Friday, December 8, 2017

#BookReview: THE MOTHER OF BLACK HOLLYWOOD by Jenifer Lewis

Synopsis: Told in the audacious voice her fans adore, Jenifer describes a road to fame made treacherous by dysfunction and undiagnosed mental illness, including a sex addiction. Yet, supported by loving friends and strengthened by "inner soldiers," Jenifer never stopped entertaining and creating.

We watch as Jenifer develops icon status stemming from a series of legendary screen roles as the sassy, yet loveable, mama or auntie. And we watch as her emotional disturbances, culminating in a breakdown while filming The Temptations movie, launch her on a continuing search for answers, love and healing.

Written with no-holds-barred honesty and illustrated with sixteen-pages of color photos, this gripping memoir is filled with insights gained through a unique life that offers a universal message: “Love yourself so that love will not be a stranger when it comes.”

Candid, warm and wonderfully inspiring, The Mother of Black Hollywood intimately reveals the heart of a woman who lives life to the fullest.

From her first taste of applause at five years old to landing on Broadway within 11 days of graduation and ultimately achieving success in movies, television and global concert halls, Jenifer reveals her outrageous life story with lots of humor, a few regrets and most importantly, unbridled joy.

Review: How will you know you've made it in Black Hollywood? When Jenifer Lewis plays your mama, your auntie and, now, your grandmother. The dynamic diva with a distinctive voice and personality to match has appeared on stage, on TV and in movies as characters as unapologetic as she is in real life. It's a fact that I'll watch any movie, regardless of the rest of the cast, if Jenifer Lewis is in it because she brings it every time. But there was a time when she was afraid that her light could be dimmed.

Ms. Lewis isn't shy about discussing her bipolar diagnosis now, but before her therapist and life were able to convince her she could take meds and still be just as fabulous, the diva was spinning out of control. Between home and the theater, she filled her days and nights with a multitude of sexual partners. Yes, mother has lived, y'all and she's not ashamed of it, but she knows now that sex was her addiction, a way to fill in the gaps, but it was neither the solution or the cure for what ailed her. Her openness and honesty about this part of her life is so refreshing. It's her truth and she's unafraid to tell you about it.

336 p.
Published: November 2017

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

THE LAST BLACK UNICORN by Tiffany Haddish

Synopsis: Growing up in one of the poorest neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles, Tiffany learned to survive by making people laugh. If she could do that, then her classmates would let her copy their homework, the other foster kids she lived with wouldn’t beat her up, and she might even get a boyfriend. Or at least she could make enough money—as the paid school mascot and in-demand Bar Mitzvah hype woman—to get her hair and nails done, so then she might get a boyfriend.

None of that worked (and she’s still single), but it allowed Tiffany to imagine a place for herself where she could do something she loved for a living: comedy.

Tiffany can’t avoid being funny—it’s just who she is, whether she’s plotting shocking, jaw-dropping revenge on an ex-boyfriend or learning how to handle her newfound fame despite still having a broke person’s mind-set. Finally poised to become a household name, she recounts with heart and humor how she came from nothing and nowhere to achieve her dreams by owning, sharing, and using her pain to heal others.

By turns hilarious, filthy, and brutally honest, The Last Black Unicorn shows the world who Tiffany Haddish really is—humble, grateful, down-to-earth, and funny as hell. And now, she’s ready to inspire others through the power of laughter.

Review: Tiffany Haddish is fucking delightful. In spite of a difficult childhood with a mother struggling with mental illness, in spite of her time in foster care where she told jokes to keep from getting beat up, in spite of some raggedy boyfriends in her life, she succeeded. I don't know that I've ever seen a celebrity that makes me laugh as effortlessly as she does just by being herself.

Though Haddish first came to most people's attention with Girls Trip, and The Carmichael Show to a lesser extent, I remember her from her days on a variety of VH1's shows, e.g., I Love the 80s, I Love the 90s, Best Week Ever, etc. I didn't fully appreciate her then (that wouldn't come until Girls Trip), but reading her book and knowing the struggles she went through to get where she is now gives me an even greater appreciation for her.

There aren't any major life lessons to learn from The Last Black Unicorn as she hilariously recounts past jobs, past relationships and interactions with other comedians. Haddish isn't preachy and isn't out here to turn anyone's life around. She simply shares what she's gone through, in her hilarious way, and you take from it what you will. Her biggest goal, even with all the fame and fortune she has now, is to get her mother the help she needs to stay well so she can get back to being her mom. If the laughter, the smile that lights up her face when she tells a story, the ability to shine but not take herself too seriously, the fact that she's still out here using Groupons like the rest of us, if none of that makes you want to claim Tiffany Haddish as your BFF, I don't know what will.

288 p.
Published: December 2017
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are mine.

Friday, December 1, 2017

New Books Coming Your Way, December 5, 2017

The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish
288 p.; Humor

Growing up in one of the poorest neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles, Tiffany learned to survive by making people laugh. If she could do that, then her classmates would let her copy their homework, the other foster kids she lived with wouldn’t beat her up, and she might even get a boyfriend. Or at least she could make enough money—as the paid school mascot and in-demand Bar Mitzvah hype woman—to get her hair and nails done, so then she might get a boyfriend.

None of that worked (and she’s still single), but it allowed Tiffany to imagine a place for herself where she could do something she loved for a living: comedy.

Tiffany can’t avoid being funny—it’s just who she is, whether she’s plotting shocking, jaw-dropping revenge on an ex-boyfriend or learning how to handle her newfound fame despite still having a broke person’s mind-set. Finally poised to become a household name, she recounts with heart and humor how she came from nothing and nowhere to achieve her dreams by owning, sharing, and using her pain to heal others.

Goddess of Anarchy: The Life and Times of Lucy Parsons, American Radical by Jacqueline Jones
480 p.; Biography

Goddess of Anarchy recounts the formidable life of the militant writer, orator, and agitator Lucy Parsons. Born to an enslaved woman in Virginia in 1851 and raised in Texas-where she met her husband, the Haymarket "martyr" Albert Parsons-Lucy was a fearless advocate of First Amendment rights, a champion of the working classes, and one of the most prominent figures of African descent of her era. And yet, her life was riddled with contradictions-she advocated violence without apology, concocted a Hispanic-Indian identity for herself, and ignored the plight of African Americans.

Drawing on a wealth of new sources, Jacqueline Jones presents not only the exceptional life of the famous American-born anarchist but also an authoritative account of her times-from slavery through the Great Depression.

Searching for Sycorax: Black Women's Hauntings of Contemporary Horror by Kinitra D. Brooks
228 p.; Literary criticism

Searching for Sycorax highlights the unique position of Black women in horror as both characters and creators. Kinitra D. Brooks creates a racially gendered critical analysis of African diasporic women, challenging the horror genre’s historic themes and interrogating forms of literature that have often been ignored by Black feminist theory.

Brooks examines the works of women across the African diaspora, from Haiti, Trinidad, and Jamaica, to England and the United States, looking at new and canonized horror texts by Nalo Hopkinson, NK Jemisin, Gloria Naylor, and Chesya Burke. These Black women fiction writers take advantage of horror’s ability to highlight U.S. white dominant cultural anxieties by using Africana folklore to revise horror’s semiotics within their own imaginary. Ultimately, Brooks compares the legacy of Shakespeare’s Sycorax (of The Tempest) to Black women writers themselves, who, deprived of mainstream access to self-articulation, nevertheless influence the trajectory of horror criticism by forcing the genre to de-centralize whiteness and maleness.

Record of a Night Too Brief by Hiromi Kawakami
158 p.; Fiction

In these three haunting and lyrical stories, three young women experience unsettling loss and romance.

In a dreamlike adventure, one woman travels through an apparently unending night with a porcelain girlfriend, mist-monsters and villainous monkeys; a sister mourns her invisible brother whom only she can still see, while the rest of her family welcome his would-be wife into their home; and an accident with a snake leads a shop girl to discover the snake-families everyone else seems to be concealing.

Sensual, yearning, and filled with the tricks of memory and grief, Record of a Night Too Brief is an atmospheric trio of unforgettable tales.

How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective edited by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
200 p.; Social science

The Combahee River Collective, a path-breaking group of radical black feminists, was one of the most important organizations to develop out of the antiracist and women’s liberation movements of the 1960s and 70s. In this collection of essays and interviews edited by activist-scholar Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, founding members of the organization and contemporary activists reflect on the legacy of its contributions to Black feminism and its impact on today’s struggles.

The Forgetting Tree: A Rememory by Rae Paris
166 p.; Poetry

Rae Paris began writing The Forgetting Tree: A Rememory in 2010, while traveling the United States, visiting sites of racial trauma, horror, and defiance. The desire to do this work came from being a child of parents born and raised in New Orleans during segregation, who ultimately left for California in the late 1950s. After the death of her father in 2011, the fiction Paris had been writing gave way to poetry and short prose, which were heavily influenced by the questions she’d long been considering about narrative, power, memory, and freedom. The need to write this story became even more personal and pressing.

While Paris sometimes uses the genre of "memoir" or "hybrid memoir" when referring to her work, in this case the term "rememory," born from Toni Morrison’s Beloved, feels most accurate. Paris is driven by the familial and historical spaces and by what happens when we remember seemingly disparate images and moments. The collection is not fully prose or poetry, but more of an extended funeral program or a prayer for those who have passed through us.

A perfect blending of prose, poetry, and images, The Forgetting Tree is a unique and thought-provoking collection that argues for a deeper understanding of past and present so that we might imagine a more hopeful, sustainable, and loving future.