Wednesday, December 30, 2015



A happy, healthy, and prosperous new year to all.

Thursday, December 24, 2015


(Note in a travel guide: "Here in Naxos, the village, as is true of all the [Greek] islands, is to be found atop the highest mountain peak.")

Why did they come here, here to this barren, unyielding mountain top? The cliffs are so steep. How did they get here? Which leader of which seafaring tribe called out: "Here we shall settle. Disembark. Bring your tools. Climb the mountain after me. Here shall we be safe from pirates from the shore below. Here shall we build our lives and bear our children"?

                                                                 ---Velma Jean Robinson Reeb

Reeb, a former resident of Manhattan's Upper West Side, now resides in Portland, Oregon. For a brief time, she and her son lived in Greece.

Merry Christmas to all the readers of this blog!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015



Last week I visited the Steven Kasher Gallery on 26th Street, in the Chelsea section of Manhattan to view the photographs Thomas Roma took in the Vale of Cashmere, a gay cruising section of Brooklyn's Prospect Park. The photos are featured in his coffee table book, In the Vale of Cashmere. I hope to write more about what I saw at the exhibit.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Alex Haley's Proposed Musical

In Alex Haley and the Books That Changed A Nation (St. Martin's Press, 2015), Robert J. Norrell has written that during the time Haley (1921-1992) was preparing The Autobiography of Malcolm X for publication, he "had an idea for a musical about black life, which he called 'The Way.' In 1961," continued Norrell,"Haley had gotten to know Lena Horne, who had starred in Cabin in the Sky, and Haley's musical bore some similarities to that film. Haley's musical would be set in a cosmetics factory run  by a black executive who was surrounded by several stereotyped characters, including a hipster, a white racist, and a black racist. Alternating black and white choruses would sing 'Camptown Races,' with the black group performing spirituals in black dialect. [Paul] Reynolds [Haley's literary agent] called the idea 'very, very interesting.'"

How long before some Broadway producer will learn of Haley's proposed musical and want to put it on the stage? And what will the public and the critics say about it once that happens? Will black audiences see it as an embarrassing minstrel show or a hard-hitting and insightful lampooning of race relations in America? Stay tuned.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Homophobic Buffoonery At ATLAH Church

One word accurately describes both the weather and Rev. James David Manning's attitude toward the "Love Not Hate" demonstrators outside the ATLAH Church in Harlem on November 23--chilly.

For months  the church's outdoor message board carried homophobic rants like the one on display that evening--"YOU SODOMITES AND FREAKS HAVE SOILED HARLEM. BUT YE SHALL BE MOVED. PAYBACK IS A  BITCH."

As the ethnically and racially diverse demonstrators held anti-hate signs aloft, Rev. Manning , standing inside the church 's gate, under the watchful eye of the police, an open Bible in one hand, a microphone in the other, railed against his opponents. Next to him stood a handful of his congregants, silent witnesses to the high emotions on both sides of the gate.

For a while it was impossible to hear what he was saying because his voice was drowned out by the protestors shouting "Shame on You!" and "Love, Not Hate!"

A flyer was distributed among the 75 or 80 demonstrators that told them if Rev. Manning "responds to our rally in an aggressive and/or insulting manner, DO NOT ENGAGE HIM. LEAVE HIM BE. We don't want to give  ATLAH any of video of  'clash' [sic] they crave for their own purposes." But the demonstrators could not resist confronting Rev. Manning's open hostility. Especially when he called one female protestor "a witch" and beckoned to another one with "Come here, lesbo. Come here, lesbo." During all of this a male demonstrator sang We Shall Overcome. Rev. Manning mocked him by saying "Niggers are always singing We Shall Overcome." The demonstrator ignored him and kept on singing.

Rev. Manning's buffoonish behavior revealed him as unchristian and undignified. It made me wonder about the character of those who chose to join his church of hate.

An obviously unrepentant and unenlightened Rev. Manning now boasts on the message board that "NOVEMBER 23 [IS] A DAY TO REMEMBER WHEN JESUS VERBALLY STONED THE SODOMITES THAT ATTACKED ATLAH CHURCH."

What he fails to see is that his messages of hate have won the "Love Not Hate" rally organizers allies. Along Lenox Avenue some merchants have posted in their windows a blood-red "Love Not Hate" poster.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Real People

The following essay is by Leonard Green, a gay syndicated columnist, freelance writer, and political strategist. He is the publisher and editor of The Right Angle, a conservative newsletter.

When an effeminate man or a masculine woman walks down the street heads turn. People assume they are gay. Some are not. Those who are gay face discrimination and ridicule not only in the straight world but also in the gay community. Historically effeminate gay men and masculine lesbians have taken the heat while many lesbians and gays have been in the closet. They have suffered physical and verbal abuse while on the front line fighting for our rights. But instead of seeing them as heroes and heroines, we attempt to disregard them.

Masculine gay men and effeminate lesbians are threatened by them. Those lesbians and gays whose sexuality is not obvious feel they project the wrong image. They argue that these non-traditional behaviors misrepresent the gay community and makes it difficult for gays and lesbians to be accepted.

Like many heterosexuals, "straight-acting" homosexuals assume effeminate men are attempting to be women and masculine lesbians are attempting to be men. Michael Sainte-Andress, a seasoned activist, says they "are living a fantasy." Sainte-Andress, who is effeminate, says, "Anytime you are outside the reality of what you are, it's a fantasy. I have lived a fantasy for a large portion of my life by choice and understand the ramifications. People can live fantasies but [must] prepare to accept the consequences."

Contrary to this attitude, many are merely being themselves. Some are pretending but so are some "macho gay men" and "lipstick lesbians." Curtis, a 31-year-old personnel analyst who does not want his last name identified, says "I'm sure in every gay man's lifestyle, beyond closed doors or with a bunch of friends, they may do and say feminine things. But it's kind of like I'm performing. When I'm out in public, this is where it stops." Many gays and lesbians refuse to associate with them in public. To do so would painfully remind them that they are connected by the same common thread."I don't have anything against them," says Curtis, " but that is a group I keep a distance from. In a large gathering I will associate with them and maybe in conversation. But I will not get involved with them because of society's roles."

When choosing a mate, many "straight-acting" gays and lesbians overlook effeminate men or masculine women because they do not consider them "real" men and women. They also fear that involvement with them will cause people to assume or wonder whether they too are gay. Fortunately, some gays and lesbians understand the danger of condemning others. Cherisse Gardner, 34, says, "I have a couple of cousins who are effeminate men. I know better than to criticize them. They are different." She adds, "If you catch me out in a dress and heels, I feel I'm in drag even though I'm a woman."

Activists talk about hate crimes, domestic partnership, the repeal of sodomy laws, and homophobia, but they seldom discuss discrimination against effeminate men and masculine women, many of whom are excluded from social circles. Many are denied employment and other opportunities, even by gays and lesbians who feel they do not fit the proper corporate image. "Black gay men should not discriminate against feminine people," says Sainte-Andress. He suggests that those who do should be given "a mind injection that would propel them to think differently."

We must recognize the tremendous value of our community. We should not be limited by stereotypical attitudes about male and female behavior. We must not condemn each other in our quest for acceptance.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Visit To Poros

I am beginning to understand the young college woman [my son] Joey and I met in Poros. She has haunted my imagination. She was there and could not leave nor could she (did she wish to) learn the language. She was protected, accepted, and safe. The Porosians gibed her for not making more of an effort to learn Porosian Greek and for wishing to sleep with her door open to relieve the heat at night.

She was a lovely girl and sat all day at the coffee house where George, the proprietor and her boyfriend, picked up some English from her. She said she wanted to return--rather, felt impelled to return--to Connecticut, home and college the next autumn, but for now was content to sit on Poros.

I remember her lovely long black hair, beautiful eyes, and chubby figure. So young, so wise, and perhaps, so weary. She'd come to Poros in the spring--at Easter time when a solitary re-colored egg is given one and all to commemorate grandly the Resurrection, and she had never left.

Two or three ferry boats came by daily; otherwise, nothing happened on Poros, sun and sea eternally. I often wonder if she ever left and how she feels if she did not--and how, if she did. Surely, she came in search of a family, this child from Upper Exurbia, New England, and she found a ready one. But she was silent, except to speak with American and French tourists, only to guide them to rooms or restaurants.

George spoke "hallow" and "Go right on block. Ask for manager." He was proud of his English, very Greek, dark, black-eyed, and lean. He had a not-disgruntled, but rather sinewy, stern quality about him. He disliked and at the same time depended upon the seasonal tourist trade. A young man bred of Poros. Closed-in, trying hard to keep out the world that had found his island, loving by night a lovely dark-haired American girl, keeping her in check by day, at once proud of and a little afraid of this stranger from across the sea, sharing all there is without many words.

                                                                             ---Velma Jean Robinson Reeb

Reeb, a former resident of Manhattan's Upper West Side, now resides in Portland, Oregon. For a brief time she and her son Joey lived in Greece.

                                                                   * * *

Today is Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. As you may know, in 1941, Japanese war planes bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, sinking ships and killing and injuring many American sailors. This led to the United States entering World War II.

Saturday, December 5, 2015



December marks the seventh anniversary of this blog. I plan to post a lot of new content in 2016.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Saturday, November 28, 2015

George Benson, Guitarist And Autobiographer

I'm looking forward to reading guitar virtuoso George Benson's recently published book, Benson: The Autobiography, written with Alan Goldsher (Da Capo Press, 2014).

I'm particularly interested in what he has to say about the recording sessions for Breezin' and In Flight, two of my favorite jazz recordings as well as what it was like collaborating with fellow guitar virtuoso Earl Klugh whose career I've been following since his emergence on the music scene in 1976 with his self-titled recording, Earl Klugh, on the Blue Note label.

I hope Klugh will also write his autobiography.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


I'm planning to write a blog post regarding the "Love Not Hate" rally that was held outside the homophobic ATLAH Church in Harlem on November 23, 2015. Emotions were high that night on both sides.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Gay Gossip Columnist

One book I plan to read for the second time is Mike Connolly and the Manly Art of Hollywood Gossip by Val Holley (McFarland & Co., 2003).

Connolly, a columnist for the Hollywood Reporter in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, was a political conservative and a staunch anti-Communist. He was also a gay man.

It's been a few years since I last read the book but I vaguely recall the author depicting Connolly as closeted and homophobic towards other gay men, especially those in Hollywood who were in the public eye like actor Rock Hudson and director George Cukor. Those traits would not be too far off the mark for a gay man living and working during those extremely closeted and homophobic times.

I would love to see a documentary film  made about the life and times of Mike Connolly. It would give us a behind-the-scenes look at gay Hollywood back then, warts and all, told from many different points of view, gay and straight.

Saturday, November 21, 2015



A reminder: There will be a "Love Not Hate" rally in front of the ATLAH World Missionary Church in Harlem on Monday, November 23, 2015, from 6:30p.m.-7:30 p.m. The church is located at 123rd Street and Lenox Avenue.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

For The Monk At Amorgos

He is magnificent, this monk, this Greek Orthodox monk in finery, so severe on his horse matching his will and grace and soul, one with him, placing his black-booted foot into a stirrup.

I seem to remember just the gaze of his clear eyes set in a handsome face; you dare not ask to take his photograph; and could you anyway capture such a fierce spirit on a Kodakcolor slide?

Souls cannot be trapped on print of any kind.

                                                         ---Velma Jean Robinson Reeb

Reeb, a former resident of Manhattan's Upper West Side, now resides in Portland, Oregon. For a brief time, she and her son lived in Greece.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

A Famous Photographer On Photography

"Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still."--Dorothea Lange (1895-1965)

Saturday, November 7, 2015

My First Trip To Philadelphia, 1985

It was thirty years ago this past September that I was invited by Joe Beam to a poetry reading in Philadelphia featuring Essex Hemphill and Pat Parker (both, like Joe, now deceased). It was my first trip to Philadelphia (I got there via Amtrak). It was also at this time that Joe showed me the typescript of his groundbreaking anthology about black gay men, In the Life. I became a contributor to the book.

A year or so earlier, Joe sent me the book's Introduction. He wanted me to read it and make any suggestions. I remember it being very long. I'm sure I made several suggestions but the only one that sticks out is my suggestion that he begin the Introduction at a particular point in the text. He took my advice which is why the Intro begins where it does.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Men Of The Vale

I'm looking forward to obtaining a copy of Thomas Roma's In the Vale of Cashmere (powerHouse Books, $30), a collection of photos of the landscape in the Vale of Cashmere in Brooklyn's Prospect Park as well as the black and Hispanic gay and bisexual men who frequent this popular cruising area.

I first learned of this book (and the Vale of Cashmere) when I saw a photo essay by Roma called "The Men of the Vale" that appeared in the Sunday Review section of the New York Times (October 11, 2015).

Roma, the director of the photography program at the Columbia University School of the Arts and a heterosexual, stated in his essay that he "photographed the landscape between 2008 and 2011 and introduced myself to the men I encountered. I'd ask them if I could make a portrait for a possible book....Many declined, but many said yes, and I was grateful every time they did."

In the Vale of Cashmere is Roma's tribute to his friend Carl, who died of AIDS in 1991 and was a frequent visitor to that section of the park.

An exhibition of Thomas Roma's photos can be viewed at the Steven Kasher Gallery, 515 West 26th Street, Manhattan, until December 19, 2015.

Monday, November 2, 2015

ATLAH, The Church Of Hate

Along Lenox Avenue in Harlem, from 110th to 125th Streets, there are numerous churches, of various denominations, large and small. The only one that consistently spews hatred toward gays and lesbians is the ATLAH Church. (The letters in the name could easily stand for Always Target Lesbians And Homosexuals.)

The latest homophobic rant on its outdoor message board has this warning: "YOU SODOMITES AND FREAKS HAVE SOILED HARLEM BUT YE SHALL BE MOVED. PAYBACK IS A BITCH. PSALMS 37:10-23."

In response to this demagoguery, an organization called Harlem Against Violence and Homophobia has scheduled a "Love Not Hate" rally that is to take place in front of the church. The rally will be on November 23, 2015, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.

For further information, go to

Thursday, October 29, 2015



Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Thursday, October 22, 2015



Daylight Saving Time will end the week after next. Don't forget to turn your clocks back when the time comes to do so.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Photographing Poverty In America

Lining the stone wall outside the grounds of the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in Morningside Heights, on the 110th Street side, is a gallery of a dozen photos, all of them in black and white, that were taken by photographer Matt Black. Between each group of three photos is a plaque with a quotation from an impoverished person from one of the towns visited by Black, like this quote from a worker in the strawberry fields of Santa Maria, California, in Santa Barbara County: "I had no shoes when I worked in the fields. I used to sleep by a tree. I barely made money for food." (Ten thousand people work in the strawberry fields of Santa Maria, earning $1.25 per box picked.)

These photos are reminiscent of those taken by famed photographer Dorothea Lange during the Great Depression.

Called "Geography of Poverty," Black, a native Californian, allows passersby to "see not only what America looks like to the 45 million living in poverty," notes the mission statement  posted on  the wall at the beginning and end of the photo exhibition,"but also that poverty is inextricable from issues of migration, land use, industry, and the environment."

"Geography of Poverty" is a project that Black and the cable news channel MSNBC have collaborated on. Most of the photos on display outside the church were taken in California, while the rest document poverty in such places as Hosmer, South Dakota;York, Pennsylvania; and El Paso, Texas.

One photo that was striking is of a long black arm wrinkled by age. Attached to it is a hand clutching the top of what looks like a sawed off telephone pole or tree. What really intrigued me is where the caption said the photo was taken--Allensworth, California, in Tulare County. I first learned of this town in a Washington Post article published more than twenty years ago.The article revealed that Allensworth was founded in the early twentieth century by African Americans, some of whom were teachers, doctors, and other professionals.(This is a part of California history I was never told about when I attended school in Los Angeles and its suburb Compton.) Today, according to the caption, the population is 451 and 54 percent of its inhabitants are living below the poverty level.

It is very fitting that these photos are on display where they are. Just a few feet away are a group of mostly homeless Hispanic men, who have formed a camp along the side of the church.

Also worth noting is the church's construction of two 15-story residential towers on its 113th Street side.The new buildings will have 320 luxury apartments and only 80 affordable ones; the church's first residential building was built about six years ago and faces Morningside Park, at 110th Street and Morningside Drive.

In 2012, plans to construct the two buildings sparked a neighborhood controversy and a petition drive* was started by area residents who feared that the buildings would block their view of the cathedral. Apparently the church administrators took heed. The buildings are now situated so that the cathedral, which is a tourist attraction, on the 113th Street side, can be viewed between them. Not a perfect solution, but better than not being able to see that side of the cathedral at all.

Could it be that the church administrators have self-consciously mounted this photo exhibition to remind their critics of their awareness of and concern for the poor, especially those who are literally at the church's doorstep each night?

*Disclosure: I live near the cathedral and signed a petition opposing the new construction.

Note: This is the full text of the previously abbreviated version.
Matt Black's photos can be viewed at

Monday, October 19, 2015

Looking For Work Via Television

On city-owned WNYE/Channel 25 in New York, there was a weekly program called Job Hunt that aired right after the 2008 financial crisis that caused mass layoffs and housing foreclosures across the country.

Each week different guests would discuss a particular job-search topic and critique the job-search strategy of that week's job seeker who was someone the New York Daily News had profiled in its Monday career section.

As the job seeker spoke of his or her job search goals, they would appear on-camera from different angles. This approach reminded me of the time my mother went on TV seeking employment as a domestic worker. This was in the early 1960s when we were living in Los Angeles.

She went on the John J. Anthony Show, which was an advice show broadcast from a studio at 1313 North Vine Street in Hollywood. I think the show was on Channel 9, KHJ-TV. As I sat in the studio, I could see her image on the black-and-white monitors. They wouldn't show her whole face, unlike the Job Hunt broadcasts. The camera would focus on her hands, her mouth, maybe a side view as she was being interviewed by John J. Anthony's wife. Mrs. Anthony was so short that she had to sit on a telephone book behind a large desk.

In a far corner of the studio was the psychic Criswell, who might have been a regular feature of the show. His famous line before each prediction was "I predict...." Years later when I saw the biopic Ed Wood, about the world's worst film director, and starring Johnny Depp as Wood, the actor portraying Criswell brought me back to the time I saw him in the flesh.

After my mother's TV appearance, I vaguely recall her receiving a few job offers. You could say that John J. Anthony (1902-1970) whose real name was Lester Kroll and who at one time had been an actor, was doing back then a forerunner to today's video resume.

I often wonder if that particular show was recorded and if so, does it exist in some vault somewhere? For all I know, it might be on YouTube, like everything else these days.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Village Voice Is 60

The Village Voice celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. The weekly New York-based alternative newspaper, which was once the editorial home of such notables as political columnists Nat Hentoff and Alexander Cockburn, cartoonist Jules Feiffer, film critic Andrew Sarris, and others, was co-founded in 1955 by Norman Mailer.

Disclosure: I worked there as a freelance proofreader in 1980 and again from 1982 to 1983.

When I worked at the Village Voice, a reader could buy it at a newsstand. Today, it's available for free every Wednesday in large red plastic curbside boxes all around the city. (In Harlem, I have often seen these boxes turned on their sides and used as seats by neighborhood men.)

Happy 60th anniversary, Village Voice! May you continue publishing for another sixty years.

Monday, October 5, 2015

A Nigerian Short Story Heard On The Radio

I heard the Nigerian writer Teju Cole's short story, "Modern Girls," read on public radio's Selected Shorts via New York's WNYC on September 13, 2015. It is set in a school for girls in Nigeria during the early 1970s, around the time of the Biafran war. The quality of Cole's writing is so good that I want to read the story myself  as well as his other work, both fiction and nonfiction.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Lena Horne, Cosmetics Entrepreneur

I was cleaning out some old suitcases that once belonged to my late mother and I found two or three cosmetics bottles with Lena Horne's name on each of  the beige and cream-colored labels.

Lena Horne, a major African-American star of stage, screen, and records, had her own cosmetics line in the 1950s and/or 1960s long before current celebrities like Halle Berry and Beyonce ever did. No other black entertainers of that time, as far as I know, had products produced using their name. The one exception that comes to mind would be boxer Archie Moore whose name and likeness appeared on half-gallon milk containers.

I don't know if her cosmetics line is mentioned in any Horne biographies but it would be fascinating to learn how this business came to be and whether or not she was influenced by Madame C.J. Walker, the African-American hair care products entrepreneur. It's the sort of story that should be of interest to a national publication like Black Enterprise or Essence for its historical significance if nothing else.

In the meantime, I'm saving the bottles as collector's items.

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Celestial Meaning?

I  recently found among some discarded books a copy of When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead: Useful Stories from a Persuasive Man by movie producer Jerry Weintraub with Rich Cohen (Twelve Books,2010). Weintraub died at age 77 on July 6, 2015. I found his book on September 26, which would have been his 78th birthday. Does finding this book when I did have a celestial meaning?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Before I Die...

In front of Harlem's First Corinthian Baptist Church, there are three blackboards side by side. On the middle blackboard is the phrase "Before I Die..." in large letters. From top to bottom, in two columns each, the words "Before I Die I Want To" are repeated with a blank space beside each entry for passersby to fill in their life's goals in colored chalk.

"Before I Die I Want To Write A Book," wrote one person; "Before I Die I Want To Fly Around The World," wrote another; "Before I Die I Want To See My Children Grow Up Happy," wrote still another.

Aside from reminding passersby of their own mortality, this project clearly encourages its participants to set goals, not be afraid to publicly announce them, and strive to attain them.

As the saying goes, if you can conceive it, you can achieve it.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Coloring Books Are No Longer For Kids Only

Think coloring books are just for kids? Think again. The Christian Science Monitor Weekly magazine recently published an article titled "Adults Rediscover the Pleasure of Coloring Books."

"The act of placing color to paper," reports the magazine in its August 10, 2015 issue,"has proved to be a sought after tactile antidote in this distracted age of social media." In addition, "many find coloring to be a relaxing, stress-free experience." So much so that coloring books for adults "have suddenly catapulted to the top of bestseller lists" while at the same time coloring clubs inspired by the Facebook group Ladies Coloring Club have mushroomed across the country.

The idea of adults indulging in coloring books is not such a bizarre thing. After all, comic book/graphic novel publishers hire specialists called colorists to add color to an illustrator's work. And these colorists are definitely not kids.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

On Sharing Books

"[A]s a rule I don't believe in keeping books. After I have read, reread, and reread a book it seems sinful to keep such a reservoir of fun and knowledge fallow on a shelf. Books are meant to be read, and if I'm not reading them then someone else should get the opportunity."--Walter Mosley, from By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review, edited and with an introduction by Pamela Paul (Henry Holt, 2014).

Monday, September 14, 2015

A Tale Of Three Quarrels

In the Notes section of James McGrath Morris's Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press (Amistad/HarperCollins, 2015), he quotes from an article that was part of a series called "Industry USA" that Payne wrote for the Chicago Defender in 1951. The series regarded postwar employment of African Americans in Chicago.

A plant manager (presumably white) is quoted as saying, "When two white people have a quarrel, it's just a quarrel. If two Negroes quarrel, it's a disturbance; but if a white person and a Negro quarrel, it becomes an 'incident.'"

Sad to say, more than sixty years later, that statement still applies.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Combating Monkey Butt

The first time I became aware of the malady called monkey butt was when it was mentioned in a Duluth Trading Company catalogue that offered a product that went by the name "Anti Monkey Butt Powder."

Monkey butt was described in the catalogue copy as "a term coined by bikers  to refer to soreness, itching and redness from long hours on a bike seat." (Presumably horseback riders, bicyclists, truck drivers, and writers (?) are similarly afflicted.)

The mention of this strangely named condition caused me to think back to the early 1960s when my second oldest brother Richard and his traveling companion nicknamed Lucky (who was also our sister's boyfriend at the time), crossed the country on a motorcycle from New York to Los Angeles, where my mother and I were living.

When Richard and Lucky got to Needles, California, the bike broke down a la the scene in the movie Motorcycle Diaries in which the motorcycles of Che Guevara and his traveling companion break down as they travel the length of South America. Richard asked our mother to wire them some money so they could continue on to L.A. She did and they safely completed the journey.

I now regret not interviewing my brother, who died in 1989, about that three-thousand-mile trek. I wonder what sights and adventures they encountered along the way. I also wonder how they combated the dreaded symptoms of monkey butt.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Movies Around The Clock

In New York City, there are various establishments that are open 24 hours: supermarkets, laundromats, gas stations, newsstands, drugstore chains like Rite Aid, to name a few. But there are no 24-hour theatres. There are a couple of theatres in the city that have midnight screenings during the weekends, but that is not the same as having 24-hour screenings.

Some people may think that in this age of the Internet, DVD/Blu-ray disc players, cable and satellite TV that a 24-hour movie theatre is unnecessary. I disagree. There are times when at 2 AM cabin fever strikes and you need  to get out of the house. What better way to escape cabin fever than to catch a flick at the admittedly ungodly hour of 2 AM or 3 AM alongside other similarly afflicted patrons.

Showing movies (classic and contemporary along with short films) around the clock would help the bottom lines of many theatres as well as give movie lovers an opportunity to make new friends among fellow cinephiles, especially in the wee hours of the morning, thereby sparking cinema-related (and other) conversations.

That brings me to a photo I saw in an issue of the Christian Science Monitor Weekly magazine (December 22, 2014) showing a movie theatre in a Moscow suburb with several rows of beds. Beside each bed was a nightstand on top of which was a small lamp. This theatre, noted the caption, "replaced standard seats with bedroom furniture, including 17 double beds," all of which were supplied by the furniture retailer IKEA. An American movie theatre with such amenities might lure a lot of people to post-post-midnight screenings.

This 24-hour movie theatre idea is worth a try. And who knows, it might catch on nationwide.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Barack Obama Is NOT From Kenya

For Black History Month in 1991, St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch, the maker of Budweiser beer, published Black Facts Booklet which was small enough to fit into a shirt pocket or purse.

Among a handful of glaring errors was a factual one that would have delighted today's conservative pundits: "Barack Obama," noted the booklet, "the twenty-eight-year-old law student from Kenya [emphasis mine] became the first black president of the Harvard Law Review." (And later the first black president of the United States.) First of all, Obama would have been closer to thirty years old in 1991 and secondly, he was born in the state of Hawaii, not Kenya, which would make him an American citizen and eligible to run for president. His father, on the other hand, was the one born in Kenya. He met Obama's mother when he was an exchange student in Hawaii.

So the Black Facts Booklet was not as factual as the title would have readers believe.

Friday, August 28, 2015

William F. Buckley's Aboveground Bike Lane Proposal

Conservative pundit and National Review founder and editor William F. Buckley, Jr. unsuccessfully ran for mayor of New York City in 1965. Kevin M. Schultz in his riveting book, Buckley and Mailer: The Difficult Friendship That Shaped the Sixties (W.W. Norton, 2015), writes that Buckley "proposed cutting down traffic by building a huge aerial bike lane twenty feet above the ground and twenty feet wide, above Second Avenue from First Street all the way to One Hundred Twenty-Fifth. All this biking would cut down traffic and get New Yorkers healthy."

Today there are bike lanes throughout the five boroughs as well as bike rentals made available via CitiBikes. So Buckley was about fifty years ahead of his time. The proposed aerial bike lane on Second Avenue, however, seems a bit preposterous.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Correcting A Museum Error

 I wrote and e-mailed the following letter to Stephen Petrus, the curator of the "Folk City" exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York on August 19, 2015. This exhibition focuses on the folk music scene in New York in the 1950s and 1960s:

Stephen Petrus, Ph.D
Museum of the City of New York
1220 5th Avenue
New York, NY 10029

Dear Mr. Petrus:

In the "Mapping Folk City,1935-1965" section of the "Folk City" exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York, I noticed a factual error. The address of Pacifica radio station WBAI was given as 359 East 62nd Street, which was an old church building. As someone who became involved with WBAI in the late '60s, I can tell you that the station did not move to that location until sometime in the mid to late '70s.

In 1968 when I produced two half-hour black history programs, WBAI was located in a cramped town house on East 39th Street, near Park Avenue. From there it relocated (very briefly) to 62nd Street, then to 505 8th Avenue, and finally to 120 Wall Street (alas an address I never got to visit).

The station is now in Brooklyn after operating for several months out of City College's campus station WHCR [in Harlem] due to its evacuation from the Wall Street area after experiencing the wrath of Hurricane Sandy.

Sincerely yours,
Charles Michael Smith

P.S. A heartfelt thank you for putting together such a beautiful and informative exhibition. I hope a lot of people get to see it before it closes next year.

Note: The blog post about the "Folk City" exhibition was published on August 1, 2015.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Farewell To Novelist John A. Williams

RIP John A. Williams, the African-American novelist, who wrote The Man Who Cried I AmSons of Darkness, Sons of Light; The Junior Bachelor Society (later made into a TV miniseries called The Sophisticated Gents), among other books. He died July 3, 2015 at the age of 89. The headline on his New York Times obituary called him an "Underrated Novelist."

Ta-Nehisi Coates, James Baldwin's Heir?

One writer on the Internet has called Ta-Nehisi Coates, the author of the bestselling memoir Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau, 2015), The New James Baldwin (TNJB). A lot of critics think he is, too. The trouble with this label is that it tends to pigeonhole a black writer, especially one who writes nonfiction. And since Baldwin wrote mainly about race and race relations in America, and was a firebrand on those issues, the TNJB label says to Coates, a gifted writer, that he should write about race and only race.

There are, however, some black writers like Stephen L. Carter, Malcolm Gladwell, and Hilton Als who have thankfully managed to sidestep this situation to a large extent. Black writers should not be discouraged from writing about race when it is necessary but no one should expect them to be One Note Johnnys.

 Global warming, nuclear proliferation, and other important issues affect black writers as well and these are subjects they should be invited to participate in discussing.

John Hope Franklin, for instance, wrote about black history but he also cultivated orchids in his spare time. How many journalists interviewed him in depth about this hobby? None, it's safe to bet.

 I wanted to interview Gordon Parks, the noted photojournalist, film director, and autobiographer. And to get away from the racial angle, I suggested to a USA Today editor an interview with Parks exploring his views on aging. The idea was shot down. I regret not pursuing it anyway.

 It's the 21st century and black people have other things on their minds besides racism, discrimination, and what white people think of them.

Thursday, August 13, 2015


The blog post titled "Folk Music In New York" that was published on August 1, 2015 has been revised.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Farewell To Novelist E. L. Doctorow

RIP E.L. Doctorow, the author of Ragtime, World's Fair, and other historical fiction. He died, according to the New York Times Book Review, on July 21, 2015 at age 84.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Folk Music In New York

After seeing the "Folk City" exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York this past Wednesday, and subsequently browsing through a display copy of its print companion, Folk Music: New York and the American Folk Music Revival by Stephen Petrus and Ronald Cohen (Oxford University Press, 2015), I want very much to read the book and learn even more about this exciting and influential period in music history when, to quote an exhibition poster, "folk music enjoyed unprecedented popularity in the United States." This popularity continued until 1964 when the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Herman's Hermits, the Dave Clark Five, and other British groups arrived during what was then called the British Invasion, which dominated the pop charts.

"Folk City," beautifully arranged in an attractive black and red color scheme, traces the roots of folk music all the way to the 1920s and is grouped around such themes as "Becoming Folk City, 1948-1958" and "The Politics of Folk." As an overview of the folk music scene in New York, it spotlights the entrepreneurs, musicians, venues, and songs that brought it into existence. This is done through the display of such items as photos, videos, record album covers, and artifacts like Leadbelly's 12-string guitar from 1937 and the sign from the Greenwich Village performance venue called Gerdes Folk City. Walking around the exhibition room, a museum visitor will feel as if he or she has taken a giant leap into the past.

One interesting feature of "Folk City" is the ability to hear songs that were recorded by Odetta; Peter, Paul, and Mary; Pete Seeger; Richie Havens; Harry Belafonte, and others. There are about four listening stations at different locations in the exhibition room. At these spots, one can put on a pair of recording-studio-quality headphones, and by pushing one of about eight buttons, hear songs like "Day-O" by Harry Belafonte and "If I Had a Hammer" by Peter, Paul, and Mary played in their entirety.

Also on display is a large wall map of Manhattan titled "Mapping Folk City, 1935-1965" that pinpoints the location of various record companies, organizations, radio stations, residences of musicians, and performance venues during those years.

On the evening I visited the museum, I attended one of the two mini walking lectures given that day by author and exhibition curator Stephen Petrus. As a handful of museum visitors followed him around the room, he highlighted important information about the period, giving some historical context, and explained New York's role in helping to popularize folk music throughout America and the world.

The "Folk City" exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York closes in January 2016.

Note:This blog post has been revised.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Divedapper, A New Poetry Website

While browsing through this past Sunday's New York Times Book Review (July 26), I came upon a quote from an interview with poet Frank Bidart*(born 1939) that was published by Divedapper, a website I had never heard of. My curiosity caused me to immediately go to the site on my mobile phone. I learned that Divedapper is "a new project devoted exclusively to featuring interviews with major voices in contemporary poetry."

Kaveh Akbar, the site's founder and editor, has promised readers that "[a]ll site content will be free forever to anyone with an internet connection."

Divedapper's name is from "a type of grebe (a duckish water bird)" that was referred to in a Shakespeare poem.

*On another website, new poems by Frank Bidart are described as "powerful" ones that "wrestle with the poet's sexuality." That phrase signaled to me that the poet is a gay man.

Divedapper is at

Saturday, July 25, 2015

English Speakers Need Not Apply

I have seen Help Wanted signs posted on the windows of several restaurants in New York advertising openings for a delivery man or a dishwasher but in Spanish only. Such signs give an English-speaking job seeker the idea that they need not bother to apply. To me this is discrimination. If it is against the law to discriminate on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin, etc., then why are these signs permitted?

Monday, July 20, 2015

More Books Rescued

True book lover that I am, I rescued two more books a few days ago. I found them among several books discarded by a curbside book vendor near Union Square Park in Manhattan. The books I found were The Sisterhood:The True Story of the Women Who Changed the World by Marcia Cohen (Simon & Schuster, 1988), a group biography of feminists Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Germaine Greer, and Kate Millett and Our Crowd: The Great Jewish Families of New York by Stephen Birmingham (Harper & Row, 1967). Later that evening,near Columbia University, I rescued another book that was lying on top of a city trash receptacle. It too was among other discarded books. The book I rescued was Webster's Concise World Atlas (Barnes and Noble, 1995), a very useful little book.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Four-Eyed Felon

Crime Does Not Pay was a series of true-crime stories told in comic-book form. Dark Horse Publishing has reissued Issues 50-53 in one volume. These stories were originally published in 1947 and come complete with ads for such items as boomerangs and filmstrip projectors.

In Issue 50, one of the criminals profiled was Danny Iamascia (1902-1931), who was the bodyguard for gangsters Ciro Terranova and Dutch Schultz. This particular profile was very amusing.

Iamascia, called in the story the "four-eyed felon," was extremely near-sighted and was "blind as a bat," to quote one of his colleagues, when he was without his glasses which frequently fell off his face. I can identify with that situation since that has happened to me on more than one occasion. Whenever Iamascia's glasses would fall off, he became the gangster who couldn't shoot straight making him a danger even to his cohorts.

Iamascia became the brunt of jokes by other gangsters and his eyeglasses mishaps are emphasized as a source of humor by the comic-book writer. You would think that he would be more of a liability to his employers than an asset and that he would follow another line of work that didn't involve life and death.

I have the feeling that the comic-book writer either exaggerated or made up the eyeglasses problem to poke fun at Iamascia. Looking up his bio on the Internet, I could find no mention of his eyesight or his eyeglasses frequently falling off.

 After he was killed by two New York City detectives in 1931, his funeral had a massive turnout, a fact the comic-book writer failed to mention probably because  such adulation would have undermined the "crime does not pay" theme of the series.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Don't Insult The Alligator's Mouth

The following unpublished letter-to-the-editor was submitted to the New York Daily News's "Voice of the People" via e-mail on July 6, 2015:

Dear Editor:

Re: the young man in Texas who jumped into a body of water containing an alligator despite pleas by onlookers not to ("Man Teased Gator Before Fatal Attack," July 5).

This tragic event brought to mind an African proverb that the young man if he had heard of it should have heeded: "Until you have crossed the river, don't insult the alligator's mouth." In other words, when in the presence of danger, proceed with caution until you are out of harm's way.

Sincerely yours,
Charles Michael Smith

Note: I remember seeing this proverb in a paperback anthology of Negro literature edited by Langston Hughes.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Movies Alfresco Are Not For Me

This summer all around New York there will be movie screenings in the city's parks and on rooftops. Many of these events will be free (including the popcorn).

But I doubt that I will be an attendee. They would remind me too much of the drive-in theatres I went to when I was a child in Southern California. Watching a movie on a big screen under the stars never appealed to me. I've always preferred going to what Variety, the entertainment trade publication, has called hardtop theatres, with their plush seats, air conditioning, movie posters, and the smell of hot buttered popcorn and hot dogs.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the smell of grass, the chirping of birds, and the occasional gust of wind. But not while I'm trying to enjoy a movie.They would only serve as distractions.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Rescuing More Books Found On The Street

This past Saturday I found several books that someone threw out. They probably were moving and had to get rid of them. The books were in a pile at the curb on 113th Street near 8th Avenue. I couldn't take them all (I already have a lot of books in my apartment) and only took the ones for which I had a particular interest. The  books I took home were Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization: Volume 1: The Fabrication of Ancient Greece 1785-1985 by Martin Bernal (Rutgers University Press, 1987); The Best American Non-Required Reading 2003, edited by Dave Eggers (Houghton Mifflin, 2003); and Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York by Luc Sante (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, paperback edition, 2003). Since I have an interest in New York history, the  latter book really caught my attention.

It's a good thing I rescued these books when I did because later there was heavy rainfall.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Humphrey Bogart's F.Y. Fund

In 1934, Humphrey Bogart starred on Broadway as a gangster in Robert Sherwood's The Petrified Forest. The play (later to become a movie also starring Bogart) was so successful, it allowed Bogart to put aside some money in what he called the F.Y. fund. (The F.Y. no doubt stood for Fuck You.) The F.Y. fund, writes Stefan Kanfer in Tough Without a Gun: The Life and Afterlife of Humphrey Bogart (Vintage Books/Random House, 2011), was "money that would give him the freedom to spurn trivial roles from now on."

We should all follow Bogart's example and establish a F.Y. fund. It would be the perfect safety net.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Jury Fraud, A Threat or Not?

Cornelia "Libby" Winslow is a novelist and the protagonist in Laura Van Wormer's 1995 novel, Jury Duty (Crown Publishing). Libby is also juror number three and brings up an issue that has never crossed my mind and, unlike jury tampering, never gets reported on in the news--jury fraud.

After recently serving two days as a potential juror, her thoughts struck a chord with me: "Not once in this entire process had anyone ever asked her for an ID. For all they knew, Cornelia Winslow could have paid someone to show up at jury duty for her. Then she wondered what would happen if someone was found not guilty in a trial, only to find out later that one of the jurors had been an impostor. What happened then?"

At a time when many state and congressional legislators are clamoring about voter fraud and advocating that voters show photo ID before they are allowed to vote, this particular issue doesn't seem to be of any concern to them.

It would be interesting to learn if jury fraud has ever happened in the history of American jurisprudence. And if so, what were the consequences?

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A Letter Of Recommendation

The following is a letter of recommendation that I wrote in 1995 regarding the Oakland, California-based writer Kheven LaGrone when he was applying for the graduate program at Emerson College in Boston.

Dear Applicant Reviewer:

I am the editor of an essay anthology Words of Fire [later renamed Fighting Words] to which Kheven Lee LaGrone is a contributor. His essay, "Beneath the Veneer," which explores the issues of sexual and racial identity, is  a combination of Mr. LaGrone's experiences and readings. It exhibits his ability to deal with complex ideas and understand how they interconnect with other ideas and issues.

His essay will be one of the highlights of the book because it holds no punches as it sheds light on its subject.

I originally saw this article in an issue of SBC, a Los Angeles-based magazine, about three years ao. The issues discussed stayed with me. I would love to see this essay made into a good, controversial short subject film about sexual and racial identity.

I have had the opportunity to read other pieces by him and see the great promise he has as a media professional. Mr. LaGrone's writings reveal someone who has great potential as a hard-hitting journalist and as a profound thinker. We need more like him who can go beneath the surface of current events.

I believe Mr. LaGrone will be an asset to your graduate program in particular and mass media in general.

Sincerely yours,
Charles Michael Smith

Monday, June 15, 2015

Bill Clinton, Gentrifier?

In Edward Klein's riveting nonfiction book, The Feud: The Clintons vs. the Obamas (Regnery Publishing, 2014), he wrote that when Obama campaign advisors David Axelrod and Jim Messina visited Clinton's Harlem office to get his support in reelecting Obama, Clinton "pointed out that Harlem had experienced a renaissance since he moved his post-presidential office there, and that he was largely responsible for Harlem's revived economy and gentrification."

The truth of the matter is that gentrification in Harlem was happening long before Clinton set foot there or in the White House.

New York magazine, in its July 23, 1979 issue, ran a story by James Mannion called "Who Will Inhabit Harlem?" The article stated that "as middle-class blacks have come to Harlem, so too have whites. Bankers and realtors report that over the past three years, young white families have begun buying homes in Harlem."

Furthermore, "Harlemites are asking themselves how many more whites are going to move in and what that will mean for the most visible black community in America."

For Bill Clinton to puff out his chest and claim that his presence in Harlem brought about its economic prosperity and gentrification is nothing more than hubris.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

A Police Officer Under Stress

Naked City, a one-hour New York-based police drama that aired on ABC (1960-1963), had an episode that I haven't seen in years but is still very memorable. The episode, "Today the Man Who Kills Ants Is Coming," aired March 7, 1962, and guest starred John Larch as a uniformed police officer whose mind snaps after a button on his uniform coat pops off. He later returns to the precinct house and at gunpoint takes his fellow officers hostage.

I don't know if such a thing has ever happened or could ever happen but that episode underscored the tremendous stress members of law enforcement endure daily and showed how it might make them act in an irrational way.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Somali Food Comes To Harlem

A new Somali restaurant recently opened in Harlem. Safari, which is family-owned, is the only Somali restaurant in New York City, according to Adam, its manager.

I am looking forward to doing a feature story about it for this blog.

Monday, June 8, 2015

A Gay American In Paris

The format of the following script was based on CBS News' American Treasury 60-second between-daytime-program spots that were broadcast in the late 1980s. They highlighted famous American men and women and Americana.

I wrote this script and one other nearly ten years ago with the then-new gay channel LOGO in mind. I don't recall if I actually submitted  them to the cable channel. I do recall talking to someone at LOGO's California offices via phone about writing such scripts.

LOGO like CBS is owned by Viacom.

American Outlooks--Program 2
Writer: Charles M. Smith
June 18, 2005

            (CELEBRITY NAME):

             I'm______with American Outlooks. His book be-                                                                                    came the first of its kind by a black American author.
             Who he was, after this.

            (CELEBRITY NAME): CONTD:

           James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room is the story of two 
           gay lovers, one American, the other Italian, in post-war
           Paris. Baldwin was advised not to publish the ground-
           breaking novel for fear that its homosexual theme 
           would ruin his career. Baldwin ignored the advice and                                                                            the book, published in 1956, became a gay American

CLOSING LOGO: :02 SECS:                  
            Learn more about James Baldwin in your local 

Note: I had to change the formatting of the script to make it more readable on the blog.


Saturday, June 6, 2015



Rejoice! Summer, my favorite season, is almost here!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Violence In America

The following letter-to-the-editor was sent via e-mail to the Metro New York newspaper on May 28, 2015:

Dear Editor:

In retired police sergeant Sal Giarratani's letter (Metro, May 27), he expressed the belief that "a culture of violence...permeates communities of color." This view is one-sided. It also ignores American history as well as the '60s saying that "Violence is as American as apple pie."

The history books are full of examples of American violence: the Hamilton-Burr duel, gunfights in the American West, gangland slayings, the massacre of Native Americans, witch-hunts, Ku Klux Klan lynchings, police violence against labor organizers, presidential assassinations, to name a few.

And if you add to that the glorification of firearms in the movies and on television and the subsequent bloodlust and carnage on screen, you will see that communities of color are not and have never been the only segment of society plagued by violence.

Sincerely yours,
Charles Michael Smith

Note: This letter was published in the Metro New York newspaper on May 29, 2015.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Monday, May 18, 2015

Invitees To A Literary Dinner Party

Here's a fun question. Historian Joseph J. Ellis (The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789) was asked in the New York Times Book Review's "By the Book" feature (May 17, 2015) which three writers he would invite if he were hosting a literary dinner party. His choices: "For sheer intellectual fireworks, Joseph Brodsky, Susan Sontag and Gore Vidal." He would also invite Mark Twain who would "show up for dessert to assure we all ended up laughing at ourselves."

That got me to thinking who I would invite to a literary dinner party. My choices would be James Baldwin, Chester Himes, and Zora Neale Hurston.  All three were highly opinionated firebrands. I would sit back and enjoy hearing what they had to say about race, world travel, book publishing, and any other subject they cared to discuss.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Queen Latifah As Bessie Smith In A Made-For-TV Biopic

The multi-talented Queen Latifah stars as blues singer Bessie Smith in the biopic Bessie. It premieres tonight  on HBO. (Mo'Nique co-stars as Smith's fellow blues singer Ma Rainey.) I learned of the film several weeks ago when I saw an ad for it on the side of a city bus.

Bessie Smith, who was called "The Empress of the Blues," died in a car accident in 1937 at the age of  43.

Unfortunately I won't be able to watch the film because I don't subscribe to cable TV. But I look forward to seeing it when it comes out on DVD.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Hollywood Romance Story

On the table in front of the Harlem Children's Zone's Baby College on Seventh Avenue were several books, all offered for free. A sign in the window cautioned passersby to limit themselves to one book.
I chose Audrey and Bill: A Romantic Biography of Audrey Hepburn and William Holden by Edward Z. Epstein, a celebrity biographer. To my surprise it was an "Advance Uncorrected Proof" for a book published last month (April). I seldom come upon free books published that recently.

Hepburn and Holden's short-lived romance, which began when they co-starred in Billy Wilder's Sabrina, should be fascinating reading.

Saturday, May 9, 2015



Happy Mother's Day!

Monday, May 4, 2015

A History Lesson

This unpublished letter-to-the-editor was sent to the New York Daily News "Voice of the People" via e-mail on May 1, 2015.

Dear Editor:

I don't excuse or condone the actions of the rioters and looters in Baltimore. And Voicer Andrew Keats is correct when he stated that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. "didn't sit at home waiting for an excuse to steal, destroy and riot." However, Keats paints a rose-colored depiction of the civil rights movement and Dr. King's peaceful and nonviolent marches. He overlooks the fact that despite Dr. King's nonviolent protests against social injustice, he was still thought to be a lawbreaker, an agitator, and a Communist dupe, if not an outright Communist, by Southern segregationists, conservative religious leaders, and J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI.

Sincerely yours,
Charles Michael Smith

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Friday, May 1, 2015

Thursday, April 30, 2015



From time to time it's a good idea for readers of this blog to go over past blog posts since I frequently make editing changes to correct factual and grammatical errors or typos.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Remembering Broadcaster Pepsi Charles

The recent passing of historian and Egyptologist Josef ben-Jochannan caused me to wonder what became of Pepsi Charles, a former host and producer at WBAI, the Pacifica listener-supported station in New York. It was on her show that I first heard Dr. ben-Jochannan. I later interviewed him for a class assignment in 1975 when I took an evening course in magazine writing at Hunter College.

In December of that year, I did a one-hour program called "Langston Hughes: The Man and the Writer" for Pepsi Charles' weekly radio show. The guests I invited to speak on Hughes were Raoul Abdul, a former Hughes editorial assistant and at the time a music columnist for the New York Amsterdam News and Milton Meltzer, a friend of Hughes and a biographer. I was supposed to get a copy of the tape but, alas, she never provided one to me.

Doing a Google search, I learned that Pepsi Charles, a resident and community activist in Plainfield, New Jersey, died in 2002.

The Plaintalker II, a hyperlocal blog about Plainfield, in a March 12, 2009 post, had this to say about her: "Pepsi's interests and concerns ranged from cultural advancement of the community, recognition of African history and symbolism, the needs of urban youth, appreciation of all the arts and a deep spirituality that was an example to her friends and acquaintances."

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Nobelist Wole Soyinka's Prostate Cancer Cure?

The banner headline on the front page of the African Sun Times (December 1-7, 2014) announced: "Soyinka: How I Survived Prostate Cancer." Wanting to know how Nigerian playwright/poet/essayist Wole Soyinka achieved this medical miracle, I immediately went to the story, which reported on remarks he made  at a press conference in his hometown of Abeokuta, Nigeria.

According to the article, Soyinka, a 1986 Nobel laureate in literature, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in December of 2013. (Soyinka a few paragraphs later stated it was in November.) He claimed he was cured in October of 2014. But the article neglected to give specifics about Soyinka's treatment other than to quote the 80-year-old luminary as saying "There are many ways of managing cancer; even diet. I have had to drink a lot of water and as many of you know, water and I are not really friends."

He went on to state that "It [prostate cancer] is not a death sentence and it is curable. I have undergone the treatment."

If Soyinka, a brilliant and articulate man, went to the trouble of giving a press conference about his prostate cancer cure, he must have given the attendees more information about his treatment options than was reported in the article. The African Sun Times, published in East Orange, New Jersey, has unfortunately done its readers a disservice by publishing what can only be called shoddy and incomplete journalism.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

An Architect In Harlem

When Percy Charles Griffin was growing up in Mississippi, he was always painting pictures. So much so that his mother told him he was a born architect. She knew, says Griffin, 39, that "I couldn't make any money at painting , so the next thing to that was be an architect." Although at the time Griffin "didn't know what the word 'architecture' meant. When I came up here [New York], I wanted to be an engineer." But math--a subject he was good in during his high school days--became a stumbling block when he got to City College because he had lost interest. He told one of his professors this and he was told to switch his major from engineering to architecture. "There too," recalls Griffin, "I was pathetic."

During his second year at  the college he began to perk up and the attitude of those professors who thought he was wasting his time went from "sympathy to admiration." His scholastic improvement took him to the top of his class.

Griffin, the first in his family to go to college, eventually won an architectural award at City College for his thesis design--a cardboard model of a four-story, block-long , multi-service cultural center that included a 300-seat theatre, art gallery, and restaurant.

Griffin's decision to attend college came after landing a job in the office of the famed architect Philip Johnson, who is responsible for the AT&T Building in Midtown Manhattan. "I went to school because everyone [in Johnson's office] was a college graduate. Princeton, Harvard, all over. I really wanted to complete my education." Johnson, knowing this, made it possible for Griffin to attend school by allowing him to have a flexible work schedule where he could take off "one, three days every week" without deducting "any money from my salary. I was doing regular architectural development, drafting, design development. Same as anyone else. Griffin gives Johnson credit for evaluating his school projects. After graduation in 1972, Griffin took the architecture licensing exam which he passed.

To Percy Griffin, who teaches at the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), architecture is the best of two worlds: aesthetics (how a building will look) and technology (how the building will be built and how well it can stand up to stress from weather, aging, weight, etc.) "It's very artistic. You have to have imagination and then you turn right around with this imagination, understanding the technical part of [architecture], which is the engineering, the structure, the mechanical, the electrical, and energy conservation. It's a mixture of many different fields. Not only the design or the technical but sociology, philosophy, history. I feel that history is a major part of understanding architecture. Where it came from, the different periods it went through. Without the history, you would not have very much depth as an architect."

A majority of Griffin's clients--75 percent to be exact--are black. Most of his projects involve home renovation. He also does design work for churches (such as the cultural and community center at the Thessalonia Baptist Church in the Bronx). Some of his clients include Sylvia's Restaurant on Lenox Avenue and actor Irving Lee of the daytime soap opera The Edge of Night.

Griffin feels, however, that the black community--particularly its leaders--do not make adequate use of "the professionals that are available to them. How many projects that I see going up in Harlem, the Bronx, Chicago, all over and no black architect  [is involved]. [Black architects] could survive pretty well if we could get our ten percent or fifteen percent of the money for construction." He wonders how a black community leader can be a leader without knowing that "it's a hard struggle for black architects."

This excerpt is from an article that was originally published in the Harlem Weekly in 1984. A longer version of this article was posted on November 1, 2012.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Saturday, April 18, 2015

James Baldwin Went To School Here

Yesterday (April 17), I was strolling down Lenox Avenue, near 140th Street, in Harlem, when a school building caught my eye. As I stood across the street from the building I saw carved  into the facade above the entrance the words "Public School 139." It dawned on me that this might be the school that James Baldwin attended in the late 1930s before he moved on to DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx. When I got home, I looked through my Baldwin biographies and confirmed that it was. P.S. 139, also known as  Frederick Douglass Junior High, was where Baldwin became the editor of The Douglass Pilot, the school magazine. It was also where poet Countee Cullen became one of his teachers as well as the faculty advisor to the literary club of which Baldwin was a member.

The five-story, red-brick  building is now the property of the New York City Housing Authority which has transformed the building from a place of learning into a senior citizens residence.

There's a sign on the building that states "Welcome To...P.S. 139 Senior Citizens Building," but I didn't see one commemorating James Baldwin as an alumnus of P.S. 139.

If Baldwin were alive today he would be almost 91 years old and eligible to live in the building where he once attended school.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Three Milestone Events To Revisit

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi, the 50th anniversary of the Watts Riots in Los Angeles, and the 30th anniversary of the police killing of the 17-year-old Harlem honor student Edmund Perry, a case which became the subject of a nonfiction book and a 1991 TV movie called Murder Without Motive: The Edmund Perry Story. This would be a good time to commemorate these events by reading books written about them.

 Two books I own and plan to read are Rivers of Blood, Years of Darkness by Robert Conot (Bantam, 1967), which is about the Watts Riots and Best Intentions: The Education and Killing of Edmund Perry by journalist Robert Sam Anson (Random House, 1987).

 The Chicago Tribune called Conot's book "something Capote's will never be--a work of potentially historic importance." The reviewer was probably talking about Truman Capote's crime classic, In Cold Blood.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

An Early Biography Of James Baldwin

James Baldwin is one of my all-time favorite writers. I can never read enough by or about him. So I was delighted to find sitting on a public library shelf a copy of The Furious Passage of James Baldwin by Fern Marja Eckman. The book was originally published in 1966. It has been referred to in later biographies of Baldwin but I was never able to obtain a copy until now. The new edition was published in 2014.

The back jacket copy states that Eckman, who at the time was a reporter for the then liberal New York Post, "based this book on hours and hours of taped interviews with Baldwin and with the people who are significant in his story" and is "a profile told largely in his own words."

Because this biography was the first one written on Baldwin, his later years, covered in subsequent books, are missing. But nevertheless it gives readers an insight into Baldwin's early life, writing career, and personality. (The first few pages of the biography seem to be psychoanalyzing Baldwin and his rocky relationship with his stepfather.) At this writing, I am still reading the book which is riveting, although it reads more like a memoir than a standard biography.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Maya Angelou, Renaissance Woman

"Singer, actor, activist, reporter, poet, author, screenwriter, director, songwriter, teacher, producer, lecturer, entrepreneur--she's a woman with many hats, and wears them all with style, always looking for a new one to try on."--from Maya Angelou: A Glorious Celebration by Marcia Ann Gillespie, Rosa Johnson Butler, and Richard A. Long (Doubleday, 2008).

Today is the birthday of renaissance woman Maya Angelou (1928-2014). She would have been 87 years old. In Maya Angelou: A Glorious Celebration, her inspiring life story is told via text, photographs, correspondence, press interviews, and excerpts from her writings.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Beware Of April Fools' Day Pranksters!

Today is April Fools' Day. Beware of pranksters!

When I was in junior high school in California, the two days I dreaded most were St. Patrick's Day and April Fools' Day. St. Patrick's Day because if I forgot to wear something green, I would have to endure being pinched all day long and April Fools' Day because classmates would play a prank on me and other classmates when our guards were down.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Gospel Songbook Evokes Memories

Recently I came home from work and found on the floor in the hall a thin red hardback book that had fallen from a pile of books. I picked it up and saw that it was a religious songbook called Gospel Pearls (1921). Browsing through it, I came across several songs I remember hearing my late mother sing around the house when I was young. As a young girl she, like my grandmother, sang in church. At one time she aspired to be a gospel singer. As I read the lyrics of various songs, I could hear her voice in my head singing The Royal Telephone, Eyes on the Sparrow, God Be With You, and Leave It There. These songs brought back pleasant memories.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Saturday, March 21, 2015

When Jury Duty Calls

This week I postponed jury duty for the fourth (and final, I hope) time. I go back in a couple of months. I decided that I will make the experience more tolerable by killing two birds with one stone: take notes about my observations during jury duty and read and review for this blog Jury Duty, a 1996 courtroom thriller by Laura Van Wormer (Crown Publishers) and make contrasts and comparisons.

I began reading Jury Duty when I got it in 1996 but I never got past page 122. My failure to complete the book had nothing to do with it not being interesting. Unfortunately, other things intruded. Now I have an incentive to finish it.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Richard Durham, Black Radio Dramatist In The 1940s

One writer I would like to know more about is Richard Durham (1917-1984), a Chicago-based black radio dramatist (probably the only one in the 1940s) who wrote all the episodes for three series: Destination Freedom, Democracy U.S.A. , and a black soap opera, Here Comes Tomorrow.

During Black History Month this year, Max Schmid, the host of The Golden Age of Radio on New York's Pacifica station WBAI played the episode of Destination Freedom that dramatized Harriet Tubman's role in helping slaves escape to freedom via the Underground Railroad.

If there isn't a biography of Richard Durham, there should be. His work was an important contribution to old-time radio and to people's awareness of and appreciation for the achievements of  people of African descent.

Durham deserves to be as well-known as historians Carter G. Woodson (the father of what was then known as Black History Week) and J. A. Rogers.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

How I Discovered Wiktionary

Browsing through the Village Voice (March 4-10, 2015 issue), I came upon an article about music journalist Robert Christgau and his memoir Going Into the City: Portrait of a Critic as a Young Man (Dey Street Books). I remember proofreading his copy in the early 1980s when he was the music critic at the Village Voice.  (I think it was his sister, Georgia Christgau, who hired me.)

 Not seeing Christgau's age mentioned in the piece, I immediately went to Wikipedia to look up his birth date (It's April 18, 1942) and stumbled upon a link to the word "memoir." That led me to the Wiktionary page, which for me, a language buff, was a fascinating discovery. I learned that Wiktionary, the free dictionary, was "a multilingual, web-based project to create a free-content dictionary of all words in all languages."

 The project is currently available in 158 languages and is, like Wikipedia, its companion site, "written collaboratively by volunteers" called "wiktionarians." The English-language section, at the time that I checked the site, contained 3, 971,737 entries (and counting).

Although I had trouble using the site on my cell phone, I did click on the highlighted word "free" in the phrase "free dictionary." What popped up on the screen was a language lover's delight: there were
word origin and pronunciation guides, a list of synonyms and antonyms, definitions with literary examples, et cetera. For example, here are two definitions of "free" that appeared in a long list of definitions:

"without; not containing (what is specified);exempt;clean, liberated" as in "We had a wholesome, filling meal, free of meat" and "not currently in use; not taken; unoccupied" as in  "You can sit on that chair, it's free."

Once I figure out how to use Wiktionary, it will become a very useful reference tool and I will be consulting it often.

Go to

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A Radio Talker Who Reads Five Books A Week

One talk show I regularly listen to is The John Batchelor Show, heard nightly on WABC-AM 770 here in New York. Although Batchelor is a conservative commentator and I am a liberal, I like his show and find it very compelling because of the range of topics and guests (which includes liberals like Katrina Vanden Heuvel, the editor of the Nation magazine.)

In a 2006 New York Times article titled "He Takes the Shout Out of Talk Radio" that is linked to his Wikipedia page, it was pointed out by the author, Anahad O'Connor, that Batchelor "reads up to five books a week." I would love to learn his secret to reading that many books in such a short time while maintaining a busy schedule. I'm reading several books at once but it takes me forever to complete them. Maybe he's taken a special speed reading program that has helped him read twenty books a month. If he has, I'd like to know what it is and subscribe to it.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A New Cotton Club Movie Is Needed

In the 1992-1993 edition of Rex Reed's Guide to Movies on TV & Video, he stated that "[a]ll my life I've been hearing about the Cotton Club, that Harlem bastion of glamour, sequins, and jazz." So when Reed viewed Francis Ford Coppola's long-awaited 1984 film called The Cotton Club, he had one question, "[b]ut where is the Cotton Club?" His conclusion: "Somewhere on the cutting-room floor." Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide gave it two and a half stars and noted that "the movie isn't nearly as interesting as the published stories about its tumultuous production!"

When I saw the movie during its release, I too was greatly disappointed. Around that time I had written a syndicated article for the Los Angeles Times about the real Cotton Club. The article included interviews with those who had worked there as entertainers.

The movie's version, unfortunately, was too focused on the gangsters who owned and ran the nightspot. If there is ever a remake of The Cotton Club, the lives of and the backstage drama involving the black entertainers should be at the forefront of the story. After all, Duke Ellington, Lena Horne, and Ethel Waters were among those who worked there and became household names. (Spike Lee, Lee Daniels, and other black filmmakers, are you listening?) Plus, the Cotton Club was a microcosm of race, class, and colorism. It was a place where blacks were welcome as entertainers, but not as patrons.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Tribute To CBS Newsman Bob Simon

RIP Bob Simon of CBS's Sunday night newsmagazine program, 60 Minutes.
A Los Angeles Times article about Bob Simon, who died recently in a car crash on the West Side Highway in New York, stated that "[h]e reported more than 200 stories for the '60 Minutes' program and its spin-off, '60 Minutes II.'" It might be good idea for CBS to put a few of these broadcasts on DVD so that 60 Minutes fans can once again enjoy his work. It would be a fitting tribute to his long and successful career in journalism.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Putting The Right Amount Of Food In A Fast-Food Bag

At home, while eating a chili dog topped with raw diced onions that I purchased at Checkers, a fast-food chain, I noticed that on the bottom of the bag were three illustrated panels in red in the shape of a paper bag. Each panel showed the kitchen staff how many of what items would fit inside the bag. I've never seen such illustrations on take-out bags at any other fast-food restaurant. The first panel shows that four hamburgers and a container of fries will fit in the bag; the second panel shows that four hamburgers and two containers of fries will fit; and the third panel shows two hamburgers, a container of fries, and one chicken strips/fry box. I assume most customers at Checkers are too focused on their order to give much attention to these illustrations. To me these illustrations are a good idea because they are a guide for the staff to follow to prevent them from putting too many hamburgers and/or fries in a particular size bag.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Cursing, Shakespeare Style

I found in one of my dictionaries a scrap of paper on which I wrote examples of Shakespearean cursing. Unfortunately, I neglected to indicate the source that I took them from. Here is what I wrote:

"You drone," "You drudge, you clog," "You unbaked and doughty youth," "You tyrant," "You carcass fit for hounds," "You base wretch, you unspeaking sot, you pigeon liver," "You devil incarnate, you child of hell," "A pox on your throats," "Oh, wretched fool. Consumption catch thee. Go shake your ears," "Were I like thee, I'd throw away myself."

Wednesday, January 28, 2015



New York City survived the "historic" blizzard of 2015.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Importance of African-American Media

"There's no way--and I say it with as much feeling and passion as I can--there's no way for any American to understand the South Side of Chicago or Harlem or Los Angeles without regularly reading African-American media."--Lerone Bennett, Jr., former executive editor, Ebony magazine, author, and historian. (From Richard Prince's Journal-isms, August 15, 2003.)

It's a safe bet that most of the white people who have recently moved to Harlem rarely or never pick up a black newspaper or magazine, opting instead to read the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. Therefore they have little or no knowledge of the people among whom they have chosen to live.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Little Free Library Revisited

When I saw an article in a back issue of the Christian Science Monitor Weekly magazine (September 8, 2014) called "Little Free Libraries Add Charm to Neighborhoods," I felt my journalistic instincts had been vindicated. I wrote in this blog (see "A Library in the Park", October 29, 2014) about these free-standing house-shaped structures containing books to be lent and/or donated before I saw the article which is in an issue I picked up outside a Christian Science reading room on 112th Street, near Amsterdam Avenue, in Manhattan, on January 14, 2015.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Giving Thanks At The Dinner Table

The only person I can remember saying grace before eating was my maternal grandmother and she always recited the same grace. (I heard it so often, that even to this day I know it by heart: "Before we eat we bow our heads and thank Thee God for our daily bread.") When I found (or refound) in a shopping bag in my kitchen a small hardcover book called Grace Before Meals, she came immediately to mind. The book, compiled by A. William Nyce and Hubert Bunyea, and published in 1939 by the John C. Winston Company in Philadelphia, arranged a mealtime prayer for every day of the year, including national holidays like Independence Day (July 4th). (I think this book originally belonged to a late aunt whose apartment I had to clear out after her death.)

The compilers, in their foreword, stated that Grace Before Meals "has been prepared for the home circle, in the hope that it may encourage reverence and gratitude by supplying appropriate graces to be spoken before meals at which the family meets together" and that its publication came about as "an answer to numerous requests that such a volume be given to the public." Obviously this book was published in the pre-television and pre-Internet days when family members sat down to eat together. Nevertheless, it's a handy book for those interested in getting into the habit of saying grace at mealtime. This particular book is probably out of print but there might be a similar book or books available, especially in religious book stores.

Here is the grace for January 14, today's date: "Lord, wilt Thou never cease Thy kindly care over us, may we also continue unceasingly to bless Thee for all Thy past and present blessings. Amen."

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Movies Taught Me How To Read Roman Numerals

When I was in high school, we didn't cover roman numerals all that thoroughly and so I didn't feel the need to learn any more about them. What got me interested in deciphering roman numerals were the movies. I always wanted to know the year a film was released and didn't always have a copy of TV Guide handy. I noticed that at the bottom of the screen below the film's title, was the release date in roman numerals. I got out an old math book and brushed up on the roman numeral section so I could read them fast in the few seconds they appeared on screen.  If the numerals read MCMXLVI, I knew the film had been released in 1946. Now I can even read the cornerstone dates on buildings.

Saturday, January 10, 2015



I highly recommend to anyone who is an American history buff.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Is There No Need To Quote Black Film Critics?

The print ads for Selma and Chris Rock's Top Five have several blurbs from film critics giving these movies high praise. Unfortunately, none of the blurbs are from critics in the black press. Does that mean that Paramount Pictures, the distributor, thinks the black media has nothing worthwhile to say about films that are from the black experience?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Friday, January 2, 2015