Well, aside from the fact that Tony Toni Tone lied when they said “it never rains in Southern California” and the fact that Yaze and I are trying to carpool to the opposite ends of the earth in one car, there was worse news today:
Science Fiction Writer Octavia Butler Dies
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESSFiled at 11:53 p.m. ET
SEATTLE (AP) — Octavia E. Butler, considered the first black woman to gain national prominence as a science fiction writer, has died, a close friend said Sunday. She was 58.Butler fell and struck her head on the cobbled walkway outside her home, said Leslie Howle, a longtime friend and employee at the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle.The writer, who suffered from high blood pressure and heart trouble and could only take a few steps without stopping for breath, was found outside her home in the north Seattle suburb of Lake Forest Park and died Friday, Howle said.Butler’s work wasn’t preoccupied with robots and ray guns, Howle said, but used the genre’s artistic freedom to explore race, poverty, politics, religion and human nature.”She stands alone for what she did,” Howle said. ‘
‘She was such a beacon and a light in that way.”Jane Jewell, executive director of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, said Butler was one of the first black women to explore the genre and the most prominent. But Butler would have been a major writer of science fiction regardless of race or gender, she said.”She is a world-class science fiction writer in her own right,” Jewell said. ”She was one of the first and one of the best to discuss gender and race in science fiction.”
Butler began writing at age 10, and told Howle she embraced science fiction after seeing a schlocky B-movie called ”Devil Girl from Mars” and thought, ”I can write a better story than that.” In 1970, she took a bus from her hometown of Pasadena, Calif., to attend a fantasy writers workshop in East Lansing, Mich.Her first novel, ”Kindred,” in 1979, featured a black woman who travels back in time to the South to save a white man. She went on to write about a dozen books, plus numerous essays and short stories. Her most recent work, ”Fledgling,” an examination of the ”Dracula” legend, was published last fall.She received many awards, and in 1995 Butler was the first science fiction writer granted a ”genius” award from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which paid $295,000 over five years.Butler described herself as a happy hermit, and never married.
”Mostly she just loved sitting down and writing,” Seattle-based science fiction writer Greg Bear said. ”For being a black female growing up in Los Angeles in the ’60s, she was attracted to science fiction for the same reasons I was: It liberated her. She had a far-ranging imagination, and she was a treasure in our community.”
——Associated Press writer Donna Gordon Blankinship contributed to this report. * Copyright 2006 The Associated Press
Maybe I’m more sensitive to death because of my dad, or sudden death because his was sudden, but this made a big huge thump appear in my gut. Do I feel sad because we lost another elder or do I feel sad because every elder is my father? I never knew I would have Greek Tragedy-like issues. This is the stuff that obsesses writers for the rest of their lives. Perhaps I can spend the rest of my writing “career” focusing on reconciling loss and making peace with the fact that my generation will forever be labeled the “hip hop” generation, even though there’s no real room for some of us who don’t specifically write about breakdancing, graffiti, rhyming or DJing. That’s my next blog. I’m foreshadowing. I have to get something about hip hop being our culture and our track and not just our verse or our surface level gear. Folks are shutting you down if you don’t get simple. For realz.
Rest In Peace Octavia. I hope you get to talk to my Dad and my Grammy. They’re cool peoples.
I got tagged by Digable Poet ! This means I must answer the following questions and then tag someone else within the BLOG-O-SPHERE. I’m a club member!
FOUR JOBS I’VE HAD.
2) event planner
3) executive assistant
4) freelance journalist
FOUR MOVIES I CAN WATCH OVER AND OVER.
1) Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (MENDACITY!)
2) Mo Betta Blues
3) The Breakfast Club
4) Almost Famous
FOUR PLACES I’VE LIVED.
1) Detroit (in the place to be…the birth of this mind I have! Back when you could make out at the DIA when you had half days. Can you imagine kissing a boy in front of an authentic Henry Osawa Tanner painting? You ain’t never lived…there’s the other typical stuff us 313ers shout out: Belle Isle, 7 Mile (Em says 8 Mile but that’s for the East Siders), Greek Town, but we all have our own special memories. My father is there (god bless his soul) so my heart will always be there).
2) Harlem–I love Harlem. Period. No place like it. Never will be. Ever.
3)Los Angeles–um, well, this place is interesting…sigh.
4) Cleveland–I went to a GREAT pre-school there: Social Cultural Learning Center. My memories are very very PBS of those times.
FOUR TV SHOWS I LOVE.
1) Grey’s Anatomy–Shonda put her foot in this show (you know I’m black if I said that)
2) Deadwood–Are you serious? Shakesperean language and curse words in the rugged lawless old West?
3) Project Runway–I need to know how to put together an outfit with four dollars and some grass, these skills will be helpful one day.
4) Flip This House—damn, I’m getting grown.
FOUR PLACES I’VE VACATIONED.
1) Florence, Italy–all they need is a smidge more black people and a soul food restaurant and I’m so there.
2) Dominican Republic–I’m sure I was from DR in another life. Yaze says I’m orange colored so anything is possible.
3) Baker, CA–we were on our way to Vegas for Christmas in our Suzuki when the transmission blew and we got stuck in Baker for the holidays. You ain’t lived until you’ve stayed at the Royal Hawaiian Motel for two days, ate at Bun Boy for Christmas dinner, and decided to rent a U-Haul to tow your car back to LA because you don’t have enough money to have a tow truck do it. What?!?!
4) Palm Harbor, FL–My surrogate family is there. The Andrews. If I ever have a nervous breakdown, I’m headed to their lovely peaceful abode.
FOUR FAVORITE DISHES.
1) Sushi. Cheap or expensive, doesn’t matter. However, if you’re buying, uh…make a girl happy and shell out a few more dollars!
2) Real Italian food. Like from Italy. The more laissez faire the waitress, the better the food tastes. If one of them throws your food at you, you better open your mouth because you might have a spiritual awakening.
3) Calamari salad from Asia de Cuba. Calamari. Bananas. Greens. Citrus vinaigrette. Sigh.
4) Hot good pie. Mmm… pie.
SITES I VISIT REGULARLY:
FOUR UNDERRATED CONVERSATIONAL TOPICS.
1) Al Sharpton’s choice to focus on Boondock’s use of the “n” word as opposed to say things that REALLY make a difference on the day to day in the black community.
2) The fact that there is NO real black community in Hollywood (I said it…you can try and prove me wrong with little details about events and what not but you know this place is NOT like how it is when you go visit your friends in New York or Chicago. It just ain’t. I’ve never lived anywhere that another dreadloc person would pass you by without acknowleding you. This is why I spend all my time at Trader Joe’s with the hippy cultural folks. Sigh)
3) Right to Lifers say that they are fighting for unborn children but (and I’m pretty neutral because I don’t think abortion is the be all to end all) if you reverse Roe Vs. Wade, do you not realize that the real outcome will be more women trying do-it-yourself abortions??? Teach your belief at home, man, don’t get on a soap box spouting religious propaganda.
4) I would say another but what if Bush is tapping this blog?? The horror! Fuck it–alternative energy sources.
I’m feeling very “strong woman” lately…I’m not sure if that means I’m avoiding writing my posts or if I’m spreading some necessary propaganda. Do you sometimes feel you have people’s spirits swirling around and taking up house in your body? Is that just me? Today I feel Clifford Odetts, Toni Morrison, Stanislavksi, James Baldwin, Ida B. Well all having some sushi and chocolate soufflee in my body. I’m weird. Anyways, please benefit from my weirdness and take something away from this Alice Walker interview that inspired me to think of myself as a gumbo pot:
>>INTERVIEW: alice walker========================
Alice Walker: Outlaw, Renegade, Rebel, PaganDemocracy Now!.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker opens up about activism, love, writing and the rebirth of ‘The Color Purple’ as a Broadway musical.Editor’s Note: Renowned author, poet and activist Alice Walker was the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, which she was awarded in 1983 for “The Color Purple.”Last month, one thousand people gathered at a church in Oakland, Calif., to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Media Alliance. Onstage at the event, Amy Goodman of syndicated radio show Democracy Now! interviewed Alice Walker. What follows is an edited transcript of Goodman’s interview.
Amy Goodman: I was just saying to Alice that I think one of the last times that I saw her was right before the invasion. It was International Women’s Day, March 8, 2003.She was standing in front of the White House with Maxine Hong Kingston, Terry Tempest Williams, and a number of other women. It wasn’t a large group, about 15 or so women, and they stood there, arms locked, and the police told them to move, and they said no. And they all got arrested.We were trying to get their message out on community radio. I was interviewing them on cell phone. The police didn’t appreciate that. So, really, the last time that I saw her was in the prison cell with her. But, Alice, you said that day, as we were in the paddy wagon or in the police wagon, that it was the happiest day of your life. Why?
Alice Walker: Well, you were there. I have so much admiration for this woman, so much love for Amy. … So I was very happy that she had appeared to talk to us about why we were there. Nobody else was asking.And so, there we were, arrested in this patrol thing, and actually I did feel incredibly happy, because what happens when you want to express your outrage, your sorrow, your grief — grief is basically where we are now, just bone-chilling grief — when you’re able to gather your own forces and deal with your own fears the night before, and you arrive, you show up, and you put yourself there, and you know that you’re just a little person — you know, you’re just a little person — and there’s this huge machine that’s going relentlessly pretty much all over the world, and then you gather with all of the other people who are just as small as you are, but you’re together, and you actually do what you have set out to do, which is to express total disgust, disagreement, disappointment about the war in Iraq.About the possibility of it starting up again, all of these children, many of them under the age of 15, about to be terrorized, brutalized and killed — so many of them — so, to be able to make any kind of gesture that means that the people who are about to be harmed will know that we are saying we don’t agree Ã¢ÂÂ just the ability to do that made me so joyful.I was completely happy. And I think that we could learn to live in that place of full self-_expression against disaster and self-possession and happiness.
AG: You have had a continued relationship with the police officer who put handcuffs on you.
AW: Yes, because he really didn’t want to do it. And I could see that they really did not want to arrest us. And he, this African-American man, truly did not want to arrest me. And I totally understand that. Would you want to arrest me? No. No, no. You would not. So even as they were handcuffing me, they were sort of apologizing Ã¢ÂÂ¦ I thought that you put the handcuffs [with] your hands in front, but they put them behind you …Then later, after we were released … They take your shoes, I was there trying to put my shoes back on, and he came over, and he got down on his knees, and he said, “Let me help you.” And I said, “Sure.”And I put my foot out, and he helped me with my shoes, and we started talking about his children. Well, first of all, he told me about his wife. He said, “You know, when I told my wife that I had arrested you, she was not thrilled.” And so, then I asked him about his family, and he told me about his children, and I told him I write children’s books. And so he said, “Oh, you do? Because, you know, there’s nothing to read. The children are all watching television.” I said, “That’s true.” So it ended up with me sending books to them and feeling that this is a very good way to be with the police…. I realized fairly recently — I went to Houston to the Astrodome to take books and other things to the [Katrina evacuees], and the police, a lot of them also African-Americans … It was very clear that they, like the people who had lost their homes, really wanted some books. But, as one of them said to me, “I really would like a book, but I’m not the people. I’m the police.” And I said to him, and then some of the people said that, too, they said, “You know, these people are the police, they’re not the people.”However, I said to the people and to the police that the police are the people, and we have to remember that the police are the people … And so, there they were, these big guys who probably had not had anybody offer them a book to read in years, if ever. They had gone into the army and into the police force because they did not have an education. That’s part of why they’re police …
AG: I was reading Evelyn White’s biography of you, called “Alice Walker: A Life,” and she goes back to 1967, and you had just come to New York, and you were submitting an essay to American Scholar. It was 1967, so you were about 23 years old. And it was entitled “The Civil Rights Movement: What Good Was It?” You won first prize. It was published. “The Civil Rights Movement: What Good Was It?”Can you talk about the Civil Rights Movement to the antiwar movement? The antiwar movement, what good is it?
AW: Well, as I was saying about the Civil Rights movement is that sometimes you can’t see tangible results. You cannot see the changes that you’re dreaming about, because they’re internal. And a lot of it has to do with the ability to express yourself, your own individual dream and your own individual road in life. And so, we may never stop war.We may never stop war, and it isn’t likely that we will, actually. But what we’re doing as we try to stop war externally, what we’re trying to do is stop it in ourselves. That’s where war has to end. And until we can control our own violence, our own anger, our own hostility, our own meanness, our own greed, it’s going to be so, so, so hard to do anything out there.So I think of any movement for peace and justice as something that is about stabilizing our inner spirit so that we can go on and bring into the world a vision that is much more humane than the one that we have dominant today.
AG: Speaking about movements, Rosa Parks died recently. It was the 50th anniversary, on December 1st, of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The corporate media, in describing Rosa Parks, talked about her as a tired seamstress who sat down on that bus, and when the white bus driver said, “Get up,” she simply refused. She was tired. She was no troublemaker.But Rosa Parks, of course, was a troublemaker. Can you talk about the importance of movements and what it means to be an activist, why it doesn’t diminish what you do, but actually adds to Rosa’s … reputation and her legacy.
AW: I was thinking about Rosa Parks, because I was in Africa when she died, and I missed everything.
AW: I was in Senegal, in a little village South of Dakar. I was visiting this great African writer, Ayi Kwei Armah, who wrote a famous and wonderful book called 2,000 Seasons, which I recommend to everyone. He’s a great, great writer, but when I got back and I realized that she had died, I didn’t actually feel like doing anything. I waved. I waved to her.What I remembered about her was the last time that I had seen her … with Rosa Parks one day in Mississippi, we happened to be at the same event. I think she was being honored for, you know, everything that she had given us, and we were at the same table, and I think that I may have offered to escort her to the restroom, and I was in there with her. And she — while she was getting herself together to go back out into the reception, she suddenly took down her hair, and Rosa Parks had hair that came all the way down to her — you know, the lower back, and she quickly ran her fingers through it.I was just stunned. I had no idea. She then twisted it up again, and she put it the way you’ve seen her, you know, always with the little bun, very neat, and I said to her, “My goodness, what’s all this, Miss Rosa?” And she looked at me, and she said, “Well, you know, I’m part Choctaw, and my hair was something that my husband dearly, dearly loved about me. He loved my hair.” And she said, “And so, when he died, I put it up, and I never wear it down in public.” Now there’s a Rosa.So, you know, writers are just — we live by stealth, and so I immediately had this completely different image of this woman: the little, quiet seamstress sitting on the bus, even the activist who was so demure and so correct. And I thought, this woman, hallelujah, was with a man who loved her and loved her with her hair hanging down, and she loved him so much that when he died, she took that hair that he loved, and she put it up on her head, and she never let anyone else see it. Isn’t that amazing?So to answer your question, for me to be active in the cause of the people and of the earth, is to be alive. There is no compartmentalization. It’s all one thing. It’s not like I just exist to go into a little room and write. People have that image of writers, that that’s how we live, but it’s not really accurate, not the kind of writing that I do. I know that what I write has a purpose, even if it’s just for me, if I’m just trying to lead myself out of a kind of darkness.So it broadens everything, being active in the world. You see the world. It’s like, you know, I’m learning to paint now, and what I realize, learning to paint, is that I’m learning to see. And activism is like that. When you are active, and you must know this so well, that the more you are active, the more you see, the more you go to see. You know, you are curious. One thing leads to another thing, and it gets deeper and deeper, too. And there’s no end to it.
AG: How do you write?
AW: What do you mean?
AG: Well, Isabel Allende said that she starts each new book on the same day of the year. I can’t remember the date. Maybe it was January 9, something like that … What about you? What is your process?
AW: I start each book when it’s ready and never before. And what I do is I try to find — if it’s forming, you know, and if I’m attentive to my dreams, I know that it’s coming, and I know that it’s time to take a year or two. In the early days the big challenge was finding the financing to do that, because for many years I was a single mother. I was lecturing and making a living that way, or teaching, and so I had to think hard and plan, and some of my early journals are just pages of additions of how much this costs and how much that costs, and how much is left at the end of the month, and whether I can afford this and that. So that was the challenge, to find the time, because what I understand completely is that you — in order to invite any kind of guest, including creativity, you have to make room for it. …I learned partly through meditation, which I have done for many years, that you can really clear yourself of so much that’s extraneous to your purpose in life, so that there is room for what is important to your spirit, something that has to be given space and something that has to be given voice.
AG: How did you start “The Color Purple“?
AW: I got a divorce. I got a divorce, because I really knew that I could not stay in my marriage and write about these wild women. And also, I left New York. And I — and it started really just because one of the characters, while I was walking through Manhattan, said through my consciousness, “You know, it’s not going to work here. We are just not the kind of people who would come forth in Manhattan.”So, they basically carried me through all this incredible anguish of divorce, because I, unlike many people who divorce out of hatred or anything, I actually loved my husband very much. He’s a very, very good person, but I needed to write this book, and he claimed that the hills in San Francisco made him nauseous.So I came here, and I ended up in Boonville [Calif.], because I needed to be in the country, and so I had enough money to work on it for maybe a year, because I got a Guggenheim grant, $13,000, and I just headed for the hills. We rented a little cottage in an apple orchard, and I didn’t know how long it would take, but it took just about a year.
AG: Did you ever envision then the kind of impact it would have on the world? Did you think about the people you were writing it for?AW: Oh, I thought about the people I was writing it for. The people I was writing it for are the people who are in the book. That’s who I was writing it for. It never crossed my mind to really be that concerned about the people who would be reading it now, and that’s still true. I mean, I’m happy that people relate to it and love it. I think it’s worthy of love. But my contract was always really with the people in it and whether I could make them live in the way that they deserve to live, and it was a very high, very high experience to be able to do that, and when I wrote the last page, I burst into tears just from gratitude and love of them and of being …I don’t know how many of you know the work of Jean Toomer. He’s just a wonderful writer. But he talks about how in every generation, there is one person — or, as he puts it, there is one plum left on the tree, and all of the other plums are gone with the wind and so forth. There is this one plum, and that plum with one seed, that’s all you need, really, to start it all over again, and that’s another reason for us to be more hopeful about life.So I really had that feeling of being this one plum with this one seed, because from what I could see, there wasn’t anybody else who had the same kind of love for these particular people that I had, or the capacity to be faithful to the vision of them that I held. So I felt very blessed and very chosen, in a way, like my ancestors were really present with me the entire time I was writing. They never went away. They were just really there, and I have felt their caring, and I still feel it. And it means that I never feel alone. It’s impossible.
AG: For someone who hasn’t read the book, for a young person who is wondering why they should bother picking up “The Color Purple,” what would you say it’s about?
AW: Well, I was just in Molokai last week. I just got back a few days ago, and Molokai is the island that is least known among the islands, and it’s because it used to be a leper colony, and there are actually lepers who still live there. And I was looking through a book about Molokai and about Kalaupapa, which is where the lepers are, and there was a photograph of this man who had leprosy, and it had eaten away his nose and most of his mouth and his ears and a lot of his face, and he just had this incredibly beautiful beaming face. What was left of his face was just completely aglow. And what he said he had learned from living in this place of lepers all of his life was that the most horrible things can happen to people, and they can still be happy.So I feel that when you read “The Color Purple,” no matter what is happening in your life, or how difficult the whole huge miasma of sorrow that seems to be growing, there’s a way that you can see through the life of Celie, that if you can continue and if you can stay connected to nature and also to your highest sense of behavior toward yourself and toward other people, if you can really keep that struggle going — you may not always win it.You remember how Celie said to Harpo at some point that he should beat Sofia, that he should beat his wife, well, that was a low point, but she was still struggling to be someone who would outgrow that kind of thinking. And so, what you learn is that life can be really hard. People can abuse you, people can take advantage of you in terrible ways, but there is something in the human spirit that’s actually equal to that and can overcome that, and that is the teaching of “The Color Purple.”
AG: You write in “The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult,” “What I have kept, which the film avoided entirely, is Shug’s completely unapologetic self-acceptance as outlaw, renegade, rebel and pagan.” Do you see yourself that way?
AW: Oh, absolutely. Yes. Why wouldn’t I be? I know I’m very soft-spoken, but I have endeavored to live my life by my terms, and that means that I am a renegade, an outlaw, a pagan. What was the other thing?
AG: A rebel.
AW: A rebel, oh yes. Oh yes, and there is no reason not to rebel. I learned that really early. There is no reason whatsoever. You know, I don’t look at television hardly at all, although I’m saving it for my old age. But when I do see it, and I see how relentlessly we are being programmed, and I see how defenseless our young are, I realize all over again that rebellion, any way you can manage it, is very healthy, because unless you want to be a clone of somebody that you don’t even like, you have to really wake up. I mean, we all do. We have to wake up. We have to refuse to be a clone.
AG: [Will you speak about] making “The Color Purple” into a movie?
AW: It was a great risk, but I grew up in Eatonton, Georgia, actually not even in the town, way out in the luckily beautiful countryside. But our entertainment was on Saturday night to, you know, bathe and get dressed and go to see a film. Now, these were all, in retrospect, really pretty awful films. They were all shooting and killing each other, you know.But that was all that we had really in the way of entertainment that wasn’t the church and our own entertainments. So that’s what I grew up with. And my mother who worked so hard and never left the house or left the fields, she would sometimes be able to go, but after eight children, it was sometimes difficult to even move, but she enjoyed these movies.And so, the risk that I took was in a way to offer to my mother and people like my mother something that they could identify with, something that they could, you know, have some real connection to. I mean, my mother never met Tom Mix and Lash LaRue. These were all these characters that were shooting and killing.So I thought about, you know, the segregated theater. When I was growing up, we had to be up there in the balcony, and the white people were down here [on the floor] and, of course, the seats were better down here. So I wanted to change that to the degree that I could do so. And so that’s part of the reason I wanted to make a film.And I think — you know, I had never heard of Steven Spielberg when he appeared. I think that, for many people, that’s amazing, given how famous he was, but I had no idea who he was. And that’s the other thing, when you are working on your work — and I think it’s really important that I talk to you about this a little bit as an elder — when you are working on your work, you really don’t have to be concerned about what other people are doing.You know, there’s an _expression: Everything that rises must converge. At some point, if your work is as true as you can make it, it has its own luminosity, and it inevitably brings to you and your work all the people that you need. So enter Steven Spielberg to make the film, which turned out to be a very good thing. People thought it was a terrible choice, but what I looked for in him and in other people is the willingness to listen and the willingness to grow, to learn, and he had all of that.
AG: The questions that were raised, here you had written it, deeply out of your own experience, then having a white producer produce it and going on to Broadway, well, that’s just repeated over and over. What were your thoughts of having your experience, your writing, your art, channeled through them?
AW: Well, I have fallen in love with the imagination. And if you fall in love with the imagination, you understand that it is a free spirit. It will go anywhere, do anything. So your job is to find trustworthy companions and co-creators. That’s really it. And if you find them — and I don’t know how you — I can only go by how I feel about people.And so with the play, this young man, Scott Sanders, who is the primary producer, went to great lengths to woo me, because I was not interested in doing a musical, partly because of the suffering that had occurred after making the film. There was so much incredible controversy after the film, and a lot of it excruciatingly hurtful. And even though I had ways to buffer myself and even though by nature I can continue to function and do things that I need to do, it was still very painful. So I didn’t really want to go back to that…. That anybody reading “The Color Purple” or seeing the film, actually, that they could read it and see the film and still think that I hated … my father, my grandfather, my brothers, my uncles, just because they were black men; and, you know, this would mean that I hated Langston Hughes or Jean Toomer or Richard Wright or Ralph Ellison or — it felt so incredibly mean. It felt very mean, it felt very small, and it was very painful.
AG: And so how did you get through it?
AW: Well, I came down with Lyme disease in the middle of all of this, and I experienced it actually as a spiritual transformation, even though I didn’t know that was going to be the result. It was very frightening. But I came out the other end of the bashing that I had received, the physical debilitation from Lyme disease, the breakup of my relationship with a partner at the time. I came out of all of that with a renewed sense that life itself, no matter what people are slinging at you, no matter what is happening, life itself is incredibly precious and wonderful, and that we are so lucky that we wake up in the morning, that we hear a bird, that we …You know, just if you think about little things, they seem little, but they are so magical, you know, like eating a peach. I came through that period understanding that I am an _expression of the divine, just like a peach is, just like a fish is. I have a right to be this way. And being this way, “The Color Purple” is the kind of work that comes to me. I can’t apologize for that, nor can I change it, nor do I want to.So there was this marvelous feeling, you know, that I had already been through a kind of crucifixion by critics. … And not to compare myself with Jesus, but I really got it, that there is a point at which a certain kind of crucifixion leads to a certain kind of freedom, because you cannot be contained by other people’s opinions of you. You will always, I think, after you go through this kind of thing, feel somewhat removed, as I do. You know, I basically stopped reading reviews. And it’s fine. I have realized I don’t need them. I really feel that if more people could pay less attention to other people’s opinions of them, they would be so much happier.
AG: Alice, I wanted to ask you about the Sisterhood. Who was this group of women writers in the 1970s that you gathered with?
AW: Well, the Sisterhood was the brainchild of myself and June Jordan, because we looked around one day — we were friends — and we felt that it was very important that black women writers know each other, that we understood that we were never in competition for anything, that we did not believe in ranking. We would not let the establishment put one of us ahead of the other. And so, some of us were Vertamae Grosvenor, Ntozake Shangee, Toni Morrison, June Jordan, myself, and I think Audrey Ballard, who was at Essence, and several other women that I don’t tonight remember.The very first meeting was at June’s apartment because it was the larger of — I had moved out of my marriage house into basically two small rooms. And so June had this beautiful apartment with lots of space, and the women gathered there, and I remember at the very first gathering –I had bought this huge red pot that became the gumbo pot — I made my first gumbo and took it to this gathering of women, all so different and all so spicy and flavorful like gumbo.And we have this photo. There is a wonderful photograph that someone took of us gathered around a large photograph of Bessie Smith, because Bessie Smith best expressed our feeling of being women who were free and women who intended to stay that way.
AG: You talked about criticism earlier and how you decided never to read reviews. Can you talk about it in terms of Toni Morrison’s early work and the response of the critics?
AW: Well, I thought that her writing was beautiful. I had read “The Bluest Eye” and, in fact, was passing it out to people. And I was very upset that it didn’t get much of a long life. I think — I don’t know if it went out of print, but it certainly was sort of below the surface.And then I read “Sula,” which I just fell in love with. And I remember that there was a review of it in the New York Times by … someone who basically said that in order for Toni Morrison ever to be anything in the literary world, she had to get out of writing about black women, and she had to broaden her horizons and that way, she would maybe connect. And I was just completely annoyed. And I wrote a letter to the Times, reminding [the writer] that we will never have to be other than who we are in order to be successful.
AG: Here is the letter. Alice, here is the letter.
AW: Oh, OK; it says: “Dear sir: I am amazed on many levels by Sarah Blackburn’s review of Sula. Is Miss Morrison to “transcend herself?” And why should she, and for what? The time has gone forever when black people felt limited by themselves. We realize that we are, as ourselves, unlimited and our experiences valid. It is for the rest of the world to recognize this, if they choose.”
© 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
I just think it’s important to realize fabulousness…recite the below to yourself as much as possible:
Nikki Giovanni (1973)
I was born in the Congo.
I walked to the Fertile Crescent and built the sphinx.
I designed a pyramid so tough that a star that only glows every one hundred years falls into the center giving divine perfect light.
I am bad.
I sat on the throne drinking nectar with Allah.
I got hot and sent an ice age to Europe to cool my thirst.
My oldest daughter is Nefertiti.
The tears from my birth pains created the Nile.
I am a beautiful woman.
I gazed on the forest and burned out the Sahara desert.
With a packet of goat’s meat and a change of clothes, I crossed it in two hours.
I am a gazelle so swift, so swift you can’t catch me.
For a birthday present when he was three, I gave my son Hannibal an elephant.
He gave me Rome for mother’s day.
My strength flows ever on.
My son Noah built an ark and I stood proudly at the helm as we sailed on a soft summer day. I turned myself into myself and was Jesus.
Men intone my loving name.
All praises all praises, I am the one who would save.
I sowed diamonds in my back yard.
My bowels deliver uranium.
The filings from my fingernails are semi-precious jewels.
On a trip north, I caught a cold and blew my nose giving oil to the Arab world.
I am so hip even my errors are correct.
I sailed west to reach east and had to round off the earth as I went.
The hair from my head thinned and gold was laid across three continents.
I am so perfect so divine so ethereal so surreal.
I cannot be comprehended except by my permission.
I mean…I…can fly like a bird in the sky…
Remember when Oprah (from this point, she’s Ops—I like shortening short names) got Stedman (all of you with the lesbian rumors must file those ideals somewhere else just for this session) and then ALL she talked abut was “Stedman and I” or “me and Stedman”? NO matter who her guest was for the day, she made a Stedman slip in and so then we ALL knew that homegirl was NO longer flushing keys down the toilet to make some character not unlike her “Women of Brewster Place” baby daddy, stay for one more night. Stedman was here to stay! Stedman was now a celebrity, no matter what alphabet list you wanted to put him under. And then everybody got all up in Ops’s business. Babies, marriage, lesbian trysts with employees. It was a nightmare.
I am not the one. Some people have known me a long time and I have blabbity blabbed about some guys I dated like my mouth had the runs. I’m not sure if it’s because you get an adrenaline rush from talking about somebody that you are having a relationship with or if it’s because it’s something you just have to decide whether your enjoy or not. But guess what? Me and those dudes aren’t together anymore (it might have something to do with the fact that I dated in the various “circles” I belong to—maybe). Now that me and Yaze are together, I’ve noticed that I’ve put a big ole steel door on my mouth when it comes to what happens in my home. I mean, I still talk about my stuff to my HOMEGIRLS (a very small group of folks and you know who you are—basically the girls who can listen with one ear and shut it down before it escapes the other ear or mouth) on the occasion, but by no means do I meet a friend and then lay down on the shrink couch. When did this happen? I’m not sure because there were a lot of things happening at once: I hit my 30s, I moved in with Yaze, I moved to this city, everyday in LA was sunny, my own artistic PR started to run thin, I acquired a bunch of pregnant friends…who knows. All I know is that, somehow, I learned that couples that live together have a relationship that nobody in the world will get the full gist of, no matter how many times you see both or one of those people, what they say, how they say it, when they say it. Especially if you’ve got a mate like I do who’s somewhat shy, terribly introspective, brutally honest, hates small talk, self-admittedly moody, incredibly talented and always willing to look a sore thumb in the nail (those are my words). Folks don’t always get him. And that’s okay. When the front door to a couple’s abode closes, there is no way you can ever get the 360 degree picture of how they work (or don’t). And I think that’s fine. One would need to be God to see how two people really function together. That kind of eliminates most unsolicited advice, judgments and general noisiness, I think. I’ve seen it in my own shacked up friends. At some point, you become a team and not Person A who started dating Person B. Once there’s two sets of keys for one front door and both people start paying bills for one roof, that’s the sink or swim test. You either make it or you don’t. Maybe it’s kind of like some psychological research study where they put two people in a room and force them to work together to achieve minor things each day. You either kill the other person or they become the Tubbs to your Crockett (or vice—haa haa–versa—Get it? Vice? Miami Vice? Tubbs? Crockett? Forget it…).
My mother was a huge advocate of moving in with a man before you married him. She said there was no real way to figure out if you even liked each other in that environment unless you did it first before you told God that you would be willing to handle that kind of responsibility. Man, am I glad she told me that. This shacking up experience has given me so much, like I’ve gained a new limb or something. For me, the most help has come from not talking about every little issue that comes up with my friends before I tell Yaze. This makes sense especially since he is most affected by said issue just like I would be if he had an issue. It’s like going to the source!Like I said, this doesn’t mean I don’t have a support system. I do. But the older I get, the more I desire a solution rather than a bemoaning. Something in me in my 20s really liked the dramatic tragedy of broken hearts because I got to “feel” things and then write about them. But I learned that you don’t have to kill yourself to play a ghost (—that’s from Ka’ramuu!). The other thing I know is that some friends have loooooooooooooooong memories. You tell them that your man pissed you off once and they will NEVER forget that one time for as long as you live and everything you say from that point one will go back to that time that your man pissed you off. You know it’s true. You got those friends too. Or you are one of those friends. In any event, hopefully when you shack up, you are learning how to build a home (I don’t really believe in being a serial shacker—but if that’s you, hey, do you). You’re going to succeed in somethings and then you’re going to throw some other stuff out the window. And that’s fine. But if you tell everyone while you’re doing it, you’re asking for more bumpy roads than necessary. If you like bumpy roads, then by all means, get a blog and start talking about your intimate details (that’s a joke…kind of).
All this might be rambly as I haven’t finished my coffee this morning. However, I know what I mean and I hope you know what I mean so therefore maybe we reached a common ground. If you didn’t get any of it, I can summarize it all into this statement: Don’t be Ops when she first started dating Stedman. Be Beyonce as she dates Jay Z. (That comes from an interview she did where she said she learned in high school to keep her mouth shut about who she dates because people were ALL UP in her business and that shit HURT!) So there.
By the way, my first rejection letter for my second novel came over email the other day. Am I bummed? Sure! Do I give up? No. If you haven’t checked out Vanity Fair this month, do it. There’s a great article about that screenwriter Erick Helm who made his own manifesto about writing. It was able to talk me off of my keyboard ledge.
Coming soon…my play anthology! “Bigger Than Hip Hop 1994-2004: Turntable Plays Life” will be available for purchase in the next few months. Spread the word. Support an artist.
Shout out to Jean who’s expecting a youngin too! Man, I don’t know what my girls are drinking but I’m going to wait a little while before I accept anything to drink from y’all! I can’t wait to be an aunt forty seven times over….that’s what it’s looking like.
I was going to post some of my novel…but I chickened out.
First things first, peoples. Let’s announce the joy…
Kerry, my oldest friend who is the original stay-on-the-phone-with-T-for forty-seven hours-straight, talking about boys and nothing (I think they were one and the same–the “nothing” and the “boys”), is pregnant! She got married first (to her lovely husband Irvin who is like a brother to me) and Kyara (it’s awful that she’s like my niece and I’m sure that I butchered her name but Kerry will tell me so and later I will edit it to its correct spelling and none of you will ever know). And now she’s having the first baby. I am so happy! She’s so ill right now though so I’m not sure she can totally take my joy in fully. Kerry has known me since I was nine. She freaked me out by having kidney surgery when we were in sixth grade. I spent more time over her house with her family than at my own (Patrice, the Mom, was NOT feeling that). I had my first kiss in front of her house on East Outer Drive with some dirty hairy boy that I can’t remember. And then Erik and Yettie! The neighborhood boys who cause so much turmoil in our lives (rest in peace Llyod West). AND! Sharriff Evans was Kerry’s love forever with his colored Levi’s (them joints were YOUNG–you could see his booty) and those Addidas sweatshirts (we loved those, remember? A seventy five dollar sweatshop garment made our hormones swoon.) And my love for Chris Love that was never to be. Sigh. And our 8th grade trip to Washington DC by bus (what happens in the 8th grade, stays in the 8th grade). You can’t buy this kind of stuff, man. If you’re young and you’re reading this, trust me on this: like food, people should feed you. If you’re older and you’re reading this, you already know. All this to say, I got more additions to my family coming!
AND THEN…My friend Ben and his wife Calinda are expecting September 1st!It’s in the water! Ben and I go back far to college and after when he used to live around the corner from me and, on summer days in Harlem, you could hear him practicing the sax in the morning. That’s a NICE way to wake up, let me tell you. And he can BURN in the kitchen. He just gets there and makes up stuff. I mean seriously. With a can of peaches, some hot sauce and a old thing of grits, Ben can make gourmet! I miss our yearly trips to the beach. That was some fun business. David, Ben, Beth, me and sometimes Marcella—I’m not sure I’ve laughed that hard on Fire Island—Flaming Island? Uh, right. Ben. I don’t got pictures of us. Isn’t that crazy? Marcella maybe has some of you doing The Butt in the parking lot of the Stamford Aquarium but not me!
The last addition is one I’m not supposed to mention yet but she’s been telling folks all over town HOWEVER I’m not going to say who it is still. She’s my HOMEGIRL though from the D who has seen me through at least four guys who’ve broken my heart (I’m supposed to say “guys I’ve dated” but let’s call a dog a dog, shall we?). She’s doing art everyday mixed in with her business. I’ve had cries on her couch, eaten her food (however long it takes to make unless it’s the sweet potatoes with the pineapple juice and marshmallows on top), danced to Mariah Carey in her apartment, ran from bats in Prospect Park from Wood Harris’s house, got protected from her when some crazy chick called her and told her that because I was hanging out with her man, I was ruining a five year relationship (to which she replied to said chick, “But T’s not in a five year relationship!”), so many stories. Crazy shit. Post partum. Pierogies. Kwanzaa parties. Obiodune as our godfather. Driving down Woodward without lights on the rental car because we couldn’t find them. And the drama, on and off stage. Her plays have more courage than love letter (if you’ve ever written a love letter, you know how much that shit takes out of you). She is a Detroit Butterfly (even though that’s what Greg Tate called me and her cousin Alexis that one night at CB Gallery). And she’s going to have a small butterfly. And that’s all. I said NO NAMES.
Now, for the part about where I’m supposed to be. One can’t help but wonder after all these lovely baby announcements (not to mention me talking to Yvie the other day for almost two hours and wondering where three years went for me because hers was spent on Corey, Indigo and Phoenix! That’s JOY!) where the hell I’m supposed to be at this stage. When I was younger, I had really huge ideas about my 30s. I was supposed to be famous filmmaker/novelist/playwright by now. And married. And maybe pregnant. I’m behind on all the countries I wanted to visit. I think about this very very childish timeline I had (because I really believe you have no control over the amount you learn when you learn it—you control how open you are) and I think, then what was I supposed to do? And I have no idea. So maybe my life decided to do its own version of space filler. Spend some time in LA and get your hustle grinded into a fine powder. Eat Indian with Vasanti…and Alice (one day)! Watch Harlem sprint along the beach on the PCH.Go back to New York and spend a lot of money on rent for a year. Get married. Get pregnant and move to Philly. Write a third novel and have that get picked up. Finally be able to pay on a mortgage. Take a tour of Europe and Africa. Spend a summer on the Amalfi Coast (since my Dad didn’t believe it could be more beautiful than the Caribbean). Hear some stories from Treva. Travel with Marcella and Ari while Yaze watches _______________ (we have like four names for babies and no babies). Be free spirited with Jen for a week some place luxurious. Make a film with Ka’ramuu. Make a film with Bea. Have some real dim sum with Jean and Cyril. Do something I’ve never done before with Kristin. Have coffee at Eve’s house with Clare and Patrick and Lulu. Chomp Yvie and Jenn Mattern’s kids’ cheeks! Go to the Oyster House again with Giulia, Kei and Angela! Have Ella take me to the Haitian bakery again. Attempt to go for a run with Amada. Drive to the mall with Kerry and our kids. Go for a drive with my brother. Have wine and cheese with my Uncle Mitchell. Eat Ninge bread. See my mom’s face after my labor. Watch Ben’s kids with Calinda at one of his gigs. Go to a picnic in Prospect and see Craig, Tyren, Maurice, Pierre and Jamilya, Mums, Jasiri and Fat, Ekere, Alexis and all of our next generations while we listen to Roy Ayers since Carolyn Butts brought him there. Cuddle with my baby, Yaze, forever. How could I have ever come up with that timeline when I was thirteen? It sounds so unknown and clueless through the ears of a kid but let me tell you, as an adult, that sounds like a dream! If you spend your time like money, your whole vision of the world changes. (That’s for my girl Karen Kitz-Clancy who may or may not have started this whole baby craze thing about two years ago—she’s the one who pulls out little things I say sometimes and makes me really see them again).
If I could get rid of any phrase in the world, it would be “supposed to be” because that is the wackest most powerful phrase ever. We get ourselves so twisted around this phrase because of its power! We buy into it! Like it was a stock option! I will have four hundred shares of “supposed to be”. That’s crazy. Don’t set yourself up that way, man. That’s the best way to fall down. Believe and see it because you want to, not because somebody else said you should. And I’ll end with that Kanye-ism.
(she exits…but then comes back.)
Next week, I’m posting what my girl from GRADE SCHOOL, Killer Kamilah Levens, said about life. No, forget it. I’m posting it now.
life is hard man. i always thought that i would live in the south, in an all black community. that was very small. with small houses that had gardens with rows and rows of fresh fruits and vegetables. i would cook and eat and garden and sew quilts and listen to music all day. work somewhere that was light, relaxed and calm. if i felt like it. trade stories with dear friends all evening. have sex all night. and still wake up refreshed. and i could wear whatever i wanted all the time. whatever was comfortable, and wear my hair in two french braids. i would have a porch that was huge enough to live on. with a swing. all my favorite books and magazines. and the sun would shine most of the time, the rain would be warm and gentle. the nights would be quiet and very still. and thats about it. my perpetual dream. i do not want to be grown anymore. life is really really hard.
I told her I would post her email and she said that would be fine. I’m posting it because I think we all feel that way sometimes. And we can’t pretend that we don’t or else it gets bigger and that’s how people go crazy and where Janice Combs’s wigs or turn into a Paris clone and repeat dumb phrases, or just flat out stop caring about our health like Aretha (yeah, I said it—look at a picture of her and tell me otherwise). As my man (I mean my real man, Yaze, not “my man” as in “my homeboy”) said, be the voice in your head.
(she exits again, throwing the mic down, raising her hands in the air…THE END)
So I got all excited to have a blog and then I just totally stopped for a week. Lots of things happened. I have to finish my second novel like four minutes ago. I had to submit a new scene. I had to get over a cold. I had to have some talks with some people. Life intervened. Did I rush to blog about it? No. Maybe the honeymoon is over. But I’m back! That’s the thing about any relationship. If you can come back after the adrenaline is gone, then you’ve probably got something.
My friend Jen said I should write about about advice, which is flattering but totally causes me to shake in my boots. I think this country is obsessed with love and relationships. There are all those wack books about being a bitch or seeing how he’s into you or talking about how many different planets we’re all from. I think all of that stuff is either common sense or bull. Listen, first, you have to be self-realized. Know your own bull. Know your own joys. You aren’t going to have room for anybody unless you come clean with yourself. You may date somebody for a long ass time but nothing permanent will really happen until you get to know yourself. That means knowing when you’re trying to front like you don’t care when you do, knowing that you are falling into your own cycle of trying not get invested, all that. If you say, “He’s probably not going to call” or I’m not going to return his call if he does” or “I’m going to not kiss on the first date if he doens’t pay for dinner” or whatever, know you’re setting yourself up. Life is too short to be that planned out. Know yourself. Then know what you will and will not stand for. I think a relationship, aside from all the roses and cupcakes, is when you know what problems you can and can’t deal with. If you can deal with a man who’s trying to find himself and is sometimes moody (that’s me—I put myself out there, that’s right!) then do that. If you can’t deal with somebody who too mysterious or not open or doesn’t read, then remember, leave then or accept they aren’t for you in the long run. Because people don’t change just because you want them to be a certain way. Get that out of your mind.
The beginning parts of a relationship are usually the most romantic. If he or she is always late meeting you, they’ll probably always be late. Do you care and can you deal with that? Those are the biggest questions. You are responsible for you. Be somebody you’d want to date and stop worrying about making somebody else into somebody you’d want to date. Okay, now I’m boring myself. Soapbox folded up and set aside. But my last words? I am the blog I want to write. I will not make this blog something I want to write. Ha! See?
My novel is about a girl who was connected to the poetry scene in Brooklyn in the early 90s. I have a lot of experience with that. It’s semi-autobiographical. I’m no James Frey (dude, I know he lied but he is getting the shit kicked out of him lately–no agent, maybe no movie, and the Oprah God stepped on him with her Todd loafers on national TV–I think he’s in hell). Some of the stuff didn’t happen to me the way I’m making it happen to this girl. AND (in case some of my Brooklyn friends are reading this) I have combined personalities and situations to carve out new characters. You can ask me later if you inspired one of them. Some of you will know already though. That’s the deal with us artists, man. You’re going to see yourself somehow. I have to say the novel has been theraputic for me. There’s a few relationships I’m writing about that I haven’t had the courage to dive into in a long time. It’s like taking a deep breath. Even if this novel tanks or never makes it to a bookstore, at least it will exist. And if I die and you’re around, it would bring me great joy to know you’d do what you could to get it out there. (This is where you picture me with Godfather cotton in my cheeks while I lay on my death bed). For the family!
Here’s my dope site for the day:
You can’t even imagine what kind of funk that’s going to bring. I got it from Questlove’s blog on Myspace. Isn’t Myspace kind of strange? Like, I’ve seen Quest a few times but I am BY NO MEANS his homegirl. I got some six degrees of separation happening but that’s about it. However, on Myspace, I can read his writing entries on a regular basis. Like we’re kicking it. One hand, that’s cool as shit. Like I’m in the know! On the other hand, that’s some crazy power to give one slightly imbalanced person out there who can feel mad comfortable enough to walk up to Quest or anybody else who has a profile on Myspace and have them act a fool on the familiarity tip.
Holler at me now, in case I get famous and give you shade in the street…tee hee…