Barbara Jordan Essay - Critical Context

Critical Context

When Barbara Jordan appeared in 1978, Hearon had a number of novels to her credit and had been a free-lance writer and teacher since 1966. Jordan had just left her political career to become a professor, with no published work to her name. The autobiography garnered immediate attention because of Jordan’s political celebrity during the 1970’s.

Most reviewers responded first and foremost to the book’s format, and their opinions were far from unanimous. William Schenck in Library Journal found the combination of first-person and third-person narrative to be ineffective and recommended the book only for academic libraries. The New York Times Book Review, on the other hand, liked the interweaving of voices and appreciated Hearon’s empathetic touches. In Ms. magazine, Charlayne Hunter-Gault found the device confusing, and Kate Waters in School Library Journal believed that the book was directionless and self-laudatory. In the Journal of Southern History, however, Alton Hornsby, Jr., admired the book’s simple, poetical style.

A number of critics were surprised at the candor that they found in the autobiography, given Jordan’s reputation for aloofness and privacy. Also echoing through the reviews was an awareness of the dichotomy between the public, highly symbolic Barbara Jordan and the often uncertain, ambivalent, and even bitter individual of more private moments. While the authors’ honesty was appreciated, reviewers voiced skepticism about the possible political motivations behind the autobiography. For example, Hornsby considered their approach to civil rights history simplistic and wrote that the volume was of limited value to scholars. Most of the reviewers acknowledged the inspirational power of Jordan’s story, especially for young readers, but wanted more facts and less feeling. Waters explicitly recommended waiting for a biography that would give more and truer insight into an undeniably unique public figure.