On this hot August afternoon, with a sea breeze flowing through the house and the wind chimes playing a tumbling melody, Paradise On Earth is more frenetic than usual.
For Charlayne Hunter-Gault and her husband, Ron Gault, August has been a time to bring their family together - her daughter Suesan and their son Chuma - at their Oak Bluffs home, which they call Paradise on Earth.
"This is our Camp Ground, our meeting place," Ms. Hunter-Gault said.
But this August has kept Ms. Hunter-Gault on the go, thanks to interest in her recently published book, New News Out of Africa: Uncovering Africa's Renaissance. She's been hopping on and off Martha's Vineyard to talk about the book, throwing in a keynote interview with former President Bill Clinton and Microsoft chairman Bill Gates in Toronto at the 16th International Conference on AIDS.
This afternoon, she's flying out again. Her daughter, artist Suesan Stovall, is unpacking her latest pieces for a showing later in the month. The phone rings sporadically.
"It's been like this since June because of the book," Ms. Hunter-Gault said. "I figured I'd do a few things in June, a few things in July."
The pace has continued unabated this month, including a scheduled reading and discussion last night at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs.
The interest in New News, however, is just the latest chapter in the life that Ms. Hunter-Gault, an award-winning journalist, has been composing over the past 64 years.
Journalism beckoned early. Her grandmother - her main role model, a self-educated woman who had a lifelong love of learning - each day would read the two white-owned Atlanta newspapers and the black-owned paper, the Atlanta Daily World.
At her side, Charlayne, still a young girl, would delve into the comics page and her favorite character, Brenda Starr, Star Reporter.
"She worked for this newspaper," Ms. Hunter-Gault recalls. "She didn't sit behind a desk. She traveled all over, she got the top assignments, she had these wonderful romances with people like Basil St. John, who was this one-eyed mystery man who would give her black orchids, and I thought, ‘Yes!'"
That Brenda Starr, as a white woman, would have opportunities that might be denied to Charlayne Hunter as a black woman is a thought that never occurred to the young girl.
"I was never brought up to think of myself as a victim, or think of myself as oppressed," Ms. Hunter-Gault said. "I came from a very strong community, and those people did everything they could to keep us from feeling second-class. They couldn't give us first-class citizenship, because it was legally outside of the realm of possibility, but what they did give us was a first-class sense of ourselves. So when I read about the Adventures of Brenda Starr, I thought, ‘Yes, that's what I want to do.'"
At Henry McNeal Turner High School, the top school for blacks in Atlanta's segregated school system, Ms. Hunter-Gault went to work for the high school newspaper.
Upon graduation, Ms. Hunter-Gault - energetic, talented, the editor of her high school newspaper - would have seemed to be an ideal candidate for the journalism program at the University of Georgia in Athens.
There was just one problem. Ms. Hunter-Gault was black, and the University of Georgia refused to enroll black students.
A group of black leaders decided to back the admission of Ms. Hunter-Gault and Turner's valedictorian, Hamilton Holmes, to the university. The subsequent court battle eventually forced the university to enroll the two students, who had been attending other colleges pending the resolution of the case.
White students greeted Ms. Hunter-Gault's arrival with a riot outside her dormitory.
An aspiring journalist, she dealt with her experience at the center of the racist maelstrom by analyzing how the reporters covered her.
She was particularly impressed by New Yorker writer Calvin (Bud) Trillin, who would publish a book on the desegregration battle at the university.
"Bud was just the way I wanted to be," she said. "In the end, Bud was a journalist, and he was the consummate, fair reporter, but he was a human being. He related to me not as a subject, ‘objective,' but the night of the riot outside my dormitory, he called up. He was calling as a reporter to see how I was reacting, but his first question to me was, ‘Can I bring you a pastrami sandwich?'
"And I learned a lot from that," she said. "I mean, I think instinctively I would have been that kind of reporter because I come out of the church, I come out of my grandfather who was a preacher, my father was a preacher, and they always dealt with people. So I think I would have been a people-centered reporter no matter what, but I could see how the best ones among them, and the ones who I had the best relationship and regard for, were the ones who treated news subjects like people."
Following graduation, Ms. Hunter-Gault joined the staff of The New Yorker. Her experiences there with legendary editor William Shawn not only helped teach her the value of editors, but of editors who treated the work of their writers with sensitivity.
"It's your creation," she said of such work. "It's like your child. And so when they start screwing around with it, and you talk back, an editor has to be good enough and confident enough to deal with that personality."
She went on to work at The New York Times, where she came under the supervision of another esteemed editor, Arthur Gelb. The two pondered how to improve the newspaper's coverage of blacks and black issues.
Ms. Hunter-Gault came up with an idea. The New York Times, with headquarters on 42nd street in Manhattan, had bureaus in cities around the world. Why not establish a bureau in what amounted to a foreign land for the newspaper: Harlem?
Mr. Gelb went for it. Ms. Hunter-Gault became the bureau chief and bureau reporter rolled into one. Suddenly stories The New York Times never had had before came walking into the Harlem bureau, or could be found everywhere in the nearby streets.
Next came the stint for which Ms. Hunter-Gault is familiar to most Americans: two decades on public television's MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour, now known as the News Hour with Jim Lehrer. As part of her reporting for the show, Ms. Hunter-Gault interviewed leaders throughout the world.
In 1997, Ms. Hunter-Gault left the News Hour to join her husband in South Africa, where he was working as an investment banker. They've lived there since, with Ms. Hunter-Gault working first as a bureau chief for CNN and more recently as a correspondent for National Public Radio.
Living and reporting full-time in Africa has given her an appreciation of the continent that goes beyond what she calls "the four Ds of the African apocalypse: death, disaster, disease and despair." She conveys that appreciation in New News.
In the book, Ms. Hunter-Gault does not dispute the existence of a lot of death, disaster, disease and despair in Africa.
But she argues that the broad brush with which the mass media paints Africa misses the nuances and hopeful signs that also exist on the continent.
She cites South Africa's Truth Commission, the committee created to examine the effects of apartheid in that nation, as an example of a way to help two seemingly intransigent sides to co-exist, even if they don't like each other. The South Africans, in fact, have offered to advise on a truth-telling process to help bridge the gap between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
And for those who look askance at the missteps of the still-young African nations, Ms. Hunter-Gault reminds them that the United States also has been a work in progress.
"South African democracy is 11 years old," she said. "Eleven years after this country was founded, I was still three-fifths of a person, according to the Constitution."
For Ms. Hunter-Gault, the failures of understanding and communication that she's seen underlie the gaps that still separate people, including blacks and whites in the United States.
"The lack of our understanding of each other's culture, then and now, is a huge barrier toward real human interaction and understanding and comity, she said.
In retrospect, she sees her participation in the struggle for civil rights as a seminal time in her life.
"I unabashedly look at the world through the prism of human rights and justice and freedom," she said. "You don't have to look at every story through that prism. But certainly when you worked where I worked, when I was here in the sixties and seventies and eighties in America, that was a prism that served the purpose well, and certainly in the developing world these days - where people are on the move, especially women, in trying to bring about empowerment of women and freedom for the continent - those basic instincts serve me, I think, pretty well."