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James McGrath Morris Getting Strong Reviews for “Eye on the Struggle”

by Bob Gassaway

Eye on the Struggle2Santa Fe writer James McGrath Morris, who will be the speaker for the March 7, 2015 meeting of SouthWest Writers, is garnering high praise for his new book Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press (HarperCollins, 2015).

Morris wrote in an email, “Early pre-publication reviews of the book have been unbelievably encouraging. It seems that folks do want to hear the story of Ethel Payne.”

Payne wrote for The Chicago Defender, which The New York Times calls “America’s premier black newspaper.” The Times’ book review adds, “She grew up in Chicago and longed to be a writer at a time when options were dismally few for black women. She had talent, a big personality and grit. She ultima­­tely became a star reporter for The Defender, and the pre-eminent black female reporter of the civil rights era.”

Morris said in an email to SouthWest Writers: “The book was just listed today by Kirkus as one of eleven ‘you must read.’ So things are rolling along.” In addition, lists the Ethel Payne biography as one of “14 Books to Read this Black History Month.”

Here is a sampling of the reviews:


“Important and often absorbing new book … It’s a deep pleasure to meet Ethel Payne. ‘We are soul folks,’ she declared in 1967, ‘and I am writing for soul brothers’ consumption.’ Her own soul beams from this book…” ~ New York Times 

“In James McGrath Morris’s compelling biography Eye on the Struggle, this ‘first lady of the black press’ finally gets her due. Morris lovingly chronicles Payne’s dedication and her rise… For her, being a reporter was about ‘stretching the horizon of the heart.’ Never content simply to ‘live and let live,’ she sought always to engage, fight and make change.” ~ O Magazine

Eye on the Struggle is a fast-paced tour through the highlights of 20th-century African-American history, with Payne as witness.” ~ Boston Globe

“Morris’ well-paced narrative not only walks readers through the civil rights movement’s inner workings, but he lets us tag along with Payne on her 13 journeys to Africa and trips to China, Vietnam and elsewhere.” ~ Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Eye on the Struggle is the compelling biography of journalist, Ethel Payne, the ‘First Lady of the Black Press,’ a significant figure in the civil rights era. ~ “14 Books to Read this Black History Month”

“At long last, this journalistic pioneer, who traveled and covered the world, not to mention sent shivers down the spine of our strongest presidents during press briefings, is getting her due in James McGrath Morris’ absorbing new biography Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press.” ~ Patrik Henry Bass, who assembled “Ten Standout Titles” for Essence Magazine


Morris’ presentation to SouthWest Writers on March 7 is titled “Using Storytelling Techniques to Breathe Life into Your Writing.” In his description of the upcoming presentation, Morris writes:

“You will leave this meeting with a dozen specific narrative writing techniques that you can use to invigorate and bring life to any genre of writing. Adapted from the best of fiction and nonfiction writing, these storytelling methods help build tension, make for compelling scenes, and get you closer to writing a page-turning book.”

Morris is a Santa Fe author who writes primarily biographies and narrative nonfiction.

Bob Gassaway2Bob Gassaway started writing news for radio and television and moved to newspapers and The Associated Press, including a stint as a war correspondent in Vietnam. After earning a Ph.D. in sociology, focusing on the symbolism of human communication, he taught journalism for 22 years at the University of New Mexico and the University of Missouri. He has also written for magazines and professional journals and has published a number of book chapters. He now writes murder mysteries.

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