Published: Sunday, February 3, 2008
By Sally Pollak
Free Press Staff Writer
He grew up in a household where the most radical thing was the
Cowsill's cover of the Broadway musical "Hair." His aesthetic was
punk rock when he moved to Manhattan at 17.
Laban Carrick Hill, technically a baby boomer because he was born in
1960, doesn't identify with the boomer sensibility or psyche. That
might make him just the right person to assimilate, dissect and
articulate the era for young readers -- teenagers who were not alive
when the Beatles dominated the charts; college campuses were teeming
with social protest; the Black Panthers presented a political
manifesto; and drugs and sex flowed freely.
This was Hill's mission, which he called a "labor of love," in
writing a book about the 1960s, "America Dreaming: How Youth Changed
America in the '60s."
Hill has a feel for the era, but he's not of it. He was an observer
of the 1960s, but not a participant. He knows the boomers' story (as
a kid coming of age in the '70s and a writer who researched the
times), but he didn't live it.
"I never experienced the hope and optimism of the '60s," Hill said.
"I experienced the nihilism and loss of hope of the '70s."
In writing his book, Hill said he was conscious of wresting the
boomer narrative from the boomers themselves -- a group known for its
power and influence.
"I really had to come to terms with an understanding of why the '60s
are so important and why I should care today," Hill said. "The thing
that I noticed is that the boomer generation is like the giant
elephant in the room. Whatever they're concerned with, suddenly
everyone is concerned with."
Hill, who lives in Burlington with his wife and two daughters, is the
author of more than two dozen books, including the 2004 National Book
Award finalist, "Harlem Stomp!"
Like his Harlem book, Hill's volume on the '60s is a concise,
thoughtful and informative book on a particular period in American
history. Both books are brought to life by the vibrant and inspired
design of Hill's wife, Elise Whittemore-Hill. Simply flipping the
pages of "America Dreaming" and looking at the images and colors,
gives a reader a sense of the '60s, its mood and significance.
"America Dreaming" is intended for young readers, students who were
born decades after the historic events of the '60s transpired --
before coming to a screeching and sobering close with the 1968
assassinations of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F.
Kennedy. Punctuated (with an exclamation mark) by the celebratory mud
and musicfest of Woodstock.
"With the '60s, the problem is that the history isn't stabilized yet,
and it's much larger than the whole Harlem Renaissance," Hill said.
"There are many ways to look at the story: I had to keep focusing on
the notion that I was writing for people who hadn't lived it and
didn't know the story."
Hill said he sifted through and distilled voluminous amounts of
information -- the boomers aren't shy about telling their tale --
researching his book. He "internalized" the information, discerning
core themes and making choices about what to include and what to
exclude in his treatment of a turbulent, charged and ground-breaking
decade. Areas the book addresses include the counter culture, the
black power movement, women's liberation and the rise of the Latino
consciousness -- a topic Hill said he's particularly gratified and
proud to have included.
Hill is adept at articulating information so it's easy to understand
and interesting to consider, making the book a fun flashback for
graying '60s types and an accessible and informative read for
teenagers who think they know what freedom means.
"American Dreaming" opens with a take on "Romper Room." Hill makes
the point that baby boomers, whose mighty demographic includes people
born between 1946 and 1964, reared in the prosperity following World
War II, were the focus of a concerted child-raising effort. Dr. Spock
guided parents and gave them the ultimate stamp of approval -- trust
your instincts -- and raising children was an all-American sport.
Children were the center of the universe. Kids were media and
consumer-savvy, poised and primed to seek out and consume the new and
best thing. They grew up with a certain sense of entitlement.
"As kids grew older, they noticed how boring and stultified their
lives were," Hill said. "Their lives were in a boring bubble; they
began looking outward to the new and different."
This would come to include experimenting with new and altered
consciousnesses and ways of living -- ways that would make their
lives better, Hill said.
"They're always in search of perfection," he said. "This fits in with
America's tradition of the search for utopia."
The legacies of the 1960s are numerous and manifest, Hill said. They
include an African-American and a woman as leading presidential
candidates, recycling, equal rights.
"I hope 14-year-olds come away with a story about how young people
were able to speak up, to identify hypocrisy and injustice and do
something about it," Hill said. "And to not just feel helpless and
hopeless but to step out, participate and change the world."
Contact Sally Pollak at firstname.lastname@example.org or 660-1859.
About the book
TITLE: "America Dreaming: How Youth Changed America in the '60s"
AUTHOR: Laban Carrick Hill
DESIGNER: Elise Whittemore-Hill
PUBLISHER: Little, Brown and Company