Monday, December 29, 2008

Today was the last day of the Art Year. Wah. It was tough. I kind of lost steam in the last quarter of the year. I was sleeping through winter or something...but we made it. We made it this far.


Penz, It's Pronounced Pants

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

And I thought 40 degrees was cold. This j-setter puts me to shame!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

She Lived Alone as an Adult until she was 118, Passes at 120 Years of Age

By: Clara McLaughlin, The Florida Star, The Georgia Star Newspapers

Pearl Gartrell was born in Tillsdale, Georgia on April 1, 1888 as
one of the youngest of 15 children. She lived in Jacksonville,
for almost seventy years. She died on Sunday, November 23,

The Baptist lady gave birth to eight children and has outlived all
but one of them. Yet, she refused to move to a facility for the
elderly and until two years ago, proved that she did not need anyone
to live with her. Actually, no one lived with her totally, but her
relatives would alternate their time with her even though her great
granddaughter, Doris King, spent much of her time with her trying to
make sure things went as her great grandmother wanted them to go.

On Tuesday, November 11, Ms. Gartrell became ill and was taken to the
hospital. She was placed in Hospice care on November 13 and died on
November 23, 2003.

Ms. Gartrell did not have a copy of her birth certificate since she
was not born in a hospital. Her birth was recorded in a family
Bible. The Florida State ID card did not show the exact year of her
birth because the computer would not activate the year, 1888.
However, the Florida Department of Elder Affairs acknowledged that she
was perhaps the oldest person living in Florida until the time of her

Ms. Gartrell was very careful about her food and did not like to eat
in restaurants because she could not be guaranteed that the workers
washed their hands.

The lady did have one habit that she would not give up - her can of
sweet snuff that she kept inside of her bottom lip. At 120 years of
age, she still had most of her own teeth.

Ms. Gartrell was not a person with sickness but she did have some
bouts of illness. In fact, the doctors thought she would surely die
in 1991 when she contracted pneumonia at the age of 103 and refused to
be hospitalized. She did not like to take medication so when such was
prescribed, she would hide it under her mattress. Family members
learned to watch her closely when medicine was prescribed for her, to
make sure she followed orders.

Ms. Gartrell broke her hip and cracked her pelvis in 1998. Once her
surgery was completed and the pin in her hip had been installed, she
insisted upon going home, and she did. Within months, she was walking

Pearl Gartrell raised her great granddaughter, Lolitha Hill and some
of the other relatives. When she talked about her younger days, she
talked of her mother, who was a midwife, and worked for the town's
white doctor, of their deep-cooking fireplace and the time her mother
covered the faces of all of the children with black soot and had them
to hide in the back of the fireplace when the KKK came. She also told
of the one-room school house that was attached to the Baptist church
in Tignall, Georgia, near Athens.

Pearl Gartrell married at the age of 14 but says she cannot remember
her husband's name. This memory loss may stem from the fact that her
father, brother and husband were killed in her small Georgia town.
What she also remembers of her younger days was when she was forced
to be submissive and gave birth to two children by a white man in that
town. But, she did not harbor hate, even though she was still very
shy when it came to white people.

Ms. Gartrell was filled with wisdom and love. She kept strong
belief in God and even though she had cataracts, she always wanted the
paper, and always wanted The Florida Star, from its first days.

Pearl Gartrell not only raised her children, she helped with the
others that came along and remained a God fearing woman. Of her eight
children, one died at birth, three died of heart attacks, two had
cancer, one son was murdered and found in the St. Johns River and Tom
Gartrell still lives in Jacksonville in a nursing facility.

Mrs. King and Mrs. Hill said their great grandmother was the
foundation of their family, all the days of her life, and they are
eternally grateful. She will truly be missed.

Funeral arrangements for Ms. Gartrell has been handled by Sarah
Carter Funeral Home and services will be held at 11:00 a.m., Saturday,
November 29 at The Worship Place located at 2627 Spring Glen Road,

Contact: Clara McLaughlin, (904) 766-8834, P. O. Box 40629,
Jacksonville, FL 32203

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Layers upon layers upon layers. And yes, we're all connected.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

And here's your one stop shop for getting in touch with your representatives and letting them know how you feel.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A 24 hour day in the life of zorashorse:

7am: go to supermarket and buy cabbage for that salad that R.T. likes
8am: package herbs and label for herbology class
9am - 1pm: herbology class on concept, health and methodology
1pm: run home
2 - 5pm: Austin Salon featuring Samiya Bashir
5pm: run home again
6pm: use third-world sensibilities to sense myself to a fundraiser for Resistencia; after finding the house, enjoy conversation and good music.
8pm: girlfriend tugs sleeve "it's getting late."; head out to neighboring town for A.J.'s Birthday party
9.30pm: talk about art and activism with friends and make connections that will probably change our lives forever
12midnight: almost win at dominoes and end up losing by 10 points when W.O. locks the game
12.30am: girlfriend tugs at sleeve - "Don't you have to go and pack?"
1.15am: get home and crawl upstairs to whine about packing.
2am: finish packing, and watch half an episode of the most recent TV (internet) addiction. Fall asleep at 3am with hand on mouse.
5.45am: Wake up and move around in some semblance of wakefulness.
6.15am: Go through airport security, run into friend, have a mumbled half-asleep conversation, fall into chair and wait to be called onto plane.
7am: up in the friendly skies, a day closer to the equinox

Thursday, August 21, 2008

WHA-WHAT!! We won - Stamp Lab won this year's ArtSpark Theatre Festival competition. Phew.

It was quite a journey. We were given a work of visual art and a music composition from two artists, and were given 12 weeks to write, produce and direct a new play/performance. After the first performance and talk back, we were given two weeks to completely change the play and do it again.

I learned a ton. And then, last night, we won! We couldn't have done it without the love and support of our community, without the amazing staff at HBMG Foundation, without the volunteers who showed up and helped us pull it all off. And without love, which is really the foundation for it all.

From L to R, back to front: Wura-Natasha Ogunji, me (Ana-Maurine Lara), Cheryl Coward, Sean Medley, Melissa Recalde, Mr. Wesley, Ashleigh N Stone, Florinda Bryant.

Check out our website: to learn more. We're planning for some more stuff down the road.


Friday, August 15, 2008


In psychoanalysis - Freudian - the instinctual or subconscious constitutes the "id"; the organised part of the psyche that reacts to the outside world is the "ego," and the critical and moralizing part - the thought police - is the "super-ego."

In the dictionary, ego also means: the “I” or self of any person; a person as thinking, feeling, and willing, and distinguishing itself from the selves of others and from objects of its thought. It also refers to egotism or conceit The ego is connected to our self-esteem and self-image, our feelings. In philosophy, the ego is the part of ourselves that is -a posteriori - aware of and knowledgeable about experiences.

When someone tells us something truthful we don't want to hear, most often our egos are getting bruised. It is up to us to determine how we handle truth. And to learn how to distinguish truth-telling from manipulation.

And then there is the ego that is based on a false sense of self-importance, on conceit, self-centeredness and selfishness. This particular kind of egotism, or ego, is so deeply entrenched in so many parts and pieces of our society and social structures, and yet I always find that I'm surprised by its appearance.

In my adult life, I've learned some key things about power, authority and ego.

1) Ego, and egotistical behavior, is often a result of self-doubt, self-loathing, insecurity and a history of trauma.
2) When people operate out of a place of ego, they're not able to see anything outside of themselves, and therefore are unavailable for constructive change, collaboration, etc.
3) True power is about how we walk day-to-day and treat the people around us. Kindness and love are two of our greatest personal powers.
4) People who are self-confident and self-loving, as well as clear about their desire to succeed and to walk with other successful people, generally work without egotistical behavior and are able and willing to listen to others, to take responsibility for their actions, to compromise on decisions without comprising their integrity and to learn from their mistakes.
5) English has many powerful words. But I think there are two specific phrases that can change the course of things in seconds: "I don't know." and "I'm sorry."
6) Egotistical behavior often leads to abuses of power in positions of authority.
7) The most visionary and radical uses of authority are often in the service of love for other people motivated by a deep belief in humanity and in self-love.

On the last point in particular, I am always inspired when I see this in the world around me. My favorite artists all work with the specificity of self-love, a deep humanity and love for a beautiful world. Yeah. That's what I'm talking about.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Ugh - so here I am. It's August 4th. I haven't been on This Road in ages. At best, as sporadic as the rains have been this summer here in Austin. I can't say it's for any other reason than time and loss of it. I've been busy. It's been good. I've been gardening *yay* and also working on a play with the ArtSpark Theatre Festival. The first run was this past Saturday. It's called HUSH, and the team is called Stamp Lab. Check out our website and blog. It's pretty.

And, I've had my head in theatre for 10 weeks now! I had no idea it consumed so much time. Writing a novel is time consuming, but it's all on my time - not requiring collaboration and scheduling with others. I just choose a time, pick a seat in a quiet place in the world and write. Same with poetry - in fact, poetry is all about that dream state thing. Not so with theatre. No. Theatre is all about real time.

So, only two weeks left in the Festival. And then, I don't know what I'm going to do with myself. Oh yes - I know - go to my other writing. Of course!

I decided to take some classes at the Institute of American Indian Arts, too. Online courses. I'm really excited about that. One class - how cool is this - is all about storytelling through iconography. Oh the not so inner nerd is happy.

Penz is past it's halfway mark - if you can believe that! That means we're closer to the end of the year than the beginning. And, I know, I know - August is the 8th month after all - but still, I feel like I just started with my Penz. Really. It feels that way. I'm onto whole other ideas right now. It's just wow.

And speaking of other years, other ideas...I'm very excited for what 2009 is going to bring in terms of performance work. I'll be announcing some stuff later this year. I can hardly sit on it. But I will, for now. I need to know about the world before I say anything.


Monday, July 14, 2008

Cave Canem 2008 Photo

So many beautiful, amazing people. I can hardly stand it.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

I'm back from my second year at Cave Canem and as the Reverend White says, "My cup is full." I am cleaning house, though right now I can barely drag my tired, deliciously lived in body forward to do so. I am leaning left into the wind, and it has carried me from Greensburg, Pennsylvania - where I was just this morning - back West to Austin, Texas. My cup is full, I am ecstatic.

A body of people moving together in rhythm, hearts reaching for each other, through fear, through veils as Black Girl so aptly named this - this gauze that we place over our wounded hearts that keep us from seeing each other, holding each other - going so far as touching each other, literally. It is a beautiful thing when the gauze falls off, and we hold each other unpretentious and unafraid, completely aware of all that we have to lose and still willing to stand and demand love.

There are a hundred ways to take care of a body, to care for a soul. I am reminded of the balance between solitude and congregation.

The past several weeks, I have been so busy that even checking email was impossible - my communication limited to one or two sentences in response: yes, no - can I get back to you? It's a wonderful kind of busy, full of laughter and creativity, of visioning and activity. Kind of like my past week at CC. Writing a poem a day is a particular kind of focus. By Friday, I was drained. Didn't know if how when what I would do to string words into a coherent image/concept/poem. Poem? Poem...between pushing my own understanding of what constitutes a poem, to actually crafting something that reflects my voice within that entire conversation, adding content and form, I decided to rely on the subliminal state that arrives somewhere between 1 glass of wine and 5 a.m. in the morning: a state which creates a wonderfully high sensitivity to fears, which in turn, serves poetry.

I had fun. Read Tarot. Walked down creek before sunrise. Danced. Laughed. Had intense discussions about walls and starlight. Felt heart beats next to mine. Opened my eyes to Rachel Eliza Griffith's eyes. Breathed. Remembered. Played a girl.

And now, I get to continue dipping into this crescendo. This year has just been like that, and I don't see why it should continue to be this way. It's wonderful. It's what I asked for. It's what's mine to do with as I wish. To command into my future. And the ever present present.


Sunday, June 01, 2008

I can't say much, except to share this news. Wow - what a year of loss we've had.
I suppose that's what life is, right: birth and death. But still...every death
feels like a small part of me has died, too. Maybe that's what Buddha was getting at.


From: Patricia Smith (beloved friend)

Date: Fri, May 30, 2008

Place: Albuquerque, NM

Subject: Paula Gunn Allen

Paula Gunn Allen, b.1939, Laguna Pueblo/Sioux/Scots/Lebanese New Mexico native, passed away peacefully on the night of May 29, 2008 at her home in Fort Bragg, California, after a long and courageous battle with lung cancer. Family and friends were at her side.

This poet, philosopher, scholar, and teacher grew up in Cubero, New Mexico. She received her doctorate in American Studies from UNM in1976. The dissertation evolved into The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions(1986), a pioneering work in
Native American, feminist, and GLB studies. She also edited the benchmark book for the MLA about teaching Native Studies: Studies in American Indian Literature: Curriculum and Course Designs.

She was also a prolific writer of poems, fiction, essays; her last scholarly book, on Pocahontas, was a nominee for the National Book Award. She retired from UCLA in 1999, but always checked back into New Mexico, never stopped being a teacher and mentor, never stopped
cracking and appreciating outrageous jokes and bad puns. (The last one she and I shared, about 3 weeks ago, was "Well, you know what they say: What happens in the Zuni Mountains stays in the Zuni mountains"---Oh,my, her laugh. )

Her posthumous volume of poems, America The Beautiful, will be published by West End Press within the year.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Sometimes, we just need beautiful music.

Thanks CC!! Props to you for this song.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

What happens when you're facing the person who pulled the trigger, pushed the button, relished in the moment after bombing? What happens when you see the expression on their face, one of joyous memory.

"The thing I miss most about being in the (U.S.) Army is the sky after a bombing. The color..."

and I finished,

"Yes, the color red. The way everything's in focus and there's dust in the air. And the light is red?"

I was thinking of times when I'd experienced bombings - like during the first Gulf War, or when I was in Lebanon when the U.S. was bombing back in 1998. The way the sky lit up a bright red from the dust. I was recollecting the fear, and the taste of fear: it's bitter, like sweat gone rancid. The smell of a bombing, too, is singed, bitter, like burnt coffee. But worse, cause it's followed by the taste of blood in your throat.

I looked up at her; she was reminiscing. A big smile on her face. The way the sky looks after a bombing. After she, or someone in her unit, had pushed a button, pulled a trigger. And I was not smiling, thinking of all the innocent people who'd been killed as she was coming out of the bunker, thankful to see the sky.

And there we were, facing each other.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Unarmed people shot at, abused or killed by NYPD. Find the original at
Eleanor Bumpers
Abner Louima
Antoine Reid
Amadou Diallo
Patrick Dorismond
Ousmane Zongo
Timothy Stansbury, Jr.
Sean Bell
And, thanks R.H. for adding writer Henry Dumas (age 33), shot and killed by NYC Transit Police in 1968, in a case of 'Mistaken Identity'.

Monday, April 28, 2008

This happens to me sometimes. My worlds collide. I remember when I lived in Boston YEARS ago, one Saturday morning, I got on the T - the red line - to ride into town and five people from five different parts of my life were in the same car. I just rode the T all the way to South Station, got on a train and went to New York for the rest of the weekend. I was young, couldn't handle the collision. Needed the anonymity of the Big A.P.P.L.

But yesterday was different. I flew to Louisville for a one day meeting at the Kentucky Foundation for Women, which is doing AMAZING work in Kentucky and supporting incredible people doing AMAZING work. When I got in the car, who was there in the front seat but Lauren Austin - who I met a year ago to the day at the Atlantic Center for the Arts where she's the Community Artist in Residence. I was excited to see her, as meeting her was a turning point during my stay at the residency and it was joyful to learn about her work. My host (who happens to be cousins with my friend here in Austin, K.G. aka Trevor - yeah!! so excited to meet your incredible family) dropped me off at the lovely Columbine B & B. When I stepped in the door of this beautiful place, Rich takes one look at me and says, "Didn't you live in Jamaica Plain?" All the while, I'm trying to locate him and then we REALIZE we know each other from 10 years ago - when his partner was my supervisor (Hey Bob :)!!!

I about fell out. But then I didn't. Because I'm older now and these kinds of things just don't surprise me anymore. But they do move me. And it was wonderful to see people who I have been moved by, or who are close to people I love or who I have kind feelings for. It's awesome.

And, I got to meet new beautiful people, too - like Sue Massek of the Reel World String Band - who shared with me the joy of Paula Nelson's music and the fact of her great grandfather's banjo.

Life holds deep surprises sometimes. Who would have thought I'd be a Dominican American girl living in Texas, running into folks in Louisville, Kentucky.

It's beautiful, really.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I can't believe almost a month has passed since I last posted. Time is flying this spring' the cardinals and herons are flying with it.

Aime Cesaire has passed. Last week, in fact. Here's a news clipping about it:

Aime Cesaire, voice of French Black pride, dies

Thu 17 Apr 2008, 13:18 GMT

By Astrid Wendlandt

PARIS (Reuters) - French Caribbean poet Aime Cesaire, founding father of the "negritude" movement that celebrated black consciousness, died in his native Martinique, France's Ministry of Culture said on Thursday.
Cesaire, 94, who was mayor of the island's main city Fort-de-France for more than half a century, was admitted to hospital last week suffering from heart and other problems.

His writings offered insight into how France imposed its culture on its citizens of different origins in the early part of the 20th Century. The theme still resonates in French politics today, as the country continues to struggle to integrate many of its residents of African and North African origin.

In 2005, Cesaire refused to meet then French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy (now French president) over concerns that Sarkozy's conservative UMP party had pushed for a law which proposed to recognise the positive legacy of French colonial rule. The law was eventually repealed.

Cesaire and African intellectual Leopold Senghor -- later president of Senegal -- founded "The Black Student" in 1934, a journal that encouraged people to develop black identity.


The Caribbean writer rose to fame with his "Notebook of a Return to the Native Land", written in the late 1930s, in which he says "my negritude is neither tower nor cathedral, it plunges into the red flesh of the soil."

His poems expressed the degradation of black people in the Caribbean and describe the rediscovery of an African sense of self. In his "Discourse on Colonialism" , first published in 1950, Cesaire compared the relationship between the coloniser and colonised with the Nazis and their victims.

He was a mentor to fellow Martinican author Frantz Fanon, and their anti-colonial writings were a major influence in the heady intellectual climate of the 1960s and 1970s in France. The negritude movement was a counterpart to the Black Pride movement in the United States, though it has been criticised for not being radical enough. Cesaire was also a friend of the French surrealist poet Andre Breton who had encouraged him to become a major voice of Surrealism. Cesaire's anti-colonial rhetoric did not prevent him from having a long-lasting political career.

After becoming mayor of Fort-de-France in 1945 at the age of 32, he was elected deputy of parliament a year later, a post he held until the early 1990s.

A graduate of the prestigious French Ecole Normale Superieure -- unusual for a black Martinican in the 1930s -- he remained a member of the French communist party until the Soviet Hungarian repression of 1956. Cesaire was born in 1913 in the small town of Basse-Pointe in Martinique. He married Suzanne Roussi in 1937, a gifted writer in her own right, with whom he had six children.

Just FYI, Martinique is still a French colony (excuse me, "department"), along with Guadalupe, Reunion, and French Guiana (different from "les collectivites", which include: French Polynesia, New Caledonia, San Martin, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Pierre, Wallace and Fortuna, Miquelon and Mayotte).

I had the honor to meet Aime Cesaire in 1995, when I was working in the Dominican Republic. He was visiting, along with Raphael Confiant, and speaking as part of a conference on negritude and creolite in the Caribbean. At 19, I was too shy to have a real conversation with him, but I remember how he handled the audience with such deep, loving grace. Especially when the members in the audience began to spew out Dominican discourse on race ideology. He responded with the attitude that said, "Brother, you may question your own Blackness, but I know you're Black, and because I know you're Black, I will love you and because I love you, I will ask you to be more than this."

A la prochaine, Aime.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Last night, Angie Cruz, Nelly Rosario and I read as part of the Hemann Sweatt Symposium at UT-Austin. From Island to Mainland: Three Authors from the Dominican Diaspora in Texas. The Symposium is focused on relations between Black Americans and Latin@s in the U.S., particularly in Texas. For me, this was a very special event - it was a moment to sit in our politics, and our visions as artists in the world.

But, one of the questions that stuck with me actually came from a comment Angie made right before we started. She was talking about asking her students to identify major events from their lifetimes - aka the 1990s - and today, I spent the entire day recalling major world events from the 1990s. So here's my challenge to you: today, name 10 major world events from the 1990s that you recall. I'll give you my list, too:

1. The First Gulf War (1991)
2. The assassination of Rabin (1995)
3. The Rodney King beating & L.A. Uprising(1992)
4. Internet boom (1998 - 2000)
5. HIV Drug Cocktails (1996)
6. Contract on America (1996)
7. Ollie North ran for office
8. Rwanda (1994)
9. Mandela was freed (1994)
10. East Timor declared its independence (1999)

Go on - what do you remember?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Small victories loom large:

PHILADELPHIA - A federal appeals court on Thursday said former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal cannot be executed for murdering a Philadelphia police officer without a new penalty hearing.

by KATHY MATHESON, Associated Press Writer

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What I did this past weekend:

Garden at Alma de Mujer
Gardens need a lot of love and tending and attention. This past weekend, on March 22, 2008, about 15 students (and their friends as well as their professor) from UT-Austin came out to Alma and worked their butts off. I've posted some "before and after" shots so you can see all the work that was accomplished:

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Ana-Maurine Lara, Lenelle Moise, Solimar Otero
photo by Eddie Harris

It's been a little over a week since I returned from Baton Rouge, where I read at LSU along with Lenelle Moise & Solimar Otero, fierce phenomenal women poets/performers/scholars/thinkers. It was such a great time. Our hosts: Myriam Chancy & Kristen Hogan showed us around Baton Rouge, and I even had the opportunity to watch a performance of Eduardo Machado's Broken Eggs, directed by Femi Eumi.

Myriam Chancy Kristen Hogan

photos by Eddie Harris

Now, the amazing thing about Baton Rouge itself is - and this was my first visit there ever - the way in which the city sleeps next to the Mississippi, its trees sagging and dripping over the streets and colonial style houses. Near the Capitol building the trees were covered in
Mardi Gras beads.

Photo by Alex Brandon, AP

The beads could have easily been misconstrued as trash, but something about the way they looked made me think of lights and bottles in trees - which I like. I like the ways lights look in trees. And I like the way the beads look in the trees. Like magic. Weeks after Mardi Gras, and shining in the rain.

That was on our way back from going up to the deck in th
e Capitol building, from where we could look out over Baton Rouge. Over the Mississippi River, over the oil refinery and its clouds - all the way out to LSU. There, we discovered stuffed animals - tigers, alligators (no panthers), and a decks of playing cards. There was a row of them: Civil War Regalia, Civil War Battle Sites, etc., etc. At the very end of the row was a set titled "Black Women in American History". The older Black gentleman behind the counter informed us, after we asked him if it was any good, that "Sure it is - if you don't know your Black History."

Pënz, Art Day 17, Twilight

So, this past week, just yesterday actually, I went to the Jorge Macchi show at the Blanton. I had learned about it from Jen's blog, and decided to go check it out. And I'm SO GLAD I did.

I love conceptual art. Whether its in the form of words, music, visual material, video, etc, I LOVE IT!!! And Jorge Macchi is brilliant at conceptual art. He's obsessed with the infinite. As with parallel realities, which could possibly be read as a non-Euclidean application of theories of the infinite. I couldn't decide what thrilled me more (as an artist and an audience): his music box piece - a continuous loop of cars on a highway, in which the cars formed "notes" on the "score" put to sound OR his piece "Parallel Lives" in which he broke two pieces of glass - and their breaks are identical. Say what?!

So yeah. That's the goings on along the road. This coming week is the Spring Equinox, and with it, the world will shift again.


Saturday, March 08, 2008

From Mama C. And no, not late at all.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Eight. Seven. Thousands. Millions. I'm losing count. I know I shouldn't. I know that Yom Hashoah will soon be upon us, and the names will be read so that we do not forget. But I'm losing count. Of all the bodies becoming sand, becoming mortar and sedimentary layers to this bloody colonial and post-colonial history. How could the earth not revolt with all the blood feeding its soils, soils which are then quickly cemented over like tombs? How could the skies not open up with all the ashes of ancestors reaching for the Sun, like faces turned to warmth in the darkness? How could the water not revolt, with all the weights in its depths.

I haven't lost sight of my ideals. A world where everyone can have food to eat...more importantly, that we all have a space of land in which to grow this food. Clean water. A shelter that keeps us warm. Access to the wonders of knowledge, history, art and human exchanges. Healers to tend to our wounds. These are not, at first glance, seemingly impossible. And then I recall Israel-Palestine. Lebanon. Iraq. Afghanistan. The Sudan. South Africa. Nigeria. Colombia. Haiti. The occupied United States. And I remember the thousands. millions (I'm losing count) of people without food, clean water, shelter, or access to knowledge, history, art or healing medicine. For whom these ideals don't just feel impossible, but right now, actually are.

I wish my heart's desires could outweigh the desires of those who wage war in my name. Yes, this is the idealist in me. But, I'm also clear it's just a wish.

How to restore the spirit? I learned from a wise friend, that sometimes, in addition to the fight, I must also remember the celebration.

Last night, I went to a talk with Analouise Keating - someone who has arduously documented and discussed the works of Gloria Anzaldua. Last night she spoke of "status quo stories" and "nepantla". Keating came up with the notion of "status quo stories" - stories/narratives that are spoken to justify things as they have always been. Like, "We've always used water from that well (even though now it's toxic) because that's just the way it's always been." And then she spoke of Anzaldua's "nepantla" - a Nahuatl word for the site, the body, the space in which bridge-crossing happens, in which transformation becomes possible, in which borders are crossed. Keating was discussing the need for a transformation in (inter)disciplinary thinking in the academy. But I think her concepts are useful in life: when do we make the choice to retreat behind our borders, and when do we choose to cross into an un-defined center, a space in which all is possible?

This talk came at a time when I am finally able to put language to my aesthetic: My aesthetic is that of transgression. Transgression of rules, norms, forms, expectations, history, and all of that. An aesthetic that lives in the undefined cracks. Yes. That's where I like to live. I'm finally clear about that.

After Keating's talk, I went to a student production of Machado's "Broken Eggs". It was a hard play to watch, here in Baton Rouge. Knowing that the Director, Femi Euba - a highly lauded Nigerian Director - had probably struggled with the young, white cast for a basic respectability. His staging was fantastic. The play's text is brilliant - highly critical of class, gender, heterosexuality, race, anti-Semitism and nationalism. Yet, I sat in my chair aware that the actors were not able to be vulnerable enough to give the Latin@ characters dignity. And that the audience was laughing at moments of anti-Semitism that were actually not intended to be funny, but rather, were moments meant to illuminate and critique the ways in which whiteness has been constructed in this country.

Oh, I could go on, but my hosts here in Baton Rouge are preparing an egg salad sandwich and I'm going to go help them make it. And try to keep my idealism in tact. Even though I've lost count. I've lost count.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Andrea Smith was denied tenure.

INCITE! wrote:

Andy Smith, co-founder of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, is a brilliant Native American scholar and organizer. Her scholarship, research, and activism has impacted tens of thousands of Indigenous people worldwide (US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Northern Europe) and her work provides a critical contribution to women of color movement building. Andy is the author of three books on Native American socio-history, and co-editor of the two recently published INCITE! anthologies. The Women's Studies Program at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she teaches, recently denied her tenure. The students and faculty at U of M are organizing the response below to this decision as well as to the status of women of color in academia. Native Feminism Without Apology! FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE February 25, 2008

Statement of University of Michigan Students and Faculty in Support of Andrea Smith's Tenure Case


On February 22nd, 2008, University of Michigan's College of Literature, Science and the Arts (LSA) issued a negative tenure recommendation for Assistant Professor Andrea Lee Smith. Jointly appointed in the Program in American Culture and the Department of Women's Studies, Dr. Smith's body of scholarship exemplifies scholarly excellence with widely circulated articles in peer-reviewed journals and numerous books in both university and independent presses including Native Americans and the Christian Right published this year by Duke University Press. Dr. Smith is one of the greatest indigenous feminist intellectuals of our time. A nominee for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Smith has an outstanding academic and community record of service that is internationally and nationally recognized. She is a dedicated professor and mentor and she is an integral member of the University of Michigan (UM) intellectual community. Her reputation and pedagogical practices draw undergraduate and graduate students from all over campus and the nation.

Dr. Smith received the news about her tenure case while participating in the United States' hearings before the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Ironically, during those very same hearings, the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decisions that restricted affirmative action policies at UM specifically were cited as violations of international law. At the same time, there is an undeniable link between the Department of Women's Studies and LSA's current tenure recommendations and the long history of institutional restrictions against faculty of color. In 2008, students of color are coming together to protest the way UM's administration has fostered an environment wherein faculty of color are few and far between, Ethnic Studies course offerings have little financial and institutional support, and student services for students of color are decreasing each year. To

Support Professor Andrea Smith: The Provost must hear our responses! Write letters in support of Andrea Smith's tenure case.

Address email letters to ALL of the following:

* Teresa Sullivan, Provost and Executive VP for Academic Affairs, LSA,

* Lester Monts, Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, LSA,

* Mary Sue Coleman, President,

* Write letters in support of Assistant Professor Andrea Smith's tenure case by MARCH 31ST 2008!

Voice your ideas on the web forum at

To Support Women of Color at Michigan and the Crisis of Women's Studies and Ethnic Studies: Attend the student organized March 15th Conference at UM!!!! Campus Lockdown: Women of Color Negotiating the Academic Industrial Complex is free and open to the public.

Speakers include renowned activists and scholars Piya Chatterjee, Angela Davis, Rosa Linda Fregoso, Ruthie Gilmore, Fred Moten, Clarissa Rojas, and Haunani-Kay Trask. For more information and to register, visit:


• Smith is author of the following books:

- Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide

- Native Americans and the Christian Right: The Gendered Politics of Unlikely Alliances

- Sacred Sites, Sacred Rites

• Smith is editor and/or co-editor of the following anthologies:

- Color of Violence: The INCITE! Anthology

- The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex

- Native Feminisms Without Apology

- Forthcoming on theorizing Indigenous Studies

• She has published 15 peer reviewed articles in widely circulate academic journals including American Quarterly, Feminist Studies, National Women's Studies Association Journal, Hypatia, Meridians, and the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion

• Smith is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards from organizations such as the Lannan Foundation, University of Illinois, Gustavus Myers Foundation, Ford Foundation

• Smith was cited in the U.S. Non-Governmental Organization Consolidated Shadow Report to the United Nations

• A co-founder of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence and the Chicago chapter of Women of All Red Nations, she has been a key thinker behind large-scale national and international efforts to develop remedies for ending violence against women beyond the criminal justice system. As a result of her work, scholars, social service providers, and community-based organizations throughout the United States have shifted from state-focused efforts to more systemic approaches for addressing violence against women. In recognition of her contributions, Smith was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.

• As of June 2007, Professor Smith's book, Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide (2005) had sold over 8,000 copies. Three-fourths of these sales have gone to college and university courses. In addition, the leading Native studies organization, Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, organized a special panel about this book at their last annual conference (2007). The international impact of Conquest is evidenced by its reprinting in Sami (Sweden) and in Maori Institutions in New Zealand; by Professor Smith's invitation to participate in an academic workshop in Germany based on the book; and by the book's frequent use in Native Studies classrooms in Canada.

• She has also played a key role in contributing social-justice based research, teaching, and community building at the University of Michigan.

• Under Andrea Smith's mentorship, a large number of undergraduate and graduate students have grown as intellectual members of the UM's campus community. FACTS FOR DR. ANDREA SMITH'S TENURE CASE • Her intellectual work contributes to the fields of Native American Studies, Women's and Gender Studies, Ethnic Studies, Religious Studies, and American Studies.• Smith is jointly appointed in the Program in American Culture and the Department of Women's Studies at Michigan.

• The Program in American Culture gave a positive recommendation for Smith's tenure, while the Department of Women's Studies gave a negative recommendation. After the tenure recommendations were released from the two departments, the College of Literature, Sciences, and the Arts reviewed the tenure file and also gave a negative tenure recommendation.

• She is currently the Director of Native American Studies at Michigan.

More blog discussion here:

Pënz hits New York City!!

I'm actually in New York City for an Astraea Board meeting. Yes, the word is getting out: I'm now on the Astraea Board. I'm very excited to work with this incredible foundation that has been at the forefront of feminist, social justice based philanthropy for the last 30 years. It's an honor, really.

While here, I'm taking the opportunity to perform Pënz, and to visit museums. Today I went to the Brooklyn Museum of Art - which I try to go to when I'm here - and saw the Ghada Amer exhibit. I'm disappointed the museum didn't put out a catalogue of her work, but it was amazing to see her paintings in person - the way the threads hang down like paint across a canvas. She also had photo stills from several installations from around the world. One in which she made a sandbox that spelled out: 70% de los pobres son mujeres - something like that, which was installed on the Rambla Raval in Barcelona.

Beautiful work.

Well, I'm off to eat some sushi from Kiku.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

After awaking to the announcement that Castro has officially stepped away from leadership in Cuba, I walked dazed and confused into my kitchen to drink some coffee and contemplate a world without Castro's leadership. I've actually been thinking about this since August 2006, when he first got sick and I was in the D.R. wondering what kinds of shifts and destablizations might arise in the waters around us.

Ultimately, I have concluded in my short life time that the deep seat of radical social change does not rest in placing power with the nation state, but rather with the people. Call it what you want. Anarchy. Socialism. Whatever. I believe in the power of people organizing in small communities. And I don't believe in borders or the nation-state. It's not that I have always stood in this place. I would say I've been here for about 14 years. I used to be a huge nationalist - it came with the political territory in which I was raised. But, after emerging and standing on my own two feet, I have come to determine that the nation-state can only move us so far before it falls into a replication of the colonial framework that gave rise to it in the first place.

Cherrie Moraga's Mexican Medea examines this very tension between political identity and the nation-state, spiritual practice and religious ideology.

I am grateful to Castro for what he set into motion, along with the hundreds of people - including black and indigenous people - that were fighting alongside him. And, I have been disappointed with the Cuban nation-state policies and how they have affected black Cubans, and queer Cubans - best exemplified with the Marielitos. Any reading of history that reaches for truth, I believe must address the complexities, achievements and inadequacies of our deeply human social-political and economic systems. Thanks to Castro and Guevara, and the EZLN and and and all the revolutionaries throughout the continent, we have evidence, models and examples of revolutions against capitalist economic structures. And, still, I believe: we must move into even newer, more radical analyses.

All this passed through my brain as I drank my Bustelo laced with cinnamon. And then I got in my car and the first news report I heard started like this (Renee Montaine - NPR):

"This morning we look at the history of Presidents' slave chefs, and the history of African-Americans cooking for U.S. Presidents."


And I heard his name: Hercules. Sharron Conrad goes on to discuss how Hercules cooked for the first president of the United States, George Washington. Jessica Harris states how he was noted for being a dandy (really?). And how, when George Washington returned to Mt Vernon (NY) from Washington DC, Hercules ran away. Well, yeah.

This was after the interview with Zephyr Wright, still living, who cooked for LBJ who, she states, "The first night that I met President Johnson, he was late as usual. He was always late for meals .... Now there have been times that he'd get on the phone himself and call me and ask me how long would it take to get something ready for the whole Cabinet and sometimes he'd walk in with them and you didn't even know he's coming." She goes onto to re-tell how when LBJ moved back to Texas, he expressed his regret that she wouldn't be joining him.

So, are we to remember our rightful place: as cooks in the White House? See, it's more complex than a simple binary reading of history. For one, I think it's fantastic to give name/face and place to the rich legacy of African-American chefs. But, at the same time, knowing the complexity of a time when African-American leadership is still questioned as a viable reality really makes me wonder what the producers at NPR were thinking with this segment.

Hmm...2008 - a year of many, many changes.

Monday, February 18, 2008

I'm so excited. Last year - this month - I read with Lenelle Moise and now we shall read again in a couple of weeks, in Baton Rouge as part of the Under the Radar speaker series at Lousiana State University. How awesome is that? Not only have we read together, but we're also both poets who have been featured in Torch.

If you're in Baton Rouge on March 7, 2008, you've got to come check us out. The venerable Afro-Latina scholar Solimar Otero will also be with us. Yeah!

Friday, February 15, 2008

The ceremony is stained on my skin
traces of smoke
forming trails in my turning.
Fire sparking night,
your visage just a step
behind the evidence of
your passing. There is a raven
in the coals,
a fly in the coffee.
None of this alters
the infinite pause of gesture
awaiting your arrival.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

In case you ever forget where I come from, take good note of these photos. We cannot underestimate the innovation that comes from limited resources. One day, I might write an ethnography on the contemporary mule: the motorcycle. I might have to dig up the photo I have of two brothers carrying a cow on the back of theirs one dawn (where they got the cow at that hour, I don't want to know!). So, next time you get the urge to put down the urban cowboy, remember that his/her motorcycle is his mule and s/he can get anything anywhere with it.

Back in the days when I had roommates, I always used to say, jokingly, "Don't forget I'm third world." whenever they stared in shock at my use of materials or tools in unexpected ways. And I am. And I appreciate the lessons from my upbringing in places with limited industrial resources (as opposed to natural resources, of which there are usually many). The original recycling. So yeah - here's one for non-linear approaches to problem solving! To innovation and the mother of all inventions: necessity.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

So much happening today. The Prime Minister of Australia, PM Kevin Rudd - sworn in on Tuesday - issued an official apology to the Aboriginal Indigenous people of Australia. Here are some excerpts from the Parliamentary speech, which I found on the

Today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.
We reflect on their past mistreatment.
We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were stolen generations -

this blemished chapter in our nation's history.
The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia's history by righting the wrongs of

the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.
We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted

profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.
We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families,

their communities and their country.
For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left

behind, we say sorry.
To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and

communities, we say sorry.
And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.
We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is

offered as part of the healing of the nation.
For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all

A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.
A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to

close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic
A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches

have failed.
A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.
A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and

with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.

I agree with activists that it can't stop here, with an apology. The change must move from breath into form. And, if Australia can do this, why can't other nations do it? See, it's not too hard.

The weight of this official apology does not escape me. Especially today, following news of the loss of raulsalinas, a leader of the people who fought for most of his life for the dignity of the incarcerated, indigenous peoples, Chicanos/as, people of color and consciousness, and for a more just world.

From breath to form to breath again, we (are) transform(ed).
In tribute to the visionary leader and as Rene Valdez so aptly stated, our tender warrior raulsalinas, who transitioned this morning here in Austin, Tejas.

There are millions of people who
will say, "I knew raulsalinas."
And yes, they will all have known him.
And I have known a man
who welcomed me into this home
his arms open,
we are one, you and I,
we are fighting the same fight
you and I
walk with me
know you and I can walk
with honor
with passion
with tears
with joy
with anger
this is all ours to walk with
we are one
we remember
we are one.

I have been informed there is an altar at Resistencia Books. I am grateful.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Super size it, please...

On the way home from yet another random temp gig (which I will write about in ONE second), I was listening to the folks on NPR go on and on about superdelegates. I feel like I generally have a good memory, but why don't I remember superdelegates in prior Democratic primaries? Probably because this electoral process has done more for creating transparency than vinegar does for glass. Or maybe because this is the first time, as an unaffiliated voter, that I can vote in a primary and so I'm actually tuned into the process in a different way.

It's so fascinating.

I was in East Timor in 2000, when he stole the U.S. elections. I remember sitting around with colleagues trying to explain the, eh-hem, embarrassing truth about American electoral politics.

"What do you mean there is no direct representation?"

"Well, you see, you vote and then those votes are what direct representatives to vote and then it's called..."

And they fell out of their chairs laughing.

"You mean to tell us the most democratic country in the world has no direct democracy?"

And then I felt compelled to explain the Prison Industrial Complex and the disenfranchisement of voters of color throughout U.S. history. At which point everyone got very quiet and took small sips from their cans of VB. And then when they asked if I had voted, I had to tell them about how my absentee ballot didn't make it on the New York address. That still didn't take away from the sudden realization that we might all be screwed with dude-as-president.

So, I came home and looked up the superdelegates for Austin, Texas. Not only did I find them here, I found the ones who've already pledged to a candidate, and to whom. There are some who may still be persuadable (so much for direct democracies, right? anyway...), especially those Congresspeople who, alas, are to be accountable to the electoral public. Here we go:

Ruben Hinojosa Congressman Clinton
Silvestre Reyes Congressman Clinton
Henry Cuellar Congressman Clinton
Solomon Ortiz Congressman Clinton
Gene Green Congressman Clinton
Sheila Jackson Lee Congresswoman Clinton
Sue Lovell DNC Clinton
Senfronia Thompson DNC Clinton
Norma Fisher Flores DNC Clinton
David Holmes DNC Clinton
Jim Wright Former Speaker of the House Clinton
Denise Johnson Appointed by DNC Clinton

Moses Mercado Appointed by DNC Obama
Al Green Congressman Obama
Charlie Gonzalez Congressman Obama
Eddie Bernice Johnson Congresswoman Obama

Oscar Soliz County Official Unpledged
Chet Edwards Congressman Unpledged
Nick Lampson Congressman Unpledged
Ciro Rodriguez Congressman Unpledged
Lloyd Doggett Congressman Unpledged

Robert Martinez Appointed by DNC Unpledged
Boyd Richie State party chair Unpledged
Yvonne Davis DNC
Al Edwards DNC Unpledged
Jaime Gonzalez Jr. DNC Unpledged
John Patrick DNC Unpledged
Betty Richie DNC Unpledged
Bob Slagle DNC Unpledged
Bob Strauss Former Chair of DNC Unpledged
Linda Chavez-Thompson Labor Add-on Unpledged
Roy LaVerne Brooks State party vice- chair Unpledged
David Hardt Young Democrats Add-on Unpledged

It changes all the time, so it's a good idea to go here to get updates: 2008 Democratic Convention Watch.

So, of course on the way home from my INCREDIBLY BORING temp gig, I got all fired up by Terri Gross. Hard to imagine, I know. It's a really boring temp gig.

BUT, I must say this: I realized, as I entered data about evil insurance companies in slow, aching streams for hours, that in the past year, my temp gigs have exposed me to all kinds of random information. I've learned a ton about insurance companies and how the stock market and natural disasters, war, epidemics, etc work together. And the loveliest part about it? It's all public information! You can download everything you ever wanted to know about how dividends rise or plummet in value. And you can even find out how many billions of dollars came home in the last quarter of 2007. It's amazing!

Or, like, the business aspects of eating off the backs of poor people who have to work to take care of their children - my job: to handle frantic parents' calls when they missed a payment and didn't know what they were going to do with their child that afternoon. I tried hard to understand the side of the business owners (it goes something like this "This is a private service, and if they don't make the payment, we can't help them. Imagine how much money we would lose if every parent who couldn't afford day care slipped their kids in?"). I think it's why I'm only a good capitalist when I play Monopoly.

Or, packing hookahs. HOOKAHS!! Why do I know how to handle a hookah? I do. Now I do. I swear that I just packed them and shipped them off with lovely scented tobacco. The warehouse employed mostly folks coming out of the criminal justice system (how FREAKING ironic is that?) and a few of us dopes who just ended up working there.

I also have learned about import-export from a purse warehouse: i.e., you're paying too much for that bag that was made by tiny, tiny hands, but anyways...cute bag.

And, lumber. So, one of my gigs was at a lumber company. I learned about seventeen different kinds of hardwoods used in construction, eight different kinds of decking (treated or not), and about where the wood originated. I had nightmares and flashes of barren, stripped forests, but hey - someone needs to supply all the tremendous amounts of construction going on in Austin's gated communities, right? And, I have to admit, I was thinking about 4 cedar log walls of my very own, corruptible! I'm so corruptible!

And, it's not that I'm bitter. Working at a temp gig means I still have space in my brain for thoughts, and I get chunks of time off around particularly important deadlines. I love that about temping. It's just that - what do you do when you're a writer with a deep sense of social justice and you have to pay a light bill (cause, by the way, I don't have solar energy people)? I was in agony on Thursday when I realized that somehow, in some jacked up indirect you work for the man but in a non-committal kinda way, Halliburton is paying my temp gig salary! Excuse me - I have to go barf now.

I am a U.S. citizen living in the heart of empire after all, aren't I?

Yeah, the meantime, I'm just going to keep on collecting random ass information about the world of pseudo work. Maybe write a poem about it all someday.

And this all brings me back:

Go call your Congress people, dammit. Get a semi-sane President in the White House while we have a Democratic Majority in Congress. Get the troops out of Iraq. Shut down Halliburton and put me out of a job! Get social programs refunded and get lots of artists wonderful jobs.
Get green cars and more bikes onto the road so we can get to those jobs. Put some right in the righteousness.

Or somethin'.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Almost off to spend Shabbat with the JJ's: Wow. And might I mentioned Chinese New Year: the Year of the Rat?

I just got word that Samiya Bashir published her Haiku collection, Teasing Crow Haiku, online. Check it out. I read the haiku's while listening to Marvin K White's "In the Village". It was an extraordinary experience. The music, the words...

yes. It's 6pm on a Friday and I am ready for poetry.

Monday, February 04, 2008

It's Black History Month in the U.S. of A. Here are some of the things I've been noticing/thinking about. Some of the amazing things.

Tisa Bryant's book, Unexplained Presence. This book, a collection of cultural criticisms and peeks of fiction woven together has changed the way I view films. Here's what the San Francisco Bay Guardian had to say about it:

Investigating the symbolic construction of identity and myth from the angle of art, Tisa Bryant's Unexplained Presence takes up "black presences in European literature, visual art, and film." Fusing criticism, film theory, and fiction with a keenly poetic ear, Bryant reenters cultural artifacts to open up these symbolically loaded but structurally silenced or backgrounded characters and motifs. Her stories trace the ways in which black subjectivity is distributed or denied within pictures and plots, between viewers and artworks and artists, and in acts of conversation and debate, of queer identification or refusal to see. What is most remarkable is how Bryant transforms these elisions into acts of imagination, restoring or reconfiguring partially glimpsed subjects via fleet and surprising sentences that traverse the distance between representation and meaning.

The language of "unexplained presence" entered my vocabulary - both conceptually and literally - about two years ago when Tisa first started talking about her book. Here's an excerpt to illustrate both from her piece, "In Melville's Jungle":

"The gait of the predator measured in matte fashion. Precise gray two-piece suite, brieff gloss on black leather lace-up shoes, his hand raching up in signature style to hone the edge of his brim. He's sharp, this samouri, a tiger in his solitude. Camouflaged by surfaces, masked by color palette. He lies on the bed in his shirt sleeves, ankles crossed, cupping a hot Gauloises. The walls, sheets, floor, the caged bird singing contentedly, all complement in cool earth tones before the indirect glare of white light obscuring the outer landscape, filling the window frame like a blank movie screen. The only motion we see is a snaky cloud of smoke rising from white shirtsleeves into white light toward a black-shadowed ceiling.

Young Jean-Pierre Grumbach watched White Shadows in the South Seas, listened to the first words ever heard in film: "Civilization. Civilization," and decided that he too would adventure in the human landscape and create worlds."

Add to this that Unexplained Presence was published by Leon Works Press: a press for experimental fiction and new narratives and that Leon Works is run by the brilliant Renee Gladman, author of Juice and The Activist and her new book: Newcomer Can't Swim. Evie Shockley writes:

Imagine yourself in a world in which you have to know who you are to know where you are—or is it the other way around? Welcome to Renee Gladman's Newcomer Can't Swim, a textural world that configures issues of personal agency and social relations in geographical terms. Gladman confronts us with a landscape that is constantly shifts and morphs, sometimes within the space of a sentence. Brilliantly astute witty challenging, Newcomer Can't Swim reenvisions the dangers of living, as Stevie Wonder would say, "just enough for the city."

Uh huh. I also heard that Robbie McCauley's coming to Austin on February 21st at the Off Center, to perform her piece, "Sugar" as part of the Throws Like a Girl Theatre Festival. "Sugar" examines McCauley’s struggle with diabetes as connected to slavery, war, work, romance and food. I want to see the artist who has so inspired Daniel Alexander Jones and Sharon Bridgforth. I can't wait.

Also in Austin will be Wole Soyinka's play "Death and the King's Horseman", showcased by Pro Arts Collective, February 13 - 24th at the Mary Moody Northern Theatre. And down on the Gulf Coast, the Lake Jackson Museum is hosting an exhibit on enslaved Africans in Latin America. I might have to go to the sea.

More to follow. For now, I'm off to do what I'm here to do.


Friday, February 01, 2008

"I have no intention of retaliating or looking backwards. We are going to forget the past and look forward to the future." Jomo Kenyatta, 1964 made following Kenya's First National Elections

Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya's first President and a member of the Kikuyu people was also one of the forces behind the establishment of the Pan-African Federation (along with Kwame Nkrumah).

Ngugi Wa Thiong'o is a Kikuyu novelist in exile from Kenya for both his political work and insistance on writing in his native tongue, Gikuyu. He was first arrested by then Vice-President Daniel arap Moi in 1977 for his play Ngaahika Ndeenda (I Will Marry When I Want), also written in Gikuyu.

These are two of the visionaries whose narratives are embedded in the language of the Kenyan nation, whose live are inextricably linked to a legacy of revolt against British colonialism. Who suffered, have suffered persecution for their thoughts. I first and foremost bring their names into the circle.

Today I was talking with Mama C. We were talking about Kenya and both the language and reality of ethnic cleansing. That genocide and ethnic cleansing are terms that have entered our language as symptoms of a modern era beginning with the onset of the Spanish Empire 516 years ago is heartbreaking. That we are now faced with the language of ethnic cleansing with regards to yet another African nation is devastating.

How to speak of connections born of chance and circumstance? Having spent a significant part of my childhood in Nairobi, I cannot make claims to understanding the deep intricacies of Kenyan nationality, culture or politics. However, I recall my family's friend A., a member of the Luo people in Western Kenya, calling us to tell us her two eldest sons were dead. They were both poisoned by local Kikuyu authorities after their full scholarships to universities in Sweden became public. And I recall other incidents gathering in the wind, whispered to my parents at parties when the adults thought the children were not listening. Of Luya, Luo intellectuals being poisoned. Of Kikuyu sent in their place. I remember the various trips that we made across the country, and the landscapes the Masai had come to inhabit - by force: dry, arid lands. Savannah covered in flies. This was not Masai native land. The Kalenjin were also displaced by Kikuyu eager to occupy the skeletal remains of British colonialism: the homes and farms of former British merchants.

How then to understand the rage that leads to hundreds of thousands of Kikuyu fleeing Western lands, in the trails of severed limbs and charred remains? Is this a pent up rage released after 30 years of slow, spotted deaths? Who is rushing to Kenya's aide, and with what conditions? Is this a strategic political violence aimed at forcing a shift of power into the hands of another people? Is this violence funded? By whom? Or is this hunger? I repeat, is this hunger?

We cannot accept what the media has given us as truth anymore. We must search for deeper truths and more complex renderings of history. We must, must, must! I rarely speak in imperative terms, but with regards to our information and what we receive, I am becoming increasingly uncompromising about the necessary act of searching for multiple viewpoints and deeper histories.

I cannot help but wonder what will become of the brokered talks and deals proposed by Kofi Annan (to date, I have found no information of his affiliation - reports merely read "former Kofi Annan - is he speaking on behalf of the African Union? the Global Humanitarian Forum? as a member of the Global Elders? or as an independent agent brokering his power?). Will deeper truths come to light? Will the talks uncover the deeper tensions that seem to be a latent symptom of the post-colonial nation state? Will ethnic cleansing be avoided, unlike what occurred in Rwanda? Will Kenya be linked in the imaginaries of the American public to Barack Obama at this critical point in U.S. electoral campaigning in ways that are unconscionable?

Ergh. I would be lying to say I walk into this weekend without Kenya on my mind. I hold peace and a light for truth in my heart for the people of Kenya.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Another jewel from my research on Afro-Latina Lesbians:

What kinds of conversations do we, as black women of the diaspora, need to have that will end these “wasteful errors of recognition”? Do we know the terms of our different migrations? Each others’ work histories? Our different yearnings?... To which genealogy of Pan-African feminism do we lay claim? Which legacy of Pan-African lesbian feminism? These conversations may well have begun. If so, we need to continue them and meet each other eye to eye, black women born in this country, black women from different parts of the continent and from different linguistic and cultural inheritances of the Caribbean, Latin America, Asia, and the Pacific who experience and define themselves as black, for there is nothing that can replace the unborrowed truths that lie at the junction of the particularity of our experiences and our confrontation with history.

From Pedagogies of Crossing by M. Jacqui Alexander

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Toni Morrison's Endorsement of Barack Obama, posted yesterday Monday January 29, 2008:

Dear Senator Obama,

This letter represents a first for me--a public endorsement of a Presidential candidate. I feel driven to let you know why I am writing it. One reason is it may help gather other supporters; another is that this is one of those singular moments that nations ignore at their peril. I will not rehearse the multiple crises facing us, but of one thing I am certain: this opportunity for a national evolution (even revolution) will not come again soon, and I am convinced you are the person to capture it.

May I describe to you my thoughts?

I have admired Senator Clinton for years. Her knowledge always seemed to me exhaustive; her negotiation of politics expert. However I am more compelled by the quality of mind (as far as I can measure it) of a candidate. I cared little for her gender as a source of my admiration, and the little I did care was based on the fact that no liberal woman has ever ruled in America. Only conservative or "new-centrist" ones are allowed into that realm. Nor do I care very much for your race[s]. I would not support you if that was all you had to offer or because it might make me "proud."

In thinking carefully about the strengths of the candidates, I stunned myself when I came to the following conclusion: that in addition to keen intelligence, integrity and a rare authenticity, you exhibit something that has nothing to do with age, experience, race or gender and something I don't see in other candidates. That something is a creative imagination which coupled with brilliance equals wisdom. It is too bad if we associate it only with gray hair and old age. Or if we call searing vision naivete. Or if we believe cunning is insight. Or if we settle for finessing cures tailored for each ravaged tree in the forest while ignoring the poisonous landscape that feeds and surrounds it. Wisdom is a gift; you can't train for it, inherit it, learn it in a class, or earn it in the workplace--that access can foster the acquisition of knowledge, but not wisdom.

When, I wondered, was the last time this country was guided by such a leader? Someone whose moral center was un-embargoed? Someone with courage instead of mere ambition? Someone who truly thinks of his country's citizens as "we," not "they"? Someone who understands what it will take to help America realize the virtues it fancies about itself, what it desperately needs to become in the world?

Our future is ripe, outrageously rich in its possibilities. Yet unleashing the glory of that future will require a difficult labor, and some may be so frightened of its birth they will refuse to abandon their nostalgia for the womb.

There have been a few prescient leaders in our past, but you are the man for this time.

Good luck to you and to us.

Toni Morrison