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Mabry, Marcus

Marcus Mabry

1967—

Journalist, author

Marcus Mabry is an award-winning journalist and author who recounted his own life story in a 1995 memoir, White Bucks and Black-Eyed Peas: Growing Up Black in White America. Twelve years later he profiled then-U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Twice as Good: Condoleezza Rice and Her Path to Power. That 2007 biography "works hard to solve the Rice puzzle," noted reviewer Jonathan Freedland in the New York Times. "Mabry, himself African-American and sharply alive to even the subtlest distinctions between different black experiences, shows that Rice inherited her father's view of racism: don't deny it, but don't be defined by it."

Mabry was born in 1967 and raised in Trenton, New Jersey, on the edge of the city's predominantly white suburbs. In White Bucks and Black-Eyed Peas he chronicled some of those earliest years, when he and his brother were part of a single-parent household led by his maternal grandmother. In addition to himself, his brother, his mother, and his grandmother, two uncles lived there, and "when the gaggle was at home," he wrote, "my grandmother's house brooded with potential conflict…. The underlying theme was always the same: my mother hated having to leave us with her relatives while she worked." He recounted how frequent disagreements between his mother and grandmother usually escalated into shouting matches, and sometimes his mother even took him and his brother to stay at a nearby motel. "It was worse if we had nowhere to go," he wrote. "Then, my mother and my grandmother would yell from one floor to the other for what felt like hours, going to the stairwell to vent their rage."

In that house the most important material possessions in Mabry's young mind were the family's pair of encyclopedia sets—1968 editions of the World Book and the Encyclopedia Britannica, which he read in his expansive spare time and which instilled in him a deep curiosity about the world beyond Trenton. As a teen, his grades won him a scholarship to the Lawrenceville School, an elite private academy in New Jersey. Though he was not the only African-American student there, he appreciated that most of his classmates had come from a very different world than his own, one marked by privilege and ease. As his memoir recounts, he began to feel divided between the two cultures, but confessed, "I was more comfortable in the White world. It demanded less role-playing of me, so I chose it."

Mabry went on to earn two undergraduate degrees from another prestigious school, Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. The first was in English and French literature, and the second in international relations; he also earned a master's degree in English, studied in Paris at the famed Sorbonne, and landed a nine-month Edward R. Murrow fellowship at the Council on Foreign Relations. His career in journalism included internships at the Trentonian, the Boston Globe, and Newsweek, and he began full time at Newsweek in 1989 as an associate editor. In 1991 he became the weekly magazine's Washington correspondent for the U.S. State Department and the Depart- ment of Labor, and two years later was sent to Paris as one of Newsweek's European correspondents. Mabry wrote several notable cover stories during this period, including "The Glory That Was France" in 1994, which examined the changing French national identity. In 1995 another cover story, "End of the Good Life?," looked at Western Europe's worsening economic climate and the subsequent cutbacks in the once-generous social-benefit programs that had been hallmarks of French, German, and Dutch life since the end of World War II. That latter story, written with Bill Powell, won Mabry and his colleague the 1996 Morton Frank Award for best business reporting from the Overseas Press Club.

Mabry's autobiography was published during this period of his life. A year after it appeared, he moved on to Johannesburg, South Africa, as Newsweek's correspondent there, and was soon promoted to bureau chief. That job took him all over the African continent, and he reported stories on the AIDS crisis, the retirement of South African President Nelson Mandela, turmoil in Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Zaire, and the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, Dar es Salaam, and Tanzania by Islamic fundamentalists. In June of 2007 he left Newsweek for the New York Times, where he became an editor of its Business Day section.

Mabry's biography of Condoleezza Rice was published by Modern Times/Rodale that same year. Mabry had known Rice from his time at Stanford in the 1980s, when Rice taught political science and courses on Soviet studies, which was Mabry's field of specialty as an international-relations student. Twice as Good recounts Rice's childhood in Birmingham, Alabama, during the civil rights turmoil and takes its title from an oft-repeated saying in her household when she was growing up—that African Americans needed to be "twice as good as whites" in order to succeed in the world. Rice appeared to have followed that dictum closely, first training as a classical pianist but then earning her doctorate in political science by the age of twenty-six and making her name among foreign-policy operatives in Washington, DC. She left her post as provost of Stanford—an executive position responsible for the school's financial and academic affairs—to become national security advisor in the first administration of President George W. Bush in 2000. In 2005 she became secretary of state during Bush's second term in office. Both positions meant that Rice was one of the most influential figures in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. "Mabry dwells at length on … Rice's inability to admit to error," noted a reviewer for the Economist. "The book presents abundant evidence of the warnings repeatedly sent to her by the CIA (one of the agency's untrumpeted successes) and of her failure to take them seriously."

Mabry's bylines appear less frequently in his new post as a New York Times business-desk editor. The paper, however, does offer its journalists the opportunity to publish longer op-ed pieces in its Sunday "Week in Review" section. In June of 2008 Mabry wrote about the phenomenon of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama in an article headlined "Color Test: Where Whites Draw the Line." In it he examined the Illinois senator's popularity with white and Hispanic voters, and noted that "social observers say a common hallmark of African-Americans who have achieved the greatest success, whether in business, entertainment or politics—Oprah Winfrey, Magic Johnson and Mr. Obama—is that they do not convey a sense of black grievance." Mabry saw another aspect of Obama's appeal, too, in the fact that the candidate "is genuinely of a different place and time than the generation of black leaders forged in the civil rights struggle." Observed Mabry, "His story is, in part, an immigrant's story, devoid of the particular wounds that descendants of American slaves carry."

At a Glance …

Born in 1967; raised in Trenton, NJ. Education: Stanford University, BA, English and French literature, BA, international relations, MA, English (with distinction); also studied at the Sorbonne, Paris.

Career: Newsweek, associate editor, 1989-91, Washington correspondent, 1991-93, Paris correspondent, 1993-96, Johannesburg, South Africa, correspondent, February of 1996-July of 1996, Johannesburg bureau chief, after July of 1996, senior editor and chief of correspondents, until 2007; New York Times, editor of Business Day section, 2007—.

Awards: Edward R. Murrow Press Fellowship, Council on Foreign Relations; Morton Frank Award for best business reporting (with Bill Powell), Overseas Press Club, 1996, for the Newsweek story "End of the Good Life?"

Addresses: Agent—Charlotte Sheedy Literary, 65 Bleecker St., Fl. 12, New York, NY 10012. Office—New York Times, 620 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10018.

Selected works

White Bucks and Black-Eyed Peas: Growing Up Black in White America (memoir), Scribner's, 1995.

Twice as Good: Condoleezza Rice and Her Path to Power (biography), Modern Times/Rodale, 2007.

Sources

Books

Mabry, Marcus, White Bucks and Black-Eyed Peas: Growing Up Black in White America, Scribner's, 1995.

Periodicals

Black Collegian, October 1995.

Economist, August 18, 2007, p. 73.

New York Times, July 1, 2007, p. 21; June 8, 2008.

Newsweek, May 7, 2007, p. 42.

Online

"Marcus Mabry, Senior Editor, Newsweek International," MSNBC, http://www.msnbc.com/m/nw/nwinfo_mabry.asp (accessed August 25, 2008).

—Carol Brennan

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