Rosa Lee: A Generational Tale of Poverty and Survival in Urban America

Overview

For four years, reporter Leon Dash followed the lives of Rosa Lee Cunningham, her eight children, and five of her grandchildren, in an effort to capture the stark reality of life in the growing black underclass. As a black journalist troubled by the crisis in urban America, he wanted readers to share his discomfort and alarm. Dash's reports in the Washington Post touched a powerful nerve - 4,600 readers called the paper in response - and received critical acclaim as well, winning both the Pulitzer Prize and the ...
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NY: Basic Books, Inc., Publishers, [1969]. 1st Edition. xxii+521+[1]pp. Blue cloth with dark blue spine lettering. VG. Weight: 2 pounds 1.0 ounces = 940 grams. Size: 9.6 x 6.3 x ... 1.7 inches = 24 x 15.8 x 4.3cm. 0465066704 Inquire if you need further information. Gach Read more Show Less

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Overview

For four years, reporter Leon Dash followed the lives of Rosa Lee Cunningham, her eight children, and five of her grandchildren, in an effort to capture the stark reality of life in the growing black underclass. As a black journalist troubled by the crisis in urban America, he wanted readers to share his discomfort and alarm. Dash's reports in the Washington Post touched a powerful nerve - 4,600 readers called the paper in response - and received critical acclaim as well, winning both the Pulitzer Prize and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award. (The Kennedy prize board called his series a "tour de force" that "sets the standard for reporting about poverty.") Dash continued reporting even after his articles were published, and in this book he provides the complete, unvarnished family portrait. But Leon Dash does more than simply report facts; he becomes an integral part of Rosa Lee's daily life, driving her to the methadone clinic, helping her read her mail, visiting her in the hospital. While maintaining his journalistic distance - he never lends her money or intervenes with the city bureaucracy - Dash can't help forging a powerful bond with Rosa Lee. Once, after uncharacteristically losing his temper, Dash offers an apology, which she waves aside. "That lets me know that you're really concerned about me," she says. "That means a lot to a woman like me, who has been used and misused. People don't give a damn about me!" Rosa Lee's life story challenges the pieties of left and right: she has made choices that were often unwise and has paid the price for her actions, but through it all she cares about doing the right thing, even if she cannot always find the inner strength to do so. When she agreed to let Dash chronicle her life, she said simply, "Maybe I can help somebody not follow in my footsteps." Those who read this poignant and provocative portrait will find that Rosa Lee's voice is one than cannot be ignored, and through her experiences we see the magnitu
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
An African American "uncomfortable and alarmed by the growing black underclass," Washington Post reporter Dash (When Children Want Children) spent four years immersed in the life of Rosa Lee Cunningham, who is mired in a world of poverty, drugs, theft and imprisonment. The book is compelling and disturbing, written in a brisk, unadorned style. Rosa Lee's life is one of continuous crisis: she deals with her HIV and her drug addictions, Washington, D.C., bureaucracies (she's sharp but illiterate), the adult children who live with (and off) her and have not shaken free of crime and drugs. As Dash becomes driver, translator and confidant of Rosa Lee, he learns more of her family's sad and shocking history: how Rosa Lee acceded to her daughter's demands for drugs; how, as a child, her gay son was raped by a babysitter. Yet all is not grim; two of Rosa Lee's eight children (fathered by six men) have joined the middle class; now army veterans, as children both men despaired of their family's self-destructive lifestyle and found crucial mentors in a teacher and a social worker. The newspaper series on which this book is based won a Pulitzer Prize, yet generated criticism. Dash allows in an epilogue that, depending on one's ideology, Rosa Lee could be seen either as a victim or as a moral failure. Photos not seen by PW. $50,000 ad/promo; U.K. translation and first serial rights: HarperCollins. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Dash, a Washington Post reporter and author of When Children Want Children (Viking, 1990), has written a biography of someone we normally would never read about. His subject is a grandmother who has been on drugs a good portion of her life, been in and out of prison for drugs and theft, and on welfare much of this time. She had eight children, six of whom are following in her footsteps. She and several of her children have AIDS due to their drug habits, and six of them are functionally illiterate. Dash shows us how two of her children learned enough to achieve middle-class lives for themselves and escape the drugs and poverty in which the rest of the family is mired. He links Rosa Lee's story to sociological trends and historical reasons and points out that while she is unique, she also serves as an exemplar of many others with similar stories. Most interesting are the tidbits of information about the two successful sons, who both pointed out that they had received motivation and assistance from someone outside of their family, which they felt was what caused them to be different. Well written and researched, this is strongly recommended for all social work and social science collections.Anita L. Cole, Miami-Dade P.L., Fla.
Booknews
A riveting account of urban poverty expanding Dash's "Washington Post" series which won the Pulitzer Prize and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award. The story of Rosa Lee gives a face and name to the life of the American "underclass," a world characterized by illiteracy, teenage pregnancy, drugs, and crime. Dash's unique journalistic talents lie in his sharp prose and his respectful control, mediating the true voice of this chronicle, Rosa Lee, and giving access to a world that is as closed to the majority of readers as the inner sanctum of Washington's "halls of power"<-->right across town from Lee's project apartment. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Kirkus Reviews
A family caught in the maelstrom of the urban underclass made devastatingly human in an amplified version of a Pulitzer Prizewinning newspaper series.

Washington Post staff writer Dash (When Children Want Children, 1988) had virtually no bylines from 1990 to 1994. Instead, he spent countless hours with Rosa Lee Cunningham and the many members of her family with whom she shared an addiction to drugs and crime. Interviews took place in the various jails to which one family member or another was consigned, in the North Carolina county where Rosa Lee's grandparents were sharecroppers before moving to Washington, D.C., in 1935, and in bedrooms while someone was shooting up. Dash accompanied Rosa Lee to methadone clinics, emergency rooms, funerals, and court hearings. The result is a glimpse into a strange and horrifying netherworld where poverty, illiteracy, and behavior destructive to self and society are passed on from one generation to the next. But what makes this book remarkable is that we come to know Rosa Lee as a human being, someone who could have been much more than the woman who died of AIDS in 1995 at age 59. Several of Rosa Lee's brothers and sisters and two of her eight children escaped the world of drugs and poverty, and Dash does not absolve Rosa Lee of blame for her many bad choices. Neither, however, does he absolve American society from its guilt for offering people like Rosa Lee, an illiterate black woman born into grinding poverty, so few options from which to choose. "She was caught up in a tragedy for which . . . she was partially at fault, but, at the same time, one that was foreordained," he writes.

Dash's epic achievement makes Rosa Lee's story understandable as an American tragedy. Rosa Lee's warm human face is a vital contribution to the public policy debates that almost universally reduce the urban underclass to grim statistics.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465066704
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 1/28/1969
  • Pages: 288
  • Lexile: 1380L (what's this?)

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