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Gina Berriault Deserves Her Delayed Literary Fame

Book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews Gina Berriault's new collection of short stories "Women in their Beds."


Other segments from the episode on June 18, 1997

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 18, 1997: Interview with Claudia Roden; Review of Gina Berriault's book "Women in Their Beds"; Interview with Bill Jenkins; Review of Paul McCartney's album "Flaming…


Date: JUNE 18, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 061801np.217
Head: Claudia Roden
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

As food writer Claudia Roden says, every cuisine tells a story. In her new book, she traces the history of Jewish food, and in doing so she tells the larger story of the Jewish diaspora -- the story of an uprooted, migrating people. Her book, "The Book of Jewish Food," also includes 800 kosher recipes collected over her 15 years of travels.

Most of the food that Americans think of as Jewish food was brought here by the Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and Russia, the people known as Ashkenazi Jews. Roden is a Sephardi Jew, that is, her ancestors were among the Jews exiled from Spain the late 1400s who eventually settled in the Middle East.

She grew up in Cairo. She was a teenager in 1956, when Israel and Egypt went to war and her family emigrated to Europe. In Egypt, she grew up without the foods I grew up thinking of as Jewish food, like bagels, lox, chicken soup, borscht, blintzes, potato pancakes, and pickles -- foods that were Eastern European.

Yes, they were. They were Eastern European and they also have a certain character in that they developed first in ghettos and they were the ghettos of Germany -- medieval Germany. A lot of the dishes that are very distinctively Jewish that are eaten, for instance, on the Sabbath, on Friday night, are the ones that actually came from medieval Germany, like hallah (ph) bread is a southern German bread and gefilte fish (ph) and various other things.

But as the Jews moved on -- because they were being persecuted in Germany at that time; they moved on to Poland and then to Russia -- their experience was not anymore of living in ghettos, but still living in Jewish villages. And very, very often, it was a hard, hard life because the Jews weren't allowed to go into various professions.

And they -- a lot of them made a very poor living. And so in a way, the kind of food that is associated with Eastern European Jews is, in a certain way, the poor food of those countries.

GROSS: You trace the foods of the two main branches of Jewish culture: the Sephardic Jews who settled in the Middle East and the Mediterranean after getting expelled from Spain; and the Ashkenazi Jews -- the Jews who lived in Europe, Eastern Europe -- Russia. What do you think are the main differences in the cuisine between the Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews?

RODEN: Well, first there is the question of climate and soil, and the Jews of Eastern Europe were really in a cold climate. They were far from the sea. They were near the rivers, so they had freshwater fish, where the others, the Sephardic Jews, had sea -- sea-fish or saltwater fish. Also, the Ashkenazi Jews had very few vegetables -- they had carrots, potatoes, cabbage, cucumber. Some have very little compared to what the Sephardi had.

GROSS: When I was growing up, I thought of Jewish food as being bagels and lox and knishes (ph) and borscht and chicken soup, potato laetkes (ph) -- and I remember the first time -- I had a friend who went to a Jewish restaurant and he told me he ate "baba gnush." And I said: "What? I've never heard of that." I figured, oh, he just doesn't know how to pronounce the word "knish."

But you know, there's really two different kinds of Jewish foods. You grew up in both worlds, so -- until you were about 15, you lived in Egypt and then you moved to England. What was the first -- what was it like for you the first time you really encountered Ashkenazi food?

RODEN: Well, we didn't think of it as Jewish at all. We had hardly ever known it. It seemed sort of funny to think that that was Jewish, because the Jewish food we knew was quite, quite different. But actually, there isn't just one kind of Sephardi food. There's so many. And in a way, this is why my book became so big, is because I kept discovering.

There was the food of the Jews of Turkey and the food of the Jews of India. And just the Jews of Italy, there's different foods in the different towns. And somehow, in a way, this is why it became partly a history book, because just to disentangle and to understand why they were different.

But it became a bit like a jigsaw puzzle because if you looked at the history of the Jews in Italy, you would understand why the Jewish food of Rome, for instance, is really archaic Sicilian, because you know, you find out that 45,000 Jews left Sicily in 1492, because Sicily was Spanish and they were banished from Sicily and they went to Rome.

And so that is why the food is Sicilian in Rome, and they call it Jewish, but it's ancient Sicilian.

GROSS: Well, you know, one of the things I really like about your book is all the history it tells of food and of the Jewish people. Let me take a really -- a common food that's become an American staple now, the bagel, and ask you to trace the history of it for us, and its early symbolic significance.

RODEN: Well, well -- it's another bread that actually was born in Germany, or rather it came to be known as Jewish in Poland, and it became the Jewish everyday bread. The Jewish Sabbath bread and festive bread was hallah, and the bagel was the everyday bread. And it was the bread that people would sell in the street.

I have found several -- many, many photographs of children and men and women selling bagels, either hanging on a stick or in a basket. There are -- people give it all kinds of significance, but the fact that it is round and that's a ring and it never ends -- it has to do something with life.

So there are a few interpretations to it. But basically, it represents everyday life.

GROSS: And the circle, to some people, represented the continuity of life.


GROSS: You write that in the shetl, in the Jewish ghettos in Eastern Europe, most of the food was nondescript in color and unappealing to the eye; there was little effort at presentation. The main thing was that it should be very hot.

RODEN: Yes, I think somehow I'm afraid to say -- I'm always being criticized about that -- but in Eastern Europe, I'm afraid to say, because nowadays, food is very important to the Ashkenazi. They don't like to hear that maybe once upon a time it wasn't the most important thing. But it wasn't.

Apart from the state of hardship and poverty, it wasn't a very sensuous communities, because somehow they were more ascetic than the Sephardim. If I compare the Sephardim even in the past, and the readings of the Sephardim, they were always talking about pleasure and about the senses and about smell and about the good life and good eating.

People like Mimonides (ph) were always going on about how you have -- eating together is the greatest pleasure and eating in company, being happy, and eating good food that tastes well -- has to be -- the taste was all-important.

Whereas the Ashkenazim, on the whole, they were always saying: food doesn't matter. You really eat to serve God, because it was in a way much more centered on religion than on food.

GROSS: You write that the New York delicatessen was really the first place where Jewish food was visible outside of the Jewish home. What does the New York deli represent in the development of Jewish food?

RODEN: Well, somehow, because it is when the first immigrants arrived, and mainly they were men, they -- their wives were left behind until they found work. They didn't have time to cook.

And so the Jewish housewife did have to sell food to the men who were there on their own, because it had to be kosher. And so, somehow, some of these housewives, they opened what became the first delis.

GROSS: It was very early take-out.

RODEN: Yes. And some of the things were things that would keep, and that's why the pickled cucumbers and the salt-beef, you call it corned beef and other things, too.

GROSS: My guest is Claudia Roden. She's the author of the book The Book of Jewish Food. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

If you're just joining us, my guest is Claudia Roden, author of the book The Book of Jewish Food.

You grew up in Egypt. Did you celebrate the Sabbath?

RODEN: Well, we did in a way. We were quite -- we weren't Orthodox. The community on the whole wasn't Orthodox, but we still went to the synagogue all the time and we had all the festivities and we had the Sabbath and we visited relatives, somehow, because it was pleasure more than anything else.

GROSS: Were there certain foods that you prepared on the Sabbath?

RODEN: Well, all kinds of food, but my mother and perhaps several women in my family, they liked to do chicken dish with chickpeas sometimes, but it was a chicken colsefrito (ph) with lemon and tamarick (ph), and beside it she would have, for instance, broad beans and artichokes. That was something that even when we lived in Britain, she continued to cook that almost every Friday night.

GROSS: One of the places you visited for your book The Book of Jewish Food is Israel, and you write a little bit about how the food in Israel has been changing. You say that when some of the early Jewish pioneers came to Israel from the Eastern European countries, that they wanted to leave a lot of the old world behind, including the food, and they didn't want to eat the blintzes and the gefilte fish and...

RODEN: Well, in some ways, the food wasn't appropriate for the weather either, because somehow the kind of foods -- I mean, vegetables -- that you find in Israel and because of the heat, some of the food was too heavy anyhow.

But yes, they did -- the new pioneers wanted to start a new world and they were new people eating new food. They wanted to put behind everything that reminded them of persecution and of the old lives they used to have. And certainly now, it is becoming -- all that food which they had discarded early on -- is back in fashion in a very big way.

And you find restaurants where they say "Jewish food," and yes, it is the charlant (ph) and the blintzes. Actually, blintzes are wonderful, I think, that anytime I would eat blintzes. That -- but somehow, in a way, it's become again like the soul food...

GROSS: Right.

RODEN: ... is that.

GROSS: So, what kind of mix of foods do you find in Israel now?

RODEN: Well, I think just lately, in the last few years, there's been really an incredibly great change, in that you do find very good restaurants with very good food.

And of course, there is -- one of the difficulties is that the food that somehow is now quite popular in America and England, like cous cous or Moroccan tajins (ph) -- in Israel, it is their "poor" food. And they, in a way, look down on it.

So no grand restaurant will pick it up and make it into something good, as it could be. But I think now a lot of restaurants are called "Mediterranean." Mediterranean means all kinds of things, and certainly a lot of the chefs are drawing on their culture, because I think it's very difficult, in a way, for them to know what they should be cooking.

It's a bit like America, I suppose, with all the different cuisines there, that they can draw from, what to choose -- what should be their identity?

But I think they're also trying to find something like: what is native Israel? And some of the things they are finding, for instance, are things that are in the Bible. If an ingredient is in the Bible, in a way, it has a justification.

But also, they are drawing in their old cultures, and I think even if they're not consciously trying to find a cuisine, something is developing and it's developing very often without them wanting it to. Because a lot of the things they would have looked down upon, because their former culture that's poor or ignorant or backwards -- those things, in a way, are the things that have become everyday foods or street foods or fast foods that everybody wants to eat anyhow.

So, things have emerged that are becoming the culture of Israel.

GROSS: What recipes do you still prepare that your mother used to make when you were a child? Any?

RODEN: Yes, there are some. For instance, there's a chocolate cake, and -- which is a Jewish Sephardi chocolate cake, which is made just with chocolate, eggs, and almonds, and no butter.

And it is the cake that I've been doing almost every time it's somebody's birthday or any event. We just go on and on doing that. And somehow, it was a Passover cake in Egypt, and this is one of them.

But there's also a lot of things that somehow doing what your mother used to do brings back your memories of your parents. And in fact, that is what I've found -- was the power of Jewish food -- is that when I -- I travel then -- I saw people doing very, very intricate foods, some of them mad.

I would say: how can you? This young woman with three children -- how can she go and stuff all these tiny vegetables, put them in a pot, cook them for hours? I would ask her: you know, have you always done this? And she said: "well, when my mother died, I decided I have to take over."

And in a way, the Jews have this as their way of remembering their ancestry. And in a way, their food is there as their -- as a symbol of their roots, of who they are. It's part of the continuity of their culture because they've moved; because they've been nomads. I think more than anyone else, they want to keep up their food.

It's a bit like immigrants, I suppose. Italian immigrants also want to keep up their food. The Jews do so in an extraordinary way, I've found -- in a way where you would think they would give up on it a long time ago, but no, they do want to keep it up.

GROSS: I want to thank you very much for talking with us, Claudia Roden.

RODEN: Well, thank you so much for speaking to me.

GROSS: Claudia Roden is the author of The Book of Jewish Food.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Claudia Roden
High: Food writer Claudia Roden. She's the winner of Italy's most prestigious food prizes and the winner of five Glenfiddich prizes. Her book "Mediterranean Cookery" was published in conjunction with her BBC television series. Her new book is "The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey From Samarkand to New York with More than 800 Ashkenazi and Sephardi Recipes."
Spec: Books; Food; People; Jews; Europe; Eastern Europe; Italy
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright (c) 1997 National Public Radio, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. under license from National Public Radio, Inc. Formatting copyright (c) 1997 Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission. For further information please contact NPR's Business Affairs at (202) 414-2954
End-Story: Claudia Roden
Date: JUNE 18, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 061802np.217
Head: Women in Their Beds
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:25

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Gina Berriault has been writing novels, non-fiction, and short stories for over four decades, but she's become a so-called "overnight sensation" during the past year because of her short story collection "Women in their Beds."

Book critic Maureen Corrigan says Berriault fully deserves her delayed literary fame.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: Summer is my time to catch up with some books that I simply couldn't squeeze in during the dark, dense months of winter. At the top of that list is Gina Berriault's acclaimed short story collection Women in their Beds.

Since its hardback publication last spring, Berriault's book has swept up the PEN Faulkner Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Ray (ph) Award for the short story.

I'm glad, though, that I avoided the crush and waited 'til now to read Women in their Beds, which has recently come out in paperback. These short stories demand to be read slowly. Berriault sketches out rich, often anguished lives in a few brief sentences. It takes hours for the intensity of her words to burn off.

Berriault's characters are sad-sacks and wanderers, the sick and the mistaken -- in short, the emotionally wretched of the earth. But each of them are so distinct, marked by an odd nose or a specialized taste in reading; a history of radical politics or a legacy of betrayal, that they wouldn't recognize themselves as belonging to the same sorry club.

There's a longshoreman with a gambling problem here; a grief-stricken amateur astronomer; and a Philip Roth-type writer who embarks on a self-serving quest in search of a Thomas Pynchon-type recluse.

Berriault is drawn to difficult types. Case in point: in "Zenobia" (ph), she pays homage to Edith Wharton's novella "Ethan Frome." But as the title indicates, Berriault reviews the famous doomed love story from the point of view of Ethan's sour wife, Zenobia.

The glory of these stories are those astonishing moments when Berriault vacuum-packs amorphous states of feeling into one or two elegant sentences. In the story entitled "Who Is It Can Tell Me Who I Am?," librarian Alberto Perrera (ph) has an encounter with a poetry-loving homeless man that causes him to reflect on his own intelligence.

Perrera realizes that he's always felt intellectually superior because he could engage in the jesting the smart ones enjoy when they're in the presence of those they figure are not so smart. He could engage in that jovial thievery, that light-fingered, light-headed trivializing of another person's tragic truth.

In my favorite story, "Stolen Pleasures," Berriault elusively traces a working-class family's struggles throughout the Depression and World War II. One daughter, named Fleur (ph), loves music and tries to faithfully practice on her old upright piano after dinner.

But her father, for reasons of wartime economy and emotional stinginess, always turns out the lights at half-past-nine. As her father denied her the light to learn something by, Berriault comments, Fleur began to deny it to herself.

Long after the war, Fleur joins her more adventurous sister, Delia, in San Francisco. The two try to fill empty weekends by wandering into free museums and book stores. Fleur, Berriault says, soon wearied of her incomprehension of so many objects of value.

Museum guards and sales clerks were suspicious of the two sisters, who looked abashed by their own selves -- like thieves who had just stolen something from somewhere else.

Berriault's observations about what learned unworthiness looks and feels like are so exact, they're wince-making. Except for a few awkward attempts at absurdist humor, there's not a false or prefabricated passage in this collection.

For such a melancholy bunch of stories, Women in their Beds winds up being an exhilarating read. Almost every sentence packs the giddy wallop of the well-chosen word.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She reviewed Gina Berriault's new collection of short stories, "Women in their Beds."

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Maureen Corrigan, Washington, DC; Terry Gross, Philadelphia
High: Book Critic Maureen Corrigan reviews Gina Berriault's new collection of short stories "Women in their Beds." It is published by Counterpoint.
Spec: Books; Women; Authors; Gina Berriault
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright (c) 1997 National Public Radio, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. under license from National Public Radio, Inc. Formatting copyright (c) 1997 Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission. For further information please contact NPR's Business Affairs at (202) 414-2954
End-Story: Women in Their Beds
Date: JUNE 18, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 061803np.217
Head: Bill Jenkins
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:30

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

President Clinton is considering offering a national apology to African-Americans for slavery. He recently offered an apology for the Tuskegee experiment, in which a group of poor black men from Alabama unknowingly participated in an experiment to study the effects of untreated syphilis in black men. These men were monitored by federal doctors, but were never offered treatment, even after the development of antibiotics.

My guest Bill Jenkins is an African-American epidemiologist. He tried to stop the experiment back in 1969 when he first found out about it. At the time, he was a statistician at the National Center for Health Statistics in Washington.

Now, he directs the Center for Disease Control's program to treat the remaining survivors of the Tuskegee experiment and their families. This program is a result of an out-of-court settlement in a lawsuit filed by participants in the study.

The Tuskegee experiment was begun in 1942 and halted 40 years later, after it was exposed in a newspaper article. Three years before the termination, Jenkins tried to stop the experiment by writing about it in a newsletter.

BILL JENKINS, EPIDEMIOLOGIST, THE CENTER FOR DISEASE CONTROL: The newsletter was called "The Drum," and it was published by black employees at HEW at the time, and distributed primarily to HEW employees at the time. And The Drum tended to use '60s language about racism and such, and tended to -- it was not an in-depth analysis of the ethics of this study.

GROSS: You mean, you used a lot of rhetoric?

JENKINS: It used a lot of '60s rhetoric.

GROSS: Yeah.

JENKINS: You know. What I tell my students is that was my "black period."

GROSS: So do you think that the rhetoric diminished the impact the article could have had, because people were dismissing it as rhetoric instead of seeing the cold facts?

JENKINS: That could have been it. That could have been it. Actually, when you are young and you see something, even if it took you weeks to understand it, once you understand it, you think everybody else should immediately understand it.

GROSS: How true.

JENKINS: We were just very naive. We -- if I had to do it all over again, I know now that I would write a news release so that it makes it easier for the newspaper reporter to write the article. What we thought was that you could send 36 scientific articles to a newspaper reporter and they would read them and understand. I know better now, but I didn't know that then.

GROSS: After you published something in the newsletter and then sent reprints of the article to doctors and...

JENKINS: And newspapers.

GROSS: ... weren't getting any reaction. To newspapers, OK.

JENKINS: Yeah, yeah.

GROSS: But you weren't getting a reaction -- what did you do after that?

JENKINS: Well, we talked a lot about what some of the next steps were, and talked around the department about it. In the meantime, we found out that the local medical society in the area had supported the position of the agency that it was an ethical study and that it should continue.

And so, here we were, very young, you know -- people saw us as militants saying that the study was not appropriate. But physicians who worked with these patients, most of whom were black, were supporting the study. And we were just stopped dead in our tracks.

GROSS: What did the African-American doctors hope the Tuskegee experiment was going to accomplish?

JENKINS: Well, I think that they wanted to support the white government physicians who had asked for their support, and this was a normal response within the medical community -- that physicians tend to support each other.

They wanted to support a Tuskegee Institute which appeared to be supporting the study, and you also have to remember, this was 1969 in the South in Alabama, and the request of a government official held a great deal of weight during this time, especially a white government official.

GROSS: And it took three years after your article for the study to actually be stopped. Your article, basically, is it fair to say it had no impact?

JENKINS: Yes, I think you could safely say that. I think that once the medical community supported continuing the study -- I remember us sitting there feeling like we'd sort of been kicked in the stomach, kind of.

And the decision of the group was that we needed to move on to other pressing issues. There was a letter we'd gotten a hold of in which someone wanted to set up a program to test African-American males entering Job Corps programs to assess their level of violence -- potential violence.

And if they didn't pass these -- this exam, they would be sent to a training camp. And if they still didn't pass this exam, they would be sent to a controlled environment, I think, or a secured environment, is what it was called.

And so, there were other issues that were going on that we then went on to try to end the attempt to establish these camps for potentially violent young men. And we were more successful with that, but with this one, we did not get as far as we had hoped.

GROSS: Did the Tuskegee study ever reach any conclusions or have any findings?

JENKINS: There were a number of -- there were 36 articles, approximately, published from the study. The main conclusion was that the disease was not as destructive as they originally thought, but that a number of abnormalities in the area of cardiovascular diseases and neurologic diseases occurred as a result of untreated syphilis.

GROSS: You direct, now, the Center for Disease Control's Participants Health Benefits Program. This is a benefit -- the program that assures medical services to survivors of the Tuskegee experiment and to their families. Are you still treating survivors of the experiment?

JENKINS: We are treating or providing health services to the survivors that are illnesses that one would find in any elderly population. We're not treating them specifically for syphilis, but we've provided them complete, comprehensive medical coverage.

GROSS: How many people are there who participated in the Tuskegee study who are still alive and you are treating?

JENKINS: There are eight men.

GROSS: And are these men who had syphilis that remains untreated? Or were these people in the control group who never had the disease?

JENKINS: Some were positive and some were controls.

GROSS: It's amazing that -- isn't it? -- that men who had syphilis would have survived this long.

JENKINS: Well, I think generally, if you look at life expectancy data, you find that in populations which have long-term insults, in other words, factors that cause them to die early, after you reach a certain age, that population tend to have longer life expectancy because all of the individuals without extraordinary physical stamina have been -- have died.

And so once you get down to the remaining few men, these are men who tend to be, by nature, hearty individuals.

GROSS: The survivors who you're treating -- what was their reaction when they found out about the real nature of the study they were participating in?

JENKINS: Well...

GROSS: What did they think it was about? And what was their reaction when they found out the truth?

JENKINS: They -- many of them thought that they were being treated. They thought that they were helping. They thought that they were being asked to do something in the interests of the community and the country.

When they found out that they were deceived, there was anger and disappointment. But I also must say that the thing that still surprises me, even to this day, is that these are gentlemen of the old school. They have a certain dignity. They have a faith. They have a willingness to forgive that one day I hope to aspire to myself.

GROSS: My guest is epidemiologist Bill Jenkins. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Back with Bill Jenkins. He tried to stop the Tuskegee experiment back in 1969. Now, he directs the CDC's program to treat the experiment's survivors and their families.

You are one of the few African-American epidemiologists, and you actually started a program at Morehouse College to train African-American epidemiologists. Why is that so important -- to increase the number of African-Americans in the field?

JENKINS: Well, one of the things that come up about the study from time to time is people want to believe that the study was a secret, in spite of the fact, as I said before, 36 articles were published in national medical journals that should have been available to any physician in the United States or any health scientist in the United States.

And yet, there are very few indications of complaints registered against the continuation of the study. One of the things that -- one of the reasons this could well be is that they were none or very few -- maybe one or two, black epidemiologists trained at that time -- people who would understand the design of these research programs and the purpose of these research programs and the possible implications of such programs.

And so, training these young African-American men and women to become experts in this field is extremely important to ensuring that something like the Tuskegee study does not happen again. But it is also important that we have scientists who have the cultural background and interest to solve many of the persistent health problems that still exist in the United States.

We hope that these young people will carry the research forward in a way that will answer many of the questions that have -- we have yet to really deal with: questions about racism and the stress that racism puts on African-Americans and the resulting health consequences; the impact of discrimination in health care services; and even more subtly and important, the issue of acceptance of African-Americans in the delivery of health care services so that young, for example, young African-American men find themselves accepted where they receive their service and therefore are more likely to seek that care when they are in need of care.

There are a whole litany of research questions which are important to the increased health status of African-Americans, which we have very little information on at this time, and we are hoping these young people are going to go on to provide much of that information for us.

GROSS: What do you think are some of the health problems that may result from the stress of racism?

JENKINS: Well, the one variable which is most indicative of the general health of a community is infant mortality. And there are a series of research projects which indicate that regardless of the level of income or education, African-American women tend to have twice the low birth weight rate of European-American women.

Whether these women are very poor and uneducated or whether these women are highly educated and very economically well-off, they tend to have twice the low birth weight rate and therefore higher infant mortality than their white counterparts. And that is a very indicative series of analyses that shows the impact of the stress of racism.

In addition to that, studies done at Duke University and other institutions have shown that individuals who are put under what they perceive as racial stress have higher blood pressure rates, and these blood pressure levels tend to exist for long after a perceived racial incident has occurred.

And so racial -- small racial incidences, about the way people react when a black man gets in an elevator or a black man standing on a corner trying to catch a cab -- these small incidences result in higher blood pressure that may last for fairly long periods of time.

GROSS: One of the things you're trying to do now is to make sure that a father's name is on a baby's birth certificate, whether or not the parents are married. What are you trying to accomplish by that?

JENKINS: Well, it's not just getting the father's name on the birth certificate. Whether a father's name is on the birth certificate indicates the amount of support that a father may have provided the wife during the development of the child. And it is this support which we are finding out is extremely important in determining the health of a baby.

A father who is in communication with the mother is more likely to have a healthy child than one who have very limited or no communication with the mother -- the pregnant woman. And so, that is one of the things that we think may be important in terms of how we should work in the black community. Efforts need to be made to include, particularly young men, in the process of pregnancy, and help them to learn to be supportive of their pregnant partners, so that the babies might be healthy.

Quite often, now, men are not included in the process when a woman is pregnant, and hopefully, the work that we're doing in this area may help to point out the need for young men to be involved and to continue their responsibility with these babies that are being born.

GROSS: I going to change the subject on you a little bit.

JENKINS: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: I know you grew up in Gullah culture, on an island off the coast of South Carolina. The islands off the coast retain more aspects of African-American culture because they were isolated from the mainland of the states.

What was the language you grew up with?

JENKINS: I spoke Gullah until I was about -- 'til I went away to college. And the college that I went to, Morehouse College in Atlanta, strongly advised, asked, threatened to have me take speech for two hours every Saturday until, you know, I spoke a slightly more standard English.

GROSS: How'd you feel about that? And how do you feel about that in retrospect?

JENKINS: At the time that it happened -- being a Morehouse man is an interesting experience, and at that point, you pretty much did what the president of the college, who was an extremely influential person, told you to do. So, I did not question it at all at the time.

Clearly, I think that it helped in my ability to progress after leaving Morehouse and going into the Public Health Service Commission Corps, and then going on for graduate degrees at Georgetown, Carolina, and Harvard. And I think that being in command of the English language is important.

At times, I sometime regret that the village as I knew it, where I grew up, and the language as I knew it, and the stories that I was told growing up are no longer carried on by young people where I grew up. The place where I grew up simply does not exist any more. It was an isolated fishing village, and now it's a resort community that, you know, simply completely overwhelms the small community that was there when I grew up.

GROSS: Bill Jenkins -- he now directs the Center for Disease Control's program to treat survivors of the Tuskegee experiment and their families.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Bill Jenkins
High: Epidemiologist Bill Jenkins works for the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta where he is an expert on minority issues in Sexually Transmitted Diseases. In 1969 he tried unsuccessfully to end the Tuskegee experiments in which 400 Alabama black men infected with syphilis went untreated for decades in an effort to understand the progression of the disease. The experiments began in 1932 and were halted in 1972. Now Jenkins manages a program that provides medical coverage to the men who were part of the experiment and their families.
Spec: Books; Race Relations; History; Health and Medicine; Tuskegee Institute; Syphilis
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright (c) 1997 National Public Radio, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. under license from National Public Radio, Inc. Formatting copyright (c) 1997 Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission. For further information please contact NPR's Business Affairs at (202) 414-2954
End-Story: Bill Jenkins
Date: JUNE 18, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 061804np.217
Head: Flaming Pie
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:55

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Today is Paul McCartney's 55th birthday. He was recently made a Knight of the British Empire, and now he's released his first studio record in four years. It's called "Flaming Pie."

Beatle-maniacs may remember that it was John Lennon who once said that the name "The Beatles" came to him in a dream from a man on a flaming pie.

Rock critic Ken Tucker says the specter of Lennon and the Beatles pervades McCartney's album.


Thank you, (unintelligible) underneath our bed
Shooting stars from a purple sky
I don't care how I'm doin'
I'm the man on the flaming pie
Stick my tongue down a...

KEN TUCKER, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: At the age of 54 and recently made a Knight of the British Empire, Sir Paul McCartney has certainly earned the right to look back as much as he wants to.

He's said that this album was recorded during the time he spent putting together the recent three-volume Beatles anthology. But at his best on Flaming Pie, McCartney's nostalgia becomes obsessive -- tinged with ambivalence, as if he can't stop himself from quoting Beatle melodies, yet almost feels contempt for himself for doing so.

Or as he says on this very White Albumy song: "I go back so far I'm in front of me."


MCCARTNEY SINGING: I saw you sitting at the center of the circle
Everybody, everybody wanted something from you
I saw you sitting up there

I saw you swaying to the rhythm of the music
Caught you playing
Caught you playing to the voice inside you
Saw you swaying there

I don't care what you want to be
I go back too far, I'm in front of me
It doesn't matter what they say
They're keeping the game away, hey, hey

TUCKER: The very mellow McCartney on display throughout most of Flaming Pie is at once a musical genius and a lazy fellow. This music is beautifully produced piffle -- arch and intricate, catchy yet almost entirely forgettable.

As has often been true of McCartney, his best songs are ones that at first strike you as being the corniest, the treacliest. That's why I've come to like "Little Willow" very much, even before I read in an interview that it's a song McCartney wrote after the death of Ringo Starr's first wife, Maureen Starkey.


MCCARTNEY SINGING: Bend little willow
Wind's gonna blow you
Hot and cold tonight

Life as it happens
Nobody warns you
Willow hold on tight

Nothin's going to shake your love
Take your love away
No one's out to break your heart
It only seems that way, hey

TUCKER: Another high point of Flaming Pie is as close as McCartney gets to being raw, on a straightforward rhythm and blues ballad called "Souvenir." He says in the liner notes, he hopes some "soul guy" will cover it. My suggestion would either be Maxwell or a soul gal, Toni Braxton.


MCCARTNEY SINGING: When you (unintelligible)
Sheddin' too many tear
And your memories seem like just so many souvenirs
I will come to you, to ease your pain

If you want me, tell me now
If I can be of any help, tell me now
Let me love you, like a friend
Everything is going to come right in the end

When you're cryin' like a poor little child,
And you're feelin' like you never could be reconciled
Don't forget a word of what I'm sayin'

TUCKER: In addition to appropriating John Lennon's joke for his own with this album's title, McCartney talks about the murdered Beatle repeatedly in the liner notes, and reunites with a live one, Ringo, on two cuts.

The effect is at once affectionate, baffled, and rancorous, as if Beatlemania had become a monomania. He can't get it out of his head, so he wants to make sure it stays in yours.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic-at-large for Entertainment Weekly.

Dateline: Ken Tucker; Terry Gross, Philadelphia
High: Rock critic Ken Tucker reviews Paul McCartney's new album, "Flaming Pie."
Spec: Music Industry; People; Paul McCartney
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright (c) 1997 National Public Radio, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. under license from National Public Radio, Inc. Formatting copyright (c) 1997 Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission. For further information please contact NPR's Business Affairs at (202) 414-2954
End-Story: Flaming Pie
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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