Thursday, October 14, 2010

BOOKS IN SHORT- written by B. Hayes SFPL Librarian

One of the goals of this blog is to highlight a variety of book titles, and knowing that one person can only read so many books at a time; colleagues were enlisted to submit brief review/synopsis of some of their favorite titles.  This is the first of such postings.  All titles on this list were submitted by B. Hayes of the San Francisco Public Library.

Friends & Fauxs by Tracie Howard

This is the follow-up to the author’s 2007 novel Gold Diggers. Gillian is now an Oscar nominated actress for her starring role in the film Gold Diggers. Her greatest fear is that Hollywood feels as her marriage is the reason her career has been on this fast track. Prior to the release of Gold Diggers, Gillian was a “C” list actress, trying hard to make it to the “B” List.

Gillian’s best friend Lauren has finally found true love. She spends most of her time traveling around the world with her photographer boyfriend.

Reese’s scars from the car accident that killed Paulette (Lauren’s cousin,) have healed. She’s working on becoming a better mother and person. Reese has relocated to Los Angeles, in hope of a fresh start. She’s also in search of a new sponsor/boyfriend/husband.

Paulette’s car accident has been ruled a homicide. He brakes were cut. Lauren and Gillian find themselves on the hunt for her killer. There’s mystery, suspense, and blackmail.

Foxy by Pam Grier with Andrea Cagan

Pam Grier began life as a military brat. Her mother’s family is from Colorado and Wyoming. After living all over the United States and abroad, by the time she was in middle school, her family had finally planted roots in Colorado. Having been a victim of rape at the age of 6, and then again at 18, Pam yearned to get far away from Denver. She began entering beauty contest as a way to obtain money for college through prizes and scholarships. It was after a beauty pageant when Pam was approached by not one, but two casting agents. They put the idea of a career in Hollywood in her head. She decided to take her chances and her film career began soon after.

Pam says that she never felt comfortable in Hollywood. After a bout with cancer, she decided to make a permanent home in rural Colorado. She travels to Hollywood and other locations for work in film and television, but she tries not to stay away from home too long.

Millionaire Wives Club by Tu-Shonda L. Whitaker

Biggie said it best, “Mo money, mo problems.” A fictional reality series entitled the Millionaire Wives Club, where there’s more reality than scripted fiction. In fact, there isn’t a script at all. These women are filmed in all of their glory. The show’s producer tries to set up scenes, yet things always seem to fall apart.

Evan is married to a NFL player. Milian is married to a suspended NBA player. Jaise is a divorcee, whose ex-husband is a professional boxer. Rounding out the group is Chaunci, the only “self-made” millionaire, who’s engaged to a multi-millionaire.

Evan and Milian have marriages that are rocky at best. Jaise spends more time trying to satisfy and snag the “right” man, than raising her 16 year old son. Chaunci is stuck on appearances, so much so, that she’s engaged to a man that she doesn’t love, and her daughter doesn’t like.

This book is full of surprises, and the women even mature in spite of all of the drama.

Feminista by Erica Kennedy

Erica Kennedy is the New York Times bestselling author of Bling. Her second novel, Feminista gives a glimpse into the life of a writer. Not just any old writer, but a contract features writer for a popular women's magazine.

Sydney has come a long way in the past 10 years; no longer is she the minimum wage earning temp/waitress of the month. She now has an annual 5 figure salary, quickly on her way to 6 figures. Feeling bad, knowing that she should be celebrating the fact that she can purchase whatever she desires, Sydney feels undeserving.

Having decided that a family will solve her problems, she enlists her sister in her quest for the perfect husband. To Sydney’s surprise, her sister hires a renowned matchmaker named Mitzi.

Section 8: A Hoodrat Novel by K’wan

K’wan’s novel Hoodrat is where the story began. The story continued in Still Hood. The third installment in the Hoodrat Series is Section 8. Tech has formed his own crew, which consists of Animal, Silk, China White, Asante, and Bassco.

Tech is out to get as much money as he can. He has dreams of leaving the street life, but he’s not sure that it’s possible. Animal, and assassin and sometime rapper, has been given the opportunity to leave the street life behind. The problem with his invitation is that it was given by Don B, owner and founder of Big Dawg Records.

Tionna, a wifey who has returned to the block, due to her man’s pending indictment. She vowed that she would never return to the block, but snitches had other ideas. Her man was caught as a result of someone in his crew violating the code of the streets. Revenge is on a back burner, as both Duhan and Tionna fight a losing battle that is the judicial system.

One night changes the fate of everyone. Tionna and her girls Gucci, Boots, and Tracey were out to have a good time. Don B and the members of Big Dawg Records were celebrating at a record release party. Animal attended the party, in an attempt to make a decision regarding a working relationship with Don B.

Friday, June 18, 2010


This is the second part of a look at life in Gay Africa, most specifically Kenya.  The essays below represent the lives and experiences of two gay male Kenyans. 


I am the only son in a conservative Muslim family. I have both my parents and a sister who is in a wheel chair. I am 46 years old, a not very normal for a Muslim to be single. I come from a Shia Muslim sect, which has very strict rules of do's and dont's. I consider myself fairly religious. I fast Ramadhan, pray as and when I can and have also performed Haj.
I believe I am born gay, and during my childhood, I used to wear my mum's clothes, and sometimes apply coloured chalk over my eyes as eye shadow, and apply lipstick. This was when I was about 8 years old, and surprisingly my mum used to watch all this, and never stopped me, or got angry with me, funny eh???
As I grew up, my feelings for men grew stronger. At the age of 14, I had my first encounter with a gorgeous looking Muslim Shia man. He is a family friend, and his name is Onali. It was a family gathering, in Mombasa, a coastal town in Kenya. I was 14, and had to share a room with Onali, for five nights. The first two nights we slept on separate beds, then came the 3rd night, and Onali got into my bed. He was about 21 years old, and he started kissing me, and starting caressing me, and I felt his warm body, our lips locked. I even did not know how to kiss. Then suddenly I had the urge to rush to the bathroom, and guess what I saw, some white stuff, I got scared and thought I was sick, I rushed back to Onali, and told him what happened. He held me tight, and whispered in my ear, that it is ok. He masturbated and showed me the white stuff come. This was the first time I felt sperms, and cum. My very first ejaculation was with Onali, and that with a man. The rest of the nights, Onali and myself slept together, and I always looked forward to being with him in bed. He was my very first experience with a real man. I loved every moment of it.
Then I had a relationship with another Muslim guy in high school, his name is Minu, and we were in the same class. It was here that I had my first “girlfriend", as a disguise. I never kissed her, but just held hands, with my feelings. My lover in my high school was a great guy, and funny enough I still see him, but he has blocked his school experience! He is married with a family.

It was in my college days, in my late teens and early 20s, that I had a conflict with my sexuality and religion. I am always felt dirty after being with a man, and I thought I was sick, and asked Allah to help me!! And guess what I did, I got married to a family member. Her Name is Tasneem, and she is my second cousin. I married her to "cure" myself, I felt my attraction for man was a sickness that would be cured my marriage. How wrong was I, it became worse, and my desire for man grew stronger. My marriage lasted for a year, and I decided to end it, I was not being fair to my wife and myself. I wrote a letter to Tasneem saying that we need to separate, since “there was no chemistry between us", we were actually sleeping in separate rooms six months from being married. My mum noticed it, and she asked me if everything was ok, I said NO!! She suggested I get a divorce.

The divorce takes place, and a lot of dirt is thrown at me, accusation that I am impotent, gay etc etc!! But I had no choice, because I could not pretend, and let my wife suffer. The divorce was the only solution. In my culture it is a taboo to divorce, but I did it.

It was after my divorce, when I was in my late 20s when I actually accepted my sexuality, and was comfortable being gay. I confided in my best friend, a Shia Muslim friend about my sexuality, and to his wife, and they both accepted me, till today we are great friends. It was after my divorce, that I could talk about me being gay comfortably

I got involved in Activism, and am now active member of Gaykenya, and sit in the steering committee of GALCK (Gay and Lesbian coalition of Kenya).

I have lots of pressure from my community members to re marry, but happy to mention that there is no pressure from my parents.
Being Gay in Kenya is not so easy, then add to that being an activist. There is no influence from outside the continent; it is just who and what we are, though we have funding coming in from various donors to push forward the agenda of our basic rights. Gaykenya has also received funding from two donors. One for domesticating the Yokarta principles, another for the office set up. Though, funding is not a lot.

Within the local Kenyans there are quite a lot of Kenyans who are gay, and they want their rights respected, freedom of association, easy access to basic amenities, e.g. education, medical, employment etc. There is discrimination if you are found or being suspected to be gay, therefore the activism, and have the gay community recognised.
Also note, we are not fighting for the law to recognize same sex marriages, all we want now is decriminalization of the penal codes, which sentence you to imprisonment for being gay!
S.H.Y- Kenya

I Was Never A Virgin

The Article That Has Taken Me 5 Years to Write
I have arrived at that point in my life when sex is no longer the most important thing or activity in my life. I am not impotent or asexual or God forbid, even celibate! I get aroused, my gonads are fully functional and I can still get my freak on. But, ever since I moved out of my grandmother’s place to my own house, ever since I started to work and immerse myself in the LGBTI movement and the gay Kenyan community, I have started to refocus and shift some of my earlier and otherwise frivolous aspirations -men, sex, parties, fun- and now aim for something more concrete and valuable. My work, my life, my friends and colleagues are now the primary things in my life. Let me give you a normal day in my oh-so boring life. It’s a four tier system: home, work, bar, home. I leave home in the morning heading to work; from work to the bar- where I get one or two cold Tuskers- then from the bar back to home. This is my daily routine.
As a gay man, the pressure to have sex with as many people as possible is unforgiving. Sad thing is that sex among most of the gay men I have met is short, meaningless and fleeting. Short in the sense that once the act is done, there is nothing is looked forward to. Meaningless in that there are no emotions or importance or dare I add, romance attached to it and its fleeting in that it’s not lasting and is seen as something to be done and get over with as hurriedly as possible. Another thing to be noted is that most gay men do not have lasting committed relationships: they would as soon move to the next person.
I have had my fair share of fun. I have been to countless gay parties, both in clubs and house parties and done things too graphic to be penned down. If it is sex, I have had it with men, with women, and even with myself. If its beer and alcohol, I have drank countless times and on different occasions. If it’s dating and relationships, I have a colourful repertoire. If it’s going partying all night and having sleepover in strangers’ beds or hotels, I have done it all. But many are the days I have woken up from the floor with a hangover and feel like the scum of the earth. I have cried, felt sad and become pitiful of my sorry self. Whenever I wake up and get bearing of where I am or who is sleeping next to me, I always ask myself, ‘How did I get myself here?’
Of course, I never learnt my lesson. Weekend after weekend, night after night, the cycle would be the same. And even with regret and the vow to change, I just couldn’t. I never could keep or save money. All my money went to buying drinks or handed out as fare money to my drinking buddies. I had such a huge ego (call it flamboyance) that if I went to a club, I would buy round after round of drinks to all my buddies and their friends too just to show I am loaded. I can remember once, in the height of my folly, and under the influence, I told, no, ordered, the waiters to give everyone drinks and bill it to me. You can guess how much I had to part with! I could spend all my money on drinks and funny enough manage to ignore to save or buy more basic stuff.
I feel so sad and disappointed when I do such that sometimes I wish and wonder that perhaps, just perhaps being gay is not me. I admit I was never a virgin.
(originally published as an artticle on the GayKenya website:
DN- Kenya

For more information on gay Africa: (a comprehensive website about issues dealing with the LGBT community throughout the continent)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


It's June and Pride, Gay Pride that is, is showing up everywhere.  In the 1970's the Gay Liberation Front and Gay Activists Alliance coordinated the first anniversary rally in honor of the June 1969 Stonewall Riots,  The Stonewall Riots marked the start of the gay rights movement here in the United States.  In 2000 President Bill Clinton proclaimed June to be Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.

In honor of Gay Pride Month, I thought it only fair to highlight lesbians and gays of African descent- but with a twist.  Since early 2010 the news has been flushed with the indignities being done to the LGBT communities thoughout Africa, with Ugandas hateful anti-gay bill that would criminalize homosexuality, calling for death as a penalty, Malawi arresting and trying a male couple for holding a wedding ceremony and Zambia's harsh anti-gay sentiments being espoused by members of the government but little has been heard here in America from those living under the harsh anti-gay laws that are on the books in some form in most African nations.

So I put out a call for essays from the African LGBT community asking friends of mine and them asking their friends.  I wanted essays from Africans from all over the continent and of both genders and representations.  For one reason or another I didnt get the response I was looking for, but the personal essays I did get were enlightening and quite different from the bleak picture painted in the news about "gay Africa."

All the essays are from gay men living in Kenya and run the gamut from the role of gay liberation in Africa, coming out to family in homophobic communities, and makes one realize that being gay is the same regardless of if it is in California or Nairobi, Kenya. 

For more information on the state of Gay Africa:


There is a gay character in the British sketch comedy, Little Britain, who believes that he is the only gay in his Welsh village. When I had come to terms with my sexuality, I too thought that I was the only gay in ‘my village’.
Nairobi, the Kenyan capital is the one place in the country I have always felt at peace. But is the setting for the current chapter in my story, being gay and living in Africa. When I came back to Kenya from my four year stint abroad, I arrived a different man; confident in my personality and comfortable with my sexuality. There were issues of faith, that I was dealing with, but that is another story for another day.
I had vowed not to go back to closet and I knew somehow there were others like me living in Kenya. I needed to make contact and once that was made, I was literally home free. It was affirming to know that I could be still be gay in Kenya.

We may not freely live our sexuality openly, but we live. The hallmarks of the gay lifestyle that are apparent in most western countries are lacking here, but the rules of the game though different are universally the same. The cruise will always be the cruise. Networks and friendships that I have developed have made it possible for me to grow as a gay man. There have been no parades or marches to affirm who we are. We do that for ourselves, by ourselves within ourselves.

I have met other like minded individuals, who have chosen to live their lives. Choosing to be middle aged and older and single, not bowing down to demands from relations and society, to get married and have kids. Those who ask me, when I will get married, I respond by telling them, that we can’t all be married. Those who push, I ignore and dismiss.

I chose to break free of the expectations set on me by society and coming from a family that I would describe as fairly liberal and independent, I am not bound to keeping up the Jones’. The only people in my immediate family who don’t know about my being gay are my father and step-mother. This, I hope to change soon. I have three male siblings, one older and two younger, then there is my mother, who was the first person in my family I came out to. She wasn’t happy, but she wasn’t surprised. We have not spoken much of it since. When it did come up, she used the word feelings. My brothers have told me that they love me for who I am.

I have come out to my close circle of friends. For me it was part of the homecoming, part of the process. I felt I needed to do that. By and large all of them have accepted it, though they have mentioned that they don’t agree with my decision to live the lifestyle. I must mention most of the teen years and early adult life was spent in the church and so most of the friends have strong Christian beliefs. Did I know I was gay during this time of my life? Yes, though I was able to suppress most of my feelings and chose not to think much of it. I was somewhat asexual. So, coming out to my friends was important, but one of the biggest hurdles I had to overcome. I have made new friends, but try to hold onto my old friends. They are still a part of my life. I may not get that many invites for social functions or golfing weekends, but I harbour no hard feelings and at times I decline a number of the invites. I am the single ‘uncle’ and I don’t always want to show up alone and yet I want to respect their space. I have tried to separate the old and new, it makes things easier for me. There are fewer questions to deal with.

There is that constant struggle not to become bitter and angry towards a society that is by and large homophobic. The cynic in me, says that Africa needs to be buggered just once, then there eyes will be open to fact the there are gay Africans, peppered across the continent. But yet again, I live in a country and continent where choice isn’t freely exercised, individuality is seen as selfish and rights of the minorities don’t make the top agenda, political or otherwise. I strongly believe that not until more is done for the women’s rights movement on the continent will only then will any headway be made. Africa’s largest minority is still not free. Once this is done, then I believe things will change for all other minorities.

I am not be able to show affection to my partner in public, I may not have a night club where I can dance shirtless and in hot pants or in chaps nor have a sauna to go to, so as to get my groove on, but I am alive. It can get frustrating, not having physical representations of the lifestyle, but we rely on the social aspect of the lifestyle to keep on going. We’ve gone round this through friendships, networks, the internet and a bond that ensures that we still represent our brethren. The rainbow flag is hoisted proudly within me, free!

KM- Kenya


I am stuck to think of a fancy or intellectual title for this and being gay and growing up gay in Kenya is too long and boring so am just writing it down as thoughts and observations of times and spaces in my life…. Ahhhh! That’s the title – Times and Spaces in my life.

I remember realizing I was gay when I was about 14 years old, the earliest funny memory is standing in front of a mirror trying to figure out if I wanted or was brave enough to try a pair of tights I had found in a cupboard somewhere at home.  In a strange way I have never had the experience of a before and after snap shot in time. It’s always just been I realized this is who I was. And with that came all the ingredients for a life lived in different spaces and ways.

In primary school – ages 8-15yrs old – it was a mixed bag of nuts. The first 6-7 years there sex and sexuality was not part of my life or realization or consciousness oyu could say. In the last 2 years, 14 and 15 years old, the body wakes up with a bolt and a sweat…lol. Boys around, galore, hormones raging, embarrassment, envy, lust, the works… I knew I was attracted to boys and there was no one to talk to just sneak read whatever books I could find, I was an avid reader, James Hadley Chase, Jackie Collins… excellent sexual awakening books for teens on the 80’s NOT! They were full of sex scenes and the imagination went riot.

Then off to high school for the next 5 years. Here in Keya most people send their children to boarding school for high school. So imagine a city kid like me born in a middle class family off in boarding school in what can only be described as a cultural shock exchange programme. In boarding school boy’s brag all the time about sex, women they have slept with, how, techniques, truth and lies meld into a tales of what man hood is or should be or is expected. And with no discerning force this is what we grew up with. Now when you look at all of this through the eyes of a culture and environment where being gay on a good day is simply taboo and on a bad day evil and immoral, you start to see what it was like to be afraid, alone, lonely and at the same time trying to define for myself who I was not only for myself but for my family, society and culture. There were many embarrassing nights of lies and conversations gone along with for bravado and image, in the first year of boarding schools there is a lot of bullying that goes on for the newbie’s. A comparison but not identical is like the hazing that goes on for frat houses in the USA.

All in all there was a lot of conversations about sex, not so innocent sexual innuendo bullying going on, don’t get me wrong no molestation or anything like that, but crotch grabbing and inquisitions about sexual conquests, sisters, female cousins, sister school girlfriends.

The thing I remember the most about that period of time was the aloneness and fear of being found out, of being a fraud counting his days and because had no experience or knowledge of hetero sexual sex, the idea of lying was made larger than life for the fear of saying things that were clearly not possible but not knowing lol its funny the books and the lies went hand in hand…

I went to the UK for university, and the one regret I have in life so far is that I did not take full advantage to find out, speak to, date, get into relationships during that time, I think all the fear and shame had been so set in me that even the thought of doing anything had the repercussion called what if my parents find out??? It’s a common conversation I have heard form colleagues now who all went abroad to study, the what if? Conversation and family image conversations. Kenya like a lot of developing countries is big on family, and especially extended family, and gossip and nosey or moral or religious relatives etc so a member of your family finding out always carries for many gay men and women an extended fear of the rest of the family finding out.

My biggest fear coming back home was my family finding out and me being rejected, kicked out, all that. My saving grace was the first lot of friends I MET WHEN I CAME BACK TO Kenya were a gay white couple of 17 years together at the time and a host of other liberal open minded people so the transition for me to come out was ironically seamless and to happen here in kenya and not in liberal open Europe.

The conversation for coming out to my parents happened when I was 30 and took approx 8 minutes. I think was October 28th… lol strange what we remember as details. At the end of the conversation my mother had basically said she always suspected and my dad had said we care about your health, well being, savings or lack thereof and the rest is your life. I am lucky and one of the few to have that response in Kenya and even fewer to come out to family. Marriage, children and the down low culture exists and is a growing phenomenon in my opinion and meetings in the last few years. In the last 6 months I have had no less than 5 married men chat me up and ask to meet up/hook up.

I have never had anyone I have told am gay react negatively, I have very very rarely denied or actually omitted to correct someone when they speak about why am not married and I say not found the right person yet and they say you will find HER. Some situations require that omission.

Meeting other gay men, potential boyfriends, or mature relationship martial single men is hard enough anywhere I imagine and that much harder here. In a country with a highly religious, moral and righteous sensibility, it more scandalous and shameful to be gay than to beat your wife senseless everyday for years, or rape and molest children as a school teacher. We live in strange times and spaces, filled both with innocence and guilt, spiced with shame and morality, and oven baked with political plot forming and familial and societal conformity.

NG- Kenya

Monday, June 7, 2010



This year marks the 145th Anniversary of Juneteenth, a day that observes the end of slavery for the very last of those held in bondage. On June 19th 1865, General Granger of the Union Army came to Galveston Texas announcing the end of the civil war and issued a general order freeing the slaves that resided in the state:
The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer. . . .
Little did those slaves know that they had already been freed two and a half years previously by the Emancipation Proclamation. Thus began the celebration of Juneteenth.
Although Juneteenth has a long history, only Texas recognizes it as a legal holiday. The tradition spread to other states as African-Americans migrated to neighboring southern states and eventually California. San Francisco is known to have one of the biggest celebrations in the west and this year won’t be any different as the city celebrates the 60th anniversary of its Juneteenth celebration. Though in years past the celebration was to commemorate the end of slavery and the beginning of black liberation, presently, the anniversary is a way for African Americans to reflect, reassess and renew our pride in our history in the United States.

For additional information, check these websites:

Friday, May 7, 2010

GOING INTO DARKNESS: Fantastic Coffins of Africa

On my one and only trip to Ghana, the one thing that I truly wanted to see, almost even more than the slave castles of Cape Coast, were the coffins created by the master coffin makers of the Ga tribe.  Why coffins you might ask, you must have a fascination with death you might also think.  No, death is not something I think on often and I dont have any particular fascination with it, but I do have a fascination with the ways in which different cultures celebrate life by honoring their dead- whether it be an Irish wake, the third line procession of a New Orleans funeral or as in Ghana with the Ga people designing fascinating and elaborate coffins to bury the newly deceased in.  Such celebrations of life and death do intrigue me.  These coffins arent just the run of the mill coffins, but are designed with the deceased in mind and sometimes even commissioned by the dying before their death.  There are coffins made to look like Mercedes Benzes, Cigarettes, Fish of all sorts, all celebrating the way the deceased lived. 

pictures from

For the Ga tribe in coastal Ghana, funerals are a time of mourning, but also of celebration. The Ga people believe that when their loved ones die, they move on into another life -- and the Ga make sure they do so in style. They honor their dead with brightly colored coffins that celebrate the way they lived.

The coffins are designed to represent an aspect of the dead person's life -- such as a car if they were a driver, a fish if their livelihood was the sea -- or a sewing machine for a seamstress. They might also symbolize a vice -- such as a bottle of beer or a cigarette.
(click link to see more pictures)
So while driving through a section of Ghana outside of Accra the capital city, I scanned the roadsides for any sign of these fantastic and life affirming final resting places.  I did see regular, albeit quite fancy gold painted, gilded and quite ornamented, ones at the many wood working shops along the side of the road, but no sign of the specialty caskets I was so looking for.  The one book on the subject that I can find is called Going Into Darkenss: Fantastic Coffins From Africa.  This book highlights the history of such coffin making, history of the people and some of the famous coffin makers, as well as showing many glossy color pictures of these marvelous coffins. 

Other works on Ghana culture and history and Ghanaian art forms:
Historical dictionary of Ghana
The history of Ghana
The door of no return : the history of Cape Coast Castle and the Atlantic slave trade
Wrapped in pride : Ghanaian kente and African American identity
African majesty : the textile art of the Ashanti and Ewe

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


As an undergrad in college I took a literature class and was introduced to the writing of Ugandan writer Okot p'Bitek.  After reading the first pages of Song of Lawino I fell in love with the text of this long prose poem. 

p'Bitek was one of East Africa's best-known poets, helping redefine African literature in the English speaking world, by emphasizing the oral tradition of the native Acholi people of Uganda. His prose poems, can be and have been categorized as poetic novels, reflecting the form of traditional Acholi songs while expressing contemporary themes such as politics, male female relations, the meeting of disparate cultures and the effects of such interactions on interpersonal realtionships.

His first collection of poetry, Song of Lawino, is the lament of a nonliterate woman over the strange ways of her university-educated husband, whose new ways are incompatible with traditional African concepts of manhood.

Stop despising people
As if you were a little foolish man,
Stop treating me like saltless ash
Become barren of insults and stupidity;
Who has ever uprooted the Pumpkin?
(from 'My Husband's Tongue Is Bitter,' in The Song of Lawino)

Like beggars
You take up white men's adornments,
Like slaves or war captives
You take up white men's ways.
Didn't the Acoli have adornments?
Didn't black People have their ways?

Like Drunken men
You stagger to white men's games,
You stagger to white men's amusements.

Is lawala not a game?
Is coore not a game?
Didn't your people have amusements?
(from My Name Blew Like A Horn Among the Payira, in The Song of Lawino)

All misforutnes have a root,
The snake bite, the spear of the enemy,
Lightning and the blunt buffalo horn,
These are the bitter fruits
Grown on the tree of Fate.
They do not fall anyhow,
They do not fall at random,
They do not come our way by accident,
We do not just run into them.
When your uncles curses you
You piss in your bed!
And you go on pissing in your bed
Until you have taken him
A white cock!

When your mother lifts her breast
And asks you,
Did you suck this?
If your father lifts his penis
Towards you!
Know that you are in trouble.

No one wrestles with his father,
no one looks down
On his mother,
You cannot abuse your mother!
Because it was that woman
And that man
Who hewed you out of the rock
And molded your head and body.
(from The Last Safari to Pagak, in The Song of Lawino)

The Padre and the Nun are the same,
They only quarrel
They are angry with me
As if it was I
Who prevented them marrying.

To them
The good children
Are those
Who ask no questions,
Who accept everything
Like the tomb
Which does not reject
Even a dead leper!
(from From the Mouth of Which River, in The Song of Lawino)


As April and National Poetry Month comes to an end, I bring to your attention the last guest poet.  Cait Meissner is a young, dynamic and vibrant poet, one I have much respect for.  We met at a writer's conference in Ghana and have managed to stay in touch.  I am so glad she accepted my invitation to present work.  Of all the guest poets, Caits had the most to impart to this blogs readers beyond her well-written poem.

In her words:

Multi-disciplinary storyteller Caits Meissner uses an exciting blend
of poetry, music, performance and visual art to deliver poignant
testaments to the complexities of the human spirit. Caits has moved
audiences from street corners to Columbia University, The Nuyorican
Poets Cafe to Rikers Island. Winner of the OneWorld Poetry Contest,
Caits attended the 2008 inaugural Pan-African Literary Forum in Accra,
Ghana where she studied under Pulitzer Prize winner Yusef Komunyakaa
and other luminaries from the literary African diaspora. In addition
to her own self-released work, she has been published in various
literary journals and has shared sets with musicians such as Immortal
Technique, Grandmaster Caz, Boot Camp Clik and many others.
Keep your eyes peeled for May 1st when she releases her second EP,
music project "the wolf & me," executive produced by Just Plain Ant
and featuring Maya Azucena, Jesse Boykins III, Dunce Apprentice and
Broke MC; with production by Blu, Cazeaux OSLO, Just Plain Ant, Bisco
Smith, Cave and The Aftermath. Download her single, "Blackest Blood,"
for free at

Illuminating the Mundane
by Caits Meissner
Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. - Antoine de Saint Exupery (author of “The Little Prince”) There is no spot of ground, however arid, bare or ugly, that cannot be tamed into such a state as may give an impression of beauty and delight. -
Gertrude Jekyll (famous British gardener)

[Recently], I had the joy of bringing a workshop titled "Illuminating the Mundane" to a Richmond, VA slam venue. Having been birthed in the slam community, I find much value in the art of performance poetry. Having diverged from the scene to pursue poetry in its quieter form, on the page, and through music, I learned a thing or two about subtlety and the value of silence within word-based work. I'd like to share what I brought to these young, hungry poets. Before my note to the poets, you'll find a journal entry written during the summer of 2008, when I studied under Yusef Komunyakaa during the Pan-African Literary Forum in Accra, Ghana. This dialogue has long stayed with me and informed my work since that life-changing two weeks under my favorite poet's guidance. I hope you find the value in its translation to you.


The inspiration: Journal Entry July 8, 2008 Embracing the Mystery
One of the Nigerian students asked me last night, "Caitlin, how are you coping alone in that room with no TV or radio?" Funny. I hadn't thought of that. My buzzing brain is so full of stories that at the end of the day all my heart longs for is to write. I can't imagine watching TV here. Even music, as desperately as I love it, has little place in this experience. My iPOD sits in my bag, unused. My songs, instead, are the lilting accents of the Nigerian students laughing in the common room, the barking dogs in heat, the bull frogs and their incredible feat of throats. My own heart beat and breath.

Today in the workshop we talk about the function of poetry as a group (finally!) Yusef shares his thoughts on what makes a good poem. Notes below:
- Each line is important, each word. The word that falls right or left of a given word changes the music.
- Take out the extraneous
- Entry into the poem very important
- "Art is that which endures"- spoken by a friend of Yusef's. This was a new way of thinking about poems for him. We write the poem for the moment, but we revise it with the intention of endurance (even if it doesn't end up enduring.) "Time is always at war with other Gods"- a quote from an article in an Italian publication he read.
- Music of the poem in relation to the oral tradition
- the ear is a great editor. Think of language as music.

Tyehimba Jess shares that poetry, for him, is an opportunity to have his voice heard beyond his time on the planet. A way to share political ideals, though he is wary of preaching to the choir or creating a message without image. The image is extremely important, above all. Tonya Foster shares that a writer must discover themselves in the creation of the work, create an alternative space. She is interested in how poets use language to draw in different audiences. Refers to George Orwell's essay, "Politics and the English Language."

Yusef calls on Plato. In his ideal republic, Plato banishes the poet. Why? Yusef thinks the poet forces us to pose questions. By posing a question, the reader is already active. Being told a message is passive. Language is political and silence is political. The image is subversive because it keeps reoccurring in our psyche, it haunts us. Yusef believes a short statement can be inserted into a poem successfully, but only depending on what happens around it. Often poets think too much about the meaning of the line and not the music. Sometimes we don't want to understand the poem entirely. We must be wary of poems as emotional advertisements, lacking depth and mystery. Embrace the mystery.

After the workshop, Tonya, Tyehimba, Masese, Mildred and I grab a bite before the evening reading. Masese tells us how he makes his Obokano, the traditional instrument he plays, specific to his village in Kenya. Amazingly, its all natural. A specific tree in the forest is used in its creation, a tree that is not used for firewood, except in the exception of elders and widows, since it is easy to access, close to the edge of the forest. If lightening strikes any given tree, this is the same tradition, it is left for elders and widows. The strings of the instrument are made of dried animal veins. The body, of hallowed gourds. Masese made his instrument himself in about a week long process. --

The result: April 3, 2010 Caits' Note to Poets:

Let the story of Masese's instrument tell us a thing or two about patience. The process behind whittling an instrument to perfection, so it will play when you touch its body just right. Too often I see performance poets shouting their points, statement after statement inserted into their poems without using imagery or leaving much to the imagination. Rushing through lazy metaphors. Cramming as many words as they can into their mouths and the air outside their mouths and into our heads. LISTEN TO ME! I HAVE THE ANSWER AND I’VE FOUND MY SOAPBOX! Yawn.

Reading suggestions: Here are just a few poets who do brilliant work in this vein: Check out what Neruda does with his incredible "Odes," giving life to things as simple as olive oil, clothing and ironing. Roger Mitchell (one of my favorite poets) does unbelievable things in his exploration of everyday life. Erica Miriam Fabri turns lying in bed with a lover into an overwhelming journey for the senses. There are many others. Share your finds!


Poems by Caits Meissner


when I say you remind me of a book's broken back,
pages half-sewn and a coffee ring on it's face or
that moment in half-morning where the sun is hesitant
or after the ground's been cried upon and everything
is soft and open or holding the earth's guts in palm
just to feel alive amidst all this concrete, my god, what
I mean to say is this song is an off strum and I like the way
it hits my ears sideways and how I might be cold and you'll
put your coat around my shoulders like the movies and
I'll show my teeth and say, who spilled molasses over the window,
making the day golden? You'll say, beautiful is a dead word
and I'll say, so let's invent, they tell us that star up there blew out
ages ago and you'll say, but it still holds 10,000 wishes
tonight alone and we'll want to sing with our voices turned
on backwards, we'll want to laugh so hard we forget to
ask why and then lose any use for that word, too.


A Letter to Roger Mitchell
*My new favorite poet, and a dear friend of my father's

Dear Roger,

Please forgive your book's curved edges
dog-eared and bits of soot that have lodged,
inexplicably, between page 42 and 43
it has come everywhere with me
I have a gift of dirtying everything I touch
a euphemism for love, perhaps
sometimes I read a poem and close the book shut
rub fingers over it's shiny cover and
whisper a soft yes.
Strangers on the subway have taken to
staring, thinking I might be one of the mad
and in some ways, I am.

Did my father ever tell you
I hated mountains as a child?
The steep incline aching little tendons,
hiking boots clinging captive toes,
the third blister arriving on the pinky to
draw complaint from my throat
I was a tantrum thrower,
already full of vices and unable to lose
my thinking mind, despite the view
My eyes were small then.
I had not yet learned to be a bird.

Yesterday I climbed the rickety ladder
to my Brooklyn roof
noticed how the street below looked
the morning after a shooting
ambulences had returned to their beds
one strip of police tape unhinged,
waving in the wind
across the way, the building's five mouths
still boarded up in silent witness
the super is laughing with his daughter
in a language foreign to my ear,
punctuating the gray sky in audible color
garbage and broken glass leave a trail
for the stray cats to bleed on
nothing much is out of ordinary,
the city lays sprawling in it's
hurried, noisy habits
but if I squint, I can see the Valley
and hold it's magic, twenty years later
next to my ragged heart
I read your poems and remember a feeling
called peace I have only come to know
in my young adult face
and whisper, softly, yes.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Coloring Outside the Lines:

Black Cartoonists as Social Commentators


Comic strips offer a unique form of social criticism and commentary. The best cartoons expose some truths and, to quote the Bible, “the truth will set you free.” Cartoonists must often be provocateurs. As cartoonist Keith Knight says, “Cartoonists are the court jesters of modern times. We can get away with things that others can’t because of our ‘cute’ drawings.” Coloring Outside the Lines features some of those “court jesters.” They share their experiences, inspiration and perspectives as social commentators and provocateurs.

The exhibit features several Black cartoonists whose comic strips appear in newspapers across the country.

Related Program: Artist Discussion - nationally-syndicated cartoonists Darrin Bell (Candorville and Rudy Park) and curator Kheven LaGrone discuss their art. Animated shorts by nationally-syndicated cartoonist Jerry Craft (Mama’s Boyz) will also be screened. The discussion will be moderated by Thomas Robert Simpson, founder and artistic director of AfroSolo. Sunday, June 13, Main Library, Lower Level, Koret Auditorium, 1 – 3 PM

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Jewelle Gomez: National Poetry Month

Jewelle Gomez, author, poet, critic, and activist also has the honor of being the President of the San Francisco Public Library Commission.  Gomez is the author of seven books, including the Lambda Literary Award winning novel The Gilda Stories. This novel, which has been in print since 1991 and reframes the traditional vampire mythology, taking a lesbian feminist perspective, is an adventure about an escaped slave who comes of age over two hundred years.  Gomez has been the executive director of the Poetry Center and American Poetry Archives at San Francisco State University, she was also the director of Cultural Equity Grants at the San Francisco Arts Commission and the director of the Literature Program for the New York State Council on the Arts.  I am honored to highlight the work of such a fine artist and friend of libraries. 

Flamingoes and Bears

Flamingos and bears
meet secretly
on odd street corners.
Horses and chickens
elephants and geese
looked shocked and appalled.

Ostriches dont look at all.

Bear and flamingo
ignore greedy gazes
from disgruntled parents
and frightened sly weasels
who hiss
as the couple
strolls by.

Chance brought them here
from forest and sea,
but science won't agree
bears and flamingoes
learned how simple
building a nest
in a den can be.

Now flamingo and bear
sleep forever entwined
in all sorts of climes
be it rainy or snowy or sunny,
happy to know
there's room in this world
for a bear who likes palm trees

and a bird who loves honey.

from: Flamingoes & Bears : poems
Jewelle Gomez

Monday, April 19, 2010


James Cagney is a poet and writer residing in Oakland, Ca.

This is the full bio from a man who has poetry flowing through his veins like lava- when cut, he bleeds scorching synechdoche, smoking similes, smoldering and too hot to touch images that sear and brand the imagination lingering long after the page has been turned. 
He says about himself:
My imagination works like a snowball– the tiniest stone grows larger, collecting more weight as it continues on its journey. The road to this story diverged from two places.

Last month, my list serve shared a recent discovery of a black penguin. Being writers, many of us were alarmed at the language the media used to talk about this rarity. Even the link above uses the sinister word ‘mutant’ to describe her. The animal is provocatively beautiful and certainly draws my imagination. The problem is the word ‘black’ and how my mind lazily defaults towards easy archetypes and stereotypes in order to have the animal ’speak’. Could I write a poem for an animal without leaning on easy smiles and images and even straying away from feeling forced to speak about blackness at all? I’ve thought about her for a month without being able to write anything; googling again and again photos of an adult black penguin just to admire.

Around the same time, one of my coworkers and friends on Facebook posted a random status which said something like: Forget it! I’m going to chug everything and move to Antarctica and live amongst the penguins.

And I saw this and without thinking replied: don’t do it. If you do, get separate beds. They snore, their farts smell like fish, and their feet are cold as ice. And I implied having to forgo a relationship with a penguin over cold feet or however I’d said it.

Both of these ideas crashed together over breakfast this morning, at a time when I’d been reading the work of James Tate who specializes in writing these beautifully dreamy prose poems that somehow grow in the oddest directions sentence by sentence. He is my role model here as i imagine myself shoveling snow on the ‘lawn’ of an igloo. All I needed was an image, THAT crazy image, and I stared at it like a psychic with a bad antenna until it cleared up on the page.


My Ex-Lover or Fuck Somalia

She stood in the doorway of the igloo and said, This isn’t working. I was shaving
our ice lawn and saw she stood barefoot with her flippers crossed sternly.
You’ll catch your death, I said. Put on those slippers I bought you off Ebay.
And where’s your headscarf? Its hand dyed silk from Somalia.
Fuck Somalia, she said. I’m not African. I’m a penguin.
And I want to be alone and single again.
I didn’t know what to say. So I held up my ice shaver in Moses pose
and the mosh pit of penguins parted cleanly on the ice shelf.
This time she didn’t laugh, just pretended to smoke and look disinterested.
What about the children, I said. We don’t have children, she said.
I was shamed. I could never get a full erection around so much ice.
Are you going back to mother, I said.
She disowned me because of my mutation, she said. I’m staying
here and asking YOU to leave. National Geographic
is giving me my own reality show. I’m going to be famous
and invited to all the glamorous parties and movie stars
will kiss my ass and send me screenplays. And you’ll just be
the footnote in my ghostwritten biography.
Last night I had a dream, I said.
Is this another reference to Malcolm Luther King? she said.
No, this was a real dream. I said. I dreamed
I was Pablo Neruda and I wrote an ode for every Eskimo
word there is for snow. I made them all complicated
love poems where the first letter in each line spells your name vertically.
I wrote these poems in cayenne pepper on the snowbank
above our igloo. Every morning at sunrise the words are illuminated
with lemonly light and my poetry rises in the mist of the dawning
air, swirling and raining around us as we make love, our skin steaming
making our kisses hot as if our tongues were orange habaneros.
I’m going to need you to leave before the camera crews arrive,
she said. They’ll think I’m crazy for ever having loved you.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


In an attempt to introduce new poets from throughout the African Diaspora to the readers of this blog, I continue this months poetry theme with a young  writer.
Nana Nyarko Boateng, is a 23 year old Ghanaian poet:
"I do not always understand poetry, but I am at all times partial to look into her. I like that she takes my attention and help me to be true to my feelings. An underlining significance of my literary journey is the composition of (my) realities through imagination and craft; such that I feel a gratifying functionality (of soul and spirit) when I write. As it may not be about myself in my artistic expressions, it always is from myself. Poetry is my true address.

"Poetry is a clay pot. It works a balance on hot coal, tense waters, in soft rain, sun beams and spirit music. Whatever the poet will let, poetry will hold. The thoughts and feelings of a poet as captured in lines and stanzas becomes an entrance (or exit) in a manner that is unlimited. Beyond the rhythm and imagery that entrails our emotions, poetry (re)incarnates the human experience. The reader fetches what they will in any piece and wholly or in part walks on with herbs of words, fresh streams of metaphors that is able to stay like a pungent smell that won’t leave the hairs in your nostrils. Poetry lives with us, grows with us, transits with us and returns to us."

god in your person

dream of

peculiar flowers

like sound of laughter

fluid in words you could spell

only after lettering down

libation on territories virgin

with mystic bite of your footsteps

creating gardens

of hope beyond tales

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


As I mentioned in an earlier posting for National Poetry Month, I was going to post the poetry of new, up and coming poets.  Here is the first poet this month. 
In May, 2009 Ines P. Rivera Prosdocimi finished her M.F.A in Creative Writing at American University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Afro-Hispanic Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Border Senses, Brush Mountain Review, Callaloo, Hispanic Cultural Review, PALABRA, Poet Lore, Revista LENGUA, and Saranac Review. Recently, her manuscript “The Flamboyan’s Red Petals,” was a finalist in the 2009 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award competition.

Ines P. Rivera Prosdocimi (c) Alison V. Cartwright

When I approach a poem, I’m always returning to my mother tongues, to that voice in my head that emulates my sense of home. I grew up in an English speaking country, the United States, but in a Spanish speaking family where my father spoke the Spanish from Dominican Republic and my mother, the Spanish and Lunfardo from Argentina: A simple question such as, ‘How are you,’ contrasted my father’s, ‘Como estas tu,’ and my mother’s, ‘Que tal, che?’ Every country, and Latin American countries are no exception, has its own peculiarities, its own inflections and accents, sayings and vocabulary words – its inherent cultural flavors. How does one reconcile these when they come from two or more worlds? How does one come to balance these differing identities that so often can be at odds with one another? Poetry is the place where I dissect these issues, and try to show not only how different languages, cultures, religions, races or ethnic groups are unified, but how they co-exist within me and in the countries I am from.

Learning to Speak Spanglish

I missed the S not in Spanish
but Español. Somewhere

between my tongue and throat -
not a miss you,

but something missing
in the words I spoke.

My friend Jesús tells me
to return home, to speak soft-like,

like even when it’s bad
it still sounds sweet.

So I roll my Rs, practice
my prepositions.

It isn’t para, but por.
Tell myself not mas mejor,

but simply better,
to repeat my mother’s,

sank-you, sank-you,
hold not my father’s, hermano,

but his, Oye brother,
beautiful day, no? And my mouth is:

A collision of two alphabets
without teeth.
                         Poem previously appeared in BorderSenses Summer 2008

JEAN TOOMER: National Poetry Month

One of my all time favorite writers has been Jean Toomer.  His melding of poetry and fiction in his most famous novel Cane, will always be a classic work that lingers with me.  He idealizes the black south of the early 20th Century, but he does so in a way that neither glorifies and or falsely praises thus becoming maudlin, or trivializes and belittles.  Cane is a series of vignettes, interspersed with poems,  that speak to the soul of the characters within.  Although considered a Harlem Renaissance writer, there never seems for Toomer to be a strong connection with his fellow Black writers of the time, and thus for the most part, seems to me to be a Renaissance writer by circumstance alone.
Born Nathan Pinchback Toomer in Washington, D.C., Jean was of mixed racial descent and spent his childhood attending both all-white and all-black segregated schools. In his early years Toomer resisted racial classifications and wished to be identified only as an American. Toomer attended several colleges for short stints but did not take a degree. The readings that he would undertake and the lectures he attended during his college years shaped the direction his writing would take. After leaving college, Toomer published some short stories, devoted several months to the study of Eastern philosophies and took a job as a principal in Sparta, Georgia. The segregation Toomer experienced in the South lead Toomer to identify more strongly as an African-American. In 1923, Toomer published the experimental novel Cane, his most famous work. A series of poems and short stories about the Black experience in America, Cane was hailed by critics and is seen as an important work of both the Harlem Renaissance and the Lost Generation. In 1926 Toomer went to France to attend the Gurdjieff Institute and was associated with G. I. Gurdjieff until 1935. Toomer was prolific during this period, writing plays, the novel The Gallonwerps and several poems and short stories that appeared in The Dial.

Georgia Dusk  by Jean Toomer

The sky, lazily disdaining to pursue
The setting sun, too indolent to hold
A lengthened tournament for flashing gold,
Passively darkens for night's barbecue,

A feast of moon and men and barking hounds,
An orgy for some genius of the South
With blood-hot eyes and cane-lipped scented mouth,
Surprised in making folk-songs from soul sounds.
The sawmill blows its whistle, buzz-saws stop,
And silence breaks the bud of knoll and hill,
Soft settling pollen where plowed lands fulfill
Their early promise of a bumper crop.

Smoke from the pyramidal sawdust pile
Curls up, blue ghosts of trees, tarrying low
Where only chips and stumps are left to show
The solid proof of former domicile.
Meanwhile, the men, with vestiges of pomp,
Race memories of king and caravan,
High-priests, an ostrich, and a juju-man,
Go singing through the footpaths of the swamp.

Their voices rise . . the pine trees are guitars,
Strumming, pine-needles fall like sheets of rain . .
Their voices rise . . the chorus of the cane
Is caroling a vesper to the stars . .

O singers, resinous and soft your songs
Above the sarcred whisper of the pines,
Give virgin lips to cornfield concubines,
Bring dreams of Christ to dusky cane-lipped throngs.

Reapers by Jean Toomer

Black reapers with the sound of steel on stones
Are sharpening scythes. I see them place the hones
In their hip-pockets as a thing that's done,
And start their silent swinging, one by one.
Black horses drive a mower through the weeds,
And there, a field rat, startled, squealing bleeds,
His belly close to ground. I see the blade,
Blood-stained, continue cutting weeds and shade.


The lives of Jean Toomer : a hunger for wholeness
Jean Toomer, artist : a study of his literary life and work, 1894-1936
The Negro novel in America
The collected poems of Jean Toomer
Jean Toomer reader : selected unpublished writings

Thursday, April 1, 2010


April is National Poetry Month, so I could find no better time to highlight African American poetry and poetics.

In an attempt to answer, if ever so briefly, the question of the possible origins of African/African American poetry, I started looking first beyond American shores and back to Africa and to the oral tradition of storytelling.

I looked at the long history of storytelling by griots in Africa. A griot, according Wikipedia, is a West African poet, praise singer, and wandering musician, considered a repository of oral tradition. In the European tradition griots would be considered bards. Not only are griots traveling poets but they were also the depository and disseminators of tribal and cultural history. Such epic works as Sundiata An Epic of Old Mali, was initially told in oral form and tells the history of the nation of Mali.

The poetic style of African storytelling has continued and can be seen in the work Song Of Ocol by Okot p’Bitek. This long poem, at times read as a piece of work that hails from an oratory beginning. It has been said that poetry is a literary form best heard and not read, this seems to be the stance that many African Americans poets historically have taken.

To find a starting point for the poetry of African Americans, I will start with the two of the earliest published black poets- Jupiter Hammon and Phyllis Whitney. Both poets were steeped in the tradition of classical European literary form. Moving forward to the Harlem Renaissance the poetry of African Americans became the poetry of identity politics. This was poetry written through a black aesthetics both bad and good. Arguments went back and forth on if black poetics should reflect the good within society so as not to show up flaws, or be directly linked to the real world as lived by all African Americans- both the gritty and urban and the upper class, educated lifestyles.

Poetry heavily steeped in a black collective consciousness continued up through the 1960’s with the Black Arts Movement which was the artistic arm of the black power and pro black ideological movements of the time and centered literature squarely in a pro-black, sometimes militant vein. Such views of African American literature has continued through the 1970’s, but more recently more and more poets can be seen to be writing in traditional forms such as sonnets, using meter- spondee and trochee, classic patterns that define poetry and not writing about themes that are universal and color-blind reflecting the experiences of every man. This can be seen as throwback to the writing of Hammon and Whitley, although thematically they are still worlds apart. Also with the onset of slam and spoken word poetry, African American writers are re-linking their art, unknowingly so, back to the oral tradition of poetry.

Throughout April I will be posting poems from some established, well known poets both dead and alive, as well poems from up and coming poets from America and around the world.

photos: Poets Camille Dungy, Langston Hughes.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Black Panther Party: Heroes and Pariahs

Most bay area natives, especially those over the age of 40, are familiar with the Black Panther Party (BPP) and their legacy. The BPP and the personalities that emerged from it, has captured the imaginations of many. The current BPP refers to themselves historically as:

"a progressive political organization that stood in the vanguard of the most powerful movement for social change in America since the Revolution of 1776 and the Civil War: that dynamic episode generally referred to as The Sixties. It is the sole black organization in the entire history of black struggle against slavery and oppression in the United States that was armed and promoted a revolutionary agenda, and it represents the last great thrust by the mass of black people for equality, justice and freedom."
Others have referred to the BPP as an “African American revolutionary left-wing organization,” terrorists and or community heroes. Regardless of what side of the polemical pole you stand on, the Black Panther Party has left a lasting legacy in the history of America, and its relations to social activist groups.

The Black Panther Party for Self Defense, as the group was initially called, was “founded in Oakland, California by Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton on October 15, 1966, the organization initially set forth a doctrine calling primarily for the protection of African American neighborhoods from police brutality. “ Their political leftist leanings and counter-culture ideologies, ensured that the BPP would eventually be put on the FBI’s terrorist watch list. So much so that the FBI, through their COINTELPRO program, attempted to discredit and tear the group apart. At one time, J. Edgar Hoover , the head of the FBI, called the BPP-
"The greatest threat to the internal security of the country..”
But on top of what some saw as negatives, the BPP also did many good things for their communities’ nationwide: free food giveaway programs, community health classes, keeping a watchful on local police forces to cut down on police brutality against Blacks and a free breakfast for children program. If no longer considered one of the greatest threats, the Black Panther Party is an oft-written about entity whose history and legacy will not dissipate anytime soon.


Howard L. Bingham's Black Panthers, 1968
The Black Panthers : photographs
Revolutionary suicide
The Huey P. Newton reader
Assata : an autobiography
Seize the time : the story of the Black Panther Party and Huey P. Newton
Black Panther : the revolutionary art of Emory Douglas
The Black Panthers Speak
Black Panther[videorecording] ; San Francisco State on strike
In search of common ground : conversations with Erik H. Erikson and Huey P. Newton
In search of the Black Panther Party : new perspectives on a revolutionary movement
A Panther is a black cat

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Bayard Rustin- civil rights activist, master strategist, counselor to Martin Luther King on techniques of non-violence, main organizer for King's march on Washington.  With such a resume, it is surprising that few Americans have probably heard of Rustin.  Bayard Rustin was also an openly gay man and this is wherein the problem lies.  A few active in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's fought to have Rustin removed as King's advisor, Senator Adam Clayton Powell went as far as to blackmail King with outting him and Rustin as lovers if he didn't remove Rustin.  Even though there was no proof to this allegation, King acquiesced, accepting Rustin's letter of resignation. 
Rustin was later asked back into the fold and became the chief organizer and strategist for the now famous March On Washington.  So Happy 98th Birthday Bayard Rustin

Books and Videos on Bayard Rustin:
Lost prophet : the life and times of Bayard Rustin
Bayard Rustin : troubles I've seen : a biography
Bayard Rustin : American dreamer
Bayard Rustin : behind the scenes of the civil rights movement
Brother outsider [videorecording] : the life of Bayard Rustin

Monday, March 8, 2010

THIS FAR BY FAITH: religious views throughout the African Disapora

Wherever Africans have traveled throughout the African Diaspora, religion has always played a major role in the ordering of their lives, their worldview and how they ascribe meaning to their lives. Daily, and almost casually, it can be heard, African Americans, saint and sinner alike, when stressed calling on the name of the Jesus. In the movie Kingdom Come, the not-so-religious character Charisse Slocumb played by Jada Pinkett Smith, screams “LORD TAKE ME NOW!” as she falls out at the funeral of her father. This hyper dramatized scene plays out daily in the black community.

Africans have always been adaptable when it came to religion- Vodou, Hoodoo, Candomble, Santeria and other new world traditions are all syncretic religions.  For Africans, tradtionally, faith was imbued in everything they did, Africans carried with them their faith.  Rev. Peter E. Adotey Addo says " ...the private and public life of the African religious rites, beliefs, and rituals are considered an integral part of life.  Life... is never complete unless it is seen always in its entirety. Religious beliefs are found in everyday life and no distinction is made between the sacred and the secular. The sacred and the secular are merged in the total persona of the individual African. Life is not divided into compartments or divisions."

Below find a list of materials housed in the African American Center to speak to the religious views held throughout the African Diaspora.

This Far By Faith: stories from the African American Religious Experience

African Beliefs in the New World

Introduction to African Religion

Olodumare: God in Yoruba Belief

The History of the Negro Church

Yakub: the Father of Man-kind

Ifism- the complete works of Orunmila vols. 6 & 7

Botanica Los Angeles: Latino popular religious art in the City of Angels

The Neteru of Kemet

History of Islam in Africa

How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind

How God Became African

Down Up and Over: slave religion and black theology

African Gods: contemporary rituals and beliefs

Monday, February 22, 2010


On Saturday, February 13, 2010 prolific, and widely-acclaimed poet Lucille Clifton died. Clifton was a poets poet a great teacher of poetry and highly decorated for her work.  Lucille Clifton was the first author to have two books of poetry chosen as finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir, 1969-1980 (1987) and Next: New Poems (1987). A bio of the award winning writer can be found here

my daddy has paid the rent
and the insurance man is gone
and the lights is back on
and my uncle brud has hit
for one dollar straight
and they is good times

good times
good times

my mama has made bread
and grampaw has come
and everybody is drunk
and dancing in the kitchen
and singing in the kitchen
of these is good times

good times
good times

oh children think about the
good times

Lucille Clifton

Readings: books by and about Lucille Clifton-
Generations : a memoir
Good woman : poems and a memoir, 1969-1980
Mercy : poems
Voices : poems

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


The oft asked question by many African Americans is, “why do blacks get the shortest month of the year to celebrate their heritage?” Well there is no conspiracy here. Black History Month was founded by historian and “Father of Negro History,” Dr. Carter G Woodson in 1926 as "Negro History Week". Woodson initially chose the second week of February because it marked the birthdays of two Americans whom he felt greatly influenced the lives and social condition of African Americans: President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass.
Black History Week provided an opportunity for lectures, performances and teach-ins on black history and culture. In the 1970’s The Association of Negro Life and History (later Association for the Study of Afro American Life and History) independently expanded the week celebration and renamed it Black History Month.