New American Blues: A Journey through Poverty to Democracy

Overview

In a narrative of unsparing detail leavened by compassion and even hope, Earl Shorris takes us inside the lives of the poor - in Oakland, rural Tennessee, El Paso, the South Bronx, and many points in between - so that we understand who they are and see through their eyes the "surround of force" that is their horizon, that prevents them from achieving a full and true citizenship. So rich is this book in the words and thoughts of the poor themselves that they are in a sense its authors. Like any good story, this ...
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1997-10-01 Hardcover New New Item. Item delivered via UPS in 7-9 business days. Tracking available by request Ships from US. Please allow 1-3 weeks for delivery outside US.

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New York, NY 1997 Hard cover NEW, Hardcover edition as pictured. New in new dust jacket. NEW, Hardcover edition as pictured. Sewn binding. Paper over boards. With dust jacket. ... 432 p. Audience: General/trade. NEW, Hardcover edition as pictured. Read more Show Less

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Overview

In a narrative of unsparing detail leavened by compassion and even hope, Earl Shorris takes us inside the lives of the poor - in Oakland, rural Tennessee, El Paso, the South Bronx, and many points in between - so that we understand who they are and see through their eyes the "surround of force" that is their horizon, that prevents them from achieving a full and true citizenship. So rich is this book in the words and thoughts of the poor themselves that they are in a sense its authors. Like any good story, this one has a beginning, a middle, and an end. We begin by listening to what the poor have to say about their lives. Once we know who they are and how much like us they are, we are ready to understand the world they live in, and why they are poor. Finally, and most surprisingly, we are asked to consider a revolutionary idea that has been taking quiet shape before our eyes all through the narrative: if the poor are human, and if the cultivation of their humanity benefits both society and the poor themselves, then why not teach them the humanities as the basic tools of citizenship? In order to test his theory, Shorris started a school on the Lower East Side of New York City. He used donated books and borrowed space, and he enlisted friends to help him teach logic, poetry, art, and moral philosophy to a group of young people whose collective background included prison, hard drugs, and homelessness. This experiment, which forms the triumphant climax of New American Blues, yielded extraordinary results: a majority of the students are now enrolled in four-year colleges, and it is no exaggeration to say that their lives have been transformed. One of the students, describing a difficult decision in his personal life, said: "I asked myself, 'What would Socrates do?'" Imagine a solution to poverty far less costly than welfare or prison, one that encourages a reconnection to public life. Imagine an argument so powerful that it prevails against the cruel lies of The Bell
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Shorris (Latinos) arranges his book on poverty into two sections, "Private Life" and "Public Life," although, as he shows, such distinction is difficult to maintain when discussing the poor. "Private Life" forms the bulk of the work, a series of narratives based on extensive interviews. The personal stories range widely in tone as well as location, from a grandmotherly former stripper in California to a group of young mothers in the South Bronx. Shorris adds political and historical perspective to these tales filled with hunger and sadness. In the "Public Life" section, the two seemingly disparate worlds of theory and actuality mesh. A woman in prison suggests to Shorris that studying the humanities could help the poor reconnect with the larger society. So he designed a course to teach students models of pure democracy to help them interact better among their peers and learn about the forces that perpetuate their condition. The course is still offered in New York City under the aegis of Bard College with instructors such as Grace Glueck teaching art, writer Charles Simmons teaching poetry and literary agent Tom Wallace lecturing on American history. In its inaugural year, of the 31 students who started the course, 17 completed it; six months after graduation only one of the students was not enrolled in college, working full time or both. Shorris displays a passion for his subject and a finely honed intellect, battling common misconceptions with acute reason. "Since no one will help them," he concludes, "the poor have no alternative but to learn politics. It is the way out of poverty, and into a successful, self-governing life." First serial to Harper's, Poets & Writers and Networker. (Oct.) FYI: Sections of this book were featured in eight weekly installments on NPR's "Marketplace."
Library Journal
From a noted sociologist: poverty redefined and ways to conquer it.
Kirkus Reviews
Sociologist Shorris (Latinos, 1992, etc.) uses anecdotal evidence to humanize this overview of poverty in America while presenting his own very personal point of view on how to remedy it.

The result of traveling the country and viewing the worst of American poverty, this study offers views of often ignored impoverished areas (e.g., northern Florida, Jewish Brooklyn) as well as the heavily scrutinized inner city. Shorris coins a unique terminology to define and unite these disparate scenarios—he speaks of the "surround of force," the word "force" implying not violence, but the pressures (drugs, hunger, inadequate health care) that plague nearly all poor people. Furthermore, Shorris is careful to make the distinction between "relative" and "absolute" poverty, noting that American poverty is relative because, via the medium of television, poor Americans are able to see their nonimpoverished countrymen. Shorris's background in academics and philosophy (he was a teenage scholarship student at the University of Chicago in the late 1950s) is apparent, not only through his Aristotelian belief that a political life is the remedy for the problem at hand, but also in his thesis (put to the test in the so-called Clemente Course that he documents in the book's second half) that an education in the humanities could be the solution to multigenerational poverty. While it has become a bit of a truism that only education can truly help the poor, Shorris's innovation is in his emphasis on a liberal education on the order of the Chicago curriculum as he experienced it.

While Shorris chooses some curious enemies (for example, while approving of New Deal programs that put the poor to work, he criticizes President Clinton for supporting workfare) and shows his age with his inability to understand inner-city artistic forms like graffiti and hip-hop, he genuinely cares—a characteristic noticeably lacking in many who claim to want to eliminate poverty.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393045543
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/28/1997
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 8.30 (w) x 8.02 (h) x 0.91 (d)

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