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Target Zero, Eldridge Cleaver: A Life in Writing.

* Target Zero, Eldridge Cleaver: A Life in Writing by Eldridge Cleaver, edited by Kathleen Cleaver Palgrave/MacMillan, February 2006 $27.95, ISBN 1-403-96237-5

Like Malcolm X, a man he idolized, Eldridge Cleaver experienced a number of incarnations. If it's true that the great folk and blues legend Leadbelly sang his way to freedom, then Cleaver wrote his way out of prison. With the thug life behind him, he reinvented himself as a revolutionary, having discovered the writings of Karl Marx, V.I. Lenin, Che Guevara and Frantz Fanon while an inmate in the California penal system.

He was on an assignment for Ramparts magazine when he met Black Panther Party founders Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. Soon, given his ability with words, he was the editor of their newspaper. Cleaver was in the vortex of Panthermania when law enforcement agencies began their systematic destruction of the party, all of which was maliciously guided by J. Edgar Hoover and his counter-intelligence program.

Panthers once on the prowl were now on the run, including the audacious Cleaver who sought refuge in Algeria. From this North African retreat, he was invited to Cuba, Russia, China, North Vietnam and North Korea. Despite the honor and praise bestowed upon him, he was not satisfied with his temporary hosts, dismayed by their inability to overcome racism.

Cleaver recounts much of this harrowing adventure in his best-seller Soul on Ice;, and in this recent collection, which is a miscellany of his writings, we encounter a few of these exciting tales again. Who can forget "On Becoming" a riveting chapter on rape that sent shock waves through the radical community?

Another shock from Cleaver arrived in the late 1970s when he announced that he had seen Jesus Christ in the Mediterranean moonlight; it marked the emergence of a born-again Christian, who would soon be on his knees praying with a jailed member of President Nixon's cabinet.

Before his death in 1998, there would be occasional reports about Cleaver, each one less flattering as he slowly spun into a web of ignominy.

Kathleen Cleaver, his former wife, has done a remarkable job piecing together the remnants of his literary fife, and no matter the incarnation, Cleaver was a superb writer. You only have to read "Bunchy" to feel the power of his pen, his passion for life, and how he became "Target Zero" not only for cops but also for those he thought were his comrades.

Interlaced throughout the book are portions of his autobiography, which was never published. Ever the confessor, Cleaver provides all the insight one needs to understand the source of his criminal behavior and his evolution from a convicted felon to a master of words.

--Reviewed by Herb Boyd Herb Boyd is author of We Shall Overcome: A Living History of the Civil Rights Struggle Told in Words, Pictures and the Voices of the Participants (Sourcebooks, 2004).
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Author:Boyd, Herb
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:May 1, 2006
Words:482
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