ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
The steady world of factory jobs like the ones my father and uncles had were fading, and so
was the stability those jobs allowed. In the context of all of this, my P&G job was thought
to be one of the best. Men and women retired from Procter & Gamble . . .
Books by Afaa Michael Weaver
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The Wire Insider, Part III
By Afaa Michael Weaver
The street on which my family lived was a major route to a place we called The Point, a short version of Sparrows Point, location of the Bethlehem Steel Company plant that was at one time the largest steel plant in the world. My father and uncles came to work there during and after WWII, when steel was needed for the war. There were about thirty thousand people, mostly men, working in the mills in the late sixties. I took a job in the 42 Skin Pass section of the tin mill, on the cold side of the plant as opposed to the hot side where they handled molten steel in places like the coke oven, where some of my uncles worked. My father worked in the pipe mill on the cold side for thirty-six years. I was there for one year beginning in 1970, when I dropped out of the University of Maryland at College Park after two years. After that year I moved on to the Procter & Gamble plant in Locust Point. The points are these nautical areas strung along the Baltimore harbor, the largest inland harbor on the east coast. There was a time when slave ships pulled up to the docks, and Frederick Douglass lived in Fells Point until he escaped. I could look from the window of Procter & Gamble and see where he lived. The machines in the tin mill were massive, full of metals heaviness. I worked in what was known as the labor gang, a job category where you went wherever you were needed on any given day. It was the bottom of the rung. One day my supervisor walked me over to a pit of dirty oil in the floor of the tin mill. My job for the day was to get down in there and clean it out, which meant dipping the slime for eight hours. But at least I had work. In Baltimore you could get a job at The Point or at Social Security and be thought to be somewhat successful. There was also the post office. I could not abide the idea of being in an office all day, or worse, in some cubicle. Never mind the fact that I am in academia now. Getting to the steel mill was easy. Many drivers traveled up and down the street on which my parents had the house they bought in 1957, during the national blockbusting project of real estate companies all over the country. They used scare tactics to tell white neighbors the blacks were coming and then sold the houses to us for a neat profit. Our white neighbors were gone so fast I only remember a little girl who was my playmate for what seemed like a microsecond. When my father took his job in the mills, segregation was the order of the day. Blacks and whites had separate lockers and eating areas. Moreover, they hardly spoke to one another. But getting there in the time I was a steelworker was easy. I just stood on the street and held out my brown paper lunch bag. Before long, someone would pull over and ask if I wanted a ride. For a week you gave the rider five dollars or so for gas, and on Fridays nearly everyone stopped at a cash checking place called Mickys to get cash and very often something to drink. One of my riders, a short and somewhat corpulent man, drank a half pint of Vodka on the way in to the job and at least that much on the way home. It was as if he was using it to clear the soot from his system. This was the world that allowed men and women to support themselves and send their children off to college. It was a world that seemed as sure as the steady drumming of the machines that made the products that fed the burgeoning economic system that is the largest in the world. Detroit, for example, was the largest manufacturing city in recorded history, or so I have been told. I do not doubt it. If I worked at night in the tin mill and had the cranes helper job, I would put my sandwich on the top of the heaters we had to keep us warm. The galvanized tin walls increased the heat of summer and the cold of winter. The same would be true in P&Gs warehouse, where I would spend ten years before my manumission came in the form of an NEA fellowship for poetry. But there in the tin mill my sandwich was always ready after it sat on the heater for a while. I followed the giant overhead electric crane that could lift several tons at a time. It was used to change the giant steel pins in the processing plants that pressed the raw tin to where it was smoother and shinier until it was eventually the texture needed for tin cans. It was a job that required vigilance, as you could lose your hand if it got caught between the hoisting cables and the pins themselves. Without seeing you, the operator could lift the whole affair and tear your hand right off from your wrist or mash your fingers until they were nothing but bloody mush. I was fortunate enough not to lose any limbs, but others were not so lucky. My uncle Paul was killed in the coke oven when I was nine years old. One of the vats of molten steel tipped over on him while he and my cousin Melvin were in the pit. Melvin tried to save him, and he lingered in the hospital for a few days before passing. When my mother got the news over the phone, she screamed. I was in the back room of the basement playing with my Civil War army set, things made of plastic to represent things made of metal. I left Bethlehem Steel for Procter & Gamble in the spring of 1971, just after I returned from basic combat training at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri. At that time the Maryland Dry-dock company was also in Locust Point on Key Highway, the street that eventually leads to Ft. McHenry. On the way to P&G on the afternoon shift, I often saw several hundred people crossing the street for the change of shifts, and driving by there at night I could see the ships in dry-dock lit like giant Christmas trees. The sparks from the welders seemed celebratory, as if these were little victories, the joining of one metal thing to another. In the tin mill, I concealed my books in brown lunch bags and wrote on paper I brought from home or on the backs of the tally sheets we used to weigh the tin coils after they went through the process of being made thinner and shinier. At P&G I kept the practice of concealing my books, but it wasnt until I got to the warehouse in 1975 that I could find spaces to steal time and really focus on poetry. The city was changing rapidly. Drugs poured into the communities as the industrial jobs began to disappear. At P&G they constantly reminded us that costs had to be cut, and one way of cutting costs was to get rid of the dead weight of a plant that was doing substandard performance. In the late nineteenth century, the rise of industrial engineering brought with it the idea of a perfect factory where machines had perfect efficiency and humans worked like machines. The idea grew out of mechanistic philosophy, an idea the thinkers of the Enlightenment resurrected and developed more distinctly as an aspect of the western march to accumulating massive amounts of wealth through industrialism and colonial expansion. Now when I read about the deliberate campaign to make people work like machines, I get angry. However, I am immediately faced to a central paradox in our lives. There is the incredible array of stuff available for consumption. I have worked and lived on both sides of it and have no real answers for the quandary we humans have given ourselves, and I do see it as a collective act inasmuch as I believe human consciousness is a massive creative force. Otherwise I would sell this laptop and try to get off the grid. However, it seems the grid has become so self-aware that it preempts its own deconstruction by allowing us the time and space to ruminate over all the ironic constructs of life in this postindustrial and postcolonial age in which we live that gives us access to so many material goods, so many things. One day in the early eighties I was on my way to work on the afternoon shift. I picked up a coworker who lived in my old neighborhood, and we headed down Milton Avenue toward the southeastern part of the city where P&G was located. Just as we got onto Milton Avenue, we saw the door of a house open with a black man bursting out and running for his life. Behind him was another black man chasing him and loading a double barrel shotgun as he ran. By the time we got to the job, the man being chased was dead, shot to death by the man following him. During my adolescence I saw my neighborhood change. Friends died or went to prison. The story was repeated in black communities in large cities all over America. The steady world of factory jobs like the ones my father and uncles had were fading, and so was the stability those jobs allowed. In the context of all of this, my P&G job was thought to be one of the best. Men and women retired from Procter & Gamble with small fortunes in stock, but after retirement, the challenge was to find a new life. Sometimes work and the routine of it was all we knew as blue collar workers. Every good warehouseman knows the value of a flashlight. I have five of them now, including two medium size Maglites. At Simmons, where I am a member of the English department, I sometimes sit and watch the men working on the construction of the new parking lot and school of marketing. I love to get outside and walk when the weather is nice, and the difficult reconciliation of these two lives inside me is easier now than it used to be, but only because I do not place so much value on the responses of people when they learn about my factory life. Proletarian minds are supposed to have limits that do not include being a published poet and a professor. I was processed as a poet among the masses, stripped down and melted and crafted into the shape I would need to go out in the world and grow and function as poet and writer. As a lifelong factory worker my poetry would have suffered. A poet needs more than two ten minute coffee breaks and a half hour at lunchtime. In The Wire the blighted areas you seemany of which are in my old neighborhoodwere full of people and bustling with energy forty years ago, before the gradual and steady disappearance of blue collar jobs that had formed so much of the economy, before the great decline in Baltimore. The days when my father and uncles sat around in our kitchen eating my mothers hot chili or ox tail soup and sipping their whiskey and Coca-Cola are gone along with the steady lives they were able to give us children. Bless them.
5 July 2008
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We had a wonderful evening tribute to Lucille Clifton at the Main Pratt Library here in Baltimore last night. I had promised myself I wouldn’t get weepy at the podium, and I wiped a few tears before I got up there. But when I got to podium and looked out at the full audience of 220 people, it was a total hallelujah feeling without tears. I was so happy to be able to talk about how “important” Lucille was to me when I was doing my apprenticeship as a poet, writing while in the factory all those years. I read a letter I wrote to Lucille just for last night, addressing her in the Spirit World, and I took the time to tell Nikki how important her work was to me when I was younger. Nikki Giovanni and I were the last two readers, and everyone gave such beautiful tributes. Joanne Gabbin was there, as well as Lynda Koolish, whose photos are the gallery display upstairs. Tonight we have a dedication for a photo exhibit for Lucille at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum on my side of town, East Baltimore. It’s all such “a beautiful thing”…:-) Nikki Giovanni and I are collectees together at Boston University’s Gotlieb Archival Center, where our papers are kept.Afaa Michael Weaver, 15 June 2012
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Season One opening credits for “The Wire”. The title song “Way Down in the Hole” is performed by The Five Blind Boys of Alabama. (From: Season 1, Episode 1 “The Target”)
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In which Detective Jimmy McNulty tries to discover who killed a young man named Snot Boogie. “This is America, man”. (Season 1, Episode 1 “The Target”)
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D’Angelo teaches Wallace and Bodie how to play chess. Season 1 of the Wire.
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The Wire Season OneThe Wire details crime in Baltimore, following the process from both the police and criminal point of view. The title refers to the espionage equipment used to gather evidence against the criminals, which is the focus of the investigation as presented. This isnt beat cops working the streets or lab rats analyzing DNA, this is unglossed police work, monitoring phone calls, taking surveillance photos, and waiting for an opening.
What makes the show so original is the depth it goes into the story, with each episode building on the next, slowly revealing pieces of the bigger puzzle until it all begins to make sense, all the while the entire case is threatening to collapse under its weight and the political pressure attached to it. In some ways, it isnt a procedural at all, in that it isnt a mere series of cases introduced and solved every week, using similar formulas to tell similar stories. Instead, the entire 13 episodes focus on one case, which begins on a lark, meant to be small, then grows into something larger than anyone had anticipated. Along the way, the series delves into all aspects of the case, from the junior detectives working surveillance all the way up to judges, the FBI, and congressmen, and from the drug kingpin all the way down to a kid drug runner working the corner.
Its a stunning feat of storytelling that I have never seen on this level. The level of detail, the sprawling cast, the intricate plotting, all of it operate on another level that simply blew me away. Just when you think youve seen all the medium is capable of, along comes a show like this to shake things up.AndytheSaint
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The bleak reality of drug addiction is captured with unflinching authenticity in The Corner, an excellent, reality-based HBO miniseries. Having lived on the streets of West Baltimore, Maryland, where this compelling drama takes place, actor-director Charles S. Dutton knows the territory, physically, socially, and emotionally, and his compassionate approach is vital to the series’ success. Dutton cares for his characters deeply enough to give them a realistic shred of hope, even when hope is consistently dashed by the ravages of addiction. This is, at its root, a family tragedy, focusing on errant father Gary (T.K. Carter, in a heartbreaking performance) a once-successful investor trapped in a tailspin of heroin dependency. His estranged wife Fran (Khandi Alexander) was the first to get hooked, and she’s struggling to get clean, while their 15-year-old son DeAndre (Sean Nelson, from the indie hit Fresh) deals drugs, temporarily avoiding their deadly allure while facing the challenge of premature fatherhood.
Through revealing flashbacks and numerous local characters, we see the explicit fallout of addiction, and while violence occasionally erupts, its constant threat is secondary to Dutton’s dramatic vision, which remains steadfastly alert to the humanity and neglected potential of these lost and searching souls. The Corner is, essentially, the civilian flipside of HBO’s equally laudable series The Wire, which approaches a similar neighborhood from a police-squad perspective. Performances are uniformly superb, details are uncannily perfect, and for all of its human horror, The Corner is riveting, not depressing. A closing interview with the characters’ real-life counterparts bears witness to the fact that these lives–with inevitable exceptions–need not be lost forever.Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com
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The Corner (YouTube video)
The Corner is a 2000 HBO television miniseries based on the book The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood by David Simon and Ed Burns and adapted for television by Simon and David Mills. The Corner chronicles the life of a family living in poverty amid the open-air drug markets of West Baltimore.
This is a powerful book, a window on aspects of America most people would rather ignore. To their great credit, the authors–David Simon wrote Homicide, the basis for the popular television show; Edward Burns is a former Baltimore police officer, now a public school teacher–refuse to sensationalize their subject or make its people into stereotypes.
For a year the two hung out in a West Baltimore neighborhood that was a center of the drug trade. At the center of the narrative is the McCullough familyDeAndre, age 15, and his drug-addicted parents, Gary and Fran. While reading The Corner, there are times when we pity them, times when they make us angry. The book’s strength, though, is that we always understand them.
This portrayal of a year in drug-crazed West Baltimore will satisfy neither readers looking for a perceptive witness to the urban crisis nor those in search of social analysis. Simon (Homicide, LJ 6/1/91), a crime reporter, and Burns, a Baltimore police veteran and public school teacher, mask their presence in the scene with an omniscient style that strains credibility, and the chronological framework blunts the impact of their most compelling themes. The authors salute the courageous but futile efforts of individual parents, educators, and police officers but deny the possibility of a social solution to the devastation they acknowledge is rooted in social policy. A more compelling account is Our America: Life and Death (LJ 6/1/97) on the South Side of Chicago, based on interviews conducted by 13-year-old public housing residents LeAlan Jones and Lloyd Newman in 1993. For larger public libraries.Library Journal
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Poem at Central Booking
By DeAndre McCullough
Silent screams and broken dreams
Addicts, junkies, pushers and fiends
Crowded spaces and sad faces
Never look back as the police chase us
Consumed slowly by chaos, a victim of the streets,
Hungry for knowledge, but afraid to eat.
A life of destruction, it seems no one cares,
A manchild alone with burdens to bear.
Trapped in a life of crime and hate,
It seems the ghetto will be my fate.
If I had just one wish it would surely be,
That God would send angels to set me free
Free from the madness, of a city running wild,
Freed from the life of a ghetto child.
Source: The Corner (1997) by David Simon and Edward Burns
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The last ten minutes from the HBO series The Corner, where Charles S. Dutton, the director talks to the real life characters, the story was based on.
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KQED’s film unit follows poet and activist James Baldwin in the spring of 1963, as he’s driven around San Francisco to meet with members of the local African-American community. He is escorted by Youth For Service’s Executive Director Orville Luster and intent on discovering: “The real situation of negroes in the city, as opposed to the image San Francisco would like to present.” He declares: “There is no moral distance . . . between the facts of life in San Francisco and the facts of life in Birmingham. Someone’s got to tell it like it is. And that’s where it’s at.” Includes frank exchanges with local people on the street, meetings with community leaders and extended point-of-view sequences shot from a moving vehicle, featuring the Bayview and Western Addition neighborhoods. Baldwin reflects on the racial inequality that African-Americans are forced to confront and at one point tries to lift the morale of a young man by expressing his conviction that: “There will be a negro president of this country but it will not be the country that we are sitting in now.” The TV Archive would like to thank Darryl Cox for championing the merits of this film and for his determination that it be preserved and remastered for posterity.
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KQED News report from May 19th 1970 on the Hunters Point community of San Francisco’s celebrations and remembrance for what would have been the 45th birthday of political and human rights activist Malcolm X. Features scenes of local residents describing the personal impact that Malcom X had on their lives and people enjoying live music. Ends with views of public speakers addressing crowds outside the Federal Courthouse in downtown San Francisco, including the Reverend Cecil Williams who explains that: “We are talking about the liberation of the people! And that’s what we want at this particular time.”
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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 H. W. Brands
In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar’s astonishing rise to become the world’s principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar’s changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America’s economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan’s bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt’s handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar’s dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today.
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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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By Tracy K. Smith
Tracy K. Smith, author of Life on Mars has been selected as the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In its review of the book, Publishers Weekly noted the collection’s “lyric brilliance” and “political impulses [that] never falter.” A New York Times review stated, “Smith is quick to suggest that the important thing is not to discover whether or not we’re alone in the universe; it’s to acceptor at least endurethe universe’s mystery. . . . Religion, science, art: we turn to them for answers, but the questions persist, especially in times of grief. Smith’s pairing of the philosophically minded poems in the books first section with the long elegy for her father in the second is brilliant.” Life on Mars follows Smith’s 2007 collection, Duende, which won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, the only award for poetry in the United States given to support a poet’s second book, and the first Essence Literary Award for poetry, which recognizes the literary achievements of African Americans.
The Bodys Question (2003) was her first published collection. Smith said Life on Mars, published by small Minnesota press Graywolf, was inspired in part by her father, who was an engineer on the Hubble space telescope and died in 2008.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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posted 22 June 2010