Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Information from Joanna Chen

Good News

The DC Public Library System has many of my books. If you have no cash to buy then borrow.
Read poems and relax...a nice way to enjoy one's summer vacation.

The Brooks after a Bend in the River

I can't remember when I stopped watching The News Hour. Listening to David Brooks often made me upset. I must have stopped watching television evening news last year. Has it been that long?  I took issue with much of what Brooks had to say, it didn't matter what the topic was. Brooks reminded me of the type of guy I got tired of listening to when I was traveling. The guy across the aisle who had an opinion on everything because he attended an Ivy League school. Sometimes I would look at the person's clothes and how they dressed became linked to a better understanding of how the world was run. I've been forced my entire life to listen and observe privilege. Whiteness was just a cover for things people wanted to steal in the dark.

Yet lately like sunrise it seems each day I've found something written by David Brooks interesting and on point. I find myself quoting or simply shaking my head in agreement. Brooks the last few months have been asking the big questions behind our problems.  He has introduced a level of ethics and clear thinking that has been missing from our the news now disguised as entertainment. One can learn something from the short op-ed articles Brooks has been publishing in The New York Times.
I read them and they are refreshing like air-conditioning on a hot day in DC.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Dear E. Ethelbert,
J. K. Rowling at the 2016 PEN America Literary Gala
With the United Kingdom voting to leave the European Union, there is an unsettling sense around the globe that the impossible is suddenly possible, and not necessarily in a good way—terrorist attacks in the unlikeliest places, a political season that not even PEN Member Beau Willimon, the creator of House of Cards, could have dreamed up, and a Supreme Court down one and deadlocked on some of the most important issues of our time.

At PEN America, we are urging the political parties to ensure media access to campaigns and respect for the First Amendment and press freedom, matters that once seemed beyond question. Bans, insults, and epithets have become an almost accepted dimension of our political process. As I wrote in The Washington Post, our language and categories are failing us when it comes to talking about hateful speech, much less the vital work of doing more to address its consequences.

These pressing national questions are buffeting our daily work at PEN America. When we chose Mexico as the focus of this year’s PEN World Voices Festival, we did not know that as we sought to build bridges, others would be calling to erect walls. And when J. K. Rowling agreed to appear at PEN America’s Literary Gala, we did not expect she would be schooling us all on the high cost of easy answers. Rejecting the call to ban Donald Trump from traveling to England, she stood firm for free expression. “I consider him offensive and bigoted,’’ she said. “But he has my full support to come to my country and be offensive and bigoted there. His freedom to speak protects my freedom to call him a bigot. His freedom guarantees mine.”

Defending Free Expression
The power of international advocacy for human rights was triumphantly in evidence when the indomitable Azerbaijani investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilovawinner of the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award at PEN America’s 2015 Literary Gala—walked out of prison in May. She was granted a conditional release following months of campaigning by PEN and partner organizations outraged at her conviction on trumped-up charges linked to her groundbreaking exposés of corruption, including revelations confirmed in the recently released “Panama Papers.” In a Skype conversation with PEN America after her release, Khadija spoke of how important the Freedom to Write Award had been in keeping her spirits strong in jail. The 36th imprisoned writer recognized by PEN America’s Freedom to Write Award to be released, Khadija is now speaking out on behalf of the other writers, journalists, and activists still imprisoned in Azerbaijan.
Khadija Ismayilova released in May
We have stepped up our advocacy and assistance work on behalf of writers and activists under threat in Bangladesh following another spate of murders in April, including of Xulhaz Mannan, a prominent journalist and LGBT rights advocate. PEN America enabled an imperiled blogger Ashif Entaz Rabi to travel to Washington to attend the White House Correspondents’ Dinner where the ongoing free expression crisis in Bangladesh and PEN America’s work were highlighted from the podium even as the release of Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, whose unjust imprisonment in Iran was the subject of sustained advocacy by PEN America members, was being celebrated. PEN America has continued to lead a coalition of 16 human rights organizations calling on the United Nations Human Rights Council to address Bangladesh at its June session.

Celebrating Writers
Our 2016 Literary Gala gathered more than 800 supporters to celebrate PEN America and honor champions of literature and free expression. In addition to the PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award presented to J. K. Rowling, our annual publishing award was presented by author Donna Tartt to Hachette Book Group CEO and PEN Trustee Michael Pietsch. The PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Free Expression Courage Award went to LeeAnne Walters and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the mother and the pediatrician whose brave demands to be heard brought national attention to the lead-tainted water flowing to homes in Flint, Michigan. The PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award was presented to Egyptian writer Ahmed Naji, whose story of imprisonment for writing about sexuality can be seen in the video here. Ahmed’s brother, Mohamed, came to accept the award and, as the evening concluded, guests penned hundreds of heartfelt messages of solidarity for him to take back to Egypt. Each day we release one of these cards via social media (#FreeNaji).
Kathy Bates sends her message of support to Ahmed Naji

The Gala garnered extensive media coverage from The Wall Street Journal, Observer, the AP, People, and more, especially for J.K. Rowling's remarks that so meaningfully distilled PEN’s work defending free expression even for views with which we disagree. PEN America President Andrew Solomon offered his reflections on her speech in The Guardian. Also much in view during the evening was the debut of PEN America’s new brand identity, invoking an open book, a “thought bubble” and, through our new tagline, The Freedom to Write, a rallying cry for free expression.
The 12th annual PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature brought together more than 100 writers from dozens of countries for 70-plus events, performances, lectures, tributes, readings, and conversations in venues across New York’s boroughs. We spotlighted the perils faced by journalists such as Lydia Cacho; the work of visual artist Gabriel Orozco who was in conversation with PEN America Trustee Colm Tóibín; Russian crime fiction writer Boris Akunin in dialogue with Walter Mosley; Fran Lebowitz and Richard Price talking about the state of New York City; and Kwame Anthony Appiah, Marlon James, and Jamaica Kincaid comparing notes on being ‘’expats’’ navigating two cultures. At the “I Wish to Say’’ event in Bryant Park, passersby offered messages for the presidential candidates to writers operating manual typewriters. Capping the week was the Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture delivered by Roxane Gay, joined afterward for a conversation with Saeed Jones of Buzzfeed. Gay spoke of making her way through her upcoming  memoir Hunger and how she invoked “the power of Beyoncé” in this period of “AL – after Lemonade” to overcome her fears.
Roxane Gay delivering the
Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture

At the 2016 PEN Literary Awards Ceremony earlier in April, Master of Ceremonies Tina Chang welcomed some 500 guests, honorees, and presenters to confer more than $200,000 in prizes. Winners of five of our awards were announced live at the ceremony: the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction to Mia Alvar; the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay to Ta-Nehisi Coates; the PEN Open Book Award to Rick Barot; the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award to Lauren Redniss; and the PEN/FUSION Emerging Writers Prize to Jean Guerrero. Take a look at the celebration here.
PEN America also applauded the work of incarcerated writers during Breakout: Voices from the Inside with readers such as Piper Kerman, Sunil Yapa, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Mitchell S. Jackson, Jeffrey Toobin, and Siri Hustvedt showcasing the winners of the 2015 PEN Prison Writing contest.

Coming less than 48 hours after the horrific mass shootings in Orlando, our Members Mingle with LAMBDA Literary to celebrate LGBT Pride took on special significance this year. With writers t’ai freedom ford, Naomi Jackson, Darnell Moore, and Darryl Pinckney co-hosting, the event became an opportunity to come together in mourning and solidarity. As Darryl Pinckney reflected: “This was an attack on secularism everywhere, and the secular values of liberalism: the social equality, intellectual freedom, personal liberation, and political power through coalition that make up this secular will—beliefs that have everything to do with LGBT rights.”

More than 600 PEN America supporters participated in the 17th season of our Authors' Evenings, intimate gatherings for literature and conversation. The dinners featured writers including John Waters, Erik Larson, Hanya Yanagihara, Mary Karr, Edna O'Brien, and Fareed Zakaria. There will be more evenings this fall; to find out about attending or hosting please contact Lorna Flynn at For May’s Monthly Member Mingle, we partnered with VIDA: Women in Literary Arts—we love their mission of elevating contemporary writing by women.  We have just launched PEN Live series with Nothing Compares 2 U, a tribute to music icon Prince hosted by historian Zaheer Ali with readings from Porochista Khakpour, James Yeh, Lincoln Michel, and Elissa Schappell. Next month, the theme will be “Stump Speech,” another chance to consider the importance of free speech and satire in today’s political climate hosted by Haroon Moghul, author of the novel The Order of Light and an upcoming memoir How to be a Muslim: An American Story. You can get the details on the July 7 event here.

As we start a summer that seems bound to be steamy in more ways than one, I look forward to your thoughts on how PEN America can best bring light amid the heat.

With warm regards,

Suzanne Nossel
Executive Director

Sunday, June 26, 2016


There are many things I just don't understand, for example who came up with the idea of having Lil Wayne pour champagne on his phone?  Please tell me race had nothing to do with this. I also don't understand why we keep wanting to discuss the levels and degrees of President Obama's blackness.
How many years has this been going on?  Eight?  What?  Why do we keep "pouring" blackness on Obama presidency?  In the New York Times today, one can find "The President of Black America?"
by Michael Eric Dyson. This comes close to recycled journalism and analysis. I had problems with Dyson using the word "flawed" when describing the president. There is something about the word that makes one human. If the president is imperfect is it because of his character or his policies? Strange for an "imperfect" president to work so hard to have a more perfect union. Is there such a thing as a race flaw?  Many years ago I thought it was a black person with a jerry curl. The last I looked the president's hair was only turning gray.

In his essay, Dyson mentions he twice worked hard to get the president elected. What did he do?
Stuff envelopes and go door to door?  I remember when I learned President Obama wrote poetry. I suddenly felt very close to him. I wanted every speech he gave to be well written and poetic. Maybe before we ask if Obama is a Black president, we should determine if he is a poet or a black poet.
Would this make things easier for history?

In the 21st century why should President Obama have to highlight black suffering?  We keep throwing the "Dyson" at this question. Simply talking about race has become a cottage industry for black intellectuals. My working class mother and father didn't need pundits to explain racism or race relations to them. When their backs hurt and the money in their pockets subtracted itself from a hole, they turned to face each morning as blues people, trying to make a way out of no way. I majored in African American Studies when I went to college. Today there are many black books published about race I have no intention of reading, for the simple reason that these texts are not visionary. They might have a cute title but that's just gimmick marketing. We are not going to progress on slogans and sweet couplets.

From the moment President Obama took his oath, the black intellectual had no tool or way of measuring his importance or impact on society. Think of Obama as one of the Wright brothers - convincing folks that the airplane is coming. Here was a black man elected to the most powerful office in the world. I doubt this was what Stokely was thinking about when he shouted "Black Power." What if we began to see Obama as another Einstein. Do you think we might be able to travel faster than the speed of light?  Or would we be held back by the gravity of our blackness?

Meanwhile, Lil Wayne sticks his phone in the fish bowl and is surprised that it still works.
How many black people continue to look at President Obama still shocked that he was ever elected?


Friday, June 24, 2016

Howdy Doody Time

Our world is filled with sacred nonsense. We love a tribe as much as 13 colonies. Any type of world federation or union is always suspicious. After Britexit I guess comes Texas.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Maryland and Washington, DC premieres of

Raising Bertie

Saturday, June 25 - 1:45pm
AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center
8633 Colesville Road
Silver Spring, MD 20910

Sunday, June 26 - 3pm
Landmark E Street Cinema
421 7th St., NW
Washington, DC 20004

Join filmmakers Margaret Byne, Ian Kibbe with
 Reginald “Junior” Askew, David “Bud” PerryDavonte “Dada” Harrell for Q&A following the AFI DOCS screenings of Raising Bertie

Tickets and festival information available at
Raising Bertie is a tender portrait of the lives of three young boys: Reginald “Junior” Askew, David “Bud” Perry, and Davonte “Dada” Harrell as they face a precarious coming of age in the rural community of Bertie, North Carolina. When the supportive community school they attend is forced to close, the boys must navigate a path of their own, which they hope will lead them away from the cycles of racism and poverty that threaten to engulf their lives. 
Directed by Margaret Byrne (a cinematographer on American Promise) through production collaborative Kartemquin Films (The Interrupters, Life Itself), Raising Bertie world premiered in April 2016 at Full Frame. It has screened to acclaim at the Sarasota, Ashland, and Bentonville Film Festivals. "Astounding and powerful” (Indiewire), the film "brilliantly weaves the young men’s stories together, as they transition from their teens into manhood, engaged in a shared struggle for social and economic survival," (Huffington Post Black Voices), and is “beautifully filmed” (The Guardian).

@Raising Bertie

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Playing Ball and Writing at Bennington

Tomorrow (4PM) will be the 11th Miller Classic softball game at the Bennington Writing Seminars.
A literary clash between poets and fiction writers.
I began sponsoring this event as a way of having fun on the literary playing field.
No need for a genre to be left outside the game.

Go Poets!


In a few days the media will move to their next story.  Orlando will be left with a new identity similar to Dallas after the Kennedy assassination. It's amazing how quickly we moved from Muhammad Ali's life, funeral and interfaith messages back to staring at Muslims with fear. Oh, and let's not talk about gun control and the NRA again. We tend to be vampires and no amount of blood is going to prevent us from not loving blood. There will be more mass killings with guns before the year is out. Pick a city, a school or a workplace. Meanwhile do the black math in Chicago. Black people dying without headlines - like guppies we seem to eat our young. If we desire gun change in our society we will have to depart from our history and mythology. We hold dear the right of the individual to arm and harm. There is something so sadly American about this. Can you imagine John Wayne giving up his gun? Of course not. Did Dirty Harry carry a knife?If you want to talk about the need for gun control then talk to the old buffalo community. Listen to their stories. Well, let's get back to Clinton's email and the wall Trump wants to build so we can't see Mexico. We love a good story as much as we love cookies and milk before bedtime. We are not serious when it comes to gun control or putting an end to violence in our society. Yet, we still fear things that go bump in the night. We are starting to believe there is a Muslim hiding under every bed waiting to harm us. It might be time for adults to turn the lights back on.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Book Launch: The Butler’s Child

A Politics and Prose DC book launch with author and IPS board member Lewis M. Steel, whose new book tells his personal story of a Warner Brothers family grandson who spent more than fifty years as a fighting, no holds barred civil rights lawyer.

June 22 @ 6:30 pm

Busboys & Poets – 14th& V
2021 14th Street NW 
Washington , DC United States
+ Google Map

the-butlers-child-book-cover Join IPS board member and civil rights lawyer Lewis M. Steel for a Politics and Prose discussion, Q&A, and signing of his new book, The Butler’s Child: An Autobiography.

The Butler’s Child is the personal story of a Warner Brothers family grandson who spent more than fifty years as a fighting, no holds barred civil rights lawyer. Lewis M. Steel explores why he, a privileged white man, devoted his life to seeking racial progress in often uncomprehending or hostile courts.

Lewis speaks about his family butler, an African American man named William Rutherford, who helped raise Lewis, and their deep, but ultimately troubled relationship, as well as how Robert L. Carter, the NAACP’s extraordinary general counsel, became Lewis’ mentor, father figure and lifelong close friend.


Events from the Institute for Policy Studies: Ideas into Action for Peace, Justice, and the Environment