Poignantly introduced by both his ex-wife Kathleen and the Harvard Professor, Henry Louis Gates (who got an exclusive interview with Cleaver while he was a student at Oxford U. but who is now of recent Boston cop harassment fame). This is an irreverent and exciting piece of literature. It is a collection of Eldridge Cleaver's writings (not his best however) cobbled together by Kathleen, and turned into a book that is made up of mostly of writings of the period during Cleaver's time in exile until his death in May 1998.
For those times, his was an especially rocky journey as was true for our nation as a whole. And the content of his writings provided here represent a literary prism for understanding the era that shaped Cleaver's extraordinary life and aptly mirror the ups and downs of the political landscape of those rather turbulent but pivotal times. Cleaver's writings may be the deepest most honest if not the only completely trustworthy weather vane we have of those times. Even today, his writings still crackle with freshness in their uncompromising honesty and in the depth of their understanding of the American condition. And although I would have made a slightly different selection from his writings, one can hardly quibble with this (or any) collection, since Cleaver's writings are so uniformly high in the quality of their craft and in their honesty.
The biographical selections are the most penetrating and most revealing of the man himself, as they put Cleaver's psycho-social development and existence in context: As is true of so many young black male leaders, Cleaver was educated in prison, where his writings made him a virtual societal provocateur, a brilliant but very inconvenient critic of American society, and of Ronald Reagan the then governor of California in particular.
His racial isolation and inability to deal with the social role "assigned to black men in American society" that made it so, literally turned him into one of many "Bigger Thomas'," of his era. His conscious desire to become an urban predator is what landed him in prison where his first education in self-awareness and his first "real" self-construction project began. In prison he read politics, philosophy, and letters, then adopted Marxism as the best paradigm for understanding American racism. Armed with Marxism (which he later abandoned for being racist itself) he quickly embraced as his persona an urban warrior stance. He became a self-made and self-identified outlaw against anything white and anything American. Upon his release from prison, he found that this persona resonated with the rhythms of the times outside the prison walls and became a natural for the Black Panther Party that he joined and where he eventually rose to the position of Minister of Defense. It was in this role in which a shoot out with the Oakland police occurred that sent him on the lam.
While in exile in France he had a vision that would change his life and turned him into a Christian. Many believe that this conversion was either a convenient ruse to get back into the country, or the result of a deal made with the FBI to become a paid informant, and thereby avoid a lengthy jail sentence. In any case he did return, spent a brief time in jail and upon release joined the Mormon Church and became a deacon, spoke and preached the gospel of Jesus Christ. All of his friends, including his wife and family eventually abandoned him. He died penniless trying to rehabilitate his writing career. A great read. Ten star