Monday, October 20, 2014

My Next Book: "Richard Pryor: American Id"


A few weeks back, I noticed that quite a few very good film writers/Twitter pals were announcing books from a new publisher called The Critical Press. So I headed over to their website, poked around, and got very excited--because I knew I'd finally found a home for the book I've been wanting to write, trying to write, and starting to write for something like five years now, a book I was thinking about before I even knew anyone would let me write a book. And luckily for me, The Critical Press thinks it's a book worth writing as well, so they'll be publishing it next fall. It's called Richard Pryor: American Id.

I've been a Pryor fan for most of my life, even before I knew the real Pryor, when all I knew him as was the funny guy in Superman III and The Toy. (I was a kid, I didn't know any better.) But when I started listening to the albums, a good many years before I probably should have, I was hooked. I know them by heart, I've seen all the movies, I've watched and rewatched the TV shows. And I've always felt there's a bigger story there, beyond just the comic brilliance of what he was doing, a story of how Richard changed American culture--partially just by being someone who talked about hot-button issues, yet who everyone agreed was funny--and how American culture changed him, how they reflected each other. And in a strange way, it feels like Richard's story mirrors that of American culture in the mid-to-late 20th century: it's a story of discovery, of finding a voice, of breaking down barriers, and then of retreating into safety and nostalgia. 

So with those ideas in mind, the book will be neither a conventional biography (there's plenty of those out there, and more are coming) nor a complete catalogue of the work (like my Woody Allen book). Instead, in a style somewhat inspired by Greil Marcus's books on Van Morrison and the Doors, I'll tackle Pryor through a handful of essays, each of them examining a recurring theme, motif, or experience within his work, via one or a couple of a handful of stand-up routines, or film performances, or TV apperances. (For example, rather than running through his battles with substance abuse, we'll look at his performances as addicts in Lady Sings the Blues, in the "Wino Vs. Junkie" routine on That Nigger's Crazy, as "Motif the Junikie" in Richard Pryor: Here and Now, and in a remarkable sketch on Lilty Tomlin's special Lily. That kinda thing.) If you'd like an idea of what it will be like, here's a piece I ran at Flavorwire, based on an earlier version of the prologue. 

So I'll be working on the book this fall and winter, and The Critical Press is aiming to release it next fall--just in time, wouldn't ya know it, to coincide with Lee Daniels' Pryor biopic. They'll release it both in physical and digital format, for all you Kindle-rs out there. And it is my hope that it will be a book worthy of its rich subject. It's the book I've been wanting to write for a very long time, and I look forward to sharing it with you.