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Summer 1999 $4.00

l i t e r a r y m a g a z i n e

the crisis
colin channer
grace edwards
the prisoner’s wife
25 books to read
this summer
elizabeth nunez
ralph ellison
the big banana
S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 1
mosaic literary magazine
contents/02.02 summer 1999

ms. private eye | 8

These black female crime-fighters are breathing new life into the
murder mystery genre. We interviewed two of the hottest crime noire
novelist today.

Grace Edwards by Nikki Terry

Eleanor Taylor Bland by Nichole Shields

the crisis reader | 16

An in-depth look at a collection of articles from
The NAACP’s Crisis Magazine
by Trent Fitzgerald

island voices | 22
We look at four talented writers who are bringing
their Caribbean homeland to the shores of America.
Colin Channer Waiting In Vain
by Stacey Warren
Poet Stacyann Chin
by Duval
Elizabeth Nunez Beyond the Limbo Silence
by Renee Michel
Loida Maritza Perez Geographies of Home
by Tracy Grant

summer reading | 46
Here are 25 books you should try to read this summer.

new voices | 52
R.M. Johnson author of The Harris Men
by India Savage Anderson

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the regular

No Time To Die by Grace Edwards | 10

The Harris Men by R.M. Johnson | 53
Writing & Publishing News
by Pat Houser
short story | 18
The River by A. Yamina Collins
hieroglyphics | 34
The Myth of Solitude: No Writer Is An Island CONTRIBUTING EDITORS
by Kalamu ya Salaam WILLIAM BANKS
bestsellers list | 36 RONE SHAVERS

children’s corner | 38 ADVERTISING INFORMATION

For information regarding advertising
please contact Jacqueline Jacob
sneak peek | 42 (757) 886-0468 / fax (757) 886-0983
5 books of poetry email:
profile | 43 500 Dartmoor Drive / Suite 203
The Harlem Writers Guild Newport News, VA 23608
One-year subscription (four issues): $12.00.
Two-year subscription (eight issues): $22.00
the write advice | 44
Writing Groups To subscribe visit:
by Leah Mullen or send your check or money order, along
with your complete mailing address to:
poetry 314 W 231st St. / Suite 470
Bronx, NY 10463
Rent Party by Rosetta Treece | 48
Virtual Mortality by Gerren Lyles | 50 EDITORIAL QUERIES, LETTERS & QUESTIONS
Cinderella Ain’t Been Here by C. Candice Rigdon | 59 All correspondence should be sent to:
314 W 231st St. / Suite 470
crossword puzzle | 57 Bronx NY 10463
by Troy Johnson email:
fax (603) 761-8150

celebrating our voices | 70 Please do not send unsolicited fiction, nonfiction,

Claude Mckay by Leah Mullen poetry, short stories or any other form of material for
reprint in Mosaic. It will not be considered or

Printed in the USA.

w w w. m o s a i c b o o k s . c o m

S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 3
the reviews | 28

The Big Banana by Roberto Quesada

Buxton Spice by Oonya Kempadoo

Clifford's Blues by John A. Williams

The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah

Go Gator and Muddy the Water by Zora Neale Hurston

The Harris Men by R.M. Johnson

Hidden In Plain View by Blair S. Walker

I Left My Back Door Open by April Sinclair

Juneteenth by Ralph Ellison

Listen Up! Spoken Word Poetry by Zoe Anglesey

Listening for God by Renita J. Weems

Plain Talk and Common Sense from the Black Avenger by Ken Hamblin

The Prisoner's Wife by asha bandele

When Chickenheads Come Home To Roost by Joan Morgan

From the cover of

by Ralph Ellison
A Random House Book

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little brown
river, cross my heart

Q. Do I need a degree in writing to have my work published in Mosaic?
A. No. Mosaic prides itself on publishing both first-time writers and poets. Just send an inquiry
to: Mosaic Magazine, 314 W 231st St. Suite 470, Bronx, NY 10463 or visit: for more details

Q. How can I get my local bookstore to carry Mosaic?

A. Have the bookstore contact Ingram Periodicals. Tel# 1-800-627-6247
or Fax# 1-800-792-6471. Email
Duncan Schiedt Collection

Q. Does Mosaic Magazine have a website?

A. Yes. Mosaic Magazine is part of the highly acclaimed website which has
been listed by both Essence and Black Enterprise as one of their favorite sites on the web. We
have also had write-ups in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Black Issues Book
Review and many other publications

Q. I love a particular article. How do I get in contact with the writer?

A. The quickest way is to visit our website at We list
complete bio’s and email information. If you do not have email, write us at the address above.

S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 5
India Savage Anderson is a writer who Gerren Liles is a senior at Morgan Camika Spencer is the self-published
resides in Chicago, Illinois. State University, with a major in elemen- author of When All Hell Breaks Loose and
tary education. He began writing and is currently working on her second novel,
Tara Betts’ poetry has been published in performing poetry in 1997, and was a Cubicles.
Dialogue, Rhapsody in Black, and Power slam winner at the Nuyorican Poet’s
Lines: A Decade of Poetry from Chicago’s Cafe. Christopher Stackhouse is a poet and
Guild Complex. actor. He has appeared in Laurence
Renee Michel began writing pro- Fishbourne’s play Riff Raff. In April he pro-
DebB is a photographer and photo editor fessionally, editing and writing propos- duced his first solo art exhibition. He lives
living in Brooklyn. (Photo credit: “Pussy wil- als for not-for-profit agencies. She is in Brooklyn.
low” pg. 48) now feature writing while working in
the fashion industry. Nikki Terry is a native of Baltimore,
Duval is a closet writer living in and loving Maryland. She is a recent Liberal Arts
Brooklyn, NY. Leah Mullen is a freelance writer graduate from The New School University
who resides in the Bedford Stuyvesant in Manhattan.
Trent Fitzgerald is a New Jersey-based section of Brooklyn. Leah’s articles have
freelance music writer and former music edi- appeared in a number of publications
tor of Beat Down magazine. In his spare time, including: The Daily Challenge, Sisters
he pens liner notes for reissues and is writing in Motion, and The New York World.
a screenplay on the life of a famous jazz art-
ist. Sadeqa Y. Murray is currently at
work on both a children’s series and
Robert Fleming is the author of several an adult novel. She has a degree in
books including The Wisdom of the Elders. communications and handles publicity
He lives in NYC. for children’s books.

Tracy Grant is the author of Hellified, which Cynthia Ray is a freelance writer liv-
will be released this fall ing in Brooklyn who originally (and
from Visão Press. His articles appear Today’s proudly) hails from the Southside of
Black Woman, BET Weekend and XXL. Chicago.

Deatra Haime is a freelance writer living C. Candice Ridgon is a poet and

in New York City. She is currently writing a freelance writer from Dallas, TX. Her
book about kids of color. work has appeared in The Arlington/ Nikki Terry (circa ‘74) was mistakenly cred-
Dallas Morning News, The Dallas ited as Nikki Taylor in the Spring ‘99 issue.
Donna Hill is a writer with sixteen pub- Weekly, and Spirit Food. She is a Griot My apologizes to her and the whole Terry
lished novels to her credit. Ms. Hill lives in Award Winner for Storytelling, and is family. Please don’t be mad at me Mama
Brooklyn, NY with her family and works full- currently working on her first novel. Terry! RK.
time as Public Relations Specialist for the
Queens Public Library. Kalamu ya Salaam is the founding Rosetta Treece is a mother, a wife, a
director of Nommo Literary Society, an full time student, and a writer. She is proud
Pat Houser is a writer from Brooklyn, New African American writers workshop in of who she is becoming and feels any des-
York New Orleans; and moderator of tination she desires is possible.
Cyberdrum, a listserv for Black writers
Lynne d. Johnson is the literature editor and diverse supporters of literature. Stacy Warren is a writer, lyricist & vo-
of Mosaic and the music editor of Vertigo. Salaam can be reached at calist living in Harlem. She is completing
She is also developing a tech column for ”” her first novel - a children’s book to in-
STRESS, and working on a book about hip spire young people facing major life tran-
hop culture. Nichole Shields is an Award-win- sitions
ning poet and is the author of One Less
Troy Johnson is the owner and webmaster Road to Travel. She is the cofounder of Gayle Williamson is an assistant pro-
of Chicago Writers Collective: A Com- fessor of English at Cuyahoga Community
munity of Writers and FLOW (For Love College in Cleveland, OH.
Craig Knight is a graduate of Kean College of Writing).
and has performed all over the United States Kelwyn Wright, a Milwaukee based
with his spoken word group “A Touch of Vatisha Smith is a recent graduate of writer, is the webmaster for
R.E.A.L.L.I.T.Y.” He is in the process of writ- Baruch College with a BA in journal-
ing his first novel. ism.

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the men of brewster place

To peel away tha’ smokey curls of dreamstate from reality is 2 inter-

pret, as such, welcome to interpretations. I deal in conversations... in
color, so my brushstrokes and techniques differ in direct correlation 2
the vocabulary used in any particular discourse. That said, I must admit
an aesthetically pleasing “pretty picture” is seldom the goal; provoca-
tion of emotion and thought is tha’ utmost priority. Therefore, indict-
ments against systems of oppression are not always painted in tha’
shades of youth, rather, at times, it is necessary to employ tha’; subtle
hues of an aged eye, misty with the memory of indignation. And as
each lover must be approached with a singular newness, each love
must be choreographed with an ever-changing interplay between light,
sound, and emotion visually equated in color and composition.
560 State St. / 7G
Brooklyn, NY 11213
(718) 855-6189

the cover:
“Higher Ground”
by Franz

S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 7
gone are the days of mickey spillane
and raymond chandler. the new crime
detective is lean, mean, black
and female!

with crime solvers like barbara neely’s

blanche white, valerie wilson wesley’s
tamara hayle and penny mickelbury’s
carole ann gibson,
women are making a new path for
future murder mysteries to follow.

grace edwards with her mali anderson

series and eleanor taylor bland with the
marti macalister series are two authors
leading the way.

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Emlyn Paul

gracefully done
by Nikki Terry

Writers such as Lorraine Hansberry, Zora Mosley was writing about Los Angeles,
Neale Hurston and Ann Petry were the Valerie Wilson Wesley writes about New-
trendsetting storytellers for black America. ark, so I knew I could write about Har-
Now in the ‘90’s, black writers embrace lem.”
storytelling from a variety of perspectives and Edwards is the author of the Mali
genres. Anderson Mysteries: If I Should Die, A
Considered the best crime fiction about Toast Before Dying and soon-to-be-
Harlem since Chester Himes, the dean of released No Time To Die. Edwards, calm
black crime fiction, Grace F. Edwards books and curious style will entice her readers
have successfully earned her the title of with every character, and keep their
Grand Dame’ of Harlem-centered mystery fingertips gripped on the edge of every
writing. “I had no intention to write mysteries page as she moves them through each
until someone approached me. Walter suspenseful detail. u

S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 9

In her work, Edwards calls upon her

Harlem roots to tell the true and physical
No Time To Die
tradition of Harlem. “Harlem really has by Grace Edwards
some beautiful real estate and this is Doubleday
one of the many things I am fascinated
by and I also wanted the reader to see,” Our heroine, Mali Anderson, is looking for the killer of her
she explains. Her first mystery novel, If bestfriend and she suspects her friends ex-boyfriend, James,
I Should Die was nominated for both who has been keeping a low-profile since the murder.
the 1997 Anthony Award for Best First Here, Mali confronts James about the murder.
Novel and the 1997 McCarthy Award
for Best First Novel. Two hours later I was ready to leave. The crowd had
Prior to the Mali Anderson mysteries, grown large waiting for the birthday girl and the music
in 1988 Edwards wrote a straightforward had gotten louder. Several drinks were sent our way and
love story, entitled, In the Shadow of Marie had switched to Remy and was no longer
the Peacock. Again, taking it back to a interested in talking about James. She raised her glass,
familiar territory, Edwards created a story and her smile triggered more drinks, which flowed
centered out of the Peacock Bar which toward us in a steady stream. I decided to stop at three.
was located on 8th Avenue in Harlem. “Listen, Marie, I appreciate you taking the time. If you
Now a collector’s item, In the Shadow think of anything else, give me a call.” I gave her my
Of The Peacock was the first work of personal card and moved from the stool.
fiction by a black writer ever to be “You sure you don’t want to stay? Party’s just gettin’
published with MacGraw Hill. started.”
Grace Edwards is a graduate of the “Another time,” I said, “and thanks again.”
City University of New York where she I made my way toward I the door. Space was tight,
earned an M. A. in drinks were moving, and conversation was loud.
Creative Writing. She is I moved slowly, and a short distance from the
currently teaching at The door, I recognized a familiar voice. James was
Writers Voice at the leaning into the face of a young woman sitting
West Side YMCA in New at the bar.
York City. She is a long “Say, beautiful, you don’t mind if I call you
time member of the that since we haven’t been formally introduced
Harlem Writers Guild yet? But you look like a Libra. Am I right?” He
where she leads writing wasn’t as smooth as Olestra and just as bogus.
workshops, and an active The woman looked through him, yawned, and
member of the Sisters In picked up her glass.
Crime organization. James persisted. “Okay, it probably ain’t Libra.
Edwards now resides in So, what sign are you?”
Brooklyn where she is “Dollar sign,” the girl said through teeth so tight
working on her 4th mystery novel. She it probably pained her.
is a dedicated writer to what she calls “Oh,” James said, “in that case, lemme go check my
the “3B’s of Harlem commerce”: the ATM.” He stretched a grin but stepped back as if she had
beauty shops, barbershops and bars. No slapped him.
true mystery fan should want to miss Before he had a chance to look my way, I turned around
out on these juicy “whodunit” myster- and edged through the crowd again to the end of the bar.
ies. H A tall, dark, powerfully built man with a shaven head was

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deep in conversation with Marie and she was will you see a night like this again? I’m celebratin’
smiling up at him. She waved. “Say hello to Clyde. my half a hundred. Won’t see this again. Come
He’s a coworker, the one sent all the drinks.” on back inside.”
He shook my hand. The grip was as strong as “Betty, I’m sorry,” I said, wishing I could. The
he looked and his voice was low bass against the door of the bar popped open, releasing the rhythm
rhythm of the Dells pumping from the jukebox. of Stevie Wonder like a hot current. Its undertow
“Changed your mind about leavin’? One a my pulled people inside and I was sorry, truly sorry,
buddies had wanted to talk to you. Said you had that I couldn’t stay. “Have to get home. Dad has
the prettiest eyes he ever saw. Brother was a gig.”
hypnotized.” “Club Harlem?”
I smiled and shook my head, pulling at Marie’s “Yes. I’ve got to be home before he leaves.”
arm. “Another time, okay? I’ve got to tell Marie “Tell ‘im to drop by when he finish up, you
something He shrugged, disappointed, as Marie hear?”
slipped from the stool and followed me to the I smiled and waved. “Catch you at the next
ladies’ room. fifty.”
“Your face lookin’ funny. What’s up?” Someone opened the door again and she
“James is here. At the end of the bar. I thought stepped in, sailed in, to the rhapsody of Stevie
you should know.” Wonder’s “Happy Birthday.”
“Shit. I don’t need him messin’ up my good (Cont on page 66)
time. I been tryin’ to get next to Clyde for a while
“What are you going to do?”
“Well, I ain’t leavin’, that’s for sure. I’m hangin’
with Clyde for the duration. James see someone
that size, he ain’t likely to start no shit. Besides, I
got my backup in my bag, remember? But thanks
for lookin’ out for me.
She touched a comb to her hair and freshened
her lipstick and we left the room. I made my way
through the crowd again, carefully, trying to spot
James. He was gone, probably blown out by the
Dollar Sign Sister.
When I stepped outside, a silver stretch had
pulled to the curb and the chauffeur raced around
the side, shooed the crowd, and opened the door.
Betty, the barmaid, stepped out wearing a see-
through sheath with clusters of silver sequins that
waverly house
glittered like Fourth of July sparklers when she

She was tall and slim and had a bottle of Cristal

cradled in one arm and a bouquet of yellow and
red long-stem roses in the other. She spotted me
and waved the bouquet.
“Mali, baby, you’re not leavin’, are you? When

S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 1 1
taylor made
by Nichole Shields

Add one whole corpse, a pinch of clues and

simmer in a plot and you’ve created a whodunit
murder mystery. Well, it’s not that simple for
mystery writer Eleanor Taylor Bland, who admits
being clueless to the story line and its develop-
ment when she starts a novel. “I don’t want to
know too much of anything, I don’t know who
did it, nothing...” the author told a group of fans
at the Carter G. Woodson Regional Library in
Eleanor Taylor Bland, mother, grandmother and
most recently, retired accountant is the author of

Calvin Revis
seven Marti MacAlister mysteries in which the
protagonist, female Black detective Marti MacAl-
ister, as well as a host of other characters are
carved and shaped with precise details through-
out her series. “I came into this [writing myster-
ies] cold and I didn’t know wrong from right” states
Bland. “Walter [Mosley] was the only [contem-
porary] Black mystery writer when Barbara Neely
and I started writing mysteries. We didn’t have
too many role models. I came into this innocently,
and it has worked well for me. I never read mys-
teries, no Nancy Drew or Agatha Christie.” states the author. Since the release of her first
After the publication of Dead Time in 1992, book, Bland has had a title per year published by
Bland began working on Gone Quiet, her third St. Martin’s Press.
published book. “The second title [Dead Time]
was sold before the first [Slow Burn], and when I Who is Marti MacAlister?
received Gone Quiet in the mail, I and was “Marti is a strong-minded, independent Black
surprised. It was then that I felt like a writer,” woman, and I wanted to have her in a position of

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power”, states the author. Bland uses the phrase ‘strong
Black woman’ sparingly “because people will classify all
Black women as ‘a strong Black woman’ in which the
‘strong Black woman’ does not mean strength, but dumped
on,” states the author. Marti is also a widowed mother of
two and the only black female detective on Lincoln Prai-
ries (a fictitious Chicago suburb) police department. With
countless hours of corpses and dead-end clues, in addi-
tion to rearing her young son and teenaged daughter, Marti
has her hands full.

Marti off the Page?

Recently, there’s been talk of adapting the mystery se-
ries as a play. David Bra, associate artistic director of the
Chicago Theater Company, states, “She has a flair for dia-
logue, and I think we can really make that work on stage.”
Bland is quite excited about the possibility of her works
being performed live, and will have opportunity for inter-
action with the writers and producers regarding the devel- waverly house
opment of Marti MacAlister which will help to keep the
character’s stage image close to that on the page. The
author is also aware that the financial rewards for live per-
formances aren’t as promising as those on the silver screen,
but is not disillusioned about the rewards that the silver
screen will bring either. “We’re Black and there’s a sepa-
rate criteria for our works. If Walter [Mosley] does well,
then we all do. A majority of the times, we [Black artists]
are given options, and we don’t want options, we want
serious offers”, states Bland. She also states that her ideal
image of Marti on the silver screen would be the actress,
Lynn Whitfield.
Bland uses many resources when researching a storyline.
When writing Tell No Tales, Bland met with a deputy sher-
iff from the county in which she resides and literally learned
the particulars of taking a gun apart. This information caused
her to rewrite a crucial scene in the book. Bland’s visits to
police stations, conversations with coroners, State’s Attor-
neys, Fire Inspectors and common folk are all part of the
authors precise, sculptured details that can be found in
her series.
Bland’s novels include, Dead Time, Slow Burn, Gone
Quiet, Done Wrong, Keep Still, See No Evil, Tell No Tales.
Her forthcoming title, Scream in Silence, will be released
in January. H

S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 1 3

by Pat Houser

Writing and Art by Jewish Women of Color

Bridges: A Journal for Jewish Feminists and Our Friends will be publishing
a special issue by Jewish women of color.
They are looking for a diversity of voices from the whole range of self-
identified Jewish women of color, including women from the African, Middle
Eastern and Asian Jewish communities as well as Jewish women of mixed-
race heritage and women of color who have chosen to be Jewish.
The work they seek incorporates complexity and expresses something new
and different about mixed heritage/multiple iden-
tities. We are looking for artistically accom-
plished writing and art created from out-
AIN’T NOBODY’S side of a victimization stance.
BUSINESS For this special issue we seek un-
published essays, narratives, fiction,
Mystery sleuth Valerie Wilson
poetry, reviews and art by Jewish
Wesley will trade murder and women of color.
mayhem for love and lust with Deadline July 30th, 1999
her forthcoming novel, Ain’t Submissions should be mailed to:
Nobody’s Business. Wesley’s Bridges, PO Box 24839, Eugene OR
first mainstream love story fea- 97402 or visit their website at http:/
tures a 40-year-old woman hav- /
ing a wild affair with a 28-year-
old jazz musician. Wesley is
Contact Pat Houser at
author of the Tamara Hayle mys-
tery series. Ain’t Nobody’s
Business is due from Avon
Books this summer.

For her outstanding publicity work on behalf of Iyanla Vanzant, Simon & Schuster publicist Christine
Saunders was named as a finalist in this year’s Literary Market Place Awards. Saunders was cited for
exceptional publicity on Vanzant’s books In The Meantime and One Day My Soul Just Opened Up.

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Sandra Jackson-Opoku, award win-
ning author of The River Where Blood
Submissions are now be- is Born, is seeking submissions for a
ing accepted for A NEW
an exciting new anthology
featuring short stories of
volume of essays entitled, Black
Sexuality and the Dialectic of Desire.
Jackson-Opoku, will explore a broad
diverse Big Apple experi- dimension of Black sexual culture and
Submit your
thoughts and experiences
in categories such as,
is particularly interested in personal
narratives. Send typed, double-
spaced manuscripts (7,500 words
Taxicab Tales, Subway maximum), a brief biography and

Sagas, Elevator Esca-
pades, Tourist in Town,
Cookin’ With Crisco, Up-
town Saturday Night, and
SASE to Sandra Jackson-Opoku;
c/o Fiction Writing Department, Co-
lumbia College, 600 S. Michigan Av-
enue, Chicago, IL 60605 or email the
East Side/West Side. Sto-
ries may range from hu-
morous, “Only in New
York” tales, to inspirational
editor at

essays, to personal mem- CUP OF LOVE

oirs, to “A kinder, gentler, Stay tuned for Franklin White’s soon
New York” episodes. You to be released Cup of Love. This
do not have to be a NY na- urban drama explores the lives of
tive in order to submit! black friends and lovers who dis-
Experienced, as well as cover that commitment, tolerance,
unpublished writers are understanding and loyalty are
encouraged to submit. Mail must-have ingredients in a cup of love.
submissions, questions, White’s debut novel, Fed Up With the Fanny was an
and comments to underground success before it was snapped up and
republished by Simon & Schuster.
Please include submis-
sion in the body of your
email. No files with down-
loads attached will be ac-
Husband and wife team Nick Chiles and Denene
Millner garnered major attention
and hit the Blackboard Best Sellers
list with What Brothers Think, What
Sistahs Know. This dynamic duo will
continue their brother/sister jargon
with What Brothers Think, What
Sistahs Know About Sex and Inti-
macy, to be published in 2000 by
William Morrow. Millner is also the
author of The Sistahs Rules.

S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 1 5


by Trent Fitzgerald
When you think of one of the most important the public relations director for the publication.
African American magazines of our century, you He used his Harlem apartment to network and
can only come to one conclusion: The Crisis. This create an atmosphere “where interracial contracts
magazine paved the way for today’s black-owned and contacts were sealed over bootleg spirits.”
publications such as Ebony, Jet, Emerge and Black James Weldon Johnson served as senior editor
Enterprise to continue the tradition of informing along with DuBois and helped maintain the
the African American community and increasing boldness of the Negro aesthetic in poetry and the
black literacy and productivity. The Crisis was also arts.
an important vehicle for At that time, some of the editorials that were
African American writers to written in the publication were:
be published to a broad * Reparations from the U.S. to the families of
audience. Negro men and women who were lynched
The Crisis’s literary history between 1900-1930.
is expertly edited in a new * Racism in the Army.
volume entitled The Crisis * Unfair labor practices towards Negroes.
Reader by Sondra Kathryn * Sexism in the Civil Rights Movement.
Wilson (Random House). * The stereotypical portrayals of African Americans
The book provides many in Hollywood.
editorials from the magazine
including poems, plays, To its credit, The Crisis kept their columns open
fiction, and essays both to young Negro writers and offered prizes to
personal and social. stimulate and develop creative writing. Some of
The magazine was founded in 1910 by William these young writers became prestigious figures in
Edward Burghardt DuBois, who was also its editor. helping African Americans pursue a quality of life.
The Crisis had a major role in the birth of the One young poet, in particular, Frank Horne, won
Harlem Renaissance by provoking the interests in a Crisis writing contest in 1925 for his poem
black literature and the improvement of race “Letters Found Near A Suicide”. As an adult, he
relations in America. was enlisted into President Franklin Roosevelt’s
The Crisis had a prominent editorial staff. Jessie “Black cabinet” and served in the federal housing
Redmon Fauset, the midwife of the Harlem department that helped African Americans secure
Renaissance, was literary editor. As such, she proper housing during the 1940’s.
encouraged and nurtured great writers like Any reader of black literature will find The
Langston Hughes, Georgia D. Johnson, Sonia Crisis Reader an important literary volume of great
Pressman and Fenton Johnson. Walter White was writing that should be read and treasured. H

1 6 M O S A I C / S U M M E R 1 9 9 9 w w w . m o s a i c b o o k s . c o m

S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 1 7

the river by A. Yamina Collins

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“Have you checked the river, yet?” Sandra The boy vanished long ago. He is not in the river.
Garcia asks. She is always asking, standing in the
doorway of her casa, hands placed firmly on her The boy was a little thing for his age. He
hips. She is Mexicana. Today she wears a yellow looked seven. Maybe eight. He was ten.
dress and the sun is hot. She is an old woman Scrawny arms and legs. A tiny face. Big teeth.
now, and I am an old man. Our eyes have become Could eat anything in sight. The vacuum, my Sonia
small. We squint in the sun. Our hair is still shiny called him, and would run the boy from the
and black. I can feel the age in my bones. kitchen. No me vuelvas loca, she would swat at
“I have checked the river,” I say, but there is him. Out! Out! Out!
uncertainty in Sandra’s eyes. Like she does not I am an old man now, so I can laugh about it.
believe me. Like she is unsure. I do not like the It is funny. Out! Out! Out! His mother yells, and
picture of the Virgin Mary around her neck. Their up the stairs to his room he would go. My son.
eyes condemn me. Eyes that burn.
How long ago did you check? She asks.
Woman, I have checked, I say, and keep The house is empty when I get home. It is
walking. early in the afternoon and everyone is gone. I
But, how long ago, senoir? They’re always have no woman. Only Laya who cleans and is
finding them down there, you know - the children. stupid. And Clara.
The sun is hot. I do not like her voice. It is Clara is my daughter. She is not in the kitchen.
shrill and cracking. I do not like that she waits for She is with the baby. Who is with Juan-Reyes.
me to pass by her place each afternoon. She waits Who is also not in the kitchen. Maybe the three
everyday, in that same yellow dress, and I must of them are at the fair. Or the park. I do not know.
remember to walk the long way home. I must They do not always tell me. Sometimes they are
remember to forget the truth; that she lay with mad at me, even though I am an old man.
me, and I lied with her, all those years ago. In my house I use the cane to get up the
I walk fast now. She keeps her hands on her stairs. There is no one to help me. It is a big house.
hips and suddenly calls out that she has made It is my house. I have sweat tears and blood for
lunch. Pastelon she says, and won’t I sit and eat it. I call out for Laya who never works weekends,
with them? and Clara who is not home. Laya is a lovely girl,
By them she means she and her granddaugh- two days past sixteen and very stupid. She has
ter Manuela. Manuela is a young lady now. already opened her shirt for me. Padre Martinez
Manuela has sad eyes. I do not like Manuela’s would not like that.
eyes because of the story they tell. They tell my Padre Martinez is a priest of God. He says I
story, and I cannot sleep. worry too much. I see him everyday in the
In the hot sun I tell Sandra, no. I will have no afternoon, when I walk to the church. I walk there
meal with her. I must get home, I say. I lean on to confess. He is a good man, Padre Martinez.
my cane. I move quickly. Sometimes I show him pictures of the boy. He
She asks about the river one last time. I am remembers the boy. He says the boy is in heaven
impatient. I stop walking. My hands are brown now. He says my boy was a good boy. I say yes,
and wrinkly. They are unkempt. I use them alot, he was.
these hands of mine. To pray and wipe my eyes. On this day that is hot, when I have returned
The are very old hands now. from confession - and have passed by the home
I tell Sandra I will not check the river again. of Sandra Garcia, in her yellow dress - I stop at
Leave me alone, I say, and my eyes burn at the the top of the staircase and catch my breath. They
sight of her yellow dress. I am going home I say. are hard for an old man, these stairs. I have to
I have checked the river. Fifteen years ago. remember to breathe. I do not always remember
I walk. I count my breaths. It is not easy. to do that.
Sometimes I forget. I count like this - one, two, Breathe.
three. And remember to breathe. The sun is hot. The only thing I remember are the shoes. u

S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 1 9
The black and white sneakers the boy wanted for They help me from the bed, but do not look
Christmas, but I did not give him. at the shoes. The ones I clutch in my arms. The
I bought them later on, after he’d gone boy’s shoes. Clara says up, up! Papi. And her
missing. I put the shoes at the foot of his bed and words snap when she speaks.
kept them in a box. I thought the boy might come Sometimes I think she is mad at me. There
back. Padre Martinez says the boy is in heaven. is always heat in her cheeks, and spit in her throat.
But, maybe he is only traveling. Maybe he is only Like she is waiting to say something. Like she is
upset about the shoes, and will come back. Victor, mad. I think it is because Juan-Reyes wants to
my son. take her away from me, and I have said no. We
I am at the top of the stairs now and walk to are Ecuadorian, I say. And I am the money behind
the boy’s room. It is down the hall. In his room I this family. What is in America?
place my cane on the floor, and lie down on his Everything is in America, my Clara always says.
bed. It is a soft bed. It smells like the boy. It Nothing, is in America, I say, and will not let
smells like my Victor. My eyes burn. It is a hot Juan-Reyes take her from me.
day. I fall asleep. I am the power behind this family. If my Clara
leaves, I will be alone. An old man alone, without
Clara comes in and wakes me. his children or his wife. Is that fair?
She complains that I have fallen asleep on You will have Laya, Clara always says.
the boy’s bed again. Again I have done this, she Who is Laya? I ask. She is a servant girl, young
says. I should sleep in my own bed, she says. Her and stupid. Sixteen. She can clean the house,
teeth grind when she speaks. that is all. But, I have neither son nor wife. Will
Behind her is Juan-Reyes. He is shaking his you go now, too?
head and holding the baby. Juan-Reyes is a Clara never answers. She and Juan-Reyes are
handsome young man. Twenty-five. My Victor in love. They want me to eat American food. I
would have been the same age. want only to sleep. That is all. I want to think
Juan-Reyes does not have sad eyes. His eyes about the boy. I want to forget the feel of Sandra
are firm. He is my daughter’s husband. He is Garcia, all those years ago. She laying with me,
stubborn. But, I am more stubborn. I can beat and I lying with her. I want to forget the sting of
him in stubbornness. We fight sometimes, he and her Manuela’s eyes. Eyes that burn. Eyes that
I. With words. He knows I am an old man. But condemn.
we fight. I can see the girl now, peering into the room
He will not fight with Clara, however. She is with shock at the sight of my nakedness. The
his corazon , he says, and I wonder if he is faithful. room is slightly lit, and her little head leans in
Men are never faithful. Even when they love. through the door. She sees us making shadows
They have a baby, these two. They are young on the wall.
and married. Juan-Reyes is a good man. He works Senoir Varacuza, the child speaks, and the
hard with his hands, but has no money. sound of her voice makes me jump from the bed.
Papi, he says to me, bouncing the baby in his Senoir Varacuza, she says again, nine years
arms. Papi, did you eat? old and scared. Your wife is looking for you. She is
I forgot, I say. outside the door.
So, you did not eat? Whose door? I ask.
I am not hungry. Our door, she says. She is here.
Why you did not eat? —I cannot speak. My voice is caught in my
I forgot. throat—-
So you did not eat? It is about your son, the girl continues. He is
No. missing.
Papi, we will have American food, he says.
Look, it is dark out. We will have hamburgers and
apple pie. We will eat American food. The boy wanted shoes for Christmas.

2 0 M O S A I C / S U M M E R 1 9 9 9 w w w . m o s a i c b o o k s . c o m
American shoes with black tops and white soles. Only if your grades are good, Victor.
He wanted to show them to his friends. He was I have good grades, he says. Can I have the
a little boy. We checked the river. We never found shoes?
him. When I come back, I say. Yes.
When you go to the States for business, Papi, No, no. Papi. Americano. I want Americano
will you get them for me? shoes.
I am in my suit and tie. I am not an old man What difference does it make?
now. Maybe forty-five. I am standing in the mirror The boy looks at me. He has black eyes and
in the bathroom of my house. It is a big house. a small face. He looks no bigger than seven.
We are not poor. We live well. I have bled for Maybe eight. He is ten.
this house. Sonia is in the kitchen with Clara What difference does it make? Papi!
making cookies. Clara is a precious daughter. It is —to the boy, I have spoken blasphemy—-
a Saturday morning, fifteen years ago. I am leaving No, difference, I say. I am a stubborn man.
for business. The boy stands in the doorway of Your Americano shoes are probably made here,
the bathroom, watching me. He is eating. boy.
Papi? He speaks again, with his breakfast plate They will be my Christmas present, yeah? he
in his hand. asks. I have been good.
Boy, you never eat at the table, I say. I look at my son through the mirror and smile.
The boy laughs. There is food in his mouth. He is healthy, but small.
The boy loves his mother’s cooking. Papi, even Ms. Garcia says I have been good,
Can I have the shoes, Papi? (Cont. on page 62)

donna hill ad

S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 2 1
With color and flair writers
from the Caribbean
are bringing beautiful
and honest words from
their islands to our shores.

We interviewed
Loida Maritza Perez,
Elizabeth Nunez, Staceyann Chin
and Colin Channer who are
continuing the tradition.

2 2 M O S A I C / S U M M E R 1 9 9 9 w w w . m o s a i c b o o k s . c o m
Colin Channer
by Stacey Warren
Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking at length with the Colin Channer, author
of The Blackboard bestselling novel, Waiting in Vain. Channer’s debut novel, has
received much attention both here and abroad. Readers may recall that I also re-
viewed Waiting in the Fall ’98 issue of Mosaic and found this work to be well worth a
read. After a series of missed calls and telephone messages, Colin and I managed to
arrange a casual phone interview to discuss his popular new novel and the unique
approach he takes to his craft.
To refresh your memory, Waiting in Vain is a fictional romantic tale of about two
people, “Fire” and “Sylvia” who are brought together by a number of chance meetings
within a circle of mutual associates, friends and lovers. Destiny not being as simple a
concept as it seems, getting what is “meant to be” to simply “be” is anything but easy
for Fire and Sylvia. Standing between them are the ghosts of failed relationships, envy,
distance and misperceptions of class and status. Sylvia, a magazine editor, is unaware of
Fire’s international success as a writer. Although she is intensely attracted to and in
love with the unassuming and mysterious Fire, Sylvia is uncertain of how Fire maintains
his carefree jet-setting lifestyle, and is hesitant to jeopardize her stagnant though
professionally beneficial relationship to a wealthy and well connected businessman.
Fire on the other hand, is content to wait for Sylvia to come to him. While
awaiting fate to deliver Sylvia, Fire focus’ his efforts into saving the life of his childhood
friend “Ian,” for whom old envies, drug abuse and a declining art career, has propelled
down a path of self destruction.
Channer is one of 4 children raised by his parents in a middle-class household in
Jamaica, West Indies. He came to the states in the early 80’s
to complete his education and join his mother who had al-
ready migrated here. As a college sophomore, Colin worked
as a freelance writer for, EM and Black Enterprise. Upon
graduation, he began a career in journalism and joined Es-
sence as an editorial assistant.
When asked what sparked his interest in writing, Channer
revealed that he was an early reader (beginning at age 2) and
always had a love for words. His desire to write was always
present but was not nurtured during his adolescent years in
Jamaica. Channer states that were no Jamaican writers at the
time with whom his generation could identify. Also, the rigid
(Cont. on page 68)
Lili Picou

S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 2 3
stacyann chin
by Duval
Staceyann Chin, a young Jamaican poet living and
working in New York City calls herself “a young fire-
brand.” I personally can not think of a more deserv-
ing title.
I had the opportunity to see Staceyann strut her
stuff at VAASNA KAA JAADU II, an evening of erotic
poetry, music and dance. The show brought together a
diverse group of artists, merging poet’s words with
dance, music, song and visual arts. The audience,
myself included, was taken by her spoken word, pres-
ence, and delivery. Her prose allowed us to visualize the world of Staceyann.
She was honest and direct, and the combination of all that she offered that
night was a host of memories for us all.
Staceyann attended the Mount Alvernia High School, then went on for
a four year tenure at Shortwood Teachers College in Jamaica. She taught
for one year before furthering her studies at the University of the West
Indies, where she pursued a Bachelors degree in English Literature and
Writing and performing poetry for a little over a year, Staceyann recalls
dreadful entries in her journal at the age of eight and her horrible attempts
at poetry. She admits that she didn’t pay attention to the craft. Staceyann
now pays tribute to Lorna Goodison, a fellow Jamaican poet, who sparked
her desire to write. Staceyann would say to herself, “If only I could write
and move a crowd like Lorna.” This thought ignited her spark.
At Nuyorican Poets Cafe she fell in love with the spoken word move-
ment and desired to be part of it all. With a sense of divine inspiration,
passionate and delicate emotions, deep thought, great sincerity, and spon-
taneity Stacyann perfected her craft. Her poetry shows she doesn’t worry
about who she is, but instead concentrates on what she does. While her
poetry seems highly personal and almost autobiographical, representing
both her thoughts and her life, she also pays tribute to an English professor
she once had, E. Bough, and a fellow writer Roger Bonair-Agard, as well as
a host of other great writers.
Now growing in leaps and bounds as a full-time poet and performer with
(Cont. on page 65)

2 4 M O S A I C / S U M M E R 1 9 9 9 w w w . m o s a i c b o o k s . c o m
elizabeth nunez
by Renee Michel
When Dr. Elizabeth Nunez was all of nine years old she entered in the
Trinidad Guardian newspaper’s Tiny Tots writing contest. Her first prize victory
was more than news to her parents who were not even aware that she’d been
a contestant. The honor was well suited for a little girl whose mother tirelessly
confronted her about her tendency to embellish the truth — well, lying is
what she called it. “I loved to embellish…The truth always seemed so dry to
me… I love words and what they do.” Nunez confessed impishly. It was not
without effort, she added, that her parents were able to pull her away from
her books and her bedroom — where she’d read all day — to accomplish her
chores. An enthusiastic reader who loved to write, Nunez’s favorite authors
were male descendents of the British who colonized her island at the end of
the 18 century.
Trinidad, Nunez’s native country, is also homeland to Sara, the main charac-
ter of her current award-winning novel, Beyond the Limbo of Silence. The
work, which was published by Seal Press in October 1998, is a coming-of-age
story about a young girl who eventually leaves the West Indies, via scholarship,
to attend college in Wisconsin. “In many ways the novel parallels my life,”
asserts Nunez whose early education was shaped by colonialism. Consequently,
she believed that becoming an author was unattainable. It was not until she
herself began college in Wisconsin that she was introduced to female and
Black writers. She is thankful to author John Oliver Killens with whom she
studied while on sabbatical from her professorship. She was encouraged by
Killens over ten years ago to secure publication of her first novel, When Rocks
Having received both her MA and Doctorate degrees
in Literature from New York University, she now teaches
there seasonally. Her heart though is with the students
at Medgar Evers College where she has implemented
the writing courses she instructs full-time. Among sev-
(Cont. on page 69)

S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 2 5
loida maritza perez
by Tracy Grant
Loida Maritza Pérez is laughing. It is the gleeful, confident laugh of someone
who knows she’s won. The author of Geographies of Home is enjoying the critical
acclaim of her first novel, a story of a Dominican family who struggle with the
cultural and social issues that arise as a result of their residence in New York City.
The author is clearly pleased with how well her work has been received. Still, it is
more fruitful for Ms. Pérez (or Maritza as she likes to be called) since she com-
pleted and sold Geographies on what seemed to be very much her own terms.
Maritza was kind enough to speak to Mosaic from her home in New York after
returning from an extensive book tour. That conversation revealed her many mo-
tivations for writing Geographies, as well as her feelings about an audience with
whom she has struck a chord.
Pérez has been welcomed by the public, in the literary world and in particular
among the Latino audience. She tells a story about a reading during which she
heard shrieks from the audience. The screams came from folks who could relate
to the hens that appear in her story. “People are telling me ‘thank you,’ you’re
writing about my uncle or my father…people bring their own lives into what they
read. So I’ve gotten the whole gamut…”
Since she shares a similar background with her character Iliana — Dominican-
born, New York raised, college educated - Geographies of Home lends itself to
comparisons with Pérez’s real life. Throw in the fact that this is her first novel and
the question is inevitable. “Yes and no,” she says when asked if Geographies is
autobiographical. “Anything one writes to a degree is auto-
biographical. The book reflects how I feel about certain
things, issues I wanted to deal with, specific traits where
men and women in Hispanic communities are expected to
act a certain way.”
In Geographies, Iliana leaves college and returns to her
Brooklyn home to help her parents and her many siblings
cope with a host of problems. Her return home is the be-
ginning of a self-discovery, set within a poignant story about
family and what Pérez’s publisher calls ‘cultural dislocation’.
Again, one can only wonder how much of Iliana is in Martiza,
but she insists that Geographies isn’t an individual story, rather
one about a family. “The first chapter I ever wrote was [Chap-
ter] eight,” she reveals. “Everyone assumes Iliana was the
(Cont. on page 65)
Marion Ettinger

2 6 M O S A I C / S U M M E R 1 9 9 9 w w w . m o s a i c b o o k s . c o m
anansi ad

S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 2 7

The Prisoner’s Wife

by asha bandele
Scribner Books
Reviewed by Tara Betts

While most contemporary black writers are spinning tales

about middle-class buppies facing professional career problems
and infidelity, bandele talks about becoming a prisoner’s wife
while inmates are arguing over a chicken sandwich. She tells
how long the bus ride is to visit her husband and how there
are many more women just like her, some trying to raise
children and some seeing other men outside of jail to sustain
themselves. bandele speaks of these matters without over-
politicizing them or making each vignette a sob story full of
self-pity in The Prisoner’s Wife.
More than a series of anecdotes or a love story set within
a growing vortex that pulls black people into institutions, this
book is a gathering of lessons on how women and men need
to talk to each other in relationships and how they need to
develop themselves as people in order to be connected to
each other. bandele’s acutely personal reflections force a
thoughtful consideration on the state of relationships both
within and out of prison.
The Prisoner’s Wife addresses the timely issue of love ob-
structed by confinement and how one couple deals with this
increasingly, and unfortunately, more common dilemma in
America. As more prisons are being built and disproportion-
ate numbers of black people are incarcerated, stories like
bandele’s are knitting a love where loose threads are con-
stantly pulled to weaken any attempts at strengthening or
developing families.
bandele introduces the sensitive material from the past
few years of her own life with imagery and tenderness. She
met her husband Rashid while volunteering and performing
in a prison. The one man who has helped her cope with her
pain through his letters, phone calls and her visits, is serving
20 years to life for a murder conviction.
Instead of trying to convince readers of his innocence or
discuss Rashid’s past, bandele focuses on the myriad of
feelings fanning out of such a precarious situation. Whether
she tries to explain to people why they should not judge his
love for her or the way she bathes with candles burning

asha bandele
2 8 M O S A I C / S U M M E R 1 9 9 9 w w w . m o s a i c b o o k s . c o m
while listening to Nina Simone when she reads spiritual-seekers of both genders and all races and
his letters. It is apparent that bandele is constantly creeds. A moving account of a woman’s struggle
sorting through the ramifications of their to find and keep God in her very crowded and
predicament. busy life, this tale is as much a guidebook as it is
Rashid helps her begin to heal the inner wounds a collection of private discussions with God. A
inflicted upon her by sexual assault, low self- must-read for anyone who is struggling with faith,
esteem and so many other complexities that black it also serves as a good read for those who can
women face yet rarely see printed for the world still hear God on a daily basis. Readers will walk
to see and know. Her bravery at describing an away with a keen strength to trust God even when
awkward and often misjudged truth is inspiring. all you can hear is silence.

Listening For God: I Left My Back Door Open

A Minister’s Journey Through by April Sinclair
Silence and Doubt Hyperion
by Renita J. Weems Reviewed by Trent Fitzgerald
Simon & Schuster
Reviewed by Sadeqa Y. Murray Jean “Stevie” Stevenson—the Chicagoan of
Amazonian stature—is back...well, sort of.
Renita J. Weems is one of the most respected Stevie is the protagonist who discovers herself
ministers and biblical scholars in the country, and during the 1960’s in April Sinclair’s previous best-
her beautifully crafted writing reflects her extensive selling novels Coffee Will Make You Black and Ain’t
wisdom and knowledge. She speaks to groups all Gonna Be The Same Fool Twice. In her new novel,
over the country and is a pioneer scholar in the I Left My Back Door Open, Stevie is reincarnated
field of Old Testament studies. So how does one as Daphne “Dee Dee” Dupree, a divorced 41
who is supposedly an expert on prayer and spiritual year-old blues radio DJ with D-cup sized breasts,
discipline admit there are times when her heart a size 16 waist and a resilient attitude. While Stevie
and soul cannot find the God she recommends to was on a long journey of self-discovery, Dee Dee
others? How does a woman of her caliber admit is on a journey of defining herself after abusive
to feeling a silence that has been so unbearable ordeals in her childhood and an unconsummated
at times she could not bring herself to pray to marriage.
God and instead, wrote to him in her journal? An interesting cast of characters accompany
How does a reverend give access to a spiritual Dee Dee on her voyage: the frustrated married
crisis so profound she was sure it marked an couple, Sarita and Phil; the 40 year-old lesbian
irreparable rupture in her communication with and her 15 year-old daughter, Sharon and Tyeesha;
God? the racist white co-worker, Freddy Washington;
These are Weems’ experiences and her story the sexually explorative Asian couple, Yoshi and
is told with moving personal anecdotes. Her Jade; and the other major character in the book,
writing reveals both her intellectual acuity and a sexy black male named Skylar.
humanity as she delves into her life and allows I Left My Back Door Open takes its title from
her struggles to give readers a true account of an old saying that loosely translates to “When you
how frightening and lonesome a path is when you close the front door to compose the mind and
are no longer communicating with God. renew the spirit, hell comes in from the back door
Listening For God was written from the unique to kick you in the ass.”
perspective of a woman, an African-American and This happens to Dee Dee quite often
a Protestant Christian. Yet it offers rich insights for throughout the book. u
John Sann

S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 2 9
Sinclair fans will revel in her compelling writ- lyricism.
ing of sisterhood – the joys, the pain, the laughter Full of youthful eroticism, however, the book
and the jealousies. The care she takes with ambles along, indulging chapter after chapter to
rendering the landscape, the characters, and the Lula’s developing sexual desires and her explora-
season makes reading this tale a pleasant tion of these intense new feelings with requisite
experience. I Left My Back Door Open is a solid adolescent observation. Slowly erupting sexual
piece of writing and with all of Dee Dee’s and political tension converge to an abrupt cli-
conflicting challenges, she’s full of charm. max; Lula and her family’s world changes over-
night. They are forced to leave the island when
Buxton Spice the intrusion of the recent political upheaval comes
by Oonya Kempadoo too close to home.
Dutton Books After reading the back cover of Buxton Spice,
Reviewed by Cynthia Ray which included praise from major British newspa-
pers, I was prepared for Indo-Caribbean
Buxton Spice is a large, rigid, imposing mango storytelling the likes of Marina Budhos’ first book,
tree – a symbol for the theme of withheld House of Waiting or a poignant coming-of-age tale
thoughts, desires, feelings, truth and knowledge the caliber of Shay Youngblood’s first novel, Soul
that is woven throughout this coming-of-age story. Kiss. Unfortunately, by the end of Buxton Spice, I
Set in fictional Tamarind Grove, Guyana, during a did not feel I had found a literary voice the peer
politically unstable period of dicta- of either of these writers. Despite my lack of
torial rule in the 1970’s, Buxton discovery, readers who enjoy Caribbean-based lit-
Spice is noticeably devoid of the erary fiction may be able to keep pace and find
peaceful tropical paradise stereo- satisfaction with Buxton Spice. In fairness, perhaps
type. we should wait to hear more from Kempadoo, as
The narrator and main charac- her first effort may not be her best yet.
ter of this debut effort is Lula, the
pre-pubescent daughter of mixed- Listen Up! Spoken Word Poetry
race and East Indian parents who Edited by Zoë Anglesey
are also British expatriates. Lula runs Introduction by Yusef Komunyakaa
with a rowdy and adventurous co- One World/Ballantine
terie, which includes her Portuguese neighbors, Reviewed by Camika Spencer
the DeAbro sisters. Lula’s eyes and ears observe
and record everyone from poor homeless vagrants Some of the nation’s top young urban poets
to popular prostitutes, and while she yearns to are profiled in Listen Up! Spoken Word Poetry.
know secrets most answers remain elusive. Se- Politics, relationships, observations, spirituality and
crets and unspoken words trail like shadows on street savvy are the paths on which they travel
the ensemble of characters in Buxton Spice, while using their voices to speak their reality.
friends, neighbors and the infamous among them. Tish Benson, Suheir Hammad, Tracie Morris,
While many elements make the story memo- Ava Chin, Jessica Care Moore and Mariahdessa
rable, Kempadoo doesn’t seek to enlighten the Ekere Tallie are the featured women offering the
unfamiliar reader about the often fascinating nu- yang approach with the tact and grit of women
ances of Indo-Caribbean culture and history. Un- who know what they know and are not afraid to
familiar island colloquialisms make descriptive stand up and express themselves. Benson’s “No
passages a bit difficult to decipher. As a result, Parts Spared” is the eye-catcher in her section,
meaning is often lost for the presumed sake of and includes lines that create visions of a person

3 0 M O S A I C / S U M M E R 1 9 9 9 w w w . m o s a i c b o o k s . c o m
near death because of gun violence. Other capti- is clearly on the side of those who are sick and
vating pieces include Moore’s “Ishah,” a tale of tired of blacks complaining about it. Hamblin is
little girls who struggle to love against all odds and an apologist for the “Good old U.S. of A. – warts
Tallie’s “Sometimes,” in which she personifies and all” despite the fact that he hates apologists
poetry when she writes, “Poems crawl of all stripes.
in bed with me wrap themselves around He castigates those who would
my legs insistent that they get written.” have the temerity to support the
The men selected for Listen Up! each President in the face of his obvi-
come with a no-holds-barred approach ous shortcomings, and he belittles
as well, tinkering with rhythms and styles anyone who dares stand up for the
while coloring outside the lines with poor and the disenfranchised.
words. They validate their right to live Hamblin feels free to use
amongst the pages of this book, proving pejoratives like “black trash” and
to the world that there is not just one “bottom feeders” (“Pick a Better
way to be a poet. Willie Perdomo, known Country”) when referring to the
for his “Nigger-Reecan Blues” (not in- underclass, and he offers fanciful
cluded), fiddles songs with heavy emotions, while notions of a “liberal” media (as if a media domi-
his counterpart, Carl Hancock Rux, tells poetic nated by the likes of Rupert Murdock, General
stories, which he does best in his piece, “Blue Electric and Walt Disney could be considered “lib-
Candy.” Finally, Saul Williams represents himself eral”). His constant juxtaposition of “evil” Demo-
with two submissions, “Gypsy Girl” and “Children crats (“Clinton Lowers the Bar...”) and “righteous”
of the Night.” Saul’s approach, like Perdomo and Republicans (“Saint Newt...”) is also laughable.
Rux, is full of emotion mixed with rigid suste- There is as much difference between the Demo-
nance and embellished with standard writer’s tech- crats and the Republicans as there is between
niques, proving he knows the game, but doesn’t Harvard and Yale. Both are playing a rich man’s
always wish to play. game. The meek may inherit the earth, but not
Listen Up! represents some of the wisest and during this Congress.
most articulate young voices on the poetry scene Plain Talk and Common Sense is arranged in 14
to date and rightfully so. This book is a great read easy-to-digest sections with titles such as “The
for those who support the art of poetry, who are American Dream,” “Liberals,” “Race,” “Crime,”
willing to witness words leap from pages and who “Guns,” “Capital Punishment,” and “Patriotism.”
can appreciate the aesthetic importance of what Pick your poison.
poetry offers the world. In his essay, “African American - Pick One,”
Hamblin offers a cautionary tale about how “Run-
Plain Talk and Common Sense ning down America has become such a
From the Black Avenger popular...liberal-minded thing...that even some
by Ken Hamblin dusky Africans do it.” Hamblin, who is a first gen-
Simon & Schuster eration American from immigrant Caribbean par-
Reviewed by Kelwyn Wright entage offers thinking that is symptomatic of
something else. Like a lot of blacks not “bawhn”
Ken Hamblin, author of Plain Talk and Com- here, and thereby not personally tainted by
mon Sense, which is a collection of previously America’s peculiar form of racism, he identifies
published newspaper columns, is called “the Black not with the oppressed, but with the oppressors.
Avenger”. Yet one wonders just what it is he is In fact, Hamblin offers the best review of this
avenging. It is not 300 years of oppression, as he collection with the first three words of his Octo- u

S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 3 1
C h i ld r e n’s Cor n e r
ber 1998 essay entitled, “Clintons Change Their
Tune on Impeachment: ‘Disingenuous. Phony.
in Nazi Germany gives him an unique perspec-
tive on survival in the hellish daily life of the
Questionable.’” prisoner. We’re still dealing with race and rac-
ism so we often forget our relationship to the
Clifford’s Blues rest of the world. Clifford shares his suffering
by John A. Williams and pain with other outsiders from all over Eu-
Coffee House Press rope they’re under the heel of the Nazis at the
Reviewed by Robert Fleming camp. With white America today, they don’t give
a damn about the United Nations because there
Known for his influential novels, The Man are so many people of color there. As people of
Who Cried I Am and Captain Blackman, John A. color here in America, we must take a more
Williams again takes his readers to school with global look at our world and our place in it. That’s
his latest classic work. Clifford’s Blues is the what happens here in Clifford’s Blues.”
Arrested on a trumped-up charge of “immo-
rality to the state” following a sex scandal with a
male lover, Clifford is taken to Dachau where
Dieter Lange, a married bisexual SS officer and
familiar face from the musician’s days in the jazz
and gay haunts of Berlin, becomes his protec-
fictionalized account of an African American tor, shielding him from the fate of certain death
musician held captive in Dachau, one of the — marked by the homosexual pink triangle he
most infamous of the Nazi death camps, during wears. Lange grants Clifford a job as his private
World War II. The novel was inspired by a pho- servant and sexual boy toy, constantly remind-
tograph, seen by the author in 1965, of a pair of ing his captive of his dual crisis of having “black
black inmates that was taken at the deadly in- skin in pink Germany.” By playing the forbidden
ternment facility located near Munich. The “Niger Musik” at his boss’ parties for the camp
premise flips the entire Holocaust mythology on officers, Clifford endures his tormented exist-
its head with its richly detailed journal of New ence while hordes of Poles, Jews, Gypsies and
Orleans jazz pianist and expatriate Clifford maverick Germans meet death in Dachau’s ov-
Pepperidge, and chronicles the frenzied cultural ens.
and political times of the new Aryan Germanic Through arduous, painstaking research of life
state from 1933 to 1945. Much like Christopher in the Nazi death factories, Williams brings the
Isherwood’s decadent Berlin Stories featuring inner workings of Dachau into gripping, heart-
cabaret singer Sally Bowles, Williams’ resource- stopping realism. The collected pages of
ful protagonist serves as a symbol for exploring Clifford’s diary record his time among the living
the larger themes of moral and spiritual corrup- skeletons who persisted amid inhumane condi-
tion, sex and power, and the art of survival in an tions by doing whatever was necessary to live
overwhelmingly hostile environment. another wretched day. Clifford’s words, often
“Although Clifford is a black man fleeing scribbled hastily on whatever type of paper was
American racism, the issues he confronts in available, speak eloquently of the vicious degra-
Hitler’s Germany are universal in scope, the larger dation and dehumanization suffered by those
dilemmas confronting the entire human race,” managing to see yet another day with an
says Williams, the award-winning journalist and empathetic exactness found only in the un-
retired Rutgers University professor from his adorned testimony of Auschwitz survivor Primo
New Jersey home. “His situation as an outsider Levi.

3 2 M O S A I C / S U M M E R 1 9 9 9 w w w . m o s a i c b o o k s . c o m
Williams’ love of history led him to search his voice all remains intact. Lastly, we must thank
for information on black prisoners during that Coffee House Press for making this exceptional
war, never ceasing his quest to uncover pre- novel, Clifford’s Blues, possible when all others
cious data about African Americans held in en- fled from its controversial topic. Welcome back,
emy camps. “We get a lot of information, but Mr. Williams!
not much truth,” he says. “If you want to be a
writer, you must do the work, the homework, Go Gator and Muddy the Water
the research, regardless of the odds. Study his- by Zora Neale Hurston
tory. Literature lives in history. And don’t just Edited by Pamela Bordelon
confine your study to your own culture and his- W. W. Norton & Company
tory. Literature awaits us in everything, all of Reviewed by Christopher Stackhouse
Imagine, if you will, thousands upon thou- Most readers who have experienced Zora
sands of shrunken people, all bones, nearly Neale Hurston’s fiction are struck by the elastic
dead, standing behind barbed fences, watch- depth of character her lines convey. She portrays
ing the Germans prepare to retreat from the a Southern People with cruel frankness and pro-
oncoming swarm of the Allies. The hopeful, found love. Go Gator and Muddy the Water is a
Clifford among them, know their time is run- two-part book featuring a collection of Hurston’s
ning out, waiting amid the countless stacks of Federal Writer’s Project writings and biographical
bodies for the Germans and their Third Reich essay compiled by Pamela Bordelon.
to vanish into the forest away from the killing Giving context to the complex motives of this
camps: Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, classic American writer, Bordelon’s essay
Trebinka, Riga, Mauthausen, and discusses Hurston’s familial background,
the hundreds of others. In Clifford’s writing (and living) habits with a focus on
words, the spark of anticipation still her days as a staff writer for the FWP in
flickered: “Waiting. We’re all wait- Florida. She regardfully illustrates the
ing, like for some lover to come, sometimes dubious balancing act the
only he hasn’t said exactly what time writer maintained as a talented
or what day... I’m forty-four and still black woman working in America’s
looking for the best loving ever! Free- Jim Crow South during the Depres-
dom! Freiheit! Befreiung! Liberation!” sion Era. Discerning readers may,
Much as a seasoned film director would, at first, cringe with bitterness read-
Williams employs his sure touch with lan- ing a segment of a Hurston letter
guage, jazz history, war trivia and human written to generous white patron
emotions to etch an unforgettable psycho- Carita Corse, where she refers to
logical study of a survivor who confronts herself as the woman’s “pet
several types of holocausts in his em- darkey”, and further, “Yes, I know
battled life. Readers benefit greatly from that I belong to you.” Neverthe-
the author’s awesome effort of craftsman- less, Hurston parlayed shrewd wit into an excep-
ship, research and imagination. Furthermore, tionally productive career, and often voluptuous
Clifford Pepperidge is one of Williams’ finest lifestyle. Bordelon makes it clear that Hurston
fictional creations, assuring anyone doubtful of understood her own personal worth, as well the
the veteran writer’s staying power that the uni- importance of what she was accomplishing as a
versality of his work, the unrelenting verve of writer and anthropologist of American folklore.
his prose, the uncompromising character of (Cont. on page 54)

S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 3 3

by Kalamu Ya Salaam

myth of

No writer creates alone. Even those who with-

draw from human contact — the Salingers and
O’Toole’s of literature — are actually shaped
by their social development, or more precisely,
in the cases just cited, by their social deficien-
cies. No matter how technically brilliant such
writers may be, unless under girded by social
exchange and observations thereon, their writ-
ing will not stand the ultimate test of great-
ness: is the work relevant across time and across

3 4 M O S A I C / S U M M E R 1 9 9 9 w w w . m o s a i c b o o k s . c o m
In order to achieve both linear (across genera- In the contemporary United States, “audience”
tions) and lateral (across cultures) greatness, writ- has been collapsed into the concept of consum-
ers must be both immersed in a specific era/cul- ers, people who literally buy whatever is marketed.
ture and conscious of that era’s relationship to That is ultimately a very cynical approach to de-
other eras and other cultures. It is not enough to termining who is one’s audience. To write for and
report on or even analyze the news of the day. about a specific audience does not necessarily
The ultimate meanings of human existence tran- mean writing to sell to that audience. What it
scend the specifics of any given moment. does mean is using the culture of the intended
audience as the starting point (and hopefully an
In practice achieving greatness means moving ending point) for our work.
beyond topicality, requires that we insightfully deal
with how and why humans are shaped by social Writing well in English presupposes that we deal
and environmental forces, and deal with how we with the history of English-language literature, a
respond to our specific shaping processes. significant part of which includes use as a tool in
the historic process of colonizing people of color.
As writers, our goal is the expert use of words to As able a craftsperson as Ralph Ellison was, craft
convey ideas and information, emotions and ex- is not what distinguishes “Invisible Man.” Rather,
periences, dreams and visions. On the one hand Ellison’s insightful handling of an investigation of
we must study, and study hard, the development the anti-humanist effects of exploitation and op-
of our craft, but, on the other hand, we must pression on those who are victimized by a domi-
never forget that craft without content is mean- nant and dominating society is the significance of
ingless. Beyond the craft/content argument is the that novel.
more important question of writing for whom?
Who is our audience? Are we connected to oth- Ellison understands at a depth few others have so
ers? thoroughly presented in the novel format, that
both those who fight against their subjugation and
An audience is the single greatest determinant of those who are not even conscious of their condi-
the shape and relevance of one’s craft. How is tion are twisted by social forces. However, Ellison’s
this so? This is so because as writers our whole novel is not merely a political screed because El-
craft is based on communication and, quiet as it lison is more concerned with the range of human
is too often kept, communication requires an responses to social conditions than he is with ad-
audience. vocating a specific social order. Moreover, far more
than many books that on the surface seem to be
Some of us insist that we write to please no one more political, Ellison’s novel is grounded in the
but ourselves. But does that mean we write for cultural mores, the folklore, of mid-20th century
an audience of one? No, it does not. When we African American life. Invisible Man can not be
write only with ourselves in mind, we are implic- fully appreciated without an appreciation of Black
itly trying to communicate with the social ele- culture. A horrible truth is that too many of us are
ments that shaped our being. Indeed, who does unprepared to write significant literature because
not want to be understood by their parents, their we have no real appreciation of our audience as
children, their siblings and peers? Besides, if we fellow human beings, as cultural creatures. We
were writing literally only for ourselves as an au- know neither history nor contemporary conditions.
dience of one, we would have no need to share We talk about “keeping it real” but have no fac-
our writing, no need to publish or recite our writ- tual knowledge of reality. Thus, we glibly bandy
ings. (Cont. on page 60)

S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 3 5

The Cultural Book Store

State of Illinois Building, 100 W. Randolph Suite 207 Chicago, IL 60601 (312) 214-1314

1. Nobody’s Perfect by Patricia Haley-Brown

2. Yesterday I Cried by Iyanla Vanzant
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4. Abide With Me by E. Lynn Harris
5. In the Meantime by Iyanla Vanzant
6. Lil Mama Rules by Sheneska Jackson
7. The Harris Men by R.M. Johnson
8. Beeperless Remote by Van Whitfield
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10. No More Sheets: The Truth About Sex by Juanita Bynum

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1. Abide With Me by E. Lynn Harris

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4. One Day My Soul Just Opened Up by Iyanla Vanzant
5. Friends and Lovers by Eric Jerome Dickey
6. Acts of Faith by Iyanla Vanzant
7. In the Meantime by Iyanla Vanzant
8. Tryin’ To Sleep In the Bed You Made by Donna Grant & Virginia Deberry
9. Milk In My Coffee by Eric Jerome Dickey
10. Fed Up With the Fanny by Franklin White

The Pig Farmers Daughter Seventh Child : A Lucky Life

and Other Tales of American Justice by Freddie Mae Baxter, Gloria Bley Miller (Editor)

by Mary Frances Berry Alfred A. Knopf

Alfred A Knopf Books
Souls Looking Back :
Song for Anninho Life Stories of Growing Up Black
by Gayl Jones by Tracy L. Robinson, Robert Kilkenny
Beacon Press Routledge Books

Ay, Cuba! : As I Am :
A Socio-Erotic Journey Young African American Women in a Critical Age
by Andrei Codrescu, David Graham (Photographer) by Julian C. R. Okwu (Introduction)
St. Martins Press Chronicle Books

3 6 M O S A I C / S U M M E R 1 9 9 9 w w w . m o s a i c b o o k s . c o m

Serengeti Plains
615 Bloomfield Ave. Montclair, NJ 07042 (973) 783-2828

1. Sacred Bond: Black Men and Their Mothers by Keith Michael Brown
2. Lest We Forget by Velma Thomas
3. The Lady, Her Lover, Her Lord by T.D. Jakes
4. One Day My Soul Just Opened Up by Iyanla Vanzant
5. In The Meantime by Iyanla Vanzant
6. Body and Soul by Rundu
7. Men of Color by Lloyd Boston
8. Labelle Cuisine by Patti Labelle
9. Yesterday, I Cried by Iyanla Vanzant
10. Abide With Me by E. Lynn Harris

1. Sometimes I Cry by Linda Dominique Grosvenor

2. Temptations by Victoria Christopher Murray
3. Getting To the Good Part by Lolita Files
4. Damaged by Bernadette Y. Connor
5. Waiting In Vain by Colin Channer
6. Abide With Me by E. Lynn Harris
7. Milk In My Coffee by Eric Jerome Dickey
8. Actions Speak Louder by Shandra Hill
9. Wake of the Wind by J. California Cooper
10. A Toast Before Dying by Grace Edwards

The Oxford Book of Caribbean Short Stories Maroon Arts:

by Stewart Brown, John Wickham Cultural Vitality In the African Diaspora TITLES TO LOOK FOR
Oxford University Press by Sally Price and Richard Price
Beacon Press
Pieces of Dreams
by Donna Hill Vital Grace: The Black Male Dancer
BET / Arabesque Books by Duane Cyrus and Joanne Savio
Edition Stemmle / Abbeville
Souls Looking Back:
Life Stories of Growing Up Black Please, Please, Please
Editors: Andrew Garrod, Janie Victoria Ward, by Renee Swindle
Tracy L. Robinson, Robert Kilkenny The Dial Press
Routledge Books

S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 3 7
Chi ldren ’ s Corner
Egyptian Tomb
Hidden World
by Claude DelaFosse,
Illustrated by Sabine Krawczyk
Scholastic Books

The Faithful Friend

by Robert D. San Souci
Illustrated by Brian Pinkney
Aladdin Books

Granddaddy’s Street Song

by Monalisa DeGross
Illustrated by Floyd Cooper
Jump At The Sun Books

3 8 M O S A I C / S U M M E R 1 9 9 9 w w w . m o s a i c b o o k s . c o m
Kevin and His Dad
by Irene Smalls
Illustrated by Michael Hays
Little, Brown

Is My Name Magical
Sister and Brother Poems
by James Berry
Illustrated by Shelly Hehenberger
Simon and Schuster

Background from the book

Isn’t My Name Magical?
Simon and Schuster

S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 3 9
The Story of Lightning & Thunder
by Ashley Bryan
Aladdin Books

My Name Is America
The Journal of Joshua Loper
A Black Cowboy
by Walter Dean Myers
Scholastic Books

Mister and Me
by Kimberly Willis Holt
Putnam Books

Background Illustration from the book

Miss Viola and Uncle Ed Lee
Atheneum Books

4 0 M O S A I C / S U M M E R 1 9 9 9 w w w . m o s a i c b o o k s . c o m
Chi ldren ’ s Corner
Miss Viola and Uncle Ed Lee
by Alice Faye Duncan
Illustrated by Catherine Stock
Atheneum Books

S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 4 1
Quiet Storm by G.E. Patterson
Voices of Young Black Poets Graywolf Press
5 books of poetry to read this summer
Selected by Lydia Omolola Okutoro
Jump At the Sun Books

Picnic On the Moon

by Charles Coe
Leapfrog Press

Promised Land
Poems from the Journey
by Katriel
One Night Publishing

These Hips
and other Songs to Minista to a people’s soul
by Tonya Maria Matthews
BlackWords Inc.

4 2 M O S A I C / S U M M E R 1 9 9 9 w w w . m o s a i c b o o k s . c o m

writers works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry as well as
production for stage and screen. One of these
published works was written and self-published

by John Henrik Clarke titled, The Boy Who
Painted Christ Black. Other published and well-
known members of the Guild are Maya Angelou,
Ossie Davis, Audrey Lorde, Terry McMillan, Grace
Edwards, Valerie Wilson Wesley, Sarah
Elizabeth Wright, and Louise Merriweather, just
by Nikki Terry to name a few.
In 1990, the Guild began a television and radio
The ‘20’s and ‘30’s solidified literature during program called “In Our Own Words.” According
the Harlem Renaissance and now decades later, to William Banks, Chairperson of the Guild, “We
The Harlem Writers Guild continues to carry the have writers such as Grace Edwards and Terri
torch. The Harlem Writers Guild is a community McMillan producing work like this, people ought
of writers dedicated to the continuance of pre- to see and hear it.” Guest that have appeared on
serving the experience of black people through the shows has been Nikki Giovanni, Ishmael Reed,
literature. Members of the Guild collectively pro- Ntozake Shange, Dick Gregory, Edwidge Danticat
vide a wide range of support for people who wish and many others. “In Our Own Words” is aired
to launch and shape their skill as writers. on WNYE Channel 25 and WNYE radio 91.5. In
Beginning in 1950, the Guild was first recog- addition to the writing workshop and the televi-
nized as The Harlem Writers Club and later be- sion and radio programs, the Guild fosters the
came The Harlem Writers Guild. The founding needs of writers from different communities and
members were Dr. John Henrik Clarke, Rosa Guy, cultural backgrounds with public workshops in
John Oliver Killens and Walter Christmas. Their New York City and Brooklyn public libraries.
idea was as bold as it was simple: to create a club The Writers Guild will celebrate its Golden
that would provide support to black people who “50th” Anniversary in the year 2000. Part of the
could write and wanted to write. Since most of celebration will be the release of an anthology of
the members lived in Harlem and because published and non-published writers who have
Harlem was thriving off of a rich culture, the Guild participated with the Guild over the years. The
began in the heart of Harlem. Guild meets at The Schomburg Center for
By 1983, it was estimated that members of Research in Black Culture in Harlem on the first
the Guild had produced more than 400 original Tuesday and third Wednesday of each month. H

S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 4 3

by Leah Mullen
It all started about three years ago when a high school friend and I met in
Manhattan for a short visit. After hitting all of the tourist spots we sat down to
share a meal and to catch up on each other’s lives. During the conversation
my friend pulled out an inch thick bound manuscript. It was a collection of
poems written by her mother who then lived in Washington State. My friend
asked me to take a look at the book and let her mother know what I thought.
Shortly thereafter another friend introduced me to a doctor who wanted to get
my opinion on a health book he wanted to write.

At the time I reminded everyone that I was just an editorial assistant (stressing
the last part of my title), but no one seemed to care. What I’ve discovered
over the years from working in the publishing industry to now being exclu-
sively a writer myself is that writers, particularly unpublished authors, search
high and low for affirmation regarding their work.

”Writing can be a difficult and heartbreaking thing,” says Martin Simmons an

instructor at the Frederick Douglas Creative Arts Center in Manhattan. Simmons,
who facilitates writing workshops, explained that although the process of writ-
ing is usually a solitary effort. It’s just the individual alone with a typewriter or
nowadays the computer, no one truly writes in isolation. “You’re around other
people all the time who don’t understand; people who wonder why you don’t
have a ‘real’ job.” he said.

To stay focused, Simmons implores writers to participate in workshops with

others who share their passion for the written word. “Other writers under-
stand, and that’s how you keep your sanity.” A workshop can simply be a
group of writers who get together regularly to read and critique each other’s

4 4 M O S A I C / S U M M E R 1 9 9 9 w w w . m o s a i c b o o k s . c o m
work. According to Simmons, writing groups are, which offer news,
successful when participants are not only inter- career tips, discussion groups and publishing op-
ested in becoming better writers themselves, but portunities for writers online.
also want to help others perfect their craft.
Simmons, who is co-publisher of a new literary Also professional organizations like Black Women
magazine called Anansi, says that it is important in Publishing, and events such as
for writers to find a ’community of like minded the annual Celebration of Black Writing in Phila-
people’ to participate in their writing groups. Oth- delphia
erwise you might get sidetracked into explaining celblack.html) provide schmoozing opportunities
minute details to those with a different frame of for writers. Simmons also recommends that writ-
reference, all of which will take you away from ers pen letters to one another in the tradition of
the ultimate goal, which is to talk about the pro- authors Arna Bontemps and Langston Hughes,
cess of writing. who corresponded for more than forty years.
(Those letters were preserved and are now avail-
Finding that needed sense of camaraderie is as able in book form.)
simple as locating a group of kindred spirits. That’s
a relatively easy task if you live in a place like A few years ago I participated in an informal writ-
New York City within close proximity to groups ing workshop, and I stay in contact with writers
like the Harlem Writers Guild and the New Re- whose work I’ve critiqued. I also send my un-
naissance Writers, but what if you live in a small published writing out to friends to get their feed-
town like say, Coatesville, PA? back. My mother introduced me to my latest writ-
ing pal. My new friend is a forensic security guard
Simmons suggests that for those who may not be by day and at night he writes science fiction. We
near the bright literary lights of a major city that talk about writing via the Internet, and always true
the Internet offers boundless opportunities for to our shared vocation, he signs his letters, “Yours
writers to connect. After conducting a search in the written word.”
through cyberspace, I found organizations like the
African American Online Writers Guild, For more information about the Frederick Dou-, Inkspot/Inklings Writers’ glas Creative Arts Center, call (212) 864-3375 or
Community Center, visit them at Summer workshops
transcripts.html and Rhapsody in Black, will begin the week of July 5. H

mosaic literary magazine

subscribe today, @*

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S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 4 5

4 6 M O S A I C / S U M M E R 1 9 9 9 w w w . m o s a i c b o o k s . c o m

S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 4 7
Island Rasta mahn’s deep croon
The smell of sweat and cheap perfume

Lace and satin drawn taunt to breasts

Hips in sway, oiled bodies pressed
Brother beggin’ hot in her ear
Dimes to nickels, quarters to Dimes Chick’n chased by ginger beer
Braids to Dreads, drummer keeps Time
Split tail seeks Rasta’s eye
Babies outta bed to steal a peek Brown girl wails jealous cry
Rum punch causin’ draggin’ feet
Dimes to nickels, quarters to Dimes
Lips greasin’ on hot curry goat Braids to Dreads, drummer keeps Time
Smokin’ muther earth’s sweet toke
Belly warmer squeez’d in blouse
Dimes to nickels, quarters to Dimes Members salute roun’ the house
Braids to Dreads, drummer keeps Time
Mama pattin’ babe’s behind
Caught peekin’ thru the blind

Dimes to nickels, quarters to Dimes

Rent Braids to Dreads, drummer keeps Time

by Rosetta Treece

4 8 M O S A I C / S U M M E R 1 9 9 9 w w w . m o s a i c b o o k s . c o m
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S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 4 9
Salvation lies in double-clicked icons
traditional belief systems now by-gones
relief nowhere to be found
unless your spirit is ...

IBM compatible

virtuous virtues virtually vanish

from society now that technology
makes things a whole lot easier
and more convenient

while I admit this poem was typed on WordPerfect...

the corruption that can potentially exist

in this already imperfect world
makes our mastery of technology
and more importantly
mastery of self and culture
more crucial than ever
by Gerren Liles

for virtual morality is now our reality...

chapters and verses converted to www.’s

church houses once led the way
now mouses and little arrows
take our eyes off the sparrows
and into chat-line congregations
with fake names kicking fake games
and Minister Microsoft taking in
billion dollar donations

Can the church say Amen?

No... can the church say A:drive?

All praises due

to the new holy trinity
bill clinton, bill gates, and billy club
hanging on the sides of abusive cops
who’s wives must not be giving them
any nookie at home
but that’s another poem...

hard drives driving hard

towards minimizing employment
no... let’s take it a step further
maximizing enjoyment
now that men can look to cyber-porn

5 0 M O S A I C / S U M M E R 1 9 9 9 w w w . m o s a i c b o o k s . c o m
for sexual gratification His magnificent words
leaving keyboards sticky traveled through fiber-optic
and unsatisfied mates seeking affection Coptic temple of old
through adulterous engagements when Microsoft was just Micro
then five years later and Apple was just a seed
seeking child support payments reading atomic, astronomical messages
but there’s that virtual morality more economical messages
women becoming a thing of the past more economical than dialing 10-321

I know brother don’t like the drama the sun’s rays, light patterns
they go through for the love, but damn... beaming down orbital movements of Saturn
long before Sopho...hypo...aristotlecles
vast amounts of information at your fingertips whatever his name is...
World Book and Britannica cannot compete learned his ABC’s
soon making books and libraries obsolete which he learned from me
that’s why I order my intellect
SUPER-SIZED black people, WE are technology
with a 20 oz. drink to go to the highest degree

did somebody say McDonald’s or Macintosh? so until they make a computer

I don’t know... that can build pyramids
till the soil
I navigate across ancestral web-sites build nations through
through Congo drum modems sweat and toil
decoding wisdom of the ancients create jazz
downloading skill for the maintenance create life
of my people’s survival create the word “create”
give spankings that you’ll remember
Behold the arrival of give birth to saviors in December
Mandingo’s ‘95 build 40-day & 40-night, water-proof boats
Complete with 360 megabytes and cook up rice, peas and curry goat...
retrieving data at a hundredth of a second
and has a mean jump shot then my morality will come from
the love of my history...
my mind cannot be stopped
only rebooted through future generations so screen save your soul
put it in a password, or whatever it takes
cuz’ my salvation lies in me to make certain that silicon curtains
not in virtual morality... don’t hinder your moral vision
it’s time to upgrade our minds
I can do all things through He and our ability to think
who created all things cuz’ He or progress will never be made
is all things that was, is and will be and we’ll be
virtually extinct...

S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 5 1

prodigal father

by India Savage Anderson

R.M. Johnson is as comfortable as
your favorite pair of old loafers. His
casual and warm manner makes it easy
to settle into a conversation, just like
your foot settles into a soft, good fit-
ting shoe. It’s not the proverbial “I feel
like I’ve known you for a long time”
kind of comfort. It’s more like the kind
of comfort you feel when you sense
that you’re in the company of some-
one who makes his choices thought-
fully. It is this persona, this thought-
ful, simple quality, that is transferred
to the pages of his first book, The Har-
ris Men.
Johnson takes on a controversial

Dorothy Perry
and complex topic, the absentee father
in Black America, and presents it in
an understanding, insightful and
straightforward manner.
The Harris Men is a saga about the life struggles and victories of three brothers and their
terminally ill father, who has been absent for twenty years. Johnson presents a unique
perspective by addressing the impact that father abandonment has upon manhood from
both sides of the issue: the abandoned and those who abandon. While his perspective is
decidedly male, he does not dismiss the importance of black women. The female charac-
ters play significant supporting roles. But make no mistake, it may be a story for women, but
it is not about women.
His writing of The Harris Men was motivated by both his personal experiences and a
larger mission. “There’s not enough books written about African-American males from a
positive point of view, or with our point of view period. After reading [some of the popular
women’s fiction], I had to write this book.” And write he did. While the book was awhile
(Cont. on page 66)

5 2 M O S A I C / S U M M E R 1 9 9 9 w w w . m o s a i c b o o k s . c o m

The Harris Men

by R.M. Johnson
Simon and Schuster

Julius Harris is haunted by his decision, twenty

years earlier, to leave his wife and sons. Now,
diagnosed with terminal cancer, he must face his
past decisions and try to reconcile with his
grown sons.

Julius sprang up in his bed. He was breathing remember taking the picture, his sons crowding
at a frantic rate and was covered with sweat. His around him waiting for the picture to develop
pajama top clung to his chest. He looked around before peeling off the strip of gummy paper. In
in the dark, then smoothed his hand on the area the photo the three sat together on a bench,
he had been lying in and it was damp with sweat Austin and Marcus on the ends, Caleb smiling
as well. He looked over to see if Cathy had been in the middle. It was winter, so they had on
awakened, but she remained still, sleeping silently. coats, hats, g loves, and rubber boots. Their sled
Normally she would have been up by his side was nearby, and Julius remembered how he took
questioning him thoroughly, but she had been up them out afterward, and took turns pushing them
with him so many late nights. He was glad that down a snow-covered hill.
she had not been bothered. His sons were the dearest thing to him, and
Julius looked around the dark room, not he wondered, sitting there in the dark, why he
knowing for what, maybe for the six-armed, six- had ever left.
legged monster his sons had become. All he knew He could’ve tolerated whatever it was that was
was that he was pretty shaken up from the dream. bothering him, he could’ve learned to deal with
He pulled himself from the bed, feeling a lot it, and if he didn’t—tough! You sacrifice things
weaker than he was accustomed to, and walked when you get married and have children, that’s
through the dark room. He went into his closet, what it’s all about. But obviously not for me, he
reached up to the top shelf, moved some things told himself. I couldn’t be in the position where
around, and felt for the photo. I was expected to give of myself, where people
He asked himself what the dream meant. depended on me, where I had to be the pro-
Upon first thought, it was simple. Stay away from vider of almost every-
your sons. You would do more harm to them than thing for three children
good. But that was something that Julius didn’t and a wife. “I couldn’t
want to believe, for if he did, he would never see do that,” he told himself
them again. He could never explain to why he aloud. It was the last
had left, and he would never know if they forgave thing he was capable of
him for horrible thing he did. back then. It seemed as
In the den he sat on the floor in front of the though he would have
coffee table. He turned on the small lamp that rather died than stay an-
stood near him and laid his photo on the table. It other day in that house.
was a torn, dog-eared snapshot of his sons, taken But the way he felt now,
by one of the earliest Polaroid cameras. He could (Cont. on page 66)

S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 5 3
(Cont from page 33) The Coldest Winter Ever
One shortcoming of the collection is Bordelon’s by Sister Souljah
distracting annotations that precede the essays, Pocket Books
short expositions and stories. They interrupt an Reviewed by Vatisha Smith
audience’s literary enjoyment. Interpreting the
ideas that imbue Hurston’s wonderful fiction “I never liked Sister Souljah, straight up. She
should be left to us. The overall mode of the book the type of female I’d like to cut in the face with
supports what appears to be my razor.” How’s that for an opening line? The
Bordelon’s thesis on Hurston — first page of Sister Souljah’s novel The Cold-
which, for this reader, held little est Winter Ever is a free-fall into the terrific,
interest. The text does provide fast-paced and tragic world of young Winter
substantial reference material Santiaga. Born and raised in Brooklyn during
about the writer/folklorist, but if one of the coldest winters of the 1970’s, she
a reader is in search of a serious gives a play-by-play narration of her life;
hit of fiction one is bound to be though not for the faint- hearted, her story
disappointed. manages to have mass appeal.
Understandably, Bordelon At the heart of Winter is a fierce loyalty to
sympathizes with and honors the her family, especially to her big-time drug
wealth of Hurston’s art, so her dealer father. Being the daughter of “the num-
overzealousness is forgivable. For, as a strategist, ber one businessman in our area” instills a strong
Hurston worked it. What rings as capitulation, of- sense of pride, but from the start, she makes clear
ten gradually reveals itself as a clever deception she loves his money and the power it wields as
and survival. Such artifice is a signifying principle well. In fact, Winter’s first 16 years are sheltered
what qualifies an African American aesthetic. In and pampered. The good life ranges from dia-
Hurston’s essay Other Negro Folklore Influences, mond earrings and tennis bracelets as birthday
she writes, “There is no such thing as a Negro tale presents to eventually moving to a mansion in
which lacks a point… [he is] determined to laugh. Long Island. Winter shops for everything from
His world is dissolved in laughter. His “bossman”, Coach to Prada to Joan & David. But the good life
his woman, his preacher, his jailer, his God, and has to end sometime, and end it does.
himself, all must be baptized in a stream of laugh- Methodically, things begin to fall apart. First a
ter.” Many a detractor of the Robert Colesett phi- family member is shot and seriously wounded and
losophy would disagree with this premise on the another is arrested. The entire Santiaga family
grounds it undermines the “seriousness” of Black becomes endangered, not to mention impover-
Art. Hurston’s statement is to a degree broad but ished, and Winter finds herself having to fight,
her sensibility is, to a degree, on point, Hurston sweet-talk, and manipulate in order to survive. At
attests to a life that she understands, which is af- first she seems to hold her own, even managing
ter all American. “Buffoonery”, or what some call to keep up with her expensive tastes. There are
a particular culture’s inclination to parody and then some people in her life who even reach out to
laugh at itself, is not so widely celebrated. Yet show her the righteous path, but eventually things
throughout her field work, it was a theme that come to a head and even Winter can’t believe
consistently surfaced. She was interested in cer- her own fate.
emony and ritual, the beautiful and mythical. All Winter’s intense need and drive to attain ma-
these things are of what great art is made of and terial items, the breakdown of her family struc-
what Go Gator asserts is Hurston’s love and con- ture, and her rampant disrespect for fellow hu-
viction as an artist. man beings are symbolic of what many in the hip

5 4 M O S A I C / S U M M E R 1 9 9 9 w w w . m o s a i c b o o k s . c o m
hop generation are dealing with and going through. Brewster Place and Terri McMillan’s Waiting to Ex-
The Coldest Winter Ever gives an inside view of an hale. Each chapter focuses on a single character
HIV-positive, crack-smoking, Land Rover-driving and manages to weave separate perspectives into
society and hopefully, it will instill fear. one large tapestry. However, Johnson’s use of this
device could have been more effective if he had
The Harris Men focused more on each character’s psyche in rela-
By R.M. Johnson tion to the events that occur. Instead, he focuses
Simon & Schuster more on the events themselves and renders his
Reviewed by Craig S. Knight characters less dimensional.
Nevertheless, The Harris Men is refreshing
In an age when fatherhood and family are fleet- merely because it is told from an African-Ameri-
ing concepts, R.M. Johnson’s The Harris Men al- can male’s perspective at a time when African-
most seems cliché. Ultimately, however, Johnson American women write stories mostly about fa-
proves that the key to a good story is in its telling. milial bonds. The book also takes a critically hon-
The portrayal of three sons’ lives after being aban- est stance that should set the standard for other
doned by their father is a sad yet accurate com- books to come.
mentary on society’s issues with family as it faces
the new millennium. Juneteenth
Set in modern day Chicago, the story portrays by Ralph Ellison
three brothers – Caleb, Austin and Marcus – who Random House
were abandoned by their father, Julius, when they Reviewed by Gayle Williamson
were very young and chronicles how their lives
are impacted by his departure. Austin, the eldest, Juneteenth, Ralph Ellison’s posthumously pub-
faces abandonment issues and struggles at the lished novel, can be described in one word: intri-
crossroads of his relationship with his wife, Trace. cate. Ellison weaves an interesting jazz/blues tap-
Marcus, the middle son, grapples with his fear of estry that attempts to define, and at the same
losing the people closest to him and desperately time dispel, the myth of language and race in
tries to keep his family together when his mother determining the humanity of a single individual or
dies shortly after Julius leaves. Caleb, the young- community.
est, also faces the arduous task of keeping his The story of Reverend Bliss/Senator Sunraider
family in tact as he struggles with is told in a series of stream of con-
the daily challenge of living a life sciousness memories as the reverend
devoid of formal education. Caleb recalls, with the help of Reverend A.Z.
also attempts to avoid the various (Daddy) Hickman, the events which led
snares set for young black men in his up to Reverend Bliss’ heading out in
environment. And as his sons face the midst of one Juneteenth celebra-
their future, Julius realizes he must tion to define himself.
somehow make amends to them af- When Juneteenth begins, Daddy
ter he is diagnosed with cancer and Hickman has traveled from Oklahoma
given two years to live. to warn the former Reverend Bliss, who
The Harris Men’s strength is in its has become race-baiting Senator
honesty, which speaks volumes to readers who, Sunraider, of impending doom. Because Senator
in some way, shape, or form, carry the baggage Sunraider has denied the only heritage he knows
of struggles with family. Structurally, the book is – African American – Daddy Hickman cannot get
reminiscent of Gloria Naylor’s The Women of in to see him. Once the prophecy is carried out, u

S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 5 5
and Senator Sunraider is shot on the floor of the minds us why his voice is so important to black
Senate, he calls for Reverend Hickman and the literature.
two men piece together the senator’s life.
As the life to which he has subjected the young When Chickenheads Come
Reverend Bliss unfolds, we are never sure if Daddy Home To Roost
Hickman has done the right thing or not (his reli- My Life As a Hip-hop Feminist
gious status notwithstanding). In their traveling by Joan Morgan
sermon, he requires the boy to deceive the con- Simon & Schuster
gregation by playing dead until just the right mo- Reviewed by Lynne d. Johnson
ment and then orchestrates a resurrection that is
guaranteed to bring sinners to the ways of the Hip-hop has intrinsically woven itself into the
righteous. The boy’s life is carefully regulated and fabric of Americana. The culture, music, icons,
he clearly misses the typical boyhood fun he sees and players have graced the covers of New York,
going on around him. It is clear though, from the The New York Times Magazine, Forbes and Time
older reverend’s story, that all intentions are hon- among others. Much has been written about
orable. who produces and creates the music, fashion,
Much about this novel is different from Ellison’s movies and videos, yet there remains a dearth
landmark, Invisible Man. While there are elements of serious writing by women about the gender
of blues and jazz resonating throughout the lan- politics surrounding hip-hop. Although a smat-
guage and themes, this story takes more risks than tering of essays have appeared in journals, maga-
the former. Memories stop and start and flow to- zines, and anthologies, they tend to skirt around
gether creating a daring narrative that is, at times, the fringes, steering clear of the complex issues
difficult to sift through with its shape-shifting, that engulf hip-hop music and culture. Women
stream of consciousness style. It is a complicated who have written about the subject have focused
novel with complex characters that, as in real life, on easier targets such as the misogyny of male
find the line between truth and reality an awk- rappers and sexually-charged, scantily-clothed
ward one. female rappers.
Moments of the Senator’s lucidity are often When it comes to provocative discourse about
confused by the alternating narrators. Both Rever- hip-hop in its entirety, it is the male writer who
end Hickman and Senator Sunraider have their say usually handles the task. In 1994, Tricia Rose’s
about their history, however, once Ellison estab- Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Con-
lishes rhythm, the story flows smoothly and re- (Cont. on page 58)

a visible man:
Ralph Ellison was born on March 1, 1914 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. From 1933 to
1936 he attended Tuskegee Institute in pursuit of a career in music but eventually
turned his attention to the written word. It was, however, his knowledge and love of
music that made the language of his texts so rich and the structure of his writing so
He moved to New York City in 1936 and contributed to magazines such as New
Challenge and New Masses. Later he worked with the Federal Writers Project.
During this period, he began to develop an ear for black speech patterns and in 1952
published the novel of inevitable self-awareness, Invisible Man. The novel re-
ceived tremendous critical acclaim and won the National Book Award in 1953. In
1970 Ellison became the Albert Schweitzer Professor of Humanities at New York
University. In his lifetime he published two collections of critical essays, Shadow and
Act (1964) and Gong to the Territory (1986) which cover everything from music to
politics. His short stories remain uncollected. Ralph Ellison died on April 16, 1994.

5 6 M O S A I C / S U M M E R 1 9 9 9 w w w . m o s a i c b o o k s . c o m
crossword puzzle
1 Features the singer “Left Eye”
4 It’s capital is Bamako
8 “We wear the mask that grins and ____”
12 Part of verb to be
13 Respect Redding
14 Musical instrument
15 Not good
16 Small dabbling duck
17 McClendon (1884-1936)
18 Achebe’s “Things Fall _____”
20 Ishmael (1938- )
22 Long period of time
24 Arrive at
28 (1918-1996) The “First” Lady of Jazz
31 Deavere Smith (1950-)
34 Hawaiian acacia
35 “Oh Mary, don’t you ____”
36 Born
37 Aromatic fragrance
38 Even (poet.)
39 Swahili You (singular)
40 Singles
41 Cylindrical larva
43 Naylor’s “Mama”
45 Swahili One
48 Muhammad Toure (1938- )
52 First name for a “Bird” or U.S. Poet Laureate
21 NAACP publishes “Woman’s ____” (1894)
55 A person that uses
23 Swahili Eight
57 Eldridge puts SOUL on this
25 Spoken in Ghana and Ivory Coast
58 He knows they came before Columbus
26 First AA Female Medical Doctor
59 Charles I. (1956- )
27 Poor actors
60 Sound of a cow
28 Pitcher
61 Hindu mother goddess
29 Meadows, Host WPON’s “The Book Beat” Radio Show
62 Acquire through merit
30 Grant temporary use of
63 Shockley - Author of 1974 “Loving Her”
32 Alain Locke (1886-1954) Wrote about this kind of Negro
33 Requirement
DOWN 37 1931 “Scottsboro ______”
1 Swahili Seven 39 Swahili They
2 Enclose in paper 42 Faith
3 The sacred scriptures of Hinduism 44 Hank with a bat
4 Langston Hughes (1902-1967) 46 Jordan (1936-)
5 Consumed 47 Seaward
6 Person who lies 49 Swahili Monkey
7 Small island 50 Image
8 Contributed to Black Feminist, Lesbian thought 51 Great age
9 Tribe, West African Coast during period of Slave Trade 52 To free
10 Greek goddess of the dawn 53 I have
11 ___ See Rider 54 23rd letter of the Hebrew alphabet
19 Countee Cullen: “We shall not always plant while 56 Sin
others ___”

Crossword puzzle provided by Troy Johnson/ Answers on page 61

S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 5 7
(Reviews: cont. from page 56) The Big Banana
temporary America made a significant contribu- by Roberto Quesada
tion, setting the stage for women writers to pick Arte Publico Press
up their pens and sit down to some serious Reviewed by Donna Hill
writing. Readers are still waiting.
Joan Morgan’s When Chickenheads Come With locales in Queens, the Bronx and Manhat-
Home To life as a hip-hop feminist tan, The Big Banana chronicles the life and times of
was positioned as a pillar on which other women Honduran immigrant and would-be actor Eduardo Lin,
writers could stand upon. That ain’t necessarily along with his odd assortment of associates and love
so. interests. Eduardo tries to get his life on track and
At best, Morgan’s book serves as a personal launch his career, while maintaining a long-distance
exploration of self evolution. It is one black relationship with Mirian, who at the opening of the
woman coming to terms with story is obsessed with secret agent 007, James
her politics, spirituality and iden- Bond. Through a series of flashbacks, flights of
tity. As a self-defined feminist fancy and shifts in viewpoint, the reader is fi-
coming of age alongside hip- nally able to piece together this very eccentric
hop music and culture, Morgan relationship and plot line.
bluntly asks, “And how come At the center of Eduardo’s new life is his
no one ever admits that part of Chilean friend Casagrande, who has a magical
the reason women love hip- way of getting what he wants with little or no
hop— as sexist as it is — is ‘cuz effort which makes him quite memorable.
all that in-yo-face testosterone Casagrande and Eduardo’s eclectic group of
makes our nipples hard?” friends who inhabit the apartment complex
In the chapter “from fly-girls where he lives, offer a view of several Latin
to bitches and hos,” Morgan writes hip-hop a cultures – Central and South American, Chilean and
letter declaring their love affair a complicated Honduran – and their thoughts about “the gringos,”
abusive relationship that plays a critical role in and each other.
defining her feminism and is necessary to the As Eduardo moves from one part of New York City
survival of her community. In these personal to another, from one low-paying job to the next, the
moments, Morgan writes poetically and passion- reader is taken on fantasy rides as Eduardo encoun-
ately about race, gender and sexism. Her es- ters people and situations that spark his overactive
says mostly explore her relationship with her- imagination and launch him into “the role of a life-
self, black men, hip-hop and America. From time.” In the midst of it all, the love relationship
this solitary, cathartic place, she reaches out between Eduardo and Mirian continues to ebb and
for black men and women to get real with them- flow as they are caught in the peculiarities of their
selves. own lives; his wild imaginings and her struggle with
A hip-hop manifesto the book is not. It is controlling parents and a bizarre relationship with the
clear, candid and solid writing that explores the psychiatrist who is trying to rid her of her James Bond
personal in such a way that it becomes general. obsession.
Morgan expresses herself genuinely and authen- Sometimes humorous, often confusing, The Big
tically, articulating her experiences, contradic- Banana is, for the most part, entertaining. In many
tions, and self-doubts — at times she is even ways it is a Latino version of The Wizard of Oz with
able to laugh at herself. This technique implores Eduardo cast as Dorothy on a search for self and hop-
empathy, guiding the reader on a journey of ing to find it in the people met along the way. Ulti-
exploring and checking one’s self. (Cont. on page 69)

5 8 M O S A I C / S U M M E R 1 9 9 9 w w w . m o s a i c b o o k s . c o m

no, she ain’t never been down here

or hear the silent screams
of a mother losing her son
because someone thought to stop his breath

Cinderella would be fun

ain’t never been blamed
for being the majority on public aid

ain’t been when it’s not her people

abusin’ the system anyway
she ain’t never come to experience

here Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni

or Maya Angelou
Otis Redding, Donnie Hathaway,
by C. Candice Rigdon or even Marvin Gaye
never felt the rich, cultural experience
that emits from our minds, bodies, and souls
never danced a jig at the jukejoint
flowed a rhyme or two,
see I was sittin’ around the other day caught the Holy Ghost on Sundays
just sittin’ ate a peppermint in a pickle,
and I was thinkin’ or had a meal of Soul Food:
‘bout these so pronounced fairy tales no chitterlings, hamhocks, or greens
that ain’t never been with generous spices and seasonings
no dreams of mine tempting taste-buds to feed
with what all this talk about she ain’t never been told to imagine
long with gown, chariots, is outside the realm of her person,
luxurious frills, never been told dreams cannot be hers
and prince charming? never been made to feel
naw, Cinderella ain’t never been here. she can’t walk with her head held high
I ain’t never seen no glass slippers, thought nothing is more beautiful
been to no balls, than black love and black pride
trounced barefoot through the forest, no, she ain’t ever been this way
the stars at my feet, and I doubt she’ll be here soon
Cinderella, she got a fairy godmother I cannot trade her world for mine
to grant her every need because my dreams I refuse to toss aside.
and fulfill her every wish No tell her to stay
but she’s never come around here, wherever she may be
experienced what my heart feels. to let us fulfill our own wishes, hopes, and dreams
see fairy godmother a passion so fierce
and this so-called mother nature a unity so strong,
thought they’d get together give our children the griots
a play a cruel trick and let their heroes remain their own.
what with these corn bread hips provide a heritage,
and thick, sensuous lips and they find who they are
but don’t I look good develop a sense of purpose
as I sashay across the room? and leaders they become.
looks like I got the last laugh Cinderella ain’t never been here
with my chocolate prince in tow and tell her we don’t need her
nappy hair, elated glow we’re holding our own now”
stunning, black, and proud.

S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 5 9
(Hieroglyphics: cont. from page 35) acquiring education and expertise typically is also
generalizations, utter hip clichés as though they an act of alienation. It is unfortunately generally
were timeless wisdom, and inevitably offer in- true that mainstream training in craft is simulta-
stant snapshots of the social facade as though they neously a directive to distance one’s self from
were in-depth investigations of the structure and the culture and consciousness of our Black com-
nature of our social reality — in short, we lie and munities. Explicitly, to become professional
fantasize. means to emulate the other and eschew the
Moreover, unless we consciously deal with our Black self, the working class self, and, for
conditions, we end up replicating our oppression women, to an even greater degree than many
in our literature. When we are poor we write may realize, becoming a professional also means
admiringly of being rich — when we get some eschewing the self-actualized female self.
money, we write guiltily about poverty. What is
this madness? This is the psychology of the op- Thus, it is no surprise that once we become
pressed captivated by their own oppression. professionals, we insist on the right to be seen
as autonomous and self-defined individuals who
If this analysis sounds extreme, run the litmus desire to live beyond the restrictions of race,
test of examining works of popular literature and class and/or gender. Indeed, we are often proud
see if this is not the case. Look at the rap videos, as peacocks strutting around glorying in our in-
notice the lifestyles portrayed. Look at the mov- dividuality — look at the beauty of my butt feath-
ies. At some point, we need to be aware that ers! We disdain groups, assert that organizations
videos, movies, televisions, all of those media stifle our creativity. Meanwhile, people who are
employ scripts — these scripts are our popular organized control the production and distribu-
literature. The absence and/or low level of craft tion of our creative work.
in popular literature, both in publishing and in elec-
tronic, broadcast and video mediums, points to The status quo system loves those of us who
one of our real problems — many of the people think we can make it as individuals precisely
who are scripting for the media, can’t or don’t because individuals are dependent on the sta-
write well. tus quo for life support. When you don’t have a
community of friends and comrades, you end
Moreover, I understand that the majority of up going to your enemy for supper and shelter,
scriptwriters for Black-oriented projects are not both literally and metaphorically.
Black writers, however, the lack of Black writers
in the dominant and dominating mainstream me- The challenge for conscious and self-identified
dia underscores rather than invalidates my writers is both external and internal. External to
premise. A major part of our problem has nothing the individual, we must build community by
to do with craft and everything to do with con- working with and achieving an understanding
sciousness — our consciousness and the con- of the people with whom we identify. Inter-
sciousness of our fellow humans in the United nally there is the individual quest to develop a
States of America. craft that reflects and projects our individual
Our daily lives are shaped by our social condi- feelings and ideas about ourselves as well as
tions and the consciousness that emerges from about the world we live in. This struggle for
those conditions. A significant percentage of writ- social and artistic development is not an ab-
ers who are craft conscious are also writers who stract concern. In practical terms such develop-
are psychologically alienated from their own cul- ment requires that we who identify ourselves
ture. Indeed, for the person of color, the act of as Black writers:

6 0 M O S A I C / S U M M E R 1 9 9 9 w w w . m o s a i c b o o k s . c o m
1. Study Black music and Black history. in terms of craft development. We literally find out
Music because Black music is our mother tongue what’s going on by being in touch with others. We
— the language through which the deepest and become inspired and get ideas from interacting with
most honest emotions of our people have been others.
expressed in the rawest and most “unmediated”
manner. More than in any other sphere of social The Internet is a major source of community activity
activity, African Americans have determined our for young writers today. There are on-line workshops,
own musical expressions and have communicated resource web sites, informational web sites and
with the world through that form of expression. specifically, a number of Black oriented literary web
sites. A young writer who is not on-line is literally
History because if you don’t know yourself you “out of it” — outside of the ebb and flow of ideas
will inevitably end up betraying yourself. and information. With the advent of public access
through libraries, arts organizations, schools, and
Is it possible to write without a working knowl- relatively inexpensive commercial services, there is
edge of Black music and history? Of course it is. Is no excuse for not being on-line.
it possible to produce great literature without such
knowledge? Probably not, and certainly none that Writing is not just the words on the page. Writing is
would be considered Black literature. Ultimately, documentation of social praxis. There is both an art
all literature is a product of culture, whether that and a science to writing, a feeling and a thought.
culture is one’s indigenous culture or an adopted
culture. Not only is no writer an island, it is up to each one
of us to develop as social creatures (i.e. men and
2. Study the craft of writing. women) and as professionals. For our ancestors, for
One certainly would not claim to be a carpenter our selves, for our children and those yet unborn,
without learning how to build, nor a farmer and be let us as writers come together and create a literature
unable to raise crops. Moreover, we also need to that is as persistent and profound as our people who
tackle the development of our own approaches outlived centuries of chattel slavery, segregation and
and the development of a theoretical foundation. degradation, and who stand now on the verge of
creating a new definition of what it means to be a
During the Black Arts Movement, this process was free, proud and productive people. H
called the Black aesthetic — the development of
an aesthetic is still needed. Craft is the concrete CROSSWORD PUZZLE ANSWERS
manifestation of philosophical aesthetics. If we don’t
consciously shape our own aesthetics, our craft will
invariably and often in a contradictory and con-
flicted manner reflect someone else’s aesthetic,
generally the aesthetics of the dominant social or-

3. Join with like-minded colleagues.

We should join writers associations, guilds, and
organizations, both formal and informal. Workshops
are important in one’s formative years. As one
develops, peer associations become extremely
helpful both in terms of career development and

S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 6 1
(The River: cont. from page 21) I sent the boy away, ready. A woman does
he continues. I have cleaned her yard all year not speak to a man like that. I opened my hand,
‘round. palms up.
Have you? Woman—I hissed, but there was already spit
She asks about you, Papi. She’s a nice lady. in her throat.
But, why does she always asks about you? If you would not worry what to get Sandra
—I stop tying my tie—- Garcia, she cried, maybe you’d have remember to
I don’t know, I say. I hardly know the woman. get the boy something.
But, get to the kitchen, boy. Your mother’s calling She looks at me. My wife, with bitter eyes.
you. My nakedness shows. I have no words. I am mad
Will you get the shoes? at her for knowing about me and Sandra. So I hit
I’ll get the shoes. her. Palms up.
You will not forget, Papi. Will you? Who told her such things? I am the man of
I will not forget. the house. It is not her place to question me. She
is only a woman. Again I hit her, and see the
maid shoo the children away. When the children
I am trying to remember how I forgot. I think are gone, my Sonia breaks.
it was the dress. The one Sandra begged me for. “You don’t know how to love,” she yells. “You
Yellow with blue flowers. You will buy it for me don’t know how to love.”
in America, Pablo, she asked. No? Then she I grab at her hair and hit her again. Harder.
touched her hips to mine. Right between her lip and nose. Blood comes
When I was in Miami the boy was still alive. down. Palms closed. And then I see the child,
I was on business and forgot the shoes. He was there beside her. My little Clara, standing in the
standing in the doorway when I came home. The shadow of her mother. Her eyes are wide and
maid took my bags. The boy was eating a curious. Eyes that burn. Eyes that question.
hamburger with his mother was behind him. You don’t know how to love.
The shoes, papi? No shoes? I let go of Sonia. It is a hot day. My voice is
I forgot, I say. I do not know how—- caught in my throat. I cannot speak.
My Sonia was there, staring at me. She had
eyes like him, very sad eyes. Mi corazon, I always
called her, and how often she would smile. Clara has her mother’s face. She is humming.
But, on that day, when I forgot the boys She is at the table with Juan-Reyes and the baby.
shoes, when it was two weeks before Christmas, They want me to eat American food. Apple pie
and I had just arrived from Miami, she did not and a hamburger. I do not want to eat.
smile. Papi, Clara exclaims, her eyes glaring at me.
Mi corazon, I said touching her face, while You are too thin.
the boy was still between us, a burger in his hand, Clara is a woman. She has a fork in her hand.
and heat in her cheeks. I think she wants to hurt me. She has said I’ve
You smell of perfume, she whispered, and kept her here. Against her will. I’ve told her, if
stepped back. you leave me I will be an old man by himself.
It is nothing, I explained. Only Mrs. Panera. And what is in America, that is not here?
She is an old woman. She hugs me when she You will not be alone, Clara always says. You
sees me. She smells of this perfume. will have Laya.
You did not bring the boy anything, Pablo? Who is Laya? I ask. She is a servant. Young
I will get him the shoes, Sonia. and stupid. I think she is a thief, too.
He did not want them from here, Pablo. I do not confess the rest: that the servant girl
Woman, what difference does it make? will lay with me if she leaves. If Clara leaves, I
What difference? He is your son! He wanted will touch the child and Clara will hate me more.
Americano. Laya will have my baby. Her stomach will swell.

6 2 M O S A I C / S U M M E R 1 9 9 9 w w w . m o s a i c b o o k s . c o m
Then she will ask for money, and I will hand it born. He wants to go to America. He says when
over. he goes, Clara must go with him. Clara must be
Eat, Papi, Clara says a third time at the dinner. free.
You drive me crazy when you sit there. Eat. Clara is free, I say. What does he know?
I cannot eat, I say. I must remember to keep Juan-Reyes is a boy. He is not the money behind
his room. In case he comes home. this family. I am the money behind this family. I
In case who comes? She asks. have taken care of us. I have kept the boy’s room.
Victor, I say. If the boy should ever come back I will say,
Clara is silent for a long spell. see, I have taken care of your toys. Clara did not
He might be traveling, I explain. take care of your toys, Victor, because she thought
Papi, stop. you were dead.
He might be in the states. He might come But, I knew the truth. I knew you were trav-
back later. eling.
He will never come home, old man! Stop it! The boy will be proud of me. And I will tell
Traveling, I repeat. That is why I have kept him the rest: I will explain that I looked in the
his room all these years. In case he comes back. river. Four months after you disappeared; after
At this Clara bursts. the police found your clothes, and gave up on
Shut up, papi, she yells. You are old now. And you. But, I never gave up.
stupid. He will never come home. Do you hear I bought the shoes you wanted, Victor, and
me? He is gone. placed them at the foot of your
The boy is not gone, I say. It bed. They’re your Christmas
is my house you are in, and I am present. They have been there
your father. ever since. This time, I did not
She has a fork in her hand, forget.
like she wants to hurt me. The police forgot. They said
The boy will never come back, it was hopeless. But, I did not.
papi. You left him, remember? You We have his clothes, Senoir
never picked him up. Varacuza, they said. But, not the
—shhhhh—says Juan-Reyes. body.
Shhhhh—— We must find him, I said,
But, that’s the funny part, ha, and offered dinero. He is a small
ha, ha. Everyone dies in this house. thing. He looks seven. Maybe
Mama dies. Victor dies. So long eight. He is ten. He is probably
as I’m here, I die, too. But , not hungry. He eats very much. He
Papi. Papi, lives. Ha, ha, ha. Old will want potato chips and ice
man, that I could throw you into cream. He will be scared.
the river, along with the other bod- Sir, they repeated. We have
ies no one finds. That is my wish. his clothes. There are blood stains
And she spits. There in my face. Spit that has on his clothes. There are tears on his clothes. But,
been in her mother’s throat fifteen years. Clara we have no body.
is a woman, now. She should not do such things. Your mother wept for you, Victor, after you’d
I am her father. gone. Her hair fell out and she would not let me
I want Juan-Reyes to hit her for me, in the touch her. She waited five years for you, but you
softness of her mouth. I want Juan Reyes to do did not come. When five years passed, her heart
this one thing, because he is supposed to my son. gave out and Clara and I were alone. Where have
Victor would’ve done it. Victor would’ve hit her you been, Victor? All this time?
for me, because I have kept his room. I would They say I left you, my son. It is not true. I
have shown the boy how to be a man. am sorry. I am a stubborn man. I did not mean to
But, Juan-Reyes will not do it. He is stub- forget. u

S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 6 3
They say I was to pick you up from school time. We have had enough. Of this house. Of
that day, but I forgot, and you walked home. these memories. Juan-Reyes wants to go to
That was the day you disappeared. We weren’t America.
prepared for it. And neither were you. Then let him go, I say.
Where he goes, Papi. I go.
It does not feel like fifteen years since the I hesitate. I want to cry, but not in front of
boy left. It is midnight now. Dinner is ended a woman.
and I am alone in my room. I am an old man. I loved your brother, I speak again, but Clara
Clara and Juan-Reyes are angry with me. They has no words.
say I am stubborn. They say I’ve lost my mind. I I loved your mother, I insist. I did not tell
must remember to breathe. I must remember you all this before, and I am sorry. But, I am
to never pass the home of Sandra Garcia again. telling you now. Can you hear me?
It is midnight. Clara sneaks softly into my I hear you, Papi.
room. The baby has been put to sleep. Clara You are my heart, Clara.
says she is glad I am in my own bed. I can see Goodnight, Papi.
her face glow from the moonlight. Will you stay? Mi corazon?
She has something to tell me, she says. She She turns on her heels and leaves, shutting
is sorry for yelling. She is sorry for her behavior the door behind her.
this evening. She is also sorry because she is I cry now. I am not in the boy’s room. I am
leaving. in my own room. The boy’s room is down the
I say nothing. I do not understand. I do not hall. I have kept his shoes for him. Neatly be-
want to understand. I am lying in the dark, star- side his bed. In case he is traveling.
ing at the ceiling. I am in my house. It is a big When my daughter moves to the states,
house. I have sweat tears and blood for this she will take her husband with her, and Juan-
house. I have bled the fingers of my own people Reyes will not eat my food anymore. Victor is
for this house. probably handsome like Juan-Reyes.
Clara waits. She wants me to answer. She I will not be alone when they leave. I will
wants me to hurt. But I know the truth. I know have my memories. I will remember to never
that when she leaves the servant girl will come pass the home of Sandra Garcia again, though
for me. She will sneak into my room on a night she asks about the boy. She asks because she
when her breath is soft and her body is per- lay with me while my boy was dying. She lay
fumed, and I will give her a baby. with me, and I lied to her.
She will ask for money and I will not refuse I had no plans to leave Sonia. A man is a
her. I will give her the money, and wait for Vic- man by the family he has built.
tor to come home. I will buy anything for Laya, In the morning I will go to confession. I
until the boy comes. Anything at all. Except will speak only with Padre Martinez. I will tell
clothes. I have bought the yellow dress already, him that I am old, and he will have pity. I will
with blue flowers and will never pay such a heavy tell him my Clara has gone to America. I will
price again. not confess to him that the servant girl keeps
Papi, did you hear me? Clara asks suddenly. opening her shirt for me. If I do, he will send
It is midnight. The moon is strong. Clara’s her away, and she will never come to my room
eyes are upon me. I can feel her waiting. She is again.
a smart girl, standing in the shadow of her mother. It is midnight. I am an old man. I have to
Bitter. Mi corazon. remember to breathe. I must remember to
I did everything I could, I speak suddenly. I never check the river. If I do not check the river,
loved the boy, Clara. He was your brother. He then the boy is only traveling, and I can keep
was my son. I am sorry I forgot. his room ready for him. His shoes are beside
Clara sighs. She is tired. So tired. his bed. The ones he wanted for Christmas. I
Papi, she says. We are leaving because it is will not forget them, ever again. H

6 4 M O S A I C / S U M M E R 1 9 9 9 w w w . m o s a i c b o o k s . c o m
(Loida Maritza Perez: cont. from page 26) (Stacyann Chin: cont. from page 24)
protagonist…but Iliana was an add-on.” This is other poems written only a month ago becoming
no surprise, as Maritza has extraordinary narra- her old work, Stacyann preformed to much ac-
tive talent. It is this talent that shines when the claim. In a short period of time she has amassed
story moves less smoothly as what is conven- many achievements, including 1998 Lambda Slam
tionally required for novels. This leads the con- champion, 1998 Slam This! champion, a contes-
versation to her background as a writer, “I’d been tant on “Showtime at the Apollo,” 1999 runner-
writing short stories for ten years,” she says. up for Outrights National Poetry Slam, 1999 win-
“They’d been turned down by the best and ner of People of Color Slam, 1999 winner of
worst literary magazines…that freed me to write Urbana’s Final Slam, and a finalist for the 1999
about whatever I wanted.” Once this happened, Grand Slam Finals at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe.
Pérez says, Geographies came together. She is a frequent guest on both WBAI and WHCR
The novel is far from typical in many ways, radio stations and spends many evenings sharing
including the lack of resolution at the end. Maritza her work with students at various universities
says this was “absolutely intentional. I kind of around the country including Amherst College,
stuck to my guns with the editors. I didn’t want Brooklyn College, Columbia University, New York
to provide easy answers. Actually, I didn’t want University, Pace University, New Hampshire Uni-
to provide any answers. I’m interested in spark- versity, The University of Rochester and the Uni-
ing a dialogue, not providing answers…they’ll versity of Miami.
live happily ever after, that’s not the way life is.” Staceyann’s work has been featured in Black
The reader is left to draw many of his or her Track newspaper, Mosaic, Shades newsletter, Ev-
own conclusions after reading Geographies. “I erybody magazine, New York Foundation for the
wanted the reading of my novel to be as discon- Arts newsletter, and FYI among others. Her po-
certing as the lives of the characters.” etry can also be found in the anthology Skyscrap-
“History is an authoritative voice that presents ers, Taxis, and Tampons, which contains the writ-
a path.” The author believes it’s up to the read- ings of seven young New York women. Wildcat
ers to determine the validity of such a path. “We Woman, her chapbook, can be purchased at any
come from a culture where our history is so of the venues she performs. A complete collec-
complex…slavery, dictatorships…life is surreal. tion of her poetry will be published by Fly By
Coming to America is surreal.” She notes that Night Publishers in association with Genesis Press
Dominicans “don’t see their lives reflected any- in early 2000.
where” in popular culture, thus compounding Make it a point to see Staceyann perform as
the challenges of emigrating. ”Most immigrants well as purchase her work, you will not be disap-
have a fierce sense of pride…they buy into the pointed.
‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ idea…” Ge- Hard work and dedication has prevailed in
ographies suggests, among other things, that the Staceyann’s success and she passes this on to all
process isn’t always so simple. future and present poets, “For your work to be
When asked about her future work, Maritza good it has to be honest. Be yourself because
once again laughs. “Right now nothing, my com- anyone can tell the difference between being
puter just committed suicide!” She would only sincere and contrite. You also have to be willing
say her second novel is based in the Dominican to die for every word you write. Listen, read and
Republic, and will explore issues of race as well appreciate what other writers have to offer. Also
as relationships. Ms. Perez is, without question, talk with writers and get their handle, and after
one to watch; whatever her next work is, she’ll all of that, foremost and very importantly, be-
certainly be around for a long time. H lieve in yourself.” H

S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 6 5
(No Time To Die: cont. from page 11) (R.M. Johnson: cont. from page 52)
The small crowd that had gathered when the in the making through his thoughts and dreams, it
limo pulled up followed in her wake. All except took him a mere 5 months to transform his
James, who had been standing directly behind concept into a novel. “E. Lynn [Harris - author,
me. When I turned, I nearly tripped but he did friend and mentor], told me that people want to
not move. He stared, playing the childish street hear that it took me a long time to write the
game of waiting for me to move around him. I book...that I had it for years up in the attic.” The
knew the rules: moving around meant backing truth is that Johnson is shaping up to be a prolific
down. I felt the bile rise at the back of my throat novelist. His soon-to-be published latest book,
and did not move but gave him eye for eye. Up Father Found, took just one month more than his
close, his skin was like broken stone and he was first to write.
wrapped in the odor of stale alcohol. No wonder Johnson has made a few side-trips on his literary
the Dollar Sign Sister had turned away. I imagined journey : US Army, college, and the profession
vapors strong enough to light a candle when he’d of radiation therapy. But it looks like he’s here for
opened his mouth. the duration. Good news for his readers. H
“Step off, James. You know I don’t play.”
“Neither do I,” he whispered. “I peeped what
went down. You talkin’ to that bitch in there.”
”What bitch? Nobody introduced me to your (The Harris Men: cont. from page 53)
mama. he would give up all that he had lived over the
He stepped back, his eyes narrowing into one last twenty or 50 years, just to be given the op-
of those taut Freddy Krueger nightmare stares, and portunity to have never left his family. Then again,
began to circle me. I stood my ground, feeling that wouldn’t be fair to Cathy. He loved her with
my blood pump hard as I went into a slight crouch. all his heart, and thinking what he had just thought
I had on my size 10 hoochie heels, just out the made it seem as though he would trade her as
box, and intended to aim and hit what Marie had easily. That wasn’t true, at least he didn’t think it
missed with that hot oil. was.
The standoff might have lasted until the bar He grabbed the picture and brought it very
closed, but someone, a cohort in as bad a shape close to his face. He didn’t know what he thought.
as James, came rushing out. It was torture to think about it at all. There was
“Man, they poppin’ free champagne! Free! And no way he could go back and change what had
they got free food! What you doin’ out here?” happened, d it was foolish to question his
James turned, but before he walked, he judgment now. He did what was best him then,
whispered, “when you was on the force, you was and that was all he could’ve done.
big and bad with backup. It ain’t that way no more. He stared at the picture some more in the
You be hearin’ from me. dim light, and felt himself dizzy. He was weak
“It’s not about the force and you know it, and shouldn’t be out on the cold floor He touched
James.” the picture with his finger and traced a line around
“Whatever. But you’ll be hearin’ from me.” each one of their faces, then brought it to his lips
“And I’ll be ready,” I called after his retreating and kissed it. “I’ll see you again.” H
back. H

Copyright © 1999 by Grace Edwards Copyright © 1999 by R.M. Johnson

From the book NO TIME TO DIE, From the book THE HARRIS MEN,
published by Doubleday, a division of Random House published by Simon and Schuster
All rights reserved. All rights reserved.

6 6 M O S A I C / S U M M E R 1 9 9 9 w w w . m o s a i c b o o k s . c o m
mosaic ad

S U M M E R / M O S A I C 1 9 9 9 6 7
(Colin Channer: cont from page 23) Channer, Fire is not just another literary manifes-
colonialist educational system in Jamaica did not tation of popular female fantasy - a dreadlocked,
encourage creative endeavors such as writing. sepia toned prince charming. Those attributes,
Although the study of classic European literature Channer claims, are “incidental” to the story. Fire
was an integral part of the school curriculum; does, however, represent what the Blackman can
even more so than in America; the Jamaican be, and in fact, what he is. Fire possesses the
school system instead, placed a heavy emphasis “Vision and values for black male behavior”. I
on vocational learning. To that end, writing was joked with Channer that if there are “Fire’s” out
not viewed as a practicable trade, but rather as a there, they are few and living in seclusion! So
frivolous pursuit. At a loss for role models, Channer who is “Fire”? Channer modestly admits that in
found the inspiration he needed in reggae music. some ways author and character are one, and do
A self-described “Reggae-Writer”, Channer ex- share some “borrowed elements”. To what
plained to me that reggae is still quite young in extent he would not divulge and deemed that bit
the in terms of world music, in fact, only 25 years of information a “trade secret”.
old. It is “uniquely narrative” and indigenous to “Sylvia”, “Fire’s” love interest, was created
the Jamaican people. “Reggae”, says Channer, with a different purpose in mind. Sylvia is
“is improvisational and possesses a broad emo- Channer’s response to the recent “black male
tional range. Entwining the political, spiritual and revenge” literature that has cropped up in recent
sexual, reggae forms a multifaceted story, while years. Tired of reading about the trifling, dishon-
maintaining a groove that anybody can surrender est and materialistic woman of black fiction,
itself to. ” Channer‘s response comes in the form of Sylvia,
Channer applies the same formula to his a first generation professional woman (as many of
writing to create rhythm, purpose and plot, us are) who is not out to get, so much as she is to
without sacrificing entertainment value. protect and maintain. Channer believes that this
Waiting in Vain is emotional, erotic, and yes, is the case with many black women, rather than
entertaining. But dare I call it a romance? So going along with the common negative male opin-
what if it contains the key elements essential to ion that women are out to protect their own while
good romantic fiction: A man , A woman, A love taking all that they can from gullible men. “Sylvia’s
gone, A love gone wrong, etc.? “Waiting is a poor background (made worse by neglect and
love story”, according to Colin, “romance is dime abuse) makes her success and accomplishments
store fiction.” I stand (politely) corrected. that much more precious; thus making her cau-
Synonyms aside, love stories and/or the ro- tious (and rightfully so) about whom she allows
mance genre traditionally have an overwhelmingly into her life.” Channer presents a provocative
female audience. Channer denies writing Waiting question to his male audience, “Is it so wrong
with the narrow intention of simply capturing his that a first generation professional woman ask that
share of the market. “Fire”, the protagonist of a brother hold up his end?” I asked Channer if
Waiting , is: creative, financially secure, unat- anyone, served as a model for Sylvia’s character.
tached, emotionally intact, and get this -- seeking He replied, “No one. Straight from my imagina-
the love of only one woman. The few flaws Fire tion!” That would explain Sylvia’s ability to achieve
possesses are apparent only in his desire to be a an orgasm, at her desk, during the middle of the
friend, saviour and soulmate-in -waiting to those day! Hmmm. Interesting.
he holds dear. If Fire was not created to fit the For Channer, getting Waiting published was
idealistic fantasies of the female masses, then not the ordeal that many new authors experience
why? Channer sees Fire as a kind of “role model as they seek out agents and publishers. Waiting
to which Black men can aspire”. According to In Vain’s potential was immediately recognized by

6 8 M O S A I C / S U M M E R 1 9 9 9 w w w . m o s a i c b o o k s . c o m
his publisher, Ballantine/One World Books. We (Reviews: cont. from page 59)
can expect another novel from the delightful and mately, however, what both Dorothy and Eduardo
charming Colin Channer in the very near future. are searching for, they already have inside themselves.
Like his first novel, Channer’s next work will be,
without a doubt, well worth waiting for. H Hidden in Plain View
by Blair S. Walker
Avon Books, Inc.
Reviewed by Tara Betts
(Elizabeth Nunez: cont. from page 25)
eral posts, Nunez served as the college’s chair of Blair S. Walker might be familiar to some readers
humanities for six years. “Something criminal has as the co-author of Why Should White Guys Have All
taken place,” Nunez states about students who the Fun? with the late Reginald Lewis, Beatrice Foods
enter college without rudimentary writing skills. CEO. Other readers may have discovered Walker
Though most of her students are bright, they of- with his first foray into the mystery genre with Up
ten fall short in writing. She is passionate about Jumped the Devil’s investigative journalist Darryl
them taking their rightful place in a literate soci- Billips.
ety. Once given the basics she noted that her stu- As a freshly promoted assistant editor in Hidden
dents embrace the process of writing. in Plain View, Billips returns to the Baltimore Herald
Much of her time is spent promoting and read- after helping the police solve a series of hate crimes.
ing from her novel and she is especially grateful Soon after, a serial killer begins stalking professional
for the independent press. Large publishers, she blacks in Baltimore and somehow lures them into
points out, invariably support black authors of popu- their own bathtubs where they are found with no
lar fiction. “We have gotten to a point where the apparent cause of death and confederate flag stick-
only value literature has is that it can make a pub- ers stuck to their foreheads. Billips tracks the mur-
lisher rich.” derer to Atlanta and back to Baltimore again. Billips
In keeping with her charge to educate, Dr. must discover how this killer thinks in order to stop
Nunez wrote Beyond the Limbo of Silence to illus- the murders and get the front page stories.
trate how, throughout American history, African The killer becomes even more deviant as the
Americans have gone out on a limb for the sake of novel progresses. Deep-seated resentment con-
community and race. The heroes she says have nected to class issues among blacks and even sexual
consistently overlooked the direct threat to their drives escalate this character’s violent acts. A book
own lives. She also wanted to depict how liberal filled with photographs and descriptions of potential
white schools in America in the 1960’s recruited victims is the killer’s log called “Satan’s Guest List.”
students from the West Indies rather than admit Even incest becomes part of the killer’s appetite as
black American students under the guise of “as- the character loses control over the desire to mur-
sisting in the struggle.” der. The killer’s insane introspective vignettes con-
While authoring novels and teaching, Dr. Nunez trast with Billips’ sane, everyday insights.
is Chair of the National Black Writers Conference Although Billips becomes an endearing character
and Co-Chair of the National PEN Open Book through his observations and sense of humor, Walker
Committee. She is committed to the advancement peppers his writing with tiresome cliches, reveals the
of black literature specifically and the humanities killer’s identity much earlier than some readers might
in general. “The arts,” she offers “give us an ap- anticipate, and shifts his plot too quickly from one
preciation for our humanity. They allow us to have twist to the next. However, Walker’s ability to evoke
more tolerance and compassion for each other and curiosity about the story’s resolution strengthens Hid-
to see our connection to the rest of the world.” H den in Plain View and gives hope for more to come.H

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C E L E B R AT I N G O U R V O I C E S !

ClaudeMcKayby Leah Mullins

Eighty years ago, the Jamaican born Claude McKay was an outspoken revolutionary,
back when political protest could get a Black man into a heap of trouble. In 1919 two
years after a Silent Parade was staged in Harlem to protest the East St. Louis, Illinois
Massacre as well as lynchings in Texas and Tennessee, McKay published a poem in
The Liberator, which read, “If we must die, let it not be like hogs.” That same year an
activist, Ernest Glenwood, was killed in Georgia after circulating supposedly ‘incendiary’
propaganda among Black people in Dooly County. Mckay’s poem was not only
courageous, but also cutting edge and helped to
launch the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s.

McKay was born in 1889 and migrated to the United

States in 1912 to study agriculture first at Tuskegee
then at Kansas State. At that time he had already
published two volumes of poetry. In 1914 McKay
traded the study of plant life for his pen and life in
Harlem. For a while McKay worked menial jobs while
he tried to establish himself as a writer. Finally in
1917 The Seven Arts, a major literary magazine
published two of his sonnets. McKay went on to
publish numerous articles, poetry collections, short
stories and novels, most notably, Banana Bottom
(1933) and his autobiography, A Long Way from
Home (1937). McKay traveled extensively throughout
Europe first embracing communism then a few years
before his death in 1948, he converted to Roman

McKay wrote about a variety of topics including Jamaican peasant life, life in Harlem,
romantic love, and most importantly he dared to write about the social and political
issues facing African-Americans at the time.

It was not unusual for a Black immigrant to immediately identify with the plight of the
African American. Marcus Garvey, also a native of Jamaica, came to the United States
and started the Universal Negro Improvement Association, the largest mass movement
of people of African descent in this country’s history. McKay later wrote for the Negro
World, the UNIA news organ.

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