ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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 marvin says to me, let me see you a minute. . . . we step outside. marvin reaches

into his pocket, pulls out the bankroll . . . marvin is old school-univeristy

of the streets. he reels off two bills



Books by Kalamu ya Salaam


The Magic of JuJu: An Appreciation of the Black Arts Movement  /   360: A Revolution of Black Poets

Everywhere Is Someplace Else: A Literary Anthology  /  From A Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans Poets

Our Music Is No Accident   /  What Is Life: Reclaiming the Black Blues Self

My Story My Song (CD)


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Books by Marvin X

Love and War: Poems  / In the Crazy House Called America / Woman: Man's Best Friend Beyond Religion Toward Spirituality

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Tenderloin Book Fair Report

by Kalamu ya Salaam


the tenderloin book fair in san francisco

(1/30/04 -- 1/31/04)


SAC & Neo-Griot

over the last three or four months i have been traveling frequently. i have not reported on most of the travel because i have been doing workshops and speaking engagements rather than attending conferences and meetings. i do not like doing self-promotion. however, folk have been asking what's up? why did my reports stop? what have i been up to?

i have actually been more busy than ever before. the difference is that some of the work is an extension of my day to day work of teaching creative writing and digital video to high school students, and other of the work has been my doing specific teaching programs. for example, we did a short trip to scott's branch high school in claredon county south carolina. the 50th anniversary of brown vs. board of education is this year. that famous supreme court decision was not about one case but rather a group of cases that are generally listed in alphabetical order, however, scott's branch was the lead case in that group and rightfully is considered by some, the more important in terms of it being
the first of the group to legally challenge the segregation of public schools in the post-world war 2 era.

the program i work with, students at the center (sac), of which i am now co-director, is a writing program in the new orleans public schools. sac is an elective. we have a handful of principles.

no class larger than fifteen students. we sit in a circle and use the experiences of the students as the basis for our instruction. that accomplishes two important principles:1. the students are a resource and an active agent of their education and not simply an object of education. this is an application of the liberatory model as proposed by paulo freire who challenged the general "banking" model of education widely in use throughout the west, in which a student is seen as an inert object into which the teacher shoves knowledge and said student is judged by how well he or she spits back what the teacher has put into them. one of our sayings at sac is we start with what we know in order to learn what we don't know, we start with where we are at to get to where we want to go. 2. we work in a setting of equality and encourage everyone's participation.

sac also views the community as the campus and actively promotes partnerships with individuals and groups in the community. folk who would not normally be brought into the educational process are an important part of our process whether as reference or as an actual presence in the classroom.

finally, we promote education as a responsibility to others and as tool of change. we actively fight the paradigm of education as solely a process of individual aggrandizement. we set up peer teaching sessions, where the students help other students with writing, and sessions where high school students work with elementary and middle school students. students are also encouraged to work with social change organizations as part of their development as a writer.

needless to say the sac approach is a radical departure from the arts-based approach to teaching writing. i have been intensely involved in sac work over the last three or four years. working with high school students has forced me to clarify and codify my own views about writing.

sac work, along with the weekly, community-based writing workshop i have been doing in new orleans since september 1995, plus the work of doing e-drum (which started the summer of 1998), all have led to the development of the neo-griot concept, which i succintly define as writing with text, sound and light. neo-griot is a combination of the traditional african story teller function and 21st century technology.

the neo-griot has two content responsibilities: 1. write about the history of your community and 2. write social critiques of the contemporary conditions of your community. that's the griot part. the neo part means uses of digital technology. for us text includes actively using the internet. sound refers to producing recordings and doing radio work. and light refers to making movies.

there are a number of important developments in my work that i will begin sharing with e-drum including a partnership with students in jackson, mississippi; work in hooking up community-based web broadcasting in new york; and, an ongoing series of workshops in dallas out of which will come a spoken word with music cd. more on all of that and more in a minute, meanwhile i was up all night on thursday. i do five hours of live radio dj-ing every week. from 10pm to midnight, i do "the kitchen sink." the format is whatever i decide to play. and then from midnight to 3am, i do a program called "round midnight," which is a jazz program.

again digital technology has propelled this work to a world wide level. our station, wwoz 90.7fm in new orleans also simulcasts on the internet ( after the last show i received an email from a listener in greece, the week before a phone call from a listener in canada. before than an email from a listener in japan. and so forth. again, this is due to digital technology.

San Francisco & the Tenderloin

anyway, because i had a 6:45am flight to frisco, i stayed up all night and slept on the plane. as most of yall know, the midwest and the east coast are in the grips of a truly frigid winter. in new orleans the winter has been relatively mild, i think we have had only one or two days when the temperature was at or just below freezing at night. (i was in new york recently and it was "ONE" degree (and that lil pitiful one-degree was running up and down the street looking for help!).

my wife nia and i arrived in the city by the bay and it was partly cloudy, temperature in the fifties. i phoned marvin x when we hit ground. marvin said brother hasan would pick me up. i asked what was hasan driving. marvin said a hog. i said what color. he said, i don't know, brown or something. i laughed.

hasan pulls up in a smoke grey cadillac with midnight blue interior and dark wood accessories, a small crystal ball rainbowing light dangles from the rearview mirror and a recent temptations cd is crooning hip soul sounds from the speakers. this is vintage marvin x. obviously, this is not going to be an  academic-oriented writer's conference.

we get dropped at the hotel and check in. then we walk over to nearby st. boniface's church, where the conference is being held. officially this is "the san francisco tenderloin book fair and university of poetry 2004." marvin has published a manifesto (which i will post on e-drum). when i get there about 2pm on friday, they are still setting up. i am told that marvin is down the street at a mexican restaurant with a bunch of people.

so nia and i head on down golden gate to find marvin x.

i have been to san francisco a number of times, but i am not really familiar with the city. i feel much more comfortable across the bay in oakland. but two quick observations. 1. like new york, frisco has a multi-ethnic population. however, frisco is people of color, new york is everything but with a strong, strong euro-centric base. here there is predictably a strong asia base, but also a wide variety of hispanics, as well as significant communities of african heritage folk. this was a major site of the black arts movement.

oakland was home for the panthers. plus now there is a major ethiopian community in the bay area. so forth and so on. there is a people of color vibe to downtown frisco that i don't feel in manhattan.

the other thing is that the tenderloin area is full of homeless people of all colors (actually all of the same color, on one level, weather-beaten, light-to dark-brownish). i see more poor whites living on the street than i've seen in any other major city i have visited recently. plus, in an interesting twist, these street people are walking down the street not only talking to themselves, but some of them are having vociferous shouting matches and arguments with themselves. i'm used to people singing and preaching to the air, but a cat calling himself a motherfucker cause one part of him doesn't agree with another part of him, well, you give that cat a few extra feet of space as you circle around him.

Marvin Holding Court

at taqueria festiva taco marvin x is holding court with amiri and amina baraka at one table and two sisters from oakland at an adjoining table. we are greeted with the caustic jibes and guafawing embraces that a de rigour for seventies bam-folk. there is something about us that shows love by signifying on each other in a truly affectionate way.

marvin says to me, let me see you a minute. i recognize the tone and the nod of the head to indicate we are to take care of some business away from the general populace. we step outside. marvin reaches into his pocket, pulls out the bankroll--this is not his personal money, but rather the money needed to run the conference, but rather than deal have the secretary write a check and you sign the requisite forms, marvin is old school-univeristy of the streets. he reels off two bills. this should cover your hotel. right. we shake. business is concluded. now let's get something to eat.

this is another indication we are not involved in mainstream methodology. the food is mexican. not taco bell mexican, but real mexican. gigantic proportions with fresh ingredients prepared by folk for who english is a very distant and as infrequently-used as possible second language. if you like mexican, this is the place to be. it was good.

the conference site is theatre st. boniface, located in the extensive church building at 133 golden gate avenue. folk are beginning to arrive. and it's like a family reunion. i see folk i haven't seen in decades. i see folk who remember meeting me ten years ago, fifteen years ago. hell, thirty years ago, "i used to and you..." yeah!!!

one husband and wife team are up from los angeles and are selling old books, magazines and memorabilia. i mean historic. early issue of the black panther newspaper, even earlier issues of muhammad speaks. an issue of umbra. old liberator magazines. freedomways. first edition hardbacks of legendary books. man, this is a goldmine for a bibliophile. looks like i'm going to spend more money than i want to.

here comes sam greenlee. he's got copies of the new cd version of the spook who sat by the door. we rap awhile. everett hoagland is here, saying he don't want to follow me on the poetry reading tonight. billy from sacramento got a table about with a few samples from and information about the black panther exhibit. . . .

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the tenderloin book fair in san francisco

(1/30/04 -- 1/31/04)

Friday Evening

as to be expected, the program was not running on time. in a setting like this, with marvin x in charge, what is time anyway?

a banquet is scheduled with an opening reception before the 8pm poetry reading. it's almost 6pm, and none of the official program is underway. i take the opportunity to spend a chunk of time jaw-jacking with poet everett hoagland, who looks handsomely fit, his eyes sparkling, his speech crisp, a healthy leanness borne with graceful elegance as he long-leggedly strides through the room or stands, rocking slightly back in forth, behind his table displaying his book of poems and a broadside which he has prepared for this program. the broadside is a poem defining black poetry in a musical-poetic way opening with the famous quote from equiano about his african homeland being almost a whole people of singers, dancers, drummers and so forth. everett has a drummer with him, he

will perform as a duo and i know he intends to light it up.

after conversing with everett, i pull up a chair and hunker down with sam anderson who has his "holocaust for beginners" book on the table along with a small bunch of red, black and green, ribbon-shaped reparations pins and an accompanying brochure that sam hawks to everyone who pauses anywhere near the table--the pin is free with a donation. most people take a pin and donate a dollar.

sam and i talk about a range of issues; we have known each other for a long, long time.

there are all kinds of vendors in the place--everything from bean pies to black history-oriented sweat shirts; all kinds of books both mainstream and self-published, plus body oils and crystals; mystics and ex-pimps with self help books, old leftist marxist folk from one of the detroit factions with an updated  fanonian analysis. this is an exhilarating mélange of the various stripes and tendencies of the activist-arts sector of the black community.

plus, folk like my dear trinidadian comrade acklyn lynch show up. acklyn makes his home in dc, and i sometimes stay with him when i visit dc, but i have not been that way in over a year. we embrace and immediately fall into an animated conversation picking up where we left off back in 2002 without missing a beat. i love acklyn's energy and respect his astute socio-political analysis.

shortly, kweli tutashinda drops in. he is another old friend from over twenty years ago. kweli was a member of ahidiana, our pan afrikan nationalist organization (1973 - 1986). we operated a school (pre school thru third grade), a publishing & printing operation, a bookstore, and did community organizing around african liberation support, police brutality, and public education reform among other issues. although we have talked on the phone from time to time, i have not seen kweli since he left new orleans in the early eighties headed to the west coast. he now has an alternative medicine practice and seems to be doing quite well. and he looks just like himself, i mean like an older version of the same person he was a couple of decades ago.

he's not going to be able to stay for the poetry reading, so we decide to see a little bit of san francisco before the reading starts. we drive out to the pacific beach area. it's misty, overcast and a very chilly fifty or so degrees. the ocean is roiling, the waves aren't huge but they are very choppy. we park overlooking the ocean and at first i think i see people flying gigantic rainbow-colored, rainbow-shaped kites. kweli informs me they're wind surfing.

this looks like crazy to me, but it's a fascinating crazy. these guys are literally surfing back and forth while holding on to and maneuvering gigantic kites. i'm not even up for getting out of the car and walking the two hundred or so yards down to the water's edge, and these cats are surfing headfirst into crashing waves. i've got on a coat, they're wearing body suits. all i can say is, well, this is cali.

kweli drops me back at the hotel. nia and i had split up after we left the mexican restaurant and when i got back she was still resting. kweli had brought me a tofu burger, i was being gracious and accepted the gift even though i wasn't hungry at the time. by 7pm, i decided to give it a try and sure enough that monster was kicking. that's one thing i had to admit about cali, they do all kinds of wonderful things with fresh and wholesome foods. a little after 8,  nia and i head back to the church building, i'm in no hurry because i assume, no, i'm sure the program is running late.

Tenderloin No Tender Cut

the church facility is gigantic. the conference is in what appears to be a cozy auditorium that seats maybe 300 or maybe a little more with a large adjoining open space that is used for the vendors. this must have been a school at some point as there are a series of rooms across the enclosed hall that runs next to the auditorium area.

the church operates a homeless shelter and food program. there is a free medical clinic next door. st. boniface is obviously a mission-oriented church and turns out to be an excellent site for the tenderloin book fair.

this is the first national writer's conference i've been to that is literally held in the urban hood. almost all major cities have downtown areas that are run-down, semi-abandoned and populated by the homeless and street people, colorful characters whose language match their appearance as they dot the street side and sidewalk, like quirky sixteenth notes on a sheet of bebop music. 

it is a gross understatement to observe that the san francisco tenderloin is no tender cut, but is instead a raw, and not infrequently, bloody slice of humanity peopled by a parade of folk who are often of visually-indeterminable origin, yet, regardless of who they are and where they are from, it is vitally important to recognize their humanity, a humanity whose wellbeing we ignore at the peril of diminishing our own endangered humanness.

i am glad to be at the tenderloin book fair. glad the gathering is being held here, for rather then seduce us with bourgeoisie order and opulence, such as is usually the case with conferences held on college campuses, what we are unavoidably faced with here is that which is too often ignored: we are literally eyeball to eyeball with the result of what capitalism is built on, namely, the economic exploitation of people, an exploitation that 21st century america normally doesn't see because such exploitation is usually sequestered, far removed from the vision and view of the good life.

but marvin has another approach. on your way to the sessions, when you walk this none-too-tender gauntlet of misery, inevitably you discover different words crowding your mouth other than the multi-syllabic euphemisms and intellectual jargon that is the general sounding of literary discourse. thus, an attitudinal adjustment is both inevitable and involuntary.  

i find myself flinching every now and then-will this one ask me for a dollar for something to eat, or will it be that one, the raving one? and every time i flinch, i confront myself and remind myself first of all that indeed i do have money in my pocket, regardless of whether i am willing to give them any, i have money. that is a hard truth; i am materially better off. in comparison to them, i am the bourgeois negro that i try so hard not to be.

secondly, i must negotiate that fine line between being disgusted with a system that creates downtrodden and near hopeless folk like these whose eyes I am avoiding, and being disgusted by the presence of these folk in front, behind and all around me as i walk from a hotel to a book fair.

Photo left: Kalamu and Willie Williams, Broadside Press (Detroit). Photo by Jamie Walker.

i know the minute i emotionally and intellectually distance myself from these homeless folk, that is the very second when i identify with their exploiters (who happen to also be my exploiters even though i happen to be a bit less exploited than my man lying there cocooned in a filthy cotton covering).

whether all of the conference attendees consciously think about these kinds of considerations may be debatable, but what is not debatable is that these surroundings establish a tone and give an emotional edge to the proceedings, a tone and edge that are completely different from most literary gatherings. so unavoidably, the conference becomes socially conscious, even if it's no more than a few folk worrying about being mugged as they leave at 10pm when the conference closes.

as nia and i approach the church gate to step down into the courtyard that leads to the basement-level auditorium, i can imagine some professors gingerly threading their way through the detritus and human effluent that patinas these walkways. liquids of diverse and dubious origins are spilt here. every few yards are so, there are long streaks of brown somethings that appear to be what you hope they are not as you step across while trying not to look prissy.

boarded windows and doorways are littered with all kinds of used and thrown away objects. and here and there are blanketed bundles of literally huddled masses bedding down for the night. it's clear to me that at this conference i won't be hearing a paper on the semiotics of black arts iconography or a post-structural dissertation on self-reference in bam poetry. 

Poetry Reading

it's almost 9pm when we get inside. someone at the podium is talking about his or her first book. i guess the poetry reading has already started, nia finds a seat and i start down the side aisle to be near the stage stairs figuring that i will be called on soon.

oh, poor foolish me. the poetry reading has not even started yet. i find out that what's happening is marvin asked some folk to introduce themselves and say a word about their books so people... ok, there is no way you're going to get authors to introduce themselves and talk about their books in two minutes each.

while i'm standing there, nathan hare greets me. i haven't seen him since marvin's kings and queens of black consciousness set we did at san francisco state back in april of 2001. nathan looks to be in great health. his wife, julia hare, is emceeing this portion of the program. i am glad to see him. we speak briefly, i would have held a longer conversation but i did not want to be boorish and talk while the program was proceeding, especially since i was standing near the front.

i see brother hasan who picked us up from the airport. he says that we have to shut down at 10pm. it's after 9 now and the poetry program has not yet started. marvin couldn't spell punctual if he had a stopwatch for a pencil. even though i get the feeling i'm not going to read, or that i will be thrust up there and told you got two minutes, i begin to plan what poem i will do.

finally, i go over to sit by nia and to wait to see what will happen. shortly julia hares gives a rousing send-off, summing up folks' contributions. this fiery and feisty black woman had been excellent at kings and queens and she was no less effective this time.

eventually, marvin takes the stage and says it's time for the poets. up first is a sister introduced, if i remember correctly, simply as roxanne, and marvin has requested a specific poem, which she does even though she wanted to do something else. when she finishes her selection marvin bounds on the stage and immediately announces another poet. i didn't take notes, so i may forget to mention someone and for certain i do not have the participants in their correct order.

al young reads a selection from conjugal visits, a recent book of poetry, and a second poem, whose name i don't remember. i enjoy the conjugal piece, which is in a blues-influenced form. reginald locket, who introduced himself to me earlier-we knew of each other's work but had never actually shook hands, did one poem. it was good to meet him.

an audible ripple surged from the audience when marvin announced devorah major, whom he introduced as the poet laureate of san francisco. there were shouts for her to do some daughter of the yam stuff with sister opal, but devorah is a responsible sister and notes that they are short on time, and she has been asked to do one poem and delivers that one, which leaves all of us wanting to hear more.

after devorah, opal adisa palmer mounts the stage and wipes out everything that has come before with a poem about black women being tired. this was both a fulfilling and a frustrating moment-fulfilling in that opal delivered a rousing poem that had the audience

spontaneously joining her on the "tired" chorus; frustrating in that one, too-short burner was all she spoke.

the last poet up was everett hoagland with his conga drummer, everett did his piece with a strong jazz inflection-there was some commotion on the side while he was performing, but the distractions notwithstanding he gave a strong reading. at that point i was pretty sure i was not going to be reading.

and i was right. when everett completed his piece, marvin announced that those who didn't read would read tomorrow night. good night. and boom-boom  that was it.

hasan and one other brother ushered us out of the auditorium, saying we had to shut down at 10pm, "you got to go home, or go somewhere, but you got  to get out of here."

earlier i had asked marvin what he wanted me to do, now, as we were leaving i went up to him intending to say i understood, see you tomorrow, but he beat me to it, and in old-school "take the offensive to keep from being on the defensive" move marvin says to me "so you going to read tomorrow night. you got a problem with that?"

no problem. but i just want to make sure we have a monitor or a tv so i can do the "writing in the digital age" workshop tomorrow. marvin directs me to talk to an asian american (i think he's japanese, but that's more a guess than a knowledgeable assessment) named warren (thinking back, i don't think his name was warren, it was something else anglo but i don't remember what), he is heading up the audio/visual unit-warren says he'll take care of it, see you tomorrow at 11am.

Saturday Program (1/31/04)

saturday morning my bangladesh friend, mahmud rahman, came over from oakland.

it's about 9-something when he arrives and i am working on part one of this report. mahmud has parked in a garage so we decide to take the short walk to the conference and stop somewhere on the way for breakfast. nia is going to be visiting family today. the hotel is about five blocks from the church but on the opposite of market street from the church. market seems to be a dividing line for the tenderloin district. on the hotel side there is clearly a lot of construction and remodeling, a major shopping center in a building that also has a bart station in the basement area. but on the other side of market...

i generally stay with mahmud when i am in the bay area and i enjoy hanging with him. he was forced out of bangladesh behind his political work. he is well read, which is, of course, saying a whole lot in these days. i really enjoy our discussions. today we spend a lot of time talking about paradigm shifts and technology. he works in data processing. at some point as we are walking to the church after our meal, i say that i feel blessed to be able to live through two major paradigm shifts. mahmud corrects me-it's three. and he right. it's just that the second is the right-wing counter revolution that has reached it's height under bush, which i spell bu(ll)sh(it).

the first paradigm shift was the third world independence and liberation movements (the domestic corollary being the civil rights/black power struggles). the second being corporate globalism. and the third being the current uproar, which is both political and technological.

if you have read to this point, you already know the workshops did not start anywhere near 11am. on the way in, i spy a brother setting up a barbeque grill in the courtyard. i laugh, pork ribs (or so i assume, but i was wrong, i later find out it's a jamaican restaurant setting up to sell barbequed jerk chicken) in the courtyard, bean pies in the foyer; yes, rodney, we all can get along.

Technology Workshop & Neo Griot

i find warren and find out from marvin where i'm supposed to hold my workshop. warren shows me the samsung flat screen with built-in speakers he has brought for me to use as a monitor. i'm flat-out envious. we move to the designated room and set up. i'm up and running in less than ten minutes. i'm going to stay in the workshop room until we finish, i don't feel like breaking down  everything and going back to hear whatever is going on in the auditorium area. besides, i know it's not what was scheduled because it's after eleven now and the workshops haven't started.

while awaiting the start of the workshops warren introduces his boss, a big black man in a silver-grey jogging suit made of some material that looks a bit like baby crushed velvet. i smile. he looks to be in his fifties, and is well over six feet and approaching 250-pounds or so, although he is not wearing bling bling, he does not appear to be a hustler. his hair is long, tied in a ponytail in the back. i ask him how did he get into audio-visual work from being in the life.

he responds slowly, well, i wasn't really in the life. i was a musician. warren laughs. i'm screaming. mahmud chuckles and my man the musician who was not in the life smiles and then begins to tell us his life story, which includes growing up in italian neighborhoods of san francisco where he was often the only black person in the classroom, and from there to a career in music that began as a child prodigy on the piano, and from there making improbable leaps into computer gaming, and merchandising, exporting technology and business services, to buy up a quarter of a block in oakland to set up his operations which include a recording studio and label. my man's name is edwin

anderson, president of mindseed corporation and mindseed records. everywhere you turn there are fascinating folk in attendance at this conference, but that's marvin's reach, literally from the streets to the suite.

eventually we start the workshop. at one point there were maybe twenty folk in the room, at the end there are sixteen people present, a couple have left and a handful have joined us over the course of the two hour presentation. we open with folk introducing themselves and then i talk quickly, very quickly about technological paradigm shifts, mentioning unix and supercomputers, pointing out that the highest level of computer equipment is now available in modular form via the mac g5 and the unix core of the new mac os-x. i also mention open source and linux. and talk a little about apple's video editing software, final cut pro, which walter murch, one of the most respected hollywood editors, used to edit the new movie "cold mountain." i give a quick explanation of how these new developments in digital technology are going to have far, far reaching implications.

after the tech-talk portion i explain briefly my current work and the neo-griot concept, and then do show and tell by offering some of our video shorts and close out with a q&a session. by 3pm some people are asking for more, others want to know how can they get some of the videos, a handful say they will email me to follow up. the opportunity to spread the neo-griot message is the main reason i agreed to pay my own way out to san francisco and participate in the tenderloin book fair and university of poetry.

Sam Greenlee, Amina, Ishmael, & Sonia

mahmud has to leave as he has other commitments and kweli, who returned for part of my workshop, has his three children with him. after i pack up, we move back into the auditorium where they are finishing up the screening of "the spook who sat by the door." when we arrive; a short interview with sam greenlee is running, and then sam himself comes up and fields questions from the audience. i'm really glad to see sam getting some much-deserved recognition.

a large part of the recognition is around the dvd release of spook. digital technology is behind this reissuing of the movie. the only hollywood movies of the seventies that most younger audiences know are what are labeled the blaxploitation movies, featuring violence, sex and glorification of criminal activity. but there were a handful of serious movies that managed to somehow get made in hollywood. spook is one such movie.

when sam arrived on friday he had a bag full of dvds, kweli wanted to buy one but sam says he's run out. i suggest to kweli that he ask sam to sell him the one that they are screening, which sam does. afterwards i run into ishmael reed, who is scheduled to be on the program. he and one of his daughters are checking out the book vendors. ish buys a book from a young brother who does not recognize ishmael, nevertheless, uncle ish is supporting the cause by spending hard money to buy a self-published book from an eager young writer.

after talking with some other folk, i stop by al young's table and pick up two of his poetry books that i don't already have: the recent "conjugal visits" and "heaven," his collected poems. and then i decide to return to the hotel. on the way out i stop to talk with amina baraka who shares the manuscript of a book of poetry she has completed. she has been actively working at finishing the book for over two years now and every time i have seen her, i have prodded her to complete the manuscript. amina orders me to sit down, reaches in her bag and comes out with the manuscript, maybe now i'll get off her case. she

particularly wants me to check out the poem she wrote for her slain daughter, shani, it's a poem called shani star.

it's got to be a drag trying to get your poetry done and you are the wife of  amiri baraka. how can you ever know when you are getting an honest reaction to your work? amina has the heart of a poet, many of her poems have lines and images that are beautiful. if she published more, she would probably be less protective of each word and could more easily recognize the value in condensing her work which sometimes lacks the tautness that comes from carefully working a piece until you take a five-line down to three and those three words end up being stronger than the flabby five.

right before i leave sonia sanchez comes through, jamie walker is with sonia. jamie is putting together a major sonia sanchez anthology, which in addition to sonia's work, is going to include essays on sonia. i'm looking forward to that book. sonia is awe-inspiringly beautiful. a cowrie shell here and a trade bead there are weaved into her gorgeous salt and pepper dreadlocks. she is radiating health and that wonderful mixture of disarming zany humor and feisty in-face-seriousness that is her trademark. i exchange a long and warm hug with her. she asks what's up and whether i'm going inside. i tell her i'm going back to the hotel and will return for the reading, but i need to get online. sonia

caps on me about my computer jones, mimicking a monkey tapping on a computer screen while his face is glued to the screen. i had to laugh. you got me. yeah, i'm a junky. i admit it.

back at the hotel, after going online for around an hour, i pretend i'm only going to shower, rest a minute, then return for the concluding poetry reading. after a hot shower, i sit down on the bed a minute. then i lie down. then i get under the covers. at 8:05 i wake up. at 8:20-something i force myself to get up. 

From the Black Arts Movement to Hip Hop Panel

by the time i'm walking down the courtyard steps it's almost 9pm. i had not wanted to miss any of the poetry reading, particularly since i had missed the majority of the other proceedings. i hear baraka's voice booming and guess that the poetry reading has started. it's suppose to be amiri baraka, sonia sanchez, askia toure, marvin x, amina baraka, and those of us who did not get to read friday night.

wrong again. the "from the black arts movement to hip hop" panel is still on the stage. baraka was running his "razor" in "27 cities" project, which calls for another cultural revolution in those metropoles where our folk are a significant plurality, if not an outright majority. amiri has been running this line for at least three years and though it seems to make sense on the surface, i sense that there is not much follow-up happening. amiri is probably thinking of the cap model where they had small, but dedicated and hardworking, cadres located in various cities. but that was then, today, there are not many people who are going to accept baraka's leadership even if they like his ideas. 

there has not only been a lot of water under the bridge, the waves have rocked back and forth, this way and that, and though amiri has been a consistent communist for over twenty years now, a number of people are still looking at him cross-eyed waiting for to change up again.

that's just a hard facts assessment. while people often claim the ability to separate the message from the messenger, the fact is most of us really follow messengers, and if, for whatever reason, we don't fully trust the messenger, the message is often ignored.  

Left to Right: Jamie Walker, Amina Baraka, Askia Toure, Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Sam Anderson, Ptah-Allah-el, David D.  Photo by Hughes Jones.

by now it's 9:15. 10 o'clock is coming. no poetry has started yet. on the stage are jamie walker, amina baraka, askia toure, amiri baraka, sam anderson, ptah allah-el, davey d, and reginald locket, the moderator. just when it looks like they are going to stop, the moderator acknowledges that although they are short on time, they will take a few questions. well, you know how that goes. those who have a question also have comments, and some don't even bother pretending they have a question, they simply jump to the mike to give an impassioned commentary.

it's 9:30. there is not going to be much of a poetry reading, but then maybe they have an extension on the 10pm closing time since it's saturday night. sonia responds to one of the last questions and is brilliant, on the way hand acknowledging the importance of the young sister's plea for more of the elders to talk with the young people and not to try to refuse to visit the campuses if the students can't pay $5000 lecture fees. sonia points out that we have to be clear about whom we mean. nobody up here has refused to go to any campus if there was no large fee, in fact, we often go for no fee.

but then, sonia continues, there are those who do make a living on the campus touring circuit. but check this, students will pay ten times that to have a singer or rapper come to the campus. we have to make some decisions about what we want to pay for. the sister had also raised a question about romancing blackness, sonia leaned into the mike and said these lines in my face are not romance.

whoa, it was one of those super-honest moments that forever stay in one's consciousness.

at 9:50 they finally stopped the panel. marvin walked up the aisle and said, start the poetry. but the stage crew had to break down the table and chairs that were set up for the panel, and put the podium back on the stage, and try and get some order as people were clumped around various of the panel members, and...

it's ten o'clock and we got to clear out. no poetry reading tonight. you got what you gon get and what you ain't got you ain't gon get. suck it up. see you next time. 

Final Word

so much for figuring out which poem i was going to read. nevertheless, i was extremely glad that i attended the conference, even though it was a grand and glorious mess in terms of programming.

like i said up front, this was more a family reunion than a conference. everybody was there, including those who had missed the last one because of incarceration, addictions or who knows for what reason. well, pookie was out and junior been clean for five and half weeks now, and both of them were here participating. i mean we had the crazy-ass uncle who likes to wear yellow velour and even junior's three ex-wives. and each of them had a book, a cd, or a t-shirt they were sharing (i mean selling).

for all the strengths of this conference, the programming was too screwed-up to be taken seriously, which was a shame because there was so much serious talent in the house. marvin is great at calling folk together, but he's a lousy administrator. yet, everybody had a good time, so in that sense it's hard to complain.

one other thing, this was the black arts side of the family, which includes the street folk; not represented was the middle class, professionals types. there are a whole cadre of writers, many in their thirties who were entirely absent. i didn't see the cave canem folk, and a lot of the california writers were absent. there were holes as far as a full representation. none of the new crop of black sci-fi writers were present, nor the academics whom usually populate writing conferences. but on the other hand, one size does not fit all.

i give thanks for the array of writers who were in attendance, a big up to marvin x for pulling this one off.

in march there's a writer's conference at medgar evers (i don't think i'll be able to make that one), and in the summer there is going to be the harlem book fair, plus in the fall there is going to be a furious flower 2, which if it is anything like the first furious flower, it's going to be a grand and glorious celebration with a broad and deep representation of black poets.

but you know what, all my caveats above notwithstanding, there was something vital and exhilarating about this gathering, an enjoyable craziness that is usually missing from the better organized gatherings. there is no simple solution to keeping the proceedings fresh, open and free flowing on the one hand, and having serious, informed, intellectual exchanges that are broad and follow a program that runs on, or near on, time, on the other hand.

paradoxically as i get older and more busy than ever, as i have less time to waste, as the oncoming reality of mortal death's breath-snatching is drawing closer (inevitably at gatherings now there is talk of someone or two folk who are not present because they recently died), as an emphasis on efficiency is stronger than ever, even as i want to see us function in a timely manner, at the same time, i no longer get uptight about cp-time, about schedules thrown out the window, in fact, more than simply being ok with a "whatever happens, happens" attitude, i'm beginning to think that from time to time we need these kind of get togethers where the enjoyment of each other's company and fellowship is the major agenda item. in other words, as our rasta brethren & sistren are want to utter, how good and pleasant it is when i and i can reason together.

and then again, it just could be something in the air in cali... whatever, this was both a programmatic disaster and an utterly beautiful and successful gathering of the black arts-oriented branch of our literary kinfolk.

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



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#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

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Super Rich: A Guide to Having it All

By Russell Simmons

Russell Simmons knows firsthand that wealth is rooted in much more than the stock  market. True wealth has more to do with what's in your heart than what's in your wallet. Using this knowledge, Simmons became one of America's shrewdest entrepreneurs, achieving a level of success that most investors only dream about. No matter how much material gain he accumulated, he never stopped lending a hand to those less fortunate. In Super Rich, Simmons uses his rare blend of spiritual savvy and street-smart wisdom to offer a new definition of wealth-and share timeless principles for developing an unshakable sense of self that can weather any financial storm. As Simmons says, "Happy can make you money, but money can't make you happy."

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don't know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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