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.
Yesterday, when I took to the world wide web searching for music to match my mood (namely, the blues
), I came across what looks to be a really important, informative documentary. "Wild Women Don't Have the Blues" tells the stories of the legendary women who pioneered the role the blues have played in the U.S. It includes the indelible lives and careers of the unforgettable Ma Rainey, Ethel Waters, Alberta Hunter, Ida Cox, and one of my favorite performers, Bessie Smith. These women sang songs that held the emotional truth of what it meant to be a black woman early in the 20th century. So this film shows a part of the history that came before me and my angsty, emotional writing - black women who struggled, and who turned their struggles into art that would move people for many years to come. Here's part of the film. You can visit the California Newsreel website for more information about the documentary and to order a DVD.
This morning I tuned my radio to KPOO
, a local station I love because of the way it lifts up the power of the people, moving away from the usual misrepresentation in the mainstream media to address complex issues. My reasons for listening today were quite simple, though - KPOO was playing the blues. And I sure am grateful for music that moves with the hard times. I'm thinking about that old saying, when it rains, it pours, because that's kind of how my life feels at the moment. Only in San Francisco, the rain is different. Sometimes, like this morning, when it rains, it mists. The water doesn't fall to the ground, but lingers in tiny droplets around you. You're not sure if you can really call it rain, and sometimes you start to wonder if it's raining at all or if it's just in your head. That is, until you get inside, to someplace warm and dry, and you realize your clothes are all wet and your skin is slick with something that's not your sweat. That works a little better as an analogy for my life right now. It feels like things have been trickling in, little by little, and I didn't really notice how much it was all building up until I felt soaked in my skin.
And now, I believe I'm slipping into a bit of a funk. Last Monday was The Siwe Project's No Shame Day,
aimed to encourage folks to talk about mental illness and break through some of the stigma
that often holds black folks back from seeking mental health treatment. Poet and Siwe Project founder Bassey Ikpi said, “We’re encouraging people to tend to their mental health that day without shame."So that's one of the reasons I'm trying to keep writing, without being ashamed of how I feel. Usually, a funk affects my writing in one of two ways. I might feel paralyzed, unable to create, and then I hate myself for it, sinking deeper into that bluesy feeling. Or I use the funk as fuel, writing my way through it. I'm trying my best to do the latter this time, to tend to my wellness by honoring how I'm feeling.
My hope is that someone else can get some wellness out of it, too. It works that way for me as a reader, at least. Just like I sometimes need to hear the blues, at times I need to read about how others are struggling. I can find hope in happy resources like the Happy Black Woman blog
, but personally, I wouldn't feel honest if I wrote about my healing
without also acknowledging the hard things I'm struggling to heal from. So I hope I can add to those stories, like the ones from No Shame Day
, which help us to feel not so alone. Writing keeps me grounded. It weaves some invisible thread through me and back to the earth. I can write to get perspective on the bigger picture. I can write to feel like somebody else cares, even if it's only my notebook listening. Without writing, I don't know what I'd do. I might just tune into the blues and out of the world, taking flight like a bird and forgetting that there are reasons to come back down. Here's one of my all-time favorite blues singers, Bessie Smith, singing "Backwater Blues."
She was one fierce artist, known as "Empress of the Blues,"
who certainly had no shame in her struggles.
I wanna take a moment to give the East Bay some love. Because, too often, talk about the Bay Area's lively literary scene fails to reach beyond the limits of San Francisco. Because some of the liveliest, realest, most engaging literary artists I know hail from across the bridge. And because some of those artists have put together a really exciting night, the first of its kind in Oakland. Tomorrow night, July 7th, is the first annual Beast Crawl (get it? "East Bay" is "Beast" in Pig Latin). Beast Crawl
is Uptown Oakland’s first literary “pub” crawl, a free
festival featuring more than 125 poets, writers and performance artists in a single night, spread out over three hours and 25 local galleries, bars, restaurants, cafés, and storefronts.
One glance at the schedule
and you'll see that Beast Crawl is full of fabulous events. Leg 1 begins at 5 pm, and your choices include Cave Canem fellows at Lyrics & Dirges
, jamming with the Three Times Bad Band
in the Giant Burger parking lot, and more
. Leg 2 is at 6:30, with chances to witness the cultural exchange and inter-generational dialogue of Generations Literary Journal
, a special collaboration between Saturday Night Special and Grinder
, and more
. And the final readings of the night will start at 8 pm for Leg 3
. I'll be reading at Leg 3's Hella Soulful
, which is shaping up to be a dynamic, spirited, provocative event. I just can't wait. And the night still won't be over - the finale will be the after-party at Paradiso
, kicking off at 9 pm.
Visit the Beast Crawl website
for more information, including venue map, full event schedule, and author bios.
I already know Hella Soulful
's gonna be a great event, because I've done events with two of the other readers before. Safiya Martinez is co-host of one of my favorite local readings, the Living Room Reading Series, where I read last year
. Around the same time last year, I was a feature
at Saturday Night Special. My co-feature was Nathan Jones
, another Hella Soulful reader, and trust me, you don't want to miss a chance to hear him read. The rest of the Soulful line-up includes poet Jessica Dailey, artist Mica Valdez, and musician i.Ameni, with host Roger Porter.
Check out this video of a soul-shaking performance by i.Ameni for just a taste of what the night will bring.
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.
QWOC Media Wire has a great article on The Lost Bois, a queer music duo that uses hip-hop beats, jazz styles and insightful lyrics to make some powerful music. In their own words, "We write, we sing, we speak for people like us: queers, dykes, black folks, brown folks, to dance, to fuck, to smile, laugh at and along with." Read more: The Lost Bois: Transforming Queer Hip Hop through Black Feminism
The Lost Bois have a dynamic style, so their songs range from fun to thoughtful to sensual, or all of the above. They work hard, so it can take a while to get the full range. I'll just leave these here to get you started. Enjoy.
By Archibald Motley Jr
Between being caught up with school and writing, I’ve been spending some time over the past few days composing and deleting blog posts reflecting on the Queer Rebels of the Harlem Renaissance
performance. Most of the posts have just been rambling and raving about the show and queer black history. After trying to come up with something more eloquent, I’m just going to go with some of the rambling. I am, after all, thinking about truth telling, and what better way is there to get to the truth than to get there uncensored?
Last weekend’s Queer Rebels of the Harlem Renaissance
was nothing less than fabulous, of course. And what was really exciting was that we didn’t have to do as I expected
, traveling back in time to celebrate the vibrancy of the Harlem Renaissance. The lives and legacies of folks including Gladys Bentley and Langston Hughes came to the stage through artists of today, like Kirya Traber
and Earl Thomas
. The sense I got as the audience flooded the space with cheers at the end of the night was that the applause from the Harlem Renaissance never ended. At some point, that period of history may have been over, with the Great Depression bringing the lively Jazz Age to a close, but those who created the art, literature and music of the time left a drumming in our hearts that hasn’t stopped beating.
It was very uplifting, to witness people whose struggles go back for centuries rising up with pride. But my question today is about the moment that occurred before the show began. When Celeste Chan
and KB Boyce
, the show’s delightful directors, appeared onstage, they offered some of the usual pre-show chatter – a warm welcome, hearty thanks for our presence, a request to please silence our cell phones. Then, they added something not quite so common – a gentle reminder that the subject matter of the show can bring with it stories of oppression, violence and trauma. They informed us that counselors from San Francisco Women Against Rape were in the audience, and briefly turned the house lights on so the counselors could identify themselves in case we needed to check in with them after the show.
I really appreciated this moment. I appreciate anyone who can pause to recognize the potential impact of their words on violent subject matter, especially when they also take the time to offer some healing directly afterward.
Still, it brings up my question – why does our joy have to come with a trigger warning?
After an event that’s simultaneously so powerful, joyful, and heart-wrenching, I’m thinking again about the possibility of simply letting go and having fun
. Has suffering played such a substantial role in the histories of queer people of color that we can’t celebrate our histories without being reminded of our anguish?
I think it’s true, that in order to share our whole stories we must hold both the joy and the pain. Queer Rebels of the Harlem Renaissance reminded me, however, that I don’t believe this is a bad thing. If anything, reflecting on our histories in this way can help us relearn how to be our whole selves, without shame or regret. We look back and laugh, though we may at times have tears in our eyes, not lamenting our struggles but rejoicing in our triumphs over trouble.
This is truth telling in its truest form. Big thanks to everyone involved in Queer Rebels of the Harlem Renaissance. Thanks for your truth, your heart, your spirit. I can’t wait for the show’s return next year.
You may know that I'm slightly obsessed
with the Harlem Renaissance
. And if you didn't know, you might've guessed - it was an era in which black folks, many of them queer, expressed and empowered themselves through art, writing, music and dancing. Clearly, I was born several decades too late to join in this movement that was right up my alley. At least this weekend I'll have the chance to go back in time. I'm completely giddy with excitement for this weekend's Queer Rebels of the Harlem Renaissance
. The performance event, put on by Kali Boyce and Celeste Chan's Queer Rebel Productions
, includes film, theater, modern dance, burlesque and blues. The performers aim to "reclaim history and the urgency of our art and activism."Sounds exciting.
The show opened last night, and continues tonight at 7:30 at the African American Art & Culture Complex in San Francisco. Get more information here.
I've been thinking about what it means to be, as Langston Hughes said in the words I shared
in my last post, free within ourselves
. Do we find the labels that define us, categorize ourselves
and find our people to feel free? Or do we dare to step outside of our comfort zone, being free within ourselves even in the face of danger
?One of the reasons I love Hughes' poetry so much is that it reminds me to love myself for who I am, regardless of the danger. I love this video, which includes Hughes' poem "The Weary Blues," one of his classic celebrations of his people.