Wednesday, March 31, 2004

March 29-31


I read Andrew Solomon's op-ed piece in the New York Times. The essay included a line I wrote down:

The opposite of depression is not happiness but vitality.

Solomon is the author of THE NOONDAY DEMON. It's one of the best books on depression. A couple of friends told me about it.

I read the newspaper while in National Airport and waiting for a flight to North Carolina. I spoke briefly with Johnetta Cole who was trying to catch a plane. She has done a remarkable job as a college president the last several years. I remember when she lived in Massachusetts. It was because of her I had a chance to visit Cuba back in 1976.

I was met in the Raleigh/Durham airport by Brett Hursey and Sharon Raynor. They both teach at Eastern North Carolina University. We had a fun ride to Greenville.


Around Noon I was picked up from my hotel by my friend Julia Faye. I taught her class. Her students had been reading my book WHISPERS, SECRETS AND PROMISES. They had good questions and we laughed quite a bit.

Resa and Patrick Bizzarro escorted me to my afternoon lecture. I spoke about the development of the African American Resource Center at Howard as well as new directions for African American research.

After a nice dinner with students and faculty at Eastern North Carolina I did a poetry reading.
I read from HOW WE SLEEP ON THE NIGHTS WE DON'T MAKE LOVE and from CIRCUS ANIMAL which is a work-in-progress.


Early departure back to Washington. In the airport I purchased a copy of READING LOLITA IN TEHRAN by Azar Nafisi. My friend Susan has been talking about it. Nafisi lives in DC. I hope to meet her.

In my mail was Elizabeth Alexander's new collection of essays, THE BLACK INTERIOR. So much to read.

Tomorrow is going to be a busy day and a return to the "daily" blog. Later...

Sunday, March 28, 2004

March 24-March 28
WEDNESDAY. Early morning flight from National to O'Hare. I arrived and checked into the Hilton Palmer Hotel. The grand lobby set the tone for all the writers who descended on the conference ground. 4000 this year. The first person I met was Ray Gonzalez. I love this quiet guy who is always putting out an anthology. He was walking around the hotel waiting for things to start. I spent the afternoon watching folks set-up their book displays at the book fair. This year folks were on two floors.

THURSDAY. I gave a presentation at 9:00 AM. My panel topic was "Poetry & History." It was coordinated by Aliki Barnstone. Also on the panel were Alan Michael Parker and Nicole Cooley.

Here is a short excerpt from my comments:

I think the poet does more than write about history. In many ways a poem is capable of placing the reader/listener inside of it. Inside of what Charles Simic calls its bloody mouth.
When the poet turns to history, he or she turns to research as well as reflection. The poet relies on fact as well as imagination and memory. The poem can become a document. We might even equate documentation with the telling of truth. With the telling of the truth we wrestle with the task and responsibility of not forgetting.

I had lunch with Ken Massey who lives in Chicago and is interested in attending Bennington.
Bennies were everywhere at the AWP Conference. Someone quoted Liam as saying "Bennington's goal is nothing less than world domination."

Two Bennies who graduated and are doing well are Rebecca Warner and William Pierce.
It was good to see both of them again. Pierce even had a cool business card which said Agni Magazine, Senior Editor.

In the afternoon I posed for the photographer Lynda Koolish. Lynda is the author of AFRICAN AMERICAN WRITERS: PORTRAITS AND VISIONS. The book was published in 2001 by the University Press of Mississippi.
Lynda provided Sable magazine with 2 photos of June Jordan. You can find them next to my essay on June in the Spring 2004 issue. Kadija Sesay was at the conference. She is the Publisher and Managing Editor of Sable which comes out of England. I think Kadija is a Queen. Every time I saw her I had to give her a hug.

I went to the Gwendolyn Brooks tribute. Patrick Oliver, Nora Brooks Blakely, Jacqueline Bryant and Kelly Norman Ellis did a nice job. Listening to Nora was like listening to Gwen Brooks.

Dana Gioia gave the conference keynote speech. His talk was as smooth as Bill Clinton or John Edwards. It was a good talk. It was personal as well as informative. ONe came away with some history of NEA and the vital role it must continue to play in our society.

FRIDAY. I had an early breakfast with my publisher Sandy Alexander of Curbstone Press. I went to a morning panel. The topic was "Step Mother Muse: Multilingual Poets Discuss Their Writing Processes. Meena Alexender, Marilyn Chin, Virgil Suarez, Nathalie Handal, Eugene Gloria and Khaled Mattawa participated. I sat next to David Mura.

I did a 10:30 AM book signing. Little did I know that all my books would be good before Saturday.

While walking around the AWP conference I had nice chats with Maxine Kumen, Eugene Redmond, Dinty Moore and Doug Unger. I saw old friends from the 1970s like Debbie Woods and Donna Mungen.

Friday afternoon I gave my second panel presentation. Topic: Like A Woman: Men & Poetry. This pane was organized by Jason Shinder. It was suppose to include Li-Young Lee. He was a no show so a few folks left to look for other stars.

Here are some comments I made:

When I first started writing poetry I remember a couple of people saying my work was soft. It didn't have the masculine militancy one associated with the new black poety of the late sixties and early seventies. I didn't really care about that since I soon discovered new models for my work. They were June Jordan, Alice Walker, and Ntozake Shange. During what I saw as the femminization of African American literature I tried to write work that would complement the new definition of womanhood I saw emerging around me. In 1977 when I edited a small feminist anthology with the title WOMEN SURVIVING MASSACRES AND MEN, I received a post card from Ishamael Reed inquiring if I were a massacre or a man.

After my last panel I spent much of my time in my hotel room. I'm not a drinker or dancer so when it gets dark I disappear. I don't care too much for the literary afterwards. I read Dana Gioia's excellent new book, TWENTIETH-CENTURY AMERICAN POETICS published by McGraw Hill.


I was scheduled to do a second book signing but the second shipment of books never arrived.
I had the same problem when I left DC. I waited for the postal service to deliver a copy of the new NOCTURNE magazine edited by Giovanni Singleton.

At the Curbstone table I had a number of good talks with Angela Sherman, A. Van Jordan, Afaa Michael Weaver, Carolyne Wright, and Jan Beatty who I simply adore for her coolness.

Weaver, Van and Ken and I had a nice lunch and then we separated like the 4 Musketeers.

I leave the hotel at 5:30AM for O'Hare. Nice chat with Patsy Sims in the airport. She runs the creative writing program at Goucher. On the plane was Stan Plumly. Stan just released his collection of essays ARGUMENT & SONG: SOURCES & SILENCES IN POETRY.

It was a nice sunny day in DC. The grass around the house needs cutting. Rebbe was out crying trying to get back in. I checked a couple of hundred emails and went out to the park with my son. It was crowded with guys shooting hoops. I hadn't been out on the court since about last summer. It felt good passing the ball to my son as he hit his shots. Later we watched Duke defeat Xavier.

I'm here getting ready for North Carolina and getting back into the swing of things.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

I spent almost the entire day talking with Carolyn Pearson. What a wonderful person. She's the VP for Urban Accounts at Macmillan/McGraw-Hill. So good to see African American women in the publishing industry. I think of the important contributions made by Toni Morrison, Marie Brown and Adrienne Ingrum. These woman helped change our reading tastes. I think Carolyn will follow in their footsteps.

I checked the schedule for the AWP Conference again. I plan to attend sessions that will help with my creative writing teaching. I hope to look for titles at the book fair that might be of interest to my students.

For airplane and airport reading my bag is filled with goodies:
DREAMING ME by Jan Willis
JERUSALEM, JERUSALEM BY Lesley Hazleton. (Susan, thanks for loaning this to me)

Two magazines: The latest NEW YORKER and CREATIVE NONFICTION # 22

I have an 8AM flight out of National tomorrow. I don't plan to be around a computer while in Chicago. So look for the next E-note to be posted on Sunday evening. I'll try to list the highlights of the AWP gossip, just the good stuff. Later...

Monday, March 22, 2004

I started the day thinking about the new developments in the Middle East. The death of Sheik Ahmed Yassin is only going to open the door to a cycle of new violence. In the New York Times today there is a review of STILL LIFE WITH BOMBERS: ISRAEL IN THE AGE OF TERRORISM by David Horovitz. I need to read this book.

The White House program was a nice event to attend. It was the fourth in a series of White House Salutes to America's Authors. Today's program highlighted the work of Truman Capote, Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty.

Breakfast was at 9AM. I sat with Stephen Balch and his wife. Balch is head of the National Association of Scholars and is based at Princeton. After breakfast I walked around in the East Wing. I talked with members of Eudora Welty's family. With them was Suzanne Marrs who is working on a Welty biography. Marrs is the author of ONE WRITER'S IMAGINATION: THE FICTION OF EUDORA WELTY. We have a mutual friend in Dr. Jerry Ward.

The White House program opened with a muscial introduction. Muscian Eric Reed played Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin." This was followed by opening remarks by Laura Bush. The First Lady was looking very attractive. Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts served as moderator of the morning events. It consisted of dramatic reading of the work of Capote, Welty and O'Connor, a musical interlude and then remarks by writers Tom Wolfe, Elizabeth Spencer and Brett Lott.

The program was entertaining as well as informative. It lasted until about Noon. Leaving the White House I had a chance to briefly chat with Lynne Cheney. I thanked her for the support she gave to the Humanities Council of Washington during her tenure as head of NEH. I also spoke with NEH chair Bruce Cole. I had met with him in his office a few weeks after he took over from Bill Ferris.

About a block from the White House I bumped into David Fenza (AWP) who I always enjoy seeing. We stood on the corner laughing and talking about literary matters. I'll be seeing him on Wednesday in Chicago.

Well, let me get myself together for the trip.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

A rest day. Newspaper reading. Meetings with two friends. I did start preparing a new biographical note for my website. I'll be adding some video from my TV program, Humanities Profiled.
New poem " The Healing Quilt" will be posted soon. OK. Let me get ready to see the First Lady.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

I took a morning run. I've been doing that for the last two weeks. The morning was spent washing clothes and making a trip to the cleaners. I'm getting ready for my trip to the AWP Conference in Chicago. I also needed to pick-up clothes so that I'll have something to wear to the White House breakfast with Laura Bush on Monday.

Much of the day was spent in my first floor office reading magazines. Two good journals to read are:
Radical History Review, Fall 2003
It has a excellent interview of TransAfrica's Bill Fletcher, Jr by activist James Early.

The Bloomsbury Review, March/April 2004
Wonderful interview with Marilyn Chin

Last night I talked with Giovanni Singleton in California. She informed me that the latest issue of Nocturnes is out. This one riffs on the blues and comes with a CD. Giovanni is putting out one of the best new literary magazines in the country. If you're interested in getting a subscription write to her at:
I told G to send me the new issue at once. I want to promote it at the AWP Conference.

Well, I did get a chance to enjoy the nice weather. My best Buddy Bev and I went down to DuPont Circle and visited the Provision Library as well as Teaism. We ran into many people we both knew. Nothing like laughter and good company on a Saturday.

Friday, March 19, 2004

A woman from the State of Bavaria Liaison Office was going to interview me at Howard today.
She made it to the the floor where my office is but then a reference librarian gave her the wrong directions. I've been listening to Alicia Keys all evening: "You Don't Know My Name." Anyway one good thing happening here is the hiring of Jennifer Lawson to run the television station. Lawson is the former PBS programming chief.

Today I did paperwork to get my honorarium from PLA. Last month I gave a luncheon speech in Seattle. It was well received.

I read a couple of manuscripts by two writers living in the DC area: Anna Mwalagho and Yael Flusberg. I'll get my comments together this weekend and get back to them next week.

I sent a letter to Arts Commission chair Dorothy McSweeny asking her to consider developing more writer-in-residence positions in neighborhood libraries for poets.
I completed work on a speech for North Carolina on March 30th. My talk is about running the African American Resource Center at Howard.

I just read the essay "The Incredible Survival of Coyote" by Gary Snyder. You can find it in his book A PLACE IN SPACE. The coyote tales remind me that I'm BrerBert or maybe Eshu. Is that what the E stands for? Hmmm.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

I had a late afternoon D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities meeting. Good things taking place in this town. The Pandamania Project will start in May. So look for those cute guys all around the city just like we had those political animals everywhere. Dolores Kendrick gave her Poet Laureate report. HomeGirl is getting an honorary degree from St. Bonaventure University in May. Next month one of her poems will be included in the Albert Paley sculpture that will be placed in front of the new PEPCO Building, located at 9th and G streets, NW. The dedication ceremony is April 19th at 2:00 P.M. At the meeting Kendrick circulated a copy of Joanne Gabbin's new anthology FURIOUS FLOWER. The book includes poems by Kendrick as well as me. We are in good company. Some of the writers I admire can be found here: Cornelius Eady, Elizabeth Alexander, Afaa Michael Weaver and Lucille Clifton.
Well it looks like a long night. I have to do my taxes. I'm so glad tomorrow is Friday. See you over the weekend.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Breakfast with Naomi Ayala this morning in Adams Morgan. Recommended reading is her book WILD ANIMALS ON THE MOON. It was published by Curbstone Press in 1997. Always good to talk poetry with her.
I picked up some music today:
I had a meeting with Del Hornbuckle. the director of the Provisions Library. We talked about doing a program for National Library Week in April. Checkout the website for It's a very cool "third" place for artists and activists. I became a member a few weeks ago. You get a choice of books when you join. I selected DREAMING ME: FROM BAPTIST TO BUDDHIST, ONE WOMAN'S SPIRITUAL JOURNEY by Jan Willis.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

A busy day. I've been following events in Spain. I wonder about our own upcoming election.
Sad to see the turn of events in Haiti. I'm reading Edwidge Danticat's new novel THE DEW BREAKER. I hope to see her during her book tour.
I spent the day trying to complete my travel plans for my Fulbright. I also worked on the upcoming museum exhibit that I'm curating for the Smithsonian. ALL THE STORIES ARE TRUE will open on June 6th. It will highlight writers in their workplace. Here are a few of the writers that I will highlight: Walter Dean Myers, Charles Johnson, Valerie Boyd, Samuel Delaney, Dolores Kendrick.Octavia Butler and Danticat.
I had a couple of things accepted for publication today. One was a poem I wrote for Reetika that will appear in the May issue of Sojourners magazine. The title of the poem is "Button Your Shirt Before You Go." Two poems sent to CRUX the magazine published at Catholic University. They will reprint one of my Omar poems from HOW WE SLEEP ON THE NIGHTS WE DON'T MAKE LOVE.
I also sent them "The Fifth Inning" which is a prose poem. I'm trying to keep pitching.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Friday, March 12, 2004

Testing the Blog tonight. Let's see if we can post this baby.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Well this will be the start of my E-notes. I'm heading to Chicago today to give a talk and reading at Elgin Comunity College. I'll be talking about writing the memoir as well as reading from my new collection of poems. Yes, I have a new book out. The title is HOW WE SLEEP ON THE NIGHTS WE DON'T MAKE LOVE. There will be a book party in New York on April 30th. More about this later...let me catch that plane. Talk with you soon.