Veronica Webb,
Veronica Webb Sight:
Adventures in the Big City

(Miramax Books/Hyperion, 1998)

African-American model, actress, screenwriter and essayist Veronica Webb offers a volume that is one-third autobiography and two-thirds collected essays that originally appeared in various magazines. Writing in a breezy, colloquial, conversational tone, Webb recalls her childhood growing up in Detroit and her early fascination with glamour, entertainment and writing. She credits a strict yet nurturing family environment to giving her the strength to battle the lures of drugs, alcohol and foolish choices in abusive, jealous boyfriends while pursuing the dream of modeling and acting in New York City in the 1980s.

Webb provides plenty of juicy behind-the-scenes details of the modeling trade: in print; on the runway for fashion shows in NYC and in Europe; and dealing with auditions, agents, designers and colleagues -- culminating in a job as the first African-American to sign a major cosmetics contract when she became a Revlon spokeswoman in 1992 -- successes won despite racism and sexism bluntly described, for the author is quite forthcoming about the prejudices and discrimination against people of color and women in the entertainment industry. Alas, those of African descent are not above mistreating their own as some dismaying accounts of Webb's experiences acting in small roles in Spike Lee's Jungle Fever and Malcolm X reveal that the famous black auteur film director subjected her to the casting couch syndrome of sexual harassment. Despite such discouraging obstacles, Webb's story is ultimately uplifting and inspirational, for by being open-minded and flexible, she found ways to survive with writing eventually becoming her most successful outlet for self-expression and financial security.

The essay portion of the book, like Webb's memoirs just described, are also penned in an informal, chatty style, yet are rich in insight and witty observations on such diverse topics as sex, love, politics, the struggle to quit smoking (I wish she had been more revealing about how she got started in the first place), the appeal of shopping for shoes (how they can become a fetish), her family (she has two sisters and her parents never divorced), modeling as part of pop culture, racism, traveling, film-making, encountering celebrities and writing.

Adventures in the Big City is both entertaining and thought-provoking, the testimony of an intelligent, perceptive woman who is far more than a pretty face and who has a lot of worthwhile things to say about herself as part of popular culture and a wider world. The book also is enhanced by numerous photos liberally sprinkled throughout -- snapshots from family albums in the beginning soon superseded by professional shots from modeling and acting jobs -- the visual and the verbal complementing each other nicely. Webb's book is a very worthwhile reading experience for anyone wishing to get to know a bright, engaging person with much of interest to communicate as an African-American woman who has triumphed but is candid about the struggles and heartbreaks behind her success.

[ by Amy Harlib ]

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