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Black, White & Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self Paperback – January 8, 2002

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The Art of Memoir
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The daughter of famed African American writer Alice Walker and liberal Jewish lawyer Mel Leventhal brings a frank, spare style and detail-rich memories the this compelling contribution to the growing subgenre of memoirs by biracial authors about life in a race-obsessed society. Walker examines her early years in Mississippi as the loved, pampered child of parents active in the Civil Rights movement in the bloody heart of the segregated South. Torn apart by the demands of their separate careers, her parents' union eventually lost steam and failed, leaving Walker to shuttle back and forth across country to spend time with them both. Deeply analytical and reflective, she assumes the resonant voices of an inquisitive child, a highly sensitive teen and finally a young woman who is confronted with the harsh color prejudices of her friends, teachers and families-both black and Jewish-and who tires desperately to make sense of rigid cultural boundaries for which she was never fully prepared by her parents. Whether she's commenting on a white ballet teacher who doubts she'll ever be good because her black butt's too big, Jewish relatives who treat her like an alien, or a boyfriend who feels she's not black enough, Walker uses the same elegant, discreet candor she brings to her discussion of her mother and the development of her free-spirited sexuality. Her artfulness in baring her psyche, spirit and sexuality will attract a wealth of deserved praise. (Jan. 2) Forecast: Coming the heels of her mother's story collection, The Way Forward Is with a Broken Heart (which offers a fictional treatment of Alice Walker's marriage to Leventhal), this literary debut by the younger Walker, who has been recognized by Time as one of her generation's leaders, is destined to generate excitement. Although Walker is likely to be compared to Lisa Jones (the daughter of Amiri Baraka and Jewish writer Hetty Jones), who tackled the myth of tragic mulatto in Bullet Proof Diva (1995), a collection of columns from the Village Voice, Walker's higher profile and narrative treatment of these themes will draw a wider audience who no doubt will greet her warmly on her 10-city tour.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Walker, the daughter of Alice Walker and attorney Mel Leventhal, shuttled among Mississippi, San Francisco, the Bronx, and Washington, DC, after her parents divorced. Here is her story of the need to redefine herself in each new setting.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 322 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; Reprint edition (January 8, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573229075
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573229074
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (105 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #330,222 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Rebecca Walker was chosen as one of Time magazine's fifty future leaders of America, one of the most influential leaders of her generation. She has made a substantial contribution to the global conversation about identity, power, culture, and the evolution of the human family through books, lectures, blogs, social networks, popular magazines, literary and academic journals, radio programs, film and television appearances and content development. She graduated cum laude from Yale in 1992.

She is the author of the memoirs Black, White and Jewish and Baby Love; and editor of the anthologies To Be Real, What Makes a Man, and One Big Happy Family. Her writing has appeared in Glamour, the Washington Post, Bookforum, BOMB, Newsweek, Vibe, Real Simple, Modern Bride, Essence, More and Interview, among many other magazines and literary collections. She has appeared on Charlie Rose, Good Morning America, Oprah, Fresh Air, BET, and dozens of blogs, sites, and other media.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

61 of 65 people found the following review helpful By "miridion" on February 17, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I am also 31, mixed, have a Jewish step-dad, and was raised by activist parents as well. Obviously, I ran to get this book.
I also saw a reading Rebecca Walker did on CSPAN in Maryland. She has an amazing voice and she really brought the material alive during the reading. I think she has a vast amount of wisdom & experience to share and she handled the question and answer segment amazingly well.
Unfortunately, this book is not all it could have been. It reads like a very good first or second draft but it simply isn't cohesive or particularly insightful and should not have been published yet. I really wanted Ms. Walker to move beyond cataloging events to weaving a story, a narrative that explored her experience AND connected it to a larger discussion about race.
The experiences she had especially having activist parents are ones that many of us can relate to but she never pushes the work past her self. Why does she think her parents raised her the ways in which they did? An exploration of their motives could illuminate some of the ways an entire country was shaped by the 60's.
She doesn't extrapolate from her experience to show how her experience as a "brown" woman is significant, how it is different than mono-racial teenage angst. Maybe that complete experience is ineffable - but there aren't any real moments that show the complexity of our experience as mixed race people.
She really needed someone who believed in the importance of this book and the story she could have told. I think her editor simply thought this would sell based on the subject matter and the fact that her mom is a famous writer.
I applaud Ms. Walker's attempt but I am disappointed in the final product.
All you mixed people out there - we need to write and connect with each other - keep working! And we really need some male mixed voices!
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Kacy Wilson on October 8, 2002
Format: Paperback
One day I was walking the aisles of [a local bookstore] when I stumbled across a large display featuring Rebecca Walker's childhood memoir: Black, White, and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self. I was instantly struck by reverie as I recalled the first novel I had ever read (without having a teacher assign it) some thirteen years earlier: Alice Walker's The Color Purple. Perhaps it was with the nostalgia that I remember discovering reading for the pleasure of experiencing the world through another human beings eyes that made me linger at that display. I decided that I liked Ms. Walker's "smiling eyes" and since we both shared an ethnically indiscernible appearance (the "what are you mixed with?" syndrome), I sat down with a coffee and began reading the book. After all I thought, writing talent probably runs in the family. Although I was compelled to read along I was thinking that the big grandiose realizations about what race means in America and what it means to the individual who is hard to categorize were just around the corner. The profound social commentary never came. Neither did any revealing introspection, and although I was entertained by the account of a childhood that far excelled my own in terms of scandal and discovery, I was left disappointed.
Simply put, Black, White and Jewish is a recollection without any assessment. Rebecca Walker's story is summed up in the paragraph on the back of the book. During the Civil Rights Movement, Jewish activist lawyer, Mel Leventhal and Black activist writer Alice Walker, married and had a child named Rebecca in the unlikeliest of places for 1969: Jackson Mississippi.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 24, 2004
Format: Paperback
I picked up this book thinking it would be about being Black, White and Jewish, and found, instead, that it is about being Rebecca Walker, the privileged yet neglected child of divorced bi-costal parents. It is amazing that someone from two highly educated and idealistic parents, with her own incredible education, would have so little introspection into the parts of her identity that she claims to celebrate.
Like many materially privileged yet emotionally neglected adolescents, Rebecca Walker is angry about all the wrong things. She has written a book that is really about being the daughter of an incredibly self-involved woman, and the dangers that self-involved parenting presents to young people. She has also written about the incredible financial and class advantages that she has been offered. However, she resents her privileges and celebrates her mother's neglect. She does not even seem to be able to understand her privilege, and comes off as little more than a spoiled and angry teenager, lashing out at her father and stepmother, who provided the most caring homelife she knew. At the writing of this book, Rebecca Walker was in her early thirties, and shows that, emotionally, she has progressed little towards being an adult. This is not a result of being Black, White and Jewish so much as it is a result of money and trips around the world replacing parental nurturing.
The author's sole sense of white, Jewish identity seems to be based in being a member of the suburban upper-middle class. The title of her book seems to imply that this is what it means to be a White person or a Jewish person. Likewise, she seems to suggest that being a Black person is based on having big hips and "ghetto" attitude.
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