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A New York Times Notable Book Daring and fiercely original, The Women is at once a memoir, a psychological study, a sociopolitical manifesto, and an incisive adventure in literary criticism. It is conceived as a series of portraits analyzing the role that sexual and racial identity played in the lives and work of the writer's subjects: his mother, a self-described "Negress, A New York Times Notable Book Daring and fiercely original, The Women is at once a memoir, a psychological study, a sociopolitical manifesto, and an incisive adventure in literary criticism. It is conceived as a series of portraits analyzing the role that sexual and racial identity played in the lives and work of the writer's subjects: his mother, a self-described "Negress," who would not be defined by the limitations of race and gender; the mother of Malcolm X, whose mixed-race background and eventual descent into madness contributed to her son's misogyny and racism; brilliant, Harvard-educated Dorothy Dean, who rarely identified with other blacks or women, but deeply empathized with white gay men; and the late Owen Dodson, a poet and dramatist who was female-identified and who played an important role in the author's own social and intellectual formation. Hilton Als submits both racial and sexual stereotypes to his inimitable scrutiny with relentless humor and sympathy. The results are exhilarating. The Women is that rarest of books: a memorable work of self-investigation that creates a form of all its own.


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A New York Times Notable Book Daring and fiercely original, The Women is at once a memoir, a psychological study, a sociopolitical manifesto, and an incisive adventure in literary criticism. It is conceived as a series of portraits analyzing the role that sexual and racial identity played in the lives and work of the writer's subjects: his mother, a self-described "Negress, A New York Times Notable Book Daring and fiercely original, The Women is at once a memoir, a psychological study, a sociopolitical manifesto, and an incisive adventure in literary criticism. It is conceived as a series of portraits analyzing the role that sexual and racial identity played in the lives and work of the writer's subjects: his mother, a self-described "Negress," who would not be defined by the limitations of race and gender; the mother of Malcolm X, whose mixed-race background and eventual descent into madness contributed to her son's misogyny and racism; brilliant, Harvard-educated Dorothy Dean, who rarely identified with other blacks or women, but deeply empathized with white gay men; and the late Owen Dodson, a poet and dramatist who was female-identified and who played an important role in the author's own social and intellectual formation. Hilton Als submits both racial and sexual stereotypes to his inimitable scrutiny with relentless humor and sympathy. The results are exhilarating. The Women is that rarest of books: a memorable work of self-investigation that creates a form of all its own.

30 review for The Women

  1. 4 out of 5

    Cymru Roberts

    I don’t often stop and gasp when reading non-fiction. I don’t know if you can call The Women non-fiction; perhaps a better classification (if one is necessary) for this book is wisdom literature. I first came across Mr. Als from a tweet, saying that he was receiving some award. I looked him up, came across a review he’d done of “2666: The Play” and found his insights interesting. He’d obviously read and apprehended the Bolaño book, so I wanted to see what else he’d done. I read an article in The I don’t often stop and gasp when reading non-fiction. I don’t know if you can call The Women non-fiction; perhaps a better classification (if one is necessary) for this book is wisdom literature. I first came across Mr. Als from a tweet, saying that he was receiving some award. I looked him up, came across a review he’d done of “2666: The Play” and found his insights interesting. He’d obviously read and apprehended the Bolaño book, so I wanted to see what else he’d done. I read an article in The New Yorker in which he referred to Beyoncé as “Knowles” and I thought, OK, this dude is on the level. I wasn’t prepared for The Women. This is a book I deem absolutely essential to the contemporary conversation regarding race and politics. Mr. Als would probably cringe to read such a sentence, but I say this precisely because he operates from a level so unconcerned (but not aloof) to contemporary notions of “oppression”, “patriarchy”, “black”, “gay”. He writes for himself, and in this deep sense of subjectivity an entire new way of looking at such groups is available to us; through books like these we are taken closer to the point of seeing people (let alone peoples) as individuals. This subjectivity might not be what is en vogue right now on the right or the left, but it is the only mode that could ever hope to see another person on their own terms, which is to say, to try and see people as they see themselves. This may indeed be impossible—we can only view others through our own lens—but it is the closest thing to equality that exists. An example of the wisdom held in this book: “But ‘maleness’ is not a viable construct in colored life. Colored life is matriarchal; any matriarchal society can be defined as colored.” These two sentences shatter what I thought I knew about the terms “male” “colored” “matriarchy” “patriarchy” and their meanings in contemporary America. But Als doesn’t speak of a matriarchy as if it is the antidote to patriarchy and all of its problems. Using his mother as the model Negress, he shows that matriarchy comes with its own problems that are extremely complex; it’s a mode steeped in self-sabotage and masochism, one that seeks furiously to define itself as a wholly separate entity from everything else, animate and inanimate, while simultaneously trying to hold together everything around it. Freud said religion was about a search for the Father. That search produced the God of the Hebrew Bible and Jesus, monumentally complex and problematic figures. The search for the Mother as Als describes it is no less fraught. I found myself, as I always do, trying to relate to Als as a person. I find him intimidating—he is erudite, can be scathing, and the opposite of myself in every classification without having any of the hangups associated with those distinctions. The point isn’t to try and relate to him (I wonder how many doe-eyed white boys lavish him with praise and respect, and if he tries to sleep with them or not). Als knows that he is writing for himself, in order to try and understand himself through the analysis of the people he cares about most. In his deep quest for self-understanding, I’m content to be a fly on the wall, reading, trying to learn as much as I can.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Floyd

    An uneven performance. The section about the author's mother is searing and memorable the rest of the book is rather mannered and precious. There's intelligence and talent here but this author needs to restrain his pretentious impulses. An uneven performance. The section about the author's mother is searing and memorable the rest of the book is rather mannered and precious. There's intelligence and talent here but this author needs to restrain his pretentious impulses.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Leeann

    The only part worth reading is Als' first section about his mother and Malcolm X's mother. Beyond that, he gets high and mighty imagining what a woman's life must be like and trails on for too long about Dorothy Dean, dehumanizing her in his attempts to make her visible. The only part worth reading is Als' first section about his mother and Malcolm X's mother. Beyond that, he gets high and mighty imagining what a woman's life must be like and trails on for too long about Dorothy Dean, dehumanizing her in his attempts to make her visible.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Craig Werner

    Sometimes brilliant, sometimes aggravating, The Women revolves around Als' life as a self-identified "Negress," a term he uses to refer to (mostly) women (mostly) African American who adopt a pose of selflessness, or self-abnegation, as a defense against a world that usually renders them voiceless. Als organizes the book around the stories of the women in his own family, Malcolm X's mother, legendary fag hag Dorothy Dean, and the African American writer Owen Dodson. But the center is Als' own st Sometimes brilliant, sometimes aggravating, The Women revolves around Als' life as a self-identified "Negress," a term he uses to refer to (mostly) women (mostly) African American who adopt a pose of selflessness, or self-abnegation, as a defense against a world that usually renders them voiceless. Als organizes the book around the stories of the women in his own family, Malcolm X's mother, legendary fag hag Dorothy Dean, and the African American writer Owen Dodson. But the center is Als' own story, his attempt to find a language capable of expressing the precision of his experience; he frequently reiterates his admiration of those who approach language carefully, as a path to deeper perception and meaning. And there are times when he comes close to accomplishing that goal. But for all its virtues, and they're real, I found myself increasingly distant from the voice as the book unfolded. Part to that is an extreme, and I think inaccurate, set of judgements on the work of most African American writers, especially those associated with the Harlem Renaissance and Black Arts Movement. I agree with his assessment of the rhetorical and ideological quality of Sonia Sanchez and Nikki Giovanni's work, and there's no question that some of the Harlem Renaissance writers (including Dodson) indulged in various forms of racial romanticism. But his rejections of Toni Cade Bambara and Ed Bullins, presented ex cathedra, ring false, exactly the kind of rhetorical flourishes Als ridicules. In addition, the final two sections--on Dean and Dodson--frequently descend into a gossipy tone (that may reflect the demimonde he's describing) that left me cold. I understand that the sections about the sexual relationship with Dodson that lasted from the time Als was 15 until he broke it off at 19, while contributing something important to Als self-reflections. But they felt half-processed and I wound up feeling a bit like a voyeur. Maybe that's what Als was shooting for, but if so, I think he should have found a way to tie that in, or at least refract it off of, the material about the Negress sensibility that make the first part of the book so compelling. The three stars reflect a serious argument with a book that, in its best passages, is close to five.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Dinah

    Although I need to read this book again before I can make any claims on understanding, I can say now that I admire Als' memoir. While his take on race and gender are sweeping and problematic, his characterizations are incredible and many of the difficult truths he tells about being a marginalized person are undeniable even in their ugliness. The section on fag hags was particularly cutting. It is hard to imagine Als writing a genuinely likeable person, but that is the charm of the story -- the c Although I need to read this book again before I can make any claims on understanding, I can say now that I admire Als' memoir. While his take on race and gender are sweeping and problematic, his characterizations are incredible and many of the difficult truths he tells about being a marginalized person are undeniable even in their ugliness. The section on fag hags was particularly cutting. It is hard to imagine Als writing a genuinely likeable person, but that is the charm of the story -- the characters are unpleasant and opinionated and refuse your pity if not your judgment, Als himself included.

  6. 4 out of 5

    BJ Hillinck

    Absolutely stunning. I have less than firm footing in the world of Dorothy Dean and her milieu, and though Als' attempt to shepherd readers through that world does suffer from a lack of first-hand experience with its personalities, it makes up ground with his appreciable critical acumen. While his physical absence is clear in the second piece, I could appreciate the role those well-rendered character sketches play in the larger network of Negressity he maps across these essays. The bookend piece Absolutely stunning. I have less than firm footing in the world of Dorothy Dean and her milieu, and though Als' attempt to shepherd readers through that world does suffer from a lack of first-hand experience with its personalities, it makes up ground with his appreciable critical acumen. While his physical absence is clear in the second piece, I could appreciate the role those well-rendered character sketches play in the larger network of Negressity he maps across these essays. The bookend pieces are fearless, incisive, and masterfully blend the forms of biography, memoir, literary criticism, and social history: must-read.

  7. 5 out of 5

    katie

    Quote I like, " For years I could not face my own complicity with the man in the blue cotton shirt and blue cotton pants. I could not face the way in which I had wanted him to make me a Negress, or the fact that I wanted to be consumed by him so that I could be a part of a narrative as compelling to me as my mother's was, a narrative in which I too would be involved with a bad man, resulting in heartached that would eventually lead to depression, an endless suicide, and the attention that can be Quote I like, " For years I could not face my own complicity with the man in the blue cotton shirt and blue cotton pants. I could not face the way in which I had wanted him to make me a Negress, or the fact that I wanted to be consumed by him so that I could be a part of a narrative as compelling to me as my mother's was, a narrative in which I too would be involved with a bad man, resulting in heartached that would eventually lead to depression, an endless suicide, and the attention that can be garnered from all that. I was dwarfed by my mother's spectacular sense of narrative and disaster: she could have been a great writer..." Makes me think about how our greatest pain as humans are all part of our narrative, the story we tell ourselves to define ourselves. But not all that often are we willing to take responsiblity for that role we play. We create it. I also liked, " She had the gift of language, but she couldn't use it. Her drinking brought forth the sense that language had turned to waste in her twilight mind, which lived in the past while she went on utterring the old, old female story: her inability to forgive life for what it had not allowed her to claim: herself." This reminded me of my mom, and her sisters. And make me think about the distance between their experience and my own.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Oliver Bateman

    The first essay, on Als' mother, is one of the best American essays of the 20th century. It might be better than anything James Baldwin ever wrote. The second, on fag hags/flame dames in general and Dorothy Dean in particular, is tremendous. The third, which covers Als' affair with the African-American playwright Owen Dodson, is a bit underdeveloped in comparison. What was the sex between the two actually like? Als continues to maintain a weird distance from Dodson that surely existed due to the The first essay, on Als' mother, is one of the best American essays of the 20th century. It might be better than anything James Baldwin ever wrote. The second, on fag hags/flame dames in general and Dorothy Dean in particular, is tremendous. The third, which covers Als' affair with the African-American playwright Owen Dodson, is a bit underdeveloped in comparison. What was the sex between the two actually like? Als continues to maintain a weird distance from Dodson that surely existed due to the age gap, but now, maintained in retrospect, appears to conceal more than it reveals. But man, those first two pieces. A++.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    It is beautiful and uncomfortable, vivid and dusty, much like memory.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Rosalind

    3.5 stars - overall edifying, educational, thought provoking and beautifully spun. I am with previous reviewers who have stated the superiority of the first half to the second, though.

  11. 5 out of 5

    John

    Just finished tearing through Hilton Als’ TheWomen in practically a single sitting, my jaw collapsed on my chest the entire time! Infuriatingly contrary—but oh so frequently right—Als is a cold, superior fish of the West Indian variety, blithely unconcerned about offending African-Americans on their home turf. Here Als speaks of himself and his sister: “…Unlike our mother, we affected an interest in people who, because they had the same skin color as our own, presumed we were interested in the r Just finished tearing through Hilton Als’ TheWomen in practically a single sitting, my jaw collapsed on my chest the entire time! Infuriatingly contrary—but oh so frequently right—Als is a cold, superior fish of the West Indian variety, blithely unconcerned about offending African-Americans on their home turf. Here Als speaks of himself and his sister: “…Unlike our mother, we affected an interest in people who, because they had the same skin color as our own, presumed we were interested in the race and its struggle. We were not interested in the race and its struggle. We were not interested in strident abstractions, being so emotionally abstract ourselves. We were West Indians living in New York; we were smug in our sense of displacement; we took freely from both cultures in order to be unselfconsciously interesting. The furor and energy that our black American contemporaries focused on dream and hopes, we found ridiculous. Their ideology was totalitarianism made simple: economic independence from “the man”, an entirely black-run government, and so on. We were especially amused by the movement’s xenophobia. Xenophobes first, members of the Black Power movement referred to West Indians, and their ambitious progeny, as black Jews.” “…It is not outrageous of me to say that my sister and I probably considered American blacks disgusting on some level, even though we didn’t admit this to ourselves…” “…I believe we probably thought American blacks were awful because they weren’t us.” “ And of militant black female poets: “…the poetesses my sister and I listened to commanded the respect of their male “comrades” because they were inventing them as officers of war. As those women poets spoke in their conspiratorial, syncopated voices, another tone expressive of something other than the self-congratulatory broke in. The tone expressed their need for Daddy to shut them up. As those women spoke, it became clear to me that their language was not the product of reflection or the desire to reflect; if they thought before they spoke, they’d be forced to realize that what they were screaming about was their need to be silenced.” I had always suspected the majority of West Indians I encountered in New York of holding the American Negro, myself included, in contempt. Als is my first encounter with a West Indian willing to flat out admit it. And here, though speaking of a social coterie the average middle class gay can only aspire to, he puts his finger on the very reason for my aversion to the homosexual milieu in general: “…they were homosexual. They were also like Dorothy (Dean) in that they were essentially provincial-minded people made socially interesting because they were repressed.” (italics mine) This isn't meant to be a book review--just an off-the-cuff reaction. I haven't even mentioned Als' tale of his teenage affair with an elderly and ailing Langston Hughes, in which he candidly admits to the opportunism--both financial and artistic--motivating his half of the relationship. Highly recommended.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Starlon

    I started reading this book sometime last year when I was floundering in poetry workshop. I was looking for a voice that was distinctly mine yet I was really worried if I was responding to my blackness. At the time this book came as a revelation. Here is a queer writer who wasn't afraid of speaking down on the black identity poets that came to prominence in the 70s. I guess I always felt like since they were on the ass end of history due to their skin color they were of some worth. Specifically I started reading this book sometime last year when I was floundering in poetry workshop. I was looking for a voice that was distinctly mine yet I was really worried if I was responding to my blackness. At the time this book came as a revelation. Here is a queer writer who wasn't afraid of speaking down on the black identity poets that came to prominence in the 70s. I guess I always felt like since they were on the ass end of history due to their skin color they were of some worth. Specifically Nikki Giovanni. Well ol' Als really destroyed her. But for whatever reason, all the fervor I had for this book waned and I never read the last essay until a week or so ago. I devoured it. I picked it up really just starring at the words but all of a sudden I was sucked deeply into the dust and decay he described. I will be coming back to this book again. I am sure there are some jewels I haven't savored. Might read White Girls sometime later this year. In some sense Als seems like he desperately wants to Baldwin and I can't blame him either. These essays sit on the border of essay and fiction at some points.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jenny

    So my reading resolution for 2019 was to read at least 1 book that I own but have not yet read each month and The Women was my first choice. I usually love to read Als' writing, but I think maybe this particular set of essays was a little early on in his career and I could not connect with it as well. Some of the assumptions he seems to make about women did not seem accurate to me. For example, he comments on how it is difficult for women to be friends with other women. Something that I have nev So my reading resolution for 2019 was to read at least 1 book that I own but have not yet read each month and The Women was my first choice. I usually love to read Als' writing, but I think maybe this particular set of essays was a little early on in his career and I could not connect with it as well. Some of the assumptions he seems to make about women did not seem accurate to me. For example, he comments on how it is difficult for women to be friends with other women. Something that I have never personally found to be true. There were also other comments on women putting up with behavior from men because women are somehow biologically or socially trained to do so. I just don't think that is a universal truth. Otherwise, I did enjoy his prose and found the subject matter intriguing.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Laura Tanenbaum

    Hilton Als is one of our best essayists and critics and one of our best writers, full-stop. These portraits of those who shaped him have nothing and everything to do with the familiar story of thwarted lives. Als' keen and compassionate eye traces what happens ambition and desire go unfulfilled - they do not die or explode but curdle into neurosis and eccentricity. Als is among a handful of male writers who have the interest and ability to imagine what women's lives look like from the inside out Hilton Als is one of our best essayists and critics and one of our best writers, full-stop. These portraits of those who shaped him have nothing and everything to do with the familiar story of thwarted lives. Als' keen and compassionate eye traces what happens ambition and desire go unfulfilled - they do not die or explode but curdle into neurosis and eccentricity. Als is among a handful of male writers who have the interest and ability to imagine what women's lives look like from the inside out - his meditation on his identification with the women in his life does not necessarily answer why or how, but the evidence of this rare craft is on every page.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Somehow I came across this inventive memoir from New Yorker theater columnist Hilton Als. It's a really creative mash-up portrait of his husbandless immigrant mother and sister interspersed with cultural commentary on the archetype of the Negress, specifically that of Malcolm X's mother, the before-her-time "fag hag" intellectual Dorothy Dean and of Owen Dodson, Als's erstwhile, older, female-identified lover. Somehow I came across this inventive memoir from New Yorker theater columnist Hilton Als. It's a really creative mash-up portrait of his husbandless immigrant mother and sister interspersed with cultural commentary on the archetype of the Negress, specifically that of Malcolm X's mother, the before-her-time "fag hag" intellectual Dorothy Dean and of Owen Dodson, Als's erstwhile, older, female-identified lover.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Steven

    Combining the techniques of memoir and cultural studies writing, Hilton Als has crafted the most unique and affecting store of how women of color, specifically a category he defines in the book as the Negress, and the gay men who society perceives in the same way, helped him forge an identity as a gay man of color. This short book slowly teaches you how to read it, as it takes some time to get used to the way Als weaves together personal stories (his own, his mother’s, the mother of Malcolm X, t Combining the techniques of memoir and cultural studies writing, Hilton Als has crafted the most unique and affecting store of how women of color, specifically a category he defines in the book as the Negress, and the gay men who society perceives in the same way, helped him forge an identity as a gay man of color. This short book slowly teaches you how to read it, as it takes some time to get used to the way Als weaves together personal stories (his own, his mother’s, the mother of Malcolm X, the intellectual society climber Dorothy Dean, and finally, his first lover, Owen Dodson) with what their histories tell us about how American culture represses femininity and the complicated ways this interacts with how it represses people of color and gay men. But this powerful approach allows him to cull deeply felt observations about how these forces impact the ideas of maleness in the African American community, the complex power dynamics between the genders when it comes to sex and intimacy (and the further complications queerness adds to this dynamic), and ultimately the deleterious effects this has on the creative, socio-economic and intellectual ambitions of all who identity or are identified this way. It is a slow burn of a book, and through most of its first two sections, unlike most memoirs, the reader is kept at a distance from the author, which can be off-putting at first, but because Als does dip swiftly and deeply into how these people shape him in brief but identifiable moments, the reader feels it all building towards something. And ultimately the reader realizes in the devastating last few pages that the distance was the result of the oppression Als has felt his whole life, trying to find his place in a world that constantly wanted to squeeze him out of public life, and the ways repression is passed from generation to generation. It’s a beautiful ending and one that made we want to read this again with this in mind, which I hope to do someday, as his story resonated very loud and personally for me, the way the best memoirs do.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Anna Stansfield

    A short but difficult book. I wanted to like Hilton Als--the little I had read from him in the New Yorker interested me--but I just can't get over how his ego, and his relationship with his mother, has lead him to believe the shit he peddles is in any way reflective of an actual black woman-- sorry, the “Negress”. Conveniently, every black woman he encounters is a Negress, a creature he is apparently able to ensnare so perfectly by his definition that not one Negress, or black woman, is able to A short but difficult book. I wanted to like Hilton Als--the little I had read from him in the New Yorker interested me--but I just can't get over how his ego, and his relationship with his mother, has lead him to believe the shit he peddles is in any way reflective of an actual black woman-- sorry, the “Negress”. Conveniently, every black woman he encounters is a Negress, a creature he is apparently able to ensnare so perfectly by his definition that not one Negress, or black woman, is able to escape from it. Maybe I just don’t get it? Maybe that’s the point: the Negress is, by nature, a constricting definition. But… why? Because Als says so? Because he is unable to view these women on their own terms, not in contrast to him? At the beginning of the book, he says women are not able to have friends. Obviously false. In an old review of a Beyoncé album, he dismisses the Destiny’s Child song “Survivor” and calls it a break-up song--wrong again, Als! So quick to relate black women to male romantic partners. Why is that your first instinct? Ugh, whatever.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    Most interested in Als' thoughts on performance as it is shaped by gender and class. The final chapter was my favorite and the first my least, at least in sofar as I think it has some of the more dated and limited takes on women's imaginations. I was particularly prickled by his almost whimsical imagination of the assault of Louise Little's mother. (I also have a half formed thought about how part of people's recommendation for the book feels connected to an interest in the "hot take" aspects of Most interested in Als' thoughts on performance as it is shaped by gender and class. The final chapter was my favorite and the first my least, at least in sofar as I think it has some of the more dated and limited takes on women's imaginations. I was particularly prickled by his almost whimsical imagination of the assault of Louise Little's mother. (I also have a half formed thought about how part of people's recommendation for the book feels connected to an interest in the "hot take" aspects of the book. I would also be curious about how Black feminists, specifically, took his characterizations of major Black women figures in the '60s and '70s.)

  19. 5 out of 5

    Bradley

    Hilton Als is a tough read. He's a tough read but a great read. I had to read this book for my gender and sexuality class. This book is broken into three parts. The first part Als writes about his mother and his sisters and how they helped shape him. The middle part deals with NYC socialite and proclaimed "fruit fly", Dorothy Dean. She's my new hero. Google her now. She's the bomb. The last part deals with Als and his intergenerational love affair with the Harlem Renaissance writer, Owen Dodson. "T Hilton Als is a tough read. He's a tough read but a great read. I had to read this book for my gender and sexuality class. This book is broken into three parts. The first part Als writes about his mother and his sisters and how they helped shape him. The middle part deals with NYC socialite and proclaimed "fruit fly", Dorothy Dean. She's my new hero. Google her now. She's the bomb. The last part deals with Als and his intergenerational love affair with the Harlem Renaissance writer, Owen Dodson. "The Women" was a rough read because of the way it's written. But, if you can get into it, the journey is unforgettable.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sohum

    a compelling, sometimes twisting scrutiny of sexuality, gender, Blackness, never on its own and always together. I understand how the style can be discomfiting for some, but I think the prose is not challenging out of a desire to be abstruse, only to bear the weight of Als' thinking. a compelling, sometimes twisting scrutiny of sexuality, gender, Blackness, never on its own and always together. I understand how the style can be discomfiting for some, but I think the prose is not challenging out of a desire to be abstruse, only to bear the weight of Als' thinking.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    Three essays looking at gender race and ide at gender, race and identity told in both memoir and literary criticism. Tough going and dense at times but ultimately shimmering, redemptive and worth it.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Loreal

    I left this book with the impression that Mr. Als has no affection for women, particularly those in his family. That left me sad and in no way eager to read more of his writing, especially anything attempting to dispassionately or even fairly critique a female subject.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin Colban-Waldron

    strange and winding, clear-eyed and prickly

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    Suggested by Mary Carr in The Art of Memoir

  25. 4 out of 5

    abby barnett

    I don’t get it

  26. 5 out of 5

    MaryJo

    I admire Hilton Als' writing in the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books. His writing is sharp, and he also has a kind of feminist sensibility. He is interested and cares about women’s lives. When I saw this book, I was intrigued. It was labeled as a memoir; I didn’t know exactly what I was getting. The three essays are loosely connected by Als’ own experience of coming into and learning how to perform his own identity as a gay man of Caribbean descent in New York city. The first essay is I admire Hilton Als' writing in the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books. His writing is sharp, and he also has a kind of feminist sensibility. He is interested and cares about women’s lives. When I saw this book, I was intrigued. It was labeled as a memoir; I didn’t know exactly what I was getting. The three essays are loosely connected by Als’ own experience of coming into and learning how to perform his own identity as a gay man of Caribbean descent in New York city. The first essay is mostly about his mother, and his own identification with her as a “negress”. He uses the Caribbean term “Auntie Man” to describe his own gender and sexual identity—he states it is a compromise. The second essay is about Dorothy Dean, a brilliant black Radcliffe graduate who was part of the white, gay male elite literary scene in the 60s and 70s. The third chapter focuses on Owen Dodson, a Harlem Renaissance writer, who, in his old age, is mentor and lover to the young Als. There is a kind of melancholy in the descriptions of these people who all desired things that they could not have. Yet the reader’s sense of them as tragic figures is mitigated by Als love for them, and the eloquence and empathy in which he portrays them as the people who shaped his own life and identity. Despite the tragedies of their lives, Als loves them fiercely in their blackness and their contributions to his own imagination of who he could be. My reading of the book was influence by reading this so soon after reading Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts. Both books are about gender identity and sexual desire, and both Nelson and Als inhabit the same literary culture. Both quote Sedgwick, and indeed, it is Als who writes about Nelson and her book for the New Yorker when she wins the national Book Critics Circle Award for criticism. I appreciate the different paths taken by Als and the artist Harry Dodge, who is Nelson’s partner. The Argonauts gives an account of Nelson and Dodge building a family, with Nelson’s pregnancy occurring at the same time as the Dodge was starting testosterone injections and undergoing top surgery. Both books convey the complicated and situated ways in which people inhabit their bodies.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Christine Fay

    This non-fiction memoir was handed to me by our school’s librarian. I read the jacket cover. Hey, I said, this looks interesting. Check it out under my name. I already did, she replied. How did you know? Well, I was hoping you’d read it because some of the reviews are questionable. Okay. I was answering the call – the call of the BBC, or Banned Book Committee. She was counting on me to determine if it was appropriate reading for our high school aged audience. Conclusion: I was not particularly of This non-fiction memoir was handed to me by our school’s librarian. I read the jacket cover. Hey, I said, this looks interesting. Check it out under my name. I already did, she replied. How did you know? Well, I was hoping you’d read it because some of the reviews are questionable. Okay. I was answering the call – the call of the BBC, or Banned Book Committee. She was counting on me to determine if it was appropriate reading for our high school aged audience. Conclusion: I was not particularly offended or disturbed by the read, although there are six sticky notes in there that will have to be re-read by my colleague. My biggest criticism is that it left me a bit confused. I failed to understand the author’s purpose in writing such a memoir other than to explain his extreme need to be loved by his mother, so much that he wanted to be like her, unnaturally so, in the way that he allowed men to use him sexually. Of course, it was evident that he was going to be an ‘auntie man’ from the get-go, but the additional writing about Malcom X’s mother was a bit confusing. I did enjoy his writing about Owen Dodson, although it just made me think that perhaps he was being abused somewhat by an older man at the time. Will this title be allowed in our Library? I am going to enjoy watching her face as she reads those passages. I’m guessing maybe not.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Julia

    hilton als!! are my thoughts. not as good as white girls but what could be as good as white girls; what is very cool about this one though is the way that three pieces that were obviously not written to go together do end up fitting together—the mere arrangement of the three in one book allows the negress concept to extend from the first essay throughout. anyway it's kind of wild that anyone can be as good a writer as hilton als is. constantly awed by people who can apply conceptual formulations hilton als!! are my thoughts. not as good as white girls but what could be as good as white girls; what is very cool about this one though is the way that three pieces that were obviously not written to go together do end up fitting together—the mere arrangement of the three in one book allows the negress concept to extend from the first essay throughout. anyway it's kind of wild that anyone can be as good a writer as hilton als is. constantly awed by people who can apply conceptual formulations to real life, can perceive and apprehend life through the conceptual lenses they establish, and allow you to perceive and apprehend it too.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Korri

    Als has sharp (cutting, biting) psychological insight about the 'Negress' in himself and other women. Insights tumble after recollections of his mother, his first sexual experience, a news item on a Negress so beautifully that his writing drew me in. It is a most unusual memoir and so brief that I think I shall have to re-read it. While I don't know that I understand or agree with all his analyses, I respect his mind and admire his writing. Als has sharp (cutting, biting) psychological insight about the 'Negress' in himself and other women. Insights tumble after recollections of his mother, his first sexual experience, a news item on a Negress so beautifully that his writing drew me in. It is a most unusual memoir and so brief that I think I shall have to re-read it. While I don't know that I understand or agree with all his analyses, I respect his mind and admire his writing.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Michael Borshuk

    A complicated meditation on identity by The New Yorker's standing drama critic. Als tests all of our assumptions about the naturalness of race, gender, and sexuality, in a poetic text that's difficult to define generically: is it memoir? cultural criticism? political manifesto? Wonderfully readable, no matter how you categorize it. A complicated meditation on identity by The New Yorker's standing drama critic. Als tests all of our assumptions about the naturalness of race, gender, and sexuality, in a poetic text that's difficult to define generically: is it memoir? cultural criticism? political manifesto? Wonderfully readable, no matter how you categorize it.

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