Being Billie: A New Documentary

On Sunday, I went to Ramscale Gallery for a fundraiser for Being Billie, a new documentary about Billie Holliday. I was mostly motivated to attend the event because I jump at any opportunity to visit RamScale and secondly because lovely Karma Mayet Johnson would be singing. I am so glad I braved the elements and traveled to Manhattan.
Being Billie offers a fascinating and empowering look at the life of Billie Holliday. Women artists and thinkers such as Angela Davis, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Laylah Hathaway, Joni Mitchell, and Nikki Giovanni weigh in on the life and legacy of Lady Day.
All of them pointed out that women artists are so often reduced to the details of thier personal lives. (For contrast think of Miles Davis. His life was a disaster, but it has not tarnished his reputation as a genius.) Billie Holiday is remembered as a tragic figure– drug addict, bad relationships, etc. But what about her genius? And I am not using the word lightly. When you see this film you will ask yourself this question.
(One of the highlights of the film was Nikki Giovanni irreverently chronicalling the drug use of other stars of the same era. Why, she asks, haven’t these artists been smeared for all enternity. As she put it, “They act like Billie Holiday was the first singer to ever be a drug addict.”)
Film-maker Phyllis M. Croom was at the event, along with Producer, Rochelle “Rocky” Scott. I was very impressed with the dedication and just hard work they have put into reclaiming Billie Holiday from the “Lady Sings The Blues” melodrama. Of course, passion and dedication don’t pay the bills. You can imagine the expenses they have incurred trying to get the rights to music and film clips. They need to raise an additional $75,000 just to finish the project. Everyone one at the event was so moved that we all made donations, but more help is needed.
Visit the Being Billie website for more information. The website is a little tricky to navigate, but if you keep clicking, you’ll get to the donation page, so keep clicking.

Posted in Bookshelf | 1 Comment


Yesterday, my friend Cheryl gave me a novel called PUSH COMES TO SHOVE. I flipped to the back to read the description and This is what I read: THIS NOVEL IS FREE. Then, there was the fine print.

By taking this novel, you agree to give money away to a local charity, someone who needs it, or a stranger of the street. Where the money goes and how much you– that’s your call. When you’re done, pass this novel on to someone else (for free, of course) so they can give. It all adds up.

This whole project is an experiment by Concord Free Press. The next book on the docket to be published in THE NEXT QUEEN OF HEAVEN by Gregory Maguire, author of WICKED. It looks like they have raised a lot of money for a lot of different charities so far.
PUSH COMES TO SHOVE is the only Concord book I have seen, and I have to admit that I haven’t read it. (The Washington Post seemed to like it well enough.) But I can say that it is a handsome looking book– paperback original with french flaps. It doesn’t look “free” if you know I mean.
The catch is that writers do not get paid for their work. So you really would have who doesn’t need money, or who has tried to get money for a manuscript, but haven’t been able to get a deal. This is not to say that the books by Concord are second rate– I think we all know someone with a beautiful brilliant manuscript that can’t get a deal for it. Concord provides as opportunity to get the work out and to help the world.
It’s a good idea. I like it.

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Congratulations to Jayne Anne Phillips!

J.A. Phillips at Joe’s Pub

Originally uploaded by HERS Photo

The National Book Award finalists have been announced and I am thrilled that my boss, Jayne Anne Phillips, has been nominated for her excellent novel, Lark and Termite. I was a huge fan of Jayne Anne’s work before way she became my boss. I recently found an old journal with my life of writerly fantasies. One was “Meet Jayne Anne Phillips”, after which I wrote “possible? maybe.”

As founding director of the MFA at Rutgers-Newark, Jayne Anne has created a program that has real diversity and real rigor. I don’t know how she has done it, but in just two years she has figured how to recruit amazing students. (They are winning major prizes and publishing left and right.) She has also managed to get major writers to hop on the PATH train to participate in our reading series. (Komunyakaa, Doctorow, Diaz, to name just a few. If you live in Newark, you should drop by. The readers and fabulous and the events are free.)

How can she do all that and still write the kind of novels that get two love-letter reviews in the New York Times? Because she’s Jayne Anne and she’s amazing. We are so proud of her!

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A Memento

Georgia Book Quilt

I came home from Brazil to find a small box that had been delivered while I was away. I opened it to find the best gift ever– a quilt sewn by my fifth grade class! My teacher, Ms. Gaither, preserved it all these years, but sent it to me to congratulate me on my novels.
Ms. Gaither– who signed her letter “Thomasena”, but I could never call her that!– was a teacher who loved books as much as I did. Although we were technically a little old for story-hour, she would read to us in a dramatic and engaging fashion. I can still remember her reading The Pinballs and Philip Hall Like Me, I Reckon Maybe. When I do readings, Mrs. Gaither’s delivery is what I aim for.
Although it was thirty years ago, I do recall the making of this quilt. My block was the one on the second row depicting a telephone. I wanted to do the boy and the girl on the top row– they represented my favorite book that year, Alan and Naomi, but it was already taken. if you look in the lower right hand corner, you can see the blue ribbon we won in the city-wide Language Arts Festival!
I’ve tacked the quilt to the wall in my writing room. I consider it a vital souvineer of my personal history. Thank you so much, Ms. Gaither– not just for sending the quilt, but for caring enough to keep it, and for being so kind to me when I was an awkward little girl with overly large teeth and an overly sensitive heart.

Posted in The Writing Life | 4 Comments

Watch Out, Akeelah!


A Lot of Buzz

Originally uploaded by espressoDOM

On Monday, October 26, I am going to compete in “Let It Bee”, a spelling bee to benefit the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses. (I have to admit that I came *this close* to writing “Celebrity Spelling Bee”, but that seemed to be a bit of an overstatement. But still, I will be up against some pretty exciting folks!)

When I was a kid, my teacher insituted a “definition bee” to benefit the more “abstract thinkers” in the class. I think you can guess where I fit in. AND, as you probably know from reading this poor blog, spelling is not my strong suit, but I am going to do my best to represent.

More information here!

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Back To Life Links

With my genius translator

Originally uploaded by kleopatrjones

Hey everybody, I’m back. I’ve got over 500 emails to answer, one really junky apartment to clean, and grant application to write, and about five pounds to lose because I ate everything I saw in Brazil. Meanwhile, here’s some good reading for you while I get my act back together.

  • I am officially resolving to learn another langauge. I felt like such a doofus being basically monolingual, especially since my translator was so young!I speak okay Spanish– enough to get around, but I want to be able to express complicated thoughts in another language. Airton (pictured here) was able to translate the expression “Creative Writing Insudtrial Complex” without skipping a beat.
  • Mirian Goderich believes the savior of publishing will not be the blockbuster.
  • Anne is looking for essays that you love that will work for a freshman composition book. (I think Joy may have something for you!)
  • Hee hee. I am guilty of the stealth re-arrange in bookstores, too.
  • Herta Muller wins the Nobel! (And she looks so very very cool.)
  • The hardest thing about getting out of prison is finding time to write.
  • Roman Polanski, meet Chris Hansen. (video)
  • The pub-date freakout.
  • RIP to ten magazines– I will not be sorry to see the bridal magazines go….
  • ZZ Packer does not eat carbs. (I know that isn’t exactly breaking news, but we love her, so there.)
  • Alice Randall in interviewed on BookPage about her new novel, Rebel Yell.
  • Fab Hotels in Europe for under $150 a night.
  • Philis Remastered, a new blog by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers.
  • Tess Gallaghers commencement address to the MFA Writers at Whidbey Writers Workshop. Long, but very worth it.
  • Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

    Crazy As a Bunch of Cliantro

    Here it is, the next-to-last day of my visit to Recife, Brazil and I am just updating this blog. My schedule has been so hectic. When I havent been giving a reading, I have been in my hotel room asleep from a major FOOD COMA because Recife has the best restaurants I have experienced in my whole life. I may have to write a blog post about what all I ate here. Really.
    I am at an internet cafe being charged by the second, so this is going to be a really brief and random update. (For more brief randomness, follow me on twitter, where I am even briefer and more random!)

  • I have given about half a dozen readings and lectures. Since I dont speak Portugeuse, I have a translator. (He is a 22 year old language genius.) Anyway, I speak into a special microphone, which leads to his headset. As I speak, he talks into another miscrophone which connects to the headsets worn by the audience. I speak normall and he is somehow able to keep up. It was like speaking to the UN.
  • Race is Brazil is so different than race in the US. I will dedicate a whole post to this when I get home. Brazilians pride themselves on a sort of color blindness. However, the culture is very divided. For example, there is hardly anyone we would call “black” in my very nice hotel. But among squeegie men and other street folks. Black, black, black. But here is something that happened yesterday: I was looking at a group of three young men, one was black. I asked about him and my guide said, You mean the one in the green shirt. The color of his shirt was more important than the color of his skin. Amazing.
  • The food, as I said, is amazing. Who eats filet mignon in a food court in a mall? And who knew Recife is the risotto capital of the world? And who has had a fancy cocktail made of the fruit of the cashew tree? Dont even get me started.
  • Beaches– gorgeous. Weather tropical and humid. My hair– fuzzy wuzzy.
  • The North of Brazil has a similar reputation as the South of the US. The city where I am, Recife, is sort of the Atlanta of Brazil and I love it here.
  • And finally, to explain the heading of this post. At the book festival there were all these Tshirts with regional Brazillian idioms. For example when we would say someone is “the bees knees” (like that makes sense), they would say that person is “the dog sucking mango”. But my favorite of these phrases is “You are crazy as a bunch of cilantro.”
  • Okay, signing off before my card expires and I lose all my work. Firgive any spelling errors because the spell check doesnt speak English. Also forgive me because I cannot find the apostrophe on this keyboard. I will be home in a couple days and will resume blogging and I will post photos. I promise.
  • Posted in Travels & Rambles | 4 Comments

    Saturday Night Links

  • Sarah E. Wright, pioneer of African-American literature dies at age 80.

  • Sarah Palin’s book is blowing up.
  • Roman Polanski will face charges for raping a 13-year-old girl. Lots of people think he’s too brilliant to go to jail. Laila does not.
  • Classmates: David Foster Wallace and Dan Brown.
  • Opportunity Alert: 10 writers will get agents!
  • After twenty years, Chinua Achebe publishes a new novel.
  • The AUC will get Tupac’s papers.
  • Huntington will get Octavia Butler’s.
  • Racial Stereotypes fight back– as superheroes!
  • Congratulations to Maud Newton!
  • Facebook divorce: OUCH.
  • Ta-Nehisi Coats on the American Dream. (video)
  • Excellent update on Khadijah at Harvard.
  • Oooh, can we go here for my birthday next month?
  • A literary journal that’s all video is looking for submissions.
  • Pub your book with a video game!
  • Don’t worry. Be unhappy. (Because sometimes, you have to face facts.
  • Excellent bibliography of Black American Feminism.
  • You’ll never guess who Anne ran into at dinner last week.
  • What goes down “inside the castle of old-money publishing”.
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    If I Wasn’t Going to Be Out of Town Next Week

    I would so be at this!
    Thursdat, October 8, Cornelia Street Cafe, in NYC:

    6:00PM QUETZAL QUILL: An Evening of Poetry
    Rigoberto Gonzales, host
    BLAS FALCONER, A Question of Gravity and Light
    TYEHIMBA JESS, leadbelly
    HELENA MESA, Horse Dance Underwater
    SUSAN B.A. SOMERS-WILLET, Roam & Quiver
    Cover $7 (includes one house drink)

    When you go, make sure you tell them I sent you.

    Posted in Living For The City | Comments Off

    Opportunity Alert, but the Deadline is TIGHT

    I just got this notice, so the deadline is TODAY, but I think it’s worth posting. If you get some coffee in you, you can meet the deadline to apply for The Millay Colony for the arts.
    All of you know that I love to go artists colonies and I recommend them to anyone who needs to get away and concentrate on work. The Millay Colony is special because they don’t want a list of your accomplishments, or letters of reference. All they want is your work. This is an excellent opportunity for writers (and other artists) who are concerned that thier non-traditional backgrounds would put them at a disadvantage. The Millay Colony doesn’t care who you know, what you’ve published, or where you’ve been. Just send your work.
    Application and details, here.

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