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Talk to Me : Travels in Media and Politics

Smith, Anna Deavere

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ISBN 10: 0385721749 / ISBN 13: 9780385721745
Published by Anchor
Used Condition: Very Good
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Light to moderate shelf wear. Complete. No apparent underlining/highlighting. Bookseller Inventory # 947167

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Title: Talk to Me : Travels in Media and Politics

Publisher: Anchor

Book Condition:Very Good

About this title


Anna Deveare Smith's award-winning one-woman shows were borne of her uniquely brilliant ability to listen. In Talk to Me she applies her rare talent to the language of political power in America.

Believing that character and language are inextricably bound, Smith sets out to discern the essence of America by listening to its people and trying to capture its politics. To that end she travels to some of America's most conspicuous places, like the presidential conventions of 1996, and some of its darkest corners, like a women's prison in Maryland. And along the way she interviews everyone from janitors to murderers to Bill Clinton himself. Memoir, social commentary, meditation on language, this book is as vastly ambitious as it is compellingly unique.


Anna Deavere Smith, an actress and playwright in a category all her own, travels America in pursuit of authentic language, the kind that reveals the truth of a person, not just information. Once she finds that "personal music," she becomes the person through their verbal tics and idiosyncrasies, showcasing them in her critically acclaimed one-women plays. In 1995, Smith took her tape recorder to Washington, D.C., to capture the American presidency. But, she writes, "I knew that I knew nothing about the president, or any public figure for that matter, that the press didn't tell me. I would have to look at the press too." Over the course of five years, she interviewed Washington insiders (George Stephanopoulos, Marlin Fitzwater, David Kendall), members of the press (Ben Bradlee, Mike Wallace, Mike Isikoff), cultural critics (Ken Burns, Studs Terkel), and finally President Clinton himself. The book is a hybrid of transcripts of these interviews, vignettes of capitol politics, and ruminations on language, race relations, and inclusion; the parallel between the theatre and politics; and the potential for genuine human communication between politicians and the people.

"The language of Washington is in disrepair," Smith writes, "a verbal flat line," and though politicians have tried to learn from actors, they have failed so fully they can no longer connect with their audiences. The press comes in for an even stronger critique as a group that honors truth, but is busy looking for lies and creating a highly wired cocoon. The book's best and most startling moments are when her subjects "bust out" and surprise us, as when Clinton's former press secretary Mike McCurry says:

And we, we came very close in the last week to a point for, where I thought I was going to get asked about what kind of erections the president has. I mean quite seriously.... So it's a, it's weird. It's kind of this merging of our popular culture and tabloid mentality and the evening shows ... and it's kind of this morphing of what we consider, you know, civil discourse and ah so it's it's it's a troubling time.
While Smith tends to meander, interested perhaps in following her own authentic speech, she raises necessary questions and offers even more intriguing conclusions: there will never be real conversation between Washington and the rest of the nation until there's desegregation of the most insular community around--the capitol clique. --Lesley Reed

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