Graham, Lawrence 1962- (Larry Graham, Lawrence Otis Graham)
Graham, Lawrence 1962- (Larry Graham, Lawrence Otis Graham)
Born December 25, 1962, in New York, NY; son of Richard Charles (a businessperson) and Betty Johnyce (a clinical social worker and lecturer) Graham; married Pamela Alexis Thomas (a management consultant and writer), February 15, 1992; children: one son. Education: Princeton University, A.B., 1983; Harvard University, J.D., 1988.
Home—Westchester County, NY. Office—Progressive Management Associates, P.O. Box 80, Chappaqua, NY 10514-0080. E-mail—[email protected]
Lawyer and writer. Weil, Geitshal & Manges, New York City, corporate attorney, 1988-93; Progress Management Associates, Chappaqua, NY, president, 1993—. Fordham College, New York City, assistant professor of African-American studies, 1993—; Duchess Community College, Poughkeepsie, NY, adjunct lecturer, 1997—. Co-chairman of FLYERS Consulting; host of weekly cable television program The Larry Graham Show, 1984. Intern at White House Office of Women's Affairs, 1980, and WNBC-Radio, 1981; research assistant at Ford Foundation, 1982.
Member of board of directors of Foundation for Youth Involvement; active with Council on Foreign Relations, Council on Economic Priorities, Westchester Holocaust Commission, Urban League, Boy Scouts, Red Cross, and Rotary International. Television commentator with appearances on CNN, CNBC, The Today Show and Politically Incorrect.
Authors Guild, Authors League of America, Society of Professional Journalists, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, American Bar Association, Harvard Club of New York City.
First place in national essay contest, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 1979, for "Behind the Mask"; named one of "Ten Most Interesting Young Men in America," Mademoiselle, 1985.
Ten-Point Plan for College Acceptance, Putnam (New York, NY), 1981.
Jobs in the Real World, Putnam (New York, NY), 1982.
Conquering College Life, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1983.
Your Ticket to Law School, Bantam (New York, NY), 1984.
Your Ticket to Business School, Bantam (New York, NY), 1985.
(With mother, Betty J. Graham) Teenager's Ask-n-Answer Book, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1985.
The Pre-Professional Handbook, Peterson's Guides, 1985.
(With Lawrence Hamdan) FLYERS, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1985.
(With Lawrence Hamdan) Youthtrends: Capturing the $200 Billion Youth Market, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1987.
The Best Companies for Minorities: Employers across America Who Recruit, Train, and Promote Minorities, Plume (New York, NY), 1993.
Member of the Club: Reflections on Life in a Racially Polarized World, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.
Proversity: Getting Past Face Value and Finding the Soul of People—A Manager's Journey, Wiley (New York, NY), 1997.
Our Kind of People: Inside America's Black Upper Class, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.
The Senator and the Socialite: The True Story of America's First Black Dynasty, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2006.
Also author of television scripts for Highgate Pictures. Contributor to magazines, including Good Housekeeping, Reader's Digest—Families, U.S. News & World Report, New York Times, Essence, Glamour, and Crisis. Columnist for Gannett Westchester Newspapers, White Plains, NY, 1988-91; contributing editor, U.S. News & World Report, 1997—.
"When I was a freshman in college, I decided to write a book and came to New York City with two chapters written," Lawrence Graham once told CA. "With two rolls of dimes, I went into a phone booth on East Fiftieth Street and began calling publishers, alphabetically, from the Manhattan phone book. Most of the receptionists, secretaries, and four editors thought it was very amusing to hear me say, ‘Hi, I'm a freshman at Princeton, and I am writing a book on how to get into college.’ After I had been laughed at for about forty-five minutes, two editors were kind enough to tell me that I was wasting my time. They both said I needed an agent. With that same phone book, those two rolls of dimes, and the same brazen ambition, I began calling literary agents, alphabetically, in the New York listings. I ended up being invited over by ‘Zeckendorf, Susan.’ Now I can laugh at the fact that there was only one more agent listed after Zeckendorf, but at the time I was desperate, ambitious, and determined to write and to be published. It was the greatest feeling that I have ever experienced.
"Perhaps some writers will disagree, but I find every aspect of the publishing business an exciting one—from idea, to contract, to research, to typing and arranging, to helping with the publicity and promotion. I suppose that I was fortunate to be able to publish at such an early age, but I can honestly say that I am extremely grateful that the public, the editors, my agent, and the media have felt that my work and my career are worthy of some attention."
While still a student, Graham began writing and publishing books that extrapolated from his own experiences getting into and succeeding in college. After graduating from Harvard Law School and starting the exhilarating process of interviewing for jobs in prestigious corporate law offices, however, it began to dawn on Graham that as a young black lawyer he needed different kinds of information about prospective employers than white candidates might need. In response, he wrote The Best Companies for Minorities: Employers across America Who Recruit, Train, and Promote Minorities, which is based upon questionnaires sent to more than six hundred companies requesting information about percentages of minority hires, including the number of minorities in management positions, and the availability of support systems such as mentoring and training programs. The result was a list of the eighty-five companies most likely to offer minorities a fulfilling employment experience (Graham could not find a full one hundred who met his criteria). Brad Hooper dubbed The Best Companies for Minorities "an invaluable tool for job seekers and reference librarians alike" in his review in Booklist. Milton Moskowitz, a reviewer for Business and Society Review, had a similar view: "Graham's book makes an important contribution, for the first time putting between two covers salient information about the presence and ranking of those companies deemed to be the best in the nation." Graham is also the author of Proversity: Getting Past Face Value and Finding the Soul of People—A Manager's Journey, a kind of business guide served up in the form of a novel. The author imagines a company with problems that appear to arise from its multi-ethnic staff and through a series of exercises explains how that diversity can become the source of the company's strength rather than a cause for lament.
Graham first came to national prominence for his writing when two of his articles on provocative race topics were featured on the cover of New York magazine. Collected in Member of the Club: Reflections on Life in a Racially Polarized World, "Harlem on My Mind," in which Graham poses as an unemployed musician in a poor New York apartment complex, and "Invisible Man," in which the author got a job as a bus boy in a prestigious all-white country club in Connecticut, incited some controversy for what they implied about the state of racism in the United States. Graham's expressed ambition in Member of the Club is to examine those situations in which status is conferred by a membership that is tacitly and exclusively white. Thus, in one essay, he surveys the dining experience at ten of New York's most admired restaurants, and in another he talks about living in the suburbs. Lillian Lewis, who reviewed Member of the Club for Booklist, dubbed "compelling and provocative" Graham's "arguments for changing the way African Americans react and respond" in certain situations, ways that serve as "stumbling blocks to their membership." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly was less enthusiastic, finding the essay on upscale restaurants too long, for example, though another on the roles black professionals are assigned in corporate America "savvy." The reviewer also found some inconsistency in Graham's own attitudes towards being black, comparing his argument against interracial marriage to his "touchy defense" of having his nose surgically altered.
Graham again drew upon personal experience, augmented by extensive research, to produce the book Our Kind of People: Inside America's Black Upper Class. In this somewhat controversial offering, Graham examines the lifestyle of a little-known group in American culture, that of the wealthy black elite. Comparable to the monied white elite, with its exclusive schools and clubs and attention to such arcane traditions as cotillions and croquet, the black elite as Graham depicts it is also obsessed with skin color and Caucasian features. The result of six years of research, a large number of interviews, and an examination of Graham's own childhood memories, Our Kind of People "is a fascinating if unwieldy amalgam of popular history, sociological treatise and memoir that combine to demonstrate that prosperous black Americans are not isolated exceptions to the rule but form an extensive and cohesive group with distinct traditions and a strong sense of identity," Andrea Lee observed in the New York Times Book Review.
Reviewers seemed willing to grant Graham the authority to speak on his subject, and many claimed to find the topic fascinating, but the author was also criticized for seeming to idolize those members of the elite he depicts. "Instead of reporting on the foibles of the black upper crust, Graham sucks up to it," complained Jack E. White in Time. A reviewer for Kirkus Reviews expressed a similar opinion: "His is less of a critical examination and more of a glossary of people, places, and things constituting the black upper class." For some reviewers, Graham fails to analyze the flaws of the black upper class he examines; for others, the author successfully walks the fine line between merely describing a group and lambasting them. A Publishers Weekly contributor asserted: "Graham has produced a book that casts an unblinking eye on America's black elite, cataloguing its achievements while critically analyzing its shortcomings." For those with an interest in African American history or the history of social classes in America, Our Kind of People is "a must read," the contributor concluded. Similarly, Library Journal reviewer Deborah Bigelow dubbed Graham's book a "groundbreaking work … that offers readers a fascinating look into the exclusive world of the black upper class." Gregory Conerly, writing for Historian, while noting some inadequacies in relation to the study of history, found the book to be "a valuable contribution to the scholarship on class difference amongst African Americans."
In the spring of 2000, Graham announced his candidacy for the U.S. Congress as a Democratic representative in the 19th district of New York, challenging Republican incumbent Sue W. Kelly. Among Graham's supporters were his neighbors in Westchester, NY, President Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Although he did not win the election, Graham maintained his interest in politics and combined it with his previous research on the black elite. In his 2006 book, The Senator and the Socialite: The True Story of America's First Black Dynasty, Graham looks at the life of former U.S. Senator Blanche Bruce, the first black man to serve an entire term in the United States Senate. Bruce was born a slave, yet rose to serve as a Republican senator from Mississippi from 1874 to 1880. Following the Civil War, white Republicans saw Bruce's appointment as a way to garner new black votes. Despite his success as a businessman and his social position as one of the black elite, Bruce was not able to remain in politics beyond a single term, and his family, in turn, was unable to maintain the wealth that Bruce had amassed. Graham describes Bruce's rise and fall, providing readers with a clear picture of the political situation of the time. Thulani Davis, writing for Black Issues Book Review, found the work to be "a lackluster and irritatingly repetitive book," and a reviewer for Publishers Weekly called it "a rags to riches to welfare tale that ought to intrigue, but merely bores." However, a critic for Kirkus Reviews called Graham's effort "a compelling story that shows how the American Dream can transmute into the American Nightmare."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 12, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Machlowitz, Marilyn, Success at an Early Age, Arbor House, 1985.
Black Issues Book Review, September-October, 2006, review of The Senator and the Socialite: The True Story of America's First Black Dynasty, p. 41.
Booklist, October 1, 1993, David Rouse, review of The Best Companies for Minorities: Employers across America Who Recruit, Train, and Promote Minorities, p. 223; May 15, 1995, Lillian Lewis, review of Member of the Club: Reflections on Life in a Racially Polarized World, p. 1618; February 15, 1996, Brad Hooper, review of The Best Companies for Minorities, p. 973; February 15, 1999, Vernon Ford, review of Our Kind of People: Inside America's Black Upper Class, p. 1010.
Business and Society Review, fall, 1993, Milton Moskowitz, review of The Best Companies for Minorities, pp. 65-66.
Entertainment Weekly, October 11, 1996, review of Member of the Club, p. 87.
Historian, summer, 2000, Gregory Conerly, review of Our Kind of People, p. 870.
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 1998, review of Our Kind of People, p. 1775; May 15, 2006, review of The Senator and the Socialite, p. 505.
Library Journal, September 15, 1993, Joshua Cohen, review of The Best Companies for Minorities, p. 88; May 1, 1995, Anita L. Cole, review of Member of the Club, p. 119; January, 1999, Deborah Bigelow, review of Our Kind of People, p. 134.
New York Times, October 4, 1995, Monte Williams, "Trials of a Member of a Special Club," p. C1; May 16, 2000, Randal C. Archibold, "Author on Race Relations Seeks to Unseat G.O.P. Representative," p. B5.
New York Times Book Review, February 21, 1999, Andrea Lee, review of Our Kind of People, p. 8.
Premiere, June, 1993, Veronica Chambers, "Black Is Bountiful," p. 28.
Publishers Weekly, April 3, 1995, review of Member of the Club, p. 55; June 12, 1996, review of The Senator and the Socialite, p. 46; December 14, 1998, review of Our Kind of People, p. 63.
San Francisco Chronicle, March 25, 1982.
Time, March 15, 1999, Jack E. White, "Bougie like Me: A Color-Struck Look at the Black Upper Class," p. 90.
Wall Street Journal, December 22, 1993, Leon E. Wynter, "Corporate America's Best Bets for Minorities," p. B1.