The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography (Oprah's Book Club)
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"I have no wish to play the pontificating fool, pretending that I've suddenly come up with the answers to all life's questions. Quite that contrary, I began this book as an exploration, an exercise in self-questing. In other words, I wanted to find out, as I looked back at a long and complicated life, with many twists and turns, how well I've done at measuring up to the values I myself have set."
In this luminous memoir, a true American icon looks back on his celebrated life and career. His body of work is arguably the most morally significant in cinematic history, and the power and influence of that work are indicative of the character of the man behind the many storied roles. Sidney Poitier here explores these elements of character and personal values to take his own measure—as a man, as a husband and a father, and as an actor.
Poitier credits his parents and his childhood on tiny Cat Island in the Bahamas for equipping him with the unflinching sense of right and wrong and of self-worth that he has never surrendered and that have dramatically shaped his world. "In the kind of place where I grew up," recalls Poitier, "what's coming at you is the sound of the sea and the smell of the wind and momma's voice and the voice of your dad and the craziness of your brothers and sisters...and that's it." Without television, radio, and material distractions to obscure what matters most, he could enjoy the simple things, endure the long commitments, and find true meaning in his life.
Poitier was uncompromising as he pursued a personal and public life that would honor his upbringing and the invaluable legacy of his parents. Just a few years after his introduction to indoor plumbing and the automobile, Poitier broke racial barrier after racial barrier to launch a pioneering acting career. Committed to the notion that what one does for a living articulates to who one is, Poitier played only forceful and affecting characters who said something positive, useful, and lasting about the human condition.
Here is Poitier's own introspective look at what has informed his performances and his life. Poitier explores the nature of sacrifice and commitment, price and humility, rage and forgiveness, and paying the price for artistic integrity. What emerges is a picture of a man in the face of limits—his own and the world's. A triumph of the spirit, The Measure of a Man captures the essential Poitier.
me in the form of a warning: “Here, not everybody is the same.” I absorbed the message that there were ground rules I would be expected to observe. I saw quite quickly that the entire white population was an elite element when evaluated against the black population, but there was obviously an elite element even within the white population. And there was an elite element to the black population as well. The black upper class was a good thing to see, but to me, it smelled like a warning as well.
theme, detached from questions of color and race, all the way into the theater world, where it would become a personal standard, applicable to creative excellence and professional competitiveness. Marlon Brando was an idol of mine, a consummate artist and one of the good guys. I aimed to be better than even him. But I didn’t need anyone to torture me or deny me or coddle me or cajole me into having that kind of drive. I was born with an innate curiosity, and it took me to the damnedest places.
Whatever it was, I had little time to linger over such thoughts, struggling as I was at the age of sixteen with much more immediate issues of survival. Over a long holiday weekend I took a train to the Catskills to work as dishwasher at a famous resort. I was in an all-black group of temporary workers “imported” from New York City to beef up the hotel’s manpower. In our group was a chap named Jojo Sutton. I knew that Jojo was going to be trouble the first time I saw his eyes focus on me. For no
enough to smother and overwhelm many people, but they didn’t her, because she wasn’t infected by the pleasure principle. She didn’t flick a switch and have the lights go on and electrical power rush to her command to wash the clothes, to heat the oven. She couldn’t just turn on the water and let it run out of a tap. What she had instead—commitment—was even better. What a life for a woman: getting up before the sun and working until darkness fell, washing her dishes and scrubbing out her pots by
hundred years ago, seven hundred years ago? Maybe it lay dormant or was momentarily activated and returned to dormancy as it traveled along the bloodline generation after generation. And one day, bingo! It’s in a child who walks into a certain place, and certain circumstances, and suddenly it comes to life. Now, that could go for musicians, it could go for scientists, it could go for the griots in the old days in Africa or the bards in Europe. That’s the way it goes, because it’s a single human