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JULIA deburgos bruisedHIBISCUS
CARIBBEANwomen WRITERS wHiTe TEETH
sunday YOU LEARN HOW TO BOX
MUHAMMAD ALI LONG live the KING
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Mosaic Literary Magazine 314 W 231st St / #470 Bronx, NY 10463
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4 ISSUES FOR $12.00 8 ISSUES FOR $22.00
long live the king | 10 Books on Muhammad Ali by Ron Kavanaugh on the verge | 12 We interview three new novelists who have written poignant books dealing with race and sexuality. Bernice McFadden | Sugar by Pat Neblett Myrlin Hermes | Careful What You Wish For by Pamela R. Brown Bil Wright | Sunday You Learn How To Box by Nikki Terry excerpts Sugar | 15 Careful What You Wish For | 17 Sunday You Learn How To Box | 19 profile | 22 Julia de Burgos by Tracy Grant essay | 28 Caribbean women writers by Marcia Douglas
Cover Brown Stone Blues II by Francks Deceus
Muhammad Ali The Birth of a Legend, Miami, 1961-1964 by Flip Schulke with Matt Schudel
SUMMER 2000 [ summer 2000 / mosaic ] 3
poetry | 20 Haiku by Lisette Norman Black Woman by Jamila Harris The Breakup: Chapter two by Jacqueline Jones LaMon short story | 24 Kooraju by Pat Harewood criticism | 30 Rone Shavers on the novel Tuff by Paul Beatty. reviews | 32 All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks The Black Rose: The Magnificent Story of Madam C.J. Walker, America’s First Black Female Millionaire by Tananarive Due Bruised Hibiscus by Elizabeth Nunez Driving While Black: What To Do If You Are A Victim of Racial Profiling by Kenneth Meeks Father Found by R.M. Johnson One Dead Preacher by Tony Lindsay Soldier: A Poet’s Childhood by June Jordan Whatever Happened To Daddy’s Little Girl: The Impact of Fatherlessness On Black Women by Jonetta Rose Barras White Teeth by Zadie Smith the write stuff | 40 eBooks: by Maxine Thompson
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[ m o s a i c ]
VOLUME 3 NUMBER 2
RON KAVANAUGH Editor in Chief/Publisher CYNTHIA RAY Managing Editor DEATRA HAIME Reviews Editor LYNNE d. JOHNSON Literature Editor RONE SHAVERS Contributing Editor Website: www.mosaicbooks.com email: email@example.com phone: (718) 432-1445 fax: (603) 761-8150 Printing Services: Expedi Printing NYC, NY
EDITORIAL QUERIES & LETTERS All correspondence should be sent to: Mosaic Literary Magazine 314 W 231st St. / Suite 470 Bronx, NY 10463 email: firstname.lastname@example.org fax (603) 761-8150
Mosaic Literary Magazine (ISSN 1531-0388) is published four times per year by Mosaic Communications. Content copyright © 2000 by Mosaic Communications. Please do not send unsolicited fiction, nonfiction, poetry, short stories or any other form of material for reprint in Mosaic. It will not be considered or returned.
a long day’s journey
In the grand scheme of things two years is not a long time, but in the magazine world it’s a lifetime. Mosaic celebrates its two year anniversary with this issue. During this short, yet eventful, journey we have grown, transformed, stopped and started publishing and hopefully succeeded in bringing to our readers a constant stream of interesting features, profiles, interviews and honest critiques of some of the more popular and not so popular titles published today. Few journeys are made alone. It has taken the time, effort, advice and sacrifice of many folks to keep Mosaic going and growing over these past years. Lynne d. Johnson has been has been a constant since the birth of Mosaic––before I knew exactly what this magazine would become I discussed my ideas with Lynne. My former partner, Jacqueline (Jacob) Barrow, who joined soon after the magazine was launched helped guide the business end through the first year. Taura Ottey, Michael and Ishmael Best, Deatra Haime, Tracy Grant, Troy Johnson, Kalamu ya Salaam, Cynthia Ray, Nichole Shields, Rone Shavers, Jennifer Hunt and George Aponte/Expedi Printing have all been very instrumental in the success of Mosaic. There have been many others, too many to mention––all the writers, friends, family and “advisors.” All of whom I owe a great deal of thanks to. Others doubted I could start a magazine with no publishing experience. Some quietly, some not so quietly. But I still tried and still believe anything is possible if you try. Ron Kavanaugh Publisher Mosaic Literary Magazine
glenda taylor success in men take out “available christmas 1999”
[ c o n t r i b u t o r s ]
Pamela R. Brown is an editor and freelance writer living in Maryland. She has been published in Dialogue and The Arlington Courier. Marcia Douglas was born in England and grew up in Jamaica. She is the author of a novel, Madam Fate, (Soho Press, 1999) and a poetry collection, Electricity Comes to Cocoa Bottom, (Peepal Tree Press, 1999) She teaches creative writing at North Carolina State University, Raleigh. Tracy Grant is the author of Hellified and is a contributor to several magazines. His new novel, Decisions, will be released this winter. Deatra Haime lives in New York City and recently made a new agreement to be a writer. Kelly Haley is a Dayton, OH native. She spent twelve years in the entertainment business as a music and television publicist, before deciding to pursue her passion—writing. Currently, she is a freelance public relations writer and aspiring screenwriter living in Brooklyn, New York. Patricia Harewood is a Caribbean-Canadian poet and writer whose work has been published in newspapers in St. John’s (Antigua), Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa, and in McGill University’s Heridan. Jamila Harris is an English major at the University of Kentucky. Lynne d. Johnson is the literature editor of Mosaic. She also writes about new media, technology, and entertainment and is working on a book about hip hop culture. Mondella S. Jones is a native of sunny Los Angeles, CA where she spent five years as a first grade teacher. Currently, she is the assistant to the director of the new
Howard University Bookstore in Washington, D.C. where she coordinates literary events. Jacqueline Jones LaMon is a poet and playwright residing in Southern California. Her poetry has been published in The Drumming Between Us: Black Love & Erotic Poetry; her play, Beyond Definition, has been produced several times in Los Angeles County. Ron Kavanaugh edits a magazine. Pat Neblett is the author of Circles of Sisterhood : A Book Discussion Group Guide for Women of Color. Lisette Norman is a writer from Harlem, currently residing in Staten Island, NY. She recently completed her first collection of prose and poetry, my cup runs over. R. Flowers Rivera completed her MA at Hollins University and her Ph.D. at Binghamton University. She is an Assistant Professor of English at Northern Virginia Community College–Alexandria. Her work can be viewed at www.promethea.com. Rone Shavers is a writer, editor, member of PEN American Center’s Open Book Program, and a contributing editor to Mosaic. Camika Spencer is the author of the bestseller, When All Hell Breaks Loose and the forthcoming, Cubicles. Her contributions can be read in Eclipse, Mosaic, dallasblack.com and Our Texas. Terry Nikki Terry is a freelance writer living in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. She also has the prettiest Rhodesian Ridgeback in all the world. Maxine E. Thompson is an award-winning writer. She has self-published two novels, The Ebony Tree and No Pockets in a Shroud, and a short story collection, A Place Called Home.
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About the cover artist
FRANCKS FRANCOIS DECEUS is one of the leading young
modern painters of his generation. He has garnered critical attention for his innovative and passionate use of mixed medium and collage on canvas. Victor Smite, curator for the Schomburg Center for Research Into Black Culture remarked that Francks is ”a promising up and coming artist, a painter whose work depicts a high degree of sensitivity to social issues and his culture.” His current collection includes the series, “Wheelbarrow People” and “Live from Paris”. “Wheelbarrow People” is based on a memory of Francks’ childhood in Haiti. The characters in the paintings reflect a combination of traditional African wood carvings and Haitian iron sculptures. Francks’ goal is to communicate the struggle, strength and perseverance of the Haitian people and ultimately the triumph of the human spirit. Francks skillfully captures the mood and the magic of our lives and culture, lovBrown Stone Blues II 36 x 46 mix medium on canvas ingly reminding us who we © 2000 Francks Deceus are: mothers, fathers, children, family. Through his work, Francks seeks to “inspire humanity and humbleness in all of us”. He continually creates magic with concepts that can be traced specifically to his Haitian imagination, although he recognizes the combination of the influences of his art education and painters who have come before him. Francks’ series “Live from Paris” is perhaps his most spirited work to date. Inspired by a trip to Paris, he recaptures perfectly the music and spirit of Parisian night life. In this series of jazz related paintings, Francks continues to build on his unique style of collage and further master his inspired use of color. The collage canvas may at time hold anything: acrylics, oils, cloth or even something as unexpected as a button. Francks F. Deceus is a native of Haiti, currently residing in Brooklyn, NY. Washington Ave. Deceus Art Studio, 122 Washington Ave. Brooklyn, NY 11205 (718) 596-4229
Do or Die
A Mali Anderson Mystery
GRACE F. EDWARDS
Harlem’s supersleuth, Mali Anderson is back! And she’s out to solve the murder of a singer in her fathers’s jazz band. With a consistent flair for mystery writing, Grace Edwards, the author of the bestselling book, No Time to Die, takes us on another Mali Anderson mystery ride.
IN STORES NOW
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long live the king
BOOKS ON MUHAMMAD ALI by Ron Kavanaugh
America has always had it’s Black sports heroes; Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, Althea Gibson, and Joe Louis, to name a few, but before the 1960s most of these heroes stayed quiet on social issues. Rarely did they speak out against racism, war, or social conditions in America. As long as they “played along” the media and fans would support these Black athletes. Then comes Ali. Young, brash, and fresh from beating the Russians and winning a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics––standing on the podium waving the American flag as the Star Spangled Banner played in the background. America had welcomed him with open arms. Things change.
Three books have attempted, with varying success, to give us a glimpse of “The Greatest;” Muhammad Ali Ringside, Compiled and Edited by John Miller & Aaron Kenedi, Introduction by James Earl Jones , Muhammad Ali: The Birth of A Legend, Miami, 1961-1964 by Flip Schulke with Matt Schudel and Redemption Song: Muhammad Ali and the Spirit of the Sixties by Mike Marqusee.
MUHAMMAD ALI RINGSIDE
The first books, Ringside and The Birth of A Legend, are for the most part coffee table books with text, sometimes extensive, accompanying each picture. Ringside is full of stock photos and articles that one may have seen and read many times over. What is relatively fresh is the use of Ali’s fight posters. Some of the posters are reproduced in Ringside along with the actual tickets and other paraphernalia, including an autographed x-ray of Ali’s broken jaw, taken after his match against Ken Norton. Unfortunately Ringside has the feel of a book that was put together quickly. All the books take us from Ali’s start in the 60s, but unlike the other coffee table book, The Birth of A Legend , which concentrates on a specific era, Ringside takes us all the way to the present, and that may be the problem with this book. It never truly focuses enough time or photos to do one era any justice. Ringside has photos accompanied by text and quotes from
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“notables” of the day. We have Leroi Jones commenting on Cassius Clay. “Clay is not a fake, and even his blistering and playground poetry are valid; they demonstrate that a new and more complicated generation has moved onto the scene... Clay is definitely my man.” I longed to know what was omitted and replaced with the ellipsis. Amiri Baraka (ne. Leroi Jones) has a way of breaking a topic down and bringing it to a different level, but here we are given an edited quote that fits perfectly into the allotted layout space. There are similar well intentioned quotes by Jackie Robinson, Malcolm X, Jim Brown, Reggie Jackson and other luminaries. The book is divided into chapters, each decade from the 60s through the 90s representing a chapter, with each chapter “written” by a different author. Alex Haley, “The 1960s;” Norman Mailer, “The 1970s;” Joyce Carol Oates, “The 1980s;” and Peter Richmond “The 1990s.” There are no new articles, all the pieces are “reprinted with permission” from the original source. The one saving grace in Ringside is “The 1960s” chapter in which Alex Haley interviews Cassius Clay. Here, Clay gets a chance to give well thought out answers in his own words and we get a vivid reminder of what a young Cassius Clay was actual like. I’m sure the publisher felt its effort’s noble, but I get the feeling that since Muhammad Ali is now an American icon––carrying the torch and lighting the flame in the 1996 Olympics––they felt a certain comfort and took a chance, capitalizing on the new “Ali-friendly” country.
MUHAMMAD ALI: THE BIRTH OF A LEGEND, MIAMI, 1961-1964
If photographs tell a thousand words you would assume we would be tired of hearing Ali’s, but we are not. If you are like me, you still slow when you see the photo of Ali, arms raised, over a defeated Sonny Liston. Or the same Ali, defeated, slouched in his corner after his legendary fight with Joe Frazier. But there are always more photos. Ali in the ring, outside the ring, in court, in a mosque, training, suffering with Parkinson’s disease. So do we actually need another book of Muhammad Ali photos? Yes. Where Ringside fails, Muhammad Ali: The Birth of A Legend, Miami, 19611964 succeeds. The first saving grace is its specificity to one place and time, the second is the photographer’s use of his own photos taken during three photo shoots in Miami, Florida. Photographer Flip Schulke captures a young Cassius Clay when he was not the brightest star on the scene. Most of the photos were taken at the Fifth Street Gym in Miami, while Ali was training for (Continued on page 44) his fight with Sonny Liston.
Redemption Song (top) Muhammad Ali: Ringside (middle) Muhammad Ali: The Birth of A Legend (bottom)
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IN THIS AGE OF FORMULA WRITING, WHERE EVERYTHING THAT HAS SUCCEEDED IN THE PAST SHOULD BE REPEATED IN THE FUTURE, THESE WRITERS BREAK OUT OF THE PACK. WITH PASSION AND REALITY MYRLIN HERMES, BERNICE MCFADDEN, AND BIL WRIGHT TACKLE SUBJECTS ON RACE, SEXUALITY, RELIGION, ADULTERY, LOVE AND CRIME, AND SUCCEED IN BRINGING FRESH VOICES TO THE LITERARY SCENE.
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Bernice McFadden |Sugar
by Pat Neblett
Jude was dead dead! Thus begins McFadden’s engrossing, and superbly written debut novel, Sugar; the book that has readers everywhere exclaiming…”Girlfriend, let me tell you ‘bout this book I just read!” Who is the author of this excellent novel? Everyone’s asking just who is Bernice McFadden? McFadden, from a warm, close-knit family, was born thirty-five years ago in Brooklyn, where she has fond memories of hearing rich, colorful stories told by family elders about life in the South. These stories, peppered with her own creative imagination were the seeds of thought McFadden would use years later to conjure Sugar. Written with the down-home folksiness of Hurston, the provocative thought of Walker, and the art of the master story-weaver Morrison, Sugar is a book about a prostitute—one with a good heart who says she must have been born with her two feet pointing backwards because, “Every time I take one step forward, I go two steps back.” Spiked with suspense, Sugar is also about narrowminded women and hypocritical men in the small, dusty, fictionalized town of Bigelow, Arkansas. It speaks to the power of sisterhood. But more importantly, Sugar is about love. The book is laden with haunting lines such as “I ain’t bad Ms. Pearl, I just ain’t had no crossroads in my life.” Crossroads, McFadden explained, are the opportunities one has to make a choice in the path you’ll take in life. She confided that the decision not to give up on writing Sugar, despite numerous rejections, was a crossroad in her life. After years of writing poetry for her own enjoyment, McFadden honed her craft at Fordham University. She credits excellent creative writing teachers there with teaching her the art of storytelling and encouraging her to push forward. In 1991, McFadden turned a negative situation into positive one when laid off from her job in the travel planning industry. Having more time to read, she (Continued on page 42)
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[ e x c e r p t ]
by Bernice McFadden EP Dutton
Pearl was consuming her third glass of pike aid, and wondering why the name began to sound familiar to her. She thought hard and long about it, but could not remember. She forced her attention on Sugar, who was smoking a cigarette. For the first time she realized that Sugar did not have on one of her many wigs. Her head was tied with a rag. Her face was absent of makeup, which was a rare occurrence. She looked normal for once, even fresh. Her scantily clad body seemed less threatening without all of the fixtures. In this chaste state, Sugar looked more like Jude than ever before. Pearl looked away and tried to consider something else, but again her vision was drawn back to Sugar. The cigarette smoke sailed over to her and invaded her nose. She coughed a little and fanned it away with her free hand. “You need to stop that,” she said, her voice lagging a bit. “Stop what?” Sugar said. “That smoking. You smoke too much and you don’t wear enough clothes, either.” Pearl was speaking matter of factly, her tone was less than accusing, just tottering on the verge of drunkenness. Sugar, realizing this, just rolled her eyes and looked back toward the fields. “Gimmesomemore to drink.” Pearl’s words spilled out like poor man’s pearls, strung together and worthless. Sugar looked over at her, and realized by the way Pearl was shoving the glass in her direction that she’d probably had too much already. “I think that might be it for you, Miss Pearl. How about a Coke?” Sugar said, not moving. Pearl set the glass down between her legs and leaned her head back against the house. “Sugar, don’t it make you feel ashamed when you take off your clothes for everyone anti anyone?” Pearl asked, curiosity lacing her voice. “No,” Sugar said quickly and shifted her body. She was uncomfortable, knowing what the questioning was leading tip to. “Umph,” Pearl grunted and shook her head. “It ain’t no big deal. You take your clothes off in front of Joe all the time. That don’t make you feel shame, do it?” Sugar said, a bit sarcastically. Pearl had never disrobed in front of Joe, in fact when they made love, it was in the thick darkness of their bedroom and her gown was simply lifted above her waist. But that was so long ago; she had not been able to perform that wifely duty since Jude’s death. It had been fifteen long years of nothing more than caresses and quick kisses, sleeping with even breath against a neck and a hand settled into the curve of a waist. Joe and Pearl simply shared a bed now and not each other. Pearl did not respond. “I feel free when I ain’t got no clothes on,” Sugar continued. “How does being naked make you feel free?” Pearl sat up now, wanting to understand Sugar’s words. “I can’t explain it, Miss Pearl, it just (Continued on page 46)
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Myrlin Hermes |Careful What You Wish For
by Pamela R. Brown
Careful What You Wish For opens with the return of a middle-aged Eleanor Blackmar to the small southern town of her birth, Liberty. We are then transplanted back to 1949 to follow the story of Eleanor as a young girl, woman, mother and wife and the transformation she experiences once she encounters Natalie, a young mulatto woman who becomes her husband’s mistress and her personal catalyst for change. Though the subject itself is not one that is foreign to the literary world, it seems quite a weighty topic for a writer as young as Myrlin Hermes, a 23-year-old born in California, then raised in both India and Hawaii, to tackle. Myrlin’s voice is filled with a youthful enthusiasm and exuberance when discussing her debut novel, Careful What You Wish For. However, her analytical nature and keen intelligence belie her years. As a child, Hermes read “just about everything our local library’s small children’s section had” from The Chronicles of Narnia to A Little Princess. Yet, she did not develop an interest in becoming a writer until later in life. She did, however, “invent” elaborate scenarios for her friends to act out with their dolls. In fact, Myrlin’s first love was the theater, which helps her in her writing by letting her “get into the minds of her characters. “ She also draws inspiration from her favorite writers, “writers [who] share a love of rich lush language”, such as Faulkner, Toni Morrison, and Gabriel Garcia-Marquez. There is often an element of magical realism to [these authors].” One senses these elements in Hermes’ own novel with its vivid descriptions that are surreal, seemingly magical events. Hermes feels that it is her “literary experience” that influences her work just as much as her ”actual experience.” “After all of the Faulkner and Morrison that I’ve read, I feel that a small southern town is not all that unfamiliar to me,” she explains. Yet one might ask how familiar a 23-year-old is with the experiences of a young mulatto woman, Natalie, in a southern town such as the fictional setting of Liberty. Hermes is only one of many (Continued on page 42)
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[ e x c e r p t ]
Careful What You Wish For
by Myrlin Hermes Simon and Schuster
By the time they got home, Eleanor’s lipstick had worn away except for a greedy-looking ring around her mouth. And the hat looked ridiculous in her mouse-brown hair, especially with that plain navy dress she was wearing. No wonder they’d gotten looks all the way through town-and Natalie, in that dress that was barely a dress and her grandmother’s pearls! It was all so stupid, so childish. Eleanor turned away from the hall mirror and pulled the hat from her hair “I expect supper will be late, now, too,” she said. “What time is it? Five?” “Not too late.” Natalie yawned happily, stretching like a cat. “Sun’s still up.” When she had met Eleanor in the train station, her clothes were disheveled and her makeup smeared, but Eleanor couldn’t bring herself to ask whether Natalie had seduced that boy, that child. “No time for pie.” There were leftovers in the icebox. She could make a casserole. “It’s a pity, too, since we have all of those cherries.” “Cherries?” Natalie was suddenly alert. “I didn’t know! If we have those, we won’t need anything else.” Eleanor smiled. “In the fruit bowl.” Natalie bounded ahead into the kitchen and by the time Eleanor reached the door, she was already sitting on the counter, spitting cherry pits into her hand. Eleanor put on her yellow apron and washed her hands at the sink. “Is that really all you want for supper?” Natalie nodded vigorously. “Joey bought me a hamburger in town,” she said. Joey? That boy?” She put a pot of water on the stove. “He can’t be more than fifteen, you know.” Natalie licked cherry juice off of her fingers. “Romeo was fifteen,” she said. “And I suppose he’s as true as Romeo, too.” ‘Bout like them all.” Natalie grinned. “As true as Romeo to Rosaline.” Eleanor gave her a look. Natalie was watching from the corner of her eye to see if Eleanor got the joke. They laughed together Natalie spit a cherry pit, which fell short of Eleanor, landing on the kitchen floor “Hey! None of that. I’ll never finish supper,” Eleanor said, but her eyes were twinkling. She unwrapped the leftover cold ham and began to dice it. “My grandfather had an old bound edition of those plays. It was his mother’s. He used to read aloud to me.” She smiled, remembering her grandfather’s finger moving across the thin, wrinkled page. He did voices for all of the characters, squeaking in falsetto for the ingénues, sighing soulfully for the young lovers, and even now Eleanor could hardly think of the balcony scene without laughing. “I didn’t think anyone else in this town read Shakespeare.” Natalie shrugged. “I’ve been to college.” Eleanor glanced up at her, unsure whether to envy or disbelieve her “I didn’t think most colleges allowed colored girls,” she finally said. Natalie had kicked off her shoes and her white, white feet poked out of the old black dress. She paused (Continued on page 49)
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Bil Wright | Sunday You Learn How To Box
by Nikki Terry
Roy Jones, Jr. may be the best thing in boxing and Muhammad Ali will always be the greatest, but in the world of literature Bil Wright is definitely a champion on the rise. With his stunning debut novel, Sunday You Learn How To Box, Wright should definitely be crowned the baddest bad-ass around. Wright’s style is elegant and plainspoken, sprinkled with heartfelt imagination. Readers will understand why he has provided a true knockout of a book. Doodling with yellow pads and pencils since a child, Wright says, “I love telling a good story about people readers want to come back to. There is something so simple, primitive even, about telling a good story and it is enormously gratifying to have it appreciated by the [reader].” Sunday You Learn How To Box is a novel about Louis Bowman, a 14-year-old boy who struggles with his sexual existence, while coping with the social ills of a housing project in Connecticut. Louis’ mother, Jeanette Stamps, yearns for a middle class life with a home of her own, and for a son who will “act” like other boys his age––in this quest Jeanette enlist Louis’ stepfather, Ben. He initially ignores his wife’s desires, but finally consents to her demands that he give Louis boxing lessons every Sunday, thus the title of the book. Along the way, Louis must deal with his romantic crush on the neighborhood tuff, an encounter with a stranger on the train, weekends spent with his grandfather in Harlem and ostracism from neighborhood kids. Having been influenced by his guardian angels James Baldwin, Tony Kushner and Lorraine Hansberry, one of the first effects you will notice about Wright’s style is the marvelous job he does of making his characters clear and fresh. “What inspired me to write Sunday was a spirit from something beyond,” says Wright. Hoping to capture the bond between a mother and son, and at the same time create a story that explores the soul of a young boy’s sexuality, (Continued on page 42)
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[ e x c e r p t ]
Sunday You Learn How To Box
by Bil Wright Simon and Schuster
The next morning I took the bike outside and down to the other end of the projects where it would be harder for Mom to see me from the window, or even the stoop. The day before had been humiliating, but it had shown me something after all. I’d watched boys of all different sizes and shapes ride my bike, some of whom I knew were as old as I was and couldn’t read or count. I understood the secret had to be in practice, not in intelligence. Now, I was determined. When I got tired of falling, I decided to hide out behind the bushes awhile to rest. Even though there weren’t any leaves on them, they were too dense for anyone to see me. When I pushed the bike through to the other side, Ray Anthony Robinson was standing behind the bushes, peeing and smoking a cigarette. Ray Anthony lived across the courtyard with his mother in the 4B apartment building next to where we’d lived in 4A before we moved to the bungalows. Nobody was really sure how old Ray Anthony was, but Miss Helen, Mom’s hairdresser, said she thought he had to be seventeen at least. He didn’t go to high school and by law, you had to go until you were sixteen. Miss Helen said nobody she knew could remember a time when Ray Anthony had ever gone to school, but she was sure he must have. She whispered to my mother that Ray Anthony was “an out-and-out hoodlum.” Miss Helen was always calling somebody’s child a hoodlum, but I could tell from the way she said it that to be an “out-and-out hoodlum” was more serious than an ordinary run-of-the-mill hoodlum. So I stared at Ray Anthony after that from my window wondering what kind of crimes he might be on his way to commit. When I pushed through the bushes to Ray Anthony Robinson standing there peeing and smoking, it felt like I’d pushed through to the other side of the world. He turned in my direction and aimed right through the spokes of my front tire. My eyes followed the arc back to where it came from, Ray Anthony Robinson’s dick. It was long, wide and the color of these cookies Miss Odessa used to give me for dessert when I spent the night. Almond Macaroons. Most likely, Ray Anthony was the color of Almond Macaroons all over, but I’d never thought about it until I saw his dick. The way he looked at me, with his cigarette hanging from his lips and his waist pushed forward at me, you’d have thought it was the most natural thing in the world for us to be there, him peeing and me watching. When he stopped peeing, he didn’t put his dick back in his pants. He spat the cigarette in my direction, but he wasn’t trying to hit me with it. He started peeing again, aiming at his cigarette until the smoke stopped spiraling up from it. I tried not to look impressed. “Who gave you the girl’s bike for Christmas?” “It’s not a girl’s.” It was hard to sound as forceful as I wanted, watching him slowly tuck himself back into his pants. “You gonna let me ride it?” (Continued on page 48)
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By Lisette Norman
your tongue slides up my thigh, leaving most of what god gives you on my skin
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the breakup chapter two
by Jacqueline Jones LaMon
asses shift hands wringing sweaty crying knowing hands nails tapping butcher block surfaces worn with scars and shallow trenches disturbing the pepper annoying the salt breath heavy upon unbreathed breath eyes lowered empty dark and dripping your lips are quivering, baby your lips remembering her lips and tongue and teeth and curly moist and fragrant hairs so shamed and so fulfilled there is no other path around this piercing we chat about the job and weather my fingers reach to touch your fingers your fingers flinch then pull away you scratch your head releasing a memory embedded behind the ear in which she last left whispers and convulse involuntarily while you think of the second hour taste of digits on your right hand AT LOOK AT ME i am not going to make this easy for you not going to pat your back or shake that hand not giving you a box lunch and carfare not going to run the tape WE CAN ALWAYS BE FRIENDS WE CAN ALWAYS BE FRIENDS WE CAN ALWAYS BE FRIENDS i mean just how many times are you going to leave me before i have been left indeed…
By Jamila Harris
We hard rock Color pencil sharp-in yo’ face pu nanny whippin’ scented in stream of unique collective awareness knit together like hand-weaved netting sifting sailing through waters catch bones bottomed shore only to pass through in-out-of pattern graciously inherit the right to birth creativity oozing out of pens-mouth fingertips-drums shake-a-ray queens shake-a-ray the loose ends throw the cords of life and reel in the prostitutes cracked heads jailed birds breathe life into the dead eye we need only to whisper/close ears are formed open
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[ p r o f i l e ]
JULIA de BURGOS
by Tracy Grant
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Here at the opening of the 21st century, we live in a word rich with cultural diversity. In literature, just as in other mediums, the most memorable work often comes when creativity blends with keen social, and sometimes political, observations on the part of the writer. Masterful examples can be found in the work of Walter Mosley, who draws from within to depict black American life, or Arthur Golden, whose Memoirs of a Geisha provides insight into a seldom seen part of Japanese culture. The poet who can be added to this list is the late Julia de Burgos, if for no other reason than for the manner in which her work and her life challenged the conventions of her surroundings. As a woman, she was constrained by the social ills of her native Puerto Rico. Writing from the 1930s to the 1950s, she lacked the outlets available to a Hispanic poet today. However, awareness of this bard has spread far past her native country, and the spirit of a unique poet is becoming more evident. Julia de Burgos was born in Puerto Rico in 1914, the oldest of 13 children, six of whom died as children. When the Depression began, her family was dispossessed of their land, but Julia found herself at the University of Puerto Rico at the age of 17. She briefly taught school after college, but soon became active in the movement toward Puerto Rican independence. Her poetry spoke to all of the causes she found important; much of it is political in nature, sometimes feminist, sometimes introspective, describing her romantic misfortunes. She has been called the most important Puerto Rican poet of her time, yet for years she was unknown outside of academic circles. Though she wrote over 200 poems, her work drew little compensation, and her activism
left her with little support in New York City, where she later moved. Toward the end of her life, she struggled with substance abuse and died penniless at 39 years old. Today, de Burgos is finding notoriety she should have received decades ago. Her legacy is being kept alive through collections of her poetry that translators have provided in English along with the original Spanish versions. The most notable is Song of the Simple Truth: The Complete Poems of Julia de Burgos (Curbstone Press), translated by poet Jack Agueros. Agueros provides dual language versions of all of de Burgos’ work, including ”The Voices Of The Dead: In China,” “Ay, Ay, Ay Of The Kinky-haired Negress,” ”Between My Voice And Time,” ”Poem For My Death,” “Canto To The Free Federation,” “Long Live The Republic! Down With The Assassins,” and many others. In Spanish Harlem, there is now the Julia de Burgos Cultural Center, where young people and tourists alike can read and learn about the poet. Similar cultural centers are appearing in other cities, helping to expose de Burgos’ poetry beyond the Hispanic community and the select college classroom. As a contemporary of the Latin American literary scene in 1940s Cuba, she surely would have had some perspective to offer regarding Elian Gonzalez and the struggles of the boy’s family on U.S. soil. Sadly, de Burgos was very much ahead of her time. As her work becomes more available to all audiences, so, too, will her spirit touch everyone who enjoys passionate poetry, crafted from a woman, who, like all of us, faced a number of challenging internal and external issues throughout her life. 5
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[ s h o r t
s t o r y ]
by Pat Harewood
I imagined him before he came. Sun-rusted hair locked out of pride and remembrance. His locks upright calling most to label him “eccentric.” Kooraju was his real name. I exalted in his presence. It was as if I found someone who, like me, had been waiting to make that connection. You know, like a soul mate from another lifetime. Someone who remembers where your moods come from. His temperament was tart-sweet, like a mango crushed in your mouth, sliding down your throat making you give thanks that you have lived to taste the fruits of another season. But those days have passed on now. He too. Gone to another place where you can rest your head without hearing those cars race by on the main road.
“Come and taste this,” he said, handing me a root of ginger he had picked up from the market. He was by the fireside preparing our meal dressed in the very same clothes he had on when, through his mother’s legs, he reentered this world. I took a very small bite and contorting my face, quickly spat it out in my hand. “So much for ginger curry... Lord have mercy! With all those pesticides they’ve put in the earth, they just don’t make ginger taste the way it used to,” he lamented. When he spoke like that, I always wondered about his age. He had told me seventy-two seasons, which I worked out to be thirty-six years. But, there was something acutely ancient about his gaze, something which took you back to the days of reciprocity, respecting elders and the rolling drumbeats of home. When we first met in the shop, he had spoken, not as though he was reading my nametag for the first time,
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but as though he had remembered me. “Give thanks for this reconnection... Jahmilka is an unfocused sister but undeniably generous and gutsy. Thanks for covering for me in front of the slave master,” he began. I wanted to respond with the same conviction but had hidden that passion so deep inside that I could no longer find it when I needed it most. “No problem man. Just be careful where you smoke. Now, can I help you with some incense?” I had been working at a new age smoke shop in the city, which sold tobacco and healing incense to tourists. The owner was a Swiss doctor who had opened the shop as an addendum to her practice. I managed it and she came by once a week to pick up the sales and restock. He had come into the shop smoking from a pipe when the owner walked in, took one look at him and complained to me that she, “smelt marijuana.” I told her that it was a combination of all
the incense I had been burning that day. She accepted the answer as satisfactory, collected the sales and rushed back to her office. “No, I don’t need the IN SENSE because I’ve got the balance outside and in. It’s more holistic, you dig?” he cajoled approaching me in front of the counter. “I just came to ask you when you will have time to reason. I mean, is the owner always in your face or can you ever just relax and talk to potential customers?’ He laughed when I told him later how I had found him too forward. While massaging my aching shoulders, he told me that he was just addicted to my truth. No approach would have been right anyway because I had become so disconnected from self, he said. Any man wanting to talk to a strange woman in this society is believed to be trying to “pick up” and I would have just flowed with the stereotype. Soon he was coming by the shop once a week with (Continued on page 45)
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[ e s s a y ]
caribbean women writing at the frontier
by Marcia Douglas
In the late 1980s, upon learning about a forthcoming conference profiling the work of Caribbean women writers, Jamaica Kincaid asked, “Are there many of us?” The conference was the 1988 First International Conference of Caribbean Women Writers at Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA—an historical event which brought together women writers from all over the Caribbean, providing a forum for many of them to meet each other and discuss their work as a group for the first time. With the emergence of writers such as Opal Adisa Palmer, Olive Senior, Erna Brodber, Zee Edgell, Dionne Brand, Marlene Nourbese Philip and Michelle Cliff, during the 1980s, the volume of writing being published by Caribbean women had grown; so much so that in the introduction to their 1989 anthology, Her True-True Name, Pamela Mordecai and Betty Wilson would question, “whether these women had been writing much before that time and therefore whether what appears to be a sudden literary blossoming may not, at least in part, be a flowering of publishing interest consequent on the Women’s Movement and the improved economic status of women, making them a market to be reckoned with.” There are no simple answers to the question posited by Mordecai and Wilson. I do know, however, that Caribbean women have always written, albeit at the kitchen table. The publishing industry, driven by political and economic concerns is constantly shining and it has been a struggle to have our voices heard at all. Still, each generation of writers has paved the way for a new generation of talent to follow, each of us standing on another’s shoulders. Gradually, we have gained confidence, gathered momentum, reclaimed our voices, become a chorus. The chorus was humming, when, in 1990, as a graduate student at Ohio State University, I went in search of other Caribbean women writers. I had recently made the decision to drop out of my Preventive Medicine program and direct my energy toward writing poems and stories instead. My family and friends doubted the wisdom behind my choice. But I needed to be validated and was hungry for other Jamaican women like myself, who had taken the writing path. Where were they? The bookstores had very little, but I finally found a few shelves in the campus library where the hum became louder and when, hallelujah, I opened Opal Palmer Adisa’s Bake Face and other Guava Stories, her pages broke out in tongues. I sat there reading on the concrete floor for hours. Here was a voice that gave authority to my own. And there were others—Merle Hodge’s Crick Crack Monkey, and Myriam WarnerVieyra’s Juletane.
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But why weren’t many of these writers available in bookstores? Traditionally, the United Kingdom and to a lesser extent, Canada, have acted as centers for the publication of Caribbean writing. Britain has been welcome and fertile ground for these writers, nevertheless, there is a sense that many have become locked in the “Caribbean Series” of large publishing houses such as Longman and Heinmann. These series have served as pigeonholes and many talented writers have not always received the exposure they deserve, their work never crossing the Atlantic. There is also the fact that regardless of which shore we are published on, serious critical attention to Caribbean women writers has tended to focus on a select few. Still, this is gradually changing—simultaneous to the emergence of the creative writers, there has also been growth in the number of scholars. Here, the outstanding work of critics such as Carole Boyce Davies, Carolyn Cooper and Vévé Clark comes to mind. Another turning point came in 1995 when the Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars was formed—an organization which celebrates Caribbean writers and fosters critical scholarship in the field. Furthermore, in the 1990s, for the first time, we saw a new development with an increased number of works by Caribbean women being published in the United States, the latest wave including writ-
ers such as Edwidge Danticat, Patricia Powell, Margaret Cezaire-Thompson and Nalo Hopkinson. So there I was sitting on the floor of the library, the voices gathering strength—Michelle Cliff’s Abeng, Olive Senior’s Summer Lightning, ushering me in—I knew I was in good company. Later, as I worked on the manuscript of what would become my novel, Madam Fate, I covered my walls with photos of these literary mothers. I wanted them there to stare me in the eye, challenge me to be more, do better—the look every no-nonsense island mother gives to her daughter. “Are there many of us?” Each year, Jamaica Kincaid’s question continues to be answered with both new names and the rebirth of old ones being added to the roster. Still, we have a long way to go. Inspired by the work of one of my mothers, Marlene Nourbese Philip, I like to think of Caribbean women writers as at a frontier. Redefining “margin” space as “frontier” space, Philip suggests that “marginality is in the eyes of the beholder. The margin, she reminds us, is a space of silence and inaction, while the frontier is the site of activity and battle. As an Afro-Caribbean writer, this functions as a very useful and empowering perspective, reminding me that when all is said and done, we flower because we persist in flowering and we write because we must write. 5
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[ c r i t i c i s m ]
by Rone Shavers
ON PAUL BEATTY’S WORK
Now, given the nature and tendency towards politicizing even the blandest aspects of African American fiction, Paul Beatty’s Tuff is about as baited as books come. Only because its location is East Harlem, the protagonist a young African American male who is obviously “at risk“— actually, only because the novel’s author is black (and unfortunately, that fact is more than enough to serve as its own political statement in its own right), Tuff’s average reader will do more than expect racial polemic to drip from its pages, he or she will want it, expect it even, desire to see a tedious, chest-thumping African American righteousness spelled out and screaming across every other line. Yet, unlike other readers and reviewers, I come not to bury Beatty, but to praise him for his efforts. That is, for branching out. A fictional work deserves to be judged according to its literary merit, not its political implications, and simply by giving voice to characters who can be defined in political terms as “marginal“ at best, Beatty has done more than enough to fulfill his racial obligations to whomever would deign to need them. In regards to the struggles of black folk, the tale and character of Winston Foshay is about as apathetic as they can possibly come, but that should not necessarily be viewed as a bad thing. In some ways, Beatty’s novel must be read as pastiche, picaresque; intentionally written not to make the world a better place
through the author’s spewing an idealized vision of how things should be, but simply as a work which opens up an avenue of identification onto the world of disenfranchised youth. Those who read to expect something more, those who desire that Beatty articulate their rage and resentment should look elsewhere. Better still, they should write their own novels, inclusive of their own agendas. How responsible is a fiction author to, and for, his work? Ultimately, he or she is only responsible to his work, to letting his characters breathe and live, speak and interact according to their own desires and whims. The work is a birth to be nurtured, not the outside environment in which it lives. I say outside environment to mean reality, the world around the writer and often outside his or her sphere of influence. That is, unless a novelist begins a writing career already rich, famous, politically connected, or some bizarre combination of the above, he or she can initially do little. To assume that the novelist should be held accountable for the potential dialogue his work engenders is not only asinine, but to use to old philistine idiom, it makes an ass out of you and me. Please, leave the province of immediate politics to the poets, where it belongs. Like fashion, politics is fleeting, and Beatty should in
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no way be held responsible for what one reads into his work. To ask him to do so devalues individual response, the very notion that reading can be an intimate, personal act. I believe Beatty only created a world in which one recognizes that the differences between Tuffy and the reader are cosmetic at best. To rest as reductive as possible about it, Tuffy is human, and although we as a species may not share every interest, we all have common interests that link us together. To demand, as other critics have done, that Beatty use even one fraction of the so-called “black experience“ to denounce some and uplift other segments of the population not only belittles this black experience, but wholly commodifies it; rips any sort of variegation from its nature and places it solely in one particular, standard little box. How many novels must we read—must we write—before we get over the tepid sentiments of: “We are poor, we are unjustly jailed, we are constantly discriminated against, and woe is me“? Such a view is extremely outdated, if only due to the fact that the truths to be found in such a statement have lost all power; its potency spent through constant use, its case horribly oversimplified. And as only one of a bevy of black writers writing today, shouldn’t Beatty be allowed to write something other than this selfsame notion, this rote party line that everyone seems to already know? Shouldn’t there exist something more?
In response to the view of Beatty’s novel as an attempt to write from “the hood, “ one can only cry foul. Such a reading of Tuff, while possibly well intentioned, shows an absolute misunderstanding and crass belittling of the many forms of fiction and all that fiction itself can accomplish. In a previous review, I described Tuff an “urban picaresque.” It was described as such because it is a picaresque: A phrase originally used to describe medieval Spanish novels (for example, Cervantes’ Don Quixote), novels which were free-flowing, ribald, and tongue-in-cheek, serving no greater purpose other than to illustrate the exploits of the “common“ man. The same can be said of Tuff. Beatty is not responsible for your political views, and neither is he responsible for the world around him. He can only seek, create, and present his own, alternative view. His work reflects that, his characters reflect that, and his themes and tropes prove it with ridiculous consistency. So then, why be upset because an author refuses to reinforce attitudes and information you already have and know? 5
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[ r e v i e w s ]
Visions All About Love: New Visions By bell hooks William Morrow Reviewed by Deatra Haime
Reading a work by bell hooks is like taking a trek up a vaguely forbidding but promising mountain. She’s keenly critical and works diligently to illuminate every aspect of a subject matter, leaving very little room for other possibility. In her new book, All About Love: New Visions, she brings love into focus and attempts to give substantial meaning to the often elusive but universally desired emotion. Ultimately, she demands a new consciousness in our orientation from the conventional romantic hooey. This book, she says “... provides radical new ways to think about the art of loving, offering a hopeful, joyous vision of love’s transformative power.” hooks’ main ideas center around a call to experience love as an act rather than as an emotion. She begins by borrowing a definition from the writer M. Scott Peck in his book, The Road Less Traveled, Love is “the willingness to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” Keenly aware of the vast change in realization required to live this definition, hooks painstakingly attempts to argue the benefit of loving as spiritual practice. Her method is to contextualize love (e.g., lessons we learn in childhood, the necessity for honesty, the meaning of self love, love as a value system, etc.), deconstruct the myths and offer examples—mostly from her own experience—of how the honest, conscious practice of love can both heal and transform. hooks also focuses a great deal of attention on the effects of patriarchy on our concepts of what it means to be loving and explains, “A com-
Butterfly graphic from the bookcover All About Love by bell hooks, William Morrow
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monly accepted assumption in a patriarchal culture is that love can be present in a situation where one group or individual dominates another.” She then stridently argues against this idea and repeatedly suggests that men, even more than women, need to deconstruct and rebuild their concepts of love. Though hooks’ vision of love is magnificent, one of the problems with All About Love: New Visions is that, as a guidebook, it lacks realistic methods and seems mired in theory rather than practice. For example, hooks is childless yet devotes an entire section on how to be a genuinely loving parent, especially when it comes to discipline. Her suggestions reflect an ideal but lack a practicality that comes from experience. Even more importantly, she speaks of her own enlightenment from a place of resolution rather than sharing the struggle of how she was able to evolve past the ways she was indoctrinated into false perceptions and practices of love. By representing herself as a finished product rather than a work-in-progress, she offers little emotional inspiration to attempt change. As is often the case with hooks’ work, her ideas languish in a level of intellectualism that is ineffective if her intent is to mobilize the masses. Her audience may very well be the proverbial “talented tenth” who requires a kind of trickle-down theory of dissemination. She seems unwilling to share her vision with folks who can’t stand on the intellectual ground she stakes — which is unfortunate. The fundamental problem with hooks’ “new vision” is that she writes from a place of hope and longing, creating a new love order that seems utopian rather than modernday focused. The meditative nature of her work leaves an impression of “some day” rather than an inspiring call to action that demands immediate movement and commitment to change.
Driving While Black: You Victim What to Do If You Are A Victim Of Racial Profiling Kenneth By Kenneth Meeks Broadway Books Kelly Reviewed by Kelly Haley
Racial profiling is the subject of a new book by Kenneth Meeks, a veteran journalist and managing editor at Black Enterprise magazine. Driving While Black: What To Do If You Are A Victim Of Racial Profiling is timely in its publication, as this illegal but regularly used method of crime control is making headlines—the Patrick Dorismond and Amadou Diallo fatal police shootings in New York City are two of the most recent incidents. Meeks defines racial profiling as “The tactic of stopping someone only because of the color of his or her skin and a fleeting suspicion that the person is engaging in criminal behavior.” It is not uncommon to see young African- American men pulled over by police and spread against their cars—it’s a way of life for people of color and this book strives to be a tool to combat this age-old problem. Divided into two parts, Driving While Black begins by focusing on this definition and how it is used on a regular basis in crime prevention among law enforcement agencies. Meeks also illustrates how the practice of racial profiling plays an integral role in African-Americans’ everyday live. Citing over a dozen examples, ranging from a 1959 incident where a boy was accused by police of stealing his own bike, to a young black woman being subjected to a full body search at an airport customs office for no other reason than her “type” fit the profile of drug smugglers (i.e. black and female). Further examples include situations involv-
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ing taxicab drivers, store clerks and basketball players and illustrate just how entrenched the practice is in the United States. Part two offers investigations of various reports, mandates—including the federal government’s measures to stop the practice— news headlines, the Bill of Rights and relevant amendments to the Constitution. It also offers the names and addresses of organizations that can assist victims with seeking advice and guidance in fighting back, including form letters to be sent to government representatives as well as examples of complaint letters. Driving While Black is chock full of vital information, but the reader has to work hard to get through the extra clutter and redundancy in order to find the most critical—specifically, what are a person’s rights, what constitutes a violation of those rights, and finally, what can be done when those rights are violated. Meeks set a tall order for himself in tackling such an intricate issue. And to his credit, the research is impeccable, but somewhere along the line, in trying to get this book out while the issue of racial profiling is at the forefront of public debate, he neglects to present his information in an organized and usable manner. It is, however, worth weeding through, especially if one is in need of the resources he’s assembled.
Bruised Hibiscus by Elizabeth Nunez Seal Press Reviewed by Camika Spencer
A classic novel, Bruised Hibiscus is a book that eloquently fuses the lives of two women tied by love and fear. Taking place in the small, post- colonial, Trinidad village of Otahiti, Bruised Hibiscus introduces us to Zuela, a Hispanic, deep toned, young mother of ten, who is married to an opium-addicted, Chi-
nese immigrant three times her senior, and Rosa, a White woman, married to a Black school headmaster who is paranoid that a faithful Rosa is having an extramarital affair and that she is also trying to kill him. Both women ache to be free from the physical, mental and economic abuse their husbands dish out. As adolescents, Zuela and Rosa witnessed a gruesome act as they hid behind a hibiscus bush. In shame, both promise to never speak a word of what they saw as their lives take separate paths, but a similar act, over two decades later (a woman’s body found gutted and defaced) brings the two intricate women back to each other through the memory and upsurge of emotions and circumstance. As the town of Otahiti attempts to obtain answers for the murders, readers will discover that the town not only suffers from man’s oppressive viciousness against women, but that the post-colonial town, is dictated by the separation of class and race on many levels. From a mother’s standpoint, Zuela finds herself only brave when her children’s lives come into question and she struggles to have the same strength for herself, while Rosa dreamily fantasizes about her husband’s death with no intentions of actually killing him. The pages of Bruised Hibiscus swell with the degradation of it’s characters, yet allows them to create a foundation upon the rocky grounds in which they live, a voice reminiscent of Alice Walker’s Possessing the Secret of Joy. The disappointing aspect of Bruised Hibiscus is that the story is sometimes crippled with an abundance of metaphoric description in moments when the reader simply wants to keep the momentum of action and dialogue. It’s like sitting by a campfire listening to an elder tell three stories within one to make a point, but even this little complaint
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is not enough to abandon Bruised Hibiscus. It is that enthralling. Without giving away the story or the plot of the book, the reader must know that the journey of Rosa and Zuela is one that isn’t always easy to swallow, and at times it’s highly emotional and frequently relegates the reader to saying things out loud either in protest or support. Complex but revealing , Bruised Hibiscus is a waterfall of truth that has to be dug from beneath lies, distrust and deceit. Elizabeth Nunez has managed to write a beautiful story from beginning to end that reminds the reader how powerful and valuable memory is. It’s sensitive subject matter has been mastered by the author and in line with When Rocks Dance and Beyond the Limbo Silence, Nunez has brought the past and present spirit of Trinidad to life with brilliance, vivid imagery and tact. From her heart, Elizabeth Nunez has created another master work of literature.
One Dead Preacher by Tony Lindsay Tony BlackWords BlackWords Inc. Reviewed by Kimberly Burgess
Don’t judge this book by its title. Tony Lindsay’s urban mystery, One Dead Preacher is far from trite. The story introduces us to David Price, CEO and agent in his own security firm, as he creeps through the hardknock Chicago hood in his pearl white eight cylinder ’96 Fleetwood Brougham Cadillac to visit Ricky, a childhood friend, at one of his many business establishments—one of which is a gambling ring. Surrounded in a game of craps by the young thugs Ricky routinely attempts to convert to a legal life, among them hustlers, gamblers, and drunks, Price accidentally grabs hold of Sugar Greer’s thick legs in excitement
of winning. Ironically, she was also trying to get his attention. She needed his help. Ricky had said he had a job for him, only he didn’t know it had anything to do with Sugar Greer, or protecting her from her ex-husband. Protecting Greer seems simple until Price learns that Greer’s ex-husband is Brother Yazz, leader of the local Black cult, The New Day Brothers, and supposed head of a well-connected jewel theft ring. Brother Yazz’s influence reaches across the Chicago ghetto from drug addicts to white-collar workers. His connections run deep. Brother Yazz comes from a respected religious family. His father was the late Elder Pastor Owens, and his mother a revered member of the community. Surely Brother Yazz is righteous. He had even rescued Sugar from prostitution and drug abuse, and married her. For David, protecting a client is routine. It’s his profession. But curtailing his carnal passion for Greer is asking too much. She’s no ordinary client. He had never protected anyone so beautiful. Could he resist? This is where the plot quickens. Especially when Sugar, who he finds irresistible, moves in with him to feel safe. Lindsay has woven an interesting plot around Price’s questionable past and The New Day Brothers. Even his ex-wife, Regina, reporter for the local newspaper gets involved. Price then finds himself trying to keep his past and present out of unsuspected dangerous territory, while his late father’s words ring in his head: “If you got one foot in the past and another in the future, you’re pissing all over today.” Somehow his adolescent behavior (allegedly murdering two rapists) comes back to haunt him, turning his firm handle on Chicago into a karmic valley of borrowed time for deeds done in the past, and guns still smoking. Lindsay’s One Dead
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Preacher, his first novel, is an impressive read for urban drama seekers and puts a modern twist on an old story.
Whatever Happened to Daddy’s Daddy ’s Little Girl? Fatherlessness The Impact of Fatherlessness Women on Black Women By Jonetta Rose Barras OneWorld OneWorld / Ballantine Lynne Reviewed by Lynne d Johnson
All too often sociologists, psychologists, and the media pontificate about the effects of fatherlessness on black males. These black males are stigmatized from the onset of their lives, singled out to become the dregs of society. We are forewarned that because these black males did not have a father in the home, or a father figure, that without preventive services their pubescence will be filled with self-loathing, which in turn will lead to drug dealing, killing, and a life in the penal system. Granted, the majority of fatherless children can expect to live an impoverished life, but perhaps all the other predictions are more hype and stereotype than fact. Is it because they do not have fathers that they end up this way, or does genetics, environment, and individual circumstance play a more pivotal role in who a fatherless child will become? These are questions one could ponder when reading Jonetta Rose Barras’ Whatever Happened to Daddy’s Little Girl? The Impact of Fatherlessness on Black Women. Although Barras does an excellent job at examining the issues surrounding the plight of fatherless black women—a subject that has been virtually ignored—the reader may sway between moments of empathy or sympathy to wondering “who cares?” Perhaps we have been desensitized by the countless tales of
the fatherless black man turned ill seed to care enough about exactly how fatherlessness effects the black community overall. While Barras wonderfully weaves self-narrative with interviews of fatherless black women and psychologist’s insight, there are moments when the reader will be confronted with asking himself or herself whether being fatherless has to affect one for the rest of his or her life? Not to belittle the negative impact that fatherlessness may have on the lives of black women, but must these women measure the content of their character by what studies have shown to be the so-called norm? Many members of the black community often allow stereotypes to dictate their existence. Barras’ intent to educate and inform rings clearly, but at the same time it provides excuses for who the fatherless black woman has allowed herself to become. Is it only the fatherless black woman who is more likely to be promiscuous, non-trusting of men, fearful of love, or an overachiever? Probably not. Barras’ work is definitely a guide for selfanalysis, and a study for the fatherless black woman, as well as the father who has been separated from his daughter. Without judgment or blame, Barras builds a strong case for the fatherless black woman to further examine her behavior toward herself and toward the men in her life. It’s been a long time that we’ve waited for someone to stand up and discuss fatherlessness from the perspective of the black woman. And, Barras does a pretty good job, although sometimes a little too subjectively. This book most likely served as catharsis for the writer, and it will touch the lives of many women who search for their father’s love in all the wrong places. But it leaves the reader wondering, “Why don’t you get over it already?”
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Poet’s Soldier: A Poet’s Childhood By June Jordan Basic Civitas Books Reviewed by R. Flowers Rivera
Soldier: A Poet’s Childhood relates the beginning of June Jordan’s life. The manner she chooses to tell the narrative mimics the form of most childhood memories—shards of beauty etched into our minds. Relying upon a dizzying mixture of poetry and prose, this memoir conjures the disparate images so many of us never take the time or the effort to recall, except maybe in passing. Jordan blends historical details (Father Divine and Harlem in the 1940s), blissful reveries (first boyfriends and family trips to the beach and grandmothers who never let go of your hand), and small confessions (“I never wanted and I never got a Shirley Temple doll”) juxtaposed with plain old truth (“A really excellent way to stop somebody from hitting you is to hit back”) to evoke what first appears to be, but is not, a bygone era. The most remarkable aspect of this memoir is the halting language and startling line breaks. By combining poetry and prose, Jordan forces the reader to ponder images and conventions of American society that one might otherwise overlook. Without didacticism, Jordan casts the observer’s eye on the process by which women instruct girls on becoming ladies. She also recounts the defining scars and beatings that accompanied her childhood; shows her family’s sacrifices that enabled the ostensibly upward move from Harlem to Brooklyn, but more importantly, she makes sense of her parents’ complex relationship. Her controlling father understood what it meant to be Black and female in the United States but internalized those stigmas, and her mother saw marital passion as a luxury that she could do with-
out. Jordan’s ability to assemble her life into vignettes may call to mind Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street, however, Soldier shuns the veil of naïvete, even going as far as illuminating the subtleties involved in identifying oneself as American Black versus an African-American whose home is outside the States. As I read and re-read passages, I knew that by sharing her story, Jordan was also giving girls—young ones and those of us in grown-up bodies—a way to reclaim that wild streak that is sometimes forgotten along the way. So many of us are ill-equipped, unable, or unwilling to recount our formative years. This astounding poet and essayist provides a means by which we can see the similarities of childhood, then and now. A true griot, she invokes the senses by which we define ourselves. Hemingway wrote of “a moveable feast.” Jordan reclaims this idea for all of us. Through her precision with words, for whole minutes at a time, Jordan jars each reader into remembering who we were.
Teeth White Teeth by Zadie Smith Random House Tara Reviewed by Tara Betts
Zadie Smith’s White Teeth possesses the rich detail and engaging dialogue between characters that makes her novel a refreshing and surprising first effort by this young author. White Teeth opens with Archie Jones trying to commit suicide on New Year’s Day, 1975. After Archie’s failed marriage, he flips a coin—Archie’s foreshadowing response to several turning points in the book. This simple act determines his journey into a carbon monoxide blackout. Then a butcher bangs on his window and shifts him into a
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newly printed lease on life. Archie drives on to meet Clara at a house full of hung over, marijuana connoisseurs. Clara is a 19-year-old Jamaican and exJehovah’s Witness who lost her teeth and her faith. The two build a new home in North London, where Archie renews his friendship with his World War II buddy, Samad Iqbal, who also married a much younger Muslim woman named Alsana. Samad works as a waiter, despite his immobile left hand, and dreams of a better life while fantasizing about the heroism of his great-grandfather, Mandal Pandein, in the Indian Mutiny of 1857-1859. As the two men rebuild their relationship by hanging out daily at the Muslim-owned restaurant, O’Connell’s, the neglected wives build their own friendships and eventually have children. Magid and Millat are Alsana and Samad Iqbal’s twins who are sent on diverging paths when Samad sends Millat to “Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan, formerly India, formerly Bengal” until he is old enough to contemplate law school. Magid becomes the cussing, reefer-smoking, militant Muslim son bred from Public Enemy records, Mafia movies and rude boy subculture. Archie and Clara’s daughter, Irie, grows up having sleepovers with Magid and Millat. She follows Magid throughout the novel, accompanied by her longtime crush; she also reads and longs to be thinner with straighter hair to impress him. After meeting this crew, readers can see how the arguments can get sparked over clashing cultures, the alienation between generations, and children growing up in cultures distinctly different from that of their parents. Smith manages to tackle all these subjects with humor, a distinct ability to capture dialects on paper, and a gift for sensory
detail. The fights between husbands and wives, as well as young and old, are written like you’re the invisible third party— laughing silently at the silliness that family members create when they annoy each other. White Teeth is an impressive debut with a bite that sinks into the complexities of an increasing diversity of all communities of people of color. White Teeth visits the past of these families, their arrivals in London, and leads us to their futures. Smith has given us the kinds of characters that you want to know what happens to—long after the book is finished. The conclusion has merely marked the end of a particular series of events in the lives of the Jones and Iqbal families. Zadie Smith wrote the 449-page novel in two years, so look forward to her dedication allowing more memorable characters to emerge from her pen.
The Black Rose Tananarive By Tananarive Due One World /Ballantine Books World Reviewed by Mondella S. Jones
Tananarive Due, critically acclaimed author of My Soul To Keep and The Between, brings to life The Black Rose, the compelling story of Madame C.J. Walker, America’s first black female millionaire. Based on research gathered by Alex Haley before his death in 1992, Ms. Due mixes factual events, moving dialogue, and fictional accounts and characters to bring the reader inside the life of a tenacious pioneer. Born Sarah Breedlove to former slaves on a Louisiana plantation in 1867 just after emancipation. Sarah soon experiences the woes of heartache. Her parents’ untimely death takes her from a simple and sheltered world in Delta, Louisiana and forces her into the cruel working days of Vicksburg, Missis-
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sippi. With her sister Lou, Sarah must struggle and fight to stay above ground. Her employer, Ms. America Brown, owns her own washing business with four employees. Sarah is impressed by Ms. Brown’s intelligence and skill and vows to follow in her footsteps to become a successful entrepreneur. After years of misfortune, Sarah feels destined to the life of a washerwoman. Her life changes when she discovers her transforming hair care method. In 1904, Madame C.J. Walker changed the way African-American women would view their hair forever. Her hair oil, along with the steel comb, revolutionized hair care as we know it today. Noted as a “hair culturist,” she once said, “...the Madame C.J. Walker method is not just about slappin’ some grease on somebody ’s head...my course teaches the totalment of colored womanhood, so anyone who sees you will know right off you are a woman of pride.” Traveling around the country by train and car, Madame C.J. Walker introduced women from all walks of life to her system of “growing hair.” For $25 she not only taught them a skill, but also a way of life. A “hair culturist” could be on the path to self-employment. She empowered black women with a sense of pride during a time when women, black and white, were not treated as equals. Ms. Due also looks inside Madame’s hard times, proving that money can’t buy happiness. From her daughter Lelia’s rumored scandalous behavior to betrayal by her husband, Madame C.J. Walker endured the alltoo-common emotional heartache that comes with success. From its humble beginning to its lavish end, Tananarive Due has given us a wonderful story of one of the most compelling women of our time. With careful attention to detail, she has succeeded in staying faith-
ful to the spirit of Madame C. J. Walker and to the research and writing of Alex Haley. The Black Rose proves to be one of the most powerful stories of the year. Ms. Due’s accomplishments with her first work of historical fiction command respect and high praise.
Found Father Found By R.M. Johnson Simon & Schuster Kelwyn Wright Reviewed by Kelwyn Wright
Father Found is an ambitious novel that continues the themes begun in R.M. Johnson’s previous novel, The Harris Men. Johnson has said his debut was born of his desire to do something about the dearth of novels exploring the African-American male experience of familial and other interpersonal relationships. In particular, he chooses to focus on the different ways black men are affected by the phenomenon of fatherless households and absentee role models. “I hate you men!” begins Zale Rowen’s presentation to a group of absentee fathers under court order to attend his lecture. Zale is the president of Father Found, a private, proactive social services agency, whose lone goal is to return estranged fathers to their homes and children. He proceeds to belittle and berate his captive audience— ”cowards” and “children” being among the nicer things he calls them. When the crowd turns ugly, reacting with catcalls and vocal recriminations, Zale silences them by smashing a glass water pitcher. The narrative arc of Father Found is like the water pitcher: half full, mostly wet, and eventually, like Zale’s life, shattered into a million pieces. We first encounter Zale Rowen as an urban Diogenes, literally out look(Continued on page 44)
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[the write stuff]
THE NEW WAY TO PUBLISH
by Maxine Thompson
n Simon and Schuster and Random House also announced each had teamed up with Microsoft to publish books for hand-held devices and computers using new Microsoft Reader software. n Time Warner announced the creation of iPublish.com, calling it “the first dedicated Internet publishing venture from an American book publisher.” Digital books will be sold from the iPublish.com site and through a network of online retail partners including amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. The publisher will accept unsolicited manuscripts through the sister site iwrite.com. DO YOU STILL THINK ELECTRONIC PUBLISHING IS JUST A FLUKE? The publishing industry doesn’t. Check out these newsworthy bits on well-known corporations that are capitalizing on the emergence of e-publishing. n On June 6th software giant Microsoft and online bookseller Barnesandnoble.com announced their planned partnership to sell “paper-free” books that can be read on devices using Microsoft’s Reader software. Barnes and Noble customers will have the opportunity to access thousands of eBook titles through their Reader software, an application that will have the ability to deliver an on-screen computer reading experience. Deals have already been inked between Microsoft and such publishing powerhouses as Penguin Books, and R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co. to con-
Is the feel of a book in your hands soon to be a thing of the past? Is flipping through pages and making a wonderful discovery over as we know it? Is the future here and does it include you? Yes, the inevitable is here. If not you, then your children will be using electronic books also known as “eBooks” in the near future. After successfully distributing Riding the Bullet, via the Internet, Stephen King announced that he would publish a serial story on his official website at stephenking.com. The Plant, a novel King started writing in the 1980s, but put aside for other projects, was made available via his website in installments beginning in mid-July. Fans will be charged $1 per download; each download is approximately 5,000 words. King initially released Riding The Bullet as a downloadable book and was “stunned” by the huge success of it. Nearly 500,000 copies have been sold to date. In a series of articles, Mosaic will look at the phenomenon of eBooks and the effects it will have on how you read, what you read and the publishing industry’s move into electronic publishing. SO YOU THINK EBOOKS ARE A FLUKE n A blurb in the March 23, 2000 issue of USA Today reported that eBook sales will hit $2.8 billion this year, which is approximately 10% of all book sales, according to the American Book Dealers Association.
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Not A Day Goes By by E. Lynn Harris Liar’s Game by Eric Jerome Dickey Satin Doll by Karen Quinones Miller
vert their print titles into electronic books. n Barnes & Noble, Inc. acquired a 49% ownership interest in iUniverse.com, the world’s largest publishing portal on November 2, 1999. IUniverse.com facilitates writers or small publishers wanting to self-publish or publish short print runs. It is Barnes and Noble’s first major investment in a book-publishing venture. The relationship will provide a new era of opportunity for out-of-print authors who will have their books circulated on-demand and for writers who can now have their books published within 30 days and earn higher royalties––by circumventing the “traditional publisher.” It’s clear from all of the industry information now available that eBook publishing is serious business. What’s even better news is that for smaller publishers, eBook publishing offers an opportunity to compete with the larger electronic publishers like ebookconnections.com. This site and newsletter keeps you updated with eBook sellers, eBook resources, eBook book clubs, and eBook bestseller lists. Sites such as The Running River, runningriver.com/reviews/index.htm, are devoted to providing, among other resources, book reviews of eBooks. My company, Black Butterfly Press has just launched five titles that are eBooks. To say that I am excited at a chance to get a piece of the American Dream (free enterprise) without losing my shirt is an understatement. This activity, as well as print on demand, has provided a panacea for both writers and readers. 5
Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby Maintenance Man by Michael Baisden Sugar by Bernice McFadden
books to look for
Drop by Mat Johnson Giant Steps: The New Generation of African American Writers Edited by Kevin Young Rails Under My Back by Jeffery Renard Allen Shadow Dancing by Louise Meriwether Bodega Dreams by Ernesto Quinones Dark Matters: A Century of Speculative Fiction From the African Diaspora Edited by Sheree Thomas Trading Twelves: The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray Edited by Albert Murray and John F. Callahan
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found herself saying, “I’m just as good a writer, if not better. Why can’t I get published?” Several months later, McFadden had turned an unfinished poem she’d written titled Lotta, into the four hundred page, thought-provoking novel, Sugar. (The published book, however, is a powerful two hundred twenty-nine pages.) McFadden, determined to get Sugar published queried every agent and publisher listed in The Literary Marketplace. A few replied saying, “There isn’t a market for a literary work by an unknown Black author.” McFadden was also rejected by every Black agent she contacted. However, after being published, one Black agent was gracious enough to write a note of congratulations and expressed regret that she’d been one of those agents who had rejected her. In early 1999, McFadden received a call from James Vines, a literary agent, asking to represent her, and within two weeks he had obtained McFadden a twobook contract from Dutton Books. Not leaving Sugar’s success to chance, McFadden says she, “Harassed everyone by e-mail. I had announcement cards made up, went to Black-owned bookstores, called on the old-girlfriend network. I did everything I could think of.” Of writing a book, McFadden says, “Well, it’s like my child. It’s mine, and it’s my responsibility. You can’t depend upon anyone else. If you believe in what you’ve written, then you’ve got to play an active role in promoting it.” McFadden’s aggressive marketing paid off. Before the January ’99 publication date, Sugar was in its second printing, and three months later, the sixth printing has since yielded over twenty-four thousand copies in circulation. Since McFadden wrote Sugar with thoughts of seeing it on the big screen, the attention her novel has received from Miramax, Twentieth Century Fox, Penny Marshall’s production company and Debbie Allen, each expressing an interest in producing the movie version, has her excited. “It’s like a fantasy! When things [first] started happening, they happened very quickly,” exclaims a jubilant McFadden. “I know there’s a lot of people out there trying to get published and you just have to wait until your time comes around. And last year, well, last year was my time.” Despite her new celebrity, McFadden is still just Mom to her twelve year old daughter, R’yane. Although a sequel to Sugar was not in her plans, demands from fans caused McFadden to reconsider. Unfortunately, with ideas for her next four books already outlined, the sequel, much of which will be the two-hundred pages edited out of Sugar’s original four hundred pages, won’t be released for a while. McFadden’s second book, The Warmest December, about the tumultuous relationship between an alcoholic father and his daughter, is scheduled to be released at the beginning of next year. “Writing book two is very stressful,” she says. “You have so much attention showered upon you; on something you’ve done. The level of expectation is so high, and I’m scared.” A writer’s writer, McFadden validates belief that a new generation of Black authors, skilled in the craft of writing, will continue our literary legacy. 5
Wright admits that he did not want his story to be a tragic one, but rather a snapshot of life told artistically. “Writing has taught me to be more daring and free,” he says. Aside from writing a knockout novel, Wright is a talented poet and playwright. A graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, he majored in acting, and received his Masters of Fine Arts in playwriting from Brooklyn College. His work has been published in many anthologies including Men on Men 3 and Shade. His poetry is anthologized in The Road Before Us, The Name of Love, Jugular Defenses, The James White Review and Art And Understanding. His plays have been produced at Yale University,
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Detroit’s Orchestra Hall, Dixon Place, Nuyorican Café, and the Samuel Beckett Theater in New York City. Currently he teaches at Borough of Manhattan Community College. For the best seat in the house, check out Bil Wright’s novel, Sunday You Learn How To Box. 5
white writers who are exploring the lives of fictional black characters. Hermes’ response is that she “didn’t try to write a black character (but) instead thought about how I might feel and what choices I would make” if she were this character. Hermes acknowledges that “race is a part of a character’s experiences and attitudes that shape both their choices and their lives, but a character who is emotionally authentic will ring true, whatever his or her race.” Natalie’s character was also influenced by Hermes studies of the literary cliché of the “tragic mulatta.” She hoped to take this “inherently sexist and racist myth” and invert it. To this end, she purposefully makes Natalie both educated and articulate. We learn later in the book, Natalie has been raised in a middleclass white household. This not only destroys the aforementioned myth but also made Natalie’s experiences closer to Hermes’ own, which made her “easier to write about with authority. “ Hermes avoids clichés and stereotypes about characters unlike herself by writing “from inside the character, not outside.” She suggests to writers that are writing characters outside of their own experience, “If a character’s reaction is very different than yours, make sure you understand why.” Hermes says she has received more criticism for “writing about the South as a Northerner than for writing about black characters.” Her response to her crit-
ics is “If I wrote solely from my own experiences, it would make for a boring, self-indulgent novel.” However, as any writer, she uses material from her personal experiences and the people she has known. While Careful What You Wish For, has elements of race interwoven in the plot, the major theme of the work is that one can choose not to be limited by society ’s expectations, a theme that touches everyone’s lives. Hermes’ future projects include re-working some Shakespearean themes which will allow her to combine her love of both literature and theater and a new novel whose main character is even “more different from herself”, a bisexual man in 16th century Europe. As long as the story is still interesting and intelligent and the writing rings true, Hermes will definitely have an audience. 5
nikky finney ursula rucker the big mango sharif simmons slapboxing with jesus
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ing for lost children under Chicago’s street lamps. Zale appears to be an anagram for “zeal” as Rowen will leave no rock unturned in his fanatical crusade to induce every wayward father home. Zale is assisted in this crusade by Martin Carter and Frank Rames, two men he trusts without reservation—the first with his finances and the second with his life. Father Found alternates between these three men, telling tales of their fractured lives and relationships, and concentrating on how, even as they devote most of their waking hours to Zale’s admirable cause, they fail their own wives, mates and children. This is an unsympathetic tale, told through the eyes of three sad sack protagonists so self-centered, flawed and self-righteously cruel, they elicit little— if any—empathy from the reader. It is telling that the one engaging male character, the one character you root for, is Mace, a vicious drug dealer and Zale’s street-wise protector. Father Found is also surprisingly misogynistic. From Frank and Martin’s wives, to Zale’s mother and foster mother, Johnson’s men are portrayed as being beset by harlots, harpies and harridans. I place R.M. Johnson in the widening ouvre that includes E. Lynn Harris and Bebe Moore Campbell. Each of these writers patrol the new buppie frontier, where the college educated and the upwardly compensated learn new jack rules of love and social warfare. Call it Social-Economic Fiction. Johnson, however, doesn’t project the distinctive voice of Harris, and his characters don’t have the juice squirted by Campbell’s often untidy prose. An accomplished writer, Johnson is blessed with a prosaic fluidity. His seemingly effortless prose never sags or trips you from the narrative. In fact, it holds you snugly, buckles you in and carries you long after you cease to care if the lost men of Found find redemption. 5
long live the king
These photos are solitary in nature, intimate photos of Ali eating, shopping for clothes, swimming, sparring, and running. For the most part the photos are unremarkable. What makes them memorable is there freshness and candor. Even the photos taken right after Ali’s announcement that he converted to Islam are memorable for there shear plainness and beauty –– Ali sitting in a suit, ruffled shirt and bow tie that seemed more suited for a Las Vegas act than a new member of the Nation of Islam. Overall it is always hard to get a look into someone’s life just by looking at pictures but, The Birth will give you a glimpse of Cassius Clay, before the birth of Muhammad Ali.
REDEMPTION SONG: MUHAMMAD ALI AND THE SPIRIT OF THE SIXTIES
For a serious study of Muhammad Ali and the 1960s I strongly suggest you read Redemption Song: Muhammad Ali and the Spirit of the Sixties by Mike Marqusee. With deep and penetrating detail for specifics, the author gives us a near complete look at the era of Cassius Clay, Muhammad Ali and the 60s as they parallel through this turbulent decade. With reference to many 1960s icons, including Eldridge Cleaver, The Black Panthers, Bob Dylan and Louis X (Louis Farrakhan), Mike Marqusee has given the reader more than a book on Ali, here we have a tome to a specific time in history that revolved around Ali. Redemption Song makes lengthy references to the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam and Black Nationalism. The author’s ability to weave what may have been perceived as different unconnected forces during the same era is fascinating. It may be unfair to include Redemption Song in this group since the goals are more substantial in nature, but you will not go wrong if you add Redemption Song and Muhammad Ali: The Birth of A Legend, Miami, 1961-1964 to your library. 5
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books, eclectic tapes and food that he had grown and cooked. I told him he couldn’t seduce me with his food. And he warned me as I chomped into his first lentil nut loaf that the Maroons and the Mau Mau had both used poison in food as a guerilla tactic to defeat their oppressors. I swallowed my first mouthful and continued eating. He told me things about myself. I stopped reading trashy daily horoscopes and like my ancestors started looking at the stars and the moon for signs. I tuned into my menstrual cycle and started to feel the pull of the moon on my temperament. “You are so moony,” he said as we lay on the tarpaulin outside his bamboo hut stargazing. I was upset that he had not taken the time out from work to celebrate my birthday. “And spoiled. You are very spoiled,” he chirped. I tried to ignore him, tried to remember that as an organic farmer, his rhythm was different to my city beat. But I kept on coming back to the fact that I had turned a quarter of a century and had not heard a word of congratulations from him. “The earth has had over a million birthdays. How have we celebrated this great accomplishment?” he remarked, “This life is a collection of birth days. Everyday I give birth to something new, a pawpaw tree, a cashew tree, sorrel, string beans, okra, pumpkin, sweet potato, the herb of all herbs. The earth rewards me with her glorious multiple births.” Just think of me for a minute, will you. I thought as he rubbed my stomach trying to ease the pain of another menstrual cycle. What about me? My needs. My desires. My relationship with you. “Touch my womanhood, will you?” I pleaded. He put his two hands on my expectant breasts and rubbed them so gently. I sighed in relief. He became my family. Everyone else was away. Scattered. My eldest sister chasing stock market dreams on Wall Street. My brother training to find his self back where we all grew up in Canada. My youngest sister calculating the quickest way to graduate from high school so that she could do the thing she loved best– paint. My father reminiscing about the good old days before society retired him. My mother trying to be the strong Black woman that everyone thought she should be. They were with me in spirit. I wrote them every alternate week censoring my letters depending on whom I was writing to. Dad was the only one that really wrote regularly but he was not the most exciting writer, his letters an exercise in shortlisting. Receiving them from the post office, I would put them aside until the weekend when I had enough energy to read them. Of his family, he spoke very little although he wanted to say more. All I knew was that he had been raised by his grandmother in St. Vincent. His mother had left the island to study nursing in England were she had died before filing for him. His father had been absent in his life though he had left sisters and brothers for him everywhere. Kooraju had moved to Antigua in search of more lucrative work but had been appalled by the barbarism of tourism. “My family now is the community I cultivate,” he said half-talking to me, half-talking to his field of corn. He invited me to his grounds after our reasonings became too deep as to discuss in my sterile workplace. “What part of your body do you love the most?”, he asked one day while digging for cassava in his field. “I mean, the part that if you lost it would make you feel incomplete.” “My heart,” I responded, embarrassing myself with my quickness. “Oh… That’s what makes me so enraptured by you. Your contradiction,” he stated. I wanted him to explain himself but he told me that some things are better left unsaid. I wrapped my arms around myself and began to weep. 0
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We entered each other that night under the stars flesh on flesh. He was so sensitive afterwards. He wouldn’t even let me touch him. Why couldn’t we just be friends? I asked. What is just?, he responded. I circled his belly button with my index finger and he flinched. There was no difference afterwards. No line that we had crossed changing the nature of our relationship. It just continued to grow, as usual. And with it, the reasonings. “We should work together,” he said one day over a calabash of homemade pumpkin soup. “There are so few of us now concerned with the earth and her fruits, so few of us who want to work the ground, despite our memory of slavery. All the youth want is a job in a bank or with computers. But what will they eat? Disease? Put your precious energy where your heart is JahmiIka, and help me. I’m a brother who can offer you nothing but food for the body and the soul.” I wanted to work with him. To be self-sufficient. I really did. I wanted to follow my heart, to say to hell with this system and to fly in new ways, even to cultivate and to write. I saw the daily destruction, the excess of new cars and dream homes filled with cancer patients. I witnessed the dependence on foreign food and the amnesia regarding local herbal remedies. But that mental slavery Bob had spoken of kept me stationary. I moved two steps forward and three steps back. “What more do you need?” he asked one day as I grated a coconut for the curry he was preparing? I didn’t answer because the joy was there, the peace was there, the passion was there. Sure, he didn’t have a penny or the new bare necessities of this life - running water, electricity, a telephone, cable TV and a PC. But, he was the healthiest and most hardworking person I had ever met. And if this system didn’t reward him, Mother Earth certainly did. Thank you, she said in all her glory. Thank you for cultivating me.
He left me that night. “It’s either me or your babylon job,” he said. “How can you continue working like a zombie doing something that you don’t want to do without destroying self. Free up yourself and follow truth.” When I went up the hill to his cultivation days later to tell him I had quit my job and was ready to work with him, it was already too late. Everything he had planted had been razed to the ground. The authorities had come in and the police had distributed the herb he was growing amongst themselves. Not even a pumpkin remained in his patch. And I couldn’t even shed a tear. Folks told me they had extradited him to a prison back home in St. Vincent, after cutting off his locks. He stood trial for possession of cannabis indica, growing it with intention to sell and for squatting on private property. And there was nothing I could do except remember what had been. Months later, word spread that he had escaped from prison and was “roaming at large in the hills.” Five years later, they still haven’t found him and in all that time, he has only visited me again in my dreams. He says, “Now is the time” and pushes me to move on with the part I love most. My heart. 5
do.” “1 think it’s downright disgusting,” Pearl said, frustrated because Sugar could offer no valid explanation. “Well...don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.” Pearl huffed. “I don’t know nothing about you, Sugar. You live next door and we spend time together, but you still a stranger to me.” Sugar laughed. “Miss Pearl, I see you one of those soupy drunks.” Pearl scratched at her nose. “I ain’t drunk.” Her
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words were slurred and she squirmed again against the warm feeling between her legs. “Tell me something, what you think your mamma woulda said ‘bout what you do?” Sugar stiffened at the words. They hit her like pellets. “Okay, Miss Pearl, I think it’s time for you to go now.” She stood and stretched her long brown frame. Any high she had was quickly seeping from her. “Y-you think she woulda approved of you being a whore?” Pearl continued, oblivious to the anger that was building up in Sugar. Sugar flinched at the questions and swallowed hard. She did not want to discuss a mother she never knew. “She dead. How am I suppose to know what she think?” she said and bent down to snatch up Pearl’s empty glass. “I don’t think she wouldalikeditverymuch.” Pearl’s bottom lip was stuck out and her head began to look too heavy for her neck. Sugar just smirked. “You think maybe she was a whore too?” The words fell effortlessly from Pearl’s mouth arid luckily Sugar had sense enough to realize that Pearl’s words were only alcohol induced. “Miss Pearl, if my mamma was a whore then she did what she felt she had to do. I ain’t gonna judge her, cause I don’t want to be judged. Anyway, we whores ain’t all that different from the rest of you.” Pearl’s eyebrows went up. “How you figure that?” “Well we all got working pussies. We all whores in one way or another—” “I ain’t no whore. I know that for sure!” Pearl exclaimed. “Yes, you is, Pearl, you and your mamma before you—“ “I ain’t no whore!” Pearl was standing now. “You lay down with your husband and in return he clothe and feed you—keep a roof up over your head. You stop laying with him, all those things disappear.” Sugar snapped her fingers for emphasis.
That was not true. And Pearl shook her head insistently no, but she would not tell of what didn’t go on in her bedroom. She would riot. “Look here, I do what I have to to put food on my table and clothes on my back and will keep on doing it same as you.” Pearl raised her hands in defeat. She did not want to argue again, but she had Sugar angry now. Sugar’s tongue flicked words at Pearl like a whip. “The only difference between you and me, Miss Pearl, is you began your whoring life in front of a congregation, dressed in white and with God’s blessing!” She slammed into the house, leaving Pearl sorry for speaking at all. Pearl heard the glasses crash into the sink. The refrigerator door opened and slammed closed three times and by the time Pearl’s foot landed on the last step Sugar was back on the porch, huffing and puffing like a wild, angry boar. “You right’ Miss Pearl, you don’t know me at all. I been on my own since I was fifteen fucking years old. Fifteen! And did you forget how I told you I survived? Have you forgotten!” Sugar’s anger had the best of her now. Pearl turned to meet Sugar’s enraged eyes but she did not utter a word. “With my pussy, that’s how! Men pay to fuck, eat and smell my pussy!” Pearl blushed at Sugar’s use of language; she wanted to throw her hands up to her ears. Sugar was spent, the anger was mellowing down to simple annoyance now. Her breathing slowed and she sat down heavily on the steps. “I ain’t bad, Miss Pearl, I just ain’t had no crossroads in my life is all.” Pearl traced Sugar’s jawline with her hand. “Yes you have, child, you just wasn’t able to recognize them when you came across them.” 5
Sugar Copyright © 2000 Bernice McFadden Reprinted with permission of EP Dutton
[ summer 2000 / mosaic ]
sunday you learn how to box
He’d zipped his pants and I could look him in the face. I’d never been this close to Ray Anthony before, and he’d certainly never said anything to me. It was the first time I realized one of his two front teeth was chipped, just a little on the inside corner. He also had a big dent in his chin. “No,” I said. If I’d thought about it, I might have been scared to say no to him. But it seemed like he didn’t expect me to say yes, he’d already figured out I’d say no, that wasn’t the point of him asking. He walked closer to me and reached for the handlebars. That’s when I saw his hair had a rusty, orange glow to it. I didn’t like orange or red much. But Ray Anthony Robinson’s hair was unlike any other reds or oranges I’d seen before. “Leggo,” he told me. I smelled the cigarette on his breath, kept staring at the chipped tooth. I was filling in the space to see what he’d look like if he got it fixed. “I can’t let you ride it. My mom will see. “I’ll go the other way. Leggo.” I’d already let go. Ray Anthony pushed my bike through the bushes. I stood in the opening and watched him throw his leg over it easily without having to get a running start. He was wearing shoes with pointy toes and buckles on the sides. Pushing off, he huddled over the bars like the kids did when they raced each other. Except Ray Anthony wasn’t racing anybody. He was just riding my bike wherever he’d decided to take it. I watched his butt lifted in the air and the muscles in his legs as he pumped the pedals. All I could do was wait behind the bushes and hope he wouldn’t ride it in front of my house where Mom could see him, and that he’d bring it back. Soon. I started to feel the cold for the first time that morning. But I couldn’t move, playing the whole thing with Ray Anthony backwards and forwards in my mind. His cigarette was lying a few feet away. That and his footprints in the snow with the long, pointy toes were my evidence that he’d really been there. But evidence wouldn’t matter anyway. He hadn’t beat me up, knocked me down and ridden over me on my own bike. I was sure he’d seen me coming, sure that he’d waited till I could watch him, smoking and making bridges of piss in the air. But hoodlum or not, he’d told me only once, without sounding any more dangerous than my own mother, to let go of those handlebars. And I had. Without a fight, without even thinking about fighting him. It might have been a half hour, it might have been longer before Ray Anthony brought my bike back, but by now, the time didn’t matter. Whatever happened had happened already, before he left. It’s the difference between when something begins and something continues. You can’t compare the two. When he pushed the bike back through the bushes, there was sweat running down from his thick bush of rust-colored hair and he had a perfectly folded handkerchief he kept patting his forehead with. “You want me to ride you now? C’mon. Get behind me.” He was crazy. If I could get the bike away from him, the only thing I wanted to do was run home with it and tell my mother any lie I could think of to keep from coming outside again. The bike had attracted people I never would have spoken to or had anything to do with. If I couldn’t lose it or give it away, I had to think of some excuse not to bring it out again anytime soon. By the time I got home, Miss Odessa had already called Mom and told her she’d seen me behind the bushes with Ray Anthony Robinson. Told her she saw Ray Anthony ride away from the bushes on a red bicycle which by now the whole projects knew was mine. Mom asked me, “Well, what’s your story, Louis?” but she was already in a mood to beat some behind. “You gonna let everybody in the projects ride it but you? I didn’t spend months cleaning behind white men for that.” “He made me.” I was looking at her, but I was picturing Ray Anthony Robinson with his chipped tooth, his rusty hair.
[ mosaic / summer 2000 ]
Mom started with her fists. “No, today was your fault. You can’t blame today on anybody else.” Then she grabbed the broom. She turned it upside down and used the stick part on me as my sister watched, looking troubled, but helpless. 5 Sunday You Learn How To Box Copyright © 2000 Bil Wright Reprinted with permission of Simon & Schuster
careful what you wish for
for a long moment. “Water’s boiling,” she said. Eleanor dropped the noodles into the water and looked at her “How long have you been passing?” she asked quietly. Natalie looked up. “Beg pardon?” “For white,” Eleanor said. “How long you been passing for white?” Natalie was quiet for a long moment. “That what I’ve been doing?” “What do you call it?” “Staying out of the sun.” The grandfather clock chimed five times. Eleanor sighed and stirred the noodles with a wooden spoon. “So how long has it been?” “All my life,” Natalie said. “I didn’t even know why myself until a few months ago.” She pushed her hair back behind her ears. “And I could have gone on,” she said. “I was going to get married this spring, you know. I didn’t have to tell him.” She looked up at Eleanor “I could have had your life.” “My life’s not so bad,” Eleanor said. She certainly wouldn’t trade it for Natalie’s, would she? Wandering from place to place, from lover to lover. It was a life Evalie might have lived. If she had lived. Eleanor sighed and picked up the celery. She broke off a piece of the stalk and crunched on it as she cut up the rest and mixed it in with the ham. Natalie began throwing cherries into the air, catching them neatly in her mouth. Eleanor watched her, the tautness in the tendons of
her neck, the little motion as she caught each cherry in her teeth and neatly spit out the stone. “You got any Indian in you?” Eleanor asked. She took a cherry pit out of her mouth and shrugged. “Maybe,” she said. “Bit of everything, I guess. Indian, Mexican. Maybe even Chinese. I don’t know.” “You don’t know?” Eleanor raised an incredulous eyebrow. Natalie put down the cherries and slid off of the kitchen counter “You don’t know who your daddy was, either How do you know you’re not ‘passing’ right now?” Eleanor looked up — was it impertinence? But no, those fierce yellow eyes were asking her to understand. “Your mother didn’t tell you who your daddy was?” she asked. “If you mean the woman who gave birth to me, I asked her She didn’t know,” Natalie said. “She didn’t know? What do you mean she didn’t...” “He was wearing a sheet.” Natalie’s voice was flat and cool. The silence fell around them, cold and white, like snow. “Dear Lord,” Eleanor breathed. The air around them was perfectly still, silent. “Dear Lord,” agreed Natalie. She did not smile. Eleanor put down her knife. She knew that such things happened, it was true. Everyone knew, and no one spoke of it, just as it was not considered polite, in Liberty, to ask how some yellow girl came to be so light. But it was important to ask it, important to look your husband’s mistress in the face instead of turning away to hide in the hollow between ignorance and guilt. Tears gathered in Eleanor’s eyes. “There’s too much that goes on that isn’t talked of,” she said. Her voice choked on the words. “That’s why whatever made me ask John to bring you here did it. I didn’t know it myself I don’t even know what it was that made me do it, but that was why.” 5 Careful What You Wish For Copyright © 1999 Myrlin Hermes Reprinted with permission of Simon & Schuster
[ summer 2000 / mosaic ]
charles l. blockson literary
[ mosaic / summer 2000 ]
The Charles L. Blockson Literary Collective is dedicated to sponsoring programs and initiatives designed to promote family literacy within communities of color. Named after one of the foremost African-American bibliophiles in the nation, the Charles L. Blockson Literary Collective was founded in 2000 by three independent literary publications, African Voices, Anansi: Fiction of the African Diaspora, and Mosaic Magazine. The Collective is based in New York City.
African Voices, a 501 (c) (3), non-profit organization, is dedicated to highlighting the art, literature and history of people of color. Founded in 1992, the organization publishes a national literary arts magazine that features poetry, short stories, book reviews, art and profiles. African Voices sponsors poetry readings, forums, art exhibitions and other community programs. ANANSI is the latest incarnation of a long and impressive line of literary achievements. Introducing original short fiction by talented writers of African descent, ANANSI is an unapologetic celebration of black literature and its legacy. Dedicated to honoring the diverse storytelling tradition of black writers, ANANSI is published four times a year. Mosaic Literary Magazine is an exciting quarterly dedicated to covering all aspects of African American and Hispanic literature. The magazine regularly features author interviews, profiles, book reviews and previews, feature articles, poetry and excerpts some of the latest books.
[ summer 2000 / mosaic ]
children’s book fair
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 23RD, 12 NOON - 6PM at THE BROOKLYN PUBLIC LIBRARY Grand Army Plaza Brooklyn, NY 11238 (718) 230-2100
authors, readings, free books and fun!
SPONSORED BY THE BROOKLYN PUBLIC LIBRARY and THE CHARLES L. BLOCKSON LITERARY COLLECTIVE
NEW YORK IS BOOK COUNTRY
Directions: 2 or 3 train to Grand Army Plaza
5 2 [ mosaic / summer 2000 ] www.mosaicbooks.com
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