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In Eyes with Winged Thoughts, the forty-four photographs and fifty-eight poems, reflecting on his long and extraordinary life, offer a rare glimpse of his thoughts and feelings about everything from romantic love to the Iraq war and the passing of Pope John Paul II. He has done it all. Gordon Parks's life is an astonishing litany of firsts: in the 1940s he was the first African-American photographer to work for the Farm Security Administration and for Vogue and Life magazines; in the 1960s he would become the first African-American director of a major motion picture. A dominating figure in contemporary American culture, he is an artist of uncompromising vision and creativity. In 2002 Parks received the Jackie Robinson Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award and was inducted into the International Photography Hall of Fame, just the latest in a series of honors that began when he received a prestigious Julius Rosenwald Fellowship in 1941 and which now includes an Emmy, a National Medal of the Arts, and over fifty honorary doctorates. Now in his nineties, he could easily rest on his laurels, but the luminous photographs on display in Eyes with Winged Thoughts and the poems -- some meditative and lyrical, some raw with emotion about the war in Iraq and the tragedy of the tsunami -- show that he is still a true American Renaissance man.
Gordon Parks, acclaimed photographer, filmmaker, composer, and author of fiction and nonfiction, has participated in, been witness to, and documented many of the major events in the twentieth and the twenty-first centuries. Born in Fort Scott, Kansas, on November 30, 1912, he left home at age fifteen when his mother passed away. For the next twelve years, he lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota, working as a piano player, bus boy, Civilian Conservation Corpsman, and professional basketball player before taking up photography in the late 1930s and moving to Chicago. He was awarded the first Julius Rosenwald Fellowship in photography in 1942 and chose to work with Roy Stryker at the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in Washington, D. C. During World War II, he was an Office of War Information (OWI) correspondent. He photographed fashion for Vogue and Glamour before joining the staff of Life in 1949 and remained a photojournalist for the magazine until 1969. He also became famous in the late 1960s for his stories on Black revolutionaries, later incorporated into his book Born Black. He was a founder and editorial director of Essence magazine from 1970 to 1973. His film career began in 1961 when he wrote and directed a documentary, Flavio. He received an Emmy Award for another documentary, Diary of a Harlem Family, in 1968. He produced and directed Hollywood films including The Learning Tree, Shaft, Shaft's Big Score, The Super Cops, and Leadbelly. He is first and foremost a celebrated photojournalist and fine art photographer whose work, collected and exhibited worldwide, is emblematic of American culture. In A Hungry Heart, he reaches into the corridors of his memory and recounts the people and events that shaped him: from growing up poor on the Kansas prairie to withstanding the unbearably cold winters of Minnesota to living on the edge of starvation in Harlem during the Depression. He more than survived the challenges and crises of his life; he thrived and has become one of the most celebrated and diversely talented figures in American culture.
To the guys on the block, J. T. is the kid who stole the radio out of the red convertible before they could get to it. His neighbor, Mrs. Morris, declares him a first-class nuisance. His mother is bewildered -- "He's just gone bad, that's all. . . . Stealin' and lyin' and I don't know what all. " But all the sensitivity, responsibility, and care of which ten-year-old J. T. Gamble is capable emerges when he finds an old, one-eyed, badly hurt alley cat. J. T. takes on a new dimension as he lavishes all the love he is unable to express to people around him on the battered cat he has found in the junk-filled empty lot.
Photographer, writer, and composer, Gordon Parks has written a moving, true-to-life novel of growing up as a black man in this country in the 1900s. Hailed by critics and readers alike, The Learning Tree tells the extraordinary journey of a family as they struggle to understand the world around them and leave their mark a world that is better for their having been in it.
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