Thursday, November 29, 2007

Amerikkka, the Beautiful

Plus ça change, SAMO ™.
The chairman of the Republican Party of Arkansas called Wednesday for state Sen. Denny Altes, R-Fort Smith, to apologize for e-mail comments attributed to the Senate GOP leader by a television station.


In the e-mail on the television station’s Web site, the message attributed to Altes states that he’s for “sending the illegals back but we know that is impossible.

“ We are where we were with the black folks after the revolutionary war [sic]. We can’t send them back and the more we p *** them off the worse it will be in the future. So what do we do,” the e-mail states. “I say the governor needs to try to enforce the law and sign the letter of understanding... and at least we can send the troublemakers back. Sure we are being overrun but we are being outpopulated by the blacks also. What is the answer, only time will tell.”

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

James Brown Conference @ Princeton Tomorrow

Unfortunately I won't be able to attend, but for any and all near Princeton, New Jersey, this is a free conference you don't want to miss. (From Audiologo, many thanks!)

Join us at Princeton University this THURSDAY and FRIDAY for a special event dedicated to celebrating and exploring the life and legacy of James Brown.

Walk-up and same day registration welcome!

Please note the following additions to the program including a **FRIDAY EVENING*** Q&A PROGRAM with legendary James Brown band members PEE WEE ELLIS and FRED WESLEY in dialogue with AHMIR "QUESTLOVE" THOMPSON of THE ROOTS.

“Ain’t that a Groove”: The Genius of James Brown
A Princeton University Two-Day Symposium


Thursday, November 29, 2007
Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University

Valerie Smith, Director of the Center for African American Studies

"James Brown: Man To Man", Concert Film Footage
courtesy of Alan Leeds and Harry Weinger

“On the One”: A Keynote Roundtable featuring Robert Christgau, Farah J.
Griffin, Alan Leeds, and Fred Moten
moderator: Daphne A. Brooks

Friday, November 30, 2007
Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University

Opening Remarks: “‘I’m Not There’: Popular Music Studies & the
Godfather of Soul”
Daphne A. Brooks

“It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World”: Black Power, Black Masculinity and the Politics of Funk
Mark Anthony Neal, "In the Rhythm of Patriarchy: 'Papa Don't Take No
Jason King, “James Brown’s Sweat”
Thomas F. DeFrantz, “My Brother, the Dance Master”
Robert Fink, “Soul Power, 1971”
Moderator: Tera W. Hunter

The Funky Precedent: Revolutionizing Rock, Birthing Hip Hop—Theorizing James Brown’s Musical Innovations
Kandia Crazy Horse, "The One and Only: King James' Rock Revolt"
Rickey Vincent, "James Brown and the Rhythm Revolution"
Ahmir ?uestlove Thompson, “The Roots of Hip Hop”
Harry Weinger, “Listening to James Brown”
Moderator: Joshua B. Guild

“Mama Don’t Take No Mess”: Black Feminist Readings of James Brown
Greg Tate, “blues and the nekkid truth--the embodied she-funks of betty
davis, chaka khan, grace jones and meshell ndeocello”
Imani Perry, "Telling Him About Himself: A Feminist Reading of James
Mendi Obadike, "The Pleasure/Challenge of James Brown's Iconicity"
Ernest Hardy, "James Brown: Portal of Possibility"
Moderator: Tavia Nyong’o

Closing Remarks
Cornel West, Class of 1943 University Professor in the Center for African American Studies

101 McCormick Hall

Special Evening Q&A
A Conversation with legendary James Brown band members Pee Wee Ellis, Fred Wesley and Questlove of the Roots
Moderator: Alan Leeds

Friday, November 23, 2007

Quote: Ted Rall

"We must elect--by an overwhelming, theft-proof majority--a candidate who promises to renounce Bush and all his works. A reform-minded president's first act should be to sign a law that reads as follows: "The federal government of the United States having been illegitimate and illegal since January 20, 2001, all laws, regulations, executive orders, and acts of commission or omission enacted between that infamous day and 12 noon Eastern Standard Time on January 20, 2009 are hereby declared invalid and without effect." Guantánamo, secret prisons, extraordinary rendition, spying on Americans' phone calls and emails, and "legal" torture would be erased. Our troops should immediately pull out of Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Somalia; we should apologize to our victims and offer to compensate them and their survivors. Bush should never appear on any list of American presidents. When he dies, his carcass shouldn't receive a state funeral. It ought to be thrown in the trash.

"Unfortunately, no one like that is running for president. To the contrary, most of the major presidential candidates want to accelerate America's slide into outright moral bankruptcy."
--Ted Rall, "Torturers: The Next Generation"

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! And for those who can, consider a donation, a visit or both to your community food bank. There are so many people this country who can barely afford to eat today, or any day.


Some holiday humor (though it's still far too close to reality), featuring Scotty-Told-Boo-Boo, from the one and only Eschaton:

Press Pass, 2003


Here's a little recipe for Thanksgiving (especially if it's cold) or any late fall or winter evening: Mulled Red Wine (hat tips go to Toni L. and James Earl H. and Donald A. for their delicious version).


2 bottles of merlot, red zinfandel or a similar wine ($5-9 range, not too cheap)
2/3rds cup of sugar or honey
zest from 1/2-1 orange
10 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 cup of brandy or cognac
+ non-reactive pot, muddler/spoon, non-reactive bowl/mortar, stirring spoon, mugs/coffee cups/warming cups.

1. Pour the red wine in a non-reactive pot (non-stick, tempered glass/Pyrex, stainless steel, etc.), and heat over a low flame. Avoid very cheap wines, since they grow unpalatable when heated, and avoid aluminum, which will react with the wine.
2. With a vegetable peeler, zester or paring knife, zest the orange, making sure to avoid the white backing of the peel and rind, since there's less flavor and it can be bitter.
3. Muddle (or mash with a pestle or spoon) the zest/peel, releasing the oils, in a non-reactive (glass, porcelain) bowl or mortar.
4. Add the zest/peel to the wine.
5. Stir in the sugar, making sure it dissolves, then add the cloves and cinnamon sticks.
6. Add the 1/2 cup of brandy or cognac (the better the quality, the better the taste--and it adds real bite).
7. Heat until the wine is steaming, but try not to let it boil.
8. Set it aside, let it cool, and then ladle it into mugs, and enjoy!

(And remember, if you have more than a glass, designate a responsible driver, hire a cab or hit the public transportation!)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Quote: Brian Holmes

Ultimately what's at stake in all this is understanding the global division of labor, which has been the great enigma since postmodernization began in the eighties. Who works, at what kind of production, under which financial system, for whose consumption--and who doesn't even get the chance to work, whose territory remains tragically undeveloped and destitute, or is destroyed by invasive technologies and pollutants? Again, there is a great role for art to play in these kinds of investigations. Why do people desire certain kinds of production? What do they imagine as a better future? How do they build their solidarities? What are their poetics of the other, how do they communicate beyond their own frameworks? Only when these kinds of questions are answered in such a way as to enter the field of common sense and of the common senses, will we be able to generate the kind of activism I think is really needed. The kind of activism that can stand up, by the strength of numbers and will and by the quality of imagination and desire, to the machinery of continental integration that is now being driven by the predatory rationality of globalizing capital.
--from "Hinting at Ways to Work in Current Contexts: An Interview with Brian Holmes," by Robby Herbst, in The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, Vol. 1, No. 4, 2005, p. 17

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Rugby "Porn" (WC Championships) + Houston Dynamo MLS Champs

Keguro inquires in a prior post's comments about this year's Jstheater rugby "porn." T'was here (new and infrequent readers, they do have their clothes on), as I was celebrating midstream this year's Rugby World Cup in France. (The post received few comments, and zero from admirers of the muscly menfolks themselves, leading me to believe that brawn and thick thighs had become passé among my friends on the Internets.) I was remiss in not following up with a post on the championship game, but as Keguro notes, South Africa defeated England 15-6 to win it all and take their second World Cup. My favorite picture from the final is this one, showing the South African president, Thabo Mbeki, hoisted aloft by the diverse squad, an image that would have been impossible 20 years ago.

(Photo Getty Images)

South Africa's tight defense and timely penalty scoring, it appears, proved decisive, but England also suffered from the loss of its soon-to-be-retired star, real life action-figure Jason Robinson (below) late in the game, to a shoulder injury. Keguro broaches the historical parallel of the Boer War, so I'll leave him to pursue that at some point, because you know it'll be amazing. I'll only note that the 3rd place match featured new world powerhouse Argentina defeating host France 34-10. From what I can tell, this pillar of "Old Europe," which had defeated the heavily favored New Zealand "All Blacks" 20-18 and walloped nearly all its other opponents, save Argentina in the opening round, took the defeat pretty well. As for Robinson, he looks like he need some serious consoling.

(Getty Images)


I used to follow Major League Soccer (MLS) when it began over a decade ago; I can recall DC United defeating Los Angeles Galaxy 3-2 back in 1996. Around the turn of the new millennium, however, I stopped following the MLS almost completely, though I have kept up with widely reported league news like the sale of New York's team, Kansas City's team's name change to a geographically neutral high-end scotch brand (Chivas USA indeed!) and the overhyped arrival of David Beckham and his wife, Victoria, which I pray someone out there missed.

Checking the sports roundup yesterday on Yahoo! Sports, I saw that the MLS championship game had just taken place, with the Houston Dynamo, who up until two years ago had been the unfortunately named San Jose Earthquakes, defeating the New England Revolution 2-1. Dwayne De Rosario, the cornrowed Guyanese-Canadian star below, scored the game-winning goal on a rare (for him) header, giving the Dynamo their second championship in a row and foiling New England's hopes for a sixth straight year. Below are a few photos from the contest. I just may start following the MLS again, if I can find the time.
DeWayne DeRosario
Houston Dynamo's soccer player Dwayne De Rosario celebrates his game winning goal against the New England Revolution in the 2007 MLS Cup in Washington, November 18, 2007. REUTERS/Jim Young.
Brian Ching
Brian Ching's tying goal breathed life into Dynamo. His PK helped them win last year's MLS Cup. (Steve Grayson/
John Avery
New England Revolution's Avery John sits on the field after the MLS Cup championship soccer game Sunday, Nov. 18, 2007, in Washington . The Houston Dynamo defeated the Revolution 2 -1 to win the MLS Cup championship.
(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Dynamo Team
Houston Dynamo's goalkeeper Pat Onstad (2nd R) celebrates his team's win with teammates Craig Waibel (C), Ryan Cochrane (5), and Stuart Holden (2) as New England Revolution's Pat Noonan walks off the field in their 2007 MLS Cup soccer match in Washington November 18, 2007. REUTERS/Jim Young.
Dynamo Victorious
Houston Dynamo's Wade Barrett (C) holds up the 2007 MLS Cup after defeating the New England Revolution, 2-1, in the league soccer final in Washington, November 18, 2007. REUTERS/Jim Young.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Poem: Ed Roberson

Ed RobersonOn Wednesday, as part of his quarter-long visit (too brief!) at the university's Center for the Writing Arts, Ed Roberson (at right, in Harris Hall) delivered a short talk entitled "Ecopoetics in City Eclogue." I've been recapping various talks I've attended for much of the fall, but I won't try to summarize this one: instead, I'll just urge you to purchase or check out a library copy of City Eclogue, which Atelos Press published in 2003, and immerse yourself in Ed's work. You won't get to hear any of his wonderful anecdotes, such as how he used to regularly swim with the porpoises at the Pittsburgh Aquazoo, or how, when exploring the upper Amazonian jungle in Ecuador, he, his fellow explorers and his Native guides saw that the rainwater was flowing upwards into the valley and they all decided to pitch a tent on the river banks and just sleep, so that they would at least slake their exhaustion even if the water carried them off--to their likely deaths. Thank the gods it didn't. There's also a lot of Newark and urban New Jersey in this collection (and others of Ed's), as well as Alaska, the Caribbean, western African, and all the other places he's traveled, refracted through his ecopoetic sensibilities and singular singing style,w hich once you start listening to it can cast a spell. A few weeks ago after his reading, I suggested that I would post one of his poems that just kept tolling in my consciousness, and so here it is, about the young man with the "mismatched" (or as we used to say, "mix-match") shoes. You can probably guess the young man's outcome, as I did and Ed confirmed; "Standing Strong" is thus an elegy as well, though this is clear, I think, in the concluding stanzas.


He wore the mismatched shoes he said in style
when one of your boys was gunned and it could
go either way and you wanted to say
you were with him step for step still tight.

When I asked what each either of the way
was he said it wasn't nothing just mismatched
shoes no more shamanic a dressing up than that
as if he could not see who sees to

wear what he seizes on as medicine
from here from standing strong canonical
incantation and station of the street
for keeping on his feet washed by the hands

of black angels of pavement of dark roads
towelled in lynch linen basins of shadow.

He wore his mismatch with the dead as night
a night like living sun among these shades
of dragging down hooked up with even darker;
each star a stare down a bore of light,
each flare of gunshot bull's-eyed lights a hole
through the gang of hours from start to finish of

a life until that blue blocks out a sky,
the night crimes pile their empty chalked off
figurines prizes into a dawn

He wants to walk away from this.
This rough
odd luck how much in his make up brought
-- walking away from rope irons the capture –
up through him
his hair the glide to his feet
the tendency to go fu'thuh in life Somewhere
a couple decent pair of shoes

Copyright © Ed Roberson, from City Eclogue, Berkeley: Atelos, 2003.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

NaNoWriMo + Sabathia Wins Cy Young + Funny Note

I haven't forgotten: yes, it's NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), 13 days into it. Are you trying this? Do you know anyone who is?

This evening I heard an animated radio report on a group of locals who were really getting into it, though their focus was less on fundamentals of (good) novel writing--for a realist novel, some of these would be a plausible and compelling central idea or theme, a plot or plots sustainable over a long narrative space, vivid, believable characters, a guiding metaphor or figures, consistency and subtlety in voice, skillful narration and point-of-view shifts, etc.--than on the 50,000 word target. 50,000 words, that was and is the mantra. Usually when people mention the number of words in a book, I respond with a blank look, since I seldom think of books in such terms. My form of reference is: how long is it? How many typescript or printed pages is it? What novels is it comparable to in size? Is it as big as War and Piece or Finnegans Wake or as brief as The Old Man in the Sea or S.S. Proleterka?

The emphasis on length seems so, well, American. Quantity over quality every time, and the novels resulting from this keypounding--well, with extensive revision I imagine a few of them might turn out to be passable works worth exploring. The whole situation brings to mind the cases of the extraordinarily prolific, few of whom, save Georges Simenon and Alexandre Dumas Père, are not known for their emphases on literary excellence of any demonstrable sort. Mary Faulkner (908 books)? Lauran Paine (850+ books, and she's still alive so.....)? Prentiss Ingraham, who supposedly wrote a 35,000 word novel in a night (600+ books)? Jozef Ignacy Kraszewski (600+ books)? OK, I'll stop, but you get the picture. If you reasonable completed books--not just novels, say, but any kinds of books at a quicker pace than a month, you could enter this rarefied crowd. Perhaps some of the NaNoWriMos really are already on their way.

Another way to think about it is that this month, in addition to helping sponsor young writers' programs, does get people energized about writing--not that that's really a problem, in my experience, but perhaps it is somewhere--and perhaps better yet, some of them may start READING and engaging in other non-passive activities. Since most people write on computers these days, too, all the new novels won't result in felled forests, though electric plants are going to take a beating. And then I must admit that I try to practice my own version of this, which I call Personal Novel Writing [Every] Day (PeNoWriDa?), which entails a minimum of 3-5 new sentences (and a maximum of however much I can write), every day, no matter what. (And this week's what is 18 student short stories that have to be read, marked up and appended with comments--4 for my intro class, 10 for my advanced theory and practice class, 2 for my graduate class, 2 more for graduate thesis students, and a PhD chapter for another student, as well as a review of a colleague's work.) All the prose starts to mash together, ther'es no other way to put it. Nevertheless, the daily routine does work. Even if I scrawl the sentences at 8 am or 2 am--whenever I can get them down....


SabathiaSeveral MLB 2007 season awards have been announced, and today's was a bit of a surprise. C. C. Sabathia (at left, AP Photo/Tony Dejak), the 6-7, 250(+) lb. left hander for Cleveland, won the American League Cy Young Award for best pitcher over Josh Beckett, who led the Boston Red Sox to this year's World Series championship. Sabathia received 119 total (29 first place) votes to Beckett's (8 first place) 86, in a victory for statistics over hype. The two 27-year-old pitchers had almost identical records: Sabathia was 19-7, with a 3.21 ERA, 209 strikeouts and just 37 walks in 241 innings, 4 complete games, and 1 shutout, while Beckett was 20-7, with a 3.27 ERA, 194 strikeouts and 40 walks in 200.1 innings, with only 1 complete game and 0 shutouts. Sabathia was arguably more valuable to his team's post-season appearance, since only one other fellow teammate (very young Fausto Carmona, who also went 19-7) posted anywhere near as many wins, while the Red Sox had rookie Daisuke (Dice-K) Matsuzaka, who went 15-12 and veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who went 17-12. (The 40-year-old potential Hall of Famer and inveterate right-winger Curt Schilling posted a 9-8 record.)

If you're not a baseball fan, this news probably isn't so significant, but it's interesting to me that in the 51 years of the Cy Young Award, Sabathia is only the second Black non-Latino pitcher to win it in the American League, and only the sixth Black non-Latino pitcher ever to win it. His sole American League predecessor, Vida Blue, won it in 1971, while National Leaguer winners include Dwight Gooden in 1986, Bob Gibson, who received it in 1968 and 1970, and Ferguson Jenkins, who received in 1971. Don Newcombe received the very first first Cy Young Award, when it was given out to one pitcher from both leagues, in 1956. (It is the case that several Venezuelan, Dominican, Puerto Rican and Cuban players of African descent have received the AL Cy Young in the past, with Johan Santana winning it in 2006 and 2004 and Pedro Martínez winning it twice in the AL and once in the NL.) Sabathia is involved with a project to reinterest younger Black Americans in baseball, so perhaps the award and the public recognition that comes with it will inspire potential future talents.

Sabathia had a superb rookie year in 2001, and then mixed years since then, but this season he seemed to be in control of most of his games, except when the post-season rolled around. With his evident talent, and Carmona's, Cleveland may not have to wait much longer for a championship.


How things have changed. When I was a considering colleges, I never conceived of visiting with professors and sitting in classes; I'm sure this was possible, and I spent a good deal of time hanging around Washington University's campus (which was my idea and ideal of a university), trying to imagine myself a college student, though when I finally did go to (another) university, the experience was different from anything I'd envisioned and required a huge amount of adjustment. I did not dare sit in any Wash U. classes, though. I think the closest I ever got was when I went to hear a talk, by whom I don't even remember, with my class, just as we'd gone to see a play or two at Webster University (then Webster College, and it was walking distance from my home).

Even as an undergraduate I did not feel comfortable "bothering" (as I saw it) most of my professors, at least until my senior year, and my few earlier forays doing so--one unforgettable time was when I went to meet with Stephen Jay Gould and could barely get words out--struck me with such existential terror that I swore off it unless absolutely necessary. These days amid everything else I do, I periodically host prospective undergraduates and their parents in my classes (they usually ask politely if they can sit in), and meet with them when they come to visit the university. Quite a few of them know by their senior years of high school that they want not only to be writers, but in undergraduate writing programs, so I usually describe our plan of study, writers that visit, and the like.

As a bit of levity, here's an email letter (the writer's name has been removed) that I received yesterday. A reminder: the institution I teach at is in the first suburb north of Chicago....

Dear Prof.,

Thank you for spending so much time with my mother and I on our visit to Brown last week. I was very impressed by the facilities. What made Brown stand out
as the top school in my college search is the English department's fusion of classical genres and other kinds of media. Additionally, the campus is gorgeous and the location accommodates my passion for city life.

I look forward to corresponding with you again about the unique opportunities that the Brown English department offers.

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Ah, the joys of teaching!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Veteran's Day + Mailer/Cooper/Washington + Troy Smith: Beautiful and "Kind"

African American Veterans, World War IIToday is Veterans Day, which I nearly forgot because, I'm embarrassed to say, we don't get it (or any other holidays, save the major ones) off at the university. I'm the son and grandson of (deceased) veterans, the godson (twice over) of veterans, the nephew and cousin of many. Some of them fought in wars (World War II, Vietnam, etc.), but most served during the illusory societal calm we like to call "peacetime."

I always think of some of them--my uncle J., for example, who was deeply affected by Vietnam--when I consider the plight of our most recent new veterans, returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. 1/4th of today's homeless are said to be veterans, though they constitute about only 10% of the population. Iraq returnees are suffering from higher rates of suicide, PTSD, and other psychological problems, than the public at large. Until the public scandal broke earlier this year, hundreds veterans at Walter Reed Hospital were living in conditions that would not be fit even for rats, and veterans, like so many other Americans, are experiencing a range of crises, including home foreclosures, bankruptcy, and so on, yet there appears to be little to no response from the people in power in Washington. Today anti-war veterans were arrested at an American Legion event in Boston.

One of the smallest and most important things you can do is try to be aware of the issues longtime and new veterans are facing, and advocate on their behalf to your elected representatives whenever you can. It's easy to salute the troops, champion their sacrifice and valor, and ignore them when they most need our support, so try not to forget them today, or in the future.


Yesterday brought news of Norman Mailer's (1923-2007) passing. For most of my youth and early adulthood he was considered one of the preeminent American writers, or rather one of the MAJOR WRITERS with a capital "M" (also for MALE). His fame came quickly with his first and best novel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Naked and the Dead (1948), but also attended his pioneering works in the then-nascent field of creative nonfiction, such The Armies of the Night (1968) and the infamous and extraordinary The Executioner's Song (1979); he was also of the major literary and cultural celebrities, a liberal, sometimes progressive journalist, critic and commentator on all things American and, misguidedly, many things Black (getting into a verbal sparring match with James Baldwin, among others), one of the co-founders of the Village Voice, a political candidate, a dogged anti-feminist (who stabbed one of his wives in the 1960s), a homophobe and racist who loved to quarrel with Truman Capote, Germaine Greer, Gore Vidal and countless others, and lace his fiction with as much polymorphous perversity as he could, and a larger-than-life personality whose cavorting in the public eye often threatened to eclipse his work. (As far as the fiction goes, it did.)

It's probably fair to say that Mailer's public stature diminished considerably over the last decade, as fewer people of recent generations knew of his exploits first hand and his recent books were generally not worth the time it took to read and comment on them--the last book of his I waded through, Ancient Evenings, an endless, sex-besotted romp through the Pharaonic epoch(s), came out in 1983, and I didn't buy it, my mother, a longtime reader of his, did--but Mailer did still throw some punches, as when he began writing critical pieces about the W Gang a few years ago in the New York Review of Books. The pugnacious and blistering intellect that garnered his fame was on display in these pieces, though the reality was and is that the people who probably might have listened 25, 35, or 45 years ago to the best parts of his arguments were no longer interested or already agreed with him. His passing marks end of era.

Patricia Spears Jones told me that poet Jane Cooper (1924-2007, at left, from W.W. Norton & Co.) had passed away, so I wanted to mention her as well. Along with Grace Paley, Muriel Rukeyser, and several other notable writers she established the acclaimed creative writing program at Sarah Lawrence College, where she taught for over 40 years. I usually tend to think of her as a lyric poet of life's quieter moments, but she could be bitingly sarcastic, as in her famous poem "Seventeen Questions about KING KONG," in which she critiques her familial relationship to the 1933 film's director, Merian C. Cooper.

Here's another of her poems, from the Academy of American Poets website, the lacerating "Clementene," about that most central of American themes, race (click on the link you can hear her read it as well):



I always thought she was white, I thought she was an Indian
because of her high-bridged nose, coin-perfect profile
where she sat in an upstairs window, turning sheets sides-to-the-middle—
There are so many things wrong with this story,
Muriel, I could not tell you—

Her cheeks were oddly freckled, and her hair would be squeezed down
into a compact, small knot at the nape, gray as chicken wire, gray
as the light, unaffectionate glance her eyes would give
if she lifted them from her work.
No child would interrupt her.

She came twice a year to do the sewing, she slept in the house,
but her meals were brought up, so that she dined by the Singer,
now and then staring fixedly across the river. She joined neither white
in the dining room nor colored in the kitchen.
Her wishes were respected.

Later I saw the same light, disconcerting gaze and futuristic planes
in Oppenheimer's face, but she looked most like my grandmother's friend
Miss Gertrude
who taught me to tat. Once we moved north, Mother confided
of the two finest families in Jacksonville, no one could be sure
whose father was her father.


Muriel, I never told you, I never revealed how Clementene
died in our house a white woman and was claimed by her black

How she flung up her arms in wild grief
so different from Clementene's reserve.

How she hollered and called on Christ Jesus,
flinging her body from side to side at the foot of the staircase.

How the police arrived, it was nine o'clock at night,
long past my bedtime.

How I leaned over the stair rail,
unnoticed for once, as their torches burst in.

It seemed as if tumultuous shadows
crawled through the door, odors of pinestraw, magnolia, river

They are carrying a blanketed stretcher.
Now the daughter follows, still whimpering into my mother's small-
boned shoulder.

I had seen how a mother could be mourned.
Now I watch my mother shiver and pull away.

Why, if I was not an accomplice,
did I feel—do I feel still—this complex shame?

Copyright © 1994 by Jane Cooper, from
The Flashboat: Poems Collected and Reclaimed by Jane Cooper.
Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Yesterday was also the 20th anniversary of Harold Washington's death. He was the 42nd and 1st African-American Mayor of Chicago, elected twice, in 1983 and 1987. Harold Washington was and remains a hero to many people all over the country and globe, for his pioneering victories, for what he represented, and for how he governed while in office. I can remember the near-frenzy among family members and friends an entire state away, in Missouri, when he was first elected; I was a senior in high school and his primary win, against a field of other Democrats, and win in the general election, seemed like the opening of a new era. If only it was...

Here is his first inaugural address. And here's my favorite section, the end, where he cites the founder of Chicago, and says to the city of Big Shoulders, "Let's go to work." And he did.

I reach out my hand and I ask for your help. With the same adventurous spirit of Jean Pointe Baptiste DuSable when he founded Chicago, we are going to do some great deeds here together.

In the beginning there was the word. Throughout this campaign you've given me the word. The word is over. Let's go to work.


Troy SmithReggie highlights a recent appearance by the gorgeous former Heisman Trophy Winner Troy Smith (at right) at a juvenile detention center in his hometown of Cleveland. I'd forwarded the article to a mostly poc-g/sgl sports listserve I'm on, because I felt Smith's actions and remarks were, to put it mildly, extraordinary. What I wrote to the list was this (excerpted):

"I was more interested in how Smith was described and in particularly how he addressed the young brothas in the correctional facility. I may be alone in this, but I rarely read reports of anyone, particularly a young, beautiful, somewhat famous talented Black man still in the public eye, telling other young brothas whom society has decided to give up on that they are "needed" and "beautiful." That a city wants them to come back and participate in shaping its public life? Do you? And that he's brought to the point of tears expressing it?"

Am I wrong? Does this happen often? Does anyone regularly tell young Black men, or young Black women, or young Black people--or young people of any color, especially young people who are poor and working-class, who are already in the cogs of the prison-industrial complex, whose lives may already have passed through versions of Hell and worse, that they are "needed," that they are "beautiful" (and I don't mean in a sexualized-eroticized sense), that they are "wanted," that they are "missed," that without their active participation and engagement society cannot go forward? What would happen if we did this more often? I think of the response Smith got, and of my own experiences, brief though they were, working with young Black and Latino and Asian kids in the New York City schools, and witnessing first hand how they craved someone to show interest in them, to love them, to listen to them, to guide them, to encourage them, to push them, to assure them and challenge them, to let them know that their presence wasn't superfluous, as everything around them was conveying regularly, that they were not subalterns without any possibility of relevance unless they rapped or played basketball or were taking their clothes off. So Troy Smith's actions really moved me, and I was glad Reggie highlighted them. I also wonder, why don't we--since we know our traditional and "mainstream," which is to say, corporate media aren't going to do it, because in their eyes we still do not really exist--make it a regular practice, and make sure that there's some substance to it?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Duriel Harris (Douglas Ewart & Inventions) @ Velvet Lounge

Last night, I headed down to Fred Anderson's "Chicago sound" Velvet Lounge on Cermak (21st Street), to see Aarawak Productions and AACM's (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) concert, featuring Douglas R. Ewart & Inventions, a group that includes my good friend, poet, performer and Black Took Collective co-founder Duriel Harris. I've seen Duriel read and perform her work many times (we've read together a few times over the years), but amazingly to me, never with Ewart and Inventions. The lineup included Ewart (winds, voice and percussions), Duriel, Dee Alexander (vocals and percussions), Edward Wilkerson (reeds and percussions), Mwata Bowden (reeds and percussions), Darius Savage (bass and percussions), Dushun Mosley (drums), and, as a special treat, Anderson himself on tenor sax, and was titled "To Tell the Truth."

The first piece, a Lester Lashley tune titled "For All We Know," put me in mind of the music of one of my favorites, AACM member and Art Ensemble of Chicago longtimer, composer Roscoe Mitchell, with its opening passage of parallel, dissonant harmonic blocks, on the winds, that slowly shatter into rich improvisatory lines, only to reconvene, piece by piece, at the song's end. Everyone (save Alexander, who wasn't onstage) had a solo, and the wind players astonished me, Wilkerson taking off at a speed that would have impressed Charlie Parker and with an improvisational canniness that brought to mind the sharpest saxophonists in the Afro-avant tradition. The second piece consisted of the trio Bowden, Savage and Mosley entering into musical dialogue with Duriel's poetry, and it was one of those performances in which the embodied voices, the lyric subject's and Duriel's, struggled, warred, sang, wailed, sublimely, against the poetic text's voicings. (To see this on the page, check out Duriel's first collection of poems/texts, Drag.) Bowden's clarinet solo on this one drew an ironic line, with its mellowness a striking counterpart to Duriel's journey through her words and, at the end, to near-wordlessness. The group then remixed its numbers and members, and did so throughout the rest of the concert, to fine effect. Below are some photos, and a short clip of the Duriel's performance. Enjoy!

Douglas Ewart & Inventions
Ewart, Bolden, Wilkerson, and Duriel, as the set was beginning
Duriel Harris performing
Duriel performing
Duriel Harris performing
Duriel performing
Douglas Ewart & Inventions in Concert w/ Duriel Harris, at the Velvet Lounge
Wilkerson in motion during one of his solos

A snippet of Duriel's poem


Partway through the set, I headed back north, to catch a student production of Naomi Wallace's The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek, which was directed by one of my advanced fiction sequence students, Rebecca Stevens. I'd heard of Wallace's work though I'd never seen any productions of her plays, and this was a great introduction. Set during the Great Depression, the play explores the effects that joblessness, fear of the present and future, and multiply-layered alienation and repression have on several characters, primary among them Dalton Chance (played by Mark Underhill) and Pace Cregan (played here by Anna Perczak), who take to footraces over a trestle as a way of grounding themselves and beating--at least for a while--hopelessness and fate. I was so impressed by what Rebecca, her producer, and the cast and crew pulled off. The acting for the most part was never too stagy or overdemonstrative, the set was spare in the best way, with just enough detail to draw the mood of that era, and her musical interludes, comprisings 30s blues, jazz, folk, and popular songs, none of them obvious, evoked the soundtrack of a too-easily forgotten era. Most importantly, I think, she was able to guide her actors in capturing most of the poetry of Wallace's text; despite the subject matter, the play is anything but naturalistic. Its nonlinear movement and poetic texture, along with the play's overall tragic undertow, require expert management, and Rebecca gets my props for an adroit hand behind it all. And now, a couple of photos:
Alex Weisman (as Chas. Weaver) and Underhill
Perczak, Underhill and Catherine Lefrere (as Gin Chance)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Reading with Students & Reg Gibbons @ High Risk Gallery

Poet Reg GibbonsAnd we keep on sprinting...last night, after a full day of classes and required attendance at day-ending scholarly talk, I read with three students (Steve Jordan, Christine Pacyk, and Nicole Xylouris Osborne, who's currently in my class) and one of my senior colleagues, whom I've mentioned many times here, Reg Gibbons (at left) in one of the university's graduate Masters in Creative Writing program periodic author/student readings. The event took place at High Risk Gallery (Thanksgiving is still at least a week away, but the gallery already had Christmas trees up!) on W. Belmont in the Boystown neighborhood, and just a few blocks from where I lived the first year I stayed in Chicago.

It was exhilarating to see so many of the students I've worked with and their families and friends present, and to see some other Chitown folks in the house as well. And it was a tremendous honor to read (photo of me at left, by author and artist Cornelia Spelman, Reg's wife) with the three students and with Reg, whom I've never read with despite my being at the university for five years. The students repped the three genres we teach (creative nonfiction, poetry, and fiction), and Reg read a few of his stellar translations from Ancient Greek and from his forthcoming collection, while I read (at length!) two linked, still pretty rough early sections--which included dialogue, a forward-moving timeline, and yes, action--I'd never read publicly from my novel in progress, Palimpsests.

With Reg Gibbons after our readingReading new work always terrifies me, but this time my nerves were settled by the time I took the mic. Afterwards I joined writer friend Rone Shavers, who's also taught in the program (and caught the Dessalines reference, which I did not throw in to keep him on his toes, though I was glad he got it), and some former (Michael, Kayte, Adrienne, Andrea!) and current students on a little bar crawl, then skedaddled back north shortly after the (be)witching hour. The word for the evening, despite my exhaustion, was FUN. In fact, I didn't realize till I got home how drained I really was.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Patricia Hill Collins on "Emancipatory Knowledge: An Oxymoron?: The Case for Contemporary Black Studies"

Patricia Hill CollinsWhat a week! First, Junot Díaz was here, then last night, the university's very highly regarded African American Studies Department invited the distinguished scholar Patricia Hill Collins (at left) to deliver this year's Allison Davis Memorial Lecture. (Allison Davis (1902-1983), a pioneering anthropologist and scholar of education, prolific author, and member of the President's Commission on Civil Rights, who was one of the first African Americans to receive tenure at a majority-white institution; he and his colleague Abram Lincoln did so at the University of Chicago, where he had received his Ph.D., in 1948. He taught at Chicago until his death, at which time he was the John Dewey Distinguished Service Professor, and a MacArthur Foundation "genius" Fellow. Every Black person teaching at a majority-white institution should know his name and his story.)

Collins, now the Distinguished University Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland, the first (2007-8) African-American woman to lead the American Sociological Association, and the author of such groundbreaking books as Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment (1990) and Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism (2005), needed little introduction to the packed audience, but she did receive excellent ones from our acting dean, sociologist Aldon Morris, and the Af-Am Studies chair Richard Itonchair of African American Studies, political scientist Richard Iton (below, at right). Her topic was "Emancipatory Knowledge: An Oxymoron?: The Case for Contemporary Black Studies." What, she began by asking, does it mean to be doing Black Studies now? What are Black Studies programs, scholars and students focusing on, and how does this relate to their original, historical aims? Is the knowledge diffused among Black communities in the US and elsewhere? Are the three original aims, or core principles, of an organic link between Black Studies departments and Black communities, the development of a special relationship between Black Studies departments and Black students, and the correction of the historical record, exemplified in the practices and praxes of contemporary Black Studies departments? And what about the gulf between what she called "paper programs," underfunded, understaffed Black Studies programs, such as the one she had taught at before her move to Maryland, and those at élite institutions, like the university, which offered doctoral programs, graduate funding, and star scholars for students to work with? How could and can the majority of Black students, let alone Black people, be served under such conditions, or is this, well, an oxymoron?

I won't recapitulate her provocative, often funny, and always lively argument, which she condensed for time constraints and then Powerpointed for purposes of clarity, but I was on the edge of my seat (seriously, does anyone else ever feel this kind of excitement at scholarly talks?) the whole time as she discussed it. In fact, I took about 4-5 moleskine pages of notes, and am still reviewing them, and probably would have stayed behind to ask her questions, but I had to finish reading short stories for my Friday classes. But I saw her as throwing down a gantlet, of the sort that folks in our incredible African American Studies program have been regularly debating, and issuing a challenge to faculty members, students, and people in the community (of whatever race), to think about Black Studies in particular, and its original emphasis on Black liberation and knowledge production, but more broadly about knowledge creation and production in the academy, and its relationship to the wider community.

Patricia Hill CollinsBeing both part of and somewhat outside of academe, I've often felt like so much of the exciting work that's done inside colleges and universities either does not get translated into a form that's accessible and practical to those outside it or does so only after a long hiatus, while too many people with both feet inside academe assume that everyone is part of their conversations--or isn't, but wouldn't want to be. I feel this is less the case with artists and other creative folks, who by and through their practices and production are involved in conversation, negotiation and translation, but I do sometimes feel this strongly when it comes to the many brilliant scholarly conversations that occur and develop within college and university walls. Now, I am not saying that all knowledge, in its articulation and production, has to be immediately or initially practical, but again, there are so many exciting discoveries, developments and discussions--at least they excite me--that occur within academe, and I'm thinking in particular about the humanities and social sciences, that would benefit our public discourse in general, and specific conversations that take place in the media, in the political arena, in private dialogues.

I often think about the rich and nuanced arguments around sexuality, gender and performance, to take one example, and how alongside these you can have a discussion with people, go online or open a book or magazine and find the most retrograde, reductive discourse on these issues, as if the very premises of contestation and complexity were non-existant. I'm not blaming the scholars, who as I know from my experience with the Center for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies at CUNY even went out into the communities they hoped to engage with to hold workshops, classes, discussions, and so forth, but I still feel that all of us could be doing more, and Hill Collins's talk underlined this for me.

One of the things I really liked about Hill Collins's talk, as I do with her books, is how she negotiates scholarly discourse, some of it quite demanding and difficult, in such a way as to also speak to a wider array of readers. She noted at the end of her talk that people are "thirsty for new ideas," and that thinking about what might constitute "emancipatory knowledge," in the broader sense, could very well be one of the things folks out there would love to hear about.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Junot Díaz in the House + Kennedy Play on Broadway + Ayler on Film

After one of my always too-brief trips home, I headed back west to teach and host this year's Visiting Fiction Writer-in-Residence, Junot Díaz, who flew in for a whirlwind visit from Rome, where he's spending the year on a Rome Prize, awarded by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. As part of his visit, he met with our senior-year writers over two days, spoke to my fiction major advanced sequence class, where he discussed the issue of how to shift from short fiction, which the students are working on now (3 longish stories by the end of the first half of the course) to longer forms (like the novella they'll have to complete by June); delivered a talk about craft, which the students who attended were still talking about a day later; and read a brief section from his new novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (one of my October and November book selections), as well as a very brief story, "Alma," before opening the floor to questions. I was incredibly pleased that Díaz was able to join us, and especially appreciated his graciousness, openness, and thoughtfulness when he was with the students, some of whom told me immediately after that class that they found his comments "excellent." (Personally, I also love his REALNESS.) They were taking notes assiduously, and even, like several other colleagues who primarily teach different genres (poetry, creative nonfiction), scribbled down some of what he had to say at the talk. In essence, he broke it down in terms of the issue of character and how important it was (is) to fiction writing, and how characters in relation to each other and the other elements of fiction, which is to say, character as transactional, was what writers ought to keep in mind. He stressed that his comments weren't meant to be prescriptive or proscriptive, but he also then noted that as fiction editor of the Boston Review, he saw a great deal of stories that were really stories of "condition," static, lacking conflict and what emerges from it, without any real movement in terms of narrative arc or dramatic arc, let alone plot(tedness); his emphasis on character(s), the source of conflict, was an effort to counter this. At the reading, both the excerpt from the novel and "Alma" illustrated his points, while also demonstrating how you could artfully negotiate the dangerous ground of second-person narration (you), an issue my graduate class and I have been exploring to some extent (Jhumpa Lahiri's May 6, 2006 New Yorker story "All in a Lifetime," is exemplary in this regard). It was also pleasing to see that both the talk and the reading were packed, and that students as well as people not directly affiliated with the university (hey LaToya!) not only showed up, but actively posed questions and engaged Díaz in conversation. Below are a few photos I snapped with my camera phone, which is 1,000x better than the previous one.

Díaz chatting with one of my introductory fiction students, Andrés, after his talk

The crowd slowly filling up before the reading

Díaz reading his short story, "Alma"

Díaz answering questions after his reading


On a different note, for those in New York City and environs, please consider catching the current, brief run of one of my favorite plays, The Ohio State Murders, by one of my favorite authors and cultural hero(in)es, Adrienne Kennedy. Charles Isherwood's mostly laudatory New York Times review today provides some useful background on 76-year-old Kennedy, a treasure of American and African-American literature, and on the work itself, which is relatively formally conventional by Kennedy's standards, but quite challenging in its themes and content, as it delves into her usual trove of racially and sexually inflected uncanniness, with parallel selves, twins, intertextual critique, insanity, and a mysterious murder all mixed together for a haunting measure.

Isherwood criticizes the production, which he suggests could have used a larger, deeper set to enhance the play's eerieness, its underlying terror, but I guess I'd have to see it to judge this. (Point of fact, I've never seen the play, but have read it many times and taught it as well.) This run stars The Practice's LisaGay Hamilton (at right, standing, with Cherise Boothe, from New York Times, Gerry Goodstein) whose performance Isherwood calls "spellbinding." That's quite a compliment, so catch it and be bound by her--and Kennedy's spell--if you can.


Albert AylerThere are people for whom the words and phrases "Bells," "Witches and Devils," "Ghosts," "Spiritual Unity," and "New York Eye and Ear Control" conjure a name instantly: Albert Ayler. The saxophone visionary, adept of Cecil Taylor and protegé of John Coltrane, who blazed on the public scene in the early 1960 and made around a dozen landmark records, only to be found floating in the East River in 1970, is one musician whose work, once heard, usually isn't forgotten or mistaken for anyone else's. And not only not forgotten; as a friend once said to me after listening to Spirits Rejoice, she had nightmares and was afraid to be alone in her apartment for a while afterwards. My experience was different, but I recognize that Ayler's music, particularly the late-career inner ear-shearing honks, bleats, shrieks, cries, hollers, and wails, couched within more than a little soulful swinging, to my mind the sonic embodiments of an almost indescribable freedom, and its antecedent and parallel, suffering, that were so palpable for millions of Americans, especially Black Americans, during the period of his career, are not for everyone. Or really for anyone but those who're able and willing to listen. If you've never listened to Ayler's music--and I went through my 20s phase of trying to ferret out every obscure Black musician I could get my hands on, which is how I came across him, and am glad I did, since he was not part of the expansive r&b, soul, rock&roll, and jazz soundscape in which I grew up--there's a new film out, playing for a week at Film Forum in, where else, New York City: Kasper Collin's My Name is Albert Ayler. The New York Sun's reviewer likes it quite a bit. According to another review I saw, it's antithetical to the Burns model; consisting of audio snippets of performances and interviews with Ayler and those close to him, still imagery, and video clips of family members and associates, it sounds like it jars the viewer out of spectatorial passivity. Which seems appropriate in Ayler's case. Ayler's no easy study. But you just might dig him a lot. A whole lot. In small doses.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

In the Garden

A quick entry (Twitter-ready?), on gardening. Today I was back home and had an opportunity to check out the plants, almost all of which are still thriving, despite our being four days deep into November. The mild temperatures and lack of frost, and intermittent rain have done wonders for all of the herbs, the perennials (which, though flowerless, are all growing), and the vegetable plants. There are enough Brussel sprouts buds to feed a squadron, so we may end up having those for Thanksgiving, but the tomatoes are still growing and maturing, and this afternoon I harvested the lone (semi-)mature head of red cabbage, which will be returning to Chicago with me. I know it must sound pretty bizarre to say, "I always wanted to grow red cabbage," but...I did! It's hard to explain the elation over the plants not dying (as happened in the past) and instead flourishing, and we have had some luck in previous years with collard greens and a cauliflower, but other than strawberries, herbs, roses and the azaleas--and a few unusual flowers like astilbe that I picked up years ago at the Grant Park Conservancy--most of the vegetables did not grow. So the cabbage, I feel, is a real accomplishment. Soon, it'll become either cooked red cabbage or mixed slaw; I haven't decided. Below are some photos of it.

The red cabbage (from the garden)
It's smaller than a supermarket cabbage
From the garden, a red cabbage
From certain angles you could mistake it for a large beet or red onion
Toni looking at the red cabbage
Someone isn't sure exactly what it is

Friday, November 02, 2007

Black Out Day

Today was Black Out Day. Did you know this? I did, because of poet Christina Springer (thanks, Christina!--and check out her blog, from London--lots of poetry, thinking, great stuff.) (I bought coffee on campus, but that's about it. Nothing at the airport tonight, and especially not bottled water, which is, you know, environmentally unfriendly.)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Will Alexander Benefit in NYC Tonight!

Poetthinker Tonya Foster sent me the following email today, so for those in NYC, please drop by this benefit, and for those of us not there, please consider sending something to help Will Alexander (right, photo from Green Integer) one of the most singular contemporary poets, help pay his medical bills if you can.

Dear Friends in Poetry, in Life:

Poet and artist Will Alexander has become seriously ill. He has no health insurance. In order to help him defray the cost of treatment, poets will gather and read Will’s work as well as poems for Will. If you can't attend the reading below, please make a donation to Will Alexander --he really needs the help of myriad communities right now. (His mailing address is W. Alexander/ 400 South Lafayette Park Place, #307/ Los Angeles, CA 90057.) Will is one of our GREAT/most singular poets and thinkers. I understand that this is a time when many feel "heavy burdened" but ... Please help if you can. Feel free (and in fact feel encouraged) to forward this or post on your blogs, lists, groups of friends who will help.
love and much,
Tonya Foster
308 Bowery / F to 2nd Ave, or 6 to Bleecker
$10 suggested donation, more if you can


(and more tba)

Art: Whitfield Lovell

Several weeks ago I noted that artist Whitfield Lovell had received a 2007 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship. But I didn't post any images of his art, so here, on the first day of November, are just a few images I culled from Check out their online catalogue of his work for more. (My post on Lovell's partner Fred Wilson's presentation last spring at the university and so much else is here.) Enjoy!

You're My Thrill (Sculptures, Charcoal on wood, bombshell casings, 2004), DC Moore Gallery

Temptation (Mixed media, Charcoal on wood, found objects, 2000), DC Moore Gallery

Rice Barton: Three (Sculptures, Charcoal on painted wood panel, cabinet, enamel cups, audio speaker, rags, 2006), DC Moore Gallery