Maximum Insight

Article excerpt

Maximum Insight. Bill Maxwell. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2001. 316 pp. $24.95 hbk.

Bill Maxwell is a columnist and editorial writer for the St. Petersburg Times. His twice-- weekly columns appear in more than 200 newspapers worldwide. Roy Peter Clark, a writing teacher at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, describes Maxwell as "all at once, a Floridian, a social activist, a teacher, a journalist, and a man of letters."

Maxwell, 56, chooses a straightforward self-definition: "the black columnist," noting that he was black before he became a writer.

This collection of columns written in the 1990s through 2000 reflects sixteen themes beginning with his early youth as a Florida native whose family worked in fields and orange groves in Florida and along the eastern seaboard. Social commentary, especially racial discrimination, is a recurring topic. What is particularly significant about Maxwell's storytelling is his ability to discuss his personal pain in a profoundly instructional fashion. He shares his most private and often humiliating experiences in hopes to help readers share racial affronts that followed him to colleges in the South, universities in the North, and in daily hate mail and telephone calls to his newspaper today.

Maxwell quickly assures readers that he does not intend to leave the impression that all of the columns in this collection are about race issues. "All of them do, however, reflect the Weltanschauung of a black man in Florida, a state with a diverse population, where various ethnicities clash, where resurgent bigotry and Republicanism have left blacks more marginalized than they have been in a generation."

This is a complex man whose book is catalogued by the Library of Congress in ten categories ranging from African Americans-social conditions to environmental conditions. He is the grandson of a Pentecostal preacher but chooses to attend the Unitarian church in St. Petersburg. His days riding a Harley Davidson motorcycle bring back fond recollections, and escaping daily pressures by paddling his kayak around Florida's west coast estuaries helps define Bill Maxwell for us.

Maxwell shares his lifelong passion for reading and learning throughout this book, which could easily be commended to students of history, journalism, editorial and opinion writing, or black studies. What students will experience is a view from not just the eyes, but the very soul, of a passionate journalist who happens to be black.

As a young boy in the 1950s, Maxwell read every day to a blind uncle. …