"Panther Baby: A Life of Rebellion and Reinvention"

Mar 1, 2012

[Aired on Thursday, March 1st.] Today, we speak with Jamal Joseph, whose new memoir is "Panther Baby: A Life of Rebellion and Reinvention." This engrossing autobiography --- a gritty yet hopeful hybrid of coming-of-age candor, street-savvy wisdom, and recent socio-political history --- follows Jospeph from his early years in the Bronx and Harlem, to incarceration stints in Riker’s Island and then Leavenworth, to the Film School faculty of Columbia University. He's worked as a filmmaker, poet, community organizer, children's theater/arts director, and more --- but the pivotal time of Joseph's life, as we find in these pages, was his years with the militant Black Panther movement. Charged with conspiracy as one of the "Panther 21" in one of the defining American criminal cases of the 1960s, and then exonerated, Joseph became the leader of the Panthers’ New York chapter. His incredible story continues --- and has been summarized by Kirkus Reviews --- like so: "Internecine power struggles, fueled by government infiltration and violence, broke the Panthers apart...and Joseph found himself going underground and finally to prison. He remained there for the next 20 years or so, a man-child coming of age behind bars. In prison, he discovered art and began to write poetry and plays, and he formed a theater group of prisoners who performed his plays about the life around them. Quickly becoming an established artist and drawn to academia, Joseph used these credentials to help found Harlem’s IMPACT Repertory Theatre, where thousands of young people experience music, drama, dance, and film.... Readers will draw inspiration from his story of struggle and transformation."