Thursday, December 25, 2014

Happy Holidays!

Wishing all J's Theater readers the very best for the holiday season, whether you celebrate Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Festivus, or no specific holidays at all!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Random Photos

So many photos, so many events, so quickly these last four months have flashed by. Here are but a few images, from a vast trove. Enjoy.

Man with see-through pants,
near Herald Square
Hamilton Grange (Alexander Hamilton's
historic home), Hamilton Heights, Harlem 
At the BLACKNUSS outdoor book fair,
organized by Sharifah Rhodes-Pitts,
in Harlem (near 132nd St.) 
At BLACKNUSS, publisher Siddhartha
Lokanandi at center, poet & curator
Genji Amino at right 
Sean Mitchell, my Rutgers-Newark colleague,
lecturing at the New York Public Library's
Schwarzman Research Branch,
on Brazil, race and that country's space program 
Sleeping cat (with
makeshift pillow)
ALIFE photo shoot,
Astor Place 
At the Majors-Minors Fair,
repping for African American and African Studies,
Street refuse (or art?)
Human sculpture in vitrine,
"The Subject Is Black" exhibit,
curated by Lawrence Graham-Brown
Leslie-Lohman Foundation
David Moore and curator Lawrence
Graham-Brown, "The Subject
Is Black" exhibit
Leslie-Lohman Foundation
Readying for the show,
Fire & Ice Ball, Robert Treat
Hotel, Newark
A performer, Fire & Ice Ball,
Robert Treat Hotel, Newark
Fan with Mike Tyson statue,
outside NYU's Student Center
In front of an empty gallery
(is that the Bowery?)
At New Directions' sales launch
for W. W. Norton, Cornell Club
Posting an ad,
Grove St. PATH
I can't remember where this was,
only that I was struck by the "Oh,mammy"

At Greg Pardlo's book launch
for Digest (Four Way Books, 2014)
(that's Greg reading), Brooklyn Sky
Street art, Newark
Finishing touches, near Fulton Street (I think!)
The new Fulton Street Station,
Lower Manhattan
(the tunnel to the PATH station
is still not open)
The Fulton Street Station's striking "Oculus"
The final cherry tomatoes of the season
from the backyard garden
Camouflage jacket drying
on vents, University Place
Outside Deutsches Haus, NYU
Rainy Washington Square Park
In a SoHo store window:
"I can't breathe"

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Ace Hotel Artist-in-Residency

For Eric Garner
It is now almost a week since I spent an evening (too brief!) and morning as Artist in Residence at the Ace Hotel New York, in Manhattan, courtesy of the Ace and of Word Bookstores in Jersey City and Brooklyn. It was, to sum it up in one word, extraordinary. This residency, which I hadn't heard of before, has been taking place since earlier this year (I believe), and courtesy of Jenn Northington of Word, and Ben Sisto, of Ace, I entered the mix, so I gladly and heartily thank them again for the honor.

Since I've never held an artist-in-residency (visiting professorships don't really count, I think, nor do residencies to artists' colonies, like Yaddo, right?), in any of the artistic genres, this was truly a first for me, and though nervous, I was determined to make use of the time, space and resources, to tackle a few projects. One vow I made was to keep the TV off (except for Homeland and The Comeback, which I ended up watching on my iPad, so I didn't violate that); the other was that I'd only work on school-related projects that were absolutely necessary, so I did read my fiction workshop's final submissions.

The desk area, with some of their
and my materials (cf. the guestbook at center)
Some of the art materials
I had to work with
But I spent the rest of the time drawing, something that I do regularly but not in this sort of concentrated manner. I primarily wanted to draw out my visualizations of textual conceptual/performance scores I'd written up earlier, to see what they might look like if I mapped them, almost like choreographic charts. In addition, I worked a bit on the Emotional Exercises project, tinkering with the card design, and trying to think more carefully about the categories of exercises the cards might contain. I also wanted to let my mind draw from my inner well of creativity, and the murders of, horrendous grand jury verdicts concerning, and ongoing protests on behalf of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, among many other black victims of state violence, provided me with more than enough to think about.

As part of the residency, I had to take two Ace Hotel photo booth strips (I haven't done this in years, and it was fun); make use of some of the materials the hotel provided (paper, pens, a drafting board, etc.); leave some materials I'd worked on; write a message in the residency guest book (mine was a Venn diagram that included a drawing focusing on hypergentrification and artmaking, and of course a thanks to the Ace and Word); and not trash the room or engage in destructive hijinks (no problem there). I also received two drink tickets to the hotel's downstairs bar, the Breslin Bar & Dining Room, which was packed when C and I arrived, and later, around 11, when I took a short break and had a beer, and a gift card to a nearby restaurant, which I didn't use.

C and others I know had been to the Ace for meals and events, but I had only passed the hotel in the past, so it was exciting to have a reason to spend some time there. The room options vary, from bunk beds to loft suites, and the affiliated stores and cafe are pretty high end, as most Manhattan businesses appear to be heading these days (is there anything left for middle class people?). My clean, comfortable (small? mid-sized?) room, which looked out on what I think was steadily gentrifying Broadway was outfitted in vibrant hipster fashion, with modern and retro furniture and artifacts in equal measure.

There was a turntable with a selection of LPs, an industrial looking radio, and a refrigerator that might either vintage or vintage-style, but amply stocked, with $11 water (and up!) and more. The bathroom was small but immaculate, and included a Kennedy half dollar-sized square of black soap, supposedly great for one's complexion, as well as anything else you might want and could have forgotten. (Unfortunately, neither in the bathroom or at the front desk, nor at any neighboring businesses could I find the exact USB scanner cable I'd left at home!) To top it off, the main internal wall was covered with New York Times foolscaps from the 1930s; mine featured a strangely high number of images of Adolf Hitler's and other top Nazis' faces! (Obviously newspapers from that era would be likely to feature this murderous gang, but, uh, to know they're looking at you while you're working and sleeping...hmm....)

That's you know who....
Nazi portraits, page-long accounts of the Great Depression, and reports of the death of the King of the Belgians (yes, he was staring from the wall too!) notwithstanding--which is to say, ironically enough--I had a wonderful, very productive time. Here is the Ace Hotel's Facebook page on my residency. I do hope to perform (or find someone to do so) some of these scores this upcoming summer or at some point in the future, and publicly share the Emotional Exercises cards sooner rather than later. Weather, health and time will determine when and where, I suppose, but in the interim, I can look at these dream maps, as they were, to get a sense of what might be possible.

This upcoming week's Artist in Residence is Deji Bryce Olukotun, the author of Nigerians in Space (Unnamed Press, 2014). Word to Ace and Word, and I'll looking out for what he comes up with.

Some of the score visualizations:

Some of the other drawings:

"I can't breathe" in New York City
Add caption

The desk when I'd begun
packing up

Friday, December 05, 2014

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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