Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This book transcribes eight meandering conversations on race conducted by West (Race Matters) with such prominent people as Harry Belafonte, poet/publisher Haki Madhubuti and Wynton Marsalis. Several were held publicly at the Schomburg Center in Harlem, and many range far from the ostensible topic of race. Among the more substantive points here: ex-senator Bill Bradley calls for properly funding the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; law professor Patricia Williams suggests that not talking about race leads to stress and mental illness in blacks; Maya Angelou urges listeners to "use it all," to gain inspiration from any thinker. However, the speechifying West tends to applaud rather than challenge his interviewees, and this book does not fully engage many important issuesAfrocentrism, affirmative action, unwed motherhood, tensions between black men and black womenthat will likely affect the future of black America. This title is the first project of the Obsidian Society, a nonprofit organization that helps African American arts projects. Sealey, who edited these tapes, is founder of the Obsidian Society and a doctoral student in American history at the City University of New York. Author tour. (Oct.)
Nine of America's most influential artists, scholars, and public figures<-->Harry Belafonte, Bill Bradley, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, The Reverend Dr. James A Forbes, Jr., and the Reverend Dr. James M. Washington, Wynton Marsalis, Patricia Williams, Haki Madhubuti, and Maya Angelou<-->discuss the sources of hope among African Americans with scholar, theologian, and activist West. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
West was justly praised for his provocative study Race Matters (1993), an exploration of the nature of racial discourse in contemporary America. Those looking for the same kind of probing and original explorations of race in these transcripts of West's conversations about race with, among others, Maya Angelou, Harry Belafonte, and Charlayne Hunter-Gault, will probably be disappointed. West notes in his introduction that "a specter of despair haunts late twentieth-century America . . . Wealth, inequality and class polarization are escalating." To counter this, he argues, the times require those willing to "speak our fallible truths, expose the vicious lies, and bear our imperfect witness." The problem here is that, as is usually the case with conversations, the quality of testimony and thought varies greatly. Those familiar with, for instance, Maya Angelou's ideas will find little new here. There are moving moments, such as Belafonte's call for viewing struggle not as "some harmful, negative thing" but as an action of great dignity, power, and beauty, but too often the things said are unsurprising and without much impact. A mixed bag, best for West's typically salty and precise comments throughout.
From the Publisher
'This book has all the freshness, all the spontaneity of good conversations anywhere, and benefits greatly from the integrity and wisdom of its contributors.' McKay Jenkins, The Star-Ledger, Newark
'This is not a book for the faint-hearted. . . . Cornel West, an authentic, brilliant and prophetic black voice, deals squarely and directly with America's problems of race, recommending changes in behavior and attitude among blacks as well as whites, prescribing solutions difficult to attain, but no more difficult than perpetuation of the status quo.' Melvyn Schreiber, County Daily News, Galveston, Texas
'West manages to extract something from each [contributor]. His intellectual exuberance flavors the book, and the conversations reveal important truths about our racial impasse.' In These Times