Hair Story

Ayana Byrd, Author, Lori L. Tharps, Author, Lori L. Tharps, Joint Author St. Martin's Press $23.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-312-26599-1
Whether it's hip-hop diva Lil' Kim's ""weave of the week"" or activist Angela Davis's Afro, black hair evinces the power to set trends and define icons. In this entertaining and concise survey, Byrd (a research chief for Vibe) and Tharps (a reporter for Entertainment Weekly) revel in the social, cultural and economic significance of African-American hair from 1400 to the present. The opening chapter chronicles the rise of the slave trade, revealing intriguing facts about the significance of hair in African culture--such as that only royalty donned hats or hairpieces, and recently widowed Wolof women stopped maintaining their hair as a sign of their mourning. The authors contextualize issues familiar to African-Americans while explaining black hair culture to the uninformed, so readers who don't already know what ""the kitchen"" refers to (hair at the nape of the neck, usually the ""nappiest"") will soon find out. Photos and illustrations are put to effective use, though amusing charts such as ""Five Famous Men with Equally Famous Hair"" and the ""Black Hair Glossary"" are out of sync with the text. Meanwhile, significant figures, like Madame C.J. Walker and Nathaniel ""The Bush Doctor"" Mathis, are revisited in detail in various chapters, resulting in unnecessary repetition. But these are small quibbles with a book that successfully balances popular appeal with historical accuracy, adeptly exploring the roots of pervasive intraracial discrimination while explaining, for example, how the much-maligned Jheri Curl ever became a fad. Agent, Marie Brown. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 02/01/2001
Release date: 02/01/2001
Paperback - 208 pages - 978-0-312-28322-3
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