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Charlayne Hunter-Gault is a broadcast journalist who has served as an investigative correspondent and anchor-woman on television and radio. Best known for her twenty-year tenure with Public Broadcasting System (PBS)’s MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, Hunter-Gault has covered breaking events in the United States, the Middle East, Europe, and Africa, and she has interviewed numerous important international figures, such as former South Africa president Nelson Mandela. In 1999 Hunter-Gault became South African bureau chief for the Cable News Network (CNN). From that base, she has traveled widely in Africa to report on news events and political trends. Honored with Emmy Awards and George Foster Pea-body awards for her work in television journalism, Hunter-Gault is one of the best known African-American women broadcasters at work today.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
Charlayne Hunter-Gault was born on February 27, 1942, in Due West, South Carolina, to Charles S. Hunter, Jr., a minister and chaplain, and Althea Hunter. A gifted student, Hunter-Gault decided in high school she was going to be a journalist and applied to a number of colleges. Although she was accepted at Wayne State University in Detroit, Hunter-Gault was ”encouraged by local civil rights leaders to apply…to the University of Georgia,” according to a Kirkus Reviews contributor. As a result, in 1961 she and Hamilton Holmes became the first two black students at the University of Georgia.
She recalled what it was like to be on the front lines of desegregation in her memoir, In My Place (1992). The author begins with a pleasant account of her childhood in the Deep South (and, for a brief period, Alaska), describing school and church activities. The same Kirkus reviewer commented that Hunter-Gault’s account of facing racial prejudice there is ”remarkably generous.” Indeed, Hunter-Gault told Publishers Weekly that ”the people who attacked me didn’t know me.” The author added: ”They stood outside my dormitory and threw rocks, but it was the idea, not the person they were against.” In My Place concludes with Hunter-Gault’s graduation from college and presents her ”stirring” 1988 University of Georgia commencement speech ”as a sort of epilog,” commented Gwen Gregory in Library Journal. A contributor to Publishers Weekly considered the work a ”warmhearted, well-observed memoir” and believed ”that Hunter-Gault could write a rich sequel.”
She went to work at the New Yorker and the New York Times in the 1960s, covering the civil rights movement and urban race riots. She joined the MacNeil/Lehrer Report in 1978 as a national correspondent and anchorwoman and stayed with the PBS nightly newscast for nearly twenty years. When her duties allowed, she also served as a reporter for numerous PBS specials on human rights and on breaking political stories such as the GulfWar and the civil war in Yugoslavia. Her move to Africa in 1997 was undertaken on both a professional and personal front, as her husband, Ronald T. Gault, whom she married in 1973, had a position with a banking firm in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Reporting first for National Public Radio, and more recently for CNN, Hunter-Gault has helped to cast Afiican news reporting in a more optimistic light. Her dispatches from South Africa reveal a continent full of nations that are industrializing, improving the lot of their citizens, and making important strides in the areas of human rights and desegregation. As she noted in Essence: ”There are dynamics here [in Africa] that seem to be delivering something new not only for the continent but also for the world in the coming century.”
The journalist told Frazier Moore in the Detroit News:
I like to think of myself as a journalist who is (a) a woman, (b) black, and (c) out of a particular historical experience, and all of the above have had an impact on my values and perspective. It’s not the sort of baggage you carry from a lifetime of experience, not in the sense of a yoke or a millstone, but in the Louis Vuitton sense of baggage.
After making her home in South Africa for several years and serving as a correspondent there for both CNN and National Public Radio, Hunter-Gault wrote New News out of Africa: Uncovering Africa’s Renaissance (2006). ”The book grew out of three… lectures that I gave at Harvard University,” Hunter-Gault told Jason Zasky in an interview for Eailure Magazine Online.She found that American students had a distorted notion of Africa: ”The [audience] questions revolved around what I call the four D’s of the African apocalypse—death, disease, disaster and despair. . . . I tried to focus on things I thought were important for Americans to know about Africa.”
In New News out of Africa Hunter-Gault writes about various positive or improving aspects of life on the continent of Africa, including the progressive democracy in South Africa. She also sheds light on a changing Africa through the prism of her own experiences growing up during the civil rights movement in the United States. Writing in African Business, a contributor noted that
Hunter-Gault argues that America’s knowledge of the continent is hugely distorted by the dictum ‘if it bleeds, it leads’—in other words, only Africa’s conflicts and disasters make the news. Hunter-Gault illustrates how pervasive this editorial policy is by telling us that just three years after the democratic dispensation that saw a relatively peaceful transition to majority rule in South Africa, three U.S. broadcasters quit the country, leaving only CNN with a local bureau.
Works in Literary Context
Hunter-Gault’s experience as a television and print reporter and journalist primed her to be an authoritative author. That she chose the memoir genre as her first foray into authorship makes perfect sense. Her personal narrative is filled with interesting events as well as emotional and comtemplative moments. Returning to a journalistic style of writing for her second book also seems natural, as her subject matter, the African Renaissance of the twenty-first century, requires the kind of direct, clear-eyed style Hunter-Gault has perfected over the years.
A memoir is a book of autobiographical writing, usually shorter than a comprehensive autobiography. The memoir often tries to capture certain highlights or meaningful moments in one’s past, including a contemplation of the meaning of that event at the time of the writing of the memoir. The memoir is usually more emotional and concerned with capturing particular scenes, or a series of events, as opposed to documenting every fact of a person’s life. In My Place focuses on Hunter-Gault’s loving and supportive upbringing, her experience as being one of only two black students at the University of Georgia during the civil rights era, and ends with her commencement speech at the same university.
Journalism is the collecting, writing, editing, and presenting of news or news articles in newspapers and magazines and in radio and television broadcasts. It also includes matter written for publication in a newspaper or magazine or for broadcast. Journalistic writing is marked by its direct presentation of facts with little attempt at analysis or interpretation. Hunter-Gault’s second book, New News Out of Africa: Uncovering Africa’s Renaissance, makes use of the author’s experience reporting the news for print and television by implementing its writing style.
Works in Critical Context
Hunter-Gault’s two books are very different, yet both have been warmly received by readers and critics alike. Using her experience growing up in the South during the civil rights era for In My Place, and her firsthand observations of African progress for New News Out of Africa: Uncovering Africa’s Renaissance, shows the author’s ability to transform personal experiences into acclaimed literature.
In My Place
A Publishers Weekly contributor calls the book a ”warmhearted, well-observed memoir,” noting however that the book dwells ”a bit too much on her family history and descriptions of the southern towns where she grew up.” The reviewer also suggests that ”Hunter-Gault could write a rich sequel.” Jackie Gropman for the School Library Journal writes, ”It is … a compelling documentation of the ugly turmoil of the times. An inspiring historical journey.”
New News Out of Africa: Uncovering Africa’s Renaissance
Reviewers also praised New News Out of Africa upon its publication in 2006. Robtel Neajai Pailey on the News America Media Web site writes, ”With more than 40 years of experience in the industry, Hunter-Gault has painted a poignantly complex picture of Africa in her latest book.” Todd Steven Burroughs, writing in Black Issues Book Review, states that Hunter-Gault ”takes the reader deep into the post-apartheid era, warts and all.” In his review for the Library Journal, James Thorsen calls the book ”a well-researched, fact-filled account of recent positive changes in Africa.”
- Bond, Julian. Review of In My Place. Teachers College Record 95, no.1 (Fall 1993): 127-131.
- Brush, Silla and Eric Wills. ”Sense & Censorship.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 51, no.31 (April 8, 2005).
- Gregory, Gwen. Review of In My Place. Library Journal 117, no.17 (Oct 15, 1992): 74.
- Harris, Nora. ”Restoring Hope: Conversations on the Future of Black America.” Library Journal 122, no.17 (Oct 15, 1997): 80.
- Malveaux, Julianne. ”Reparations and Affirmative Action: What You Owe Me.” Black Issues in Higher Education 18, no.16 (Sept 27, 2001): 47.
- Ndangam, Lilian. Review of New News out of Africa: Uncovering Africa’s Renaissance. Media, Culture & Society 30, no.3 (May 2008): 432-434.
- Thorsen, James. Review of New News Out of Africa: Uncovering Africa’s Renaissance. Library Journal 131, no.11 (June 15, 2006): 87.
- ”University of Georgia Marks 40th Anniversary Of Desegregation.” Black Issues in Higher Education!!, no.23 (Jan 4, 2001): 10.
- ”University of Georgia unveils exhibit honoring Charlayne Hunter-Gault.” Black Issues in Higher Education 21, no.26 (Feb 10, 2005): 14.
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