I have been asked often over the years to explain myself.
The question implied is, why do you not behave like everyone else? This question has haunted my existence on this earth. As years were added, I read more books about the novelists of the 1950’s, trying to find something to say to my critics. I feel a close connection to these hopeful imaginers, soul mates almost.
For example, this month I have hardly been barely able to tear myself away from part two of Chester Hines’s autobiography, A Life of Absurdity, published in 1976. I discovered it, a used, overlooked $5 book, at Harlem’s famed bookstore, Hue Man.
In many ways, Hines was one of the soul mates just mentioned. This was the 1950’s. Chester Hines met the usual suspects after fleeing America for Europe: Sartre, Wright, Picasso, Baldwin, James Jones, but, in the end, there was nothing romantic about his grim, ex-pat experience in Paris, except, if he is to be believed, loads of sex and alcohol.
It was amazing to see a middle-aged man in his mid-fifties, with little money, unable to speak the languages of the many European countries he lived in, his only real currency being the fact that he was a still handsome, published black novelist from America.
(I won’t make a pissed-off comment about my own dismal sex life in boring, plugged-in, 21st Century America. No point in ruining my stellar reputation with careless asides and scaring away my 400,000 visitors.)
In the Neworld Review we have published much about the famed literary life of the 20th Century; we have given you readers much to understand and think about.
We know much about the few winners, those that we still celebrate.
We also know more than perhaps we want to about the others. The truth is, back in the 50’s, as now, there was often little celebrating of the most serious novelists, who labored in circumstances that few could tolerate.
Those romantic notions of Bohemian Bliss for most novelists during that period, especially in Paris and New York’s Greenwich Village, were just that, romantic notions.
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Jan Alexander is author of a novel, Getting to Lamma, and co-author of Bad Girls of the Silver Screen, a look at the way Hollywood has depicted prostitutes through the decades. Her upcoming novel is a utopian fantasy set in the wilds of China’s 21st century hyper-capitalism, inspired by her experiences as a correspondent in Asia. She is a long-time contributor to The Neworld Review and has reviewed books for The Chicago Tribune. As a financial journalist.....Read More
There is nary a rut in David Ritz’s The God Groove—A Blues Journey to Faith. Ritz’s path to the acceptance of God and a Christian baptismal is not an easy trek but it’s one eased by returning to the persons whose books he has ghosted. Each one of them from Ray Charles to Jessie Colter gave him spiritual insights and nourishment as he struggled with his reluctance to complete this journey to faith.
Many readers who have diligently followed Ritz’s remarkable career as a ghost writer will remember some of the passages he uses to conform to his God groove. It’s almost as if he did a search of his books to highlight where Charles, Marvin Gaye, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Little Jimmy Scott, Willie Nelson, Etta James, Mable John, et. al. addressed the subject of God, Jesus, and Christian life.
“Jesus came down to earth to get the blues,” King told Ritz. “God is the backbone of these blues we be playing.”
“God’s the timekeeper,” said Scott, who often sang behind the beat. “God’s behind the beat.”
Nelson, too, sang behind the beat, and he told Ritz he believed in reincarnation because it’s a beautiful belief.
“So, you’ve augmented your Christianity?” Ritz asked.
“I haven’t stayed the same, if that’s what you mean,” Nelson replied. “Everyone changes. Jesus was Perfect Man, but Jesus changed. The world changed him. That didn’t make him less perfect. Just made him.....Read More
Victor LaValle, the multiple award-winning author of eight speculative novels, most recently The Changeling, often combines monsters and sorcerers with other horrors brought on by politics and technology. In his introduction to A People’s Future of the United States, though, he tells a tale that requires nothing magical, just a real-life terror that has visited many Americans; being stuck in a car with members of your own family and realizing that alien pods from Fox News have taken over their brains.
These days LaValle and a number of prominent writers, many of whom appear in this collection, have brought multiculturalism to the horror genre (along with a lot of literary genre-bending), and it turns out that even the right-wing, alien pod experience isn’t limited to white liberals
LaValle has a mother from Uganda and a white father from Syracuse, New York. They met in New York City in the late sixties and were married just about long enough to have him. Then, in 1995, LaValle had occasion to visit his mostly-absent-from-his-life father, who had moved back to Syracuse, remarried, and had another son, Paul, who was then 15.
LaValle’s stepmother was from the Philippines. The day he arrived in Syracuse, LaValle sat helpless as his father and his half-Filipino half-brother listened with rapturous ears to Rush Limbaugh spouting anti-immigrant and virulently xenophobic rhetoric on the car radio. LaValle worried about Paul growing up accepted by neither the white people whose views he espoused nor those who looked more like him; “a man without a clan” in America, thanks to the falsehoods with which he’d grown.
“What if it turns out all of us New York Times-reading progressives are living in a matrix that’s feeding us falsehoods?” an East Coast elite friend of mine pondered recently, in the midst of the kind of conversation that keeps all of us coastal progressives sustained through most of our waking hours. I thought of that question when I got to the part of LaValle’s introduction in which he does a bit of.....Read More
The first time I took LSD I was with my best friend. We had had gone up into the mountains, down into a canyon, across a stream and into the woods—far from the sounds of the city. The friend took out a small square of waxed paper to which a tiny tablet was attached. He told me to pull it off and place it under my tongue. I waited several minutes but was soon transported into a vision of the world both within and without that was unlike anything I had ever experienced.
For most of the next six or so hours I stood on a rock and marveled at the spectacular luminescence and the pulsating vegetation and water flowing around me, and by the equally pulsating and vibrating eyes of my friend whose face would change from that of his 18-year-old self to something of an ancient prophet.
He stayed with me while I remained speechless, transfixed by the visual beauty around me and feeling a sense of harmony with Eternity, as if I could see back into the beginning of things and that I was part of a divine continuum. This blissful feeling lasted for several days, gradually fading with the quotidian life for a freshman college student with two part-time jobs.
My second trip with a psychedelic drug wasn’t so pleasant. At a raucous New Year’s party with a girlfriend, I swallowed a tab of what I was told was mescaline and foolishly augmented it with several cups from a punchbowl that was laced with more of the drug.
I was never certain about what I had ingested, but my brain played scary tricks with me. My girlfriend and I had sex in a bedroom that seemed like a crowded bus and am I wasn’t sure how it was for her, but her face kept changing into that of previous girlfriends.
We later sat in the living room where the Velvet Underground’s banana-cover album played over and over. The driving chords of “Heroin” floated out of the speakers and rippled toward and then right through me. The trip left me exhausted.
The last time I took acid was.....Read More
What did I miss
when I was looking the other way?
All those moments when I was
looking down instead up,
backwards and forwards,
instead of right here,
what did I not see?
I long to know how it feels
for nothing to be too small—
your name, the feeling of
lips and hands and how
the light warms your skin.
The way it feels to breathe
in cold air or taste rain,
or touch paper and pen and
feel my words before.....Read More
All it took was a single phone call, and Diana Cook’s seemingly perfect marriage was over. Her husband, a grade schoolteacher and hockey coach, called to say that he was in jail for attempted solicitation of a fourteen-year-old boy over the internet.a
All at once all hell breaks loose. What to tell her two young boys? What will her friends say? Will he lose his job? Will he go to jail? How could he do something like that?
But the worse was soon to come. After picking up her sons and after telling them that, “Boys, Dad and I had a big fight, and he’s not going to come home tonight,” the phone rings.
“We had been home an hour when the ringing phone startled me. I saw the Boston Globe on the caller ID screen, and I was stunned. I picked up the phone, and said “Hello,” and a reporter barked at me, “Would you like to comment on your husband’s arrest?”
A few minutes later the phone rang again, only this time it was from a reporter from a local television station.
Now it was time to call for help. First, it was Marylee. Then her friend.....Read More
Two friends sit quietly in a grassy field. They are staring at a tree. One is 70 and one is 20. One is a woman, one is a man. One is an engineer and one is a singer. They are waiting for the perfect light. They are there to photograph the tree. They take their photos and the resulting images are quite different. One shows the tree in vivid color and the other in stark black & white. One does a tight shot while the other pulls back and shows the landscape surrounding the tree. A perfect illustration of how we each have our own way of showing what we see…our own truth. Stephen Fisch shares his personal vision of Paris in in this month’s portfolio. His Paris is expressed in Black & White. This is his vision and I hope you find some of yours as you view these dramatically expressive photographs.
Paris—always a visual delight. It’s been five years since my last visit. This time, I set out to do something different. Black and White. What would capture my eye?
Outside the Quai Branly Museum, on Rue de l’Université, an elderly couple was strolling along the sidewalk. You could readily see they had been together a long time and truly loved each other. I could have captured their face expressions as they passed me. Instead, I slowed my pace and let them walk by. From behind, their body language spoke volumes. When the couple was about five meters in front of me. I captured two shots. This is the one that tells their story.
In Montmartre, everyone recognizes the windmill at the La Machine du Moulin Rouge. But up the hill, about midway along a circuitous route between the Appartement de Théo Van Gogh and the Buste de Dalida is Le Moulin Radet. It was late afternoon, a few clouds in the sky. Shooting into the sun the windmill’s blades were almost silhouette. One shot. Nice.
The top floor of the Musée d'Orsay on the Left Bank is filled with impressionist art. Hundreds of people meander their way past van Gogh, Monet, and Degas, periodically stopping to examine something that catches their eye. School children are taught from an early age to appreciate these masters. I couldn’t resist capturing this group of students with their parents in front of Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Bal du Moulin de la Galette with their teacher passionately sharing her sknowledge.
When I.M. Pei unveiled the Louvre Pyramid in 1985 it was a scandal. The French hated it—so out of place. Against the classic design. Ironically, it mirrored the same feelings as when the Eiffel Tower first came into being. But, just like the Eiffel Tower, 20 years later, the French loved it. Late in the afternoon, while walking through the square, the sky was grey, the buildings were dark grey, and the Louvre Pyramid was there, without grandeur or color, waiting for me to capture this monochrome.
I was there a few days before the tragic fire at Notre Dame. The first responders made a herculean effort and saved this Eighth Century structure. Such a special place for Parisians and tourists alike. Inside I discovered a young boy and a woman in the process of lighting candles. This location is just inside the entrance. It’s an unlit area, save for the glowing wicks of lighted candles. Bumping up my ISO to reach into the shadows, I captured this special moment.
At the conjunction of Rue Auber and Rue Halévy is Avenue de l’Opéra, right in front .....Read More
What makes anyone want to write? Especially stage plays, for which there is not a ton of money to be made nor easy fame to achieve. Moreover, in our Anglo-centric culture there are serious literary mountains you’ll be required to surmount, and, if not surmount, at the very least you will be compared to and contrasted against thousands of years of drama going back to the ancient Greeks. I mean, why even try?
Early in my career as a dramatist, I remember being accused of Brechtian tendencies. This was before I had even heard of Brecht and at that time was oblivious to his work and influence, or so I surmised. The paradox is that we often are committed to ideas we were not the first to think of, even though we may have come to those ideas based on our own thinking about things.
That’s because life is life, and we should not buy into the false notion that any individual, or any particular culture is the origin of a specific idea when the idea may be common to different people at different times. Yes, our articulation may have particular wrinkles, but the fabric as a whole is common to many.
But while there are commonalities to the human condition, there are also distinctive particulars into which perceptive writers are able to plummet and bring specific observations to the surface of their times. Lorraine Hansberry was one of only a handful of writers, of any culture and any time period, who had relevance in both her time period, as well as for decades and decades after her death.
I believe her lasting impact is precisely because although she wrote about her people and their experiences, she was not searching solely for immediate impact. She seemed to be searching for answers to the eternal conundrum: what are we here for and what does life mean? Her search started at home and included the people surrounding her life, but her vision was.....Read More
From the 1920’s to 1950’s the role of the black female was to be in the home, as a wife, mother, cook and cleaner. Young women were raised to like wearing pretty dresses, acting in a feminine manner and were on a mission to attract the opposite sex. Boys were a preoccupation.
Now, imagine you have a daughter who doesn’t care about any of those things. In fact, she is not interested or comfortable talking to boys, unless it’s about baseball. Imagine being a mother of a young woman who tells you her heart is set on playing baseball for a living.
She knows all the players stats and then lets you know she’s trying out for the Negro Leagues. Well, this really happened in the family of Toni Stone, the first black female professional player in the Negro American Leagues in that time period.
Stone’s life is being shared through a very engaging, funny, and astonishing play by black female playwright, Lydia R. Diamond in her play “Toni Stone,” presented by the Roundabout Theatre Company and playing at the Laura Pels Theatre Arnold And Miriam Steinberg Center on West 46th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues.
Stone ends up landing a position with the Indianapolis Clowns, a team that did what their name implied on the ball field but could also play some amazing baseball. You can’t imagine the stumbling blocks.....Read More
As hours meant to be quiet
and easy, shuffle by,
parceled into slow
minutes, I invite you
into my narrow bed.
You resist but need
an hour’s release before
you leave to direct the morning
funeral. You curl tight
beside me under the cotton
blanket. We share
the thin pillow.
Behind our curtain
in the staccato quiet
of the emergency
room, we sleep interrupted
by persistent beeps, by nurses
who take vitals, by doctors
who enter with probing
questions and hands. Your.....Read More
Lebron's eloquent meditation on how to locate #BlackLivesMatter in the narratives of African American intellectual history illuminates several problems. First, it’s no easy matter to explain how writers and their works play sundry roles in #BlackLivesMatter, as well as in multiple transnational movements.
In the 21st century, political and social movements are unstable, and they encourage us to be skeptical with regard to efforts to explain them. Consider also that literary works are indeterminate and placing them in the contexts of time-bound movements only increases our sense of uncertainty and baffling entanglements. The placement activates interdisciplinarity. There's no formula for choices among analytic methods and competing methodologies, for how one might arrive at precise descriptions of relationships between the motions of everyday events and the material stasis of a printed text or the more challenging forms of interactive "texts" associated with social movements.
Black lives matter, because life matters. But a scholar who is committed to continuing a fundamentally absurd "conversation" with non-black Americans finds herself or himself making "life" a problem; she or he repeats the crisis of the intellectual in a new key, repeats either the defensive posture of James Weldon Johnson or the confirmative posture of Langston Hughes, and repeats the serious laughter of ambivalence.
To understand what Lebron and other black thinkers are engaging, one might first read Simone de Beauvoir's meditation on freedom in The Ethics of Ambiguity (1948) and digest her conclusion that if each person did what she or he must, "existence would be saved in each one without there being any need of dreaming of a paradise where all would be reconciled in death." She did not have an answer, but she did map the chaos that Lebron has chosen to play within.
Lebron provides a succinct analogy which casts light on this problematic complexity. "Much like the way a corporate franchise works, minus revenue and profits." He contends, "#BlackLivesMatter is akin to a social movement brand that can be picked up and deployed by any interested group of activists inclined to speak out and act against racial injustice." Brands can be discarded in our increasingly disposable societies, and activists rarely have consensus about.....Read More
are music majors taking the class for credit
and an auditor on Social Security
who can only hum one note and that’s the note he hums.
Overtones find a major chord. Then we march off and find a place to sit
and list the sounds while building castles out of sound.
Listening is the hardest thing a brain does
according to listening psychologists
soliciting grants and donations.
It is now possible to follow sound into the brain
and map its journey up the brainstem and into the attic.
Some sounds turn on all the lights.
Other sounds turn.....Read More