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Journalists Follow Their Passions

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December 18, 2015

Our latest list of nonfiction books by journalists of color or those of special interest to them — the second of two — features journalists following their passions, whether it is delving further into their beats, pursuing an avocation, expanding on an interest kindled at work, seeking more information about why they grew up as they did or using their writing skills to become better parents. (12/18/15)

Athima Chansanchai

Robin Givhan

Derrick Z. Jackson

Margo Jefferson


Sean Jensen

Ron Nixon

Joy-Ann Reid

Ron Stodghill

Eileen Truax

Short Takes

Joy-Ann Reid

Joy-Ann Reid, a national correspondent for MSNBC, has written "Fracture: Barack Obama, the Clintons, and the Racial Divide" (Morrow, $27.99 hardcover; $14.99 ebook; $24.99 downloadable audio file).

The rise of Donald Trump and the crowded Republican field has put most of the media attention on the GOP presidential race, but Reid, writing before Trump became a factor, saw a story in changes in the Democratic Party since the days of Lyndon B. Johnson.

"If the modern Republican Party represents the part of America that in fundamental ways is pulling backward toward a distant and irretrievable past, the current iteration of the Democratic Party represents the possibilities and challenges of a multiracial future," she writes.

"It doesn't always get the alchemy right, and if it ultimately fails, party loyalties and demographic compositions could one day be scrambled again. But for the time being, and for the foreseeable future, particularly for African Americans, the Democrats are the only ball game, and with pressing issues of economic, health, and educational disparities, and with voting rights hanging in the balance, failure is not an option . . . "

Reid added, "I wrote this book because if the Democrats can't get it right — and they haven't yet —it's hard to see how the country can."

The book, released in September, has not been reviewed in major newspapers.

Ron Stodghill

Ron Stodghill, who has worked at the New York Times and Business Week and runs a think tank at Johnson C. Smith University, a historically black institution, has written "Where Everybody Looks Like Me: At the Crossroads of America's Black Colleges and Culture" (Amistad/HarperCollins, $26.99 hardcover; $12.99 ebook; $14.99 trade paperback due September 2016).

"Today, HBCUs [historically black colleges and universities] are stumbling, in some cases, toward extinction," Stodghill writes in his introduction.

"Once hailed as national treasures, the life force behind the black surgeon, engineer, painter, or poet is scraping hard to get by. . . . Experts in higher education don't expect most of these schools to survive. Based on current trends, they expect that by 2035, the number of HBCUs will shrink by more than half — with only 15 of these actually thriving." He counts 104 HBCUs today.

The premises of this book were strongly challenged in a Washington Post review by Daryl Michael Scott, a history professor at Howard University, among the most prominent HBCUs.

"Stodghill is committed to the future of HBCUs but calls on them to get their houses in order before it’s too late," Scott wrote in October.

"While acknowledging that state policies and those of the Obama administration, especially changes in the Plus Loan Program, have created an economic hardship on HBCUs, Stodghill sides with reformers who, in general, believe in less dependence on government money, increased standards for admissions, merging and consolidating colleges, more accountability for administrators and boards of trustees, and constructing majors tailored to the marketplace. Unlike some of his interviewees, however, Stodghill believes in the standard justification for HBCUs: providing a more nurturing environment for students.

"Unfortunately, Stodghill bases his case on historical myths.

"He holds the view that majority-white schools 'poach' the best black students. (Who owns them?) He seems unaware that those deemed the best students often attended majority-white colleges even during the segregation era. Phi Beta Kappa keys from the Ivies and small Northern colleges were treated much like Olympic medals, while many HBCUs were considered a continuation of high school — which, given their inadequate funding, they often were. Without doubt, desegregation, along with new federal programs, brought better funding and transformed most HBCUs into viable colleges.

"Stodghill also promotes the myth that once upon a time, dynamic, committed faculty members and administrators led HBCUs and pursued the path to progress. . . ."

In Newsweek, Marybeth Gasman, Andrés Castro Samayoa and Felecia Commodore, all affiliated with the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions, called the book "a collection of anecdotes based on interviews with various people associated in some way with HBCUs — it is not research-based and does not draw upon or build upon any research related to HBCUs. It is interesting and provocative and provides quite a bit of fodder for critics of HBCUs, which it seems was not Stodghill's intention given that he claims that HBCUs' demise will take 'a vital part of our shared history with [it].'"

"Where Everybody Looks Like Me" is listed among the Los Angeles Times'"31 nonfiction picks" for the holidays, and at The Root, is one of "14 of the Best Nonfiction Books by Black Authors in 2015."

Eileen Truax

Eileen Truax, a journalist and immigrant from Mexico living in Los Angeles, has written "Dreamers: An Immigrant Generation's Fight for Their American Dream." (Beacon, $15 paperback; $9.99 Kindle).

Truax, who has been a reporter for La Opinión in Los Angeles and online information editor for ImpreMedia, is Spanish at-large representative to the board of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

Truax writes, "The ten stories in this book transcend politics and delve into the personal, showing that beyond legislative bureaucracy or immigrants' rights, the struggle of undocumented youth, the Dreamers, is fundamentally a matter of human rights.

"Theirs is a struggle for civil rights, for recognition of one's personal dignity, and for one's place in the world. The Dreamers' fight brings into focus the very concept of citizenship as the active exercise of rights and responsibilities in the place where one is regardless of whatever some piece of paper says."

Mirna Durón, writing for El Nuevo Sol, a publication at the California State University Northridge, wrote, "The primary audience of the book is mainly Latinos and undocumented people. Latinos and undocumented individuals can relate to the book because chances are they either are or know someone who is undocumented. . . ."

Truax is working on a second book about Mexicans exiled in the United States due to violence in Mexico, according to her LinkedIn profile.

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