Monday, February 01, 2010

Blogging On + On Publishing + Black History Month/Langston Hughes Day (Poem)

Over the last year I've gone through alternating or oscillating waves of planning to end this blog and feeling energized enough to continue it. The paucity of responses, especially since 2007, has only exacerbated my sense that blogging may be a waste of time, though I do enjoy it, and yet, at the same time my "followers" have increased, so I guess things aren't as dismal as I sometimes think.

I know that the rise of other social media--Facebook, where many longtime fellow blogging friends post anything and everything they find of interest; Twitter, where I'm now fully chartered (with about 1,800 or so tweets); YouTube; old standbies like Yahoo!, Hi5, Myspace, and yes, that now hoary gathering space Friendster; more specialized social media spaces; and parallels of these sites--have siphoned off interest from all but the most lively and focused blogs (like Rod 2.0, who's as sharp and hot as a laser always). Also, I acknowledge that my own postings have shifted, from the early art and lit-focused eclecticism to politics, which I know turns (some) readers off, especially if you can get much of the same, often with more in-depth reportage or more interesting slants, elsewhere. Moreover, I'm quite aware, as my few readers also are, that the Law of Diminishing Returns has taken hold here with each successive year (can that also be analogized to entropy?), with fewer posts ever year since 2005. So far in 2010 I've managed to make 22 out of January's 31 minimum daily posts, or achieve about a 70% posting ratio for the month, my highest January total since 2006, which I take as a positive sign, so I think I'll try to hang on for a little longer.

Posting is very difficult during the academic year; whereas I once had a bit of breathing room, things are less free these days, and I'm so often overloaded with classwork (I'll have 2.5 classes this quarter), and other work-related tasks, about which I cannot post at all for obvious reasons, but I do love blogging, so if you're willing to keep dropping in here, I really appreciate it.


Speaking of classes, I wanted to share a photo of today's blackboard from my English 392: "The Situation of Writing" class, which is required for all senior-year creative writing major. Today, we were concluding our discussion of the publishing section of the class (once labeled the "Doom & Gloom" unit, things have changed considerably since I began teaching this class), which included reading Jason Epstein's The Book Business: Publishing: Past, Present and Future of Books (W.W. Norton & Co., 2001)* and I thought that as I've done in the past, I'd go over how you publish a book. I do use the computer in my classes (the students are Tweeting each week, and I post most class-related materials to Blackboard regularly), including this one, but I do love turning to the blackboard from time to time. And so it was with this rough flowchart. "A," at the far left, was our fictional writer of "mystery fiction," a genre one of the students suggested; the rest is, I think, self-evident if a bit illegible. If you are unclear about how books have tended to reach to readers, it's yours to review.

*Reggie H. suggested this book, which I hadn't read before considering it for this class; in the past I've tended to teach André Schiffrin's The Business of Books: How the International Conglomerates Took Over Publishing and Changed the Way We Read (Verso, 2001), a polemic which turns on a narrative of steady decline, with a direr, more caustic tone, but I thought I'd try something new this year, and Epstein's volume is very informative and useful, even if it also at times is both disturbing (he worked for the CIA, he openly admits) and unguent in his unacknowledged privilege.


Langston Hughes signing a bookIt's officially Black History Month. I personally like to think of every month as Black or women's or Latino or queer or straight or Asian-American or working-class or immigrant or any possible identification history month, which is to say, all of these identifications should be in play always when we think about this society, its history, our collective and individual pasts, but given the realities in which we live, we still must take a lighthouse approach to guiding people along different paths other than the oblivion-laced mainstream one, which these identitarian-focused months provide. Certainly Black history--the Black history that is part of American history and the histories of the Americas-- remains a mystery to many (black and otherwise) as it always has, despite years of education. The discourse about Haiti's pre-earthquake political and social malaise, and the current lack of media discussion of the dangers of the US's presence there, show that only so much has seeped in over the years.

Interestingly enough, as I think I pointed out back in 2007, the first day of Black History Month coincides with Langston Hughes's (1902-1967) birthday. He is, as I tweeted earlier today, one of my favorite poets, an avatar in the older sense of the word, whose work and life I grow to appreciate more and more the older I get, and I relish any opportunity to post a Langston Hughes poem. So my poem for today is a somewhat messy, overtly political one that is very in keeping with today's news. The innovative form, which collages in the language of advertising (not so unusual today, but striking for the period in which Hughes was writing) and sarcastic tone are hard to miss, as is the fact that New York, and many other cities these days, have many thousands of homeless or near-homeless people struggling to find places to sleep every night, while a parallel world exists in which the luxury described in the poem below barely approaches the ostentation and excess that the ultrarich now regularly enjoy. Including, one imagines, at the Waldorf-Astoria, which, as I need not tell anyone, is now the flagship of a "luxury" hotel and resort chain....

Advertisement For The Waldorf-Astoria

Fine living . . . a la carte?
Come to the Waldorf-Astoria!

Look! See what Vanity Fair says about the
new Waldorf-Astoria:

"All the luxuries of private home. . . ."
Now, won't that be charming when the last flop-house
has turned you down this winter?
"It is far beyond anything hitherto attempted in the hotel
world. . . ." It cost twenty-eight million dollars. The fa-
mous Oscar Tschirky is in charge of banqueting.
Alexandre Gastaud is chef. It will be a distinguished
background for society.
So when you've no place else to go, homeless and hungry
ones, choose the Waldorf as a background for your rags--
(Or do you still consider the subway after midnight good

Take a room at the new Waldorf, you down-and-outers--
sleepers in charity's flop-houses where God pulls a
long face, and you have to pray to get a bed.
They serve swell board at the Waldorf-Astoria. Look at the menu, will


Have luncheon there this afternoon, all you jobless.
Why not?
Dine with some of the men and women who got rich off of
your labor, who clip coupons with clean white fingers
because your hands dug coal, drilled stone, sewed gar-
ments, poured steel to let other people draw dividends
and live easy.
(Or haven't you had enough yet of the soup-lines and the bit-
ter bread of charity?)
Walk through Peacock Alley tonight before dinner, and get
warm, anyway. You've got nothing else to do.

All you families put out in the street:
Apartments in the towers are only $10,000 a year.
(Three rooms and two baths.) Move in there until
times get good, and you can do better. $10,000 and $1.00
are about the same to you, aren't they?
Who cares about money with a wife and kids homeless, and
nobody in the family working? Wouldn't a duplex
high above the street be grand, with a view of the rich-
est city in the world at your nose?
"A lease, if you prefer, or an arrangement terminable at will."

Oh, Lawd. I done forgot Harlem!
Say, you colored folks, hungry a long time in 135th Street——
they got swell music at the Waldorf-Astoria. It sure is a
mighty nice place to shake hips in, too. There's dancing
after supper in a big warm room. It's cold as hell
on Lenox Avenue. All you've had all day is a cup of
coffee. Your pawnshop overcoat's a ragged banner on
your hungry frame. You know, downtown folks are just
crazy about Paul RObeson! Maybe they'll like you, too,
black mob from Harlme. Drop in at the Waldorf this
afternoon for tea. Stay to dinner. Give Park Avenue a
lot of darkie color——free for nothing! Ask the Junior
Leaguers to sing a spiritual for you. They probably
know 'em better than you do——and their lips won't be
so chapped with cold after they step out of their closed
cars in the undercover driveways.
Hallelujah! Undercover driveways!
Ma soul's a witness for de Waldorf-Astoria!
(A thousand nigger section-hands keep the roadbeds smooth,
so investments in railroads pay ladies with diamond
necklaces staring at Sert murals.)
Thank God A-mighty!
(And a million niggers bend their backs on rubber planta-
tions, for rich behinds to ride on thick tires to the
Theatre Guild tonight.)
Ma soul's a witness!
(And here we stand, shivering in the cold, in Harlem.)
Glory be to God——
De Waldorf-Astoria's open!

So get proud and rare back; everybody! The new Waldorf-Astoria's
(Special siding for private cars from the railroad yards.)
You ain't been there yet?
(A thousand miles of carpet and a million bathrooms.)
Whats the matter?
You haven't seen the ads in the papers? Didn't you get a card?
Don't you know they specialize in American cooking?
Ankle on down to 49th Street at Park Avenue. Get up
off that subway bench tonight with the evening POST
for cover! Come on out o' that flop-house! Stop shivering
your guts out all day on street corners under the El.
Jesus, ain't you tired yet?

Hail Mary, Mother of God!
the new Christ child of the Revolution's about to be
(Kick hard, red baby, in the bitter womb of the mob.)
Somebody, put an ad in Vanity Fair quick!
Call Oscar of the Waldorf——for Christ's sake!!
It's almost Christmas, and that little girl——turned whore
because her belly was too hungry to stand it anymore——
wants a nice clean bed for the Immaculate Conception.
Listen, Mary, Mother of God, wrap your new born babe in
the red flag of Revolution: the Waldorf-Astoria's the
best manger we've got. For reservations: Telephone EL.

Copyright © 1931, 2009, The Estate of Langston Hughes. All rights reserved.

Here's Hughes's statement on the poem, from The Big Sea: An Autobiography by Langston Hughes (1940):

In the midst of that depression, the Waldorf-Astoria opened. On the way to my friend's home on Park Avenue I frequently passed it, a mighty towering structure looming proud above the street, in a city where thousands were poor and unemployed. So I wrote a poem about it called "Advertisement for the Waldorf-Astoria," modeled after an ad in Vanity Fair announcing the opening of New York's greatest hotel. (Where no Negroes worked and none were admitted as guests.)

The hotel opened at the very time when people were sleeping on newspapers in doorways, because they had no place to go. But suites in the Waldorf ran into thousands a year, and dinner in the Sert Room was ten dollars! (Negroes, even if they had the money, couldn't eat there. So naturally, I didn't care much for the Waldorf-Astoria.)

They wouldn't be turning Jay-Z or Beyoncé or the President away these days, so I guess we can say that some things have changed.


Outside the Anglo world, as our friend Nic P. pointed out, today is a palindrome: 01 - 02 - 2010. Ours came nearly 1 month ago.


  1. Please. Don't. Stop. Blogging.

    and yes, the Andre Schiffrin book is a really good one.

  2. Thank you, Lisa, and thanks for reading and commenting!