Oprah resumes endorsements with Poitier's autobiography
The writing is passionate and eloquent, the talk-show host says.
CHICAGO (AP) -- Oprah Winfrey turned to an old acquaintance and personal idol for her first new book club choice since the James Frey scandal a year ago, announcing Friday that she had selected Sidney Poitier's "The Measure of a Man."
Poitier's "spiritual autobiography," published in 2000, combines memories of such plays and films as "A Raisin in the Sun" and "The Defiant Ones" with observations about the Academy Award-winning actor's childhood, his religious faith, his thoughts on racism and the influence of such world leaders as Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi.
"He writes really candidly and passionately about his childhood, his family, relationships and his extraordinary career," Winfrey said on her show. "It's a beautifully crafted book, written like poetry. Because, just as he speaks so eloquently, he also writes that way, too."
Poitier did not appear on the telecast. But Winfrey said she will host "a once in a lifetime dinner party" with Poitier that will include members of her book club.
She called him "one of my personal heroes since I was a little girl."
About the book
"The Measure of a Man" spent several weeks on The New York Times' list of best sellers, and the audio edition, narrated by Poitier, won a Grammy Award for best spoken word album. Poitier wrote a previous memoir, "This Life," released in 1980.
Right before Winfrey announced her selection, her 56th book club pick, "The Measure of a Man" ranked 288,958 on Amazon.com, a number that will likely change, and fast. Winfrey's picks almost inevitably top best seller lists.
Mark Tauber, vice president and deputy publisher of HarperSanFrancisco, an imprint of HarperCollins, declined Friday to say how many books would be printed, but did say he expects to sell hundreds of thousands of copies.
Tauber also said that unlike many celebrity memoirists, Poitier did not use a ghostwriter, although the actor did have editorial "help."
"I'm sure there'll be speculation about Winfrey picking yet another memoir," Tauber said. "But Poitier's life is filled with so much integrity."
During an interview that appeared in her own O magazine in 2000, Winfrey and Poitier discussed his life and career, a meeting that the talk-show host acknowledged left her feeling like a star-struck fan.
"Poitier and I are sitting across from each other at the Bel-Air hotel in Los Angeles -- and I'm admiring that, at 73, this man still personifies grace, ease, strength and courage," Winfrey wrote at the time. "He is a gentleman in every sense of the word. In my more than 25 years as an interviewer, I've talked to hundreds of people -- yet today, I'm giddy."
In 2005, Poitier made a surprise appearance on Winfrey's TV program, when she was marking her 20th anniversary on the air. Just before he came on stage, Winfrey had been telling her audience that after she had interviewed the actor, "I sobbed and cried because I felt I was not good enough for Sidney." Poitier, apparently, was also disappointed -- with himself -- and phoned Winfrey to say so.
"It was life-changing," Winfrey was recalling, moments before Poitier arrived. "I was like, 'Oh my God."'
Poitier, who turns 80 on Feb. 20, became the first black performer to win the Oscar for best actor, cited in 1964 for "Lilies of the Field." His other films include "In the Heat of the Night," "To Sir, With Love" and "The Blackboard Jungle." In 2002, Poitier received an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement.
He should be a welcome break from the travesty of Frey, whose "A Million Little Pieces" was picked by Winfrey in the fall of 2005, only to have The Smoking Gun Web site reveal in January 2006 that the memoir was largely fabricated. Winfrey initially defended Frey, then changed her mind, brought him back to the show and chewed him out.
Winfrey's next pick, Elie Wiesel's "Night," was announced Jan. 16, 2006, soon after the Frey scandal broke, but had already been decided upon weeks earlier. More than 1.5 million copies of Wiesel's Holocaust memoir were sold because of Winfrey's selection, according to publisher Farrar, Straus & amp; Giroux.
Winfrey acknowledged on Friday's show that it had been a year since she had chosen a selection for her book club. She said she was busy during that time researching curriculum for her school for disadvantaged girls in South Africa, which opened earlier this month.
"So I really did not have time to devote to reading other books," she said. "But now I do."
Winfrey indicated the idea to feature "The Measure of a Man" came to her over the holidays while she was dining with a group of people in Africa that included Poitier.
"We were all sitting around the table, and I was asking Sidney Poitier to tell some of the life stories from his book. And let me tell you, everybody at the table was weeping," Winfrey said. "I was sitting there thinking, I wish everybody could hear this. And then I realized, everybody can! Everybody can. I love this book."
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