Friday, December 05, 2014

Counternarratives, Artist in Residency at the Ace Hotel & Other News

These have been four of the busiest months of my life, so my posting here has been spotty at best. I usually draft about two paragraphs of an entry, then find that I have to turn to more pressing professional or personal matters. As a result, I have not yet finished my annual Nobel Prize in Literature post, nor blog commentaries on the National Book Awards ceremony debacle, the grand jury decisions in the Michael Brown or Eric Garner murders, or anything else. I have caught a few art shows and Suzan-Lori Parks' new play, attended a number of great readings, and even made it to the Institute for Distributed Creativity's excellent "Digital Labor" conference at New School University, but could not find the time to finish my blog about it. I'll try to wrap up a few of these before the year's out, no matter how out of time they appear, but I also think I'll try, as I did during my first year of blogging, to post something every day. It was an exciting challenge and kept me thinking and writing in an informal manner, alongside all the other writing I usually have to do.


About two months ago, Reggie Harris wrote to tell me that he had received New Directions' Spring 2015 catalogue and saw that Counternarratives, my forthcoming collection of stories and novellas, was the first of the new books listed in it, which was incredibly encouraging and energizing. He did note that the catalogue used a very old photo of me, from 1995, and while I once again have a closed-cropped cut (I sheared off my dreadlocks in 2010, though they appear on Nightboat Books' page, a photo that surprised some of my Rutgers-Newark colleagues who'd never seen me with them), my hair, on my head and face, is much more heavily salted. Yet another spur to commission a new professional photo, and soon.

I had not yet received the catalogue, so I searched on line, first on my mobile phone, and found Counternarratives, first popping up on Amazon's UK site, and then, within a few days, it was on their main US site. 

New Directions has set the publication date for May 5, 2015, which is very exciting, as it's roughly 150 years, to the month (April +1) of the end of the US Civil War (1861-1865), and two of the stories, "The Aeronauts" (which is set in the milieu of the Union Army's Balloon Corps, in 1861) and "Rivers," in which Jim, from Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, now renamed and much older, encounters his former raft-mate during the war's final battle, in Texas in 1865, among other places), are set at bookending moment of this seminal American conflict. As in that war, as in the US's current conflicts, these and other stories in the collection they treat questions of race, gender, class, region, nation, citizenship and freedom, and ultimately, power. 

I believe the cover may change a little, perhaps with "Stories and Novellas" appended to the title, which New Directions thankfully agreed to keep. I am in the process of setting up readings, so if you are interested in hearing lively fiction set during the Civil War, or about early Manhattan; the American Revolution; present-day and colonial Brazil; Afro-syncretic spiritualities, sorcery, the Roman Catholic Church, and Judaism; the mixed-race German-born acrobat Miss LaLa (Olga Kaira) and her encounters with the eccentric, world-famous painter Edgar Degas; how W. E. B. DuBois and George Santayana took initial, passing measure of each other on a street in Cambridge; the final day in the Catskills of one of the major architects of late 19th century blackface minstrel productions; the queer dreams of Brazil's great modernist poet and musicologist Mário de Andrade; what secrets Langston Hughes and Mexico's Xavier Villaurrutia shared in Manhattan during the latter's jaunt down from his year of study at Yale; or the transcript, so to speak, of a conversation in a jail somewhere in contemporary Africa, you can pick up a copy of the book, and also drop me a note to invite me to present the work live. 


In other news, this upcoming Sunday, December 7, 2014, I'll be an Artist in Residence at the Ace Hotel in Manhattan! This is my first Artist in Residency ever, and came about through my association with Word Bookstores, which has branches in Brooklyn and Jersey City, so I offer my deep thanks and appreciation to them, and to the Ace, and urge J's Theater readers to patronize both. 

This will be a publicly announced but private engagement, in which I'll be working on several projects while staying at the Ace, so some of my process-related materials will be visible at the hotel, I believe after Monday at noon. 

Among the projects I plan to work on while at the Ace is a series of scores for weeklong performance, some of which touch directly upon current events, which at the very least to I hope to send overseas next summer, and preferably to stage and perform some of myself, health and finances willing. I'll also be working on an updated version of the new "Emotional Exercises" cards, some of which I hope to perform in NYC, Jersey City and Newark before the snow, let alone the spring, arrives.

I will keep J's Theater readers posted on how it turns out!


Over the years I have been nominated a number of times for a Pushcart Press Prize, for both my fiction and my poetry, but have never won, so I never raise my hopes high. Yet I want to note for posterity that I was nominated again by the wonderful, new Madcap Review, which in its début issue (No. 1) published two poems of mine, "CO2," relatively newish, and "Apostate," the latter of which I wrote a few years back in tribute to one of the greatest figures to emerge from the St. Louis area, the trumpeter and bandleader extraordinaire Miles Dewey Davis, Jr. (1926-1991). Madcap nominated "Apostate" for a Pushcart Prize, which I truly appreciate. Do check out the site for lots of great poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and digital art! You can print an issue if you like via Issuu here.

(I should add that some years ago I wanted to send this poem to Askia Muhammad Touré after hearing him talk about Charlie Parker at the Bowery Poetry Club, but the address I had for him in Boston was no good, and the note and poem returned unopened. If anyone knows how to reach him, please let me know!)

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