Essence Magazine’s book features for October 2014, highlighting “five fierce & fearless new books” — featuring George Clinton, Dr. Cornel West, Bridgett M. Davis, Eartha Kitt, and Rachel Renee Russell:
Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You?: A Memoir
by George Clinton and Ben Greenman
October 21, 2014
The long-awaited memoir from one of the greatest bandleaders, hit makers, and most influential pop artists of our time — known for over forty R&B hit singles — George Clinton of Parliament-Funkadelic.
George Clinton began his musical career in New Jersey, where his obsession with doo-wop and R&B led to a barbershop quartet — literally, as Clinton and his friends also styled hair in the local shop — the way kids often got their musical start in the 50s. But how many kids like that ended up playing to tens of thousands of rabid fans alongside a diaper-clad guitarist? How many of them commissioned a spaceship and landed it onstage during concerts? How many put their stamp on four decades of pop music, from the mind-expanding sixties to the hip-hop-dominated nineties and beyond?
One of them. That’s how many.
How George Clinton got from barbershop quartet to funk music megastar is a story for the ages. As a high school student he traveled to New York City, where he absorbed all the trends in pop music, from traditional rhythm and blues to Motown, the Beatles, the Stones, and psychedelic rock, not to mention the formative funk of James Brown and Sly Stone. By the dawn of the seventies, he had emerged as the leader of a wildly creative musical movement composed mainly of two bands — Parliament and Funkadelic. And by the bicentennial, Clinton and his P-Funk empire were dominating the soul charts as well as the pop charts. He was an artistic visionary, visual icon, merry prankster, absurdist philosopher, and savvy businessmen, all rolled into one. He was like no one else in pop music, before or since.
Written with wit, humor, and candor, this memoir provides tremendous insight into America’s music industry as forever changed by Clinton’s massive talent. This is a story of a beloved global icon who dedicated himself to spreading the gospel of funk music.
Black Prophetic Fire by Cornel West and Christa Buschendorf
Beacon Press, October 7, 2014, Hardcover
An unflinching look at nineteenth- and twentieth-century African American leaders and their visionary legacies.
In an accessible, conversational format, Cornel West, with distinguished scholar Christa Buschendorf, provides a fresh perspective on six revolutionary African American leaders: Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr., Ella Baker, Malcolm X, and Ida B. Wells. In dialogue with Buschendorf, West examines the impact of these men and women on their own eras and across the decades. He not only rediscovers the integrity and commitment within these passionate advocates but also their fault lines.
West, in these illuminating conversations with the German scholar and thinker Christa Buschendorf, describes Douglass as a complex man who is both “the towering Black freedom fighter of the nineteenth century” and a product of his time who lost sight of the fight for civil rights after the emancipation. He calls Du Bois “undeniably the most important Black intellectual of the twentieth century” and explores the more radical aspects of his thinking in order to understand his uncompromising critique of the United States, which has been omitted from the American collective memory. West argues that our selective memory has sanitized and even “Santaclausified” Martin Luther King Jr., rendering him less radical, and has marginalized Ella Baker, who embodies the grassroots organizing of the civil rights movement. The controversial Malcolm X, who is often seen as a proponent of reverse racism, hatred, and violence, has been demonized in a false opposition with King, while the appeal of his rhetoric and sincerity to students has been sidelined. Ida B. Wells, West argues, shares Malcolm X’s radical spirit and fearless speech, but has “often become the victim of public amnesia.”
By providing new insights that humanize all of these well-known figures, in the engrossing dialogue with Buschendorf, and in his insightful introduction and powerful closing essay, Cornel West takes an important step in rekindling the Black prophetic fire so essential in the age of Obama.
Into the Go-Slow by Bridgett M. Davis
The Feminist Press at CUNY, September 9, 2014, Paperback
It’s 1986 and twenty-one-year-old Angie continues to mourn the death of her brilliant and radical sister Ella. On impulse, she travels from Detroit to the place where Ella tragically died four years before — Nigeria. She retraces her sister’s steps, all the while navigating the chaotic landscape of a major African country on the brink of democracy careening toward a coup d’tat.
At the center of this quest is a love affair that upends everything Angie thought she knew about herself. Against a backdrop of Nigeria’s infamous go-slow — traffic as wild and surprising as a Fela lyric — Angie begins to unravel the mysteries of the past, and opens herself up to love and life after Ella.
Bridgett M. Davis’s debut novel Shifting Through Neutral (Amistad, 2004) was a Borders Books “Original Voices” selection and a finalist for the 2005 Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright LEGACY Award. Davis was selected as the New Author of the Year by Go On Girl! Book Club — the largest national reading group for African American women. She currently writes for O, The Oprah Magazine and other publications.
America’s Mistress: The Life and Times of Miss Eartha Kitt
by John L. Williams
Quercus, October 7, 2014, Hardcover
Strait-laced, pre-civil rights America wasn’t ready for Eartha Kitt. Waiting for others to be ready was never her style. in America’s Mistress John L. Williams captures the person behind the myth in this engaging biography but also race relations in Twentieth-century America.
From humble roots on a South Carolina cotton plantation, the multilingual, possibly multi-racial chanteuse emerged seemingly from nowhere to seduce the nation and redefine cosmopolitan glamour. Blending intellect, self-awareness and unprecedented sex appeal, she was a Technicolor presence in a black-and-white world.
But the key to her allure was always her mystery, and her three not-entirely-consistent autobiographies raise more questions than they answer about who she really was–whether singing, dancing, acting or drawing headlines for her romantic dalliances and political activism.
Drawing on extensive original research and interviews with the people who knew her best, Williams–whose previous biographical subjects include Shirley Bassey and English civil rights activist Michael X–delivers a comprehensive, compassionate and thought-provoking record of a life that defied stereotypes, shattered boundaries, yet seemed to fall short of its potential in the end.
Beginning with Eartha’s tumultuous childhood, Williams makes a bold claim about the identity of her true father–a question that has never been answered. From there Williams traces her escape to Harlem, where she came into contact with leading black entertainers and found quick success as a company dancer-which, in turn, enabled her to travel the world and segue into film, television and music stardom.
Williams details her time at the top of the entertainment business–when Orson Welles famously called her “the most exciting woman in the world”–with candor and striking revelations. America’s Mistress focuses on how, as Eartha’s social consciousness developed, she found herself awkwardly torn between the realities of Jim Crow oppression and her lucrative role as white America’s ultimate sex kitten.
Whether or not her decline began with her 1968 infamous public confrontation with Lady Bird Johnson (that left the First Lady in tears), the later decades of Eartha’s life were marked by America’s growing indifference to the woman who once captured its attention like no one before or since.
But America’s Mistress is ultimately a celebration of a remarkable American life that paved the way for black entertainers from Belafonte to Beyonce. With objectivity and thoroughness, John L. Williams provides sought-after answers to tantalizing and elusive questions.
Dork Diaries 7: Tales from a Not-So-Glam TV Star
by Rachel Renee Russell
Aladdin, June 3, 2014, Hardcover
Everyone’s been rooting for Nikki Maxwell and her crush, Brandon and fans will finally learn if they had their first kiss in this seventh book of the New York Times bestselling Dork Diaries series!
Nikki’s juggling a lot this month. A reality TV crew is following Nikki and her friends as they record their hit song together, plus there are voice lessons, dance practice, and little sister Brianna’s latest wacky hijinks. Nikki’s sure she can handle everything, but will all the excitement cause new problems for Nikki and Brandon, now that cameras are everywhere Nikki goes?
The Dork Diaries series has more than 13 million copies in print worldwide!
Child, Please: How I Learned That When It Comes to Raising Kids, My Mother Had It Right All Along
by Ylonda Gault Caviness
Tarcher, April 14, 2015, Hardcover
In this wise and funny memoir, Ylonda Gault Caviness describes her journey to the realization that all the parenting advice she was obsessively devouring as a new parent (and sharing with the world as a parenting expert on NPR, Today, in The Huffington Post, and elsewhere) didn’t mean scratch compared to her mama’s old school wisdom as a strong black woman and mother.
With child number one, Caviness set her course: to give her children everything she had. Child number two came along and she patiently persisted. But when her third kid arrived, she was finally so exhausted that she decided to listen to what her mother had been saying to her for years: Give them everything they want, and there’ll be nothing left of you. In Child, Please, Caviness describes the road back to embracing a more sane — not to mention loving — way of raising children. Her mother had it right all along.