Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats

( 12 )

Overview

Countless black women would rather attend church naked than hatless. For these women, a church hat, flamboyant as it may be, is no mere fashion accessory;  it's a cherished African American custom, one observed with boundless passion by black women of various religious denominations. A woman's hat speaks long before its wearer utters a word.  It's what Deirdre Guion calls "hattitude...there's a little more strut in your carriage when you wear a nice hat. There's something special about you." ...

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Overview

Countless black women would rather attend church naked than hatless. For these women, a church hat, flamboyant as it may be, is no mere fashion accessory;  it's a cherished African American custom, one observed with boundless passion by black women of various religious denominations. A woman's hat speaks long before its wearer utters a word.  It's what Deirdre Guion calls "hattitude...there's a little more strut in your carriage when you wear a nice hat. There's something special about you." If a hat says a lot about a person, it says even more about a people-the customs they observe, the symbols they prize, and the fashions they fancy.

Photographer Michael Cunningham beautifully captures the self-expressions of women of all ages-from young glamorous women to serene but stylish grandmothers. Award-winning journalist Craig Marberry provides an intimate look at the women and their lives. Together they've captured a captivating custom, this wearing of church hats, a peculiar convergence of faith and fashion that keeps the Sabbath both holy and glamorous.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The tradition and glory of African-American women and their Sunday finery is celebrated through stunning black-and-white photography and vibrant, intimate interviews. Family, faith, and folklore all contribute to the festive headware proudly modeled by women of all ages. "We just know inside that we're queens. And these are the crowns we wear."
From the Publisher
African American Women and Their Church Hats:

"Our crowns have already been bought and paid for. All we have to do is wear them."
-James Baldwin

"We just know inside that we're queens. And these are the crowns we wear."
-Felecia McMillan, journalist

"Listen, never touch my hat! Admire it from a distance. Those are the hat queen rules, honey."
-Peggy Knox, child care provider

"You can flirt with a fan in your hand. You can flirt holding a cigarette, too. But a woman can really flirt with a hat."
-Dolores Foster, real estate agent (retired)

"My husband said, 'You don't need another hat. You don't have but one head.'"
-Dorothy Wynecroff, middle school teacher (retired)

Deirdre Donahue
For writer Craig Marberry, "there's a lot of history under those hats." He and photographer Michael Cunningham have documented a fascinating African American tradition in the book Crowns: A Portrait of Black Women in Church Hats.

Featuring an introduction by Maya Angelou, Crowns presents 50 photos of black women arrayed in the hats they wear on Sunday. Each woman has a story. Some are funny. Some are heartbreaking. Some deal with department stores where black women couldn't try on hats. All of them illuminate an aspect of black life. Marberry says Crowns is "everything that is strong and loving and beautiful about black women.
USA Today

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385500869
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/28/2000
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 253,496
  • Product dimensions: 7.81 (w) x 8.38 (h) x 1.02 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Cunningham

Michael Cunningham is a commercial photographer whose clients include Coca-Cola and Sara Lee. Two of his photographs are currently on loan to the Smithsonian's Anacostia Museum, and his works have been featured in the New York Times and Ebony. He lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Craig Marberry, a former TV reporter, holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and is the owner of a video production company. He has written articles for the Washington Post and Essence magazine. Marberry is also the grandson of the late Louis Henry Ford, former Presiding Bishop of the Church of God in Christ. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Biography

By the time he finished Virginia Woolf's classic Mrs. Dalloway at the age of fifteen to impress a crush who tauntingly suggested he "try and be less stupid" and do so, Michael Cunningham knew that he was destined to become a writer. While his debut novel wouldn't come until decades later, he would win the Pulitzer for Fiction with his third -- fittingly, an homage to the very book that launched both his love of literature and his life's work.

After growing up Cincinnati, Ohio, Cunningham fled to the west coast to study literature at Stanford University, but later returned to the heartland, where he received his M.F.A. from the University of Iowa in 1980. A writer recognized early on for his promising talent, Cunningham was awarded several grants toward his work, including a Michener Fellowship from the University of Iowa in 1982, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1988.

In 1984, Cunningham's debut novel, Golden States, was published. While generally well-received by the critics, the book -- a narrative chronicling a few weeks in the life of a 12-year-old-boy -- is often dismissed by Cunningham. In an interview with Other Voices, he explains: "I'm so much more interested in some kind of grand ambitious failure than I am in someone's modest little success that achieves its modest little aims. I felt that I had written a book like that, and I wasn't happy about it. My publisher very generously allowed me to turn down a paperback offer and it has really gone away."

With a new decade came Cunningham's stirring novel, A Home at the End of the World, in 1990. The story of a heartbreakingly lopsided love triangle between two gay men and their mutual female friend, the novel was a groundbreaking take on the ‘90s phenomenon of the nontraditional family. While not exactly released with fanfare, the work drew impressive reviews that instantly recognized Cunningham's gift for using language to define his characters' voices and outline their motives. David Kaufman of The Nation noted Cunningham's "exquisite way with words and ...his uncanny felicity in conveying both his characters and their story," and remarked that "this is quite simply one of those rare novel imbued with graceful insights on every page."

The critical acclaim of A Home at the End of the World no doubt helped Cunningham win the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1993 -- and two years later, his domestic epic Flesh and Blood was released. Chronicling the dysfunctional Stassos family from their suburban present back through to the parents' roots and looking toward the children's uncertain futures, the sprawling saga was praised for its complexity and heart. The New York Times Book Review noted that "Mr. Cunningham gets all the little things right.... Mr. Cunningham gets the big stuff right, too. For the heart of the story lies not in the nostalgic references but in the complex relationships between parents and children, between siblings, friends and lovers."

While the new decade ushered in his impressive debut, the close of the decade brought with it Cunningham's inarguable opus, The Hours (1998). A tribute to that seminal work that was the author's first inspiration -- Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway -- the book reworks the events and ideas of the classic and sets them alternately in 1980s Greenwich Village, 1940s Los Angeles, and Woolf's London. Of Cunningham's ambitious project, USA Today raved, "The Hours is that rare combination: a smashing literary tour-de-force and an utterly invigorating reading experience. If this book does not make you jump up from the sofa, looking at life and literature in new ways, check to see if you have a pulse." The Hours won both the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, and was adapted into a major motion picture starring the powerhouse trio of Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, and Nicole Kidman in December 2002.

To come down from the frenetic success of The Hours, Cunningham took on a quieter project, 2002's tribute/travelogue Land's End: A Walk Through Provincetown. The first installment in Crown's new "Crown Journeys" series, the book is a loving tour through the eccentric little town at the tip of Cape Cod beloved by so many artists and authors, Cunningham included. A haven for literary legends from Eugene O'Neill to Norman Mailer, Cunningham is -- rightfully -- at home there.

Good To Know

Cunningham's debut novel, Golden States, can be hard to find; check out our Used & Out of Print Store to find a copy!

Cunningham's short story "White Angel" was chosen for Best American Short Stories 1989 -- the year before his acclaimed novel A Home at the End of the World was published.

When asked by Barnes & Noble.com about any other names he goes by, Cunningham's list included the monikers Bree Daniels, Mickey Fingers, Jethro, Old Yeller, Gaucho, Cowboy Ed, Tim-Bob, Mister Lies, Erin The Red, Miss Kitty, and Squeegee.

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 6, 1952
    2. Place of Birth:
      Cincinnati, Ohio
    1. Education:
      B.A., Stanford University, 1975; M.F.A., University of Iowa, 1980
    2. Website:

Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 29, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Bought this book years ago and still love it!  I've always been

    Bought this book years ago and still love it!  I've always been in awe of women who wear hats.  These photos are gorgeous, and the stories the women tell are so uplifting!  I'd love to see a second addition!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2009

    Crowns: A Celebration of Community

    Talk about culture. The Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats exhibition and book inspired a celebration of community in our hometown. Two hundred and fifty ladies, along with their families, friends, and admirers, strutted with grace, pride and dignity as the museum's opening reception welcomed all who attended. Filled with joy, the evening honored all the mothers and grandmothers who have treasured this cultural tradition down through the generations. Nearly 100 members of the community came together as sponsors of the exhibition. Many came from far and near to share favorite hat stories in a "Book Talk." Most importantly, local ladies added a personal touch to the exhibition with their beautiful hats, each a jewel chosen lovingly on Sunday morning to make just the perfect statement: "We are queens and we know it." Marberry and Cunningham --- we applaud the authors for creating an inspiring book and exhibition, the "talk of this town!"

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2004

    Fun Book

    I had a great time viewing the pictures and reading the commentary in the book. It's a fun read, and I just loved the ladies.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2003

    Flipped My Lid Over "Crowns"

    This is the perfect book for those of us who think that life is losing its dignity and humor. I was laughing out loud while reading in bed at 11 a.m., and when my wife asked me why I was laughing, I couldn't stop reading to her passage after passage, and page after page of this humorous, and often poignant book. She bought me this book for my 63rd birthday. I have no idea why she thought I would enjoy it, but enjoy I did! The hats are terrific and the ladies aren't bad looking either! Very nice photography and tight writing. My kind of stuff. Growing up in Chicago, I remember that women always had to have their head covered in our Catholic churches (mine was St. Sylvester's). They always seemed mysterious and beauitiful to me. Today, I am living in the Mid-South and not only do women no longer wear hats (which they haven't done in many years), but they show up for services in jeans, shorts, shower clogs and the kids show up in their soccer uniforms. I think that this sort of attire is disrespectful, if not downright disgraceful. In fact, my Mother church itself is wallowing in repetitious boredom and tedium. I long to attend a Baptist or COGIC service, as does my wife. It would be great to celebrate the Lord with the "beautiful" people. And should we ever follow through with our plan to attend I guaranteee that my wife will be looking fine and I will be "choked and pressed". Great book. Great people. Great God Almighty!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2002

    www.churchhattitudes.com

    I received my first copy of this fantastic book in June 2001 as a 'First Ladies' gift. It was a confirmation for my brand new hat business adventure. I received my second gift copy on November 6, 2001 for my birthday. Then, I received my third and fourth copies for Christmas 2001. I have enjoyed this book tremendously. I have highlighted almost every page. I hope I can be a guest featured in a future edition.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2001

    Church Hats are a part of my DNA

    Growing up as a child my family belong to Holiness/COGIC churches, and hats were just as important as clean underwear and breathing. I have been privileged to witness the Sunday morning rituals of Black women (who work hard all week in other peoples kitchens), step out looking like Queens, with Crowns that said 'look at me I am somebody'. What is also amazing is that I resisted these hats for years, not wanting to look like the older matriachs of the family. Now that I am a member of a COGIC church, I can hear them calling me from display shelves and windows. This book has put everything in perspective for me. I will no longer resist, I'll buy. Watch out world, hear I come.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2001

    What an eye Opener

    I am white and my sister-in-law is black. When I heard about this book, I knew it was something to get my sister-in-law. When I finally bought it for her Birthday, I took a peek. What a surprise, I had no idea why Black women wore these hats. I can now really appreciate the reasons behind these beautiful, sometimes outrageuos hats!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2001

    Excellent !!!

    I saw this book while browsing through the book store. I think I may have read the entire book in one night. As an African American male who loves seeing the women of the church in beautiful hats this was a wonderful book. I went out the next day and bought another and mailed it to my mother, who could have easily been one of the women in the book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2001

    The Hat Lady speaks:

    As a wearer of the 'Crowns' this book was like my testimony. We wear these hats because the let everyone know that we are indeed royalty. What better place to display your crown than in church which is the center of our lives. My crowns speak to me, they call my name when I find the right one. Thank you for helping others to see the richness and rightness in what and why we do.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2000

    Hat wearing, church going women have more fun

    As the granddaughter of a woman who always wore hats to church on Sundays I loved this book! I just wish I felt comfortable wearing hats. I loved the narratives of the hat wearers but I wish the photographs had been in color so I could get full appreciation of the hats featured.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2000

    Keep Hats Alive

    I was listening to the radio just before doing some Christmas shopping, when I heard this book described by one of the talkshow hosts. Not only did I buy the book, but my Christmas gift to my Mom was a copy of this book and a new 'crown' for her church attire.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2000

    Excellent

    This book was long overdue. I hope the co-authors do a book on choirs and their robes, as well as preachers and their robes.

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