This is issue No. 91. Because I live without a car I have to go out for food, I go to a bus or the light rail for food. Sometimes it is crowded, with young, mentally disturbed white men who have been sent to Los Angeles by folks in Western States.
At first, it was outrageous. Blacks, whites, Hispanics, and no Asians? But I soon saw young white men, breaking into tears. And young blacks were sleeping, going back and forth from 7th Street to Santa Monica by the light rail.
Soon, it was the blacks turn.
But slowly the weeping white guys, and the sleepy black riders caught my attention. They were gone.
I think thinking woke and cancel is just something of nothing. I saw two people on the train.
Enjoy issue No. 91 of the Neworld Review.
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White Ivy is a novel about identity, but Susie Yang stakes out a rather singular identity for the protagonist of her debut novel: “Ivy Lin was a thief,” the book begins.
Ivy steals a great many things in the course of her Chinese-born immigrant coming-of-age-in-America story, and the toys and trinkets she lifts from stores and yard sale as a child, under the careful tutelage of her grandmother, are just training tools. As she grows up, Ivy begins to understand that what she really wants to pilfer is a place in old-moneyed WASP society. As Yang also says at the beginning, no one ever suspected that this demure and nondescript girl was a thief, “and that made her reckless.” And her reckless, even feckless, pursuit of status is what makes Ivy Lin an anti-hero destined to live on as one of the more chilling literary characters of a year that has had no shortage of chilling figures in real life.
This anti-hero makes up in covetousness what she lacks in talent, intellect, passion, drive, charm, social skills, or any qualities that would help her earn what we think of in this country as a rightful place based on ability and hard work. There are many reasons that America’s obsession with being an ostensible meritocracy is itself utterly unfair: why should anyone be left behind just because they aren’t a superstar? But that’s a debate for another day and another book. In this book, Yang has made Ivy intentionally unlikeable by letting her fall back on the one surefire outlet available to covetous women throughout history: marrying up.
There are two men whom Ivy first meets as a child growing up in the scrappy fictitious town of Fox Hill, Massachusetts, and, improbable though it may be, encounters again when she’s in her twenties and living in Boston.
The aptly-named Gideon Speyer is the boy who represents all to which Ivy aspires. He’s her classmate at the tony Grove Prep School, which the young Ivy is able to attend for a while because her father is a tech specialist there. She sees Gideon as “a certain type of clean-cut, all-American boy, hitherto unknown to her; the type of boy who attended Sunday school and plucked daisies for his mother on Mother’s Day.” His father is a state senator, his whole family displays a kind of honor that comes with a secure place in the world. Gideon won’t so much as slip out of a fast food joint with a soda he hasn’t paid for. And the Speyers own a summer cottage, a concept heretofore unfamiliar to Ivy.
She might end up with Gideon or she might end up with bad-boy Roux Roman, her neighbor in Fox Hill, the boy who knows about her thieving habit and extracts his own sense of ownership from the secrets they share. In her teens, she creeps over to Roux’s apartment one night after a fight with her mother—and thinks to herself that there are few things “more lowly, more sordid” than losing your virginity to spite your mother. When Roux reappears later, he has become very rich through a dubious business, and as an authorial voice pokes in to warn, he sees Ivy as “a prize he believed he’d duly paid for and belonged to him.”
But what Roux has to give Ivy is not so much a lure as something resembling an addiction to a seedy side of life where S&M reigns—and that’s what makes Ivy a far more disturbing character than she’d be if she were just a run-of-the-mill social climber.
The title and the Chinese proverb that opens the story —“The snow goose need not bathe to make itself white”—implying as they do that Ivy is trying to assimilate into what we used to call the American melting pot rather than.....Read More
Each spring at City College of New York for 15 years, I have taught a course on the life and legacy of Malcolm X. As part of introducing the great leader to my students, I mix the course with invited guests, classroom lectures and audiovisual presentations. At least half of the time I take them on tours of Sugar Hill in Harlem and they can see where Malcolm lived, worked, hustled, was eulogized, and accumulated his iconic leadership. On one Saturday we met at the Tsion Café, a place where Malcolm once worked with Redd Foxx, in fact they were two reds—one from Detroit and the other from Chicago.
The class was just getting underway when I spotted Les Payne trekking up St. Nicholas on one of his leisurely walks around the community. I informed him of the class and asked if he could come and share a few minutes with my students about his research on Malcolm X. For more than a quarter century we had discussed Malcolm, most publicly as panelists on Gil Noble’s “Like It Is” on ABC-TV on Sunday afternoons. Without missing a beat he said he would gladly do it and hurried off to his home up the street to fetch a chapter of his book to share with us.
Since we were at the place once called Jimmy’s Chicken Shack, I asked Les, if possible, to share with us his chapter where Foxx is discussed. He returned promptly and unfolded the pages and read in that soft baritone that I had heard so many times seated near him in the studio. The students were mesmerized and hit him with a deluge of questions after he finished. This was my introduction to the book that would become “The Dead Are Arising” and eventually be the recipient of the National Book Award in 2020 in the nonfiction category.
In our many discussions about Malcolm and the project I had some clue of his approach and was informed that it would be like no other biography or commentary on Malcolm’s life. He only hinted at the direction he was going to take, what angle he would devise in examining a man he deeply admired, and one in which had not been trammeled to oblivion. Knowing his journalistic acumen, I had a feeling it would consist mainly of his own interviews and research, demurring the works of others, particularly the more recent, controversial ones.
On several occasions while waiting in the Green Room at the television station, he would divulge bits and pieces as he exchanged memories with Noble, me and Milton Allimadi, the other panelist. These were opportunities to have him regale us on what it took to earn him a Pulitzer Prize, and his role in the founding of the National Association of Black Journalists. I believe he used his influence to get me inducted into the organization’s Hall of Fame. That subject was broached to some extent over drinks at the NABJ annual convention in New Orleans that he attended in 2017 with his son Jamal. Once more we shared our Alabama roots—he was born in Tuscaloosa and I was born in Birmingham. Our conversation was repeatedly interrupted by dignitaries seeking a word or two with him. But the several Green Room chats with its relative privacy were the most rewarding, and even then it was nothing more than tantalizing teases, fresh perspectives he promised on Malcolm, especially his early years, his family life and his assassination, subjects that he felt had been given short shrift. One of the last times we had to chat was during a casual walk down St. Nicholas, and the banter then was on the Obama legacy, and few were informed as he was on the nation’s political machinations, particularly the Trump regime. I asked him how the book was progressing and he said he was just about there, and putting some finishing touches on it.
Those finishing touches and much of the earlier process is a magnificent achievement. When I heard the news that he had joined the ancestors on March 19, 2018, I was stunned and suddenly, like Manning Marable and Malcolm himself, he would not be around to deal with the celebration nor to respond to those who might question his conclusions. His daughter, Tamara, who worked with him all along on the project, summed it all up when she said her father not being able to experience the exultation was “bittersweet.”
Tamara was more than qualified to place the last period in the book. As she notes in the book’s introduction among her many tasks were to track down informants, and later transcribe the interviews for her father’s use. “Meeting Malcolm’s associates and family members over the years and watching Les Payne’s investigative techniques at work have been a unique reward of a lifetime for me,” she wrote. “My many discussions with him about how this work was taking shape proved to be invaluable in the finishing of the manuscript. As the co-pilot and co-navigator, I could confidently and successfully complete this part of the journey.”
Fortunately, most of the 600-page “journey” was complete, and only needed Tamara and other editors to ready it for production. This was a prodigious undertaking and Les went about it dutifully, painstakingly rounding up the coterie of folks—none more indispensable as Malcolm’s brothers, Wilfred and Philbert—whose recollections are vividly recounted from chapter to chapter. Wilfred, Malcolm’s eldest brother, shared family information with Les—an eight hour long interview—that is at the crux of the book’s early chapters, much of.....Read More
You enter Fallingwater by way of a trail from the parking lot and in the fall when I was there the red maples and golden oaks shimmered in the light looking to a Southern Californian like something out of an animated cartoon, giving truth to the maxim that you must visit the Eastern states in the fall. It’s a short walk and when the cantilevered ochre and Cherokee red structure emerges all at once in your sightline witnesses have said that people have burst into tears.
The man who designed Fallingwater was Frank Lloyd Wright and he was and is so ubiquitous in this country and in much of the world that no matter where you live you probably aren’t far from one of his creations. He outlived most of the world-class architects he competed with and sometimes railed against—born two years after the Civil War he lived into the age of television, a medium that often gave him a platform and which he deftly learned to use to his advantage.
When he died at 91 in 1959 he had designed more than 1,000 buildings and astoundingly, as Paul Hendrickson tells it in his magnificent new book Plagued by Fire: The Dreams and Furies of Frank Lloyd Wright his plans were executed over three centuries, with buildings from his designs going up as recently as 2007.
There was a time when nearly everyone knew something about Wright, in part because he seemed to permeate the media. Maybe they had heard that his buildings tended to leak or maybe they had heard something about the worst day of his life: August 15, 1914. That day was almost exactly the middle of his long life but it was so horrific and inexplicable and, in some ways, emblematic of his whole life, that Hendrickson uses it as the centerpiece of this meticulously researched and beautifully written book.
Hendrickson is drawn to central themes in his biographies, finding a thread in a life that leans toward tying it together in ways we may not have seen before. He did this deftly in Hemingway’s Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost (2011), spinning the story of the writer’s life around the two decades that he kept his boat Pilar at Key West in Florida and Havana Harbor in Cuba. In his current book (released in soft cover this fall) he chronicles the great successes and tragic losses in Wright’s life—losses often connected with fire.
In August of 1914 Woodrow Wilson was president. The U.S. had yet to enter World War I. Wright had a thriving architecture business mostly centered around Chicago, but he had built his work studio and house for his mistress and her children he called Taliesin, Welsh for “shining brow,” outside of Madison, Wisconsin. He was doing business in Chicago the day that Julian Carlton, a young man who worked at Taliesin, killed Wright’s mistress, Mamah Cheney, three of her children and three houseguests.
He used a hand axe for the bloody murders, then set the house on fire. No one knows the motive for the murders. Carlton starved himself to death in a jail cell awaiting trial. Hendrickson probably does more than .....Read More
The stiff-shirt men and ice-bosom women among us may reject its management of truth, preferring to be charmed into a prior century by Fyodor Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground (1864). Some American readers who possess advanced book learning and bourgeois yearnings do not want to deal with virtually unfiltered testimony as it growls and laughs in Wilderson's book..
They want perspectives on the human condition to be shaped like Dostoevsky's fiction. They want the safe, socially distanced thrills of best-selling novels. The traumatic mirrors in Afropessimism reflect what they wish not to see: their Dorian Gray faces. For them, denying inconvenient realities is crucial.
One can take or leave fiction without registering guilt or shame provoked by x-ray non-fiction. That is the rough magic of narratives that don't demand verification. Wilderson's non-fiction, replete with riffs and grace notes, leaves its fingerprints in the mind; it promotes a medieval "agenbite of inwit." Inwit is a severe disadvantage in the dystopian crevices of the contemporary United States of America, is it not? Those who have won advantages and privileges by dint of hard work or strokes of fortune or criminal acts seek to minimize social horror and inequity with daily doses of optimism. They remind one of the classic monkeys who see nothing, say nothing, hear nothing.
Afropessimism is a serious, tantalizing book. If you don't read it with judicious skepticism, you'll find yourself jailed in abjectness. The term "Afropessimism" was first used in political discourse to name how doubtful the West was with regard to the African continent's having a viable future. There was noteworthy hypocrisy in the term's being coined by a Frenchman who apparently had no qualms about post-colonial exploitation of Mother Africa. It wasn't his mother who was being raped.
Later, Afropessimism drifted into meaning belief that one is an antithesis of the Human, a mental condition that readily manifests itself in nihilism and benign genocide. Wilderson does not give his readers the luxury of selecting one point and not another on the spectrum of meaning. He provides angles to cover....Read More
Theater has always been a gift from God in my mind and heart. When theater shutdown March 12, 2020 it was a world I had never experienced before. It was a world where COVID-19 took over people lives, people were made to isolate in their homes, people were dying at high rates and the pandemic is still happening. For those in the theater community, COVID-19 has meant having their livelihood cease and continue to cease into 2021. At this point, we don’t know when theater will start again. The Broadway League, which decides when theaters open, last said that a May 2021 date is possible, but not definite. There are so many things that have to happen to make sure that theaters are safe for both those on the stage, behind the stage and in the audience.
Since theaters of shutdown, various theater companies have started to offer productions done outside, on the street, live on YouTube and Zoom. The theater companies have included a lot of Black Theater companies like The Billie Holiday Theater in Brooklyn, New York. New Federal Theatre, Classical Theatre of Harlem, National Black Theater, Black Spectrum Theater, New Heritage Theater; and there were playwrights/performers like Debra Ann Byrd who created one-woman pieces and performed them. Experiencing the productions done live on these outlets was such a joy and in some cases, like the productions done by The Billie Holiday Theater, like “12 Angry Men and Women…”, the viewers were able to see how theater is dealing with the social justice issues that have come to the forefront in this country, especially since the murder of George Floyd.
In a time of great distress theaters have demonstrated a resiliency, and though they are offering productions live for free, they do offer means that viewers can donate to the theater companies. And donating to these companies is very important. People have to be able to live and pay their bills. It is incredibly important that people realize that during this time those in the performing arts are truly hurting. Recently televised on television, the program “One Night Only: Best of Broadway” presented performances from cast from various Broadway shows, done on the streets of the Broadway Theatre community. It did these performances and let viewers know that it was a fundraiser for Broadway CARES/Equity Fights AIDS. When we are in the theaters during a certain time of year, everyone knows that the theater community announces at the end of the performance that they are raising money for Broadway CARES/Equity Fight-AIDS and that the money goes to people in the performing arts and entertainment industry to help them with basic needs like medication, food, housing, health insurance emergency financial assistance, counseling services and so much more. In 2020 it also assisted with coronavirus-related expenses and other challenges brought about by the pandemic, Viewers were asked to go to COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund, https://donate.broadwaycares.org and donate, thus far $8,065,975 has been raised, but if you are able, whatever else you can give would be appreciated.
In the first weekend in January, TikTok did a fundraising event, The Actors.....Read More
Richard Wesley ends his memoir, It’s Always Loud in the Balcony, from Harlem to Hollywood and Back, (Applause Theater and Cinema Books, 2019) with the words “My memories are a great foundation to build on and I remind myself that it’s okay to go there, as long as I don’t live there.”
His memories on the post-civil rights movement, the Black Arts Movement, the Black Theater Movement, and contemporary Black theater and film form the substance of this memoir. He is the protagonist, the central character who reflects on how these cultural movements shaped his development as a socially and politically conscious dramatist. As readers, he takes us on an historical journey of the playwrights, actors, and dramatists who beginning with the 60s informed the many iterations of the Black Theater and Black Film Movements.
Memoirs offer readers a slice of a writer’s life and as such are not always written in a linear format. Thus, there is redundancy throughout this memoir, a reflection of the way the mind remembers. The events and people that shape our decisions and life’s experiences are often remembered as episodes and are subject to variable cultural, political and economic factors.
Wesley’s story reflecting his memory of the Black Theater and Film Movement is no exception. As he recounts this story, he engages the reader by describing how these experiences have directly influenced and impacted him as the protagonist in the story and as the memoirist who ponders on the significance of these events in his life. Whether introducing the reader to playwrights from the Black Theater Movement of the 60s who survived through the 90s and beyond or to those who are dominating this movement now, Wesley brings the reader into his personal space.
As I read this book, I felt as if I were in a living room with Wesley as he told his life story and his place in the Black Theater and Film Movement. As a listener and reader, I was a witness to his personal conflicts over whether to make a full-time commitment to the theater arts, his ideological conflicts with respect to nationalism in the Black Arts Movement, and his conflicts between writing for theater, film, and television.
Wesley decided many years ago that he did not want to be placed into a box or defined by a particular genre and that as a dramatist he would have the freedom to select the form that was most appropriate for his writing vision. His adaption of the term “dramatist” is the designation that captures his desire to write for the stage, screen and television. Owen Dodson, the Chair of the Howard University Drama Department, helped to influence his choice of the term dramatist. After attending Howard University and finding out that he could not major in television writing,
Wesley reflected on what Prof. Dodson told him “. . . if I can teach you to write for the stage, you will be able to write for anything.” Thus, Wesley studied playwriting and applied his knowledge of these skills to screenwriting, scriptwriting and the libretto. He accomplished all of this by writing from what Toni Morrison would call “the black gaze.” His writing has focused on themes and characters immersed in the Black experience.
The last 50 years of Wesley’s life embody his vast repertoire of skills and his ability to “write for anything.” His work has been produced on stage and for screen and television. He has received the Drama Desk Award, the NAACP Image Award, the AUDELCO Award and the Castillo Award for.....Read More
The days fall, one after another, each the same as the day before. One thing only seems to change. Food. March 11, 2020, the global spread of COVID-19 caused the World Health Organization to declare a pandemic. In the beginning, the world was filed with insecurity and frightening unknowingness of what the next day would bring. Stay in, go out, wear masks, don’t wear masks, wash your hands, use gloves, hand sanitizers, take immunity boosters, arrive early at the grocery store to shop from nearly bare shelves. And if you are lucky you will find toilet paper which has become a precious commodity. Over night, most everyday things had changed. At the beginning, it was like a game…how to maneuver till the next day. One morning during the first week I opened my eyes to a bleak overcast sky and realized that the life I lived was gone and I had no picture of the new life ahead.
In the morning, lying half awake, comforting thoughts of food float into my head. Isolating at home has altered ‘normal’ life. No work, no company, no travel, no restaurants, no movies, no outdoor entertainment!!! It’s just home home home. To fill time and have fun, a paradigm shift has occurred for many of us. Our days are now filled with solitary entertainment. I take photos, listen to music, write, garden, walk, read and…I cook.
Spending so much of my time thinking about food, I realize it is more than eating. There is a beauty to both the preparation as well as the presentation itself, the visual component of food. An underlying purpose adds yet another layer. Are we preparing something to eat for ourselves or.....Read More
It’s unusual for me to attempt to write a review of a book that I read well over six months ago, especially with a memory as bad as mine. As with a movie seen or a book read that long ago, I’m left with a gentle haze, a singular impression, and, in the case of Megha Majumdar’s A Burning, that impression is one of being frustrated, even angry, with the book’s ending.
Having retrieved my notes on the book, I can thankfully proceed. You see, the central character in this book is a young Muslim woman named Jivan, who lives in Kolkota, India, who has witnessed a terrorist act—a halted train at a nearby station has been fire bombed and the ensuing inferno has killed more than a hundred people. Of course authorities are wild to find someone on whom to pin the blame. Jivan makes the mistake of posting a provocative question on Facebook, “If police didn’t help ordinary people like you and me, if the police watched them die, doesn’t that mean that the government is also a terrorist?” She was, of course, just being a smart ass, but her comment attracts attention and the police come in the middle of the night to arrest her, and she is accused of the crime.
The evidence is entirely circumstantial: she was seen at the train station, carrying some kind of package; clothes soaked in kerosene were found at her home; she had been chatting with.....Read More