Thursday, November 06, 2008

Sweet Tea + Podcasts + Farewells

So let's shift gears a bit. There are tons of things I've been meaning to post about, but here are a few.

Sweet TeaWeeks ago I went to see my colleague E. Patrick Johnson perform pieces from his remarkable new work, Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South (University of North Carolina Press, 2008). A collection of interviews, with extensive, clarifying commentary, that E. Patrick conducted in 2004 and 2005, the work gives voice to a wide array of men who are rarely represented, especially so thoughtfully and with such complexity, in our culture. You can order the book online, and as I've urged friends, please do go see Patrick perform selected interviews if he comes to your city or town.


One of the major issues we face is the lack of affordable, universal comprehensive health care and prescription drug benefits. I am lucky to have employer-provided insurance, but despite having very good coverage, I can attest to how exorbitant my bills have been, and I know that without insurance, there'd be no way I could have paid for them. So many people either go without necessary health care and prescriptions, or go bankrupt as a result of necessary care, every single day. The SEIU wants to keep health care at the forefront of our new President Obama's agenda. You can sign on here to support their effort.


I went through about a week of Apple Appstore Appophilia--there're so many interesting ones! And they're free! And you can get ones that perform the most useful or obscure things for you, at least in theory!--but it waned quickly, right around the time I realized that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't properly record my voice on Jott and ended up writing down the list of library call numbers I'd been trying record to my phone. Then yesterday I saw my colleague John Bresland's video essay-in-progress about his fascination with iPhone Apps (and so many other things; it was outstanding) and that Appophilia started up again. Sort of--I've downloaded a few since yesterday, which I guess points to my suggestibility or something. But the truth is, I'm actually more enthralled now with iTunes' Podcasts, which I listen to when I'm driving to work, waiting to hop on the plane, working out at the gym...yes, I admit it. In place of Common, Jazmine Sullivan, Belasco, Ghostface, N.E.R.D., Janet Jackson, Q-Tip, and all the rest of my favorite playlist residents, I actually have been listening to (CUNY series) Mark Anthony Neal lecturing on rethinking contemporary Black identity; Paul Krugman on health care and the economy; (NYPL) Daniel Mendelsohn, James Wood and Pico Iyer (who has an almost surreally high voice and loves V.S. Naipaul far too much) on literature, criticism and new media; Frank Bidart and (92nd St. Y, 1968) Adrienne Rich reading their poems; John Edgar Wideman reading his fiction; and William Rhoden on Black athletes and responsibility, just to name a few.

Some podcasts are just inappropriate for an elliptical trainer or free weights, though. Saul Kripke, for example; why on earth did I think I could get through more than a few minutes of this, doing anything except sitting very quietly, notebook in hand, and concentrating to the full extent of my capacities? Or a very old (1961) pair of Nadine Gordimer stories from the 92nd Y, which were about as engaging as a piece of toast discovered behind a refrigerator. I managed about two minutes and then had to say enough. Yes to Gordimer, no to her voice and those pieces. Driving in New Jersey, I found listening to the New Yorker's podcast of Mary Gaitskill reading Vladimir Nabokov's "Signs and Symbols" so entrancing that I had to make sure I was watching traffic lights and stop signs. But Donald Antrim's enthusiastic version of Donald Barthelme's "I Bought a Little City" didn't grab me. So it goes.

I've never been a fan of audiobooks, since I love to hold the physical book in my hand, but I do love readings, lectures and talks, and conversations, and anything along these lines conducted by very smart people, so I can't get enough of these podcasts. What really got me going after my few early dabblings was when a particularly brilliant colleague also suggested I check out the iTunes U offerings. I haven't looked back. At the risk of singling out several universities, Stanford by far has the best offerings, while MIT's courses are the most thorough, and Yale has lots of material but a lot of seems geared towards Yalies. Other universities whose materials I've downloaded include Carnegie Mellon, Case Western, Oxford, SVA, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, DePaul, Vanderbilt, and Villanova. The university doesn't appear to have any materials on iTunes right now.

A few times I've rewound the talks so many times trying to get into them that I realize, it's time for some music. And then I'm back to Janelle Monáe, Tom Zé, TV on the Radio, Ben Harper, Kelis, Kid Sister, Violator.... Looking at the iTunes offerings, I realized I haven't explored the video casts much beyond comedy shorts, so I'll have to try more of those, especially the lectures. There's a whole series on Kara Walker, including a reading by Kevin Young and a lecture by Dorothy Walker, that I've got to check out. On my list for a plane trip tomorrow: Claudia Rankine reading from her work and Elizabeth Boyi on African and Caribbean Francophone writers!


Also, I must say goodbyes to Chicago icon, writer, historian, and social activist Studs Terkel, who passed away on Halloween; South African author Es'kia Mphahlele, who died on October 27; and the inimitable critic and visionary John Leonard, whose sentences could induce vertigo. He died on Wednesday. Last week Chicago Public Radio made my day by devoting a chunk of airtime to celebrating Terkel, and you can hear some of that material, and find links to other great stuff, like Terkel chatting with Langston Hughes, here.

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