Monday, February 21, 2011

In Celebration of Crazy Hybrid Postmodern Beauty, and Black History Month.

I have a lot of stuff weighing me down right now. A beloved cat has gone missing, and despite everyone's kind reassurances that cats are good survivors, I have very little hope. I am wrestling with my worklife - I am working way too much and trying to decide what to put down, coming once again to the conclusion that adjuncting isn't worth it, even if I do love teaching. Oh, and I just found out that three of my second grade daughter's peers are leaving the school in the next month. And the Republicans have officially gone woman/child-hating insane all over this country, not to mention poor people-hating, public employee-hating, art-hating, and so forth. I may blog about some of these topics. I have so many thoughts gnawing at my skull, I had better write them down somewhere, here or elsewhere.

Oh, and my beloved grandmother is declining, and I can only watch from afar as my mother is sucked into caretaker overload. I am feeling very, extraordinarily not shiny.

Then in the middle of the night, I find in the glow of the intertubes that a friend in another city (who I've actually only met in person once) has sent to a friend in my city (who I don't see nearly enough, or really even know well enough, because of my so busy, not-balanced work life) a video of "Tightrope" by Janelle Monae.

[Embedding of her videos is not allowed (!), so you can see it here. Really, go watch it. You'll be glad you did.]

OK, so I guess people who know things already know who she is - she was nominated for a couple Grammy's - but I don't actively follow music these days (except the tween pop Z is getting into) and had never heard of her before. Now I am obsessed and a little bit in love - with the music, with the dancing, with the self that she presents on her website. She is a total expression of what kind of beauty is possible in this fucked up country, a crazy hybrid postmodern flying in the face of all conventional wisdom beauty. A fiercely optimistic kind of beauty.

And watching her video - with all its references and allusions - I think to myself, "This country wouldn't be shit without African-American culture." I mean, think about it, people! I'm not the first to point it out (http://n.pr/hyPc1j, http://bit.ly/ikAEgA, I could go on) but c'mon.

THE HISTORY OF POPULAR CULTURE IN THIS COUNTRY IS THE HISTORY OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN CULTURE, CREATIVITY AND PERSEVERANCE, often and routinely appropriated and capitalized on by white people.

(Ok, and Jewish culture has been a major influence, and ... but you get my point, I hope.)

Shit.

Black people were slaves and then they were a segregated minority, and now they are the bulk of the underclass, and yet again and again and again and again, black people create whole cultural movements ... out of fucking nothing ... and still all we can manage to do, collectively as a country, is scorn and fear the inner city and all those dark skinned children struggling in schools that are not serving them - for reasons way too complex for me to diagnose right here.

Yet out of those inner city neighborhoods, out of those schools, will come amazing strength, truth & beauty DESPITE all the fucking shit this country heaps on them. (We could analyze why this point is of particular relevance to me, a boho-class white lady with kids in inner-ring suburban public school whose blonde son has said things like, "I can talk like a rapper, but my face doesn't look like one," but that's another post. And really, people, this point is relevant to ALL of us.)

In parting I will you leave with the words of a couple more amazing black women:




A few days ago (2/18) was Audre Lorde's birthday ("black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,"). She wrote:

I
Is the total black, being spoken
From the earth's inside.
There are many kinds of open.
How a diamond comes into a knot of flame   
How a sound comes into a word, coloured   
By who pays what for speaking. [more]

Might we all agree ... Every month is Black history month.


OK. I'm still feeling weighted down, but a little more shiny underneath it all.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

You need to read these people! (Lists from AWP 2011 - ep. 1)

Some people engage in live blogging. I blog 10 days after the fact. That's just the way I roll up in here.

In my first 3 hours at the AWP conference, I discovered 8 writers that I (and by extension, you) need to read.

First I went to a session on "Short Story into Novel." There I encountered these six people (books, and bitly-ed amazon listings included):

Alan Heathcock – VOLT - (In his words, 2 failed novels became the bulk of this collection. He is a funny self-deprecating guy in a porkpie hat. I have the impression his stories are bigger than that.)
Heidi Durrow – The Girl Who Fell from the Sky - (Girl was rejected 48 times before it landed a publisher, and now is on the bestseller list. Of particular interest to me: it has “three beginnings” because of multiple perspectives, which is something I am struggling with in my BiP, too.)
Alexi Zentner – Touch - (Zentner has such lovely sensitivity to language just when speaking off the top of his head, I expect his prose to be luminous ... and his book has monsters … Tops the must list for me.)
Tea Obreht – The Tiger's Wife - (This one has gigantic big buzz … she's been on a couple best young writer lists and gots the big name blurbs. Croation magical realism?)
Marie Mockett – Picking Bones from Ash - (“I just wanted to write a ghost story.” But it turned into something more complicate. I can relate.)
Eugenia Kim – The Calligrapher's Daughter - (well-regarded debut novel by a woman too old to be on any "best under" young-writer lists, always encouraging, plus it sounds like a really interesting historical fiction about early 20th century Korea.)

Then I went to a Words and Music session (WAMFest from Farleigh Dickinson U.)

Went for Rosanne Cash, came away with a major love for John Wesley Harding – my new hero. (Cash was out sick, btw, and Kristin Hersh was detained by weather or some such … it was plenty OK, Harding (who writes as Wesley Stace, which I gather is his given name) and young, strange Josh Ritter were both fascinating … their music and their words.)

Check out Harding/Stace at http://wesleystace.com/
His new book, about a Victorian composer whose life perhaps parallels the folk ballads he is collecting, is Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer. I found it so inspiring to hear Harding talk about the ballad tradition, because I have almost unconsciously brought so much of that into the BiP. I also want to study him more to consider the questions of how to render the experience of music in words.

Josh Ritter, an Oberlin grad and folkie singer-songwriter has released 6 albums (including last year's So Runs the World Away), and has a book coming out this summer. He read from the book, Bright's Passage – his first public reading ever, it seems – and it was mesmerizing. His music was good, too, if a little self-conscious about its dark humor.

More bookish AWP lists and random impressions coming, you know, soonish.