Category Archives: Biographies

New books featuring autobiographies, memoirs, and biographies

The Black Girl Next Door: A Memoir by Jennifer Baszile

Touchstone
Available 12/29/09 in Paperback

A powerful, beautifully written memoir about coming of age as a black girl in an exclusive white suburb in “integrated,” post-Civil Rights California in the 1970s and 1980s.

At six years of age, after winning a foot race against a white classmate, Jennifer Baszile was humiliated to hear her classmate explain that black people “have something in their feet to make them run faster than white people.” When she asked her teacher about it, it was confirmed as true. The next morning, Jennifer’s father accompanied her to school, careful to “assert himself as an informed and concerned parent and not simply a big, black, dangerous man in a first-grade classroom.”

This was the first of many skirmishes in Jennifer’s childhood-long struggle to define herself as “the black girl next door” while living out her parents’ dreams. Success for her was being the smartest and achieving the most, with the consequence that much of her girlhood did not seem like her own but more like the “family project.” But integration took a toll on everyone in the family when strain in her parents’ marriage emerged in her teenage years, and the struggle to be the perfect black family became an unbearable burden.

A deeply personal view of a significant period of American social history, The Black Girl Next Door deftly balances childhood experiences with adult observations, creating an illuminating and poignant look at a unique time in our country’s history.

I’m Still Standing by Shoshana Johnson

I’m Still Standing: From Captive U.S. Soldier to Free Citizen — My Journey Home
by Shoshana Johnson

Touchstone
Available 02/02/10 in Hardcover

In March of 2003, when Operation Iraqi Freedom was only days old, world headlines were made when a U.S. army convoy was attacked in the city of An-Nasiriyah en route to Baghdad. Several soldiers were killed and others were taken prisoner.

Jessica Lynch became the face and name associated with this tragedy, but another female soldier, Shoshana Johnson, was also wounded and captured in the ambush. A video of Shoshana being interrogated by her captors was soon broadcast on Spanish-language television and then picked up by American media. Shoshana had become the first black female prisoner of war in United States history. She was held for twenty-two days.

When Shoshana returned to the United States, she received numerous awards for her valor, including the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Prisoner of War medals. She appeared on news networks and national television shows such as Oprah, Ellen, The Tonight Show, and Larry King Live, but she was bound by a military gag order. She was unable to discuss what really happened in Iraq — until now.

Shoshana holds nothing back in this harrowing account of an ordinary woman caught in an extraordinary circumstance. She reveals decisions made by higher-ups that may have led to the capture, describes the pain of post-traumatic stress disorder, and shares the surprising story of how a specialist in a maintenance company ended up on the front lines of war.

Divulging personal emotions and frustrations while raising fresh political issues, I’m Still Standing is the never-before-told and much anticipated story of the headline-making ambush, capture, and rescue described with the exceptional bravery and candor of a single mom and soldier who became an American hero.

Willie Mays by James S. Hirsch

Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend
by James S Hirsch

Scribner
Available 02/09/10 in Hardcover

Authorized by Willie Mays and written by a New York Times bestselling author, this is the definitive biography of one of baseball’s immortals.

Considered to be “as monumental — and enigmatic — a legend as American sport has ever seen” (Sports Illustrated), Willie Mays is arguably the greatest player in baseball history, still revered for the passion he brought to the game. He began as a teenager in the Negro Leagues, became a cult hero in New York, and was the headliner in Major League Baseball’s bold expansion to California. With 3,283 hits, 660 home runs, and 338 stolen bases, he was a blend of power, speed, and stylistic bravado that enraptured fans for more than two decades. Now, in the first biography authorized by and written with the cooperation of Willie Mays, James Hirsch reveals the man behind the player.

Willie is perhaps best known for “The Catch” — his breathtaking over-the-shoulder grab in the 1954 World Series. But he was a transcendent figure who received standing ovations in enemy stadiums and who, during the turbulent civil rights era, urged understanding and reconciliation. More than his records, his legacy is defined by the pure joy that he brought to fans and the loving memories that have been passed to future generations so they might know the magic and beauty of the game. With meticulous research, and drawing on interviews with Mays himself as well as with close friends, family, and teammates, Hirsch presents a complex portrait of one of America’s most significant cultural icons.

King: The Special Edition by Ho Che Anderson

Fantagraphics Books
Available 02/28/10 in Hardcover

A special expanded edition of a Fantagraphics classic.

Ho Che Anderson has spent over 10 years researching, writing, and drawing King, a monumental graphic biography that liberates Martin Luther King Jr. from the saintly, one-dimensional, hagiographic image so prevalent in pop culture. Here is King — father, husband, politician, deal broker, idealist, pragmatist, inspiration to millions — brought to vivid, flesh-and-blood life.

Out of print since 2006, King is Fantagraphics’ most-requested reprint. In recognition of the advances made in American social equality that has made it possible to elect America’s first black President, Fantagraphics Books is publishing King: The Special Edition, a newly designed volume that includes the original 240-page graphic biography, as well as nearly a hundred additional pages of “extras,” including:
Black Dogs” is a 14-page prelude to King, a dialogue between a young black couple expecting a child, living in LA in the aftermath of the Rodney King upheaval, a raw and inflected conversation between husband and wife and their racial attitudes in a post-King world;
Excerpts from the diary and notebook the author kept when researching and writing King, with interstitial notes written specifically for this volume commenting on the method he used to conceived and execute the book;
Preparatory sketches, discarded images and pages, an interview conducted at the time of the third volume’s publication, and excerpts from the draft of the script;
An epilogue titled “Assassin,” written and drawn for this new edition, in which Anderson explores the question of whether James Earl Ray actually shot King. Caroline Longstreet, one of the observers who comments on King’s life throughout the book, is obsessed with the assassination, won’t let it rest, and pursues her own private investigation and ultimately confronts the reasons why it’s held her in its grip so long.

Anderson’s biography traces King’s life from his childhood in Atlanta and his education at Booker T. Washington High School, and his subsequent centrality to the civil rights movement when, in 1955, he organized the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott; his founding of the Southern Christian leadership Conference in 1957; his Nobel Prize in 1964; his help in organizing the 1966 March on Washington and his “I Have a Dream” speech; and the tragic moment on April 4, 1968 when he was shot dead on the balcony of the Loraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee.

Anderson’s expressionistic visual style is wrought with dramatic energy; panels evoke a painterly attention to detail but whose juxtapositions propel King’s story with cinematic momentum. Anderson’s successful use of the comics form to tell a major work of nonfiction has drawn favorable comparisons to Art Spiegelman’s Maus: A Survivor’s Tale and Joe Sacco’s Safe Area Gorazde: The War In Eastern Bosnia 1992-1995. King won a 1995 Parents’ Choice Award. Full-color throughout.

Brother West by Cornel West

Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud, A Memoir
by Cornel West, David Ritz

Smiley Books
Available 10/15/09

New York Times-best-selling author Cornel West is one of America’s most provocative and admired public intellectuals. Whether in the classroom, the streets, the prisons, or the church, Dr. West’s penetrating brilliance has been a bright beacon shining through the darkness for decades. Yet, as he points out in this new memoir, “I’ve never taken the time to focus on the inner dynamics of the dark precincts of my soul.”

That is, until now.

Brother West is like its author: brilliant, unapologetic, full of passion yet cool. This poignant memoir traces West’s transformation from a schoolyard Robin Hood into a progressive cultural icon. From his youthful investigation of the “death shudder” to why he embraced his calling of teaching over preaching, from his three marriages and his two precious children to his near-fatal bout with prostate cancer, West illuminates what it means to live as “an aspiring bluesman in a world of ideas and a jazzman in the life of the mind.” Woven together with the fibers of his lifelong commitment to the prophetic Christian tradition that began in Sacramento’s Shiloh Baptist Church, Brother West is a tale of a man courageous enough to be fully human, living and loving out loud.  

I Am the New Black by Tracy Morgan

I Am the New Black
by Tracy Morgan and Anthony Bozza

Spiegel & Grau
Available 10/20/09

The outrageously funny, heartbreaking, and surprising story of Tracy Morgan‘s rise from ghetto wiseass to superstar comedian.

Who is Tracy Morgan? The wildly unpredictable funnyman who rocketed to fame on Saturday Night Live? The Emmy-nominated actor behind the sly and ingenious character Tracy Jordan on the award-winning hit sitcom 30 Rock, whose turbulent personal life often mirrors that of his fictional alter ego? Is he Chico Divine, the life of the party–any party, anytime, anywhere, getting ladies pregnant everywhere he goes? Or is he a soulful, tender family man who emerged from a hardscrabble ghetto upbringing and against all odds achieved superstardom, raised a solid family, prevailed over a collection of lethal bad habits, and is still ascending new heights and coming into his own? The answer is: Tracy Morgan is all that. And then some.

When he was just a boy living in the Coney Island projects, being funny was about survival. With the right snap, Tracy could shut down the playground bullies who beat up on him and his physically disabled older brother. And with a wild enough prank, he could exact revenge on whoever stole his Pumas at the community pool. Later, being funny was about escape–from the untouchable sadness of his father’s death, from the desperation of the drug dealer’s trade, from the life and death battles waged on the streets of the South Bronx in the age of crack. But these days being funny is about living his dream–a dream born in the comedy clubs of Harlem and realized on shows like Martin and Saturday Night Live, where he was a cast member for seven years, and in movies like The Longest Yard and Half-Baked.

With brutal honesty and his trademark take-no-prisoners humor, Tracy tells the story of his rise to fame, with all its highs and its many lows–from the very public battles with alcohol and diabetes that threatened his career and his life to the private and poignant end of his twenty-year marriage. In his singularly warped and brilliant way he muses on family, love, sex, race, politics, ambition, and what it takes to bring the funny.

Howlingly funny, inspiring, searing, and touching, I Am the New Black is a fascinating peek inside the mind of one of the most compelling and defining comedians of our time.

Sweet Thunder: The Life and Times of Sugar Ray Robinson by Wil Haygood

Knopf
Available 10/13/09

From the author of the critically acclaimed In Black and White: The Life of Sammy Davis, Jr., comes another illuminating socio-historical narrative of the twentieth century, this one spun around one of the most iconic figures of the fight game, Sugar Ray Robinson.

Continuing to set himself apart as one of our canniest cultural historians, Wil Haygood grounds the spectacular story of Robinson’s rise to greatness within the context of the fighter’s life and times. Born Walker Smith, Jr., in 1921, Robinson had an early childhood marked by the seething racial tensions and explosive race riots that infected the Midwest throughout the twenties and thirties. After his mother moved him and his sisters to the relative safety of Harlem, he came of age in the vibrant post-Renaissance years. It was there that — encouraged to box by his mother, who wanted him off the streets — he soon became a rising star, cutting an electrifying, glamorous figure, riding around town in his famous pink Cadillac. Beyond the celebrity, though, Robinson would emerge as a powerful, often controversial black symbol in a rapidly changing America. Haygood also weaves in the stories of Langston Hughes, Lena Horne, and Miles Davis, whose lives not only intersected with Robinson’s but also contribute richly to the scope and soul of the book.

From Robinson’s gruesome six-bout war with Jake “Raging Bull” LaMotta and his lethal meeting with Jimmy Doyle to his Harlem nightclub years and thwarted show-biz dreams, Haygood brings the champion’s story, in the ring and out, powerfully to life against a vividly painted backdrop of the world he captivated.

Barack and Michelle: Portrait of an American Marriage by Christopher Andersen

William Morrow
Available 10/01/09

Barack and Michelle: Portrait of an American Marriage is an intimate and ultimately riveting look at their unique ­relationship, and the humor, faith, fortitude, and grace that define it. It is, above all, a uniquely American love story. Given the obvious historic significance of what they accomplished together, the marriage of Barack and Michelle stands as one of the great personal and political partnerships in American history. Yet, incredibly, the true nature of the marriage remains a mystery. And now, for the first time, Christopher Andersen draws on important sources — some speaking here for the first time — to paint the first complete, compelling portrait of America’s first black First Family.

Freedom Bird by Donnell B. Jones

Freedom Bird
by Donnell B. Jones

Xlibris Corporation
Available 06/09/09

The military slogan: Never leave a soldier behind.

It was a destructive war fought in the jungles of Vietnam, which did not limit its casualties to the flesh but also deep through the soul. Many veterans were forgotten, but one soldier, through this memoir, chronicles his life overseas to remind us of those who were forgotten. Revisit the Vietnam War era through the eyes of a brave American soldier, Donell Jones.

Freedom Bird is based on a devastatingly true account of Jones, a determined soldier trained to fight, kill, and survive under extreme conditions. Joining the American army at the early age of eighteen, Jones was trained to fight and defend the United States against its enemies. He was sent to fight against Communist Vietnam.

In Vietnam, Jones was not just a fighter, but also a living eyewitness to all the horror, pain, and death on the battlefield. For him, the battlefield was a place for a bloody, on-the-spot extermination; the very place where enemies were mercilessly shot at the instant one lays eyes on them. Both the Vietcong and his colleagues were brutally killed before his very eyes, leaving a painful psychological trauma on his young mind. The depth of his story is not only his trip through Vietnam and Korea, but also the devastation the war left on his life in the States.

Experience how Freedom Bird became more than just the emancipation from a brutal war, but an escape from a battle that no gun or army could fight. Join him recall a dark period of his past as he writes this chronicle of courage and fearlessness, this expression of his love and devotion for his beloved America.

As he weaves together haunting memories of the Vietnam War, Jones shares a bitter life spent in the combat zone, which portrays a true spirit of heroism every soldier must have.

Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder

Strength in What Remains
by Tracy Kidder

Random House
Available 08/25/09

Tracy Kidder, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author of the bestsellers The Soul of a New Machine, House, and the enduring classic Mountains Beyond Mountains, has been described by the Baltimore Sun as the “master of the non-fiction narrative.” In this new book, Kidder gives us the superb story of a hero for our time. Strength in What Remains is a wonderfully written, inspiring account of one man’s remarkable American journey and of the ordinary people who helped him — a brilliant testament to the power of will and of second chances.

Deo arrives in America from Burundi in search of a new life. Having survived a civil war and genocide, plagued by horrific dreams, he lands at JFK airport with two hundred dollars, no English, and no contacts. He ekes out a precarious existence delivering groceries, living in Central Park, and learning English by reading dictionaries in bookstores. Then Deo begins to meet the strangers who will change his life, pointing him eventually in the direction of Columbia University, medical school, and a life devoted to healing. Kidder breaks new ground in telling this unforgettable story as he travels with Deo back over a turbulent life in search of meaning and forgiveness. An extraordinary writer, Tracy Kidder once again shows us what it means to be fully human by telling a story about the heroism inherent in ordinary people, a story about a life based on hope.

On the Line by Serena Williams

On the Line by Serena Williams

On the Line
by Serena Williams (Author), Daniel Paisner (Contributor)

Available 9/15/09

One of the biggest stars in tennis, Serena Williams has captured every major title. Her 2009 Australia Open championship earned her the #1 world ranking for the third time in her illustrious career – and marked only the latest exclamation point on a life well and purposefully lived. As a young girl, Serena began training with an adult-sized racquet that was almost as big as her. Rather than dropping the racquet, Serena saw it as a challenge to overcome-and she has confronted every obstacle on her path to success with the same unflagging spirit. From growing up in the tough, hardscrabble neighborhood of Compton, California, to being trained by her father on public tennis courts littered with broken glass and drug paraphernalia, to becoming the top women’s player in the world, Serena has proven to be an inspiration to her legions of fans both young and old. Her accomplishments have not been without struggle: being derailed by injury, devastated by the tragic shooting of her older sister, and criticized for her unorthodox approach to tennis. Yet somehow, Serena always manages to prevail. Both on the court and off, she’s applied the strength and determination that helped her to become a champion to successful pursuits in philanthropy, fashion, television and film. In this compelling and poignant memoir, Serena takes an empowering look at her extraordinary life and what is still to come.

Never Make the Same Mistake Twice by Nene Leakes

Never Make the Same Mistake Twice: Lessons on Love and Life Learned the Hard Way
by Nene Leakes
Nene Leakes (Author), Denene Millner (Contributor)

Touchstone
Available 08/11/09

Outrageous, captivating, and unafraid to tell it like it is, Nene Leakes shares her wild journey from a scandalous past to the pinnacle of reality television stardom. Lauded by her fans for her refreshing honesty, infectiously genuine style, and clever sense of humor, Nene is an empowered, self-made woman who has not forgotten where she came from and knows exactly where she wants to go.

In this straight-talking and provocative memoir, Nene charts her journey from family black sheep to single mother to making good and realizing her dreams. With her charm and bold, self-possessed voice, Nene tackles her painful childhood; the abuse she suffered at the hands of a violent boyfriend; her struggle to support her firstborn son; and her path to true love, self-acceptance, and pride.

In Never Make the Same Mistake Twice, Nene dishes on her cast mates; takes on the rumors about her past; and shares hard-earned and inspiring life lessons in her fierce, no-nonsense, and irreverent style.

Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend by Larry Tye

Satchel Paige
Satchel Paige

Random House
Available 06/09/09

He is that rare American icon who has never been captured in a biography worthy of him. Now, at last, here is the superbly researched, spellbindingly told story of athlete, showman, philosopher, and boundary breaker Leroy “Satchel” Paige.

Few reliable records or news reports survive about players in the Negro Leagues. Through dogged detective work, award-winning author and journalist Larry Tye has tracked down the truth about this majestic and enigmatic pitcher, interviewing more than two hundred Negro Leaguers and Major Leaguers, talking to family and friends who had never told their stories before, and retracing Paige’s steps across the continent. Here is the stirring account of the child born to an Alabama washerwoman with twelve young mouths to feed, the boy who earned the nickname “Satchel” from his enterprising work as a railroad porter, the young man who took up baseball on the streets and in reform school, inventing his trademark hesitation pitch while throwing bricks at rival gang members.

Tye shows Paige barnstorming across America and growing into the superstar hurler of the Negro Leagues, a marvel who set records so eye-popping they seemed like misprints, spent as much money as he made, and left tickets for “Mrs. Paige” that were picked up by a different woman at each game. In unprecedented detail, Tye reveals how Paige, hurt and angry when Jackie Robinson beat him to the Majors, emerged at the age of forty-two to help propel the Cleveland Indians to the World Series. He threw his last pitch from a big-league mound at an improbable fifty-nine. (“Age is a case of mind over matter,” he said. “If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.”)

More than a fascinating account of a baseball odyssey, Satchel rewrites our history of the integration of the sport, with Satchel Paige in a starring role. This is a powerful portrait of an American hero who employed a shuffling stereotype to disarm critics and racists, floated comical legends about himself — including about his own age — to deflect inquiry and remain elusive, and in the process methodically built his own myth. “Don’t look back,” he famously said. “Something might be gaining on you.” Separating the truth from the legend, Satchel is a remarkable accomplishment, as large as this larger-than-life man.

Unmasked: The Last Years of Michael Jackson by Ian Halperin

Unmasked: The Last Years of Michael Jackson
by Ian Halperin

Simon Spotlight Entertainment (July 14, 2009)

In late December 2008, Ian Halperin told the world that Michael Jackson had only six months to live. His investigations into Jackson’s failing health made headlines around the globe. Six months later, the King of Pop was dead.

Whatever the final autopsy results reveal, it was greed that killed Michael Jackson. Friends and associates paint a tragic picture of the last years and days of his life as Jackson made desperate attempts to prepare for the planned concert series at London’s 02 Arena in July 2009. These shows would have earned millions for the singer and his entourage, but he could never have completed them, not mentally, and not physically. Michael knew it and his advisors knew it. Anyone who caught even a fleeting glimpse of the frail old man hiding beneath the costumes and cosmetics would have understood that the London tour was madness. Why did it happen this way? After an intense five year investigation, New York Times bestselling author Ian Halperin uncovers the real story of Michael Jackson’s final years, a suspenseful and surprising thriller.

When The Dust Settles by John A. Andrews

When The Dust Settles (A True Hollywood Story)
by John A. Andrews

Createspace
Available 05/15/09

In life there are movers, shakers and detonators. Men made with that extra ordinary quality, and would not be denied of their rightful place in society. They seem to have what some may call “iron in their blood” and are driven by that steel-like-will-not-be-denied quality to succeed against all odds.

We’ve not only seen this extra-ness demonstrated in a man’s athletic ability but also in every combative situation in which their involvement occurred.

In 1990, Michael Jordan while playing for the Chicago Bulls, pursued respect for himself and his team by scoring three times his jersey number as he dropped 69 points on the Cleveland Cavaliers.

In 1940 Sir Winston Churchill, elected as Britain’s Prime Minister delivered his famous “blood, toil and sweat” address. Victory is our aim, victory at all costs, victory in spite of terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there can be non survival. He also said, “Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” Churchill bent on perseverance led Britain through multiple wars with both his courage and strong determination. “His bull-dog determination smashed through every obstacle that stood in the road to victory. Dubbed as the “bull dog warrior,” friend and foe alike knew the meaning of his raised two forefingers which formed a “V”- victory at all costs.

I have already unveiled what drives us as men. But how do we acquire this awesome propellant? What causes us to rise to the occasion no matter what odds come against us? Is it something that we were born with -inherited from our genes? How did we get it? Is it something we acquired from a coach or some other leader who, as if by design, stepped into our life? Is it the refining process which brings out the best in us during our struggle to swim upstream? Is it inspiration? Is it belief?

As you assimilate my Hollywood Story, rest assured you will not only get introduced to me but will encounter with this all powerful motivating factor.