My Oprah Show Appearance

Harpo Studios 1990s
Harpo Studios

Episode: “Who’s Black Enough,” The full story:

Gene Cartwright, author
Dr. Michael Eric Dyson
Bell Hooks, author
Chuck D. -Public Enemy

The Oprah Show, 1997.

The following is a brief history of my memorable Oprah Show appearance and the stunning events that followed.

The show was entitled “Who’s Black Enough.” 

Oprah’s Show, then under ownership and control of the King Brothers Syndicate, struggled to get the show aired from start to finish in a single airing because of the extensive controversy.

Oprah came under intense fire from the audience. It was a very heated show. She was criticized and accused of doing more to help white figures with her show. I came to her defense. She was also attacked for having dedicated an entire earlier show to the infamous Mark Furhman (LAPD cop from the O.J. Simpson trial).

The show’s guests included Chuck D of Public Enemy, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, late author Bell Hooks, and me. I was in elite company due to the national controversy surrounding my first novel, I Never Played Catch With My Father.

My sin was that, as a black author, I dared to write with a main character who was a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) male, i.e., white. Of course, white authors are not held to that expectation. 

I was verbally attacked during the show by Sistah Soulja, the controversial rapper who had earlier tangled with President Bill Clinton. The attack also came from other sources after the Oprah taping. 

See this 1997 article by Pulitzer-winning Miami Herald Columnist Leonard Pitts. This was also covered in Ebony Magazine when I was named author of the month, following Dr. Maya Angelou, who was featured the month before. 

Gaining control from The King Brothers Syndicate, Oprah later bought out her Show’s ownership) Oprah showed segments of the show in other venues, including an appearance on Bryant Gumbel’s short-lived weekend news magazine on CBS. Author Kitty Kelley writes about this particular Oprah show in great detail in her unauthorized biography, “Oprah.” As you can see, this has the making of a book in itself. 

I still hope that someday, the intact episode will surface. However, we all know that if it were ever fully released, Oprah would lower the hammer on the guilty party. I am glad you asked. I often relive this out-of-body-like experience at Harpo Studio and how I came to be there, which I credit to my fabulous publicist, Nancy Eddy of Novato, CA. 

Imagine being an author, you’re on The Oprah Show, you look up and see your book emblazoned on the giant screen behind Oprah – The Oprah. Then, before the nationally publicized air date, you get a call from Executive Producer Diane Hudson. She drops a bomb. I managed not to have a heart attack.

I was fortunate to enjoy a 2-year national book tour in Barnes & Noble stores from coast to coast and other venues where I appeared on major networks, including NPR. The San Francisco Giants flagship station, KNBR, did something they’d never done before: feature me, a novelist, in a solo 30-minute evening, drive-time interview. 

Of all my tour interviews, I am most proud of this KLIF, then syndicated national sports radio interview in morning drive: See bottom of this page linked below: Gene

P.S. While we guests were not to reference this show if it did not air in its entirety, I have refused. I risked life and limb to fly to Chicago, then go into a weather-caused hold pattern over Lake Michigan. Plus, it was an unforgettable experience.

I have no regrets. Oprah decided to invite me to the show after reading the book and judging it on its merits. Her invitation and my subsequent appearance have served me despite all that occurred. Thanks, Oprah.