Rifling through Kitty Kelley’s biography of Oprah Winfrey, for the purposes of researching my blog on Oprah’s Favorite Things: 2010, I stumbled upon someone who is NOT one of Oprah’s favorite things. She used to be very close to Oprah in her childhood, but now that stardom has deigned to grace the talk-show queen, she has all but cut her beloved “Aunt” Katharine Carr Esters out of her life. (The reason Aunt is in quotation marks is because Katharine is really her cousin, but Oprah had always called her “Aunt.”) This excerpt from Kitty Kelley’s book is what caught my eye about Oprah and Katharine’s relationship:
“When she started featuring nonfiction [in the Oprah Book Club] in 2005, she rejected her ‘aunt’ Katharine’s memoir, Jay Bird Creek, because, according to Mrs. Esters, Oprah said her book was ‘too trite and mediocre. No drama or excitement.”
‘I self-published the book, and Oprah said she could not consider it for her show unless it was published by a publisher like Random House, Inc….She also said her viewers would not like it.’ Mrs. Esters had written about growing up in the Jim Crow South and her fight for civil rights. ‘My book was too little for Oprah to bother with.'”
How did Oprah get to this point? Family, based on what I learned in my childhood, is perhaps the most important thing in life, yet Oprah has all but scorned hers. Her Aunt Katharine, I’m sure, didn’t pressure Oprah into including her book in the Oprah Book Club, but for a family member, who writes a book, she at least could have publicized it on her show? She can feature episodes with Dr. Oz or Bob Greene’s wacko self-help books, but she can’t even mention poor Katharine’s self-published book? The only reason Katharine probably had to resort to self-publishing the book was because Oprah had abandoned her, and couldn’t spare a cent from her billion-dollar empire to do so! And then she rejects Katharine’s book because it wasn’t published by a “publisher like Random House, Inc…” Katharine embodies what Oprah is trying to project, or at least was trying to project, about herself: a woman who was alive during the civil rights days and fought for the rights that ensures that Oprah can be the billion-dollar emperor she is today!
The scary thing is she did the same thing with her father* Vernon Winfrey, but when he tried to publish a memoir titled Things Unspoken, she totally stopped the memoir from being released:
“Vernon related this incident almost exactly as it appeared in the 2007 book proposal he submitted to publishers. Working with the writer Craig Marberry, he had produced several sample chapters of an autobiography that he titled Things Unspoken.
“I wanted to write a book about my life–my mother and my father and their nine children and how we all came up in the South.” As a black man born in Mississippi in 1933, Vernon faced challenges that he said his daughter would never know. “Oprah talks about Martin Luther King, and she can recite all his speeches, but she doesn’t know anything about the struggle. I lived it. Oprah just got in on the fly up….She reaped the harvest Dr. King sowed….I can go back seventy years in that struggle, and I want to write about it….I know that Oprah’s a part of my life, of course, and I did right by her, but Oprah is not all of my life, and I don’t have to tell her everything I do. I’m not her boy. I’m a grown man and I can do what I want as long as I stay at the side of the Lord. So, no, I didn’t tell Oprah about my book beforehand.”
During a public appearance in New York City in 2007, Oprah was stunned when
a reporter asked about her father’s plans to write a book. “That’s impossible,” she said. “I
can assure you it’s not true….The last person in the world to be doing a book about me is
Vernon Winfrey. The last person.”
Vernon smiled wryly at Oprah’s reaction. “She doesn’t understand that my book is not all about her, but that’s what she and that girlfriend of hers thinks….When Oprah called me the next day she was just as mad as you please. She said, ‘Daddy, are you really writing a book?’ I told her yes. She was upset because she said she now looked like a liar to the reporters. She said I made her look like a fool.
“I said, ‘Oprah, I’m entitled to tell my story, aren’t I?’ “
” ‘Yes, Daddy, but it would have been nice if you had told me about it first.'”
Oprah is, of course, paranoid about her personal life leaking out, and therefore decided to ax her father’s memoir before she had even read it! This is the problem with Oprah. She is okay with reaping the benefits of her families labors, but she will be damned if she will help them in any way. Vernon and Katharine are two struggling, yet successful in their own rights, people who don’t expect Oprah to help them, but it would be greatly appreciated if she would help them. At least she gives Vernon some money from time to time. Poor Katharine got stiffed royally! Apparently, Oprah’s family is not one of her “Favorite Things.” It would seem Mac & Cheese is more important than her “Aunt” Katharine…
*Vernon Winfrey, according to Kelley’s biography, is NOT the father of Oprah but someone who has remained unnamed. Kelley says, as a footnote, in her book, “On July 30, 2007, Mrs. [Katharine Carr] Esters told the author the name and family background of Oprah’s real father on the condition that the information not be published until Vernita Lee [Oprah’s Mother] tells her daughter the entire story. “And you’ll know when that happens because Oprah will probably have a show on Finding Your Real Father. As I said, the girl wastes nothing.”
(All photos and book excepts in this blog are reprinted from Kitty Kelley’s Oprah: A Biography.)
(To purchase Katharine Carr Ester’s book, follow this link: Amazon: Jay Bird Creek.)