Who You Callin Voiceless?

I would like to declare a moratorium on the phrase “giving voice to the voiceless.” You hear it bandied around a lot when people are talking about the work of writers of color, women writers, or anybody else who has been marginalized. I will admit that I have used the expression a time or two myself, but I will never say it again. Here’s why.

Last week, Frank X. Walker and Irene McKinney gave a reading at Rutgers-Newark. Both are writers from Appalachia, moreover, Frank coined the term AFFRILACHIA to highlight the experiences of black folks in the region. They both read such powerful and brave poetry. (You can hear Frank read his Medgar Evers poems here– he even writes from the POV of Evers’ murderer.)

Anyway, I am sure the work that these writers do would fall into the “giving voice to the voiceless” category. And frankly, that’s just condescending. The people that Frank and Irene write about are not voiceless. They may have been excluded from our so-called “history”, but it doesn’t mean that they are silent. It’s almost like saying someone is invisible, just because you didn’t notice them. When I introduced Frank, I said that rather than “giving voice to the voiceless, he offers aid to the hearing impaired.”

Writers don’t “give” anyone a voice, but ourselves. We may be able to amplify voice that has been ignored. And if we are lucky we can help that voice find a new audience, an new ear, a new heart.

Posted in Real Lives, Real Stories | 3 Comments

FREE: Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self

Before Yuor Suffocate Your Own Fool Self is Danielle Evans amazing debut short story collection. The Washington Post loved it and everybody on twitter is saying how much they want a copy. Well, guess what, Beautiful People, I have an extra. So how about we have a little raffle?
To enter leave a comment here, and if you can’t, you can leave a comment on this post on my facebook page, or send me an email. And when you comment, recommend a book that you think folks should check out. I need something new for my bedtable.
And for those of you who are out of the loop, here’s an interview of Danielle talking with the editor of the WaPo Book world. (And here’s his love letter,, I mean review.

You can enter the raffle until Mondnight on Wednesday October 6. I’ll do the raffle on the next morning!

Posted in Bookshelf | 22 Comments

Let’s Get Together in Portugual!


Originally uploaded by .sammytd

I have just joined the faculty of DISQUIET: Dzanc Books International Literary Program in Lisbon. ILP has two primary components: 1) Two-week workshops in Poetry, Fiction, Nonfiction, and Photography and Visual Storytelling. 2) A Literary and Cultural program featuring contemporary Portuguese writers, lecturers, and thinkers as well as other events such as literary walks, film screenings, and excursions.

The ILP programming will take place at venues throughout Lisbon, which is easily and cheaply navigable by subway, streetcar, and bus, including the Center for National Culture, NOVA the New University, the University of Lisbon, the American Embassy, at the headquarters for the Luso-American Development Foundation and others.

And did I mention that the beaches are FABULOUS?

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Last night I went to the NYC premiere of “Blood Dazzler”, a choreoplay based on Patricia Smith’s award-winning book of poetry. Wow. That was an intense 50 minutes, and I mean “intense” in the best possible way.
Blood Dazzler is a book of mostly persona poems imagining the experiences of New Orleans residents in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. One especially gripping series is short poems remembering the lives of 34 nursing home patients left to drown. But also included are poems in the voice of Katrina herself.
In the play, Katrina the storm/woman really came to life. She is sometimes a drill sergeant, a temptress, a chastened daughter. The genius of Paloma the choreographer is on full display as Katrina herself paints a red X on a house where victims are entombed.
Not only is the source material amazing, the dancers and actors were exceptional. How can a man adopt the body language of a doomed dog named “Luther B” and break your heart like that? Hurricane Besty came onstage looking like Glenda The Good and told Katrina about herself. (“I thought I taught you better than that.”) And the old woman who died in the sun outside of the superdome waiting for buses– well she has her say.
I know that I am making this seem really dark– and yes, it’s dark subject matter– but there was something soul stirring and healing about hearing and seeing these stories told.
I hate that I waited until the last day to see it because I would have liked to have told you about it in time for you to see it.
(here are a few pictures on the Blood Dazzler fb page.)

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Treasure Williams at 73 Poems

Love this girl.

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We Came and Celebrated With Her

The Elders

Originally uploaded by kleopatrjones

On Tuesday, September 21, hundreds of people gathered in Harrisonburg, Virginia to celebrate the life of Lucille Clifton. It was one of those experiences that made me remember why I love my life.

The program, organized by Joanne Gabbin and Nikki Giovanni featured 73 writers who each read one Miss Lucille’s poems. (I recited my favorite, “Here Rests.”) The experience was beyond beautiful. Imagine Sonia Sanchez, Mari Evans, Rita Dove, Honoree Fanonne Jeffers, Tony Medina, Kamilah Aisha Moon, Haki Madhubuti, and many many others reading every one of your favorite poems.

One thing that was clear to me as the night went on was the great respect that the younger writers had for our elders. We even called the that, “elders,” and we said it without irony. Everyone in that Treasure and her Daddyroom loved Lucille Clifton and respected the gift of her art, but also what she had done to make our careers possible.

I have often read about writers who feel they must dethrone their forefathers and mothers. I am happy to say, I don’t know nothing about that. I know whose shoulders I stand on.

For the grand finale, Nikki Giovanni took the stage and brought about one hundred of us with her. Together we recited “Won’t You Celebrate With Me.” It took a while because Nikki called upon many people to give the lines their own It's a love thanginterpretation. (Rita Dove sings like an angel, btw.) A ten year old interpreted a verse with a burst of music from his violin. But all together, we called, we responded, we shouted, we intoned, we boomed.
“come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.”

By the last line, we were all on our feet. “And has failed! Has failed! Has failed!”

(more photos here.)

Posted in The Writing Life | 3 Comments

Eyes on the Page

I know Tupac said “Keep Ya Head Up”, but over at SheWrites, I’m posting about keeping your head down. I am convinced that all the bad publishing news has been undermining my groove. Lately, I have been feeling sort of defeated– although everything in my publishing life is going fine right now? I realised that all the gloom and doom news from the world of letters has sort of creeped in to my mind and set up shop. (This is gross but it reminds me of those Mucinex commercials. You know the ones. Ugh.)Even up-beat articles about overnight success stories would get me down because I saw that next to none of the lucky winners were writers of color and even white women were having a hard time catching a break. None of this was helping my writing, or even my attitude. Like I said, everything is going pretty well for me now, so what’s up the the creeping feeling of dread? It’s time to tune out the negativity, at least for a while.
So, in keeping with the spirit of this week’s Surviving The Draft post, I am not going to post anything troublesome for the rest of the month. Please check out the post, and if you are a member of SheWrites, leave a comment. I love getting comments over there.

Posted in Surviving The Draft | 1 Comment

Goodbye Varnette Honeywood Links

  • RIP, Varnette Honeywood, beautiful artist, Spelman sister, citizen of my world, citizen of THE world.
  • Help making the transition from journalism to fiction.
  • The Hairdresser of Harare, a popular novel about homosexuality in Zimbabwe.
  • Eduardo hipped me to this cool residency on the shore of the Baltic sea. I’m hoping to be on book tour this summer, but I want to go in 2012.
  • Steve Almond on the VQR tragedy.
  • Renee posts one of my favorite Lucille Clifton poems.
  • If you didn’t catch Terry Mac when she came to your town, here is a video of her reading from Getting to Happy.
  • Shelley’s excellent review of Warmth of Other Suns.
  • Unconscious gender bias– this freaked me out.
  • How to write less badly. (Hey, you gotta start somewhere.)
  • Helpful hints for writing dialogue.
  • Alice Walker on the segregation in bookselling.
  • Posted in Links | 3 Comments

    For Colored Girls

    The trailer is here. Pretty interesting. Shall we make a date and all go to opening weekend together?

    Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

    Best of Luck, Terry Mac

    I bought Terry McMillan’s new novel, Getting To Happy, this afternoon. I remember about ten or fifteen years ago when everyone and their mother was reading either Waiting to Exhale or E. Lynn Harris’ Invisible Life. That seems so long ago. E. Lynn has passed and Terry Mac has been through twists and turns of fortune.
    I’ve changed, too.
    When my first book came out, the black literati were having all manner of fits about the rise of black commercial literature. It was much like the uproar over so-called “street lit.” Whenever I went on the road, I was asked my opinion on Terry and E. Lynn. Was it literature?
    I am embarrassed to tell you how I really puzzled over the question. So many people were whispering in my ear that “If you don’t write like Terry McMillan, the publishers aren’t going to be interested in you.” Their tone made this seem like it was all Terry’s evil plan to take money and success from other black writers. (And should add that I am not sure that it was even true that you had to “write like Terry”, whatever that means.)
    Today, I saw Getting to Happy right up front in Barnes & Noble and I grabbed it on impulse. I have been following Terry on twitter and you know what, she’s a writer just like me, or you. She put her heart into this book and she hopes it does well.
    When I got to the checkout, I asked the guy working there if Getting to Happy had been doing well. “It’s doing okay,” he said. “Not like Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but it’s okay.” I said that I really wanted Terry Mac to make a huge comeback and he said, “Who is she again?”
    This irritated me so much that I wanted to buy two copies.
    I wish Terry McMillan all the luck and love in the world with this book. I think of the writers who felt she was undermining their careers. Now I understand that in many ways, she made our careers possible. With the success of Waiting To Exhale, publishers realised that books by black writers could be read for pleasure, not just for education.
    I also wish her luck because she’s thinking about the lives of black women who are living in America right now. I completely support writers who are approaching the historical narrative– my own work in progress is set in the 1930s– but right now, I am especially appreciative of writers who are helping make sense of moment we find ourselves in today, as we all try to figure out how to get to happy.

    Posted in Bookshelf | 3 Comments