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Reading the Fine Print.

To me, it's one of actor Morgan Freeman's most memorable roles: Back in the late 1970s, Freeman was a regular on a now defunct PBS-TV kids' show The Electric Company. (The Electric Company was an educational TV program targeted to the post-Sesame Street crowd who had already learned to recognize the letters of the alphabet and also how to count.) I was an enthusiastic fan of Freeman's Easy Reader character. The name may have been cleverly derived from that '70s whiteboy cool movie classic Easy Rider, but it was Morgan Freeman's avant-garde black cool that made the Easy Reader ultrahip, so funny and on point--somewhat anticipating the style of the rap group Outkast of "So Fresh and So Clean" fame. (You know Outkast's lyrics whether you consciously listen to rap or not: "Ain't nobody dope as me/I'm so fresh and clean/ so-FRESH-and so-CLEAN!")

Except the essence of Easy Reader's ethic and appeal was that he was a compulsive and voracious consumer of the printed word. Put any message in front of the Easy Reader, and he'd decipher it with aplomb. Show him a mere matchbook, and he'd zero in on the fine print: "Close cover before striking!" Nobody was as dope as the Easy Reader--always reading.

The variety of choices we're presenting in this Summer Reading issue of BIBR sets forth a challenge even to someone of the Easy Reader's skills: Fiction, drama and more fiction. Nonfiction work ranging from advice to teens, sports hero stories and humor to more serious commentaries on black history. Plus poetry and an authoritative reading list for our youngest readers.

But do you read the fine print like the Easy Reader? Not everyone takes the time to notice fine print, much less receive and ponder its meaning. BIBR is designed to be a guide to all kinds of readers, but what we always try to offer in addition to timely book reviews are thoughtful cultural commentary and industry analysis. Both of these elements are to be found in the special Tribute essay this issue by A'Lelia Bundles that acknowledges the 25th anniversary of the publication of Alex Haley's Roots. So many of today's younger black readers do not appreciate what it was to live as a person of African descent in a popular culture where Gone With the Wind exclusively defined the average American's concept of African heritage and black people's lives in this country before the Emancipation Proclamation. How Alex Haley's Roots changed all that--through its images of Kunta Kinte's home village, family and culture in West Africa, and of his imaginative and stubbornly innovative descendants in the American South--was through an access, unprecedented for a black author, to the distribution machinery of mainstream American publishing and the general media spotlight. Bundles vividly recalls and details that key cultural moment, which deserves celebration and a sweet-lemonade toast as many of us gather for family reunions over July 4th (which this year marks the 225th anniversary of the United States). And hooray for the justice meted out by a U.S. federal court of appeals to one of Alex Haley's literary children, lifting the embargo on the publication of Alice Randall's GWTW parody, The Wind Done Gone!

This summer also marks 20 years since the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recorded the first AIDS diagnosis. In "The Literature of AIDS" BIBR highlights the foresight and wisdom of a number of black writers--our cover subject, author Pearl Cleage among them--who pushed readers to examine the social biases and self-deception within our own communities that allowed this plague to spread among us as it unfortunately has. The fine print in Toni Lester's article? Taking responsibility for making change ourselves is the first step toward alleviating suffering and saving lives.

A final observation: Authors like Pearl Cleage are special cultural treasures. The art she produces--in whatever genre, whether novel, play or gracefully rendered essay--focuses readers on important life issues. And Cleage's artistry allows her to do this through language and story that entertains us as much as it challenges us. It's summertime, and may your reading be easy, but take some time to savor the fine print, too.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Cox, Matthews & Associates
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:McHENRY, SUSAN
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 2001
Words:693
Previous Article:A Great Summer for Black Books.
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