Archive for Barry Michael Cooper

Notes on Claude, Cooper and Coates

Posted in Book Reviews, Cultural Matters, Guest Commentators with tags , , on October 13, 2017 by playthell

A Meditation on the Meaning of the Obama Years

A Book Sparks Reflections from a Manchild in New Jack City

 First, let me say the Ta Naheshi Coates’s new book, “We Were Eight Years In Power” is powerful. I am still traveling within it but already I have been abducted by the fine writing and weaving of this piece, and the sure hand of the conductor on this train. Now, as to the title here…Growing up in Harlem, my serious reading began with Claude Brown’s “Manchild In The Promised Land.”

I can remember this is when I started to understand a bit more about the hard streets I was given to play on. It wove together a black experience I was made to realize every day. I flew down the five flights of stairs from our old tenement building ecstatic about the discovery that somebody had painted such a powerful portrait of my world. But the book was also about failure and survival. It hypnotized me, readjusting my focus and better setting my attention and aspirations higher than I might’ve otherwise thought of.

My own time outside of that book was spent unknowingly navigating what I had learned from it, as I grew up just a few blocks from where Claude Brown told his story of the world we came from. I was just starting a new school they built above the #3 train yard on 7th Avenue right down from my block, “Frederick Douglas Intermediate School 10,” affectionately known back in the day as “The Dime.” One of my very best friends back then was Barry Michael Cooper. I didn’t know it then, though we spent a lot of our time discussing our neighborhood’s blessings and curses, that he would grow up to become a brilliant writer with an original voice and penned such insightful and powerful film scripts as “New Jack City,” “Sugar Hill,” and “Above The Rim,” providing a gripping first-hand view of the style and substance of Street Life in an American metropolis.

Novelist Claude Brown

Manchild In the Promised Land

The Best Selling Novel that called the nation’s attention to the black Urban  Plight
Barry Michael Cooper

A Peerless Chronicler of the underbelly of Urban Life

A harrowing report from the front lines of the crack wars

Ta Neheshi Coates

A Brilliant commentator on the Black Experience in America

These flicks were an extension of Barry’s stellar chronicling of Harlem’s early rap, drug and gangster scenes in gripping essays published in the Village Voice, during its glory days of the 1980’s and 90’s, to large applause from careful readers and media critics. Barry had thought to write all this stuff down from our boyhood conversations while sitting by the old bust of Dr. King in Esplanade Gardens, the upscale middle-class Harlem apartment complex where he lived. Barry and I were actually witnessing and living what Claude Brown had written about in his own life many years earlier in the 1960’s, on even slicker, more dangerous streets.

So between these two guys, Claude Brown and Barry Michael Cooper, I now come to Coates. His book has taken me on another journey into the deeper understanding of all this stuff in my nearly 60 years of life. Instead of Brown’s sort of “Playbook on surviving the streets” tone, and then Cooper’s kind of voyeur takes on it all happening to us in real time, Coates has cross-stitched the varying realities together with even greater depth and perspective, while casting a keen eye on the larger history of what has gotten us out from between a rock and a hard place, or left us dazed and bewildered still within it.

Every word of this book is interesting, and so is Coates. A college drop-out with the eruditeness of another brilliant Harlem writer I was blessed to know as a co-conspirator and friend, Playthell Benjamin, who has the same sort of unique story of not going exactly the “right” ways to reach success or just to be heard. Perhaps their visions of success were different, as both their voices in the struggle are made of grand knowledge of all the great warriors but at the same time uniquely their own. You will love this book; it pieces together the larger history of Afro-Americans and tracks our progress, while comparing it to yesterday through the perspective of the Obama years in the White House. Yet it is not just about this amazing man and his wife, but more so about us all, the good and the not so good told by a variety of our heroes and unknowing villains.

Coates is an amazing young brother that is an impressively grounded and gifted writer. It’s not about whether you agree with everything he says; he is telling a story in perhaps the most unique time in our history, not just the big picture but every intricate detail of the frame and hooks on the backside, heck even the covered wall and dogged nail holes underneath. It is a fascinating work, not told by an elder but by a young buck that was listening and carefully watching what brothers like Claude and Cooper caught great whiffs of in their own revealing journeys.

I hope one day I get the opportunity to meet Ta-Nehisi Coates (and maybe, hopefully by then I will be able to better pronounce the brother’s name), as in my time, I have happily met and known both Claude Brown and my man, Barry Cooper. I think he’s in NYC, and I’m just across the GWB, so hopefully we shall meet. And y’know, I have also written a book myself, though never got around to publishing it, but given all the new ways of publishing that have emerged due to the internet.

What I do know is that it is writings like those described in this essay that have inspired me most all along my way. These agitations, echoes and experiences mirror my own, and those of many other Afro-American males, and I can feel the spiritual connection as they show the way forward and sometimes confusingly back again. Everyone should read We Were Eight Years In Power; it is a tonic and torch for the mind and soul of seekers after wisdom and truth.

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Click on Link to Hear Coates Discuss his Book
https://www.cbsnews.com/videos/ta-nehisi-coates-on-obama-presidencys-impact-on-trumps-election/
Marion Boykin
Inglewood, New Jersey
October 13, 2017