Friday, April 01, 2022

Imani X. Davis Reads "Napoleon Club" + Happy National/International Poetry Month

HAPPY POETRY MONTH!

Back in 2018 I posted a clip on here of a young performer, Orlando Watt, on YouTube performing a snippet of my poem "Words," which had appeared on the Academy of American Poets' Poetry Daily, courtesy of the amazing poet Dawn Lundy Martin. It is rare to have anyone read or perform my work, and I didn't know Watt, but I loved his interpretation, which he subsequently removed from YouTube. I believe he stated that it was part of his audition reels, which I also appreciated, because if one of my poems can in any way help another young artist get a gig, that for me is an unexpected but added bonus of creating it.

This morning while scrolling on Twitter I came across a tweet by Mani (Imani X. Davis), a doctoral student I've never met but who very kindly selected another poem of mine, "Napoleon Club," which like "Words" appears in my new collection Punks, to read online, and they do so beautifully. What a marvelous way to launch National/International Poetry Month, which begins today!

Many thanks to Imani X. Davis, and thank you especially for selecting a poem from Punks. You can follow this scholar and reader at @imanixdavis on Twitter, and please do read some poetry this month if you can!



And here is the video (many thanks again!):



Monday, March 21, 2022

Punks is a Lammy & Publishing Triangle Finalist!

Last December when I posted about Punks I noted that the positive response felt almost inconceivable, in no small part because this was a book that I thought might never appear, and whose publishing history was a long and tortured one (until The Song Cave entered the picture). It has, however, continued to garner good reviews, and recently was even nominated for two different awards. 

I learned a week ago that it is a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry, and then today, thanks to Reggie H. (thank you!), that it's a finalist for the Publishing Triangle's Thom Gunn Award for Gay Male Poetry. In both instances it is in excellent company (and all of the finalists for the Publishing Triangle Award are Black gay writers), and I extend my congratulations and best wishes to all my fellow finalists and nominees. Whatever happens, do read their books if you can, and urge your local libraries and bookstores to order them if they already have not.


2022 Lammy Award finalists in Gay Poetry:

  • Tenderness by Derrick Austin
  • Punks: New & Selected Poems by John Keene
  • Shoreditch by Miguel Murphy
  • Creep Love by Michael Walsh
  • Besiege Me by Nicholas Wong

2022 Publishing Triangle Thom Gunn Award in Gay Poetry finalists:
  • Shoreditch by Miguel Murphy
  • Punks: New & Selected Poems by John Keene
  • The Monster That I Am: Leontine Price and a Life in Verse by Kevin Simmonds
  • Mutiny by Phillip B. Williams

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Cave Canem's Tribute to Russell Atkins

This afternoon Cave Canem hosted a celebration for the great 20th century African American poet Russell Atkins, who had turned 96 just a few days earlier (February 25), and who wonderfully was able to be present, via Zoom, to experience the tribute to and for him. Hosted by Cave Canem's own Dante Micheaux, a gifted poet in his own right, the event featured thrilling readings and performances by Julie Ezelle Patton, Janice Lowe (who read one of Atkins's seemingly unvocalizable poems in marvelous, enthralling fashion), Daniel Gray-Konter, and Milena Gilgić, the first three of whom are, like Atkins, native Clevelanders, and all of whom were able, in various ways, to convey Atkins's profound originality and his abiding influence on their own work.  It would not incorrect to say that Atkins is one of the most important Black experimental writers of his generation and of the last 100 years, and yet his work remains far too little acknowledged. One of the highlights of the event was seeing Atkins onscreen and witnessing him wave and acknowledge all present.

Russell Atkins, 96 and watching
via Zoom

From Cave Canem's press release: 

Russell Atkins’ collections of poetry include the chapbooks and small-press books A Podium Presentation (1960), Phenlomena (1961), Objects (1963), Objects 2 (1964), Heretofore (1968), The Nail, to Be Set to Music (1970), Maleficium (1971), and Whichever (1978). He also wrote two verse-plays or “poems in play forms”: The Abortionist and The Corpse, both published in Free Lance. His only full-length collection, Here in The (1976), was published by the Cleveland State Poetry Center. Russell Atkins: On the Life & Work of an American Master (2013), was edited by Kevin Prufer and Michael Dumanis, and included a large selection of Atkins’ previously published work and essays from poets on his continuing influence. World’d Too Much: Selected Poems of Russell Atkins, edited by Kevin Prufer and Robert E. McDonough, was published in 2019.

Some screen captures from the event:

Host Dante Micheaux, with the sign-
language interpreters


The wall of attendees


Russell Atkins


Saturday, January 01, 2022

Happy New Year 2022

May this year bring us all better health, more happiness and as much peace as is humanly and spiritually possible and may Covid-19 fade quietly into the scientific annals! Health, healing, hope, care, love, prosperity & real change are what we need, so may they be bestowed upon us all!



Happy New Year 2022!

Feliz año nuevo
Feliz Ano Novo
Bonne année
Buon Anno e tanti auguri
Kull 'aam wa-antum bikhayr
Aliheli'sdi Itse Udetiyvasadisv
Na MwakaMweru wi Gikeno
Feliĉan novan jaron
聖誕快樂 新年快樂 [圣诞快乐 新年快乐]
Bliain úr faoi shéan is faoi mise duit
Nava Varsh Ki Haardik Shubh Kaamnaayen
Ein gesundes neues Jahr
Mwaka Mwena
Pudhu Varusha Vaazhthukkal
Afe nhyia pa
Ufaaveri aa ahareh
Er sala we pîroz be
سال نو
С наступающим Новым Годом
šťastný nový rok
Manigong Bagong Taon sa inyong lahat
Feliç Any Nou
Yeni yılınızı kutlar, sağlık ve başarılar dileriz
نايا سال مبارک هو
Emnandi Nonyaka Omtsha Ozele Iintsikelelo
Subha Aluth Awrudhak Vewa
Chronia polla
Szczesliwego Nowego Roku
Kia pai te Tau Hou e heke mai nei
Shinnen omedeto goziamasu (クリスマスと新年おめでとうございます)
IHozhi Naghai
a manuia le Tausaga Fou
Paglaun Ukiutchiaq
Naya Saal Mubarak Ho

(International greetings courtesy of Omniglot and Jennifer's Polyglot Links; please note a few of the phrases may also contain Christmas greetings)

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

First Reviews Are (Coming) In for Punks

Punks has been out roughly two and a half weeks, but it has begun to receive some very good, thoughtful reviews. They include 


If you had asked me back in January or June what I thought might be the response, I'd probably have said I'd be happy if it sold through the first printing. This isn't false modesty but my earnest acknowledgement of the (years') long and arduous process it took for this book to make it into print. As it also turns out, however, it is Small Press Distributor's BEST SELLER for the month of November! Many thanks to all of the publications, reviewers and readers so far!






Please consider purchasing a copy ($20), from The Song Cave (it ships internationally too) or other retailers, and do recommend it to others if you think they might be interested and ask your local bookstores and libraries to order copies if you can! 




Thanks so much!

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Punks' Official Debut

It's official! Punks, my new book of poems is officially in the world! You can order a copy directly from my publisher The Song Cave, via Small Press Distributors, and from bookstores (such as Barnes & Noble to Powells.com, etc., as well as the behemoth) around the country!

This collection, which includes a selection of collaborative poems with the late poet Cynthia Gray, experienced many false starts over the years on the way to publication, but once I connected with The Song Cave editors, talented poets in their own right Alan Felsenthal and Ben Estes, Punks was on the road to publication!

Please consider ordering a copy or at least urging your local bookstores--very important to support them--and your local libraries to order copies if you can. If copies are in bookstores people will see them and consider buying them and if libraries purchase them far more people have the opportunity to read them!

Many thanks to everyone who helped me and this book along the way, and enjoy! 



Thursday, October 14, 2021

Abdulrazak Gurnah Wins Nobel Prize in Literature

Abdulrazak Gurnah on Gravel Heart
(via YouTube.com)

I haven't blogged much this year, for a variety of reasons, but I did want to post a brief item about this year's Nobel Laureate in Literature, Abdulrazak Gurnah. A native of Zanzibar (now a constituent part of Tanzania) who emigrated to the UK in his teens, Gurnah (1948-) is a fiction writer, critic and emeritus professor of English and Postcolonial Literatures at the University of Kent. The Swedish Academy praised Gurnah for his "for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fates of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents," which is an excellent and concisely encompassing description of Gurnah's short fiction and ten novels, which include his debut, Memory of Departure (1987), the highly acclaimed Paradise (1994), By the Sea, which was listed for the Booker Prize and the Los Angeles Book Prize), Desertion (2005), and his most recent, Afterlives (2020). 

In being named Nobel Laureate last week Gurnah becomes the first Black Nobelist in Literature of the 21st century, the Black literature prize winner first since Toni Morrison in 1993, and only the sixth African writer over all to receive the Literature Prize. He also is the first ever native of what is now Tanzania to receive a Nobel Prize. Congratulations, Abdulrazak Gurnah!

As some J's Theater readers may recall, in the lead-up to each year's Nobel Prize in Literature I used to post my thoughts, speculations, critiques, etc., but after the award to Bob Dylan back in 2016 and the scandals that led to the temporary cessation of the award a few years later, I thought to myself, why bother? Clearly the Academy, which was and perhaps still riven by internal issues, remains Eurocentric in its outlook, has made some dodgy selections in recent years (cf. the last two laureates (2019 and 2020)), is determined to go its own route, whatever the damage the public's feelings about its legitimacy and judgment. 

The Gurnah choice seems like a very good decision on the merits and in light of the recent flubs, and while there are numerous other figures, not least Ngugi wa Thiong'o, whom I might have selected first, I believe Gurnah is an important and vital writer and critic--one of the greatest of his generation--and gilds the Nobel Prize with his receipt of this international honor.

More writeups about Gurnah's Nobel honor:

Guardian UK: Abdulrazak Gurnah wins the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature

NY Times: Abdulrazak Gurnah is awarded the Nobel Prize in literature

All Africa: Tanzania: Nobel Prize Winner Abdulrazak Gurnah: An Introduction to the Man and his Writing

PBS: Watch Abdulrazak Gurnah wins Nobel Prize in literature

The Standard: Gurnah's win of the Nobel Prize raises hope for African writers

Publishers Weekly: Abdulrazak wins 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature

Cape Talk/MSN: Novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah opens up about his books and 2021 Nobel Prize win

Brittle Paper: 10 novels by Abdulrazak Gurnah

The Complete Review's writeup on Abdulrazak Gurnah's Nobel Prize

Friday, September 24, 2021

Translation: Jesús Cos Causse (on Poets.org's Poem-a-Day)


Today, thanks to poet, translator and critic Rosa Alcalá, who curated the poems appearing on The Academy of American Poets' September "Poem-a-Day" roster, you can read my translation of the late and truly great Afro-Cuban poet Jesús Cos Causse's poem "Mirando Fotos," or "Looking at Photos." 

I will say as little as possible here, beyond thanking Rosa, as well as Kristin DykstraHerbert Rogers and Prof. Jerome Branche, who were invaluable in helping me get in touch with Cos Causse's son Camilo, who provided permission to run the translation, and to MR Daniel, who sent me the poem many years ago (2007), and which I posted on this blog.

It took me 14 years but finally, here is the translation, with short notes about the poem itself and about Cos Causse, as well as me reading it in both English and Spanish (forgive me, Spanish speakers).  

You can find all of this at the link above or here.

Enjoy!



Saturday, February 27, 2021

16th Blogiversary

The Translation Project's Black
History Month tweet, from February 21, 2021,
 highlighting my essay "Translating Poetry,
Translating Blackness"

Happy Black History Month and Happy Almost-End-of-February 2021. We are almost a year into the Covid-19 pandemic, and it has been over a year since I posted on this blog. It sometimes amazes me that more than a decade and a half has passed since I first began blogging, back in 2005, during what was a decidedly different time in the online world. Social media platforms as we know them barely existed; blogging was still a somewhat new and exciting activity, though the bloggers who inspired me had been blogging for several years; and people read and commented on blogs, including this one. I have over 2,000 non-spam comments attesting to that. 

16 years later, blogs and blogging do still exist, and the term "the blogs" is often bandied about on reality shows as a catch-all for any site, blog or not. This is the case despite that period perhaps ten years ago when some in the media trumpeted blogging's demise, and despite the proliferation of quasi-blog-like sites, like Tumblr and Instagram, the former of which has done away with words altogether, and both of which are now part of many peoples' daily consumption, even if blogs as they once existed--as they existed in 2005--seldom are. I won't rehearse my blogging history, which is available via a search of this prior blogiversary posts on blog (I started off blogging about poetry and the arts, etc.), but blogging here was, at least for that first year, and certainly for the next decade or so, a vital experience for pondering the sometimes imponderable, conveying some of my enthusiasms and interests, especially across the arts, posting translations, sharing photographs (from daily life, events I attended, my random walks through NYC, Chicago and elsewhere), and just having a scratchpad to play, in written form.

Things began to change demonstrably, I think, in 2014-2015 when I began chairing a department. My free time increasingly disappeared, which meant that that I had to rearrange my priorities, with some things suffering more than others, among them blogging. (A colleague queried whether I had In 2013, my second year at Rutgers-Newark (I was acting chair for part of that year) I blogged 140 times; by 2014 it had fallen to 59. I made an effort over the next few years to blog a bit more and got up to 78 and 71 blog posts, successively, in 2015 and 2016, but my entries plummeted in 2017. In 2018, I again made a strong push to blog, and nearly reached 100 posts, but most of them that year appeared during National Poetry Month, and by the end of the year, I was down to a 1-a-month trickle. Two years ago I only managed six posts, a miracle I sometimes think, in that I had one of my busiest and most draining years in academe, and I think I consciously tried to post something, though the results were, as the total underscores, paltry. 

This past year, the Covid-19 pandemic, which is still very much with us, didn't result in a flood of posts, but rather a feeling of PTSD-style wordlessness, at least in terms of blogging, that I am still trying to process. I had a few blog stubs I began, and I will try to finish some of them, even if they consist mostly of links and images, but I also feel like the silence--the absence of posts--is testimony to what has transpired over these last 17 months (since February of 2020). Most of the people who were blogging when I began or who started during the last 16 no longer do so, at least regularly, though Gukira bucks that trend, with entries that are always rich, subtle, lyrical, and distinctive, however brief. This month he continues his readings of Dionne Brand's remarkable 2018 collection The Blue Clerk. I keep thinking that I will again be able to find the time and focus to blog, but I also increasingly feel, as I pointed out in a blog several years back, reading itself appears  fallen by the wayside, and videos, whether on Youtube or IG's stories--which Facebook, tellingly, has adopted, even though it owns Instagram--or TikTok, accompanied by music and each with its own distinctive set of active participants, have become increasingly predominant, so perhaps even occasional posts, as loose and free as possible, might be the thing to aim for.

One of the many types of blog posts I tried to include over the years entailed reviews, of films, series videos, and books of course, and I feel proudest of some of those, which still hold up. One of my most read posts (4,100 views) is a short review of Christopher Honoré's 2010 feature film Homme au bain, starring the writer Dennis Cooper and the porn star François Sagat. Perhaps its stars drew more readers than most of my other posts, though I think it provided a helpful introduction to the film, the best I have seen by Honoré. I also have been able to write about more recent offerings like Terence Nance's 2018 Afrofuturist masterpiece series Random Acts of Flyness (one of the strangest and most original things I have ever seen on TV), Boots Riley's 2018 film Sorry to Bother You (I dream of more films like this!), and John Trengove's 2018 film Inxeba (Wound), which also spurred a series of typically, thoughtfully dazzling responses from Gukira (Ke'guro). One of my favorite films, which I haven't seen in years, is Tsai Ming-Liang's slow, astonishing Goodbye, Dragon Inn. I remember watching it and thinking, the viewership for a film like this is probably very small, but I most certainly am one of those cineastic people, yet in reviewing it, I tried to make it legible for a wider array of potential viewers. Perhaps if and when I find the opportunity I'll try a few more reviews this year, so keep an eye out.

I'll wind down here, and say that I feel like I've accomplished something just by posting something on this blog today. (I also deleted a slew of spam comments, which also felt like an achievement!) I am still chairing and teaching (including a graduate novel workshop this semester) and supervising theses, all via Zoom (like everyone else), every day of every week feels even more busy than usual (each seems to be triple-booked at a minimum in terms of Zoom meetings, calls, etc.), and my stack of required reading grows and grows, but it feels invigorating even to have gotten this far in this post. It is here. It is done. & I am going to try to post more.


Friday, January 01, 2021

Happy New Year (2021)!

At the Oculus, WTC, NYC
May this year bring us all much better tidings than the relentless, Covid-19-ridden horrorshow of 2020! Health, prosperity, healing, hope, love & real change!


Happy New Year!

Feliz año nuevo
Feliz Ano Novo
Bonne année
Buon Anno e tanti auguri
Kull 'aam wa-antum bikhayr
Aliheli'sdi Itse Udetiyvasadisv
Na MwakaMweru wi Gikeno
Feliĉan novan jaron
聖誕快樂 新年快樂 [圣诞快乐 新年快乐]
Bliain úr faoi shéan is faoi mise duit
Nava Varsh Ki Haardik Shubh Kaamnaayen
Ein gesundes neues Jahr
Mwaka Mwena
Pudhu Varusha Vaazhthukkal
Afe nhyia pa
Ufaaveri aa ahareh
Er sala we pîroz be
سال نو
С наступающим Новым Годом
šťastný nový rok
Manigong Bagong Taon sa inyong lahat
Feliç Any Nou
Yeni yılınızı kutlar, sağlık ve başarılar dileriz
نايا سال مبارک هو
Emnandi Nonyaka Omtsha Ozele Iintsikelelo
Subha Aluth Awrudhak Vewa
Chronia polla
Szczesliwego Nowego Roku
Kia pai te Tau Hou e heke mai nei
Shinnen omedeto goziamasu (クリスマスと新年おめでとうございます)
IHozhi Naghai
a manuia le Tausaga Fou
Paglaun Ukiutchiaq
Naya Saal Mubarak Ho

(International greetings courtesy of Omniglot and Jennifer's Polyglot Links; please note a few of the phrases may also contain Christmas greetings)




Thursday, November 12, 2020

Joe Biden & Kamala Harris Have Won

President-Elect Joe Biden Jr.
& Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris

This has been a nightmarish year on so many levels, from the deadly Covid-19 pandemic, to the Ahmed Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor murders, as well as many others, at the hands of police and extrajudicial forces, to the current economic crisis (the second major one in less than two decades, yet again under an inept Republican administration) and ballooning wealth and resource inequality, to the devastating effects of climate change (hurricanes and tropical storms, wildfires, etc.), and on and on, but if I can identify one possible ray of light, troubled though it may be, it would be the Joe Biden's and Kamala Harris's historical and groundbreaking defeat of Donald Trump and Mike Pence in the recent presidential election. Four years of malign incompetence, brazen criminality, incoherent domestic and external policies all keyed to and driven by the narcissistically warped vision thankfully met with a major NO MORE from US voters, and now Biden and Harris are the President-Elect and Vice President-Elect of the US, and will, attempted coups by Trump and the GOP notwithstanding, assume office on January 20, 2021.

They defeated Trump despite the Covid-19 pandemic (or, more likely, as a result of his catastrophically horrendous response to it), which meant markedly reduced in person campaigning and canvassing by Democrats; evident and relentless voter suppression across the US; threats of continued Russian interference; Trump's seeming attempts to destroy the United States Post Office by appointing as Postmaster General his supporter Louis DeJoy, who gutted branches all over the US by removing sorting machines and reducing hours; and a steady drumbeat of disinformation, misinformation, and anti-voting rhetoric from the President, his supporters, various other agents of disruption, and at times the legacy media, which amplified--rather than countering--Trump's message of a "rigged election" and "voter fraud." (We very well may look back and find that in fact he was, as usual, projecting about his own attempts to steal the election this year.)

In the end, Biden and Harris received more than 80+ million total votes, the most ever, 7 million more than Trump and Pence's 73+ million, and 306 electoral votes, the exact total Trump received in 2016, when, despite losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine, he labeled his victory a "landslide." The Biden-Harris combo won back three states-Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania--that Barack Obama had won in 2008 and 2012, but which Clinton lost in 2016 by slender margins, while also winning two more, Arizona and Georgia, that a Democratic presidential candidate had not won since Bill Clinton in the 1990s. They make history with Harris becoming the first woman Vice President, first Black woman VP, and the first Asian American VP.  She also is the first graduate of an Historically Black College or University (HBCU) to serve as VP, and the first member of a Black sorority to hold that office as well. She will be the second VP not to be White (Charles Curtis was the first) and the second in an interracial marriage. Biden will be the oldest man elected to the presidency, and the second Roman Catholic president, and a decidedly devout one, after JFK. 

The next President and Vice President
of the United States of America

Ideologically Biden has tended to be a conservative to moderate Democrat, with a problematic legislative history, especially during his Senate tenure, of support for racist, pro-corporate policies, while Harris, at least in the US Senate, is considered one of the most liberal US Senators based on her voting record, though her records while California's and San Francisco's Attorneys General were more mixed, sometimes quite progressive and at other times conservative (pro-police). (I should note that in the Democratic Presidential primary I again voted for Bernie Sanders, but have contributed the campaigns of both Harris and Biden.) Both have expressed support for and voted for neoliberal economic and social policies in the past, and during the primary campaign, neither would consistently commit to programs that progressive and Democratic Socialist branches of the party endorsed, like Medicare for All or Single Payer health insurance, or the comprehensive Green New Deal. That does not mean, however, that they cannot be pushed towards more comprehensive, popular, paradigm-shifting policies, but their political backgrounds, especially Biden's suggest moderate rather than radical changes. But I am going into the next four years with clear eyes, and have set my expectations low. The first tests of this will be how they deal with this pandemic, which has worsened as Trump's malignant time in office winds toward its close.

Whatever they do achieve will depend in significant part on which party controls the US Senate, whose fate hangs in the balance as Georgia's two Senate seats head to runoffs, but also will hinge on the Democrats' ability to retain their control of the House, where their margins for error plummeted as Republicans regained a number of the seats they lost in the 2018 midtarms. How Biden will govern given the challenges, which mount daily, facing the country and his administration, remains to be seen, but if he can take any lessons from Trump's four years, and the eight Biden served as VP under Obama, they might include grasping the nature of the contemporary zombie Republican Party and its overriding goal of nihilistically holding power; the appeal of economically populist policies and politics and the effect of government largess for the 99% (remember 2012?) vs. the abject failure of neoliberal capitalist orthodoxy and libertarianism, especially amidst a pandemic and its aftermath; the importance of transparency, openness and regular communication with the nation; liberal interventionism in foreign policy should be a dead letter from now on; and the absolutely fundamental concept of not forgetting and ignoring your base voters, as Obama frequently seemed to and Trump never did, which, in Biden's case, comprises Black and other BIPOC voters, especially Black women, young people (Gen Z and millennials), seniors, urbanites and many suburbanites, educated middle class voters, and working-class and poor voters, even if and as he works to expand his coalition. 

It is one thing to clean house when it comes to Trump's lawlessness, recklessness and incompetence, but replicating the worst aspects of the Obama years will imperil not only Biden's tenure and doom Democrats but the nation and the globe. I cannot predict how the next four years will turn out, but it will be refreshing to have Trump out of the White House, whatever damage he attempts as a private citizen, and, as when Obama was president, we will have to press Biden and Harris, as FDR said, to do what is needed; in fact, echoing FDR, we will need to make him (them) do it.

Thursday, January 02, 2020

My 2019 (Semi-)Hiatus

A photo from our contract rally at
Rutgers-Newark, April 2019
As J's Theater readers--if there still are any!--may have noted, last year (2019) was a very lean one in terms of my presence here. I believe I managed six entries (with perhaps double that still in draft mode), and that was pushing it. One, which I only recently published, featured a review I undertook for Art in America on last year's Whitney Biennial, which I found fascinating on multiple levels, in contrast to many mainstream critics, including one who summed it for me at lunch late in the year, as "predictable." As it turns out, it was anything but--and, as I argued in that piece, really multiple Biennials, including one transformed by the protests that not only the Biennial's artists, but outside activists, supporters and artists, and the Museum's staff, launched. To be able to watch it unfold and write about it was a pleasure, but alas, I had almost no time to focus on it here.  I also had no real time--or rather no time to focus--to complete memorials to figures who have been incredible important to me, whom we lost in 2019, and I am thinking in particular of Toni Morrison, Paule Marshall (who was one of my favorite teachers in grad school), and Ernest J. Gaines, among many others. They are but a few of the people who left this human plane last year, and perhaps at some point I can either finish my mini-tributes and turn those live or write new ones this year. We will see.

My day jobs are, as readers know, a writer, and a professor of English and African American and African Studies (AAAS). Over the last six years (roughly since 2013), however, I've also served first as Acting Chair and then full-time Chair of AAAS, a post I have enjoyed deeply, but which also has entailed a very different level and kind of time commitment, since chair duties, I had to learn quickly, run every day of the week and all year long, and involve all kinds of matters, from curricula to student needs and concerns to staff and faculty personnel issues to other kinds of university service to general administration to tasks defying categorization. 

What I also learned was that there often is little training, except on the job, for the challenges that present themselves. Soliciting the advice of one's peers, especially other chairs or former chairs, and colleagues, listening to them carefully, addressing pressing and longer-term issues, and encouraging and engaging not only in an ethos but a practice of collaboration are all key, but administrative duties can be very stressful, and run along timelines parallel to but different from those of the academic year. Add this to my regular (teaching, mentoring, advising, my own life and writing) and irregular duties (letters of recommendation, tenure, judging panels, etc.), and it's fair to say that my blogging has been one major area to suffer some of the the greatest blows as a result.

This past fall was also a particular challenge because, on top of everything else, I was serving on four search committees. Serving on one search committee is a high hurdle; four is almost impossible to describe, though I grasped why I was asked to serve, and was cognizant throughout of what my presence could help to effect and why I committed to each. I can say, breaking no confidences, that each went quite well, and 2020 should bring good news to my institution and some excellent people who, I hope, will be wonderful leaders in their various ways and invaluable colleagues. That, as all such work tends to be, is the hope and goal, making people, programs and departments, the institution itself, better and stronger than they were before, with added benefits not yet foreseen but which will redound and resonate long after the moment of the work has ended. That is the core of so much of what we do in life, though, isn't it, or at least hope to?

2020 brings a competitive leave sabbatical--courtesy of several fellowships I received in 2018--so I hope to be able to post here more often. I have been thinking quite a bit about how blogging has changed in the 14 (soon to be 15!) years since I began this blog, and though I am ever more convinced that we live in an increasingly post-literate, let alone post-post-modern world, where the power of the regime of images grows ever stronger, the role of the oral has become more central and dominant, public prose is transforming into a shadow of itself, and social media's forces and forms are reshaping not only language as an exterior medium but our interiorities in ways we have not fully recognized or reckoned with,  I do believe there is a place for this blog and others, even if it ends up looking somewhat different than it did in the past, so I will strive to post semi-regularly here, even if, as I have at times, primarily with quotes and notices from others, including citations of and links to blogs I still follow, like Keguro Macharia's, to name one of my favorites and one of the very best. (And speaking of which, his remarkable study Frottage: Frictions of Intimacy Across the Black Diaspora is now out from NYU Press!)

So, here's to 2020, more blogging (I hope), and the excitement to come!

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Happy New Year / 2020

At the American Academy of Arts and Letters
Manhattan, NY (photo @ C)

Happy New Year!

Feliz año nuevo
Feliz Ano Novo
Bonne année
Buon Anno e tanti auguri
Kull 'aam wa-antum bikhayr
Aliheli'sdi Itse Udetiyvasadisv
Na MwakaMweru wi Gikeno
Feliĉan novan jaron
聖誕快樂 新年快樂 [圣诞快乐 新年快乐]
Bliain úr faoi shéan is faoi mise duit
Nava Varsh Ki Haardik Shubh Kaamnaayen
Ein gesundes neues Jahr
Mwaka Mwena
Pudhu Varusha Vaazhthukkal
Afe nhyia pa
Ufaaveri aa ahareh
Er sala we pîroz be
سال نو
С наступающим Новым Годом
šťastný nový rok
Manigong Bagong Taon sa inyong lahat
Feliç Any Nou
Yeni yılınızı kutlar, sağlık ve başarılar dileriz
نايا سال مبارک هو
Emnandi Nonyaka Omtsha Ozele Iintsikelelo
Subha Aluth Awrudhak Vewa
Chronia polla
Szczesliwego Nowego Roku
Kia pai te Tau Hou e heke mai nei
Shinnen omedeto goziamasu (クリスマスと新年おめでとうございます)
IHozhi Naghai
a manuia le Tausaga Fou
Paglaun Ukiutchiaq
Naya Saal Mubarak Ho

(International greetings courtesy of Omniglot and Jennifer's Polyglot Links; please note a few of the phrases may also contain Christmas greetings)

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

A Tale of Two Exhibitions: The 2019 Whitney Biennial

Earlier this summer, I had the immense pleasure of viewing the 2019 Whitney Biennial, which is still running, for a few more weeks (until September 22, 2019), at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. It was not only a better show than the 2017 installment, I thought, but in essence two different exhibits in one, I ultimately argued, in a review now out for Art in America. The second of the two exhibits became possible, however, only after the Whitney resolved a festering crisis that had underpinned the exhibit--and the institution itself as a whole. In fact, the revolt that occurred, creating the new exhibition, necessitated that I rewrite the laudatory first review I'd drafted.

The qualitative differences between the two exhibits, whether visually evident or not, resonate throughout the work on display, throughout the museum's spaces itself, as a shift in ethos and an aura, however temporary. I won't replay my entire essay, which underwent a great deal of editorial distilling (so many thanks to Will Ratik and his editorial team at Art in America), so here is the link to the full essay, "The Whitney Biennial: A Tale of Two Exhibitions," and a paragraph from it, in which I argue for further action by the exhibits artists and, I would assert, artists working in all media, including literature.

I believe we are at the moment when the artists should be encouraged to actively trouble the “circuits of valorization,” as prior generations of artists have done. I say trouble rather than disrupt, since the latter term has taken on particular connotations in the language of neoliberal capitalism, particularly in Silicon Valley and Wall Street. But what might the effects be of such a troubling on the lives and careers of today’s artists, especially those who, like many of this year’s biennial participants, come from groups, intersectionally understood, that have been traditionally excluded from participation in exhibitions such as this, as well as from elite art schools and institutions, and from the global gallery, art fair, and auction networks? What would more extensive rethinking, dismantling, and transformation of those circuits look like? How much energy and effort can and ought they expend in understanding and critiquing the ecosystem in which they are working? From an ethical standpoint, can they forgo such an undertaking, whatever the cost?
If you can, please see the exhibit before it goes, and do leave your thoughts on the Biennial and my review in the comments section if you'd like.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

American Academy of Arts & Letters Ceremonial 2019 & Award

Six years ago, back in 2013, I blogged about attending the American Academy of Arts & Letters' annual Ceremonial award celebration. I was the guest of a friend and colleague, Dorothy Wang, who was a guest of an award-winner, the poet Joanna Klink, and though I had seen some of its award winners and awards I'd seen listed over the years, I had no idea about the organization or where it headquarters were located, let alone about its awards. In fact, I often mistook it for the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, which is located in Cambridge, not New York; they are two similar but distinct organizations. The latter encompasses the sciences and is more of a scholarly honors organization, while the latter primarily focuses, as its name suggests, on arts and letters.

Aububon Terrace (photo by C)
In my previous post, I gave a potted history of the AAAL:
It's an august institution too: a closed honor society of 250 members selected and elected by standing members without outside nomination, it grew out of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, founded in 1898, consisting eventually of 200 members, from which the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a smaller and more elite sub-organization of 50 of the most eminent figures in their fields, emerged in 1904. US President William Howard Taft signed a Congressional act that incorporated the Institute of Arts and Letters in 1907, and the Academy in 1916. In 1976 the two organizations merged, and in 1993, all 250 members merged into one entity now known as the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
I also mentioned some of its members and the day's award-winners, a few like my former graduate school professor and thesis advisor E. L. Doctorow no longer with us, so won't recapitulate that earlier blog post, but I will say that uncanny pleasure of once again attending a Ceremonial up at Audubon Terrace in Washington Heights, this year, as a recipient, having received the Harold T. Vursell Award in Fiction. This award is given to a writer specifically based on the quality of their prose. (!) J's Theater readers will note my often baroque stylings (and typos, forgive me) here, and perhaps ponder why I was designated a recipient of this prize, but it was primarily for Counternarratives, in which my rhetorical and syntactic play was, I think it fair to say, at its most daring, and so I took the honor as an affirmation of what I attempted in that book, though I also think it's probably not wrong to suggest that all of my published books have in them some sort of experimentation when it comes to prose or verse, and that when it works, it is at least distinctive if nothing else.

As an award recipient, I was invited to a pre-Ceremonial reception and luncheon, which C attended with me, as did my New Directions editor and publisher, Barbara Epler, and I had the opportunity there to tell Jamaica Kincaid once again how much of a fan I was and am. Her prose, as well as her inventiveness as a storyteller and novelist, have been among many powerful influences on my own work. I also had the opportunity to chat with a few fellow award winners or new members, including poets Aracelis Girmay, fellow former Dark Room member Natasha TretheweyMarilyn Chin, Claudia Rankine, and Grace Schulman, and fiction writers Alice Hoffman, Lorrie Moore and my collegue Jayne Anne Phillips, who was elected to the AAAL a few years ago. After the luncheon, as before it, C and I viewed some of the art and literary materials, by members and recipients on display.

One of the more fascinating rooms featured the photos of all the prior and present members, lined up in rows in stall-like spaces. The original members were, unsurprisingly, all white men, a great many of them legendary names in American culture, which got me wondering who had not been a member yet produced work that today we hold in high esteem (F. Scott Fitzgerald, to name one, Ernest Hemingway to name another); on the other hand, many of the names would not register at all to contemporary sensibilities. At a certain point, a few white women's faces pop up, and then, slowly, the further we progressed into the 20th century, there were more white women, a few black writers, like W. E. B. DuBois (was he the first?) and Langston Hughes, and then black classical composers and jazz musicians, Asian American, Latinx, and Native American writers' portraits appear (see the photos below). The Academy's members still strongly reflect the upper reaches of the preponderantly New York-and-northeastern based world of architecture, visual arts, literature, and European-American art music, but the awardees have begun to diversify somewhat more, or so I was told. Certainly this year's winners were more racially and generationally diverse than I recall from 2013.

In one of the rooms featuring paintings
bequeathed by American Impressionist
F. Childe Hassam (photo by C)
One of the rooms in the American Academy
 headquarters  (photo by C)
Members and honorees assembling on stage
 (photo by C)
Once the Ceremonial began, I took my numbered seat on the stage, between Jamaica Kincaid and poet D. A. Powell, also a prize recipient; to his left sat our presenter and a member of the committee that selected us, poet Henri Cole. A row behind me sat Eileen Myles, among others. A number of illustrious members, like sculptors Martin Puryear and Richard Hunt, whom I mentioned in my prior post, and honorees like Meredith Monk and Thelma Golden, were seated in the front row.  This year's recipient of the Gold Medal for Literature, the Academy's highest honor, Toni Morrison, and the Gold Medal for Art, Lee Bontecou, were unable to attend, and so were fulsomely lauded by their presenters. One highlight of this year was the Blashfield Lecture by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Del Tredici, once a controversial figure in the American classical music world and now a venerable and venerated elder. Del Tredici's lecture, "The Task of Gayness," explored his coming into his own in his field, and out as a gay man, with humor and concision. Were he to write a memoir, I'd most certainly buy it.

A photo of me walking to receive
my award from Henri Cole (photo by C)
Receiving my award from Henri Cole
(Photo by C)
At the conclusion of the awards ceremony, which ran roughly an hour, another reception unfolded, on a bright and sunny but thankfully not hot afternoon, which afforded us an opportunity to speak with more writers, editors, artists, and others in attendance. It was, all in all, a lovely afternoon, and many thanks to the Academy jury for the award!