Monday, January 19, 2015

Rev. Dr. MLK Jr. Day: His 1965 Interview with Alex Haley

Selma-Montgomery March: Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King leading march
from Selma to Montgomery to protest lack of voting rights for
African Americans. Beside King is (l-r), Ralph Abernathy, James Forman,
Reverend Jesse Douglas and John Lewis, March 1965.
(Photo Credit: Steve Schapiro/Corbis)
Today on Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I thought I'd post a link to one of the best interviews Rev. Dr. King (1929-1968) ever gave, with journalist and author Alex Haley, of Roots fame. The interview took exactly 50 years ago today, in January 1965, the year of the Selma-to-Montgomery March--and of the story underpinning Ava Duvernay's highly acclaimed new film Selma--and appeared in Playboy magazine, preceding the famous Alabama march and the assassination of Malcolm X, but following many other landmark moments in Rev. Dr. King's and the Civil Rights Movement's long march towards social, political and economic equality and freedom.

It's worth reading the entire interview (linked from AlexHaley.com), which gives a far fuller portrait of Rev. Dr. King's mindset in the mid-1960s. In it he talks about mistakes he felt he made, his disappointment of the lack of support and righteousness from white Christian ministers and churches in the cause of Black equality, the moving resistance of young people, the concept of "militant nonviolence," strategizing for the future for Civil Rights, a critique of the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X, the challenges of nonviolence and the dangers of violence as a solution, racist science and white supremacy, the relationship between African Americans and Black people around the globe, and so much more. Here is one quote:
King: I mean to say that a strong man must be militant as well as moderate. He must be a realist as well as an idealist. If I am to merit the trust invested in me by some of my race, I must be both of these things. This is why nonviolence is a powerful as well as a just weapon. If you confront a man who has long been cruelly misusing you, and say, “Punish me, if you will; I do not deserve it, but I will accept it, so that the world will know I am right and you are wrong,” then you wield a powerful and a just weapon. This man, your oppressor, is automatically morally defeated, and if he has any conscience, he is ashamed. Wherever this weapon is used in a manner that stirs a community’s, or a nation’s, anguished conscience, then the pressure of public opinion becomes an ally in your just cause.

and here is another, concerning the Civil Rights Act, which Rev. Dr. King didn't think went far enough:

King: One of these decisive developments was our last major campaign before the enactment of the Civil Rights Act—in St. Augustine, Florida. We received a plea for help from Dr. Robert Hayling, the leader of the St. Augustine movement. St. Augustine, America’s oldest city, and one of the most segregated cities in America, was a stronghold of the Ku Klux Klan and the John Birch Society. Such things had happened as Klansmen abducting four Negroes and beating them unconscious with clubs, brass knuckles, ax handles and pistol butts. Dr. Hayling’s home had been shot up with buckshot, three Negro homes had been bombed and several Negro night clubs shotgunned. A Negro’s car had been destroyed by fire because his child was one of the six Negro children permitted to attend white schools. And the homes of two of the Negro children in the white schools had been burned down. Many Negroes had been fired from jobs that some had worked on for 28 years because they were somehow connected with the demonstrations. Police had beaten and arrested Negroes for picketing, marching and singing freedom songs. Many Negroes had served up to 90 days in jail for demonstrating against segregation, and four teenagers had spent six months in jail for picketing. Then, on February seventh of last year, Dr. Hayling’s home was shotgunned a second time, with his pregnant wife and two children barely escaping death; the family dog was killed while standing behind the living-room door. So S.C.L.C. decided to join in last year’s celebration of St. Augustine’s gala 400th birthday as America’s oldest city—by converting it into a nonviolent battleground. This is just what we did.

and a third, concerning the relationship between Black Americans and Black Diasporic peoples:
King: Yes, I do, in many ways. There is a distinct, significant and inevitable correlation. The Negro across America, looking at his television set, sees black statesmen voting in the United Nations on vital world issues, knowing that in many of America’s cities, he himself is not yet permitted to place his ballot. The Negro hears of black kings and potentates ruling in palaces, while he remains ghettoized in urban slums. It is only natural that Negroes would react to this extreme irony. Consciously or unconsciously, the American Negro has been caught up by the black Zeitgeist. He feels a deepening sense of identification with his black African brothers, and with his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean. With them he is moving with a sense of increasing urgency toward the promised land of racial justice.
Do read the entire interview; so much of what he says still pertains today, a sign of his extraordinary vision and of the challenges we still face.

Friday, January 16, 2015

JCFabLab's Open House

Owner and organizer
Eric Nadler
Although some local organizations provide access to 3D printers, laser cutters, and similar tools, residents of Jersey City and nearby cities in Hudson, Bergen and Essex counties will now have an excellent new option for acquiring knowledge and skills in basic and advanced digital fabrication with the launch of Jersey City Fabrication Laboratory's (JCFabLab) programs for the wider public. Yesterday JCFabLab, a 2000-square foot space in the Jersey City Heights neighorhood near Union City held a multi-event house that included an afternoon Make-a-boat workshop for children, showing them how to laser-cut, assemble and decorate paper boats and rowers; a ribbon cutting with Jersey City's mayor, Steve Fulop; and two evening artists' talks, the first, which I attended, by Miriam Songster, who spoke about her Rauschenberg Foundation-Marfa Dialogues-sponsored, site-specific public performance, Ghost Food, exploring sustainability involving simulated food and a 3-D printed olfactory stimulator. The second, which I missed, Eric Hagan delivered, on his efforts as an installation tech helping to assemble Kara Walker's monumental sculpture A Subtlety this past summer at the former Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn.

JCFabLab is the creation of Eric Nadler (who, it turns out, is an old friend of my friend Jerry Weinstein), and as Eric told me last night, after many years (8) of planning and a year of getting the lab up to speed, which involved working closely with artists, manufacturers and others who needed digitally fabricated products, ranging from jewelry, figurines and plastic, wooden and metal prototypes to robots--yes, robots; I forgot to ask about these yesterday--which included workshops and classes, he felt ready to open the doors for classes and regular programs, for people of all ages, with various levels of membership available. The ultimate goal is create, foster and nurture a collaborative creative community for Jersey City.

One of the fabrication rooms
"This is a place where people can come together and collaborate and make things that they would otherwise not be able to make," explains Nadler, who has a varied background in filmmaking, video game design, computer programming, and product fabrication. "The possibilities are endless. You can meet someone you would never meet otherwise and create something you would never be able to create on your own."
and
He says a large aspect of the Fab Lab is the various classes and seminars it will host for children and adults, taught by a selection of respected artists and entrepreneurs within Nadler's network. 
Nadler said classes could be anything from a basic drawing class to building your own surfboard. 
"I don't believe you should have to pay $60,000 and go to Parsons or Pratt to get a basic design education," said Nadler, who attended the prestigious Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. "Our classes will give people a basic foundation in art and design and teach people woodworking and welding techniques on all our machines."
One of the laser cut
boats, assembled
and on display
At the Open House all of the lab's machines and a selection of its products were on display, ranging from stickers and figurines to some of the boat templates. (What I didn't see where the were lab-produced JCFabLab Dollars available for machine time credit on the Laser/Engraver, the computer numerical controlled (CNC) Mill, or for children's workshops and memberships. Something else to inquire about next time I drop by.) The Open House also included free food and non-alcoholic drinks, as well as a stirring performance by members of Riverviewjazz.org, and Songster's talk about her Ghost Food project with Miriam Simun, a Brazilian artist, provided a different way, at least for me, of thinking about what you might do with digital fabrication technology and tips on funding and organization. All in all, a fab night at JCFabLab, and I'll definitely be heading back there.

More photos:

A display table featuring some
fabricated materials (enlarge to see them) 
3-D printer 
Computer work station 
A laser cutting machine
Open house attendees
Miriam Songster, one of the
JCFabLab technical staff members
and Nadler before Songster's talk 
Miriam Songster talking
about Ghost Food
Another view of Songster's talk
from JCFabLab's Facebook page
(yours truly at left)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Ian S. MacNiven's "Literchoor Is My Beat": A Life of James Laughlin, Publisher of New Directions

Say you were born at the start of World War I, the second son and heir to a prominent Northeastern steel company fortune on your father's side, and a wealthy, patrician family on your mother's; and say your family milieu was conservative, stolid, pious--a bit narrow-minded, snobbish and prejudiced--but with some sense of civic duty and responsibility; and say your own father, who had gone to Princeton and expected you to as well suffered from serious mental health issues for which there was neither analytic or pharmacological relief, and those same mental health issues would hover around you all your life, manifesting themselves fairly late in life, and your mother was fairly cool to you from the moment of your birth, though you had other powerful, rich female figures who stepped into the breach with love and guidance.

And say you, this scion, had both artistic and scholarly interests, nurtured at your preparatory school, and instead of desiring to follow your older brother into the steel company business you had aesthetic leanings, and chose, to your father's disappointment, to enter Harvard, where you promptly encountered, as your roommate, another extremely wealthy scion and art collector, Joseph Pulitzer, Jr., and by the end of your freshman year you were palling about with the likes of Robert Fitzgerald, Wayne Andrews and Robert Lowell, befriending slightly older prominent cultural avatars like Lincoln Kirstein and Sherry Mangan, and eccentrics like John Brooks Wheelwright, while also chatting up and dining with the Norton Professor of Poetry, who happened to be the by-then increasingly world famous T. S. Eliot; and say that in part through Eliot's intercession and your own boldness you were able to meet another poet you idolized, Ezra Pound, living in Rapallo, in Italy, and instead of encouraging you toward a career as a poet and scholar (as he certainly was in the first case and might be considered eccentrically in the second) he (apocryphally) urged you to become a publisher.

If you somehow happened to fit all those conditions and took the advice of Pound, you would be James Laughlin IV, who did found a publishing house, initially by compiling an annual anthology called New Directives, which eventually would New Directions Publishing Corporation. Laughlin did this while still a Harvard undergraduate, and as Ian S. MacNiven's ample, enjoyable biography "Literchoor Is My Beat": A Life of James Laughlin, Publisher of New Directions (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2014) makes clear, Laughlin's creative and intellectual affinities, combined with a compulsion to work, played a key role in the development of what we think of as American literary Modernism, particularly in terms of poetry. When Laughlin got going in the late 1930s, of course, Eliot and Pound, as well as William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, Langston Hughes, Louis Zukovsky, and others had already begun publishing their work, and several of these poets, like Eliot, were already well known and acclaimed.

Yet Laughlin's decision to bring together reprint older and newer work by them, particularly in terms of Pound and Williams, set the stage for their wider recognition. That he managed this in the midst of attending classes and sitting for exams, participating in other school activities like the Harvard Advocate, taking off on holidays to ski--once missing by half a year frantic communiqués from Williams to print more copies of the great poet's collection White Mule, which had received excellent reviews, because Laughlin was off in New Zealand and nearly impossible to reach--and semesters to traipse about Europe (expressing pro-Nazi sentiments at first, until he woke up), and courting various young women, is almost mind-boggling. It did take him seven years to complete his degree, though he did earn it cum laude. (As for the skiing, he would soon thereafter establish a ski resort, Alta, still standing and drawing afficionados in Utah.)

Laughlin did manage all of this and more, though not without the assiduous assistance of a range of people, some of them noteworthy figures in their own right, including writers Kenneth Rexroth, Hayden Carruth, and Delmore Schwartz, until the latter's paranoia finally drove him away not only from Laughlin but to an early death, while other longstanding helpmeets, like Gertrude Huston, for many years his mistress, in-house designer and eventually his third and final wife, remain little known even today to history. MacNiven guides readers through Laughlin's entire history, beginning with the origins of the American Laughlins, originally from Ireland though they liked to claim Scottish heritage--it being more respectable--and their march toward industrial success, which provided James Laughlin with the financial means to pursue his avocation. Indeed, MacNiven does not stint on details at any point, though as the years progress and events pile upon themselves, he does start to pare the tapestry of the narrative down.

At its core lies several main threads: Laughlin's longstanding relationship with Pound, which would be perhaps the most important of his adult life; his struggles with his own art-making, and the persistent feeling that his work and life--except the womanizing--not only kept him away from but overshadowed his pressing desire to write poems; his lurking fear of having inherited the family's "madness," which destroyed his father and several uncles; and his musical chair games with his female lovers, some of whom, like Huston, became his wife, while others, like Lady Maria (Britneva) St. Just, would retain his lifelong affection. MacNiven devotes many pages to each of these biographical strands, using a great deal of Laughlin's personal--and often erotic--poetry not just for illustration but sometimes as factual proof. I had not thought of Laughlin as a documentary poet, but sometimes, MacNiven suggests, particularly in works like Byways, he was.

Though I was familiar with Pound's history, a good deal of the material here felt new to me, in part because of how important Laughlin's hand was in making Pound's reputation, pushing it relentlessly despite the elder poet's diffidence and truculence, and, as his World War II fascistic radio broadcasts represented, treasonous behavior. From Pound Laughlin gained not just a landmark author--crazy as he was--but ideas, however ill-formed, about poetry, art, economics, the world, as well as a deep intellectual, almost filial bond. Pound provided a male anchor that Laughlin's father Hughart could not. Laughlin did not have a particular aesthetic or even political stance, or rather, belonged to no school, but he did possess a keen eye for the new and formally experimental, particularly through the first 25 years of his firm, and Pound and Pound's poetry, like William Carlos Williams and his work, was central to that sense of what poetry could be. As the biography's title demonstrates, Laughlin even communicated in his letters using a playful, faux-naif Poundian idiom for his entire adult life. Pound grows no less politically repulsive here, but, especially in terms of Laughlin's life and career, considerably more significant.

Part of Laughlin's connection with Pound involved a casual attitude to racial and ethnic slurs, though Laughlin had already begun to break away from a good deal of the racism and ethnocentrism of his familial milieu by the time he reached college; at the college of "Jews and Beaconhillites," as his father labeled it, he was casting a far wider social net than anyone in his family could imagine, and not just for lunch dates and evening parties. (And Williams, half-Puerto Rican, was no stranger to racist slurs either.) Alongside the devotion to Pound, MacNiven shows, Laughlin spotted a great deal of other talent, either directly or after the recommendation of others. He nearly became the publisher of Elizabeth Bishop, for example, but for a sexist comment; he did, however, catch on early with Tennessee Williams and the impoverished Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, who would become a sensation in the US, and two of his other favorites, Henry Miller and Thomas Merton, would serve as central figures of wings of the American counterculture for years to come. He also introduced a great deal of Modernist European literature, as well as some Asian and Latin American writing, into American bookstores, schools and homes, including Gabriel García Lorca, Boris Pasternak, Vladimir Nabokov, Pablo Neruda, Jorge Luis Borges, Ernesto Cardenal, and Hermann Hesse, whose Siddhartha remains a strong backlist seller. Alongside these authors, his Alvin Lustig-designed covers--with other famous designers, including Ray Johnson later--would become iconic for generations of readers, especially young ones.

Part of his prospecting came as a result of his work, which I had never heard about, for the Ford Foundation, working in conjunction with the University of Chicago's former boy-genius of a president Robert Maynard Hutchins. As Laughlin's marriage disintegrated and his relationship with his eldest son Henry remained contentious (a younger son, Robert, suffering from what was probably inherited bipolar disorder, would commit suicide in New York in the 1970s), the publisher-poet traveled all over the globe, leaving his company in the care of a trusted assistant, and serving as an editor-publisher for Ford's and the US government's Cold War (and propagandistic) national literary annuals. While in Asia he immersed himself in what was for him mostly unknown literary traditions, except where Pound had offered glimmers, with the result that he ended up bringing out volumes by Raja Rao, Osamu Dazai, Yukio Mishima.

Although Laughlin did mostly shed his family's anti-Semitism, and included Hughes in an early annual, MacNiven notes that he published no African American authors, yet strangely does not mention perhaps the first one--and for many years the only one--whose books he did, Bob Kaufman, one of the most original Beat and midcentury poets. Laughlin also published few Asian American or Latino (other than Williams, though until recently he was not considered such) authors till far into his publishing tenure, and in general was no great pacesetter in terms of race. He also missed out on publishing many of the major Beat poets, finding their behavior repellent, though he did issue works by important members of other mid-century experimental schools, including the San Francisco Renaissance (Duncan, Ferlinghetti) and the Black Mountain writers (Creeley, Levertov), as well as Gary Snyder, who would later count as one New Directions' Pulitzer Prize winners.

Another blind spot, oddly, was the New York School, three of whose members, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, and Frank O'Hara, attended Harvard a decade after Laughlin. In fiction, the domestic track record was quite eccentric, but Kay Boyle, John Hawkes, Edward Dahlberg, and later Walter Abish and Clarice Lispector would be among the great finds. (After his death, of course, came the polestars of W. G. Sebald and the inexhaustible Roberto Bolaño.) He published one of Vladimir Nabokov's first books written in English, but passed on Lolita. (Imagine if he had taken it.) Barney Rosset's Grove Press, which emerged in the late 1950s, was a spur to get back on the ball. One of the pleasures of this biography is MacNiven's accounts of Laughlin's interactions with many of these figures, including Djuna Barnes and the wily Nabokov; as his days start to dwindle in the 1970s and his great friends die, a wistful tone colors his correspondence and tinges MacNiven's prose. In these final 20 years, particularly as Laughlin's health worsened, Guy Davenport becomes a key correspondent, which provided the pretext for one of the late examples of Laughlin's daring, which involved pushing for the publication of Davenport's potentially scandalous prose. (There was, however, no scandal.)

I should note that I never met James Laughlin in person, though he was still alive when New Directions accepted Annotations; I believe we may have spoken on the phone, though we mainly communicated through the intermediary of then editor, now President of the firm Barbara Epler. I knew that he was well up in years and spent most of his time in Connecticut, though I had no sense of the larger story of the firm, its rich and often ground-breaking history, or of Laughlin himself. I did know that he wanted to have a glossary at the end of the book, in part to learn what "rudipoots" were, and that he was willing to sign off on the book's publication. He got the glossary, the book appeared, he passed away shortly thereafter, and it would be almost thirty years later--today--through MacNiven's efforts that I discovered a great deal more about this extraordinary person, his important work as poet and publisher, and about a vital sector of the  landscape of 20th century American and global literature. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Review: Empire (on Fox)

Terrence Howard and Grace Grealey
(Photo still © Chuck Hodes)
Like almost everyone we know, C and I made time to catch Empire, the new midseason drama that debuted on Fox on January 7.  Extensively ballyhooed on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere, Empire is the creation of Academy Award-winning director Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, and aims, as some accounts I have read suggest, to be a fusion of Dynasty, the 1980s evening soap opera, hip hop, and King Lear. And don't forget The Sopranos. It definitely has Dynasty's melodrama and larger-than-life acting, a good deal of original hiphop in its soundtrack, and Shakespeare's three battling children (including a queer Cordelia figure), as well as the former New Jersey show's cast of semi-domesticated gangsters, but whether it all works together--though it most definitively is the work of Lee Daniels, as anyone standing in the next room overhearing could tell without much effort--is another matter.

Empire tells the story of music mogul Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard), who has raised his three sons Andre (Trai Byers), Jamal (Jussie Smollett) and Hakeem (Bryshere Gray) by himself as his ex-wife Cookie (Taraji P. Henson in an every-scene-stealing performance) has served time for a drug conviction, though when the series starts, she's just been released, of course without anyone else's foreknowledge. It's unclear how old Lucious is supposed to be--yes, black don't crack but the man doesn't appear a year over 45, even though his eldest son could be nearing 30 (it is biologically possible, I know)--but he is thinking about his eponymous empire, which he is about to take public, and about his potential successors. By the end of the pilot episode, he also receives health news that will eventually take him off the show (unless it turns out to be a misdiagnosis; the writers have written themselves in a bit of a corner with this one). He also commits a mortal crime (I don't mean the hair), but it's so clumsily handled that it can only lead to serious problems.

In Lear fashion, the sons don't exactly delight in each others' time. Andre, the eldest and CFO of Lyon Entertainment, feels he doesn't get enough respect from his father because of his lack of musical ability, suffers from bipolar disorder (I'm almost cringing to see how this is depicted), and is married to his white college sweetheart, Rhonda. Jamal, who possesses enough music skills to make Prince jealous, is openly gay, anti-corporate, estranged from his father--who, in a scene taken from Daniels' life but nevertheless horrifying, throws the child in a trashcan (!) when he appears in drag during a family party--and lives with his Latino boyfriend, Michael (Rafael de la Fuente). Hakeem, who struck me as the least well drawn character so far, parties too much, loves older woman (Macy Gray, Naomi Campbell, etc.) and holds deep hostility towards his mother for having abandoned him (prison, remember). He would send the "Empire" down the drain if left with it for too long.

Bryshere Gray and Jussie Smollett
(Photo still © Chuck Hodes)
That leaves Cookie, who blows out of prison like a tornado and heads first to see her children, to reconnect with them if not exactly to make amends. She wants to manage Jamal. She wants respect from Hakeem, whom she beats with a broom (!) to show him she still Mama and boss. (Cookie don't play that....) She wants her piece of the company. She wants to head the company's AR division. She...well, fill in the blank. Henson is a talented actress, with a capacity for small-scale to megadrama-style acting, and so it was no surprise that once she made her appearance, especially in this role, she would turn things out. One problem with her scenes, though, is that it's not clear Daniels has found the right surrounding frame for her yet, throwing everything off and rendering the proceedings a bit cartoonish. The general tinniness of the dialogue--though there are some great moments--does not help. 

Other characters include Grace Grealey as Anika Calhoun, Lucious's lover and head of Empire Entertainment's AR division and thus Cookie's rival; Malik Yoba as Vernon Turner, a longtime friend of Lucious' and chairman of the company; and Antoine McKay as Bunkie Campbell, a longtime homeboy of Lucious and Cookie from back in the day who ends up paying a serious price for speaking up for himself. Also filling out the cast is actress Gabouré Sidibe, with blond highlights no less, playing Becky, Lucious' assistant. None of these characters was especially compelling, though something tells me that in addition to Bunkie's seeming demise, we may witness some of these other characters taken out or with their hands on a trigger of some sort. I sincerely hope Yoba gets to do more than sit and take insults, and that Sidibe isn't racing breathlessly behind Howard in future episode.

The show raises lots of questions, including whether focusing on a faltering industry, and in this way, is the right setting for a 2015 series; were this show set in 1990 (or had it been made then), it might have resonated much more in every way, but today while there are still music companies, both indies, semi-independents and those fully attached the conglomerates, we can see a cavalcade of their members and participants with minimal varnish and maximum drama on Real Housewives of Atlanta or Love and Hip Hop Atlanta, New York or LA. Are the technical aspects of music-making that this series features anachronistic today? Indeed, the entire landscape of music as an enterprise, along with related industries like music journalism, music TV, etc., has been transformed. Other than Henson's or Smollett's characters, was anyone on the show half as interesting or compelling as Stevie J and Joseline, Li'l Scrappy, Erica Mena and Sin, Joe Buddens and Tahiry, Peter and Amina Buttafly, or Ray J and anyone else on that LA mess factory?

Taraji P. Henson and Terrance Howard
(Photo still © Chuck Hodes)
That the show traffics in stereotypes also rankled, but I know that drawing with broad and familiar strokes is Daniels' purview, and seeking too much subtlety probably was asking too much. Nevertheless, given the paucity of shows about contemporary Black life, anyone traveling this road should make the best effort possible. Respectability isn't the answer, but neither is a lack of complexity. But we will see. The treatment of homophobia, also played into stereotypes. A harshly homophobic Black father isn't such a stretch, of course; I've lived that scenario myself. But did Cookie have to refer to her son as a "queen" and his boyfriend using a feminine pronoun? It was a positive step that the boyfriend ended up being Latino (and we learned that an earlier one had had dreadlocks, if I heard correctly), so the gay = white equation didn't hold. But I will be interested to see how the series plays with Jamal's character, and whether in the interests of pleasing the broad audience, homonormativity becomes Jamal's norm. As is, he's refreshingly distinctive as TV show portrayals go.

One last question that I could not stop asking was: WHY is Terrance Howard running around with a conk? I kept trying to think of figures he might be based on, but since the show is set after 1965, I confess to bafflement. I could even see an old head with 1) a high-top fade--late 80s still and forever, 2) a fro, 3) a Jheri curl, 4) even dreadlocks or a Quo Vadis, but that pressed hair seems straight out of someone mistaken fantasy. His clothing choices also seemed off, as did Hakeem's, but that could just my finickiness. That said, all the houses, cars, and bling do seem appropriate, so perhaps a bit of recalibration can get the show to where it needs to be. But this is just my opinion; it turns out, unsurprisingly, that a good portion of viewers are starved for representations of anything involving Black people or other people of color, and Empire's first night ratings were through the roof. I enjoy watching beautiful people, especially black people, doing their thing, as well as a good soap opera, so I will be tuning into Empire next week too.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Some Photos from the Ace Hotel Show

One Night Only: Selections from the Ace Hotel Artists in Residence Program show is still up and running through January 31. Though I wasn't feeling so great earlier in the day, C and I made it out on an arctic night to the opening in the Ace's small but accommodating main floor gallery, which was packed. There were other artworks on display in an display case in the hotel's entryway.

One of the co-organizers, Ben Sisto, was present to greet everyone, and as the work on exhibit showed, everyone took a different approach to their overnight residency, though drawing and painting on paper were the most common approaches. I wasn't sure which of my drawings they'd select, but Ben's was a  good and political choice.

This made the second straight January that I have had work in an exhibit, which was truly heartening, and I really hope to accomplish more artistic projects throughout 2015. Many thanks to those friends who dropped by (including one who arrived before the vernissage began and one, I learned, whow as misdirected by someone to the wrong space in the hotel!--my apologies). Some images from the show (you can click on any to enlarge them).

My "Untitled ('I can't breathe')"
at center 





 

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

One Night Only: Ace Hotel Residency Show, January 2015

If you're in New York City, do drop by the Ace Hotel New York, where I think that at least one of the pieces I worked on during my residency there will be on display from January 8-31, 2015.


Monday, January 05, 2015

(Still) Blogging in 2015

Part of what I was up to
last year
Another Happy New Year to any and all who are (still) reading J's Theater, or happening by here for the first time. This blog has experienced several different lives, beginning with its initiation as an experiment in 2005, and has shifted through various incarnations, including as a scratchpad for personal thoughts, a mini-news site, a soapbox (after some reticence) for politics, an ongoing global poetry anthology, a virtual gallery and translation journal, a memorial space, and, more recently--2014 to be exact--an increasingly fallow space, to which I paid intermittent visits amid all my other duties and responsibilities. Launching one new book (the Hilst translation) and finishing my most recent own book of fiction while teaching and serving as an administrator, as well as navigating life itself, which included some health-related hurdles, proved to be quite a challenge, so blogging paid the sacrificial price, though it was not for lack of desire, or material.

I still enjoy blogging, and have been happy to see that after blogging was declared dead a few years ago, it has witnessed a resurgence. In fact with platforms such as Tumblr and Instagram, as well as with the original weblogging format, blogging seems to be ubiquitous in our popular culture, such that I can turn on any reality show these days--they still exist and keep proliferating, it seems--and if I wait for a few minutes, I'll hear someone referring to "bloggers" or "the blogs" or "blogging," often as a site of conflict or notoriety. This blog probably will never be mentioned on anyone's reality show, or on TV at all for that matter, and has sparked little notoriety since my post many years ago on George W. Bush's warrantless wiretapping--remember when that was controversial? I do hope to continue, when possible, to contribute to some of the public conversations underway, and I also hope readers will post when they feel moved to do so. (Spammers, though, no thanks!) The conversations with those of you who have offered thoughts has always been enlightening, and I appreciate that you do (still) drop by here.

So, on to 2015!

***

I thought I'd post blogging stats for the week (Jan 5, 2015 7:00 PM – Jan 6, 2015 6:00 PM), which I find fascinating, and this past month (12/7/2014-1/5/2015).

First, the week:


I'm not that surprised by the US providing the largest number of readers, but it does fascinate me that Ukraine (!), Taiwan, Czech Republic, and Romania make up the top 10. For the week, the most read entries are: a 2005 post on poems by Allen Ginsberg, including "America" and "To Aunt Rose; a 2005 post of a translation, though not by me, of one of my favorite poems, Julia de Burgos's "To Julia de Burgos"; my 2013 post (not the 2014 one) on the Nobel Prize in Literature; my New Year's greeting post; a 2012 post titled "Whom Does Economic Austerity Benefit?," which is probably as appropriate for today as it was almost three years ago; poems and translations (by me) of Brazilian poet Ana Cristina Césara 2006 post questioning an award to Richard Wilbur, and exploring the return of track star Shawn Crawford Back on the Track; a note on a 2011 Encyclopedia 2/War Diaries reading at AWP; a short celebration of Nobel Laureate Herta Müller's lyric stories Nadirs; and my 2011 post on art curator Kynaston McShine, which I think remains one of the rare extended online treatments of him and his career.

And now, for the month:

I'm not sure why France is at the top, but over this past month, the most read pages are the Burgos post; the Ginsberg post; the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature post; a 2006 post on whether Thomas Pynchon was posting on his then forthcoming novel, Against the Day, from 2006; a post on MTV's True Life show episode "I'm Dead Broke," from 2007; my last random photos post from 2014; the account of the Ace Hotel residency; my 2014 holidays post; the new year's post; and a 2006 post on Claudio Lomnitz on Mexico's racial problems, among other topics. Perhaps there's something in that list that the French are drawn to. Burgos? Ginsberg? Pynchon? The images of the metro area? But Ukraine? Czech Republic? Who knows, but please, keep reading!

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Happy 2015!


Happy New Year!
Feliz año nuevo
Feliz Ano Novo
Bonne année
Buon Anno e tanti auguri
Kull 'aam wa-antum bikhayr
Aliheli'sdi Itse Udetiyvasadisv
Na MwakaMweru wi Gikeno
Feliĉan novan jaron
聖誕快樂 新年快樂 [圣诞快乐 新年快乐]
Bliain úr faoi shéan is faoi mise duit
Nava Varsh Ki Haardik Shubh Kaamnaayen
Ein gesundes neues Jahr
Mwaka Mwena
Pudhu Varusha Vaazhthukkal
Afe nhyia pa
Ufaaveri aa ahareh
Er sala we pîroz be
سال نو
С наступающим Новым Годом
šťastný nový rok
Manigong Bagong Taon sa inyong lahat
Feliç Any Nou
Yeni yılınızı kutlar, sağlık ve başarılar dileriz
نايا سال مبارک هو
Emnandi Nonyaka Omtsha Ozele Iintsikelelo
Subha Aluth Awrudhak Vewa
Chronia polla
Szczesliwego Nowego Roku
Kia pai te Tau Hou e heke mai nei
Shinnen omedeto goziamasu (クリスマスと新年おめでとうございます)
IHozhi Naghai
a manuia le Tausaga Fou
Paglaun Ukiutchiaq
Naya Saal Mubarak Ho

(International greetings courtesy of Omniglot and Jennifer's Polyglot Links; please note a few of the phrases may also contain Christmas greetings)

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Happy Holidays!

Wishing all J's Theater readers the very best for the holiday season, whether you celebrate Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Festivus, or no specific holidays at all!


Friday, December 19, 2014

Random Photos

So many photos, so many events, so quickly these last four months have flashed by. Here are but a few images, from a vast trove. Enjoy.

Man with see-through pants,
near Herald Square
Hamilton Grange (Alexander Hamilton's
historic home), Hamilton Heights, Harlem 
At the BLACKNUSS outdoor book fair,
organized by Sharifah Rhodes-Pitts,
in Harlem (near 132nd St.) 
At BLACKNUSS, publisher Siddhartha
Lokanandi at center, poet & curator
Genji Amino at right 
Sean Mitchell, my Rutgers-Newark colleague,
lecturing at the New York Public Library's
Schwarzman Research Branch,
on Brazil, race and that country's space program 
Sleeping cat (with
makeshift pillow)
ALIFE photo shoot,
Astor Place 
At the Majors-Minors Fair,
repping for African American and African Studies,
Rutgers-Newark
Street refuse (or art?)
Human sculpture in vitrine,
"The Subject Is Black" exhibit,
curated by Lawrence Graham-Brown
Leslie-Lohman Foundation
David Moore and curator Lawrence
Graham-Brown, "The Subject
Is Black" exhibit
Leslie-Lohman Foundation
Readying for the show,
Fire & Ice Ball, Robert Treat
Hotel, Newark
A performer, Fire & Ice Ball,
Robert Treat Hotel, Newark
Fan with Mike Tyson statue,
outside NYU's Student Center
In front of an empty gallery
(is that the Bowery?)
At New Directions' sales launch
for W. W. Norton, Cornell Club
Posting an ad,
Grove St. PATH
I can't remember where this was,
only that I was struck by the "Oh,mammy"

At Greg Pardlo's book launch
for Digest (Four Way Books, 2014)
(that's Greg reading), Brooklyn Sky
Street art, Newark
Finishing touches, near Fulton Street (I think!)
The new Fulton Street Station,
Lower Manhattan
(the tunnel to the PATH station
is still not open)
The Fulton Street Station's striking "Oculus"
The final cherry tomatoes of the season
from the backyard garden
Camouflage jacket drying
on vents, University Place
Outside Deutsches Haus, NYU
Rainy Washington Square Park
In a SoHo store window:
"I can't breathe"