ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
don’t romanticize new orleans, shit, was way fucked up down home, the system was
about to break down under it’s own steam, it’s just that hurricane katrina was
the straw, but the camel was already buckling at the knees
Books by Kalamu ya Salaam
My Story My Song (CD)
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kalamu update 30 sept 2005
(day 1 new york city)
i fell asleep on the subway last night. woke up, we were at the final stop. the conductor was coming thru locking up. about an hour later, after i got to r’s apartment and had fired up the trusty computer (i was good to go for at least another solid hour after that lion-sized catnap), checking email, firing off quick responses, filing some, leaving others for tomorrow, while simultaneously making phone calls (the treo 650 is a wonderful instrument–phone/pde and more), my daughter and chief coordinator, asante salaam, laughs loudly, your butt needed some sleep. i’m sure you’re not the first black man to fall asleep on the subway. surely not. i had been looking at one young fellow, his head thrown back, not dozing, but instead full out asleep, and wondered whether he would wake up in time to make his stop. turns out i didn’t, and he wasn’t there, just me with my dumb self clutching my langston hughes library handbag that had a sony vx2000 video camera, an olympus 5050 still digital camera, and an ibook on it. i was loaded for bear and sleeping soundly as though i were hibernating… i’m in new york city, but i arrived via long island at some airport called islip, or something like that, on southwest airlines, one of the few solvent major airlines flying. it was raining and uneventful when i got there. not too cool, fortunate for me, since i was wearing short sleeves. no sooner i turned my phones on (it’s a long story. the 504 area code is still having major problems. sometimes you get through. sometimes you don’t. so i got another phone, which is where the treo came in, with a nashville area code, but i keep the old-new phone because so many people have that number), so no sooner i turned the phones on, they are ringing. one message is from a guy at the boston globe wanting an interview.
i call back. he has a speech impediment, a stutter. i instantly surmise that he is a very good writer, otherwise, the paper would not have him doing interviews. about a half hour later he is amazed, or should i say sounds dazed. he called expecting to get a few comments on rebuilding new orleans. i gave him more than he thought he was getting. we’ll see what he gets from it on sunday when his article comes out. at one point he asked me, so what do you think the new new orleans is going to look like. i didn’t skip a beat, look out our window. just like that, except probably not as tall. it’s still marsh lands down there. i laugh my bitterest laugh. he falls into a contemplative silence. a sad silence. he responds after awhile. oh… yeah, that’s about all any of us can truthfully say, oh. oh. shit. oh. boy. oh. well. hell. oh. oh. oh. it’s the end of an era folks. hours later i meet lynn pitts in front the underground kmart by where the trainlines come up and down the way are the subways. it’s penn station. in the city you can live your whole life underground. only coming up to go to the box where you live. or work. or play. or fuck. or whatever. hey, it’s new york. and down there in the entrails is a polygot world. every imaginable peopleand some you see, you don’t believe. all languages. all manners of dress and undress. they even have live entertainment around every corner. on the way in dorese calls before i can call her. dorese is from connecticut, i believe, and had spent the last two or three years in new orleans. teaching school, until she couldn’t take it anymore at the same high school i taught at. except she was an orleans parish school teacher and i worked in an independent program. she was under heavy manners.
i did whatever i wanted to do. she had to answer to administrators (some of whom were well meaning, a few of whom really cared about the students and did all that they could within their limited powers to offer some kind of substantial education, but most of whom were in well over their dear heads and didn’t have a clue of how to make our school function to actually help the students).
the kids told me about the day dorese went off on the assistant principal. they said she cursed him out. good. told him about hisself. and his rules. and all that fucking shit. and walked out. just up and quit. and they were proud. proud of dorese for standing up. they loved her because they knew, viscerally that she really loved them and was doing everything she could to help them, and… technically, she didn’t end up quitting, she was on leave. they owed her enough money backpay to start a bank. they never paid her.
in fact, the worse part about it is the irony that dorese ended up making more money playing music on the street in the french quarter than she was making with her teaching 9-to-5 gig (well not actually making, since they hadn’t yet paid her all they owed her, but you understand what i’m saying–hey yall, don’t romanticize new orleans, shit, was way fucked up down home, the system was about to break down under it’s own steam, it’s just that hurricane katrina was the straw, but the camel was already buckling at the knees under the weight of historic and ongoing unrelenting exploitation and neglect)…
so anyway dorese and i laughed with each other on the phone and she told me that she was going to be playing later in the day at penn station where i was arriving into the city and where i would meet lynn pitts, a member of our neo-griot workshop who was now living in new york, lynn was going to give me the key to r’s apartment up in harlem, “r” is a good friend of my daughter asante, so “r” offers to let me stay in her one bedroom apartment for the weekend. i catch the subway to harlem from penn station, after reassuring lynn that i’m ok. i stayed up until 4:30, slept for about an hour. left for the airport at 6am, dozed on the plane, have a video shoot to do before i sleep, i’m on my way to harlem now, i’m ok. i get to “r'” apartment–i would call the sister’s name but i ain’t trying to embarrass nobody and i also don’t want no unknowns breaking into her beautiful apartment. it’s like an african oasis amid harlem brownstones. from the outside it looks non-descript. as soon as you hit the vestibule, that little space between the big heavy outside front door and the big heavy inside front door, you know you are entering sacred space. there are photos and statues and artwork and walking the three flights up to the fourth floor is like coming through a natural history museum of west africa. i am enthralled. outside her door are two pairs of shoes. i enter and stand transfix. it’s like i’m a ghost. or at least an explorer entering a long ago other world. except this is here and now. and one of the first things i establish is that the wireless broadband internet is working. “r” has left a note on the small desk for me–actually a short page and a half letter. it’s beautiful. amazing. consistent with what i know of new york. how people survive. it’s an experience i wish every traveler could have. perhaps they should make hotels like this, naw, you can’t do it. this is not commercial. this is a caring circle of friends sharing with the father of a friend. i don’t think i have ever met “r” but now i know her at levels of intimacy one can only achieve by sharing someone’s living space.
i showered in her tub. walked naked through her rooms. slept in her bed. sit happily working at her desk. look at her photos carefully placed all around. drank some juice from her fridge. talked to her on the phone. looked at the books on the various book shelves. seen that she has music in the front room and in the bedroom (stevie wonder is arm’s length from her pillow). i know this woman i have never met. i am blessed to have someone share their life with me like this. i am blessed. and because of these blessings, the blessings of friends like “r,” friends whom i don’t personally know… i am grateful, in the midst of all of my “my-city’s-gone-now” sadness, i smile about the small things, the human sharing, and it is enough to sustain me for another day. i feel so blessed to be here… i’m out of time… got to run to a meeting… will write later about why i fell asleep on the subway and what all i’m doing in new york… in a minute, a luta continuakalamu
posted 5 October 2005
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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 Wole Soyinka
Aké: The Years of Childhood is a memoir of stunning beauty, humor, and perception
a lyrical account of one boy’s attempt to grasp the often irrational and hypocritical world of adults that equally repels and seduces him. Soyinka elevates brief anecdotes into history lessons, conversations into morality plays, memories into awakenings. Various cultures, religions, and languages mingled freely in the Aké of his youth, fostering endless contradictions and personalized hybrids, particularly when it comes to religion. Christian teachings, the wisdom of the ogboni, or ruling elders, and the power of ancestral spirits
who alternately terrify and inspire him
all carried equal metaphysical weight. Surrounded by such a collage, he notes that “God had a habit of either not answering one’s prayers at all, or answering them in a way that was not straightforward.” In writing from a child’s perspective, Soyinka expresses youthful idealism and unfiltered honesty while escaping the adult snares of cynicism and intolerance. His stinging indictment of colonialism takes on added power owing to the elegance of his attack.
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By Derrick Bell
In nine grim metaphorical sketches, Bell, the black former Harvard law professor who made headlines recently for his one-man protest against the school’s hiring policies, hammers home his controversial theme that white racism is a permanent, indestructible component of our society. Bell’s fantasies are often dire and apocalyptic: a new Atlantis rises from the ocean depths, sparking a mass emigration of blacks; white resistance to affirmative action softens following an explosion that kills Harvard’s president and all of the school’s black professors; intergalactic space invaders promise the U.S. President that they will clean up the environment and deliver tons of gold, but in exchange, the bartering aliens take all African Americans back to their planet. Other pieces deal with black-white romance, a taxi ride through Harlem and job discrimination.
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A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family thats about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrinas inexorable winds is the voice of Wards narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her familys raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brothers blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt. Her fathers hands are like gravel, while her own hand slides through his grip like a wet fish, and a handsome boys muscles jabbered like chickens. Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isnt usually just metaphor for metaphors sake.
She conveys something fundamental about Eschs fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, whats salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.
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By Michele Alexander
Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits.
Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarcerationbut her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.Publishers Weekly
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By James Carville and Stan Greenberg
Its the Middle Class, Stupid! confirms what we have all suspected: Washington and Wall Street have really screwed things up for the average American. Work has been devalued. Education costs are out of sight. Effort and ambition have never been so scantily rewarded. Political guru James Carville and pollster extraordinaire Stan Greenberg argue that our political parties must admit their failures and the electorate must reclaim its voice, because taking on the wealthy and the privileged is not class warfareit is a matter of survival. Told in the alternating voices of these two top political strategists, Its the Middle Class, Stupid! provides eye-opening and provocative arguments on where our governmentincluding the White Househas gone wrong, and what voters can do about it.
Controversial and outspoken, authoritative and shrewd, Its the Middle Class, Stupid! is destined to make waves during the 2012 presidential campaign, and will set the agenda for legislative battles and political dust-ups during the next administration.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 15 July 2012