My Dreadlock Chronicles
by Bert Ashe
Bolden / An Agate Imprint
Book Review by Kam Williams
“After leading a far too conventional life for nearly 40 years, Bert Ashe began the long, arduous and uncertain process of growing dreadlocks in an attempt to step out of American convention. As his hair takes on a life of its own and gets 'twisted,' Ashe chronicles the reactions of his family, friends, strangers and colleagues—and his own frustration and bewilderment at his locked hair.
[This book] explores black hair, in all its untamed glory, from a man's point-of-view. With humor and exacting self-reflection, Ashe uses his own experience not only to explain the history of dreadlocks, but also to unpack the complicated issues of identity, politics, gender and culture in America.
At its heart, Twisted tells a larger story about how we seek to distinguish ourselves, about how we may long to break out of conventional ways, and how these rebellions don't always unfold according to plan.”
-- Excerpted from the book jacket
Bert Ashe was coming of age in the Seventies around the same time that dreadlocks first became popular in the U.S. However, it wasn't until about a quarter-century later, in March of 1998, that he finally decided to give the Rastafarian hairstyle a go.
But, by then, Bert was a happily-married family man raising a couple of impressionable young kids. Furthermore, his wife, Valerie, hailed from a military family, so she was understandably a little worried when he started “letting it grow out.” “Does it have to look so scruffy?” she inquired, contemplating the mushrooming of an unkempt, matted mess atop her hubby's head.
Bert also had to be concerned with how the new 'do would be received by his neighbors and colleagues. After all, not only did he reside in suburban Virginia but he was also a straitlaced professor of English at the University of Richmond. Thus, he wondered whether his sporting dreadlocks might be misread by some as a counter-cultural statement, despite his otherwise orthodox appearance.
Bert's intriguing experiment in coiffures is the subject of the very entertaining Twisted: My Dreadlock Chronicles. Written in a delightful, stream-of-consciousness style reminiscent of the Beat Era of the Fifties, this surreal opus is essentially an introspective memoir rife with intimate reflections, offbeat asides (ala a Letterman-inspired Top Ten List), plus personal anecdotes in which you really get to know a lot about the author's eclectic background which ranged from Pee Wee football to indie movies to mosh pit punk music.
Oh yeah, and dreadlocks, too!
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