Saturday, December 26, 2009

Overcoming Our Violent Side

A city like New York is a testament to the scientific and technological strides that human beings have made over the centuries.Despite our ingenuity, there lurks within each of us, whether we want to admit it or not, a primitive side that manifests itself through violence and mayhem. If we could find a way to eradicate that side of ourselves, we would have a truly beautiful world in which to fully enjoy our technological advances and we wouldn't need to fear war or its handmaiden terrorism.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Fela's Musical Journey From Nigeria to America

The first time I heard the late Nigerian musician Fela was on WBAI, Pacifica Radio's New York FM station, in the 80s. The music reminded me a lot of James Brown's music, which I believe was an influence on Fela. I was so moved by what I heard that I taped the music off the radio and played it back often.
Seattle writer Rick VanderKnyff's article, "The Strange Love Affair Between America and the Afrobeat Superstar" discusses Fela's slow ascendancy from an unknown to a revered celebrity on the American music scene, culminating in a hit Broadway musical, directed and choreographed by Bill T. Jones.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

On Books and Reading and the Literary Life in New York

"In New York City reading is one of the fun things to do--there is no other nation where reading, writing, and talking about books is commonplace. And if you are lucky--lucky to be living here in book country, or just passing through--you might find a small stack of books on a stoop, or in a box on the sidewalk waiting for you. Books someone is giving away."--bell hooks, "A Writer in the Village," Metropolis Found: New York Is Book Country's 25th Anniversary Collection (New York Is Book Country, 2003)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Missing Mayors

The New York Daily News included a pull out Election Day Special called "Kings of the City" (November 3, 2009) that featured a photo of Michael Bloomberg and several past mayors (one photo was misidentified as Robert Wagner). Inside were several photos of each of the mayors on the cover with the exception of Abe Beame and Robert Wagner. The photo department at the paper couldn't dig up any pictures of either mayor? That's strange.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Michael Bloomberg, the King of New York

"We need to help our mayor[New York's Michael Bloomberg] get elected not for four more years;for me, I would love to see him here for 20 more years."--Oscar de la Renta, fashion designer ( "Let Bloomy Reign, sez fashion big Oscar de la Renta," New York Daily News, October 18, 2009)

At the end of multi-billionaire Bloomberg's 20-year reign, New York, especially Manhattan, would be more expensive than it is now. And rich guys like de la Renta would be the only ones able to afford to live here.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Top 10 Most Requested Smooth Jazz Songs

The following are the Top 10 Requested Smooth Jazz Songs of All Time. These songs were chosen by the listeners of New York's WQCD, Smooth Jazz CD101.9 (no longer on the air):

10. "Sweet Love"--Anita Baker
9. "Take Five"-- Dave Brubeck Quartet
8. "Mr. Magic"--Grover Washington, Jr.
7. "Careless Whispers"--George Michael
6. "Linus & Lucy"--David Benoit
5. "Rise"--Herb Alpert
4. "Smooth Operator"--Sade
3. "Feel So Good"--Chuck Mangione
2. "Breezin'"--George Benson
1. "Songbird"--Kenny G

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mickey Rourke and the F-Word

According to Julie Gordon's "Buzz" column item about actor Mickey Rourke ("Not Sorry for Slur," amNewYork, Oct. 12, 2009), he used a slur word that is used against gay men, during what was described as "a drunken rant." Rourke refused to apologize for using the unprintable "f-----" (presumably "faggot" and not "fruit" or "fairy") and told that the word "has nothing to do with gay."
Does he also use the equally offensive slur "nigger," brushing it off as not having anything to do with black people? Just asking.
When Larry Kramer titled a novel Faggot in the 1970s, he got the cold shoulder from a lot of people in the gay community. Let's see what the reaction will be from GLAAD and other gay groups to Rourke's use of the F-word.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bring Back Smooth Jazz Radio in New York

WQCD (CD101.9), the erstwhile smooth jazz station that served the New York metropolitan area, began in 1988. I didn't start listening to it until late 1999. I continued listening until it changed to a rock format around March 2008.
Many of the CDs I bought I first heard on CD101.9. Now that the station no longer exists, there's nowhere to turn for the sound of smooth jazz. I miss hearing the station on the public address system at my local bank branch and the supermarket. I miss hearing Joe Sample and Chris Botti and Sade on my walkman as I stroll through Central Park on a Sunday afternoon. Now whenever I play one of my CDs, it brings back joyful memories of the station.
There are other jazz stations in the area--WBGO in Newark and WKCR, on the campus of Columbia University--but they play only classic jazz artists like Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald. But where do I go to hear contemporary artists like Chris Botti, Joe Sample, David Sanborn, Marc Antoine?
CD101.9 wasn't perfect. In fact, their playlist was very limited. If I didn't know any better I would have thought that Dave Brubeck only recorded "Take Five." Plus their definition of smooth jazz was too broad. Stevie Wonder and Lou Rawls are not smooth jazz artists. The artists who would qualify for the label like Carmen McRae, Al Jarreau, Noel Pointer, Lee Ritenour, and Michael Buble,to name a few, were never heard on the station.
Another gripe I had with the station was their playing of edited versions of "Killer Joe" by Quincy Jones and "This Masquerade" by George Benson. I know the station was a commercial
broadcaster, but couldn't they have played the longer versions, especially during the overnight hours?
But aside from those complaints, I was a faithful listener. I hope some other station will take up the smooth jazz banner and maybe do a better job presenting this smoothing, laid back style.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

On The Role of Literature

I see literature as a journey with the writer as guide. The reader can choose to take the journey or not. If he or she does, then they have the opportunity to experience people, places, and events that they otherwise might not.
Literature is also an emotional journey. To identify with a character or characters is to put oneself in the shoes of another, to be empathetic. Hopefully, at the end of the journey, the reader will come away a much more aware, more enlightened person.
Literature has the power to lead us into worlds we never knew existed or if we knew they did, allow us to see them up close and personal and in new and different ways.

Walking In A Black Person's Shoes

Those whites, who complain about blacks playing the race card and who see racism as part of a bygone era, should follow in the footsteps of the late white journalist John Howard Griffin, the author of Black Like Me: disguise themselves as blacks for a week or two, if they're brave enough to attempt it. I think the experience would give them a whole new perspective on race in America.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Max Bond, Black Architect

The following is an excerpt from an interview I did with the late black architect Max Bond. It took place at Columbia University's School of Architecture, where he was the dean at the time, about 1983 or 1984. He was the cousin of Julian Bond, the former Georgia state legislator and NAACP executive. Bond died in February 2009 at the age of 73.

1. His view of architecture criticism:

"I think that architectural criticism generally in this country is not good as it should be. That's not to say that there aren't some good critics. But the level of architectural criticism is not very high. I think the architectural critic should obviously try to expose ideas and issues. There are several issues that are never really dealt with very much in this society. One of these is what American culture is. [Architectural criticism would have us think that the population of the U.S. is] one hundred percent white or of European derivation. You wouldn't get any sense of the complex heritage of America. [Critics would have you] think that the kinds of things we should look to architecturally are solely from Europe. It is obviously a very important issue because it is related to the establishment of cultural values for this society."

2. His view of black architects:

"I don't know if any of us [black architects] have received the acclaim that we're due. But obviously there have been many very distinguished black architects. There are several architects who I think really deserve a lot of distinction--Paul Williams; Hilliard Robinson who practices in Washington [D.C.], who is now retired or semi-retired. And other people such as Jay Johnson [who is a friend of Bond's. When they were in college, they worked together in Paul Williams's office one summer]."

Friday, September 25, 2009

On Masculinity

"When a young man rejects the advances of another young man, his motive, often as not, is a fear of losing autonomy, of being used as a thing by the other, conquered instead of the conquering." --Gore Vidal, from the afterword of his revised 1948 novel The City and the Pillar (New American Library, 1965)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Prime -Time Discussion of Health-Care Is Needed On TV

My friend Velma and I, while sipping red wine in her book-lined living room, discussed, among other things, the health-care issue. I mentioned to her that in the old days of television, regular programming was preempted to devote an entire evening to an important issue of the day.
I believe that current-day TV viewers would be willing to forgo one night of reality TV or nighttime dramas and comedies to be educated about the pros and cons of health -care delivery in the U.S. and abroad. An evening-long program, for example, would be able to go into more historical detail about the Bismarck model than Frontline's one-hour report, "Sick Around the World" (PBS) was able to do. (Bismarck, the chancellor of Germany in the late 19th century, "is the guy," reported T.R. Reid, the program correspondent, "who invented the concept of health- care systems, the notion that a government has to provide mechanisms so all of its people can get medical care when they need it." Reid continued, " Thanks to the Bismarck model, everybody in Germany is offered health care. While the rich are allowed to opt out and pay privately, about 90 per cent of Germans choose to stay in the national system.") The health-care issue concerns all of us, whether we have health insurance or not, and a program like this would no doubt get high ratings.
An in-depth examination by journalists, medical experts, insurance executives, and elected officials in filmed reports, on-camera interviews, and round table discussions (along with Q and A sessions with a live studio audience and viewers) would be a welcome event at a time when health- care costs are going up and more and more people are going bankrupt because of exorbitant medical bills. Preferably, this program would be presented without commercial interruption.
Television programmers should give this idea some serious thought. Health -care is a hot topic that radio and TV talk show host Ed Schultz, for example, has made his prime concern.

Monday, September 21, 2009

On Teachers

"Educators should be chosen not merely for their special qualifications, but more for their personality and their character, because we teach more by what we are than by what we teach."--Will (William James) Durant from Webster's Book of Quotations (PMC Publishing Co., Inc., 1994)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Is the Urge to Go Paperless about the Environment or Money?

I think that companies that urge consumers to go paperless are doing it not because they are so concerned about the environment but because they are more concerned about their bottom line. They are afraid to admit that.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

On Democracy

"Democracy is the most demanding of all forms of government in terms of the energy, imagination, and public spirit required of the individual."
--George Catlett Marshall
from Webster's Book of Quotations (PMC Publishing Company, 1994)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Will the Public Option in Health Care Be a Bureaucratic Nightmare?

The one thing no one is talking about with regard to the public option health insurance plan is what people will have to go through to sign up.
Just applying for a non-driver photo ID from the Department of Motor Vehicles can be an all-day process. And government bureaucracy being what it is, I can't imagine the sign-up process being as quick and easy as opening a bank savings account. When it comes to a program that calls for the government to shell out big bucks, you know applying for it will be no walk in the park.
No doubt an applicant will have to go to some cluttered office with a maze-like arrangement of cubicles, be required to produce a plethora of documents (Social Security card, birth certificate, rent lease, etc.), and be photographed and fingerprinted. Things you don't have to do with a private insurance company.
If that daunting bureaucratic way of doing things prevails, the public opinion of the public option will produce jeers, not cheers. I hope I'm wrong, but something tells me I'm not.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

An Erotic Film From the' Hood That's Not Very Good

Thug Passion (Part 6); Directors, E.J. Parker and Dee (Chocolate Joy Entertainment; 2009)

"We're in the 'hood, not Hollywood," declares E.J. Parker, the co-director of Thug Passion (Part 6), one of a series of erotic videos for homothugs and their admirers. Parker's statement is in answer to a question I had about the lack of a storyline and the amateurish quality of the video.
Someone (probably Parker) is seen in the background in jeans and white socks holding a camera. No attempt is made to create the illusion that the viewer is a fly on the wall, peeping at the ones on-camera.
The video is divided into six segments (some will have the same models in them). What we get in most of them are monotonous, overlong jack-off sessions.
One has to give Tyson Cane, the black porn star turned video producer, credit for aiming to bring together art and erotica. His films have a storyline (although flimsy) and have a much more polished look to them.
In Thug Passion, E.J. and his co-director, Dee, don't know how to photograph a sex scene, moving the camera too much, giving the viewer vertigo. The action takes place in a room with a lot of electronic equipment in it (not exactly the most romantic setting) and the editing is not seamless. Maybe they should consider a more Hollywood approach, or at least follow in the footsteps of an independent filmmaker like John Sayles, who knows how to tell a story and how to make it visually appealing. When you're asking people to put down their hard-earned bucks for a movie, you should try to give them their money's worth.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Black Press's Role in Homophobia

The following is a letter-to-the-editor that I wrote (but never sent) to Elinor Tatum, publisher and editor-in-chief of the New York Amsterdam News regarding an article by then executive editor Jamal Watson about the promised participation of gays and lesbians at the tenth anniversary of the Million Man March in Washington, D.C. The letter, dated October 27, 2005, underscored the lack of consistent coverage of gay and lesbian issues in the black press (print and electronic).

Dear Ms. Tatum:

Jamal Watson's article "Ten Years Later...Another Million" (October 13-19, 2005) is a prime example of the poor journalism that is practiced at the Amsterdam News with regard to gay and lesbian issues. At the tail end of the article, he wrote: "For months, the organizers of the event have been dogged by allegations that Black gays and lesbians would be excluded from the gathering. In an interview with the Amsterdam News, Minister Louis Farrakhan dismissed the charges , saying that Black gays and lesbians would not be denied a role." Nowhere in the piece does Watson quote anyone from the black gay and lesbian community. He takes Farrakhan at his word.
Later I heard an interview with a representative from the National Black Justice Coalition on "The Laura Flanders Show" (on Air America Radio) say that black gays and lesbians were denied access to the podium. So what Farrakhan said was a lie. But I doubt the Am/News will follow up on the story.
I think the NBJC should expand its campaign against homophobic black preachers and include the black press which is as complicit in the perpetuation of homophobia in the black community as the black church. The Am/News should be at the top of the list of publications targeted in a letter and e-mail blitz. A picket line shouldn't be overlooked either.
It's time that the voices of black gays and lesbians are consistently heard from in the black press. As the black lesbian poet Audre Lorde once put it: "There is no hierarchy of oppression." Homophobia is just as bad as racism. Both stem from hatred and ignorance.

Author's Note: When John Davis, an openly gay man, was the executive editor of the Amsterdam News (for a short time), he wrote an editorial supporting the passage of a gay rights bill in the New York City Council. This would be around 1983. Since then I have not seen any pro-gay editorials in the paper.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hooray For Hollywood and Its Screenwriters

In Hollywood, movies are considered a director's medium and so screenwriters are given second-class treatment. Newspapers and magazines, taking their cue from the suits at movie studios, have followed their example, ignoring the contributions of the writer and lionizing the director. It is refreshing to see that Entertainment Weekly in its Fall Movie Preview Special Double Issue (August 21-28, 2009) gives credit that's long overdue by including the names of those who have written the scripts for movies slated to be released in September, October, November, and December (including movies written and directed by the same person). Unfortunately, the movie reviews by Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwarzbaum in the same issue neglect to give the writing credits of the movies under discussion.
While going over the fall movies, one story came to mind: a screenwriter, tired of being treated like the low man on a totem pole and knowing that without a script there is no movie, throws a handful of blank pages at a director, telling him: "Now let's see you try to direct that."

Monday, August 17, 2009

Adopting the Nat Hentoff Stroll

When I worked as a proofreader at the Village Voice in the early eighties, one of the regular sights in the office was Nat Hentoff, the noted first-amendment advocate and at that time a staff writer at the paper. He would frequently be seen aimlessly walking around the office with a manuscript of his column in one hand, a pencil in the other, going over his copy line by line. He was doing what I would later call the Nat Hentoff Stroll.
I have from time to time been seen doing the Stroll while reading through one of my articles. For me, it helped relieve the tension of the editing process and put me in touch with my muse.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Flirting With Danger

Dwan Prince, who in 2005 was savagely beaten by Steven Pomie in an anti-gay attack in Brownsville, Brooklyn, blames himself for what happened. According to the Gay City News (Aug. 6-19, 2009), Prince flirted with Pomie. "I have made some big mistakes in my life and that was the stupidest and biggest one of all," he stated in a letter to Pomie, who is currently serving time for the attack.
In the letter he wrote on July 20, he expressed a "desire that you get out as soon as possible" and for them to become friends.
The attack not only has left Prince partially paralyzed but apparently it has done something to his mind.
Who would want such a vicious person out on the street? And who would want to be friends with a person so easily offended by flirtatious behavior that they are willing to maim or kill?
Prince must be really hard up for friendship and filled with self-hatred. I can't think of any other reasons for him to want to have anything to do with someone like Pomie, who deserves to serve significant time behind bars. Would he truly feel safe alone with Pomie? I wouldn't.
If Pomie had made the first move, showing remorse and empathy, maybe there might be some hope. But the reaching out seems one-sided and pathetic.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Few More Words From Alexander Woollcott

" speaking and writing, the first and only important consideration is to employ those words which will exactly convey one's meaning."
--Alexander Woollcott, American author

Friday, July 31, 2009

Radio Talker Ed Schultz's Very Minor Gaffe

Recently liberal talk show host Ed Schultz discussed conservative talk show host Glenn Beck's comments on Barack Obama's press conference statements on the arrest of black Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates. Beck called Obama's criticism of the Cambridge, Mass. police department proof that Obama is "a racist" who doesn't "like white people or white culture." Schultz, who calls himself "the fat redhead from the northern tier[North Dakota and Minnesota]," characterized the audience that Beck appeals to as uneducated white people 65 years of age and over who were "the low intelligentsia." There is no such thing as a low intelligentsia. What he meant to say is Beck's audience is made up of people of low intelligence.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

RIP E. Lynn Harris (1955-2009)

I am thankful that E. Lynn Harris, who recently died, chose one of the essays that appeared in Fighting Words, the anthology that I edited in 1999, for his anthology, Freedom in the Village: 25 Years of Black Gay Men's Writing. The essay he selected for inclusion was Don Jackson's "The Letter," a military love story. I am glad he found the essay worthy of inclusion. Harris's anthology later won a Lammy in the Gay Men's Anthology category.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

NYC Graffiti Watch

The following message was written on a scrap of paper and taped to the wall behind the toilet at the New York Public Library's Morningside Heights branch on Broadway and 113th Street:

"Dear Library Visitor,
Please don't throw/flush unnecessary objects in me.
For I choke!
Also, don't pee on my seat. It's yucky and I enjoy
tasting your pee rather than wearing it.
Your Toilette"

The message was taken down the next day. It'll never be known whether the message was written by a library staffer or a fellow patron.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Confessions of an Ex-Teen Hustler, Part 3

Hustling is a demoralizing way to earn a living, Dwayne admits. "You sort of lose your morals. The only thing that kept me going is the people who I went with." That was what kept him from being a derelict scavenging in garbage cans for his dinner. But that didn't mean he couldn't
tell them where to get off, if it was necessary. "I used to choose the people I went with. If a person started treating me a certain way, I'd say, 'Look, keep your money and shove it up your ass. Goodbye.' They'd say, 'How can you say that?' I'd say, 'Easy. I just did.'"
Before he left New York to travel around the country, he had, in a safe deposit box, $15,000. On the road "I spent money like it was water," he says with a boyish grin. The money made it possible for him to have three wardrobes (each time his clothes were stolen, he immediately replaced them). For example, he had six or seven pairs of shoes. He wore nothing but custom-made clothes. But all of that is behind him. Although he is unemployed, he does, however, have his high school equivalency diploma. And he does have the desire to better his future.
Despite the hassles of hustling, he feels good about being gay. He believes the gay pride parade, in which he has participated, demonstrates to the world that gays "are somebody. We're not a minority. We're coming out."

Author's Note: Unfortunately, when I did this interview in 1984, I neglected to ask Dwayne if he was concerned about contracting AIDS or his experiences with other sexually transmitted diseases.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Confessions of an Ex-Teen Hustler, Part 2

At one time he had a girlfriend. Her suicide attempt has since caused him not to want to get involved with any other girls. He claims she tried to kill herself because he wouldn't see her anymore. She was pregnant with his child and when he came back to New York from a trip to California and found out that she had lost the baby in her unsuccessful suicide, he got very upset.
"The average gay person that I hang around with is not a jealous-type person.If you just live your life and go out with this person, this person, and this person, they really don't care, just as long as you come back. And with girls, they want to be with you everywhere, they want to know what you're doing, how you're doing, and all this other stuff."

Dwayne made good money as a hustler. He got his johns through a call service. he would have sex with anywhere from 15 to 20 men a week, charging them $150. (($25 of that would go to the agency.) It didn't didn't pay for a hustler to be too picky about his clients. That could get you blacklisted, says Dwayne, especially by the big agencies, if you turned down three clients in a row. If the client didn't appeal to you, the possible loss of revenue and future clients loomed large in your thoughts and you just went on and did what you had to do. For one hour.
The amount of money Dwayne was bringing in a week came to something like $2000. And unlike his female counterparts, he did not ask for money upfront. That was too tacky. "What guarantee does the guy going to have that you're going to stick around?" Sometimes not getting the money in the beginning can and does present a problem.
Dwayne , being streetwise, knows all the old tricks (no pun intended) that can be played on a hustler. He also knows how to handle those problems. One old scam is to say that their wallet was lost and would he accept a check. Dwayne had a rule to never accept a check from anyone he didn't know. One guy who claimed not to have any money was quickly relieved of his Cartier watch. Dwayne later pawned it. Another guy from Connecticut after engaging in car sex, pulled the no-money routine. Dwayne reached over and took his car keys. The guy became frantic. "How am I going to get back home?" "You can walk," replied Dwayne. The guy came up with the cash in a hurry.
"You get these straight guys who come in, who still think they're straight, I call them half-way straight,they can't make up their minds. They think they can overpower you just because you're gay.Being gay does not mean I do not have the capability of fighting and sticking up for myself. They don't realize I'm still a man. If you want to have a fight, sure, I will fight you. I might not win but you definitely will walk out with some scratches."
(To Be Continued)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Confessions of an Ex-Teen Hustler, Part 1

We're sitting on metal folding chairs, facing each other. His name is Dwayne. It's Wednesday night. We're in the spacious kitchen, located in the basement of an East Side Manhattan Episcopal church. In the next room, the muffled sound of R 'n' B music and the voices of young men drift in. Every Wednesday night these young men come to the church for counseling, socializing, and friendship. They come seeking refuge from the hostility of their straight peers.
Dwayne is an 18-year-old African-American. I hang on to his every word as he tells me about his days as a teenage street hustler. He emphasizes that he no longer hustles and is looking for a good job. He tells me of his interest in modeling and acting. He might, he says, even go to school to become a registered medical technician. But right now he is out of work and living with four other gay people, one of them a psychologist, in a $1500 a month apartment on Central Park West. He doesn't plan to go back to street life.
He had been arrested twice for prostitution and he just got tired of the hassle of being moved from courtroom to courtroom, cell to cell. At age 14, Dwayne left home and for four years he hustled on 53rd Street, in the block between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. Being very attractive, there is no doubt he did well on the street. He has a nut-brown complexion and wears his hair in a processed--or straightened --style;his hair is brushed back. He is wearing his hustler clothes during our conversation: a gray T-shirt (with the lettering "mcq" on the front), a pair of blue jeans cut short above the thighs, white tube socks (with blue and red stripes at the top),and a pair of dirty high top white sneakers.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Most Sensational Bartender in the World

The Most Sensational Bartender in the World

is Joel.
He stands beneath a ceiling
of red and pink balloons,
popping tops off the necks
of Coronas, Heineken, Amstel Light.
That is sensational.
I love him with his puppy-brown eyes,
his boyish charm.
He really sends me...sensationally.
He doesn't notice me across the dance floor
of swirling lights,
under the dimensional reflections
of disco balls.
He pronounces his name "Joelle."
How cute is that?
How cute and sensational is that?
He makes the best vodka sea breezes.
Pouring liquor into the anxious mouth of my glass,
sticking a slice of lemon on the side with his wet
That is the most sensational thing ever.
I'm not interested in shoving dollar bills
in g-strings flossing the sweet-glossed asses
of go-go boys with their warm, hanging dicks.
But would rather put my hard earned bucks
in Joelle's sensational dark-blue tank top.
I admire him from afar at the end of the bar.
Watch him make magical martinis,
being that he is the most sensational bartender in the world.

--Shane Allison

Shane Allison lives in Tallahassee, Florida and is the author of five chapbooks of poetry, including I Want to Fuck a Redneck. He has had poems and stories published in Best Gay Erotica, Queer Connection, RFD, Velvet Mafia, Best Gay Erotica, Ultimate Gay Erotica, Best Gay Love Stories, and many others. He is the editor of Hot Cops: Gay Erotic Stories.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Giving Credit Where It's Due

Todd Boyd in his article ("R.I.P. Vibe, 1993-2009," July 1, 2009) discussed the recent demise of Vibe magazine. He called the hip-hop culture publication "the brainchild of Quincy Jones." I have no problem with him acknowledging Jones. But he completely overlooked the openly gay music journalist Scott Poulson-Bryant, a founding editor of Vibe. He stated in his book Hung: A Meditation on the Measure of Black Men in America (Doubleday, 2005) that "I named Vibe magazine Vibe."
Hip-hop music is notoriously homophobic and it would have been a good idea to acknowledge that a major publication devoted to it was named by a member of a much-maligned but influential group. Let's give credit where it is due.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Name Is Obama, Not Bam

I wish the editors at the New York Post and the New York Daily News would stop referring to President Barack Obama as Bam in their headlines. In case they don't know it, Bam is the stage name of a well-endowed black male porn star who appears in both gay and straight porn videos. He also writes a monthly column in Black Inches magazine (or he did the last time I saw the magazine).

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Was Michael Jackson Gay? Part 2

The story about Michael Jackson in the March 19, 1984 issue of Time magazine, written by Denise Worrell, I think, helped perpetuate the rumor that Jackson is gay. Michael's father, Joe, takes Worrell on a tour of the house and grounds. When they get to Michael's bedroom door and are allowed in, she witnesses this scene: "The only light comes from a television set. The light glistens off Michael's hair. He and a young man who looks about 20 are sitting side by side facing the television. Michael is watching it intently. They both stand up. ...The room is very dark.
"Michael in a very quiet voice introduces his friend to his father, giving only one name. I cannot hear it." Michael and Worrell shake hands. She describes his hand as feeling "like a cloud." His friend's hand, she writes, "is damp. He seems nervous. ...There is silence and I feel that [Michael's father] is uncomfortable." They leave. The way Worrell describes what she saw, a reader would get the feeling that something mysterious and forbidden was going on. Near the end of the article, she writes: "The cab pulls out, past the three-tiered white fountain at the front of the house. ...We start out the open gate, when suddenly the guard in the security station runs and calls after us. We return to the house." That's when Michael's parents tell her that their son is not gay. "It's against his religion [Jehovah's Witnesses]. It's against God. The Bible speaks against it," emphasizes his mother. His father further underscores his wife's statement by proclaiming ,"Michael isn't gay." If he isn't, they're doing a pretty good job of making people think he is by being so defensive.
A Michael Jackson friend, quoted in The Star (April 3, 1984), had this to say: "The young girls who adore him so much don't care about the rumors and wouldn't care if he is gay." This same friend says that the rumors started because "people never saw him go out with a woman. They just assumed he was gay. Plus he is a great dancer with grace and style and that bothered people."

Author's Note: The above sidebar is taken from an unpublished Q & A interview with Nelson George about Michael Jackson.
Although the article on which the blog posts are based is 25 years old, I hope the information it contains will be useful to music historians and future Michael Jackson biographers.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Was Michael Jackson Gay?

The following is an excerpt from an unpublished Q & A telephone interview with music journalist Nelson George which occurred shortly after the publication of his book The Michael Jackson Story (Dell, 1984).

Charles Michael Smith: How did the rumor of his gayness get started?
Nelson George: It's been going on since the mid-70s. Jet magazine, in fact, printed a story and a couple of the tabloids, the National Enquirer-type papers, had printed that Michael Jackson's having a sex change. It goes back to 1976. This is not a new rumor. Ever since he reached that maturity or he became a teen and had this high voice that really sort of sparked these things. There was a rumor that's discussed in the book that he supposedly was going to marry [actor-songwriter] Clifton Davis.
I don't think he's gay. I quote him saying just that. I don't believe [he is].

[Here's the Jackson quote referred to by George: "I know it's not true, so it doesn't bother me. I'm sure we must have plenty of fans who are gay. That doesn't bother me in the slightest, but I'm not gay."]

CMS: I've heard several gay men say that they believe Jackson is gay.
NG: Gay people like to think that people who are talented are gay. That's just the truth. What proof do we have that he is gay? He has a high voice? That he dances well? That he doesn't have a lot of facial hair? I know a lot of brothers who are quote unquote manly who have all of those attributes. I have a little bit of a cold now. So when I'm speaking regularly I have a pretty high voice myself. I've found people who are willing to try to tell me he is gay but they could offer no proof. And when you have a public statement from a figure like that who claims that while he has no anti-gay feelings, he's not gay, I think you have to go with that.
CMS: Where did the quote in which Michael denies he's gay come from?
NG: A friend of mine, Steve Ivory, who's a fine journalist out in L.A. , interviewed Michael in 1978. To Steve's everlasting credit, he's the only person who ever interviewed Michael, that I know of, and actually asked him if he was gay. Barbara Walters didn't ask him.
CMS: Maybe she was afraid of offending him or his fans. It is a very sensitive question.
NG: She asked him every other question on her show. If you're going to do it, do it. My boy had done it and he got a very straight answer from the guy. I said to Steve: "You got him to say that and you haven't done any articles on that? That's the hottest question out here now. But he said he forgot he'd done the thing. I credited him in the book for doing it. To me it was a godsend. I wanted to deal with this issue but I wanted to deal with it in a way that would have class. Sort of give him a chance to answer the question. And I had talked with some people who knew Michael, who said that he wasn't but that wasn't strong enough. When I found Michael on the record saying this, I was overjoyed. That's one thing that makes me feel very pleased about the book.
CMS: He wrote a song called "Muscles" which people are saying indicated his sexual orientation.
NG: He has a giant boa constrictor called Muscles. If you listen to the lyric and you think about it that way, it can be taken another way. Because a guy has developed such a mystique about himself, people are quick to take a movement on his part, anything as a sign of something. I mean, either you take it at face value or you don't.
To tell you the truth, it really doesn't matter to me. Because would we care if he was gay, if he wasn't good? The bottom line is if the music didn't have it, then it doesn't matter because no one cares. No one cares about what me and you do because we haven't done anything yet in our lives that has that impact, that can reach that many people.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Music Journalist Nelson George Discusses Michael Jackson

The following excerpt is from an unpublished interview(12 manuscript pages long) originally intended for publication in the now -defunct New York Native, a gay weekly newspaper I wrote for from 1983 to 1988. I don't recall why the Native didn't run it.

In a telephone interview, Nelson George, the Black Music Editor of Billboard magazine and author of The Michael Jackson Story (Dell Books) explains the enormous attention being paid to Michael Jackson: "The reason we're interested in this guy is because of his music. That's the bottom line to me. Michael's most interesting work is about his psyche, more than about politics. Things like 'Billie Jean,' 'Wanna Be Startin' Somethin',' and even 'Heartbreak Hotel,' [from the Triumph album] say a lot more about his own insecurities and his feelings about his relationship to the world. That's what I was interested in. How his personality is reflected in his artistic statements and how his business or economics has affected his career in terms of why he left Motown. I don't think normally most of the fan books that I've been reading since I was a child deals with those aspects of the career. So that was in there," he continues," plus the typical things: 'Is he gay?,' 'What kind of makeup does he use?' I tried to get a balance of all those [questions]."
George wrote the book in two and a half months without "any direct input" from Jackson. "I tried to get Michael's official cooperation in this book. I could not get that. I tried his father. His father said the best thing to do was to reach Michael directly. I tried through a number of sources, I got nowhere." So then George " did what every biographer does when he can't get [cooperation from] the source person, you talk to everyone you can who knows Michael." That included record producer Quincy Jones, Michael's parents ("I had a chance to talk with his mother on two occasions") ,the musicians who performed on the Thriller album, and Michael's sister LaToya with whom Nelson George did a long interview. "That turned out to be very valuable," he says. "She's the one who more or less told me the whole background. I didn't realize that the Jacksons had made records before they joined Motown. They're not good records by any means. They're interesting more or less as historical documents. They were made one or a year and a half before they joined Motown. That really gives you an insight into what Motown did for those guys in terms of production quality and song quality."
The book, says George, has received "real good response from the teen crowd" because of its straightforward approach as well as from rock critics "who basically felt more or less that while it was written straightforwardly and very acceptably, it also did touch on a lot of the things in terms of his musical development."
George initially set out to do a Village Voice-style book, one in which there was "a little more delving in, from my point of view as a writer, into the whole context of Michael; his music in more detail. A lot of things would have been more detailed, and more intellectually rigorous in that way." But the people at Dell Publications wanted "more of a fan book. They wanted more of a People magazine book. The resulting manuscript is a compromise between [those] two points of view. It seems like it's working well."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

On Newspapers

"A newspaper is lumber made malleable. It is ink made into words and pictures. It is conceived, born, grows up and dies of old age in a day."
--Jim Bishop, American journalist and author, from The Mammoth Book of Zingers, Quips and One-Liners, edited by Geoff Tibballs (Carroll & Graf, 2004)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Few Words from Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

"...I do not feel that Americans need any 'selling' to themselves. We are inclined to be a bit too self-satisfied as it is. I feel on the contrary, that we need to be made more aware of the discrepancy between our theories and our facts or practices. I feel that we need, as does every nation, to be less conscious of nationalism and more conscious of a general humanity."
--Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1896-1953), American writer, from Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings: Sojourner at Cross Creek by Elizabeth Silverthorne (Woodstock, NY: The Overlook Press, 1988).

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fairy Tales in Harlem

What's happening in Harlem has been labeled by real estate developers as "the second Harlem Renaissance." But it is a misnomer; the first Harlem Renaissance , in the 1920s and 1930s, was an artistic movement out of which came such luminaries as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Countee Cullen. That has nothing to do with the present situation, which is about land and buildings, not art.
If there is a second renaissance in the making, Casa Frela, a new art gallery located at 47 West 119th Street in the Mount Morris Park Historic District, is helping to spearhead it. Casa Frela, which means "your house should be a walk in the park" (containing one word from Spanish and one from the language of the Yaqui Indians of Mexico) is in a brownstone designed by the Gilded Age architect Stanford White. Lawrence Rodriguez, an openly gay man of Mexican descent (both parents were Yaquis) owns the four-story building as well as the gallery in a neighborhood where many gay and lesbian artists reside.
When he moved to Harlem more than three years ago, the Fashion Institute of Technology graduate's intention was to buy a building, not start a gallery. But when he showed the work of an artist who lived down the street, that exhibit put the gallery on the map.
Last year, he showed the work of three lesbian artists--Allicette Torres, D.C. Gable, and Kelly Beeman--in an annual show called "Rainbows Over Harlem." The works included a range of female images, some that were erotic, some non-erotic.
This year he is showing the work of six gay male artists--Brian H. Crede, Anthony Gonzales, Joel Handorff, Seth Ruggles Hiller, Tai Lin, and Branden Charles Wallace--in a show called "Fairy Tales: Personal Legend, Urban Myth, Gay Exhibition." The show, which runs until July 13, "tells individual narrative stories through drawings, paintings, and sculpture," says Rodriguez , in a press release.
Rodriguez who receives a 30 percent commission for each artwork sold says that his gallery can sell anything that's priced under three thousand dollars. But because of his location and the state of the economy, Rodriguez does not deal with anything priced above that. He explained that galleries on 57th Street and in Chelsea were more established and that Harlem is an up and coming art venue. Plus, the other galleries were more centrally located in Manhattan, making them easier to get to from the jobs of art lovers.
Rodriguez, despite being openly gay, does not plan to exclusively handle gay-oriented artworks; he envisions Casa Frela as a place where a lot of Latino artists can showcase their work.
Another vision of his is to open a smaller gallery in Houston, Texas to be called Casita. He recently went there to look over a property to see if he could afford it.
Whenever Rodriguez opens a show, which requires months of preparation, it turns into a major learning experience for him. Or as he terms it, "Cliff's Notes version of an artist's work."
For Rodriguez, the foremost goal of Casa Frela is to act as "a vibrant magnet for the art enthusiast."

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Blood, Sweat, and Tears of Journalists

One aspect of disgraced New York Times journalist Jayson Blair's memoir, Burning Down My Master's House that got overlooked is his mention of that paper's employee relations department where he sought help for his drug addiction. This part of the book was more interesting than his tales of plagiarism and fabrications.
When I read the book I never knew that such a department existed at a major American newspaper. It made me wonder if other media outlets had a similar department.
Since the lives of a number of Times editors and reporters ended in suicide, no doubt from workplace pressures, I thought it was time for someone to examine the role that such a department plays in keeping employees healthy and functioning. What programs are made available? How accessible are they to employees? What are the origins and history of an employee relations department? What are the qualifications of the administrators? What are the annual costs such a department incurs? What is their success rate? What problems predominate? These are some of the questions I would seek answers to.
Such an article is important because it sheds some light on the underside of the media--the psychological and physical wear and tear of daily journalism.
In light of such recent tragedies as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina as well as the decimation of newspapers and journalism jobs by the economic downturn, it would be eye-opening, timely, and instructive as to the ways media outlets are helping their current and former employees cope with these events. It would allow news consumers the opportunity to see the human side of the journalistic profession, to witness the blood, sweat, and tears shed by those whose job it is to cover the events of the day.

Friday, June 5, 2009

When Black Gay Arts Thrived

Much has been written and said about the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s. However, very little has been written about another black arts movement that occurred among black gays and lesbians mainly here in New York. As you may know, the '80s was a frightening time because of the burgeoning AIDS crisis. But it was also a very creative period for black gays and lesbians in all the arts: fiction, the theatre, photography, music, dance, film, and art.
Out of this period came such notables as Assotto Saint, Melvin Dixon, Marlon Riggs, Joseph Beam, Barbara Smith, Audre Lorde, Essex Hemphill to name a few.
Unfortunately, most of the male individuals are now dead, victims of the AIDS epidemic. They left behind, however, a body of work that revealed a promising talent that was cut short.
Also, at that time numerous literary journals began to emerge: Other Countries Journal, Habari Daftari, BLK, Pyramid Periodical, In the Life: A Black Gay Anthology, etc.
From 1983 to 1988, I wrote for the now-defunct weekly newspaper, the New York Native. Most of the articles I contributed focused on the black gay and lesbian community. So I got the opportunity to interview and write about many of the participants of this movement. A few of them like Assotto Saint became friends. So whenever I see them mentioned in an article or book, my mind goes back to when I spoke to them on the phone or attended one of their readings or ate dinner with them. For me they will always be more than just a name on a printed page.
Just as Edmund White and Felice Picano have kept the memory of the members of the Violet Quill writing group alive, so too should the names and the work of the aforementioned writers be memorialized.
Eventually someone will write a memoir or critique of the black gay arts movement. I hope I will be able to share my thoughts and memories as well as documentary material with that scholar.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Haiku for the Obamas

It is with pleasure that I accept Charles Michael Smith's invitation to publish one of my poems, a haiku for the Obamas , on his blog. Velma Jean Reeb.

Amabo, but Firmly

Rising before dawn,
Barack the lad sat with Mom
reviewing lessons.

"Obama" reversed,
means, in Latin, "I will love,"
but he's tough--no dove!

He wasted no time:
Columbia in '79--
Harvard by '83.

Then as President
Elect, he heard his daughters
laugh with glee to hear

Dad's long-awaited:
"Sasha and
have earned the puppy..."

And so, First Dog Bo
has come home to the White House:
Amamus te, Bo!

c2009 Velma Jean Reeb

Velma Jean Reeb is an alumna of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Classics, at Columbia University. She is a proud Upper West Side/Morningside Heights progressive Democrat.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Proud Colors

Rainbow Pride (Marie-Josee Ferron: documentary; color; 60 mins.;2006)

San Francisco brings to mind many images, both pleasant and not so pleasant--cable cars, steep hills, the Golden Gate Bridge, Harvey Milk's assassination, the occasional earthquake. Add one more image to the mix--this one for the pleasant column--the rainbow flag, a symbol of gay pride and empowerment. It was created by Gilbert Baker, a self-described "drag queen from way back."
Baker's flag and its impact on gay culture is the subject of an hour-long documentary, Rainbow Pride, that was filmed mostly in San Francisco and Key West, Florida, and first aired on public television three years ago.
In 1977, when Baker was commissioned to design a flag to be hung from lampposts during that year's pride parade, no one could have imagined that one day its colors would become such an international symbol for the GLBT community (thanks to New York's "Stonewall 25" celebration that featured a mile-long version of the flag).
The hand-made flag originally had eight colors (each signifying a different theme). Two of them (hot pink and turquoise) were later dropped because, as one interviewee pointed out, those colors were not on the palette of flag makers.
Baker, who knew the late openly gay politician Harvey Milk, gives him credit for inspiring the flag. "Harvey's whole message, his whole life was all about gay people should be visible and that we should come out of the closet. So the flag really fit with that in terms of it being a visibility tool."
That visibility, however, can be a double-edged sword. For gays and lesbians, it becomes, as one man in the film pointed out, a "universal Red Cross" sign, a marker that says here is a safe haven when trouble arises. Homophobes also know what the colors symbolize; for them it becomes a red flag, a signal that here is a potential target for gay bashing.
Rainbow Pride, beautifully shot and edited, with an excellent musical soundtrack, tells the story of the flag's creation without voice-over narration. It relies solely on images (some of it archival) and the voices of those on-camera. The Stonewall Riots, Anita Bryant, Harvey Milk are seamlessly interwoven in the overall "narrative." These moments add significance to the rainbow flag because they are milestones in the evolution of gay pride and although the colors have been used in tacky ways--such as on key chains and license plates--their popularity arises from a need for an oppressed people to feel good about themselves and each other. Or as Ann Northrop, a longtime activist, says in the film, "It's still a brilliant signifier and connector and identifier of us as a special tribe of people."

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Hue-man Bookstore in Harlem Embraces Gay and Lesbian Literature

My late friend poet/playwright/musician Assotto Saint would've been delighted to see a black-owned bookstore that was not afraid to have a gay and lesbian section. Although the selections at the Hue-man Bookstore and Cafe in Harlem are very limited (I counted less than a dozen titles on the shelves), they should be applauded for acknowledging a much overlooked group by many in the black literary world. And when it is mentioned, more often than not the images are stereotypical or negative. For example, in Chester Himes's All Shot Up (part of his Harlem detective series) the men in a gay bar are referred to as "bitchy" and "girlish." Hue-man's inclusion of gay and lesbian literature shows there is some progress being made.
In 1991, I wrote an article in the Amsterdam News about a picket line that Assotto and Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD) were planning against the Harlem-based Liberation Bookstore because the owner refused to carry gay and lesbian books. She claimed that she didn't carry them because the books did not sell, not because she was homophobic. The only gay author whose books she did carry were those by James Baldwin. When the story ran, supporters of the bookstore expressed outrage about the proposed picketing. The picketing never took place, however. I don't know if it was because Assotto got cold feet or he saw it as a futile effort. Another friend of mine stated that when you have to start picketing or boycotting a bookstore to get them to carry gay books, it's time to start your own store.
Let's hope that Hue-man continues to thrive in this tough economy and won't meet the fate of a black-owned Washington, D.C.- area bookstore called Vertigo that closed its doors. According to an article that appeared on the Afrocentric website ("The Recessionary Arts," 05/13/09), it was "a paradise and meeting place for book lovers" and "the must-stop place" for authors such as Barack Obama, John Edgar Wideman, and Edwidge Danticat. Let's hope Hue-man will also continue to sell as well as stock more gay-oriented books.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Those Annoying Wraparound Ads

I know that the ads for TV shows and perfumes and department stores that are wrapped around the front page of some issues of amNew York and Metro New York brings these newspapers revenue but that doesn't make them any less annoying when you want to read the headline of the day. They remind me of those equally annoying pop-up ads that appear online when you're trying to read a story. I know I sound like Andy Rooney, the lovable curmudgeon on CBS' 60 Minutes, but, hey, that is my honest opinion.

Please, Please, Mr. Postman, Reuse Those Rubber Bands

I thought I was the only one who noticed all of the rubber bands that letter carriers left behind on stoops, in lobbies, and on the street. Apparently not. Nancy Miller of Glendale, Queens was disturbed enough to write amNew York, the free daily, a letter-to-the-editor about this problem( "Little Things Count, Even Rubber Bands," 05/12/09), stating that "if the Postal Service didn't waste so much money on rubber bands, only to have them tossed on the street, then maybe they could save some money there."
I've made it a habit to pick up and reuse these rubber bands. I have two jars full of them. It's a safe bet that the Postal Service spends a fortune on rubber bands each year. And if they're wasteful with these items, what other items should we suspect are wasted? Paper clips? Ballpoint pens? Scotch tape? Paper?
Eliminating this problem alone will not get the Postal Service out of its current financial woes, but it will at least make it possible for the money saved to be used to improve service and thereby increase customer satisfaction.
If the rest of us are being encouraged to follow the three Rs--Reduce, Recycle, Reuse--then the Postal Service should be encouraged to do the same.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Just Asking

I have one question: while the NYPD are devoting time and manpower (and taxpayer dollars) randomly checking backpacks, handbags, and briefcases on the subways, buses, and commuter trains, in an attempt to keep us safe from terrorist attacks, what are they doing about the possibility of car bombs being used?

Here's One Way to Improve the Public Schools

The one thing I've noticed over the years while wading through the vast amount of campaign literature sent by various New York City Democratic candidates is the mantra regarding the improvement of the city's public schools: smaller classes, increased teacher pay, and more after-school programs. (No doubt this mantra will be repeated in this year's mayoral race.)
What all of them never talk about are innovative ways to teach the curricula. I believe it would go a long way toward turning the schools around and making the subjects more interesting and challenging to teachers and students alike. What good does it do to have a smaller class if the content and the manner of teaching a subject puts the students to sleep?

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Power of Ink

"Printers Ink is the Greater Explosive." (Written on a framed painting.)--from Ferlinghetti: The Artist in His Time by Barry Silesky (Warner Books, 1990) [Biography of Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti.]

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Who Am I?

Question: His book became the first of its kind by an African American author. Who was he?

Answer: James Baldwin.
The book, Giovanni's Room, is the story of two male lovers--one is an American, the other is an Italian--living in post-war Paris. It's homosexual theme was so controversial that Baldwin was advised not to publish it for fear it would ruin his career. Baldwin ignored such sentiments and the book, published in 1956, has become not only a classic gay novel, but an American one as well.
Learn more about James Baldwin at your local library.

Monday, May 4, 2009

On Writers

"The freelance writer is a man who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps."--Robert Benchley, American humorist.
From The Mammoth Book of Zingers, Quips, and One-Liners, edited by Geoff Tibballs (Carroll &
Graf, 2004).

Saturday, May 2, 2009

A "Turn of the Century" Problem

Here's a problem for William Safire or Richard Lederer or some other language-usage maven to solve--the proper use of the term "turn of the century." It either means the end of a century or the beginning of one. The writers quoted below clearly don't agree on its meaning:

"At the turn of the last century[that is, at its end], the dot-com collapse made e-commerce a dirty word among investors as headlines proclaimed the death of online business...."--Alvin and Heidi Toffler, Revolutionary Wealth (Knopf, 2006).

"At the turn of the twentieth century [that is, at its beginning], Long Beach [on Long Island in New York State] boasted the largest hotel in the world, a 1,100-foot long behemoth that promptly burned down."--Edward Kosner, It's News to Me (Thunder's Mouth Press, 2006).

"When [Hubert Harrison, the Afro-Caribbean orator and thinker] moved to New York City at the turn of the twentieth century, [he] brought a multicultural Crucian* background, reading and writing skills, intellectual curiosity, and a feeling of oneness with the downtrodden--all of which would be important in his future work."-- Jeffrey B. Perry, Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918 (Columbia University Press, 2009)

Which usage is correct?

*Harrison was born on the Caribbean island of St. Croix, in the Virgin Islands.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

So What Do Gay Organizations Do Anyway?

"So what does the Human Rights Campaign do? What does The Task Force do? The name doesn't tell us who it serves. And who knows what the professional glbt groups do. Do we know what the gay/lesbian journalists do? The gay physicians? And do we hear anything from the groups for sociology, psychology, anthropology, history, politics???"--Gay activist Billy Glover, on his blog, "Billy's Musings," March 31, 2009.

Those are good questions. What in deed do these groups do? I've never heard the executive directors of any of these groups interviewed in the major media. What is their agenda? Who are their constituents? What are their operating budgets? What progress have they made over the years?
This is why I've been advocating for a nationally syndicated GLBT terrestrial radio program so that questions like these can be answered. And so that GLBT people and others can have a fruitful dialogue with these leaders.
If such a program or programs existed, Billy Glover's questions could get an immediate response.
In the same blog post, Glover complains about the salaries of the leaders of these organizations. "I suggest that income for these leaders be ended and let's see how many of them are still willing to give some of their spare time--as they earn a living elsewhere as some of us did--to the cause."
First of all, I don't think it would be possible to run such complex organizations in anyone's spare time. It was comparatively easy to set up a group in Glover's heyday. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to fund-raise that way today. You didn't have to have a board of directors, a charter, or a fund-raising committee back then. Plus, times have changed. The world Glover and his friends operated in was a much simpler time. Gays and lesbians were much more on the fringe than is the case today and couldn't be so open.
I don't begrudge gay organizations paying their CEOs a salary. You need competent, knowledgeable, experienced people. And that comes with a price tag, whether we like it or not.
I'm all for organizations being upfront about their finances and their goals, but it takes dollars and expertise to run an organization and we shouldn't demonize or criticize them for that.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

On Reading

"I always read the last page of a book first so that if I die before I finish, I will know how it turned out."
---Nora Ephron, American screenwriter and film director
from The Mammoth Book of Zingers, Quips, and One-Liners, edited
by Geoff Tibballs (Carroll & Graf, 2004)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Rescuing History From the Trash Heap

While walking up Central Park West around 108th Street on my way home one Sunday afternoon, I found a huge coffee table book sitting atop some trash in a street corner trash can. On the cover, in large letters, was the title: The Story of America As Reported By Its Newspapers From 1690 to 1965.
I flipped through the pages and saw reproductions of front pages from such papers as the San Francisco Examiner, the Atlanta Constitution, the New York Times, and newspapers I'd never heard of like the Wheeling Intelligencer in West Virginia, chronicling famous events in American history.
Being a staunch newspaper buff (even in these times of dwindling newspapers and out of work journalists) rescuing that book from the trash heap was for me a no-brainer. Looking at those front pages with huge headlines like the 1944 one that announced ROOSEVELT WINS REELECTION reminded me of some bubble gum cards I once owned as a kid. On one side was an artist's drawing of some historical event like the assassination of Gandhi or the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and the reverse side, the actual front page of an American newspaper about that event. I wish I still had those cards. They were a big reason I came to love history.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sixty at Sixty

A few months ago, I received a press release from a choreographer who, to commemorate her 60th birthday, created sixty dance works. That sounded like an interesting idea. On May 30, I will be celebrating my own 60th birthday. And I thought it would be a challenging project to do a literary equivalent, to write 60 articles (of various types) over a 12-month period. I will discuss this project in more detail later.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

It's Dark In There

I'm probably one of the few people in the New York City area to have listened to the film reviews of Karel via his podcasts. After all, he is not a household name in this part of the country. Karel is openly gay and is based in Los Angeles, where his reviews are also heard on KNX News Radio1070, a CBS radio affiliate.
I stumbled on one of his podcasts while browsing the KNX website. (I used to listen to the station when I lived in Southern California in the '60s.)
I had a feeling that he was gay by his voice and his irreverent, campy reviews but I wasn't sure. Then on one of his podcasts he mentioned his late lover and how his death had affected him. That confirmed it. Each podcast contains reviews of five or six movies and are fun to listen to even though they can run about ten to fifteen minutes long.
Although he is on the west coast, the Internet breaks down that geographic barrier. He deserves to be better known across the country.
I think he does his reviews from home because in the background on some of the podcasts I can hear a dog barking or a plane flying overhead.
Karel reminds me voicewise of Rex Reed, one of my favorite movie reviewers. (I wish both of them would put out a CD of their reviews. They would be worth listening to over and over again.)
Finally, I like the humorous way Karel signs off his podcasts: "I won't be seeing you at the movies because it's dark in there."

Monday, April 6, 2009

Eight Million Stories

I am a long-time fan of The Naked City television series (1958-1963) and its motion picture progenitor of the same name, released in 1948. The character-driven TV show featured such up and coming actors as Robert Duvall, William Shatner, and Jon Voight.
But I have always been curious about the origin and the meaning of this strange title. It certainly had nothing to do with nudity. On the DVD of the movie, it was explained that the title came from a book of photographs by the New York photographer known as Weegee. Mark Hellinger, the producer of the film, borrowed the name from the book.
James Sanders, an architect and the author of Celluloid Skyline: New York and the Movies (Knopf, 2003), offers the following interpretation on one of the DVD's bonus features. Aside from being eloquent, it puts in a nutshell what the movie and the subsequent TV series were all about:

"The city is a body. It has been stretched out for us naked on the table. And the idea is that the city is an organism. It's basically a healthy organism. But like any [other] organism it can catch a disease. In this case, the disease is crime. When it does, the doctors go to work. And the doctors
are the police. They'll make it better again."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Obama Chicken, Anyone?

It should come as no surprise that some business establishments--like the fried chicken restaurants--would use Barack Obama's name for commercial purposes. This is America, where just about everything's a candidate for the bottom line, including Christmas and Thanksgiving.
I was in the Times Square area last weekend and saw a guy selling Obama Condoms--one for five dollars and three for ten dollars. Talk about bad taste.
AMNew York, the free daily paper ("Finger-lickin' debate," April 3-5), quoted a 16-year-old boy who thought that changing the name of a restaurant in Brownsville, Brooklyn to Obama Fried Chicken was "showing respect" for "Obama's name in the community."
This is a comment from a young person who probably thinks the word "nigga" is a show of respect by his peers.
A better show of respect would be to have a wall mural of the president painted or having a window display of print media about Obama's election put up, like the one inside my local public library branch. Anything else is just about the dollar.
Although local black politicians like city councilman Charles Barrone of Brooklyn have expressed outrage at the misuse of Obama's name, there is very little that can be done about it, except mount a campaign of shame, which seems to be working. A couple of the restaurants have taken down or altered their signs.

Friday, April 3, 2009

A Few Words From Alexander Woollcott

"War is born of greed and vanity and fear. It is nourished by hate and its end result is bitterness. We cannot glorify force and set men to killing each other and then by ordering the guns to cease firing--by merely blowing a whistle--expect them suddenly to act with sweet reasonableness."
--Alexander Woollcott (1887-1943), American critic and commentator

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Demonization of Jeremiah Wright

Eventually a major book publisher will offer President Barack Obama's former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the opportunity to write an autobiography or a memoir. And frankly, I await such a book. It would give me a more definitive insight into his life experiences and philosophy. This is something the media pundits, especially the ones on the right, have failed to do. They've been too busy demonizing him. His name still pops up from time to time.
After watching Bill Moyers's hour-long interview with Reverend Wright last year, I did not see a wild-eyed, frothing-at-the-mouth, hate-filled demagogue, but instead a highly intelligent, articulate, and compassionate man. There's a lot more to the reverend than the major media has allowed us to see. I may not agree with everything he says or believes, but I am willing to listen.
In his riveting book Obama: From Promise to Power (HarperCollins, 2007), biographer David Mendell identifies Reverend Wright as "a staunch advocate for homosexual rights, which is almost unheard-of among African-American ministers."
The gay and lesbian community should keep that in mind when they hear negative comments about Reverend Wright and his ministry.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Singing Walter Cronkite

When Rachel Maddow was one of three hosts of Air America Radio's mid-morning show called "Unfiltered," a regular feature of the show was Ambrosia, "the singing Walter Cronkite." Every morning she would sing the same jazzy tune but with different lyrics that were news-specific. Ambrosia's voice was a cross between Billie Holiday and the recently deceased Blossom Dearie. I'm sure they were musical influences.
Since Rachel Maddow has gone solo on the radio, I have not heard Ambrosia. It would be an absolute delight to hear her somewhat velvety voice once again on the radio singing the news.

Monday, March 23, 2009

On Gay Life in Harlem

While going through an old folder, I found the following unpublished letter to the editor (dated June 28, 2000) that I sent to the Village Voice. Reading it has encouraged me to consider doing an article about the changing gay scene in Harlem, particularly since the area is becoming more and more gentrified, bringing with it gay and lesbian dollars.

Dear Editor:

Michael Henry Adams stated that "There's so little gay life," in Harlem today. ("Up From RuPaul," The Queer Issue, June 27) That depends on how you define what constitutes a gay life and a gay space. It's true that gay life in Harlem is not as blatant, as in-your-face as it is in the Village and Chelsea. It's also true that there is a paucity of bars and nightclubs that serve a gay clientele. But that doesn't mean that black gay men in Harlem are sitting around twiddling their thumbs. All you have to do is pay close attention to the subtle and not so subtle signs that indicate that gay life abounds in Harlem. Those signs can be found in the cruising areas of northern Central Park and St. Nicholas Park; in the private sex clubs; in the churches; at block and house parties; on the stoops, roofs, and public hallways of apartment buildings; on basketball courts; on the subway, etc. All are potential meeting places for black gay men. So to call the Mount Morris Bathhouse,*as Kai Wright does, "the extent of gay public space in today's Harlem" is to view this segment of the community with tunnel vision.
I would suggest to Kai Wright to come back to Harlem to get a broader, more accurate picture of Harlem's gay residents.

*Author's Note: The Mount Morris Bathhouse (where I later was employed for two and a half years), closed down in August 2003, the same week the citywide blackout occurred.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

In Praise of Writing

"Writing, the art of communicating thoughts to the mind through the eye, is the great invention of the world."
---Abraham Lincoln, from In Lincoln's Hand: His Original Manuscripts, edited by Harold Holzer and Joshua Wolf Shenk (Bantam Books, hardcover, 2009).

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Proposal for "Celebrating Ourselves," the Black Gay & Lesbian Supplement

The following letter may be of interest to buffs of gay and lesbian history. I found the faded photocopy of the letter among some other papers. It is a proposal I sent to Patrick Merla, the editor of the New York Native, a weekly gay newspaper, outlining a special black gay and lesbian supplement. The supplement was published in the fall of 1984 as "Celebrating Ourselves," a title that was suggested to me by the poet/novelist Melvin Dixon, who contributed a poem to the supplement's poetry centerfold (the first and only time the Native ever published poetry). Among the other contributors to the supplement were Joe Beam, Dave Frechette, Craig Harris, and Donald Woods (all now deceased). The "Celebrating Ourselves" supplement consisted of essays, poetry, and photos.The letter was dated June 15, 1984.

Dear Patrick:

In August 1983 the Native published a supplement called "Harlem Rising." I contributed two pieces to it. It would be a good idea to bring the supplement back, possibly in August. However, this time I would like to be the guest editor. And instead of calling it "Harlem Rising," it should be called "Hue: Black Gay & Lesbian Supplement." The new name would underscore the fact that blacks range in color from very fair to very dark.
The supplement would contain five or six articles, covering a wide range of areas: politics, the arts, religion, etc. One article that I would try to include in the supplement is an address delivered by James Baldwin two years ago at a BWMT [Black and White Men Together, later renamed Men of All Colors Together] meeting that dealt with being black and gay (BWMT has the tape). There would also be photos and artwork. I would like to discuss this with you either on the phone or in person because I think it is important for the Native to continue to deal with issues and events of concern to the black gay and lesbian community. I appreciate the Native's willingness to publish black-oriented articles. It shows that the paper realizes that not everyone is white and middle class. I am looking forward to a long association with the Native.
I hope the answer will be affirmative. I think this supplement will be better than the last one.

Author's Note: My association with the Native began in 1983 and ended in 1988.
One more thing, I never did get to use the James Baldwin BWMT address.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Don't Feed the Wildlife

One of my favorite pastimes when the weather is nice is walking completely around the Harlem Meer (a man-made lake) at the northern end of New York's Central Park two or three times. I especially enjoy watching the ducks and geese during these leisurely strolls.
One afternoon I brought some bread crumbs to feed them. A Parks Department employee cautioned me not to because it would discourage them from migrating in the winter and that they would die as a result. He also told me that they had food of their own.
I was skeptical, thinking that instinct would kick in. But after learning that the geese have taken up permanent residence in the park (and leaving their poop everywhere), it dawned on me that perhaps the Parks Department employee was right. So fellow park patrons, heed the posted signs: don't feed the birds.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Demise of Empanada Joe's

"Eat Beautiful. Feel Beautiful." That was the slogan on the menus at Empanada Joe's, a fast food joint on Broadway and 111th Street, a stone's throw from Columbia University. Apparently not every one believed in that slogan. Empanada Joe's is no more. According to the Daily Spectator( February 18, 2009), the campus paper, "most Columbia students and local residents seem glad to see it go." One student was quoted as saying, "I didn't like it. It was very expensive and the empanadas were small. Afterwards, I felt sick."
The first time I visited the restaurant, I didn't get sick, but I was disappointed in the size and price of the empanadas ( meat-filled patties,that look something like a turnover). I wrote a letter to the manager a short time later. Below is the text of the letter:

"My friend Klaus and I went to your restaurant on the evening of August 14, 2008. We shared an empanada (Argentine beef) and a Tuscan pasta salad. Both were very good but pricey and, to our disappointment, very small. The price would have been justified if the empanada was larger. It was so small, it would take three or four of them to fill me up.
I hope that you will make the empanada and the salads larger or offer more than one size (priced accordingly). Otherwise, customers will not feel they are getting their money's worth."

Klaus (who is 75 years old) would go in there from time to time and try to give them advice on improving their business but they would laugh it off as though he were a slightly demented old man.Every time we passed by, there was hardly any customers. He predicted that they wouldn't last. He was right. As another Columbia student pointed out to the Spectator reporter, "When there is Chipotle next door, who is going to go to Empanada Joe's?" Why, indeed.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Racism Within the Gay Community

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion in New York's Greenwich Village. Below is an unpublished letter I sent to the Village Voice 25 years ago in response to an interview that appeared in its Gay Pride Issue. The letter was dated June 28, 1984. There is still some truth in what I wrote back then.

Dear Editor:
James Baldwin in his interview with Richard Goldstein (Village Voice, June 26), hit the nail on the head when he pointed out that "the gay world as such is no more prepared to accept black people than anywhere else in society."

Racism, as Baldwin knows, is very much a fact of life within the gay community. It is evident in the discriminatory admission policies of gay bars and discos across the country and in the near total exclusion of blacks and other third world gays in gay magazines and newspapers. The "invisibility"of black gays and lesbians is what prompted me to write articles in the gay press pointing up the fact that blacks are a vocal and active part of the gay community.

The white middle class male image being projected in these publications (and subsequently carried by the straight media) helps to foster the homophobic view in the black community that homosexuality, as well as AIDS, is a "white disease."

Until the white gay community is willing and able to accept black gays and lesbians as full and equal partners in the struggle against heterosexist oppression, they have no right to complain about homophobia. They too have become oppressors. That's not my idea of Gay Pride.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

My Six-Word Memoir

Smith Magazine (no relation to me) pioneered this new form. I first heard about the six-word memoir on "The Leonard Lopate Show" on WNYC, a public radio station in New York City. Here goes:

Learning new things makes me happy.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Gay Programming Is Needed on Air America Radio

I began listening to Air America, the liberal radio network, from Day One and I have enjoyed listening to the progressive viewpoints expressed on it. However, there is one type of programming that is missing from its program schedule: a program that is exclusively devoted to the gay/lesbian'bisexual/trasnsgender community.
I was a regular listener each Sunday evening to the gay programming offered by the Pacifica station WBAI, here in New York. But the quality and the scope were limited. When the show was called "The Gay Show," the focus was mainly about white gay men. And when the show was renamed "Out FM," with different hosts, it went the other way, focusing on women and people of color, almost exclusively. I would have preferred gay programming that was much more inclusive and balanced.
Air America has the golden opportunity to develop a program that addresses the interests and the concerns of the GLBT community in an entertaining, informative, and provocative way. GLBT people are visible in all areas of media. Discussions about gays in the military, gay marriage, gay parenting, gays in the workplace are no longer rarities. Air America can help further such discussions and eradicate misconceptions about GLBT people. I don't expect Rush Limbaugh or the other right-wing talk hosts to do justice to these issues or other topics that are relevant to the GLBT community.
Right now, there is room for such programming, especially on the weekend. A weekly one- or two-hour show would reach tens of thousands of GLBT people across the country, creating another venue for them to find out what's going on in similar communities here and abroad. If the network is liberal enough to air a weekly show by atheists, it should have no problem airing a show by and about the GLBT community.
There are so many gay and lesbian writers, historians, artists, actors, political and community leaders, it would be almost impossible to run out of people to invite to come on the air and share their views and experiences.
I hope that this five-year broadcasting venture called Air America will continue to succeed so that such a program that I am proposing will come to fruition. The national GLBT community and radio listeners in general would be the beneficiaries and it would truly make Air America a beacon of liberalism.

RIP Wilbert Tatum

As a former freelance contributor to the New York Amsterdam News, I would like to offer my condolences to the family of Wilbert Tatum, the paper's publisher emeritus, as well as to its staff and management.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Big Harlem Retailers Need to Support the Black Press

The newly opened Harlem Furniture, on 125th Street between 5th and Lenox Avenues, is repeating the same mistake its predecessor, Bargain World, made. That mistake is failure to advertise in the black press. Both businesses however willingly advertised in the New York Daily News. Bargain World had been in that location for several decades and never saw fit to place a full-page ad in the Amsterdam News, which is just down the street.
I browsed through the pages of several recent issues of the Am/News and the New York Beacon and found ads from Con Edison, Macy's, HSBC, Wal-Mart, and radio station WWRL. Absent were ads from Harlem Furniture, New York Sport Clubs, Starbucks, Citibank, Raymour and Flanagan (another furniture retail outlet), among other businesses that have set up shop in the black community and expect its residents to patronize them. But these establishments neglect to support the black media that have served the black community longer than many of these businesses have been in existence. They need to be made aware of this woeful oversight. Black people don't only read the mainstream tabloids.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Lawyer Explains His Profession

If you are thinking about hiring a lawyer, you should keep in mind the following words:

"'s anger that drives us and delivers us [negligence lawyers]. It's not any kind of love, either--love for the underdog or the victim, or whatever you want to call them. Some litigators like to claim that. The losers.
No, what it is, we're permanently pissed off, the winners, and practicing law is a way to be socially useful at the same time, that's all. It's like a discipline; it organizes and controls us; probably keeps us from being homicidal.
Certainly we get paid well for it, which is a satisfaction, yes, but not a motivation, because the real satisfaction, the true motivation, is the carnage and the smoldering aftermath and the trophy heads that get hung up on the den wall. I love it."
--Mitchell Stephens, Esquire, The Sweet Hereafter: Novel
by Russell Banks (HarperCollins, 1991)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

How Is the Health of the Black Press?

Looking through the articles regarding layoffs at and closings of newspapers and magazines across the country in media sites such as Mediabistro and Romenesko, there are no mentions of the black press. During good times, these publications have a hard time getting sufficient ad revenue. It would be interesting to find out how they are faring in this weak economy.

Friday, February 6, 2009

My Sweet Lorde

The following article, based on a telephone interview I did with the late poet Audre Lorde (1934-1992), was published in NYQ magazine, December 15, 1991. The magazine, later renamed QW, is now defunct. It was co-edited by Maer Roshan, who later edited New York and Radar magazines. I reprint the article in commemoration of Black History Month.

"Poetry," according to Audre Lorde, "is a weapon for change. I see it as one of the most subversive uses of language there is because we are in the business of altering feelings. As June Jordan said once, 'We're in the business of making revolution irresistible.'"
Although Lorde has lived for the last six years in the U.S. Virgin Islands, she returns to New York City regularly because her son and daughter are here and the cancer treatments she requires are unavailable in St. Croix.
When she lived on Staten Island, Lorde explains in a phone conversation from the Caribbean, "I was every day going to war. If you've been reading the papers, you know about the racial situation on Staten Island. It's gotten worse, from my understanding, since I left." In response, she has sought refuge in the relatively more sedate Virgin Islands. Racism, classism, homophobia, and sexism exist there, too, she concedes, "but on a different scale."
Her selection as New York's State Poet is, in Lorde's eyes, "a contradiction." She wonders what that appointment really means in a state where many see her, and those like her, as irreconcilably other. "In New York State," she says, "a black woman can be raped and her college-student attackers are freed, where attacks on lesbians and gay men are increasing. It's an intense contradiction. I see my function, the function of all poets, as attempting to learn the lessons of these contradictions and learning how to use ourselves to lessen them."
"Part of my work," Lorde concludes, "is to ask every person I come in contact with: 'How are you using yourself?' 'How are you doing your work?' 'How do you define yourself?' 'How are you using that self to fight for what you believe in?'"

Monday, February 2, 2009

A Few Words From Julius Lester

"A minute is so important and so many pass me, unused. I compare my aspirations and my abilities and realize: I am one person among billions living one life, about 65 years out of a million which have preceded mine and will come after. Yet I do not despair. My 65 can help shape the million to come."---Julius Lester, from his autobiography, All is Well (William Morrow, 1976).

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Real-Life Crimes on DVD?

The following is a letter to the editor sent to the "Voice of the People" section of the New York Daily News via e-mail on December 12, 2007. It was in response to an article about a young New York filmmaker supposedly capturing on DVD real- life crimes in progress. The letter was not published.

To the Editor: Re: filmmaker Ousala (FD) Aleem's "Criminals Gone Wild" DVD. How does this guy sleep at night knowing that he is aiding and abetting criminal behavior? No doubt "60 Minutes" or some other newsmagazine program will do a segment on him, increasing his profits and the crime rate.

Author's Note: I plan to revisit this issue at a later time.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Hurricane Cruella aka Hurricane Katrina

The following is a letter-to-the-editor I sent to the "Voice of the People" section of the New York Daily News on September 12, 2005 (via e-mail). It was not published.

To the Editor:
Katrina. A beautiful and benign-sounding name for such a destructive force. A better name would have been Cruella or Pandora.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Black Middle Class of Bed-Stuy

The following is an unpublished letter I sent to Time Out New York in response to a letter that was commenting on an article that had appeared in the magazine. My letter was dated August 11, 2006.

Dear Editor:
In her letter, Jennifer Gilchrist accuses TONY of racially stereotyping the residents of Bed-Stuy [Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York] along racial lines (white wealth vs. black poverty). But Gilchrist herself is guilty of stereotyping. She writes that in "the wealthiest areas of Bed Stuy...the vast majority of residents are middle-class and upper middle-class African-Americans." First of all, being middle-class does not mean that one is wealthy. Secondly, she's on the outside looking in. How many of those "wealthy" African-Americans are struggling to maintain a middle-class life for themselves and their families? How many of them are living paycheck- to- paycheck attempting to keep up with many financial obligations (credit card debt, car payments, mortgages, school tuitions, medical expenses, etc.), while at the same time trying to save enough for a comfortable retirement? As the saying goes, looks can be deceiving.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Melvin Dixon: A Brief Elegy

The following is an excerpt (in slightly different form) from an elegy I wrote about the black gay poet and novelist Melvin Dixon (1950-1992). It was written for a forthcoming anthology called Art Mugs the Reaper, edited by Jeffrey Lilly, a San Francisco-based poet. The book celebrates the lives and work of gay artists who died of AIDS.

"I often think of Melvin Dixon when I walk down West 116th Street in Harlem, an area known as Little Dakar because of the large influx of African immigrants that reside and own shops there. Melvin had lived in France and the West African nation of Senegal, spoke fluent French, and taught at the University of Dakar. He would have enjoyed the sights and sounds of these newcomers. I can imagine him telling them, in French, about his travels to Senegal and inquiring about their lives there and in the United States. I'm certain they would have enjoyed knowing that he translated a volume of poetry by Leopold Senghor, the president of Senegal."

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Blockhouse in Central Park

Missing from New York City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe's discussion of the Blockhouse at the northern end of Central Park (Time Out New York, Issue 606) is the fact that it is located in a popular gay cruising area. Sexual activity went on inside the Blockhouse, also known as the Fort, before a gate with a padlock was installed a few years ago. Especially during the warm months, a visitor can see near the structure, which dates back to the War of 1812, what T.S. Eliot would have described as the "testimony of summer nights": cigarette butts, torn condom wrappers, beer cans, etc.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Film History Book Worth Checking Out

I recently finished reading Pictures at a Revolution by Mark Harris (Penguin Press, 2008) an Entertainment Weekly writer. I had a hard time putting the book down. It is a behind-the-scenes look at five groundbreaking motion pictures released in 1967 that were nominated for an Academy Award: The Graduate, In the Heat of the Night,Doctor Dolittle, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, and Bonnie and Clyde.The only one of the five I've never seen is Doctor Dolittle. The others I've seen on TV and/or VHS. Unfortunately, I never saw any of them when they made their theatrical premiere. (Doctor Dolittle is the only one of the five that was a box office flop.) Perhaps Symphony Space, the performance venue in New York City, will screen these films in a special series based on the book. Then I will get the opportunity to see them the way they were meant to be seen--on a wide screen with an audience. (I've seen several films that I missed the first time around like Boyz N the Hood that way at Symphony Space.)
One small complaint: On the back flap, the author bio states that Harris's husband is the playwright Tony Kushner. With so many smart men in the gay community, you would think that they could come up with a better nomenclature for such an intimate relationship. The words "husband" and "wife" have heterosexual connotations. If, as the late gay activist Harry Hay believed, gays and lesbians are different from their straight counterparts, shouldn't there be marriage rituals and affectional titles befitting that difference? Just asking. Other than that, Pictures at a Revolution is worth checking out by film buffs.
P.S. I would love to see someone do a biography of gay film historianVito Russo, whose Celluloid Closet, is another memorable and hard-to-put-downbook. This classic examines Hollywood's depiction of gays and lesbians since the beginning of the film industry. Mark Harris or William J. Mann would be the perfect ones to take on such a project. I hope one of them will consider it.

Monday, January 5, 2009

A Statue to Honor James Baldwin

There are now three statues in Harlem commemorating African-American achievers: Duke Ellington, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., and, most recently, Harriet Tubman. A New York Daily News editorial (11/14/08) honoring the Tubman statue noted that she "risked her life to lead slaves to freedom, and later worked to promote women's suffrage."
There are streets in Harlem renamed for Powell, King, Douglass, and Malcolm X; luxury condos emblazoned with the names of Rosa Parks and Tubman; a city park named for Marcus Garvey; and public libraries bearing the names of Countee Cullen and the black Puerto Rican bibliophile Arthur Schomburg.
All of these individuals deserve to be so honored. But there is no statue, street, or park honoring the memory of James Baldwin, a native son of Harlem, whose eloquent novels and essays examined American race relations unequivocally.
Local politicians and community leaders should be made aware of the fact that this literary titan has been neglected and that a statue should be erected in or near 131st Street and Park Avenue, his old neighborhood.