Saturday, January 29, 2011

Zora Neale Hurston festival love

The 22nd annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities was held this week in Orlando (if you’re reading this on Sunday, Jan. 30, you can still catch the last day of the street festival.)

The festival is in Eatonville, Zora’s hometown, just north of Orlando, Florida. (If you don't know much about Zora, read this brief bio).

And the events have a big impact on Orlando (at least to me). Every year the festival organizers bring writers, academics, musicians and artists to town to give talks, exhibit their work and perform. The people who are featured are luminaries in their field. It’s one of the best times of year in Orlando if you are, like me, a person who is intensely interested in and passionate about the African diaspora.

On Jan. 26 I went to Eatonville to hear Tara Betts (poet and writing professor, NYC) read at Club Koha. Tara participated in the VONA writing retreat in 2010 and I met her there. She tells stories with her poetry, powerfully. I have been looking forward to her event at the Zora Festival for two months.

And her reading was wonderful. The club was a great venue for the reading and was preceded by a reception opening the festival. The food was wonderful, done by a new empanada truck which will launch in Orlando soon (hopefully very soon – the Moroccan lentil empanadas are worth tracking).

In addition to hearing Tara read and getting a copy of her collection, Arc & Hue, I met and made new friends at the event. Poetry + friendship + food = win.

Today our family went to the street festival, which I go to nearly every year. The festival features artists, vendors and music (Ashford & Simpson headlined this year).

I was so excited to see the Haiti pavilion – a section with booths for a group of Haitian artists. There were many pieces of metalwork. I have one from a previous, non-Zora event, and it is one of my favorite and most beautiful things. Today I bought another and my kids chose it. The new piece is painted and fits perfectly with our sea-themed bathroom.

One of the reasons I love the festival is for, don’t judge me, the shopping. There are so many things that I don’t see often in Orlando (African inspired clothing, music).

Sometimes, honestly, I wonder how many people actually have read any of Zora’s work at the festival. And I think about how vendors and pop music connect to her work – novels, anthropology, history.

Today it seemed very clear. As I spoke French to Haitian artists, bought a mudcloth and denim skirt from an African designer, and purchased a CD of Zouk music from Congo (the gentleman next to me was Congolese), I felt like the festival definitely aligns with who Zora was.

She was global, a writer and thinker who could see the connection from Florida work camp songs and Negro spirituals to Haitian spiritual practice and herbal medicine.

We are all connected and the art and cultural pieces at the festival, as well as the diversity of the people, represent an opportunity for us to remember how we are family. A dispersed family, but with some roots in common.

Our walk through the festival today was wonderful and fun. And I will keep sharing stories and music and art with my children so they can see how they are connected as well to the African diaspora.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Open Mic opportunity for writers and artists

Last year I posted a couple of items to Lisa Hsia's open mic blog. They were the beginnings of stories and I needed feedback. And people are still reading and posting comments to the stories. It's a wonderful forum for writers and Lisa has spots available if you'd like to post work - she also accepts artwork. Here's what she says about the Open Mic:

Art blog's Open Mic looking for contributors!
Greetings! My name is Lisa Hsia and I write a daily weekday blog about my journey as a writer and artist. Every Friday, I host an Open Mic for artists, right on the blog. Usually there's a featured guest post, and other artists are invited to add their own work in the comments. We have had all kinds of things on the Open Mic in the past: paintings, sketchbook pages, funny essays, poetry, first-draft fiction. Read previous Open Mics at It’s a great opportunity to share your work in a public forum without stress or having to actually perform in front of people! The Open Mic received an enthusiastic reception when I started it last year; you can read a little more about it on Anthem Salgado's awesome "Art of Hustle" blog:

I'm now looking for guest posts for Fridays in 2011. Will you contribute? Here's how it works:

1. You choose a date for your guest post. I'm also happy to schedule posts well in advance if you like a deadline to work toward.

2. Sometime before the date of your post, you email me your piece, a short introduction, and a bio, and I do the rest. The piece can be anything: an image, video, or text. The intro helps establish context and piques readers' interest; you can compose the whole thing for me to use verbatim, or just give me bullet points and I'll put them together. It can be as short as one line or as long as several paragraphs. The same goes for your bio. If you have a photo of yourself, or link(s) for your website or blog, I'm happy to post those too.

3. After your post goes live, check in on Friday and over the weekend, and enjoy the discussion and applause!

Email me at satsumabug AT gmail with questions or to reserve your Friday spot!
Even if you're not currently ready for a guest post, I hope you'll visit the Open Mic some Friday to support your fellow artists. Feel free to pass on this call to anyone else who might be interested.
Thank you and happy art-making,


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Blacklitchat - Jabari Asim and Feb. guest

We had a wonderful #blacklitchat discussion on Twitter Sunday night with Jabari Asim about his story collection, A Taste of Honey. I really enjoyed the book and was in love with many of the characters. There are gangsters and saved people, kids, wannabe revolutionaries, artists and so many characters you want to know more about. The stories are set in 1968 so the events of that year are all around the little town of Gateway and make an impact on the good folks in town.

Jabari also gives readers more than a few surprises in the stories. It's definitely something to put on your to-be-read list if it isn't already.

You can read the transcript of the chat.

Jabari is working on a followup to A Taste of Honey, featuring one of the most dangerous characters. He also has a new children's book coming out about Booker T. Washington, Fifty Cents and a Dream.

Next up for #blacklitchat is Aminatta Forna, author of The Memory of Love. We'll have a discussion with her at 7 p.m. EST (a new time for us) Sunday, Feb. 6.

Save the date for Sunday, Feb. 20 as well - we'll do a special Black History Month chat with a guest author.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Erasing cultural history and avoiding the conversation

A new edition of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer comes out in February. (February!)

And I'm surprised and upset about the changes the editor has made. As the saying goes, I feel some kind of way about it.

Alan Gribben (Auburn University) edited the new versions for NewSouth Books. The 2011 versions will remove all mentions of the "n" word and replace it with "slave." Also edited: Injun Joe becomes "Indian" Joe and half-breed becomes "half-blood."

Gribben made the changes to make the books easier for teachers to use in the classroom. He says schools do not teach the books because of the offensive language.

I get it. I know that those words make people uncomfortable. I certainly don't like hearing the "n" word.

But as a mother, writer, Southerner, African American and literature geek (and all my other selves), I say this is a wrong and even damaging way to think about literature. And I'm very concerned that, if Gribben's volume gains traction, it will become the only version of Twain's novels that we read.

And it will be the wrong version, altered from the author's intended text. Altered in a way that pretends that the words Twain wrote were not actually in use during his time. Altered to make it "easier" to teach - meaning it will help teachers avoid providing deeper context to explain how stories reflect the cultural and historical moment; how writers weave in imagination and realism; and what has happened since Twain's lifetime to shape how we say, write and hear the "n" word, "injun," "half-breed" and other offensive terms.

In making the work "easier" to read, Gribben takes away some of the big lessons that we can find in reading.

And I think that "easier" really means that teachers won't have go take some uncomfortable questions from students, but also teachers, administrators and school boards can take the easy way out when parents challenge the book.

Wouldn't it be better to teach Twain's work as part of learning about American cultural history and give students a better grounding in what our country was like for people who didn't look like or live like the founding fathers?

Perhaps by seeing the words used in literature it will help everyone understand what's at stake when those words occur in contemporary popular culture.

I certainly don't want my own children reading sanitized versions of literature. They can read the books as they were written and we certainly would help them understand how the work fits into it's historical period and what has happened to change the way we talk to and about one another.

I want them educated and readied for the world, not raised with a cleaned up version of their own American cultural history.

Read more about the new editions in stories posted at NPR and Publishers Weekly.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Things I'm loving right now

Jevon Bolden's Black Book Tweets round up - a great way to catch up. If you tweet about Black books, let her know.

Pearl Cleage has a book coming out this year *happy fan dance!* It's Just Wanna Testify and it's coming out in my birthday month AND I'll be in Atlanta in May. I hope I can see her do a reading there.

The Zen Habits web site. I read this site a few years ago and knew it was good, life hacking and improving content. But I didn't heed what I read. I'm going to try to do better this year. I have a lot of things to work on and, because I really can't abide self-help books, this is perfect for me. Wisdom in small chunks.

Carleen Brice is taking a blog hiatus in January. Luckily for us, she gave good links for finding book recommendations while she's gone. (Carleen is author of Orange Mint and Honey - the basis for the Lifetime Original movie Sins of the Mother and the novel Children of the Waters).
via Carleen: Go On Girls! book list for early 2011
The APOOO books in 2011 list.
And Carleen shouts out #blacklitchat as well (Jan. 23, 9 p.m. ET with Jabari Asim).

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Passing or not? Does it matter?

This article in the NYTimes about a new edition of Jean Toomer's Cane, caught my eye. Dr. Henry Louis Gates and Dr. Rudolph Byrd (shoutout to Emory!) write that Toomer was passing during his life according to what they found while researching the new edition.

I've long been interested in the idea of passing - not as an ideal, but as an intriguing condition. What was it like to be able to shift across the very clear dividing line of race?

In the 90s, during a brief stay in France, I sat in on an American literature class and Cane was one of the texts. The class was for undergraduate students and while I had no status at the university, I asked the professor if I could visit the class just to listen. (I also sat in on a class about Edgar Allen Poe).

One of the moments that I remember from the class is hearing a French student, who looked to me to have some African lineage somewhere in her history, ask "what is miscegenation?"

It was very interesting to hear the professor explain it and remark on how interesting is that Americans have a name for that kind of mixing. Hmmmm.

I wonder if there is some professor who will teach it this spring or fall and whether the idea of Toomer passing will affect the discussion in a university classroom over there.

It's the kind of discussion and questioning that I miss from the world of academia. Finding new ways to look at things as well as support for your theories and having an impact on the way we understand history and culture.

And, of course, passing narratives make for engaging stories.

Unfortunately I don't have a good recall of Cane. Maybe I'll re-read it someday. I'd like to see if it reads differently now that Gates and Byrd say Toomer was passing. Of course that knowledge changes the way I read it - Toomer was always himself and we'll never know what was happening inside his mind and heart.

Does the work change because our understanding of the author's life changes?

What other books have you read that are so affected by what you know about the author?