Seen on the Train

Titles that I've seen people reading on the light rail:

Crash Proof: How to Profit From the Coming Economic Collapse by Peter D. Schiff and John Downes

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

Outcasts United: An American Town, A Refugee Team, and One Woman's Quest to Make a Difference by Warren St. John

R.I.P. Varnette Honeywood

Los Angeles artist Varnette Honeywood has passed away. You may remember her work was featured on The Cosby Show. Safe travels Ms. Honeywood.

Hello, Can Anybody Hear Me?

Last week I read responses that my students had written to assigned readings. One of the prompt questions was, "Who is the audience for this essay?" We'd talked in class about how you determine an author's intended audience. We'd talked about by noting where the work was first published, looking at the language, understanding the writer's themes. Still, when it came time to answer this question, most students wrote "African-Americans" for the essay written by a black man and "Latinos" for an essay written by a Mexican-American woman. I was a little shocked by their answers.

Both essays were literacy narratives that explored the writers' relationship with written and spoken language. I'm pretty sure the authors thought that they were writing about universal themes that many people could relate to. Yet, here was a group of college freshmen who believed that these writers spoke to an audience that was determined strictly by race.

* * * * *

Driving home at night I'm listening to the radio. Terry Gross, the host of "Fresh Air" announces that Jonathan Franzen will be the guest on her show. I let out a big sigh. I've heard the latest Twitterverse controversy about Franzen: Does he get unnecessary hype because he is a man? I'm tired. I've been working for twelve hours. I'm a woman writer that has yet to publish a book. Franzen is everywhere in the media. I'm thinking that this interview will be a downer.

Before I can change the station, I hear Gross ask him about the controversy. The way she phrases her question makes me cringe. She says something like "as if you're responsible for your success." Franzen responds. He says that the criticism of him has not been in the form of ad hominem attacks. He says it is a feminist critique about how we read and understand certain writers. He says he agrees with the critique.

* * * * *

I'm reading a review of Freedom that talks about Franzen's sharp insights into human nature. The example used is this quote from the book, "Then she waited, with parted lips and a saucy challenge in her eyes, to see how her presence--the drama of being her--was registering."

I remember that Terry Gross also quoted this description during her interview. I read and re-read the quote. I want to see the magic that they all see. It is hard to judge an excerpt without the context, but I just don't notice anything exceptional about the prose or even the mocking use of the word "saucy." It's a funny description of a character, but is it an acute observation into human nature? What if it appeared in a romance novel? Would the observation then be called brilliant?

* * * * *

Carleen Brice writes on her blog about the release of Getting to Happy, Terry McMillan's sequel to Waiting to Exhale. She remembers how McMillan's success inspired her to become an author. One commenter recalls how many people of different races were reading WTE when it first came out. I remember that, too. I remember that the person who first told me about the book was a girlfriend who is white.

* * * * *

I'm reading an essay by the poet Sarah Vap. It's about how readers and writers connect. In it, she writes, "If everything goes well in the reading of a poem--that is, if I have arrived at the poem with an opening in my heart and my mind to my own historical language, and if the author has written the poem with an opening in his or her heart and mind to their historical language--and if bridges have been crossed by both of us so that we intersect somewhere on the big continuum of language--then, I believe, the author and I will meet in the space of the poem. And in this meeting, our private histories with language will change forever. And so, because of this, we will also have to change."

I'm realizing how much baggage or "historical language" we all bring to reading any piece of writing. It really is a miracle when we create words that connect with an audience.

R.I.P Ron Walters

Dr. Ronald Walters, the former campaign manager for Jesse Jackson during both of his presidential bids, passed away on Friday, September 10th. Walters, who had a thoughtful and low-key rhetorical style, was was a distinguished scholar in African-American studies and political science and the author of several books. Here's a link to a video of Walters speaking to Bill Moyers in 2007 about Barack Obama's presidential campaign. Thanks to Dr. Mack H. Jones for the news of Dr. Walter's passing.

For Colored Girls...the Movie

So here is a promotional photo for Tyler Perry's cinematic version of For Colored Girls... that's been floating around the internet. Tyler, if you're listening, there are a whole bunch of women artists who consider Ntozake Shange's chorepoem an essential and groundbreaking part of our literary and performing arts canon. Please please please don't mess it up.

note, passed to superman by Lucille Clifton

note, passed to superman

sweet jesus, superman,
if i had seen you
dressed in your blue suit
i would have known you.
maybe that choirboy clark
can stand around
listening to stories
but not you, not with
metropolis to save
and every crook in town
filthy with kryptonite.
lord, man of steel,
i understand the cape,
the leggings, the whole
ball of wax.
you can trust me,
there is no planet stranger
than the one i'm from.

--copyright Lucille Clifton, from The Book of Light (1993)

Countdown to Rubie's 100th Birthday!

My family is preparing for a big birthday bash for my father's mother, my Mama Rubie, that will take place on October 2nd and 3rd in Atlanta. My aunt Miriam is the one doing the hard detailed work and the rest of us are really just going to show up and enjoy. I'm still tinkering with a short tribute that I'll read at the gathering. Before I wrote the first draft, I pulled out my teacher's edition history book to remember the political and cultural events that my grandmother has witnessed. It's amazing to think of how much the world can change in the span of one (long) life.

On September 30 which is her actual birthday, Willard Scott will send Rubie his birthday wishes on The Today Show, so watch if you're able.

When its all over, I know that moments from the event will inspire later fiction that I write. No family event is complete without drama; I'm already getting a taste of it as folks stress out about the planning. The great thing is that when the date arrives, we'll forget the pettiness and prickly personalities and celebrate a remarkable woman. I can't wait to see my grandmother all dressed up, probably with a hat, and surrounded by her many relatives and friends.

A Sobering Labor Day Quote

"There's no big movement agitating to make working conditions or economic conditions better for most people today."

~ Jefferson Cowie, author of "Stayin' Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class."

Cowie talks to Joan Walsh on Salon about race, class, and the politics of labor.

Saying No

say no
Originally uploaded by 32bitwonder
From The Chronicle of Higher Education: great essay by Rachel Toor about saying no to the professional opportunities that take you away from writing.