseen and unpublished for decades, they are gathered together in this rare collection for the very first time. . . .
“As journalists, we strive for objectivity and impartiality as we question and portray the world around us. Yet we rarely turn the lens on ourselves. At a time when concerns about the persistence of the racial divide simmer across the country, it is worth considering how we as an institution have depicted African-Americans in our pages and, at times, erased them from view. . . .”
Later in the essay, Deborah Wills, who chairs the Department of Photography and Imaging at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, says that “images are both empowering and disempowering.”
Swarns continues, “That holds true, even in modern times, as concerns remain about media outlets that continue to view communities of color primarily through the lens of criminality and social dysfunction. One photograph in this book brings that point home. It depicts black demonstrators protesting outside. The New York Times in 1971, complaining that the newspaper was more interested in reporting on ‘black violence’ than on ‘black productivity.’
“But this extraordinary trove of rediscovered images reveals that our photographers captured far more than that.
“They were witnesses to history, capturing the bullet holes in the Chicago apartment where Fred Hampton, the Black Panther leader, was killed by the police; the hopeful faces of two children — one black and one white — in an integrated classroom in New Jersey; and a rare image of Martin Luther King Jr. during a visit to New York City. . . .”
The prolific historian Gerald Horne, the John J. and Rebecca Moores Professor of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston, has published “The Rise and Fall of the Associated Negro Press: Claude Barnett’s Pan-African News and the Jim Crow Paradox (University of Illinois Press: $95, hardcover; $24.95, paper; $22.46 ebook).
In 1945, the Associated Negro Press, a news service, had 112 domestic newspapers as subscribers, and in 1964, according to the late black press historian Roland E. Wolseley, more than 200 newspapers in Africa received it. Some translated it into French, Portuguese and other non-African languages.
Horne calls Barnett (1889-1967) “perhaps the leading press baron in black America” and says Barnett “may be the most important unrecognized African American of the twentieth century and the institution he built, the ANP, was surely one of the most important institutions of that era.”
In a September interview with Ibram X. Kendi, winner of the 2016 National Book Award for nonfiction (video), Horne was asked why he wrote the book.
“I have been struck for some time by an opinion often expressed by youth in our community that is simplistically denoted as ‘Jim Crow Nostalgia’ — a longing for an era when, supposedly, there were stronger independent institutions among Africans in North America, be they baseball teams or newspapers,” Horne replied. “I have also been interested in how this assumed reverie dissolved after 1954. In this book I seek to show that this nostalgia is not altogether misplaced; that is, the emphasis on ‘integration’ (as opposed to ‘desegregation’) was part of the problem in that it tended to favor liquidation of our institutions as much as opening the doors of those institutions from which we were barred.
“It was then exacerbated by the simultaneous attack on the left — Paul Robeson and his comrades — which, among other things, reduced our influence in the international community, which had been one of our prime assets for generations.
“Therein rests the seeds of our current dilemma. Focusing on a businessman, Claude Barnett, was more than fortuitous since he exemplifies the debility of another frequently cited nostrum nowadays — that building black businesses is the way out of the current crisis. For at times and understandably given his class position and concomitant ideology, he allowed business dealings to interfere with community uplift — and he was not alone. . . .”
Unfortunately, Horne repeats a misreading of statistics when he writes that “a 2015 report indicated that, for the most part, the nation’s newspapers have not increased the percentage of African Americans in newsrooms above 1968 levels and may have even cut those paltry numbers. Then and now the figure hovers at an embarrassing 5 percent.” In 1968, the Kerner Commission report on causes of the 1967 urban uprisings said that “fewer than 5 percent of the people employed by the news business in the United States today are Negroes.”
The Kerner figure includes broadcast media. Newspaper figures were no doubt far below 5 percent. It is true, however, that in the 2016 newsroom census of the American Society of News Editors, blacks were 5.64 percent of the newspaper and online total.
Horne also cites 2011 figures to assert that “the membership of the National Association of Black Journalists has been shrinking steadily in recent years.” This year, however, NABJ announced that its annual convention had attracted a robust 3,289 registrants, topping last year’s 3,225.
Gerrick D. Kennedy, music reporter at the Los Angeles Times and Emerging Journalist of the Year for the National Association of Black Journalists in 2012, has joined the author’s ranks with “Parental Discretion Advised: The Rise of N.W.A. and the Dawn of Gangsta Rap” (Atria: $26, hardcover; $19.99, audio download; $13.99, ebook).
Published this month, it was excerpted in the Times and earned raves in the Times book section and from the Associated Press. It opens with a captivating account of how a replica of founding member Eazy-E, dead nearly two decades, was constructed via technology to perform before thousands in 100-degree heat at a 2013 hip-hop festival in San Bernardino, Calif.
“Kennedy writes of N.W.A’s preeminence as if still in awe of its reach even today,” Tirhakah Love observed in the Times. “Dre’s evolution from the ‘dancey techno’ of the Wreckin’ Cru to the soul-inflected funk samples he’d base a billion-dollar business upon is told with a genuine excitement.
“There are no shortage of moments when Kennedy breaks down Dre’s infamous samples of James Brown or Parliament. Even more, he contextualizes the N.W.A’s popularity within the racist history of popular music mediums like MTV that were hesitant to give black people any airtime (until the King of Pop himself made it impossible not to). It really wasn’t until the N.W.A reached critical mass in the summer of 1989 that black folks had their own lane in popular media. . . .”
Melanie J. Sims wrote for the Associated Press, “The information isn’t necessarily new. But the history, geography and smatterings of minutiae that Kennedy shares along the way makes his chronicle of N.W.A. shine. . . . Kennedy’s exposition, touching on rioting, recession and public policy, allows readers a chance to see, within a matter of pages, how Compton went from a California dream, to, only a few decades later, the nightmarish environment reported in N.W.A.’s lyrics. . . .”
Jeff Pegues, justice and homeland security correspondent for CBS News, has “Black and Blue: Inside the Divide Between the Police and Black America” (Prometheus Books: $24, hardcover). Outside of CBS News, Pegues’ book has not received the attention of other books on African Americans and the criminal justice system, such as “Chokehold (Policing Black Men): A Renegade Prosecutor’s Radical Thoughts on How to Disrupt the System” by Paul Butler or “I Can’t Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street,” by Matt Taibbi, but it, too, proposes solutions to narrowing the divide between police and citizens.
“Pegues interviewed police chiefs, activists, and many others on all sides of the complex issue,” CBS reported in May. “ ‘The different views of policing — whether you’re talking to someone in the black community or police officers in the rank-and-file — it is stark,’ he said, adding that views of policing in the black community ‘are certainly shaped by the stops that people on the streets encounter with police.’ . . . .He also spoke to rank-and-file police officers ‘who were blunt’ about how they felt. . . .”
Byron Pitts, co-anchor of ABC-TV’s “Nightline,” has “Be the One: Six True Stories of Teens Overcoming Hardship With Hope.” (Simon & Schuster, $17.99, hardcover; $10.99, ebook).
In this 119-page book from the Simon and Schuster children’s division, Pitts writes, “As a journalist for more than thirty years, I have seen courage and cowardice in most of their forms. I have witnessed the powerful and the powerless in action. Many have names history will recall. Most do not. But few, if any, have inspired me more than the people you are about to meet. Most of them showed courage when no one was looking, displayed wisdom beyond their years. Each in his or her own way possesses an earnest and joyful spirit that defies his or her circumstances.
“For some that optimism seems to come more easily. For all it was a choice. And each can teach us something about taking personal responsibility for our lot in life. These are not bootstrap stories of young people who made it on their own. But rather, young people who endured when they had to, sought out others when they could, and managed to stay faithful to their dreams and ambitions when they could very easily have given up. More than survivors, they are overcomers.”
The hardships include abuse, bullying, war, drug addiction, mental illness and violence.
Otis Sanford, a former managing editor of the Commercial Appeal in Memphis now in academia, has “From Boss Crump to King Willie: How Race Changed Memphis Politics” (University of Tennessee Press: $29.95, hardcover; $24.95, paperback).
“This book seeks to capture the one hundred-plus years of struggle by Memphis’s African Americans for social acceptance and political inclusion,” writes Sanford, who holds the Hardin Chair of Excellence in Economic and Managerial Journalism at the University of Memphis. “It also examines the role editors of the city’s newspapers played in shaping the political fortunes of Memphis.”
Jackson Baker wrote in the Memphis Flyer, “In a way unusual for a work of history, this book reads like a novel — its facts accounted for both in concise summaries of events and circumstances and in key moments that are rendered as scenes. . . .”
Sanford also writes, “This book is also about the events, some tragic, that created the massive population shift that made Memphis a majority African American city. It is about the patience and persistence of black citizens in Memphis who endured terrorism, shook off racism, and accepted the segregated climate of their day while also displaying an air of privilege because they could exercise the right to vote several decades before African Americans in most other parts of the South. A choice few in Memphis’s black community even became major players in the white-dominated world of national politics. . . .”
“African journalists are well aware of the power of their trade,” Anya Schiffrin writes in her introduction to “African Muckraking: 75 Years of Investigative Journalism from Africa,” (Jacana Media, South Africa) edited by Schiffrin with George Lugalambi.
“When officials try to pay them off with stuffed brown envelopes, when police officers harass them, when thugs intimidate them — all these things happen because the media still has the inherent ability to disrupt the status quo and challenge vested interests. Journalists know it, and so do politicians.
“For the public in both Africa and in the Global North, however, the essential work of African journalists is seldom recognized. In Africa, there are many reasons why it’s hard for even the best journalists to reach a truly broad audience: the low education, literacy and income levels of potential audiences, poor infrastructure which makes both reporting and distribution more difficult, language barriers, soft censorship and other factors.
“In the Global North, the contributions of African journalists are unknown, often because of a sneaking assumption that good journalism simply doesn’t originate in Africa: Western audiences may trust the satellite news, parachute journalist more than they do local reporters.
“This book aims to dispel these assumptions about Africa . . . .”
Schiffrin is director of technology, media and advocacy specialization in the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. She also writes, a “comprehensive, up-to-date volume about the history of journalism on the continent has yet to be written, although James Brennan from the University of Illinois has begun one such project. . . . “
Schiffrin said by email from Johannesburg that the book was published in South Africa and has no American publisher, but that U.S. readers may obtain the Kindle edition.
Mark Schapiro, the Nation: Investigative Journalism Can Still Make Bad Guys Squirm
Matt Taibbi, author and contributing editor at Rolling Stone, is not a person of color, but “I Can’t Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street” (Spiegel & Grau: $28, hardcover) has won widespread praise from those who are.
“I Can’t Breathe” is journalist Matt Taibbi’s “gut-wrenching account of the death and life of Eric Garner,” Georgetown Law professor Paul Butler, author of “Chokehold (Policing Black Men): A Renegade Prosecutor’s Radical Thoughts on How to Disrupt the System,” wrote in October for the Washington Post.
“As the whole world knows, Garner died in 2014 after being placed in an illegal chokehold by a New York City cop who was trying to arrest him for supposedly selling a ‘loosie’ tobacco cigarette on a Staten Island street. The book is a deep dive into every aspect of the case, including its legal impact, which is minimal, and its cultural and political impact, which has been profound.
“But the most revealing stories Taibbi tells — the ones that made me put the book down because it got too heartbreaking — are about other African Americans, mostly male and poor, who were stopped and frisked, strip-searched, sexually assaulted, set up, beaten, or killed for the tragic reason that racist cops didn’t like them, or the even more tragic reason that these kinds of humiliations are ordained by U.S. law and policy.
“. . . The narrative unfolds like an episode of ‘The Wire,’ but without the comic relief — or that show’s grudging empathy for the cops. . . .”
The Post named “I Can’t Breathe” one of the 10 best books of the year.See also:
The Marshall Project: The Picks of 2017: The best criminal justice books we read this year
Hope Wabuke, The Root: The 16 Best Books of the Year by Black Authors