The Literary Hill - April 2017

The Gentleman from Ohio

Louis Stokes shined shoes in Depression-era Cleveland to help supplement his mother’s income as a maid. “We were poor as poor and we knew it,” he writes. But his mother encouraged him and his brother Carl to “get something in your head. Be somebody!” And they did.

Carl became the first black mayor of a major American city, and Louis went on to become a criminal defense lawyer and a representative in the US Congress, where he served for 30 years. As he relates in his posthumous autobiography, “The Gentleman from Ohio,” Louis Stokes was one of only six African-Americans when he was elected to the House. As part of an “historic cohort,” he felt that he had not only a mandate to serve his district, but also “an obligation to reach out and represent black people wherever they were.”

That duty defined his long and distinguished career. As a lawyer he addressed school inequality and police brutality and argued the case before the US Supreme Court that established rules for stop-and-frisk procedures. In the Congress he became the first black member of the powerful Appropriations Committee, chairing a subcommittee where he tackled racial disparities in healthcare.

He also strove to maintain respectful and collegial relationships with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. That changed with the election of Newt Gingrich as speaker of the House, whose leadership ushered in a “poisonous” atmosphere that ended an era of “functional bipartisanship.” No longer wanting to “work in a place where ill will and anger were the order of the day,” Representative Stokes retired in 1999.

On his final day in the House, members were still lined up to speak after three hours of tributes to him and his service. “As I walked out the door for the last time,” he writes, “I thought, what a true honor this has been.”

Louis Stokes died in 2015 at age 90, just days after finishing work on “The Gentleman from Ohio.” His daughter Lori, who grew up in DC, is an award-winning journalist who got her start at WJLA-TV. She is now a news anchor for WABC in New York City but will return to DC to talk about her father and his book at the BookFest.

A World of Moonshine

The Irish call it potcheen. The Russians guzzle samogon. In Kenya it’s called chang’aa (translation: “Kill me quickly”). And in parts of this country you can buy yourself a jug of white lightning (if you know the right people). Whatever you call it, it’s an illegally produced alcoholic spirit intended to get you drunk. Fast.

In “Moonshine: A Global History” author Kevin R. Kosar tries to get to the bottom of the liquor’s “enduring allure.” He discovers that the answer varies from culture to culture, whether it’s “a way to thumb one’s nose at government taxes and regulation,” a rebellious thrill, or simply “a cheap way to get severely intoxicated.”

For some, the making of moonshine represents a technological challenge, and Kosar describes the process, which can result in being blown up, overcome by gases, or sprayed with scalding vapors. Never mind that drinking the finished product can make you sick, blind, or dead.

Despite the risks, however, moonshine has been a pervasive part of human societies for thousands of years, with government revenuers always struggling to keep up. It holds a special place in America’s cultural ethos, from Prohibition gangsters to the Dukes of Hazzard. Kosar covers it all, right up to the present day when boutique distilleries are churning out “haute-hillbilly” craft spirits.

Beautifully illustrated with artwork and photographs, this slim volume is almost too elegant for its earthy subject matter. In smooth, lively prose, Kosar presents a wealth of fascinating facts, history, and anecdotes – and he even includes recipes. A Moonshine Mojito, anyone?

Kevin Kosar is also the author of “Whiskey: A Global History” and has written and edited for nearly 20 years. Come meet him at the BookFest!

Baseball for Girls

When his two girls were younger, Michael Turner couldn’t find any children’s picture books that connected dads, daughters, and baseball – so he wrote his own. The result is “Baseball Is Back,” a delightful storybook that sets out the rules of the game in rhyme.

He evokes the sights and smells of the ballpark (popcorn!), shares some personal memories, and even works in Yogi Berra, Willie Mays, and a whole teamful of famous players. Warm, colorful illustrations lend spirit and whimsy to the action.

Turner is clearly a huge fan of baseball, but he loves his daughters even more. “Here are some memories and rules of the game,” he writes. “Perhaps you will love it like me – just the same. / And maybe you won’t or maybe you will. / I will love you the same, yes, I’ll love you still.”

Michael Turneris a Navy veteran and foreign affairs professional who lives on the Hill with his wife and three kids, who all love going to baseball games. Catch him at the BookFest on May 7.

On the Hill in April

East City Bookshophosts the ECB Fiction Book Club, discussing “Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline, April 3, 6:30 p.m.; Ruthanna Emrys, author of “Winter Tide,” April 5, 6:30 p.m.; Thomas Dilworth, author of “David Jones,” April 12, 6:30 p.m.; Reality Literature, discussing “March: Book 1,” by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, April 26, 6:30 p.m.; Ian Johnson, author of “The Souls of China,” April 17, 6:30 p.m.; Meredith Wadman, author of “The Vaccine Race,” April 21, 6:30 p.m.; and East City Bookshop’s One-Year Anniversary and Independent Bookstore Day, April 29, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.

Folger Shakespeare Library presents “The Displaced,” a PEN/Faulkner Fiction reading with authors Laila Lalami, Luis Urrea, and Shobha Rao, April 7, 7:30 p.m.; the O.B. Hardison Poetry Board reading with Jane Hirshfield, April 17, 7:30 p.m.; the Shakespeare’s Birthday Open House (free), April 23, 12-4 p.m.; and the Shakespeare’s Birthday Lecture with Michael Witmore on “The Wonder of Will” (free), April 24, 7 p.m. Tickets and information at 202-544-7077 or

The Hill Center presents “Life of a Poet” with Dana Levin and moderator Ron Charles, editor of The Washington Post’s Book World, April 4, 7 p.m.; and a “Talk of the Hill with Bill Press” with Dr. Carla Hayden, the newly appointed Librarian of Congress, April 11, 7 p.m. Free but register at or 202-549-4172.

The Library of Congresspresents two Books and Beyond readings with Larrie D. Ferreiro, author of “Brothers at Arms: American Independence and Men of France and Spain Who Saved It,” April 11, noon, and Jonathan White, author of “The Science and Spirit of the Ocean,” April 20, noon; ”Fiction, Faith, and the Imagination,” a panel discussion with authors/scholars Geraldine Books, Paul Harding, Steven Knapp, Alan Lightman, and 2016 Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction winner Marilynne Robinson, April 3, 7 p.m.; and “Conversations with African Poets and Writers” with South African author and 2016 Caine Prize winner Lidudumalingani Mqombothi, April 12, noon.

Smithsonian Associates’ four-part series “Reading the Gilded Age Authors” continues with Theodore Dreiser’s “Sister Carrie,” April 10, 6:45 p.m.; and offers “Jane Austen: From the Parlor to Politics,” with scholar Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger, April 27, 6:45 p.m.

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