Imani Perry is having a moment in the limelight, and we hope she’s relishing every minute of it. When she first came to our offices to talk about her biography on Lorraine Hansberry, Looking for Lorraine, we knew it was going to be special. Fast forward to this year’s PEN/America Awards, and we delighted in seeing just how special her book is. She won the PEN America/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for biography!
By Imani Perry | Lorraine was frustrated by some critical evaluations of the play, even as she understood them. She was particularly frustrated that Walter Lee’s “ends” were read without complication. They were deliberate and clearly shaped by Irish playwright Sean O’Casey, the WPA Negro in Illinois project’s publication Black Metropolis, and Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class, which she considered an essential companion to the writings of Karl Marx. Walter Lee’s yearnings were a manifestation of Veblen’s theory of desire in a capitalist society, one that cut across class and caste. Her mastery of full characters, her sensitivity to speech and personality so that the characters never read as types, made the politics invisible to so many. But Lorraine intended to correct that.
A Q&A with Pamela D. Toler | I’ve been fascinated by the concept of women warriors ever since I was a nerdy kid who read every biography of famous women I could get my hands on and who regularly blew her allowance on comic books with female superheroes. But the real trigger for me came in 1988, when Antonia Fraser published Warrior Queens. Fraser’s book not only introduced me to women I’d never heard of before, but also to a new idea: that women “fought, literally fought, as a normal part of the army in far more epochs and far more civilizations than is generally appreciated.” Once I was aware that women warriors had existed in many times and places, it seemed like I ran across references to them everywhere. I began collecting their stories with no particular purpose in mind. After a couple of decades, that file was pretty fat, and I decided it was time to share.
By Daisy Hernández | My mother carried me in her arms on my first trip to Colombia. I was eight months old. She stuffed me in a fluffy pink snowsuit, and we took a picture with the pilot. On my second trip, I was a toddler. Mami couldn’t carry me because I wouldn’t let her. Already hell bent on freedom, I scampered up and down the plane’s carpeted aisle as it made its way from New York City to Colombia. On my third trip, I ran away from my mother at the airport in Bogotá, leaving her with the baby sister in the stroller, careening past adults with worried foreheads, and not even stopping when I spotted the men in uniforms, the rifles in their hands. I didn’t know about the civil war or the drug war, and the Avianca flight getting blown up in the air and killing all 107 people onboard was a few years into the future. It was 1982. I barreled toward the line of familiar voices past the doors: my primas and tías and tíos. An uncle who drove a school bus had brought it to the airport filled with everyone to pick us up.
By Emily Powers and Bella Sanchez | Imani Perry’s Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry is a watershed biography of the award-winning playwright, activist, and artist Lorraine Hansberry. If people know anything about Lorraine (Perry refers to her as Lorraine throughout the book, explaining why she does so), they’ll recall she was the author of A Raisin in the Sun, an award-winning play about a family dealing with issues of race, class, education, and identity in Chicago. Lorraine’s extraordinary life has often been reduced to this one fact in classrooms—if she is taught at all.
By Rashod Ollison | As the shattered pieces of the marriage settled around her, Mama knelt at the altar of Aretha. She played Amazing Grace, the legend’s landmark 1972 gospel double LP, seemingly every waking hour during the turbulent years of the marriage, the only years I remember. The album often played on Sunday mornings as we got ready for church.
Graduates across the country are heading off to new adventures and new stages of their education or careers. If you’re looking for the perfect book this season for the graduate in your life, check out our graduation gift guide with recommendations from our catalog. Remember that you can always browse our website for more inspiration titles.
By Mary Collins: I never expected my trans son, Donald, whom I battled with over his medical decisions during his transition in high school and college, would ever agree to pen a collection of essays with me that explored our painful emotional journey—nearly failed journey—as a family.
A Q&A with Joseph Rosenbloom: What urgent mission brought MLK to Memphis in 1968 even as he was on the verge of launching his Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, DC? What happened in Memphis before King was fatally shot there on April 4? Redemption answers the questions more vividly and completely than any other published account.
In the thirty-one hours leading up to his assassination on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was under extraordinary pressure. He was trying to redeem his reputation as a nonviolent leader of the civil rights movement after a march he’d led days earlier turned into a riot. At the same time, he was just launching his Poor People’s Campaign in Memphis, TN. Former investigative reporter Joseph Rosenbloom vividly recreates his final hours in Redemption: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Last 31 Hours. While revealing the physical and emotional toll the movement was taking on King, Rosenbloom introduces us to the cast of characters surrounding him. Meet the people who played key roles in the fateful hours of our nation’s foremost civil rights leader.
Women’s History Month not only celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political accomplishments of women. It reminds us that history is in the making, at this very moment, as the fight for intersectional gender equity continues. We must engage with the struggle to make the just society we want a reality. To that end, we offer the following list of recommended reading from our catalog for your perusal.
By Anthony Graves: On August 17, 1992, I was twenty-six years old, a son to my mother, a father to three sons, a brother to four siblings, and a friend to many in my small Texas community. I was an athlete who loved playing sports. And if anyone back then had to describe me, they would probably say I always had a smile on my face. Like most people, I had never thought much about the death penalty. I thought bad things like that were for other people. I remember watching the news and sometimes hearing about cases where men were falsely accused and wrongfully convicted, but I never thought in a million years that could one day be me.
By Gayle Wald: Speculation is a risky but inevitably necessary business for biographers. When I was working on Shout, Sister, Shout! The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, I made a decision not to stray too far from what I could verify from historical and contemporary sources (even while acknowledging that these, too, are imperfect). So when confronting the question of what motivated Tharpe, a musician embedded in the sonic culture of black Pentecostalism, to record secular songs and perform on secular stages beginning in her early twenties, I chose to tread carefully.
The recognition represented a profound, heartfelt act of retrospective justice, because Lay had been unjustly disowned in the first place. It was a symbolic rejection of what a previous slave-owning generation of Quakers had done and it was simultaneously an affirmation that Benjamin Lay’s values matter to the Abington congregation, in the present and for the future. I learned during my research that Lay dearly loved his fellow Quakers—at least those who did not own slaves—and that his exclusion was terribly painful to him. It was therefore deeply touching, 279 years later, to know that he has been brought back into the fold. This act would have meant everything to him.
A Q&A with Gayle Brandeis: I started writing the book from a place of trauma, with a lot of anger toward her, and I ended it with so much love and admiration for her in my heart. It’s a gift I hadn’t anticipated, even though I knew writing about her would be the best way for me to try to make sense of her death (and her life.) I am grateful that writing about her helped me see what a remarkable, creative woman she truly was.
By Lynn Hall: Last month, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) released the results of their annual member survey, and the statistics regarding military sexual assault were, as always, alarming. Of the women who responded, thirty-five percent said they had been the victim of sexual assault while serving. Of those survivors, sixty percent did not report the crime. It’s easy to understand their reluctance when, of those who did report, seventy-one percent of the survivors said they experienced retaliation because of their accusations. I’m going to repeat that last figure: more than two thirds of the survivors who reported to their chain of command that they had been raped by a fellow soldier experienced retaliation.
A Q&A with Jennifer Browdy: Writing is one of the most powerful forms of activism, because it can live on into the future, rippling out in unpredictable ways and inspiring so many others. The writers included in Women Writing Resistance are actively reaching out to communicate their perspectives on a whole host of human rights and social justice issues. For them, writing is an act of resistance to all the mainstream forces that too often have silenced and ignored women’s voices. It’s a way of taking back their agency and insisting on being heard.
By José Orduña: When I was ten my dad gave me my first wallet—it was green, with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the outside. Then he handed me my identification card, my first green card, which was actually pink. He said we’d gotten it when we’d gone to Juárez but that he didn’t think I was ready to carry it then. I remembered we’d gone very suddenly and that I missed my thirdgrade class trip to an amusement park, that a man I’d never seen showed up at our door in Chicago, and that my dad let him into our house. The next day we were on a Greyhound bus that took three days to get to El Paso, Texas, and then we immediately took a cab across a bridge into Juárez.
He sounds like a fascinating nonfiction character—too quirky to be true—but radical Quaker dwarf Benjamin Lay truly lived, and historian Marcus Rediker has brought his virtually unknown story to life in The Fearless Benjamin Lay: The Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist. Mocked as “the little hunchback” and written off by his contemporaries as “cracked in the head,” Benjamin Lay was uncompromising in his stance against slavery, and wholly committed himself to convince his fellow Quakers to denounce and abolish it. In many ways, he was prescient and ultra-modern for his time, the eighteenth century. Lay’s worldview was an astonishing combination of Quakerism, vegetarianism, animal rights, opposition to the death penalty, and abolitionism. Until his death in 1759, he lived a life of resistance.
By Lynn Hall: Publishing Caged Eyes has changed the surface of my life as dramatically as the events of the actual memoir. When you stand in your authentic truth, powerful things happen—hard things, sad things—but ultimately all positive.