The Mark Twain Forum needs a reviewer for the following book:
Ralph Wiley. _Dark Witness: When Black People Should Be Sacrificed
(Again)_. New York: One World/Ballantine Books, 1996. Pp. xi +
334. Notes, index. Cloth, 6-1/4" x 9-1/2". $23.00.
Discussion of Mark Twain abounds in this book, as demonstrated by the
full-page of index entries for him, and chapter 2 (pp. 27-58) is titled
"What's Up With the Mad Mark Twain?" A note to this chapter includes
Wiley's "list of Twain's ten best books," and, "if you do not prefer
those," _another_ ten Twain books are listed.
The book's epigraph includes a quote from _Roughing It_:
You can find in a text whatever you bring, if you will stand
between it and the mirror of your imagination . . .
Yes, take it all around, there is quite a good deal of information
in this book. I regret this very much, but really it could not be
helped . . .
This quotation also heads the dust jacket, which continues thus:
Like his literary forebears--Frederick Douglass, James Baldwin,
Ralph Ellison, and yes, Mark Twain--Ralph Wiley has some good
information to purvey. The news is not always good. But with
Wiley's electrifying take on subjects from the black intelligentsia
to _The Bell Curve_ to O.J., _Dark Witness_ is certain to outrage,
entertain, and ultimately enlighten.
The titles of his chapters say it all: "One Day, When I Was on
Exhibit," "Why Black People Are So Stupid," "Why Niggers Steal, Are
Violent, and Stay on Welfare," "Where Negroes Got All That Rhythm,"
"Whoopi-Do and Hughes 2," "Sin and Juice." Behind the explosive
flash of these phrases simmer the intense honesty and searing self-
reflection of a man burning for justice. Taking to heart
Douglass's words that "it is not fight that is needed, but
fire . . . Not the gentle shower, but thunder," Wiley, heir to the
long tradition of writer as activist, examines some of the most
hotly debated issues of black life today and turns them inside out:
"Many times, it seemed the 'worst' black candidates were
chosen in hopes that they would fail. People talked about
increased productivity, but often they meant in the personal
sense. When others succeeded or produced, they felt
lessened--it is human nature to feel this, but for a 'white'
man to feel inferior to a 'black' in America causes instant
"Now I've heard it said that The Juice, owing to his choice in
women and habitat, wanted to be 'white.' A bigger crock of
crap I've never heard. Juice made 'whites' feel comfortable
with his kind of 'blackness.' He didn't want to be 'white.'
He wanted to be _privileged_. And he was."
"There's a Mark Twain Middle School not three miles from my
base camp. An administrative aide there, a 'black' man, had
wanted to delete any reference to that archaic/contemporary
word 'nigger' from Twain's book--the one place where such
copious use of the word in society was first best put in
perspective, where it was used to describe a _condition_,
where it reflected on the _speaker_, not the subject. There
is not one usage of _nigger_ in _Huck Finn_ that I consider
inauthentic and I am hard to please that way."
No one writing today has the incisiveness, the _fire_, to dissect
the world the way Ralph Wiley does. In _Dark Witness_ he proves
once again that he is one of the most gifted writers chronicling
life in the crucible that is late-twentieth-century America.
Ralph Wiley is the author of _Why Black People Tend to Shout_ and
_What Black People Should Do Now_. A former senior writer at
_Sports Illustrated_, he now writes screenplays and is currently
working on his first novel, _Flier_. He lives in Washington, D.C.
As usual, the review must be of publishable quality, and it would be due
within two months of your receipt of the book (i.e., mid-November 1996).
The deadline is particularly important, as we are making every effort
for Forum reviews to appear before print reviews. If you are inclined
to procrastinate, please don't offer to review the book.
If you're interested in writing this review, please send me both your
home and institutional mailing addresses and phone numbers. If I don't
already know you, it would be helpful for you to explain in what respect
you're qualified to write this review. (If we haven't exchanged e-mail
recently, it might be a good idea for you to remind me of this info.)
If you'd like to see some sample MT Forum book reviews, they are
available at TwainWeb (the Forum's web page), at the following URL:
I look forward to hearing from you.
Coordinator, Mark Twain Forum