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the boogie issue
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Issue 15 Spring 2005 Four Dollars
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© Marisol Díaz, 2003 www.marisoldiaz.com from the chapbook Shout Out
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The Wonderful World of Tony Medina | 10 Poet and educator Dr. Tony Medina talks with Cave Canem fellow Jacqueline Johnson about the current state of poetry. Reviews | 16 A History of African American People (proposed) by Strom Thurmond by Percival Everett & James Kincaid The Oldest Orphan by Tierno Monenembo Some People, Some Other Place by J. California Cooper Who Slashed Celanire’s Throat by Maryse Conde Wild Like That: Good Stuff Smellin Strong by Tish Benson Original Notes of A Native Son | 24 James Baldwin’s friend and editor Sol Stein talks of their early days at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, NY. E. | 30 Poet, educator, and scholar E. Ethelbert Miller slowed down just long enough to discuss literature, scholarship, and Howard University. by Remica Bingham Boogie Down Productions | 36 Five Bronx poets, five Bronx talents featured in the chapbook Shout Out: Caridad De La Luz/La Bruja, John Rodriguez, Anita Garcia/Rokafella, Jessica Roman, and Victoria Sammartino. Shout Out is published by Pepatián, a South Bronx-based organization dedicated to supporting, presenting, and creating contemporary Latino art. For more information visit www.pepatian.org.
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The shocking true story of the real Billie Jean in Michael Jackson’s life and the obsession that almost killed her!
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Bar 13. For 36 years Sol Stein edited and published some of the most successful writers of the century. A freelance writer and a writing consultant for a faith based organization. www. New York. as well as the Dallas Morning News. David Frost. Massachusetts. and Newsday where she was also a staff writer. in English at the CUNY Graduate Center. house and African dance. a non-profit organization that helps promote photographers of color. The Bronx Museum of the Arts. communitybased organization and high schools around the country. she enjoys spending time with her husband. Bikram yoga. He is himself a prizewinning playwright produced on Broadway. He has read his poems at various New York City venues and has been published in ONTHEBUS. Connease Warren lives in Boston. She resides in Norfolk. and Ms. She co-founded Full Circle Productions and co-directed a hip-hop dance theater show based around city living entitled Soular Power’d in which she shared her dance. a manuscript of poetry. She received a Bachelors of Arts degree in photography in 2002 from City College of New York. Now residing in Boston.k. Magazine. The Point. Open City. and three heads of state. and TV dramas. and is a full-time college student. Parker become the youngest bookworm on the planet. Jacqueline Jones LaMon is a poet. plus nonfiction books. John Rodriguez is working on a Ph. she is a mother of one. novelist.D. Gannett and Knight Ridder newswires. CocaCola. and one-woman show Boogie Rican Boulevard. expecting her second. MA. Montefiore Hospital. including The New York Times. including James Baldwin. Anita Garcia a. Remica L. Jacques Barzun.YYYYYY Y YYYYYY Halimah Abdullah has published articles and essays in numerous publications.—an organization facilitating creative writing and youth-development workshops in jails.org. Performance artist Caridad De La Luz a. She works a 9-to-5 while begging the writing muse’s absolution with fiction and essays published in such anthologies and magazines as Mojo: Conjure Stories.voicesunbroken. Dark Matter. VA. She has performed her poetry at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. rhyming skills. Petersburg Times. La Bruja is known for her poetry. Dylan Thomas. Her clients include The Bronx Times. She is currently in Oaxaca. and is teaching Bronx teenagers poetry. Long Shot and the anthology Bum Rush the Page. and a variety of other venues. the St. NY. the Associated Press. Bronx native Jessica Roman has taught poetry for the Bronx Council on the Arts. Essence. prisons. Colonize This!. She is the Program Director for En Foco. and many others. Marisol Díaz was born and raised in the Bronx. The Underwood Review. Bingham is pursuing her Master of Fine Arts degree in Writing and Literature in the Bennington College Writing Seminars. poetry and singing talents.k. Utne Reader. Deatra Haimé Anderson is a freelance writer and editor living in Pawling. the author of nine novels.a. Victoria Sammartino is the founder and director of Voices UnBroken. Rokafella began dancing at the age of sixteen and loves every style of hip-hop dance as well as salsa. She was featured on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam and in Spike Lee’s Bamboozled. Kiini Ibura Salaam is a realistic woman. Barnes and Noble. Mexico working on a novel with holy gratitude. She has attended the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshops and is a Cave Canem fellow. and associate instructor of English at Indiana University. and watching her 16month old son.a. an anthologized poet. A Gathering of the Tribes. screenplays. 6 MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE .
ELECTA ROME PARKS Brings you TWO books TOO hot TO handle THE TIES THAT BIND LOOSE ENDS Best-selling author AVAILABLE NOW! Read an excerpt online at electaromeparks.com New American Library Penguin Putnam u the gie O boSuE MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE 7 .
let me warn you. Doctorow—it’s still Baldwin’s influence that may have the longest impact on the literary cognoscenti emerging from the Bronx. E. Abraham Rodriquez. In the works of five young Bronx poets: La Bruja. New York. Edgar Allen Poe. the Magpie.” sampled if you will. Jessica Roman. particularly if you call Harlem home—James Baldwin’s formative years came in the Bronx. Poetic influences being “appropriated. Ethelbert Miller both site Baldwin’s influence. L. But facts are facts.” I’m probably feeding into another stereotype. The DeWitt Clinton High School graduate’s early writing experiences took place while a staffer for the school’s newspaper. “The Bronx keeps creating it…” – KRS One Ron Editor MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE .E 8 a i r o t i d “We from the Bronx. Baldwin’s love of writing and literature were forged in the Boogie Down. In this new edition of Mosaic poets and educators Tony Medina and E. And though the Bronx can lay claim to many legit homegrown literary voices: Cynthia Ozick. and Victoria Sammartino are hints of Baldwin’s influence—an unflinching mirror of truth. Now. we Bronx folks are not claiming Baldwin as our own—thoughts of the Great Librarian Riots of 2005 are too much even for us to fathom. Even the amusing “Spidermanizm” by John Rodriguez lays out how to deal when you get to the “end of your rope. sh*t happens…” – Fat Joe If you’re reading this issue in page order. by Bronx artsts but it’s these cross-boundry influence that stir originality inspiring others to get it done. Rokafella. as many do not.
com u the gie O boSuE SASSY SEXY SINGLE SAVED Christian novelist Deborah Smith returns with the hot new novel Robbed Without A Gun MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE 9 .l a To Purchase visit deborahsmithonline.
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and the eve of the presidential election. We spoke for more than four hours. he has published to critical acclaim over a dozen books in three genres: poetry. Tony Medina and I met via telephone. Can you talk about what you thought about Furious Flower? Tony Medina: I thought it was a fantastic experience. What follows is a sampling of that marathon session: Jacqueline Johnson: I want to start from when I last saw you out at the Furious Flower Poetry Conference at James Madison University in Harrisonburg. It was the beginning of daylight-savings time. Halloween. You had people of all different aesthetics. while contributing numerous essays and fiction works to a variety of media. For me it felt like it was a family reunion.by Jacqueline Johnso n On October 31. It was just like a calling together MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE 11 u the gie O boSuE . In that time we had more of a conversation than an interview and covered a variety of subjects. academic and poetic backgrounds across generations. and anthology. Dr. 2004. multi-faceted and always on point. Enigmatic. Tony Medina is currently a creative writing professor at Howard University. Virginia. children. In a relatively short amount of time. Tony Medina functions like trickster in the poetry and literary community creating publishing avenues for both emerging and established poets. satirical.
“Yes. I said. JJ: You were very loving about it. yes.there was not enough time for that. JJ: There’s a moment in Furious Flower where a young man is presenting on spoken word. That’s doing spoken word! I was always in contention with the term because I thought it was a misnomer and I thought it would be used for commercial and exploitative purposes. One of the best times I have had in the many years of going to conferences and festivals. Maybe a couple of years ago. I don’t know why he was there. would you call that poetry?” and he said. Anybody that knows anything about poetry. And you 12 MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE . He was making gross generalizations on what poetry is and the demarcation between poetry and the spoken word. Ah. but maybe it was important that he was there. knows poetry is meant to be recited and read aloud. TM: I just used the Socratic method but it just comes naturally you know. If you write it down and publish it and read it to an audience.” And I said. The whole business of asking him questions was very loving. The thing was. Not enough reading venues for the emerging and up-and-coming poets. And I was just completely baffled.” “Well would you call that spoken word?” And he looked again and he said. in taking a leadership role in creating such venues and picking up the torch where the elders have left off. “Ah. there just has to be more of a push and initiative taken by the younger generation of poets. Otherwise. I asked him clearly. Maybe. JJ: Did you get a sense of what’s new in terms of poetry and who are the emerging poets? TM: A little . I call that the “Tony Medina moment. I would have chopped him to pieces. He didn’t seem to fit. We need to try and get our own institutions but it is hard to do that. I just thought it was a contradiction in terms. But in a venue that huge and spread out across the get up and start to ask him questions and in the process start to teach him from the audience. It was invigorating for me and a great experience. because it brought up a whole big discussion that needed to take place. if there were a few more open mics and general readings and stuff.of the tribes. in his talk as a critic.” You want to talk about that moment? TM: I did it in a way so that I didn’t attack him. who are emerging mostly in their thirties and forties. I have always been baffled by the term “spoken word” poetry. “Well the reading that we saw yesterday afternoon and last night at 8:00 on the two different panels. “Then what’s the difference? Is spoken word poetry written by people who feign reading? (laugh- campus it’s hard just to handle logistics.
JJ: It also seems more autobiographical? TM: A little. you started off reading the writing of children. So. the style and the craft. No Noose Is Good Noose. One must evolve. and who are still out there dealing with social and political stuff.” We come from a generation that was influenced by reading other writers and they became our heroes. it parallels this whole push in black literature. television and the music. Then the voice shifts in Sermons of Carcass Condemned to Begging. No Noose is Good Noose. With him being a Vietnam veteran. I try to walk the fine line that poets before me walked. “That’s a sad situation.ter) Or don’t read or don’t want to claim any type of influence?” He says. The best of the spoken word artists go back to the drawing board and start reading. There is this machine gun style of poetics where you have rapid imagery. lines. TM: Yeah. artistic integrity of the art is undermined for what sells. JJ: As I look over your books the thing that really struck me in Smell of a Carcass. “Yes. It was such a completely different. You were switching the energy of the reading and directing it in a different way. I think I influenced the stuff he read that day. I think there is a nationalistic. and respect for tradition or those who came before you. I guess that’s another reason I gravitated towards children’s and young adult literature. with the commercial fiction and so called urban fiction where the literary. JJ: It is a point of origin –– of where you meet the art first. is more of a concentration on attacking capitalism head-on. who had a hint of a grin on his face. Those observations are more like biting satire and vicious attacks. To bring the voices of these kids who are the forgotten to the forefront. Of course the writing changes from book to book. what’s salacious and what’s bullshit. Can you talk about “voice”? Are you conscious of it when you write? I am also equating voice with vision. and word play. That voice is more like a street corner Socrates type of guy.” And I said. TM: Well I’m glad the writing changes. unexpected yet wholly political moment. Then you see the parallels of course in film. I watched Yusef Komanyakaa. Having social relevancy and responsibility – as a social critic. It is little more toned down and more poking at the ribs. But also making sure there is a balance between content and the aesthetics. as an artist and as an activist. movements. the glorification of this shit — it’s like saying I started writing on Tuesday and by Thursday I should have a cd and a book – without studying or any notion of history. and Committed to Breathing was that your voice was not compromised and remained unflinching from one book to the next. anti-capitalist urgency there. I feel compelled to bring these kids with me. Where my dawgs at? I want to bring these children to the forefront. He is the outsider poking fun through irony and pathos. In Emerge and See. JJ: And also dealing with the absurdity of being a black man? MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE 13 u the gie O boSuE . JJ: On another note. TM: I think [Yusef] was chuckling at the kid’s voice. but also the kid voice talking about such a heavy topic like 911 and war. because I am taking on a whole persona in the character of “Broke” a homeless everyman. It’s easy to fall into cliché and rhetoric. That becomes the problem and you can tell by the writing or by hearing the work. These kids today they get influenced by seeing somebody in a performance or seeing a rapper on a video – you know what I mean? They’re not getting influenced primarily on the written word.
very straight forward. is more indirect and has more irony and humor. The poet on the front lines using poetry as the tool or weapon to raise consciousness but not in 14 MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE . This type of poetry was influenced by reading the works of Chilean poet Nicanor Parra. and then the last one New Man in the Oven. Christianity or the middle class. And we are not supposed to move this way slow mumbling suicide in quicksand and defeat we must refocus. Two of them are unpublished and the fourth is not completed.” in which this line struck me that calls to the present “. or like Richard Pryor’s “Mudbone” character. who is a contemporary of Pablo Neruda. to Sermons is that those previous volumes were more blatant in your face boom boom boom and Sermons. JJ: What do you mean by the anti-poem? TM: It was poetry written in a more conversational style. neo-colonialism all that stuff but from everyman’s point of view. to No Noose.TM: That is not distinguished.” I see in your work a dialogue with what griot Arthur Flowers would call the “tribal soul. It was stripped of all its over-sentimentalized language.” talking as a voice.” It is a way of speaking to the communal spirit. It is a way of poking fun at religion. So it’s the “us” and the “we. JJ: I think that is what we were talking about earlier when we were speaking about the co-opting of the hip-hop generation.” or “Do you know who shot you? Yeah. In the poem “In Search of Saddam Hussein“ “I know that’s his draws. He is an everyman. as a witness.” There is the poem “The Way We Move. Assuming that griot energy and talking to the generations. They are the dissonant poets and that has its own function. you. Pictures of Broke. Do you recognize that aspect in your work? TM: It comes from the whole position where you don’t talk to the masses or above them you talk from them. we must see again. It was just a different direction. It was basically poetry against that whole school of Spanish poetry with highfaluting language and airs and the school of poetry that Neruda comes out of. but that might not be him. I just latched on to that form and that was a way of dealing with social-political issues but not so blatantly coming from my voice or my perspective. imperialism. not on the operating table of extinction…. Employing all of the racial memory (laughter) you could possibly employ. Broke on Ice.…but this is not where we were meant to be. the poet as a warrior – the fighter. Do you agree with that? TM: I am operating from the whole position of the poet as messenger. coming from the voice of a character poking fun at the system of capitalism. The everyman could be an intellectual or the Christ of Elke. we are not supposed to be moving backwards. So that’s all in the voice of Broke and that is the first of four volumes. Nicanor Para created. We are supposed to be elevating. He invented the antipoem. Anti-poetry is very satirical. JJ: The humor is raw and stinging in Committed to Breathing. JJ: Do you see any shifts in voice from Sermons to Committed to Breathing? TM: Well the shift in voice from Emerge and See.
It’s like the narrative voice is in a conversation with the self but also with the mass. particularly the artists who are coming right after us. Can you talk about marrying the political and poetry? TM: When I got into this whole poetry thing. and Amina and Amiri Baraka had hosted some Nicaraguan poets at their home. We are faced with people who are just scoffing at that. we are always constantly embattled within the group and outside the group. The things that make you fall in love with reading and literature and wanting to be a writer but as I got more and more politicized and as I saw other examples of writers like James Baldwin. You have to keep fighting for them to recognize your humanity. It was a wonderful moment in the sense that we were all gathering to meet each other but these poets were going back home to fight and possibly die. You got to do that as a teacher. Are we not thinking about these things? Are we not looking at what is happening? Don’t we know what happened in the past? What’s the vision for the future? And it’s challenge to each other and challenge to the self and a challenge to the generations. we come out of the activist aesthetic. JJ: I think of you as the workaholic poet. you got to do that as a person. You can use your art as a way of challenging society and challenging oneself and saying something relevant and changing the world. nine times out of ten it works against you in society and in the literary world. it’s the same struggle. I remember the first time I came to your apartment in HarContinued on page 48 MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE 15 u the gie O boSuE . In the 1980s. How important it is to be literate and to be conscious and aware. from day one.a way that is rhetorical or beating people over the head. It was that whole solitary relationship between you and the book. I stuck to my guns because I felt it was the right thing to do and I’m not going to change that. You’re fighting against all these forces that are trying to strip away all your identities and all your legacies. But my palate has expanded. but coming from the voices of the tribe. I like what you do with haiku. In the introduction to Def Poetry Jam. Poets lead the Nicaraguan Revolution and the Salvadoran Revolution. It’s like you always have to keep reminding people in the tribe where they come from. We are literate. I just laid out what I thought was the peculiarity of poets like ourselves. I love to be able to fight against the oppressors on every level and to join forces with other people. We know how reading and writing has transformed a place like Cuba. JJ: Some forms have their own times or their own moments. TM: A little jab. we come out of a tradition where we read books. So I always approached it with this mission. JJ: In different historical moments poets were heads of state. It’s like Amiri Baraka’s “Low Coup” – those wicked one or two liners. I saw that poetry was a way of fighting. We know that it was against the law at one time for us to read and write. Loving the literature means that I can appreciate all different types of aesthetics. We come out of the oral tradition. you got to that as activist and artist. But when you draw a demarcation line in the sand and you wear your politics on your sleeve. I have always. I had just come back from Brazil. and the writer and the narrative voice. language and the places were books transport you. of course I was driven by the literature. I was driven by the love of the word and what words can do. I wanted to have a range as much as I wanted it to be known that I love the art form as well as revolution. written poetry of all different types but I have not published everything.
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the author of some fifteen works of fiction. Told through off-the- cuff missives. a hallmark of the author’s work. the tale explores various forms of hypocrisy. the story never truly comes alive. the resulting funhouse mirror effect is both the novel’s greatest charm and its greatest technical flaw. the senator’s mentally-unhinged aide. South Carolina senator. isolation. historical excerpts. To their credit. spearheads the project and convinces Simon and Schuster staffers and eventually even the authors themselves to sign on. prove adept at navigating the plot’s razor-sharp twists. and academia. politics. but those unfamiliar with his writing might find the plotline dizzying and the lack of thematic focus unfulfilling.REVIEWS BOOK A History of the African-American People (proposed) By Strom Thurmond By Percival Everett and James Kincaid Akashic Books Reviewed by Halimah Abdullah A History of the African-American People (proposed) by Strom Thurmond is an epistolary satire that lampoons the worlds of publishing. Under the guise of ghost-writers. and racial ideology. Everett’s fans may appreciate the madcap conceit. co-authors Percival Everett and James Kincaid place themselves squarely in the midst of an absurd cast of characters that include a sexually perverse book editor. Nowhere is this self-indulgent exuberance more problematic than in the book’s failure to fully address questions it raises. The novel chronicles the motley crew’s attempts to publish the senator’s historical memoir on Blacks in America. svengali-like congressional aide. a literary theorist. a naïve editorial assistant. But despite the high concept premise and wildly imaginative pairings. and of course. Juggling such a diverse selection of themes and characters might prove difficult in less capable hands. one wonders if they were more interested in entertaining themselves than their readers. The novel touches briefly on the authors’ own hypocrisy in agreeing to take MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE 17 u the gie O boSuE . Barton Wilkes. a psychotic. and interview transcripts. and Kincaid. Unfortunately. Strom Thurmond. And while the authors’ obvious enthusiasm for the unconventional narrative format and subject matter is infectious. Everett.
Some People. Wilkes’s manipulation of the editorial process is a desperate attempt to break free from his own isolation. Wilkes’s terse relationship with Juniper McCloud. The authors introduce new characters as late as the last third of the text. Motivation is equally unclear. The end result is a frenetically-paced book that would work far better as a comedy sketch. or Charles Thomas. Readers are scarcely given time to ponder this point before the authors race off to satirize other issues. The novel’s conclusion. as are his twisted attempts at redemption. the impact of the satire is lost on the plot’s overall zaniness. instead calling him Clevon. To be sure. a Simon and Schuster editorial assistant. but the missing incentive dilutes the full arc of his personality. 18 MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE . However. Wilkes suggests the “promotion of a Strom doll… a dream I have long held to and a design of which I have prepared. For the most part. Some Other Place By J. whether agreeing to write Thurmond’s revisionist text is an indictment of authors who sell out or something else all together remains to be seen. As a result. a whirlwind of marriage proposals and party invitations. Watching him seduce other characters is wickedly satisfying. There are also flashes of character-driven brilliance. however. Justice Tom. adding to the confusion. The authors also fail to fully explain why Everett as a character would accept such an assignment in the first place. The ongoing dialogue between Everett and Kincaid also provides some wryly funny Rosencrantz and Guildenstern-esque moments. she gives us so much to chew on that our jaws hurt by the end. the work seems more concerned with punch lines than with plot resolution. she takes on the daunting but always timely mission of reminding us that we are surely doomed without hope and a sustained belief in possibility that must always be fueled by good deeds and fierce morality. California Cooper’s wily gift is being able to preach the gospel of fine and righteous living with aplomb and good-natured humor. turns into a friendship and then zooms into a heady romance all within a matter of a few pages. You should hear what it says when I pull the string. He never manages to get Clarence Thomas’s name correct. for example. Some People. the novel delivers its fare share of comedic lines and scenes. Everett bumbles when he notes that he once refused to finish a speech before the South Carolina State Legislature because the Confederate flag hung nearby. In her fourth novel. one assumes he is motivated by morbid curiosity.on the “history” project. Some Other Place. characters scarcely evolve beyond caricature and their voices are virtually indistinguishable.” And while the authors’ intent may have been to poke fun at such endings.” Thurmond’s barely lucid ramblings are equally funny. California Cooper Doubleday Review by Deatra Haimé Anderson J. is an overly contrived reference to “All’s Well That Ends Well. And as is her way.
finally. as well as the works of eight other writers. Her great grandparents left the poverty of the deep south to make their way to a farm in Oklahoma. of course. Her characters find themselves in extraordinarily unlikely circumstances and are gifted with uncanny bouts of luck. bad things do indeed happen but she is rescued by a wealthy brothel owner/madam who literally changes the course of her life. Low and behold. We want to learn the lessons. occupations. Floating in and out of the national and international consciousness for the last several MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE 19 u the gie O boSuE . and sensibilities yet we recognize something of ourselves in all of them. on Dream Street. which is both charming and nagging.Cooper uses an unborn child-spirit to narrate (and often preach) a far-reaching tale that spans four generations of a poor black family that sustains disappointment after disappointment in their quest to find a better way of life. and are tied together in determining their fate is the ultimate melting pot metaphor that reads more like a nice idea than a reflection of grim reality. but wonder how realistic they are when turns of events are often otherworldly. despite his untoward motivations. however. which. It is impossible to enjoy Cooper’s writing without sustaining disbelief. The Oldest Orphan By Tierno Monénembo University of Nebraska Press Reviewed by Connease Warren At first consideration the title of Tierno Monénembo’s novel The Oldest Orphan seems insufficient in describing the gravity of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Monénembo’s book. A similar twist of fate happens later in the novel when one of the residents of Dream Street escapes indentured servitude in China by becoming a mail-order bride and magically manages to get to the United States. After deciding to leave her family’s dreary share-cropping life at the tender age of 16. keeps putting one foot in front of the other until she arrives. is her ability to centralize the human experience. is a standard Cooper tongue-in-cheek and is a painfully obvious reminder of our collective quest to live happily ever after. on Dream Street. Cooper gets away with trying to pass fantasy off as realism because she writes with such fierce passion that the truth she desperately wants to us to learn and ultimately believe is irresistible. races. Her mother. Written for a project organized by Fest’Africa. Some People. at last. These grand fortunes are a bit frustrating and make Cooper’s story feel more like a fable than a straight- ahead novel. Eula Too heads to Chicago with a man for whom she has performed sexual acts for money over a period of time and for some reason trusts him. the novel’s subject matter. who’s story dominates the novel. Some Other Place is a call for us to keep the light of hope shining on our best selves. Cooper’s real genius. Her cast of characters is a motley crew that spans ages. Eula Too. That they converge. her grandparents continued the journey north in search of jobs in the prospering industrial Midwest but were forced to settle long before reaching their goal. serves as his contribution to “write so as not to forget” the Rwandan genocide.
and the stunted and tragically accelerated development of one little boy.” Monénembo’s writing is mostly skillful. But a clear documentation of the genocide The Oldest Orphan is not. This occurs primarily 20 MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE . However. on the streets of Kigali where he scrounges for survival. Monénembo relies heavily on what he doesn’t reveal to provide the novel’s tension. and wanton sex with a callousness that belies their pre-teen years. Eventually. in order to prepare a platform for healing and to ensure this tragedy is never repeated. Going it alone. Threaded throughout these developments are flashbacks of his time in jail and scenes from his life in the village leading up to “the events. Instead of providing facts. From there. its title weighs much heavier than it appears and will reverberate throughout any future contemplation of this tragedy. Monénembo’s storytelling is anything but direct. His lot changes and he finds himself. It is through his voice that we come to intimately understand the horror of the Rwandan genocide. Instead. As if this aspect of the story isn’t compelling or chilling enough.years. Funga. there is a sense that the world—and of course. In fact. Faustin stubbornly insists on finding his parents who Funga advises him to forget. pool their resources and engage in drinking. Faustin aligns himself with a group of other youngsters who live and hustle together. of sorts. and with at least two major film projects set to be released that tackle the subject. By the novel’s end. though there are a few passages meant to provide back-story that lose the natural language flow. Faustin is quickly captured by a soldier and taken to a military camp. Recounting an exchange with the village witch doctor. Faustin’s story unfolds against the backdrop of the 1994 genocide or what he refers to as “the events. Faustin. and in fact. Faustin refuses to flee with him and others of their village despite Funga’s entreaties. this benefactor’s siblings. The only straightforward exploration it offers is in the motivations. to compel the reader to learn (and possibly to do) more. psyche. artistic license aside. perhaps that is part of Monénembo’s intent. and another supporter. Immediately. Rwandans— needs to explore what happened and why. drugs. But so much is in turmoil that Faustin is caught in the whirlwind politics of a country in transition and attempting to recover from a national tragedy. his mostly fictionalized account blends history and imagination such that without prior knowledge of the facts it is impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins. there is an awareness that something terrible has happened. While in Kigali he also meets a benefactor. along with scores of other orphans.” Those unfamiliar with or anxious to have the circumstances described or explained might find The Oldest Orphan less than satisfying. Monénembo takes us on Faustin’s journey. he is subsequently treated with kindness and compassion. Once he manages “with superhuman effort” to blurt out his story (which isn’t yet revealed to the reader). The opening pages introduce Faustin who almost immediately reveals he has been sentenced to death. the story almost meanders towards an explanation of what a 15-year-old boy has done that might warrant execution.
which actually include historically accurate details. chronicle. interviews. Included are persona pieces that engulf. The self. and examine life through the eyes of an African American woman. The selections are not arranged in a linear fashion but erupt and bubble like a simmering gumbo. not just for Faustin but for Rwanda and the rest of the world. and scripts that document. The novel is intensely propelled by a desire to know what happened to Faustin and his family during “the events. But Monénembo weaves his story with the ease of a master craftsman. prose. However.” Why has Faustin been sentenced to die? And are the two related? We know the answer to the last question.” a place of scents and aromas and escalating pounds on the scale. After a zesty dedication. Bogee’s Fix-It Shop). The writing is multifaceted and often chiseled. This is a text that pushes the boundaries of genre and encourages a reexamination of the meaning of poetry.” a list of Wild Like That: Good Stuff Smellin Story By Tish Benson Fly By Night Press Reviewed by Jacqueline Jones LaMon Tish Benson’s Wild Like That is a collection of poetry.during Faustin and Funga’s accounts of their village. And of particular note is “A Suitcase Fulla Stuff to Carry Girlchile to Womanhood.” an entertaining glimpse at who-did-what-towhom. the interview signals to the reader that something unexpected is about to be experienced. “Wild Like That” and the reminiscing of elders in “Daughters (Sis. yet the force with which Monénembo casts Faustin’s experience leaves the indelible impression of just how horrific “the events” were. Tompkins Comes to Pick Up Her TV From Mr. however. is not a willing participant and this creates a tension that is both comical and tragic. Dotted throughout the collection are Urban Soundscapes.” The reader is treated to a visit to the world of “Lita and Skip. a mixture of gristle. and smooth that perplexes and delights. the book begins with an interview between the author and herself. since The Oldest Orphan is a translation (by Monique Fleury Nagem) perhaps some passages are less stilted in Monénembo’s native French. bits and pieces of conversations that feel ironic and comical in their truthfulness. a challenging intersection that pinpricks with honesty and verve. and where true creativity grows. Another possible explanation is that the author is simply more adept speaking through Faustin’s purely fictional voice than he is mixing this voice with some of the historical facts he has chosen to include. Quite fitting as an opening piece. We are introduced to the world of the proclaimed insane through Katika in the title piece. ever brazen and blue. and revels in the liminal: the space between what has been established and revered. This collection begs the questions of classification and definition. MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE 21 u the gie O boSuE . He deftly takes the reader circuitously from beginning to end. grit. Benson opens doors to privileged conversation in “Gossipy.
for power. which makes the reader want to stir and understand them. Beyond the novelty of including monologues and dialogues. and community. They stagger through the pages of Condé’s novel. and her insatiable thirst for revenge drives this story of ritual. for a new life. for love. Initially her motives are unclear. and the center-justified line) should further emphasize that distinction. leopards. but she quickly takes over the Home and creates an unparalleled institution of undeniable beauty and questionable morality. confront what we find. bamboo groves and coconut palms. such as altering the spelling of words to replicate speech vernacular and employing the poetic form of rant to convey anger and desperation. She is Celenire. This is not replica of works already in print. She is contracted to teach at the Home for Half-Castes at Adjame-Santey. Benson is a teller of wild and wooly tales. is able to stand independent of stylists before her.thirty items required by all females on the journey. monkeys. and perhaps the choice of stylistic devices (such as the use of misspelled words. Benson presents the interaction between men and women and asks us to consider how they treat one another. Who Slashed Celanire’s Throat? By Maryse Conde Atria Books Reviewed by Kiini Ibura Salaam A dark beauty with mysterious powers and a slashed throat steps off a boat in West Africa. displaced cultures. sugar cane fields. Maryse Condé recreates the world colonialism knocked askew. Who Slashed Celanire’s Throat? is a grand homage to the pathos and tragedy of the displaced. Twisted realities. the capital of one of the smaller French Colonial countries of West Africa. for survival. away from the prose-like chunks of text that read and feel lyrical and effervescent. and tobacco farms. 22 MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE . Her manic desire to uncover the secrets of her life leads her to return home to Guadeloupe where she unleashes a ravenous rage and avenges all who contributed to her tortured existence. and orphaned children are forced into a complex weave of relationships in which everyone is hungry to avenge a death. She often uses stylistic techniques first rendered by Ntozake Shange. to care for the sick. for absolution. Against the backdrop of luxurious sunshine. we are asked to look into the shadowy recesses of our everyday interactions. while paying unarticulated homage to literary foremothers. family. and see it for what it is. family and loss. Wild Like That is a work that encourages thought and challenges the reader to examine self. This book is liberally sprinkled with intriguing metaphors and refreshing comparisons. the reader is treated to many places where the actual language sings and surprises. In the end. She removes the obscuring lid off of a pot of secrets. grasping across the chasm of loss to fight and mate in a desperate search for justice and a place to belong. the frequent use of ellipses. caymans. However. Benson presents a contemporary freshness that resists a throwback to the outer edges of the Black Arts Movement and. history.
She is a woman who marries into power and claims the French colonial diaspora as her playground. she remains a mystery as deep and dark as her skin. but not intimacy. Penal colonies neighbor islands where children are born of desperate couplings between Chinese laborers. saints who bleed. enraged. delight and disgust. Celanire overcomes a horrific act of violence to become a woman who rolls through polite society with the force of a wrecking ball. French priests and governors. Condé maintains a feverish pitch of tension and anticipation. and show her a surprise or two. and West African traditions to tell a story that soars over its weighty themes with humor. is ever close enough to understand the workings of Celanire’s heart. which create an ambience ripe with sensuality. surrenders to the pull of Condé’s delightfully lush tale. Condé assumes a tighter and tighter grip on readers. and who satiates her thirst for vengeance. and frightened by Celanire. and Peru into the heart of a mystery that laments the legacy of colonialism. and formerly enslaved Africans. Unlike all the unfortunate souls who cross her path. attraction is accompanied by revul- sion. but Celanire ends the book as she begins it: fierce. No one is safe in Celanire’s clutches. no matter what depth of emotions Celanire arouses. It is with utmost respect for Condé’s mastery that the reader salivates for the cataclysmic event—be it natural or supernatural—that can take on this wild spirit. sensuality. leaving misfortune. and fully in control. love mingles with hatred. At the center of this dark fabulist tale is Celanire. While feeding the reader delicious geographic and cultural tidbits. She— like the survivors of colonialism—is torn asunder. feminism. Guadeloupe. uncompromising. enthralled by Celanire’s bizarre existence. indentured Indians. we are no closer to Celanire than we were at the beginning. MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE 23 u the gie O boSuE . intrigue. Condé’s mastery of language sparkles as she introduces us to Greek shopmen. vindicates a damaged woman. conquered. Yet. At the command of Condé’s pen. and keeps some secrets for itself.Fueled by copious research. confusion. but we are safe with Condé as she sweeps us into a wild romp through West Africa. and grace. Like the helpless mortals who tremble before her. China. and Japan to save the unfortunate. and foreboding. and gold diggers. By the time the parade of Celanire’s terrible events finally subsides. churn up her certainties. beautiful. the reader is in turn bewitched. besotted. Condé provides dizzying details of French colonial outposts in Africa and the Caribbean. destruction and heartbreak in her wake. It is the world of the Sisters of Charity and the African Missionary Society. Muslim outcasts. not even the narrator. Condé’s juxtapositions and revelations allow admiration. Dark and weighty themes shimmer in the luster of Condé’s writing. No one. Condé manages to pull together strands of Caribbean fables. Celanire seems untouched by her journey. As Celanire’s unstoppable mischief reaches its frenzied conclusion. French nuns sail through the Indies. but alive. and African princes dedicated to becoming colonial civil servants. The reader.
One thing you always have to keep in mind is how little you can take for granted. That means you have to rethink everything as if it happened in ancient Rome or Greece. January-February 1984. and I imagine my lifelong friend Jimmy and me watching that event. It all began in the tower of DeWitt Clinton High School in the north Bronx at a time when students anywhere in the five boroughs of New York City didn’t need to be bused anywhere but could elect to go to a high school of their choice. John the Divine for James Baldwin’s funeral. an exceptional school where his last formal education took place. one tends to assume that everyone knows what you’re talking about. but. it is hard to imagine that in 1939 a poor boy could travel many miles to a different borough to seize an education he could not get locally. it claimed to be the largest sec- by Sol Stein 24 MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE . bus. When DeWitt Clinton first opened the doors at its present site in May of 1929. many of them were hardly born yet when the sixties were going on. known then and since as Jimmy. In this day of failed busing. I knew James Baldwin first in our early teenage years. -James Baldwin in Contact. when I was thirteen and he was fifteen. When one talks about the sixties. I am remembering five thousand people crowded into the Cathedral of St. a publication of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. went the distance by subway. an elbow poking the other’s rib for attention as in the old days when our lives intersected. for example. and foot from Harlem in Manhattan to DeWitt Clinton at the far northern edge of New York City. Baldwin. in fact.
The Story of a Friendship in Black and White Sol Stein MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE 25 u the gie O boSuE .
after classes officially let out. . for we learned then what all writers must eventually learn. When we were called upon to sell the issue of January 1941. his hands clasped in front of him. Sol’s suggestion had the startling and unkind effect of causing me to realize that time had passed. Stone told him. Clinton was a garden in which black and white teenagers could become fast friends. What we all wrote then is today mostly embarrassing. which in 1999 was selected by a distinguished panel as one of “the 100 best nonfiction books of the century. Avedon told me a couple of years ago that on one occasion Stone asked him what kind of reading matter his parents had lying around the house. Sol persisted. the Magpie gang would assemble in the tower above the three floors of the school building to hear our faculty advisor read our stories aloud to us in the most boring monotone imaginable. Countee Cullen. Avedon mentioned magazines like Good Housekeeping and McCall’s. in the preface to the 1984 edition of Notes of a Native Son.ondary school for boys in the world. he decided to give up writing and turned. . Avedon silent. It was though he had dashed cold water in my face. “It was Sol Stein. that the reader has to be moved by the words alone. I told him that I was too young to publish my memoirs. .” 26 MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE . high school buddy. My reaction was not enthusiastic: as I remember. . besides Baldwin and me. the place where DeWitt Clinton’s award-winning literary magazine. Avedon said. playwright. Avedon was then a poet and shy. working under the tutelage of a faculty member. however. without help from the histrionic talents of the author. novelist. was edited by students as young as thirteen and fourteen. while I recited a poem of his from memory. Jan Peerce. . America had not yet formally entered World War II. who first suggested this book. A. Burt Lancaster. “That’s what’s wrong with your writing. but London was burning. editor. Daniel Schorr. Avedon and I would stand in front of each classroom. On Friday afternoons.” At that moment. The three-story building and its athletic field and stadium occupied about twenty-six acres and had a single-session capacity of over five thousand students. Our core group. Stone’s private critiques of our work could be withering. . More than forty years later. an environment that a few years later made possible Notes of a Native Son. and Lionel Trilling. We were eager to see our stories in print and were learning to take criticism in a most painful way that was also instructive. Baldwin begins. brilliantly. Richard Rodgers.” Our home away from home was in what we called the Magpie Tower. Ralph Lauren. Wilmer Stone. The Magpie. A recently remodeled room just off its library displays a picture gallery of onetime Clinton students that includes such luminaries as Paddy Chayevsky. included Richard Avedon and Emile Capouya. but the learning process was astonishing. Neil Simon. Avedon’s poem that lingers still in my memory is about the loss of a childhood friend in the firebombing of London. to photography. Rosenthal. I had never thought of these essays as a possible book. M.
Like Berdis Baldwin. he assumed his ancestors came to America in chains and I assumed my parents. and one day. A friendship that endures might reasonably be defined as a house in which disagreements are confined to an attic that can be opened for memoirs but never for continuation of a former argument. presumably legitimized her son.” Though both of my parents came from Russia. taking two hours over a simple meal. Berdis. There are surviving photographs of Jimmy bouncing two of my pajama-clad children on his knee. hiding in the cellar during a pogrom. Baldwin and I came to our friendship with differences. By the time Baldwin and I had to deal with Notes of a Native Son. both Depression-era kids. According to family legend. Jimmy Baldwin and I. Berdis visited with my family when Jimmy was abroad. the overlay of a friendship of a dozen years made the process easier. came here because they had nowhere else to go. Berdis. Zelda Zam. who slipped over the border separately and illegally. Writers can be wary of editors they don’t know well. responded differently to food. The now legendary stepfather Jimmy wrote about was the preacher who married Berdis. My mother. One might suppose that Jimmy was stretching out the pleasure of food. I was welcome in Berdis’s apartment on 131st Street in Harlem. she had her secret. the largest city in the Ukraine. I loved and admired Baldwin’s mother. In the old country. my mother at a young age was the head of secondary evening schools in Kiev. To make a living in America she sold Compton’s Encyclopedia door-to-door. Jimmy would eat like a bird. he loved men and I loved women. when the Depression bottomed. but not by the policeman who stopped me outside and wanted to know what my white face was doing in that neighborhood. helped by recently finding my line-by-line editorial notes and Baldwin’s responses. and gave her eight more children. may also have done the same. and believed it was reciprocal even at our last warm meeting after Jimmy’s death. in the old country. his dancing hands. At my mother’s table. We’ll watch. MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE 27 u the gie O boSuE . while I devoured all of it in the first few minutes. “You eat. In America she had another secret I discovered as a child during the Great Depression. one small piece at a time. I had trouble identifying with my mother’s motherland. I opened the heavy sample case she took to work every day and found the knee pads she wore when cleaning other people’s floors. I do remember the editorial process. Berdis had a secret that to my knowledge and Jimmy’s say-so was never divulged: the identity of Jimmy’s father. through a crack in the door my mother saw her first fiancé killed by one of Petlyura’s Cossacks. Despite the differences—we lived many miles apart—because of our friendship our families took a liking to each other.I don’t remember Baldwin’s resistance to doing the book. which are included in the correspondence section of this book. He was black and I was white. One of my few memories of Depression eating was the time my mother and father planted the single orange my father had brought home on the table and said. Baldwin’s mother. while I was gulping it down before it vanished. enjoyed Jimmy’s brightness.
assuming me to be one of them. I will mention one more. Before each of us was a lover of specific people. Everything changes slowly. and the sting of ethnic rejection would not have belatedly smashed what may have been the beginning of a courtship. When I was seven. and human nature not at all. It is quicker to be typed as black. It occurred to me that if I’d been black. For better. This could not but have an extraordinary effect on [the morale of blacks]. Full of youthful romance. The sting of later recognition of a Jew who doesn’t look particularly Jewish can be startling. Baldwin could instantly be seen as black by anyone.” Africa let Baldwin down. I no longer remember how I came to date the homecoming queen of the university. Early in my two years as a soldier during the last part of World War II and after. During my time away from base. though inner cities remained inert cities. which left time beforehand for strangers to make anti-Semitic remarks in my presence. charged up. a black American. as not belonging. He didn’t know the insignia he had found and affixed to his bicycle was a Jewish star. “You killed Jesus Christ!” It was the first such exposure for me. Colin Powell. while in America. I nodded. but we quickly became friends. The dark continent produced corrupt kings and corrupt princes who robbed their people and kept them poor. Tribalism unleashed the wholesale butchery of millions. for it meant that they were not merely the descendants of slaves in a white. I read poetry to her. but not enough to make me acceptable to June’s parents. Baldwin and I were here. Blond from birth. Observers knew me to be Jewish only after they knew my name. I fudged. and puritan country: they were also related to kings and princes in an ancestral homeland. I asked him if he was Jewish. far away. however acceptable I might have been to her. as different.just as Jimmy later had trouble identifying with Africa. said her parents wanted to know where my parents came from. not for worse. somewhat embarrassed. at which point he raised his fist and exclaimed. had ascended to a position of power a few hearts away from the presidency of his country. I had no visible marks that at once characterized me as Jewish. I wanted so badly to be thought of as an American and not as a sometimes despised Jew. We saw each other several times before June Saylor. He reared back. we’d never have dated. before going overseas I was stationed briefly at a post near the University of Illinois in Champaign. Growing up. He asked if I was Jewish. in the sweltering New York summer kids could get into the swimming pool of Evander Childs High School by lining up to pay four cents for admission. One day the older boy behind me on line had a metal Star of David attached to the handlebars of his bicycle. To the onlooker. soon enough I was six feet tall. native Americans. I remember Baldwin’s rising hope in Nobody Knows My Name: “Africa was now on the stage of history. which Baldwin acknowledged as his only homeland. yearning to make it as Americans while trying to shake up America to make it a more congenial nest for the likes of us. fatherless and poor. dismayed and hurt. Protestant. 28 MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE .
One can’t escape error that easily. for the mission of the first was to get the reader to read on. and there was notice of the introduction that no longer existed in the book itself. a division of Random House. essays. The reader had to feel he was on a discernible path from the first page to the last. “I was trying to decipher my own situation. in his preacher’s delivery. I wrote a prefatory note for Notes of a Native Son. Toward the end of his life. In addition. defied Hitler and defeat. Once his reader was lured into the experience. I ordered it removed on the grounds that Baldwin’s work didn’t need my introduction. MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE 29 u the gie O boSuE . to spring my trap. Yet of Lord Acton. the first and last essays had to be chosen carefully. Franklin Roosevelt read Sam Rosenman’s words with a mesmerizing authority that helped lift the sagging spirits of Americans in a bad time. it was believed that books of essays did not sell. Much has been made of Baldwin’s having been a teenage preacher.” When I saw the prefatory note in galley proof. Excerpted by permission of One World/Ballantine. drafted by himself. his use of visual particularity to make us see the places and people he was writing about. ‘pieces’ is the word used to describe articles.” In the world of publishing and bookselling. and it seemed to me the only way I could address it was not take the tone of the victim. and the uncategorizable writings that constitute the writer’s baggage while he is traveling between major works. Laymen speak of a writer’s style. Baldwin would let loose insights that were startling in their candor. for I recently found the Library Journal review of Notes of a Native Son. At the behest of the publisher. for instance. the American people. “In the jargon of writers. fortunately. A book demanded cohesiveness. Baldwin said Notes of a Native Son was of crucial importance in his struggle to define himself in relation to his society. made from a bound galley of the book. Not enough has been made of his early mastery of the writer’s main task. and the mission of the last was to leave the reader with a strong impression of the book. it was hopeless. Churchill’s rhetoric. complaining about my wretched state as a black man in a white man’s country. So I shifted the point of view to ‘we. I was attracted to Baldwin’s writing because of his voice and his writerly intelligence. That is also the virtue of James Baldwin’s pieces.’ Who is the ‘we’? I’m talking about we.. All rights reserved. they inform each other as well as us and constitute a whole. such ‘pieces’ are all we have. a distinguishing way with words that is recognizable and consistent. Inc. Everybody knows who the victim is as long as he’s howling. Martin Luther King Jr. which meant a lot of attention had to be paid to the order of the essays. in which I said. Part of the problem was that putting a binding around random essays made for a random reading experience.we were lovers of language. putting to paper what other people only think. an influence that is evident in his incantatory prose and his ability to address readers as if they were his congregation. Writers and editors speak of a writer’s voice. As long as I saw myself as a victim. As an editor. which if delivered well can have even more immediate power than print. Excerpted from Native Sons by James Baldwin and Sol Stein Copyright © 2004 by James Baldwin and Sol Stein. a frightening virtue in one so young. announced his dream.
by Remica Bingham 30 MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE .
There is Walter Mosley’s artwork. Remica Bingham: I think poet and activist June Jordan described your poetry best in her introduction to your book Season of Hunger/Cry of Rain. In Buddha Weeping in Winter. Fathering Words. Today. Ethelbert Miller’s literary artifacts grace every corner of his home and each speaks to his extensive legacy in the writing world. the women of his hatred and his desire. literary politics and finding his niche teaching at Bennington College. She said: “The poetry is [that] of a…Black man preoccupied by the silent fathers of his existence. too. the term literary activist is used to describe him because he reaches out to touch lives in the hope that others will do the same. is signed. is the centerpiece on his living room table. 2004). Priority mail envelopes addressed to students and filled to capacity adorn tables and chairs in another room. On the third floor of his house there is a small shrine to his father and brother. ventured into creative non-fiction with his memoir and has published numerous pieces of fiction. These things—his personal artifacts—seem to define his true legacy. There is an entire bookcase full of his work and another holds only autographed books. the same themes are found in poems like MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE 31 u the gie O boSuE .” Even in your earliest work. One is a framed flyer from the 1997 Ascension Poetry Reading Series featuring Reetika Vazirani and Zoë Anglesey—good friends of Miller’s who died within months of each other this year. Miller feels as though his most important accomplishment is the effect he’s had on the lives of others. Though he has written nine books of poetry includ- ing his newest work How We Sleep on the Nights We Don’t Make Love (Curbstone. the friends lost and found within his own mythmaking process. Andromeda and The Land of Smiles and The Land of No Smiles. you were writing about love and personal exploration. Miller sat down to talk with me about his work. A copy of his memoir. edited four anthologies.E. He leads me to his sunroom where pictures sit on his desk. even a rare copy of Time Magazine with James Baldwin gracing the cover—this.
you began experimenting with Biblical imagery in poems like “Joseph” and “Moses. especially personal material. RB: In Migrant Worker. write. this focus on love.” You tackle some tough issues like domestic abuse. If you look at me as an outgrowth of the Black Arts Movement. If someone was analyzing me they would see that there are certain things I’ve struggled with throughout my life.“Devotion” and “Drummers. but also my life. How did these poems come about? EEM: The poem “Who Will Call This Day To Prayer” is using poetry to document events that I witnessed. I still struggle with them. He was one of the people I read with in my early career. I have poems in which I’m constantly making reference to Neruda and his use 32 MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE . As I sit down to of those themes.” Why do think these themes continually take precedence in your work? E. perhaps you don’t commit yourself to fully changing the society in such a way that it is an improvement over what you started out fighting against. perhaps you don’t sacrifice your life. and terrorism. If I look at the writers whose work I like. adultery. At that time. then that is a period in which black people were talking about loving oneself.” You can also give further support to this idea by looking at Che Guevara. I still touch on those themes of love and desire.’ there was. not only my work. within the Black Arts Movement. Ethelbert Miller: I think that’s a good way of summing up. such as June Jordan. but also to the Quran in poems like “Who Will Call This Day To Prayer. Even in the midst of the 1960s when people were talking about violence. you can see that she wrote about love throughout her career. and telling people that there was a place for it “within the revolution. That’s why you risk your life to change the status quo. I remember Eugene Redmond being very supportive of me and the type of work I was writing. I was sort of baptized by that. picking up the gun and getting ‘whitey. memoir or poems in the first-person. he was writing a lot of love poems. If you’re not motivated out of love or a certain level of passion. He talked about revolutionaries being motivated by love. loving one’s blackness and loving one’s people. too.” Not only did you look to the bible.
but I’d been raised a certain way. in terms of relationships. Why do you think it’s important for MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE 33 u the gie O boSuE . Sometimes. In some buildings. near the buildings that Hanafi Muslims had taken over. For instance. you’re treated differently. when you’re a single mother and you don’t have money for childcare. you’re treated one way. in particular. If you go by yourself. It was getting late. I weaved all of that together. that was something that was just out of the ordinary. so I was kind of vulnerable to certain relationships. It was also a time when I was moving away from writing about myself. the relationship I had with this woman changed. but back then I was writing poems. there it was. The other poem. the story of Mary and Joseph is very relevant now in terms of affordable housing. there’s a discriminatory factor and they might not want children there.” was about a friend of mine who just couldn’t find housing in D. As for the witness aspect. If I had to think of a writer who has influenced me and who uses Biblical themes very well. you have my actions in my personal life. but it looks like you’re staying. So. RB: In an anthology you co-edited with Ahmos ZuBolton called Synergy. No different than Moses coming down from the mountain and seeing the people had gone back to their old ways. when you’re in a city by yourself looking for an apartment and you’re a woman. I saw an older woman and I swore she looked at me like ‘You know you’re wrong. I was using Biblical images and updating them in terms of looking at contemporary urban situations. It used to be by the door. She was someone I was familiar with while writing in the 1970s. The same thing happens with race. I was by myself. I felt the incident was important and I needed to document it. but if you take a white friend with you.Back in the 1970s. The poem addresses those things.’ I’m joking. but that’s really what that poem “Moses” is about. When I finally came out of the woman’s house. I’m leaving. who has access to your place and so on. I was close to my brother who went to a monastery. so I knew that I’d done something wrong. sort of vulnerable. I think maybe today if it was taking place it might become a piece of creative non-fiction because I’m writing that now.” One bridge. so when you came in. “Joseph. you have to be very careful about who the landlord is. I was with another guy from Howard who knew the sister and he turned to me and said.” I wasn’t planning on staying—I lived right down the block—but right then.C. he said. Also. sometimes. It turned into one of these one-night stand situations. I happened to be living downtown in D. “Many times …poets create their own bridge. So if I’m explaining “Moses” you begin to see that there was a religious image I grew up with that is very important to my family. I needed to be a witness to what was going on. My brother had purchased that statue and I think it’s still in my mother’s house. I like the Moses image because I grew up with the Michelangelo statue in which Moses is holding the tablets and has horns. I was at a party given by a woman that I didn’t know that well. you have to take your child with you when you’re looking for an apartment. it would be Lucille Clifton. “Man.C. that idea came from reading Jimmy Baldwin. you’ve helped create by writing books such as Where Are the Love Poems for Dictators is that between people who are oppressed in America and those in other places like Central America and the Middle East. I do remember an incident that took place in the early 1970s. but she was very voluptuous. The Biblical images come from the way I grew up. Because of my background. I was living by myself and I’d just come out of my marriage. In addition to that image in the back of my mind.
You are forced to be concerned with what’s happening with other ethnic groups.. because they have an impact on you. RB: First Light was a book of new and selected poems. when. I think. I could take this unit of poems and I could teach a history class using the work. our world is so small that you are forced to know what’s happening in Nigeria or Iraq. In Search. It’s written from the point of view of aliens checking us out. The same thing goes for the section on love or the celebration of blackness. Women Surviving Massacres and Men.. which deals with freedom. you see us really getting to know each other. begins with a poem on the creation and ends with 34 MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE . to the Middle Passage. I always thought that was hip. These places mean something. I began with the premise that many people don’t read collections of poetry from cover to cover. In this time. now. RB: You’ve edited a number of anthologies Synergy. personal and political. Many people today are much more knowledgeable about Islam than before. which Quincy Troupe edited. We know culture is key in terms of the exchange of values and traditions. You should learn tolerance and respect. I decided each poem would follow the next creating a narrative. more than ever. The average American is eating tacos and burritos. The average person’s daily life is filled with things from all over the world. you see those poems go from the creation. all the way to the last poems in that section which deal with freedom in terms of incarceration. that’s how small the world has become. interacting with people who speak a different language and have different beliefs. Giant Talk.. The thematic idea comes from an anthology that I felt was one of the best. The same way I knew that Robert Hayden’s poem “American Journal” was going to end the book.writers to explore what is happening globally? EEM: Today. That’s the beauty of being a human being.. It stands by itself. In Search of Color Everywhere and Beyond the Frontier. How did you decide what work you wanted to include? EEM: I knew there were certain poems that people liked. I wouldn’t divide First Light into those types of sections. How do you decide which poems/authors will be put into an anthology? EEM: With In Search of Color Everywhere. before. up through slavery. to Africa. She said there was no need for that because my political poems were personal. So.. These are no longer just places on a map that the teacher points to with a pointer. That’s how people learn. I was very much aware of how that was laid out. Those were definitely poems I wanted to make available to my readers. Then I went a little further. Toi Derricote mentioned a number of years ago when she was at my house that I was breaking up my poetry into these sections. if I took the first section of In Search. we only ate hamburgers and fries. I also tried to create the anthology for the everyday person.
but look at where it had been published. so Essex was like. I had to eliminate and combine sections. at that particular time. The biggest compromise I had to make was that there would be no biographical notes. who read Beyond the Frontier. This desire comes from my job in the African American Resource Center. You name the writer and I want their signature poem. I love Mari. you’re going to hear some of the same poems over and over again. That’s such an important poem because it shows that gay presence within all families. All Beyond the Frontier does is document who some of the major writers are going to be in the next few years. I said. ‘Oh no.’ The person is the one gay member in the family. She felt that some of the older writers were not represented. I had a discussion with Mari Evans. but this It was always about sitting man had come and and breathing. I believe several hundred pages were cut from In Search of Color Everywhere. I read your book to my daughter every night. “Oh man. I was so a room listening. I wanted to do ‘the one’ book. Another poem I felt should have been included was Amiri Baraka’s “In the Tradition.” Zazen I was at the bookstore for something else. I don’t feel that you meant to do this. It is designed for the home not the classroom. My argument with Essex was that.” so it’s come full circle. Keep in mind I had to fight with my publisher to include some of the gay poems in the anthology. Looking back. I meant to do it.” but it’s a long poem.” I was very interested.. happy to have had that encounter beIt was his heart that spoke cause he was using the first. but the book troubled her. “No. although it’s used there as well. I never thought I’d meet you. Some of the first poems that went were the ones with a certain degree of profanity. It was a poem in which he was looking at a photograph and he talks about looking at the picture and thinking ‘I’m the one. One person who denied me a poem I felt I needed was Essex Hemphill. not a book for the classroom. It’s such a fantastic poem.. In Search of Color Everywhere was a book I didn’t have when I was growing up.. because I wanted it to be a family-oriented anthology. Before she completed the blurb she called me up and said. in producing. don’t use that again’ and I respected him for that.. If you ask a body of young African American students what poems they like.“American Journal. “Okay. I’m doing this ‘one’ book.” That’s what I tried to do. I had to also think about who the audience was. I (for W) wasn’t promoting the anthology. I knew the poem had been published a number of times. Continued on page 42 MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE 35 u the gie O boSuE . “Well. The most moving response I got to the book happened when I was in Oklahoma. tended it to be used. He could feel brought his worn copy her breasts rising against his of In Search of Color arm as they sat together in Everywhere. A black guy came up to me in a bookstore and said. It’s also a poem that had been published a number of times in gay anthologies.” and I told her. not a book for the home. It was her silence that book the way I’d inkissed him. but a literary document. but.
36 MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE . FEATURED IN THE CHAPBOOK SHOUT OUT. THESE PIECES REFLECT THE BOROUGH’S NEW VOCAL VIBRANCY. NYC—THE BIRTHPLACE OF LYRICAL CONTENDERS—ENTER THE STREAM OF ARTISTS WHO ARE KEEPING IT REAL BY KEEPING IT LOCAL.FIVE POETS STEPPING OUT OF THE BRONX.
JOHN RODRIGUEZ Spidermanizm Dedicated to my first hero who taught that with great power comes great responsibility who. never lost his sense of humor and who showed me that when you get to the end of your rope the least you can do is swing. baby MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE 37 u the gie O boSuE . after decades battling vultures and scorpions.
tell him not to touch me. ‘I don’t like it or nothing. but I can’t leave.VICTORIA SAMMARTINO For Jocelyn (b.1982) What I knew was knowledge enough to keep me from spending the night and that was enough to keep you listening locked down behind bars and a silence louder than the neighborhood you claimed to miss so much.’ you don’t scream ‘he’ll kill me’ and you beg me to change the choices you’ve made sometimes the truth is scarier than the lies we’re living There is nothing to say and there will be nothing but silence until you can’t take the cold there will be black eyes and broken ribs prayers and promises there will be rumors and rearrests threats and ‘make me three hundred dollars bitch and you can come back’ and you will come back again and again and ‘I’m his favorite ho. he’ll kill me. America doesn’t like the girls who like it. ‘I’m tired. Less than a year later I watch you walk down naked streets wearing thin shiny pants. he doesn’t beat me as bad as the other girls’ if you believe lies they become you 38 MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE . I imagine the times I chanted affirmations in circles around your head listen for the truth that whispers itself inside you Now ‘free’ you sip coffee (with cream and lots of sugar) and tell stories that make me cross my legs close my eyes and later.’ you say crying ‘I don’t wanna do this no more. I don’t get wet you know’ proud that you are not the kind of girl that likes it. a see through shirt no jacket and it’s almost Christmas.
CARIDAD DE LA LUZ/LA BRUJA New Yorker I love New York I’m a New Yorker I LOVE NEW YORK Busy town Above and underground I emerge from the Six train 51st and Lex Walk across to the West Side As I pass Radio City I dream of performing there And Carnegie Hall Comes to mind too Yeah All those places Winter Garden had CATS Now it’s THE WITCH on Broadway Twisted Musical I dance a cabaret number That turns to a furious flamenco And disappear into gypsy dust I resurrect in St. Patrick’s Cathedral And Sing the highest note My vocal cord can release AMEN Times Square Still has some 25cent peep shows But the booths are sticky “You got change for this?” I pull out a ball of lint Had to ask Cause some people feel like giving If you catch them at the right time Like the time I was on the two train This lady limped in on a twisted foot Holding a cup in a twisted hand Begging for money through a twisted mouth I pulled out a twisted dollar and gave it to her She drooled out a “God Bless You” I felt Good Got off at Simpson Street And so did she She jumped over the turnstile Ran down the steps and There she went With my last dollar NEW YORK I’m a New Yorker I LOVE NEW YORK MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE 39 u the gie O boSuE .
I promise. 40 MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE . Forever and for always. And when the minutes run out on the phone calls I’ll talk to you with my mind Hold you in my arms through dream sequences You’ll never be alone.JESSICA ROMAN Cutie Baby The last breath between our sentences fits in his hands Used phone calls and old promises. before then though you can cry on my words lean on the shoulders that carry you piggy-back scream through my fingers the same ones that fed you and I’ll be your Mami Mami Jessie is not supposed to fall But believe me Baby One day I will. Love me More than u ever have. That will be when I need you most I’ll need you to carry me in your arms Rock me to sleep even. I’ll treasure each blink of your eyelashes. You are my Cutie Baby. I am your Mami Jessie. I will be the one you can run to as soon as I can run to myself Baby.
just like boricuas growing food instead of buyin beans and eggs. those with the rhyme that is better. The nemesis. MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE 41 u the gie O boSuE . or the crust in my eyes. the bedwetters. the vibratos. no one can hear it. provin we are not ready for the unspoken word in poetry. the fork. Not ready. but we know it’s there. Someone said hip hop is dead and i said is that something you read? As long as my blood flows red Hip-Hop lives it’s inbred. the pitch. six feet to the ground. the tone. This is the rival. the foundations stand up against the new the next. Its evidence is like dew in the morning on my windshield. the vowels. this is the force the poem has to counter and re-encounter. I could’ve freaked but confidence leaked out my lungs when i saw the ones that will stand long after we have been laid down. .unspoken concrete. the who when the why’s. the consonants . Heads are buggin cuz buildings get knocked down and new ones immediately get put up. Release the poem from the scrutiny.ANITA GARCIA/ROKAFELLA Unspoken Concrete There is no other poem quite like the one with no lyrics. no sound no breath. the mutiny. who? The projects. the spaghetti. but i am down to release the poem from the letters. Caught up in the sauce.
I know that there are quite a few journals in which a young poet would absolutely have to know someone to have work published there.” That’s how he got in and that’s why I have it with the dedication in In Search of Color Everywhere. I think that’s a gay code. ‘No this is how it works. gay literature is coded. They took their work seriously and took it to the next level. They are just some of the best and brightest to come out of that movement. we would see DJ Renegade. very important. Back then. I figured that out because here’s young Langston Hughes sending poems like “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” to the Crisis. Gary Lilley. EEM: That’s how it is. What you see taking place in the cafés and the clubs is really good. Look at the “Heritage” poem. Locally. no one is consistently reviewing and writing about African American poetry. If we examine it closely we’ll see that a number of people who were serious about writing who were doing slams and open-mikes are now enrolled in MFA programs. just by studying and being a close reader—I didn’t have to wait for a biography to come out or anybody’s letters to be published—I could tell that Georgia Douglas Johnson was having an affair with Du Bois. I think A. Ethelbert Miller RB: We’ve had a number of discussions on literary politics. Except for Aldon Nielsen and Lorenzo Thomas. RB: How did you learn to maneuver throughout the literary field? EEM: I’ve been studying the literary field since I was in college. I’m trying to mentor my daughter who is about to graduate from college and is going out into journalism. Dedications are very. He said that one thing that has really suffered over the years has been the lack of criticism in terms of African American poetry. I think it’s about a black man’s body. What’s the dedication on that one? It’s written to Harold Jackman. The poetry business is no different than any other field. I looked at that dedication and did a close reading of the poem and I don’t think it’s about Africa at all.E. almost specifically the black woman novel. Without naming names.’ One would be naïve to think otherwise. When I started learning about the Harlem Renaissance. Our criticism is still hung up on the novel. You have to break the code. How do you feel about the spoken word movement that is so popular now? Do you believe that it helps or hinders poets who craft poetry primarily for the page? EEM: You have all this energy that’s taking place and that’s good. I’m looking at the letters that came out between Van Vechten and Langston. because it’s giving more support and 42 MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE . RB: You were the founder of the successful Ascension Poetry Reading Series and have always made an effort to give poets an opportunity to read their work in front of an audience. You mentioned how difficult it is for young writers to get their work in certain magazines. but I’m saying. one of the first questions that popped into my head was. This is a something Kalamu ya Salaam mentioned at a literary conference a few years ago in Salt Lake City. Georgia Douglas Johnson says “Oh that would be nice if you dedicated it to Du Bois. We haven’t produced a black gay literary critic yet. Crisis and Opportunity. but any gay critic will tell you. We have to begin to study poetry more. Everything is important when you study literary politics. Looking at the way they ended their letters. She wants to make it on her own. Van Jordan might have been running around at those open-mikes a while back. Let’s look at it in terms of gay literary criticism. ‘You mean to tell me that there were only three or four people writing in the 1920s?’ I saw that the reason we read those writers today was that they had access to two of the key journals. Those who were serious have gone to Cave Canem.
It would be Suheir. They always say. I like them as people. Certain types of literature are very popular right now. I know a number of people who’ve been incarcerated or are still incarcerated. I place them into certain categories. They couldn’t have been more than eighteen or nineteen years old. but how do you handle it when someone with ‘just a poem’ enters your office? EEM: It’s easy. so it’s not like she’s reaching. or whom in this case. Blackman was dedicated to her craft. Many people can sit down with a certain discipline. because they’re kind and generous. I respect that. In it you wrote. She’s one person with whom. I think if there is a young writer who’s in the tradition of June Jordan. throw a little sex in it and they’re off to the races. You don’t do things for rewards or anything like that. I can go through a list of other people who sort of take your wallet and leave. They were excited and started talking about their work. I love Suheir.appreciation to the field in general. I’m listening and it’s some tired stuff. “Every person who writes a poem is not a poet. not arguing or shooting at each other. EEM: Well. I know that when I sit down with many of them. You see different profiles of authors in magazines and they are looking good and living good. but when you see friendships develop that’s more satisfying than all the books and stuff. most def. I remember getting on the Metro a few years ago. who cites you as her writing mentor. That’s priceless. The title of one of her books is taken from June Jordan’s work. They had a love for language that was bringing them together. almost on a daily basis. there was a young brother sitting close to me and he had a poem. Van Jordan are some of the younger writers that I feel close to. A few stops later. but there’s nowhere to go with that. Toni Blackman. the author of a book of hip-hop poetry entitled Inner-course. it’s her. I’m not dealing with Etheridge Knight. his buddy got on. but here they were. Then. RB: You moved into the world of creative non-fiction with your memoir Fathering Words. RB: Most definitely… EEM: No. “You know so-andso helped me out” and you feel good about that. A true poet is a person of the heart. so I’m sure she’s the reason I’ve been featured. However. I’m going to meet somebody who’s just born again. a poem of yours was featured on the HBO series Def Poetry Jam again a few nights ago. I’m dealing with somebody to whom the writing is important because it primarily helps them get through the day. there are the people who think writing is just a hustle. One good example is Toni Blackman. Their love and appreciation for what I’ve done encourages me to continue being a literary activist. type up some things. two young black men. I’m always on the lookout for someone who has tal- MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE 43 u the gie O boSuE . People see that and they want to look good and live good. Suheir. But here are two black guys who didn’t know each other that well—they’d met at a reading or something—talking about poetry. looking for feedback on their work. and A. I like their work and they make you want to interact with other people. Suheir Hammad was one of the original cast members of Def Poetry on Broadway.” People come to you. Obviously. when I first met her years ago. I know who’s responsible for their interest in my work. too. so I’ve never seen the program. I was really impressed. (Laughter) RB: Speaking of which. in which you discussed your journey into literal and figurative fatherhood. I don’t have cable.
it’s what I write about the best. there is a poem called “Post-Card from Geneva” in which you say: “I am always amazed/ how you say so much/ in such little space. When Robert asked me if I had anything for his book. I also challenge myself with these stories. I would also give credit to people like Ahmos Zu-Bolton and Sterling Brown. Also. Secrets and Promises. I had to write prose. At any given time.” “The Trade” and “The Equator. RB: In addition to a new book of poetry. I can see myself writing more stories or working on a novel. Someone would be giving my introduction at a reading and the introduction would be longer than the reading itself. you find the doors and push them through until they reach that point of take off. You also have a number of short stories that will be published next year.” which can be found in the book Brown Sugar 3. Poetry is good. an anthology of black erotica. I was practicing what you’d call an economy of words. which is your second memoir. and Marriage by Black Men.” Since you’ve begun writing fiction. What brought about this type of variation in your work? EEM: When I started writing. you need more words.ent and you know is going to go far. I told them Naomi [Ayala] could go. Now.” which reads: “I suck your breasts/ till your nipples/ stand erect like two/ small soldiers ready/ to go to war. That’s what literary politics is all about. Why has this theme become a staple in your work? EEM: I think looking back at my work. we used to write poems back and forth. Lust. They both wrote long narrative poems. somebody may contact me and ask me to give a talk. I think poetry readings forced me to write longer poems. When we used to work in the African American Resource Center together.” which can be found in How We Sleep on the Nights We Don’t Make Love. Secrets and Promises. RB: In your book Whispers. If it doesn’t fit into my schedule I tell them. As opposed to avoiding it. I’m in my fifties and I realize that it’s a blessing 44 MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE . area that I’m always looking to promote. Fifth Inning. but it has its limitations. I know I can do it and it’s something I enjoy.” I think that story holds up really well. but scattered throughout your work are much longer poems with denser language. You’re known for compact. in order to express them. but call so-and-so. “I can’t make it. I am promoting at least two or three writers. “Bringing Back the Draft. All of my poems were very short. It is always important to have new challenges for yourself. For example. It surpasses Fathering Words or any of the other things that I’ve done. Why did you decide to venture into all three major literary genres? EEM: In terms of Fathering Words. The best story I’ve done so far is called “Giovanni” and I sent it to Robert Fleming to be published in Intimacy: Erotic Stories of Love.” Two days ago I was invited to go to a conference in Mexico. Readers are used to seeing poems like this one found in Whispers. eroticism has taken precedence there as well as in stories like “Korea. RB: Sensuousness is a reoccurring theme in your poetry. but it didn’t fit into my schedule. So. If you believe in someone’s talent.” Those three lines can also be used to describe your own work. such as “The Last Days of Bo Willie. pointed poems. Ahmos is a storyteller. I was working on a novel and I was stuck. For me to deal with the loss of my father and brother. I took a great sex scene from my novel and fleshed it out to create “Giovanni. I think you encounter certain things in your life and. I’m going at it head on. you are writing a new piece of creative non-fiction.C. She’s one of the people in the D. Now. I think it’s about writing to my strength and I’m happy to do that. How We Sleep on the Nights We Don’t Make Love.
That’s also how I’m responding to Zoë [Anglesey’s] and Reetika [Vazirani’s] deaths. I’m trying to make sure I set the records straight. I was honored to be a part of the mural. What this program has forced me to do is go back and study the basics. that’s why we’re calling you. I’m in touch with Liam [Rector] a lot more. I’ve been a witness to how Howard treated Sterling A. Now. no one at Howard University said anything. not just work with a student for one term and that’s it. During the city’s recent celebration of Fathering Words. In your memoir. It’s been a very MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE 45 u the gie O boSuE . Of course. I have to start putting things in order and taking care of stuff.” At that point. I wouldn’t have a career if I was not associated with the university. I asked the person calling who else would be on it and they said. but there are no copies of the book available for purchase there. but now I have a better understanding of teaching/mentoring. I have a body of people who are my students.” You obviously feel “underappreciated” at Howard. I always wish the university well. I feel it’s a rich tradition. “Oh. It helps keep you humble. I realized that I’m working in the same capacity that I have been for a number of years. who’s probably making twice what I’m making. That’s very comforting. I could go down the list of how these writers were treated and how nothing has changed. so why have you stayed so long? EEM: Well. At Howard. Howard would not have any response to what I’m doing if things weren’t getting written up in the Washington Post or if I wasn’t getting invited to the White House. low-residency format? Do you think it’s beneficial to students? EEM: I think so. Stephen Henderson. but it’s painful. I came to writing through issues of culture and politics. I have three old desks that I’ve always had. so if some writer or artist is coming to the university. I don’t feel unappreciated. and Ed [Ochester] and I are beginning to form a nice relationship. This summer I got a call about Howard wanting to do a mural of authors for the campus bookstore. the love affair between writers and schools that did not love them in return. but doesn’t know what they’re doing. I just got a new computer because I knew somebody. Some people there think I’m the guy that only goes to get the mail. I’ve become a better writer by teaching. you said “I knew my relationship with Howard would be one in which my service would never be recognized. Here are two people I loved and I’m trying to keep their memory alive. You’d think there would at least be a display in the university bookstore. Brown. I feel like I’m not paid anything. I’m never notified. but I can give you an example of what I mean. Even so. I also think about what I’ve learned and been a witness to. Keep in mind I didn’t come through an English department or a Creative Writing Program. I really like my students. there are certain things that always bring me back to Howard. I feel like they’re a good group. I knew the history and the horror. I’ve learned a lot being at Bennington. I’m not in the inner-circle. what do you like about the non-traditional. I made some early major mistakes.to make it out of this decade. I’m there to work for somebody. I try to keep the relationships ongoing. I also like the people that I’ve been working with. and Julian Mayfield. Becoming an elder. because it’s part of my career. RB: You received your Bachelor’s degree from Howard and have been working as the director of their African American Resource Center since 1974. RB: Now that you’re teaching in the Writing Seminars Program at Bennington.
What prompted you to start sending these? EEM: This started out from me making mistakes. Now.rewarding experience and it has helped me look at teaching more closely. Bennington established a committee to deal with issues of diversity. you were being pursued because they needed to fill this space with a certain type of person. This was also the same time I moved from the associate faculty to the permanent faculty. If a student is into experimental writing or gay and lesbian issues. we need to know how to help them find what they’re looking for. Each month you not only send them detailed comments on their work. Ed Ochester went to Cave Canem. At the time he left. book releases. One way that we’ve attempted to do that is by hiring people of color to be associate faculty members. I don’t like being in Vermont in January. One of the big issues at Bennington. The Bennington program is a good program and I think what we undertook just a year ago is beginning to bear fruit. that’s what I do. posters. Tom only had a chapbook. due to the premise of the program itself. you even sent me a Langston Hughes lapel pin and videotape of an A. but when I look at the student make-up of Bennington. so it looked like one person goes out and one person comes in. Also. I look at it as being diverse. These packets consist of any given number of things. It’s not going to change entirely. The key thing is I’m a resource person. I’m making sure that people get a good dose of African-American literature. I’ve been running a center. I started looking around and saw that my colleagues were teaching from their strengths. RB: You take an intense and personal approach while working with students in the Bennington Writing Seminars. but other than that. In defense of the program. so that we have funds for scholarships. I process information. RB: You joined the Bennington faculty in the midst of Thomas Sayers Ellis leaving. My strength is African American culture. I had to learn from that. I only went into classrooms as a substitute. such as newspaper articles. It seems clearly evident that. so I make sure that my students benefit from that. Core faculty members producing a steady stream of work is an essential part of the program. I wasn’t operating from my strength. so I’m sure they were looking to maintain that. Even though I’ve been at Howard for many years. who was also the only other African American faculty member at the time. but also put together what you call an “E-packet” for each student. Even so. in addition to your accomplishments. I think the important thing is diversity in terms of literary style. This is why we all need to be up on our reading. RB: One project that I know you’re very passion- 46 MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE . Race and gender don’t really matter if everybody’s writing the same stuff. it’s been great. I went to the Hurston/Wright Foundation retreat and talked about the program. The program can only do so much. Van Jordan reading after I told you how much I enjoyed their work. It was not a committee driven by student protests or anything like that. This is a problem they saw and began discussing ways to resolve the issue. how did this affect your decision to teach at Bennington? EEM: Tom was very popular at Bennington and I think the fact that he wasn’t coming back was upsetting to people. Our major task now is going to be raising a large body of money. is production of work.
have successfully raised two children. So. There’s one letter in which June writes about only having a few dollars. I wouldn’t release any letters that may be harmful to people living. but I would release the ones that could help people understand her career. mentored countless writers.ate about is editing and. RB: Who has the letters you wrote to June? EEM: I have a letter from June in which she told me that she gave all my letters to the Schlesinger Library years ago. published work in different genres. That has nothing to do with the distance you’ve traveled inside yourself. She knew about Wanda Coleman’s letters because they were in Callaloo. publishing the 200+ letters you exchanged with June Jordan over the years. served on a number of literary boards and committees. So. taken literature to the masses by way of radio and television.” His letters show his increasing interest in Buddhism. my letters are there.C. because publishers have ways of putting pressure on estates. but her letters to me are in my house. eventually./ outside I can hear the wind/ rustling through the leaves of trees. That is a poem that deals with material conditions in term of success. It’s supposed to be out in the fall of 2005. she cites her mother. This is where Catherine’s book might be helpful. I have another letter where she’s going to debate William Buckley and she lists everything she’s reading to prepare for the debate. Weaver’s are very important because they chronicle the beginning of his career. what else do you have on your plate? EEM: I’m interested in working more with the Institute for Policy Studies. declare an ‘E. he was like. My letters belong to the estate. Those things are important./ I own those trees. This is history. teaching and writing. Last week. I told her about June’s letters. I think speaking and writing about political issues is important. She’s also going to use Michael Weaver’s letters. Ethelbert Miller Day’ in your honor. Before she died. June was honored in Philadelphia for lifetime achievement. that is fascinating and valuable information. I was inviting him to a conference at Howard and he talks about all the Howard poets in one letter. It reads: “I will stop dreaming now/ now that I’ve finally made it. I also sent her my Charles Johnson letters. In your anthology In Search of Color Everywhere Cornelius Eady’s poem “Success” appears. If you’re a biographer. even had the mayor of D. I found two really important letters from Lance Jeffers. After I got his permission and sent him copies to edit. There has to be a way for one to challenge things in your society. In the beginning of her speech. Will the recent acquisition of her papers by Harvard’s Schlesinger Library make this process more difficult or do you think the renewed interest in her work could make it easier? EEM: I think the interest in letters in general will make it easier. RB: Aside from June’s letters. her father and me as the biggest influences on her life. So. You’ve accomplished so much and are still looking to do more. you’re going to take notice of a remark like that. You should write political poems that are an outgrowth of your daily work. Catherine McKinley is doing this book called Writing Between the Lines: A History of African American Literature in Letters 17502000. but that’s a good question to end with. RB: You have written and edited numerous books. In fact. “This is fantastic.” Do you feel this way? EEM: No. MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE 47 u the gie O boSuE .
I have enough time but it seems like I don’t have enough time still. it is all for loss. TM: Yeah. You are always guilt ridden and wrestling with yourself to get the time for yourself to read. It’s hard in a society where you are sensitive to the geo-political landscape. The hard part is after you create how do you get the shit out there. or whatever . Working on projects keeps me invigorated. If I had a family how would I work around that? Everything takes hard work. about splitting your mind in two? (Laughter).Tony Medina lem. It was after Safiya Henderson Holmes’s funeral. “What’s up. TM: I think it’s almost akin to working in various genres at the same time. yet they manage to conduct their lives as writers and poets. I think you were working on Role Call and Def Poetry Jam. How many books have you produced? TM: About twelve. teaching. The busier you get and the older you are. man?” Everything is working against you and you have to find ways of sustaining your energy. I have decent enough job to maintain myself. keeping your mind clear. It’s an ongoing process of finding balance in your life. It’s a kill-kill situation. and also to create. Writing is a relationship that we have with this art form – kind of like having a wife or a husband or child. Even if you were in a heavy-duty relationship you still have to cater to your muses needs. to fill your well up. It’s just crazy. And then when you want to write a story or essay you have a different mind for that but also the doors are open enough so you can let in the poetry. The one thing that writers always fear and have guilt about is wasting time. Your mind works in a certain way when your antennas pick up certain poems or you’re thinking as a poet or looking at the world as poet although you may not be cognizant of it. And after it is out there how do you push it and sell it. and I were wandering the streets of Harlem and you invited us to your place. TM: Oh god. I’m a single cat. while at the same time writing poems in the “Broke” voice. Your muse is not going to let you sleep. JJ: And you have about how many that you haven’t published. It makes me feel like I’m doing something. So you have to always find the balance. JJ: Even if you are in love.if you are not writing. Your muse is not going to let you think clearly. You. I don’t have any kids. people that have whole families and children they have to deal with. Some manuscripts get published and some get pushed onto the back burner. JJ: You are fond of bookmaking. Your muse is not going to let you rest. I just remember writing the poems for No Noose. Then your body starts saying. Sheree Thomas. JJ: Do you want to talk about your process. I remember seeing the piles of papers from the different anthologies. It’s at least four or five. But then things happen and you learn to split your mind into two and you have several projects going at the same time. the further you get from your work and you always have to fight to get back to that or else you get depressed. I would look at things his way and speak his way – in his syntax – giving it my full concentration. Every relationship. or I end up being miserable. Because poetry is the foundation and you want to always aspire to write poetry even in your fiction and non-fiction. There are people that work nine-to-five jobs. Can you talk a little 48 MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE . and I remember trying to figure out your system. not getting sucked up into drama and bullshit. JJ: Are you writing all the time? Do you get a book idea and write to complete that idea? TM: I use to just work towards filling up a folder of work.
It is that simple. I think recently I’m finding it harder to write in D. As a writer. all these different poets and different backgrounds and ages together. children. Trust that everybody brings something to the table. and you have to trust the other folks. You got to work together. From the table of contents – everything is a message. JJ: Were those actual letters? TM: No. Where in a sense you’re creating a community with the anthology while at the same time you’re creating this tool. because I am so used to the energy of my Harlem crib and New York City and it feeds me. There is a point where you say. are making individual statements and making this tremendous collective statement. JJ: A follow-up to the follow-up? TM: DeShawn’s new book is Yo. too many ideas . from cover to cover it is shaped in this political instrument. Isn’t that ironic? (Laughter). MOSAIC LITERARY MAGAZINE 49 u the gie O boSuE . You have ideas that you want to keep pushing . and Role Call. and other poets. I basically grew up in the projects – Throgs Neck section of the Bronx. “Follow-up Letters to Santa. I’m always coming up with ideas. There is a process of building community – of working together to achieve the ends and the means of art and activism. Why You Dis Me Like That? Place figures in Love to Langston. artists.being a perfectionist and keeping to my vision. Then I helped out with Catch the Fire. Not being able to access New York would be a blow to my psyche. There is going to a follow up to that book. Living in the Bronx. later for that. JJ: What convinces you that this is a project you want to be a part of? TM: It’s the idea and you share it with somebody and they get just as excited as you do and then you both run with it. Most of my writings have been done in New York City. DeShawn has asthma – I had asthma. New York City is with me at all times. Where you’re thinking. If you look at Bum Rush the Page. JJ: You have a collaborative spirit as an artist. the Bronx is with me at all times.C.not enough money – not enough time. The descriptions of the hood come from my childhood growing up in the Bronx. I started with In Defense of Mumia. I have edited other poets’ books like Jessica Care Moore’s The Words Don’t Fit In My Mouth.” comes from different parts of the country. I have been fortunate in most of my collaborations – everything has been cool. JJ: Since you are a poet from the Bronx can you talk about how place figures in your children’s books? TM: My first children’s book is called DeShawn Days. growing up on Simpson Street there was always a sense community in our neighborhood and I think I bring that to the writing community and to also to places like Howard University. when you deal with Harlem and places Langston Hughes traveled. You have collaborated with illustrators. One of the people that helped to raise him is his grandmother – my grandmother raised me. and Sharif Simmons book Tragedies and Objects that Burn. and Maryland. TM: The control freak as collaborator.bit about being an editor? You started out with “In Defense of Mumia?” What is it that you like about the editorial process? TM: The anthologies bridge the commitment to the literature with the commitment to community. Then DeShawn has his extended family of cousins – I drew from my own family to create that story. That’s the thing that kills me. about a ten-year-old living in the projects and telling his life through poetry. this instrument and also this weapon. Santa. I like to publish people for the first time. That experience comes to life in that story. And then I did Bum Rush. they were fictional.
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