Monday, December 28, 2015

Counternarratives at Year's End & Blogging Honor


Roughly 7 months have passed since Counternarratives appeared on bookshelves, though at times they feel like a year or more. Along the way, the collection, which has received strong reviews--only one, however, in a major daily newspaper, The Wall Street Journal (thank you, WSJ!)--also has made its way onto various "Best of 2015" lists, for which I am deeply grateful, not least because it is challenging book both aesthetically and perhaps even more so in its themes and ideas.

I want to offer my sincerest thanks to all of the book's readers and gifters, its reviewers, and its champions, who have promoted it at bookstores, in their classrooms, to friends and family members, and as one of their top selections for the year. (Thanks also to the reviewers who have written to say that reviews are forthcoming, too, in 2016!)

As a result of the books' sales, New Directions will be issuing a paperback version in 2016, which is already online at Barnes & Noble and Amazon for pre-order, though you can also urge your local bookstore to order it as well. An independent British publisher, Fitzcarraldo Editions, has purchased the rights for the UK, so it will appear there under that imprint, in a cobalt blue cover, in 2016. Their small but glittering backlist includes books by my brilliant former colleague Eula Biss, philosopher Simon Critchley, Chilean author Alejandro Zambra, and the scholar and writer Mathias Énard, winner of the 2015 Prix Goncourt.

Among the most recent "Best of Lists" the book has been fortunate to grace include:

Again, to all these publications, many of the small, independent and online, and to all the booksellers, editors and reviewers who have offered praise and support, I send my deepest thanks always!


Although I have been blogging for a decade now and though some prior blog posts have been cited (including, as one of my former colleagues noted with dismay, because I was and am not an expert in the field, in a dissertation on dance!), this December marks the first time that a blog post of mine has received a public honor of any sort.

What am I talking about? In addition to shining the best light on CounternarrativesFlavorwire's Jonathon Sturgeon also selected my blog post (later republished in Atticus Review) "On Vanessa Place, Gone With the Wind, and the Limit Point of Certain Conceptual Aesthetics" for that site's "Best Literary Criticism of 2015."

Thanks again to Mr. Sturgeon and Flavorwire, and thanks also to the more than 11,000 readers who've read and forwarded the post!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Fall Semester's Embers

It's nearly January, which is another way of saying that the fall semester has raced past and is now over. In addition to marking my return from my spring sabbatical, this term also included my first stint as full-time chair of African American and African Studies. At the same time, as I've chronicled to some extent here, these last few months have also included a mini-book tour, which encompassed stops on both coasts. The combination--and pace--of the teaching, administration and travel has worn me out, so I'm truly grateful for the holiday break, though as I was able to share during the final course meeting with my students in "Foundations of Literary Study," the undergraduate course I taught this fall, no matter how tired I felt on the Monday following my trips or reading through a stack of papers, I experienced a surge of exhilaration once I entered the classroom. I also had the benefit of an exceptional teaching assistant, award-winning writer Drew Ciccolo, who graduated from Rutgers-Newark's MFA program and is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in American Studies at the university. To Drew, a million thanks many times over!

Although I'd taught this course once before, in the fall of 2013, I decided to update it with some new works and slightly modify my approach, using post-colonialism as our underlying theoretical approach, since it struck me as salient in light of contemporary national and global events. We looked at five genres, in the following order: creative and critical nonfiction; poetry; drama; fiction; and graphic novels. Among the new works I added were Akhil Sharma's acclaimed novel Family Life, poems by Mónica de la TorreMonica Ong, and Edward Baugh (who read on campus this fall), and stories by Ernest HemingwayJames JoyceToni Cade Bambara, and Jaquira Díaz. I also retained components that had worked before, like the transcription-and-commentary exercise involving Emily Dickinson's texts online at the Boston Public Library's Flickr page, Shakespeare's sonnets as our introduction to the poetry unit, and Elizabeth Bishop's "One Art" to teach the fixed form of the villanelle, but added a new exercise, involving use of Google's n-gram tool, as a way of exploring the field and practice of distant reading. For a change I threw in a few pop quizzes, the first of which appeared to serve as a spur for some in the class to read a bit further in the assigned longer works than they had been.

What worked particularly well was the requirement of multiple short papers (7 in total) and research and creative exercises (4) in building up my students' critical and literary skills. The two-stage final, in which they submitted half their final papers to me in order to ensure that their arguments were on track, also worked well. For those students who failed to submit the first half of their papers, however, the results were less positive. Nevertheless, many of the final papers did show some evident improvement in some way over their authors' initial submissions in the course's early weeks, and even in those cases where the technical aspects of the writing were still shaky, I could at least perceive an improved sense of confidence in argumentation.

Emily Dickinson,
Ms. Am. 1093(3),
Boston Public Library
To conclude the class I decided to try something new this time. Since I was teaching an intro to literary studies course for English majors, I held a book raffle of extra copies of wonderful books on my office shelf, with everyone picking a number attached to a book, and then calling out the numbers, with each student receiving a book. Since some did not show up, I allowed everyone who'd gotten a book to exchange it at the end of class. A few did, and they snapped every single poetry text (by Van Jordan, Tyehimba Jess, Allen Ginsberg, Kristiana Rae Colón, etc.), along with fiction books by Junot Díaz, Michael Lukas, and others. Sadly, no one appeared to want the volumes by Raymond Carver or Ray Bradbury!

I also asked the students to write a letter to future students, detailing what they found useful in the course and what they would change or wanted more of. (I'd just seen someone else suggest this.) I was curious to see their assessments, in order to incorporate them into future iterations of this class.
Among the comments: "I would like a bigger selection of poetry only because I love poetry and diving into poetic devices and how they're used in other forms of literature (or vice versa)." And: "I started [to] love authors like Junior Díaz and I loved reading the Shakespeare play and I wish we could have studied more on those authors, but then I would have never learned what a travel narrative is or even given a chance to graphic novels that are not comic books. Odd assignment like the Emily Dickinson [manuscript] decipherment was brilliant." And: "Thankfully we do not only read white, male, cis, heterosexual authors!" And: "Side effects may include: interest in literary research; improved writing; appreciation/admiration for what at first seemed boring; drowsiness/fascination by Roland Barthes' theory regarding 'The Death of the Author'...."

And now, it's just a matter of entering those final grades!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Edward Baugh @ Rutgers-Newark + Poems

Last Friday, poet and scholar Dr. Edward Baugh paid a visit to Rutgers-Newark. Professor Emeritus of English at the University of the West Indies, Jamaica, Baugh over the years has held many visiting posts in the US and UK, among them at UCLA and Howard University, as well as as Flinders, Macquarie, and Wollongong Universities. Baugh is widely known as ab eminent literary critic whose academic writings focused on West Indian literature, especially the study of Anglophone Caribbean poetry, and in particular the work of Nobel Laureate, Derek Walcott.

Yet throughout his scholarly career he also has been a poet of note, and it was in that capacity that he came to campus from Jamaica as part of the Department of African American and African Studies' lecture series, with the co-sponsorship of the English Department and the MFA Program in Creative Writing. Also key to his visit was support from my colleague Rachel Hadas, who not only helped to organize and provided key financial sponsorship for his reading, but also hosted Dr. Baugh during his visit. (While in New York and New Jersey, Dr. Baugh also visited Ramapo College under the auspices of Professor Shalom Gorewitz, Rachel's husband.)

As part of his visit, I offered introductory remarks, excerpted below. The reading, Q&A and reception drew a strong crowd that included many Rutgers-Newark colleagues and students. My English and African American Studies colleague Belinda Edmondson, a noted Caribbeanist scholar is, I believe, one of his former students. Also attending was Baugh's longtime friend, multimedia artist, poet and arts activist Gerd Stern, one of the founders of the legendary arts collective USCO. Stern, I learned, had maintained a home for decades in Jamaica, which is where he befriended Baugh.

A snippet of my remarks:
Edward Baugh's poetry disarms with a quiet power. It does not indulge in rhetorical flashiness or imagistic legerdermain, but rather draws upon the poet's commitment to careful observation and an engagement with the flow of daily life. 
It is poetry very much of its time and place, of the Jamaica of Baugh's lifetime, and indeed of his life, flavored with everyday speech and the tonalities of the contemporary lyric, but also it is a cosmopolitan poetry that casts a net out to and hauls in perspectives from the wider world, the black and diasporic worlds, the worlds of literature itself. 
It is a poetry brimming with wit, sometimes machete-sharp, and an ear keenly attuned to the resonant subtleties of language's possibilities that can recut the edges on a copper. In "You Ever Notice How," from his 2000 collection It Was the Singing, Baugh writes

 And is always the same, check me again
 tomorrow night, same time, same square,
 different set of players, different
 colour costume, but the same script,
 different maximum, but the same
 two left feet missing the beat. 

And, in "Words," a heart-breaking poem about his mother's illness and how she shaped his own love of language, from that same collection, he writes:

                         She sits
 rigid with pain, too proud to ask
 if there is any word of relief.
 In the silence between us
 you can hear the metastases multiply.

These are words that do profound work, revealing for and reminding us of poetry's many powers, one of which is portraying the world around us, while another is to reveal what lies deep inside it, and us. 
Copyright © 2015, John Keene

Here are two brief poems by Edward Baugh, one rather light and one quite serious, from his most recent collection, Black Sand. They offer only a glimpse of his work, which I recommend, so do consider adding Black Sand to your collection. He is the author of three collections of poetry, including A Tale from the Rainforest and It Was the Singing. His other publications include Derek Walcott: Memory as Vision and Frank Collymore: a Biography, as well as the edited volumes Critics on Caribbean Literature; Derek Walcott's Another Life (ed. with Colbert Nepaulsingh); and Derek Walcott's Selected Poems.


No, I am not
Eddie Brathwaite
nor was meant to be
and anyhow
he's Kamau now
while I remain
just plain



When they asked James Meredith
what it was like to be
the first black student at Ole Miss,
he replied: "It's like you walk in the dark
and a bird flutters in the bush.
I have walked in the dark
and bird is always fluttering."

Both poems copyright © Edward Baugh, from Black Sand: New and Selected Poems (Peepal Tree Press, 2013). All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Recent Travels/Book Tour

In Pratt Library's window
It is hard to believe we are nearing the end of the semester, but in a few weeks Thanksgiving will arrive, followed by the last few classes and final papers, and the term will be a wrap. Like prior falls this one has raced by, but the speed has assumed a barreling quality because of the trips to promote Counternarratives, with body underneath the fast-moving cask. Now whenever I get on a plane I wonder in all seriousness how I ever commuted for ten years to and from Chicago, though I must add that when I first started at Northwestern, which was in the immediate post-9/11 moment (2002), dealing with airport security and TSA was nowhere as enervating and exhausting as it is today. It has nevertheless been a joy and honor to be able to read from and promote the book in different cities.

The beach in Santa Cruz
Those giant redwoods on
UCSC's campus
Karen Tei Yamashita tagging
in the restaurant
At the utterly chaotic LAX
In late September, I headed to Baltimore and Washington. In Charm City, Judy Cooper hosted me at the Enoch Pratt Free Library for a reading and Q&A, so many thanks to her and everyone at Pratt (including past Prattizen Reggie H. who made the reading possible). I drew a small but enthusiastic audience, met a number of people, including broadcaster Melvin Lewis, and sold and signed books. Judy and everyone at Pratt were a joy to work with from start to finish. The next day at the invitation of Dr. Meta DuEwa Jones, a professor of English at Howard University, I read to and spoke with one of her classes. It was so encouraging to receive the warm reception and I got to meet several budding writers studying with Meta, a scholar and writer I deeply respect and admire, as well as some of her great colleagues. She was the consummate host from the time I arrived at Union Station until she dropped me. This was an Amtrak trip, and I give it the highest ratings in every category. (Years ago, from 2001-2, I commuted via Amtrak and Greyhound, so I've seen both at their best and worst too.) If only, I thought as I often do when I experience a smooth train ride, we had a real high-speed trans-national rail system. If only!
Steve Dickison
Reading at the Poetry Center at SFSU
With Tan Khanh Cao at City Lights
Three weeks later, after the trip to Detroit for Fire & Ink IV: Witness, I headed to the University of California-Santa Cruz to read at the invitation of the utterly brilliant and dear poet and critic Dr. Ronaldo V. Wilson, as part of their "Living Writers Series." Again I was fortunate in my host, as Ronaldo made sure things ran very smoothly, including deputizing one of his talented undergraduate writing students, Oscar Del Toro, to meet me at San Jose Airport. As part of the visit I met with Ronaldo's poetry class, who shared their poetry with me, before we discussed Seismosis and writing in general. As part of the visit I read from Counternarratives, and sold and signed books, always a pleasure. Ronaldo, who was a delight to hang out with, gave me a little driving tour of Santa Cruz, whose giant redwood trees I cannot get out of my head, and one of the highlights of the visit was meeting the great Karen Tei Yamashita and her Brazilian husband, Ronaldo, as well as other colleagues of Ronaldo's like Chris Chen, his smart and friendly graduate students, and some of the writers who had traveled down from the Bay Area to attend the reading, like Jaze. I also thought about Angela Davis and her presence on this campus while I was there. We also had the experience of a black staff person stopping Ronaldo and me as we walked down a hallway to comment on how rare it was for her to see two black men walking together on campus, so that she had to note this. I appreciated that moment of recognition and connection. A wonderful trip, especially because I of how much fun I had with Ronaldo, and I have promised myself I will not blather on about how beautiful Santa Cruz is. But it is--go see it!
You know where
C and Tonya
At Green Apple Books
Tan, I and Stephen introducing us
Offering an answer
The following week C and I headed to San Francisco for several events,   under the auspices of the Poetry Center at San Francisco State University. Though I had never read in their series I actually had interviewed aeons ago--shortly after I received my MFA--at San Francisco State, so it was wonderful to be able to return almost two decades later with a new book to share there. Our host was poet and professor Steve Dickison, who from the time he met us at the airport was a shepherd of the best kind. Our first night we stayed in a gentrified neighborhood right on the edge of Golden Gate Park, then we moved to a hotel in downtown San Francisco, right on Union Square, which allowed us to do a little sightseeing and shopping. I had a desire for tunic-style shirts and sweatshirts, and San Francisco was able to oblige me. The reading on Thursday at the Poetry Center drew a full crowd, including Maxine Chernoff, whom I hadn't seen since that interview in the 1990s; Paul Hoover, with whom I once broke bread in Rhode Island and whom I would see from time to time in Chicago; the warm and talented Robert Ricardo Reese; and one of my favorite people, Tonya Foster, who now teaches at the Californi College of the Arts in SF. I also got to meet some local writers and poets, including Brandon Brown and George Albon, who shared with me a copy of his book Fire Break (Nightboat Books). I am leaving out several other people, so I apologize, but it was an afternoon I won't forget for a while.
A full house
Signing books and chatting
with one of the booksellers
That night Steve, Tonya, C, and I went out to House of Nanking, a restaurant I'd hoped one day to return to, because the food was so good. It is still standing around the corner and down the street from City Lights Books--where we stopped in after our meal and dessert--and just as yummy. Ask for the special menu too! At City Lights, I finally got to meet Tan Khanh Cao, a consummate bookseller, artist and brilliant person inside and out, with whom I would be in conversation the following night at Green Apple Books. I loved meeting Tan, and got such a good vibe that I knew things would go well at Green Apple. Of course I had to be disabused of the notion that the store was in Oakland (???), but we got there without a problem via Uber, spending a little time with Tan, Steve, Susan Gevirtz and others (including Paul from City Lights) before the reading. At Green Apple the room was packed, and the audience was truly enthusiastic. Among those present were Green Apple's Stephen Sparks, who introduced us and who has been a champion of Counternarratives from day one; Brad Johnson, from Oakland's Diesel Books, who wrote one of the best reviews of the book; one of my most amazing former students, Tai Little; translator Katrina Dodson; and the dazzling critic Aaron Bady, whom I knew from Twitter. I didn't get to say hello to my former college poetry classmate, Joseph Lease, and his wife Donna de la Perrière, becuase they jetted as I was signing books, but I was so glad to know they were there (I spotted Joseph's nimbus of hair from a distance). The dialogue with Tan flowed easily and was such a pleasure; I believe it's on tape and will be live soon, so I'll post a link when that happens. There were even two St. Louisans present, a lovely young couple whom I got to ask the St. Louis question, "Where did you go to high school." (SLUH and Nerinx Hall, and she was from Webster Groves too--go figure!) Afterwards a large group headed to a local bar and had a great time. While we were in San Francisco C and I got to see my former colleague, the extraordinary Jennifer DeVere Brody, who is flourishing and made our day. I returned to JC and classes a little tired but also still soaring from the wonderful trip.

At the bar, with Aaron Bady, Brad (at left),
Stephen (in the plaid shirt) and others
Paul and others
C smiling (Katrina Dodson directly
in center at back)
To ALL my hosts, to all who made these readings possible in any way, to all who came out for the readings, to all who have bought and read copies of Counternarratives or given them as gifts, I offer my DEEPEST THANKS ALWAYS! Thank you, thank you, thank you! 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Fire & Ink IV: Witness

Over the span of four days a week ago Detroit hosted Fire & Ink IV: Witness, the fourth national gathering of black GLBT (LGBTIQA+) writers and activists. The inaugural Fire & Ink took place in 2002, and this year's conference, which focused on the theme of "witnessing," embodied Fire & Ink's vision of serving as an "influential supporter and advocate for GLBT writers of African descent," and its mission of sponsoring regular forums focused on black GLBT writing; advocating for black GLBT works to be included in libraries, academic curricula and bookstores; and organizing workshops that nurture GLBT writers of African descent and foster our writing. I have not verified the attendance figures with the conference's organizers, Lisa C. Moore (President); Steven G. Fullwood (Vice President); Reggie Harris; Anthony R. G. Hardaway; Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz; and Steven J. "Lula-Bell" Fields, about many people attended, but many of the workshops, performances and screenings were packed, and I know that writers came to the Motor City from all corners of the US as well as from across the globe.
The view from my hotel window
This was my second time participating in Fire & Ink. The first one occurred in Chicago just before I arrived to teach at Northwestern, and I did not know about the second one, so it was not until the 2009 event in Austin, Texas that I had an opportunity to attend. That gathering, like this one, left me feeling incredibly invigorated about the future of black LGBTIQA writing, while also providing an opportunity to catch up with writers and artists I had not seen in a long time, and to meet and experience the work of new ones. As with the Detroit gathering, I wished after Austin that it were possible to have Fire & Ink occur annually or biennially, as the mission statement posits as a goal, but the realities of organizing and fundraising, particularly for an organization without limitless resources, and that strives to provide scholarships and support for its attendees, mean that the conferences occur when they can. I am grateful that I have been able to attend at least two of them.
Jack Waters, Skyping in for the Q&A
after the Jason and Shirley screening
The conference's lineup of workshops and panels began Thursday evening and concluded on Sunday. I unfortunately had to miss the final day because of Monday teaching responsibilities, but to the extent that I could, I tried to sample a little of everything. Among the highlights for me were Reggie Harris's Thursday afternoon workshop on "The Black Body," which included an array of useful exercises that not only disarmed and united everyone in the room, but also sparked candid conversations. Reggie interspersed his thoughts and questions with readings of poetry and prose that felt perfectly appropriate for the topic. Another highlight were the screenings that Ernest Hardy and Tisa Bryant hosted.
An edible handout from Samiya
Bashir's M A P S performance
I caught several screenings, including Stephen Winter's new film, Jason and Shirley (2015), starring Jack Waters and Sarah Schulman, and playing until October 27 at MoMA. I originally thought Winter had remade in fictional form Shirley Clarke's disturbing original 1967 documentary, Portrait of Jason, starring the eponymous Jason Holliday, but Winter instead tried to imagine what Clarke had not depicted, including her own selfish manipulation of her star, as well as Jason's torment and wily resistance, and Clarke's lover Carl Lee's emotionally brutal intervention. The film, despite its brevity, was wrenching, with a strong performance by Schulman and an unforgettable one by Jack Waters, who spoke briefly about the film and took questions via Skype after the screening. (I will try to post a fuller review if I can find a free moment.) Robert Phillipson's short documentary Tain't Nobody's Bizness: Queer Blues Divas of the 1920s, narrated by Jewelle Gomez, was also a gem I am glad I did not miss. Despite my belief that I had a fairly extensive knowledge of the subject, I learned quite a bit from Phillipson's documentary, as my in-the-dark note-taking will attest. I left wanting to know more particularly about Gladys Bentley, a heroine (as were the film's other figures) if there ever were one.
Samiya in peformance, stage right
Another film that Ernest and Tisa screened, Arthur Jafa's Dreams Are Colder than Death (2014), was a particular treat since it was not clear whether Jafa would agree to release the film, as earlier versions had been leaked and were circulating. Ernest and Tisa made sure that this color-corrected version was secure, and it was a visual and sonic feast. Jafa's aim, as I understand it, was to explore the current post-utopian moment created by the fading ideals of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous March on Washington "I Have a Dream" speech through arresting imagery, a futuristic soundtrack, and the voices of leading scholars and artists, and veteran black activists, including Fred Moten, Saidiya Hartman, Kathleen Cleaver, Arthur Fielder, Charles Burnett, Wangechi Mutu, and others. Jafa's, Hans Charles and Malik Hassan Sayeed's cinematography and Melvin Gibbs' score were enthralling, but I did not find the collage of voices, brilliant as they were, especially illuminating or fresh, and the near absence of prominent out LGBTIQA heads was glaring, as was the heteronormative presentation of sex work as a proxy for black sexual liberation. Perhaps I misread or misunderstood the role of the nude female strippers in the film, but this felt a bit retrograde especially in light of the complexities of black sexualities going back several hundreds years, let alone today. I was glad to have had the opportunity to see Jafa's film, and I hope someone takes up the thread but flips the script a bit more.
Jewelle Gomez, talking about
the documentary Tain't Nobody's
Topping off Friday's events, I went to see Samiya Bashir perform M A P S: a cartography in progress, a section of a larger piece based on the great Somali writer Nuruddin Farah's highly regarded novel Maps, but refracted through Samiya's imaginative lens to become, as she describes it, "a poetry of emergence" that "resists a resolution" of the novel's child protagonist's key question about desire, in the process charting a trajectory that crisscrossed themes of family, sexuality and diaspora. On Saturday afternoon I split my time between two different panels, one of which was titled "Multiplying Personalities: The Writer Witnessing Self and the Many Characters We Create," comprising G. Winston James, Ana-Maurine Lara, Charles Rice-Gonzalez, and Marvin K. White, which was also a very diasporic panel. All four speakers, with Glen moderating, offered compelling commentary about their own work and processes, and satisfactory replies to the audience's queries. The second panel I popped into was "Dig: Queer Archaeologies," at which Jonathan Bailey, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Lisa C. Moore, Zaneli Muholi, and Julia Roxanne Wallace each spoke persuasively about the richness of the black queer archive(s).

Reggie Harris, leading his workshop
on "The Black Body"
My notebook nearly bursting with jottings, I head to main event, which was the keynote lecture by acclaimed writer Randall Kenan. The recipient of numerous awards; a professor of English at the University of North Carolina; and author of the novel A Visitation of Spirits; the story collection Let the Dead Bury Their Dead; and two works of nonfiction, Walking on Water: Black American Lives at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century and The Fire This Time, Randall delivered a powerful, sometimes circuitous and in the end quite effective speech on the theme of witnessing, beginning by recourse to a critique of Roland Emmerich's financial and aesthetic debacle of a film about the 1969 Stonewall Uprising. What he stressed was something that was threaded throughout the conference's very reason for existence, which is to say, the importance of the work that everyone in the audience was undertaking in terms of bearing witness to our present and past, as well as imagining a viable future for black LGBTIQA people to come. An apt counterpoint came later that evening when Jewelle Gomez's Waiting for Giovanni, a two-act dream play that imagined a split second--yes!--in the mind of the great James Baldwin as he contemplated the publication of his landmark second novel amid the socially and politically fraught landscape, particularly after the murder of Emmett Till and in the course of the surging US Civil Rights movement. It bore witness in some of the very ways that Randall spoke about.

Reggie introducing Randall Kenan
I was not just a spectator, however. At the Austin event I gave a presentation on translating black LGBTIQA authors, and I reprised that this year through a workshop under the new title "Translating Black LGBTQ Writing: Expanding the Global Conversation," since the need for learning about and connecting with black people across the globe has grown even more important in light of the Black Lives Matter movement and in the wake of the challenges we face all over the globe, particularly in the Americas, Europe, and the Middle East. This time I had a few more facts about the paucity of translation in the US in general, and particularly of black and LGBTIQA authors of African descent to share. It also felt different to speak of translation as a practice having published a book in this area, and I hope by the next Fire & Ink, if I am around and able to attend it, to have more, including a book by a non-Anglophone LGBTIQA author to share with attendees. The conversation with the audience went very well, and I was able to meet a longtime hero as well as younger translators who were very interested in taking up this work.
Randall Kenan, delivering the keynote
A week or two before arriving in Detroit, several writers realized there would a critical mass of people working in innovative forms at the event, so Tisa and Samiya organized a panel for Saturday morning that also included Duriel Harris, Alexis DeVeaux, Rosamond S. King, and me. We each chose different ways to introduce ourselves (I perhaps ill advisedly read the very beginning of my short story "Blues," which only gives a glimpse of what is to come, rather than the ending, before speaking about how I viewed this and my other work, so I am not sure that I made the best case for what my work in Counternarratives or elsewhere sought to do), before a passionate and often illuminating series of presentations and discussions ensued. I believe the entire panel presentation was recorded and will become a podcast at the Los Angeles Review of Books' website, so that when that is available, I'll post a link on this blog if I can remember to do so.
Ernest Hardy, Duriel Harris,
and Tisa Bryant
Two final things were touches you probably would not find--or that I would not--at other conferences. These included an altar room the organizers established to honor both deceased predecessors as well as living figures who could not be present. Many were the faces and tongues that had blazed the path that made Fire & Ink possible, and which now filled that room. Another wonderful touch was the literary stretches, held from 7-8 am, that Rev. Marvin K. White led. I was never out of my room in time to bend myself into blissful pretzels that early, but I heard they were very enjoyable. As for the hotel, the Crowne Plaza Hotel Downtown, which sat right across the street from the Cobo Center, where the conference took place, I can't rave or rage about it. The view from my room was as picturesque as one could ever imagine in Detroit, but the room itself I found it passable. One day a too-early visit from the cleaning staff person, which I declined, led to my room being left untouched for a day. OK, I can deal with that. I extremely fortunate had no encounters with the bedbugs that at least two guests reported, or the roaches that others have cited online. Thank the gods and ancestors for small favors, and thank Fire & Ink's organizers and all its attendees for an amazing conference!

Fire & Ink President Lisa C. Moore
The group portrait
Rickey Laurentiis
The cast from the staged reading
of Gomez's staged reading

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Random Photos

Peering at a luxury
site in Chelsea
Another luxury tower construction
site in Chelsea
The PSE&G (gas) worker installing a
safety vent in our basement 
On 23rd Street 
Sidewalk art, Chelsea 
Professors Jason Cortés and Laura
Lomas at the reception for the
new Latino Studies Working Group
at Rutgers University-Newark 
Vincent Czyz, at our reading
with Greg Gerke at Unnameable
Books in Brooklyn
Subway violinist (on the train heading to
Brooklyn and returning from there) 
Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption,
The Washington Monument
in downtown Baltimore 
Segway traveler, Baltimore
Selfie enthusiast,
Meatpacking District
Rutgers-Newark MFA director Jayne Anne
Phillips with Suki Kim and Vijay Seshadri,
at Writers @ Newark reading