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Jack and Jill. That wasnít something that ever came up in our family. We werenít

quite there, but on the other hand, my grandmother was a lawyer in New York,

my fatherís mother, so professionals go back in the family a long way



Books by Stephen Carter

New England White  / The Emperor of Ocean Park / The Culture of Disbelief  / Integrity / Civility / God's Name in Vain

Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby

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Kam Williams Interviews Stephen Carter

Author of The New England White


Stephen L. Carter is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale University, where he has taught since 1982. A prolific writer, he has published seven critically acclaimed non-fiction books which have helped shape the national debate on issues ranging from the role of religion in politics and culture to that of integrity and civility in our daily lives.                                 

Professor Carter was born in Washington, D.C. on October 26, 1954, the second of five children, and attended public school there as well as in New York City and Ithaca, New York. He received his bachelor's from Stanford University and his law degree from Yale before clerking for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, briefly practicing law, and then finally joining the faculty at Yale.

One of the nation's leading public intellectuals, heís among the fifty leaders for the new millennium as picked by Time magazine. His writings have won praise from across the political spectrum. Furthermore, he is a member of the American Law Institute and a fellow at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. And he is also a trustee of the Aspen Institute, where he moderates seminars for executives on values-based leadership.

Among his half-dozen honorary degrees are doctorates from Notre Dame, Colgate, and the Virginia Theological Seminary. A frequent guest on TV talk shows, Carter has periodically appeared on Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, and Face the Nation. Plus, heís a regular contributor as a columnist to Christianity Today.

In 2002, he received a record $4.2 million advance from Knopf for his first novel, The Emperor of Ocean Park k, a murder mystery set on Marthaís Vineyard. Here, he talks about his sequel, New England White, another sophisticated suspense thriller set amidst the African-American elite.


Kam Williams: Your dad was a professor at Cornell when I was an undergrad there, and I was friends with your sister, Leslie. She brought me over to the house, and I remember meeting her parents, and playing chess against her genius brother who would beat me with painful regularity. Was that you?   

Stephen Carter: If you lost, that must have been my brother Eric. He was a very brilliant chess player. 

Kam Williams:  Well, I was a pretty serious player myself, having read several books and competed against some of the best on campus, so I was surprised when I couldnít even hang with this gifted kid.   

Stephen Carter:He was a very, very highly-rated player pretty young, an expert on the U.S. Chess Federation scale. He couldíve done very well in chess, but he got bored and quit after a few years to pursue some other things.

Kam Williams:  How are Leslie and your folks doing?

Stephen Carter: My mom died a number of years ago, in 1989.

Kam Williams: Oh, Iím sorry to hear that. I remember her as such a warm, intelligent and beautiful woman.

Stephen Carter:thanks. My father has since remarried and is in Virginia. And Leslie is doing well. Sheís in Washington, where she works as an occupational therapist.

Kam Williams:  Please give them my regards. Letís talk about your novels. Do you consider yourself a member of the black elite you write about?

Stephen Carter: Itís not the way I grew up. That is to say, although it is true that, when I was a little boy, we went to Marthaís Vineyard a couple of times, it wasnít a regular feature of our lives. I didnít write about this class somehow because I was fascinated by my family history. No, itís really a group of people I became fascinated with when I lived in Washington, DC in the early 1980s, because I had never really understood the existence of the ďolder families,Ē although Iíve been told I really shouldnít call them that, because all the families are old. But nevertheless, if I can use ďolder familiesĒ one more time, Iím talking about families who have had education and money, and a variety of these things that the culture counts as achievements, for a very long time. The notion that there have been such families in the African-American community for generations fascinated me. And it was that fascination, rather than anything about my own familyís history, that led me to think about setting fiction there.      

Kam Williams: Are you familiar with Our Kind of People by Lawrence Otis Graham?

Stephen Carter: Of course. That book intrigued me years ago when I read it. 

Kam Williams:  I remember it being an eye-opener for me, because I grew up in a bourgie black neighborhood. We were invited to join Jack and Jill, and we spent our summers in Sag Harbor. Yet, I was raised without any pretensions or conscious hint that we might be part of any elite. 

SC: Itís interesting that you mention Jack and Jill. That wasnít something that ever came up in our family. We werenít quite there, but on the other hand, my grandmother was a lawyer in New York, my fatherís mother, so professionals go back in the family a long way. And that is not as unusual a story as it seems. One does not have to be completely a product of the almost assembly line aspects of that culture to have been touched by it, and to, in certain ways, for lack of a better word, ďappreciateĒ it. I think thereís a tendency among us, among African-Americans, to mock the pretensions of that culture. But they were trying to build something for their kids. They were trying to create, in the face of segregation, a world in which achievement mattered, in which you worked to get ahead, where solid values were the key to success. They didnít build it completely right, in a sense, and it didnít look like the way it would if you or I would have built it, but they tried. And they tried at a time when a lot of people would have stopped trying. I think that is to be saluted.

Kam Williams:  Yeah, I grew up in the Fifties in a tight-knit black enclave where everybody was achievement oriented because it was full of role models, not only Jackie Robinson and other pro athletes, but entertainers like Count Basie, Coltrane, James Brown, the Ellingtons, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, and Billie Holiday, plus plenty of professionals, too, doctors, lawyers, bankers, accountants, stock brokers, dentists, etcetera.  

Stephen Carter: Thatís just fascinating. But thatís more like what Iíd read about, than what Iíd lived in. For my next novel, much of which will take place in Harlem in the Fifties, Iíve had to do a lot of reading and a little bit of interviewing, too, to educate myself and to get more of a sense of that world.  

Kam Williams:  Itís very weird for me sometimes to have people challenge my blackness, and to suggest that Iím somehow not authentically black because of the way I speak, when I grew up in an all-black neighborhood where everybody spoke the way I speak. 

Stephen Carter:Itís a problem for young black people today to know so little of our history and to think about our history the way that white people do, that somehow our culture has always come from the streets, and that education is unusual. And they also tend to associate black wealth with being an entertainer or a sports star. Entertainer and athletes work very hard, I donít begrudge them their money, but that is a very tiny corner of the history of success and hard work and achievement in our community.    

Kam Williams:  Are you familiar with Ellis Coseís book about the black bourgeoisie called The Rage of a Privileged Class?  

Stephen Carter: Yes, I used to write a lot of book reviews in the Eighties and Nineties. I donít remember all of them, but I think I might have reviewed it. I actually canít recall right now.

Kam Williams: Well, Iím asking because I often think of that book in conjunction with one of yours, Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby, which was published just prior to that. How do you feel you were positioned because of that book?

Stephen Carter: I donít really think about it that much. I know that might sound like a peculiar thing to say, but I really donít know. Itís funny, when I was out in the Midwest on book tour for The Emperor of Ocean Park  a few years ago, a woman asked me, ďCan you tell us how you got from Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby to The Emperor of Ocean Park ?Ē It took me a while to understand what she was really asking, that she saw these books as fundamentally opposed to each other in some sense. I think that what she was getting at was that I had been out of the mainstream and had now rejoined it. But I never thought about it that way. I never thought of Reflections as being outside of the mainstream. I thought of it as a book that was trying to make a point, maybe with more heat than was needed, but it was still trying to make a book. Ellis Cose called it rage, but what youíve seen in the semi-autobiographical, non-fiction writings of many black professionals from that period was really frustration, a sense that so many things were lined up in ways that made it awkward to be who we were.      

Kam Williams: His book resonated with me, since I experienced my share of that rage. How do you explain that phenomenon? Where do you place the blame for the widespread discontent of so many relatively-privileged blacks?

Stephen Carter:Itís not a matter of ascribing fault. Itís a matter of trying to think of the dynamics that produced a lot of that writing by people who, by the worldís definition, had succeeded, and had really succeeded extremely well.

Kam Williams:  Tell me a little about your new murder mystery, New England White. Are your main characters, Lemaster and Julia, based on your parents? After all your dad was a university president at one time, like Lemaster.

Stephen Carter: [Laughs heartily] No, until you just mentioned that, it had never occurred to me. [Laughs some more]

Kam Williams:  So, I guess, in that case that their daughter, Vanessa, wasnít inspired by your sister Leslie either. 

Stephen Carter:No. Of course, fiction is inspired by life, but thereís never been an instance in my work thus far where somebodyís meant to be just like someone real. I donít do the kind of fiction where I sit around and ask myself, ďWell, who shall I next use?Ē

KW:  When I see words in the book like ďsinecureĒ and ďabstemiousĒ which had me reaching for the dictionary, and ďdandlingĒ and ďsoteriologyĒ which were completely new to me, I have to wonder who your intended audience is. 

Stephen Carter: Hereís the thing. I want to, of course, have as many readers as I can get. So, Iím not aiming for a demographic which knows all of the words I use. In fact, many of these words were not a part of my own vocabulary. ďSoteriology,Ē I didnít even know what it was, until I had to learn the lingo of a divinity school for part of this book. So, I discovered new words in the course of my research. When Iím writing, I try to think about the people Iím writing about how they talk and think and see the world, more than how I or my readers view it. Thatís what Iím trying to get at.   

KW:  Whoís your favorite murder mystery writer? Mine is Gore Vidal who wrote several excellent thrillers in the Fifties under the pseudonym Edgar Box.

Stephen Carter: Thatís interesting. Iíve read a lot of Gore Vidal over the years, but I have not read his mysteries.

KW:  Has any writer served as your source of inspiration?

Stephen Carter: The question of inspiration is one Iíve always tried to be very cagey about, partly because itís difficult to say who oneís inspirations are. But the other reason is that thereís always the risk of slighting someone. You wouldnít believe the angry notes I got, saying ďHow could you leave out so-and-soĒ after Iíd once listed in an article some of the people whoíd inspired me. Iím serious. So, I prefer not to talk about that.   

Kam Williams:  Well, can you at least tell me which mystery writers you enjoy reading?

Stephen Carter: I donít read as much fiction as I used to. And I almost never read fiction that is related even tangentially to what I may write. But there was once a period in my life when I read a lot of the classic, Agatha Christie-type mysteries and the potboilers from the Thirties and Forties. 

Kam Williams:  Then why donít you write in a more compact style, instead of producing such densely-developed, multi-layered crime capers.    

Stephen Carter:They didnít necessarily teach me how I write mysteries. They just piqued my interest in mysteries, which goes back a long way. Itís not so much that Iím trying to write in the style of mystery writers whose style I admire, itís more that those are some writers whose mysteries Iíve enjoyed, and they help explain my interest in writing mysteries.

Kam Williams:  Why are yours over 500 pages long, which appears to be a trademark of your novels?

Stephen Carter:I hope theyíre not too long, but I like reading long books. If Iím really enjoying a book, I generally hate to see it end. I also care about character and scene. Further, I like to give background, and had to, in a sense, I believe, for the reader to establish the bona fides of the class of people Iím talking about. Otherwise, many people wouldnít believe it exists, as if itís a kind of interesting and cute fantasy, almost.   

Kam Williams:  Yes, your devotion to character development prevents readers from easily dismissing the African-American upper class as some popular bourgie black archetypes, ala George Jefferson.

Stephen Carter: Naturally, as a writer, Iím glad to achieve that. I donít principally write novels to spread ideas. But if people still find them provocative, worth wondering and thinking about, and arguing and reflecting about, so much the better.

Kam Williams:  Thereís a passage on page 33 of your book which reminded me of Invisible Man, which I thought of because a friend of mine just published a biography of Ralph Ellison.

Stephen Carter: Arnold Rampersad?

Kam Williams:  Yeah.

Stephen Carter: I read his biography of Langston Hughes, which I enjoyed immensely.  The Ellison book is on my summer reading list, and Iím looking forward to it.

Kam Williams:  Anyway, in New England White you describe how black males are barely noticed on Ivy League campuses and how black females are invisible there. 

Stephen Carter:Yes, that is a little homage to Ralph Ellison. There are hidden in the book in different places a series of homages to various writers, black and white. Little lines here and there... Turns of a phrase woven into the text. Itís interesting that you picked up on that one. In another instance, a character is inspired by a character from another novel, though Iím not going to say who that is. 

Kam Williams:  What do you want your readers to come away with after reading the book?

SC: Here, Iím going to sound like a hack, I suppose. The most important thing for me is that they enjoy it and feel entertained. I cannot emphasize that enough. First and foremost, I really think of it as entertainment. I want people to relax, get away from their problems, and have a good time. And most importantly, when theyíre done, feel that it was worth their while, and maybe feel a little bit sad that itís over. Beyond that, itís fine with me if the reader is provoked by some of the ideas expressed in the book. But thatís not my main reason for writing it.    

Kam Williams: Thanks for the time Stephen and good luck with it. Will you be coming through Princeton on your book tour?  

Stephen Carter: No, but Iíll be in Philadelphia, thatís the closest Iíll get. Over the years, there have been a number of times when Iíve been invited to speak a Princeton, but Iíve never actually gotten down there. Well, this has been a great conversation.

Kam Williams: Absolutely, I loved it, and I hope I can make it to Philly.

Stephen Carter: Thatíd be great, bye.

posted 28 July 2007

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 Ė Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Super Rich: A Guide to Having it All

By Russell Simmons

Russell Simmons knows firsthand that wealth is rooted in much more than the stock  market. True wealth has more to do with what's in your heart than what's in your wallet. Using this knowledge, Simmons became one of America's shrewdest entrepreneurs, achieving a level of success that most investors only dream about. No matter how much material gain he accumulated, he never stopped lending a hand to those less fortunate. In Super Rich, Simmons uses his rare blend of spiritual savvy and street-smart wisdom to offer a new definition of wealth-and share timeless principles for developing an unshakable sense of self that can weather any financial storm. As Simmons says, "Happy can make you money, but money can't make you happy."

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don't know the truth about mass incarcerationóbut her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.óPublishers Weekly

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban NicolŠs Guillťn and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Boisí Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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