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Rosa Lee: A Mother and Her Family in Urban America
     

Rosa Lee: A Mother and Her Family in Urban America

5.0 3
by Leon Dash
 

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Based on a heart-rending and much discussed series in the Washington Post , this is the story of one woman and her family living in the projects in Washington DC. A transcendent piece of writing, it won both the Pulitzer Price and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award. The Kennedy prize board called it a "tour de force" that "sets the standard for

Overview

Based on a heart-rending and much discussed series in the Washington Post , this is the story of one woman and her family living in the projects in Washington DC. A transcendent piece of writing, it won both the Pulitzer Price and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award. The Kennedy prize board called it a "tour de force" that "sets the standard for reporting about poverty."

For hours Leon Dash of the Washington Post followed the lives of Rosa Lee Cunningham, her children, and five of her grandchildren, in an effort to understand the persistence of poverty and pathology within America's black underclass.

Rosa Lee's life story spans a half century of hardship in the slums and housing projects of Southeast Washington, a stone's throw from the marble halls and civic monuments of the world's most prosperous nation. Yet for all of America's efforts, Rosa Lee and millions like her remain trapped in a cycle of poverty characterized by illiteracy, teenage pregnancy, drugs, and violent crime. Dash brings us into her life and the lives of her family members offering a human drama that statistics can only refer to. He also shows how some people--including two of Rosa Lee's children--have made it out of the ghetto, braking the cycle to lead stable middle-class lives in the mainstream of American society.

Rosa Lee's story is sometimes discomforting and distrubing, for she has made choices that were not always wise, and she has paid the price for her actions. Those who read this poignant and provocative portrait will see that Rosa Lee's voice is one that cannot be ignored, and through her experiences we see the magnitude of the problems facing urban America today.

"So convincing and so valuable is his intimacy with his subjects, an intimacy that very few writers about the underclass have ever achieved."
--Nicholas Lemann,New York Review of Books
"An extremely well-written and effective book that calls for thoughtful solutions to complex problems."
--Alvin F. Poussaint, M.D., Harvard Medical School and Judge Baker Children's Center

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.
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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780452278967
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/28/1997
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
5.34(w) x 7.94(h) x 0.76(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are Saying About This

Nicholas Lemann
"So convincing and so valuable is his intimacy with his subjects, an intimacy that very few writers about the underclass have ever achieved."
Alvin F. Poussaint
"An extremely well-written and effective book that calls for thoughtful solutions to complex problems."

Meet the Author

Leon Dash won the Pulitzer Prize and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for the series of articles upon which Rosa Lee is based. A staff reporter for the investigative and special projects department of The Washington Post, he is also the author of When Children Want Children (Penguin), and lives in Mt. Rainier, Maryland.

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Rosa Lee: A Mother and Her Family in Urban America 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you want a real life view of poverty and pain, survival and addiction in modern day america....read on. Perhaps the best book for those of us who would like a glimpse of poverty without having to live it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This excellent book gives readers a first hand look at the real reason behind addictions and 'dysfunctional' families. I thoroughly enjoyed reading such an interesting masterpiece because as a sociology major it really made me contemplate the good ole nurture or nature argument. Looks like the environment scores another point.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Books don't get any more moving or thought-provoking. It builds on the Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post series of articles (which themselves were amazing and more cliffhanger-like than anything else in the papers this side of the Gulf War of 1991). For those of us who will truly never understand the position in which the less fortunate find themselves, it is a genuine study in role reversal. Liberals and conservatives alike should read this book, and have their outlook irrevocably changed. I have never seen a more humanistic account of desperation and moral dilemmas. Just outstanding.