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A Season of Feasts and Light.

As we prepare to ship this final issue of the year 2000 to the printer, I'm paging through a set of galleys I've just received for The African-American Century: How Black Americans Have Shaped Our Country by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Cornel West (Free Press, November 2000, $30, ISBN 0-684-86414-2). Professors Gates and West have constructed a unique narrative history of America through capsule biographies of 100 individual African American exponents of genius. Choosing ten people to speak for each decade of the 20th century, the icons they select to represent the 1950s include Nat "King" Cole, the legendary father of this issue's cover subject.

Indeed, Natalie Cole's memoir Angel on My Shoulder is her personal account of how she finally learned to accept the blessings of her dad's magnificent legacy and her own unique talent, although for many years she had experienced being "the daughter of ..." as a burden. Cole celebrates her own 25 years in show business with the backward glance of this book, which will be a made-for-television movie airing before the upcoming holidays.

The celebrity biography--especially the show-business biography is yet another popular American genre in which African Americans have had a underappreciated but shaping hand. I vividly remember as a somewhat precocious ten-year-old reading my parents' copy of His Eye is On the Sparrow, the ghost-written autobiography of the great Broadway star and Hollywood actress Ethel Waters, whom I'd seen, along with Lena Horne and Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, in the film Stormy Weather on the Saturday afternoon movie show on a local TV station in Louisville, Kentucky. Because I read Waters's book, I always appreciated that the woman who ended her career playing the comforting grandmotherly housekeeper and caretaker to restless young White-girl heroines, began as a hot blues singer known as "Sweet Mama Stringbean," a favorite on the Black vaudeville circuit. I knew Ethel Waters was the heroine of her own life story.

Like America's cult of celebrity, the celebrity bio is one of those pop-culture phenomena about which many of us feel ambivalent. To give a complete and full perspective, BIBR solicited commentary on the Natalie Cole project not only from pop-culture enthusiast Patrik Henry Bass, but also from the sharply questioning voice of Keith A. Owens. We trust that both their perspectives will help BIBR readers bring a fuller context to their reading of Angel on My Shoulder.

In this season of feasts, BIBR has culinary expert Ellen Sweets to guide readers, cooks and appreciative diners through the many cookbooks recording the secrets of African-American chefs. And, in the feature "Fruit of the Learning Tree" co-authors Taiia Smart-Young and Cassandra Lane focus on food for thought--the light of learning that emanates from our historically Black institutions of higher education, feeding both an appreciation of the African American literary tradition and its continuing creative evolution. Speaking of nurturing and creative light, we acknowledge the blessing of the still-productive and inspiring presence of poet Gwendolyn Brooks and get to know her through the eyes of a contemporary generation of poets, represented by Elizabeth Alexander.

The fact that we have recently lost a number of Miss Brooks' talented peers makes us all the more grateful that she is to release a volume of new poetry in spring 2001. Among the lights we lost this year are influential poet and Broadsides Press founder Dudley Randall; Dr. Julian Richardson, founder of the pioneering San Francisco bookstore Marcus Books; and that icon of 20th century painting, Jacob Lawrence. Tributes to these giants are planted throughout this issue.

A personal note: Our art director and production manager Natalia Griffin has been largely responsible for the visual strides you may have noticed BIBR made this year. In addition to her creative talents, Natalia's organizational skills have been the chief reason our hardworking staff now moves along a much smoother path getting each new issue to press on time. As Natalia takes a brief break for her wedding to Christopher Bristow and their honeymoon trip, all of us in the BIBR family wish Natalia and Chris a long and happy life together.

And to our readers, thank you and may you also enjoy this season of feasts and light!

SUSAN McHENRY BIBR Executive Editor
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Ellis, Kelly
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2000
Previous Article:from the editor-in-chief.
Next Article:Deals.

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