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Donnell Alexander: Ghetto Celebrity: Searching For My Father In Me


Ghetto Celebrity: Searching For My Father In Me

Author: Donnell Alexander
Publisher: Crown

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Donnell Alexander assumed the mantle of family genius when, at the age of 18 months, he spied a beer can on the back of a toilet and blurted out "Stroh's!" That's a debatable claim to greatness, but he faced less-than-stiff competition from his father Delbert, an ill-fated "popcorn pimp" who spent his days hustling drugs, women, and bad funk music across the ghettos of Ohio. Delbert was a mostly absentee dad who was even worse when he was around, but the father-son relationship at the core of Ghetto Celebrity worms a windy way through love-hate dualism. Starting with his upbringing as a Jehovah's Witness and working through a young life still marked by his ghetto roots, Alexander tries to stare down the father he came to recognize in his adult self. He first took to writing in college, when he caught the newspapering bug that pushed him through a career covering hip-hop, sports, and thorny racial politics at various weeklies and glossies like Might and ESPN: The Magazine. As he tangled with editors unnerved by his anti-establishment brooding and street-speak, he headed into family life with his wife and a young son, in whose eyes he sees shards of his own father's reflection. Alexander takes an alternately pointed and mucked-up course through his memoir-friendly tale, weaving around slang-strewn text that swaggers when it's good and aggravates when it's bad. He reaches an inspired pitch with a few formal stretches–such as a graphic-novel depiction of a druggy breakdancing lesson–but his ghetto-gonzo prose too often focuses on flash over illumination. The working life of a journalist makes for only so much winning drama, and Alexander spends more energy asserting his own journalistic importance than exhibiting it. The book mines interesting racial terrain in accounts of articles on ghettoized figures like basketball player Latrell Sprewell and rap group The Pharcyde, but Alexander's self-regard makes the story more about him than his work. The conceit sparkles when focused on the acquiescent dynamics of the father-son bond, which Alexander surveys from a curious distance as he discerns his own weaknesses. The manic mix makes for more slop than it should, but when its heart takes the stage, Ghetto Celebrity filters the blood of family down to a healing tonic.