I GREW up eavesdropping on all manner of serpentine stories about road travel.
Drive at night. Drive all the way through. Don’t dare talk to anyone.
As much as I love to explore, I knew that this came with risks. Writer and photographer Candacy Taylor’s deeply researched and important new book, “The Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America ” examines the fraught territory of the open-road for black travelers. Taylor’s book connects the dots between Jim Crow segregation, redlining to present-day racial and socio-economic disparity. It is an impassioned plea for present-day activism; a call to revisit these sites that once symbolized freedom and power, and build on the history of hope.
I review the book for the Los Angeles Times.
From my piece:
Publisher Victor Hugo Green, a black mail carrier in New York with a seventh-grade education, said he’d come to the idea while observing a Jewish friend consult a kosher guide to plan a vacation in the Catskills. Taylor, however, suspects a more complex origin story. Green, who also managed the career of his musician brother-in-law, had no doubt absorbed stories about the travails of securing safe accommodations on the road; those anecdotes would have been influential as well.
Green teamed up with fellow postal worker George I. Smith to create the guide. “The first edition was only ten pages,” writes Taylor, “but it was a mighty weapon in the face of segregation.” Green’s brother, William, later joined Victor and his wife, Alma, to produce the guide out of their Harlem home.
At the outset, 80% of the listings were clustered in traditionally African American communities, including Harlem, Chicago’s Bronzeville and Los Angeles’ black enclaves stipulated by racial housing covenants and held in place for decades by redlining. The “Green Book” became a trusted brand and an emotional touchstone due to Green’s vision, grit and stamina and the guide’s consistency and reliability.
You can click here to read the rest.
BY CHANCE, I began my reading (or re-reading) of this early work just as we hit peak Santa Ana season.
The winds yowling and the fires zipping across the county. I’m a native and yet it never ceases to be frightening. Knowing the potential keys up everything. Didion writes with the edge of a knife:
“I have neither heard nor read that a Santa Ana is due, but I know it, and almost everyone I have seen today knows it too,” Joan Didion writes in ‘Slouching Towards Bethlehem.’ ‘We know it because we feel it. The baby frets. The maid sulks. … To live with the Santa Ana is to accept, consciously or unconsciously, a deeply mechanistic view of human behavior.’
I review the new Library of America collection of her work “Didion The 1960s & 70s, ” for the Los Angeles Times. Click here to read the full review.
IT’S BEEN a long stretch of silence around here. That’s mostly due to big deadline juggling and such but there is light at the end of the tunnel. (Stay tuned).
In the meantime, on top of a book deadline, I have been writing a bit about the city through the lens of a few books.
A few months I did a group essay/review of Gary Krist’s “Mirage Factory” and Shawn Levy’s history of the Chateau Marmot, “The Castle on Sunset” with a little side chat with Janet Fitch to round it out.
Both books take a deep look at the city’s history while also examining boosterism and grand promises that L.A. didn’t always keep.
Krist’s book looks at the origin stories of some of these myths, Levy’s the extension of them, and helps us understand why, to this day, we are still untangling truth from fable.
You can click here to read the piece up at LA Times books.
“I have described New Orleans as a city of feeling …” writes Sarah M. Broom in The Yellow House
If you’ve been following this blog for sometime you know that my ancestral roots are dug deep in Louisiana. New Orleans is a pin on my map, but the New Orleans I grew up spending time in most every summer of my youth had little to do with the place that lived in most people’s imagination. As Broom points out, people often have a visceral reaction when you merely utter the words New Orleans. Sometimes it isn’t even an actual emotion they name; it may just be a sound.
This is why Broom’s book so hit home. On so many levels.
In The Yellow House, she explores her hometown — New Orleans East — “across the bridge” from the one that’s minutes-but-worlds away from the New Orleans of the of gas lights and music and all-night reverie. Of the French Quarter she asks: “How had one-square mile come to stand for the entire city?”
“The East” lies at best on the edges of imagination, but Broom somehow knew at a young age, that she needed to secret away details about the her home — The Yellow House — the life that filled it up, and the ground upon which it precariously sat.
“I was still writing everything down as I had learned to do in high school. In the Yellow House, especially rote detail as if by doing, I was making things real, findable, fighting disappearance. I could collect evidence.”
It’s another August and it’s about the time of year that my family would be readying the suitcases for that trip east, to visit my grandfather and the rest of the family who remained rooted somehow in that uncertain ground. It seems fitting that Broom’s book would arrive this week in keeping with tradition. It took me away, back there. I’m still walking around listening and looking chasing my own ghosts.
You can read my review of Broom’s far-reaching exploration of erasure and belonging here at latimes.com Arts and Books.
My Advanced Reader’s Copy: So many deep insights, indelible quotes
MY WORLD — and possibilities — would not at all be the same without Toni Morrison.
This is not an understatement.
Here is my appreciation for the Los Angeles Times of her life, themes and influence.
Thank you, Ms Morrison. I am forever grateful.
There is nothing like print
FOR THE LOS ANGELES TIMES, I reviewed Josh Levin’s deep-dive into the real-life figure behind the moniker “Welfare Queen.” The book goes all kinds of places one wouldn’t expect.
From my piece:
“In its early chapters, “The Queen” is as much about Taylor’s duplicity as it is the detective’s need to break out of his own workaday tedium and make his mark in a deeply segregated and racially charged Chicago. It also illustrates the concerted efforts of a network of journalists, cops and politicians who sought to make a quick-sketch of Linda Taylor, a figure who could be held accountable for the city’s, state’s and nation’s raft of troubles in a climate of inflation and recession.”
You can read the rest here.
THIS IS probably one of my favorite corners to stand on on the planet. Crossing Columbus Avenue, facing City Lights Books & Publishers.
Over the weekend, City Lights’ co-founder, the poet and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti, marked his 100th birthday and there was much noise and celebration throughout North Beach and beyond.
I have been visiting the store since before college, I would guess. Dragging friends along to wander among the many floors of books, later to pose outside under the signage. But always what was the most magical thing about this place was happening upon its founder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, walking along Columbus or holding forth in one of the sunny cafes. This store is one of the important points on my personal map. I wouldn’t be who I was without it.
I wrote piece for the Los Angeles Times Op-Ed section that ran yesterday about both Ferlinghetti and the store’s legacy and impact. You can find it here.