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5.2: Trailblazer

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    Profile Trailblazer: Veronica Chambers


    Figure \(5.3\) In her profiling work, Veronica Chambers ( veronicachampers) highlights ordinary heroes such as civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, shown here as the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party delegate at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, August 1964. (credit: “Fannie Lou Hamer, Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party delegate, at the Democratic National Convention, Atlantic City, New Jersey, August 1964” by Leffler, Warren K.,/Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Public Domain)

    Culture Lens Icon

    You may know Veronica Chambers (b. 1970) from having read Mama’s Girl, her 1996 memoir about being raised in Brooklyn by her mother, who had immigrated with her from Panama. You may have seen one of the many books that Chambers has coauthored, such as Yes, Chef with Marcus Samuelsson, published in 2013; Make It Messy, also with Marcus Samuelsson, published in 2015; or Thirty two (32) Yolks, with Eric Ripert, published in 2016. Building on these successes, Chambers—who has served as senior editor at several major publications, including Glamour, Newsweek, and the New York Times Magazine—has recently focused on developing an array of young adult books highlighting the voices and histories of marginalized people, mainly Black women.

    In the expanded paperback edition of Resist: 40 Profiles of Ordinary People Who Rose Up against Tyranny and Injustice, published in 2020, Chambers delves into the profile genre, covering a variety of well-known and influential subjects dating from as early as 1429 to the present day. While many of her subjects are Black American women, such as civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer (1917–1977) and Georgia politician Stacey Abrams (b. 1973), the collection includes people from around the world and from different cultures, among them Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi (1869–1948), German industrialist Oskar Schindler (1908–1974), and South African singer Miriam Makeba (1932–2008). In every chapter, Chambers uses the profile genre to highlight one key aspect of each of her subjects’ lives.

    Paying Attention to the Subject's Voice

    Profiles aim to help readers better understand their subject by focusing on one major idea. When the subject is a person, readers can better understand that person by reading their spoken or written words. Chambers uses this technique throughout her book. In the first chapter, Chambers tells the story of French heroine Joan of Arc (c. 1412–1431), centering on the idea that individuals are born for a purpose. Readers can better understand Joan of Arc’s singlemindedness because of the chapter’s epigraph (quotation provided at the beginning of a written piece that indicates how readers should approach the text), attributed to the subject: “I am not afraid.… I was born to do this” (Chambers, Resist 9). The profile itself offers an additional direct quote: “All battles are first won or lost in the mind”(10). Other chapters, such as those profiling Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) and former South African president Nelson Mandela (1918–2013), also begin with the subject’s words in an epigraph or employ both strategies—epigraph plus direct quotes within the profile. (You may choose to use either or both of these strategies in your profile as well.)

    Recognizing the Author's Voice

    Profile writers may choose to include themselves in the piece, referring to their own experiences and interactions with the subject. In this collection, Chambers instead speaks in her own voice in the “resist lesson” at the end of each chapter. These “resist lessons” distill each profile’s focus into a short phrase, such as “We must speak for the voiceless” (the lesson for the profile of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, 1879–1919) and “Honor the hands that harvest your crops” (the lesson for the combined profile of American labor leaders Dolores Huerta (b. 1930) and Cesar Chavez, 1927–1993).

    Negotiating among Author's Voice, Subject's Voice, and Genre Expectations

    The profile genre enjoys considerable variety. While Chambers does not include her own experiences in this collection, other writers do insert themselves into the profiles they write. Yet even without first-person commentary, Chambers clearly communicates her opinions of the subjects with her word choices and “resist lessons.” Either choice—including the author directly in the text or not—can be appropriate, depending on the rhetorical situation.

    Discussion Questions

    1. Now that you have read the information provided in the chapter thus far, what do you think are the differences between a profile and a memoir or biography?
    2. Why might you include or exclude your own voice or experiences in the profile you write?
    3. Given that many of her subjects are historical figures, how do you think Chambers found the information for the profiles included in her book? How would research on someone who lived in the past differ from research on a living person?
    4. How is the profile genre uniquely suited to showcase the idea of courage or some other admirable trait?
    5. What profiles have you encountered that have inspired you? How have they done so? If you haven’t read any inspiring profiles, what subjects—people, places, or events—would you like to see profiled? Why?

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