Sunday, November 30, 2008

Post-T-Day Notes

I am, as is often the case these days when I fly, recuperating from a (terrible) cold. For once I did get a flu shot, and try to prep for the Petri dish conditions on the plane, but this time I was ringed by ill travelers, so I think my fate was sealed, despite the best efforts of Zicam, Emergen-C, orange juice, lots of water, and so on. My and our Thanksgiving was nevertheless wonderful, and I'll be working off the added pounds for weeks to come, but I do wish there were a way not to get sick from flying short of wearing a (gas/surgical) mask. One of these days I hope to figure it out.


I should note that one of the first bits of international news I heard on Thanksgiving Day morning concerned the horrific series of attacks, lasting for three days, in Mumbai, India. As of the most recent tally, over 195 people were killed, nearly 300 were injured, and the physical destruction to Mumbai's chief attractions and the psychological damage to its people and to India more broadly, as well as the further destabilization of India's already fraught relationship with neighbor Pakistan, are as of this point still incalculable. According to this Daily Mail account by the lone surviving terrorist, the original aim of this gang was to kill around 5,000 people and cause inestimable destruction. 3 RDX bombs they had planted which could have raised the death and destruction totals and razed the Raj, were thankfully either defused or did not go off. The recriminations in the Indian government have begun, as have accusations of Pakistan's complicity, but I sincerely hope before anything escalates at the national level between these two nuclear powers that they, and other nations, including the United States, can sit down and figure out what happened and how, even in light of the intractable problem of Jammu and Kashmir, as well as other issues, to prevent it in the future.

People hold a candle-light vigil, for the victims of the terrorist attack in Mumbai. (AP Photo)

On a different continent, another horror was playing out: the politically oriented, socially fractious riots in Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria, where over 350 (or considerably more, depending upon the source) people have died, countless have been injured, and residents of certain neighborhoods have had to flee their homes (photo at left, IRIN). The Plateau state governor has dispatched troops to calm the violence, which was led by armed bands of opposing political factions that closely mirrored the Muslim and Christian divisions in many parts of central and northern Nigeria. What appeared to spark the riots were allegations that the People's Democratic Party (PDP) had unfairly won the elections. As the first article I linked to suggests, the Nigerian federal government should probably step in to calm the tensions and assure, to the extent possible, the fairest and most transparent resolution to the electoral contest.


On a completely different note, I've been following of late in some of the conversations composer and Juillard School professor Greg Sandow has initiated on his blog around current problems with classical/European-American art music. He is now compiling a list of what he suggests are ways that classical music "doesn't connect" with contemporary audiences. There have been some excellent thoughts and suggestions, from Sandow and others in the classical music field, and I haven't had too much to add, except on a few points where I can speak without sounding like too much of a fool. Sandow has more than once attempted to analogize the condition of the contemporary classical music world--meaning more than just composers and compositions, for example, and encompassing all of the related institutions--to other art genres and forms, noting for example that classical music concerts tend to emphasize a fairly historically and formally narrow collection of composers and works, especially at the expense of the new.

One of my first thoughts about this was that, in fact, if you take literature, every single genre, in almost every nation, society, and culture around the world, presents new works alongside the classics, and it would be very strange, for example, to read only or primarily works from 200+ years ago, whether they were poetry, drama, fiction, nonfiction, criticism, and so on, even though in some cases those works still hold tremendous sway over contemporary literary production. In the case of American literature, of course, British literature from Modernism backwards looms large, which is unsurprising, but there isn't a single major institution in the academic or publishing realms, no matter how fixated it might be on the importance of British literature in relation to American or any other literature, that would primarily or only teach British texts from, say, the British Renaissance, employ scholars in this area, invite people to present talks on or read from texts written during that period. I don't think even British Renaissance (and perhaps say Italian, French, and German Renaissance) scholars and enthusiasts would find that all too interesting. And yet it is very much the case in the classical music world that the music produced from the late Baroque period through the late Romantic era (roughly Bach to Mahler), primarily in German-speaking countries but with some selections from France, Italy, and Britain, garners the overwhelming share of attention and programming at most orchestras. In some cases, most work produced in the 20th and now 21st centuries, beyond selected composers and works, does not get played very much if at all.

One could make all sorts of arguments about why this happens, and that is what Sandow and company have been engaging in for some time (years, really). I'm interested to know what other J's Theater readers think about this. If we were to look at other genres of say, music, especially popular music, which Sandow does reference quite frequently, I would argue that if the musical genre is still living, which is to say, if people are still creating within the generally accepted forms and modes of that music, it's common to hear both the older, sometimes oldest, forms of that music as well as the most recent. Jazz would be one example, but rock & roll, or the much younger hip hop would also fit the bill. Or maybe none of these musical forms can be analogized to classical music in the same way, because of incommensurabilities, like history and chronology and technology and systems of distribution and performance, and so on. What do you think?


I didn't post anything on the 125th edition of "The Game," and I truly didn't pay much attention to it, but when I learned the results, I was quite happy that a certain team based in New Haven did not win (they did not score a point). Nevertheless, the Crimson and the Bears finished in a tie for the league championship. The University's team, the Wildcats, finished 9-3, ranked 25th in the country, which means a Bowl visit.


Lastly, this Sierra Leonean begs to differ on a key, recent US historical point, while a black St. Louisan demonstrates he's living in a parallel universe. Chacun à son goût, I think the phrase goes....

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Monday, November 24, 2008

Over the Weekend

A few notes and photos from this past weekend.

On Friday, two distinguished writers and three graduate students affiliated with the university's MA/MFA program read their work at the new Center on Halstead in Lakeview, easily one of the sites most seeing in the Boystown-Belmont area of Chicago. MA/MFA faculty and Center for Writing Arts visiting fiction writer-in-residence Sefi Atta read from the opening of her novel Everything Good Will Come (Interlink USA), while Chicago Tribune columnist and Brenda Starr comics writer Mary Schmich offered three short essay-columns, one of which involved hang-gliding in Rio. (She captured the experience perfectly.) Aubrey Henretty (creative nonfiction), Nate Zoba (poetry), and Kelly Burgess Mayer (fiction-creative nonfiction), one of my past and current students, presented their works as well.

MA/MFA co-director and author Sandi Wisenberg introducing Nate Zoba, Kelly Burgess Mayer, Aubrey Henretty, Mary Schmich, and Sefi Atta

On Saturday evening, a group of Joshua Marie Wilkinson's poetry students from Loyola University in Chicago, led by Charles Gabel, invited me to read with them and Loyola professor Terence Boyle, at a poetry reading-salon they regularly host in Rogers Park. It was tremendous fun, an honor to read with Terrence, and also so encouraging and exciting to hear these young poets, whose interests range widely, who're publishing chapbooks and journals, and who're collaborating on projects of all kinds. One highlight was when one of the writers (a student at Columbia College) and her girlfriend performed Chris Stackhouse's and my "unreadable" poem, "Index," from Seismosis, giving (doubled) voice and body/ies to the concrete-ish poem and its twin image. Thanks again to Charles and all these poets, and we must do it again!

Terence Boyle reading his work

The performance of "Index"

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sports + Barkley L. Hendricks at Studio Museum in Harlem

Okay, at first I was thinking, nothing literary today. The "apparatus with which I think" (Bierce) is tired. So: sports. And specifically: baseball.

Yesterday, St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols was named the MLB's 2008 National League Most Valuable Player. Pujols hit .357 with 37 home runs and 116 RBI, and had an on-base percentage of. He beat out the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies' (and native St. Louisan) strapping slugger, Ryan Howard, who hit 48 homes (first in the league) and drove in 146 runs (first), while hitting only .251.

Albert Pujols, aka El Hombre (or Prince Albert, Phat Albert, The Machine, and my personal tag for him, Big Papa, Photo: Emily Rasinski/P-D)

Pujols was easily a more consistently dangerous threat at the plate, with an on-base percentage of .462, and a .653 slugging average, both well ahead of Howard. He was second only to Atlanta's Chipper Jones (.364) in the batting title race.

This is Pujols's second MVP award, making him the first Latino and Dominican player to achieve this status; his first came in 2005. He has been in the top five every single year he's been in the league, save last year, and is the only player in MLB history to have 30 home runs and 100 RBIs in this first 8 seasons. It's not unlikely that if he had better protection in the lineup he could have hit even better. As it was, despite being out 12 games because of injuries, he still helped kept the Cardinals in contention for most of the season, until their late fade, when they finished in 4th place.

Other MLB awards: AL MVP, Dustin Pedroia (Boston); AL Cy Young, Cliff Lee (Cleveland); NL Cy Young, Tim Lincecum (San Francisco); AL Rookie of the Year, Evan Longoria (Tampa Bay); NL Rookie of the Year, Geovany Soto (Chicago); AL Manager of the Year, Joe Maddon (Tampa Bay); NL Manager of the Year, Lou Piniella (Chicago).


Bernie T.
pointed out this amazing story to me, and Reggie H. posted about it yesterday, so I'll send you to his blog to read more. Take it away, Reggie:

Since my partner and I got hooked on Rugby thanks to watching the Wallabies, the All-Blacks, and the Tri-Nations tournament on Fox Sports, I can't resist pointing to this video and article about The Hyde Leadership Public Charter School in Washington DC, from the New York Times.

When the team starts the post-game singing of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," I get all choked up....

Aim High, boys!
I seldom read Newsweek magazine, but I did flip through it today while waiting at the pharmacy, and saw Sarah Bell's article, "Urban Outfitters," which among other things asks why Kehinde Wiley, whose gorgeous new paintings are lighting up New York (in the exhibit "Down" at Deitch Projects and elsewhere) hadn't acknowledged his debt to Barkley L. Hendricks.

Who is Barkley L. Hendricks? Well, interesting that you ask, because today the New York Times offered a brief focus on Hendricks that's worth checking out. Hendricks is an important but little heralded painter whose work from the 1970s on has mapped out a new area in African-American and American vernacular, photorealist portraiture. To give one example of his work, I've posted of my all-time favorite of his works, "North Philly Nigga (William Corbett)," [1975. Oil and acrylic on cotton canvas, 72 ½ x 48 ½ inches. Collection of E. Blake Byrne, Los Angeles], which resoundingly evokes a world I and many others know and recall so well. Many of his most famous paintings, full-size in scope, depict urban black male subjects, sometimes in dandyish fashions, sometimes in street wear, but he also has painted numerous portraits of black women and group images, some inspired by prior works in the Euro-American art tradition, others drawn from his own photos and mass media imagery, as well as from his personal life. He also has exhibited some of his photography, which mines a similar vein.

Hendricks, it turns out, is having his first major retrospective exhibit this year; titled Barkley Hendricks: Birth of the Cool, it's now at the Studio Museum in Harlem (it runs from November 12, 2008-March 15, 2009). (You can hear the great art historian Richard Powell on Hendricks' work, from the exhibit's previous stop at the Nasher Museum of Arts at Duke University website.) A graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and Yale's art school (BFA, MFA), and a longtime professor at Connecticut College, he has been making his art almost concurrently with the rise of late 20th century vernacular forms such as hip hop, funk and r&b, and his work is the epitome of soul, wit, grit, rawness, queerness, and realness. Although work of this kind hardly seems revolutionary now, especially with the "return" of painting, especially representational and realist painting over the last few years, Hendricks is and should be acknowledged as an important pioneer. His DNA is all up in Wiley's and others' work. So give some props, bruh. And let's all get up to the Studio Museum (and Deitch) if we can!

Hendricks on YouTube (doesn't he sound a little like Chris S.?)

He received a United States Artist award as well this year (congrats to all the other winners, including folks I know, like Harryette Mullen, A. Van Jordan, Tayari Jones, and Forrest Gander, and many I've long admired, like Muhal Richard Abrams, Henry Threadgill, Joy Harjo, William Greaves, Jawole Wille Jo Zollar, Ela Troyano, and lê thi diem thúy!)

(Also running simultaneously with this exhibit is AACM philosopher-musician George E. Lewis's Travelogue, a SMH StudioSound exhibit that he writes was "twenty years in the making.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Snow + Mulled Wine

Sometimes I wonder if I'm going to look back on these past few years in Chicago outside of my classes as little more than a mostly endless avalanche of documents--not books of poetry or fiction or creative nonfiction or biographies written by others or even by me, etc.--that have to be read by a certain date and letters and reports and so forth that have to be produced by a certain date and endless meetings involving documents that have to be read and reports that have to be read and written and so forth...but I do know that one of the things I will not ever forget is the weather, which has never failed to surprise or stir me from the dumps. Of course there are other places where it can be in the 30s one day and 75 F the next, or in the high 40s one day and snow the next, or be cool near one's apartment and like an antechamber to the arctic just 25 blocks away and then merely chilly only a few hours later. Or so freezing and windy that you are sure you have died and are cast into you know where. But I don't live in those places and can't speak to them. Chicago's vagaries, however, I do know a bit. See for example the photo below, taken on Sunday evening.

By the time I snapped the photo, the snow had stopped. A cashier in the bookstore I'd dropped into mentioned that because of the less extreme weather earlier, he hadn't even worn a coat or jacket to work, and now wasn't sure what he was going to do. I suggested he call a family member or friend to bring a jacket, or a coworker heading in to work to lend him the same. I felt so bad for him that I almost wanted to go buy him a jacket myself. Unfortunately for both of us, whatever desire I had to carry out that altruistic act was dispelled when I saw the ticket nestled in the snow atop my windshield. I guess someone has to pay for all those appealing new banners across the cityLoop area congratulating our President-Elect.

There was still a little snow on the ground but tonight the sky was clear as I walked from class to the El. I'd felt crappy earlier in the day but this evening class always picks me up. A group of students and I were heading west on Superior and one mentioned how much she enjoyed having a glass of wine when she got home from class, and the cold weather immediately made me think of mulled wine, which I will always associate with the Second Sun readings at Naïeveté Studios, and especially with Toni Asante Lightfoot (who is now the mother of Leontyn Ella Gbegan!!!-congratulations, Toni and Setondji!) and Krista Franklin. I suggested mulled wine to some of the students, a few of whom hadn't heard of it, so in honor of little Leontyn, and my great grad students, here's the recipe, from an earlier J's Theater, for mulled wine:

Mulled Red Wine (hat tips go to Toni A. L., Krista F. 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, not to expensive)
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 (not too cheap)
+ 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 17, 2008

Photos: Stop Prop H8 March

FIRST: I did fix the "Long Nightmare Will Be Over" gif--yes, it should be January 20, 2009!

Now, some photos from the Rally which became a (permit-less) March.
The rally area, at Federal Plaza (Calder sculpture in the background)
One of my favorite (silly) placards
Heading towards Michigan
On the street, beneath the new banners celebrating our President Elect, Barack Obama
Protesters have fun
Two ebullient protesters
Not sure where this is (but in the Loop!)
A drummer, heading back towards Michigan Ave.
Illinois's very gay state seal
The Chicago mounties
Near Wacker Drive (and those famous Marina "Honeycomb" Towers)
Alongside the Chicago River on Wacker Drive (I took this photo from Starbucks window--the young black folks working in there were quite supportive)
Back on the street
Impromptu marcher/drummers
Some impromptu young marchers who joined on Michigan Ave.'s Miracle Mile
On Michigan Avenue's Miracle Mile

Politics Politics

It looks like quite a few people are still very interested in what our soon-to-be president and his wife have to say.

Foto: João Laet / Agência O DiaHe's still provoking tremendous excitement across the globe, including among African-descendant people in Latin America (thanks, HBR!), and in particular in Brazil (from left, singer Toni Garrido, actor and model Walter Rosa, actor and MC André Ramiro, and actor Rocco Pitanga, photo: João Laet, Agência O Dia). Though black and brown French people and Britons are energized by Obama's victory, France's lone black governmental minister remains pessimistic that a French Obama is possible with the current political crowd. Yet his French enthusiasts have formed committees to discuss and push for change, and have the support of France's first lady, Carla Bruni Sarkozy. In the UK, it's not likely anytime soon, given the political system and comparatively smaller black and brown populations, but some believe the electorate would be ready.

There's a subset in this country, however, who aren't happy at all at the election results (just as they weren't by the very prospect of Obama's candidacy or victory), and are acting out in horrid ways. It's imperative that while we respect people's free speech rights, the authorities do not write off as "knuckleheads" or "aspirational," that is, take lightly the threats against the president or anyone else, or dismiss violent or deadly acts by these folks. As the Oklahoma City bombing 13 years ago demonstrated, domestic terrorists can be as great a threat and as deadly as foreign ones.

We're hardly in a post-racial world; this is part of what poet Brian Gilmore eloquently argues in his Bookforum review of historian David R. Roediger's How Race Survived U.S. History and law professor and my college classmate Ariela J. Gross's What Blood Won’t Tell, books that Brian says "chart the ongoing legacy of the legal apartheid system in the United States." Not that I need to say this, but no one should be celebrating the end of "race" or racism, two terms that unfortunately that often elided into one another to efface the latter and misrepresent the former.

Back to President Elect Obama, I'm trying not to focus too much on the ideological-political casts of his appointees (I've been disappointed by some of the picks, like Rahm Emanuel, and heartened by others, like Mona Sutphen), or get too caught up in the drama involving any mention of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's role in the new administration. Certainly I think she'd be an excellent Secretary of State, or really anything he appointed her too, because she's brilliant and dogged to the point at times of ruthlessness, but then several of the people whose names have been bandied about for this post could serve with distinction. The real issue as I see it is would this post be enough for Hillary? Then again, short of the presidency, what would a comparable platform? One person he pray he does not pick is Colin Powell, has irrevocably disgraced himself through his active participation in putting us in Iraq. His endorsement of Obama was great, but that was more about his own atonement. Another, and this goes without saying of course, is John McCain--President Obama, just say no, seriously. With regard to his larger staffing process, I sincerely hope he is considering many more new faces and fewer of the Clintonistas, and lots of Latinos and Asian Americans, since he won among both groups overwhelmingly. There's a reason the vote totals in California, New York, Illinois, New Mexico, and other states weren't close at all.... His first two choices for the US Supreme Court should be Elena Kagan and Harold Hongju Koh. Sí se puede!

I'm glad to see that it's increasingly unlikely that the longest-serving Republican Senator, now a convicted felon, will not be heading back to Washington. This means no Palin appointee, including herself, and a moderate-progressive Democrat, Mark Begich, will be holding the junior Alaska seat for at least the next 6 years. Al Franken remains in limbo, though the way things are looking incumbent Norm Coleman could be facing not just a recount but a judge and jury fairly soon. I keep getting emails from Jim Martin's campaign about the runoff in Georgia; the voting begins today.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Videos: Anti Prop H8 Rally & March

"Do not feel shame for how I live." - Essex Hemphill

I'll write another post, with photos, from yesterday's extraordinary Anti Prop H8 rally and impromptu march (it wasn't planned, but the police complied) in downtown Chicago, but here are some video clips I took.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Video: Michigan Avenue/Grant Park Election Celebration

Way too much work today, so here's one of the videos from last Tuesday's celebration. It's taking place on Michigan Avenue. Enjoy!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Our Long Nightmare Will (Soon?) Be Over

Update: Gif fixed!
Our Long National Nightmare Will Soon Be Over

Monday Notes

Many thanks to Joshua Marie Wilkinson and his colleagues at Loyola University of Chicago who hosted the talks + reading that I was fortunate to participate in last Friday. Joshua, who opened the event by reading one of Barack Obama's poems, invited six of us to speak about poetry and something else we were doing that inflected our work, and my co-speakers offered great remarks. Jennifer Karmin spoke about poetry and activism; Robyn Schiff (I miss her!) spoke about poetry and publishing; Abraham Smith spoke about poetry and performance; Quraysh Ali Lansana (Q!) spoke about poetry and history; and Lisa Fishman spoke about poetry and farming. I read some remarks on collaboration in relation to my work, extending it to my translation projects (another form of collaboration, and one in which this blog has played a great part), and some art stuff. (Dear collaborators...hint, hint....)

After a delicious lunch, we all read briefly, and then I had to go catch a plane, missing what was billed as a "snow storm." I was very glad to see so many local poets and students there (a group from the university came down), and to see them really getting into the poetry as well.


Rapturous reviews of Roberto Bolaño's final, unfinished magnum opus 2666 (FSG, 2008) have been appearing over the past week. The persnickety Adam Kirsch says that it has the "confident strangeness of a masterpiece." (Francisco Goldman's summer 2007 review of a portion of Bolaño's collective oeuvre, including the Spanish version of 2666, can be found here.) The Spanish version graced my carrel at the library this summer, though I wasn't able to get far in it. Would that there were a parallel vein of time.... But the English translation, by Natasha Wimmer, who deserves an award, is out, and although I have only grazed a few pages, I can say, as I did in an email to Reggie H., that it confirms for me that Bolaño will join that cadre of exception writers since 1900--Rilke, Proust, Tolstoy, Hughes, etc.--who are among the finest in the literary tradition but never received the Nobel Prize. You can get the book in one hardcover volume or a boxed three-volume set; I bought the box. Bolaño originally suggested five volumes, but his heirs and executors wisely, it seems, kept the entire work (mostly) together.

Also receiving rhapsodic treatment is Toni Morrison's new novella, A Mercy (Alfred A. Knopf, 2008). Reviewer after reviewer discusses its exploration of slavery's early form and praises its poetic language, tautness, haunting qualities, and links it to Morrison's masterwork, Beloved (1987). Even the nation's toughest critic, who hasn't spared Morrison harsh criticism in the past, is jumping on the bandwagon. If you missed her reading selections from it on NPR, you can hear it here. It's on my list, for the winter break...

One of the books that recently crossed my desk is Asher Ghaffar's Wasps in a Golden Hum Dream a Strange Music (ECW Press, 2008). It looks gorgeous, from cover to cover, and I've also added it to my list!


Family membersOne of the most dismaying bits of recent news was the horrific school collapse in Pétionville, Haiti, just outside the capital, Port-au-Prince. More than 94 children and adults have died, and the international search and rescue effort, which did pull 4 surviving children from the rubble on Saturday, will now likely turn to a recovery of bodies. Up to 250-300 people were thought to be in the building at the time of its collapse. (Above left, a woman in anguish for her missing child is assisted by relatives at the site of the collapsed the church-run school, La Promesse, in Petion-ville, Haiti on November 10, 2008, AFP/Getty Images.)

It now appears that the school's owner, Pastor Fortune (Fortin?) Augustin, who had voluntarily turned himself in, is being charged with involuntary manslaughter; when the building collapsed, workers were adding an additional floor, and the pastor is alleged to have constructed the building without engineering help. Haiti is still trying to recover from the quartet of devastating storms which have battered the Caribbean islands since the late summer. Haiti lost 2/3rds of its crops and entire neighborhoods still remain under water.

If you are able to, you can contribute relief funds here or here.


I'm not going to speculate on President-Elect Barack Obama's transition team or his putative cabinet picks, though I found this short New York Times piece on Valerie Jarrett quite illuminating. Really, I think we should just wait and watch. Despite the right's claims that he was the second coming of V. I. Lenin (yeah, right!), and the desire among some in Washington for the second coming of Dwight Eisenhower (whom the contemporary Republicans have banished from their roster, along with other decent Republican presidents like Teddy Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge, who was Ronald Reagan's favorite), he has mostly been a center-left legislator, both in the Illinois State Senate and the US Senate. This maps closely onto what I read as his ideological orientation, which is center-left, with the emphasis on the center. Obama isn't and hasn't ever been a left radical, though he often announces leftist intentions and demonstrates progressive tendencies. But he will likely govern from the center-left, perhaps further to the left, because he received a greater popular vote mandate, than any of his previous three predecessors. He is, nevertheless, going to appoint DLC-prototype folks like Rahm Emanuel and his ilk to high posts, bring in a host of Clintonistas, and draw upon the University of Chicago braintrust he hung with for quite some time, and not just the progressive ones.

Some of the early news we're getting, such as his team's careful review of Bush's executive orders and his plan to reverse many of them and his intention to close the abomination at Guantánamo Bay, more than balance out his accommodating stance towards someone like Connecticut's independent senator, Joe Lieberman. Uggh!

Now, can anyone scare up some inauguration tickets for C, me, and family members? (Former!)


Speaking of Obama, poet John Murillo sent along a link to an article noting the President-Elect was recently spotted carrying a copy of Derek Walcott's Selected Poems (Edward Baugh, ed., FSG, 2007) as he was dropping his daughters off at school. I noted to the CC folks that "So much marvelous work in this collection that I'm sure hits Obama at a very deep level," and posted the poem I'd posted on here a month ago, "As John to Patmos." Given that he's already alluded to Langston, Alice Walker (tell me you knew that!), and others, I thought that we might hear snippets of Walcott and many others from our literature in his speeches, including his inaugural. Get your ears and eyes ready!


One of the greats to remember and honor: Miriam Makeba. Singer, actress, activist-fighter, visionary, "Mama Africa": beautiful. She was 76.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Quote: Rosario Ferré

"I think that magic has to do with the subconscious, much as the ancient sorcerers believed. The identification of man with his material surroundings and his active participation in that world are detailed in books of Carlos Castañeda, for example, as well as, on a different level, with the books of sociologists like Lévy-Bruhl and Ernst Cassirer, or Lévi-Strauss. The magical identification has a lot to do with literature, this alternate way of viewing the world."
-Rosario Ferré (b. 1938-), in Marie-Lise Gazarian Gautier, Interviews with Latin American Writers, Normal, Illinois: Dalkey Archive Press, 1992, p. 85.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Sweet Tea + Podcasts + Farewells

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Day After

"I'm rocking with Obama but I'm not a politician...."
--Jay-Z, "Jockin Jay-Z"

I was so elated and disoriented this morning (I went to bed at about 3 am, after relaying between the TV post-election chatfests on CNN and MSNBC and all of my favorite political websites) that I wasn't sure I would be able to get through the day, but I couldn't cancel student meetings or my class and didn't want to miss my colleagues Eula Biss's and John Bresland's reading/screening or a program event, so I headed up to the university determined to make it through until 5 pm. I must say that I wasn't fully there, and as I type this entry, I still am not. Obama's election still doesn't fully feel real, but I know that last night's results are not a mirage, and that the country--63 million Americans and counting--decisively rejected George W. Bush's and Dick Cheney's continuous disaster of an administration that has dominated the last 8 years, and took a huge leap into the future by electing Obama and Biden. Further proof of this were the vote tallies that increased the Democrats' margin in the Senate and in the House.

About five years ago, at the Evanston home of two very distinguished university colleagues, I met Barack Obama in person. He was running for the US Senate seat that he will now forgo to assume the presidency. I remember telling C after I left the event how struck I was by Obama's charm, brilliance, poise, political acumen, and vision. He spoke without notes about his aims for the position, and while he was articulating mostly standard liberal positions, he did so in a way that felt fresh and persuasive. I realized that night that Obama was going to win the Senate seat, even though he faced a field of around 6 or 7 other Democrats in the primary, and then 1 of 5 or so Republicans. He saw that he had and has that elusive it that cannot be acquired or taught. I also felt that his sense of timing was uncanny; Peter Fitzgerald's open seat was a likely Democratic pickup at the very moment when the state was turning against Bush and the war, and Illinois had already shown the nation that it was willing to make history by electing a Black candidate doing so in exemplary fashion when Carol Moseley-Braun was elected in 1992. Obama demonstrated these gifts at the Democratic convention, before a national audience, and after he won his Senate seat in a landslide, I figured he'd eventually run for the presidency, but not for a decade or more. But he realized that the clock was ticking, and launched his campaign in 2007, and the rest, as we can now say, is history.

I've met and known a few politicians and political figures in my time (one of our most recent Republican Undersecretaries of Indian Affairs is my high school classmate), but few have impressed me immediately in the way that Obama did several years ago. All of those struggles, those battles, for centuries, from the 17th century through the Abolition movement through the Civil Rights struggle and Black Power movements, the words and deeds of history's well-known and unknown fighters, were going to take symbolic and material form in someone, and yesterday, they did so in him. Certainly I've had my moments of disenchantment with his politics and fence-straddling, as I made clear when he capitulated on the FISA bill, but I remain convinced that he is an extraordinary figure. What the next four years and after will spell I cannot say, but I do know that he has the skills and talents to match the very best presidents we've had, and it'll be up to all of us, those who supported him and those who didn't, to ensure that he achieves all that he's--and we're--capable of.

I was at Grant Park (though not in the ticketed section) and was able to participate in the mass celebration, which I described to colleagues today as something akin to all of Chicago's sports teams winning at the same time, though everyone was on her or his best behavior, polite, brimming with smiles and teary eyes, laughing, saying hello and apologizing for accidental bumps, breaking into spontaneous songs and dances and cheers, almost a kind of Kantian ethical dreamworld filled not with Prussian burghers but Midwesterners of every age, color, race and ethnicity, physical status, and so on.

The official tallies claim that only 200,000 people were there, but I think far more were on the streets (Michigan Avenue, the various side streets all the way down to Congress Parkway, and west well to State) surrounding the park. Out of the thousands who went to the park, I missed some colleagues who were there, but ran into a handful of students, all as excited as I was, on the El, on the street, and at the park's edges. I'm going to post a few pictures below, and will post a video from my other camera, from which I haven't yet downloaded lots of pictures, but it was as festive an experience as I've ever had.


One thing that has tempered my ongoing elation is the news that all of the major state-based anti-gay ballot measures passed last night. In Florida (same-sex marriage ban), in Arizona (same-sex marriage ban), in Arkansas (gay adoption), and most notoriously in California, voters approved measures that would restrict or remove rights and equality for LGBTQ people. California's Proposition 8, the anti-same sex marriage amendment, did pass by a vote of 52.5% vs. 47.5%, and as CNN's exit polling suggests which should be taken with qualifications, black voters overwhelming claimed to have supported it:
Prop 8 Exit Polling
This was very disappointing news, though not exactly surprising. Although some of the most pro-LGBTQ figures in our society are Black leaders (public intellectuals, politicians, business people, etc.), and many Black people are very accepting of LGBTQ friends and family members, an issue like this California same-sex marriage ban, presented in the abstract, especially without a sustained chorus of prominent Black and other POC gay and non-gay people advocating against it, was likely to receive a homophobic backlash, and the Obama turnout had a converse effect, it appears. My first question was, what effect will this have on same-sex couples who have already married? Do those marriages stand or once this new amendment takes effect will they invalidated, even though they would be recognized in two other states (Massachusetts and Connecticut)? Can another Supreme Court ruling or a legislative act trump this referendum amendment to California's constitution?

One thing I told C is that from this day forward, one thing that all Black LGBTQ people, our Black non-LGBTQ and non-Black queer and non-queer allies must do is make a much greater effort to educate those segments of our fellow folks who still hold fast to heterosexism and homophobia. I have said and will say again that Black people are no more homophobic than any other group. At the same time, we as Black communities do have pockets of homophobia that we must address. However you feel about marriage or same-sex marriage, it is inconceivable that we should be taking away rights and legalizing civil discrimination against any of us. Black people over these hundreds of years in America have fought too hard, sweat and bled and died to secure equality, and we should absolutely not be helping in any way to further discrimination, which affects all of us, including those of us who are Black and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer, who want to and demand to be treated equally and fairly, by other Black people and by everyone else. So as I said, we need to redouble our efforts from today forward, however we can, to address this issue in our community, even as we strive to address homophobia in the broader American society.

Please do read blogger Pam Spaulding's great take on things here at Pam's House Blend.

I am also glad that civil rights groups are immediately challenging the Proposition 8 results in the courts. As I told colleagues today, I take consolation in the fact that yesterday's vote, particularly among the young, points to a better future in so many ways. We will have a female president sooner rather than later, as well as political and social leaders from all backgrounds, and the politics of demonization and discrimination, which the vile right wing and cowards on the left have utilized as a mechanism of power and dominance, are losing their salience. So while yesterday brought a very saddening note, I have tremendous hope for the future, our American future.


Those photos:

A band on Michigan Ave.
A band on Michigan Avenue
T-shirt vendors
T-shirt vendors
An artist
Artist and instantaneous art
On Michigan Avenue
On Michigan Avenue, from the steps of the Art Institute of Chicago
On Michigan Avenue
The crowd proceeding up Michigan towards Grant Park
On the steps of the Art Institute
From the steps of the Art Institute of Chicago, looking south down Michigan

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Obama-Biden Win Presidency!



U.S. President-elect Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) (L) and Vice ...

See up-to-the-minute election results ...

Monday, November 03, 2008

Congrats to Kearnizzle + Intl Writers + 1968+40 + Condolences

Doug KearneyCongratulickations to Cave Caneiste Doug Kearney (photo, The Other Project Blogspot), who received a Whiting Foundation Award for his sustained, exemplary and ongoing poetic magification. Doug is a poet, performer, librettist, educator, professor, a high performance lyric man-machine, with one of the hairiest chests of any wordsmith I've ever known (one notices these things). If he comes to your corner of the great American literary showgrounds, catch him because he and his work are definitely worth seeing. He levitates and makes words do so too. Really, he does.


This weekend four writers came to town for two events through the good graces of the International Writers Program at the University of Iowa, my colleagues Reg Gibbons and Stacy Oliver, the university's Center for the Writing Arts, and the Guild Complex in Chicago. They were Leila Al-Tarash (novelist and media producer, Jordan); Tarek El-Tayeb (poet, playwright, fiction writer, essayist Austria and Egypt); Yael Globerman (poet and fiction writer, Israel); and Gutierrez "Teng" Mangansakan II (poet, fiction writer, film producer and director, Phillippines). The first was a classroom conversation at the university. As they did last year, the writers spoke on Friday to an audience of our students and faculty members, talking about their lives and work in the context of their societies. A few highlights include El Tayeb's discussion of his start as a storyteller when very small as a means of self-protection and enchantment of a wilder, older schoolmate, and his belief that his work was an attempt to write about something he'd lost; Laila al-Atrash's exploration of the censorship of her work regarding its religious content, though once sexually taboo material is permitted, and of the necessity of having had to balance a full-time career in the media with her writing, which she's been able to devote much more time to; Yael Globerman's commentary on the waves of immigration that have marked Israel and Israeli literature, and her sense that the silence about what had happened in Europe--the Holocaust--had been broken by David Grossman first and then increasingly addressed by subsequent generations of writers, as was the case with the silence about Arabs in Israel, which was also now part of Israeli literature; and Tang Mangansakan's disquisition on moving from the geographical periphery (Mindanao, in the south) to the cultural center, in Manila, and writing in English, one of the colonial and now predominant languages in the Phillipines.

One moment that particularly interested me was the somewhat contentious but good-spirited back-and-forth between al-Atrash and Globerman over the issue of immigration, home and the Other in Israel; al-Atrash was a native of Palestine, and her perspective differed from Globerman's, though they came to agreement with al-Atrash's comments about the great fear of the Other, the sense that the person whose life was in so many ways similar and geographically close but fundamentally unknown was monstrous, terrifying, a grave threat, and yet, over the years, that sense of Otherness had broken down, though not without a great toll levied through the years. Their dialogue was, if I may sound somewhat trite, symbolic of the dialogue that is ongoing. Another moment that particularly caught my ear was when Teng Mangansakan talked about his own blogging (his site is Funktional Schizophrenic), which he saw as a means and form of writing, and of building audience. Through review of his site counter, he learned that about 60% of his readership was in the US, and he not only was making money as a blogger, but also selling books through the medium. He also mentioned his video essay Jihad, about his own personal jihad as a queer Muslim Filipino, and I do hope to see it and more of his work if and when they appear at one of the local film festivals or on DVD.

Reg, Tarek, Laila, and Yael
Reg, Tarek, Yael and Laila at the Friday morning event

On Saturday, along with Chicago-area writers Tony Trigilio and Paul Martínez Pompa, I joined them on a panel discussion, entitled "Migrating People, Migrating Literature," that was part of the Chicago/International Writers Exchange. It was hosted by the Guild Complex at the Chopin Theater on the edge of Wicker Park (Real World Chicago!) and Humboldt Park (you've got it, Saul Bellow's old stomping grounds). Many thanks to Reg Gibbons, Michael Puican, Ellen Placey Wadey, and everyone affiliated with the Guild Complex who staged this event. I believe it was taped and will be available soon via audio, so I'll post the link when I have it. We had to write short pieces about migration before the event, but we mostly discussed other things, ranging from translation to politics and writing and the politics of writing to the various ways you might study literature to various kinds of authenticities. It was a joy to meet Tony and Paul, and converse publicly with the visiting writers, and I only wish they didn't have to head back to Iowa so soon. Below are a few photos from both the second event.

Tony, Teng and Yael
Tony, Teng and Yael before the conversation
Laila and Paul
Laila and Paul after the conversation
Paul, Tarek, and Yael
Paul, Tarek and Yael


Also this weekend, the university held a conference commemorating the courageous protests, led by Black students enrolled 40 years ago, which led to the establishment of the now renowned African American Studies department, increased admissions of Black and especially poor and working-class Black students, more Black faculty (because of them I have my job!), and number of other changes that have made the campus more hospitable to Black students and other students and faculty of color.

One of the highlights was hearing poet and fiction writer Angela Jackson, whom I'd previously written about when my colleague Ed Roberson held a mini-conference last year on the Black Arts Movement in Chicago, read from her forthcoming novel, Where I Must Go, about that episode and related events. It will be published by Northwestern University Press next July, and if the excerpt I heard, which involves a number of the university's Black students visiting a revolutionary on the South Side of Chicago and having their eyes opened, figuratively and literally, by his critique of them, their education, and their belief systems, is a harbinger, this will be a remarkable work. Angela is a poet of true grace and wit, and the selection she read showed she had recaptured that era vividly and distilled it, deploying her abundant lyric and dramatic talents in the process. It will be interesting to read this novel's likely critique of the Black bourgeoisie's and the revolutionaries' sometimes intersecting, sometimes conflicting aims, especially in light of our current era, when their convergence has taken the symbolic and material form of a nationalist and post-nationalist dream likely to come true in the form of Barack Obama. What I was so aware of, as I listened to the notes of recognition among the audience members, so many of them alumni or the heirs of that era, was that this current would not have been possible without them, and it was part of their vision, even if different what they envisioned.

They are all my heroes.

Angela Jackson reading
Angela Jackson reading from her forthcoming novel Where I Must Go

Earlier today I saw the very sad news that Madelyn Dunham, Senator Barack Obama's grandmother, passed away today. She was 86 and lived in Hawaii. He had lived with her during his high school years, and had just gone to visit her a few weeks ago when she became gravely ill. My offer my sincerest condolences to Senator Obama and his family, and I wish she could have lived to see the outcome on Wednesday, because I strongly believe he will that he'll be victorious tomorrow.

Madelyn and Stanley Dunham

Here's a link to Ta-Nehisi Coates's thoughtful and moving Atlantic Monthly commentary on and tribute to Obama's grandparents.

Senator Obama's comments on his grandmother are here (in text and video form).

Madelyn and Stanley Dunham

My condolences also to the family of Illinois's senior Senator, Dick Durbin, whose 40-year-old daughter, Christine passed away after a lifetime struggle with heart disease. My thoughts go out to him and his entire family. I should also note that Senator Durbin is running for reelection, and has been one of the few consistently outspoken liberals in the Senate. He is on track to return to the Senate with a very large margin of support.