The Oprah Winfrey Show: Reflections on an American Legacy

Deborah Davis. Abrams, $50 (240p) ISBN 978-1-4197-0059-0
A lavish and loving tribute to the television personality, icon, and philanthropist makes a powerful case for Oprah’s centrality and influence on American culture. With smart essays from writers like Stanley Crouch and Maya Angelou and weaker testimonials from such stars as John Travolta and Julia Roberts, Davis (Guest of Honor) balances hagiography and celebrity worship with sober accounts of how Winfrey’s show created a public space—and vocabulary—to discuss such previously taboo topics as rape and molestation, eating disorders, postpartum depression, debt, even obesity. Her legacy, Davis argues, can be seen in how her show underscored the importance (and expanded the definition) of wellness—spiritual, financial, physical—for women. So much of Winfrey’s rise from her hardscrabble Mississippi childhood has passed into legend, and Angelou’s small, sparkling essay is especially valuable for its ability to takes us back to Winfrey’s origins and identify the source of her fortitude: how she sought sanctuary from lethal racism in the library, memorizing poems from Langston Hughes and Paul Dunbar, and learning that, in Angelou’s phrase, “Black was not only beautiful, but also exquisite.” There are a few forced attempts to brand Oprah and her best friend Gayle as a latter-day Laverne and Shirley; the book shines when it stays away from mythmaking and gives us, in its gorgeous photographs, behind-the-scenes glimpses of the empty studio, the primping process (with no fewer than three makeup artists), and the vast army of producers and writers behind Oprah’s magic. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 10/17/2011
Release date: 11/01/2011
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