I hardly knew Sekou Smith when he covered the Hawks for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He wrote about the NBA team with authority, and his stories impressed me. A few times I said hello to him in the newsroom, warmed by his friendly spirit and ...


Sekou Smith's death brings home covid's tragic toll and more...

Sekou Smith's death brings home covid's tragic toll

I hardly knew Sekou Smith when he covered the Hawks for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

He wrote about the NBA team with authority, and his stories impressed me. A few times I said hello to him in the newsroom, warmed by his friendly spirit and electric smile. He was one of those people whose light always shines.

Sekou moved on from the AJC to NBA-TV and NBA.Com, drawing committed followers with his expert knowledge of the game.

Now, Sekou's gone at age 48, a victim of the covid virus. A man in his prime, a husband, and the father of three children.

That sadness strikes home, although I hardly knew him.





Joan Didion and Rachel Kushner share year of the essay

Rachel Kushner was born in 1968, the year Joan Didion published "Slouching Toward Bethlehem."

Didion's collection is seen as a touchstone of that volatile year, which saw the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, violent protests of the Vietnam War, and the riot-torn Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Kushner, the author of the acclaimed novels "The Mars Room," "The Flamethrowers" and "Telex From Cuba," grew up in an environment shaped by those tumultuous times.

Like Didion, she received a West Coast upbringing, primarily Californian, and the gift of keen observational powers. Unlike Didion's youth in a traditional middle-class home, Kushner was raised by free-spirited parents who followed the hippie ethos that Didion atomized.

Primarily known for her essays and non-fiction reporting, Didion also published two edgy, innovative novels that set the stage for Kushner's further examinations of the California counterculture's broken illusions.

Now, the writers are sharing the cultural spotlight with the publication of essay collections. The two books show the affinities and polarizations of two significant writers from different West Coast generations.

The 86-year-old Didion's "Let Me Tell You What I Mean" publishes previously uncollected "Points West" columns she wrote for the Saturday Evening Post, along with other material. She shared the column with her late husband, John Gregory Dunne.

While this sounds like the emptying of an aging writer's file for commercial gain, the collection has received strong reviews.

New Yorker writer Nathan Heller in a convoluted appreciation of Didion's career in the magazine's current issue, faintly praises the new collection in passing. The separate essays are a reversion from her "collage" technique in "Slouching Toward Bethlehem" and "The White Album" of stitching together several previous essays into a new piece, he says.

He also cites the irony of Didion, who opposes sentimentality in her work, becoming the object of popular commercial branding. Didion's "Blue Nights," her memoir about her wrenching grief over Dunne's unexpected death, softened her image and broadened her popular appeal.

Kushner's "The Hard Crowd," a collection of essays from 2000 to 2020, will showcase an aspect of her work overshadowed by her novels.

The book, coming in March, is also receiving a burst of attention. The New Yorker - there it is again - published "The Hard Crowd," Kushner's riveting memoir of growing up unfettered in a rough part of San Francisco.

Its harrowing look at urban squalor at the margins of American life contrasts with the beauty of the language. It's the best piece of writing the magazine has published recently.

Harper's magazine in its current issue offers another Kushner essay, about her dangerous participation in an illegal street motorcycle race in Baja, Mexico, in her younger days. The piece veers from horror and alarm to humor and exuberance.

While Didion foreshadowed Kushner's West Coast sensibility and tolerance for extreme experience, they differ in a crucial way.

Kushner revels in direct experience, while Didion stands at the edges, an unflinching observer.



Happiness is a warm puppy for Raphael Warnock, Democrats

Let's hear it for Alvin the Beagle, who made Snoopy proud in aiding Raphael Warnock's Senate victory in Georgia.

Alvin was the star of Warnock's endearing TV ads that effectively countered incumbent Kelly Loeffler's hysteric attacks about the pastor of Martin Luther King's Ebenezer Baptist Church.

Rivaling Naomi Klein's Intercept piece about the significance of Bernie Sanders' Inauguration Day mittens in analyzing pop political images, The New York Times' Shane Goldmacher Monday examined how Alvin came through for Warnock.

Mittens and beagles are the new progressive images as the GOP already plots to derail Joe Biden's administration.

Before the strident Loeffler unleashed her first scare ad, Warnock was shown embracing Alvin, assuring voters that he loves puppies.

Later, in one of the most effective ads in recent political campaigns, Warnock compares the GOP's racist and inflammatory claims to the dog's poop. The secondary message: Democrats unlike Republicans clean up after their pets and will also help the average Georgian.

In contrast to Alvin, GOP ads showed ranting Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and AOC. Georgians liked Alvin's floppy ears better.

The victories of Warnock and fellow Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff gave the Democrats control of the Senate, or at least we thought so until Miserly Mitch McConnell brought up his filibuster dead skunk.

Keep Alvin away from Mitch and the other Republicans. They like Rotweilers.

I liked the Alvin ads, and their composition is a legitimate news story. Yet, as one who cut his teeth on Theodore White, Haynes Johnson and Timothy Crouse's "The Boys on the Bus," I shook my head reading it, over the decline of American political discourse.

One question the New York Times piece didn't cover: Was Alvin named for the chipmunk?






Farewell, Henry Aaron

On a gloomy Friday morning, the news arrived that Henry Aaron was gone.

Following the deaths of several Hall of Fame players, the greatest of them all died at age 86.

Aaron and other black players in the generation following Jackie Robinson showed tremendous courage as well.

Growing up in the brutally segregated Mobile, Ala., Aaron first gained national stardom with the Milwaukee Braves, leading the team to a World Series victory over the New York Yankees and winning the Most Valuable Player award in 1957.

After the team moved to Atlanta, Aaron achieved his greatest triumph, breaking Babe Ruth's venerated career home run record, withstanding intense racial opposition. His accomplishment on April 8, 1974, at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium marked Atlanta's coming of age as a major city and the South's fragile racial progress.

He was a great man as well as a great ballplayer. His swing was unforgettable, and so was his smile.






Farewell, Don Sutton

Don Sutton was the voice of lazy summertime afternoons in Atlanta.

Broadcasting Braves games on the radio, the 324-game winner and Hall of Fame pitcher spoke with authority about his craft. Like legendary baseball announcers from the past, the Alabama native also seemed like a member of the family or a trusted old friend.

Mostly remembered as a gritty, indomitable starter for the Los Angeles Dodgers, the longtime Braves broadcaster died Monday night of cancer at his home in California at age 75. He also pitched for the Astros, Brewers, Athletics and Angels, getting hitters out with guile and guts more than overpowering fastballs.

While he never pitched for the Braves, Sutton became a team icon as a broadcaster. He joined the beloved team of Ernie Johnson Sr., Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren, who narrated the Braves' rise from their forlorn days on Ted Turner's Channel 17 to their glory years as the National League's top franchise. Sutton was the last surviving member of the team.

In a Fox Sports corporate shakeup, Sutton was banished from TV to radio, where he found his true metier. He was a throwback to the old-time radio voices who brought baseball into American homes before the television era. In contrast to football and basketball, baseball is a radio game. Along with imparting baseball lessons, Sutton painted vivid pictures of a game's action.

From his 23-year career as a pitching craftsman, Sutton drew upon a deep knowledge of baseball culture, how the players experienced the long season, the intricacies of the game, the drama of each inning.

As the AJC's Mark Bradley said in a tribute Wednesday, listeners always learned something from Sutton. The old Dodger also gave them baseball poetry.