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Walking on Water: Black American Lives at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century Paperback – February 22, 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 688 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (February 22, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067973788X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679737889
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #772,618 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

This delicious and diverse sampler of African American life culled from over 200 interviews by author Randall Kenan shows that the American idea of "blackness" is as vast as the United States itself and cannot be pinned down to simplistic sociological clichés. "More than a book of analysis," Kenan writes, "this is my book of soul searching. I am asking who we are." Crisscrossing North America, he visits some familiar settings--Oakland, New Orleans, and New York--and some unusual places (including Bangor, Maine, and Maidstone, Saskatchewan) to discover how everyday black folks deal with issues of race, identity, and nationality. From a black minister in Mormon Utah to a female judge in skinhead country to the state of blacks in the would-be utopia of Seattle, Kenan paints a revealing portrait of a people whose presence and perseverance may forge a better America in the 21st century. --Eugene Holley Jr. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Kenan styles himself as the heir of W.E.B. Du Bois and Gunnar Myrdal, but this massive collection of 200 interviews is ultimately not as enlightening as either The Souls of Black Folk or An American Dilemma. In his preface, Kenan (The Visitation of Spirits, a novel) puts his finger on the problem when he admits that the book is more of an attempt to answer questions about his own blackness than to figure out what it means to be black in the U.S. But his efforts on this score suffer from an apparent self-absorption born of his fear that he is "not black enough, inauthentic"?a fear that could conceivably anchor a short memoir but not a tome of this size. Kenan spoke with the young and the old, the middle and the working class (though rarely with professionals). Strong points include informative local histories (a passage about the Black American West Museum in Denver, which has archives on black cowboys, is particularly good). The book's fundamental flaw is that Kenan is determined to think about black culture as monolithic, but the form of the book itself, with its interviews of people from diverse places and backgrounds, shows readers that black American life is multifaceted, shaped as much by class and region as by race. Indeed, Kenan's own childhood in rural North Carolina speaks as much to rural Southern culture as to black culture. In the end, Kenan, faced with the diversity of black lives, finds very little of substance to say about black identity: "being black is a desire toward some spiritual connection with some larger whole, an existential construct: Who am I? Where do I belong?" How this differs from "being" anything else, Kenan doesn't say.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Theodore Christopher on February 21, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I thought that Randall Kenan's book was very good, and thought provoking. The best things I liked about it was the fact that he tackled this very broad subject matter, but did not go into the book with any preconceived notions about the authenticity or meaning of "blackness." There was no sense that he was trying to label the people he was interviewing, or make any kind of judgments about them of how more or less "black cultured" they were. I think it is a tremendous credit to the author that despite the emotional tenderness of delving into one's personal heritage, through it all he was always able to come across as kind, considerate, unbiased, and at many times sympathetic to their particular point of view. The time consuming years in which it seemed to take for him to make this book, and his perserverence in remaining patient and sensitive is amazing. The other thing that deserves much appreciation is the fact that he just didn't go to where the obvious most dense congregation of black people were, nor did he just remain in the south to answer his question of "blackness." The whole idea that he interviewed black people in very obscure places: Maine, western Canada, Wyoming, etc. was a pleasant refreshing surprise that added depth, openess, and wonder with each succeeding chapter. I think this was the true gem of the whole book, and set it apart from others like it.
Despite the fact that I liked the book very much there were a couple of things I felt inhibited the flow. For instance, I felt a few of the interviews were too long, and the interviewees were allowed to go too far away from the main subject.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Dera R Williams VINE VOICE on July 11, 2000
Format: Paperback
If anyone ever doubted that African Americans live diverse lives this book will prove otherwise. In his travels, Mr. Keenan interviewed blacks from various backgrounds. It was definitely an eye opener for myself at the great diversity. The region of birth and circumstances of environment determine how these blacks viewed themselves and their place in society. I found the chaper on blacks in Vermont and Louisiana as two examples of what the world does not see as exposed by the media. Yes, there were a few mistakes, but the people who nitpicked at this let these mistakes overshadow the purpose and revelations of this find memoir. This is a book that should be kept in all Americans libraries and in particulary African Americans. I commend the author on all the hard work and time he put into it.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
Randal Kenan shows us things we normally do not see. It is paticularly interesting how this man, with his own admitted biases and limitations, gets in close and is able to get people to open up. His humility and willingness to learn that comes through the book so clearly must have something to do with it. The chapter dealing with the "Black Revolutionary" middle class college students was engaging and compelling. It would be interesting to see where they are today and what they are doing. Kenan shows us some memorable characters from the multicolored portrait of the Black populace. I will be looking for more. Get it, read it and see if you see what Kenan sees?
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 2, 1999
Format: Paperback
Walking on Water was such an interesting and original book, it was distressing to find so many mistakes in it which an editor or the author (during proofreading) should have caught. For example: (page 5) plural of genus is genera; (8)Mary McLeod Bethune, not McCleod; (28)Edward Brooke has an e on the end; (32) Shaquille O'Neal, not O'Neil; Plattsburgh (52), Arlen Specter (123) and (130)Charles Chesnutt's names were misspelled. It's Moms Mabley (130) not Mabble; (132) Ludington, not Luddington; Nicholas Lemann, not Lehman (152); Rueben (257), Reuben (259)--which is it? Fisk University is not spelled Fiske (276); Morehouse is a college, not a university (295); the book was Kingsblood Royal, not Knightsblood (311); (336) Monterey, not Monterrey; (337) MLK's speech was August 28, not 11th; (346) Auburn Avenue, not street. Kenneth Clark's name has no e on the end (356 and 662), and it's Johnetta Cole (552 and 662), not Jonetta. The book is wordy, patchy, sometimes too self-referential; quotes too long; too many adverbs (extremely, absolutely) and it has cliches that are avoidable (died laughing); the word burgeon is used three times on pp. 312-313. A few more editings or revisions could have rid this otherwise wonderful, frequently beautiful, book of misspellings and some flaws and made it nearly perfect.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 23, 1999
Format: Hardcover
AS pbs PUT IT DURING BLACK HISTORY MONTH. RANDALL KENAN'S WRITING IS INTELLIGENT, ARTICULATE, POETIC, RYTHMIC, HUMOUROUS AND DOWN RIGHT FASCINATING! A SEARCH FOR THE MEANING OF 'BLACK,' EXPECTED TO END IN ONE OR TWO YEARS, TOOK AN ENTIRE SEVEN YEAR CYCLE OF RANDALL KENAN'S LIFE. WHAT A MARVELOUS JOURNEY IT IS. THE STORIES OF THE PEOPLE HE INTERVIEWED ACROSS THE UNITED STATES ARE RIVETING AND ENHANCE OUR LIVES AND EDUCATE US RICHLY. I DID NOT WANT TO PUT IT DOWN, SAVORING EVERY PAGE. I AM HONORED AND MOVED TO SHARE HIS EXPERIENCE. NOW I WANT TO READ EVERYTHING ELSE RANDALL KENAN HAS WRITTEN.
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