Zora Neale Hurston, Ed. by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Genevieve West
RaveThe Washington Post... a dazzling collection of her work ... You Don’t Know Us Negroes reveals Hurston at the top of her game as an essayist, cultural critic, anthropologist and beat reporter ... Hurston is, by turn, provocative, funny, bawdy, informative and outrageous ... Hurston will make you laugh but also make you remember the bitter divide in Black America around performance, language, education and class ... But the surprising page turner is at the back of the book, a compilation of Hurston’s coverage of the Ruby McCollom murder trial ... Some of Hurston’s writing is sensationalistic, to be sure, but it’s also a riveting take of gender and race relations at the time ... Gates and West have put together a comprehensive collection that lets Hurston shine as a writer, a storyteller and an American iconoclast.
Katherine Johnson with Joylette Hylick and Katherine Moore
RaveThe Washington PostThe book was written with her daughters Joylette Hylick and Katherine Moore and completed by them after Johnson’s death. The memoir offers a more personal perspective on the story first made famous by Margot Lee Shetterley’s book. Johnson discusses some of the disparities between her life and what we saw on screen. Most endearingly, we hear Johnson’s wonderful and often witty voice.
Anna Malaika Tubbs
PositiveThe Washington PostEndurance and resilience are the themes here. In the face of racism, sexism and tremendous violence, these three mothers survive. They are honored, in these pages, as the extraordinary women they were, in their own right. This ambitious book reframes African American history, supplying the female Black experience as a much-needed perspective.
RaveThe Washington Post... riveting ... a tribute to a life snuffed out by a brutal man, a fractured judicial system and a patriarchy as old as Methuselah. It is also an examination of the Old South colliding with the new, a chronicle of one artist’s beginnings, and of a changing America ... Trethewey excavates her mother’s life, transforming her from tragic victim to luminous human being. She is a living, breathing dynamo, coming of age in the Jim Crow South, breaking out of the restrictions imposed on her ... This is a political book. It is the story of a woman cut down in her prime, about a sick man who imposed his control and had his way, about the larger story of power in America. The awful postscript to this story is that Grimmette was released from prison in March of last year, and is now a free man.
RaveThe Washington Post...a fierce examination of contemporary passing and the price so many pay for a new identity. The open wounds of the past remain, even as these characters build new lives, personally and professionally. Reinvention and erasure are two sides of the same coin. Bennett asks us to consider the meaning of authenticity when we are faced with racism, colorism, sexism and homophobia. What price do we pay to be ourselves? How many of us choose to escape what is expected of us? And what happens to the other side of the equation, the side we leave behind? “The Vanishing Half” answers all these questions in this exquisite story of love, survival and triumph.
PositiveThe Washington Post... a soup of contradictions served up with flair. She experiments with form, with language, with conjecture, with the absurd. Tidbits of autofiction, and dashes of speculative fiction are mixed together and seasoned with current events ... Smith is witty and eviscerating ... some of these new stories do feel hysterical. They’re panicked — about time, about motherhood, about the environment. The short story as a form is new for Smith, and some of these stories feel unfinished ... Many of the best stories are toward the back of the collection. I found myself wanting to rearrange their order so that the final story, Grand Union, was the first.
PositiveThe Washington Post\"Taylor is scrupulous about dates and correspondence between the players. At times, he overreaches. His comparing Hughes’s trajectory to Bob Dylan’s is one example of an idea that feels overblown and out of place. He is also tone-deaf on the subject of sexism in the 1930s, drawing few conclusions about Zora’s death in obscurity and Langston’s lifelong fame. Otherwise, this a complete pleasure to read.\
Dorothy Butler Gilliam
PositiveThe Washington Post\"While much of this book is concerned with historical events, [Gilliam’s] personal experience burns at its core. Gilliam’s own story, her interiority, lights up the page. Her descriptions of growing up—as a preacher’s daughter and the eighth child of 10, suffering through her father’s illness and death, developing an eating disorder and living without indoor plumbing—are all riveting ... One only wishes Gilliam gave herself permission to write more about the price of her ascent—the challenges of marriage and divorce, her husband’s mental illness and infidelity and the colorism she and her daughters faced. Regardless, a trailblazer she is and a trailblazer she always will be. This book is testament to that.\
RaveThe Washington Post\"Alam has created an outstanding depiction of motherhood and cross-racial adoption. He deftly sets up these characters to fail repeatedly even as they persevere. The tensions of privilege and identity are brilliantly set against the backdrop of wealthy American cities, and Alam’s pacing is phenomenal. That Kind of Mother is astonishing book, one unafraid to look at the minefield of parenting and race. It reveals how we blind ourselves to the truth — and how we might finally open our eyes.\