Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Denzel Washington To Play Thelonious Monk On The Big Screen

Denzel Washington has played several real-life people on the big screen: South African activist Steven Biko, boxer Ruben "Hurricane" Carter, and Black Muslim orator Malcolm X, to name just three roles. AARP The Magazine (December 2014-January 2015 issue) in its "Big 5-Oh" feature on the back page, which celebrates celebrity birthday milestones, reports that Washington "hopes to star as jazz legend Thelonious Monk." This wouldn't be the first time Washington, who turned 60 this month, plays a jazz musician. He had the lead role (as a trumpet player) in Spike Lee's 1990 flick, Mo' Better Blues.

Monday, December 29, 2014

A Church Hides Behind The Word "Homo"

The illuminated message board outside the Atlah Church on Lenox Avenue and 123rd Street in Harlem had this pronouncement: "Say goodbye to black barber shops, churches and funeral homes to make way for homo gentrifier restaurants and condos." The frequent use of the word "homo" in the church's many messages over the past couple of years is code for "white people." Not wanting to be labeled racist, the church hides behind the homophobic slur because being anti-gay can be seen as following the teaching of the Bible.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Freelance Pay Rate Preference

During my years as a freelance writer, I've always preferred being paid a flat fee rather than by the word or the column inch. If I'm paid a flat fee, and the article has to undergo some cuts, I still get the same amount of money. But if I'm paid by the word or the column inch, and cuts have to be made, I'm losing money.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Lengthy Page Turner

On a table near the circulation desk at the 115th Street library in Harlem were several uncorrected advance reader's editions of recent books. The sign on the table said "Take One." Sorting through the pile, I decided on Forty Acres by Dwayne Alexander Smith (no relation), a screenwriter and author who lives in Los Angeles. Forty Acres is his first book.

According to the back jacket copy Forty Acres, published by Atria Books, an African American-oriented imprint of Simon & Schuster, is "[a] novel of rage and compassion, good and evil, trust and betrayal--and the most provocative thriller you'll read this year." When I got home, I read the first four pages. From the little that I read, the book sounded very promising. Quickly flipping through the book, which is more than 300 pages long, I noticed that the chapters were very short, no more than two or three pages.

In her back jacket blurb, novelist Terry McMillan, the author of Waiting to Exhale, stated that Forty Acres had her "on the edge of my seat." If that's the case, the book despite its length should be a real page turner and help make Dwayne Alexander Smith a household name.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Real Estate Code Words

Whenever you see a sign on a building that attaches the words "boutique" or "luxury" to a description of a condo, a co-op, or a rental apartment, it's safe to say that those are code words for expensive, unaffordable.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

An African Immigrant's Story Found On The Street

I found among two boxes of discarded books on upper Broadway near 113th Street in the Columbia University area, a paperback copy of Strength in What Remains by journalist Tracy Kidder (Random House, 2009). The book, in excellent condition, was probably discarded by one of the book vendors seen at various locations up and down the street every day. Written on one of the inside pages, in pencil, is the number "5." No doubt the price that a vendor sought.

Reading the back jacket copy, I learned that this nonfiction book is about a young man from the tiny East African country of Burundi who "lands at JFK airport with two hundred dollars, no English, and no contacts." He ends up "in the direction of Columbia University, medical school, and a life devoted to healing."

This is the kind of immigrant story that would appeal to President Barack Obama as an example of America's open-arm embrace of those seeking freedom and prosperity in a new land. I'm looking forward to settling down with this book called by one critic "a tour de force. Inspiring. Moving. Gripping."

After reading it, I will probably review it for this blog. So please stay tuned.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Urban Book Maven's 6th Anniversary

December 18 will mark this blog's 6th anniversary. I'm looking forward to six more years.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Misplacement Of Page Six

I'd like to know when the New York Post is going to return its gossip column, Page Six, to page 6 instead of page 10 or page 12 or some other page. What's the point of calling it Page Six? It doesn't make any sense. Maybe the publisher and the editors think the readers are too unobservant to notice.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Making History Come Alive Via Fiction

One reading goal of mine is to read all 21 books in Ellis Peters's Cadfael (pronounced Cad-file) mystery series, set in 11th-century England. So far I've read about three of the books. I own paperback copies of some of the books. (I've been meaning to read the whole series for a long time but, unfortunately, I haven't gotten around to it. Maybe I can start in the new year.)

Cadfael, for those not familiar with the series, is a Welsh-born monk/herbalist/amateur sleuth (who was also a soldier).

Peters (1913-1995) was the pseudonym of Edith Pargeter, a medieval scholar. Because of her extensive knowledge of this period and her literary skill, she made the life and customs come alive on the page in an entertaining and riveting way that most scholarly books would not.

Many of the books were adapted for television and broadcast in the United States on PBS.  The wonderful actor Derek Jacobi portrayed Cadfael.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Reading On The Subway

When I'm reading a book on the subway here in New York and see three or four other riders doing the same thing either with a physical book or an e-book device, it makes me feel good. It makes me feel like I'm sitting in a reading room on wheels and confirms that reading hasn't completely died out.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Friday, November 21, 2014

"John Bull's Nigger": One Black Man's View Of Other Blacks

One book I would like to read, although it will probably turn my stomach as I turn the pages, is John Bull's Nigger by Dillibe Onyeama, published in 1974. From the way the book is described in the August 1974 issue of the British publication CRC Journal, it contains the rantings of a self-hating black man.

"Mr. Onyeama's high principles and experience of living in Britain," reported the CRC Journal, "lead him to conclude that the black man is '...more of an animal--only marginally human.'"

Furthermore, Onyeama, who was born in the part of Nigeria then known as Biafra, saw black people as being "Dirty! Stupid! Inferior to the white man."

John Bull's Nigger was seen as so inflammatory and hateful that, according to the CRC Journal, it "has been referred to Sir Robert Mark, Metropolitan Police Commissioner, for investigation under Section 6 of the 1965 Race Relations Act, for allegedly inciting racial hatred."

I looked the book up on Amazon. There are four hardcover copies available for $22.57 each. I may check with the Strand, a used-books store in New York City, to see if they have any copies in stock.

If the author, forty years later, is still alive, it would be interesting to talk with him to see if his "very decided views on black people" has changed or remained the same.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Dictionary Browsing

As a leisure time activity, I often browse the dictionary, finding, to my delight, words I've never seen before. Thumbing through my beat up copy of Merriam-Webster's, I discovered this term: "open dating." It sounded at first like there was a romance or "singles's night" connection. When I read the definition, I learned there was a marketing connection instead. The dictionary defined "open dating" (which came into usage in 1971)  as "the marking of perishable food products with a clearly readable date indicating when the food was packaged or the last date on which it should be sold or used."

So now whenever I go grocery shopping and look at the "Sell By" or "Packed On" date on a container of milk or on a deli item, I know those printed dates are called "open dating" and I can make reference to that term when talking to a store manager about an item that's been on the shelf past its expiration date.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Saturday, November 8, 2014

AIDS Researcher Wins Eviction Battle

A Greenwich Village co-op board 's year-long court battle to evict a doctor who treats persons with AIDS ended in defeat on October 17 [1984], due to the efforts of a gay rights group and the New York state attorney general's office.

The board, representing the tenants of 49 West 12th Street, told Dr. Joseph A. Sonnabend last year that the tenants wanted him out of the building because of concern for their health and the lowering of property values of their apartments due to AIDS patients entering his office.

Sonnabend, a microbiologist and the occupant of the ground floor office since 1977, consulted his lawyer, William Hibsher of the New York law firm Teitelbaum and Hiller. Hibsher is also a board member of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the organization which took the case to court and succeeded in blocking the eviction with a temporary restraining order. The order was issued on October 14, 1983, by the New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan.

Sonnabend had no quarrel with the board's right to evict him. "But the mistake they made," said Sonnabend, "was to say it was over AIDS."

Then it became a case of discrimination, said Hibsher,"against a population that is really more deserving of people's compassion and help. I think that all people know that very often discrimination against people with AIDS is another form of discrimination against gay people."

In New York State, there is no law prohibiting discrimination against people because of sexual orientation; however, Lambda used a provision of the state's human rights law protecting disabled people from discrimination as the basis for their lawsuit.

"Five of Sonnabend's patients," said Hibsher, "joined in the lawsuit for legal reasons. We were concerned that since Dr. Sonnabend is not himself a disabled person, the defendant might take the position that [Sonnabend] could not raise the disability statute in support of his legal position."

With the patients as co-plaintiffs, continued Hibsher, "they could say they are disabled persons, and they are potentially being discriminated against by the building's decision." Two of the five patients have since died of the disease.

In the court settlement, Sonnabend was awarded $10,000 in damages and a new one-year lease. The co-op must also pay $1,000 in legal costs to state Attorney General Robert Abrams's office, which acted as Lambda's co-counsel.

Hibsher sees the settlement as a landmark case that "projects a very strong image on the part of those who protect the rights of these citizens."

He continued: "It's, to our knowledge, the first litigation brought in connection with alleged discrimination against people with AIDS, and it established very importantly legal procedures in the State of New York and nationwide; One, that people with AIDS are considered disabled persons under the disability laws, and most states have a civil rights law which protects persons who are disabled from discrimination. Two, the court issued a preliminary injunction in the course of the litigation and part of its ruling was that it accepted the expert opinion that AIDS is not casually transmitted. Consequently, the court rejected any notion that a person with AIDS could be segregated or kept out of a public accommodation on the grounds of potential contagion. Three, and I think most important, the case stands for the proposition that the civil rights community, Lambda, the attorney general of the State of New York, and other litigants are not going to sit back and let people discriminate" against people who are gravely ill.

Sonnabend, who spends much of his time doing research, said that after the settlement, "some of the tenants offered their congratulations. Many tenants at the time [of the eviction attempt] were quite unhappy with the way the board proceeded."

This article was originally published in the Gay Community News (Boston) on November 10, 1984.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A Writer's Dream

This unpublished interview fragment was found in a manila folder. It was written on August 12, 1980. It was intended for inclusion in a Q & A interview that I did with Professor Addison Gayle, Jr.:

Professor [Addison] Gayle's most recent book is the literary biography, Richard Wright: Ordeal of a Native Son (Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1980).

It seems as though the professor was destined to be a Wright biographer. In Wayward Child [his autobiography], he writes that of the many black writers his father encouraged him to read as a child growing up in the South "...Richard Wright was [his] favorite." He goes on to say, "...instead of imaging myself as one of Richard Wright's characters, I imagined myself as Richard Wright. I imagined people looking up to me as a famous writer, asking for my autograph, seeking me out."

Professor Gayle's early identification with Wright was probably due to similar experiences in their young Southern lives.

Friday, October 31, 2014

A Real-Life Hollywood Murder Mystery

 I received from HarperCollins a review copy of  William J. Mann's latest nonfiction book, Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood. It's about the unsolved 1922 murder of film director William Desmond Taylor. I already own a copy of  A Cast of Killers, Sidney D. Kirkpatrick's 1986 book about the same case. Unfortunately, I never got around to reading it. Mann's book will  be an incentive. After reading both books back to back to see how they compare and contrast, I will write a double review. Mann is an excellent writer whose previous books I have read.  So I am looking forward to reading Tinseltown.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Library In The Park

I encourage people to visit Mount Morris Park (aka Marcus Garvey Park) in Harlem. You will find two little green and yellow boxes in the shape of a house with a slanted roof mounted on a green wooden platform supported by a green wooden pillar These boxes are part of the Little Free Library project. One box is marked "Young Adult Books," the other is marked "Children's Books." On the roof of each "house" is the slogan "Take A Book, Return A Book."

The Little Free Library boxes are located near the Children's playground which faces 124th Street (near 5th Avenue) and is across the street from the New York Public Library's Harlem Branch library. (The playground equipment has the same green and yellow color scheme as the book boxes.)

  I recently found inside one of the boxes a hardback copy of Having Our Say by Sarah and Elizabeth Delany, two African-American sisters who each lived well past their 100th birthdays. The book was published in 1993. (They were the aunts of the famed science fiction writer Samuel R. Delany.)

Surprisingly, the boxes have not been vandalized or spray painted with graffiti. Maybe there is some respect for literature.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Literary Voice That's Gone, But Not Forgotten

This year would have marked Joseph Beam's 60th birthday. Sadly, in 1988, we lost one of the most eloquent and powerful literary voices, not only in the gay community but also in the black community.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The One-Sentence Book Review Challenge

It seems that the New York Times Magazine has discontinued "The One-Page Magazine" feature. This feature consisted of several extremely short articles. Of particular interest was the one called "The One-Sentence Book Review" by Tyler Cowen. It has inspired me to try to do something similar for this blog. It will be a refreshing challenge.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Mammoth Novel

One book I intend to check out is A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James, a Jamaican novelist. The novel is set in Jamaica in the late 1970s when an assassination attempt was made on reggae star Bob Marley. The book is 700 pages long. I'm hoping the book's quality justifies its length.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Talking (Briefly) To The Uncola Man

I heard about actor/choreographer Geoffrey Holder's death at the age of 84 during a radio newscast. (I think it was NPR.) Listening to his Paul Robeson-like deep voice (with a Caribbean flavor) as an excerpt from one of his 7-Up "Uncola" commercials was played, reminded me of the only time I got a chance to speak to him. It was at a Broadway revival of  The Wiz (which he choreographed). This would be about thirty years ago. As I headed for my seat, I told him that I wanted to interview him. His odd response was, "Yes, but not right now." I never got to do the interview.

A few years later, I saw Holder and his wife, dancer Carmen de Lavallade, getting out of a car in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan. Our eyes met, but I kept on walking.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Shilling For The Harlem Real Estate Industry?

Lauren Price's article, "What's Up in Uptown?" (Gay City  News, May 14, 2014), seemed more suited to the Real Estate section of the Sunday New York Times than the pages of a gay newspaper. In fact, the whole article made her look like a shill for the real estate industry.

I was very disappointed. I was expecting an article that was focused on how gays and lesbians were helping to transform the Harlem community, not an advertisement about what's available in Harlem for sale or rent.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Don Cheadle Is Miles Ahead On His Miles Davis Film

Now that actor Don Cheadle has gotten his Miles Davis biopic, Miles Ahead,* before the cameras, maybe he should consider doing a biopic of Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington's openly gay friend and collaborator. (Strayhorn wrote among other well-known tunes, Take the A Train.)There was supposed to be a film version of  Lush Life, David Hadju's biography of Strayhorn, but nothing came of it. It would be wonderful if a film about Strayhorn would be made. Such a film would remove him from Ellington's shadow.

*Note: See Alan Light's article, "Middle-Aged Man Without a Horn," in the New York Times Arts & Leisure section (September 14, 2014). It is about Don Cheadle's making of the Miles Davis biopic.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

An Unpublished Interview With Ben Bagley

I have an interview I did with the late record producer Ben Bagley at WBAI-FM in New York. It was recorded in 1977 and was never broadcast. I hope to transcribe the interview for publication in this blog and/or in one of the New York-based newspapers or magazines. Bagley (1933-1998) produced several record albums of music by Broadway composers such as Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, and Cole Porter. These recordings were released on his Painted Smiles label.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Second Blog is Planned Focusing On NYC Film/TV Industries

There has been a lot of film and television production in the New York area. So I plan to start a second blog focusing on that activity. More details about this later.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Friday, August 29, 2014

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

When Love's Flame Burns Out

Going through some old newspapers, I came across an article by Steven  G. Fullwood, a black gay man, called "Love, Interrupted," (New York Blade News, March 1, 2002).

Fullwood details the night, two days after Christmas, when his then 23-year-old boyfriend decided to break off their relationship in the most public of places, Times Square. Fullwood, an archivist at the Schomburg Library in Harlem, was age 35 at the time.

After reading the piece, it made me wonder if Fullwood's ex-boyfriend, now in his 30s, met a similar fate doled out by a much younger lover.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

On Reparations For African Americans

I photocopied Ta-Nehisi Coates's super-long article (approximately 25,000 words), "The Case for Reparations," from a  public library copy of The Atlantic magazine's June 2014 issue. I'm looking forward to sitting in a comfortable chair and reading it with a highlighter pen in hand.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Dolly Schiff's New York Post

I recently began reading The Lady Upstairs: Dorothy Schiff and the New York Post by Marilyn Nissenson (St. Martin's Press, 2007). So far it is a hard-to-put-down biography of the former owner of the once liberal afternoon tabloid.

At one time, it was my favorite New York paper until 1976 when Schiff (1903-1989) sold it to the media mogul Rupert Murdoch. He then turned the Post into a right-wing rag.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Entering A Gay Bar Alone

Remember when you first went to a gay bar--alone? Do you remember feeling uneasy, uncertain, and just plain scared? The late poet/novelist Melvin Dixon's short story "Boy With Beer," will help you relive that first experience.

The story, first published in a magazine called Pique, relates the experience of a young black gay student as he prepares to enter the gay bar scene, answering the call that inevitably beckons, most, if not all, gay men sooner or later.

In a cinematic style, Dixon presents the young man's life and all those who are or have been a part of it in flashbacks that interfere with his decision to come out of the closet and accept his sexual orientation.

The story is a sympathetic and realistic depiction and should be must-reading for all gay men, especially gay youth, so that they can look at themselves in a positive light and communicate that positivity to others, both gay and straight.

In a telephone conversation, Dixon indicated to me that the bar in "Boy With Beer" was inspired by Andre's, a now-defunct black gay working-class bar in Harlem. (Today, a shopping mall complex that includes the Magic Johnson movie theatre sits on that site.)

Melvin Dixon, who was a professor of English at Queens College, City University of New York and the author of numerous poems and two novels, would have been very pleased to learn that "Boy With Beer" had been read by actor Courtney Vance on the stage of New York's Symphony Space theatre for broadcast on public radio's short story series, Selected Shorts.

NOTE: Parts of this edited version was taken from the 1984 first draft of a proposed introduction to "Boy With Beer," possibly for the black gay and lesbian supplement I guest edited for the New York Native. A sentence in the first paragraph of the draft states that Dixon's short story was being "reprinted for the first time with the permission of its author." The story never appeared in the supplement, instead a poem by Dixon was included in the supplement's poetry centerfold. The poetry centerfold was a first for the Native. They never did another one. This draft (a typescript) was dated April 22, 1984.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Rap Vs. Jazz

May 18, 2006

To the Editor:

You never hear that young jazz musicians like Wynton Marsalis, Joshua Redman, or Roy Hargrove have had a run in with the law, been involved in a shootout, or started a verbal feud with a colleague. It makes me wonder what it is about rap music that brings out the worst in its practitioners and followers.

Sincerely yours,

Charles Michael Smith

Note: This is from a handwritten draft. I'm not sure which publication I had intended to send it to. Perhaps I had the New York Daily News in mind. I remember posting something similar on my Facebook page.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Telling Lies To Tourists

Time Out New York magazine has a weekly feature called "Lies To Tell Tourists." This is very disturbing to me because this says that it's all right to lie to tourists and look upon them as gullible and/or stupid. It also undermines the trust of the tourists when they find out that they've been lied to. Also, it gives New York a bad image.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Three Projects Harlem Pride Should Consider Doing

Here are three projects Harlem Pride should consider getting involved in:

1. Establishing a gay and lesbian community center. (One location to consider is the former site of the Mount Morris Baths on Madison Avenue at 125th Street. The site has been vacant for several years.)

2. The erection of a statue or monument honoring the late novelist/essayist James Baldwin, a native son of Harlem.

3. The resumption of Gay Night at the Cotton Club, hosted by Harlem Pride. (I wrote an article for the New York Native about this weekly Friday night event in 1984.)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

No LGBT Programs on Air America

April 19, 2004

Air America Radio
3 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10016

Attn: Mark Walsh, CEO

Dear Mr. Walsh:

I began listening to Air America from Day One and I have enjoyed listening to the liberal viewpoints expressed on it. However, there is one type of programming that is missing from your airwaves: a program that is exclusively devoted to the LGBT community.

I was a regular listener each Sunday to the gay programming offered by the Pacifica station WBAI, here in New York. But the quality and the scope were limited. When the show was called The Gay Show, the focus was mainly on white gay men. And when the show was renamed Out FM, with different hosts, it went the other way, focusing on women and people of color, almost exclusively. I would have much preferred gay programming that was much more inclusive and balanced.

Air America has the golden opportunity to develop a program that addresses the interests and the concerns of the LGBT community in an entertaining, informative, and provocative way. LGBT people are visible in all areas of media. Discussions about gays in the military, gay marriage, gay parenting, gays in the workplace are no longer rarities. Air America can help further such discussions and eradicate misconceptions about LGBT people. I don't expect Rush Limbaugh or the other right-wing talk hosts to do justice to these or other topics that are relevant to the LGBT community.

Right now, there is room for such programming, especially on the weekend, when much of the schedule is occupied by repeat broadcasts of the weekday shows. A weekly, two-hour show on your network would reach tens of thousands of LGBT people throughout the country, creating another venue for them to find out what's going on in LGBT communities here and abroad. I see such a show having not only serious discussions about issues, but also book and movie reviews, commentary, satire, remote broadcasts, and national and world news roundups. For example, this year I was a judge for the Lambda Literary Awards, in the Gay Men's Mystery category. One discussion a program could have is the state of gay and lesbian literature and the role the Lammys play in promoting it. There are so many gay and lesbian writers, historians, artists, actors, civic and community leaders that it would be impossible to run out of people to bring on to the show. Another feature could be a brief segment on a gay or lesbian historical figure, event, or place. I could go on for pages suggesting possible program content.

I'm hoping that this broadcasting venture called Air America will succeed so that the program idea that I am proposing will come to fruition. The national LGBT community would be the beneficiary and it would truly make Air America a beacon of liberalism.

Sincerely yours,

Charles Michael Smith

Note: I never received a response. Although there were gay and lesbian hosts on Air America such as Rachel Maddow, there never was a specific show about LGBT issues. WWRL, Air America's New York affiliate, after the demise of Air America, did later broadcast LGBT shows five days a week under the umbrella title "Equality Pride Radio."

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Few Words From Gore Vidal

"I have collected these plays [Visit to a Small Planet and Other Television Plays (Little, Brown and Company, 1956)] in the parental hope that eventually some sort of repertory system will be evolved in television and certain plays will be done again from time to time, saving one's efforts from total oblivion. At the moment it is somewhat discouraging to see so many fine performances, so many good plays written, as it were, on air, nothing to show for all the work done but a kinescope (a filmed record of the play) which, because of unions and technical considerations, is seldom shown again on television. It is a criminal waste of many talents and some day, perhaps on the new magnetic tape, a play which is broadcast live will be accurately recorded and reshown."---Gore Vidal, from the book's Foreword.

Hopefully one of the classic television show channels like Cozy or Antenna will seek out these live shows and broadcast them.

Thursday, July 3, 2014



Have a happy and safe Fourth of July! This summer I'm looking forward to posting some very interesting and thought-provoking articles and book reviews.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Book Rescue On 116th Street

Walking up 7th Avenue toward 116th Street in Harlem, in front of the First Corinthian Baptist Church (its pastor, Michael Walrond, unsuccessfully ran against congressman Charles Rangel this year), I found, face down, a copy of a paperback immigrant novel. The book, If Today Be Sweet, was written by a novelist and professor of creative writing and journalism, Thrity Umrigar, originally from India. She is now living in the United States.

I picked the book up and tucked it between two church pillars thinking that the book had been left behind after a recent book fair at the church and that someone would find it. Twenty-four hours later, the book was still where I had placed it. So I decided to keep it.

Browsing through it, I found on the inside back cover, an inscription, handwritten in ink and dated
"1/18/08 09!"

"Barack Obama

'Our arts, our culture, our sciences are part of what make [sic] America special. And I plan to invite those things into the White House.'--Meet the Press, 2008."

If I never get around to reading this novel, that inscription alone was worth the effort to rescue this book from some landfill.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014



I hope everyone had a great Pride Day!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Quotation Book Includes Black Gays And Lesbians

While browsing the "New Books" section of the New York Public Library's Morningside Heights branch, I came across a copy of Bartlett's Familiar Black Quotations. At $40, it is very pricey but it is a volume worth having in one's home library. I hope one day to own a copy. In the meantime, I will enjoy the library copy.

Of particular interest to me is the high representation of gays and lesbians throughout. Among those included are Keith Boykin, Melvin Dixon, Audre Lorde, Joe Beam, Pat Parker, Samuel R. Delany, Jewelle Gomez, Randall Kenan, and Essex Hemphill.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

A Singer And His Hat

I like Happy, the hit song by Pharrell Williams, but I hate the hat he's always seen wearing. It looks like someone sat on it before Williams put it on his head.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Touring Across The Soviet Union

"[Maya Angelou] won a role in a touring production of  Porgy and Bess and performed in 22 countries from 1954 to 1955," writes Elaine Woo in her Los Angeles Times obituary (May 28, 2014) of the world-renowned poet and memoirist.

That sentence brought to mind Truman Capote's 1958 nonfiction book, And the Muses Were Heard, in which he chronicled the activities of a troupe of African American actors traveling across the Soviet Union by train to perform Porgy and Bess. I'm certain that Maya Angelou, not mentioned by name, was one of the actors on that trip. The timeline seems to fit.



Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Literature On A Cup

I read in Entertainment Weekly that the restaurant chain Chipotle is publishing literary excerpts on their paper cups and paper bags. I think that's an excellent way to help promote literature. Hopefully other chains will follow their example.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Tribute To A Fallen Hero

My condolences to the family of activist/Pan-Africanist Elombe Brath, who died Monday, May 19, in New York at age 77. It's fitting that he died on what would have been Malcolm X's 89th birthday.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

An Etiquette Book For Young Gay Men

One Saturday evening in February of this year, my friend Robert and I stopped by the Suite, a gay bar on Amsterdam Avenue at 109th Street in the Morningside Heights area of Manhattan to relax and chat while sipping sodas.  On a small table near the entrance were several paperback copies (free) of a self-published book called The Essential Sex Venue Etiquette and Resource Guide: For America's Gay and Bisexual Young Men by Robert Brandon Sandor. Browsing through the book (or pamphlet as the author described it), I was particularly fascinated by the glossary which contained many unfamiliar terms such as "bat boy" ("A boy that loves large penises") and "teabagging" ("Placing one's testicles down onto someone's mouth or forehead").

A guidebook such as this one would have been useful to and probably appreciated by previous generations of gay men who had to learn the ropes through trial and error.

I plan to write a much more thorough review of the guidebook for this blog later on.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Friday, May 16, 2014

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Black Gay Hollywood

Kevin Thomas, Film Critic
c/o Editorial Dept.
Los Angeles Times
202 West 1st Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012

June 1, 2005

Dear Mr. Thomas:

In 1966, when I was living in California, I spoke to you on the phone about Montgomery Clift's final film The Defector, which you had reviewed. You sent me a black and white glossy of Clift*, which I still have.

It wasn't until years later that I learned that you are a gay man. I read some quotes from you in William J. Mann's Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood, 1910-1969. I also learned that you are very knowledgeable about the gay Hollywood luminaries of the past.

I recently reviewed Donald Bogle's Bright Boulevards, Bold Dreams: The Story of Hollywood for the Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Review. The book has some gay content. His book has inspired me to do research on Black Gay Hollywood. I would appreciate receiving whatever information you have concerning this segment of the Hollywood community.

One person I am particularly interested in learning more about is Joel Fluellen, a black gay actor, who appeared in such films as A Raisin in the Sun and The Learning Tree. According to Bogle, Fluellen was "a leader in the fight for better roles for African Americans." Did you ever meet him? If so, what was your impression of him?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely yours,
Charles Michael Smith

Note: I never received a response. Kevin Thomas may have been knowledgeable about Gay Hollywood, but as a white gay man, he may not have been as knowledgeable about Black Gay Hollywood.

*Montgomery Clift (1920-1966) was a gay man.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

A Book About Two Unsung AIDS Heroes

A book I am looking forward to reading is historian Martin Duberman's Hold Tight Gently: Michael Callen, Essex Hemphill, and the Battlefield of AIDS, published by The New Press. I had the opportunity of meeting both men in the 1980s.

I learned about this book when I saw the last two copies of the March 2014 issue of A & U magazine on a recent visit to the Gay Community Center on 13th Street in Greenwich Village. Martin Duberman's photo was on the cover, with his name in red letters and a brief description of the book.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

AIDS Elegy Book Considered For Publication

Art Mugs the Reaper, an anthology of AIDS elegies, edited by Jeffrey Lilly, a San Francisco-based poet and writer, is currently being considered for publication by the University of Wisconsin Press. I have two elegies that are included in the book: one about poet Essex Hemphill, the other about poet/novelist Melvin Dixon.

Friday, May 2, 2014

A Food Blog That Combines History And Recipes

A blog worth checking out is Frederick Douglass Opie's, which combines culinary history and recipes from an African-American perspective.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Book About Kitty Genovese Murder

I recently received from the book publishing company, W.W. Norton, a review copy of Kevin Cook's Kitty Genovese, which is about the famous March 1964 murder of the young woman in Queens, New York. I'm looking forward to reading and reviewing it. It looks like a page-turner.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Transcribing An Interview With AIDS Activist Craig G. Harris

I have a 90-minute cassette interview that I did with writer/activist Craig G. Harris, when he was the executive director of the Minority Task Force on AIDS in Harlem in 1988. I need to transcribe the interview and post it on this blog.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Tuesday, April 15, 2014



Back To Blogging

I haven't been posting anything for a while. I was taking a much needed break from the Internet. I'm ready now to resume blogging.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Church Homophobia In Harlem

The following are my Facebook comments regarding the homophobic message board in front of the Atlah Church on Lenox Avenue in Harlem. The message on the message board advocated the stoning of  homosexuals. My comments on Facebook were posted on March 20, 2014. Regard this as the early draft of a longer essay on this issue.

"In the 1980s and '90s, such blatant homophobia would have been confronted by mass demonstrations. It seems like the LGBT community is too concerned with being mainstream and too mesmerized by the latest trivia on social media to get out in the streets and let their feelings be known, loud and clear. Alas, many of our boldest, as well as best and brightest, activists like poet/playwright Assotto Saint were mowed down by AIDS. Their absence has definitely weakened the resolve of the LGBT community. When a church states on its message board that 'Jesus Would Have Stoned Homos,' then it is time to carry picket signs while chanting 'Hey, hey, ho, ho, homophobia has got to go!'

One other thing, this church has a breakfast program for school-age children. It makes me wonder if they indoctrinate the children with homophobia as they serve them their morning cereal."

Thursday, March 20, 2014



Keep checking this blog for new content. I plan to post some really interesting material here. One of the posts I plan is an essay regarding the homophobic messages that have appeared on the outside message board of the Atlah Church in Harlem. I've already posted a comment on Facebook but I intend to go into more detail in my essay.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Wednesday, March 12, 2014



See "The High Cost of Moviegoing" post of February 1, 2014.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Monday, March 3, 2014

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Ian McKellen As Rupert Murdoch?

If there is ever a theatrical biopic or TV miniseries planned on the life, times, and media empire of Rupert Murdoch, an excellent candidate to play the role would be Ian McKellen, who bears some resemblance to the media mogul.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Turning Movies Into Broadway Musicals

Broadway has turned several movies into musicals: Rocky, The Bridges of Madison County, La Cage Aux Folles, Bullets Over Broadway, The Color Purple, etc. I'm waiting to hear the news that Spike Lee's 1989 movie, Do the Right Thing will be turned into a musical.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

James Baldwin's 90th Birthday

This year will mark what would have been James Baldwin's 90th birthday. I wish he was still with us.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Stuart Hall, Public Intellectual, Dies At Age 82

Until Michel Martin spoke with Duke University professor Mark Anthony Neal about scholar Stuart Hall on her daily NPR show Tell Me More, I had never heard of Hall. Their brief conversation made me want to learn all I can about this public intellectual and "godfather of multiculturalism," who recently died at age 82 in England, where he had lived since emigrating there from Jamaica in 1951.

I look forward to seeing the  documentary on his life and work, which was premiered last year at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah. I also look forward to reading his books and articles.

The trailer for The Stuart Hall Project is available on YouTube.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Letting Dancegoers Interpret The Dance For Themselves

In April of 1989, avant-garde dancemaker and former architect Gus Solomans, Jr. collaborated with a team of Columbia University students in the creation of a dance work called Site Line, performed by members of the Solomans Company/Dance at the Danspace Project of St. Mark's Church in Manhattan's East Village. In a telephone interview, Solomans described the work as a dance with "a wall that would divide the dancing space in half. The audience on each side of the wall [will] see essentially a different dance. They'll be able to see the dancers on the other side. The wall is partly transparent, partly translucent, and partly opaque." Solomans said that he wants the audience to interpret what they see for themselves,"to make choices, to participate as viewers, not just sit there and [let the choreography] wash over them and be entertained. I try to make the visual atmosphere rich enough to get some stimulation."

In another dance work, performed at Danspace in January of 1990, Solomans's company presented a piece for five men whose title was  represented by a symbol described by Solomans as "an unpronounceable graphic gesture." Both the dancers and the musicians provided vocal sounds. And as with Site Line, the audience was expected to interpret for themselves what the vocal sounds and movement signified.

This article was originally published in the New York Amsterdam News. It was edited from two articles that were published in 1989 and 1990.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

African-American Cartoonist Morrie Turner Dies At 90

Morrie Turner, the African-American cartoonist, who drew the Wee Pals comic strip, died last month at age 90. The Los Angeles Times obituary writer (January 29, 2014) wrote that Turner started Wee Pals in 1965, "soon populating the strip with clever kids spanning a rainbow of races and ethnicities."But the writer neglected to mention that Turner contributed one-panel cartoons to the "Humor in Hue" page in Negro Digest magazine (renamed Black World) in the 1960s and 1970s. Negro Digest was published by the Chicago based Johnson Publishing Company that also published Ebony and Jet magazines. Turner's "Humor in Hue" cartoons always had an anti-racism theme.

For me the most memorable cartoon that he drew was one consisting of ten-panels called "The Invisible Black: A Study in White Color-Blindness" (Black World, June 1970). It depicts a white male and female, who in their travels in different venues, are totally oblivious to the black men and women they encounter performing various job titles: flight attendant, bus driver, firefighter, et cetera. That is, until they happen upon a intoxicated black man with a liquor bottle in his hand, sprawled out in front of an apartment building. "Look, Henry," announces the woman, with obvious disgust, "isn't that typical of them!!!"

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The High Cost Of Moviegoing

October 4, 2005

To the Editor:

I recently went to an afternoon press screening of Good Night, and Good Luck* and was relieved not to be bombarded in the first fifteen minutes with commercials and [trailers for] coming-attractions  as I would have been in a regular movie theatre. Now I read  that the E!channel is packaging celebrity news and gossip to add to this mix because of its lucrativeness. If this "pre-show entertainment" is such a moneymaker ($458 million), how come the ticket prices keep going up?

Sincerely yours,

Charles Michael Smith

*Note: This film is about CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow's on-air confrontation with the anti-Communist senator from Wisconsin Joe McCarthy, whose questionable tactics Murrow opposed.

I found a handwritten draft of this letter which was never sent. The draft does not indicate which publication I had in mind when I wrote it.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Correcting An Error Regarding Poet Assotto Saint

Letters to the Editor
The Gay & Lesbian Review
P.O. Box 180300
Boston, MA 02118

December 27, 2004

To the Editor:

I would like to correct an error that appeared in Felice Picano's review of Patrick Moore's Beyond Shame: Reclaiming the Abandoned History of Radical Gay Sexuality (November/December 2004). The late poet Assotto Saint is identified as a Jamaican-American when in fact he was born in Haiti. As a longtime friend of Assotto's, and as one who knew of his pride in his Haitian roots, I could not let the error go unacknowledged.

Sincerely yours,

Charles Michael Smith

Note: This unpublished letter was submitted to GLR via e-mail.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Sidney Poitier: Actor, Director, Novelist

While browsing the "New Fiction" shelves at the Morningside Heights branch of the New York Public Library, I came upon a novel by legendary actor Sidney Poitier called Montaro Caine (Spiegel & Grau, 2013). I immediately took it off the shelf and turned to the inside front flap to read its plot description.

According to the front flap copy, the novel tells the story of Montaro Caine, a corporate CEO, in whose office is brought "a coin of unknown provenance, composed of a metal unknown to Earth." The flap copy goes on to tell the prospective reader that "the value of the coin lies not in its monetary worth but in its hold on the people who come into contact with it."

I was disappointed after reading about the plot of the novel. I was hoping that Poitier, one of my favorite actors, had written a novel from the perspective of a young black male actor attempting to build a successful film career. If Poitier had done that, he would have given his readers-- and fans--another insider's unique look at Hollywood, warts and all.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

New York AIDS Forum For Black Men And Women

A forum on AIDS for black gay men and lesbians, sponsored by an ad hoc group of black gay and lesbian activists, was held Feb. 1 [1984] at Hunter College. One of the purposes of the forum was to counteract the widespread belief among black gay men, and the black community in general, that AIDS is a white disease. This perception is fostered by nearly exclusive media attention given to white gay men with AIDS and causes blacks to have a diminished interest in AIDS educational forums and events.

The first of February was chosen because of its significance as the beginning of Black History Month. Gwen Rogers, the forum moderator, said the event would demonstrate that black gay men and lesbians were "concerned about all aspects of our oppression." The forum, she continued, provided "the opportunity for us to raise issues of the struggle against AIDS, to raise the issue of AIDS as a health concern, and to raise the demand that health care is a right."

The audience, numbering between 90 and 100, some of whom were white, heard the following panelists: Leonard Brown, M.D. ("The Medical Facts of AIDS"); Raymond Jacobs, resident recreation therapist at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York ("Psycho-social Issues"); Jessie Cadet ("The Impact of AIDS on the Haitian Community"); and Bruce Hall, a black man with AIDS ("Reflections of a Person with AIDS"). Diego Lopez, a social worker who was called to speak at the last minute, expressed his concern for quality health care and asked the audience to help him and others reach the black gay community with AIDS information.

The ad hoc committee, while planning this forum, said Rogers, a psychologist, did not "view the AIDS question in isolation," but saw it as being part of the overall concern for better health care delivery within the total black community. They also saw the socio-economic ramifications of the disease, which has a 40 percent mortality rate. Rogers saw the forum as something that will help unify the gay, as well as the black, community.

Dr. Brown's presentation of the medical facts on AIDS included the by-now familiar rundown on symptoms and treatments. Jessie Cadet's presentation was short and to the point: "There is an urgent need for more money for AIDS research and the oppression of Haitian immigrants by U.S. officials must end."

The two speakers who gave the most interesting presentations in terms of information, if not style, were Hall and Jacobs.

Hall, a 29-year old ex-New Yorker, now living in Chicago, was diagnosed with AIDS in September 1983. He felt, following the diagnosis, that it was unfair for him to have come down with this disease, especially after several years of abstinence from drugs, alcohol, and sex with multiple partners. He's presently involved in a monogamous relationship, and although he and his lover have not refrained from having sex, they do not exchange body fluids. Hall is also in a self-imposed program of hypnosis, weight-lifting, and bicycling. Although it's part of his battle against AIDS, he's not sure if any of it works.

Jacobs spoke of the isolation and psychological crisis AIDS people endure, leaving them angry, guilty, and ashamed. He's observed a tendency to moralize and to believe that having the disease is due to the wrath of God.

Jacobs placed AIDS people in three categories: those with the disease who have not contracted a major illness; those with a major illness who are working their way towards death and dying; those, like Hall, who have recently been diagnosed.

Hall told this reporter in a later interview that he visits AIDS people in hospitals so they know that someone cares and that there are people with AIDS who are able to function. These visits, he feels, "might give them some hope."

A question-and-answer period followed the prepared presentations.

This is article was originally published in the Gay Community News of Boston (February 18, 1984).

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Friday, January 10, 2014

Thursday, January 9, 2014

PBS To Air Documentary On Slain Mexican-American Journalist

Shortly after Mexican-American journalist Ruben Salazar's untimely death in 1970 at the age of 42, I received from the Los Angeles Times a booklet containing some of his columns for the paper. In the back of the booklet was the eulogy delivered by Times publisher Otis Chandler at Salazar's funeral.
Said Chandler: "He [Salazar] was a fighter, a firm believer that all men, regardless of color or language barrier, could, in the end, live together peacefully and productively in our city.

"But he knew that before this could happen," continued Chandler, "the Anglo community had to understand the basic problems in the minority communities."

The Los Angeles Times published an article (January 8, 2014) that reported that on April 29, PBS will air a documentary called Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle. I eagerly await the broadcast of this documentary about a courageous and important journalist whose name and work should never be forgotten.

No doubt public radio's On the Media will do a segment on the documentary prior to its scheduled airdate.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Creating Choreography Via Architecture

Avant-garde dancemaker Gus Solomans, Jr.'s segment will be half of a shared evening of dance at the Danspace Project of St. Mark's Church in [Manhattan's] East Village (April 14, 15,16 [1989]). In a collaborative work with a team of Columbia University [architectural] students, the Solomans Company/Dance will present Site Line, described by Solomans (a former architect), in a telephone interview, as a dance with "a wall that would divide the dancing space in half. The audience on each side of the wall [will] see essentially a different dance. They'll be able to see the dancers on the other side. The wall is partly transparent, partly translucent, and partly opaque." Solomans says that he wants the audience to interpret what they see for themselves, "to make choices, to participate as viewers, not just sit there and [let the choreography] wash over them and be entertained. I try to make the visual atmosphere rich enough for everyone to get some stimulation."

This article was originally published in the New York Amsterdam News (April 15, 1989) as part of a Spring 1989 Dance Roundup article.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Choreographer Donald Byrd's Future Plans

Donald Byrd, 40, who "had always wanted to [dance]" but got started late (in his late teens), formed his own dance company--Donald Byrd/The Group--in 1978 in Los Angeles where he decided to stay after touring there as a member of Gus Solomons, Jr.'s company. Five years later, he made the move to New York because L.A. had "no sense of community, no support for the arts. I felt isolated from other people, from other artists."

Since then the North Carolina-born, Florida-reared choreographer's critically-acclaimed, issue-oriented dance works have been set on companies such as the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre (which premiered Shards last year at the City Center [in New York]) and the Minneapolis-based Zenon Company.

Also a teacher, Byrd hopes to build a school and performance space through the Donald Byrd Foundation, established in 1985, as a way for him to repay the theatre world "which has given me a lot." He sees the school as "a place where kids can come in and do the kind of work that I see is important work."

Shortly before a one-week tour of Hungary and Yugoslavia, Donald Byrd/The Group performed a children's program on August 11 [1989] at the Harlem School of the Arts. They will next participate in the Black Choreographers Moving Toward the 21st Century dance festival scheduled for San Francisco (November 1-12) and Los Angeles (November 12-19). [These were 1989 dates.]

This article was originally published in the New York Amsterdam News (November 25, 1989).