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Books For Thought and Inspiration Featured Review

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Diesel Heart: An Autobiography
Melvin Carter Jr.
Minnesota Historical Society Press, PB, $17.95, 256 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1681341255

Melvin Whitfield Carter Jr., the father of St. Paul's current mayor, is a true son of Rondo, the city's storied African American neighborhood. He was born in a city divided along racial lines and rich in cultural misunderstanding. Growing up in the 1950s and '60s, he witnessed the destruction of his neighborhood by the I-94 freeway—and he found his way to fighting and trouble.

But Carter turned his life around. As a young man, he enlisted in the US Navy. He used his fighting ability to survive racist treatment, winning boxing matches and respect. And as an affirmative action hire in the St. Paul Police Department, facing prejudice at every turn, this hardworking, talented, and highly principled officer fought to protect the people of the city he calls home.

Diesel Heart is the story of a leader who created a powerful family legacy by standing up for what is right, even in the face of adversity.

the skin of dreams
Quraysh Ali Lansana
Calliope Group Press, PB, $16., 138 pages
ISBN: 9781733647403

the skin of dreams is a remembering, an offering and a gathering of geographies. Traversing twenty-three years of earth and breath, Quraysh Ali Lansana’s first new and collected works roadmaps small-town Oklahoma to southside Chicago in compelling poems that question, surprise, and dare. As a direct descendent of the Black Arts Movement and last student of Miss Gwendolyn Brooks, Lansana explores the complicated internal and external terrain of Blackness and history from a post-King, post-Kennedy childhood through the election of the first non-White president while grappling with the definition of home. These are poems that cry, sing, scream and see.

Praise for the skin of dreams:
“Quraysh Ali Lansana has woven a roadmap of poems and prophecy from Tulsa to Chicago, slowly breaking open the voices of history with each step. Here is a friendship journey, a father/son Southside Chi meditation for the 21st-century blues. Follow the path on these pages to enter your own skin”   --- Tyehimba Jess, Pulitzer Prize winner, Olio

“In Quraysh Ali Lansana, we find our griot singing both his history and our own in the skin of dreams, and what a soulful chord he strikes—and has been striking!—throughout the years. There’s ‘language echoing itself,’ extending the cadences of Chicago and Tulsa and beyond, and finding the music in them. ‘I mean these words/ these words I mean,’ they celebrate the work put in and they chronicle the dedication Lansana has put into keeping history current, chronicling the human experience through the African American presence. In this gift of New and Selected Poems, he ‘captures present moments fleeting seconds’ understanding ‘we will never be here again,’ but we’re grateful for his song, which keeps harkening back while pushing us forward.”    --- A. Van Jordan, Author of Rise and Quantum Lyrics.

God's Will and Other Lies: Stories
Penny Mickelbury
Blf Press, PB, $15.99, 204 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0997243925

In this stunning departure from her mystery writing, Penny Mickelbury's collection of stories God's Will and Other Lies, attends to the lives of Black women, mostly aging and elderly, all determined to face life with strength and grace.

A nearly blind woman is determined to venture out into the world alone and must face the consequences of her travels. A woman estranged from her community ponders the meaning of hearsay and its devastating consequences. A middle-aged woman leaves the danger of the city only to find it lurking in her own backyard. And in the novella, 
"Into the Fire," Mickelbury follows the life of a southern family as they strive for success amidst the violence and uncertainty of 1960s Detroit.

In beautiful and exacting prose, Mickelbury gives voice to an often-overlooked coterie of women in this superb collection of fiction.

The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students
Anthony Abraham Jack
Harvard University Press, HC, $27.95, 288 pages
ISBN 9780674976894

Getting in is only half the battle. The Privileged Poor reveals how—and why—disadvantaged students struggle at elite colleges, and explains what schools can do differently if these students are to thrive.

The Ivy League looks different than it used to. College presidents and deans of admission have opened their doors—and their coffers—to support a more diverse student body. But is it enough just to admit these students? In The Privileged Poor, Anthony Jack reveals that the struggles of less privileged students continue long after they’ve arrived on campus. Admission, they quickly learn, is not the same as acceptance. This bracing and necessary book documents how university policies and cultures can exacerbate preexisting inequalities and reveals why these policies hit some students harder than others.

Despite their lofty aspirations, top colleges hedge their bets by recruiting their new diversity largely from the same old sources, admitting scores of lower-income black, Latino, and white undergraduates from elite private high schools like Exeter and Andover. These students approach campus life very differently from students who attended local, and typically troubled, public high schools and are often left to flounder on their own. Drawing on interviews with dozens of undergraduates at one of America’s most famous colleges and on his own experiences as one of the privileged poor, Jack describes the lives poor students bring with them and shows how powerfully background affects their chances of success.

If we truly want our top colleges to be engines of opportunity, university policies and campus cultures will have to change. Jack provides concrete advice to help schools reduce these hidden disadvantages—advice we cannot afford to ignore.

 

 

 

 

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