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Posts Tagged ‘James Baldwin’

Mabel’s Lights IIII, third in series, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007-2008, by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Mabel’s Lights IIII, third in series, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos,
New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007-2011, by QuoinMonkey.
All rights reserved.



When we were sitting around the fire at a writing retreat a few weekends ago, someone threw two questions out on the floor — If you could go back in time, who would you want to meet? What period in history would you visit? The answers stirred up a lively discussion — and 30 minutes of time travel.

Last Friday at the art studio, same thing. We pulled musty old boxes of albums out of storage — Neil Young, Van Morrison, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Joni Mitchell, Olivia artists, Meg Christian, Margie Adam, and Cris Williamson (women who blazed the way for female musicians, Women’s Music, and Lilith Fair), Aretha Franklin, Prince, UB40, Bob Marley, and Two Nice Girls. We played analogue music on a refurbished turntable; the three of us reminisced about the days before Internet, cell phones, and pagers.

People used to sit around in college dorm rooms and spend hours talking about literature, art, music, women’s rights, civil rights, the environment. When we walked into a room, and the first thing we did was throw a scratchy album on the stereo, light candles (when candles still dripped), and plop down on the nearest sofa to talk. We painted blue skies and puffy clouds on the wall of the 1800’s apartment we were renting. Hours passed; we didn’t notice. Yet every second we talked, the world kept changing.


Mabel & Tony, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Mabel & Tony, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007-2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

That’s why I’d go back to the 1920’s, to the salons of Paris; to Mabel’s heyday in Taos; to the likes of Gertrude Stein, D. H. Lawrence, Frieda Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe, Dorothy Brett, Aldous Huxley, Alfred Stieglitz, and Carl Jung. In the 1920’s, a creative renaissance was booming; the second wave of feminism was rolling across the country, women could finally vote.

Photographer, Berenice Abbott studied with Man Ray in the early 1920’s. Amelia Earhart took her first flying lesson on January 3, 1921, and in six months managed to save enough money to buy her first plane (Hillary Swank will star in the lead role of the upcoming feature film “Amelia” along with Richard Gere and Ewan McGregor. Shooting is taking place in Toronto and the film is currently scheduled to be released sometime in 2009.)

In 1922, Frida Kahlo attended the National Preparatory School in Mexico City, with a goal of studying medicine at university. She admired Diego Rivera as he worked on a mural at the prep school. In 1925, Zora Neale Hurston became Barnard’s first black student, studied under anthropologist, Dr. Franz Boas, and received a scholarship through novelist, Barnard founder, and Harlem Renaissance supporter, Annie Nathen Mayer.

During the 1920s, Hurston was dubbed “Queen of the Renaissance.” She was good friends with Richard Wright until their differences in philosophy, and a dispute over a mutual project they were working on, drove a wedge between them.

For me, it’s the 1920’s, hands down, for time travel. But if I had to choose who I would want to meet, there are three people who come to mind: Amelia Earhart, Eleanor Roosevelt, and James Baldwin.


As a writer, I find Baldwin inspiring. According to Literature, the Companion Website for Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama, Baldwin published:


The man was on fire.


If you could go back in time, where would you go? Who would you like to meet?



Mabel's Place II, The Early Days, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Mabel’s Place II, The Early Days, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




Mabel, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Tony, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Mabel, Tony, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

-related to posts: WRITING TOPIC – BAND-AIDS® & OTHER 1920′s INVENTIONS, The Vitality Of Place — Preserving The Legacy Of “Home”

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It’s the day before I leave on a two week trip to Georgia and Pennsylvania to do some research for my book. A memoir. I talked to my mother this morning, a short check in before I fly out tomorrow. I told her I am keeping my heart and mind open and looking forward to the time I will get to spend with her. Since we live in different towns, different states, the visits become important. Every minute counts.

I’ll be excavating information, excavating lives and people and roots and history. Untangling loose ends. I don’t remember so many things that my mother remembers about the South. And I have my own memories that I now get to ask her questions about. I just thought of that Baldwin quote from that 1973 interview with Nikki Giovanni:

“Because the responsibility of a writer is to excavate the experience of the people who produced him. The act of writing is the intention of it; the root of its liberation.”

Liz is down in the garden, pulling a few last minute weeds. I’m having French Roast on the deck. The clouds have lifted and the sun is peering through the oaks and ash that surround the house. It’s quiet. All the garden and yard work we did yesterday made my back sore. I’m no spring chicken anymore. In fact, wasn’t it just this morning I was noticing the spaciness of hormonal shifts and laughing about them with my mother? She confirms the craziness of aging because she walked it before me. More history. More bones.

I’m thinking of ybonesy near Taos with her father on their annual pilgrimage. Soon my mother and I will visit the graves of close loved ones and distant relatives in Georgia and South Carolina. We always go to my Aunt Cassie’s and my Grandmother Elise’s gravesites. I visit with them quietly there, spread out on the grass, and ask Mom the questions I might not have asked before. For me, this is memoir – excavating memories. Questing for truth. I want to hear her stories. And skirt the edges of the places I’ve come from.

There may be Myrtle Beach and Savannah. I’ve never been to Savannah. What writers are from Savannah? Flannery O’Connor for one. Maybe we’ll walk past the Cathedral of St. John, the oldest Roman Catholic Church in Georgia, and then one block south is where Flannery grew up. Maybe some of my relatives know of her. Maybe not.

I’m sad to be leaving Liz for so long. And our gardens and home. And Mr. Stripeypants, Kiev, and Chaco. I am fortunate to have a partner that understands. She is loving and supportive of me and my writing. She gets what it takes. I’m lucky that way.

I am lucky for a lot of reasons. I feel a great abundance in my life this morning that is hard to describe. This practice doesn’t do it justice. And there are next to no details. It’s mostly about feelings. And anticipation. And gratitude. For everything that has led me here.

Mom said my step-dad had read a piece on the blog and said, “I didn’t know she felt that way. I didn’t know she had positive memories of that time.” It’s true. Some of my memories used to make me sad. But I’ve done tons of work. It’s in the past. The river keeps flowing. And on the first day of summer, it feels like these steely memories make me who I am. Some writer from the Northwest and Southeast and Northeast who now lives in the Midwest. And once in a while, travels back for a visit.

Monday, May 28th, 2007

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I was going through an old writing notebook I filled in Taos last year, when I ran across some notes I had jotted down on Nikki Giovanni and James Baldwin. It’s good to re-read writing practice notebooks. Sometimes there are helpful quotes, raw images, inspirational lines to be plucked from the pages of wild mind.

We read Another Country and Giovanni’s Room for the Intensive and I’d checked out a bunch of library books on Baldwin. One was called A Dialogue: James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni (1973), published by J.B. Lippincott.

I remember thinking the generational differences between Baldwin and Giovanni would add a richness to their dialogue. It was true. At the time, Baldwin was 49 and Giovanni was 30.

On February 28th, 2007, Nikki Giovanni spoke On Poetry and Truth in the Ted Mann Theater at the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus. The talk ran on PBS the first week of April and Liz taped it for me. But I didn’t get a chance to watch it until after the closing at the Virginia Tech Convocation. I was riveted to the screen.

She started out talking about how her dog, her mom, her sister, Rosa Parks, and her aunt had all died unexpectedly within a year period in 2005; she started out talking about grief and loss. Then she went on to discuss in great detail, the children’s book she wrote about Rosa Parks, titled Rosa.

She considered the book carefully and wrote with historical precision, considering every detail. That’s the hallmark of a good writer. I could see that writing the book had helped transform her grief.

I wish I would have had a chance to see Giovanni and Baldwin dialogue. They are two writers who have a startling honesty and unwavering passion for what they believe in. Speaking strictly for myself, I am completely inspired by both of them. After hearing an archived Baldwin interview, or listening to Giovanni speak, I want to run out and write my next book.

In Taos last August, I shared some of the Baldwin and Giovanni dialogue with the writers in the Intensive. Some found it inspiring. I thought it might be good to capture here the parts on Truth and Love. You can also still buy the book.

It seems like famous writers and artists used to publically dialogue with each other more regularly than they do today. Maybe it’s my imagination. But I’m hungry to hear gifted writers speak about their work and have frank conversations with one another about the issues of the day.

And while they are at it, I’d like to give them a go at world peace or global warming. It wouldn’t be the first time creative intellectuals debated the truth – and came to a place of compromise and love.


A Dialogue: James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni (1973)
excerpt, p. 78 – p. 82 – On Truth

Giovanni: Exactly. And I’m talking about Chester’s [Himes] pursuit of truth. Because Richard Wright died, or was murdered, before he quit pursuing the truth.

Baldwin:  That’s right.

Giovanni: But Chester could say, Okay, I will pursue truth in this way, which looks a little better, so that you can make a movie out of it if you want to and it’ll still be true. And then takes it right to Blind Man with a Pistol.

Baldwin:  But, sweetheart, it’s the same thing we were doing on the plantation when they thought we were singing “Steal Away to Jesus” and I was telling you it’s time to split.

Giovanni:  But why do we –

Baldwin: Steal away, steal away –

Giovanni:  Why do we, as black writers, seem to be so hung up on the truth?

Baldwin:  Because the responsibility of a writer is to excavate the experience of the people who produced him. The act of writing is the intention of it; the root of its liberation. Look, this is why no tyrant in history was able to read but every single one of them burned the books. That is why no one yet really believes there is such a thing as a black writer. A black writer is still a freak, a dancing doll. We don’t yet exist in the imagination of this century, and we cannot afford to play games; there’s too much at stake.


A Dialogue: James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni (1973)
excerpt, p. 92 – p. 95 – On Love

Giovanni:  People really feel the need to feel better than somebody, don’t they?

Baldwin:  I don’t know why, but they do. Being in competition with somebody is something I never understood. In my own life, I’ve been in competition with me.

Giovanni:  Which is enough.

Baldwin:  Enough? It’s overwhelming. Enough?

Giovanni:  Just by fooling yourself –

Baldwin:  That’ll keep you busy, and it’s very good for the figure.

Giovanni:  It makes you happy, you know.

Baldwin:  Well, it means that in any case you can walk into a room and talk to somebody, look them in the eye. And if I love you, I can say it. I’ve only got one life and I’m going to live my life, you know, in the sight of God and all his children.

Giovanni: Maybe it’s parochial, narrow-minded, bullheaded, but it takes up so much energy just to keep yourself happy.

Baldwin:  It isn’t even a question of keeping yourself happy. It’s a question of keeping yourself in some kind of clear relationship, more or less, to the force which feeds you. Some days you’re happy, some days you ain’t. But somehow we have to deal with that on the simplest level. Bear in mind that this person facing you is a person like you. They’re going to go home and do whatever they do just like you. They’re as alone as you are.

Giovanni:  Because that becomes a responsibility, doesn’t it?

Baldwin:  Well, it’s called love, you know.

Giovanni:  We agree. Love is a tremendous responsibility.

Baldwin:  It’s the only one to take, there isn’t any other.

Giovanni:  I agree and it’s awful; we’re supposed to be arguing.

Baldwin:  And we blew this gig.

Giovanni:  Goofed again. I think love is an answer but you have to be logical about it, you know.

Baldwin:  You say logical or rational and I say clear, but it becomes the same thing. You can’t be romantic about it.

Giovanni:  No, you can’t be romantic about love.

Baldwin:  That’s all, you know.

Giovanni: I think we’re in agreement.

Baldwin: You think we are?

Giovanni: Yeah.

Baldwin:  You asked the loaded question.

Giovanni:  I asked the loaded question?

Baldwin:  You did. You did ask the loaded question. But it’s all right, because we’re home free.


-posted on red Ravine, Monday, May 14th, 2007

-related to post: Nikki Giovanni – Hope at V-Tech

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A few nights ago, I stayed up past midnight writing a piece. PBS was on in the background. I wasn’t paying much attention until pre-film credits started to roll and I glanced up to see opening scenes of Native Son.

Not the 1951 version where Richard Wright played Bigger Thomas. It was the 1986 version with Victor Love, Matt Dillon, and Geraldine Page.

I had never seen Native Son. Or read the book. I first started researching Richard Wright last summer when I did a presentation on James Baldwin. We read “Giovanni’s Room” and “Another Country” for the writing Intensive in Taos last year. I fell in love with James Baldwin. One of Baldwin’s mentors was Richard Wright.

After we got back from Taos, a writer friend of mine went to a Twin Cities used bookstore and bought up all the Baldwin books. Some were original paperbacks; they smelled like the 60’s. She gave them to me as a gift.

One was Baldwin’s collection of essays, “Notes of a Native Son.” When she paid the clerk, the woman said, “Oh, there’s been a resurgence of the Harlem Renaissance writers lately.”

I’m not surprised.

I found the 1986 film version of Native Son to be heavy-handed and over dramatic. But I stayed up and watched anyway. Out of curiosity, I decided to research Wright a little more and stumbled on a Washington Post article on poetry.

While taking refuge in France from the fallout of his books, “Native Son” and “Black Boy,” Richard Wright wrote and studied haiku. There are 810 in his collection, “Haiku: This Other World,” published by Arcade in New York.

Not only that, according to the Robert Hass article, 5 Haikus By Richard Wright, Wright’s agent said he wrote 4000 poems during the last 18 months of his life, from the summer of 1959 until his death in 1960.

It makes sense to me that Wright would turn to haiku. Simple. Bare. And elegant. A good place to stop and rest. Shelter from the storm.


I am nobody:
A red sinking autumn sun
Took my name away.

A sleepless spring night:
Yearning for what I never had
And for what never was.

-Richard Wright, from “Haiku: This Other World,” by Richard Wright
(Arcade, 1998)


Saturday, April 21st, 2007

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When I was doing research on Ted Kooser for a piece I was writing, I stumbled on his America Life in Poetry Project. As I read more about the nature of the project, I realized that Ted is a bodhisattva – he gives back to the world – not only through teaching, writing, and his support of other writers, but by offering viable avenues to ensure the next generation of printed word maintains integrity.

You don’t have to be a poet to appreciate his great effort.

I am a big fan of writers and artists who are generous of spirit – those who give or have given back to the world without concern for themselves. Dan Wakefield , author of New York in the ’50s, teaches writing in the prisons. For me, he falls into this category. As do Alice Walker, Natalie Goldberg, and James Baldwin.

Quiet, compassionate determination to aid all beings. If you have men and women like this in your life, show them gratitude. It’s the greatest gift you can bestow.

You can sign up on the American Life in Poetry website to receive a poem a week in your inbox with a short intro by Ted. If you register, you can publish the poems in print or on your blog, as long as you include the copyright permissions and credit info.

Below is a little about the project, taken from the American Life in Poetry website. You can also click on the link for the full text.

The Poetry Foundation has formed a partnership with the Library of Congress to support the American Life in Poetry project, an initiative of Ted Kooser, the 2004-2006 Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.

American Life in Poetry is a free weekly column for newspapers and online publications featuring a poem by a contemporary American poet and a brief introduction to the poem by Ted Kooser. The sole mission of this project is to promote poetry, and we believe we can add value for newspaper and online readers by doing so. There are no costs or obligations for reprinting the columns, though we do require that the text of the column be reproduced without alteration, along with the complete copyright, permissions and credit information, exactly as supplied with each column.

“Newspapers are close to my heart and my family,” said Kooser, whose wife and son both work in journalism. “As Poet Laureate I want to show the people who read newspapers that poetry can be for them, can give them a chuckle or an insight.”

Poetry was long a popular staple in the daily press. According to Kooser, “Readers enjoyed it. They would clip verses, stick them in their diaries, enclose them in letters. They even took time to memorize some of the poems they discovered.”

In recent years poetry has all but disappeared from newsprint. Yet the attraction to it is still strong. Kooser observed that “Poetry has remained a perennial expression of our emotional, spiritual and intellectual lives, as witnessed by the tens of thousands of poems written about the tragedy of September 11 that circulated on the Internet.

Now I’m hoping to convince editors that there could be a small place in their papers for poetry, that it could add a spot of value in the eyes of readers. Best of all, it won’t cost a penny.”


-from American Life in Poetry


-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, February 15th, 2007

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paranoia drifts inside my sanity
I vowed to write during lunch
not agonize over one ounce of truth

if I take fear with a grain of salt,
the ever-present whispering, “I am not enough,”
the lingering voice of the Monkey in all her many forms,

will it make me a better writer?

sitting under a rock
on the steps of Calcutta
a fire ant crawls
through Gandhi’s fascination

and I breathe Minneapolis –
monsoon clouds of Pantone gray.

the truth is I feel scared
the truth is I am empty
the truth is I seek validation and comfort.

3 grains? or 1 ounce?

you said you were mirror-phobic –
your mother said the first ingredients
to add to a new apartment are:

salt
and sugar,
a broom, to sweep away Old Spirits
and bread for the breaking.

Ancient traditions,
or bonding superstitions?

the bouquet of lilies – Post Minimalist –
I saw them there, on the glass table
alone, shining, white and pure –
future clutter.

when I read your short paragraph
I threw salt over my left shoulder,
while an Angel on my right
whispered something in your ear

to keep the Devil at bay,
in a particularly vulnerable situation –

or from sneaking up on me
while I’m cleaning up my mess.

There will be Southern black-eyed peas
on New Year’s Day
a too salty ham, reminding me

I stole the title from Nikki Giovanni
and James Baldwin stole a little something, too;

something every writer should know –
we are excavating our ancestors for data

and sometimes that means walking
left of the straight and narrow,
3 sheets to the wind,
silent under
Taos Mountain

watching a sagebound magpie
through the dirty glass

listening to the wind howl
and the jackhammer roar

pushing 7,500 feet of air
through an ounce of truth.


Friday, November 17th, 2006

-from Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – BOOKENDS, BALANCES, AND HARD RAIN

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