Cover Image: The Essential Dick Gregory

The Essential Dick Gregory

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Member Reviews

Early on in this book I wondered why it was being published: I didn't see the value in it. I'm glad I continued on because I realized, that through Dick Gregory's maturity and life experience, his observations became more sharp and profound over the years. This book would be more beneficial to young, Black men and men who have a lack of strong, male figures. 
This collection of essays and interviews covers Gregory's early life, living in poverty and how having a strong, mother-figure got their large family through it. It is interesting to learn how he built his craft as a comedian. This would benefit any person interested in becoming a comedian because Gregory goes in depth about where he gets material, which audience the material would work best on, etc. There are not many books that talk about this and he makes intelligent observations about societal norms and learning people. 
Then there is the activism. He was not so caught up in being a celebrity comedian that he ignored the need for an activist such as himself to help his people. In this day in age, where scrutiny is on an innumerical level, with the insertion of social media, so many celebrities struggle with speaking for a cause or being silent and judged for their silence or their opinion. Gregory chose to speak up, but also speak up and raise sensible points and arguments that helped those who had no voice or a weak one. He was quite a man who should be celebrated and never forgotten.
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This gathering of the words of Dick Gregory is pulled together from his books, interviews, lectures, and performances. He candidly answered questions about his childhood, his rise to prominence in the field of comedy, his involvement in civil rights, and other topics. Those details are organized into three sections in the book - Body, Mind, and Spirit. 

Readers will find themselves caught up in descriptions of walking to school, performing on the stage of a nightclub, or addressing groups of protesters ready to march for voting rights or other causes. Gregory talks about his visits to Mississippi after the death of Medgar Evers, testifying before Congressional members about discrimination in performing arts, or his involvement in efforts to end apartheid. 

I don't remember hearing about Dick Gregory when I was growing up, but I recognize many of the influences he mentions - Redd Foxx, Nipsey Russell, Amos and Andy. Perhaps it was because he was on the nightclub circuit rather than other venues that I did not hear of him until  I was an adult. And with his speeches and participation in protests and demonstrations, I have never seen him mentioned in accounts of those events. 

For those like me who were not cognizant of his speeches, protests, and even hunger strikes, this book covers the span of a remarkable life in the man's own words. Just released October 11, this is an eye-opening compilation and a fascinating book.
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The Essential Dick Gregory personally taught me a lot about a fascinating and innovative talent worthy of the material. Gregory's career starting at a time when that was a difficult journey for those chasing the dream was a tough task, but his story shows the passion for his craft and groundbreaking accomplishments. This book was a great way to introduce Gregory and all that went into his life.
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The Essential Dick Gregory is an absolute gem, combining various works of his to tell his life story as well as his ideas and beliefs. A remarkable man in his own words.

While the book is organized in a rough thematic form, it is also largely chronological, so it is as much a memoir as it is a collection of his work. What makes this especially strong is that the excerpts and complete shorter works are from various periods of his life. While other memoirs generally consist of a person reflecting and, to a large extent, smoothing the rough edges of their life, these are Gregory's words at those moments of time or at least much closer to them.

I'm not sure he would have wanted to "smooth" his story even if he had written this as a single work, part of what is so amazing about him was his ability to grasp so much even in the moment. My memories of him are largely from TV when I was young and a couple of albums. Later I became aware of the breadth of his activism through interviews and yet more reading.

One of the many things in the book that speak to our current environment as much as it did at the time (1973, in a monologue about Watergate): "anytime you get people that's in control of a nation, any nation, that talk about law and order and never talk about justice, there is a Watergate somewhere close by." He recognized then that "law and order" is a dog whistle, and under the recent orange menace the dogs came out of the darkness and are trying to destroy what democracy we do have.

I would highly recommend this to those who like memoirs as well as those who like to read about truly inspiring people. Gregory almost always saw things from a very considered and intentional perspective. Will you agree, from this much later date, with everything he said? Probably not. But you will be hard pressed to find any kind of malice in his opinions.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.
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