The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography, by Sidney Poitier, was the Oprah’s Book Club pick for 2007.
If I’d put enough effort into it, I could have read this 243-page book in a day. Sure, the writing style throws in clichés like they were going out of style, but, man, Mr. Poitier has had a fascinating life. After growing up “dirt poor” on Cat Island, in The Bahamas, he moved to Miami, Florida when he was a teenager. Then, wishing to get as far away from the Jim Crow south as his money could get him, he bought a one-way bus ticket to New York, and ended up in Harlem.
He worked as a dishwasher, and assorted other labor work, until, when dishwasher jobs became hard to find, he answered an “Actors Wanted” ad placed by the American Negro Theatre. His first audition was a disaster, partly because he really had no idea what an “actor” is, and partly because he barely knew how to read. Years later, his second audition went better – he became an understudy to some kid named Harry Belafonte.
Sidney Poitier, of course, went on to become an actor in such racially-charged movies as Blackboard Jungle, In the Heat of the Night, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and Patch of Blue.
In 1963, Sidney Poitier became the first African-American to win the Academy Award for Best Actor, for his role in Lilies of the Field. (When Measure of a Man was published in 2000, he was the only African-American to do so. Denzel Washington won Best Actor in 2001.)
Like the subtitle says, this is a “spiritual” autobiography, full of Sidney Poitier’s insights into how he survived a lifetime of racism and poverty with an overall positive personal outlook.
The Measure of a Man makes me wonder why I don’t read celebrity autobiographies more often.
- A book written by a celebrity
- A book from Oprah’s Book Club
- An autobiography