Crafted with honesty and wry comedic flair, these essays are both engaging and enraging.

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HOW TO MAKE A SLAVE AND OTHER ESSAYS

Powerful essays offers an incisive glimpse into life as a Black man in America.

In this collection, Walker demonstrates the keen intellect and direct style that characterized his acclaimed 2010 memoir, Street Shadows. In an account of how he was racially profiled by a security guard at Emerson College, where he teaches creative writing, the author deftly combines both humor and humanity without obscuring the impact of such experiences on him as a husband, father, son, and educator. “The stories I favor,” he writes, “are not only upsetting but also uplifting; they are rich with irony and tinged with humor; they are unique, in some way, and lend themselves to interesting digressions, and their protagonists always confront villains, even if not always with success—when I come into a race story with these components, I prefer to delay its telling, allowing it to breathe, so to speak, like a newly uncorked Merlot.” Walker candidly considers his struggles discussing race with his children; clearly depicts the racism embedded in restaurant seating arrangements; and expressively recounts the terrifying spiral of fear, anger, and distress he experienced after seeking medical attention for his son, who had suffered multiple seizures. The author’s no-nonsense, few-words-wasted approach lends itself just as readily to an account of the exhilaration he and his siblings felt while watching the The Jackson 5ive cartoon in their family’s religious household in 1971: “Breaking the Sabbath was a violation of God’s law, pretty significant stuff, but then so, too, was an all-Negro cartoon.” In the moving “Dragon Slayers,” Walker shows how James Alan McPherson, an instructor at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, changed his outlook and approach as a writer. “My stories showed people being affected by drug addiction, racism, poverty, murder, crime, violence,” he writes, “but they said nothing about the spirit that, despite being confronted with what often amounted to certain defeat, would continue to struggle and aspire for something better.”

Crafted with honesty and wry comedic flair, these essays are both engaging and enraging.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8142-5599-5

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Mad Creek/Ohio State Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

HUMANS

The creator of the hit internet series Humans of New York takes it global, chasing down a panoply of interesting stories.

In 1955, Edward Steichen staged a show called “The Family of Man,” a gathering of photographs that emphasized the commonality of humankind. Stanton’s project seemingly has much the same ambition. “You’ve created this magic little corner of the Web where people feel safe sharing their stories—without being ridiculed, or bullied, or judged,” he writes. “These stories are only honestly shared because they have a long history of being warmly received.” The ask is the hard part: approaching a total stranger and asking him or her to tell their stories. And what stories they are. A young Frenchwoman, tearful, recounts being able to see things from the spirit world that no one else can see. “And it’s been a very lonely existence since then,” she says. A sensible teenager in St. Petersburg, Russia, relates that her friends are trying to be grown-up, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, whereas she wants to remain a child close to her parents: “I’d like these times to last as long as possible.” A few stories are obnoxious, as with a Dutch incel who has converted himself into a pickup artist and outright cad: “Of course it’s manipulation, but why should I care? I’ve been manipulated so many times in my life.” A great many stories, some going for several pages but most taking up just a paragraph or two, are regretful, speaking to dashed dreams and roads not taken. A surprising number recount mental illness, depression, and addiction; “I’d give anything to have a tribe,” says a beleaguered mother in Barcelona. Some are hopeful, though, such as that of an Iranian woman: “I’ve fallen in love with literature. I try to read for one or two hours every day. I only have one life to live. But in books I can live one thousand lives.”

A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11429-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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A refreshing celebrity memoir focused not strictly on the self but on a much larger horizon.

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WILL

One of Hollywood’s biggest stars delivers a memoir of success won through endless, relentless work and self-reckoning.

“My imagination is my gift, and when it merges with my work ethic, I can make money rain from the heavens.” So writes Smith, whose imagination is indeed a thing of wonder—a means of coping with fear, an abusive father with the heart of a drill instructor, and all manner of inner yearnings. The author’s imagination took him from a job bagging ice in Philadelphia to initial success as a partner in the Grammy-winning rap act DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Smith was propelled into stardom thanks to the ministrations of Quincy Jones, who arranged an audition in the middle of his own birthday party, bellowing “No paralysis through analysis!” when Smith begged for time to prepare. The mantra—which Jones intoned 50-odd times during the two hours it took for the Hollywood suits to draw up a contract for the hit comedy series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air—is telling, for hidden within this memoir lies a powerful self-help book. For Smith, all of life is a challenge in which one’s feelings are largely immaterial. “I watched my father’s negative emotions seize control of his ample intellect and cause him over and over again to destroy beautiful parts of our family,” he writes, good reason for him to sublimate negativity in the drive to get what he wanted—money, at first, and lots of it, which got him in trouble with the IRS in the early 1990s. Smith, having developed a self-image that cast him as a coward, opines that one’s best life is lived by facing up to the things that hold us back. “I’ve been making a conscious effort to attack all the things that I’m scared of,” he writes, adding, “And this is scary.” It’s a good lesson for any aspiring creative to ponder—though it helps to have Smith’s abundant talent, too.

A refreshing celebrity memoir focused not strictly on the self but on a much larger horizon.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984877-92-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 9, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2021

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