Freedom Summer and more...
Freedom Summer: The Savage Season that Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democracy
Freedom Summer focuses on the summer of 1964 when hundreds of volunteers, most of them college students, traveled to Mississippi to help African Americans get the right to vote. One of Bruce Watson’s greatest strengths is his ability to dramatize the events. Beginning with the murder of Herbert Lee in 1961, one of the countless murders of African Americans in Mississippi prior to Freedom Summer, Watson weaves a story that yearns to be fiction, but sadly is not. He introduces his readers to a cast of memorable characters like Fannie Lou Hamer and Bob Moses, nicknamed the “Jesus” of the movement. Armed with idealism and courage, the volunteers essentially reversed the path of the Underground Railroad, traveling from a training ground in Ohio to the heart of segregated Mississippi. Watson presents a harrowing image of bullying, illegal intimidation, and murder, all of which were designed to keep African Americans from voting and to keep anyone else from doing anything about it. Greg Carpenter
Harry Smith: The Avant-Garde in the American Vernacular
Andrew Perchuk and Ravi Singh (eds)
This book comes very close to being a faithful mirror of the endlessly fascinating Harry Smith and, like its subject, will provoke, educate, and entertain in equal measure. This collection, the result of two symposia held on Harry Smith in 2001 and 2002, is an attempt to reflect the wide scope of Smith’s interests by bringing together scholars from a range of disciplines. The volume is edited by Andrew Perchuk, deputy director of the Getty Research Institute and former curator at New York’s Alternative Museum, and Rani Singh, a researcher at the Getty Institute, who was Harry Smith’s assistant in the years leading up to his death and is now the director of the Harry Smith Archives. This is an excellent, thought-provoking book, one that should appeal to anyone with an interest in the role of the vernacular in the contemporary arts. It is beautifully produced and contains numerous well-reproduced plates featuring Smith’s artwork. The labor of love that has gone into the look of the book is also evident in the rigorous editing of the essays. It seems as though, following her own observation about the elusiveness of the volume’s subject, Singh has sought to pin down the factual and verifiable within even the most anecdotal or speculative contributions. The text is generously studded with footnotes that are enlightening and reassuring rather than obtrusive. Richard Elliott
Racism and science collide in this devastating true story of a young woman, the tissue sample from her body that spawned a million-dollar industry, and the impact on her family. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is far more than a scientific history of a prolific cell line. It’s a story about the countless ways humans treat one another abominably, in this case, with blatant, nauseating racism. Reading it felt like a slap in the face, like seeing the televised shots from the Ninth Ward post-Hurricane Katrina. It made me want to call the Lacks family and apologize. By all means, read this book—not only to educate yourself about the ways science is moving faster than ethics, but to give Henrietta Lacks and her family the recognition and thanks they so richly deserve. Diane Leach
Throughout Just Kids, Patti Smith’s riveting, moving memoir, the author recounts bumping into Salvador Dali, hearing a few encouraging words by Jimi Hendrix, and seeing Bob Dylan in the audience for one of her performances. Under the hands of a weaker author, Just Kids would have been an indulgent, self-obsessed bit of New York-themed gossip about growing up in ‘60s and ‘70s, but Smith wisely paints all these improbable scenes as a mere backdrop for a universal story of deep friendship between two restless souls. In the early ‘70s, before Patti Smith ignited the CBGB and Robert Mapplethorpe became a celebrated photographer, the two endured years of off-and-on employment and bare-knuckled poverty, but Smith’s uncluttered prose makes even an instance of lice infestation and the occasional bout of starvation seem somehow appealing. Just Kids is many things: a love letter to a bygone era of New York City, an inspirational example of following your dreams until the end, but above all, it’s an intimate look at a relationship that transcended sexuality. Like a great album, the first thing you want to do when Just Kids ends is go back to the beginning and let it play again. Sean McCarthy
Virginia Despentes, Stephanie Benson
“I am writing as an ugly one for the ugly ones,” begins Virginie Despentes in her provocative and brainy polemic, King Kong Theory, and those of us waiting for a wave of fresh air to blow into the stale halls of feminism finally found it coming from the pages of this book. In a bold and courageous attempt to shatter the myths of womanhood in Western societies, Despentes forces you to confront rape, prostitution, and pornography through the perspective of an angry, sexually-confident woman who knows her place in the world and is not about to relinquish it as she mistakenly had in the past. Despentes writes poetically and with stunning clarity, and is intelligent enough to know she does not speak for all women in all societies, yet perceptive enough to recognise that a virulent strain of neoliberal, neoimperial, consumer feminism has seeped into societies in developing and “third world” countries, as well. (Save the brown women! Give them the freedom to allow themselves to be exploited!) Despentes interrogates the collusion of capitalism and patriarchy and details its effects on the “outcasts” of both sexes. The ugly, the sensitive, the loud, the shy, the awkward, the ones who can’t seem to obediently fall into line with the demands that fulfill the myth of the Ideal Woman—Despentes writes for you. Subashini Navaratnam
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