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Blues City: A Walk in Oakland (Crown Journeys) Hardcover – October 21, 2003

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Product Details

  • Series: Crown Journeys
  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1 edition (October 21, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400045401
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400045402
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,251,987 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Novelist and critic Reed (The Freelance Pallbearers; Mumbo Jumbo) tours historic districts and homes, and attends parades, festivals and performances, to discover the "many worlds within Oakland," a city with "one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the country... [and where] identities are blurred." Reed's treatment is part homage and part rant (mostly against Mayor Jerry Brown and his "elegant density" plan to gentrify the downtown area with hi-tech businesses). The author has reason to be frustrated: "Classical buildings and traditional landmarks are being leveled and replaced by vertical trailer parks that seem to be thrown up overnight"; but some of his comparisons are a bit extreme, as when he likens the dot-com generation to the exploitative 1849 Gold Rushers: "California has never recovered from the damage caused by these earlier invaders... and their treatment of the California natives must rank as one of the cruelest episodes in human history." The book's best parts come from transcribed interviews, such as author Malcolm Margolies's description of a pre-development Lake Merritt and David Hilliard's stirring Black Panther legacy tour. But Reed's own language vacillates from bland ("I attended the annual Black Cowboy parade. Attendance was up over the previous parade") to venomous ("the black upper class is kept out of sight, lest some white Americans lose their self-esteem, whose foundation is the myth of black inferiority, their psychological Prozac"). This slender volume, while filled with facts, dates and a variety of cultural events, doesn't live up to the "husky and brawling" swagger of the city Reed describes.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Reed, novelist, poet, and longtime Oakland resident, offers an eclectic look at the multicultural city that thrives in the shadow of the better known and celebrated San Francisco. He describes Oakland as "blues city" because of its affinity to labor cities of the Northeast while still maintaining California's physical beauty, famous cultural melange, and political radicals. Reed chronicles his own personal journey to Oakland, by way of New York City and early fame. Fearful of wearing out his welcome--and creative juices--he moved to California. He was attracted by the politics of black power and the literary heritage of Jack London, Bret Harte, and Joaquin Miller. Reed offers a historic overview as well as acerbic commentary on the political and cultural scene of Oakland with celebrations of black cowboys and Native American powwows. He laments a move in politics from the Black Panthers to Jerry Brown's countercultural style, which includes "a brutal capitalist philosophy." Fans of Reed and Oakland will enjoy this engaging book. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

More About the Author

Ishmael Reed (b. 1938) is an acclaimed multifaceted writer whose work often engages with overlooked aspects of the American experience. He has published ten novels, including Flight to Canada and Mumbo Jumbo, as well as plays and collections of essays and poetry. He was nominated for a National Book Award in both poetry and prose in 1972. Conjure (1972), a volume of poetry, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and his New and Collected Poems: 1964-2006 (2007) received a Gold Medal from the Commonwealth Club of California. Reed has also received a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Blues Song Writer of the Year award from the West Coast Blues Hall of Fame, a Rosenthal Family Foundation Award from the National Institute for Arts and Letters, and a MacArthur Fellowship. Reed taught at the University of California, Berkeley, for thirty-five years and currently lives in Oakland, California.

Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By matthewslaughter on December 27, 2003
Format: Hardcover
"Blues City," which is a part of a series of books published by Crown that features prominent authors and their observations of several key locations around the United States, is written by Ishmael Reed ("Mumbo Jumbo," "Flight to Canada," etc.) about Oakland, California. Reed, known for his "writin' is fightin'" style of nonfiction (see his most recent collection of essays, "Another Day on the Front" [2003], for a taste of his pugilistic prose), is as calm as you will see him in "Blues City." A journal of sorts, Reed relates his experiences on various historical tours around Oakland as well as his attendance at scattered cultural festivals around the city. In the process, Reed portrays Oakland as an important site of multicultural achievement, as a city inhabited by whites, blacks, latinos, asians and gays who have contributed significantly to the economic and cultural development of the city. It is interesting to note that Reed does not dwell on Oakland's present-day reputation as a hotbed of crime. But he is not entirely apologetic about this city which he definitely loves. He cites how the founding of Oakland happened because East Coast whites stole land from the Peralta family who inhabited the land before them. He also talks about the drug epidemic that plagues the Oakland neighborhood he lives in. The most poignant sections of the book focus on David Hilliard, one-time chief of staff of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. Reed attends a tour of sites of historical importance to the Black Panthers.Read more ›
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Peggy Vincent on November 25, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Ishmael Reed, Oakland, CA's longtime resident, poet, novelist, essayist, and faculty member of UC Berkeley, pens a love song to the much maligned city across the bay from San Francisco, its more glittery neighbor. In the process, he proves that Gertrude Stein was wrong, wrong, wrong when she pronounced, "There is no There, there." Au contraire, there's plenty of There: beautiful hills, vibrant waterfront, central Lake Merritt, richly diverse neighborhoods, political radicalism that spills over the Berkeley line, cultural diversity, etc.
Reed delves into Oakland's past: Bret Harte, Jack London, Bobby Seale and the Black Panthers, Gay Pride uprisings - and into the present with Mayor Jerry Brown who lives along the newly-emerging gentrified waterfront, Yoshi's (the Japanese jazz restaurant and nightclub, the artists and blue-collar workers and the ordinary working stiffs who give the "other" city by the bay its uniqueness.
I've lived here for more than 30 years myself, and I learned a LOT I never knew before.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Craig Wood on January 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Ishmael Reed's "Blues City" is a lot like Oakland itself: full of promise, but fraught with serious problems. To be sure, Reed is a provocative writer. His resume speaks volumes to his varied literary talents -- poet, novelist, essayist -- and large swaths of the boook reflect these skills. Reed tells it like it is in Oakland and he's surely developed a deep fondness for his adopted hometown. Sadly, though, the book frequently veers off course and morphs into political tirade. In other parts, Reed descends into bitter racism. This, in itself, doesn't make the book a disaster. But it certainly seems that the author taints what could have been a timeless memoir of Oakland with large dollops of political and racist invective. After all, Jerry Brown will some day leave office. But "Blues City" deserves to stay on our shelves for many years to come.
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By steve_oakland VINE VOICE on February 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book isn't a concise or in-depth discourse of Oakland history, but it covers enough of the city's past and present to inspire the reader to learn more. I am, for example, quite interested to learn more about the Black Panter movement, but I can't say that I got a clear view about what the movement was and who was involved from "Blues City." Additionally, the book covers some minor recent local events in Oakland, and the book may be a somewhat difficult read for somenone not familiar with the events or people involved.

Reed has a somewhat muddled view of recent change in Oakland. He clearly despises Jerry Brown and his plans to move people downtown, build redevelopment projects, and bring businesses back to the city. However, Reed cherishes redevelopment projects of the 70s and 80s, such as Jack London Square, Preservation Park, and the Old Oakland district. (If you've been to downtown Oakland, you can judge for yourself whether Brown or Reed's vision of the city is correct.) I definitely get the feeling that if you came to the city after 1999, you are not welcomed or liked by Reed. The Oakland of the '60s, '70s, and '80s was Reed's city, and now that it has changed, Reed is clearly bitter about it.

Altogether though, the book is a pleasant short read for anyone interested in Oakland. It is a fantastic place with lots of cultural and racial diversity. Reed celebrates the city's people in "Blues City," and I couldn't agree with him more.
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