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Book review: ‘Reclaiming Her Time’ a Maxine Waters biography with as much panache as its subject

"Reclaiming Her Time: The Power of Maxine Waters" (Dey Street)
By Karin Tanabe Special to the Washington Post

Congresswoman Maxine Waters. Queen of memes. Giver of gifs. Inspirer of song. How did the gentlelady representing California, the most senior Black woman in the House, become a social media darling for millennials and beyond?

Helena Andrews-Dyer and R. Eric Thomas are here to tell you in their new book, “Reclaiming Her Time: The Power of Maxine Waters.”

This political biography – that’s anything but your grandma’s political biography (it has illustrations, pastel colors, both lewks and looks) – zeros in on that moment in 2017 when Waters, questioning Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin during a House Financial Services Committee hearing, lit the Internet (and Mnuchin’s insides) on fire by simply following procedure.

As he sidestepped her question, she repeated, “Reclaiming my time” – delivering three words with the glasses-halfway-down-the-nose assuredness of a seasoned stateswoman who will not be danced around – and boom, Waters became a hero for a whole new generation.

While Andrews-Dyer (a staff writer for the Washington Post) and Thomas (who coined the moniker Auntie Maxine on his blog) devote their first chapter to that “Peak Maxine” exchange, their book does not dwell on a mere two minutes of glory.

Instead, they are here to enlighten or remind readers that Waters has done a whole lot in her nearly 50 years of community activism and public service.

They do so through a celebration of Waters and the decisions, the efforts, the legislation, the relationships, even the outfits that have defined her.

To highlight key moments, the authors pepper the book with “Time Out” sections, which look at events like the unrest in 1960s Watts, the Los Angeles neighborhood where she was a community organizer and Head Start teacher; the National Women’s Conference of 1977; and her relationships with the presidents.

These are important pauses, but the book is strongest when focused on the long road, the slog of local government and what she’s had to face as a Black woman in Congress who is unapologetic about her power (take Bill O’Reilly’s 2017 comments about Waters’ appearance, for example).

And just how long she has been fighting against police brutality and for social justice, women’s rights and “education as a ladder out of poverty.”

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