Afropalooza Day 4: Did Y'all Know Ruby Dee Was a Poet?!

Y’all I was just doing a random search and came upon this YouTube video from “With Ossie and Ruby.” It said, “Ruby Dee” performs her poem–and I thought, now, Miss Ruby was one of my favorites actresses, but I didn’t know she was a poet!

I clicked on it, and Miss Odetta starts singing. (Don’t know Odetta? Here’s her bio.) Then, Miss Ruby starts reciting her poem. And then, I was completely transported.

I promise y’all, this video is so luminous, and life-changing.

 

 

Early Morning Reflection: Day Two of “Afropalooza”

rising-sun-1For some reason, I woke up at 3:15 this morning, checking things off my Daily To-Do List.

Usually, I don’t awake until about 8am or even later, and when I do, I always chastise myself for laziness. I am the daughter of a woman who grew up on a farm, who rose in darkness to order the day.

I remember my mother quietly waking me in my childhood, and it never occurred to me that she actually slept like a real human being, that she didn’t keep the planet safe like a super hero or a goddess. I took my breakfast for granted.

And sometimes, even when I don’t actually play the song, I sing in my head Sweet Honey in the Rock’s version of “In the Morning When I Rise.”  It reminds me of the few, tender moments of my childhood and my mother’s voice.

This morning, I still feel pretty high about the beginning of Black History Month. Yesterday, my students chuckled as I raised my arms in a little victory dance: “Happy first day of Afropalooza, Y’all!” (They know their professor is a nerd, so they are indulgent with me, and I am grateful.)

But this morning, as I puttered around my house in the darkness, rinsing off last night’s dishes and putting dirty laundry in the washer–I am not a fan of housework–I asked myself, “Honorée, what IS it about this month that makes you feel so good?”

After all, for most of my adulthood, I spent Valentine’s Day alone. (It’s still not a favorite holiday for me.) And for the past six years, there has been sadness in this month, too, because I lost a great person in my life during this month–the poet Lucille Clifton. And James W. Richardson, my dear, departed friend, has a birthday this month, so I will probably shed a few tears during these twenty-nine days.

Yes, I call this time “Afropalooza,” and I like to think about it as a party, but there is tragedy to the African American experience, to lives of my people in this country. I, of all people, am no stranger to tragedy, though mine doesn’t begin to compare to what others have endured.

But as I thought about why I love this time, it came to me: since I was a little girl, February has been the month where I felt all my African/American ancestors gather around me, in a ring shout. They have been there, my entire life, watching over me.

I feel my strongest during this time. It’s like a church revival, where I become renewed and the Spirit runs through me. That’s such a good feeling, such a reassurance that no matter how hard things are or might be, I have this month to gather myself again, and to try to be the woman I know I was meant to be.

I hope you feel the same reassurance, if not in this month, then at another time. And I wish you strength today, and blessings this morning.

Love,

Honorée

 

It’s Black History Month, Y’all! You Know What Time It Is.

 

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Image found at Library of Congress

It’s Afropalooza Time!!!–And I had to come back for this. I had to. You know this is my favorite time of the year.

And no, I am not going to give excuses for being gone so long. I’m just going to act like your favorite auntie: Swish in wearing my cutest outfit, pretend I’ve never been gone, and ask you to fix me a plate. (“Give me an extra pork chop, baby, and don’t tell my doctor.”)

But first, before we shake our proverbial groove thangs in celebration of Black History Month, our loving ancestors and all the glory they have given to us black folks and to the United States in general, I must needs have a word about Stacey Dash.

O Stacey, upon whom the incomparable Gabrielle Union threw the world’s best Sister Girl Shade.:

“Who… is… Stacey Dash?”

Usually, I don’t like Shade or, even, shade. But when somebody starts kicking dirt on the entire house that black people built, going back four hundred years, I live for this kind of Shade With a Big “S.”  I cannot lie.

So let the Shade against Embarrassing The Race Negroes begin.

I used to love me some Stacey Dash. Who didn’t love Deon in Clueless?

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She was cute, she had spunk, and she kept her man in check. But now, I don’t know what has happened to Stacey. I hesitate to speculate. (Forgive my iambic tretrameter.)

However, though it’s been a while, y’all do remember me, don’t you? Thus, I will speculate, indeed.

Has Stacey always been someone who hated black people, even as she starred in various iterations of R&B slash Hip Hop music videos?

Is Stacey getting paid a really huge secret stipend—aside from her regular salary—to dog out black folks (at seeming random intervals though we know there is a Master Charlie plan) on Fox News?

Is Stacey mad that she got fired from that Single Ladies show on Vh-1, after the alleged “did not happen” physical altercation with her co-star, LisaRaye? Did Stacey perhaps forget to take her earrings off before said alleged “did not happen” altercation and have to get her earlobes reattached to her head via plastic surgery and is now suffering post-traumatic stress?

It’s a mystery.

But I’m still really irritated that this woman would even fix her mouth to say we don’t need Black History Month. What is wrong with her?

I’m even more irritated that, somewhere, the many white microagressors who are constantly mentioning their one “black friend” to justify their daily racist acts have a champion in Stacey Dash.

So let me explain to those who do not know why we need Black History Month. Or as one of my dear friends from Philly says, “Let me break this down so it will forever stay broke.”

So first, let’s just pour out some very expensive adult beverage for Brother Carter G Woodson, the founder of Black History Week, which later became Black History Month. Thank you, Brother. We appreciate you so much.

Second, Black History Month begins in February, and February 1 is the birthday of Langston Hughes, and if you don’t like him, I just don’t know what to say about you.

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Langston Hughes (Image found at Poetry Foundation)

Except, I will try to change your mind. Here’s my favorite poem by him.

Don’t make me break into a recitation of said favorite poem, record that, and then post it to my blog. Get your mind right and get with Brother Hughes’s poetry, before it’s too late.

And then, there are a bunch of other fabulous black people born in February: Rosa Parks, Alice Walker, Melvin Tolson,Toni Morrison, Sidney Poitier, Marian Anderson, and Leontyne Price. Some of them are still alive, so we really need to celebrate them to the utmost, while they are still here on this earthly plane.

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Leontyne Price  (image found at “On and Off the Record”)

Sidebar: Did I ever tell y’all about the time I was nine and saw Leontyne Price sing luminous opera music at Duke University in Durham, NC? And I got an autograph from her (that I lost somewhere)? I remember she was beautiful, she had a presence, and her false eyelashes were epic.

Anyway, just so you know, we do not need Black History Month to boost African American self-esteem, though that is a nice side effect.

We do not need Black History Month to prove why we need reparations for slavery. There is no proof needed for that. (Just Google African Americans and 1619, and that’s all you need to know.) I know I will never get my check, though, just like I will never get back that five dollars I let my cousin “hold” in 2009.

We do not even need Black History Month to promote African American unity. We already have that. It’s called “Black Twitter.”

However, we do need Black History Month because only stupid people think that the history of race relations in the United States of America began at 4:30 this morning, like some sort of bizarre, colored version of the movie “groundhog day.”

Sidebar: Those people who think race relations are great now are also those folks who claim to be “colorblind” but simultaneously can see color just good enough to constantly bring up their one “black friend.”

And we do need Black History Month because there is a lie floating around that only white folks have participated in the building of this country, from its beginning. I have met grown, white people who did not know that black men fought in the American Revolutionary War.

Now that I done said that, when it comes to Black History Month/Afropalooza, y’all know that I will most definitely extend a party.

Like, you know how some (black) folks will announce a week before their birthdays that it’s their birthdays—and then, party for an entire seven days with no shame, eating various forms of pigmeat and drinking brown liquor like it’s mother’s milk?

That’s me (without the brown liquor. I can’t handle it.) I have no shame.

So in February, there’s Black History Month and I celebrate black folks.

In March, there’s Women’s History Month, so I celebrate black women–who I already have celebrated in February because I’m, like, a woman and I’m black.

In April, there is National Poetry Month, and I’m a poet (and many of my friends are poets), so I celebrate black poets.

It’s a 90-day Afropalooza party, y’all!

So if you are tired of black people, you need to check in now, say, “Hey Honorée! It’s good to see you again, girl, FINALLY!” (That would be your own brand of shade, but I don’t mind.) And then, you can come back and visit me in May.

I’m just warning you ahead of time, because I love you.

Happy Birthday, Langston Hughes!

Today, I want to say Happy Birthday to Mr. Langston Hughes. I think there’s something very appropriate about his birthday starting off Black History Month/Afropalooza and I hope you do, too.

Langston Hughes is just The Man.  And really, that’s what this blog post is about, how fabulous Mr. Hughes was/is.  This is Black History Month, yes, but this also is a blog for grown people who I hope can do their own reading. But I will say that Langston Hughes—along with Zora Neale Hurston, who I must get to sometime during the course of this month—is the most well known creative writer of the Harlem Renaissance.

To read about the Harlem Renaissance as a literary movement that produced several geniuses—or, I should say, several geniuses produced the Harlem Renaissance—click here.

Because I’m doing a bit of writing on the Harlem Renaissance for my real job, I’m going to focus on some of the figures of that time in the next twenty-eight days. Did you know this is leap year? Not only is Black History Month my favorite month, but leap years are my favorite years because I get one extra day to Afropalooza!

Sidebar: Yes, Afropalooza is both a verb and a noun. When I make up words, they are multifunctional, like pig meat grease. Tell me something.

And if you want to read an extensive biography of him and the gajillion books Mr. Hughes published—I told you he was The Man—please click here. This is the best bio I’ve read of him so far.  It’s really excellent.

So let’s get to why I love Langston Hughes so much.

Like many African Americans of my generation, I learned to recite poetry by memorizing Langston Hughes’s poetry as a child in elementary school. I attended Fayetteville Street Elementary in Durham, North Carolina, a bastion of Black History in its own right.  North Carolina Central University was there—formerly North Carolina College at Durham—and the wealthy Spaldings lived in Durham; they were the founders (in 1898) of the first African American life insurance company, North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance. I was in a Brownie troupe with one of the Spalding descendants; my mother was extremely proud of telling people that, too, much to my embarrassment.

And I know that some of my Black readers know at least one Langston Hughes poem by heart. Who can forget “Mother to Son,” the favorite poem of female talent show contestants at predominately African American high schools and colleges across this country? All I need is to recite the first five words, and many Black folks can recite the next eight words.

Well, son, I’ll tell you: Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

And I don’t know one Black poet who doesn’t know “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” I can’t recite by memory the entire poem, but I bet you any Black poet can tell you the last lines of the poem.

I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

By the way, it’s because of Langston Hughes that I developed a fondness for colons in my poetry! I just love a colon in a poem. It’s really cute on the page, don’t you know.

To honor Mr. Langston Hughes Otherwise Known As The Man, I am posting my favorite ever poem by him.  The poem is called “The Weary Blues” and it’s the title of Mr. Hughes first published book.

I could tell you why I love it, but then again, I can’t. I just do. And I don’t want to find reasons. It’s like loving a person. It’s just a feeling inside, and I don’t care if no one else approves. That’s that real love.

And guess what?  I found out that I can actually purchase “The Weary Blues” collaboration of Langston Hughes and Charles Mingus! You know I cannot live any longer without owning that collaboration. My life will not be complete without it.  I’m ordering it today.

Here’s a link to podcast about the Hughes/Mingus collaboration. And here’s the poem below.

The Weary Blues

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Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
……I heard a Negro play.
Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light
……He did a lazy sway . . .
……He did a lazy sway . . .
To the tune o’ those Weary Blues.
With his ebony hands on each ivory key
He made that poor piano moan with melody.
……O Blues!
Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool
He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.
……Sweet Blues!
Coming from a black man’s soul.
……O Blues!
In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone
I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan–
……“Ain’t got nobody in all this world,
…….Ain’t got nobody but ma self.
…….I’s gwine to quit ma frownin’
…….And put ma troubles on the shelf.”

Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.
He played a few chords then he sang some more–
……“I got the Weary Blues
…….And I can’t be satisfied.
…….Got the Weary Blues
…….And can’t be satisfied–
…….I ain’t happy no mo’
…….And I wish that I had died.”
And far into the night he crooned that tune.
The stars went out and so did the moon.
The singer stopped playing and went to bed
While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.
He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead.

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PR’s Afropalooza Novel Pick: DESSA ROSE by Sherley Anne Williams

Yesterday, I wrote that I was so excited about Black History Month that I’d decided to celebrate this year by nicknaming BHM “Afropalooza.”  (I’m still feeling pretty happy about the nickname, by the way.)

In addition, I thought it would be really great to read a novel in February. Now, I like brand new novels. Those of you who read the blog regularly or who follow me on Twitter or have “liked” my Facebook Fan Page know that I’m not only a writer, but also, a serious reader as well.

But during Black History Month, I like to return to some of the past books that really made an impression on me. That’s why I chose Dessa Rose by Sherley Anne Williams as the official 2012 PhillisRemastered Afropalooza Novel Pick.

You can find this wonderful novel on Amazon.com in both print and Kindle versions. For those people who prefer another bookstore, you can order from Powells.com by clicking here. Or you can order from BarnesandNoble.com by clicking here, where the book is available in print  and Nook form.

Or, if you prefer to visit a fabulous independent bookstore like The Wild Fig  (in Lexington), co-owned by the fabulous, brilliant novelist (and my good friend) Crystal Wilkinson, and her equally fabulous partner, the arist and poet Ronald Davis, even better! You have nearly two weeks to get your independent bookseller to order Dessa Rose for you.

We will have THREE Twitter Chats on Dessa Rose during the month of February, all at 4:00pm EASTERN STANDARD TIME: February 12, 19, and 26.  We will be using the hashtag, “#Afropalooza.” 

On February 12, we will discuss the Prologue and the first section. February 19, we will discuss the second section, and finally, on February 26, we will discuss the third section and the Epilogue.

If you miss one of the Twitter Chats, don’t despair! Because you can always read the timeline later on and catch-up.

Poster of Dessa Rose, the musical

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So let me tell you about this beautiful book, Dessa Rose, by Sherley Anne Williams.

I first read the novel nearly twenty years ago when I was in graduate school. I picked it up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama at the Book Rack, a great used bookstore that was around the corner from my apartment. I only paid two dollars for it, and there was no picture on the cover. I know you’re wondering how I can recall all that. I can’t. I still have the book. (It’s sitting right by me as I type this blog post.)

Set in the 1800s before the Civil War, this novel is based on true stories, and it depicts the unfolding friendship between two women, one Black and unfree and one free and White. Ruth Elizabeth (Rufel) lives on farm and has been abandoned by her husband. Dessa Rose is a runaway slave.  Their friendship is the miracle that defies the racial and social constructs of their time. (Yes, those are my own words.)

As a young, aspiring writer enrolled in a Master of Fine Arts program in Creative Writing, the novel really made an impression on me, because I’ve always been interested in realistically depicted friendships and/or love between Black and White people, and I’ve always admired writers who could successfully get in the heads of all of their characters with a light hand–and an authentic, non-stereotyped understanding.

In Dessa Rose, Sherley Anne Williams depicts her characters with so much grace, and I’ve returned to this novel so many times since. I recommend it to everyone, because Sherley Anne Williams did not get the attention she deserved, though she was a well-known poet.   And she was a respected literary critic as well.

AND there was an Off-Broadway musical based on the novel! It was featured at the Lincoln Center in New York City.

I just love Williams’s work so much, and she modeled to me on the page that I could write whatever the Spirit moved me to write, instead of being pigeon-holed into one literary genre.

So, I hope you will return with me or read the novel for the very first time. Either way, please join me on Twitter on February 12, 19, and 26 at 4pm EST to discuss Dessa Rose by Sherley Anne Williams. And remember to use the hashtag, “#Afropalooza”! It’s going to be completely sassy all month long.

Afropalooza, Baby!–I just had to say it one more ‘gain.

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Afropalooza Starts in TWO Days! Are You Ready?!

Ida B. Wells-Barnett

On February 1, my favorite month in the whole, entire year starts. That’s right! It’s almost Black History Month! Or, as I have renamed it, it’s almost time for “Afropalooza”!

I had the “palooza” part, but I just couldn’t  figure out the rest. One of my brilliant Twitter followers helped me by going through a few suggestions, and then we came up with the perfect name.

But why “Afropalooza”?

Well, for me, Black History Month is not only a month of education, but celebration. It’s the time that I can reflect on those African Americans who have done great things for this country, and quite frankly, I can give thanks that none of them were wearing saggy pants and diamond encrusted, gold grill fronts—and thereby Embarrassing The Race—when they did all those great things.

Their fashion sense is enough to celebrate, because back in the day, Black folks who worked for the race usually dressed cute in their pictures.  So not only were those people doing good, they were looking good. (See how pretty and neat and dignified Mrs. Ida B. Wells-Barnett looks in her picture?)

But there’s even more extra-goodness.

There are those classic African American films in which the Black folks are front and center. Not any of that African American “sidekick” stuff where we only exist in the movie to stroke some White lady’s hair or listen to her boyfriend troubles because we have no men of our own. Or where we only exist to get killed around minute twelve in the movie while the White hero dodges a bullet. Unh-unh.  We live through the whole movie and our hair gets stroked and we’ve always got a man.

And in many of the films, Black-on-Black love is a focus. Who can forget James Earl Jones and Diahann Carroll in Claudine? Or, Abby Lincoln and Ivan Dixon in the great (admittedly, more than a little bit patriarchal) Nothing But a Man?

And ooh! Billy Dee Williams and Diana Ross in Mahogany AND Lady Sings the Blues!

Sidebar: Ladies, If you’ve never watched Lady Sings the Blues, once you do, you will never get past that scene where Billy Dee—he doesn’t need a last name—is sitting in the audience listening to Diana Ross—but she does need a last name and I don’t know why—and his face is covered in shadow. But then, he lifts his face. And then, every woman in the theatre or living room or wherever you are watching the movie starts screaming. Because Billy Dee is just that fine, even with that perm of his.

Look, don’t  nobody care that Billy Dee was one of only ten Black men in America who wasn’t wearing an Afro in the early 1970s. I would have run my fingers through Billy Dee’s politically anachronistic hair in a minute. I’m trying to tell you what I know.

And then, there’s African American music.

During Black history month, I can listen to the many African American musicians who made music and didn’t once call women the h-word or the b-word in their songs,like Dinah Washington, Ray Charles, Billie Holiday and Scott Joplin. (I’m just being random here. There are so many.)

Or, I can read the great intellectuals and activists like W.E.B. DuBois, Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Anna Julia Cooper, on down to people like Malcolm X and Audre Lorde. Or I can look at the artwork of artists like Elizabeth Catlett, Romare Bearden, Faith Ringold or Kara Walker. Or I can be grateful for the contributions of inventors and scientists like Madame C.J. Walker (no relation), George Washington Carver, Daniel Hale Williams, and others.

And I can read (and recite) wonderful poems and stories and novels by Black writers. Let’s go all the way back to Phillis Wheatley, who published the first book of poetry by an African American, in 1773, and then come up to Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Huston–author of My Most Favorite Novel in the World, Gwendolyn Brooks, Rita Dove, Edward P. Jones, and Toni Morrison–and Audre Lorde again, because she was every woman.

Is it any wonder I call it Afropalooza?

Sidebar: this year, I decided that I would choose a “slept-on” African American novel for my blog followers to read. I’ve chosen Dessa Rose by Sherley Anne Williams, which is an absolutely wonderful book. And we’re going to have some Twitter Lit Chats about it! So stay tuned for directions for the Afropalooza Book Pick Club.  You know you want to!

Now, I know some of my new readers (who may or may not decide to come back and read the blog, which is absolutely their choice) may be All Blacked Out right about now.

If so, I’m going to keep it real with you. This is a Black blog that keeps African Americans at the center of the discourse. I make no apologies. Why? Because I’m, like, Black, and it’s, like, my blog. And if you think I’m changing just to get hits for a blog I don’t even get paid for, well, you’re going to be disappointed.

I say the following with all the love and respect I have inside me.

Listen, if my own aunt who told me I’d never be happy if I didn’t get married and have kids couldn’t change me in thirty years–and by the way, I’m very happy– do you really think some complete stranger I’ve never met will cause me to change?

And feel free to go ahead and leave mean comments for me. As long as your comments don’t contain profanity and hate-speech, I’ll be more than happy to publish them!

In the words of the great African American comic Flip Wilson, “What you see is what you get” with this blog. If you loved my latest post, you’re probably going to keep on loving subsequent posts.  If you hated it, well, I can’t do much except say I’ll miss you when you’re gone.

And here’s another thing.

Please know that during Black History Month, you’re going to see me feature a bunch of real light-skinned folks mixed in with darker folks. Those light-skinned folks are not “biracial” or “half-White”—they’re Black. Why? because they identified as Black, and proudly.

So just because you might think that someone who is not one hundred percent African should identify as something else, guess what? You don’t get to choose how someone identifies what culture he or she feels comfortable in. That person gets to choose.

That’s right, I said it. It had to be said.

I don’t throw shade on any other “race” or culture. I just love myself. And in my opinion–which I have a right to have–being Black is completely fabulous. Which is why I have such a big ego right now. Yes, it has its hardships, but I’ve survived.

If Harriet Tubman can free a hundred folks from slavery, I think I can get over the saleslady following me all around the store because she thinks I’d risk going to jail for stealing a thirty-five dollar blouse.

And no,  I don’t want to be lighter or have straighter hair. And no, I don’t wish some Angel of Jesus would come down from heaven and free me from the so-called misery of being Black. What I wish is that mean, prejudiced people would get some [insert expletive adjective] home training and some more love inside themselves.

But let me be clear on something–crystal clear because in the past three days people have been misquoting me and taking me out of context left and right. It’s quite amazing (and annoying).

Under no circumstances am I dismissing or attempting to demean folks who choose to call themselves Biracial or Multiracial instead of Black. (And don’t you dare try to say I said that.) I give Biracial and Multiracial folks all the respect and glory of naming themselves, which is their right. The point is, it’s their choice, not mine. And it’s not your choice, either.

But it’s also not the choice of Biracial or Multiracial folks to go back through history, look at people who had White or Indian parents/ancestry, and then try to insist that “blood quantum” means that a person who identified as Black back then wouldn’t be Black now. Guess what? Most of these folks are dead. All we know is what they called themselves then. And they called themselves Negro–which means “black” in Spanish–Black, African American, or Afro-American. And they didn’t want to be anything else. Deal with it, pretty please.

So Happy Two Days Before Vanilla- and Buttermilk- and Caramel- and Chocolate- and Coffee-Colored Folks Who Decided They Had The Right And Privilege To Love Themselves Fiercely and Call Themselves Black History Month, y’all!

And let the fabulousness begin!

Below, I’ve included that iconic scene from Lady Sings the Blues. You really need to watch the whole thing to get the full effect, but if you are impatient for The Moment, it occurs around minute 2:25.

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Happy Birthday Langston Hughes, Bluesman Extraordinaire!

I decided to give you some fabulous Langston Hughes videos (below) to help you celebrate his birthday, celebrate the first day of Black History Month, and hopefully, get you through this horrible snowstorm that is sweeping the country.

Sidebar: You know, I don’t want to be all essentialist and what not, but how come Black folks’ BLACK ancestors are all from warm climates, and we get not only the shortest but COLDEST month of the year? I know it’s been said before, but I’m a little swole right now, so I’m going to say it again. I had to change my travel plans for AWP and leave on Thursday afternoon instead of tomorrow. I am so mad!

And who knows? I might not even get there to the conference. But guess what, I’d rather be alive in my house, then what-shall-not-be-named on the road to D.C. to a conference So, whatever happens, I’m gone get my party on, even if it’s all by myself, and write some poetry if I’m stuck in the house and can’t leave! And I am making tofu jerky as I write this. I’m about to get my sassy vegan recipe on tonight and tomorrow.

These first two videos are not in the voice of Langston Hughes, but they were such sassy interpretations, I couldn’t resist. I saved the best for last.

Enjoy y’all!

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