From the beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning poet: an extraordinary memoir and blistering meditation on fatherhood, race, addiction, and ambition. Gregory Pardlo's father was a brilliant and charismatic man--a leading labor organizer who presided over a happy suburban family of four. But when he loses his job following the famous air traffic controllers' strike of 1981, he succumbs to addiction and exhausts the family's money on more and more ostentatious whims. In the face of this troubling model and disillusioned presence in the household, young Gregory rebels. Struggling to distinguish himself on his own terms, he hustles off to Marine Corps boot camp. He moves across the world, returning to the United States only to take a job as a manager-cum-barfly at his family's jazz club.Air Traffic follows Gregory as he builds a life that honors his history without allowing it to define his future. Slowly, he embraces the challenges of being a poet, a son, and a father as he enters recovery for alcoholism and tends to his family. In this memoir, written in lyrical and sparkling prose, Gregory tries to free himself from the overwhelming expectations of race and class, and from the tempting yet ruinous legacy of American masculinity.Air Traffic is a richly realized, deeply felt ode to one man's remarkable father, to fatherhood, and to the frustrating yet redemptive ties of family. It is also a scrupulous, searing examination of how manhood can be fashioned in our cultural landscape.
Air Traffic Review
- January 1, 1970KarylI heard an interview with the author on NPR one day, and it caught my attention because I enjoy memoirs, and when he mentioned that his family had been featured on "Intervention," my curiosity was piqued even further. I'm a bit too young to remember Reagan firing all the air traffic controllers, so this was news to me. But I was enthralled by the elder Pardlo's description of the complexity of the job, of having to keep so many planes in the air at different speeds and altitudes and knowing how I heard an interview with the author on NPR one day, and it caught my attention because I enjoy memoirs, and when he mentioned that his family had been featured on "Intervention," my curiosity was piqued even further. I'm a bit too young to remember Reagan firing all the air traffic controllers, so this was news to me. But I was enthralled by the elder Pardlo's description of the complexity of the job, of having to keep so many planes in the air at different speeds and altitudes and knowing how differently each aircraft responds to various wind speeds. I'm glad Pardlo does mention that the civil service had been fairly well integrated until President Woodrow Wilson segregated it once more; this is a fact that needs to become common knowledge once more. Unfortunately, I had a hard time really getting into this book. I adore memoirs, especially by people who aren't A-list celebrities, but this one left me a bit cold. At times Pardlo's writing is quite overwrought, but I do realize that he's a poet. Pardlo can also be rather harsh on his father, himself, and his brother. It was a bit disconcerting at times. He's very honest and raw, but sometimes the reader wishes for a bit more diplomacy.more
- January 1, 1970KusaimamekiraiThis for me was the story of two books. The first half deals with the author’s father, an air traffic controller, pre and post Ronald Reagan’s unconscionable firing of 11,000 of them. His father is in many ways an outsized personality. A self made, self aggrandizing, and yet successful man who built a solidly middle class life for his family. Yet his father’s life, and that of the family’s, began to disintegrate in the wake of his firing. Alcoholism and drug abuse swept through the family as th This for me was the story of two books. The first half deals with the author’s father, an air traffic controller, pre and post Ronald Reagan’s unconscionable firing of 11,000 of them. His father is in many ways an outsized personality. A self made, self aggrandizing, and yet successful man who built a solidly middle class life for his family. Yet his father’s life, and that of the family’s, began to disintegrate in the wake of his firing. Alcoholism and drug abuse swept through the family as the facade of a life they had built began to crumble. It is in many ways I imagine a microcosm of the lives of most of those who were fired (and subsequently blackballed from any federal employment until Bill Clinton’s belated reinstatement of them 15 years later in 1996). With no training in any other field than this highly stressful and specialized one, there was no place for many of them to go. More importantly there was, as the author points out much like with soldiers returning from war, no outlet for them release the stress of years of constant tension and fear that one tiny mistake could cost hundreds of lives. This stress manifested itself instead in self destruction and hatred which destroyed both the father and the family. The story of the author’s father, the author watching him disintegrate, and the fascinating background on the air traffic controller’s strike was fascinating and extremely sobering reading, beautifully written and heartfelt. The second half however was none of that. There was the story of the author’s brother Robbie, who would become a successful musician only succumb to debilitating alcohol abuse, which continued the “sins of the father” narrative quite poignantly. The rest though was fairly uninteresting. Early in the book the author discusses what it was like being a middle class black family living around mostly white people. He discusses systemic issues that often prevent the rise of black families from poverty and other social issues. Yet somehow there is a whole chapter devoted to him and his wife searching for the best prep schools for his kids. Interspersed with his occasional laments and guilt about contributing to gentrification by living in an expensive brownstone (congratulations), and sending his kids to elite schools (congratulations again) is a kind of defiance that anyone should tell him he can’t do these things. This paragraph nicely illustrates his at times, schizophrenic writing:“Diversity is the prize many independent schools are after, and yet that prize continues to be as elusive as ever. Many schools want to sport your child’s nonthreatening nonwhite face on the banner of their home page so long as your child and your family share the school’s dreams of the future. That is, so long as the family is reasonably suited to the culture of the school. Let’s call it what is: tokenism, the appearance of progress without the growing pains. Programs like affirmative action and legacy admissions mostly piss off people who are not benefiting from them. Tokenism, however, makes everybody feel icky. But the alternative, laissez-faire approach feels irresponsible. All I’m sure about is that I don’t give a shit how my kid gets into a good school. That’s what I call a child-centered approach.” To summarize, schools exploit black kids by showing them as tokens of diversity without actually being diverse (such as having racial enrollment actually reflect societal demographics). But not having affirmative action is just heartless. Either way, I don’t give a fuck about either so long as my kids get into a good school and I’ll take advantage of whatever I need to to do that. That’s fine. Most parents feel that way I imagine. However seeing it in print like this makes me feel as the author so eloquently writes “icky”. It’s an “I’ll get mine” regardless of anyone else getting theirs. That’s modern society to be sure, but not something to be particularly proud of. To say nothing of what this has to do with his father or why the reader should care about his search of elite schools. In addition, some of the writing here is extremely overwrought. Pardlo is a poet so maybe that is to be expected to a certain degree but personally, I’ve always subscribed to the theory that while there is nothing wrong per se in flexing your vocabulary, it becomes a problem when it distracts the reader from the story being told. There is a good story here and sentences like: “Bed-Stuy’s indifferent availability acted like an economic baleen capturing even the krill of our demographic heft and hue.” I know what he wants to say but sentences like these pulled me out of the narrative and served no other purpose in my humble opinion than to show off. It’s a shame the book drifted off like it did in it’s latter stages. The first half is as compelling as anything you’ll read this year, the second half is simply forgettable.more
- January 1, 1970Michelle ArthingtonThis is an exquisitely well-written memoir by a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, that especially hit home in the final chapter with the starkly honest back-story of Robbie's "Intervention" episode and Gregory's own admission of alcoholism (the airing can be found in chapters on Youtube).more
- January 1, 1970LizVulture Upcoming Books Spring 2018
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