Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Wednesday Round Up

Shortly after learning of theater great August Wilson's death the other day, I subsequently learned that Nipsey Russell, a fixture on TV programs, especially game shows during the 1970s, had died from cancer at his Manhattan home at age 80. He was especially memorable in the movie version of The Wiz. What I particularly remember about Russell is his versifying; he often offered up had an inventive, catchy lyric that made me go, "Huh!" Russell, who studied English and American literature in college, was one of the important figures in a generation of late 20th century Black comics who emphasized a broader, expansive kind of humor, though, as the NY Times obit asserts, he never lost his critical edge on racial or other political and social issues.

Mae OlgaAnother RIP goes to Mãe Olga de Alaketu [do Alaketo] (at left, with Carlos Moura of, who died in Salvador, Brazil, at age 80. She was one of the leading figures in the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé, a syncretic faith, based strongly on Yoruba and neighboring spiritual traditions, that arose in the state of Bahia during the long period of Brazilian slavery. Ms. Alaketu, as The NY Times obituary notes, presided over the one of the oldest temples in Salvador, the Ile Maroia Laji terreiro, established in 1636. Brazzil Magazine says that "the ialorixá [Ms. Alaketu's title] was the fifth generation of the princess Otampê Ojarô, from Ketu, in the Western Africa's Benin. Ojarô had been brought to Brazil as slave in the 18th Century." Princess Otampê Ojarô was a member of the royal family of Aro, in what is now present-day Benin, and played a central role in establishing Candomble in Brazil.

Bernie T., at Bejata, posts a heads-up about the "Slavery in New York" exhibit at the New York-Historical Society, which opens this Friday, October 7, 2005. Bernie's entry provides a fine background on the history of slavery in New York, which is usually overlooked, though it's important to note that slavery above the Mason-Dixon line, and particularly in New England, is rarely mentioned or presented in the public discourse or by the media. I do hope to catch the exhibit, and thinking about it reminds me of the second summer I was at the Cave Canem Writer's Workshops, in 2001 at Cranbrook Academy in Detroit. The Sunday (June 24, 2001) before the workshops began, the New York Times Magazine published an article on how researchers had found traces and relics of slave life, an in particular material evidence of spiritual practice, in the attic of a farmhouse (the "Lott" House) in what is now Marine Park, Brooklyn; many people who lived right near the building had no idea that slaves had been kept there, or even of Brooklyn's, Long Island's, and New York's long slave history. My first short piece based on this news, "Passage I," reads:

In the forgotten
attic crawlspace
of the abandoned

where even mice

no longer
linger spirits
summon signs

from neckbones beads
a corncob
star still

As I discussed with my grad students in our conversation on Maryse Condé's I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem, the author's invocation and interweaving of the story of the Jewish Diaspora (in the figure of Tituba's putative owner and husband, Benjamin Cohen D'Azevedo), has particularly relevance for New York City, as both Jews and free and enslaved Blacks settled and established plots in what is now Greenwich Village during the New Amsterdam period, which followed the Dutch expulsion from the Brazilian state of Pernambuco in 1650 or so. New York has always been a cultural stew!

Emperor W, whose abysmal approval ratings finally match the horrible job he's done ("It's hard work!") over the last five years, has nominated yet another enigma to replace Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the United States Supreme Court. The 60-year-old Harriet Miers, who replaced torture-enabler Alberto Gonzales and now serves as White House Chief Council, is W's choice, apparently enraging ultraconservative nutcases who wanted W to select from the increasing kitty of right-wing jurists who believe that interpretation of the Constitution stops at the limits of what its authors, in their day (which included limited franchise, slavery, etc.) believed and felt. Miers, a Texas native and legal pioneer, was reared Roman Catholic, but after a spiritual crisis in 1979, was reborn as evangelical Christian. This did not prevent her, however, from donating $1,000 to Al Gore Jr. and Lloyd Bentsen (remember him!) and to the Democratic National Committee over W's father in 1988, or from meeting with a Dallas gay rights group and stating unequivocally on a questionnaire that she supported equal rights for LGBT people when she was running for the Dallas City Council in 1989. Yet conversely she did not believe that gay sex should be decriminalized; she also did and does not believe in a woman's right to choose to have an abortion. She also once called W. "the most brilliant man" she knew, helped to clean up his National Guard AWOL scandal, and handed him the infamous PDB stating that Osama bin Laden was "determined to strike" in the US. None of which speaks well for her judgment, but all of which testifies to her very close links to W, which is, as has become clear, all that matters for him. ("Brownie, you're doin' a heckuva job!") Interestingly, according to AmericaBlog, there was similar conservative disappointment about Raygun's selection of O'Connor, who actually voted from the right for years. Miers undoubtedly is very conservative, perhaps a little less so than newly seated Chief Justice John Roberts; so unless Clarence Thomas, who is now as big as Mt. Kilimanjaro, or Antonin Scalia keels over, we may be stuck with a very right-leaning court for at least a decade or more to come.

On a completely different tip, Rod 2.0 has a funny piece on actor Vin Diesel (at right, courtesy of who has caught Dominican fever, tinged, it seems, with a touch of American divadom. According to Dominican Today, after a young woman (really?) whom longtime bachelor Diesel had befriended refused to accompany him to his hotel room, he had her barred from setting foot in the Santo Domingo club, Praia, where they met up. The account is a bit jumbled (were they inside or outside the club--they were "on" their car? Huh?). Really, who knows how true this account is? But what is clear is that Diesel is planning to film part of a story about a Dominican immigrant, The Godfather (Vin, please find a more original name for your movie, okay?--and maybe cast Amaury Nolasco, Victor Rasuk, Judy Marte, and Zoe Saldana, who are Dominican(-American), in starring roles?) to the US in DR, has met with the president of the country, Leonel Fernández Reyna, and supposedly has been spotting riding his motorbike along the waterfront (where? Please don't say Boca Chica...). OK. As the newspaper article states in rather curious (unintentionally or intentionally ironic?) English, "During the past weeks, Diesel has been seen in the most diverse of entertainment places, and has announced his intention to undertake a series of projects in the country," and "Diesel is a recurring visitor to the country, that goes around from disco to disco in the company of his security detail and certain local businessmen." Hmmm.....

Finally, also via AmericaBlog, there's this hilarious post by Andy Goldman of Radar Online, who actually decided International Male outfits and bravely wear them in public. It made me laugh so much I started crying--you absolutely cannot miss his trips, in opulent finery, to the Four seasons, his jaunt in a candy-colored suit to Yankee Stadium, his wearing of a cape to a Chelsea gay bar, where he was treated as if he radioactive, and...well, here's one excerpt from his turn as "Count F*ckula":
With a huge knot in the pit of my stomach I steel myself and walk through the doors of Giorgio Armani’s Madison Avenue store. From a back corner a mysterious hooting wail pierces the sleek Italian silence. I adopt the bearing of the count I am dressed as, hold my head high, and rush upstairs to the men’s department.

Back in they day (the 1980s), I knew of more than a few people who tooled around in IM garb. I even once thought of buying a pair of their pants ("slacks"?), which were peg-legged, but then realized I couldn't afford them and just broke out the needle and thread myself. But in 2005? If there is a place where lots of men currently traipse around in their gear, I want to see these folks with my own eyes, and cheer them on (I'm not being sarcastic.) Especially the puffy shirt and that cape!


  1. i didnt even hear about Nipsey .... i loved him in the wiz ...

  2. Yep, Nipsey is only with us in spirit and virtuality now. He was one of the best things happening in "The Wiz."