Friday, December 31, 2010

Homophobia And The Black Press

Homophobia is alive and well in the black community, particularly among some members of the black press. Within the last two months [of 1992] the Amsterdam News has published two articles whose authors are virulently anti-gay. Why the Amsterdam News, which has a number of gay and lesbian writers contributing to it, allows homophobia like Sylvester Leaks and Yusuf Salaam to vent their hatred of gays without editorial response is a real mystery.

In Leaks's front page story [August 1, 1992] about Mike Tyson's prison life, he enumerates the "horrors" that Tyson has either "observed or was told about" such as drugs, brutal fights among inmates, and homosexuality.

Instead of including the act of gang rape, which Tyson, convicted of rape, ironically fears, as one of the horrors of prison, leaks preferred to throw in the old bugaboo homosexuality which he characterized as "licentious and criminal."

The other Am/News writer Yusuf Salaam, in an article condemning the commercialization of Malcolm X's name and likeness [Sept. 26], ends the piece by saying that Denzel Washington after playing Malcolm X in the upcoming Spike Lee movie will next star as a homosexual, "one of the weakest levels of human existence." It's as though Washington, who after all is an actor, will sully Malcolm's image by accepting such a role. What does one role have to do with another? Doesn't Salaam know that actors frequently play a variety of roles? For the record, I read that Washington's next role is that of a homophobic lawyer [Philadelphia, directed by Jonathan Demme]. I'm sure Salaam will find that a more appropriate follow-up.

Negativity toward gays and lesbians is not limited to the black press. It's present among those active in the fight against AIDS in the black community. For example, during the recent United Against AIDS march in Manhattan, Ray Williams, a black gay activist, felt a tinge of homophobia among those in the Harlem contingent. "The black community is still suffering from the good AIDS, bad AIDS syndrome," says Williams, who has many friends with full-blown AIDS. "The bad AIDS are the gays and the good AIDS are all the others. They're willing to build a coalition with us until the epidemic is over. Then it'll be business as usual." Williams detected a reluctance on the part of the straight s to chant "Fight AIDS, not gays," a chant he created on the spot. "I didn't feel a sense of being welcome. The attitude I got was 'We'll tolerate you because we need you now.'"

Joe Pressley, a former Gay Men of African Descent executive director, sensed the homophobia from the black straights, too. "It's a struggle to be taken seriously by straights who have such stereotypical views of gay men, but we have to educate our communities. Part of fighting AIDS is fighting homophobia."

James Baldwin, in an interview with Village Voice writer and editor Richard Goldstein, observed that "Men have been sleeping with men for thousands of years....It's only this infantile culture which has made such a big deal of it."

Note: The above article was previously published in the October 25, 1992 issue of QW magazine.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

What Is Pure Cinema?

"Pure cinema for [Alfred] Hitchcock meant communicating through pictures. Give the audience something that only the movies can give you. You can get words from radio and books. You can get music from records and CDs and orchestras. You can get all those things somewhere else. But only the movies can give you moving pictures."--David Sterritt, film critic, from "Pure Cinema: Through the Eyes of the Master," a bonus feature on Rear Window (1954) DVD.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Wynton Marsalis, Trumpet Virtuoso and Music Educator

Wynton Marsalis is a young man on the move, wearing several career hats--trumpet virtuoso, composer, band leader, author, recording artist (in the jazz and classical fields), and Jazz at Lincoln Center artistic director. Add to that collection of "hats" one labeled multi-media educator and you'll have before you a music appreciation series (originally broadcast on public television) called Marsalis On Music, which also features the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the conductor Seiji Ozawa.

The four-part series explores rhythm, form, the jazz band, and practice. The program uses innovative graphics and sound technology as well as imaginative and entertaining approaches. For example, in the first program, "Why Toes Tap," Marsalis explains the different ways composers use rhythm by presenting two versions of "The Nutcracker" --Tchaikovsky's and Duke Ellington's. "No motion, no rhythm," points out Marsalis. "No rhythm, no music."

Marsalis On Music, available as a book/audio CD package and as a home video set, was shot before a live audience of children during the production team's week-long stay in the summer of 1994 at the Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts. The intention, says the multiple Grammy winner, was "to painlessly beckon our children into the magical world of music." Another goal, he adds, was "to emphasize the importance of listening to many different kinds of music, noticing how they are related, though on the surface they may seem to be different."

The concept for the groundbreaking program, recalls Peter Gelb, the series's co-executive producer, grew "out of a series of conversations Wynton and I had shortly after we produced the Carnegie Hall Christmas Concert. The idea was to make the programs as appealing as possible capitalizing on Wynton's charm and utilizing animation and other visual aids that we thought would appeal to young people."

Marsalis's reputation , says Pat Jaffe, the other co-executive producer, as "a serious musician dedicated to his art" but who "also has a terrific sense of fun" are "highly visible" in the programs.
Those qualities make him a good candidate to follow in the footsteps of the late composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein, who hosted many Young People's Concerts on TV.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Blog's 2nd Anniversary

Tomorrow, December 18, marks the second anniversary of this blog.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Street Vendors on 125th Street

I wrote and sent the following unpublished letter-to-the-editor to the New York Amsterdam News. It was written on July 31, 1992.

Dear Editor: Although Karen Carillo's article (July 25) regards the street vendors on 125th Street favorably, seeing them as entrepreneurs following a time-honored tradition in Harlem, she overlooks the fact that the proliferation of these vendors has gotten completely out of hand. For shoppers and other pedestrians walking down 125th Street is equivalent to an obstacle course. instead of a pleasant urban mall-like environment, pictured in the artist's conception during the redesigning of the area, we now have a zoo. Nowhere else in Manhattan do you see this type of situation.

It seems as though the black press, the community, and civic leaders are afraid to say anything critical for fear of being labeled politically incorrect.

People need to earn a living and should be encouraged in their entrepreneurship, but the situation that exists now is intolerable. I'm certain that the merchants, who pay rent and taxes, would be the first to welcome an alternative to what is happening in front of their stores.

Perhaps the best solution to the problem is for the community and civic leaders to provide more indoor sites like mart 125* for the vendors rather than having them sell their wares on the street which creates a health and safety hazard for the public.

*Update: Mart 125, across the street from the Apollo Theatre, has been vacant for several years. Eighteen years after I wrote the above letter, street vendors line both sides of 125th Street (in some places) from St. Nicholas Avenue as far east as Lexington Avenue in all kinds of weather.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A News Commentator's Homophobia

I wrote and sent the following unpublished letter-to-the-editor to the New York Amsterdam News. It was written on July 31, 1992.

Dear Editor: Sylvester Leaks's front-page story (Aug. 1) about Mike Tyson's prison life enumerates the "horrors" that Tyson has either "observed or was told about." Instead of including the act of gang rape, which Tyson fears, as one of those prison horrors, Leaks would rather throw in the old bugaboo homosexuality, which he considers "licentious and criminal."

Leaks's attitude is what feeds the homophobia that is rampant in the black community and gives gaybashers the green light to go out and victimize gays and lesbians.

Black gays and lesbians, many of whom are among our best and brightest, end up withdrawing or withholding the skills, knowledge, and financial support that the black community needs because of the hostility from people like Leaks.

At a time when the black community is in dire straits on all levels, it makes no sense to ostracize and vilify a significant, albeit not very vocal, segment of the community whose sexuality has never been a matter of choice.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Discrimination At The Union Club, 1983

Black and White Men Together/New York [later renamed Men of All Colors Together], an interracial gay anti-racism group, after nearly three months, has emerged victorious in the fight against the Union Club's discriminatory admission policy. After initially denying such a policy, the East Village gay bar and disco has agreed to meet all four of BWMT's demands. The demands are an apology to all those it has discriminated against including four black young men from BWMT (Charles Brack, Lawrence Dubose, Alfredo Perez, and Donald Reid) who were sent, along with four white members, to "test" the club's admission policy on August 12, 1983; the elimination of its discriminatory admission policy; compensation of the victims by making a substantial financial contribution to BWMT's Discrimination Documentation Project; and the hiring of Third World people as bartenders, waiters, bouncers, etc.

In BWMT's newsletter for November, it was announced that the Union Club has agreed to make a $2,000 contribution to compensate the victims. The club's manager, John Addison, previously stated that the club could not afford to make a financial contribution but BWMT refused to take the statement seriously. It is their belief that one way to put an end to discriminatory admission policies is to make the practice of it very costly to bar and disco owners. They see their victory at the Union Club as a way "to show the community as well as other bar owners that a multi-racial, non-discriminatory bar can survive and prosper in this community. Our goal," continues the newsletter, "is not to put gay establishments out of business; it is more important that we prove we don't have to endure discriminatory actions."

The settlement came four days after BWMT held a joint press conference and demonstration outside the club, located at 110 East 14th Street, on October 13.
Final payment of the compensation was scheduled to be made on or before October 31, 1983. BWMT plans to go back to the club in a few weeks to see if it is complying with the agreement.

In a letter published in the gay newspaper, the New York Native, John Addison, the club's manager, called the situation at the door August 12 a "misunderstanding." He invited the four black BWMT members "to return to the Union Club as my guest for the evening of their choice." Interestingly, the letter was dated October 12, the day before the press conference and demonstration during which he denied being a discriminator. Lidell Jackson, BWMT's press liaison, believes Addison's letter and his unsuccessful attempt to upstage BWMT at its own press conference by trying to hog press attention is his "way of trying to use the press to his best advantage."

However, articles in the New York Native about the club persuaded Dignity, a gay Catholic group, to cancel and reschedule its 11th anniversary party which it was going to hold at the Union Club on October 21.

In a related story reported by the Washington Blade, another gay newspaper, in its October 14 issue, the Washington, D.C. chapter of BWMT has dropped its complaint of discrimination against Badlands, a local gay bar and disco, which it had filed with D.C. Office of Human Rights. The complaint was filed on July 14, reports the Blade, after BWMT/DC received "a number of reports from local black Gays that Badlands was requiring blacks to show identification for proof -of-age while whites were not required to show such proof." The bar, says the Blade, "has agreed to contribute $5,000 to a Gay operated anti-discriminatory program."

Note: David Kaufman's the article, "Logo's 'The A-List': A Symbol of Gay Apartheid?" (December 6, 2010) complains that "[t]he same-sex reality-TV show is set in New York but has no black lead characters. Not unusual in a gay world that is routinely segregated by race."

Anyone familiar with the gay world is not surprised by the lack of color-blindness in the gay community. It's nothing new as my above article, written in November of 1983, underscores.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Few Words From Gay Talese

"The New Journalism, though often reading like fiction, is not fiction. It is, or should be, as reliable as the most reliable reportage. Although it seeks a larger truth than is possible through the mere compilation of verifiable facts, the use of direct quotations, and adherence to the rigid organizational style of the older form. The New Journalism allows, demands in fact, a more imaginative approach to reporting, and it permits the writer to inject himself into the narrative if he wishes, as many writers do, or to assume the role of a detached observer, as other writers do, including myself."--Gay Talese, from his book Fame & Obscurity (Doubleday, 1970).

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ronald K. Brown, Evidencing The Gift Of Dance

In 1985, at age of 18, Ronald K. Brown, the African-American choreographer, decided he wanted to form his own dance company. He had been told that "I had a good sense of movement, that my movement is original and new; they liked the things I was coming up with." But others in the dance world told him that he "was too young" to start a company and that he "should satisfy that dancer in me before I got hooked up and stuffed into choreographing."

Unabashedly Brown owns up to having an independent mind. "People offer their opinion, but they know I will continue to do what I want. I'll take their opinion and use as much of it as I want. The other stuff I'll shuck to a side for later use."

And so he went ahead and formed his dance company, Evidence, while dancing with Jennifer Muller/The Works.

When the Bedford-Stuyvesant native attended Brooklyn's Edward R. Murrow High School, he was. among other activities, on the school paper and appeared in several school productions. "By the time my junior year came around, I was toying with the idea of being a dancer. I decided to graduate a year early and go up to Vermont, to St. Michael's to study journalism. I auditioned at Mary Anthony's [Dance Studio] for a scholarship that June. I was kind of shocked [when I won it]. I told my mom that I wasn't going to go to college after all. I was going to stay in the city and dance."

Says Brown of his choreography: "I wish my audience to give up coming to figure out the story, to not look to be entertained, but to trust themselves and go ahead and travel with me through a more emotional connection."

As one critic pointed out, "He comments on his being black and makes allusions to his sexuality." For example, "Evidence" speaks about a young man who tries to fit into white society, but comes to the realization, explains Brown, that "all the chemicals in the world, all the color contacts are not going to do it."

Many of his dances are to some extent autobiographical and, says Brown, have "touched people universally. When you present art very specific to your heart, to your life, that's when people relate to it."

This article originally appeared in The New American, a New York-based African-American weekly newspaper, on November 1, 1990. It has been slightly edited.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Choreographer Pearl Primus, A National Treasure

In the 1940s and 1950s, Pearl Primus (1919-1994)--dancer, choreographer, anthropologist, educator (she was professor of Ethnic Studies at Amherst College in Massachusetts)--created such a stir with her African-based dance works among critics and the public alike that Walter Terry, the dance critic, proclaimed her "the world's foremost authority on African dance."

That designation, resulting from her years of travel throughout the American South, the Caribbean, and Africa to study and document black dance in all of its forms, is anchored to her "search for roots" and her need to reveal "the dignity, beauty, and strength" of black people.

The Trinidadian -born artist-scholar's quest gave rise to a photo-biographical exhibition in 1989 called "A Search for Roots: The Life and Work of Dr. Pearl Primus," at the Caribbean Cultural Center in New York. The exhibit consisted of enlarged black-and-white performance photos from such dances as "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," based on the Langston Hughes poem and "Haitian Play Dance" as well as facsimiles of printed concert programs.

In 1990, at New York's City Center, the Alvin Ailey dancers offered dancegoers, who weren't around during Primus's heyday, a real treat--the company premiere of one of her dance works, "Impinyuza." A paen to the royal dancers of the Watusi people, the dance, created in 1952, uses traditional music and costumes, and was reconstructed through funding provided by the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund.

African-American dance historian Joseph Nash, a Primus dancer from 1946 to 1947, laments the non-existence of a film record of Primus's work. Such films would have given the current generation of dancegoers the opportunity to see what inspired Vogue magazine in the 1940s to describe her movement as "a combination of intellectualized choreography and free emotional drive." Nash attributes this sad state of affairs to Primus not being placed in the hands of "good management. Sound management would have seen to it that everything she did was put on [movie film]." As a result, continues Nash, in a telephone interview from his Harlem apartment, Primus "is not [widely] known like [fellow dancer-choreographer-anthropologist Katherine] Dunham. You have to keep your name in the spotlight. Pearl's company went out[of existence] in the '50s and that was it. When your masterworks can not be seen, people forget you. You're just a figure in the history books."

Although there is no cinematic record of Primus's American concerts, she did tell James Briggs Murray, curator of the photo exhibit, "Black Visions: Movements of Ten Dance Masters," in an interview for the show's catalogue, that she found in an old trunk two reels of silent film shot in Zaire. "This is the only filmed record that I know of in existence of me at the height of my dancing."

By setting "Impinyuza" on the Ailey company, Pearl Primus's name and pioneering efforts in bringing African dance to American audiences will become better known, as well as prompt dance lovers to agree with one Primus admirer that she is indeed a "living national treasure."

Author's note: A version of this article originally appeared in the December 22, 1990 issue of the New York Amsterdam News.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Philip Blackwell, A Forgotten Playwright

The following is the introduction to a Q & A interview with the black gay playwright Philip Blackwell (now deceased) that appeared in the New York Native in 1985. Unfortunately, Blackwell has become a forgotten playwright. Perhaps one day his name will become as familiar as that of fellow black literary figures Assotto Saint, Melvin Dixon, and Joseph Beam.

Philip Blackwell, a 32-year-old openly gay black playwright, has had three plays produced since his arrival to New York in 1980 (Silk and Silver, The Lover's Play, and Twoheads.) He is a native of Minneapolis where he began his involvement in the theatre at the age of five in a city-sponsored theatre project. While still in high school, he studied acting at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, a city Blackwell describes as having "some of the best theatre in the country."

Later he went on to earn a B.A. (summa) in theatre from the University of Minnesota and a M.A. in playwriting and theatre history from Tufts University in Boston.

"I got my Equity card when I was 22. I was an actor for ten years. That's how I made my living." He has also directed plays. Blackwell's interest in playwriting came about after he, still living in Minneapolis, "started a theatre company of my own. We did a lot of comedy, satire, and children's folk tales. I started writing more and more things. From song lyrics to scenes. When I finally went away to graduate school," he continues, "I had a chance to take some playwriting seminars. I took two years of it. I had a chance to work with actors and I began to like it."

Blackwell also wrote a long short story called "Left-footed." It appeared in the black gay literary magazine Blackheart 1: Yemonja.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Book Review: "The Lavender Screen"

The Lavender Screen by Boze Hadleigh (Citadel Press, 256 pages), illustrated with photographs.

Although Hollywood releases very few films that are gay-focused, the silver screen nevertheless, writes Boze Hadleigh in his study of gay and lesbian-themed films, The Lavender Screen, is a cornucopia of "minor gay characters, references, and plots."

In its discussion of more than 100 such films, The Lavender Screen emphasizes the period after 1959 when gay and lesbian characters became more visible when the Production code's gay ban was lifted in 1961 following "the success of Suddenly Last Summer and big budget movies like The Children's Hour, Advise and Consent, and Walk On the Wild Side, which had gay themes or subplots and were already completed." (All of these movies are included in the book.)

Each chapter, grouped around a single theme such as "Hunks," "Older Men, Younger Men," "Lesbians You Love To/Or Hate," and "Dress Reversal," ends with critical comments from the gay and mainstream press, both American and foreign.

For those who have not seen all or any of the films under scrutiny, there is one problem: Hadleigh tells too much of the plotlines, often giving away the endings.

But aside from that drawback, The Lavender Screen, deserves a place on the bookshelf or near the DVD player for quick reference, even though it is not as scholarly, opinionated, and comprehensive as its predecessor, The Celluloid Closet, Vito Russo's magnum opus. This book was written with the layman in mind.

Three highlights of The Lavender Screen are Hadleigh's willingness to name gay names, the behind-the-scenes anecdotes (like the one about Henry Fonda, supposedly a liberal, who during a rehearsal for the play, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, insulted its director, Charles Laughton, with the remark, "What do you know about men, you fat, ugly homosexual."), and its extensive bibliography.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Book Review: "Spells Of A Voodoo Doll"

Spells of a Voodoo Doll by Assotto Saint (Masquerade/Richard Kasak Books, 405 pages)

The late Assotto Saint (1957-1994) did not mince words or suffer fools gladly. His motto, if he were given the opportunity to choose one, would have been: "My duty is to tell the truth as I see it." If you didn't like what he saw as the truth, and many didn't, that was your problem. He was a rebel with a cause who fearlessly marched to the pulpit during a friend's funeral "to avenge your censored queer legacy" and "to stand a pompous minister who under his breath/damned us for mass-invading his holy territory." For Saint it was important that black gay men "become whistleblowers" and "become powerful enough to stand tall and not fall, thrive and not just survive."

That attitude permeates Spells of a Voodoo Doll, a mostly autobiographical collection of his poems, essays, fiction, song lyrics, and plays that explores his life as a black gay man "living with/dying of AIDS." It is easy to see why those who flinched at his whistleblowing were glad to learn he had Kaposi's sarcoma lesions in his mouth so that "the bitch will have to shut up." But they forgot one thing--Saint was still able to wield a mighty pen.

And that pen, especially in the poetry sections, vividly details a short but brilliant and productive life. In these sections Saint reveals that he was born out of wedlock in Haiti, that he was brought up by an aunt and uncle when his mother, with whom he was later reunited, moved to Switzerland, that he was "seven when I realized my attraction to men," that he didn't "believe/in the foolishness/of spiritual/afterlife," and that he and his Swedish lover Jan (also deceased) "loved the New York Knicks basketball team, our terrace in spring & summer, soap operas, The Today Show, & our friends. We were committed & devoted to each other."

Many of the poems express his deep love for Jan before, during, and after Jan's illness from AIDS. To those who believe gay men are incapable of having long-term relationships, they have only to open Spells of a Voodoo Doll to have that belief refuted again and again.

The best and most memorable parts of the book are the poetry and essay sections. The essays "Haiti: A Memory Journal," "Why Winnie Mandela Should Go to Jail," and "A Match with Ashe" show that Saint was a gifted essayist and thinker. Although the Mandela essay digresses a bit toward the end, it is a strong indictment against homophobia and violence.

All of the short fiction are really sections of the three plays that appear at the back of the book and are more interesting than the plays, all multi-media pieces, as a whole.

Michele Karlsberg's brief introduction is a resume of Saint's career and tells the reader nothing about how she came to know him or anything about their relationship. Plus, she mistakenly identifies the Other Countries writing collective as "the start of a renaissance in black gay writing" when in fact it was the Blackheart Collective. Saint, in his essay "Why I Write," correctly calls Blackheart's founder, Isaac Jackson, "a groundbreaker in openly gay black publishing."

Overall, Spells of a Voodoo Doll is an important tribute to the legacy of a black gay man who called himself Assotto Saint, and thought of himself as the Impossible Black Homosexual because he was "not afraid/to stand my ground."

Friday, November 5, 2010

Book Review: "Growing Up Before Stonewall"

Growing Up Before Stonewall: Life Stories of Some Gay Men by Peter M. Nardi, David Sanders, and Judd Marmor (Routledge, 177 pages).

The authors of Growing Up Before Stonewall acknowledge in the introduction that the 11 pseudonymous white men interviewed in the book's second half "do not represent the much wider diversity of lives that exist among lesbian and gay people." This lack of multiculturalism, however, did not lessen my fascination with the details of these men's pre-Stonewall lives precisely because their comments provided "a view of the social history and the psychology of homosexual men of that period."

Growing Up Before Stonewall also delves into the prejudicial attitudes of most of the psychiatric community at that time toward homosexuality. Those sentiments are reflected in the book's cover photo of a 1950s middle-class family of four's preparation for a picnic outing: that homosexuality is "incompatible with the perceived typical normal, healthy, happy heterosexual life."

The interviews, which take up most of the book, were conducted by co-author David Sanders in 1979 in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, and San Francisco with men who ranged in age from 33 to 70 as part of "a psychological study of vocationally successful men, focusing on the factors that led to success and difficulties they faced." Presented as monologues, each interviewee's comments are grouped around four categories: "Family Memories," "Early Social Experiences," "Early Sexual Memories," and "Current Situation and Experiences."

Except for the interview with activist Morris Kight and the one with psychiatrist (and co-author) Judd Marmor, the rest of Part I, which is an overview of pre-Stonewall gay life and the psychiatric community's handling of gay men, is very bland.

Unfortunately, Growing Up Before Stonewall does not include a postscript on the whereabouts of these men. For instance, I would like to know what happened to Ed, the Norwegian-born math teacher, who stated that "If I got a deadly disease or my life turned disastrous, certainly I would entertain it [suicide]." If he is still around, how has the AIDS epidemic changed his life?

The book is not without its moments of humor. Louis, a college professor with two male lovers, admitted to finding "some women extremely attractive" and to having sex once a year with a woman "whether I need it or not, just to keep my hand in, but not to reassure myself of my masculinity."

The men in Growing Up Before Stonewall have stories that, for the most part, are engrossing and edifying. These stories will become an important addition to the growing body of literature that explains how and why gay life has evolved.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Tribute To A Friend

After I learned of Assotto Saint's death, I played "Forever Gay," the song he and his life partner Jan wrote and performed, on my cassette player. It was my private tribute to a cherished friend's short but productive life.

The most outstanding thing about Assotto (1957-1994) was his lack of selfishness. He was always willing to share information and give of himself. When our mutual friend, writer David Frechette, was hospitalized with AIDS, it was Assotto who looked after Dave's apartment and took care of his personal business.

I could always count on Assotto to send me a Christmas or birthday card, direct some editorial work my way, or call me to find out how I was doing.

Unlike some black men with white lovers, Asssotto did not abandon the black gay community. His publication of two black gay poetry anthologies attests to that. He also did not forget his African and Haitian roots. He was able to do this because he was comfortable with himself as a black gay man and proud of his heritage.

As a poet, playwright, musician, painter, editor, publisher, and activist, Assotto leaves a rich, edifying legacy. He will not be forgotten.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Book Review: "Annotations"

Annotations (New Directions) is an experimental first-time novella (96 pages) by John Keene, a St. Louis-born African-American gay man.

The book, "a series of mere life-notes aspiring to the condition of annotations," is presumably an autobiographical account of adolescent experiences, thoughts, and concerns. I came to that conclusion because it is set in and around the St. Louis area and the birth of the unnamed narrator at the Jewish Hospital of St. Louis occurs in the summer of 1965 (Keene's birth year) when "Blacks were transforming the small nation of Watts into a graveyard of smoldering metal."

Annotations is plotless, impressionistic, and rambling. Throughout there is page after page of unparagraphed sentences and the reader is never sure who is telling the "story" or to whom the pronouns "he," "you," and "we" refer.

Keene's frequent philosophising ("As a result those endlessly engaged in the quest for happiness usually constitute the unhappiest lot.") and clever use of language ("Your penis is a woodwind that some play better than others. What two men do.") are no substitutes for a cohesive, riveting, and satisfying account of the coming-of-age of one sensitive and creative black gay youth. If the book was focused on the unnamed youth's emerging sexual identity (the most interesting parts of the book), Keene's efforts might have been successful and enjoyable.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Books For "Mad Men"

Billy Parrott, manager of the New York Public Library's Battery Park City branch, has compiled a "Mad Men Reading List" that consists of books that have been given screen time on the popular AMC TV series ( books like Mary McCarthy's 1963 novel, The Group.)

"Now, the day after the show, people come in and start asking about stuff," Parrott told the New York Daily News ("'Mad Men,' Book By Book," October 3).

Maybe Mad Men will do for books what Oprah's Book Club once did. And maybe Parrott will publish a Mad Men Reader that will contain information about the books the characters in the show read as well as brief biographies of the authors.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Book Review: "Directed By Dorothy Arzner"

Judith Mayne's Directed by Dorothy Arzner (Indiana University Press) is not a biography of the woman who was called a "woman's director" and a "star-maker" during her 15 years behind the camera in Hollywood. It is instead, points out Mayne, a professor of French and Women's Studies at Ohio State University, "a study of Arzner's work and of the Dorothy Arzner image that includes some biographical elements."

She further states that "I am interested in what kinds of films Arzner made, in how those films and Arzner herself were written about, and in how Arzner was portrayed during her career."

Mayne traces Arzner's film career from her days as a script typist in 1919 to her directorial debut in 1927.

Mayne's interest in Arzner began when she saw several photographs in which she presented a butch image: "[Arzner] wore tailored, 'masculine' clothing; her short hair was slicked back; she wore no makeup; and she struck poses of confidence and authority."

It was Arzner's "butch persona" that caused newspaper writers of that time to become obsessed with her appearance. "Arzner," writes Mayne, "contradicted established notions of what a woman should look like."

Dorothy Arzner made 16 films before she left Hollywood for good in 1943. Unlike many Hollywood films, "Arzner's work did indeed focus primarily on women's lives, women's friendships, and women's communities. But," continues Mayne, "women are never identified in a simple or isolated way in Arzner's work." Her films are "indicative of her commitment not only to the exploration of the connections between women, but to those connections as they are shaped and complicated by social class."

Directed by Dorothy Arzner will not appeal to everyone. It is a work of scholarship with a lot of discussion of feminist film theory and analysis of Arzner's films. However, as an analytical guide to understanding and interpreting these films, it deserves a place in a cinemaphile's library. You just have to be tolerant of Mayne's repetitiousness, scholarly prose, and frequent use of the phrases "in other words" and "put another way."

The 62 black and white photographs of Arzner at work and at home are themselves worth the price of the book and attest to what drew Mayne to an examination of Arzner's life and career.
(Included are photographs of Arzner and her female companion of 40 years, dancer Marion Morgan.)

I hope this book and the renewed interest in Arzner encourages some filmmaker to do a biopic about her life--a life that was filled with drama, celebrity, romance, and upward mobility.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Book Review: "The Stonewall Experiment"

Ian Young is upfront about who he sees as the intended reader of The Stonewall Experiment: A Gay Psychohistory (Cassell)--"a young gay man (or whatever term he chooses for himself) of a future generation." I just hope this future reader will be able to get through the text without yawning or having his eyes glaze over from encountering pages of social science jargon like "heteromimetic" (imitating heterosexual marriage), "ithyphallic" (an erect penis), and this tongue-twister, "brachiopractio eroticism" (fisting).

The British-born Canadian writer traces the psychohistory of gay men from the mid-19th century to the present age of AIDS. Young explains how "fear, shame and guilt have always undermined our cause" and how the Stonewall Experiment, "an experiment in reclaiming full humanity" for gay people, was co-opted by "government, physicians, pharmaceutical companies, organized crime, the churches, the public--and we."

Most of The Stonewall Experiment is devoted to the AIDS crisis which would be fine in a history of the AIDS epidemic, but this is supposed to be a book about how and why gay men have internalized their oppression over the decades by "having fervently embraced the role assigned to [them]--that of outcast and pariah..."

What The Stonewall Experiment lacks is a narrative style that makes the early homophile activists--Walt Whitman, Edward Carpenter, Gerald Heard, among others--come alive on the page and that makes complex but otherwise interesting ideas and theories compelling and layman-friendly.

The bibliography, however, is a useful guide to books and articles of particular interest to gay readers.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Rendezvous At Lucky's

Male couples were such a common sight at Lucky's Rendezvous, a popular nightclub in Harlem during the 1940s and 1950s, that people didn't bother to look twice at them. This liberal attitude put Lucky's Rendezvous ahead of its time and attracted nightlifers to its friendly, relaxing environment.

The narrow, smoky nightclub on St. Nicholas Avenue, at 148th Street, counted among its clientele those of the lavender persuasion, as well as artists and intellectuals, black and white. Celebrities such as Henry Fonda, Gene Kelly, Lena Horne, Langston Hughes, and the black gay composer Billy Strayhorn were either frequent or occasional drop-ins. According to Strayhorn's biographer, David Hajdu, Lucky's had "a piano that Strayhorn would likely end up playing by dawn." As a result, Strayhorn, one of the nightclub's frequent patrons, developed a following there.

Lucky's, which had no cover or minimum charges, and was described by Ebony magazine as "Harlem's strangest nightclub," because of the wide assortment of people it drew, was opened in December 1942, one year after the United States entered World War II, by jazz composer/pianist/bandleader Charles Luckyeth "Lucky" Roberts and his two silent partners. After an altercation with his partners, he became sole owner of the club in 1946. [Note: My aunt, Victoria Watkins (1917-1997) worked at Lucky's as a waitress.]

The garish red and white facade of Lucky's wasn't considered eye-catching or trendy (the club, writes Hajdu, "was located partway below street level"). Its interior decoration consisted of plain furnishings, a discolored ceiling, and uncomfortable chairs. Despite all of that, its bar was always crowded, especially Thursday through Sunday, when Harlem's cafe society set congregated. The reason Lucky's Rendezvous was popular, despite the above-mentioned shortcomings, explained a Columbia University psychologist to Ebony in 1951, was the fact that it "made [customers] feel at home. There was no hostility shown towards any of them."

A version of this article was published in NYQ magazine, April 19, 1992.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Remembering James Dean 55 Years Later

September 30 marks the 55th anniversary of actor James Dean's death. Dean would have been 79 years old this year. To commemorate the date of his death, I have posted a shortened version of a review I wrote on a biography of him.

Paul Alexander's Boulevard of Broken Dreams (Viking) is a real page-turner that focuses much attention on James Dean's life as a sexually-active, but closeted, homosexual man.

Although for years it was rumored that Dean, who hated effeminate men, was either gay or bisexual, despite studio-generated publicity about his many romances with young, beautiful actresses, Alexander leaves no doubt about Dean's true sexual identity. An early tip-off was the fact that despite his good looks, "throughout his pre-high school and high school years, Jimmy never had a steady girlfriend, unlike most of the other Fairmount [Indiana] boys." It was during this time that Dean "lost his virginity" to a local minister, James DeWeerd, who became sort of a surrogate father to him.

Dean would be invited to candlelit dinners at DeWeerd's house, where they would read, listen to music, and talk. "With DeWeerd," writes Alexander, "he could enjoy the company of a man and experiment with his sexuality at the same time."

DeWeerd was only one of a long string of men with whom Dean would have sex. Some of these men, who were part of a homosexual clique, were the movers and shakers in Hollywood.

Much of Boulevard of Broken Dreams reads like a novel. The dialogue-- taken from books, magazine articles, journal entries, and taped interviews-- gives the reader the feeling of being in the same room as the participants. Alexander's description of what took place on the day the 24-year-old Dean was killed in a car crash is well-written.

The book, however, is not flawless. Alexander sometimes repeats himself. Twice he compares Valentino's adulation by fans to Dean's. There are factual errors such as the one that has World War II the "war to end all wars,: instead of World War I. And too much space is devoted to the Deaners, those who idolize Dean and come to Fairmount each year to celebrate his deathday.

Otherwise, Boulevard of Broken Dreams is a must-read for those who admire Dean's acting ability and who are not reluctant to read about his sexual proclivities which were kept hush-hush for many decades.

This review was originally published in the Lambda Book Report, July/August 1994.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Book Review: "Wild Ride"

Bia Lowe's collection of essays, Wild Ride: Earthquakes, Sneezes, and Other Thrills (HarperCollins), has turned me into a fan of hers.

These 19 essays are eloquently written and cover a wide range of topics (blood, Evil, her fear of insects, bats, etc).

What makes her essays outstanding and fun to read is her ability to seamlessly blend nature writing ("Insects crept on the planet millions of years before the appearance of flowers."), social commentary ("There are no predators more bloodthirsty, indeed more inhumane, than we."), and unflinching autobiography ("For ten years I drank, like my father, like a lush.").

Lowe is unafraid to let the reader know she's "a dyke, a mammal of homoerotic persuasion," but she doesn't persistently make a big deal of it. It's only one aspect of who she is.

Lowe, a 45-year-old freelance writer, who has written for Harpers magazine and The Kenyon Review, is "a lifelong nature zealot." As a child growing up in Northern California she "saw how life asserted itself on our own ranch through all manner of new plants and animals." And, she continues, "I'm reminded of how the world is not really dominated by a human sensibility. Impudent flies keck on my window ledge. Earwigs steadily encroach, squatters under my carpet. Moths plunder bits of my wardrobe, and daddy longlegs appropriate my bedroom after dark, giving me pause before I reach to turn out the light."

Now she lives in Los Angeles with her lover, Susan, high up in the Hollywood Hills, where "I see deer, raccoon, skunk, opossum, owls."

In Wild Ride, Lowe shows the many ways all living things are interconnected ("Insects and flowers enjoy a symbiosis.") and have shared traits ("And as we are the greatest imitators of all, child after human child falls into bed clutching a worn toy cub. It's a ceremony in which we reenact the bear's maternal bond, and make our descent into the den.")

Wild Ride, like all the books published before it and all those that will follow, represents "a memory outside the body." Lowe freely admits that her "life will not outlast the forces of entropy," but she does offer a glimmer of hope regarding the immortality of her literary life: "I will be reborn...possibly, though not probably, through the curves and serifs of these words."
One of the most beautiful images in Wild Ride among the "curves and serifs" is Lowe's description of a storm: "I thought our oak had cracked in half. It was really the night that had been split, razored by light. The gape it left waited to be sealed by thunder."

In short, Bia Lowe doesn't know how to write a boring sentence.

The above review was originally published in the Manhattan Spirit, February 9, 1996.

Note: It deeply saddens me that no other books have been published by this wonderful writer.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

On Black Gay Literature, 1984

The following is from a transcript I made from a broadcast I recorded off the radio and onto a cassette in 1984. The program was called "Ain't Misbehavin'" and dealt with black gay literature. It was broadcast on New York's WBAI-FM on July 25, 1984. The host was Isaac Jackson, co-founder of Blackheart, a black gay writers group. He spoke with poet/playwright Assotto Saint and poet Salih Michael Fisher.

Assotto Saint: "The people out there might ask," Is it necessary to have black gay art, black gay literature, all these categories?" Yes, it is. We are part of this world. It is necessary for other people to hear what we're all about, to hear us share our lives, and communication is forwarding the action. You need communication to survive. Black gays, white gays. You need to express who you are and if I can identify with white characters, I expect, I demand that an audience, that readers out there at least try to identify also with my black characters, with me as a person. I'm a human being. I bleed. I have feelings. That's something I demand as a human being."

Salih Michael Fisher: "I do feel a little frustrated when I have people questioning it [his work] as poetry and that's mainly been the white gay establishment when they say, 'Oh, it's too long' or 'It's about something I can't deal with. It's too heavy, too many images.' My poetry is a part of me and it's like saying, 'Well, I don't accept you' or 'I don't want to try to understand you.' So it comes down to being very personal. Those that have accepted it, it's been real gratifying. There's been more people who have accepted it than not. I don't look toward the gay establishment or the black literary [establishment] and say 'Why don't you do it for me?' I used to five years ago, but I'd rather do it for myself or do it under other people who want to put together black gay publications and who are black gay themselves and do it.

"The problem for black gay men is we are invisible, number one. They don't know our voices and our experiences. They assume that it's the Village gay experience and it's not always that all the time. And the closest one who has really come to it in literature is Yemonja, the publication by black men [of the Blackheart Collective in New York City] and also James Baldwin's Just Above My Head. There's one piece from there where the guy's describing being in love with this man. All the language and rhythm is like, right on. I'm tired of being defined by my male member which is [the majority of] what you see [of the] black man in gay society when you walk into these porno book stores.

"There is racism in gay white male literature that obviously gets overlooked. It's [considered] OK."

Isaac Jackson: "There needs to be an acceptance by heterosexuals of the fact that there are gay people writing. I think a lot of heterosexuals don't realize that there are book stores devoted entirely to literature of lesbians and gay men. A lot of straight people don't even know that because the tacit assumption in all our society's actions are that heterosexuality is the norm. You don't even have to announce the fact that you're heterosexual. You just go out there and do it and people assume that you are and that's the oppression that we are fighting against when we name ourselves publicly and let people know that we are black and gay and identify with gay people and black gay people particularly."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Richard Wright's Literary Odyssey

In 1945 Black Boy, Richard Wright's searing, no-holds-barred account of his youth in racist, apartheid Mississippi, was published and became a runaway bestseller as well as a Book-of-the-Month Club selection.

Fifty years later, in 1995, New York's Thirteen/WNET commemorated that event by telecasting Richard Wright: Black Boy on September 4 (on what would have been his 87th birthday). The 90-minute film is the first full-length documentary on the life and career of the late writer.

A co-production of Mississippi Educational Television and the St. Paul, Minnesota-based Independent Television Service, Richard Wright: Black Boy was three years in the making. Its producer, Madison Davis Lacy, whose previous films include Eyes on the Prize II and Paris Is Burning, "was initially interested in pursuing Wright's expatriation (to France), and the phenomenon of expatriation as a dynamic in African-American culture." But that plan changed when Lacy "discovered (in Wright) a self-taught literary genius of tremendous political conviction. At 19 years old," continues Lacy, a longtime veteran of the documentary form, "Wright told a friend 'I want my life to count for something.' Somehow he was able to crystallize that determination and his understanding of racial oppression into a reason to write on behalf of himself and his people."

Narrated by film actor J. A. Preston (Body Heat and Two-Minute Warning), Richard Wright: Black Boy chronicles Wright's 52-year odyssey that began in 1908 in rural Mississippi and ended prematurely in 1960 in France through dramatic excerpts from his work, historical footage, and on-camera interviews with his daughter Julia (the film's consultant), historian John Henrik Clarke, poet/playwright Amiri Baraka, novelist/Wright biographer Margaret Walker Alexander, literary critic Michael Dyson, among others.

The film was the recipient of a 1994 Southwest Regional Emmy.

This article was originally published in the New York Amsterdam News, September 2, 1995.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Advertising's Persuasions

Keep this in mind when watching Mad Men: "The growth of national advertising (and the prosperity that fueled it) fostered a very specific sense of Americanism and patriotism--wholesome, moral, aspirational and conformist--a sliced white-bread and apple-pie view of the world. Those who did not fit this mold, or could not afford to, were branded as outcasts."--Lucy Moore, Anything Goes: A Biography of the Roaring Twenties (Overlook Press).

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Les Kinsolving: Right-Wing Gadfly

"Ladies and gentlemen, you are tuned to uninhibited radio and you can join me in becoming a broadcaster on this air tonight (with) anything that's on your mind, interspersed with my commentaries or special reports...(T)his freewheeling mixture of yours and mine is what makes this show, and why we call it, uninhibited radio."--Les Kinsolving Show introduction, WOR-AM, New York.

Tommi Avicolli's report in the Philadelphia Gay News (April 18, 1986) makes it clear that Les Kinsolving's New York and Philadelphia shows aren't entirely uninhibited. A better description would be dishonest radio. By not fully quoting the phone sex ad that appeared in PGN, Kinsolving left his listeners with the impression that the rest of the copy was in language unbefitting what he called "family radio." The part he left out invites readers to call so that the guy on the other end can "let it all hang out and tell you how it is. What it feels like. Graphically detailing their hot sexual needs, fantasies and experiences."

Kinsolving, however, is not consistent in refusing to recite what others might consider raunchy language. In the "United States Air Farce" segment of his WOR show he mentioned the April 12 gay and lesbian "Flaunt-In" at the University of Pennsylvania in which 25 students "took blankets to the college green. They lay on these blankets and lay on each other for five and a half hours of hand holding, hugging, and kissing." He went on to say that "pro-homosexual posters were either torn down or mutilated with messages concerning AIDS or there were such shouted epithets in the dormitories as 'LGAP (Lesbians and Gays at Penn) sucks as nobody can deny.'" And then before going to the next item, the Looney Tunes theme is played. Where was his purported concern for the bluenoses in the audience? Why didn't he bring up the fact that although some LGAP members were involved in the "Flaunt-In," the organization did not endorse it, and that some members thought it to be in bad taste? Kinsolving's only motive was to paint an ugly and distorted picture of the gay community.

The carnival-like approach he uses makes his boisterous pronouncements seem like harmless showmanship, but don't be deceived. His show is helping to create more fear, hate, and hysteria. And the know-nothings in his audience are eating it up. by labeling gay men as "sodomites" and "buggers," and dismissing gay activists as "offensive militant homosexuals," he is giving encouragement to gaybashers.

In his WOR press release, Kinsolving is quoted as saying: "My show makes people sit up and think." It would be more accurate to say that he causes listeners to sit up and think and express vile thoughts about society's underdogs.

Kinsolving identifies himself, among other things, as a clergyman. Hangman would be more like it. His belief that people with AIDS should be quarantined reveals his cruelness. But that should come as no surprise. This is the same man who supported the U.S. government's internment of thousands of loyal Japanese-Americans during World War II. Some priest!

PGN, in an editorial, declared that Kinsolving is "a public hazard." To some extent, he is. I would not advocate his removal from the airwaves. We must protect the free-speech rights of those with whom we disagree as well as those with whom we agree. But the members of the gay community can let the stations that carry his show know that they are not happy with the way they are being characterized and that they would like equal time on those stations or have programs produced that counterbalance Kinsolving's views. If they refuse, then pressure should be put on their advertisers, just like the Moral Majority has done to protest objectionable TV programming. No radio station can survive without advertising revenue, and gay men and lesbians are consumers of much of what is advertised in the media.

It is certainly not in keeping with the First Amendment for one group of individuals, in this case heterosexuals, to hog all the broadcast time, while gays and lesbians, a traditionally despised group, are expected to sit back and be vilified without uttering a single word of protest.

As far as I know, WMCA, in New York, is the only commercial radio station anywhere to devote three hours to gay and lesbian concerns. That was one weekend night about two or three years ago. There needs to be more of that kind of programming on commercial stations, more often. And soon.

The above is from an unpublished article that was written in June 1986.

Les Kinsolving's daughter recently published a book about her broadcaster father called Gadfly.
She was interviewed by Alan Colmes on his radio show about the book.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Porn TV

"A Swedish TV producer is holding auditions for 'Porn Idol,' in which a select few will have sex and simulate orgasms with real porn stars. Those winners will appear in some X-rated movies."
--from "Porn Again," amNew York, June 16, 2004

This program sounds a lot more interesting than Robin Byrd's nightly frolic with porn stars on her TV show to the tune, "Baby, You Can Bang My Box."

The End-Credit Squeeze

"A squeeze-back is the practice of literally squeezing the end credits of a program to one side of the screen in order to use the other side to promote an upcoming show. Squeeze-backs were invented by NBC in the early nineties as a way to keep people from channel hopping. By squeezing the credits over and using the remaining space to tease viewers with what was coming up next, they found they could retain them and prevent the habitual end-of-show channel hopping."--from The Age of Persuasion: How Marketing Ate Our Culture by Terry O'Reilly and Mike Tennant (Counterpoint, 2009).

I love to watch the end credits of a TV show or movie. Whenever the credits get squeezed, I get annoyed. The same people who do these squeeze-backs are probably the same ones who immediately stand up in a movie theatre and block my view of the end credits.
Shame on you, NBC, for inventing this practice. Thankfully I don't have to put up with those squeeze-backs on DVD, yet.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Book Review: "James Baldwin" By Randall Kenan

James Baldwin by Randall Kenan (Chelsea House, 144 pages, illustrated)
Reviewed by Charles Michael Smith

Randall Kenan's James Baldwin is a biography of the late writer that's mostly a rehash of previous Baldwin biographies and books on the civil rights movement. So the information in its pages is old hat to those familiar with its sources.

But James Baldwin is not aimed at an adult audience. Its audience are those gay and lesbian teens who, writes Martin Duberman in the preface, are "unable to find in his or her family's traditions--as other minority people often do--a compensatory source of validation for the deprecations of mainstream culture." (Duberman, an historian and biographer of Paul Robeson, is the general editor of the Lives of Notable Gay Men and Lesbians series, of which Kenan's book is a part.) For these young readers, the information about Baldwin's life, literary career, and times will be very fresh and, I believe, engrossing.

Kenan , an award-winning African-American author, has done an excellent job of retelling Baldwin's inspiring story in language that is accessible and beautiful. Among the things young readers will learn are the following: that Baldwin had been a child preacher; that despite his lack of a college education, he wrote for "some of the most important intellectual journals of the day"; and that his 1963 nonfiction book, The Fire Next Time, was on the bestseller list for 41 weeks.

The only drawback is the opening chapter, "Into the Fire," which summarizes the history of the civil rights movement without first establishing to young readers who Baldwin, an influential participant, was.

Despite that one flaw, James Baldwin is a wonderful way to introduce a new generation to the life and writings of the Harlem native who "somehow found the fortitude to write and speak the truth as he saw it, no matter how painful, controversial, or dangerous."

Originally published in Whazzup! Magazine (Oakland, California), August 1996.

Pantheon Books recently released an anthology of James Baldwin's uncollected writings called The Cross of Redemption, edited by Randall Kenan.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

You Just Can't Please 'Em

"If Michelle Obama wears shorts, it infuriates people who remember past First Ladies. If she tries to keep up with modern trends, it does the same thing. What's a Lady to do?"--Patricia A. Galimberti, North Bergen, N.J., letter-to-the-editor, "Voice of the People", New York Daily News, August 15, 2010.

Maybe Michelle Obama's detractors would prefer she wear her birthday suit in public.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Few Words From James Patterson

"One of the nice things about working on a lot of projects at the same time is there's no such thing as writer's block. If I'm writing and a chapter isn't coming, I just move ahead.
In my office in Florida I have, I think, 30 manuscript piles around the room. Some are almost done. Some I'm rewriting."--James Patterson, from Q & A interview, Time magazine, July 5, 2010.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Requiem For The Physical Book

Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the One Laptop Per Child Foundation, has predicted that the physical book will be dead in five years (, Aug. 6, 2010).

The impending death of the physical book is greatly exaggerated. The more likely scenario will be the co-existence of the physical book and the e-book. After all, the physical book has been around for hundreds of years. That's a lot of history.

Anyway, Americans are not known to be the most bookish people on earth. Only about two percent of the U.S. population bothers to buy and read books. I don't know how digital books will change that.

One other thing, how does one highlight a passage or make marginal comments on a digital book? Will these devices allow those activities to be performed?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Mad Men And The Color Line

Michael Ross's article, "The Other Mad Men" is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of black people in the advertising business .

Let's hope the producers of AMC's popular series, Mad Men, read it and decide to follow Ross's suggestion to put "some darker faces in the offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce."

Friday, August 6, 2010

Gay Porn Star For President

"If I could choose any one single job, I would definitely go the presidential route. I wouldn't mind being President of the United States. Absolutely."--Junior Stellano, gay escort/porn star, from Q & A interview, Time Out New York magazine, August 5-11, 2010 (Issue 775)

Here's an idea for a "reality" show that would be worth watching every week, a gay escort/porn star campaigning for the presidency. It would be so outrageous and over-the-top , it would probably be a hit show. Junior Stellano could be made the star of the show.

The chance of such a candidate winning the election is as likely as me landing on the moon in a homemade rocket ship. But it would be humorous and highly entertaining, especially the reaction of people on the campaign trail.

Since the forthcoming Oprah Winfrey Network is having some trouble filling its schedule with enough new programs, here is an idea they should take into consideration for their 2012 season.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Book Review: "Arkansas" By David Leavitt

The following is an excerpt of a previously unpublished book review I wrote in 1997.

Arkansas: Three Novellas by David Leavitt (Houghton Mifflin)
Reviewed by Charles Michael Smith

David Leavitt's Arkansas, a collection of three novellas, is further proof that he is one of America's brightest young fiction writers.

It is also proof that he is not afraid to stir up controversy. At the beginning of the first novella, "The Term Paper Artist," Leavitt refers to the controversy that involved himself and the late English poet Sir Stephen Spender who "sued me over a novel I had written because it was based in part on an episode in his life."

This time it is "The Term Paper Artist" that has created what New York Daily News columnists Rush and Molloy have described as a "litquake." They stated that Esquire magazine decided not to publish an excerpt of the novella out of fear that the references to male sexual organs and oral sex would offend readers and advertisers.

The whole issue is much ado about nothing. There is indeed frank language in the novella, but nowhere are there the kind of explicit sex scenes found in hard-core gay skin magazines. Leavitt discreetly turns away from such depictions. For example, here is how he ends one such scene: "Then for about half an hour, though he made other noises, he didn't speak a word."

"The Term Paper Artist," which uses a lot of autobiographical details from Leavitt's life including the use of his name as the name of the first-person narrator, is about a young writer who enters into a "prostitutional" arrangement with seven heterosexual male college students. The arrangement was that he would ghostwrite their term papers in exchange for sex, thereby becoming "an industry." Whether this term paper arrangement actually happened to Leavitt is unclear. (Leavitt teases the reader by having his namesake say that "Writers often disguise their lives as fiction. The thing they almost never do is disguise fiction as their lives.") His namesake admits that it is "unethical" and "goes against everything I believe in." But it beats sitting in the UCLA library doing research on the new novel about the scandal that resulted when a homosexual brothel was discovered by the police in 1889 London.

In Arkansas David Leavitt probes the hearts, minds, and souls of the people he knows best--the suburban upper middle class.

Friday, July 30, 2010

TV Movie Review: Serving in Silence

The following is a previously unpublished TV movie review I wrote in 1995. It was assigned by the late Mel Tapley, who was the arts and entertainment editor at the New York Amsterdam News. No reason was ever given for why it never ran. The review is still timely because of the continuing controversy about gays in the military.

Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story (1995)
Directed by Jeff Bleckner
Written by Alison Cross
Reviewed by Charles Michael Smith

"Controversial" and "television's first lesbian love story" are the words the press has used to describe NBC's two-hour movie, Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story, which aired recently.

Such descriptions would have caused viewers to believe they were going to see steamy bedroom scenes and other forms of titillation. Serving in Silence is not a movie about lust and sexual conquest. Instead it is about discrimination ,intolerance, hate, fear, and prejudice in the U.S. military toward its gay and lesbian members. The movie is an attempt to "humanize this issue," says Donald Suggs of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), which is organizing a postcard campaign to thank those companies that bought advertising time in the movie's time slot.

Serving in Silence is based on Cammermeyer's autobiography of the same name. The film traces her rise to colonel in a career that spans nearly 30 years. As a combat nurse in Vietnam, she received numerous medals, including a Bronze Star, "a rare achievement for a woman in those days," writes Randy Shilts in his book, Conduct Unbecoming: Gays & Lesbians in the U.S. Military. Married with four sons, she later divorced her army husband of 15 years. As she (portrayed by Glenn Close) says in the film, she always knew she was a lesbian, she just found it hard to come out to herself.

In 1989, she applied for chief nurse of the entire National Guard. This would raise her to the rank of general and require her to attend the War College. But she must first pass the security clearance interview. When she was asked about her sexual orientation, she admitted to being a lesbian. "I assumed that since I had been a good soldier and had been in the military so long," she says in an interview in the New York Daily News, "I couldn't possibly be seen as a security risk." From that point on, the army began taking steps to have her dismissed. She, on the other hand, was determined to fight them. Lawyers from a gay legal defense organization come to her aid.

Throughout the film we see the anguish and turmoil her public battle causes her family, most of whom nevertheless support her, and especially her artist/teacher lover Diane (Judy Davis), who would rather avoid the limelight and live a quiet domestic life.

Despite the hoopla from GLAAD, Serving in Silence is not all that controversial or groundbreaking . The Kiss much talked about comes during the last ten minutes when it is too late for viewers offended by such behavior between members of the same sex to change channels. Very brave, producers. (Barbra Streisand co-executive produced.)
Serving in Silence, like other gay films (Philadelphia and Making Love, to name two), emphasize the highly educated, upwardly mobile gays and lesbians because their makers are afraid straight audiences will be less willing to see these films otherwise.

I'm still waiting for the day when an ordinary hardscrabble black gay man from Harlem or Bedford -Stuyvesant with a minimum wage job and an unsympathetic family is depicted on television. That would be truly groundbreaking and, perhaps, controversial.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Book Review: The Extra Man

The following is my review of Jonathan Ames's novel,The Extra Man, now a major motion picture (opening July 30), starring Kevin Kline, Paul Dano, and Katie Holmes. It originally appeared in the Lambda Book Report, October 1998:

The Extra Man by Jonathan Ames (Scribner's)
Reviewed by Charles Michael Smith

The back jacket copy of The Extra Man, Jonathan Ames's second novel, describes it as a book that's "destined to become an instant classic among lovers of smart comic fiction and adventurous New York stories." Whether or not it becomes a classic, instant or otherwise, is anybody's guess. But there is no doubt that this is a truly hilarious, and often risque, tale about two bachelors, one young and Jewish, the other old and WASP, who are Odd Couple-like roommates.

When Louis Ives--who is obsessed with women's breasts, women's lingerie (especially bras), and cross dressing (as well as cross dressers)--loses his teaching job at an upscale Princeton, New Jersey private school after being discovered trying on a colleague's bra, he makes a life-altering decision--"Move to New York City and live!"

Whereupon he answers an ad for an Upper East Side apartment to share placed by an elderly playwright/college instructor named Henry Harrison, " who despite the poor condition of his clothes and strange apartment, had the air of the upper class and of England." Since Ives aspires to be "a young gentleman," he sees Harrison as "a fellow gentleman" and immediately agrees to move in. Shortly thereafter Ives lands a telemarketing job at Terra, an environmental magazine, where his "assignment was to contact all the natural history museums and nature centers ,in the country and try to get them to buy bulk subscriptions of the magazine for their memberships."

Ives likes his new job and he likes rooming with Harrison despite his eccentric behavior and the fact that "we lived like two bums shacked up together." But appearances aside, Harrison is socially well-connected and escorts rich elderly widows to the opera, expensive restaurants, and parties. And from time to time he fills the role of the extra man at the dinner table to keep "Boy-girl, boy-girl" arrangement intact.

A self-described freeloader (but one who has "the most integrity"), Harrison introduces Ives to this lifestyle of looking for free meals and sneaking into the opera.

Meanwhile, Ives has a secret life that he dares not divulge to Harrison that involves hanging out at a Times Square bar for transvestites and transsexuals and seeking the services of a spankologist and make-over artist for cross dressers. At the bar, Ives picks up a "date" who escorts him to her place in Queens (where his great-aunt lives). Ives--a guilt-ridden, insecure, sexually conflicted nerd--immediately feels "a stab of guilt" because he "hadn't called her since moving to Manhattan." On top of it all, Ives is a hypochondriac. When he sees a "red, scabbed over" cut on the right breast of his "date", he panics. Has he exposed himself to AIDS? But then he calms down when he realizes that "it was only a little cut, really, maybe an inch, and it wasn't bleeding. I'm all right."

Throughout The Extra Man, the reader is introduced to a bizarre but delightful cast of characters, including Gershon Gruen, Harrison's personal auto mechanic from the third floor, who follows Harrison's advice to ride a bicycle and read the dictionary as a way to control his sex drive, thereby eliminating his need for prostitutes and Meredith Lagerfeld, another Harrison crony "in search of free meals and drinks and gaiety," who, despite a swollen knee and 200 plus pounds, "struggled up the stairs" at an antique auction fueled by the thought of all the "pates and meats and shrimps and cheeses" laid out on the buffet table.

But the most interesting, the most memorable character of all is Henry Harrison himself, uttering without fail the most off-the-wall comments you will ever read. In fact, some of his comments would make excellent slogans on a T-shirt, a bumper sticker, or a billboard: "If one day doesn't work, try another"; "filth is the privilege of the aristocracy"; "Underwear is fattening"; "Men face reality, women don't. That's why men need to drink." And if The Extra Man becomes a Hollywood movie, Harrison's sign-off statement "So there we are. Where are we?" might catch on.

More importantly, I hope this won't be the last appearance of Harrison and Ives between the covers of a book.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mad Men: White, Rich, Het People

I don't have cable, so I'm not able to watch Mad Men when it's broadcast. But I have been able to see the show on DVD. At this writing, I've seen season one and the first five episodes of season two. I like the show very much but like Renee Martin in her blog post, "Really Jon Hamm?" for Womanist Musings, I am troubled by the inadequate portrayal of black people and gays.

Associated Press TV writer Frazier Moore writes that in the fourth season (premiering July 25), "the new Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce agency" has been relocated to the Time-Life Building. If Matthew Weiner, creator and head writer of Mad Men, meticulously researches the show, then he should know that Gordon Parks, the famed black photographer, was a staff writer for Life magazine around the time the show is set. I'm quite sure that in the sixties, there were a handful of blacks and gays in the advertising business as well as other areas of the media. Although you wouldn't know that judging by the episodes of the show that I've seen so far. Not all blacks were elevator operators and janitors.

But if Mad Men is about what Renee Martin calls "the angst of White, rich, het people," it's because the people who run the show (per the DVD bonus behind-the-scenes features), fit that category and can only see the world from that perspective.

Monday, July 19, 2010

No More French Vanilla At Baskin-Robbins

Baskin-Robbins is retiring the French Vanilla flavor, reports Yahoo! Buzz. That's sad news. French Vanilla was my favorite Baskin-Robbins flavor because it tasted better than their regular vanilla ice cream.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Elements To Look For In A Political Speech

A few years ago journalist/former radio talk show host Utrice Leid devoted a segment of her show on WBAI in New York to identifying the elements that voters should watch out for when appraising a speech by a political figure:
1. The environment of the speech--where is it being made or given; the environment shapes the
connection of the person giving the speech and its listeners.
2. The purpose of the speech--the language in the speech will give clues.
3. Body language and the use of language--How does the body language change with the pattern.
4. What kind of language is used?--Is it linear language? What is the speech about?
a. code words
b. genuine ideas
c. what is not said
5. The impact of the speech--the affect the speech has on its listeners.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Helter-Swelter perfect movie to watch during this heatwave is Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing (1989), set during a sweltering summer day in Brooklyn, New York.
Like the newspaper headlines featured in the movie, the Amsterdam News, a weekly African-American newspaper based in Harlem, made the current heatwave that has gripped the Northeast Topic A with a banner headline that screamed "SWELTERING!"

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

On the Movies

"Whether we realize it or not, movies often tell us what we think about ourselves. There's a contradiction in the way that we, as an audience, approach movies. They're made primarily for fantasy and yet we look to them to reflect our reality. They become a sort of wish fulfillment, a representation of a life that doesn't necessarily exist but one which we've been taught to want. On the one hand, you can always say 'It's only a movie.' On the other hand, it's a barometer of what we, as a people, think and believe about the ways in which we live."-- Film historian Vito Russo (1946-1990), from The Celluloid Closet (documentary, 1995).

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Rick Bayless's Must-See Mexican Food Show

If like me you love Mexican food, then Rick Bayless's , "Mexico: One Plate at a Time," is a must-see TV show that blends history (social and culinary) and cuisine. I discovered the show on New York station WABC-TV's Live Well Channel. Before seeing the show, I had never heard of Rick Bayless. And now I've become a Bayless fan.
I'm looking forward to reading his cookbooks and trying out some of the recipes in my own kitchen.
One interesting aspect of the half-hour show is how each episode has Bayless alternating between Mexican locales and his home kitchen in Chicago.
The Mediabistro interview with Bayless (June 23, 2010) is a good introduction to anyone unfamiliar with him. However, I wish the interviewer, Blake Gernstetter, had asked him how he became interested in Mexican cuisine and whether or not he spoke fluent Spanish.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Black Atheists: A Minority Within A Minority

Black atheist Jamila Bey's article about the increasing visibility of black atheists is worth reading, even if you're a devoutly religious person. Knowing what others we disagree with think broadens and deepens our knowledge of world events as well as other humans and gives us more food for thought.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Few Words From Jeffrey Lilly

"It would be better if people had a healthier fear of death rather than an inflated fear of death. Acceptance of one's mortality is an important part of growth. It would be better if there were not so many sexphobic and homophobic people. We are battling [the AIDS] virus--not our very natures."--Jeffrey Lilly, San Francisco-based poet.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Few Words From Audrey Niffenegger

"...the great thing about fiction is that anything can happen. In fiction, the ghost has just as much reality as any other characters, because they're all imaginary.
"You can do anything in fiction. There's no ethical thing holding you to accuracy in reporting. So why can't the monkeys fly? Why can't we live in a world where everybody eats blood oranges? There should be in fiction an element of experimentation...."--novelist Audrey Niffenegger, from "Anything Can Happen" (profile) by Kevin Nance, Poets & Writers, November/December 2009

Monday, May 24, 2010

Three New York Musicians Record With Gay San Francisco Poet

"Jeff Lilly's poetry dances through music and delivers a lyrical punch that should be heard and acknowledged out there in the world of words and sound."--Neeli Cherkovski, poet and author of Ferlinghetti: A Biography.

Jeffrey Lilly is a San Francisco-based poet who has recorded two poetry with music CDs, "The Butterfly Flies," his most recent, and "Promised Land Poems." "A number of poems of my recordings," says Lilly, an openly gay man, "are an expression of eros or a defense of eros." Especially same-gender eros, which Lilly celebrates without fear or shame or equivocation and with artistic beauty. In "Come Christmas Day's Two to Oneing Morn" (from "The Butterfly Flies") the poem is set to music that quotes from the carol, "Noel," and explores a sexual relationship in the early morning hours of Christmas. Lilly explains the origin of the poem this way: "It originally began after the Christmas morning episode with a man I was in love with. We had known each other for some time. I finished it after a relationship with a second lover. There was also the memory of a two-day fling with a German tourist. This was before the days of AIDS. I was writing about the joy of safe sex. The first two encounters weren't brief encounters, but the original idea of flexibility and alternation came out of that early encounter with a German tourist." "African Beauty," another gay-oriented poem on "Butterfly," is a tribute to a male lover, " a man with whom I lived for some time."

"The Butterfly Flies" features three New York musicians: Jonathan Comisar (piano), a faculty member at Hebrew Union College, who studied under the Pulitzer-Prize winning composer David Del Tredici, also composes Jewish liturgical music; Mike Cohen (clarinet and flute), who has performed at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Birdland, and other venues; and Ivan Borenboim (clarinet), and artist-in-residence at Central Synagogue and a performer throughout the United States, Argentina, and Europe. Hans Christian, the German-born composer on "Promised Land Poems," is also a record producer and studio engineer.

Over the years, Lilly, a convert to Judaism in 1992, has read his poetry at his GLBT synagogue, Sha'ar Zahav, as well as other venues in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Lilly believes his "reading style is more like poetic song that is well matched with the music which amplifies my words." He has been "told I have a good performance voice that goes well
with music." In addition, he continues, "I have had the good fortune of having very talented composers [Jonathan Comisar and Hans Christian] to work with."

Among the writers Lilly has been influenced by are Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg whose pairing of poetry and music was"one essential part of the Beat movement."
A few of the poems on both CDs mix words from different languages. Lilly, who earned a master's degree in Russian language and literature and another one in comparative literature, sees this as his way of "conveying a musical sound." He "draws on my studies of Russian, French, and Italian, as well as other foreign words I've encountered in the multicultural world of San Francisco."

Lilly is co-editor of Art Mugs the Reaper, a project he describes as "an artistic quilt." It celebrates the work and lives of gay men such as photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and poet-playwright Assotto Saint, who have died from AIDS. He is also at work on an as-yet-unnamed novel about a Russian emigre writer. The book is an outgrowth of his social service work among Russian emigres in San Francisco.

For further information about the CDs, you can contact Jeffrey Lilly at

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

John Wayne Was Full of Crap!

I recently watched an American Masters special on PBS about director John Ford and John Wayne. While watching the program I kept thinking about the radio infomercial that I've heard many times. The infomercial selling a colon health product stated that when John Wayne died, his autopsy revealed that he was carrying 25 pounds of impacted fecal matter. In other words, Wayne was full of crap, literally.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

On Malcolm X and His Legacy

In commemoration of Malcolm X's upcoming birthday on May 19, I have linked to the following article from

Monday, April 26, 2010

Where's the Macaroni?

I was recently in the Pathmark of Harlem supermarket and found an empty one-pound box of Creamette elbow macaroni on the shelf alongside full boxes. Actually, I shook the box and heard only one macaroni inside. The box (with a window so you can see the product) was sealed so it came from the factory that way. I watched the associate for a few minutes to see how long it would take him to discover the box. About three minutes later, he saw the box and tossed it in one of the empty cardboard boxes on his dolly. He continued to refill the shelf with boxes of macaroni.
It was the first time I'd seen an empty box of macaroni on a supermarket shelf. If I'd had a phone camera with me, I would have taken a picture of the box because it was such a novelty. It made me wonder how often that happens and how diligent Quality Control is at the manufacturer's end to prevent such an occurrence.
I've written to companies whenever there was a missing item in a windowless box like six coffee packets instead of seven and received a letter of apology and a coupon as compensation. But how does an empty macaroni box with a window leave the factory undetected?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

New York Nightlife Is Not Heterocentric

The front page story in the April 20, 2010 issue of amNewYork and Metro New York was the same--New York is a guy's town. Both papers had clever headlines: "Men-hattan" (amNewYork) and "Dude, NYC Is the Place to Be"(Metro). (If there was a contest, amNew York's headline would be the winner.)
According to's editor-in-chief, James Bassil, as reported in amNew York, "There's a huge range of opportunities there. Although it may not be the best place to meet a wife, it 's the best place to meet a lot of women."
Unfortunately, the findings published in both morning tabloids were heterocentric. Too bad they didn't include single gay men. The last time I looked, they were a part of the New York nightlife scene.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Blacks In Mexico, Part 2

The following link will take you to website where part two of the article, "Mexico's Hidden Black History," appears.

Friday, April 9, 2010

A Note to My Chinese Commenters

I welcome comments from Chinese-language commenters to this blog, however I would appreciate it if you would post your comments in English so I can read them and not have to go to the trouble of asking someone to translate. I am thanking you in advance for your cooperation.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Blacks In Mexico

Check out this article by Morris Thompson the black experience in Mexico that appeared on Black folks are indeed everywhere, even South of the Border!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Life In Paris

Check out this interesting article from the

A Few Words From Patricia Nell Warren

"I've learned that the idea of a line between fiction and nonfiction is--well, fiction. Trying to separate them is a little like trying to separate two twins who are conjoined at the brain. They're two sides of the same coin. Every novel has its genesis in the writer's real-life experience in some way. Likewise, there is very little nonfiction that hasn't been fictionalized to at least a small degree--if only to shape and organize the material."-- Novelist Patricia Nell Warren, from online Q & A interview,

Saturday, March 27, 2010

It Pays to Read Music CD Booklets

While browsing through the booklet enclosed with singer Michael Buble's CD, It's Time (Reprise Records), I came across a familiar name--Ira Nepus. He is one of three trombonists on track 7, "The More I See You," the hit song originally recorded by Chris Montez in the 60s. I'm sure it's the same Ira Nepus whose mother employed my mother to clean her Beverly Hills house every week. I'm also sure it's the same Ira Nepus who bought a Smokey Robinson and the Miracles LP as a Christmas present in 1966 and sent it to me via my mother. I still have the LP although I haven't heard it in years because my turntable no longer works.
If it is the same Ira Nepus--and I'm pretty sure it is--I would love to be in touch with him to discuss his musical career and to find out what other CDs he appears on. Who knew that one day he'd be a professional musician?

Note: His sister Ria was a writer for the sit-com Happy Days. I saw her name in the credits. I wonder if she's still in television.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Happy Birthday, Stephen Sondheim

Yesterday was Stephen Sondheim's 80th birthday. Happy birthday, Mr. Sondheim. Keep writing those marvelous songs.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Illiteracy Chic

"yall sum thirsty bitches leavin yo # and email thinkin he gonna see this and dick you down wit all that meat."--a commenter on gay porn site Thugmart re: porn model Rogue.

It looks like being illiterate or appearing to be illiterate has become chic among the young black and Latino followers of hip-hop and thug porn.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

RIP Ron Lundy

It was fitting to hear of Ron Lundy's death on New York's WABC where he deejayed from 1965 until 1982, when the station went from a Top 40 format to all-talk. He later became a deejay at WCBS-FM, the oldies station.
Lundy's voice is immortalized in the 1969 movie Midnight Cowboy. Jon Voight, as Joe Buck, is on a New York-bound bus and has a portable radio to his ear tuned to Ron Lundy's show. "That's New York talking!" shouts Voight with excitement to his seatmate.
Ron Lundy will be missed.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Elinor Tatum: Future Radio Star?

Elinor Tatum, the publisher/editor-in-chief of the New York Amsterdam News, appears every Thursday on Reverend Al Sharpton"s syndicated radio show in a segment on media coverage of news stories in the black community.
It's a safe bet that before too long Tatum will be doing a radio show of her own, maybe even graduate to television. Sharpton's show is just a stepping stone.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Harlem Bespoke Website Is Worth Checking Out

I urge the readers of this blog who are interested in reading about Harlem history, architecture, and events to check out You won't be disappointed.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Harlem Pride

Mark your calendars! Harlem Pride will be celebrating gay liberation June 12-26, in the Mount Morris Park Historic District, on 119th Street, in the center of a thriving "gayborhood." "This historic event," says the press release,"for the first time brings to Harlem, in one location, several LGBT institutions that have been fundamental in fostering tolerance as well as a diverse future." Organizations such as the Audre Lorde Project, SAGE,the Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation, and the Human Rights Campaign will be participating on Harlem Pride Day (June 26), a block-long party, that wraps up the event, a day before the annual Gay Pride Parade downtown. So get ready to party hardy and proudly wear the rainbow colors. For more info, go to

Harlem Pride 2010

Mark your calendars! Harlem Pride, a celebration of gay liberation, will take place from June 12 to June 26, in the Mount Morris Park Historic District, on 119th Street, the center of a thriving "gayborhood." Organizations such as the Audre Lorde Project, SAGE, the Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation, and the Human Rights Campaign will be participating on Harlem Pride Day (June 26), a block-long neighborhood party. "This historic event," says the press release, "brings to Harlem, in one location, several LGBT institutions that have been fundamental in fostering tolerance as well as a diverse future."

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Setting the Record Straight

An editorial in the right-wing New York Post ("Oh (No) Canada," February 3, 2010) erroneously stated that "President Obama...hopes to overhaul American health-care."
It's not health-care that needs to be reformed, it's health-care insurance.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Make Pepsi Throwback Available Year-Round

Pepsi should offer its Throwback product "made with real sugar" year-round instead of making it available for a limited time. It would give consumers concerned about the use of high fructose corn syrup an alternative.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

On Crime

"For someone never trained for useful work, crime is a skill like any other. It has its craft, its lore, its traditions, rewards and risks. Poverty helps train people for such jobs, the way poverty goads so many other people to acquire legitimate skills."--Pete Hamill, "For Looters, $ Overcame Good Sense," New York Post, August 17, 1977. Re: the Blackout of 1977.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Racial Double Standard

Cord Jefferson states in his article promoting the use of the word "colored" to describe black people that he's "brown, but for whatever reason, that descriptor was given to Latinos." He further states "I don't begrudge anyone that decision, but I find it difficult to agree to being called black, because I'm not."
Yet when discussing the white med student from Mozambique who wanted to be called African American, Jefferson had no problem with the use of the word "white." Are whites really white?
And isn't there diversity within the white community? Ever hear of blondes, redheads, and brunettes? A set of encyclopedias I once owned as a kid divided whites into three groups: Nordic, Alpine, and Mediterranean. Obviously an acknowledgment that whites are not all the same, just like blacks.
Plus there are whites who shy away from calling themselves white and instead use the word "Caucasian." This is probably because white is not a good description of their skin tones. Although Caucasian might not be accurate either. Does the term mean that whites originated in the Caucasus Mountains? However, I don't see whites getting all bent out of shape over nomenclature. Maybe it's because whatever name they go by, they still dominate the global power structure.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Honoring Strawberry Ice Cream

While browsing through my Turkey Hill Ice Cream 2010 calendar, I learned that January 15 is National Strawberry Ice Cream Day. That brought to mind my junior high school days in California, when I would purchase at the campus snack bar a Dixie cup of what passed for strawberry ice cream--vanilla ice cream topped with a dollop of strawberry preserves that was to be stirred with the wooden spoon supplied. I've been meaning to duplicate this concoction to see if it comes close in taste to what I had in junior high.