Reviews for Just as I am (Book)

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

An acclaimed actor recounts her eventful career. In this highly anticipated and candid memoir (“plain and unvarnished, with the glitter and garland set aside”), Tyson (b.1924)—winner of three Emmys, a Tony, an honorary Oscar, and a Presidential Medal of Freedom, among other honors—ascribes her remarkable success to luck, grit, and the hand of God. She grew up in East Harlem, the daughter of West Indian parents whose marriage ended because of her father’s philandering. Her mother, a domineering presence in the young Cicely’s life, worked as a housekeeper. Irate when Cicely became pregnant at age 17, her mother insisted that she marry the child’s father. After two years, Tyson left her husband, patching together jobs to support herself and her daughter. A chance encounter set her on the path to modeling, which in turn led to an offer of a movie role. In 1972, she earned her first lead role, in Sounder—and her first Oscar nomination. While on tour to promote the movie, Tyson became increasingly aware of bigotry and returned home with a new sense of purpose, “saying to myself, Sister, you’ve got some educating to do.” She notes proudly that she became the first Black woman to star in a TV drama and “the first black TV actress to reveal my hair in its bare-naked state.” Besides chronicling her work in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, A Woman Called Moses, and as Kunta Kinte’s mother in Roots, among other roles, Tyson lays bare the details of her tormented relationship with Miles Davis, an unrepentant womanizer and substance abuser. “He had a strong need to be cared for,” writes the author, “and that need intersected with my desire to provide care.” Tyson ascribes her longevity to an organic vegetarian diet and daily meditation, and she defends her reputation for being difficult: “The truth is that I insist upon respect….Even now, at 96, I teach folks not to mess with me.” A forthright self-portrait of a determined woman and iconic cultural figure. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.