Who pays the costs of violence, whether waged against a person, group, or environment? That’s the broad question Lacy Johnson tackles in "The Reckonings: Essays."
While the author’s previous book described her hellish experience as a victim of kidnap and rape, this book of essays takes the recovery process to the next level, searching for ways to redress loss without resorting to eye-for-eye retribution. Johnson has startled audiences by refusing to wish the worst for her own attacker: “I don’t want him dead. I don’t even want him to suffer. More pain creates more sorrow, sometimes generations of sorrow, and it amplifies injustice rather than cancels it out.” Doling out punishment is easy; the challenge comes in creating change, especially in figuring out just where it begins. As her thoughts switch gears from the personal to the collective, the question of personal culpability increases. She’s against racism, but she knows she has enjoyed white privilege in her role as a professor. She protests against the BP Deepwater Horizon spill but wonders if her own job — at a school that is also a BP beneficiary — doesn’t in some way make her responsible. She asks, too, if rehabilitation is possible when the criminal is either a major corporation or, in the case of a landfill with World War II-era toxic waste, no longer around to face the consequences. “There is no one to arrest for this, to send to jail, to fine or execute or drag to his humiliation on the city square,” writes the author. In the face of crimes that affect both the one and the many, she makes a plea for activism, art, and — as she experienced when her Houston home flooded last year — common decency.
Johnson negotiates a path between vengeance and hand-wringing despair in this thoughtful and probing collection.
(Lacy Johnson will speak and sign her book at 7 p.m. Monday at BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd. Information: bookpeople.com.)
Becoming the boss
Elaine Welteroth, the former editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue, tells the story of her rise in the world of media and high fashion in "More Than Enough."
The child of a black mother and Irish Catholic father, Welteroth grew up in the largely white middle-class suburbs of Newark, California. She knew from childhood that she “wanted to be the boss.” Yet by the time the author reached puberty, her growing self-doubt began to fester. Though popular, she did not have the straight blonde hair — and more to the point, the whiteness — of girls who were the “Thing” among her peers. She also discovered that as a biracial girl, she did not have full “membership” among black students. Although she felt out of place and somehow never quite “good enough” or “worthy enough,” Welteroth eventually found the models who helped shape her path in college. The first was a young biracial female professor who encouraged the author to embrace her blackness. Internships with a Los Angeles entertainment PR firm and then a major New York advertising company followed. Ambition ignited, she courted the attention of Ebony creative director Harriette Cole and was rewarded with a job at the magazine, where she came into contact with powerful black women like Serena Williams and Michelle Obama. She then took a junior editorship at Glamour followed by positions at Ebony and then Teen Vogue. There, she caught the attention of Vogue editorial icon Anna Wintour, who helped promote her to Teen Vogue editor-in-chief. Under pressure to increase the magazine’s revenue, Welteroth came into awareness of her true mission: to celebrate diversity in a predominantly white fashion and media industry. The author’s impressive career trajectory makes for fascinating reading, but what makes the book especially worthwhile is its depiction of an emergent social and political consciousness so strong that it eventually led her to abandon corporate media for the “joy of dancing into (an unknown) future.”
An inspiring memoir by a dynamic groundbreaker.