Rosa Lee: A Mother and Her Family in Urban America

Leon Dash, Author, Lucian Perkins, Photographer Basic Books $23 (288p) ISBN 978-0-465-07092-3
An African American ""uncomfortable and alarmed by the growing black underclass,"" Washington Post reporter Dash (When Children Want Children) spent four years immersed in the life of Rosa Lee Cunningham, who is mired in a world of poverty, drugs, theft and imprisonment. The book is compelling and disturbing, written in a brisk, unadorned style. Rosa Lee's life is one of continuous crisis: she deals with her HIV and her drug addictions, Washington, D.C., bureaucracies (she's sharp but illiterate), the adult children who live with (and off) her and have not shaken free of crime and drugs. As Dash becomes driver, translator and confidant of Rosa Lee, he learns more of her family's sad and shocking history: how Rosa Lee acceded to her daughter's demands for drugs; how, as a child, her gay son was raped by a babysitter. Yet all is not grim; two of Rosa Lee's eight children (fathered by six men) have joined the middle class; now army veterans, as children both men despaired of their family's self-destructive lifestyle and found crucial mentors in a teacher and a social worker. The newspaper series on which this book is based won a Pulitzer Prize, yet generated criticism. Dash allows in an epilogue that, depending on one's ideology, Rosa Lee could be seen either as a victim or as a moral failure. Photos not seen by PW. $50,000 ad/promo; U.K. translation and first serial rights: HarperCollins. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/29/1996
Release date: 08/01/1996
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