What's James Gavin reading?

Published April 23, 2013


James Gavin

Gavin, 49, first interviewed Lena Horne in 1994 for a New York Times article. "Lena had been a lifelong fascination for me. She was 77, and she was on the threshold of her final comeback when I got to talk to her. It was a two-hour interview, and I felt she was very truthful. It was a big deal for me,'' says Gavin. Ten years later, the freelance journalist went back to his interview notes and conducted dozens of interviews to write Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne. On Thursday at the Straz Center in Tampa, while Mary Wilson of the Supremes performs the music, Gavin will present Stormy Weather: The Lena Horne Project as narrator and host. A Fordham graduate, Gavin is working on a Peggy Lee biography.

What's on your nightstand?

Too Good to Be True by Benjamin Anastas. It's a "there but for the grace of God" book. It's a story of his struggle that could happen to any of us. It's written with grace and not without humor. I've got Fortune in My Eyes: A Memoir of Broadway Glamour, Social Justice, and Political Passion by David Rothenberg. David had a radio show in New York, always on the cutting edge on serious underground discussion and well known for theater work. He has been a longtime advocate for prisoner rights. This is a memoir of a fiercely principled social crusader. I've got Darkest America: Black Minstrelsy from Slavery to Hip-Hop by Yuval Taylor, Jake Austen and Mel Watkins. This is not about Eddie Cantor and donning blackface. This is about black entertainers who chose to depict themselves as stereotypes. They are reviled today as having been traitors to the cause, but at that time there were reasons why they did it. The fourth one is Emotional Memoirs and Short Stories, by Lani Hall Alpert, Herb Alpert's wife.

You're not reading any fiction, but do you have a favorite novel?

I'd have to say James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room. I also want to mention two books that are always with me. Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory. It makes me cry every Christmas. It has the childlike quality and the simplicity of a children's story, but it's reflecting back on a heartbreaking incident in his childhood. And the other one is Mapplethorpe: A Biography by Patricia Morrisroe. It is tough but not mean. It is riveting. It has thread that starts in first paragraph and ends in last paragraph. This is the story of a very controversial artist, and the author shows a mastery of the S&M scene, the New York scene, of gay New York in the 1970s. She not only brings Robert Mapplethorpe to life but she takes a rather unsympathetic character and humanizes him.

Times staff writer Piper Castillo can be reached at