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.
You might've already seen the video for Lupe Fiasco's single "Bitch Bad," since it's been out for about a week now (if you haven't yet, take a look below). That's enough time for the video to get over half a million views and counting on Youtube, and for plenty of viewers to chime in on a complex conversation about the kind of message Lupe's sending. It seems that the question comes down to this: should the artist be hailed as some kind of hero for speaking up against hip-hop culture's tradition of disrespecting women? Or is he out of line in his approach, actually demeaning women
as he claims to honor them? Full disclosure: I enter this conversation as a longtime fan of Lupe Fiasco's
work, particularly because of the way he challenges the status quo, breaking away from the misogynistic attitudes found in so many mainstream hip-hop songs.
But I'm also not one to give somebody a pass simply because they have good intentions. Addressing misogyny is a complicated matter, and it's possible for Lupe to make mistakes. It can be hard to discuss the issue in hip-hop without falling to one extreme or the other – how can we criticize the objectification of women's bodies without contributing to ideas based in shame around black women's sexuality? Is it possible to have this conversation while thinking outside of the virgin/whore dichotomy?Some argue that with "Bitch Bad," a song that sets up a hierarchy of women (
“bitch bad/woman good/lady better"), Lupe speaks against misogyny from the wrong angle, by slut-shaming, and by honoring only a certain type of woman – the chaste, mother-figure type. I'm following my usual habit of seeing this conversation as more complex than just one conclusion or the other. Sure, Lupe's video misses a few parts of the complicated issue. But he also does a few things right
, starting with the fact that he's willing to create this concept and contribute to a conversation about the issue in the first place. I agree with Akiba Solomon
and Rahiel Tesfamariam
on this one (and I link to their articles because I believe they've said it all already, and better than I can say it myself). It's not enough to have good intentions alone, but it's a good start, better than starting from a place of maintaining the problematic status quo. Here's the video, so you can take a look and decide for yourself where the message lands. What do you think?
Sometimes, you just need to pause and take in some art that's good for your soul. That's what I needed this morning, so I'm passing it on. Here's award-winning poet Iyoeka Okoawo using music, song, storytelling and spoken word to bring a message of hope.
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."
How strange, this business of writing.
On one hand, it's very personal for me. It's just me and the page, journeying through thoughts and memories that exist nowhere else but within my own mind. You may have noticed that lately my blog has focused a lot on my emotions and my healing, and my creative writing has also been taking an inward turn. I've been looking at the possibility of social change through the lens of inner change, exploring how tending to my needs as a survivor connects with creating the change necessary to counteract the broader impact of oppression.
And on the other hand, writing can be all about connection. It's an odd combination of stories both personal and shared, as the words that once hid in my darkest places make their way into the daylight for anyone listening to hear.
Like so many others, I began my day today with the impact of violence weighing on my heart, as I woke to news reports of the mass shooting in Colorado
. I'm praying for the victims and the survivors. I'm thinking about what it means to witness and survive violence, as so many of us in oppressed communities do each day, as we watch others fall to the violence we face.
In moments like these, I feel the need for connection. If only to know that others are surviving, and to learn how they're doing so. So today I'm turning to Dangerous Sweetness
, "an online collection of poems by queer & trans* poets responding with love & rage to the violence committed against those in their queer & trans* communities." It's a powerful, meaningful, necessary collection of words by remarkable artists, including some I've been honored to connect with personally. Poet Meg Day, whose work I've shared on this blog before,
writes of her need to collect these poems for those who have lost lives and livelihoods to violence, including those whose stories we haven't seen in the news, saying, "We honor them with our grief, our fury, our love, our words, & our lives."
There's something about connecting in this way that offers a glimmer of hope on dark days. This post was supposed to be about Bitchez Brew Revue
, the event where I'm reading tomorrow. Obviously, today's news of violence took my thoughts in a different direction, but this feels like an appropriate time to reflect on what connection means to me. Tomorrow, as I share some of my most personal poems with a crowd mixed with friends and strangers, I'll be thinking about what it means to share those stories that once were secrets, and are now acts of resistance against the forces that bring suffering. Event details:
Bitchez Brew RevueJuly 21, 20127:00 pm Awaken Cafe
1429 Broadway, OaklandFeaturing MG Roberts, Sean Labrador y Manzano, Cassandra Dallett, John Panzer, Jason Scheinheit, and Maisha Z. Johnson, with music by Brooke D.
Here's today's song for survival - Asha Ali's "In This World."
Writing can be a way to re-live the past. And that can be a hard to do, depending on which part of the past you're exploring. For me, it can mean re-living my mistakes, gathering all of my regrets together in one convenient place so that I can set it all ablaze with self-blame and watch it burn with guilt. Today, I'm trying something new. Something that seems sort of crazy to me. I'm trying to forgive myself. Just by coincidence (or perhaps not so much), I've been coming across pieces that address forgiveness and regret. In a Forgiveness column of his newsletter Just One Thing, neuropsychologist Rick Hanson wrote,
"Forgiveness is not about shutting down your feelings; opening to the experience in a big space of mindful awareness is an aid to forgiveness." And in "Lessons Learned: Moving on from Regret"
on For Harriet, Deidre Gadsden tells me, "You are exactly where you are supposed to be, mistakes and all."
This picture makes me
wanna hug myself, too
I admit this is the kind of stuff I might read just to murmur "hmm, that's nice," and return to my cycle of self-blame. But like I said, I'm trying something new, so I'm seeing what it's like to actually sit with what forgiving myself might mean for me.
There's a prompt for the day. To use art to revisit a mistake, and forgive yourself for it.
Lianne La Havas has a song,"No Room for Doubt," that's been helping me try.
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.