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.

 

 

Click On This: Black Woman Under the Bus AGAIN

Don’t think I haven’t been following the Shirley Sherrod mess for the past week. Even up here at the Vermont Studio Center (in the mountains, okay?), where I am trying to write several hours daily in order to finish a book (which is why I’m not blogging more frequently), still, I follow the news closely.

They did that Sister horribly, but I can’t say I’m surprised. I looked at my watch and discovered, it was right about time for a Sister to get thrown under the bus—again.

I’m not making light of this. I’m simply stating facts.

Every presidential administration, you get a Sister who has to take one for the team. In fact, there’s a long history of Sisters taking one for the team, but rarely does anyone make a big deal about it.

For example, when Reagan was running for president in 1976, he made a whole class of Sisters into the villains. Remember the “welfare queens”? Oh, yes, how can we forget that group of Sisters who were getting PAID IN FULL off their $237.00 a month government checks?

Dang, I’m just surprised them Sisters weren’t all living together in a Black community on the French Riviera with that kind of cash at their monthly disposal.

Sidebar: Yet for some reason, Barack sucked up to White conservatives during the last election, praising Ronald Reagan. I was a little confused, because last I heard “Reagan” was a dirty word in the Democratic community. Can you say, “Crack epidemic” and “cuts to higher education” anyone?

Or, remember Lani Guinier, President  Clinton’s extremely accomplished nominee for the Justice Department, who had to go gently into that good night? But still, we Black folks loved ourselves some Bill. In fact, very few of us even remember Lani Guinier. It was only until Bill and Hillary committed the grave sin of knocking aside Martin Luther King, Jr. that we Black folks stopped calling him our First Brother President. You know there are three people you cannot talk bad about in the Black community: somebody’s mama, Jesus, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Or, what about Condi Rice? I will never forget being at the Furious Flower Conference in 2004 and hearing an OG Black Arts Movement poet (who shall remain nameless) call her “Condoleeza The Skeezer.”  The whole audience–except me and my friend sitting beside me–burst into raucous laughter. I was like, what’s the joke?

I ain’t saying that Condi is one of my sheroes or that I’m gone get a t-shirt with her face in sparkly paint on it or nothing. But Condi Rice was simply carrying out orders for the Bush Administration—in the same way that Colin Powell did. Sure, those orders were lowdown, but Colin followed those lowdown orders the same way Condi did. So how come Colin Powell gets the Big Black Hero hat while Condi got called out of her name?

So, here we go again, in the Obama Administration with Shirley Sherrod, though in Obama’s defense, the lady was a little low down on the hierarchy for him to know what was going on.

And I must confess that I am warmed by the Black folks—Sisters AND Brothers this time—who are rushing to Sherrod’s defense. It makes me feel good that Black men are stepping up to the plate and defending Sherrod in public, even when it took Barack a long, long time to right this situation.

I love Barack. I really do. But I wish he would stop worrying so much about his popularity and start getting hardcore. Because he might not have a chance at a second term and conservative White folks can’t stand him and never will like him, so he just needs to get over it and start pandering to his base–which is liberals of all complexions.

Yes, I said it.

And if the Democrats lose the next election, and one of these crazy Tea Bagger folks gets in presidential office, the old Black ladies will be right. We really will be living in The Last Days. I ain’t ashamed to say, I’m scared y’all. I got my prayerfest going, ’cause I want to pay off my student loan debt before Jesus comes for me. Or, I HOPE he’s coming for me. I’m just saying.

Unlike much of the rest of the blogosphere, I have tried to hold my tongue—or fingers, in this case—until I found out all the facts about Shirley Sherrod. I’ve done some reading and viewing. Below is a list of what I think are the best links that deal with different aspects of the Sherrod debacle.

Here’s a cut and dried explanation of what happened in the New York Times–so click on this.

Always brilliant, always courageous, Melissa Harris Lacewell breaks down the history of publicly vilifying Black women on MSNBC Countdown in five minutes–so click on this. In a nutshell, Harris Lacewell says it ain’t nothing new.

I gotta say, as a poet, I can’t help but admire Harris Lacewell’s serious on-point economy with words. She just gets all Shazam! on folks.

And here’s Harris-Lacewell’s regular, fabulous and sassy blog for The Nation, where she says, there’s a silver lining to this Sherrod situation–so click on this:

Bob Herbert says the Sherrod affair is just the latest evidence showing that the Obama administration gets punked by race issues every time–so click on this.

Over on Brother Mark Anthony Neal’s blog, two guest bloggers weigh in on this issue. First, Stephanie Dunn on the NAACP, among others– so click on this.

And then, Chris Kromm talks about the actual racism in the USDA. Hint: it’s not the Black folks–so click on this.

When it comes to the Tea Baggers, Michael Eric Dyson (on CBS News) says about Obama administration, “If you scared, then say you scared”–so click on this.

And finally, on The Root, Tom Burrell says Black leaders need to take a stand on race–so click on this. I could have told Burrell that a lot time ago, but he breaks it down in a much better way than I ever could, so I’m not mad at him.

Ok, y’all, I got to get back to my hustle and put some words down on this page! Wish me luck on finishing a book this summer. I need luck, mojo, and prayer, too, so whatever you can throw my way, get it going and I will appreciate it.

Summer School Is STILL here, So Click On This

Y’all, this is the third week of summer school–three hours four days a week and it’s killing me.  Not the actual teaching, though. No, teaching itself is pretty breezy; I’ve been doing it for nearly fourteen years now, so I think I got it down.

What’s killing me is leaving my house and hitting that 100-degree heat index. It seems to wilt me, my make-up, and my clothes in five minutes. I’ve given up trying to wear cute shoes with my cute outfits, because in this heat, my ankles look like grapefruits when I balance on heels. (I tell me students, “Don’t look below my knees; that’s where the cute stops.”) I never thought I would say this, because I’m a Deep South girl, but heat is, well, demoralizing.

But you know what? I praise the Lord every single day for whoever invented air conditioning. (I’m serious.) What the heck would we do if we had to grim this summer heat thing on out? My mother tells me stories of when she was a little girl in Eatonton, Georgia, and in the middle of the day, it was so hot they had to come inside. And she always took a nap. My mama was smart, even then.

Just one more week of summer school, then I’m done, and then the REAL fun begins–I’m off to Vermont! So, here’s a bunch of random, yet sassy links to keep you nearly happy, if not satisfied, until I’m finished with battling the elements. Let’s start with the ridiculous and travel to the sublime.

I know y’all have heard about this General McChrystal who talked all strange and crazy about President Obama in Rolling Stone magazine. I gotta tell you, I love the “No-drama” Obama way Barack rolls, but frankly it’s time for him to utter these essential words to these wannabee macho hardrocks who constantly get out of pocket:

“Knuck if you buck.”

Because they act like they can just say anything, anywhere–I mean, one of these fools called the man a “lie” in front of God and everybody, in the middle of Obama’s speech. And that’s not just how you are supposed to roll on the Leader of the Free World. Or, like, a Brother.

So, now, everyone’s wondering if McChrystal is gone have a job by the end of the week. I say, send him to WalMart. They always hiring over there.

Mark Anthony Neal writes about Boondocks creator, Aaron McGruder taking on Tyler Perry. I love how Neal breaks things down in both an intellectual and readable way. And also, how he calms people down, because people are tripping like McGruder attacked President Obama or something. I mean, if Barack ain’t Black Jesus, Tyler Perry ain’t even Judas Iscariot. But you know, now that I’m thinking about some of these movies he makes, maybe he is. Click on this link to watch the Boondocks episode Neal refers to.

This article on Jezebel.com does the best break-down of the current–almost daily– attacks in the media on professional, single Black women. I’m so glad that we sisters are starting to fight back–and get critical about what these attacks mean, instead of constantly being on the defensive. It’s time that we start going on the offensive, instead of the defensive.

I mean, what’s wrong with being smart? You would think that a smart sister would be the ideal mate–instead, we get attacked for reading and wanting to make something of ourselves. What kind of you-know-what is that?

I suppose we learned that smart women aren’t sexy from Seventeen magazine, which, by the way, is not marketed for young Black girls. Here is an interview done with a young girl, Jamie Keiles, who decided to live according to the advice of Seventeen magazine for a month. I feel so bad for that little girl, because I tried once to follow the Seventeen Scripture. I’m still traumatized.

Speaking of fashion, I’ve started a new “Black Library Girl” series of T-shirts, Coffee Mugs, and Tote Bags, so the sexy intellectual sisters can rep their cute, sassy status. I’ve already gotten some great feedback from the Sisters, which is the most important thing for me.

No, y’all I don’t think I am ever going to get rich selling T-shirts–or bean pies, either. But you know, I was designing a t-shirt for myself, just because nobody ever has anything that I like–y’all know how particular and uppity I am–and I thought, I bet some other fabulous, intellectual, cute sisters would like this T-shirt, too.  So, check out my new swag!

And finally, this is nothing serious, but then again, completely serious: Prince and Larry Graham jamming TOGETHER! If you don’t know who Prince is, where have YOU been? And Larry Graham, well, he’s old-school in the best possible way. Here’s the link of the performance. The video is a little grainy, but if you’re grown, you won’t mind.:-) We grew up with vinyl LPs and cassette tapes, after all.

Miss Dorothy and Miss Harriet

As I hope y’all remember from a past “You Gotta Read This” feature, Camille Dungy is the fabulous, sassy editor of Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, which, by the way, was featured on NPR, and is the NUMBER ONE book of African American poetry and the NUMBER THREE anthology of poetry on Amazon.com! Can you handle that?

Sidebar: I know y’all think I was biting off of NPR’s “You Must Read This” feature when I started “You Gotta Read This.” I swear, I had no idea idea about the titles. I always try to be original with the word, so I’m thinking about changing my feature to simply “Read This.” You know, give it an intellectual Black dominatrix sort of feel. What do you think? Give me some feedback in the comments.

Camille is also the author of three books of poetry, What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison (Red Hen, 2007); Suck on the Marrow (Red Hen, 2010); and a new book that is forthcoming next year from Southern Illinois University Press. She works so hard, I called her the “female James Brown” of  American Poetry.

I guess that would make her Jane? Or maybe Jametta?

Anyway, Camille has done a guest blogger over at the Poetry Foundation Website blog, Harriet. Now, I love the Poetry Foundation website because they are one of the few places that rep American poetry and actually seem to take that ever-elusive diversity thing seriously. They have all sorts of sassy people of all complexions talking about different aspects of poetry, and it’s not boring either.

For her final post, Camille blogged about the late, great Dorothy Height. Here’s an excerpt:

“This morning in the nation’s capitol, mourners said farewell to Dr. Dorothy Height, a life-long Civil Rights activist to whom this nation owes a debt of thanks.  Rather than end my blogging stint on Harriet describing some of the revolutionary things that National Poetry Month has allowed this nation and its poets to accomplish, as I had originally planned, I have decided to dedicate this space to the memory of Dr. Dorothy Height.  This is fundamentally about poetry, too, because I am curious about the ways we have and can and will memorialize the women and men who make this world the sort of place in which I want to live…”

Doesn’t that little excerpt make you so curious? Well, then, click on this and check out the rest of Camille’s lovely post on Dorothy Height! And there are other wonderful blog entries by her as well!

Marriage Is a Basic Human Right, So Click on This

Remember a few days ago when I posted “Stone Cold Sister Links” and I talked about two sisters who had been together for years, who can now finally get married? Well, they did!

Here’s the link to their wedding video on Youtube. It’s so sweet and moving.

Now, I will warn you ahead of time, if you don’t want to get pissed off, then please don’t read the comments underneath the video because there are some inbred (insert expletive nouns) who, apparently, are on such familiar terms with God that He–of course, God would always be a man to these fools– has a nickname like “Skeeter.”  And apparently, “Skeeter” told these inbred (insert expletive nouns) that gay folk weren’t allowed to get married because of something they read in the Bible.

This would be the same Bible that some of these same folks used to justify slavery three hundred years ago, of course.

It’s funny how some people can go to the Good Book to find excuses for hate all the time, when Jesus said, “I leave you peace.” Do these folks think “peace” is a relative term?

Do you see why it’s so hard for me to champion believing in God? These kind of folks make my job as a faithful person trying to spread a little justice in my corner of world so difficult. Sigh. I’m gone keep on with it, though.

And yesterday, I did Pilates as well and my you-know-what is so sore, y’all. I know that’s another issue, but it’s furthermost in my mind right now. Or, you know, furthermost someplace on my body.

But I’d like to say, my god has a nickname, too. It’s “Fair and Loving.” And He OR She–I’m equal opportunity in the God department– told me the other day, gay folks have a right to get married because it is a basic human right.

So thanks, “Fair and Loving” for that information. I really appreciate You, “Fair and Loving.” (And by the way, I’m gone keep up with the Pilates, because You told me that even though parts of my body now feel as if somebody jumped out behind a bush and beat me like I stole something, I won’t regret it after thirty sessions.)

Anyway, enjoy the video y’all!

It's A Stone-Cold Sister Day, So Click On This

Today is a very good day, y’all. I woke up this morning in a fabulous, sassy mood. I had a vegetarian breakfast under three hundred calories,  and I wrote on my novel for two hours.

And why was I in such a good mood? Well, I’ve lost some–ok, a lot of–weight, and I have a waistline for the first time in ten years. (I know. Sad, but true, but better late than never, right?) And I have some hips now, too.

Sidebar: have you noticed when you don’t have a waistline, no matter how wide your hips are, people tell you how “narrow” you are? Sigh.

So, yesterday I wore a skirt and a blouse that actually cinched my now-existing waist and showed off my (almost flat, but honestly, not quite there yet even with control-top panty hose) stomach, and I got five compliments on how super-cute I looked, including one from an incredibly beautiful young man—who was not my student, so it wasn’t against any rules that could get me fired.

And, drumroll….he was black.

It’s these little things that make middle age a great rest stop on the journey of life, y’all. And instead of feeling middle age, I feel all French. So call me, “Une femme d’une certain age.”

Today I feel like a sister who is trying to thrive in her health, art, self-love and love for other black women as well. So I decided, let’s put up some stone-cold sister links in celebration of Women’s History Month!

Today is Miriam Mekeba’s birthday. She would have been seventy-eight years old today. This sister was—and still is—bad in the black sense. Meaning good, of course. If you don’t know, you better ask somebody. Better yet, here’s a link to her singing my favorite song of hers, The Click Song.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops are reinvigorating traditional banjo and Appalachian string music. Two brothers are in this group, but the sister is front and center.

I might have said this before, but it bears repeating. The banjo is an African Instrument, y’all. That means that somehow, AN AFRICAN INSTRUMENT is now a part of  Country music, which would be great, only Country music has now become a nearly—except for Hootie—an all-white music industry.

My African American sisters and brothers, may I be allowed a corny, preachy moment, even though it is no longer Black History Month?

We have to start remembering and preserving our own black music, in all its complexity—not just when we want to drop it like it’s hot, even though that is so much fun for me to do—because if we don’t, somebody else will preserve, and while they are preserving, they will accidentally on purpose forget to mention that black folks have a stake in Appalachian culture. Here’s a link to an NPR story on the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Here’s another link to their playing their remake to “Hit Up ‘Em Style.” That sister ‘s getting down on that fiddle.

Heidi Durrow discusses her fabulous first novel, THE GIRL WHO FELL FROM THE SKY with Michelle Norris on NPR’s All Things Considered. Since I had my first podcast with Heidi back in January, she has been reviewed in the Sunday New York Times Book Review. Heidi is blowing up quick, fast, and in a hurry. You need to get her book right now. Don’t sleep. And if you want to hear my podcast with her, just click that blue button the right.

Little Nujood Ali is ten and already divorced. She was forced to marry some old [insert expletive noun] nasty man who didn’t have the sense he was born with, otherwise, he would have wanted to marry a GROWN WOMAN. Well, this little girl fought back. It’s these kind of stories of strength and courage that make me feel good to be born female, even when the world doesn’t think I should feel that way. Go ‘head with your little, bad, womanist self, Nujood!

And finally, I am so happy to be living in a time where equality may be happening slowly, but still, surely. It is now legal for gay folks to get married in Washington, D.C.

Here is a link to two sisters who live in D.C. and who have been together for fourteen years. Now, they can finally get married, which is a basic human right.

Can I get all Old-Black-Lady right now on y’all, and say, “God be a witness”?

Wake Up Everybody on Haiti and Click on This

I’m sorry if you’ve checked my blog in the past couple of days and were disappointed by the lack of information on the recent earthquake in Haiti. Frankly, I’ve just been emotionally devastated by what happened, and I cannot even begin to wonder what folks who are from Haiti are going through. Let alone what the folks who are IN Haiti are going through.

And plus, when I’m talking to people, they will laugh at something I’ve said and I haven’t even meant to be funny.  This happens all the time. I haven’t wanted to be humorous about the tragedy in Haiti  and end up saying something inappropriate.

I feel sad. But I also know that much of what I’m feeling has to do with a collective feeling of sadness and reignited trauma that many people of African descent feel when we see other  Sistren and Brethren of the Diaspora suffering. Whenever we see groups of black people having a bad time, we feel that bad time with them. I felt the same way when I saw the tragedies on TV in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Angry. Very sad. Extremely powerless.

In the case of Haiti, I do know  the United States government has some failed policies in that country, and they are many and varied, and you can also blame the U.S. for horrible political shenanigans that we have caused in the country as well. So although there’s really only one Entity you can blame for an earthquake, still you can blame the U.S. for the fact that there’s a crisis of political leadership within Haiti right now.

By the way, no, Pat Robertson, this earthquake is not a result of a pact that Haiti made with the Devil.

You know, a preacher I knew used to say that, in the case of entering the ministry, “Some are called. Some are sent. And some are sent by they mama.” This is a well-known saying in our community, but I never knew why until this day.

Pat Robertson’s mother packed him a ham sandwich and then dropped him off at Divinity School in her station wagon. When what she really needed to have done is use her birth control in the first place.

If he can say what he said, then I can say what I want to say, too.

So, yes, I said it. It had to be said.

What we are doing now–and by “we,” I mean black people–is waiting to see if Obama is really a Stone-Cold Brother with a Big “B”, or just a lowercase brother when he needs the Negro vote. He seems to have leaped into action on Haiti, and so, I am proud that I can call him Brother with a Big “B”, even if I don’t always agree with his other policies. I reserve the right to wait for the “Stone Cold” part, however.

Surely, there are some particular black folks in our midst who don’t feel personally involved in all aspects of black folks around the globe. And I don’t criticize those particular folks. I understand where the impulse comes from. But the connection I feel to other  black people is strong. It’s not just strong. It’s visceral.

That’s why I’m asking black folks to give what you can to aid organizations that are helping Haiti. I’ve given a bit–and it’s just a bit, when you put it next to the dollars that are needed to help and then, to rebuild. But anything you give is better than nothing.

And, I’m not trying to be funny here–I’m dead serious– but considering what we black women spend on our hair, and what black men spend on their cars, and what we all spend to eat out on the weekends, and downloading music from ITunes, shame on you–I mean, SHAME ON YOU, if you can’t give at least $5.

An easy way is to give money to the Red Cross. You can simply text “Haiti” to 90999. Your phone company will charge you $10. I did it and it’s very easy. They send you a confirmation text back.

Click the link below to hear a song (via ITunes; I just couldn’t figure it out today, sorry y’all) that will get you motivated about your responsibilities if you are member of the black community. It’s by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, with dear Teddy Pendergrass singing lead. He just passed–yet another reason for my sadness. (Thanks to one of my Facebook friends who posted this song on Facebook when she let us know about Teddy’s passing. I don’t want to violate her privacy, so I won’t give her name.)

01 Wake Up Everybody

Now that you’ve listened to the song, let’s refocus on what white folks should be doing to help Haiti.

The race thing rears its head at times like these. For example, I have noticed that many of my white Facebook friends have been pretty quiet about the Haiti thing when they post status updates.

So I can guess that of my white Facebook friends who haven’t commented on Haiti, more than a few feel a bit hesitant to talk when tragedy impacts black folks. They don’t want to seem presumptuous and intrusive on our collective black grief.

But if you’re a white American, now’s the time to say something. Because…well, I don’t know how else to say it: Do I really need to remind you about your responsibilities in the midst of this tragedy? I know y’all felt like electing a black president was going to cancel out hundreds of years of European-American atrocities committed by white folks.

It’s a start, but not really, baby. I’m not trying to be mean. I’m just being real.

So no, I really don’t want to read today or for the next few days on Facebook about how delicious the pumpkin bread is that you made (or something else to that effect). You know what? I really don’t give a tinker’s damn–to quote Melvin Tolson–about your baking skills.

An estimated forty thousand people have died in our back yard. Forty thousand.

If you can’t say something important in this difficult time, just enjoy your pumpkin bread in silence. Because it just looks rude and insensitive for you to be acting like something sad in Haiti hasn’t happened, and I know you don’t mean to be that rude and insensitive. I KNOW YOU DON’T. All y’all bakers feel horrified about what happened, too. I KNOW YOU DO.

And so, if you don’t know what to say, how about posting that? Just say, “I just don’t know what to say about the horrible earthquake  in Haiti. I’m just speechless.” And that will get it. At least, it will let us know you are sensitive to our pain.

Again, I’m really not trying to be humorous or funny. I’m really not. My point is that when bad times hit us in our own hemisphere and those bad times involve black folk, it’s time for white folks to remember that the only way to put past bad history to rest is to create good history now. It’s just that simple. Now is not the time to say, “What you looking at me for? I wasn’t even alive back then.”

But guess what, many industries built upon slave trade were alive then, and still are. Like the insurance industry. So if you’re wondering why these insurance [insert plural expletive noun] are so shady now, just look back a couple hundred years for that answer. And guess where one of the first stops on the transatlantic slave route was? The Caribbean. And guess where Haiti is located?

Any light bulbs going off right about now? Lord Jesus, I hope so, because I just can’t be pithy and breezy today. Maybe another day, but not today.

If you’re white and reading this blog, I think you know your responsibilities already, so please just share that information with other white folks who aren’t as enlightened as you are. Share with all those bakers of pumpkin bread.

And please know that anything I say is not to beat you up as a white person, but said in love because you are my Sistren and Brethren, too. Because there are a lot of white volunteers in Haiti doing that hard work– while I am here in front of my computer screen sitting in comfort–and God bless each and every one of those white folks who are doing that good work. Bless them in the highest way. Y’all know I mean it.

Now, here are a few pertinent links.

We all know that President Bush did a phenomenally wretched job in handing the Hurricane Katrina efforts. He has so many cool points to make up with God, I don’t know if it’s possible for him to do so in three lifetimes. But I’m always willing to forgive somebody, even if I will never be a Republican and can’t understand why anyone else would want to be. It takes all kinds to make the world going spinning round and round and then eventually off its axis, I suppose. Well, President Obama has met with President Bush and President Clinton and has called on them to lead Haitian aid efforts. Here’s the story.

There’re been some issues with Wyclef Jean’s organization, Yéle Haiti, but I am not going to hate on that brother’s efforts until the final word is in. Because I believe his heart is in the right place. I gave a  money to his foundation and I feel like whatever happens to the money I gave, I offered it with good intentions. However, if you want to check on any charity’s financial status and business dealings, here’s a link to the Better Business Bureau’s page on charities.

And here is a link to an article in the Washington Post, giving the names of a few other aid organizations besides the Red Cross and Yéle Haiti. And also, the article discusses issues to consider to when you want to contribute to Haitian aid organizations or to do something on your own.

And finally, look, even if you’re completely flat broke now, it don’t cost nothing to pray. And for those people who don’t believe in God, just send good thoughts. I sincerely believe that good energy (whatever its source) adds up, y’all.

However, as far as “me, myself, personally”–as we used to say back at Booker T. Washington High School when I was a student there–I believe and love a mighty God, regardless of the hurricanes, earthquakes, or Pat Robertsons S/he throws humanity’s way. I am unashamed to tell y’all that.

Now, I can’t understand Her/Him all the time. And I don’t agree with Her/His actions all the time, either. And sometimes, I get so mad at God I can’t see straight. But the love is always there.

So I hope I have translated this right (into Creole), when I say, to our Haitian Brethren and Sistren in need, suffering, and struggle:

“Nou sonje-w chak jou. Nou leve-w nan priye nou.”

We think of you everyday. We include you in our prayers.

Fall Back Just a Little Bit–And Click on This

Beloved people, I have not forgotten you. It’s just that I have a very tight deadline that I am working on, and syllabi for my classes that start right up after King Day (as we called it when I was growing up in Atlanta), and in the meantime, I’m trying to keep up with writing everyday. And by “writing everyday” I mean writing on my novel. Poetry just comes whenever, thank the Creator, but as the novelist Paule Marshall once told me, you must possess a certain cussedness to finish a novel.

Finishing has become more complicated since an (unnamed) former friend/former mentee of mine “inadvertently” used a really unusual character name and a couple of minor plot lines in a PUBLISHED novel that I used in my UNPUBLISHED novel-in-progress. It wasn’t the same exact piece of writing, no. But it just makes a bit harder for me because when/if I ever finish my novel and try to publish it, someone will tell me, “Oh, don’t you think that’s a bit too similar to such and such novel?” And of course, it’s a bit strange and upsetting since I shared my work with this person.

Yes, of course it occurred to me that I was being paranoid. But see, I published an excerpt–with that same unusual character name and those same secondary plot lines–in Story Quarterly five years ago and this person told me, “I really loved your story in Story Quarterly.” So I knew the person had, like, read my story in Story Quarterly, ok?

I could go on, but if I did, you might just figure out who I was talking about. And I’m not trying to salt the ground someone stands on. Sometimes, I wish I were that mean, but you know, karma and all that good stuff. I’m not that nice of a person, really, but one day maybe I, too, will inadvertently pass off the ideas of someone else as my own, and will need sympathy–although I hope I go into a deep, unresponsive coma right after it happens so I won’t know it. I wake up in the middle of the night with that particular fear. I mean, it’s right up there with the naked in the cafeteria dream.

But I will be blogging about this issue in depth at a later date–without mentioning the person’s name, gender, or novel title–because “borrowing” disguised as artistic license is something I’ve heard too many creative writers of all races complain about, and since you cannot copyright names or plot lines–only the actual words–you can’t sue. And even if you could, who wants to sue a former friend you used to share laughter and secrets with, somebody you really loved? It’s depressing even to think about.

I thought long and hard about whether to say anything; you know, people are always saying to me, “Honorée, you should take the high road.” Of course, they always say that when they want me to lie down and let somebody stomp on me while I keep a smile on my face.

So picture my smiling beatifically, just like Aunt Jemima with a press and curl. And now, also picture my not sharing any more of my novel-in-progress with anyone but my mama ever again. because this is the third time this has happened to me–and by the way, all three writers were black/African American/Negro if Senator Reid is looking at them. I mean, dang.

It’s different with poetry, since I have a little bit of reputation in that field, and my fingerprints are clearly all over any poem I’ve written, but two of those other writers who “borrowed” from me were also poets. This was way, way back in the day.

As for that poor Senator Reid, this last couple of days have been crazy for him, haven’t they? Now, a lot of folks–black, white and other– have just climbed up his butt and pitched a summer camp, complete with a fire and white kids clasping hands around it, singing “Kumbaya” while someone strums softly on a guitar. Or “Go Down, Moses,” or “Mary, Don’t You Weep,” or some other traditional, African American song.

Yes, my dear, white friends who went to Camp Appropriated Native American Name every summer, Kumbaya is a black song. Who knew? I did, but I bet they didn’t tell you that when they were passing out marshmallows, sticks and spraying you down with Off.

Oh Senator Reid. If only you had remembered “Negro Dialect” is now called “vernacular!”

Say what you will about me–and stop trying to snatch my black passport–but I feel kind of sorry for this man. There have been a lot of changes in America in the past fifty years, and he is really old. It’s hard to keep up. And it’s not like he said something we weren’t all thinking in the black community anyway. (You know you were thinking that! Come on now, be honest!) Here’s a link to an article on The Root that breaks down the whole Senator Reid thing.

I like to let old folks slide, as long as they aren’t being mean and hateful, just forgetful. So my Enraged Black Brethren and Sistren, might we save our anger for Rush Limbaugh and Them and live to fight a real battle another day, instead of a manufactured one? Can you still pay your light bill after Senator Reid said “Negro dialect”? Alright then. Fall back just a little.

How about we take the actual high road–and make fun of this old guy’s politically incorrect missteps behind his back? That’s how they did it in my Negro family when I was growing up.

Former Illinois Governor Blogojevitch claims that he is blacker than Obama because he shined shoes as a child. I guess he’s blacker than me, too, because I pay somebody to cute my shoes up for me just like Barack. It’s bizarre, but what do you expect? Have you seen this man’s hair?

Ok, I don’t have much to say about this, but it seems that my beloved old black folk are right: we really are living in the last days like the Bible said because UTAH HAS ELECTED ITS FIRST BLACK MAYOR. And I don’t think she shined shoes as a kid, either, but I have to check on that.

Gina Athena Ulysse, a wonderful scholar who teaches at Wesleyan University, has a fascinating article on Huffington Post about voudou–that’s voodoo for the uninitiated–and the movie Avatar. It’s deep, y’all. She goes places that you never thought of, and then, once she says it, you wonder why it wasn’t instantly obvious to you.

Brown Girl Speaks has a reading challenge for people who want to read books written by members of the African Diaspora. And if you’re reading my blog, I would assume that includes you. And there are some sexy books on the list. Not sexy like lingerie, but sexy like fabulous and interesting. I signed up for it; I mean, it was sort of required, given my profession.

And finally, remember I told y’all about getting your hustle on? This month, Carleen Brice has challenged us to write for 32 days; she was inspired by an essay by author Ann Patchett.

It’s eleven days into January, but it’s never too late to begin. You need to be writing everyday. I am, but listen, it’s not easy, so don’t think I am bragging. At first it was so hard. But now, I just keep my Moleskine in bed with me, and every morning, I roll over while it’s still dark, write for an hour, and then I might roll back over and go to sleep again or I might actually get up and do something. Yesterday morning, I actually got up and did something after I wrote. I ate breakfast, I wrote for my deadline, I sent emails I had been procrastinating on, I cleaned up my house, and then, I worked out. That writing really cleared the sinuses.

But even when I don’t do anything after I write, I feel sassy all day long because at least I did what I set out to do. Not what I set out to do each morning. I mean, what I set out to do with my life.

It’s (Almost) New Years, So Click On This

Happy New Year, y’all!

Or, like, in two days.

First, I want to thank everyone for the wonderful support of my blog. When I started this blog, I didn’t know what I was doing. I just knew I had some things I wanted to get off my chest, and I hoped people would listen. Well, it’s been almost three months, and I still don’t know, but I have had over three thousand hits! I can’t believe it. I thought only my mama and her dog would be reading. I am really overwhelmed by the love. I appreciate y’all so much.

I don’t have any real new New Years’ resolutions, just the same ones from last year.  But here they are:

1) I want to make substantial progress on the three books I am working on. One’s poetry, one’s fiction, and one’s a critical anthology on black poets and poetics that I am co-editing with Herman Beavers.

2) I want to continue to lose weight and be more healthy. I do exercise and try to eat right, but I don’t do either nearly as much as I should. Maybe sixty percent of the time. So I am aiming for ninety-five percent this year. I don’t want one hundred percent because everyone needs a little decadence in her life.

3) I want to continue to be more peaceful and work on ways to eliminate stress. This has been a good journey for me and I am still walking this path. I’m toying with taking up yoga, but in the meantime, I have given up cussing folks out. I think that’s a good beginning, don’t you?

4) I want to be more loving and supportive of the people in my life. I still talk way too much and listen too little. Listening more is a goal for the New Year.

5) I want to shop less and save more. Enough said.

6) I want to give my Creator more of the glory and stop feeding my ego so much. I don’t know if I can conquer the ego thing, but I really am committed to the Creator thing. It’s an ongoing kind of love.

And that’s it!

So I have some links to carry you into the New Year. Let’s start with ones that make me happy.

Yale accepts FOUR black children—or, I should say young people, but I am over thirty-five so they are “kids” in my mind—and all of them are from the same womb. Maybe one day, I won’t get excited and proud when I see that people who look like me are doing great things, but this is not that day.

Yay in the fight AGAINST homophobia and the fight FOR recognition of the humanity of all people! Two Argentinian men become first same-sex married couple in Latin America. It’s happening, y’all. The world is changing for the better, one person at a time, or in this case, two. Love is a beautiful thing.

Thanks to super fabulous writer and blogger Carleen Brice for letting me know about Leonce Gaiter’s piece in the Huffington Post “Rejecting the Publishing Ghetto.” Now, let me say that I am as tired as the next black writer with the “Negro Section” of bookstores, and also, the tiny commitment of the white publishing establishment to black books.  Gaiter’s piece was thoughtful and provocative, but I’m more than a little tired with this discussion, too.

Let’s remember that the white publishing industry only cares about making money, so if that’s the case, how can we black folks get our hustles on and stop singing the “We Shall Overcome” remix? Let’s stop itching for a scratch already, and let’s stop whining to the white folks about the bookstores and begging them to do something, and get our Proactive on, shall we? Carleen did. She invented “National Buy a Book by a Black Author and Give It to Somebody Not Black Month.”

The literary magazine Mosaic needs your support. There are so many of y’all out there who complain about “urban literature”—aka, the “Mama I’m in Love with a Gangster and I’m Rayray’s Baby Mama, Too” genre—but educated and/or literary black folks, we have to do more than just complain. Give up a fried chicken dinner and Diet Coke and give five dollars to Mosaic. Oh, so I’m stereotyping that all black folks eat fried chicken? Well, then, give up your coq au vin dinner with the bottle of Sauvignon Blanc on the side and give ninety-five dollars then. But whatever you do, give some money to Mosaic. It is tax deductible and your donation helps promote great black writers and provide workshops. And it’s a classy publication, too. Real classy.

The Poet Dennis Brutus has died. I know that I talk about racism ALL THE TIME, thus the heading of “race” up at the top of the page, but so did Dennis Brutus. He was a hell of a white man, and I mean that in the best possible way. He was jailed in the same place where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, and all for speaking out against Apartheid. This is what I mean by white folks challenging white privilege in order to make the world a better place. He put his life on the line; he didn’t just criticize other people from the safety of an academic cocktail party. This brother was not only a friend to black South Africans, but he was a friend to humanity.  RIP Mr. Brutus, and thank you for everything you did.

And finally, start your New Year right by writing, and then submit to American Short Fiction’s Contest. You need to get the lead out after eating everything in sight and sitting around letting it soak into all your arteries. You didn’t do a thing over the holidays but burp. Now’s the time to get writing and submitting again. And if you want to change the world just a little teeny bit, you have to put something down on that page. You can do it. I know you can.

And in the meantime, I will see y’all next year!

Love, Honorée

Click on This: Soul Mountain Retreat

Photo by Allison Hedge Coke

There’s a pretty place in New England called Soul Mountain Retreat. It sits in a beautiful little town in Connecticut and writers visit there to find a quiet spot. They have a kitchen to cook their meals and a nice room with clean, cute sheets and a desk. They walk the picturesque grounds to find peace, and most importantly, they have time to write. And they can do all this for free.

Yes, I said, FREE. That’s deep, right?

A friend of mine, Marilyn Nelson, started the retreat because she’s a writer herself—she’s even been nominated for the National Book Award for poetry—and she knows how important it is to have time away from the pressures of home to gather your words.  Once a year, she sponsors an African American poet, so you know this place must be really special. Marilyn lives at Soul Mountain, and she runs it by herself. This is a labor of love, y’all.

This is also the end of the year, and Marilyn needs y’all to do her a solid. She needs a donation to keep Soul Mountain going.

Ok, don’t leave me yet to go to another blog!!!!  You do not need to go to that cooking site to find one more recipe for spiced gingerbread men. You’ve already gained enough holiday pounds.

Oh, wait, that’s me. My bad.

Anyway, I know it’s Christmas time, and you have to get a present for your mama and all them bad [insert expletive adjective] kids of your sisters and brothers. I know everybody is broke right now because of the economy, and I know everybody is begging you for something. But if you are a writer, or even if you just like to read—and I know you like to read, otherwise you wouldn’t be visiting this blog—think about the important work that Marilyn is doing.

I don’t want to encourage you to be cheap, but if you can only give $5, that’s better than nothing. I gave them a little more than that, and I might be having to eat peanut butter sandwiches until I get paid next week. But I need to lose the weight anyway. I’ve already told you about the gingerbread men; don’t ask me for anymore information, please.

So I’m passing the hat around. Giving a little change will feel good to your spirit, and guess what? It’s a tax-deductible donation. Doesn’t that make it a little better?

Here’s the link for you to click on. Come on now, you know you really want to give.

When you do give your ducats, don’t forget to leave me a comment, so you can let everybody know who’s the Big- Baller-Shot-Caller up in this camp: that’s right, that would be you, baby.