A Long, Long Look at Obama’s Life, Mostly Before the White House

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2017-06-13 17:30Z by Steven

A Long, Long Look at Obama’s Life, Mostly Before the White House

Books of The Times
The New York Times
2017-05-01

Michiko Kakutani, Chief Book Critic

RISING STAR
The Making of Barack Obama

By David J. Garrow
1,460 pages. William Morrow. $45.

Rising Star,” the voluminous 1,460-page biography of Barack Obama by David J. Garrow, is a dreary slog of a read: a bloated, tedious and — given its highly intemperate epilogue — ill-considered book that is in desperate need of editing, and way more exhausting than exhaustive.

Many of the more revealing moments in this volume will be familiar to readers of Obama’s own memoir, “Dreams From My Father”; a host of earlier books about Obama and his family; and myriad profiles of the former president that have appeared in newspapers and magazines over the years. Garrow has turned up little that’s substantially new — save for identifying and interviewing an old girlfriend from Obama’s early Chicago years, who claims that by 1987, “he already had his sights on becoming president.”

In the absence of thoughtful analysis or a powerful narrative through line, Garrow’s book settles for barraging the reader with a cascade of details — seemingly in hopes of creating a kind of pointillist picture. The problem is that all these data points never connect to form an illuminating portrait; the book does not open out to become the sort of resonant narrative that Robert A. Caro and Ron Chernow have pioneered, in which momentous historical events are deftly recreated, and a subject’s life is situated in a time and a place. Instead, Garrow has expended a huge amount of energy — his bibliography, including interviews with more than a thousand people, runs to 35 pages — on giving us minutely detailed accounts of early chapters of Obama’s life, like his years at Harvard Law School, his time in Chicago as a community organizer, and his work in the Illinois State Senate. Garrow gets to Obama’s presidency only in an epilogue…

…It’s odd that Garrow should seize on one former lover’s anger and hurt, and try to turn them into a Rosebud-like key to the former president’s life, referring to her repeatedly in his epilogue. He even tries to turn her perception — about Obama’s having willed himself into being — into a pejorative, when the act of self-invention, as other biographers have noted, was the enterprising and existential act of a young man who essentially had been abandoned by both his black father and white mother, and who found himself caught between cultures and trying, as he wrote in “Dreams,” “to raise myself to be a black man in America.”…

Read the entire review here.

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Kathleen Collins’s ‘Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?’

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2016-12-12 17:11Z by Steven

Kathleen Collins’s ‘Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?’

Books of The Times
The New York Times
2016-11-29

Dwight Garner

Kathleen Collins, Elizabeth Alexander (fore.), Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? (New York: Ecco, 2016)

When the filmmaker, playwright and fiction writer Kathleen Collins died of breast cancer in 1988, at 46, she left behind a wide body of work that’s only beginning to see the light of day.

She was among the first black women to direct a feature-length film. That movie, “Losing Ground” (1982), parsed black intellectual life in New York City; it was about a female philosophy professor and her wayward husband, a painter. It never had a theatrical release. Just last year its premiere was held at Lincoln Center, where it played to sold-out crowds.

She was a feverish artist, working on many fronts. In an essay in the September issue of Vogue, her daughter, Nina Lorez Collins, recalls, “When I think back, the dominant sounds of my childhood are of my mother’s IBM Selectric II clattering away behind her bedroom door; film swishing through the Steenbeck editing machine that sat in our dining room; and, occasionally, Tina Turner blaring from the stereo while she danced like a madwoman in the living room.”…

This collection’s title story gives us Ms. Collins in full flower. It is about two roommates in an Upper West Side apartment. It’s 1963 or, as Ms. Collins declares, “the year of racial, religious, and ethnic mildew.”

One roommate is a white community organizer in Harlem, fresh out of Sarah Lawrence and dating a black poet. The other is a young black woman who was jailed during civil rights protests in Georgia; she’s in love with a white Freedom Rider.

When the young black woman went South, she shed some of her proper bourgeois upbringing and began to feel the shaggy earth beneath her feet. Her father is apoplectic. What’s happened to his perfect strait-laced daughter?…

Read the entire review here.

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