30 July 2007

"Big Brother/Texas" (Black LGBT Writer Edition)

...or as poet Marvin K. White (shown at right posing for the paparazzi) called it, "Survivor, Lake Buchanan"

Back from an incredible few days outside Austin, Texas, at a retreat initiated by Redbone Press publisher Lisa Moore. Together with a reading at the Victory Grill in Austin, the weekend allowed a number of the authors she's published over the years to get together to meet, talk, share work, and bond (aka eat, drink, and live together), in a house overlooking the magnificent Lake Buchanan in the Texas Hill Country.

So often we hear: black men and black women don't get along. Gay men and lesbians can't work together. Get a bunch of black people together and they'll snipe and tear each other apart.

Artists and writers feud with each other all the time. People from different disciplines don't share a language with which to talk to each other....We all 'know' these are stereotypes, but sometimes it takes something as powerful as a weekend like this to bring home how wrong they really are. And also how there can be 'another way' for all of us to relate to ourselves and to each other. It was also wonderful and rare that artists from across so many different disciplines were able to talk and share work: poets, fiction writers, academics, visual and performance artists, critics...we really are the world! Most of the people there fell into more than one of these categories.

The venue was comfortable (even the couch I crashed on was wonderfully fluffy) with a stunning view of Lake Buchanan. My only caveat about the whole thing was how far FAR back in the hills the place was, and the two-lane highway => dirt road => goat path we had to take to get there. You know you're not in the city any more when a rabbit sits in the middle of the road and refuses to move for an SUV!

Otherwise, it was magnificent. And much too short. More, please, Ms Moore! What do you say: Same time next year?
Lisa and Eunice record for posterity


Ingmar Bergman.

Almost singlehandedly, he turned "movies" into "films," and a space for serious philosophical exploration - then moved on to direct operas and write fiction. He should also be honored for introducing the world to Max von Sydow, Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullmann, and the Wizard of Light, cinematographer, Sven Nykvist (shown above with Bergman).

Tom Snyder

I remember staying up late to watch Synder's "Tomorrow Show" when I was growing up (I even saw his famous interview with Charles Manson, but was fortunately both too young and too tired to be as disturbed by it as I probably should have been). A strange man with weird hair, smoking constantly, with a wild laugh. But also someone very rare nowadays: An intelligent talk show host with a point of view that actually talked to his guests. It was like watching a conversation with the smart but crazy uncle everyone tells the kids to stay away from. Sometimes you didn't know what he would do, or what might happen on the show...no I take that back. You did know a couple of things: you wouldn't be bored, and you'd be both entertained and enlightened by Tom and his guests. How far both late night television and talk shows have fallen!

ADDENDA: News of the passing of Michaelangelo Antonioni hit the press on Tuesday, making Monday the 30th a particularly dark day for film fans. Again a very serious artist (more dour in interviews than Bergman, who could be surprisingly sunny considering his work), and one not afraid of occasionally maddening ambiguity (the [in]famous ending of “L’Eclisse” for example). Like Bergman, Antonioni used movies to ask questions, to make us think, however uncomfortable that might be, and not to have us just sit back and watch disengaged.

I want to be one of the artists of the cathedral that rises on the plain. I want to occupy myself by carving out of stone the head of a dragon, an angel or a demon, or perhaps a saint; it doesn’t matter; I will find the same joy in any case...I will never worry about the judgment of posterity or of my contemporaries; my name is carved nowhere and will disappear with me. But a little part of myself will survive in the anonymous and triumphant totality. Ingmar Bergman

28 July 2007

On the (Writer's) Block: Fear

I can't go on. I'll go on. Samuel Beckett

As Joan Acocella pointed out in an article in The New Yorker, Writers Block in some ways began with Coleridge in the early 1800s, and developed into a wide spread disease in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. The romantic image of the Suffering Artist, struggling to reconnect with The Muse flourished. It didn't hurt that many American writers of the early 20th Century -- Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, etc -- were also prodigious drinkers (Tom Dardis' excellent The Thirsty Muse recounts some of their stories). There's nothing like being blotto to keep The Muse away, and destroy whatever artistic discipline they may have had. Interestingly, James Baldwin, not known for shying away from a good party, apparently also used to get up and write every morning, no matter what carousing he'd done the night before, and hungover guests would be awakened to the sound of him banging away on his typewriter.

I admire the dedication and work ethic of writers like Anthony Trollope who wrote a set number of words everyday before going to work in the post office, or Joyce Carol Oates, who can apparently write a novel while most of us are taking a shower and eating breakfast, or even Harry Potter's Mom, J. K Rowling, writing the seven title series at approximately 2 1/4 years per book. Me? I'm not mad at 'em, but, let's face it, I tend to be pretty lazy.

But I've been thinking about this subject, not so much because I'm blocked -- MY tendency is to do everything BUT write, rather than not being able to do so: I need to put in more Butt in Chair time -- but because it comes up from time to time whenever writers or artists get together. As always, I'm haunted by quotes: Samuel R. Delany's comment that "Not writing can be as much of a habit as writing" and Audre Lorde's command to her students to "Forget 'The Muse.' There is NO MUSE! You just sit down and work."

I wonder too, how much of our blockage (or my own hesitations) are based on Fear. Fear of failure, fear that we are exposing too much of ourselves in our work, even with names changed to protect the innocent and the guilty. Even a fear of success: I've often said to people who have hesitated before applying for positions or grants and the like, "What's the worst thing that could happen? You'll get it and then you'll be forced to do the work!" (Amazing how much easier it is to tell someone something than to do it yourself, huh?:)

And there is that very large fear that the work is not "just right" or "perfect." Waiting for it to be perfect, or working on something until it is 'Perfect' can be a huge stumbling block. I'm not referring to being slapdash or shoddy, what I mean is, to take a personal example, is literally changing just one word in a story at least ten times before thinking it worth while to be sent out. Perhaps I was channeling Flaubert!

John Shannon and Becky Schreiber of Schreiber Shannon Associates (link to their old website, soon to be updated) closed out the 2007 Maryland Library Leadership Institute with the following quote from Marianne Williamson. Parts of this I'd heard before, but it remains incredibly powerful, and resonates very, very deeply with me:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Marianne Williamson from A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles

So: What am I hiding by avoiding work? What 'old tapes' are playing in my head telling me I'm not worthy which stop me from writing, which hold me back from being my best? Interesting questions....

11 July 2007

Eyes on Texas: The Redbone Press Revue

It's gonna be hot (and not just because the weatherman is calling for a weekend in the 90's!)

Sponsored by ALLGO

When: Friday, July 20, 2007
Time: Reading – 8:00 p.m. / Dance – 11:00 p.m.
Where: The Historic Victory Grill [1104 East 11th Street – Austin, TX 78702]
Cost: Donations Accepted!
Contact: Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano – (512) 472-2001 / lorenzo@allgo.org

For the first time ever, Austin will bear witness to a gathering of some of the most prolific LGBT Black writers in the country, the RedBone Revue. Hailing from across the United States, RedBone Press authors include: New York-based Samiya Bashir, Austin-based sharon bridgforth, Los Angeles-based Ernest Hardy, Baltimore-based Reginald Harris, New York-based G. Winston James, Austin-based Ana-Maurine Lara, D.C.-based Lisa C. Moore, and Oakland-based Marvin K. White.

A dance will immediately follow the performance with a live DJ spinning Hip Hop, R&B, Salsa, Merengue, Reggae and Reggaet├│n. So come prepared to experience a one-of-a-kind evening of artistic breadth and non-stop dancing until 2:00 a.m.


10 July 2007

Melvin Harris 1903-2007

(with Melvin in Annapolis, Thanksgiving 2005)

It's difficult for me to even begin to think about all the things I could say about my 'Uncle Melvin.' First off, to make it easier on myself and others I've been referring to him as my grandfather for a number of years. This is not accurate. He was, in fact, my grandfather's uncle-in-law, and married to my great aunt (i.e. my great grandfather's sister), Edna Harris. The explication of this blood tie, however, doesn't really do him justice because he and Edna were my main 'parents,' raising me here in Baltimore from when I was three years old. "Grandfather" while not to-the-letter true, comes closest to the mark. "Father" has some level of accuracy as well.

I would joke sometimes that underneath his somewhat gruff exterior -- a friend from high school still recalls the rough-voiced grilling he got from Melvin on the phone the first time my friend called our house -- was an equally gruff interior. Because under that, the man was a real pushover. In his later years his edges smoothed somewhat, so most people knew his softer side -- although he still had a tendency to ask you questions that made you uncertain if he was concerned or just wanted to get in your business.

To the end he looked to be in his 80's, perhaps 90. He always credited his religious faith for this (Heathen that I am, I feel moved to add that it's not clear how much credit for his being 'well preserved' should also go to his occasional shots of 100 proof Old Grand Dad as well). He managed to live on his own very well up to last fall, cooking his own meals, traveling on senior citizen bus trips to Atlantic City (where he'd spend his $10 in quarters, walk the boardwalk, eat at a buffet, and be ready to return home), complain about the Orioles and the Ravens. His wife of over 50 years, Edna, died a few years ago (at age 102), and he had a '90-something' girlfriend, whom he would talk to on the phone once or twice a day between their visits to each other's senior apartments. Many of the women in his building would cook for him: later after his move to a nursing facility where his great granddaughter works, all the women on staff there fell in love with him as well, calling him 'Pop Pop.' One of the last big events in Melvin's life was to meet his infant great great grandchild. He held her for a while, then both decided to take a little nap together.

Melvin decided to wait until after age 100 to become 'famous': he was part of an article on "Hack" cab drivers in the Baltimore City Paper; feted by the Pennsylvania Avenue Branch of the Pratt Library during their "Salute to The Avenue" for his reminiscences of that once bustling entertainment hub (I still remember him calling Billie Holiday, "That girl who used to live around the corner"!); appeared in a film on Baltimore Past and Present directed by teen members of the Wide Angle Youth Media program
; and, this past March, cut the ribbon to open Maryland General Hospital's Acute Care for the Elderly (ACE) Unit.

Melvin slipped away very quietly last Friday, July 6, 2007. The women at the FutureCare facility where he'd been living since February said they had gone in to check on him early that morning and he said he was fine. When they went back into the room, they thought he'd just drifted off to sleep. And so he had. Although 'expected' his loss was still a surprise for all of us. He seemed perfectly capable of going on and on forever

I cannot repeat Robert Hayden's famous lines from "Those Winter Sundays" here -- many of us were able to thank Melvin for all he had done and meant to us over the course of his many years. For that I am grateful. Things got a little tense around the time I came out to him in the '80s (some friends even questioned why I would do that, since people his age 'Wouldn't Understand'). Years later, as he became more comfortable with who I am, he told me that he considered my life-partner to be like 'another grandson' to him. I nearly cried.

I am also grateful to have grown up around someone from the Old School, even if I did hate it when I was younger, as well as someone who so easily navigated between the "Saturday night social and the Sunday morning service," to borrow a phrase from Albert Murray's Stomping the Blues, listening to jazz and pop on Saturday night (with a set up of scotch, braunschwager, Limburger cheese and crackers), then listening to gospel or going to church Sunday morning. This was the range of Life, and neither contradicted or canceled the other out. Quite obviously my continuing love of all forms of music comes in large part from him.

My sister sent this along after hearing of Melvin's passing:


When you called me this morning with the news regarding Uncle Melvin all I could do was smile. There is a feeling of peace and calmness that fills my heart when I think of his transition to the future.

He truly shared his life with all of us and gave us "little pearls of wisdom" just when we needed them. Whether we thought so or not!

Uncle Melvin was the only person I know or will ever know in my lifetime with a total re-call from memory every street and intersection (including the Beltways) of the City of Baltimore. He took with him the grid to the City of Baltimore.. and I mean how it was back in the day and how it is today! I know this for a fact because I called him one day when I was downtown trying to find the Maryland Board of Nursing office that is located out near Baltimore County somewhere. I called "Unc", told him where I was, where I needed to be and he talked me through the city all the way out to where I needed to be.

I am humbled and honored to have known a man such as Uncle Melvin. My life has been enriched so much having known him. I thank God for the Father, Uncle, Griot, Confidante, and Friend. I will carry in my heart through eternity.

God has allowed me to hold court with a King and be in the presence of Royalty in my lifetime.


A wake for Melvin Harris will be held on Thursday, July 12, 2007 from 4-8 pm at Miller's Metropolitan Chapel, 1639 N Broadway, Baltimore Maryland (410-327-2777)

Services will be held Friday, July 13, 2007, (wake at 10:30 am, funeral at 11 am) at Macedonia Baptist Church, 718 W. Lafayette Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland (410-669-5776). After the service, we'll be traveling to Annapolis to place Melvin next to Edna.


Here's a 'Melvin poem' from 10 Tongues which I last read at the American Library Association Convention's Many Voices One Nation reading in Washington DC this past June:

The Reading

Words remain a mystery to him,
forced to turn from one-room school-

house to fields after Grade 8.
Words came from preachers,

God, some unseen
somewhere else.

And now this boy
approaching middle age,

reading him a poem
about the past:

the years of bouncing vans
across the South,

eating in the back of restaurants,
pissing in the woods,

sleeping in the truck or with strangers
while the white owner settled into a hotel;

the taxi driver playing ferryman
for others across the city,

called first Colored, then Negro, then
Black (he hated that),

now African-American -
(We are a People of Color he still insists);

the ones who never tipped,
the whites who called out Nigger from the window,

then turned and said, Oh,
I don't mean you;

the women gone:
mother lost to madness,

first wife lost to madness,
second wife consumed

by old age uncomfortably
like madness;

son in California,

daughters dead, grandchildren
seeds scattered on a shifting breeze.

One alone is left,
not even his blood,

her kin, dropped
on them like Isaac

on Abraham and Sarah past the age
when both could think of flowering,

one who returns
with increased infrequency,

to talk, cook,
watch a ball game,

half-listen to his stories,
the cast them later into lines upon a page -

for all his book learning
dumbstruck before the wisdom of this man

called illiterate
behind his back.

The voice reading quivers,

You write that?
A nod and shrug,

a whispered Yes. Pages fold
with a sound like cracking eggshells.

He nods and clears his throat.
Read another one, he says.

05 July 2007

Carrying On

I am very pleased to be part of this project. It is our first attempt at a bibliography like this (so be kind!:) -- the next edition should be even better. At only $10 each, it's a real steal -- Get 'em while they're hot!

Carry the Word: A Bibliography of Black LGBTQ Books is a seminal reference work, featuring over 600 titles by and about black Same-Gender-Loving (SGL) and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer-identified (LGBTQ) writers and culture, as well as interviews and articles about black SGL authors.

A must-have for booksellers, librarians, academics, community-based organizations, book clubs and readers interested in black LGBTQ books and authors, all proceeds from sales of Carry the Word will benefit Fire & Ink, Inc., supporter and advocate for SGL writers of African descent. Carry the Word is co-published by Vintage Entity Press and RedBone Press.

Steven Fullwood and Lisa Moore talk about Carry the Word on GayRadio.com

Purchase the book (PayPal via Vintage Entity Press)