Bates, Karen Grigsby 1951-

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Bates, Karen Grigsby 1951-


Born 1951; married Bruce Talamon; children: Jordan (son). Education: Wellesley College, B.A., 1973; Yale University Graduate School of Organization and Management, Executive Management Program. Hobbies and other interests: Photography.


Home—Los Angeles, CA. Office—National Public Radio, Correspondent, 635 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, DC, 20001.


Writer, and journalist. People, Los Angeles, CA, reporter for West Coast Bureau; Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, CA, contributing columnist; National Public Radio, commentator and correspondent, 2002—; Tavis Smiley Show, alternate host, 2002—.


Fiction Honor Book award, Black Caucus of the American Library Association, 2002, for Plain Brown Wrapper: An Alex Powell Novel.


(With Karen Elyse Hudson) Basic Black: Home Training for Modern Times, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1996, revised edition published as The New Basic Black: Home Training for Modern Times, 2006.

Plain Brown Wrapper: An Alex Powell Novel, Avon (New York, NY), 2001.

Chosen People: An Alex Powell Novel, Avon (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to periodicals, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Vogue, and Contributor to books, including Mothers Who Think: Tales of Real-Life Parenting, 1999; and Gumbo: An Anthology of African American Writing, 2002.


"I've been writing since about age six in one form or another, and I've always gotten in trouble—probably since I was old enough to talk—for having ‘Too Many Opinions!,’" Karen Grigsby Bates told Gwendolyn E. Osborne in an interview for Mystery Reader. Although she grew up on the East coast, Bates lives and works in Los Angeles, California, as a journalist and frequent commentator on National Public Radio. A voracious reader, she is also the author of a book on etiquette and a mystery with a heroine who, like Bates, is a African American journalist.

In Basic Black: Home Training for Modern Times, Bates and coauthor Karen Elyse Hudson present an unusual etiquette book that not only talks about traditional etiquette but also focuses on African American traditions or, as the authors write, "the way our grandmothers, mothers and aunts have taught us for centuries." As a book covering topics like addressing wedding invitations, letter writing, and being a good host, Basic Black is universal in its guidelines for good etiquette, regardless of race. However, the book also addresses the concerns of African Americans specifically on topics like African American traditions in joining a church, family reunions, and planning a funeral. In addition, Bates and coauthor Hudson go far beyond the boundaries of the typical etiquette book when they instruct African Americans on how to act with dignity, politeness, and assertiveness when faced with unacceptable treatment on account of race. The book, praised by Booklist reviewer Mary Carroll for its "solid common sense," was updated and revised in 2006. The new edition contains tips on polite behavior in the electronic age, including proper etiquette regarding cell phones and email. Kalyn Johnson, writing in Black Issues Book Review, observed that the authors handle race-related matters "with aplomb" and provide readers with useful and wise tips for handling "almost any difficult situation."

Bates turned from etiquette to excitement for her next book, the mystery Plain Brown Wrapper: An Alex Powell Novel. According to Bates in a Mystery Writer interview, the idea for the book came about when she attended a National Association of Black Journalists conference, noting that "it occurred to me that journalists are such interesting and often volatile people, this particular conference would be a perfect setting for a murder." The plot of Plain Brown Wrapper centers on the murder of publisher Everett Carson just prior to his receiving a "Journalist of the Year" award from the National Association of Black Journalists. His friend and former employee, newspaper columnist Alex Powell discovers the body and is soon swept up in the investigation on the orders of her current newspaper employer. Carson, a demanding and powerful man who also had a way with the ladies, had numerous enemies. Powell sets off on a two-week cross-country trip with another journalist, Paul Butler, in an investigation that leads them to interactions with the social elite from San Francisco to Martha's Vineyard.

Noting that the book benefits from Bates's "firsthand knowledge" of journalism, a reviewer from Publishers Weekly commented that the book has an "easygoing style" with "just the right spark of humor in a fun, suspenseful novel." Library Journal critic Rex Klett called the book "flip and jaunty." Writing in Black Issues Book Review, Susan McHenry noted, "The bonus offered by Plain Brown Wrapper is a wise and wickedly satirical perspective on today's black media and those of us who will live and die and for it."

The sequel, Chosen People: An Alex Powell Novel, also earned positive reviews. In this novel, Powell finds herself confronting the social elite of Los Angeles as she investigates several murders. Essence writer Ylonda Gault Caviness enjoyed the book's willingness to expose the "skeletons in the closets of L.A.'s bougie [bourgeoisie] set."

Though Bates told Caviness that she intends to write more Alex Powell mysteries, she also wants to write a novel about the black middle class. The time is right, she said, to discuss their lives "in an enlightened way."



Black Issues Book Review, September, 2001, Susan McHenry, review of Plain Brown Wrapper: An Alex Powell Novel, p. 20; March-April, 2006, Kalyn Johnson, review of The New Basic Black: Home Training for Modern Times, p. 28.

Booklist, December 15, 1996, Mary Carroll, review of Basic Black: Home Training for Modern Times, p. 695; July 21, 2001, Carrie Bissey, review of Plain Brown Wrapper, p. 1985.

Ebony, June, 2006, review of Chosen People: An Alex Powell Novel, p. 28.

Essence, August, 2001, review of Plain Brown Wrapper, p. 62; August, 2006, Ylonda Gault Caviness, "Murder, She Wrote: In a Killer New Novel, This Savvy Sleuth Gets the Lowdown on Upper-Crust Society," p. 84.

Library Journal, November 1, 1996, Susan B. Hagloch, review of Basic Black, p. 73; April 15, 1997, review of Basic Black, p. 37; August, 2001, Rex Klett, review of Plain Brown Wrapper, p. 169.

Los Angeles Times, March 21, 1994, "Bates on Farrakhan," p. B6; October 10, 2001, "Sifting through L.A.'s Shadows" (interview with Karen Grigsby Bates), p. E1.

Publishers Weekly, November 18, 1996, review of Basic Black, p. 73; June 25, 2001, review of Plain Brown Wrapper, p. 54.

Town & Country, June 1, 2006, Alexis Clark, "Be True (and Truthful)," interview with Karen Grigsby Bates and Karen Elyse Hudson, p. 64.


Media Bistro, (January 2, 2007), Kate Coe, "So What Do You Do, Karen Grigsby Bates?"

Mystery Reader, (November 9, 2001), review of Plain Brown Wrapper; (December 13, 2001), Gwendolyn E. Osborne, "Meet Karen Grigsby Bates."

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Bates, Karen Grigsby 1951-

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