*Hustle Alert* Nov. 15th deadlines!

Hey Y’all:

TODAY is the deadline for some really sassy awards in Creative Writing, and the next two days are, too.

So I thought I would remind you to check out Poets and Writers Grants and Awards page and get your hustle on. If you live in a small town, the Post Office closes at 5pm. But some of y’all live in the Big Bad City, and the post office doesn’t close until midnight. Dang. Y’all know that just boggles my country brain.

I know that most of y’all Negroes (and y’all Folks of Other Complexions) have a book just waiting to send out, or individual poems and stories. So get your head right, get your courage up and go to the Post Office today and send out, already!

And don’t forget to put your right hand on the package and say a prayer to Whoever you worship and get your Godly mojo going. And if you’re an atheist or an agnostic, just say, “I really want this package to win a prize and publication.” That will get it. That’s mojo, too.

Or, do like my cheating atheist or agnostic friends used to do–have somebody who does believe in a higher power place his or her right hand on the package and pray and get the Godly mojo going. I got a friend like that who used to let me pray for her, but she shall remain nameless.:-)

Here is the link to the page on Poets and Writers! Bon Chance, y’all! And remember: THIS IS YOUR TIME, BUT YOU WON’T KNOW THAT UNLESS YOU CLAIM IT!

Alright, now I’m gone calm down on the exclamation points.:-)


"Four Women" Rocking

I know I just posted last night, but I just had to post again, because I saw some of the BET “Black Girls Rock” last night, and what I saw DID NOT Embarrass the Race!!!

Y’all know how BET usually gets down, but I was so happy and relieved. I say I saw “some” because I don’t watch TV, but I do follow the glorious Ledisi on Twitter and I’m a fan, so I looked up the video highlights. In particular, the performance of Nina Simone’s “Four Women” by Kelly Price, Marsha Ambrosius, Jill Scott–who is some sort of Root Worker Goddess, and Ledisi–another equally luminous Root Worker Goddess–was simply lovely.

Click here to see the video of last night’s “Four Women” performance.

AND Ms Ruby Dee was honored. I don’t know if y’all know it, but I worship Ms. Dee. Her performance of Ruth in Raisin in the Sun was life altering for me.

I know it sounds silly, but with For Colored Girls out this past weekend, and doing a respectable $20 million in sales, and now, a reasonably-nice-and-not-shameful BET special on Black women in which nobody got naked and/called a Black woman a whore (at least, not in what I saw), I’m feeling like people in our Black community might start giving Sisters a tad bit of respect. Or, I’m feeling like we finally are starting to feel like we might cut somebody if we don’t get our respect, instead of simply complaining. Either way, that’s got to be an improvement, right?

I love myself some Nina Simone, and so, I thought I would share a poem (below) that I wrote about her original version of  “Four Women;” I wrote this poem when Ms. Simone passed and included this poem in my third book, Red Clay Suite.

And here’s a link to Ms. Simone’s performance of her song, too. (Her band is superlative here.)

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Here, One of Your Four Women
…….for Nina Simone

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Given a row to hoe, strain
until it yields justification.
A body drifting toward the grave;
or a girl too young to take her truth bravely;

or a lady grown, holding onto the men
who don’t want her;
or the last of the line, broken—Peaches
dueling the air with her fist.

Each with the hoe grasped, every
so often her fingers brandished
as weapon, pulling the scolding
weeds, unrepentant, from the ground.

Each dropping the hoe, salute making
her brow a space of shade.
Heat shimmying, same row,
wisdom (shoot—work on some more),

chords of light sneaking away.
Wait—is that a note of praise
pinched now from a scarlet-breasted
creature, lifting over the crown of trees?

Here, one of your four women, Nina.
What marks her mocked, mocking horizon?
Stilled, she sighs over a small,
freed something.

Quickened, that woman bends, rises, bends:
another row.

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I Most Certainly Do NOT Whip My Hair Back and Forth

I remember the first time I cut it—or had it cut. I was nine. I wanted an Afro like my sisters, but my hair still was wavy then, not curly yet. I begged my mother to cut my nearly waist-length hair like Dorothy Hamill the figure skater.

“It’s cute,” Mama said. Then, “But you’re going to grow it back, right? You’re not going to keep it like this?”

From the time I started taking care of my own hair, I became a strand-abuser. In high school, whenever I was depressed, I would take scissors to it in a haphazard way, leaving gaps of scalp waving everywhere and upsetting my poor mother to no end.

Then, at fifteen, I gave myself my first relaxer—and sores on my scalp.

And in college, I discovered the curling iron and blow dryer and started using them every single day. It’s a wonder I’m not completely bald right now.

I call my hair my “one beauty,”  but it was a beauty I took for granted. Now, all of sudden, over thirty years later, I troll the web at night for Black hair care sites, like www.longhairdontcare.net for tips about growing Black hair.I spend more and more time worrying—and just thinking—about my hair. I know it’s not very radical Black feminist of me, but I can’t help it.

Sure, other Black women think about their hair, too, but the difference with me is, I don’t care how cute my hair looks. I don’t care about being fly: these days, I’ve started wearing it in a bun–that would be called a “no-contact style”– lest the ends drag across my clothing and break off; most days, I look like a spinster schoolteacher.

My problem is, I made the mistake of reading some article about how hormonal changes of women in their thirties and forties can impact their hair and cause them to lose it. I thought, well, people in my family tend to keep their hair. Then, I had a dream where I was suddenly bald and woke up with a panic attack. It didn’t matter if the baldness was a metaphor for something else; now, I’m afraid of going bald. So I only get my hair trimmed on the “growing moon,” the new moon cycle, because my granny had very long hair until her nineties and she only got her hair trimmed on the growing moon.

Two weeks ago, I decided to stop combing and brushing my hair altogether.  Instead, I comb my hair in the shower while it’s wet—with my fingers, like a cavewoman. I drag my fingers slowly and gently through my hair so as not to pull any strands out.

I ordered an expensive 100 % sulfate-free shampoo, conditioner, deep conditioner, and gel. I massage my scalp daily with a special concoction of jojoba oil mixed with basil and rosemary to encourage blood circulation to my follicles. I grease my hair each night with coconut oil. I sleep with a silk scarf on top of a silk pillowcase, just in case the scarf comes out. I drink half my body weight in water each day. I take multi-vitamins. I’ve upped my protein intake.

And let’s not even talk about heat styling my hair. That would be a big, fat “no.”

I can’t watch Willow Smith’s video, “Whip My Hair” because I fear for strand damage. “Be careful!” I whisper to the dancing kids, yanking their necks around in the video. “Oh, please be careful! Please stop doing that!”

And worse, I’ve started singing that Sesame Street song by the little Black Girl in the shower, while I stroke my curls lovingly. (I’m not lying here.) I love my hair, y’all. I really, really, really love my hair. I’m just like that little girl. Except, she’s got way too many styling options, in my opinion. I think she should just wear a schoolteacher bun.

Portrait of the Siddity Negro Artist As Tyler Perry

Yesterday, I taught Franz Kafka’s short story, “A Hunger Artist” to my Beginning Creative Writing class. It was deep, to say the least. So deep that it sent me into some kind of weird tailspin of contemplating my place in the world as a poet, writer and human being and I think that’s why I’m sick today.

You wouldn’t think some strange story written by a White guy ninety-some years ago would rock my world. (You can read the short story here.) In the story, there’s a guy who publicly starves himself for public amusement; he’s the “hunger artist.”

But what the story is really about is how artists twist and turn ourselves to please a fickle public. They love our work, they hate our work, and our artists’ emotions rest on that love or hate. And these days, the reception of our work extends to Twitter accounts or Facebook pages. How many “followers” do we have? How many “friends”?

Like you can have seven hundred ninety friends.

We artists tell ourselves, we are above catering to the public. We would write in small, airless rooms if we had to, locked away from the world, even if there were no public at all. Or we would paint. Or we would take photographs. (Fill in whatever art form you wish.) We don’t need public affirmation, we say, and we definitely don’t need money.

Unh-huh. Yeah, okay.

Here’s the deal for artists, including us oft-mentioned low-paid poets: we want to get paid for our art. More than that: we want to get paid in full. And how many of us writers have worked a cocktail party to network or sashayed up to famous writers after a reading, slobbering all over them in hopes we can get blurbs on the back of our books, or letters of recommendations for jobs or the Guggenheim—all of which will lead to the respect of our peers but most of all, more money?

Guilty. Here I am, raising my hand. And I’m waving it, too, from left to right like I’m at a Sugar Hill Gang concert.

There are moments where I’ve caught myself after I’ve gone too far with the slobbery/shameless flattery. In the words of Aretha, let’s call this song exactly what it is: booty-kissing. That’s one of the reasons I started my blog: to keep myself honest. I figure, the more people who “watch” me publicly, the more accountability I will have, and the less I will booty-kiss.

Of course, one of the other reasons I started the blog is to increase my visibility as a writer. I had to get my hustle on.

As a poet who is a fiction writer but not known as such, I wanted to increase my potential reader base from a handful of poets. And I wanted to connect with folks who didn’t write books. Regular people, because those are the folks I started writing for. And equally important, I wanted to connect with Black folks of all backgrounds, especially Sisters. So I started this blog.

So what does all this have to do with Tyler Perry?

Perry started off as an artist—and however you feel about the quality of that art, it’s still art, sort of—appealing to working- to middle-class, Christian, churchgoing Black women, first as a playwright and then making movies.  A majority of his audience members probably have never attended one of August Wilson’s plays, and they probably don’t read criticism on theater or film making, either. But they love some Tyler Perry. He speaks to them.

Those of us Black folks who aren’t his target audience find his movies bad at best and an Embarrassment To The Race at worst. But at least Perry’s being real. Many times, we Black artists—the vast number of us holding graduate degrees from universities—depict Black people from the working class in our art, but when we do, we aren’t trying to impress those working class folks, no matter what lies we tell ourselves. We aren’t talking to our Big Mamas or those Brothers standing on the corners, smoking blunts in those neighborhoods we left as soon as we could, because they weren’t safe places for us to live.

We are talking to other educated, Siddity Negroes. Or White folks who sit on awards committees giving grant money for whatever art form we work in. And those White folks depend on us Siddity Negroes to translate Blackness for them.

Sidebar: Have you ever read a book where a Negro was writing about some “authentic” aspect of Black culture and just got it dead wrong? But you knew you couldn’t get mad at the editor because the reason the editor didn’t catch it is because that editor wasn’t Black?

Yes, I said it. Look, the Republicans just took over the House. It’s time for all of us to tell the truth, because things are going to get bad soon in this country. Don’t you want to clear your conscience before The Last Days are upon us?

Anyway, to my knowledge, Perry never went to film school, so he never got reprogrammed about his “true target audience,” which is supposed to be White critics and Siddity Educated Negroes. He started off as someone making films for regular, working-class Black women/people, in the same way that Zora Neale Hurston pissed off the Harlem Renaissance establishment—including W.E.B DuBois–by writing about working class, verb-splitting Black folks when she was supposed to be writing about Black folks who spoke French like Jessie Fauset and them.

“No, no, unh-unh!” I hear you shouting, recoiling in horror and disgust from me. “Zora Neale Hurston wrote art.”

Sure she did. And you know who decided that she wrote art? College professors who wrote literary criticism.  Siddity Educated Negroes and White folks who teach English classes—twenty years after Sister Zora died in poverty and was buried in an unmarked grave. Alice Walker was the main one who resurrected interest in her work, and yes, she is a former college professor. And siddity. First she went to Spelman and then Sarah Lawrence. Enough said.

But Perry’s target audience has not changed; he has. And he wants to bring his audience along with him, keep them right by his side, when he moves to a new artistic place, because he has decided that, in addition to making money, he now wants the acknowledgment and adoration of  White critics and Siddity Educated Negroes.

First, he signed on as an executive producer of Precious, which won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Mo’Nique. But it should be stressed that Precious was based on a piece of cherished Black feminist art, the novel Push by Sapphire. This is important because while artsy film making remains a realm dominated by White folks, Black female writing has (sometimes) made the crossover into mainstream critical appreciation.

Think of books by Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker and every single book Toni Morrison ever wrote. And so, if Tyler wants to get in on the (critical) good foot, what better way than to choose The Black Feminist Holy Grail, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf by Ntozake Shange?

I am not a fan of Tyler Perry. Those Madea movies just make me want to stab myself through the throat. But how many times have we criticized a Spike Lee joint? I know I have. Spike can’t act. Yet, he puts himself in all his movies and we are forced to hear his flat, tonally challenged voice for two hours. And that’s another thing: he doesn’t know when to stop the movie.  Spike is color struck in his female casting, too—just like Tyler Perry—and his female characters have no depth.

And if I have to see one more Spike Lee movie with the rolling people coming forward—it’s going to get really, really bad for my mental health.

Surely, Spike’s a genius; for me, Samuel L. Jackson’s Gator in Jungle Fever remains one of the top five movie performances I’ve ever seen. Yet here’s the deal: Spike Lee went to film school. He’s been trained and extensively critiqued, first at Morehouse College (where he took his communications courses at Clark Atlanta University) and later, at New York University.

Tyler Perry has not had training as a film maker; he’s self-trained, and so, I don’t know whether he’s a genius who just needs a nail file taken to his stubborn rough edges or simply a hack who is going to mess up one of my best girlhood memories by making a horrible adaptation of Ntozake Shange’s masterpiece, one of best books (in my opinion) of all time. I’ll find out tomorrow when I see For Colored Girls and decide whether it’s a “movie” or a “film.”

What I do know is that Perry wants to be taken seriously as a Black artist. At the same time, he wants to make loads of dollars. And he wants to “keep it real” for his core audience. That’s a lot of “stuff to walk off with.” (Y’all true Shange fans will recognize that allusion.)

But Perry’s  is a familiar crossroads for us Black artists, so knock the quality of Tyler Perry’s movies or films or whatever want to call them, and there is much to be knocked—but if you’re a Black artist and an honest one, can you really knock his hustle? Tell the truth now. Remember, we’re in The Last Days.

"Blow Your Wig Back" Question(s) Of The Day: Election Results

Question #1: Concerning the election yesterday, how many of your Black friends/relatives said, “I’m just going to sit this one out,” even when you begged them to vote and told them how important this election was?

Question #2: Do some of our African American sistren and brethren have a short attention span when it comes to politics, but a long attention span when it comes to complaining about racism?

Question #3: If you live in a “Red State” and a Tea Party candidate won in your state, are you now scared of completely random White folks in your state, city/town, or neighborhood, no matter how nice they behave toward you?

That’s all for today.

Good Sister Watch: Concha Buika

Have you ever found out about a writer or a singer and you were so enchanted–then found out the writer’s book had been out for five years or the singer had been making records for so long and you wondered where the heck you’d been to miss it?

Well, that’s how I felt today, listening to an Afro-Spanish singer named Concha Buika on NPR. They interviewed her and first, her words–so wise and something I can’t put my finger on–broke me completely down. I was at the grocery store sitting in my car in the parking lot and just started weeping. And then, I heard the songs, and broke down again. I caught the Holy Spirit listening to the sister, and I couldn’t understand but a few words she was singing.

Y’all, this sister is  some kinda Root Worker Conjure Woman with a song. I am not playing. So I had to tell you about her. But don’t take my word for it. Watch the videos below. The second video is a little shaky, but when she starts singing, I guarantee within fifteen seconds she will give you chills.

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