ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
The last book I read was The House on Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood by Helene Cooper.
And now Ive actually just started a novel, Song of the Cuckoo Bird by Amulya Malladi.
CDs by Alicia Keys
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Alicia Keys: The Secret Life of Bees
Interview with Kam Williams
Alicia Keys burst on the scene in April of 2001 with the release of the single Fallin from Songs in A Minor, the critically-acclaimed debut album which launched her meteoric rise. A piano prodigy who studied both jazz and classical composition at the prestigious Professional Performance Arts School of Manhattan, the class valedictorian was admitted to Columbia University at just 16 years of age, but soon took a leave to pursue her musical career. Among the many accolades shes already collected are 11 Grammys, along with multiple American Music, Billboard, Soul Train, Teen Choice, Peoples Choice, NAACP Image, Rolling Stone Magazine, VH1 and BET Awards.
Hailing from Harlem, Alicia was born on January 25, 1980 to Teresa Auguello, a paralegal, and Craig Cook, a flight attendant. The stunning diva is a delicious mix of Irish, Italian, Jamaican and Puerto Rican lineage, and shes been named one of People Magazines 50 Most Beautiful People, FHM Magazines 100 Sexiest Women in the World, Maxim Magazines Hot 100 and VH1s 100 Sexiest Artists.
A true Renaissance woman, Alicia is not only a gifted singer/songwriter/arranger/musician/actress, but also the author of a best-selling book comprised of poetry, lyrics, and intimate reflections called Tears for Water.
She made her big screen debut in 2006 playing a seductive yet ruthless assassin in Smokin Aces, following that well-received outing with a measured performance as Scarlett Johanssons best friend in The Nanny Diaries.
Alicias about to make cinematic history as half of the first duet (with Jack White) ever to perform a James Bond theme on a 007 movie soundtrack, namely, Another Way to Die, in the upcoming Quantum of Solace. Despite her incredibly busy schedule, she makes time for philanthropic work with numerous charities, most notably, Keep a Child Alive (http://www.keepachildalive.org/mainl), an organization she co-founded which is dedicated to delivering life-saving medicines directly to AIDS victims in Africa. On November 13th, Alicia and some very famous friends will be performing in NYC at a benefit dinner/concert. (For more details, call (718) 965-1111).
Here, she talks about her latest film The Secret Life of Bees, a touching tale of female empowerment set in the Sixties at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. She turns in what proved to be the movies most memorable performance as June Boatwright, despite being surrounded by a stellar cast which included Academy Award-winner Jennifer Hudson, and a couple of Oscar-nominees in Queen Latifah and Sophie Okonedo.
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KW: Thanks for the time, Alicia. Im really honored.
AK: Thank you, sir, I appreciate that so much.
KW: I feel terrible, because its so late and I understand youre in Germany and you just came offstage after performing a big concert. You must be exhausted.
AK: Yes, and you should feel awful! [Laughs out loud] No, Im good. Im definitely good. I had a good show, and it takes me a little while to settle down anyway.
KW: Well, I wanted to talk to you about The Secret Life of Bees.
AK: I loved this movie, so I want to do this.
KW: I dont want to spoil the movie for anyone who hasnt seen it, but theres a scene early in the picture where a character silently opens up a tiny, folded piece of paper which says something about the Civil Rights Movement. When I read it, I started crying right then and there, and my eyes remained watery until the very end.
AK: Wow! Well, Im so glad that it moved you, because it moved me, too.
KW: The film had so many subtle touches like that which delivered an emotional wallop. Its effective use of space and emptiness reminded me of your music.
AK: That is a beautiful image, and thank you for comparing it to my music. I appreciate that so much. I agree that Gina [Director Gina Prince-Bythewood] did an amazing job. And everybody involved loved it from the minute they signed on. She created a very nourishing environment on the set, where we just supported each other and wanted to do an incredible job. So, Im really, really happy about how Gina was able to be so subtle, yet so strong.
KW: To me, it was the most important film of its type since Eves Bayou. Have you seen that film?
AK: Funny you should mention it, because I watched Eves Bayou prior to beginning work on this one because I felt it would have a similar vibe. Also, I wanted to watch it for the accents, figuring it would give you a nice feel for the regional dialects, given that it was set in the Bayou. But did you know they didnt do any dialects in that film?
KW: I never noticed that.
AK: That was really funny, but it was still a great movie.
KW: What did you base your interpretation of June Boatwright on?
AK: On many things. On my own personal emotions and feelings . . . on my understanding of my characters complexities and really wanting to bring them forth even without explaining them. I also based her somewhat on these beautiful pictures we had from this book called Freedom Fighters. There was one girl in it in a black and white photograph who just had her arms crossed. The way she was looking at the camera made me feel, Wow! Thats my June! There was something about how hopeful and strong she was, yet closed-off emotionally, that I really wanted to take and make a part of June. I also took some inspiration from a really good friend of mine who has a kind of attitude like June has. When you first meet her, youre terrified of her. You think shes just the meanest thing, when shes really a sweetheart, and so vulnerable underneath it all. Thats why she has to be a little tough, because she cant afford to give all her love away. So, I really took a lot of those firsthand experiences and put them into June, too. She was based on little pieces of a lot of different people and things.
KW: Another thing I was impressed with was that there was an arc, not only to June, but to so many characters in the film. That degree of development added to the richness of the cinematic experience.
AK: Seriously, thats true what you say. You see each person start one place and end up somewhere else. How many times do you have a film where so many characters can make such significant transitions within it? So, I agree.
KW: I also liked the way the movie made statements about the Civil Rights Movement without hitting you over the head with it.
AK: True, because you wouldnt quite say its a story about the Civil Rights Movement, but its definitely about that era. Im really proud of that aspect.
KW: Any truth to the rumor that you might play Philippa Schuyler in the screen adaptation of her biography, Composition in Black and White?
AK: Its something that Halle Berry really wanted to bring to life, and that weve been working on for a little while. Hopefully, itll pan out.
KW: Born in the Thirties, Philippa was also a child prodigy from Harlem who had one black parent and one white parent. Do you think there are many parallels between your life and hers?
AK: Honestly, there are fewer parallels than differences. The most obvious parallel is that my mother is white and my fathers black, and that we both play classical piano. What I love about the idea of playing her is that shes not me, and Im not her. And that she was this amazing person that too few people know about. Im fascinated by the strangeness of that era, and her trying to perform classical music as a black woman back then when she had to, in essence, hide her identity just to play the music she loved. That confusion of Who am I? and Where do I belong? is just crazy and is the theme of her story that I really relate to because I think we all kind of want to find where we belong.
KW: That reminds me to congratulate you on your five recent American Music Award nominations.
AK: Oh, thank you.
KW: Also, congrats on Another Way to Die, the new James Bond theme for Quantum of Solace. I just heard that your co-collaborator on the song, Jack White, hurt his neck. Are you still going to perform it on MTV in conjunction with the movies release as planned, or will you have to cancel that appearance. I really love the video, although the song is a change of pace for you.
AK: I really love the song, too. Well, we really wanted to do that song together, so were going to pass at this point. Fortunately, hes definitely going to heal up and will soon be all right.
KW: As a child with one black parent, and one white parent, how do you feel about Barack Obamas candidacy?
AK: You know I love it, and that I support him. Im confident that hes going to be the next president and I refuse to accept the idea of anything else. There you have it.
KW: You not only play piano and sing, but you compose, arrange, act, and write poetry and prose. Do you have a favorite means of artistic expression?
AK: They rotate [Laughs heartily] They really do. Sometimes, after Ive been on tour for so long, I start looking forward to composing and creating again. And after Ive been songwriting for a long stretch, Im kinda looking forward to going outside of myself and exploring someone else. And then sometimes its nice to be able to sit quietly and reflect and write without any specific outcome in mind, to just do it. So, it rotates.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
AK: Yes, Im very happy.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
AK: Sure, but I try to push fear out of my mind, because I think you attract what you fear.
KW: Bookworm Troy Johnson asked me to ask you, what was the last book you read?
AK: The last book I read was The House on Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood by Helene Cooper. And now Ive actually just started a novel, Song of the Cuckoo Bird by Amulya Malladi.
KW: Music maven Heather Covington was wondering, what music are you listening to nowadays?
AK: Im listening to a mixture of Kanye West, Sergio Mendes, Fela Kuti and Common.
KW: Is there a question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
AK: No. I always thought that I could figure out a really good answer to that question, but I havent found it yet.
KW: Well, thanks again, Alicia, and best of luck with everything.
AK: Thank you so much. Great to talk with you and Im looking forward to speaking with you again soon. Oh, and Kam, make sure you tell everybody about my Black Ball on November 13th for my organization, Keep a Child Alive,
KW: Will do.
AK: Thank you Kam. Take care.
KW: Bye, Alicia.
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#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane
#10 – Covenant: A Thriller by Brandon Massey
#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva by Ashley and JaQuavis
#12 – Don’t Ever Tell by Brandon Massey
#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide by Ntozake Shange
#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper
#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber
#18 – Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare
#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
#22 Thug Matrimony by Wahida Clark
#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark
#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber
#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter
#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson
#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History by Ahati N. N. Toure
#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley
#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell
#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit by RM Johnson
#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins
#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell
#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard
#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris
#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice
#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields
#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class by Lisa B. Thompson
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By Melissa V. Harris-Perry
According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.
As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.
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This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label ‘trafficked’ does not accurately describe migrants’ lives and that the ‘rescue industry’ serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. “Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality.”Lisa Adkins, University of London
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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posted 26 October 2008