Saturday, July 27, 2013



See a blog post I posted April 2, 2013 re: the lack of respect shown to freelance journalists by one editor at the Amsterdam News in 1989.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Celebrating The Diversity Of LGBT Literature: A Talk With Charles Flowers

The 19th annual Lambda Literary Awards have come and gone. And it is anyone's guess as to which of the winners (books published in 2006) will eventually make it into the gay canon. But for the authors, publishers, and readers that is a judgment for another day. The focus of the event was solely on celebrating the breadth, depth, and excellence of contemporary LGBT literature.

In the wake of the presentation of the awards in 25 categories (Gay and Lesbian Fiction, Romance, Poetry, Erotica, Anthology, etc.) held this year in New York City on May 31, Charles Flowers, the executive director of the New York-based Lambda Literary Foundation, sees the awards as "giving readers an annual 'reading list' of what books to read, in case they're looking for suggestions" as well as serving as a guide for librarians and booksellers.

Plus, since, "it is a community-based award, coming from one's own 'people,'" continues Flowers, himself a poet and author with an MFA from the University of Oregon, "I think authors really love it and appreciate it." As the E.D., Flowers sees his main role as "directing the programs that Lambda has established--the awards, the [Lambda] Book Report, and now the writers retreat." The writers retreat is described in a published announcement as a one-week program of "intensive immersion in fiction, nonfiction, or poetry" that will run from August 5-12, 2007. The retreat will provide 22 participants with "workshops and a community of peer groups and mentors." Whereas, continues Flowers, in an e-mail interview, retreats like the famous Yaddo in upstate New York "are more individually focused in that you're not in workshop with other people or with a more established writer--you're there to work on your own."

To date, $10,500 has been raised for scholarships to the retreat. An additional $4,500 is needed.

For Flowers, these efforts "in some way try to connect readers and writers or help writers to improve their craft. A larger role would be to advocate for our literature, both its legacy and its future, and to build audiences for LGBT books."

When Flowers was selected as the E.D. in October 2005, Katherine V. Forrest, the president of the board of directors, stated in a press release that "[u]nder his leadership the Foundation will expand its role, becoming the dynamic and highly visible service organization our entire literary community deserves."

After a long period of financial hardship, which prompted suspending publication of the Lambda Book Report and the James White Review, the LLF, previously located in Washington, D.C., is now getting back on track. The move to New York made "a lot of sense," says Flowers, in view of the fact that the city is a hub of publishing and "because of the variety of literary culture [that it provides] such as readings and book signings. I try to go to as many as possible." In addition, there have been talks with one of the gay cable channels about televising the awards event. However, there is "nothing final yet," cautions Flowers, who served as a co-chair of the Publishing Triangle, an association of gays and lesbians in the publishing industry.

Without a doubt, the electronic smorgasbord available to media consumers these days--digital TV, the Internet,satellite radio, iPods, etc.--if used capably would go a long way toward improving the name recognition of the Lammys to LGBT and non-LGBT people alike. It would also encourage people to become readers and to explore worlds previously unknown to them.

To Flowers, who "didn't begin to read classic gay lit until college," it is "reading [that] is a richer experience than most of what other media offer." It was through the works of the novelist/essayist James Baldwin and the poets Adrienne Rich and Mark Doty that he discovered that as a gay person "I was not alone and could desire who I wanted to desire--[bringing about] validation, affirmation, celebration, a lot of what reading can offer" to the reader.

As far as what constitutes a gay or lesbian book, Flowers points out that "a book's eligibility depends on its content rather than the [sexual] orientation of the author. If a gay writer wrote a novel with no gay content, then it wouldn't be eligible for the awards."

Today's LGBT literary landscape has become in Flowers's estimation, "a reader's paradise," in which one can find books that are "excellent, thriving, inventive, entertaining, varied."

This article  was originally published in the Gay City News (July 5-11, 2007 issue).

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

An Art Gallery Blooms In Harlem

The current gentrification of Harlem has been labeled as "the second Harlem Renaissance." But it is a misnomer; the first Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and 1930s, was an artistic movement out of which came such luminaries as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Countee Cullen. What's happening in Harlem today is all about real estate, not art. If there is a second renaissance in the making, Casa Frela, a new gallery located on West 119th Street in the Mount Morris Park Historic District, is helping to spearhead it.

Casa Frela, which means "your house should be a walk in the park" (containing one word from Spanish and one from the language of the Yaqui Indians of Mexico) is in a brownstone designed by the Gilded Age architect Stanford White. Lawrence Rodriguez, an openly gay man of Mexican descent (both parents were Yaquis), owns the four-story building in a neighborhood with many gay and lesbian artists in residence. When he moved to Harlem more than three years ago, the Fashion Institute of Technology graduate's intention was to buy a building, not start a gallery. But when he showed the work of an artist who lived down the street, that exhibit put the gallery on the map. That first year, Rodriguez did one show a month. This year he plans to have three large shows and six small ones.

Rodriguez, who receives a 30 percent commission for each artwork sold, says that his gallery can sell anything that's priced under three thousand dollars. But because of his location and the state of the economy, Rodriguez does not deal with anything priced above that. He explained that galleries on 57th Street and in Chelsea were more established and that Harlem is an up and coming art venue. Plus, the other galleries were more centrally located in Manhattan, making them easier to get to from the jobs of art lovers.

Rodriguez, despite being openly gay, does not plan to handle gay-themed artworks exclusively; he envisions Casa Frela as a place where Latino artists will get a chance to be represented.

Another vision of his is to open a smaller gallery in Houston, Texas, to be called Casita. He wants to open it in about two years.

In October of this year, Casa Frela will be the starting point of the annual open house in which Harlem artists turn their apartments into mini-galleries and allow visitors to view their artworks.

During this event, Rodriguez will conduct a five-minute lecture on New York architecture in which he will reveal to visitors such things as how they can find a picture of their buildings, how to look up a deed, how to find out who lived in their apartments, and other useful and interesting information.

Whenever Rodriguez opens a show, which requires months of preparation, it turns into a major learning experience for him. Or as he terms it, "a Cliff Notes version of an artist's work."

For Rodriguez, the foremost goal of Casa Frela is to act as "a vibrant magnet for the art enthusiast."

This is an excerpt from an article that was originally published in the Gay City News (July 17-23, 2008 issue).

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Ups And Downs Of Being A Black Architect

"Architecture in its concern for the creation of human environment, must deal with physical, psychological, social and economic needs of its clients."--Robert J. Nash, black Washington architect and fellow of the American Institute of Architects.

Black architects comprise a very small percentage of the total number practicing in the United States. But despite that fact and despite a few drawbacks to pursuing an architectural career, ""the numbers of blacks studying architecture has increased drastically since the late '60s," says J. Max Bond, Jr.

After serving 14 years on the faculty of Columbia University's School of Architecture, he should know. He is also the chairman and a partner in the architectural firm of Bond Ryder Associates in New York City.

"The changes reflect the changes in society," continues Bond. "There have been attempts at special programs, pre-architectural programs, things like that. Right now one of the really great inhibitions is that architecture is not one of the most secure professions. Nor is it one of the highest paying professions because it is subject to the shifts in the economy."

Roger Roberts, who has been a project architect for the past six years with the firm of Richard B. Dempsey, also in New York City, does not think now is a good time for anyone to consider a career in architecture.

"Perhaps by the time they got through school and got a little bit of learning, things might pick up. Right now we are oversaturated [with architects] The overall picture is that things are  slow but if blacks become more successful businesswise then black architects would become more successful. [When the economy is bad] we're the first ones to feel it. The housing market is very bad."

As a project architect, Roberts's job is "to oversee the production of a job. To see that everything gets drafted correctly and properly and all the necessary details that are required for the job get done, to coordinate with the engineer and to oversee the project when it goes into construction.

The design work that comes into Richard Dempsey's office is, according to Roberts, "through referral or else you get published and someone may see it or if you've done a job and they're happy with it, they come back again or recommend you to someone else."

On the other hand, Max Bond's work is mostly in the public sector. "Most of the commissions in the last 10 or 12 years come from public agencies and generally related to the black community. We as a group have not been extensively employed by private industry. It's beginning to happen. Nor have we in many ways been employed as much as we feel we should by the federal government."

This is an excerpt from an article that was originally published in the Baltimore Evening Sun (October 25, 1982).

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Giving The Black Press Praise When It Is Due

80 Varick Street, Suite 3E
New York, NY 10013
April 7, 1992

Attn: Cookie

Dear Cookie:

I am one of the Amsterdam News's contributing writers. Last year I wrote 17 articles for the Am/News, the majority (approximately 10 to 12) of which concerned someone or some issue that was gay.

My reason for writing this letter is to state that I feel that GLAAD has devoted a lot of ink to either praising or condemning gay coverage in the major media while ignoring what is going on in the ethnic press, especially the black press. There was a time the Amsterdam News would not have considered printing anything about gays. The fact that they carried such a large number of such articles from the pen of one writer is worthy of praise. That is not to say that there is no homophobia at the paper, but these articles show that they have matured in their thinking about this subject which is a very volatile one in the black community.

I have enclosed one of my recent articles in the paper. It is about Audre Lorde's appointment as New York State Poet. Other gay-related articles include: a profile of singer Blackberri (8/15/91); an interview with poet Vega (3/16/92); and an interview with Reggie Williams of National Task Force on AIDS Prevention (3/28/92).

Praise by GLAAD would let them [those at the paper] know that the [gay] community appreciates their willingness to print gay articles and it would encourage them to continue along that path.

Sincerely yours,

Charles Michael Smith

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Creating A Shelter For Those With AIDS

"...AIDS is a terrifying disease in several respects. One of the most terrifying elements, however, aside from the fear of disease, infection and death, is the specter of utter loneliness that accompanies AIDS. For one who is in the grips of such threatening disease, to have no home in which to recover, in which to feel safe or in which one can die with dignity magnifies this terror considerably."--Mark S. Senak, AIDS Resource Center (from his testimony before the Committee on Health of the City Council, New York, January 4, 1985).

"If you know someone who is sick with AIDS, do not be afraid to touch them. And being silent is not being kind. Call them up, visit them, hold their hand, touch them, let them know you care. Hope is important to us. Because of this health crisis, gay people are beginning to see that we are more alike than we are different. That we have to help ourselves. Let us be a family for each other."--David Summers, Gay Men's Health Crisis and People With AIDS (from a speech he delivered at the Jerry Falwell protest outside Town Hall in New York, December 10, 1984).

Mark S. Senak, a 29-year-old lawyer, is the vice chairperson of the New York-based AIDS Resource Center, Inc. (ARC), described in its literature as "a non-profit, charitable organization dedicated to serving ambulatory men and women who are in need of resources and/or shelter in an AIDS crisis situation on a case by case basis, without regard to race, creed, or sexual orientation." ARC, in collaboration with the Gay Men's Health Crisis, is attempting to establish New York's first shelter for homeless people with AIDS. (A number of fundraising events have been held in gay-frequented establishments, such as Ty's bar in Greenwich Village, to help ARC and GMHC realize their project, including benefit performances of City Men, a romantic comedy with gay characters, by Philip Blackwell and Laurence Senelick, which drew in over $11,000.) "The first residence will be, among other things," says an ARC flyer, "the direct manifestation of a community's love and care for the afflicted."

Senak, a native of Granite City, Illinois, graduated from Brooklyn Law School. He previously worked as a lawyer in a large investment firm. In August 1984, he started his own law practice on lower Madison Avenue, handling mostly civil cases.

Charles Michael Smith: How did ARC get started?
Mark S. Senak: Actually it was almost two years that a group of people started thinking ahead and thinking about the housing issue and actually sort of planning for the future and seeing that the health crisis would probably produce a lot of homeless people in that it costs so very much to get one's medical care and because of the fear that families are going to have and things like that that they decided to get together and start ARC. One of the principal people to start it is named Buddy Noro. He was the first chairperson of ARC. They began it and began fundraising.
In the last year, we gave away $30,000 to individuals who were having financial difficulties. Some of the people involved initially were ministers. One of them in particular, Mead Bailey, was a principal starter of ARC and a real heartbeat of ARC.

CMS: ARC has three goals. One of them is to establish a shelter for the homeless.
MSS: Right. That's our primary goal. The other is to continue with our direct funding of persons with AIDS. The grants that were being given were grants of $500 and could be used to pay rent or medicine or sometimes even utility costs, if they had not been paid and they were turning off the electricity or some such thing. The third one is the religious advisory committee which is this committee started by Mead Bailey. He began a program of spiritual and pastoral care for persons with AIDS so that if someone's in the hospital with a life-threatening disease, they're often thinking about perhaps dying and what that's going to be like and maybe begin to turn back to some sort of spiritual thinking. Given the nature of relations between gay people and the churches, generally it isn't too good. So Mead started this program whereby if a person wanted to see a minister of their faith or priest, he would be able to put them in touch with somebody who wouldn't be telling them they're damned to hell and that this is God's angry judgment on them. There would be somebody who would be sympathetic and understanding and, in fact, very, very good for the person to talk to as opposed to somebody that they would be afraid of or [who would] begin dredging up any of the reasons for bad relations between gay people and the church.
Mead's program was expanded so that now there's a speaker's bureau that travels to different churches.
Mead died subsequently [from] a heart attack. Of the principal people that started ARC, three are now dead--two with AIDS and Mead with the heart attack.

CMS: You testified recently before the New York City Council's Committee on Health about the need for this shelter. What was the committee members's reactions?
MSS: It was very discouraging. I was discouraged by the whole thing because I sensed a certain hostility from the chairman of the health committee to many of the speakers and in particular to the issue of housing. One question that was asked of me was "What makes your minority so special?" I didn't say it at the time and I'm really upset that I didn't. As soon as I walked out the door, I thought of what I wanted to say: "What makes us special is that we're dying." It astounded me that he would say something like that. I was rather dumbfounded when he asked that.

This is an excerpt from an article that was originally published in the New York Native in 1985.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Darnell Williams Gains Success On A Daytime Drama

For actor Darnell Williams of All My Children, the popular ABC-TV daytime soap, television stardom can be at times a heavy crown to wear. Especially when overzealous fans recognize him in public or go out of their way to seek him out.

While interviewing him in his dressing room at the ABC Television Center on West 67th Street [in Manhattan], I asked Darnell if he was by nature a private person. "More private now than I was before. I like to be outside now. I live in Brooklyn and it's a black neighborhood and black people are overenthusiastic. There was a time when they were at my door and knew where I lived and that kind of stuff. I can't deal with it. A couple of people got my phone number. My roommate was at the butt of all that attention  because I'm  hardly ever there. He works a different shift. One week he works a night shift, one week he works the day shift. He'd be sleeping. Ding dong. Twelve, fifteen girls."

"The visibility of an actor," explains Darnell, who plays Jesse Hubbard, the 17-year old black streetwise kid, "is just incredible. Even more so than movies because there are so many people that watch soaps and see it every day. [They] see me two or three times in a week. I'm on often enough to be recognized constantly. In the beginning, it's great. Me and my brother were trying  to go out and count how many people recognized me. But after awhile, after a year, it just gets to be a pain in the ass. A regular person can't deal with that stuff [excessive recognition] and they [the fans] don't understand. I wish there was a way that they could understand." But despite the agony of being "recognized constantly," whenever a fan approaches him for an autograph, "I usually smile, show my teeth, and sign," says the 5-foot, eleven-inch actor who was nominated for (but did not win) the Daytime Emmy for Best Supporting Actor.

Darnell, who describes  himself as a "nice, easy-going, soft-spoken" person, was born in London, England on March 3, 1954, the second of eight children. And because his father was a career Air Force officer, the family moved all over the globe which offered Darnell the chance to experience and appreciate other cultures. (This probably explains his liking for Japanese food.)

Darnell appeared in several school plays and in 1974 he began acting professionally, a decision he came to after watching the old TV series Lost in Space. (Although as a kid he dreamed of becoming a teacher.)

The year 1975 found him studying under the tutelage of veteran black actor Glynn Turman who "was my first acting teacher. He had a great impact on me. To me, he was great."

Darnell believes that acting study is a way of "sharpening your craft. It's like keeping your car tuned. Some people feel they don't need it. I felt that way for awhile, too."

The one thing Darnell had prior to acting study was confidence. "I just knew it was a matter of time, a matter of a vehicle, a national vehicle before everybody would say 'Hey, this guy is great.'"

During this early stage of his career, Darnell felt and was told by others that he "had the instinct for an actor."

This instinct and skill led him to play roles in such TV productions as The White Shadow and Rich Man, Poor Man. And eventually All My Children, which was conducting a routine audition. "Fred Hudson down at the Frederick Douglass [Creative Arts] Center produced a play I was doing, Maurice Hines's Reach for the Sky, and some months after the show had closed he called me and said 'Listen, they're looking for Jesse.'" And, as the saying goes, the rest is history.

"This soap opera," says Darnell, "has a tremendous black following. It's probably even doubled since I've been on the show. Jesse has caught on like wildfire. It's time for them [network brass] to sit up and check out the demographics."

The Jesse character and storyline has caused a lot of controversy in spite of Darnell's comment that all of his "feedback has been positive," which would include his fan mail. The controversy arose, writes Linda Yearwood in the Amsterdam News (August 8, 1982), "for reasons ranging from his [Jesse's] overt, anti-white militarism to his quelled love affair turned platonic, with a local white maiden (the rumor flying around the daytime circuit was the viewer response was so vehemently opposed to this romantic entanglement, that the writers were forced to find Jesse a soulmate." Says Darnell: "The more controversy the better. I'm here for awhile, it can't do me any harm." (Williams has a three-year contract with AMC.)

Has his popularity on the show resulted in any movie offers? "I haven't been offered a wet sock yet," he replies. "If someone offered me a movie and it was pretty much like Jesse, [but] there was no positive growth, then I wouldn't do that."

Williams has not yet reached the point in his career where he can pick the roles he wants to do--"It's about getting whatever is there"--but he hopes some day he'll be able to do so.

One goal he has in mind once he's finished with AMC is to "produce and direct eventually." If black actors and actresses want to bring about change in the entertainment industry, says Darnell, "they have to stop acting and start producing and directing." He does feel, however, that the image of blacks on TV is "changing a little bit but not as quickly as it needs to."

Money coming in is certainly not a worry for Darnell Williams anymore. Being on All My Children, says Darnell, has made him "a little sure, able to pay [my] bills on time and [able to] buy a few things for [myself]. It just makes [me] a little more positive, a little more secure."

This is an excerpt of an article that was originally published in the Harlem Weekly newspaper (February 16-22, 1983).