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Just as I am : a memoir
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"In her long and extraordinary career, Cicely Tyson has not only succeeded as an actor, she has shaped the course of history." -President Barack Obama, 2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony

"Just as I Am is my truth. It is me, plain and unvarnished, with the glitter and garland set aside. In these pages, I am indeed Cicely, the actress who has been blessed to grace the stage and screen for six decades. Yet I am also the church girl who once rarely spoke a word. I am the teenager who sought solace in the verses of the old hymn for which this book is named. I am a daughter and a mother, a sister and a friend. I am an observer of human nature and the dreamer of audacious dreams. I am a woman who has hurt as immeasurably as I have loved, a child of God divinely guided by his hand. And here in my ninth decade, I am a woman who, at long last, has something meaningful to say." -Cicely Tyson

Fiction/Biography Profile
African Americans
Personal narratives
- United States
Time Period
-- 20th-21st century
Trade Reviews
Library Journal Review
In this memoir, actress Tyson (Roots) recounts her childhood in a family she experienced as simultaneously loving and abusive; reflects on her decades-long, multiple-award-winning career on stage and screen; and shares her philosophies on life, acting, health, and faith. Among other distinctions, Tyson was a pioneer in the natural hair movement, as the first actress to wear her hair natural on television. She emphasizes her belief in Black excellence, relating stories of people working hard to better their lives and those of their family members. Tyson herself dedicated her career early on to positive portrayals of Black people, especially Black women, recognizing that there were few such portrayals when her career began. She ties her experiences as a Black woman to issues of systemic racism and generational trauma, and to recent police killings of Black people. Tyson's longtime partner Miles Davis features heavily in her reminiscences. Some readers will be distressed by depictions of children's corporal punishment and by repeated use of a slur for disability and disabled people. VERDICT Recommend to readers who enjoy engaging and sassy memoirs, and those interested in learning about 20th-century Black theater, film, and television.--Monica Howell, Northwestern Health Sciences Univ. Lib., Bloomington, MN
Publishers Weekly Review
In her spirited debut memoir, actor Tyson recalls her extraordinary life, as well as the racial and gender stereotyping, movie-business prejudice, and ill-behaved men that shaped her seven-decade career. Tyson highlights her lifelong penchant for rebelling against convention and injustice, from speaking up against her straitlaced West Indian mother and her abandonment of an early marriage (an ordeal of "tedium and regret") to fighting off an attempted sexual assault by acting teacher Paul Mann. She also discusses the importance of pushing back against excessive workplace demands. ("When the show's director would not grant me the time off, I took it anyway.") The memoir dives deep into Tyson's reflections on how her performances affected audiences and fans, noting how "deeply satisfying" it was to hear from "those who approached me, tears in their eyes, to say how had touched them." She also provides an intimate glimpse into her stormy marriage to jazz maestro Miles Davis, which ended in divorce. ("I felt no need to drape words on the hanger of inevitability. The marriage had long since been over.") It's in these poignant moments that the memoir becomes a resonant meditation on the link between an actress's life and her art. This showstopping tale hits the mark. (Jan.)
Booklist Review
Cicely Tyson is a living treasure; at 96, she remains passionately outspoken about national affairs, politics, and the entertainment world. Her enthusiasm, intelligence, and wit sparkle across the pages of this engaging and lively memoir. Born in 1924 to Caribbean immigrants, Tyson rose above an imprudent early marriage to become a hardworking single mother. Spotted in a crowd and encouraged to try modeling, she poured her trademark energy and work ethic into this new career, eventually becoming an actor. Along the way, she befriended a who's who of Black talent: Sidney Poitier, Diahann Carroll, Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, Maya Angelou, and, most notably, Miles Davis, with whom she had a tempestuous and ultimately tragic on-again, off-again marriage. With steely determination and confidence, she pioneered in notable television roles, defied beauty standards by wearing her natural hair, and fought for meaty parts she was deemed "too sexy" to play. Undaunted by racism and sexism, Tyson triumphed in such iconic roles as Rebecca in Sounder, and the lead in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, confounding Hollywood stereotypes about the abilities and appeal of Black women. Whether discussing the politics of natural hair or the racial violence that led to the Black Lives Matter movement, Tyson speaks with incisive clarity, humor, and moral authority.Women in Focus: The 19th in 2020HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: After six decades of exceptional accomplishments, Tyson's first book will garner ardent attention.
Kirkus Review
An acclaimed actor recounts her eventful career. In this highly anticipated and candid memoir ("plain and unvarnished, with the glitter and garland set aside"), Tyson (b.1924)--winner of three Emmys, a Tony, an honorary Oscar, and a Presidential Medal of Freedom, among other honors--ascribes her remarkable success to luck, grit, and the hand of God. She grew up in East Harlem, the daughter of West Indian parents whose marriage ended because of her father's philandering. Her mother, a domineering presence in the young Cicely's life, worked as a housekeeper. Irate when Cicely became pregnant at age 17, her mother insisted that she marry the child's father. After two years, Tyson left her husband, patching together jobs to support herself and her daughter. A chance encounter set her on the path to modeling, which in turn led to an offer of a movie role. In 1972, she earned her first lead role, in Sounder--and her first Oscar nomination. While on tour to promote the movie, Tyson became increasingly aware of bigotry and returned home with a new sense of purpose, "saying to myself, Sister, you've got some educating to do." She notes proudly that she became the first Black woman to star in a TV drama and "the first black TV actress to reveal my hair in its bare-naked state." Besides chronicling her work in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, A Woman Called Moses, and as Kunta Kinte's mother in Roots, among other roles, Tyson lays bare the details of her tormented relationship with Miles Davis, an unrepentant womanizer and substance abuser. "He had a strong need to be cared for," writes the author, "and that need intersected with my desire to provide care." Tyson ascribes her longevity to an organic vegetarian diet and daily meditation, and she defends her reputation for being difficult: "The truth is that I insist upon respect….Even now, at 96, I teach folks not to mess with me." A forthright self-portrait of a determined woman and iconic cultural figure. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Table of Contents
Foreword A Mighty Seed    Viola Davisp. vii
Introduction This Lifep. xiii
Part 1Planted
1The Vowp. 3
2String Beanp. 10
3Church Girlp. 33
4Transitionsp. 47
5The Other Americap. 58
6Unspokenp. 76
7Ground Shiftsp. 94
8Divinely Guidedp. 108
9Shoulder Tapsp. 117
10Center Stagep. 138
Part 2Rooted
11Riverside Parkp. 163
12Going Naturalp. 186
131968p. 204
14Rebeccap. 223
15Jane Pittmanp. 241
16Endings and Beginningsp. 254
17The Ladderp. 266
18Rootsp. 275
19Thanksgiving Dayp. 299
20Threadbarep. 317
21Lesson Before Dyingp. 333
Part 3Bountiful
22A Strong Harvestp. 353
23Trip to Bountifulp. 369
24When Great Trees Fallp. 382
25Just as I Amp. 390
Acknowledgmentsp. 401
Dedicationp. 407
Indexp. 408
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