As a budding "black journalista," UCLA alumna Erin Aubry Kaplan couldn't believe her luck when the Los Angeles Times asked her to cover South Central Los Angeles after the 1992 riots.
Her challenge: to compensate for what her sources saw as decades of bad press by "The L.A. Crimes," as they referred to her new employer.
"I saw the battle lines drawn not so much between positive and negative portrayals of black folks but between complete and incomplete," the Inglewood native recalls.
The approach paid off, eventually landing her a columnist slot at the city's largest alternative newspaper, the LA Weekly, during the golden age of long-form journalism. From 1997 to 2005, Kaplan delighted readers with her intensely personal takes on post–civil rights America.
Take "The Butt." Perhaps Kaplan's best known article, it explores a black woman's relationship with her most distinctive, um, asset.
"Unlike hair and skin, the butt is stubborn, immutable — it can't be hot-combed or straightened or bleached into submission," she wrote. "It does not assimilate; it never took a slave name."
With Kaplan's brand of journalism as threatened by the Internet as the telephone book, she now writes fiction. But her singular voice sings again in a new collection of highlights from her reporting career.
"Black Talk, Blue Thoughts, and Walking the Color Line: Dispatches From a Black Journalista" comes from the Northeastern Library of Black Literature, a book series edited for the past 29 years by Kaplan's mentor, Richard Yarborough, a UCLA associate professor of English.
Two readings are scheduled on campus during October.
Always unflinching, Kaplan discusses her own battle with depression and misgivings about motherhood. She describes how she came to marry a white high school teacher after looking into complaints of racism on the part of some African American parents. In one of the collection's four new essays, she even prods one of the African American community's current sore spots: disappointment with Barack Obama's presidency.
The book is dedicated to Kaplan's father, Larry Aubry, a longtime activist and columnist for the Los Angeles Sentinel, an African American newspaper.
"I try in small and daily ways to channel (James) Baldwin and (Martin Luther) King, and when that feels impossible, I try to channel my father ... who still labors tirelessly and unapologetically for racial justice that in some ways feels less attainable now than it did forty years ago," Kaplan writes.
UCLA Library Associates will roll out the welcome mat for Kaplan on Tuesday, Oct. 18, at 4 p.m. at the Charles E. Young Research Library. For information, or to R.S.V.P., visit www.library.ucla.edu/development/1658.cfm. UCLA's Bunche Center for African American Studies follows, on Thursday, Oct. 20, at noon in 135 Haines Hall.
For information on additional readings of "Black Talk, Blue Thoughts, and Walking the Color Line," visit www.erinaubrykaplan.net.