Category Archives: LITERATURE/POETRY

ROBERT JONES JR. AND BRIT BENNETT

I had read tons of literary works and yet could find none where Black queer love was front and center, or present in the cultural or historical landscape prior to the Harlem Renaissance of the 20th century. Where I did find references, it was only in the context of sexual assault or some other form of depravity. And my question was: What about love?Robert Jones, Jr.

Join Robert Jones, Jr., and Brit Bennett in conversation as they discuss Jones’ debut novel The Prophets.

This Crowdcast event is hosted by Charis Books & More, outside Atlanta. See link below to register.

ROBERT JONES, JR., IN CONVERSATION WITH BRIT BENNETT

A Charis Virtual Event

Tuesday, January 12.

4:30 pm on the West Coast; 7:30 pm East Coast.

From top: Robert Jones Jr., photograph by Alberto Vargas, courtesy and © the author, the photographer, and G. P. Putnam’s Sons; Brit Bennett, photograph by Emma Trim, courtesy and © the author and the photographer; Jones, The Prophets, cover image courtesy and © G. P. Putnam’s Sons; Bennett, The Vanishing Half, cover image courtesy and © Riverhead Books.

RONI HORN’S ICELAND WRITINGS

You consume with your eyes. And eyes are voracious. The stomach has a size. It will only fit so much. But the eyes?…You think eventually you will get enough. But satisfaction and familiarity don’t come. You just keep wanting and waiting. Wanting and waiting, needing more. A meal that does not end. — Roni Horn

ISLAND ZOMBIE: ICELAND WRITINGS—a new collection of texts, essays, and poems by Horn, illustrated with more than fifty images—is out now from Princeton University Press.

Roni Horn, from top: Man at hot spring, Strúter, Iceland, 1990, from To Place: Pooling Waters IV, published by Walther König, Cologne, 1994, image © Roni Horn, collection of the artist; Roni Horn, Island Zombie: Iceland Writings (2020), cover image courtesy and © the artist and Princeton University Press; Rationalists Would Wear Sombreros, 1990, Ink and graphite on special-edition print, from To Place: Bluff Life, published by Peter Blum Edition, New York,1990, image © Roni Horn, collection of the artist.

ELLIS HAIZLIP — MR. SOUL !

He did an entire show that was dedicated to Black women. It featured artists, like the dancer Carmen de Lavallade, and poets like Nikki Giovanni, Jackie Earley, Sonia Sanchez, and Mari Evans. It was unheard of to have a show dedicated to poets, let alone female poets. Carolyn Franklin, the sister of Aretha Franklin, was on the show. People who really know soul music are aware that she was one of the best singers of our time. Of course, rest in peace, Aretha, but she was not on the show, her sister was… [Ellis Haizlip] was an openly gay African American man who saw the struggle and wanted to make sure they had a voice. — Melissa Haizlip

To celebrate the ongoing success of her remarkable documentary MR. SOUL!—the story of producer and host Ellis Haizlip and his groundbreaking PBS television series Soul!—filmmaker Melissa Haizlip (Ellis’ niece) and the Museum of Tolerance present a watch party and post-screening discussion with Giovanni, Blair Underwood, and Doug Blush, moderated by Harvard professor Sarah Elizabeth Lewis.

See link below to register.

MR. SOUL WATCH PARTY and Q & A

Museum of Tolerance, Los Angeles.

Tuesday, December 29.

4 pm on the West Coast; 7 pm East Coast.

MR. SOUL!

Directed by Melissa Haizlip.

Now streaming.

Melissa Haizlip, Mr. Soul! (2020), from top: Ellis Haizlip, photograph by Ivan Curry; Nikki Giovanni on Soul!; Amiri Baraka (right) with Haizlip on the show, photograph by Chester Higgins; the J. C. White Choir with Haizlip, photograph by Alex Harsley; Mr. Soul! poster; Patti LaBelle performs on Soul!; the show’s director Stan Lathan (far left), cameraman, Haizlip, and Melvin Van Peebles (facing television camera), photograph by Higgins; Melissa Haizlip. Images courtesy and © the filmmaker, the photographers, and Shoes In the Bed Productions.

TRAMPS LIKE US

Participant Inc presents JOE IS JOE, a reading performance from Joe Westmoreland’s 2001 novel Tramps Like Us.

Hosted by Eileen Myles and Tom Cole, special guests include Brontez Purnell, Erin Kimmel, Samuel Delany, Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, Tony Stinkmetal, Lori E. Seid, Ryan McGinley, Johanna Fateman, and Roberta Colindrez, with music by Anohni.

See link below for details.

JOE IS JOE LIVESTREAM

Sunday, December 27.

3 pm on the West Coast; 6 pm East Coast.

From top: Qalbee Cohee (left) and Joe Westmoreland in San Francisco, 1979; Roberta Colindrez in Jill Soloway and Sarah Gubbins series I Love Dick (2016), photograph by Jessica Brooks, courtesy and © Amazon Prime Video; Brontez Purnell, courtesy and © the author; image from Joe Westmoreland, Tramps Like Us, courtesy and © Painted Leaf Press, New York.


MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM

Letter by director George C. Wolfe, on the occasion of the Netflix release of his film MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM, based on August Wilson’s play.

In the blues song Michigan Water, jazz great Jelly Roll Morton seductively croons:

Michigan Water taste like sherry wine, mean sherry wine
Mississippi Water taste like turpentine

For the over 100,000 Black people who migrated to Chicago from the Deep South during the first twenty years of the twentieth century, the waters of Lake Michigan must have felt intoxicating indeed. But as Jelly Roll warned, those waters turned brutally mean the summer of 1919, when a 17-year-old Black boy went swimming and inadvertently crossed an invisible line of racial demarcation. He was attacked and drowned.

When no arrests were made for the young boy’s death, Black people took to the street in protest. During the ensuing confrontations, a white mob stormed Bronzeville, Chicago’s Black neighborhood. Five days later, thirty-seven were dead, 536 injured, and over a thousand left homeless.

The film MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM is set during the summer of 1927. As the same racial embers which erupted eight years earlier continue to simmer, enter a different kind of explosion, but no less stinging or socially significant. Enter singer-songwriter-showbiz entrepreneur, the legendary Ma Rainey, a Black woman from Columbus, Georgia, who is used to obeying nobody’s rules but her own.

Rainey, aka “The Mother of the Blues,” has come north for a one-day recording session. Included in her entourage is her nephew Sylvester, her newest girlfriend Dussie Mae, and band members Toledo, Slow Drag, Cutler and Levee.

Ma Rainey, as crafted by playwright August Wilson, breaks a number of rules, including those of Wilson himself. She is the only character in August’s magnificent ten play cycle chronicling the African American existence during the twentieth century who is based on a real person. She is also the only LGBTQ character, as was Ma, an out lesbian who in her song “Prove It On Me,” unabashedly proclaims—

Went out last night with a crowd of my friends
Must have been women cause I don’t like men.

Equally unique about the play, which premiered on Broadway in 1984, is that it’s the only play in the cycle which is not set in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, the famed black neighborhood where Wilson spent his formative years.

But the one quality the piece shares with the rest of his work is its stunning language; language which is as exalted as it is visceral and raw.

As the characters in MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM sermonize, philosophize, talk shit, confront and condemn, their cascading words become a symphonic composition which celebrates the pain, joy and wonder of being Black, human and alive.

In as much as Ma Rainey, the historical figure, was a trailblazer, by 1927 the world was starting to leave her behind. Bessie Smith, Ma’s protege and alleged former lover, had eclipsed her in record sales and popularity. And each week the Duke Ellington Orchestra could be heard on the radio, live from The Cotton Club; the modernity of Ellington’s harmonics, the polar opposite of Ma Rainey and her jug band blues.

Levee, Ma’s cornet player, who has his own musical sound and vision of the future, sees his time in Chicago as a chance to break free of the strictures which have kept Black performers/artists from having the creative careers they deserve.

Will Levee have a future full of promise and possibility, or will the demons of his past and ours as a country keep him and us from moving forward, unencumbered and free?

The blues as an art form has always struck me as having the power to transform the paradoxical (faith vs despair, anguish vs desire) into a balm for the hopeful heart. Or to quote Ma Rainey:

“The blues helps you get out of bed in the morning. You get up knowing you ain’t alone. There’s something else in the world. Something’s been added by that song.”*

MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM

Netflix

Written by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, based on the play by August Wilson.

Directed by George C. Wolfe.

Starring Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman, Colman Domingo, Michael Potts, Glynn Turman, Dusan Brown, and Taylour Paige.

Now streaming.

*Text by George C. Wolfe, courtesy and © the director and Landmark Theatres.

George C. Wolfe, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020), from top: Viola Davis as Ma Rainey, with (from left) Chadwick Boseman and Colman Domingo; Michael Potts; Davis; Potts (left), Boseman, and Domingo; Davis; Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Dusan Brown poster courtesy and © Netflix; Glynn Turman (left), Boseman, and Potts; Davis; Boseman (foreground) with (from left) Turman, Potts, and Domingo; Davis, director George C. Wolfe (center), and Boseman. Photographs by David Lee, images courtesy and © Netflix.