Thursday, December 21, 2006

long time: books

ok, decided to divide up the long time posts. bought 2 new books last night. told me that beasts of no nation, by uzodinma iweala was genius debut fiction. i set a lot of store by slate, so i bought it. i'm all of 8 pages in, but i can say that mr. iweala has a gift for capturing voice - this is story of a west african boy who becomes a child soldier. and it's not like i know the author, but he just graduated from harvard, he's a year older than i am, and he's got this award-winning, highly praised book published. i have enormous amounts of respect for that.

and on the poetry front (i love you poetry!) i bought yusef komunyakaa's book taboo. i enjoy mr. komunyakaa's style - no trickery, and he knows the difference between a word that's big/obscure/otherwise impressive and the word that does the job and functions perfectly in the line/stanza/poem/collection. i mean, i guess he would, he's published 11 books of poetry, won the pulitzer and the ruth lilly prizes, etc, etc, etc.

a tangent: sometimes, i have a hard time understanding when people say they don't like poetry. then, i pick up some books and realize that the poet is working really hard at showing everyone how poetic he or she can be, but isn't saying anything the average reader can make heads or tails of without a map. and i guess all poets will fall into that trap at some point, it makes you feel smart and awfully talented. but it's also awfully isolating to the poet and to poetry as a genre. and mr. komunyakaa blessedly proves that less can be more, that poetry can be understandable and beautiful. so i'm reading him to hopefully pick up a little of that.

long time: film (and a lil music)

yup, it's been a while. so i thought i'd give you a quick rundown of what's been keeping me occupied, then run and go buy some pants to keep the legs warm. it's getting to be winter.

anyway, as far as movies, got the sea inside/mar adentro - gotta love the netflix. beautiful film, about a paraplegic man in spain who is fighting a legal battle for the right to end his life by means of assisted suicide. thought-provoking, to say the least, and great acting and cinematography.

i got capote on netflix, but it wouldn't i sent it back and got a replacement, which also won't play...sent it back and got basquiat, which i very much enjoyed. didn't know that jeffrey wright was in that film, i am a fan (well, of wright and of basquiat's work). and if you don't know, jean-michel basquiat was a graf artist who became a darling of the art world and died of a heroin overdose just shy of 28 years of age. in 05, the brooklyn museum mounted a retrospective of his work. if mr. basquiat was anything like he is portrayed in the movie, then he was weird, but brilliant. watching the film about his life and death made me think of all the to-do over nas's new album hip hop is dead. not too sure why, though. i can't think of an artist at the moment who's celebrity quite matches mr. basquiat's - any suggestions? and maybe i can't quite think of a rapper who people believe has the ability to resuscitate hip hop quite like nas? (sorry jay-z, i know you're now billing yourself as the savior, but i'm not quite buying it. el presidente, ceo, king, emperor, whatever, but not savior.)

anyway, at home, i've got nuyorican dream, a documentary about the struggles of one puerto rican family in nyc. looking forward to seeing it.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

fascinating folk

i caught the tail end of this on tv yesterday, but as you probably know, barbara walters does an annual year-in-review show thingy on the 10 most fascinating newsmaking people of the year. and this year's list included jay-z. and given that i'm kinda proud of jay-z like he's my cousin or something (cuz the man has done his thing, and people listen to what he's got to say even when he's not rappin) i decided to post it so you can see it too...and, so you can hear barbara ask jay-z the DUMBEST QUESTION EVER. (that question being, do you think beyonce is bootylicious?)

yeah, and i originally saw this on young, black, and fabulous, too. i guess it's a goldmine over there today.

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read about this over at young, black, and fabulous today, and just felt like sharing it. cuz it's all the things that i love.

Jada Pinkett Smith gives $1 mil to high school

BALTIMORE, Maryland (AP) -- Jada Pinkett Smith has donated $1 million to the Baltimore School for the Arts, asking that its new theater be dedicated to classmate Tupac Shakur, who was shot and killed in 1996.

more here.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

done gone and done it

yes sir, hip hop heads rejoice. after suffering much chastisement from her hip hop fiend friends for not yet being up on little brother, aja has gone and bought their second album, the minstrel show.

so, as an african american studies concentrater in college, minstrelsy has of late loomed large in my sphere. i am personally of the opinion that it continues to manifest itself in myriad ways in public life in america. o, the irony of biggie, a rapper, sending up this very point out in his own by saying, "either you slangin crack rock or you got a wicked jump shot." no blackface here, obviously, but the circumscription of the roles it is possible for one to play...and speaking of roles, there's always the contention that hollywood really has only one film formula it is permissible to employ black actors in...and how many times does omar epps have to play a character named q in a movie?

well anyway, how lovely that little brother has devoted a whole album to the phenomenon. now i get to be the hip hop head: folks, get up on it.

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on beauty

zadie smith has, over the course of a 3 novel career, developed a devoted following.

i am not one of those devotees.

i bought her first novel, white teeth, and read it over a long period of time. i am the kind of person who does not put a book down until i finish it. i found it to be clever, imaginative, but not terribly compelling.

her second novel, the autograph man, got by me without me noticing it. had never even heard of it until i began to hear the buzz about her third novel, on beauty. which i saw at target on black friday, when i went to go buy my lovely new microwave (stainless steel, yay!). i bought the book, because i wanted to give her a second try. because i could see she had writing talent, because i was wondering if on beauty might make a greater impression on me.

it did not. on beauty, though it received rave reviews, was ultimately unconvincing to me as a story. on beauty tells the tale of two families: the liberal belseys, white english father, (southern) black american mother, and their three young adult, american born and raised children (2 boys and a girl); and the conservative kippses, a (caribbean) black english father & mother, a son, and a daughter. zadie smith is a biracial, caribbean, englishwoman herself, so she certainly has some insights into varied worlds.

but there was nothing american about her american characters. their dialogue and thoughts read like what she imagines americans speak/think like. which is to say, it didn't sound american. and much of the action of the book takes place in the u.s. it would be one thing to write an american tourist family as secondary or periphery characters in london...then i could relegate the authenticity of the american characters to a secondary or periphery place. but these were main characters...the belseys occupy the lion's share of the narrative, so it seemed to me that they should be as authentic as possible. their vocabulary, their phraseology, the way they interacted with each - particularly with their parents - did not seem american to me. yet the narrator made sure to frequently comment on their americanness. this disconnect was jarring. after all, the back cover summary says the book is supposed to be about the culture wars that define our age. the culture should, i would think, be more accurately captured.

for instance, an argument seen between the belsey daughter and carl thomas, a young black from "the wrong side of tracks" (to use the words of papa kipps in the novel). daughter belsey has been doing her best to get carl's attention through lobbying for him to be able to take classes at the university she attends. but carl's not paying the kind of attention to her that she would desire. she brings up all her lobbying efforts, and he says:

"am i meant to be grateful?"

a young, black american man, from "the wrong side of the tracks" as they say, would not ever respond in such a way. it may seem a little quibble, but when the characters sound the same, it ended up undermining the idea of a culture war. mama belsey did not, to me, exhibit the southern woman qualities that the narration assured me she had. and although she was supposed to have broken away, somewhat, from her roots, the moments she was supposed to have returned to them rang false to me. except for one scene at the end...

it also seemed curious to me that the young belseys did not all seem interested in claiming their biracial identity. they either seemed to claim no racial identity at all, or they claimed blackness. growing up privileged (their father an art history at a presitigous new england college, attending prep school and prestigious colleges themselves, spending time in various cities around the world) , it would seem that this would logically present itself as more of an internal issue for them.

as for the plot itself, it wasn't unbelievable. it was a lively, entertaining read, and certainly ambitious. just not terribly spot on, as the british say.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

the other side of discrimination

found this very interesting quote in a very interesting article on

It is odd, when you think about it, that we accuse racists of "discrimination." This is the very thing of which they are by definition incapable: They think all members of certain groups are the same.

i think it's a good point. just as flammable and inflammable mean the same thing, this is just another lovely little irony of the lovely little english language.


final calendar flip of the year

i was a little late flipping to the last page of my calendar at work this month. but when i did it, i was quite happy with the image that stared at me. at the end of last year, i bought a bettye saar calendar to hang in my then-cubicle. (now the girl has her own office, complete with door, yay!) anyway, they clearly saved the best image for last in this calendar.

this is an image of the liberation of aunt jemima, arguably bettye saar's most well known piece. saar is a mixed media artist, who creates all kinds of assemblages most about issues facing women of color. this image is so colorful, so wonderfully subversive. or at the very least, wonderfully provocative. what do you think? i had forgotten that this was in the calendar, but it was a nice treat to rediscover it.

btw, i am having computer issues at home, which have affected (and continue to affect) the regularity of my posts.


Sunday, December 03, 2006

in memory of cartoons

folks of my generation routinely say that the cartoons of our youth were far better than the driveling nonsense on tv now. clearly, i agree. but we don't routinely say why. well, here's my take.

i miss the cartoons that cracked wise. the ren and stimpy, the daria, the pinky & the brain cartoons where the characters were darkly, hopelessly, funnily (so not a word) witty that they came back with a smart aleck comment for everything. the speak your mind cartoons, the cartoons that served a bit of edge with their hijinks.

remember when daria said, "i don't have low self-esteem. i have low esteem for everyone else?" remember that episode of ren and stimpy when they were caught on that planet in outerspace, and they imploded. remember the poignancy of the moment when they realized what was going to happen, and they said goodbye to each other? and the relentlessness of pinky and the brain? how they persisted and perservered, to the point where they got their own show?

yeah...darkwing duck, anyone? animaniacs - the goodfeathers who were determined to perch on scorcesse's head? hello nurse? rocko's modern life? rocko had a best friend named heiffer! i love it!

these are the cartoons wikipedia articles like to note for their "subversive humor." yeah. the cartoons that don't take their cartoonness (and the limits their cartoonness should impose) too seriously. yeah, some animator had drawn them, but they were still pretty darn clever and didn't feel like they owed the animators anything. the ones that have a comment on the state of the whole pop culture world, and don't feel inhibited by the fact that they are just drawings.

could shrek have been, without these cartoons first? i think without some of these cartoons, we would not feel comfortable with our cartoons talking back to us. or talking about us.

cartoons of today have a kitschy cuteness factor. i suppose. i suppose this is why adults run around buying spongebob doodads. i have never found spongebob to be cute. mostly, i found him to be dumb - a character without much brainpower. i also suppose the kitsch-cute factor skipped over a generation or two cartoons, cuz folks also collect felix the cat and mickey mouse. well, i'll take exposure heiffer over kitsch any day.

obviously, this leaves out cartoons like family guy today. but intentionally so, because family guy is clearly directed towards and adult audience. then again, if we wanna look at it a little more deeply, family guy got it's first run on television at this time...along with dr. katz...but that's beginning to sound like another post.

so maybe that's a lot of analysis. for cartoons. but that is what i miss. i don't even begin to understand things like cat dog or cow and chicken. i miss the cartoons with bravado, with daring. if anyone knows of any on tv now (and not the simpsons, the simpsons fall into another category entirely) let me know.

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the rejection thread (update)

latest addition at bold at the top.

The Caribbean Writer*
three candles journal
Calabash Journal of Caribbean Arts and Letters
ep;phany zine
Tribes Magazine
Mosaic Literary Magazine*
Cave Canem Summer Poetry Fellowship

rejection, rejection; but aja is far from done. acceptance thread, coming soon.

*though they have rejected me, their rejection messages were rather gently and nicely worded.

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