Berry, Venise T(orriana) 1956-
BERRY, Venise T(orriana) 1956-
PERSONAL: Born 1956; daughter of Virgil and Jean (an artist) Berry; children: Averi (daughter). Education: University of Iowa, B.A. (journalism and communications), 1977, M.A. (communications), 1979; University of Texas, Ph.D. (radio, television, and film), 1989.
CAREER: KFRD Radio, Rosenberg, TX, newscaster, 1979-80; KCOH Radio, assistant news director, 1980-83; Texas Southern University, Houston, instructor in communications, 1980-83; KTSU Radio, Houston, TX, news director, 1982-83; KLBJ Radio, Austin, TX, news reporter, 1983-84; KAZI Radio, Austin, TX, news director, 1983-86; Huston-Tillotson College, Austin, TX, head of department of mass communication, 1989-91, assistant professor of mass communication, 1990-91, special assistant to the president, 1990-91; University of Texas, Austin, lecturer in school of music, 1990-91; University of Iowa, Iowa City, assistant professor, 1991-97, associate professor of journalism and mass communication, 1998—, interim director of department, 2001-02, associate director of undergraduate studies, 2003—. BerryBooks, Coralville, IA, public relations director, 1993—. Lecturer at workshops and seminars.
MEMBER: International Association for the Study of Popular Music, National Association of Black Journalists, Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Kappa Tau Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta.
AWARDS, HONORS: University of Texas graduate fellowships, 1978-79, 1985-86, 1987-88; Juneteenth Community Service Award, 1987; doctoral fellowship, United Negro College Fund, 1987-88; outstanding faculty in the humanities division, Huston-Tillotson College, 1989; President's Outstanding Achievement Award, Huston-Tillotson College, 1990; Huston-Tillotson College grants, 1991, 1991-92, 1998; Howard University research grant, 1993-94; Old Gold fellowship, 1993; Service and Dedication award, University of Iowa, 1996; Myers Center Award for the Study of Human Rights in North America, 1997; Sorors of Achievement Award, Delta Sigma Theta, 1999; Honor Book Award, Black Caucus of the American Library Association, 2001; Iowa Author Award, Public Library Foundation of Des Moines, 2001; Creative Contribution to Literature award, Zora Neale Hurston Society, 2003.
So Good, Dutton (New York, NY), 1996.
All of Me: A Voluptuous Tale, Dutton (New York, NY), 2000.
Colored Sugar Water, Dutton (New York, NY), 2002.
(Editor, with Carmen L. Manning-Miller, and contributor) Mediated Messages and African-American Culture: Contemporary Issues, Sage Publications (Thousand Oaks, CA), 1996.
(With S. Torriano Berry) The Fifty Most InfluentialBlack Films: A Celebration of African-American Talent, Determination, and Creativity, Citadel Press/Carol Publishing Group (Secaucus, NJ), 1999.
Contributor to books, including Men, Masculinity, and the Media, edited by Steve Craig, Sage Publications (Newberry Park, CA), 1992; Adolescents and Their Music, edited by Jonathan Epstein, Garland (New York, NY), 1994; Viewing War: How the Media Handled the Persian Gulf, edited by Lauren Rabinovitz and Susan Jeffords, Rutgers University Press, 1994; Cecilia Reclaimed: Feminist Perspectives on Gender and Music, edited by Susan Cook and Judy Tsou, University of Illinois Press (Chicago, IL), 1994; Living Free within Ourselves: Lessons for Black Writers, by Jewell Parker Rhodes, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1999; and Proverbs of the People, edited by Tracey Price-Thompson and TaReesa Stovall, Kensington, in press. Also contributor to periodicals, including Journal of Communication Inquiry, Journal of Popular Music Studies, Popular Music and Society, and Notes: Quarterly Journal of the Music Library Association. Coeditor of Alumni & Friends Magazine (Huston-Tillotson College publication), 1989, and editor of yearbooks for Huston-Tillotson College, 1990-91. Member of editorial board, Journalism Monographs and Journalism Educator, 2003—.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A sequel to So Good titled Still So Good; Racialism and the Media; and The Historical Dictionary of African-American Cinema, with S. Torriano Berry and ayo dayo.
SIDELIGHTS: Since the mid-1990s, Venise T. Berry has enjoyed a dual career as both a professor of mass communication and a novelist whose books have appeared on Essence magazine's Blackboard Bestseller lists. As an academic, Berry's main interest as a researcher and writer has been "in the area of African-American cultural criticism," as she explained to interviewer Evita Castine on the author's Web site. She continued, "I am very concerned about the images I see in the media when it comes to African-American men and women." Berry has had extensive experience with the media, having worked as a reporter and news director for various radio stations. And sometimes her interest in the media is reflected in the themes and storylines of her novels. For example, the main character in All of Me: A Voluptuous Tale is a reporter whose personal struggles with her weight are exacerbated by the fact that she is on television; and in Colored Sugar Water one of the characters changes her lifestyle when she becomes enamored by a television psychic.
Berry's first novel is So Good, the story of the close relationship between three African-American women living in Washington, D.C., and their relationship problems with men. This story, which reminded some critics of the best-seller Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan, follows the trials and tribulations of sisters Danielle and Lisa and their friend Sundi Karif. All of these women are successful in their own way: Sundi owns her own business; Danielle is a married working mom; and Lisa is studying for her Ph.D. Yet their personal relationships with men seem fraught with problems, and the three women find that their camaraderie can sustain them through their troubles. These include Danielle's feelings of ennui, which lead her to an affair with a coworker; Lisa's emotional struggles after breaking up with her fiancé and Sundi's difficulties with her new Nigerian husband. Although a Publishers Weekly writer felt that sometimes Berry's writing style can be "flat," the critic appreciated how the author "has recreated the subtle complexity of the contemporary African-American professional woman's world, flavored with motherwit and home truths from preceding generations of family." And Booklist contributor Lillian Lewis concluded that "Berry will undoubtedly be recognized for her contribution to the African-American fiction writers' library shelf and for good reason!" A planned sequel for the novel, Still So Good, will pick up the story of these three women ten years after the events in So Good.
With All of Me, Berry draws on her personal experience as a news reporter, as well as on her interest in racialism, the study of how African Americans are negatively influenced by messages broadcast in the media. The novel starts at a hospital, where forty-year-old African American Serpentine Williamson is recovering from a suicide attempt. Berry then goes on to explain how this woman, who seems to have everything, including a television career, talent, and a loving family, could become so depressed that she would to try to kill herself. It quickly becomes apparent that the problem is with her body image, and, consequently, her self-image. Because she is over-weight, Serpentine has endured harsh remarks from people ranging from her employers at the station to even, ironically, the president of her own fan club. The serious message in the book is tempered by some humorous moments, Serpentine's appealing personality, and her eventual triumph over those who would destroy her sense of self worth. "Women of all races will find this book funny, sad, inspiring, and delightful," according to Ellen R. Cohen in a Library Journal review. Although a Publishers Weekly contributor found the "platitudes about the evils of advertising" a bit clichéd, the critic remarked that the depiction of Serpentine's journey to overcome her depression is "poignant and realistic." Similarly, Lewis said in another Booklist review that "Berry does an excellent job of portraying" her character's physical and mental recovery.
With Colored Sugar Water, Berry returns to the theme of how friendship between women can serve as a security net for those going through challenges in their lives. Lucy Merriweather and Adel Kelly are African-American women who first met in college and have maintained their friendship since then. Lucy is bored with her relationship with the sexually unadventurous Spencer, while Adel is having the opposite problem with her immature husband, Thad; Adel is also having a crisis of conscience involving her work at an oil company that she suspects of unscrupulous business dealings. Their lives become complicated on the one hand by a voodoo practitioner named Kuba, who lures Adel into his web via the television, and on the other hand by a white man who is stalking Lucy after she fired him. Although spirituality plays a part in this process—Adel's brush with mysticism and Lucy's more traditional explorations of religion—a Publishers Weekly reviewer asserted, "This is hardly a deep exploration of questions of faith, but those who like their romance weighted with otherworldly significance will find plenty to satisfy them here." On the other hand, Booklist critic Lewis maintained that "Berry has superbly dealt with black spirituality from the organized church and religion to voodoo and fortune telling." Another reviewer, Black Issues Book Review contributor Arlene Mc Kanic, also appreciated Berry's insertion of interesting facts about everything from jazz funerals and tarot cards to the game of whist, asserting that these tidbits give the story of Adel and Lucy "a rich and quirky flavor."
When asked by Castine why she writes about women characters in her novels, Berry replied, "I hope that women can see themselves in my stories and learn something about themselves. We all know women who are like the women in my books. They seem to have it all, but are not satisfied, or they are willing to compromise too much to have a man, any man, or they are not happy with themselves in any number of ways. We all enjoy getting lost inside other people's stories, but at the same time we can learn something about ourselves and the people we love."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Black Issues Book Review, March-April, 2002, Booker T. Mattison, review of The Fifty Most Influential Black Films: A Celebration of African-American Talent, Determination, and Creativity, p. 60; January-February, 2002, Arlene Mc Kanic, review of Colored Sugar Water, p. 56.
Booklist, July, 1996, Lillian Lewis, review of So Good, p. 1800; November 15, 1999, Lillian Lewis, review of All of Me: A Voluptuous Tale, p. 600; November 1, 2001, Lillian Lewis, review of Colored Sugar Water, p. 459.
Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2001, review of ColoredSugar Water, p. 1452.
Library Journal, November 1, 1999, Ann Burns and Emily J. Jones, review of All of Me, p. 102; December, 1999, Ellen R. Cohen, review of All of Me, p. 182; January 1, 2002, Nancy Pearl, "Waiting for Terry: African-American Novels," p. 200.
Publishers Weekly, June 17, 1996, review of So Good, p. 48; October 25, 1999, review of All of Me, p. 47; January 7, 2002, review of Colored Sugar Water, p. 48.
South Florida Sun (Ft. Lauderdale, FL), December 3, 2000, Oline H. Cogdill, "Author to Explore 'Racialism' Theory," p. D9.
Washington Post Book World, November 3, 1996, Patricia Elam Ruff, review of So Good.
Venise Berry Web site,http://www.veniseberry.com/ (January 28, 2004), Evita Castine, "An Interview with Venise Berry."*