William Upski Wimsatt is a journalist who has drawn an interesting path across the 1990s in America, and seems to be doing the same for this decade.
Upski is perhaps best known for his two books- Bomb the Suburbs and No More Prisons, both independently published books that sold several tens of thousands of copies in various independent book stores across the country. Most of the source material for the first book was taken from various articles that Upski had written for the Source and On the Go, two (at the time) underground hip-hop magazines. Most of this material covers hip hop topics such as rap and graffiti.
Bomb the Suburbs describes Upski's teenage years in Chicago and his differing attitudes towards the black people he grew up with, which ranged from hate to worship. It includes a scene where Upski, a secular Jew, gets in a fight with one of his classmates, the son of Minister Farrakhan.
However, the theme of Bomb the Suburbs, if there was to be a single theme, was not simply race relations or hip-hop. It was, as Upski wrote later about "breaking down mental cliques in American life", as he took on the issue of hitchhiking, and whether the cities were really as dangerous as people said they were. He also admits that this book failed at truly getting to the issue that he wanted to get at.
However, when he wrote the book, he was still only 21 years old, and had managed to gain a large audience, who, if not convinced that Upski was the largest star on the intellectual horizon, at least appreciated his novel approach and interesting critiques. Two years after Bomb the Suburbs came out, Upski went to work for Grace Llewellyn, an advocate of homeschooling. He was also featured in Utne Reader. In other words, he was starting to gain exposure outside his original hip hop audience.
Several years later, around the same time as The Battle in Seattle, Upski released No More Prisons, a book that tackled an even more diverse groups of topics then Bomb the Suburbs, and with a slightly more studied view point. The book discussed such issues as the prison industry, homeschooling, hip hop leadership, philanthropy and suburbanization . This book attracted an even more wide audience.
I saw Upski speak in Febuary of 2000, in Portland, OR. He is a great public speaker, and reaches out to his audience beyond trying to make ideological or political statements. His tone of speech had almost a religious sound of it, as he told the entire audience that he "could feel the spirit in here tonight". I get the impression that he is just glad to join a diversity of people together in fellowship, and that the politics is almost an excuse for the good times.
Personally, Upski is funny too. I spoke with him on the phone when he was younger, and he was somewhat hyper and had a very hip-hop attitude. However, when I met him in 2000, he was older (he is almost 30 now), balding, and a little more heavy set. He still took the floor to break dance, however.
This write up only scratches the surface of who Upski is and what he is about. For more information, read http://nomoreprisons.net , or better yet, meet the man.