Tharps, Lori L. 1972-
THARPS, Lori L. 1972-
Agent—c/o Author Mail, St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.
Journalist and author. Vibe, former fact-checker; Entertainment Weekly, correspondent.
(With Ayana D. Byrd) Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2001.
Lori L. Tharps is a journalist who has traced the history of black women's emotional ties to their hair from 1400 to the present. She published her findings in the book Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America.
Tharps began Hair Story as part of her master's thesis about the social, cultural, and political implications of hair. With the help of friend and coauthor Ayana D. Byrd, she expanded her findings into a full-length book in which the authors explore why hair is an integral part of a black woman's identity. They begin their chronological history in Africa during the slave trade, and note how African women in polygamous marriages styled their hair to annoy other wives, and how warriors preparing for battle braided their hair to show that they were ready to die. Continuing their history in the United States, Tharps and Byrd poke fun at the "mushrooms" of the 1960s and 1970s and black women's relentless attempts to straighten their hair. They also describe popular hairstyles of today. A reviewer in Publishers Weekly noted that while Hair Story is about African-American hair, the book has appeal for readers of all races: it explains "black hair culture to the uninformed, so readers who don't already know what 'the kitchen' refers to (hair at the nape of the neck, usually the 'nappiest') will soon find out."
While most critics praised Hair Story for its historical accuracy, some questioned its organization. Robin Givhan remarked in Dread and Locks that the book "meanders from one topic to another and often backtracks. And, ultimately …it devolves into a familiar lament about the woes of styling kinky hair in a culture that values straight hair." However, Patrik Henry Bass, who reviewed the book for Essence, recommended that the book "be at the top of everyone's must-read list."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Black Issues Book Review, July, 2001, Arlene McKanic, review of Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America, p. 54.
Entertainment Weekly, March 9, 2001, James W. Seymore, Jr., review of Hair Story, p. 8.
Essence, February, 2001, Patrik Henry Bass, "Back to Our Roots," p. 66.
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), March 11, 2001, "Black Women's Hair Hangup: Untangling an Emotional Complex," p. 9.
Publishers Weekly, December 11, 2000, review of Hair Story, p. 73.
Washington Post, May 30, 2001, Robin Givhan, "Dread and Locks," p. C10.*