Archive for September, 2009


“This Day In Civil Rights History”

September 30, 2009

Last week, The Rap Sheet published my reflections on Ed Lacy’s Room to Swing as part of its regular Friday blog series, and editor J. Kingston Pierce was kind enough to schedule that essay on September 25, the anniversary of the day the Little Rock Nine finally entered Central High School in 1957, the same year the book itself was published.

While I wish I could say I had such dates on instant recall in my mind, the truth is that I don’t and I just happened to come across the anniversary when I was flipping through a new book I’d like to recommend here: This Day In Civil Rights History by Horace Randall Williams and Ben Beard. As the title promises, the book offers daily mini-essays on major historical events. Just for a quick sampling: April 16, 1963 was the day that Martin Luther King Jr. released his famous “Letter From A Birmingham Jail,” and  June 21, 1964 was the day that civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner was murdered near Philadelphia, Mississippi. Milestone dates, of course, and well known, but the book also offers less obvious choices, such as November 9, 1968, when James Brown first performed his song “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.” There are 366 essays in all, when you take into account leap-year, and not incidentally, February 29 was the day in 1940 when Hattie McDaniel won an Academy Award for her role in Gone With The Wind — as the book emphasizes, “the first African American not only win an Oscar but also to attend the ceremony as a guest instead of a servant.”

While most of the events commemorated here fall during the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s — what we traditionally think of as the Civil Rights Era — the book importantly stretches outside of that narrowest of definitions. On September 20, for example, you’ll learn that Maryland passed the nation’s first miscegenation laws on that date in 1664 — and that Alabama was the last state to hang on to such laws, right up into the 21st century. And the span of that entry is important, because the book stresses that civil rights news and issues persist up to to very recent history, whether the Confederate flag controversy in 1998 (October 14) or the reopening of the Emmett Till murder case in 2004 (May 10).

As for today, September 30, it’s an important anniversary as well, with an entry looking back to 1962:

On this day in civil rights history, a deal was struck between segregationist Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett and U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy to allow the enrollment at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) of its first African American student, James Meredith….

Needless to say, This Day In Civil Rights History is a rich and fascinating book — enough to keep you reading it (dare I say it?) all year round.

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James Ellroy On Washington Post Podcast & In Person

September 26, 2009

Tonight (Saturday, September 26), James Ellroy appears at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland as the closing event of the 2009 Fall for the Book festival. I’ll be introducing Ellroy at tonight’s event, and my recent interview with Ellroy has been posted on the Washington Post Book World’s website here. (Listen directly by clicking here.)

UPDATE: The Ellroy event went great — half-sermonizing, half-showmanship, and all of it celebrating the “printed word,” specifically Ellroy’s own, of course. See a pic and a recap here.


“Room to Swing” at The Rap Sheet

September 25, 2009

RoomToSwingFI’m honored that the The Rap Sheet has chosen to run my short essay on Ed Lacy’s Room To Swing as part of their ongoing Friday blog series “The Book You Have To Read.” I first wrote about Room to Swing in an article on Civil Rights Era mystery novels for Mystery Scene and I’ve been wanting to recommend the book again ever since. Today marks 52 years since nine black students were escorted by the armed soldiers into Little Rock High School — a milestone in the history of U.S. integration — and since Room to Swing, which appeared the same year, deals explicitly with integration, civil rights, and the roots of racism, today seems a fitting time to remember this time. Check out the article here!

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N.C. Events: Chaz, Chefs & A Cancellation

September 25, 2009

Two of my favorite folks will be at Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books on Friday night, September 25, at 7 p.m. Katy Munger reads from Desolate Angel, the first novel in the Dead Detective mystery series written under the name Chaz McGee. (For background on why Munger’s new series — and why it sports a new pseudonym — check out this interview with Sarah Weinman.) Joining her will be musician Joe Newberry of the band Big Medicine, offering up a dose of bluegrass to accompany Munger/McGee’s series debut.

Ann Prospero was at Quail Ridge on Thursday night, and continues a local tour with her new book, Chefs of the Triangle: Their Lives, Recipes, and Restaurants, throughout the weekend. I recently received the book, which features a foreword by Metro‘s own Moreton Neal, and had hoped to try one of the recipes out before her signings began, but events have kept me busy of late. Look forward later to my report on a trio of inter-related recipes from J. Betski’s in Raleigh: Pretzel-Crusted Pork Tenderloin, Cooked Sauerkraut, and Beer Jus. In the meantime, check the book out yourself at Durham’s Regulator Bookshop on Friday evening, and again at McIntyre’s in Fearrington Village on Sunday. Local chefs profiled in the book will be on hand at each event, bringing samples!

Looking ahead at the weekend, please note that the Tomie dePaola event at the Weymouth Center has been cancelled.

Looking ahead at early next week, mark your calendars for Tuesday night at QRB, when Marianne Gingher continues the flash fiction tour with contributors to the new anthology Long Story Short. She’ll be joined by contributors Angela Davis-Gardner, John Kessel, Carrie Knowles, and Peggy Payne. Check out my interview with Gingher here.


James Ellroy Previews “Blood’s A Rover”

September 20, 2009

ellroycoverOn Tuesday, September 22, Alfred A. Knopf will publish James Ellroy‘s Blood’s A Rover, the third and final installment of the Underworld USA novels that began with American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand. The new book is not only a fine finish to that trilogy but also strikes me as both Ellroy’s most ambitious novel (drawing on seven different perspectives) and the most accessible entry into the trilogy. As with its predecessors, Blood’s A Rover continues to explore how private lives can impact very public and highly political events, spanning in this case from the aftermath of the King and Kennedy assassinations to the eve of the Watergate break-ins. But this new book is also, at its heart, a love story, with each of the three leading men — Wayne Tedrow Jr., employed by Howard Hughes; Dwight Holly, reporting to J. Edgar Hoover; and Don Crutchfield, a window peeper turned obsessive investigator — falling under the spell of women, including a radical liberal activist, Joan Rosen Klein, who may stand as the most complex female character in all the author’s books.

Later this week, the Washington Post Book World will podcast my recent phone interview with Ellroy; I’ll post that link as soon as it’s available. Then on Saturday, September 26, at 7 p.m., Ellroy will make his only D.C.-area appearance at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland — the closing night headliner of the 2009 Fall for the Book Festival. (I’ll be there; shouldn’t you too?) In the meantime, I’m glad to preview that more formal interview and that upcoming reading with a quick conversation that Ellroy and I had earlier this summer, offering insights both into the book and into the man behind it.

Art Taylor: Blood’s a Rover marks a magnificent end to the Underworld USA trilogy, a crowning achievement for sure. Had you seen these books as a trilogy from the very beginning?

James Ellroy

James Ellroy

James Ellroy: I knew the second novel would be my big novel of the 1960s. The history was easy to foresee: the civil rights movement, the ultimate assassination of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, more Cuban exile shit, more mob shit, Howard Hughes buying up Las Vegas, general civil rights unrest, the Klan, and my two survivors from American Tabloid, Ward Littell and Pete Bondurant, getting further into the shit. It took longer to put Blood’s A Rover together, because going from ’68 to ’72, you’re going to have the summer of the political conventions and the ’68 election and all that hoo-ha, but my mob guys had to get to a cool locale, and it took me a while to come up with the Dominican Republic and Haiti. It’s full of voodoo, which is cool shit and certainly intensifies all the black militant shit in L.A.
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