Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fire & Ink III Writeup + Natl Bk Award Nominees + Segue + Musik

The weeks are whipping past. Last Sunday at this time I was returning from the amazing Fire & Ink III: Cotillion conference in Austin. I would try to recapitulate it, but I imagine my sentences would continually dissolve into a river of superlatives, which would only be appropriate because it really was a superlative experience. The conference brought together a great number of black LGBTQ and LGBTQ-friendly creative people, from all over the USA and world (Canada, the Caribbean, Africa, Latin America) for three days of conversations and discussions, presentations, and performances. The conference site lists presenters, but there were many more people who came just to see and listen and learn and teach. To be there. I want to thank the organizers once again for the wonderful job they did, from selecting the site itself--the Austin Hilton was great--to how well they organized and scheduled everything, to their patience, friendliness, helpfulness, resourcefulness, and kindness--and for the general ambience they established.

When I was describing the conference before it was held I kept suggesting that it was primarily literary, while its origins and thrust remained literary--and by this I mean literature in all its dimensions--there were filmmakers (and screenings), performers and a large performance (theory) contingent, and social scientists also in the room, expanding the conversation beyond the book and page. What underpinned a great deal of the weekend, and what I found so invigorating, in addition to seeing so many people I hadn't seen in a while and meeting many new ones, was the vibrantly activist tone, but activism in and through the arts, activism in a variety of modes, not just the most commonly understood ones. A review of the panel titles and workshops makes this clear; there was little of the aroma of the cloister I sometimes feel in academe, but instead a deep sense of continuum with the wider world. The stakes for what people have and are doing were quite clear, and we recognized this, even if others often don't.

I was unable to attend the first Fire & Ink conference, so it was particularly and personally important to me to be part of this one. So many strands of my own experience, and not just as a writer and teacher, came together here. There were echoes of the 1980s and 1990s (OutWrite and Black Nations Queer Nations), the various Black Writers Conferences at Medgar Evers College (they included the famous statement by black LGBTQ writers protesting that conference's treatment of LGBTQ writers, books and issues), the biennial National Black Arts Festivals in Atlanta, and the annual Celebrations of Black Writing in Philadelphia, my pre-academe years in the literary world, and my stint, over the last 15 or so years, teaching writing. At the conference were writers whose work I'd been reading for years but had never met, people whom I knew when I published my first stories and poetry, and writers whose work I was learning about for the first time. In much the same way that I felt about the Adfempo conference, I wish I could spend a lot more time, not just a fleeting weekend, with these folks.

My official presentations included a workshop on translating LGBTQ writers, which I made by racing from the airport, and which drew a small and interested group of people. I also organized two panels; the first was on Dialoguing Across the Diaspora, which included Tisa Bryant showing a wonderful clip with interviews on black LGBTQ arts and activism in the UK; Yoruba Richen screening a snippet of a film she worked on about the Sisterhood of the Good Death in Cachoeira, Brazil, and remarks about candomblé and an expansive view of art and activism; and Colin Robinson, who explored some of the ways Trinidadian Calypso has addressed and negotiated same-sexual desire. The other panel I organized focused on publishing today and the new technologies, and each of the panelists, Reggie Harris, Lisa C. Moore, and Steven Fullwood, offered cogent thoughts about the topic, while connecting it to their own work (Reggie as an author, librarian, event programmer, and sage, Lisa as an editor and publisher, and Steven as an author, publisher, librarian, and archivist, all three activists). As with Adfempo, I wish it would have been possible to catch all the concurrent panels, though I did attend many others, including ones on libraries and archiving, scholarship and archives, and the sources of writers' work.

I mentioned the role of performance at this conference, and it included a night of performances. We got to see a portion of Sharon Bridgeforth's play, Delta Dandy, which she is currently continuing to shape as a visitor this quarter (year, I hope) at the university; my colleague E. Patrick Johnson's performance based on his book Sweet Tea: Stories of Black Gay Men in the South, and during the piece he announced that he had been able to resume contact with one of the legendary figures in the book, the 90-year-old from New Orleans, Princess Vivian; and Daniel Alexander Jones's conjuration, as Jomama Jones, with her Sweet Peaches. The conference also included three conversations, under the title "Dash" and curated by artist Torkwase Dyson, that featured 3 pairs of writers and artists in conversation about links and reciprocal influences. The 3 were Tisa and Wura-Natasha Ogunji; Ronaldo V. Wilson and Carl Pope; and Nalo Hopkinson and M. Asli Dukan. Carl and Ronaldo also showed a short video made the night before, featuring Ronaldo at his most limber and liminal, and Dukan screened a clip from her film about Black female vampires that had me and others jonesing for some Grace Jones in Vamp--the full version, though.

All in all, as I tweeted, it was an amazing gathering. One of the videographers, Q, got me on tape rhapsodizing incomprehensibly about the proceedings, so I hope that doesn't appear in the final Fire & Ink Video, but I subscribe to my statements that the three days were soul-raising and that by Sunday, I felt like I and others had grown a set of special F&IIII wings and could take flight. Photos:

Lisa and Steven before the performance
Lisa C. Moore and Steven Fullwood, two of the Fire & Ink III board members and conference organizers, before the performances
Poet Shelagh Patterson
Fire & Ink board member, conference organizer, poet, librarian, programmer, and longtime friend and correspondent Reggie Harris
Tisa & Wura
Tisa and Wura during their conversation at the "Dash" panel
Samiya introducing Nikky
Samiya Bashir, introducing Nikky Finney
State Capitol building
Walking to the event, past the Texas Capitol Building (my friend cartoonist and writer Victor Hodge is the near silhouette)
In the main hallway
In the main hallway, Austin Hilton


Congratulations to all this year's National Book Award nominees, and an especial congratulations to this year's poetry nominees! They are:

Rae Armantrout, Versed (Wesleyan University Press)
Ann Lauterbach, Or to Begin Again (Viking Penguin)
Carl Phillips, Speak Low (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, Open Interval (University of Pittsburgh Press)
Keith Waldrop, Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy
(University of California Press)

Like last year's list, this one is really exciting; all five collections are very strong, four of the poets are known for pushing formal conventions, and, on a personal level, Carl and I were in the Dark Room Writers Collective together in the late 1980s, Lyrae and I were in the same Cave Canem group in 1999, and were there together also in 2001, and Keith was one of my favorite colleagues back in 2001-2002. Bravo to all of them, and I would not want to be one of the judges, because all are outstanding poets and most deserving of this year's award.

(H/t Reggie H.)


Last night, I had the honor of reading with Keith at the Segue Reading Series, at the Bowery Poetry Club, in New York. Every time I've read there, I have been with excellent company; the last time, I think, I read with the one and only Julie Patton. I read a sliver from the opening chapter of one of the books I've been working on, while Keith read from his nominated volume and several others, including his translations of Baudelaire's Paris Spleen. Our readings eventually be on Penn Sound's website, so when that occurs, I'll post it on here. My thanks to E. Tracy Grinnell and Laura Sims for inviting me, pairing me with Keith, and bringing people out!

I should add that before the reading, I got to meet a J's Theater reader, Joyce Russell (I hope I remembered your name correctly!), a Canadian poet who'd read with a group of other Canadian poets at the Bowery Poetry Club before the Segue Reading, and who was chatting with Djola Branner, one of the performers at Fire & Ink and a founder and former member of the groundbreaking Pomo Afro Homos troupe of the late 1980s and 1990s. (I still have my tattered PAH t-shirt and refuse to throw it out.) I'm sorry I missed Joyce and the other poets who read before us, but thank you for reading the blog, and maybe we'll get to read together one of these days down the road.


I haven't been listening to as much music as I sometimes do, especially during the winter--I blame Twitter!--when I'm in the car more, but here's my most recent fave playlist, stretched across 5-6 actual playlists on my iPhone (I have not used my iPod in over a year now).

Bebel Gilberto, "Bring Back the Love" (Brazilian Girls Extended Mix)
The Black Eyed Peas, "Meet Me Halfway"
Chrisette Michele featuring Ne-Yo, "What You Do"
Common, "What A World"
Franz Ferdinand, "What She Came For" (Drums of Death Remix)
Janet Jackson, "Make Me"
Jay-Z feat. Rihanna, "Run This Town"
Massive Attack, "Splitting The Atom"
Michael Daugherty, "Sunset Strip"
Miti Miti, "En Los Noventa"
Os Mutantes, "A Minha Menina"
Portishead, "Glory Box"
Q-Tip feat. Norah Jones, "Life Is Better"

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