Okay, so I know I get really excited about every event
where I get the chance to read my work, but I must say, I'm really
excited for this weekend's reading. Let me tell you why.
- It's called Black Women From the Future. Enough said, right? I'll say more, anyway. This event, the latest installment of Black Futurists Speak, celebrates Black History Month and helps kick off Women's History Month, by lifting up the unique power of black women's voices. That's right, it's a lineup consisting entirely of powerful black women.
- Said badass lineup of performers is as follows: African-Jamaican dub poet d’bi.young anitafrika, poet and director of The Lower Bottom Players Ayodele Nzinga, the stunningly talented fiction writer Lisa D. Gray, poet and musician Amber McZeal as our host, and lil' ol' me.
- We'll be reading along with music by Kevin Carnes of the celebrated jazz-electronica trio Broun Fellinis.
- There's also an open mic, which means there will be even more badassery, which we have yet to hear of.
- The creation of this event is truly inspired, born from Warehouse 416’s current art show, African-American Icons (featuring the work of celebrated artists James Gayles, Esuu Orinde and Aswad Arif) and the theme for 2013’s Women’s History Month - “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.” By celebrating black women of today, we are looking to "the future of the written word - where creative innovation and skill meet community responsibility and futuristic thinking."
Now you can see why I'm so looking forward to this event. Here are the details:
Black Women From the Future
Saturday, February 23, 2013
416 26th St in OaklandGet there early to sign up for the open mic!See you in the future!
I've made plenty of silly confessions on this blog, so I guess it's a good place for this one, too: there's been a ridiculous amount of giggling in my world these days. Giggling, and smiling, and even blushing, as best as I can blush in my dark skin.
Maybe you can guess what that means. And no, it's not just that I've lost my mind, though I suppose you could call it a form of madness
. I say this has been happening in "my world," because although we live on the
same planet, it sometimes feels like each of us lives in our own little world. Perhaps this is most noticeable during times of tragedy. While some of us struggle through the demolition of our worlds
, the rest of us keep living our lives. When I'm halted by grief
, everyone else's worlds keep spinning. And recently I've discovered that it's true for the opposite feeling, too – it turns out that while I'm consumed by amorous bliss, the rest of the planet doesn't stop and join me in schoolgirl giggles. One glance at the news tells me that injustice doesn't take a leave of absence from the earth to make room for love to flourish. Who knew? I've come across a movie that
captures how the earth keeps spinning throughout a lifetime of love. Chico & Rita
is a feature-length animated film that tells the story of a jazz musician and a beautiful singer, set against the backdrop of Havana, New York City, Las Vegas, Hollywood and Paris in the late 1940s and early 50s.
The setting of this film means, of course, that the two title characters can't exist within a blissful bubble of joy. Forces including racism, deportation, and the fight for revolution impact Chico and Rita's lives and their chances of being together. The influences of music and of fame also make their mark.
In addition to telling a complex story, Chico & Rita is an alluring film to watch, with dazzling animation, as well as a captivating original soundtrack by Cuban musician Bebo Valdés. Featured musicians include Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, and many more who greatly influenced jazz music in both Cuba and the U.S.
Chico & Rita is really an enchanting movie, and I highly recommend it if you get a chance to watch. It's available to view on Netflix, and also on DVD.
I also recommend doing whatever it takes to welcome some more giggles into your world. As I'm discovering, silly laughter can be good for the soul, and though we can't forget about what's happening around us, we can remember that it takes more than injustice to create our worlds.
As you may know, I'm a little sensitive about tributes to the irreplaceable Nina Simone. When I heard that Hollywood executives cast Zoe Saldana to play her in a movie, for example, I had to join the chorus of voices
pointing out the trouble with having a petite, light-skinned actress represent Nina, who had to fight to claim the beauty in her dark skin. I'm drawn to Nina's strength, her struggle, and her damn good music, and I like to honor her as a personal hero of mine, so maybe that's why I feel so protective over her legacy.
Well, now musician Meshell Ndegeocello has released a new tribute to Nina Simone with her album Pour Une Âme Souveraine: A Dedication to Nina Simone. And this time, I can't find a bad word to say about it. In fact, the album leaves me speechless, in silent awe, much like the music of Nina Simone. Since I can't find the words for it, I recommend this excellent write-up on NPR, which says,
"Ndegeocello's has always been Simone's heir apparent. Ndegeocello, like Simone, has dared to cross musical boundaries, express bold politics and be a steadfast presence as an African American woman instrumentalist in a male-dominated music scene."I still believe, of course, that
nobody could possibly take Nina's place. But it's good to know that she didn't just leave behind shoes too big and too bold for anyone else to fill. She also left her footsteps behind, and when we follow her path with the best intentions, we can continue to walk the road to revolution.
This is a strange edition of Friday Friends. Usually, I use these posts to highlight a blog I like, or a literary hero of mine, or an organization doing important work. Today's Friday Friend is Nina Simone - not a particular interpretation or recreation of Nina Simone's work, but Nina Simone herself. Because some stories just need to speak for themselves. As a singer, songwriter, pianist, and civil rights activist,
Nina Simone made an unforgettable impact on the world. Personally, I have her to thank for helping me feel permission to love me for me. Her incredible sense of self-respect was nothing less than a fiercely radical act of courage, when she faced racism that said she wasn't good enough, and colorism that would call her anything but beautiful. Like me, Nina Simone looked in the mirror to see dark skin and big features, so like me, she had to see past the messages that attach the word "ugly"
to such features. Hers is a story that can teach us about true beauty, the kind that emanates from a spirit of self-love.
Now, Nina Simone's life is being adapted into a story as told by Hollywood, the source of so many of our messages about beauty. In Hollywood, beauty means lighter skin and smaller features, so in order for our Nina to be a Hollywood hero, she will be played by Zoe Saldana. She will be a romantic lead, because no leading lady is complete without the company of a leading man - never mind that the man in this story, her assistant Clifford Henderson, was, in fact, gay. And she will give us hope, with an altered happy ending - isn't it inspiring to know that every dark-skinned woman could someday be immortalized onscreen as a light-skinned woman? Perhaps there's hope for beauty after all.
Don't get me wrong - I do think Zoe Saldana is a beautiful woman, and for all I know, she could pull off the role very well, as far as the acting goes. And I'm not one to try to challenge someone's Black Card - her more mainstream features don't make her any less black than Nina Simone. So why does it matter if her skin is the right shade for the role? Because, unfortunately, choosing someone whose experience of blackness is so far from the challenges Nina faced follows a predictable Hollywood pattern
reinforcing hurtful messages about what it means to be beautiful. It's very rare to see this happen in reverse - a dark-skinned actress picked to portray someone who was much lighter. Instead, those who don't fit Hollywood standards of beauty must be replaced. And why? Will audiences relate more to someone who is thinner and more conventionally gorgeous
than the average woman? Will we learn not to let history repeat itself, to avoid underestimating the power of a dark-skinned woman, when we see her depicted as a light-skinned woman? Nina Simone's daughter has spoken up about the movie plans, sharing that the project is unauthorized, and giving clarification about her mother's platonic relationship with the film's "romantic" lead.
She also speaks about her mother's unseen beauty, her intelligence, and her revolutionary spirit. All of which could have an indelible impact if it were captured on the big screen. So I prefer to leave Nina's story as told by Nina, through her music, her soul, and her vision for justice. We don't need to rewrite lives, alter people's appearance and sexualities
, and ignore their truths in order to tell their stories. Nina Simone had no shame in who she was. We can respect her enough to know that she doesn't need to live up to Hollywood standards to be beautiful. I've posted this video a couple of times before, but it's always worth re-posting. Here's Nina Simone singing the words of William Waring Cuney's poem "No Images."
Josephine Baker created a space
of her own,
where there was none before
Tomorrow night's event is one that feeds my hope
that there are spaces out there
where my authentic, wacky voice is welcomed. Harlem's Poetic Rebellion: A Salon for the People
is happening at 8 pm tomorrow, May 26, at La Pena Cultural Center in Berkeley. I wrote about this event
after seeing last year's installment. It was seriously one of the best shows I saw all year, so I'm just thrilled to be a part of this year's event.I'll be reading some new work - that is, if I can manage to compose myself after the excitement of performances by
Griot Noir, Brontez Purnell, Khalil Sullivan and the other fantastic artists who will be part of the show. We are all queer black artists (poets, musicians, dancers, filmmakers), and we're paying tribute to our Harlem Renaissance heroes, those who made black art visible like never before. Following in their footsteps, we're sharing our original work, showing off our pride in the vibrancy that comes with being a queer black artist. Harlem's Poetic Rebellion is one of the SF Bay Guardian's weekly picks. You can watch a video preview on Vimeo, with clips from last year's event. It's going to be a stellar show, so I hope you can join us. Find more details on my events page or the Facebook event page. Advance tickets are recommended, and you can buy those here.
As I've written before, around Christmas time
and Valentine's Day
, holidays can be complicated. And today, Mother's Day, is no different. Today I'm celebrating my mom, the strong woman whose love and support helped me become the woman I am today. I'm also reserving part of the day for thoughts and prayers for those who might be struggling. Those who have lost mothers, and children.
And mothers separated from their kids - like those whose children are imprisoned
, or who are imprisoned themselves
.I'm thinking, of course, about my own reasons for having complicated feelings about this day. On Mother's Day a few years ago, I sat in a park with my mom and told her that she would soon be a grandmother. That day never came. I had a miscarriage, instead, a couple of months later. Today I'm thinking about
all the moms who've lost their children before they were born.In a way, I feel guilty for spending time on such thoughts today. I see all of the celebratory hearts and flowers and I think, today's supposed to be a joyful day. There's nothing wrong with leaving it at that. But I have a feeling that, historically speaking, M
other's Day is actually meant to hold all of these complications. Did you know about the radical roots of Mother's Day?
I've been reading up on it. First there was Julia Ward Howe, a poet and anti-war activist who began promoting Mother's Day for Peace
in 1872. Then came Anna Jarvis, a childless woman who persuaded Congress to recognize the holiday in 1914, and who grew to resent the commercialism
of the day. So, this day isn't only for Hallmark. Mother's Day is for everyone, including those who may be unable to get through it without shedding a few tears.
Today I'm holding it all, sending my mom one of these fierce Mama's Day cards
from Strong Families, and also recognizing those working for a better world
for all mothers. Thank you for reading, and for your solidarity in holding the complexity of this day.
Albert Laveau, Kenneth Ramchand,
Penelope Beckles, and Bhoe Tewarie
get ready to kick off the Bocas Lit Fest
Hello! I’m blogging to you live from Port of Spain, Trinidad, home of the second annual NGC Bocas Lit Fest
, a celebration of writers and writing from the Caribbean. Today was the first of four jam-packed days of readings, workshops, music and film, and the festival’s off to a great start. I’m already having a blast.
This year makes fifty years since Trinidad & Tobago gained its independence, and a celebration of local literature is a great way to honor fifty years of freedom from colonial rule. Today’s events kicked off with local luminaries reading from classic works by Samuel Selvon, V.S. Naipaul, Derek Walcott, Eric Williams, and satirical columnist “Macaw.” These readings set the tone for the rest of the day, paying homage to writers whose work came out of the Independence era, and lifting up the writing that has followed.
Pride is a universal language. Surrounded by people whose voices and bodies are swelling with pride, I can’t help but feel some of what they’re feeling – love for themselves and for others who have lived lives like theirs. This festival isn’t about trying to appeal to what’s popular in literary communities in other parts of the world, not even those countries that tend to dominate conversations about the most significant literature in the world. No, here at Bocas Lit Fest we’re recognizing that the literature of the Caribbean is powerful and important, telling the stories of Caribbean people.
Today was memorable in many ways, but two writers in particular stood out to me. The first was Jamaican poet and fiction writer Kei Miller
. Now, I face my own challenges writing work with queer themes, but Kei Miller directly confronts Jamaica’s violent homophobia
with courage I could only dream of. He also manages to use humor, and unapologetic honesty, creating compelling, captivating stories and poems. I’ll get a chance to hear more from him later in the festival, so I’m very much looking forward to that.
The other person whose reading is still echoing in my mind is New Talent Showcase writer Stephen Narain
. He’s the kind of writer who inspires me to explore all of the possibilities of my complex voice as a writer. This might be partly due to the fact that he’s only a year older than I am, but as I listened to him read, and participated in the Q & A discussion that followed, I felt like I was hearing the words of somebody with decades more wisdom than I’ve acquired. I had to recognize, at a point, that he’s not much different than I am, speaking from his unique perspective and creating space for voices that aren’t often heard. And he’s diving straight into the stories that call him, risks and all, and doing a brilliant job of it.
If this festival continues to inspire me as it’s done today, I’ll have the makings of a lifetime of work by the time it’s over. My hope – scratch that, my plan
is to run with that inspiration before it fades, risks and all, shaking off self-doubt and taking pride in the voice that’s uniquely mine.
The Atlantic has a great interview
with prolific writer and activist Alice Walker. It was posted just before she appeared at this past weekend's Split This Rock
poetry festival, an event that celebrates "the work of writing the poems that split open the injustices in society." Walker shares about what we can learn from poetry. This is one of the interview's highlights for me: You mention several times in your recent book--Overcoming Speechlessness—growing up in Georgia, in the Jim Crow South, and how that memory bonds you to this universal struggle for freedom of all people. What do you think of younger Americans who don't have a memory of Jim Crow and are cut off from what that American period was like? It's all happening in our time. All you need to do is open your eyes. Someone right now is living my life 50 or 60 years ago in this country, today. If you are thinking you are separate in any way, just wander onto any reservation. Wander to any part of the ghetto or any streets on the back roads of Georgia. It's still there. And so I think we have to remind ourselves of this so we don't get caught in that path that we have to have had the exact experience of someone else. But frankly what poetry does is it shows us, it's a teacher that allows us to connect, emotionally, with people so profoundly that we don't have to have had their exact experience, we can just connect with them wherever they are and live today. So there's really no need ever to feel that you can't understand something or other people. That you can't feel for other people just because you didn't grow up that way. You can and we must really keep our faith strong that we can empathize.You can read the whole interview on The Atlantic website here. What are your thoughts on the interview? Were you at the Split This Rock poetry festival? According to the lineup of featured poets, it was
quite an event, and I'd love to hear from you about what it was like to be there. Don’t you hear this hammer ring? I’m gonna split this rock And split it wide! When I split this rock, Stand by my side.-from "Big Buddy," by Langston Hughes
What does it mean to be you? Would you know how to answer that question if somebody asked? How deep
inside yourself would you need to look to find the answer? It is, after all, an answer that can only come from within yourself, based on what your identity means to you, and nobody else. What if the question was narrower? If someone asked you what it means to you to be of your race, your gender, your age? Here's a question that seems rare: What does it mean to you to be a black man? When popular perceptions of black men come so often through aggression in the media and the sobering results of the prison industrial complex, the authentic voices of black men speaking for themselves about what life means to them can be forgotten. So I'm really intrigued by the transmedia art project Question Bridge: Black Males. It's an installation currently showing at the Oakland Museum of California,
as well as a few other locations around the country. Through a unique video format featuring a question and answer exchange between 160 black men, the project "seeks to represent and redefine Black male identity in America."To me, part of what's intriguing about projects like this one is how seemingly simple it is. It's a big endeavor, setting out to redefine black male identity, and yet, rather than calling for a complex creative process, it begins simply with asking questions and offering answers. This shows how powerful it can be to just speak from our own perspective, rather than allowing the media to speak for us. In this interview with Colorlines
, one of the Question Bridge artists, Chris Johnson, speaks of creating as an "engaged artist," "trying to do something that’s transformative for people that experience it." With just a glimpse at this project, it's easy to see how such an installation can, indeed, be a transformative experience, both for those who took part in creating it and for those who witness the results. A glimpse is all I've gotten so far,
but I can't wait to get out to the Oakland Museum of California to see more. You can read more from those who have seen the installation here
, and visit the Question Bridge website
for more information about the project and where you can see it in person. Here's a preview of what you'll see. What questions would you ask these men if you could? What would you ask someone like yourself? How would you answer?
whole process at times
, making myself relax, clearing my mind of distractions and doubts, letting myself write unfiltered, uncensored, finding my way through those messy, overgrown forests I’m afraid to visit anywhere other than the page. And then, at times, that voice I called for comes through, and all I want is for it to shut the hell up.
For as much as I talk about the power of storytelling
, I still have my moments when I’m ashamed of parts of my own story. The idea of vulnerability
keeps coming up for me
lately, which, well, sucks. I don’t like it one bit, but I guess instead of trying to fight against it, all I can do is try to learn from it. As an abuse survivor, I know there’s no reason to spend time wishing I could erase parts of my story. I’m proud of where I’ve been, as it was all part of the path that brought me to where I am today. I know this already. It can just take some practice
to keep it in mind, even in the vulnerable moments.
It’s Black History Month, and I wonder what kind of history children are learning in schools. Some would want to alter or avoid
those parts of our history that include the worst of our struggles. I’d never want to shortchange our children like that, so in the same way I won't shorten my own history. These, too, are survival stories.
Today is Wellness Wednesday – support, fun, food, and art at CUAV for LGBT survivors of violence (see CUAV’s website for details
). There, survival stories are parts of our journeys. They bring us together. They remind us of our strengths.
I'm way behind, but I finally saw the movie Pariah.
It focuses on a young black lesbian who lives in Brooklyn and writes poetry, so you might say that it’d be hard for me not to love it. But the writing and acting are superb, and it’s been getting rave reviews
from other people, too
I love the poetry in the trailer below. And I think it relates to the vulnerability that’s been coming up for me lately. “I am not broken. I am free.”
Sometimes, I just want my writer voice to shut up. And this after all of the effort I make to let it come through. It can be a