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Bitter Crop by Paul Alexander
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Bitter Crop

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Bitter Crop by Paul Alexander
Hardcover $32.00
Feb 13, 2024 | ISBN 9780593315903

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    Feb 13, 2024 | ISBN 9780593315903

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  • Feb 13, 2024 | ISBN 9780593825464

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“Making it as real as if you had been there, Paul Alexander has done an incomparable job bringing to life both elements of his title. He shows us the malice and ignorance of Billie’s accusers and eventual killers, the love and support of friends, and her own courage and purity of heart. A must- read for all lovers of the immortal Lady Day.”
—Dan Morgenstern, executive director emeritus, Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University

“The unfinished life of Billie Holiday haunts us. In Bitter Crop, Paul Alexander tells her story in a way that could put her soul and our questions to rest.”
—Gloria Steinem, award-winning author and political activist

“Perhaps only in this century can we fully change the narrative of Billie Holiday. Billie was a trespasser of taboos, a woman of tenderness and terror, whose story is repeated again and again by working-class women of color. This is a heartfelt ballad of a book written as only one artist could view another, with insight and sincere compassion.”
—Sandra Cisneros, best-selling author of Woman Without Shame

“A quietly gripping read.”
Harper’s Magazine

“Alexander pieces together some wonderful accounts of the singer by her close friends, to depict Holiday as resourceful and resilient.”
The Wall Street Journal

“Ambitious. . . . In tracing Holiday’s longtime drug and alcohol use, which damaged her health and led to her spending nearly a year in prison for narcotics possession, Alexander also delves into the unwarranted sensationalism with which the press often covered these matters at the time.”
The New Yorker

“The first major Holiday biography in more than two decades, Bitter Crop benefits from a tight focus and a cinematic structure. Alexander sets vivid scenes as he moves through the closing months of a life that was difficult from the start, weaving in detailed flashbacks to provide context for where Holiday found herself during her final act. . . . Alexander deftly sifts through the massive pile of Holiday misinformation, much of it perpetuated by Lady Day herself through interviews and in her 1956 memoir ‘Lady Sings the Blues’ . . . . Alexander, who has previously written biographies of Sylvia Plath and J.D. Salinger, captures some of the tragic beauty of Holiday’s life and art. But he also does justice to her innate toughness and survival instincts, and the work ethic that burned until her body finally gave out.”
The Boston Globe

“In Bitter Crop, Paul Alexander … details the ‘perennial hardships’ of Lady Day’s life but argues that she finally triumphed as one of America’s greatest singers. . . . Engrossing and moving. . . . The author calls Billie ‘the consummate performer whose gift was her ability to make a listener experience the emotion she was feeling as she sang a song.’ As a writer, he, too, is a stellar performer, using his considerable writing skills to help readers experience the emotional tenor of Holiday’s turbulent life. His book is quite special—authoritative, highly readable, and filled with vivid scenes.”
—The New York Journal of Books

“Paul Alexander has made a significant contribution to rescuing the artist from the myths. This is an important book. It is, in its own quiet way, a triumph.”
—The Arts Desk

“[A] stellar and sometimes-devastating account [of] the remarkable life of a jazz legend. . . . Chronicling Holiday’s career, Alexander covers in meticulous detail her early successes; collaborations … and the music itself, including 1958’s Lady in Satin, her penultimate album and a ‘masterpiece of longing and sorrow’ made singular by her beautifully ‘damaged, tortured voice.’ The result is an excellent biography befitting of its inimitable subject.” 
Publishers Weekly [starred review]

“A talented biographer paints a memorable portrait of an American master. . . . Alexander’s evocative prose seamlessly complements the painstaking research that he conducted via interviews with contemporaries of Holiday, his thorough archival mining, and his use of never-before-seen material from private collections to distinguish the fact, fiction, and embellishment about Holiday’s life that has been disseminated by music critics, early biographers, and Holiday herself. . . . [Alexander] tells Holiday’s story while delivering a cogent social history of America in the first half of the 20th century. . . . [Alexander] has written a tale as unique as Holiday’s voice and, more importantly, given voice to the life of an American original. An extraordinarily fascinating book.”
Kirkus Reviews [starred review]

“In a stringent and clarifying inquiry into the betrayals and abuse [Billie] Holiday faced, and the triumphs she nonetheless achieved, [Paul] Alexander chronicles the last harrowing year of the singer’s tragically shortened life. . . . Alexander delves into Holiday’s loving affairs with women, disastrous relationships with duplicitous and violent men, sustaining friendships, and essential musical collaborations. In fluent command of an enormous amount of detail both enraging and awe-inspiring, Alexander vividly recounts Holiday’s valiant and ravishing last recordings and performances as her health deteriorated but her conviction stayed strong. A portrait as affecting and indelible as Holiday’s exquisite performances.”
Booklist [starred review]

“Paul Alexander brought me right into the room with Billie Holiday. Despite all of her challenges, she remained determined to do what she absolutely had to do—sing! The book is filled with the irony of life—humor, sadness, and everything in between. A truly deep and inspiring work!” —Catherine Russell, Grammy Award–winning jazz artist

“Sensitive, searing, and unforgettable as Lady Day herself, Bitter Crop is an exquisite testament that offers breathtaking insight into Holiday’s final year. Alexander’s tour de force transcends the mythology of Holiday’s wounds and bruises to recognize her pure voice and heart, reminding us that Billie Holiday is with us yet.”
—Rachel Eliza Griffiths, author of Promise

“A nonfiction portrait of Billie Holiday that reads like a novel, Bitter Crop takes you into the rooms where she lived and the venues where she performed to give you a revealing, up-close look at a musical genius who became an American icon. A brilliant achievement!”
—Don Winslow, New York Times best-selling author of City of Dreams

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