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The Mother of Black Hollywood: A Memoir

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In Jenifer Lewis’s memoir, The Mother of Black Hollywood, she says that Black-ish has made her a household name. But for me, the name Jenifer Lewis was looming large in my household twenty-five years ago when I learned I had been nominated for a NAACP theater award for best actress along with Jenifer and three other actresses. I remember vividly wondering who she was when it was announced that she had won. Little did I know that in 1993, she already had an impressive number of theater credits and awards under her belt.  Little did I know that she would go on to have an illustrious film and tv career and if I had known that after auditioning for John Singleton’s film Poetic Justice, she would look at him and say, “Little boy, just give me the f***ing part, will ya?” I would have dismissed all thoughts about nabbing that NAACP award because Jenifer is a woman who is unstoppable, who is determined to win, and her page-turning memoir speaks volumes to the aforementioned.

 If you’re looking for a tell-all about Hollywood—a book revealing dirty secrets about Hollywood’s A-list stars, this is not the book for you. If you’re looking for a book that will give you an unabashed, in your face, take no prisoners, birds-eye view of the life of one of Hollywood’s most beloved actresses, get this book. Jenifer holds nothing back, as she takes us on a rollercoaster journey of her life starting in St. Louis where she was born. If you’ve ever wondered if the loud-mouthed and brassy characters, she’s known for are anything like her in real life, the answer is no—according to her, these characters are tone-downed compared to the real Jenifer Lewis.

 After years of striking out at the people she loved, causing scenes, bullying others and being miserable even after achieving a great deal, she reveals that she finally acquiesced to getting therapy and it was there she found a name for what ailed her—she was bipolar. It was also in therapy that she came to realize that her promiscuity was a result of being molested by her pastor as a young girl and her need to medicate her feelings of depression. Sex had become an addiction, like alcohol, drugs, and gambling for others. And Jenifer leaves no stone unturned as she lists all of her dalliances. She even writes a poem about them.

 I love how the book unfolds and moves with fire and energy, much like the actress herself. I love how she outlines her process of healing, a process that was far from perfect. I admire her for having the courage to face her demons and to not give up. In spite of losing countless friends to AIDS, she never gave up, but put her money and notoriety to work to help fight this insidious disease. Jenifer says that she hopes her book will help others who suffer from depression and I believe it will.

 Now, 61, Jennifer is comfortable in her own skin and no longer needs to medicate with destructive behavior. She’s truly happy and living her best life—a life where she pays it forward, a life that truly has not been lived in vain. I look forward to what’s coming next for this amazing and talented woman.

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Born in Oakland and raised in San Francisco, playwright and author, Alretha Thomas is making her name through her pen. She started at the age of ten, when her 5th grade teacher picked and read her short story assignment in front of the class – that simple, loving act empowered a new writer. A graduate of U.S.C., Alretha’s plays have graced numerous Southern California stages. Her most recent production, “One Woman, Two Lives,” starred Kellita Smith of the Bernie Mac Show. Her debut novel, “Daughter Denied” was launched in 2008 and has received glowing reviews from readers and book clubs across the country. Her second novel “Dancing Her Dreams Away,” launched in 2011 and was also well-received. “Married in the Nick of Nine” is her third novel and she recently completed the sequel, “The Baby in the Window.” Alretha says the one and only upside to her 350-mile-a-week-commute, is that it gives her ample time to come up with story ideas. When not in bumper–to-bumper traffic she enjoys going to the movies, blogging, and spending time with her husband Roy.

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