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VOLUME NO. 12, ISSUE 28
AFRICAN VOICES COMMUNICATIONS, INC. Founded in 1992, published since 1993
270 W. 96th STREET, NYC 10025 Phone: 212-865-2982 Fax: 212-316-3335 www.africanvoices.com PUBLISHER/EDITOR Carolyn A. Butts BOARD CHAIRPERSON Jeannette Curtis-Rideau MANAGING EDITOR Maitefa Angaza POETRY EDITOR Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie SENIOR WRITER Sandrine Dupiton ART DIRECTOR Derick Cross LAYOUT & DESIGN Graphic Dimensions Lorraine Rouse ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS Sonia Sanchez Poet/Activist Marie Brown Literary Agent Pearl Bowser Filmmaker/Film Historian Voza Rivers Harlem Arts Alliance, Founder Danny Simmons Visual Artist/Philanthropist, Rush Philanthropic Arts Fdn. © 2013, African Voices is a 501(c)(3), non-profit organization. Donations are tax-deductible. ISSN 1530-0668 This magazine is made possible with funds from the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, The Jerome Foundation, and the NY State Council on the Arts.
The Circle is Unbroken:
AV Celebrates New Era of Art & Literature! It’s very rare in life that dreams come true precisely – or even better – than imagined, but I was fortunate to have one fulfilled on Dec. 8, 2012, as African Voices celebrated its 20th Anniversary at the Schomburg Center in Harlem. The Harlem Renaissance did not die; it continues to unfold today. The circle is unbroken. Twenty years ago, I envisioned African Voices would host an art exhibition AV staff, supporters and artists celebrating celebrating the many talented visionary magazine’s 20th Anniversary at the Schomburg artists in our community. I’m deeply Center. Photo by Kenya L. Smith. into visualization and would spend time envisioning the art published in the magazine being exhibited in a gallery. In December 2012, the opportunity arrived and African Voices presented a six-week exhibition titled, “From Cover to Cover: 20 Years of African Voices,” which artist/author Danny Simmons curated. It was an amazing celebration and triumph of spirit. Creativity and faith persevered over the pernicious economic times we live in. In one moment of appreciation and honor, my staff, our artists, and supporters were literally standing in a circle on the shoulders of the ancestors. There is a cosmogram titled, “Rivers” at the entrance to the Schomburg’s auditorium. It was designed by Houston Conwill and his sister Estrella Conwill Majozo, and poet Langston Hughes’ ashes reside below. We all stood around it celebrating our history and culture. African Voices’ 20 years is just one small drop in an everexpanding ocean of knowledge, art and storytelling that will continue expanding as new artists give birth to ideas using the technology and tools of their time to create. Giving birth to our Spring 2013 issue was joyous and challenging. Thank you for being midwives to the birth of a new era in our history. Special thanks our to loyal readers, contributors, advertisers, staff and supporters for making this issue possible. Please support our advertisers — they were instrumental in helping us to get the issue published. I want to encourage you to visit our new website — it is being launched with our Spring issue! There are more poems, art and stories you can enjoy online. You can now buy posters of our front and back cover art on our website at www. africanvoices.com! Our future is in your hands — please continue supporting us so we may celebrate 20 years and beyond!
Front Cover: M irlande Jean-Gilles Back Cover: Ocean Morisset
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Contents FEATURE 10
Community Spotlight on Dr. Khalil Muhammad by Michel Marriott
Prolific Writer Tony Medina Passes the Torch by Maitefa Angaza
4. Bembe by Willie Perdomo
haiku by Tyrone McDonald
haiku by Tyrone McDonald
TERRORIST by Layding Kaliba
Poem for Hugo Chavez by Tony Medina
There Are Many by Charleen McClure
Reasons to Riot by Tony Medina
Praise Poem for Poets by JP Howard
Find Your Own Voice by Jayne Cortez
I Wanna Dance With Somebody by Layding Kaliba
CIRCA by Tom Mitchelson
When Lady Sings by Ed Toney
To Dance Obama by Lynnette C. Velasco
RODLYN’S ROOTS by Cheryl Boyce-Taylor
haiku by Tyrone McDonald
The Return by Jacqueline Johnson
Girl & Photograph, circa 1972 by Tara Betts
haiku by Tyrone McDonald
dutty gal by LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs
TAIT’S WAY by Tony Mitchelson
On being god by Tai Allen
I Come from Mountain Women by Mirlande Jean-Gilles
Debris by Kiini Ibura Salaam
FICTION / NOVEL 28
A Mother’s Milk by Adanze Asante
Book and Theater Reviews 20
Read into it...Editor’s Picks
Ancient, Ancient by Kiini Ibura Salaam — Reviewed by Robert Fleming
Motown: The Musical — It’s All About Love & Great Storytelling
IN THIS ISSUE 44
The Gallery — Mirlande Jean-Gilles
Freeing the Spirit: A Photographer’s Lens Speaks — Ocean Morisset
IN PASSING 23
African Voices can be purchased at the following locations: MANHATTAN Kenny’s Newsstand 79 W. 125th St. (Corner Malcolm X Blvd.) New York, NY
BROOKLYN MoCADA 80 Hanson Place Brooklyn, NY 11201
QUEENS, LONG ISLAND Bestseller Bookstore 43A Main Street Hempstead, NY 11550
Ubiquity Distributors 607 De Graw Street Brooklyn, NY 11217
For more art and stories visit www.africanvoices.com
OUTSIDE NEW YORK Karibu Books 3500 East West Highway Hyattsville, Md. 20782
SPECIAL THANKS TO AFRICAN VOICES STAFF & CONTRIBUTORS NOW AND THEN Maitefa Angaza, Jeanette Curtis-Rideau, Layding Kaliba Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie, Sandrine Dupiton, Lorraine Rouse Derick Cross, Ellie Charles, Dr. Bernard Charles, Pearl Bowser, Annie Brown, Sharrif Simmons, Bruce Stansbury, Gail Sharbaan, Walker Smith Adanze Asante (Doreen Bowens), Kim Horne, Aziza Camacho, Amena Slatter Mirlande Jean-Gilles, Malene Barnett, Regina Jingles, Sibila Vargas, Debbie Officer Joseph C. Woods, Michele Stewart, DaDa Ra, Nailah Baser, Kenneth Meeks David Galarza, Curtis Stephen, Dirk Joseph, Melissa Fraser, Clymenza Hawkins
ADVOCATES OVER THE YEARS Sonia Sanchez, Amiri Baraka, Dr. Howard Dodson, Camille and Bill Cosby Terrie Williams, Voza Rivers, The Charles Family, Woodie King, Jr., Rodney Hurley Richard Bartee, Herb Boyd, Kojo Ade, April Silver, Angeli Rasbury, Danny Simmons Sheila Prevost, Gary Johnston, Aziz Adimitirin, Marie Brown, Laurie Cumbo Dr. Brenda Greene, Imhotep Gary Byrd, JD Livingston, Saundra Thomas Jacqueline Johnson, Marcia Pendelton, Troy Johnson, Sandra Maria Estevez Councilwoman Inez Dickens, Lynnette Velasco, Mayor David Dinkins The Amsterdam News
The City Sun
Mosaic Literary Magazine
Our Time Press
The Daily Challenge
The Network Journal
John Oliver Killens Writers Workshop, Harlem Book Fair NAACP
WABC TV WBAI Radio WBLS Radio
WNYC Radio, Harlem Talk Radio
Artists and AV staff at Schomburg Center for the opening reception of “From Cover to Cover: 20 Years of African Voices,” an art exhibition in honor of the magazine’s recent anniversary. (L. to R.) Enjoying the celebration held on Dec. 8, 2012 are Adanze Asante, Maitefa Angaza, Ekere Tallie, Otto Neals, Jimmy James Greene, Verna Hart, Francks Deceus, Clymenza Hawkins, Mirlande Jean-Gilles, Layding Kaliba, Carolyn A. Butts, James Top, Schomburg Director Khalil Muhammad, Michele Stewart, Jeannette Curtis-Rideau, Derick Cross and Lorraine Rouse. Photo: Kenya L. Smith. 6
Power of 5 Campaign – 20th Anniversary Issue! African Voices would like to thank you for donating to our Power of 5 Campaign, a fun fundraising drive where we asked people to give $5 or more to help us publish our 20th Anniversary issue. Your donation helped us publish our Spring 2013 issue — thank you for supporting us and being a visionary leader. If you made a donation and your name is not listed, please contact us and we will make sure you’re included in the next issue. Please continue to support us and encourage your friends to subscribe and donate at www.africanvoices.com. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, call 212-865-2982! Thanks to our Power Rangers! May the Circle be unbroken! Akosua Albritton Simon Allen (UK) Christine Allison Khuumba Ama Kristy Andersen Bernadette Anderson (Chuike) Maitefa Angaza Heather Archibald Adanze Asante Colin Ashley Celeste Rita Baker Malene Barnett Celeste Bateman Martine Bisagni Patrice Bradshaw Sandra Brannon Gina Breedlove Timothy Breland D.E. Brock Brenda Bell Brown Burdette J. Brown Fahamisha Brown Elizabeth Carr Samantha Carty Jo Ann Cheatham Stacey Churchill Breena Clarke Cheryl Clarke Tamara E. Clements Paula Coleman Jah Croix Ave Maria Cross Alice Crowe-Bell Lorraine Currelley Maria Damon Alice Dear Julie Dash Cecelia Davidson Bridgett Davis Erika DeRuth Ivy DeShield Latasha Diggs Nathalie Duclair
Sandrine Dupiton LaVonda Elam Evyn Espiritu Toni Fay Richard Fewell Nicole Franklin DuEwa Frazier Karen Frederick Arthur French, Jr. Olufunmilayo Gittens Robert L. Gore, Jr. Melony Grant William Grecia Dr. Geraldine Gregg Yvonne Hampden Luberta Hansley-Dobso Ira Haupt, II Glenda Hicks Tracy Holder L. Bruce & Dr. Mary Hopewell Barbara Horowitz Juliet Howard Cheryl Willis Hudson Lee Hunkins Byron Hurt Ghana Hylton Tracey Irvin Isis Jannierre Jacqueline Johnson Jesse Johnson Rachel Johnson Sheila Johnson Tyler Johnson Troy Johnson Terria Joseph Fatima Kafele Ron Kavanaugh Moikgantsi Kgama (Imagenation Cinema Foundation) Malcolm King Woodie King, Jr. (New Federal Theatre)
Samantha Knowles Kweli Journal Gwendolyn Lee Virginia Lee Susan Leanier Anjanette Levert Angela Lockhart Angel Love JLove Chinyelu Lumumba Malikah Lumumba Shalewa MacKall Celeste Mangan Jimena Martinez (Cumbe: Center for African and Diaspora Dance) Carmen Mathis Ife Michelle Tonya Matthews Octavia McBride-Ahebee Ronald McCall Sheila McDaniel T. McGhee James McIntosh Velma McKenzie-Orr Tony Mitchelson April Mojica Monteplus Monica Montgomery Cassandra M. Moore Liza Morales Dominique Morisseau Ocean Morisset Bathabile Mthombeni Marie Mullineaux Nanaataa Doreen Nash Otto Neals Mary Knight Rhonda Norman Nicole O’Connor Patrick Oliver Erica Palmer
Zahra Patterson Jawanza Phoenix Savage Phoenix Debra Pinkston Dr. Anne-Marie Plunkett Luciana Polney Joyce Prevost Elizabeth Pride Sandra Proto Toni and Carl Randolph Bertie Ray, III Joyce Marie Redd Pamela Reed Virginia Reid Cerene Roberts Max Rodriquez Rachelle Salnave Julia Shaw April Silver (Akila Worksongs) Kimberly Singleton Alex Smith Clarice Smith Tracey Y. Smith Thomas Southern Frederica Sowell Marsha Perry Starkes Ishmael Street Sunship Salim I. Talib Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie Melba Tolliver Ed Toney T. Tara Turk and Scott Haynes Lana Turner Seneca Turner, Jr. Vickie Washington-Nan Tachelle Wilkes Cheryle E. Williams Jacqueline Williams Joyce Williams Richard Williams Tilsa Wright african Voices
contributors Adanze Asante (aka Doreen C. Bowens) embarked on writing her first novel A Mother’s Milk when she lived in Harlem over a decade ago. A Mother’s Milk is Part I of a trilogy. Ms. Asante earned her M.A. in journalism from U.C. Berkeley and her writings have appeared in the following publications: The Network Journal, The New York Daily News, The Oakland Tribune, New York Newsday, The Oregonian, Corpus Christi Caller Times, and African Voices Magazine. She is an English Professor at The City University of New York.
Aleathia Brown Artist Aleathia Brown, native of both Harlem and the Bronx, is an arts educator who conducts fine art sessions, demonstrations and lectures and mentors budding artists. Beyond the classroom, Aleathia creates art in front of an audience, accompanied by spoken word artists and live musicians. An active member of the Harlem Arts Alliance, Ms. Brown makes monthly art presentations to over 200 members during meetings, featuring her art along with the works of fellow visual artist members.
Elton Leonard has been creating art professionally since the age of 19. He has created work for group shows at New York City Transit, the Fulton Art Fair in Brooklyn and the Ida B. Wells-Barnett Museum in Holly Springs, MS, among other venues and his work is in private collections. As a graphic designer, he has developed and implemented marketing and branding strategies and programs globally.
Michel Marriott was a staff writer at The New York Times for much of the last 20 years. He has covered numerous beats, including New York’s City Hall, national education, urban poverty and drug abuse, as well the racial and ethnic conflagrations of the Los Angeles and Miami riots. Beginning in 1998, Michel began to write exclusively about hightechnology for the newspaper’s weekly Tech section, Circuits, and continues — as a contract writer — to write about the impact of consumer electronics on American culture. Michel’s work has been twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
Kiini Ibura Salaam is a writer, painter, and traveler from New Orleans, Louisiana. Her work is rooted in eroticism, speculative events, women’s perspectives, and artistic freedom. She has been widely published and anthologized in such publications as the Dark Matter, Mojo: Conjure Stories, and Colonize This! anthologies, as well as Essence, Utne Reader, and Ms. magazines. Her short story collection Ancient, Ancient—winner of the 2013 James Tiptree, Jr. award—contains sensual tales of the fantastic, the dark, and the magical. Her micro-essays on writing can be found at www.kiiniibura.com.
Poets Tai Allen says: i like to make things -- pretty words, nice noise, fresh looking designs or anything else i can conceive. mostly, as the creative director of vicelounge. there i can be a poet, singer, strategist (yep selling out to sell big companies) and musician. trust me, i am having a ton of fun. 8
Tara Betts is the author of THE GREATEST!: An Homage to Muhammad Ali and “Arc & Hue.” She is a Ph.D. candidate at SUNY-Binghamton, and her work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. www.tarabetts.net
LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs Writer and musician LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs is the author of TwERK (Belladonna, 2013) and a native of Harlem. She’s received several awards and her poetry has appeared in Ploughshares, Jubilat, Fence, Rattapallax, Nocturnes, and LA Review.
JP Howard aka Juliet P. Howard is a Cave Canem graduate fellow and member of The Hot Poets Collective. She nurtures Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon, which hosts monthly Salons. http://womenwritersinbloompoetrysalon.blogspot.com/
Jacqueline Johnson, poet, fiction writer and fiber artist, is the author of A Gathering of Mother Tongues, the recipient of several awards and has taught poetry at the college level and in workshop settings, including at African Voices. Her works-in-progress include a poetry book, A Woman’s Season, and a novel, The Privilege of Memory.
Layding Lumumba Kaliba is an award winning poet, author of five books, which include The Moon Is My Witness, Spirit Anthems And Ancient Magic and most recently In The Absence Of God. He has also published in numerous anthologies.
Charleen McClure, born to Jamaican parents in England, later immigrated to Atlanta, Georgia. After graduating from Agnes Scott College with a B.A. in English-Literature, she taught in Spain on a Fulbright scholarship. She currently resides in New York City.
Tyrone McDonald Brooklyn born Tyrone McDonald writes haiku and tanka. His work has appeared in Modern English Tanka and will appear in the Anthology: Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years, celebrating the 100th anniversary of Ezra Pound’s Metro in a Station.
Tony Mitchelson is co-founder of The Linyak Project – an arts, culture and education organization. At Sisters Uptown Bookstore in Harlem he is the host of Phat Tuesdays -a monthly poetry and music event.
Willie Perdomo is the author of Where a Nickel Costs a Dime and Smoking Lovely, which received a PEN Open Book Award. He has also been published in The New York Times Magazine, Bomb, Poems of New York and The Harlem Reader. His first children’s book, Visiting Langston, received a Coretta Scott King Honor.
Cheryl Boyce-Taylor Born in Trinidad and raised in New York City, Cheryl Boyce-Taylor authored three collections of poetry, Raw Air, Night When Moon Follows, and Convincing the Body. A graduate of Stonecoast MFA Poetry Program, she founded Calypso Muse, a performing and presenting organization for new and seasoned poets.
Community Spotlight on Dr. Khalil Muhammad by Michel Marriott
This July marks Khalil Gibran Muhammad’s second year as director of New York City’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, following Dr. Howard Dodson’s quartercentury stewardship. While Dr. Muhammad, 41, commends his predecessor’s achievements, he says his tenure signals a new season for the Center, founded in 1925 as a division of Harlem’s 135th Street Branch Library. It evolved with the guidance – and personal collection – of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, the Puerto Ricanborn Black scholar and bibliophile. Two years after his death in 1938, the division was renamed in his honor. Today, Dr. Muhammad is enthusiastic about attracting younger visitors with a diverse offering of media and voices – not simply those of scholars most comfortable speaking to other scholars. Already, the Schomburg has provided wider forums for writers, artists, lawyers, figures from nonprofits– and even comedians. “In other words,” Dr. Muhammad says, “scholars become one among many. If the audiences know a set of voices because they are blogging about them, we want to say, ‘Who among those folks are interesting and engaging? Let’s get them in here.’ ” The youthful Dr. Muhammad relishes such topics as the challenges and responsibilities of the Black scholar, and the “robust engagement” of the Black community with its social and cultural legacy. A husband and father of three, he’s most passionate about young people understanding the past to build brighter futures, suggesting this is not some isolated, esoteric business. “I want to be the Google of historic literacy,” he says. Dr. Muhammad grew up in Hyde Park, Chicago, where his mother was a school teacher on the South Side, and his father, a noted newspaper photographer. His great-grandfather was Elijah Muhammad, who led the Nation of Islam from 1934 until his death in 1975. Despite a brush with corporate America, (public accounting at Deloitte & Touche), he found his true calling – history, leveraging his U Penn economics degree to enter a Rutgers Ph.D program in American history. After receiving his doctorate in 2004, he was named Andrew 10
W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Vera Institute of Justice in New York and after two years, became a trailblazing history professor at Indiana University, writing a groundbreaking book, The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America (Harvard University Press, 2010). African Voices: Given the fact that your great-grandfather was the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, your father is Ozier Muhammad, the noted Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, and you are the director of the Schomburg Center, is it safe to say that making and preserving history is a family business? Khalil Muhammad: [He laughs] I suppose so. But I got a lot of cousins. I got a lot of uncles, and I can tell you that life ain’t been a bed of roses for my family, given the legacy of my great-grandfather – which is to say that it’s not obvious that anyone of us would be in this particular position. It would be expected that a certain number of us would continue in the religious tradition as leader. My great-uncle Wallace certainly embodied, in the most visible way, the legacy of his father, even though they fundamentally disagreed. He still, nevertheless, embraced Islam and crafted whole communities of believers out of the African-American community. AV: But my question is slightly different than that. KM: The infrastructure that my great-grandfather built and the legacy that he left behind absolutely shaped me in interesting ways. I wasn’t always conscious of it. So I can’t say that ever
since I was – (pick a time) – I was thinking that one day I would live a life like my great-grandfather, where I got to write books about Black history, got to speak to large audiences, shape the hearts and minds of people. I didn’t have that thought. But I was very much surrounded by people who, first and foremost, cared deeply about Black folks. And that made a difference for me. AV: How were you introduced to Black history?
“I want to be the Google of historic literacy.”
KM: My mother modeled [that] for me every day as a teacher, and she showed a lot of compassion for the poor Black folks she taught on the South Side of Chicago. But my father did it through journalism, the culture and the arts. He was the one who pressed me to read Black history. He’s the one who introduced me to Lerone Bennett when I was five-years-old. He’s the one who took me on assignments with him. So I was a child of journalism in a way that plugged me into the world. AV: Let’s talk about your tenure as director of the Schomburg. This July you would have been at the Center’s helm for two years. Do you believe its founder, Arturo Schomburg, would have been pleased with what you have been able to accomplish so far? KM: I know he would be pleased in terms of the center becoming far more visible to generations of younger users. We’ve seen the visitors become younger and more engaged with the life of the institution. In other words, repeat visits, folks who feel like this is an institution they can claim as their own. AV: How do you define these generations of younger visitors and how do they fit into your overall strategy for the Schomburg Center? KM: I decided that the Schomburg Center would have to cultivate those younger audiences in order to maintain its reputation of being an international cultural center and a coming-of-age destination for this new generation, like what it had been for the Baby Boomer generation and the one before. The Langston Hugheses and others were in their 20s in the 1920s when they came to the Schomburg as a resource. They helped to build it and grew up with the place. And then those who immediately came behind them really celebrated it! They saw it as an indispensable resource for their political awareness, their cultural consciousness. That’s not true today. And it hasn’t been true for a long time. So it means the direct connection to an institution like this has been weakened, severed in some instances, because it’s not just the kids, but it’s the parents too. The grandparents know. But the kids and the parents don’t know.
AV: Is this a question of the form, the fact that the Schomburg is essentially a library, old technology, in a time of digital media? KM: We’ve been more than a library for a long time. The point I’m making is that every part of what we do has seen less commitment from younger people prior to my coming in. It’s not so much that they were once here and went away; they just became mature. The young people were here in the 20s, [and on through] the 70s. But then the ones to come behind them – and that’s where I think my generation is instructive – were told that history was passé… sort of [like Francis] Fukuyama’s claim that capitalism has reached the end of history. Like this is about technology, this is about science. All of that sort of crystallized and became a major impediment to my generation really appreciating an institution like this. AV: You believe that the response was actually that intellectualized? Isn’t history always with us? Isn’t history simply the future that hasn’t happened yet? KM: I think American society, the culture of this country, is predicated on a lot of selective forgetting. The 1980s was a time of the amplification of a backlash against certain narratives of the past that denied this great arrival of a kind of promised land of equal opportunity. For example, we know that a part of the repression of the Black Power and Black Nationalist movements was repression of its cultural dimensions. So FBI surveillance didn’t just happen on the streets because people had guns and berets. It happened in Black bookstores. It happened in cultural arts centers. AV: So this “wrong kind of history” was a threat to the national status quo? KM: Definitely a threat to the status quo. So it doesn’t surprise me that as leadership unfolded over the years that followed the late 1960s, there was a gradual dilution of this connection to this kind of robust civil engagement, using the past as a guide of what the future should be, as a guide to protect the gains of equality, no matter how tenuous they were in the late 1960s. AV: Are you concerned that too many of the latter generations of Black people are getting a kind of abbreviated, CliffsNotes version of their history? KM: History has become commoditized. It’s not just a superficial reading of it. It’s one that denies complexity. We saw the explosion of this at the intersection of rap and hip hop and cinema and clothing, which is not inherently a bad thing. But you can’t come to a full reconciliation of the life and legacy of Malcolm X by putting a hat on your head with an X cross, or by simply watching Spike Lee’s interpretation of Malcolm X. It’s a good starting point, but it is not the robust engagement. And so the question would be, where do you get it? Right? Because Spike has done his part. He has resuscitated the memory and legacy of this man through his own lens. That’s african Voices
fine. That’s what filmmakers use. But then you ask the question, “So where does the next step happen?” And that’s the question that wasn’t being asked, because no one was interested. It was good enough to hear it in very socially-conscious rap lyrics; it was good enough to see it in the clothing, and it was even good enough to hear it in the analysis or critique of professors like Mike Dyson or Cornel West, who would build on that in higher education. But higher education only touches a small fraction of all the Americans and even a smaller fraction of our community. AV: But wasn’t there some thoughtful and culturally conscious engagement? KM: This is of the same moment where you had the sort of rise of people like Leonard Jeffries and Frances Cress Welsing, who were also part of a Cultural Nationalist movement. Even Afrocentricity is arcing in the 1980s as a culmination of all of their cultural work. But it is all generational. The point is that these were thoughtful people, passionate people, who, if they did nothing else, were going to make sure that [we were] putting Black people in the center of the story. AV: That is the essence of Afrocentricity. KM: That’s right. But no young people were coming behind it. AV: None? KM: Something broke between the parents who had been the purveyors of that cultural knowledge from the 20s to the 30s, to the 40s, to the 60s. The parents at some point, my parents’ generation, decided that they wanted their kids to go to Wall Street, they wanted their kids to be physicians… to be lawyers. They wanted their kids to assimilate into American institutions in ways that were not compatible with the old-school approach, that grassroots survival mechanism where you need to know this history in order to survive in the world...They did it with the best of intentions. But too many traded on the opportunities of the 1980s. AV: Was this arc unique to African-Americans, while other hyphenated Americans, who I assume took a similar arc, did not see the need to jettison their cultural backgrounds and histories? KM: I think a lot of those hyphenated Americans did do the same thing, and disconnected for the same reasons. It’s just that when the small groups of them did not, nobody cared. It wasn’t a threat. So our commitment to these narratives has always been more of a threat to the status quo because the evidence of their necessity has always been right in front of our eyes. AV: So our historical narrative is a counter narrative to the national one we are told and taught to embrace? KM: The Italian-American can’t visibly see evidence that ItalianAmericans are still targeted and stigmatized, and, therefore, left out of the ladders of opportunity. Jewish-Americans, Irish-Americans, they don’t see it, so for them it’s a safe space to send their kids to these schools because it’s contained in this kind of cultural pride celebration space. 12
The threat to our engagement is that we’re learning not just the cultural pride piece, but we’re also learning the social and political analysis that says, “from this culture comes social change and potentially, revolution, because the world still denigrates Black people.” So as long as the world continues to denigrate, exploit, disappear and incarcerate our folks, then [there is] the threat of that cultural engagement becoming the predicate, or the starting point, for a whole new generation of folks who raise their fists against the powers that be. AV: What about the state of higher education and its relationship to Black history? KM: What happened to the kids of the Afrocentrists, the kids of the socially and culturally conscious who were producing knowledge, of the John Hope Franklins, those kids? They went to grad schools. They got PhDs in history; they got PhDs in African-American Studies. [Molefi Kete] Asante, one of his lasting legacies, is his work in establishing the first PhD-granting African-American studies program in the country, of course, prior to Howard, and Harvard, etc. It’s the kids who came after, who were able to learn this material and go on to teach it, who are that legacy. That is a very small number of people. AV: You’ve mentioned a threat against public intellectuals. KM: Your public intellectualism can be held against you in ways today that would not have been true a generation ago. There would have been a kind of celebration of your larger engagement and your attempt to wrestle with big ideas through the lens of your scholarship. What we have today is that my generation and those who are coming behind me, are increasingly being encouraged not to do this kind of robust cultural work or socio-political analysis with the public, with our young people. They are encouraged to kind of stay in their lane. Focus on what you’re teaching in class; focus on your research and the rewards for that embedded in the university, not outside the university. AV: That must create an incredibly chilling effect. KM: Part of it is that some of our folks—and I’m talking about my academic peers—don’t even realize that the system has co-opted their fire and passion because they are spending all of it asking, in some cases, some really powerful research questions. But they are only sharing it with the students who are fortunate enough to take a class with them. Whereas, what came of age in generations past, what made the Schomburg such a lively place, was that it was about the production of knowledge that left here and went out into the world. It left here and sped out through the streets. AV: The narrowing of the channels of information seems contrary to the Information Age we live in today. How do you explain that? KM: On one hand blogging, YouTube and Facebook, whatever, are ways for people who don’t have the credentials to communicate ideas—either passing on information or creating it whole cloth—that is absolutely distinctive and original. The problem is that a lot of it still just scratches the surface. One of the things I talk a lot about in my public speaking is that there is a difference, as Carter G. Woodson once said, between information
and education. So we have a lot of information at our fingertips. And we can push that information to our friend circles. We can use it as part of a counter-narrative on some MoveOn.Org or Change.org campaign. But what we’re missing is, the minute that information is subject to another layer of challenge and critique and scrutiny, it dissolves under the weight of someone else’s platform or someone else’s credentials. AV: For instance? KM: A lot of people are organizing around Stop-and-Frisk. A lot of people are pushing out information about the latest police brutality case or latest form of injustice, etc. But the people who are still the gatekeepers of how to understand and interpret Stop-and-Frisk, are people like Heather MacDonald at the Manhattan Institute. …Someone at the Manhattan Institute points out that statistics prove policing works and lives have been saved, therefore, Stop-and-Frisk is an appropriate policy. And then David Brooks [prominent columnist at The New York Times] becomes the escalator, and he pushes it. It is far more impactful and meaningful than the Facebook posts on the other side. AV: What role can the Schomburg play in this under your leadership? KM: Part of it is that we have to make being smart sexy again. One of the most powerful lessons of the 60s generation is that they all started their activism by first reading and listening and learning. It’s not something we taught our kids. We taught our kids to be smart, do well in school, speak perfect English, have the trappings of commitment and educational success. We didn’t tell them what to read. We let other people start telling them what to read. That’s the part of it that weakens the ability of our young people to be able to take their activism to the next level.
4. Bembe Sat on a few bars before the pocket Players drew their best shot. Then I Shook all the safety out of their style. When the horns discharged courage, I came in mega-dirty—nasty, dirty. A bass, bully-like, big-finger feeds, And my soul started talking in storm: A cool slam, merecumbe, boogaloo, one Sun brighter than the next, spirit snapped From spool, breath, bembe, breath, brujo. Yes, Poet, I put the dong in the ding— In shadow-speak, light was my king. © Willie Perdomo
AV: You’re talking about a common language of struggle? KM: That was the model of the Civil Rights Movement. One way or the other, you need to be smart and savvy enough to anticipate what the other side is going to do to you, which is to divide and conquer, or to discredit your message. AV: So what happens in this regard at the Schomburg? KM: The difference between my leadership and the leadership in the past has been that I am trying to make “smart” sexy, in as transparent and visible of a way [possible] to as many people as possible. There is a time and a place for everything, there’s a season for everything. The season that preceded me was the season that was dedicated to the institutionalizing of the study of Black people, to essentially building a canon of African and African-American scholarship, literature. I don’t want to encourage the next generation to be Wikipedia readers, or any kind of shorthand, CliffsNotes approach to the past. I want to make clear and visible to them that part of sustaining your own humanity, part of helping to shape the content of their citizenship, is by making clear that if you don’t read, if you don’t study, if don’t develop and own arguments that have been mounted against you and your future, then you will be a victim of somebody else’s design on your life.
solar eclipse ... Miles’s back to the audience © Tyrone McDonald
Full Interview with Dr. Khalil Muhammad available on www.africanvoices.com! african Voices
Congratulations African Voices on your 20th Anniversary. Best Wishes and may you have many more years!
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Prolific Writer Tony Medina Passes the Torch By Maitefa Angaza As African Voices magazine looks back over 20 years, we’re honored to have had the early support and participation of many creative powerhouses. One such is Dr. Tony Medina, poet, fiction writer, essayist and activist. The first-ever full and tenured Professor of Creative Writing at Howard University, Tony is the author of 16 books for adults and children and his poems have appeared in close to 100 publications. He’s edited three anthologies, including the seminal, Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam and served as advisory editor for several others. His most recent book of poems, Broke Baroque, is the last of a trilogy and is being published this May by 2 Leaf Press. The recipient of many awards and prizes, Tony is a frequent lecturer and workshop instructor and has been a member and/or contributor to several organizations, particularly those working on behalf of young people. His work as a professor is deeply rewarding and he considers it a privilege to play a role in nurturing his students’ talent and work ethic. The Washington D.C. community welcomed him with open arms. “Word got around in the D.C. community of writers that I was at Howard teaching,” he recalls of his early days there. “So you had all these people bum-rushing my class to sit-in. I allowed them to, and basically opened up the class to the community, much like John Oliver Killens did in the ‘70s and ‘80s at Medgar Evers College.” Tony decided to serve this moveable feast offcampus, creating “The Workshop,” a monthly radio show during which area residents could listen as students and people auditing his classes discussed the craft and various disciplines of literature, read poems and reviewed books. The show was one of several methods Tony employed to send his students out into the writing world. They were encouraged to do open mics and readings, to share what they’d learned at schools and prisons and to produce chapbooks and anthologies. “I had publishing parties in my classroom,” Tony said, “where students would bring in their work and we’d workshop it. I’d teach them how to do letters of submission and tell them to bring their stuff to class with envelopes and stamps. I’d gotten a number of them published for the first time in journals such as Drumvoices, and they’ve gone on create their own journals. Some have gone on to publish their books, get MFAs and PhDs, and they’re teaching now. They’re making a name for themselves at 16
literary conferences and getting published in anthologies. Some are movers and shakers in positions where they get other people published.” As he sees it, Tony is passing along some of the inspiration that’s fueled his passion for writing. He feels blessed to have worked with and learned from many gifted poets and writers. However, he’d be quick to remind his students of the critical importance of reading. He’s encountered some of his most profound influences in books – Langston Hughes being paramount. He’s written a children’s book, Love to Langston, and not long ago was surprised with an award from the Langston Hughes Society after giving the keynote address at its annual CLA convention luncheon. Although he’s not often spoken of in those terms, Tony insists that Langston was “… not all blues and jazz, but one of the most radical Black writers in the American literary tradition.” Langston’s impact was far-reaching, Tony believes, because although he was a forerunner of and grounded in the Harlem Renaissance, he also influenced a generation of Black Arts poets. Tony’s other writing influences are legion. “So when you look at people like Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Jayne Cortez, June Jordan, Audre Lorde, Etheridge Knight, Louis Reyes Rivera, Pedro Pietri, Sandra Maria Esteves, Victor Hernandez Cruz, Ishmael Reed, Ntozake Shange… People from Latin America and the Caribbean like Roque Dalton, Ernesto Cardenal,
Pablo Neruda, of course, and another Chilean poet, Nicanor Parra, Aimé Cesairé and Haitian poet Rene Depestre… Those are some of the models that I look toward, that I have been nurtured on in terms of social poets totally committed to the struggle and to the people. That’s who I align myself with, and that’s just a handful.” Among the poets who’ve left us much too soon, Tony mentions Raymond Patterson, Sekou Sundiata and Safiyah Henderson Holmes, whom he worked with in Felipe Luciano’s group Workestra. And then there’s Louis Reyes Rivera, who was a longtime African Voices friend and supporter.
“Although he’s not often spoken of in those terms, Tony insists that Langston was “… not all blues and jazz, but one of the most radical Black writers in the American literary tradition.” “I copped his books early on when I was starting out and discovered his literature and his poetry at Revolution Books,” says Tony. “Then I got to meet him in the early ‘90s at a big marathon reading of political poets that Sam Anderson, the activist and poet, invited me to. I actually met Louis Reyes Rivera and Pedro Pietri at the same time! These were people who were like idols to me! And they openly embraced me. “Louis and I were on the scene together in NY and we were eventually asked to edit Bum Rush the Page. We talked a lot of shop and I came to know Louis to be very generous, particularly to the generation of younger poets coming up. He was a very hardcore political and African-centered Puerto Rican with a wide scope of knowledge. Then being married to Barbara Killens, daughter of the great John Oliver Killens, and to know that they were hooked up by her college roommate, Nikki Giovanni… it’s just incredible history, you know?!” Much of the writing Tony’s doing these days will undoubtedly add to his own legacy; he’s carefully and joyfully shining lyrical light on young minds. Having discovered that he adores writing for children he’s catching up on the fun. According to biographer Arnold Rampersad, Langston felt that writing for children was the most important literary form and Tony has come to agree. His first children’s book was DeShawn Days (Lee and Low Books, 2001) and the latest, The President Looks Like Me & Other Poems (Just Us Books, 2013) was published in January.
His love of children’s books came late to Tony, who says the only children’s books he encountered as a child were at the school library, where Curious George was among the titles pushed by librarians. As an adult he became enchanted by the marriage of text and art in children’s books and the voice of a character named DeShawn “just popped into my head.” The reception was warm, and Tony found a new calling. “When you go and visit these classrooms, not only are the children excited and impacted, but also the teachers and the librarians,” said Tony. “They treat you like a rock star and there’s so much love that you get! I remember when DeShawn Days came out, teachers and librarians would be floating me emails, where a child would ask, ‘How does he know about my life?!’ Cause they had a name like DeShawn, they were raised by a grandmother and they come from the hood, you know? They had a single-parent household and they struggled and were into Hip Hop and had asthma. So it was, ‘How did he know about my life.’ ” He knows because he was born in the South Bronx and raised in a housing project by a grandmother who struggled to provide for him. He’s choosing, in his way, to be there for the children who read his books. He cares and he validates the notion of a future ahead, while telling them the truth about the world. “And quiet as it’s kept, if you look at my six children’s books, they’re really radical! To be able to communicate to children these radical concepts in such a way that you get away with it – I dig it, you know?!” Keeping up with the younger generation of poets is a pleasure for Tony and they seem to keep abreast of his work as well. Many were introduced to Tony and his peers through Bum Rush the Page, which remains hugely popular. And the work of people such as Amiri Baraka and Sonia Sanchez never gets old, Tony says, because their ideas are timeless and filled with energy and fire. He believes that conscious young poets know how to get what they need. “If they read, and they know the art form, and they’re out there in the world, they’ll know what time it is and who’s who,” he said. African Voices was there when Tony was a young poet and he availed himself of the opportunity. He recalls when Carolyn Butts launched the magazine, providing a platform for young poets, writers and visual artists, he recalls. Tony remembers when Layding Kaliba became the poetry editor and that Mariah (Ekere) Tallie worked there early on. He was happy to hear that she’s now poetry editor, taking the reins at the end of Layding’s long and devoted tenure. “Mariah called me just before she graduated from Clark Atlanta and claimed me as her personal mentor. I don’t even know how she got my number! Not long after that, she was working with African Voices, along with some other people I knew.” He’s also glad that African Voices is still around to celebrate 20 years, acknowledging that it, like Ron Kavanaugh’s Mosaic african Voices
Literary Magazine, has struggled to stay in publication. He says that in the tradition of the great journals established after Reconstruction and during the Harlem Renaissance, these two, among others, have remain devoted to a new cultural revolution despite funding challenges. And it’s not all struggle, he acknowledges; it’s also lots of fun. “Layding used to hold these great soirees at his house in Harlem,” said Tony. “There’s this classic picture of me at the mic reading, with Jessica Care Moore right behind me, as well as A. Wanjiku Reynolds and Layding Kaliba. This was in the 90s and we lookin’ like babies and stuff!”
skewered or upside-down way, at the reality of people who suffer under the yoke of capitalist oppression. “This book is special in that it is published by 2 Leaf Press and features an introduction by Ishmael Reed titled, ‘Poet Laureate of the Broke.’ That’s a big honor for me!” Tony says he’s honored as well, to be recognized with the very first African Voices Literary Award at Harlem’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture on June 20th. He received the news at the close of this interview with his trademark humor. “Me? To receive the African Voices Literary Award? – The first one?! … Wait, am I getting too old now, so that everybody’s gotta hurry up and honor me?” Not old, but timeless. And while the award is all yours, Tony, the honor will certainly be ours.
Poem for Hugo Chavez
Tony Medina at African Voices Brownstone Reading Series in Harlem hosted by Layding Kaliba in 1998. Poets Jessica Care Moore (far left), Wanjiku Reynolds (left) and Layding are enjoying his words. Photo: Carolyn A. Butts Now a seasoned and celebrated poet, Tony is looking forward to getting the feedback from his just-published new book, Broke Baroque. It picks up from two previous poetry books, Sermons from the Smell of a Carcass Condemned to Begging (1998) and Broke On Ice (2011) that feature the voice and perspective of homeless everyman, Broke, who critiques capitalist culture from the bottom of “the greasy pole,” as revolutionary Haitian poet Rene De Vestre calls capitalism or the class structure. “And he critiques as a street-corner Socrates or comedian in the tradition of Langston Hughes’ Jess B. Simple,” says Tony. “In the tradition of Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp and Richard Pryor’s Mudbone, as well as Zbigniew Herbert’s Mr. Cogito, and Nicanor Parra’s The Christ of Elqui. These are everyman personas that exist to poke fun at capitalism and bourgeois culture and society, to turn it on its head and look at the world in different ways through irony and pathos.” Tony says that the title of each poem in Broke Baroque begins with the word “Broke,” which is not just about the character, but also “… a way of looking at society and looking at things in a somewhat
Because you know That pain is not Our motherland That suffering Is not our Divine right That heaven is What we make On earth Like houses Love And bread Because you come From the heart Of the soil
Reasons to Riot Wars should be fought with haiku, bops, sonnets & tanka. Ban assault weapons. Ban ALL weapons! Turn bullets into commas, colons, semicolons, ellipses & exclamation points!!! Let PEACE be in all caps. Love, the agitator. Bring back The Dozens— F@*k ‘em if they can’t take a joke. At least you’ll get something in return—more bang for your buck. Know as the bonobos, as Nikki G—the true revolution is touch. © 2013 by Tony Medina
And do not sprinkle us With holy water Pie-in-the-sky lies and Ashes to ashes dust to dust Because you know That your big mouth And your curly hair Is African And your brown skin And dark eyes is Indian Because you don’t point To Europe for Beauty or salvation Because you know As Che and Fidel and Maurice Bishop and Roque Dalton
And Walter Rodney And Neruda and Allende And Patrice Lumumba
Because you are David In the shadow Of Goliath
That life is what We make with our Hands
And know that The price of freedom Is love
Because you know as Jesus That it is not difficult to Multiply bread and fish
© 2013 by Tony Medina
That oil is not The lifeblood Of the earth That it should not Run through our veins Like fear
READ into it...Editor’s Picks Exit: The Endings That Set Us Free by Sara Lawrence Lightfoot
Through her interviews with women and men in states of flux, the author provides a thought-provoking look at life impacted by change. This is absorbing work by a sociologist who’s also a natural storyteller.
by Courttia Newland
Twenty years after her infant son was kidnapped, Beverly’s recovered – except for a preoccupation with pain and recurring slave-plantation dreams. Then Malakay returns – or is that scary young man stalking her, really her son? A brave and assured novel.
The Roving Tree
The Family Mansion
This debut novel follows Iris Odys from Haiti to the U.S., to Africa. She’s seeking her Afro-Haitian roots and culture after her mother sent away as a small child to be adopted by a white couple living in the States.
Another character banished from home. In the brilliant Winkler’s latest, an English aristocrat is sent by his father to live in Jamaica in 1805. The novel is funny and captivating, yet examines the oppression of colonization.
Every Boy Should Have a Man
Don’t resist this parallel universe, where a species named Oafs calls their offspring “boys.” Humans, (both male and female) are called “mans” and kept as pets on leashes. Allegory and satire are served warm in this funny and unsettling fantasy.
Read a play that wowed NYC audiences earlier this year. A burning city, smoldering love, mystery and history are the elements of a story graced by the sweet sounds of Motown. It’s a frenetic, yet wise look at pleasure, pain and dreams.
The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness
by Elsie Augustave
by Preston L. Allen
by Sherman Alexie Last year the celebrated novelist delighted fans, old and new, with this collection of 15 beloved classics and 15 new stories. He can make you mad, sad and laugh like crazy, all in one story.
The Gospel According to Cane
by Anthony C. Winkler
by Dominique Morisseau
by Kevin Young
Also published in 2012 and flagged in case you missed it: Kevin Young turns a critical eye on the grey areas of Black culture, our music in particular. Challenging, fun and broad in scope, it’s a hot potato in deft hands.
B O O K
R E V I E W
by Kiini Ibura Salaam Reviewed by Robert Fleming Kiini Ibura Salaam’s stellar collection of 10 reprints and three original stories opens with a wise declaration from the esteemed writer Nisi Shawl, in her introduction, Annunciation: “There is no easy comfort here. No good stopping place, not even at the conclusion of that last sentence. Satisfaction serves only as a base for further exploration.” In the worthy lineage of Atwood, LeGuin, Tiptree, Butler, and Hopkinson, Salaam concocts her own take on speculative fiction, blending erotic alchemy, womanist thought and magic, with the sharp eye of a veteran Old-School editor. Sensuality and poetry elbow each other in her story, “Desire,” where the divine intervention of two competing gods, Faru and Quashe, turn up the heat in a dissipated, lackluster young woman. While the remarkable yarn, “Bio-Anger” captures the reader with its unique use of language and theme, it’s the strengths and weaknesses of three linked stories, “Of Wings, Nectar &Ancestors,” “MalKai’s Last Seduction,” and “At Life’s Limits,” that underline Salaam’s promise and potential of as one of the heirs in this glorious school of genre-writing. She moves us effortlessly through these Sci-Fi snippets of aliens as conquerors of Earth, which packs a similar punch to Sherwood Anderson’s collection of home-spun yarns in his classic “Wineburg, Ohio.” I marveled at how Salaam cleverly transitioned in concept through the realms of sex, gender, and the myth of otherness in these tales. Two stories, “Marie” and “Rosamojo,” shine in the hands of the former honor student of Octavia Butler and Nalo Hopkinson. With “Marie,” it’s almost autobiographical, with a young gal coming from Bayou Country down yonder to the Big Apple, seasoned with a bit of blues-flavored horror based on Hoodoo myth, 22
UpSouth sensibilities, and fears of the unknown. And the collection’s best, “Rosamojo,” rocked me to my core with the often-taboo themes of incest, child abuse, and vengeance as an emotionally shattered woman employs magic to turn the table on her cruel father. Although I savored many of the other stories such as “”Pod Rendezvous,” “Battle Royale,” and the title story, “Ancient, Ancient,” I realize this collection is an early triumph at the beginning of an uncommon, provocative voice in this genre. Some say Salaam concludes her literary dreams too soon. I say, wrong. Only an author knows when to edit the cerebral- stream vision, realizing the arc of the story has come to a finish. I dislike how the lame Sci-Fi fads and stale Steampunk trends have dumbed-down to curry the favor of consumers. But this is much more. Salaam’s bold, passionate, and original writing defies category or assumptions. Soon she will take home her share of Hugos and Nebulas. We look forward to her next published work.
Find Your Own Voice
Find your own voice & use it use your own voice & find it The sounds of drizzle on dry leaves are not like sounds of insults between pedestrians
Jayne Cortez May 10, 1934 - December 28, 2012 Jayne Cortez was born in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, on May 10, 1934, grew up in California, and lived in New York City and Dakar, Senegal. She is the author of ten books of poems and performer of her poetry with music on nine recordings. Her voice has been celebrated for its political, surrealistic, and dynamic innovations in lyricism and visceral sound. Her most recent books are, On the Imperial Highway (2009), The Beautiful Book (2007) by Bola Press and Jazz Fan Looks Back (2002), published by Hanging Loose Press. Her latest CD recordings with the Firespitter Band are, As if You Knew (2011), and Find Your Own Voice (2007) both by Bola Press and Taking the Blues Back Home (1996), produced by Harmolodic/ Verve Records. Cortez was co-founder and president of the Organization of Women Writers of Africa, Inc. (OWWA). She was an organizer of international symposiums and director of the films, Slave Routes: Resistance, Abolition & Creative Progress (2009), Yari Yari Pamberi: Black Women Writers Dissecting Globalization (2007), and was in the process of editing her most recent film, Slave Routes: The Long Memory. She can be seen on screen in the films, Women In Jazz and Poetry In Motion.
Those women laughing in the window do not sound like air conditioners on the brink The river turtle does not breathe like a slithering boa constrictor The roar of a bull is not like the cackle of a hyena The growl of a sea-leopard is not like the teething cry of a baby The slash of a barracuda is not like the gulp of a leaping whale The speech of a tiger shark is not like the bark of an eagle-fish The scent of a gardenia is not like the scent of a tangerine
For more information on Ms. Cortez and “Yair Yari” visit:
Find your own voice & use it use your own voice & find it
© Jayne Cortez
Tom Mitchelson Photo by: Mel Wright
At press time, African Voices learned our friend and beloved poet/playwright Tom Mitchelson made his transition. We celebrate his many contributions to the literary community and offer our condolences to his family and friends. In his honor, we are re-publishing a poem originally printed in African Voices a few years ago.
our children stand and stare disco/nected in wide-eyed wonder stand and stare at the edge of our pit where we dance and grunt bump and grind twist and shout dysfunctional dysfunctional and drugged in glass-eyed trance they unaware of the hour we unaware of the day both of us for the moment unconcerned. the wise ones say history is a teacher of those who would listen and a knowledge acquired too late by those who would not. three decades ago skirt hemlines rose higher and swifter than word or deed or contraband thought we long on stroke but short on memory got good ideas but poor execution we are losing our children. invite them to partake in our failure and they come chantin death raps and tossin bones betting against life crappin out before we come to our senses bettin against life pickin up then goin home before we can recover all we have lost here but lost innocence can never be regained we are losing our children.
send them off to school on potato chips and reefer send them out to play in needle parks and dead-end streets send them out of our arms and away from us two generations into the future are being laid to rest stillborn in a past they may never know. we are killing our children the old ones said there will come the day that the young shall devour the flesh of their elders as there will be a poverty of spirit and a forsaking of the soul and now as our babies run down well-worn angel-dusted alleys in search of an escape hatch callin it god callin it self callin it something anything before their number lights up on the big board it is difficult to look future in the eye as prophesy becomes truth our children are killing us. like kamikazes from our celluloid heroics and distorted reality come at us with questions we will not answer with attitudes we cannot turn back life like death has no impact in the face of self-destruction at high noon. so we turn to neon salvation make like every day is a Saturday night rolled up in a blunt and wearing a red dress here in the forest of our frustration in the shadow of a light now dimmed we are losing ourselves and our children we are losing our children… © Tom Mitchelson
Chinua Achebe November 16, 1930 March 21, 2013 Chinua Achebe, poet and novelist, was known the world over for having played a vital role in the founding and development of African literature. The Nigerian writer was considered among the most significant world writers. He was most well known for the groundbreaking 1958 novel Things Fall Apart, a novel still considered to be required reading the world over. It has sold over 12 million copies and has been translated into more than 50 languages. A Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University, Achebe’s global significance lies not only in his talent and recognition as a writer, but also as a critical thinker and essayist who has written extensively on questions of the role of culture in Africa and the social and political significance of aesthetics and analysis of the postcolonial state in Africa. He was renowned for “An Image of Africa,” his trenchant and famous critique of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Today, this critique is recognized as one of the most generative interventions on Conrad; and one that opened the social study of literary texts, particularly the impact of power relations on 20th century literary imagination.
Brenda Connor-Bey at the African Voices Brownstones Reading Series in 2010. Photo by: Mel Wright
Brenda Connor-Bey July 8, 1944 - August 18, 2012 An award winning poet, writer, and arts-in-education specialist, Brenda Connor-Bey was the first Poet Laureate Emeritus of Greenburgh, NY and creator of Learning to See ™ The Brenda Connor-Bey Legacy Workshop Series. She was the founder of MenWem Writers Workshop, a co-founder of New Renaissance Writers Guild and a member of the Poetry Caravan. In 2008, the Hudson Valley Writers’ Center honored Brenda for her contribution to literary arts in Westchester and for being instrumental in establishing the creative writing program for teens at the Center. In 2002, she received the Outstanding Arts Educator Award from the Westchester Fund for Women and Girls. She was a recipient of a CAPS award for poetry, a NYFA for fiction and was a MacDowell, YADDO and Cave Canem Regional Fellow. Her first book, Thoughts of an Everyday Woman/An Unfinished Urban Folktale, is a collection of prose and poetry. Brenda was the co-curator for the Port Chester Fest bi-lingual poetry readings and co-editor of One Word/Many Voices, a bi-lingual poetry anthology. She was an instructor of creative writing with the Kid’s Short Story Connection, the Hudson Valley Writers’ Center, the Ethnic Pen in Bay Shore, NY, BACA Downtown Arts Center in Brooklyn, NY, and with International Women’s Writer’s Guild at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY. She was an adjunct professor of creative writing at Marymount Manhattan College Writing Center. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary and on-line journals and has been performed by the Lincoln Center Performance Ensemble and Black Women in Theatre and included in the production of Her Talking Drum, produced by Vinie Burrows at the American Place Theatre in NYC.
Lynnette Velasco August 30, 1950 August 20, 2012 African Voices celebrates the life of friend and art lover Lynnette Velasco. A writer, journalist, poet and avid supporter of Black literature, Lynnette was passionate about young people and participated in many literary programs focused on promoting children’s authors and literature. She is the author of Zinzi: A Child’s Journey to Self-Fulfillment, Giving and Caring, a family-values-based children’s book and a contributor to the Essence best seller Turn the Page and You Don’t Stop! Sharing Successful Chapters in Our Lives with Youth edited by Patrick M. Oliver. She was also former President of Black Americans in Publishing. Lynnette also served as chief of staff to the assistant majority leader of the New York City Council, Inez Dickens. Published below is one of several poems she submitted to African Voices during one of the magazine’s publishing lapses. The African Voices’ staff honors her legacy and encourage all to keep her work alive for future young people to enjoy.
To Dance Obama Children should be seen,
he is, our mind’s
Children should be seen,
heard not seen,
neither heard nor seen Children,
fruit of vine,
eyes ripe for freedom, and, he came
neither heard nor seen, but eyes,
neither dim nor doubt, gold fruits
gifts from young dreamers peace weavers
anew delicate, dance of life. Children, we are all
once more He leads,
both seen and heard, Once more
“swing low, sweet chariot” We follow as one, freedom’s road. © 2009 Lynnette C. Velasco
Richie Havens Jan. 21, 1941 - April 22, 2013 Richie Havens was one of the most gifted voices in popular music. His fiery, poignant, always soulful singing style remained unique and ageless since he first emerged from the Greenwich Village folk scene in the early 1960s. His voice inspired and electrified audiences from the Woodstock Music & Arts Fair in 1969, to the Clinton Presidential Inauguration in 1993 — coming full circle with the 30th Woodstock Anniversary celebration, “A Day In The Garden,” in 1999. For over three decades, Richie used his music to convey messages of brotherhood and personal freedom. He told The Denver Post, “I really sing songs that move me. I’m not in show business, I’m in the communications business. That’s what it’s about for me.”
Bio courtesy: Verve Music Group
Born in Brooklyn, Richard P. Havens was the eldest of nine children. At an early age, he began organizing his neighborhood friends into street corner doo-wop groups, and was performing with The McCrea Gospel Singers at 16. At the age of 20, Richie left Brooklyn to seek out the artistic stimulation of Greenwich Village. “I saw the Village as a place to escape to in order to express yourself,” he recalls. “I had first gone there during the beatnik days of the 1950’s to perform poetry, then I drew portraits for 2 years and stayed up all night listening to folk music in the clubs. It took awhile before I thought of picking up a guitar.”
N O V E L
A Mother’s Milk
E X C E R P T
by Adanze Asante Chapter 1
ABEYANCE I stood on the precipice of the world ready to be born. Olodumare, the Supreme Being, stood next to me. I had to follow her directions carefully to be born to Baba Obadele and Mother Titilayo on May 5, 1476 in the Bight of Benin. I so desired to become Baba Obadele’s 18th child and Mother Titilayo’s first to survive. Her seven previous attempts bore her children, but none lived longer than 12 full moons. Olodumare offered me other parents. She tried to dissuade me from Baba Obadele and Mother Titilayo. “If you choose these parents, you will deal with a great deal of pain,” Olodumare warned. “But you will be very powerful.” Still, I chose them because they have powers I need. My future mother, Titilayo—which means eternal happiness—has the gift of sight. Her gift would enable me to foresee evil. My future father, Baba Obedele— which means the king arrives—could summon the rain and manipulate nature. With their blood, I knew I could continue my work and ensure happiness to their kingdom. I also knew their gifts would benefit me when I greeted those who had killed me centuries ago. Receiving their gifts of inheritance weren’t the only things that mattered. I wanted to give Mother Titilayo hope and encouragement. She cried every night asking why she had not successfully bore a child. Eventually Olodumare concurred with me in my selection because of 28
Mother Titilayo’s steadfast faith. I knew I would be her last chance. Although she was my father’s first wife, she was also known as the woman with the sticky womb. Soon she would be given the title of Mother of Spirit Children. The medicine man had told her that the children my mother tried to give birth to were selfish. “These are the children who choose to stay on earth for a brief moment,” the medicine man said. “They come only to torture their mother.” While I was waiting, I knew the medicine man’s words were nonsense. I had been warned of the forces against my birth and those of my siblings’ birth. Many of my past brothers and sisters never had a chance to cry their first cry, never had a chance to laugh at the sun. My last sibling had died of a violent fever. She was the only one to survive the birthing process. But after six moons, her body had been racked by convulsions. No midwife wanted to help Titilayo, for they feared their reputation of being a good midwife. They mostly feared the rumors of the dead-womb curse seeping onto their hands and spreading to other mothers to be, or it could cause a serious life threatening illness. One midwife that worked on my mother three siblings ago, claimed she received a curse of bad luck—no matter what she did she was doomed. The only midwife brave enough to help my mother was a stranger named Mawuzi from Jenne, the capitol of Sudan.
who had come to visit her, but it was not someone she recognized. As my mother opened the door, Mawuzi quickly introduced herself. “I am Mawuzi and I am a midwife,” she said, looking deeply into my mother’s eyes. “I can help you and most of all I will not desert you in the time of need.” My mother had heard a great deal of nonsense of midwives boasting of their talents. Even if my mother did have the gift of sight to read minds, she always took a chance on any midwife who dared to help her. However, by this time she’d had enough faint-hearted midwives. She tried to close the door, but Mawuzi blocked the door from closing with her foot and said: “Most of all I know how to work against the forces.” And because of my mother’s gift, she knew Mawuzi was speaking the truth.
Illustration by: Derick Cross
I learned later that Olodumare had summoned Mawuzi, my mother’s midwife, Mawuzi, who was raised in Songhai, to protect me. She had a moon-shaped face with a high forehead, round soft light-brown eyes, medium wide nose, and succulent lips with a long neck. Most of all Mawuzi was renowned for her strong healing hands. She appeared in the time between silence of the night and a dawning of a new day. She knocked three times on my mother’s door. As my nine-month-pregnant mother teeter-tottered to answer the door, she wondered who would be so bold to knock on the queen’s door so early. She tried to use her gift to read
My mother didn’t know what worked against her and why Olodumare had forbidden her to have a child. Rumors in the village of Tumora had pointed to Baba Obadele’s six wives, who were said to be responsible for Mother Titilayo’s dead womb. These women were quietly known as Owodunni’s Disciples. If only Titilayo had known that the women of Songhai celebrated her stillbirths, for they knew their powers were potent. They worked diligently for Owodunni. They had to drink blood to receive the mystical powers of animals. They carried around the bones of a powerful priestess. Within their huts and under the stillness of a black moon, many sacrifices were made. They practiced Owodunni’s twisted spells. They met with him in secret and traveled through the night wind to find him. Walking around the village with sadness in her heart, Titilayo always rejoiced new life, yet when it was time for her to go into labor, it was a time of imminent death. There were no celebrations. Hardly any doun douns or drums were played. No dancing or singing was heard; there was african Voices
only silence, the type of silence that cut through hearts. In the midst of my future mother’s sadness, happiness still emerged. Her father still became a very fruitful king fathering seventeen children. Asra Begum had two sons; Atira had my father’s firstborn son, which placed her second in rank below my mother and she had two daughters; Durriya had two daughters and two sons; Fariah had four daughters; Hadil had two sons and one daughter; and Nuriya had one son. Mother Titilayo always had gladness in her heart when a new baby was born. She was happy for her husband and knew he would be destined for success with so many children. Yet she didn’t know why she was denied motherhood. Mother Titilayo tried to use the gift of sight to discover what was wrong, but failed; Owodunni’s medicine was too strong and it veiled Titilayo’s sight. Soon Titilayo thought it was her own selfishness and pride that kept her childless.
I had to work fast. Before descending to earth, Olodumare gave me careful instructions. “If you want her to be your mother, you must be careful,” my guide told me. “There will be forces that will work against you. The wives know how to work with those forces very well.” Before spirits descend to earth, they take on the form of a human body. Olodumare ordered me to look into the pond of futures. There is where I would see my future human form. I peered timidly into the clear, still pond and saw an oval-faced woman with slanted eyes staring back at me. I marveled at my wide nose and I admired my high forehead; I noticed my smile was slightly crooked. I also got a chance to look at my hourglass body with long legs. I could have been male, but I preferred the female sex. I knew I could accomplish more work with this body. A woman in this society was often seen as weak and fragile, my most powerful weapon: the image of a weak woman. Men have a tendency to allow their egos to dominate them, especially when they confront women.
So there I was standing at the edge of a cliff ready to jump, before Olodumare ordered me to open my mouth. I obeyed. I never questioned her. She placed something on my tongue. I could not taste anything. Then she ordered me to swallow. I wanted to do whatever it took to return to earth. I had a great deal of work ahead of me. I had unfinished business. “This should ensure your birth,” she continued, “There are two pathways. Be careful, they both are light. One will excite your keenest pleasure.” This was when I looked at my guide a little strangely. I didn’t want to leave her; her strong arms always comforted me. Her muscular stature signified strength and endurance. Her long thick coiled hair twirled around her body. She is a woman of all women and, of course, man. No one would exist without her. “Darkness is the gift of birth,” she said. “This is how your other siblings became confused. They thought the pretty light, the dancing one, was the way. You must not be tricked. It is very enticing. You have to feel the light, not see it.” Remembering this, I jumped down the winding tunnel. I knew I would cause my mother a great deal of pain by being careful. I had to make sure I would not be attracted to the other light. I had to wait to feel the light. It took a great deal of time. I thought we would both die in the process. But somehow my mother’s determination would not let her quit. She tried too many times before and she gave everything to see me walk this earth. “Push! Push! Mother Titi!” Mawuzi, yelled. She touched the crown of my head between my mother’s legs. My mother was in labor with me for 24 grueling hours. I had to make sure the pathway was clear. A great deal of darkness awaited me, the curse I had to avoid. The curse I had to work with. The attractive light visited me, so alluring and bright. It
danced from side to side. It spun quickly and I looked at it with awe. It exploded into many different colors and then merged into one huge light. I wanted to reach out and grab it. It tried to make me follow it. It tried to lure me in. But I remembered Olodumare’s words, “You have to feel the light, not see it.” This light I did not feel. So, I shut my eyes tightly and let go. Soon I felt a warm pulsating light upon my skin. It felt warm and safe. I felt loved. I knew this was the one. I slipped between my mother’s legs and Mawuzi screeched, “Eeee— eeeee—eeee!” “You have a very special one Mother Titilayo,” Mawuzi continued, “She is born with the gift.” My mother was so exhausted. And when she turned her perspiring face toward me, “Aaggghhh!” she yelled uproariously. “What’s wrong with her face!” “Oh, this?” Mawuzi asked. “This is just a Caul. It’s like an onionskin. As soon as I cut it off, she will look like a normal baby. Don’t you worry.” “But why—does she have that on her face?” “Oh, because she will be able to see the other side.” “Ha, ha, hee, hee,” Mother Titilayo laughed; she now remembered she had been born with a Caul. She wasn’t as powerful as the other wives, but she knew with me she would be all-knowing. She held me in her arms and knew I would be the one to laugh at the sun. She named me Orishabiyi, which means the deity brought this one. “Baby, baby you are the one,” my mother sang, rocking me gently in her arms. “Pearls land into your hands.” I heard her strength and I felt safe and warm. I had succeeded in my first task on this earth. I awaited my next task in my father’s village of Tumora. Three months had passed. And when my father’s wives visited me, I saw their hidden fangs beneath their smiles.
I knew who they were before I met them. When I looked at them for the very first time through my earth eyes, they scurried away. Many of the wives came up with excuses of tending to household duties or making special meals to keep from visiting me. The truth was that they couldn’t stay around me for too long, because they felt a terrible sense of guilt. Atira was the only one who dared to visit me without her sisters. The others decided to send gifts. Maybe she feared her son’s Abimbola’s throne. It is tradition for the firstborn son to inherit the throne and with me alive, I threatened that likely succession. “Oh, Mother Titi, what a lovely child!” Atira feigned delight. “I wish I could stay, but I must skin a goat. You know how Baba loves curry goat!” Luckily Mawuzi was there to receive their gifts. She felt an evil presence around our home. And when the gifts arrived, from the Songhai women, Mawuzi performed special rituals. For one gift she licked then spat into a fire. The fire roared a red flame, and she immediately threw the gift into the fire. With the next one, she poured a libation of palm wine, and the gift dissolved into acid. She knew not to give these gifts to Mother Titilayo. If Mother Titilayo had met Mawuzi earlier, I would have had four brothers and two sisters. After three months, my father walked into our hut to see me for the very first time. I knew that he would change my name to Fulasade, because that was the name of his grandmother, the one who told great stories. And as soon as he saw my face, I reminded him of her. “She would be the one that leads directly to my heart,” my father said, holding me in his arms. “She is the gift I’ve been asking for.” Bowing before Baba Obadele, Mawuzi beseeched the great Babalawo to allow her to stay in the village of Tumora. “Why, of course you can stay here,” said my father, as he bounced me in his arms. “We have plenty of room for anyone who could protect my african Voices
loveliest wife and daughter.” “Fulasade, you and I have so much to share and learn,” he exclaimed, looking deeply into my eyes. “Her name is Orishabiyi,” my mother said indignantly. “Oh yes, I believe she has been sent from Olodumare himself. But when she gets older I will rename her Fulasade, because she has dancing eyes like my Nana.” My mother laughed and together they laughed and hugged each other in joy while his wives of Songhai cringed inside their cold huts.
summer clouds you make abandonment seem so easy © Tyrone McDonald
Girl & Photograph, circa 1972 Her thumb is the closest she gets to breakfast. The bottom of her cereal bowl is dry. She imagines she sees a child eating there. He is smiling and full. The cracked bowl echoes growls inside. She ignores copper roach that matches her dress. Her patched sweater keeps out chills since the landlord won’t fix the heat. Her mother mutters that slumlords ain’t right. Before babygirl’s hair is combed, she looks up at a bespectacled black woman standing inside a crooked picture frame. The woman points a finger at an audience unseen, so she seems to point at babygirl’s ear. She says: You are a whisper of hunger and dream—a strong combination that living between cracks cannot dispel. You are the daughter, my daughter, in Bed-Stuy, Harlem, Oakland, Chicago, Natchez, and future. The first black president is still ether, and his cry will not break air until I am lost, but I was here—Chisholm. Shirley Chisholm. © 2013 Tara Betts
dutty gal titanium, boom shocka, kill di woofa. thrash reverberating neatly polish mih ride. hyphy dancehall – no can hear tings demur. titanium, boom shocka, kill di woofer whine mih curvature: cause a road slaughtah. ain’t neck breaking like dutty when she whine. titanium, boom shocka, kill di woofa. thrash reverberating neatly polish mih ride. sih? From the book, TwERK, by LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, published by Belladonna, 2013
On being god we decided it was best to be gods who deviled a little
kissed & worshiped by angels, while spitting fire at demons acquiring, by force or conversation, zip codes of trouble we decided it was best to be gods who deviled a little
giving heaven and high life to weaker souls unfulfilled there is pain & thus a world begging for distractions
we decided it was best to be gods who deviled a little
kissed & worshiped by angels, while spitting fire at demons blessed and ruined by want and success selling the soul to gain greater heights
running and hiding in corners on corners from stress blessed and ruined by want and success greedy for white boy toys access
girls who love it all and the presence i provide blessed and ruined by want and success selling the soul to gain greater heights
Illustration by: Derick Cross
© Tai Allen
TERRORIST Milky Way ... relieved, another Black face besides my own © Tyrone McDonald
America has labeled our children terrorist They hunt them like rabid dogs
They claim they can tell them by the army
Combat gear they wear, saggin’ pants and hoodies. They’ve found their weapons of mass destruction, Skittles and Arizona tea, our children are dying in
America, the home of the brave the land of the free? © Layding Kaliba
There Are Many There are many who swallow the hope of tippin’ back my spine unfurlin’ me to open to lace through their fingers a cat’s cradle they offer wishin’ bone stares and lust wet mouths their sweetened words chip easy against my grated breastbone and still shattered at my travellin’ feet at my diggin’ brave into toasted days worth walkin’ through and rain hues worth drinkin’ and spreadin’ out on a drum woven collision in the corners of night I laugh with the singin’ ones suck sap under magnolia shades watchin’ mountains scream high into the sky wide-stanced and raw lettin’ the space embrace me softly I beat “boomerang, love, boomerang” from my chest clear through its flesh I plucked you from a smoking dust that refuses the beaten earth © Charleen McClure
Praise Poem for Poets Praise the flat surface that takes shape when you lay your words down. Praise the child who haunts your pages. Tuck her in between stanzas, we know how much you miss her. Praise your lover whose wound stains this sheet scarlet. Tonight kiss that scar. Praise your sweet mama, remember her scent, her touch your hands in her palms. Praise your best friend. Plant her voice in our eardrums. Paint her sunflower, magenta; wrap us around her rainbow spirit. Praise your poems. Name them: lifeline, breath, clay, spirit. Praise your pens, the indentation in skin as you push your way to surface. Praise tips of fingers. Praise keyboard seeking your touch. Lay your words here. Lay them down. Poets praise your poems. © JP Howard african Voices
I Wanna Dance With Somebody (For Whitney Houston) I often wondered if angels prayed I know now that they do
God has reached down and taken your hand
now you’re dancing the eternal dance with somebody who loves you. © Layding Kaliba
When Lady Sings I wonder your dress of wings tattered lace and platinum sheen Pure white-Gardenia from heaven’s green meadow tucks in your silk of black flowing hair Wind of ill and glory, swirls around death in beauty God’s gift-wrapped voice spills treasures and pain Stretched veins in your throat render a rasp in honey quilts sound of torture and freedom, dry deserts and maybe oasis found Rainbows with no colors, no gold in the tarnished pots just rust, sullen damp glitter and beautiful echoes the universe can’t repeat No fairy tale regalia, high-life streets and teary-black mascara roads misty trails to fog laden hearts and Gloomy Sundays When heaven throws its tears to earth I know it’s the beautiful melody of melancholy sung by “Lady” © 2012 by Ed Toney
Art: Aleathia Brown, Remember When... african Voices
F I C T I O N
Debris by Kiini Ibura Salaam Debris has a bad effect on me. It’s in my heritage. Everyone knows about the great Limione who got dust in her nasal holes and spent the rest of her life bequeathing her bones to cripples. It was harmless enough when it began. She offered a few of her decrepit digits to a little boy who was missing a foot. Sharing is a good thing, Grandmother told us. She hobbled proudly through the house, the model of benevolence. We stopped admiring her charitable spirit the day she was wheeled home with no skeletal structure from her pelvis down. She waved off our horror by claiming she’d been using her legs less and less. When she was down to just her skull, her daughter — my mother — put my grandmother’s head on a marble desk and locked her in the altar room. It is legend how my mother kept my grandmother’s eye sockets clean with the pure white feather of a cockatoo. She often sent me to the forests to pick marigolds to stack high around Grandmother’s skull. Grandmother loved the smell of the marigolds. She told me so every time I entered the house with an armful of fragrant weeds. After my grandmother’s head had been sitting in the altar room for a month, my mother realized my grandmother was dying — not because of her missing body, but because she was bored. Mother brought Grandmother into the living room and positioned her right in front of the window. There Grandmother sat happily for a week until Dad caught her promising her skull to an epileptic candy vendor. Mother couldn’t bear the thought of locking
Grandmother up again. So Dad came up with the idea of sitting her in the middle of the living room facing
the kitchen. Grandmother didn’t have much visual stimulation, but she could hear the sounds of the street. While staring at boiling pots and waiting for one of us to keep her company, Grandmother amused herself by mounting day-long monologues in response to the whizzing, clicking, and chattering that wafted into the house through the window. One November, Trucia decided we should suit up and go down to earth for the Days of the Dead. The humans make so much mischief during those days, they don’t notice us creaking through on our bones.
My costume had seen better days. Trucia said it was my sin that had made me run my robes down into dirty tatters. Lorki doesn’t believe in sin — he doesn’t believe in costumes either. Easy not to believe in anything when you’re always aligned. When I started slipping out the door that November night, I swore I heard Grandmother whisper “be ill.” I stopped and looked back, but she was silent. I stared at the cracks that worry their way down the back of her skull for five minutes. But they too, were silent. Grandmother said nothing more, so I turned and slipped out the door. Down on Earth, we looked for the cemetery with the most lights. We figured the busiest graveyards were best. While people drank, ate and cried for their dead, we could sneak in unnoticed. We found what we were looking for in Oaxaca, a tiny little desert town in the middle of six kissing mountains. Lorki’s black velvet cape covered us as we rushed into the swirl of activity on a dank, damp wind. The minute we landed I started trembling. That happens whenever I find myself in close proximity to large amounts of people. Their auras make me vibrate. Humans have the best emotions. They are so sharp
a tiny child’s fear when it glimpsed my dirty, pocky bones and swallowed the sight of me with undiluted dread? Trucia thought it was funny to pass her hand through people’s spines. She would reach into their backs until her wrist bone was buried in their flesh. She’d rub the tip of her index finger along their hearts, moaning filthily when their bodies went stiff with pain. While she was enticing me to find a spine to disturb, I felt a sudden chill licking between my fifth and sixth vertebrae. When I turned around, I saw a huge child running toward me. “You can’t catch me,” it yelled. The child did not touch me, but the force of it passing knocked me over. I fell across a grave and a parade of children — yelping in delighted terror — ran by. Humans are dirty beings. They never learned how to transcend earth, Illustration by: Elton Leonard especially in their graveyards. The debris kicked up by those murderous little feet covered me in a canopy of and hysterical and self-propelling. With the candlelight dust. This was not the little spray of swimming around us, the buzz of voices and the emotions dirt that, once stuck in Grandmother’s nasal openings, flying through the air, I felt a sense of intoxication. A induced her suicidal bone endowment spree. This was grandeur. huge clumps of dirt. I was clogged. I was suffocated. How can I explain what it felt like to dance with a stilt I was nothing more than a pile of jammed joints and walker whose stilts were thicker than my femur? How can rigid bones. I tell you about the eerie flesh-like shadow that shrouded Lorki tugged at the bowl of my pelvis. Trucia yanked at Trucia’s cheeks as she laughed at Lorki yanking people’s my ankle bones. The debris damage was stronger than souls out of their chests and juggling them with one longtheir worry. Trucia pulled harder and harder, but I didn’t boned hand? How can I describe the moist succulence of stir. Couldn’t stir. Every inch of me was paralyzed. african Voices
Suddenly a little girl approached me. Her arms were full of marigolds. She started framing me with them. She stuck some through my ribs, another under my jawbone, six or seven around my skull. When the earth under me started shifting, Lorki and Trucia couldn’t bear it. They didn’t stay to see the dirt seizing bits of bone to feed the grave beneath me. They went home. Lorki and Trucia will never believe in breath beyond the bones, but it is real. When my body was completely dissolved, I became something else. The spirits that haunt these graves say I am one of them. They roam the confines of the cemetery, licking leaves, drinking morning mist and planting crazy notions in human flesh.
Yet, when the spirits retire to their graves, I find what’s left of me grasping at sticks to scratch symbols in the dirt. Grandmother may never understand the shrieks I now use to communicate, but I must conjure a way to tell her the truth about the debris. She must discard her skull. We are more — so much more — than elegant skeletal spectacles. I will find a way to whisper it to Grandmother — may your cranium be eaten away. There is something else beneath the bone. Something indestructible. Something nothing, not even debris, can destroy.
JUNE 14 thru 30
THE POET’S DEN THEATER
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
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Motown: the Musical — It’s all about love & great storytelling Fueled by nostalgia and longing for music that changed the world, “Motown: the Musical” was destined to be a Broadway success. According to the musical talents behind the sound, making music about love and great storytelling are the key to Motown’s longevity. “It’s a blessing,” says Abdul “Duke” Fakir, the last surviving original member of world-renowned musical group The Four Tops. He described having a lifelong bond with members of his singing group and the Motown team. “We loved what we did. We loved raising our families together. It’s really a love story I want to tell.” “Motown: The Musical” does just that. Directed by Charles Randolph-Wright, the play weaves together the famous affair between Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr. (Brandon Victor Dixon) and legendary Supremes’ lead singer Diana Ross (Valisia Lekae) with the passion and love that all the recording artists had for making music to touch the soul. Actors Charl Brown (Smokey Robinson), Ms. Lekae (Diana Ross) and Mr. Dixon (Berry Gordy, Jr.) embodied the characteristics of their reallife counterparts so well that it is easy to get lost in the story.
Berry Gordy at a pre-opening celebration for the Broadway way play “Motown The Musical.” The event was held on April 5, 2013. Photo: Timothy Breland.
Backed by a great cast, perfect staging and costumes, Motown transports us back into the turmultous1960s where Detroit’s revolutionary sound broke color barriers in the Jim Crow south by bringing audiences together, threatening segregation laws. Although the play does not get too political, it manages to convey the tension that inspired Marvin Gaye to write and sing such political protest songs as, “What’s Going On” to cool the anger that triggered some of America’s worst race riots during the Civil Rights Movement. However, the timeless, ageless quality of the storytelling in Motown’s music is the real genius and star of this Broadway hit. “Holland-Dozier-Holland were three of the greatest tailors of music,” explains Duke, referring to the songwriting team of Lamont Dozier and brothers Brian and Eddie Holland. “They would not only write a song for you, they would produce it for you — specifically for you. “Then the next week, they would do the same for the Supremes; then the next week they would do the same for the Vandellas. And these are different types of songs and music. But when you walked into the room they would fit you like a tailor would measure you up and say, here’s what you need and they would come up with it!”
Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown, greeting singer Martha Reeves (Martha Reeves & Vandellas) at a pre-opening event for the Broadway play “Motown The Musical.” Photo: C. Butts
The award-winning songwriting team nicknamed Holland-Dozier-Holland were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1988 for composing over 200 hit records in Motown’s heyday. The team penned such classic songs as, “Baby Love”, “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)”. Dr. Martha Reeves, the beloved singer from the group Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, is proud she is still making music that families around the world can appreciate. She is thrilled to have four generations coming to her concerts. “They are all there enjoying the Motown sound. I’ve had a youngster say, ‘I didn’t know granny can do the twist!’” she laughed while sharing the comment during a press conference at a pre-opening Motown event. “The audience is like a mirror. I’ve never looked out there and see anything but love.” Audiences who are fans of the House that Berry Built will enjoy “Motown: The Musical.” For tickets and information visit www.motownthemusical.com
Abdul “Duke” Fakir, one of the last original singers from the legendary Four Tops, being interviewed at the pre-opening event for Motown The Musical. Photo: C. Butts. african Voices
RODLYN’S ROOTS after Rodlyn Douglas her laughter shook the ground on which we stood a red basked filled with bee balm chocolate mint heirloom tomatoes slung over her arm eye makeup bright as monarch butterflies open prairie shirt with toenails to match always the poet-preacher she schooled me here is cinnamon oil from Sri Lanka rub it on to chase away mosquitoes yellow dock root for indigestion
The Return naked tree branches spray of fifty bullets a groom returns home without breath, without wife another marvels eleven extra holes in his body revealing a light no man should ever know © Jacqueline Johnson
flaxseed for constipation senna or turkey rhubarb if you find you still can’t go Chinese motherwort angelica root and cinnamon bark for menstrual cramps a hot water bottle will fix that too tell Patricia anise for milk secretion when she nursing baby Ellis white sage to clear the air for good dreams horny goat weed will increase sperm cayenne and ginseng if yuh want to keep de fire in yuh bed next minute she was gone then I spotted her red specs peering into some woman’s purple sage her laughter breaking ground where they stood © Cheryl Boyce-Taylor
the day he moved out: he placed golden house key in the center of nowhere — to a little boy daddy is like God © Tyrone McDonald
(for George Edward Tait)
He sits on composer’s chair relishing the sun’s loom Fiery hues hurdle horizon’s hearth Cosmic colors crane skyward
He is a translator of metaphysics’ light Propounds destiny and design as margins of one’s spiritual well Urges we explore its vast inherent core
His fingers diligently key felt hammers beget progression of sounds and scales Monk-like melodies are windswept into morn meander their way along a striver’s row
His battles are waged with weapon of voice War cries echo the cannons of Garvey and throng He is wayfarer on a wasteland in quest of footing on his continent’s clay
Numbers solemnly sequence in order of constellation’s call Inceptions and cessations validate the science of their truth
When day crouches into culvert of night he puts pen and shield to rest Home shelters his spirit with allaying sounds He favors warble of his Songbird at midnight’s round
His mind closets a myriad of datum Daily glance of calendar and clock compels his replication of prayers for Ancestors and friends
Garbed in habit of Africa he is compass on foreign soil Days are spent in pointed concern for our facings and march On the streets he is landmark -Poet, Harlem’s laureate Earth-toned warrior wielding words He hones ripostes in guard of our eminence His voice is often decibel’s whisper Camouflages the fire in his heart Confirms how strength in fabric is spun from thinnest of thread At workshops and podium’s stage cultural galas and jailer’s dam, he reminds us: Voice is velocity of vision Actions engine the constructs of our needs african Voices
The Gallery Mirlande Jean-Gilles Carries on Bearden’s legacy Mirlande Jean-Gilles, the front-cover artist for African Voices Spring 2013 issue, is a Haitian-American writer and illustrator. Her stories have won numerous awards including The Bronx Writer’s Center-Van Lier Award and the Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center Fellowship for Young African American Writers. Her writing has been published in The Caribbean Writer, African Voices Magazine, New Millennium Writings, The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse, The Quarterly Black Review, Beyond the Frontier: African American Poetry for the 21st Century: an anthology edited by e.ethelbert miller and Chorus, an anthology edited by Saul Williams. Her vibrant collages have been shown at galleries, libraries and cafes in New York City and Maryland. She was part of the group shows, “A Choice of Weapons: The New Renaissance Artists” and a show for Caribbean History Month at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore.
Top art: Dancin’ in the Living Room Bottom art: Comfort Bringers
Top art: T ent City Home Bottom art: Hat and Clouds
Mirlande has recently been selected to be a “Bearden 100” in collaboration with The Romare Bearden Foundation. She was recently part of the group exhibition, “The Legacy of Romare” at the Corridor Gallery in Brooklyn. “A lot of my artwork is inspired by my Haitian grandmothers who both became widows early in their lives. They had to work, manage households and take care of their large families in a very challenging environment without partners. It is their tenacity and entrepreneurship that allowed their families to thrive.” Mirlande lives in Maryland with her family. Mirlande’s prints and artwork are available on www.etsy.com/shop/mirlande. For information e-mail email@example.com.
Art: Mirlande Jean-Gilles, Mountain Women
I Come from Mountain Women I come from Mountain Women
I come from sturdy women
Boulders for shoulders
Never stop women
Big, gigantic women who could see
No such thing as tired women
The Big picture
Cook their asses off women Farmer women who could wrangle Children, donkeys and rice crops
No time for mourning dead spouses and broken government Made do during embargoes Creating something from nothing I come from magical women Holding up the sky to keep back hurricanes And if they couldn’t calm the storm They would carry the house on their heads Away from the flood water
Freedom takers Revolutionary action I come from shape-shifting women Who answered the drum’s call And I come from fighting women Killers who shed the blood of those That caged them I come from legendary ladies Mamas that epic myths are written about © Mirlande Jean-Gilles
I come from women who didn’t Let their circumstances determine What they could do
I come from courage and bravery
Market women who go up and down Haiti’s hills With their livelihoods in baskets balanced gracefully on their heads Money makers and hagglers I come from women who could not Would not be enslaved african Voices
Freeing the Spirit:
A Photographer’s Lens Speaks
Caption: Prayer and worship in the aftermath of hurricane Jeanne, Gonaives Haiti 2004. Photo: Ocean Morisset.
Ocean Morisset, the back-cover artist for African Voices Spring 2013 issue, is a Haitian-American self-taught (freelance) photographer specializing in Photojournalism and Documentary photography. A self-described “inconstant” photographer, Ocean also explores Fine Art photography and engages with a wide range of subjects in life, though his passion remains in telling stories with images. Ocean’s choice of subject matter reveals his humanitarianism, as he has a keen eye for the unnoticed and under-appreciated aspects of life, and presents them in a way that the viewer takes hold of the image for their own self-reflection. Ocean Morisset has exhibited internationally and has been published in two international photography books; Nude Photography, The Art and Craft by Pascal Baetens, published out of the UK, and Black No. 5 by Juergen Janssen, published out of South Africa. In May of 2011, Ocean self-published his first book of photography titled Musings. For more information on Ocean visit
Ocean Morisset’s career highlights include: 2001 - Ocean establishes the Fort Greene Photography Organization, a membership organization of photographer amateurs and professionals. 2003 - Ocean travels to Havana, Cuba to teach a two-week photography and arts workshop to Cuban youth under a grant secured by Cuban-American Photographer Nestor Hernandez. 2004 - Ocean travels to Gonaives, Haiti with the humanitarian organization Eritaj Foundation to deliver food aid and medical supplies to survivors of Hurricane Jeanne. While there, he photographs the resilience of the Haitian people, with special emphasis placed on the food-distribution efforts. The photo essay is called “The Aftermath of Hurricane Jeanne,” and was exhibited at musician Wyclef Jean’s launch of his Foundation, Yele Haiti. 2004 - Ocean begins documenting the Black Gay community with projects that include Mukuru: Black Gay Elders and Pride in the City, New York’s Black Gay Pride celebrations. The Black Male Nude project also begins this year. 2012 - Unit Photographer for the documentary film, You Are Not Alone directed by Stanley Bennett Clay.
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Management Team african Voices
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