Thursday, December 31, 2009


Although we're just starting to celebrate 2010, the Folger is already planning for 2011! In 2011, we will be partnering with Oxford University and institutions throughout the United States to present an exhibition on the King James Bible. We are developing material for the exhibition, which marks the 400th anniversary of the book's publication, and invite you to share your opinions on proposed topics and themes. Your responses will be used in developing this and other future exhibitions at the Folger.

We hope that you'll take a few moments to share your thoughts by clicking on, or cutting and pasting, the following link:

The survey should take no more than 10 minutes to complete. As always, we welcome your comments and look forward to your responses to this survey. Thank you for helping us craft what promises to be an exciting exhibition!
I will be 60 in a few months. The 6th Inning. This is rally time if you're behind in life. It's clutch time if you're serious about leadership. It's the inning before the late innings arrive. Play hard.
Build a lead and keep it. Make the beautiful play in the field that reporters write about after the game has ended. Whatever the score, you can still win. The game didn't end in the 5th. Hope is what we play for. Dreams can be won. Tip your cap to your fans. Always know the score. Run even when you walk.
Good News:
Ethiopian novelist Dinaw Mengestu, the author of THE BEAUTIFUL THINGS THAT HEAVEN BEARS, has a second book on the way. His first novel set in the neighborhood of Logan Circle was as good as something Edward P. Jones might have written. I love to read the fictional DC. I turn the pages looking to discover something about myself and not just the city.

The 25th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Program.

Keynote Speaker: Bishop Vashti McKenzie
Performances by Afro Blue, Howard University's Jazz Ensemble

Thursday, January 21, 2010. 7PM.
Baird Auditorium
National Museum of Natural History
10th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW.


Not attending a March or Solidarity Action? Join us in Solidarity Online.

The Gaza Freedom March site is being updated almost hourly, so check it out, share the photos, videos and articles with your friends!

"The ONLY recognizable feature of HOPE is ACTION"-- so ACT today and support CODEPINK

Listening to India.Arie -Testimony: Vol. 2, Love & Politics.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


So we end the year with Tiger Woods, Terrorism and a loaf of health care. It seems so easy to predict that the next major news story will be a serious earthquake somewhere. Back to Mother Nature? You betcha.


Even before a Nigerian with Al Qaeda links tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines jet headed to Detroit, travelers could see we had made no more progress toward a technologically wondrous Philip K. Dick universe.

We seemed to still be behind the curve and reactive, patting down grannies and 5-year olds, confiscating snow globes and lip glosses.

Instead of modernity, we have airports where security is so retro that taking away pillows and blankies and bathroom breaks counts as a great leap forward.

If we can't catch a Nigerian with a powerful explosive powder in his oddly feminine-looking underpants and a syringe full of acid, a man whose own father had alerted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, a traveler whose ticket was paid for in cash and who didn't check bags, whose visa renewal had been denied by the British, who had studied Arabic in Al Qaeda sanctuary Yemen, whose name was on a counterterrorism watch list, who can we catch?

- Maureen Dowd, The New York Times


David Nicholson: fiction writer and founder of the old Black Film Review.

Question: Do you think a new Black Film Review is needed today?

A: Absolutely, and if I weren't committed to writing fiction, I'd certainly be
interested in being part of it. Watching "It's a Wonderful Life," Christmas Eve
with my 9-year-old, I couldn't help thinking that we haven't come very far.
There's one black person with a speaking role, and a few more who appear in the
background in several scenes. The picture was made in 1946 and now, 63 years
later, too many movies from Hollywood have no black people at all, or blacks in
the background. Worse, the black independent film movement, which seemed so
promising when I started Black Film Review in 1986, seems to have completely

After every act or attempted act of radical Islamic terrorism we seem to look for a narrative. We want to know why a person did what they did. We look for the story that will help explain the unexplainable. It is perhaps this search for a narrative that will continue to make us susceptible to terrorism. We want every terrorist to fit into our narrative. So we monitor engineering schools and local mosques. The problem is that Islam is a very personal religion. One submits directly to Allah.

One can view Mecca as the Internet in which all Muslims can connect - wherever they are. Muslims are also people of the book. This means they already have their narrative. No need to listen or be influenced by anyone else. Just plug yourself in when you want to. This appears to be what is happening to a generation of Muslim youths around the world. I trace many things back to the atrocities in Bosnia. I saw that conflict radicalizing a generation of Muslims the way the Watts Riots found young black people talking back to Martin Luther King, Jr.

In the latest issue of The Writer's Chronicle (February 2010) one will find four writers talking about nonlinear creative non-fiction. Bernard Cooper is quoted in the article:

Nonlinear writing is the creation of a narrative that isn't afraid to stray from strict chronological order, or to take what may seem like wild digressions that turn out to be pertinent, revealing, or just plain entertaining. It's narrative that delves into the past, present, and future as the subject requires. Flannery O'Connor once said, " A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end, though not necessarily in that order.

We seem to want to begin our narrative with 9/11, but what if many radical Muslims see themselves in the middle of a different narrative or even at the end? Nothing might make sense to us. Newly captured slaves who could not see beyond the ocean, interrupted "the narrative" by taking their own lives. It made no sense to the European crew who could not "read" what was happening.

One thing the recent terrorist attack introduced was the "character" of race. Notice how everyone was talking about a "Nigerian." Even the chatter from the terrorists was filled with this language. What does it mean? I think future attacks will not come from people with Middle Eastern features. It will either be people who are black or white. Muslims come in all colors, but in America we have been locked into stereotyping Arabs and Arab Americans. Notice how quickly the Nigerian community in Detroit issued an apology to Homeland Security. I found this strange in terms of color and race. Who is Homeland Security? Are they just white people? There must be some Nigerian Americans working for Homeland Security. I hope so. Our failure to always see race in things is the greatest weakness to our National Security. What would we do if a young white blond Muslim woman decided to attack us?

Blake Gopnik wrote a very interesting essay in the Washington Post today on the work of Lois Mailou Jones. See link below:

Blake Gopnik - Blake Gopnik reflects on a figure in 'Place du ...

Quote of the Day:

I think I can go out there on the floor and take anybody on the team, one-on-one at 54 years old , and drive right around them. They can't guard anybody.

- Flip Saunders, Coach of the Washington Wizards

Karl Rove's memoir is due out March 9th. The title is MY LIFE AS A CONSERVATIVE IN THE FIGHT. I'm looking forward to reading this book.

David Levine is dead at 83.
Levine was perhaps the greatest caricaturist of his time. For more than 40 years his work appeared in the New York Review of Books. He contributed more than 3,800 drawings to the publication.
For every person who has ever lived there will come, at last, a spring he will never see. Glory then in the springs that are yours.

- Pam Brown
Don't you think you should order this?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Increasingly, the world around us looks as if we hated it.

- Alan Watts

Petition For Kwanzaa in the White House

Does this mean Ron Karenga gets an invitation to the White House?


Who is handing out the crayons?

-----Original Message-----
X,Yemen and Z:

Our nation is getting ready for another geography test. Find Yemen on your map. Now find Sanaa. Look for these places to now become part of the vocabulary of every radio and television pundit. Everyone is going to be an expert on the place. I visited Yemen several years ago and thought I had taken a Disney ride back into the Old Testament. If there are radical Muslim training bases in this country, good luck in finding them. Once again we will have to depend on a government that can barely run its capital to assist (us) in finding the bad guys. Oh, and when I was in Yemen all the streets were filled with men wearing those cute little knives that curve. I thought about buying one for a souvenir but had second thoughts about trying to explain it to someone in an airport. But let's talk about men for a moment. Have you noticed that no matter what nation folks are protesting in, the streets are mostly filled with men. I see less women in the streets of Iran now that the protests have turned ugly. Monday there was a photograph on the front page of The New York Times showing protesters clashing with police officers in Tehran, and getting the better of them. This is a definite sign that things are going to get worse before they improve in several of these countries. Too many men in the street. Why? What do women say to them when they return home? Can one dust the violence off one's shoes and keep the repression outdoors? How do you make love after breaking up a demonstration calling for democracy? What do you sit down at the table to eat after hitting someone in the head with a brick?

It looks like we will enter the New Year with fear on our minds. Nigerians in the air with bombs?
What ethnic group will be singled out in a headline next? Do you want to do the roll call?
Let's begin the countdown for the immigration wars. As soon as we begin the debate around immigration reform, there will be a strong desire by many Americans to keep people out of the country and send others back to where they came from. Every person with an accent will be a suspect. We are all strangers (and others) when fear pays a visit. We refuse to open windows and doors to the future.

With terrorism back in the news will anyone remember the fight for better health care?
Friends, the launch panel for my book, The Assassination of Fred Hampton:How the FBI and Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther took place in Chicago at Northwestern Law School and was attended by 500 people. In addition to a presentation by me, the panel included incisive and profound observations by highly esteemed scholars and writers of African American History, activists, and my law partner Flint Taylor.

Bernardine Dohrn moderated the panel which addressed the issues of the role of Fred Hampton and the Black Panthers in the Black student Movement, in Chicago politics,and their legacy in the world of racism, repression, and resistance today. It also included comments by honored guests Iberia Hampton Fred's mother, and Brenda Harris, one of the survivors of the FBI inspired Chicago Police raid of Dec. 4, 1969.

The launch event was videotaped and will be televised on Book TV on C-SPAN this Saturday Jan. 2nd at 11 am CST, and again on Sunday Jan.3rd at 11pm CST. I urge you to watch (and record it.) I don't know when or if you will ever see a more provocative and illuminating discussion by such qualified folks.



PS Back on tour in February in DC, Philly, Milwaukee and Chicago and looking for some additional academic venues.
BOOKS & THINGS: Looking back...

And the winner is ...
The drama and the dish behind the literary prizes that shape what America reads.
- - - - - - - - - - - -By Laura Miller

Nov. 16, 2000 This year's National Book Awards judges reached their decisions with an order and decorum sadly lacking in the nation's presidential election, but when it comes to literary prizes, appearances can be deceiving. Awards like the NBA, the Pulitzer, the National Book Critics' Circle Award, Britain's Booker Prize and the ultimate laurel, the Nobel, seem, to the average reader, like authoritative badges of literary quality. A shiny medallion-shaped sticker, stamped with the word "winner," affixed to the otherwise enigmatic cover of a new novel, has a formidable power to sell books -- sometimes thousands of them. But what do these prizes really mean? How are they chosen, and which of them, if any, is the most reliable?

Let's start at the top: the Nobel Prize for literature, universally considered the most prestigious award a writer can attain -- but why? According to Burton Feldman, author of the new book "The Nobel Prize: A History of Genius, Controversy and Prestige," the literary Nobel owes most of its Olympian aura to its sister prizes in physics, chemistry and medicine. "The science juries have long chosen far more impressive laureates than have the literary judges. Planck, Rutherford, Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, Dirac, Pauling, Crick and Watson, Feynman -- a steady procession of greatness or the nearest equivalent." By contrast, the early Nobels in literature went to a parade of now-forgotten authors while -- as Nobel-watchers love to point out -- the likes of Leo Tolstoy, Bertolt Brecht, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Marcel Proust and Franz Kafka went unhonored.

The reason for these omissions lies in the administration of the awards. The winner is chosen by the 18 members of the Swedish Academy, an organization founded in 1786 by King Gustaf III in order to work for the "purity, vigour and majesty" of the Swedish language. Alfred Nobel, who in 1900 willed his considerable fortune (mostly earned through the invention of dynamite and the manufacture of munitions) to the foundation of the prizes, chose this unlikely body of scholars as the arbiters of the literature honor. At the time, the academy was nearly moribund, but it's never been a font of youthful, or even middle-aged, vigor. Members serve for life, have always tended to be elderly and in the beginning set themselves firmly against the upstart writers of the 20th century. You can pretty much write off the first 20 years of winners, a disproportionate number of which were Swedish or Scandinavian.

Today, the academicians are still mostly old men, some of whom wearily, and publicly, long for retirement. Two others -- Kerstin Ekman and Lars Gyllensten, have boycotted the meetings since 1989 to protest academy secretary Sture Allen's refusal to allow the body as a whole to denounce Iran's fatwah on Salman Rushdie. Literature professor Knut Ahnlund is also boycotting the proceedings until Allen is replaced, and has accused the secretary of hogging a spot on every committee. Allen does seem to be a flashpoint: Unnamed academicians described him to New Yorker contributor Michael Specter as "an intellectual accountant" and as someone "who doesn't even read."

This year, however, another academy member suffered the spotlight, as critics called attention to Goram Malmqvist's stake in the career of the 2000 winner of the literature Nobel, Gao Xingjian. As Gao's Swedish translator, the retired professor of Chinese language and literature helped negotiate Gao's switch to a new Swedish publisher, abandoning one that Malmqvist deemed hadn't done enough to promote the Chinese writer's work. The problem is, he did this before the 2000 literature Nobel was announced, which suggests that Malmqvist had leaked the top-secret identity of the laureate before its official announcement in order to interest the new publisher.

All this infighting and scandal doesn't seem to tarnish the Nobel's luster much, though. Most observers see a greater danger in the possibility that the prize will come to seem irrelevant. As the academy struggles to make up for an early history of ignoring those who write in non-European languages, the winners tend to be unfamiliar to Western readers and not immediately available in translation -- which tends to dampen the excitement. "I don't know anyone who takes Nobel seriously," says Newsweek book critic David Gates. "It's obvious that the committee's outlook is very global and very politically correct. I always assume it's someone I've never heard of who is only marginally in English translation. Toni Morrison was a good choice, the ideal Nobel laureate: high profile, politically OK and a good writer." Charles McGrath, editor of the New York Times Book Review, feels the prize has become a less entertaining spectacle: "You can't dope it out anymore at all. Now it's just a great mystery."

For American readers, the second tier of literary awards belongs to the Pulitzer and the National Book Award. Publishing insiders differ on which is the most desirable, though most say they'd be happy to see a book they wrote, edited or published get either one. Tell that to Sinclair Lewis, who refused the Pulitzer awarded to his 1925 novel "Arrowsmith." The reasons Lewis gave were lofty -- "All prizes, like all titles, are dangerous," he declared, comparing the administrators of the Pulitzers to a potential "supreme court" or "college of cardinals." He urged writers to regularly refuse the Pulitzer as the only way to "keep such a power from being permanently set up over them."

In reality, Lewis had been harboring a grudge against the Pulitzers ever since his novel "Main Street," strongly recommended by the Pulitzer's fiction jury in 1920, got the kibosh from the Pulitzer Advisory Board in favor of Edith Wharton's "The Age of Innocence." The wisdom of the board's choice may seem obvious now, but once again appearances deceive. Then-president Nicholas Murray Butler had actually altered the mandate for the novel prize as it was specified in Hungarian-born U.S. publisher Joseph Pulitzer's 1904 will. Pulitzer specified that the prize be given to a novel that would represent "the whole atmosphere of American life"; Butler made the "slight" amendment of changing the word "whole" to "wholesome." (That word has since been changed back to "whole.") There was a definite strain of decency crusading in the early incarnations of the Pulitzer board, causing critic Malcolm Cowley to dub the prize the "Mid-Victoria Cross." Lewis' fictional attack on small-town American mores was considered insufficiently "wholesome." The author's own fastidious objections to literary prizes did not extend to the Nobel, which he accepted four years later.

The prize for fiction has always been the most controversial of the Pulitzers; a nonfiction book can be judged on the depth of its research and other quantifiable matters, but imaginative art eludes measuring-stick evaluations. The postmodern novelist William Gass denounced the Pulitzer in a notoriously dyspeptic 1985 essay, charging that the prize "takes dead aim at mediocrity and almost never misses," and complaining that it caters to "a large, affluent, mildly educated middle class which has fundamentally the same tastes as the popular culture it grew up with, yet with pretensions to something more, something higher, something better suited to its half-opened eyes and spongy mind." Although Gass' jeremiad prompted immediate cries of sour grapes, it's true that the Pulitzer is seen as the most middlebrow American literary prize.

The most important thing readers should keep in mind about the Pulitzer Prize is that it's awarded by a board of journalists, and that journalism is the primary focus of the Pulitzer Prizes. Some publishers feel that the Pulitzer gets better publicity than the NBA because when the prizes are announced, they make the front page of newspapers nationwide. True, but many newspapers (including last year's New York Times) don't list the winners of the letters prizes (fiction, nonfiction, American history, autobiography or biography and poetry) on the front pages with the winners for feature writing and beat reporting -- they wind up relegated to the back of the paper, on the "jump" page. The press may be Pulitzer-crazy, but they're mostly interested in the awards they're eligible for themselves.

Three-member Pulitzer juries are appointed annually to each letters category, and the juries -- usually a mix of critics, academics and authors -- recommend three candidates to the board, which is made up of newspaper editors and journalism professors; the board makes the final choice. The fiction jury and the board often haven't seen eye to eye, though it's hard to say who's got a better record for picking real winners. In 1941, the board rejected all three unmemorable titles recommended by the jury in favor of Ernest Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls," which the chair of the jury had faulted for "a style so mannered and eccentric as to be frequently absurd." In 1974, a jury of formidable literary cred -- Elizabeth Hardwick, Alfred Kazin and Benjamin DeMott -- enthusiastically endorsed Thomas Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow," but the board hated the book so much they decided not to award a prize at all that year. So, a rule of thumb: The journalism-oriented Pulitzer Board shows much better judgment when the novelist in question writes like a journalist.

The 1974 National Book Award, however, did go to "Gravity's Rainbow" (though Pynchon shared the prize with Nobelist Isaac Bashevis Singer). By contrast, the NBAs are judged by five-member panels composed of writers who practice the art in question: Fiction writers judge the fiction prize, children's books authors pick the best kid's book, etc. While the NBA isn't as readily recognized outside the book business as the Pulitzer is, the award is, according to Bill Thomas, editor in chief of Doubleday, "an industry badge of honor." In a ceremony held annually in early November, publishers and literary journalists gather for a black-tie dinner and ceremony in Manhattan. "It's smart of the NBA to do that," says David Gates. "The NBAs are very show biz, like the Academy Award. The Pulitzer is more along the Nobel line, chosen in deepest secrecy, and the word comes down from on high." (Gates has served as a Pulitzer juror.)

The National Book Award was launched 51 years ago by a "consortium of publishing groups" (according to the National Book Foundation, which now administers the awards). Rebecca Sinkler, former editor of the New York Times Book Review and a veteran Pulitzer juror, recalls that the initial incarnation of the NBAs wasn't impressive: "It seemed more commercial. It started off being run by publishers, and in the early years they gave about 500 prizes and every book in the world got a prize. Journalists thought it was a way to stamp 'National Book Award winner' on every book you could sell. But they cleaned that up. The last few years they seem almost the same as the Pulitzer." The nonprofit National Book Foundation was formed to run the awards along with other literacy programs in 1989, and the current executive director, Neil Baldwin, was brought on in part to help lift the awards' profile and make the annual ceremony a glittering event.

Morgan Entrekin, publisher of Grove Press, thinks the NBA fiction prize carries slightly more weight than the Pulitzer's, although the Pulitzer counts more when it comes to nonfiction. Many feel that the NBA's judging panel of fellow fiction authors makes for more "literary" and "surprising" winners. David Kipen, book review editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, says, "The Pulitzer is judged and approved by journalists, who tend to be smart people and unimpeachable in their opinions on journalists and critics, but when it comes to the writing of fiction or poetry I'm a little more skeptical about them than I would of the National Book Foundation."

Others wonder if fiction writers really make the best judges of each other's work. "They all know each other and have reviewed each other," says Sinkler, who also notes that the Pulitzer jurors remain anonymous until the prizes are announced, and thereby free of outside pressures, while the names of NBA judges are made public. "Editors have a set of fairly objective standards -- it's part of the job. There's so much unconscious stuff going on when you're competing." Percival Everett, a novelist who served as an NBA judge in 1997, found the experience frustrating -- and irresistible material for his forthcoming novel. He feels the winner that year, Charles Frazier's "Cold Mountain," deserved to win "given the other finalists, but as good as it might be it doesn't represent a work that was clearly superior to other books that weren't finalists." Getting to that list of finalists meant negotiating with authors who didn't fully grasp their responsibility. "One judge, who I won't name, actually said that a certain book should be a finalist because 'the author is a friend of mine and just got a bad review in the New York Times and this will make my friend feel better.'"

Many book editors say they prefer the National Book Critics' Circle awards to either of the Big Two. (Full disclosure: I'm on the board of the NBCC and participate in judging the winners.) "The judges have better taste, or at least theirs are closer to my sensibility," says Nan Talese, editor of Nan Talese Books. For Entrekin, though the NBCC is lower profile, "It's a more discerning group of judges. As conscientious as the other awards' judges may be, I can't believe they have time to read with the depth of critics every year. The NBCC are professionals. It's their profession to follow what's going on, so it's a more esoteric, refined award."

But David Ulin, an NBCC board member, sounded a cautionary note about the awards in a 1999 essay for the Chronicle of Higher Education. "We in the judging business rely on each other to fill the gaps in our own reading, using the awards panel as a kind of giant collective mind ... Unfortunately, though, that approach can fail us. A few years ago, one major novel went disregarded because almost nobody had read it." When the group of 24 NBCC board members meets, as Kipen puts it, "A hell of a lot depends on a judge's powers of persuasion," in convincing the rest of the board to put a title on the short list.

Everybody, though, seems to relish Britain's Booker Prize, whether or not they consider the winner to be "the best novel written by a citizen of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland" that year. "The Booker is my favorite in some ways because it's the wackiest, the most contentious," says McGrath. "The judges will publicly get up and deride each other, and the other great thing is that the British can bet on it. If we could once a year legalize gambling, that would be great, then people would actually have to read these books." Booker judges have made headlines with such high jinks as drunkenly admitting at the celebratory dinner to never having read either James Joyce or Proust (Richard Cobb); pronouncing that all modern novels are essentially worthless (John Bayley); neglecting to mention that one of the novels on the "long short list" was written by his wife (James Wood); resigning to protest the sexual explicitness in novels in general (Malcolm Muggeridge); declaring the winner an unreadable "disgrace" (Rabbi Julia Neuberger); and being a television personality (this year's Mariella Frostrup).
British literary culture is notoriously more rambunctious and feud-ridden than its American counterpart, and as a result, more entertaining, so the public takes more notice. As Kipen says of the Booker, "It's covered live on TV, it's a holiday for books. It's just such a carnival. This is what the NBA should be like." Surely the bookmakers and their famous prognostications on each short-listed title's odds provide incentive for everyone to watch the awards closely, but it's the overall gusto of the Booker that makes America's literati gaze so wistfully across the pond.
Although its plethora of smaller literary awards is nothing compared to the prize-giving frenzy lamented by French readers, the United States does have its share of what Gates calls "mystery meat" prizes. PEN, a writers' organization, sponsors no less than 17 different awards, for categories as discreet as "a woman writer early in her career, at work on a book of general nonfiction marked by high literary quality."

The two best-known PEN awards -- the PEN/Faulkner (for fiction) and the PEN/Hemingway (for first fiction) -- have struck me as something of a crap shoot, with the winners as likely to be tedious as riveting, but Everett, who has judged for the PEN/Faulkner, prefers it to the NBA because "the lack of an entry fee meant that many more presses were able to submit work for consideration. Once you're reading 400 or 500 novels in a stretch of time, what's another 100?"
If I had to pick one prize to watch, it wouldn't be any of these, though. It would be the remarkably low-profile annual Whiting Awards, in which prizes of $35,000 are given to "emerging writers of exceptional talent and promise" (including fiction and nonfiction writers, as well as poets and playwrights). The Whiting selection committee, "a small anonymous group of recognized writers, literary scholars, and editors, appointed annually" by the Mrs. Giles Foundation, has the tricky task of picking the writers who are just about to do great work. So far, they've got a fine record, spotting Michael Cunningham, Mary Karr, Kent Haruf, Alice McDermott, Stanley Crouch, David Foster Wallace, Mona Simpson, Tony Kushner, Denis Johnson and Jorie Graham, and many more before any of these came to national prominence. Do they have a Web site? Alas, no, but watch for a tiny item proclaiming the Whiting winners in the New York Times each October, and you'll be reading the future winners, and should-be winners, of Pulitzers and National Book Awards before the judges themselves.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
About the writerLaura Miller is Salon's New York editorial director.

Please note this is an old article.

Quote of the Day:

Perhaps the biggest lesson for airline security from the recent incident is that we must overcome our tendency to be reactive. We always seem to be at least one step behind the terrorists. They find one security gap — carrying explosives onto a plane in their shoes, for instance — and we close that one, and then wait for them to exploit another. Why not identify all the vulnerabilities and then address each one before terrorists strike again?

Since the authorities have to succeed 100 percent of the time, and terrorists only once, the odds are overwhelmingly against the authorities. But they’ll be more likely to defy fate if they go beyond reflexive defense and play offense for a change.

- Clark Kent Ervin, Director of the Aspen Institute Homeland Security Program

She went home to another man.
The wind came and yes the rain.

He slept like a corpse
next to the mistress of death.

- E. Ethelbert Miller

Monday, December 28, 2009

SPORTS: Football
It looks like New England is ready for that Superbowl trophy. I take Brady over Peyton.
Eagles continue to fly high for me. The Ravens defense might not be as good as it once was.
The surprise team in the playoffs could be the Cardinals. Are these guys playing under the radar?
Teams that will only tease their fans: Vikings, Saints, Jets, and Chargers.
Do you really want to see those sad Bengals uniforms in a serious game?
Oh, and how about those Cowboys!
PERCY SUTTON died on December 26th. He was a Civil Rights lawyer, media mogul and businessman. I remember when he became Manhattan borough president in 1966. I was 16. Sutton was smart, handsome and a man my mother always loved to hear talk. I saw Sutton as an institution builder. At times he reminded me of a young DuBois. The first time I saw Ron Brown, I thought of Percy Sutton. Some black men look so elegant in suits. Sutton was suave and serious. He will be missed.

The South African poet Dennis Brutus died Saturday in Capetown. He was 85. I first met Brutus at the Sixth Pan African Congress in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania in June 1974. I conducted a long interview with him that was published in Obsidian, Vol. 1, Number 2: 1975. This interview was reprinted in EDITOR'S CHOICE: LITERATURE & GRAPHICS FROM THE U.S. SMALL PRESS, 1965-1977 edited by Morty Sklar & Jim Mulac, The Spirit That Moves Us Press, 1980. Here is an excerpt from that interview:

E.M.: Tell us something about your life as a political figure and also as an artist.

D.B.: Well, I grew up as most blacks do, in a ghetto, in South Africa. My education was a missionary education by nuns who came from Ireland, Scotland, England or elsewhere. In some ways that was, of course, an advantage because the missionary approach, I believe, was a less racist one than that of the white administration of the State. But in time the State took over all mission schools because it decided that the schools were too liberal. They were encouraging blacks to think that they were the equals of whites. The State said that was bad for the blacks because it created frustrated blacks. Once a man thought he was the equal of a white man, he would begin to think he ought to have the same job as the white man, the same pay as the white man, and the same education. So you needed a new educational system that trained the blacks to believe that they were inferior, which indoctrinated them not only into the acceptance of their inferiority, but also into the belief that God had ordained it: that it was the best thing for them, and that it was a permanent state of affairs. There's no society in the world which has attempted systematically to produce slaves both physically and intellectually: educate blacks into the acceptance of their permanent inferiority. Well, I went through that system, but I was fortunate in that much of my education was in the missionary schools before they were taken over by the State. Then from missionary schooling I went to missionary university run by Catholics, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists. The year after I completed my degree, the State took over the university as well, because it decided that it was too liberal. I'm fortunate, too, in that I am not a product of the State indoctrination system. I just escaped it.
The most honest and moving statement about Tiger Woods was written on December 26th by Mike Wise. I give Wise one of my E-wards for 2009:

Now What?
I spent some of the afternoon looking (on Utube) at the work of a number of artists. I guess it started yesterday after I saw the article in the New York Times about white female rappers. There was also an interesting newspaper piece in the Times about Lady Gaga. Her performances have a visual freshness and a Warhol back at you attitude. I like what she's doing so much that I don't listen to her. Her voice seems naked without a costume. I looked and listened to the work of Amanda Blank and Tairrie B. Who are these white girls? Oh and let's not forget - Ke$ha. Just the spelling of her name is an indication that the privatization in our society begins with our privates. Because sex sells everything else tends to be a giveaway. Now what? If the face and sound of rap is changing - then maybe one should hit Rewind before everything turns from black to
In the January/February issue of AARP magazine there is a nice article about vinyl records. Old school stuff. It's written by Bill Newcott. He mentions the following:

Now record companies are making money from vinyl again: vinyl-record sales soared 89 percent in 2008, while CDs, falling prey to Internet downloads, continued to trudge down the road to extinction. Music giant EMI has rereleased some 65 classic albums on vinyl...
COMING ATTRACTIONS: Don't be an April Fool - Read poetry.

On April 1, 2010, one will be able to enter Busboys and Poets and find Poet Lore magazine on every table. In celebration of National Poetry Month - good food and poetry. Poet Lore's annual subscription rates will be lower in the New Year. Just $10. The magazines distributed on April 1st will be free.


New Years Eve 2010

Open Bar
$65 per person
Dancing All Night
Midnight Champagne Toast
10PM -2AM

IPS NEWS: Phyllis Bennis


Well the season is almost over for the Washington Redskins. This team needs to be totally dismantled and rebuilt over a period of 2-3 years. They really need a QB. Folks have been as nice to Campbell as they have been to Zorn. At the end of the day - and this is getting to the end of the day -you have to let these guys go. I can't see bringing in a new coaching staff and simply handing them old players. I don't think there is anyone I would keep on this current football team - except maybe Haynesworth. The guy plays hard and wants to win.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Quote of the Day:

The recession has caused a seismic shift in the consumer culture, converting die-hard spenders into savers. A growing number of people, either smarting from a job loss or spooked by the financial crises of others, are scrambling to get out of debt, establish emergency funds, and add to their retirement and savings accounts.

- V. Dion Haynes, The Washington Post

I'm not flying anywhere until the end of January. Next month I have a trip to Chicago. When I read one of the new travel rules yesterday I was sadden by how the fight against terrorism takes the air out of the air we breathe. The new rule requires that everyone not have anything in their laps during the last hour of a flight. Whew. How much business work can be accomplished in an hour? How many people won't be able to review documents for a meeting before landing? Of course this is a minor thing to consider when one is talking about air safety. Yet, it's these small changes that makes one abandon the airplane and simply go with a high-tech business meeting. I'm curious about the "economics" of terrorism. How much money is loss and how much money is made? Duct tape anyone? Remember in the movie The Graduate when we thought the future was going to be in plastics? Well, maybe it's in security systems these days.

Do you want a sip of the New Year or do you plan to stay drunk on the old?

Saturday, December 26, 2009



I don't understand why you quoted this guy Mahdi Bray throwing up hip-hop as his
straw man to disguise why he's failing to connect to young folks. While I agree
that hip-hop needs to be approached more critically, I think the generation
above me, unfortunately, does one of two things: either wholeheartedly embraces
or wholeheartedly rejects. On Ta-Nehisi's blog we were talking about a Yusef
poem when someone says she dug his poetry but could never respect the way he
dismissed hip-hop on a panel, without caring to engage the questioner in a
little bit of critical feedback -

I know young folks bristle at that - I do. Especially knowing I've spent the
past few days listening to this guy K'Naan from Somalia, who epitomizes what's
good about the music. He has three mixtapes out recently: one dedicated to
Marley, one dedicated to Feli Kuti and one dedicated to Bob Dylan - all with him
trying to bring what was important to their music to a different audience. He's
never on the radio though, and is largely invisible in the states, though big
international -

My point though, is that I think Barzinji's comments seem to strike more at the
source of the problem. Foreign students feeling isolated at universities, the
failure to have young people involved in the planning of outreach (I"m thinking
young people in their 20s and 30s). I learned a great deal just sitting with you
talking the other day, and I always wonder how many other young folks get that
chance, and how often older people with authority or positions of power make it
a point to do that.

But I think you're right about the prisons. People find themselves doing twenty,
thirty years - and have sense enough to form a critique of the system and a
compelling message, they are there trying to scoop young people up. I never
heard a terrorist stance, but I've heard an anti-US justice system policy stance
shift subtly to an anti-US stance so often that I can see the potential for a
serious problem - especially when people take on belief in prison as a means of
survival, be it physical or mental.

Okay, hope you and yours enjoyed the holidays. We had dinner at my moms. It was
good. My grandma turns 67 today and it was pretty cool singing happy birthday
with so many of her kids, grand kids and great grandkids around. I felt a little


Radicals "seem to understand our youth better than we do," said Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation. "They use hip-hop elements for some who relate to that." Bray said "seductive videos" gradually lure young people, building outrage over atrocities committed against Muslims. Extremist videos "play to what we call in the Muslim youth community 'jihad cool' -- a kind of machismo that this is the hip thing to do."

I found the above statement to be very interesting. Remember when we were having this type of discussion within the African American community? Remember the defense of hip-hop? Sooner or later folks are going to have to be critical about certain aspects of culture.

You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
- Bob Dylan

It's just a matter of time before the "face" of terrorism expands from being Middle Eastern to including more black faces. Africa has already become a place to watch with developments in Somalia, and Northern Nigeria. Also on the radar will be African American Muslims with radical beliefs. Is the clock ticking before we see a U.S. prison riot with political overtones? No way one can overlook the fast spreading of Islam within our prison system. How do we respond to this? This is going to be a serious challenge to people on the political left and Black nationalists. The world is filled with people who will do evil and wrap it with religion. The wrapping paper can be Muslim or Christian. Are we afraid to acknowledge this? Too many of us look for conspiracy theories or deal with "abstract" history to explain the reasons why someone wants to blow up a building or a plane.

I refuse to believe it has to do with the failure of some of us to be breastfed as infants. I must confess that during my lifetime I've been afraid of people who wanted me to see the world the way they did. Show me the faith - don't simply quote from a book. I've always been suspicious of people who talk about God and want to kill for him. Nothing worse than an old testament without a new one. If we are not talking about love and tolerance, what are we talking about? If we cannot forgive or show compassion for another human being - why are we living?

At the same time we cannot leave our doors open and simply meet and greet. I remember how my neighborhood in the South Bronx changed after drugs found its way into bloodstreams. Addicts started walking into churches and stealing things from the altars. Preachers were no longer safe if their church doors were opened at night. Christmas Eve services were canceled because people didn't want to get mugged. I was too young to know what terrorism was until I saw a change in my parent's eyes when they held my hand or called me indoors from playing before the sun went down.

What we are slowly seeing is the sun going down on our way of life. If we permit fear and hatred to win our hearts, we will discover that hope will vanish and nothing will grow in the land. Have you noticed how many of the new movies present a landscape of desolation and despair? We appear to be trapped in our own screens, life imitating art once again. This is why those who create must be visionary. We must have the strength to love. What a difficult thing to do. How many of us continue to fail? When will the bomb makers put away their bombs?
There are many paths to enlightenment.
Be sure to take the one with a heart.

- Lao-Tzu

Friday, December 25, 2009

Human relationships are matters of skill and art. We tend to treat them as matters of convention, or worse.
- Jean Toomer
Up In The Air
This is a very good film. I highly recommend it. It speaks not only to the personal but to our hard economic times. Finally a film in which women are not all angels. Yes, there are some women in the world who continue to make men feel like whores.
The Small News:

The budget office estimates that the bill would provide coverage to 31 million uninsured people, but still leave 23 million uninsured in 2019. One-third of those remaining uninsured would be illegal immigrants.

- The New York Times, December 25, 2009

Claiming and Polishing the Power of Our Stories: Intensive critique classes online in fiction and memoir. (10 weeks)

This is an advanced writers' workshop open both to writers who have studied with me, or those who have not but are invited to participate after sending a 3-page sample of your work in fiction or memoir, and a paragraph describing the project you are working on, or aim to develop. The workshop focuses on your work-in-progress and the questions you pose about craft, which will be addressed specifically in relationship to your work. This intensive critique class will respond to each individual's needs as they continue to develop and revise their work toward the completion of a memoir, novel, collection of short stories, or collection of memoiristic essays. Many of the fiction writers in the class may have an autobiographical connection to their work; this connection may be direct, or may be subtle, internal, roundabout, and not absolutely necessary or identifiable.

This course means hard work, following your own strong impulses and directions, and receiving and giving helpful, extensive feedback. Participants in the group who have studied with me previously have shown themselves to be insightful and constructive in their responses, and I aim in my feedback to you to illuminate in large and in detailed ways the deeper subject matter, language and structure of your project.

The course will begin in late January or early February, to be determined. Fee: 325$ payable in full before the start of class.

Please contact me at or 651-214-9248 before January 2, or after January 18.

Remember, if you have not studied with me before, please email, within the body of your email and NOT as an attachment, a paragraph or one page project description, and a 3-page writing sample from your project.
***If you are looking for another kind of online workshop with regular lectures posted each week, I will continue to teach with -- see for Claiming Our Stories... Parts One and Two.


Foreign Policy in Focus | Interview with Edwidge Danticat

Happy Holidays!

Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

News Alert
10:16 AM EST Thursday, December 24, 2009

Famed sportscaster George Michael dies

George Michael, dean of Washington sportscasters, has died after a long battle
with cancer, according to a reporter at WRC-TV (Channel 4), his former employer.
Michael covered sports at WRC-TV (Channel 4) for 28 years until resigning in
2008 in response to budget cuts.


The New York Times today has an OP-ED by Alan J. Kuperman. He is the director of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Program at the University of Texas at Austin. This guy writes "casually" about bombing Iran. One would think starting another war would be thinking about the unthinkable these days. It's amazing how this OP-ED can be found in a newspaper pushing holiday gifts. Are bombs on discount? How many people would die if we attacked Iran? Would that nation attack Israel? Would the entire Middle East become one "failed" region? Of course there is the other side of the coin to examine - and maybe this is where Kuperman is coming from. What if Iran gets nuclear weapons? Might they attack others first? Looking around the world - it's amazing to find a number of leaders who need to be on medication or close supervision. There are also religious and racial bugs in our bloodstream that makes some of us crazy. I would hate to see another sick person in power. Haven't we learned from history? Why must we think war before we think peace?
Breaking News Alert
The New York Times
Thu, December 24, 2009 -- 7:16 AM ET

Senate Passes Health Care Overhaul Bill

The Senate voted Thursday to reinvent the nation's health
care system, passing a bill to guarantee health insurance for
all Americans and rein in health costs as proposed by
President Obama.

The vote, on the 25th straight day of debate on the
legislation, brings Democrats a step closer to a goal they
have pursued for decades. It clears the way for negotiations
with the House, which passed a broadly similar bill last
month by a vote of 220 to 215.

Read More:
THE LITTLE e-NOTE: The 1 Question Interview

Sam Hamod: Has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in poetry, has published12 books of poems. He has a PH.D from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop.

The Question: How has Arab American literature influenced American literature?

I think what’s happened is that Arab American and Muslim American poetry has had more impact on other minority poetry groups in America than having an impact on the mainstream.

Through our being shut out of the mainstream by and large, we have found a kinship with one another. This does not mean we are not recognized by mainstream poets, we are; in my case, I have been praised, as have other Arab American poets, by such poets as James Wright, W.S. Merwin, Galway Kinnell and others, but that has not given us much traction with the major anthologies or mainstream literary courses.

Too often, though we have been included in major anthologies, most of us are marginalized as

“ethnic” or “minority,” poets or writers, as has happened to such major voices as Amiri Baraka,

Ishmael Reed, E. Ethelbert Miller, Jack Marshall, June Jordan, Nikki Giovanni, Michael Hernandez, Gary Soto, Simon Ortiz and countless other fine talents, while there is too much to do about such minor poets as Billy Collins and Ted Kooser. Even the major “ethnic anthologies,” are often overlooked by people teaching multicultural courses—this has happened to the fine anthologies starting with David Kherdian’s, Settling America, Gillan’s, Unsettling America and Ishmael Reed’s, From Totem to Hip Hop.

I’ve tried to do what I can to introduce Arab American and Muslim American poetry into my graduate courses at National University, in a course called, “Poetry of the World.” I have students read from McClatchy’s, The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry,” and Gillan and Gillan’s, Unsettling America. I choose a poetry from outside the U.S., such as Mahmoud Darwish or Faiz Ahmad Faiz and have them read some of my poems of Suhair Majaj; in terms of Africa, I use Dennis Brutus and Wole Soyinka and have them read

Amiri Baraka, E. Ethelbert Miller, June Jordan and Nikki Giovanni. In this way, I can introduce the students to poets that almost all say they have never heard of or read in any of their college English courses! Thus, you can see, the mainstream English and American Tradition still remains the primary focus of an education in literature in the U.S.A.

I think through courses such as mine, that more of our work will begin to filter into the mainstream of American literature. The only problem is that publishing houses tend to want to stay with the mainstream, and dare do little with what is controversial. I recall a time back in the 1980s when I was to read at the United Nations, but at the last minute I was “disinvited” because one of my major poems, “After the Bombing: The Shoe At Fakhani,” was thought to be too controversial because it dealt with a child’s shoe, a single shoe, streaked with blood, that was

found after Israeli jets strafed the refugee area in Lebanon. . I had a problem at another reading when I wanted to read a very strong poem, and often published and republished poem, “Lailat Al Qadr: This Night in Fallujah,” describing the firebombing of Fallujah in Iraq. So, there is still censorship afoot in our country.

The other problem we face is that there is still too much jealousy among some Arab American poets; when they’ve had a chance to help one another, they have turned the other way. This has been a problem with some of the poets from the Arab world, such as Selma Jayussi; she preferred those who kissed her feet or who she took as her “darlings” (as she called them) and cut out others who often were better poets or who would not toe her line. Mahmoud Darwish was the opposite, he sought out and helped strong poets to become more known.

I remember attending the first Arab American Writers Conference in Chicago. Just as happened with the African American writers and the Chinese American writers, some of the people there preferred to have women work as one group and men as another. It was absurd because we were such a small group. Unfortunately, the troublemaker, who was herself not much of a writer, and has since published almost nothing that I am aware of, helped to split the group—to the detriment of all of us.

Will we someday have an impact as Arab American writers, or Muslim American writers—I believe we will, but I have a hunch the mainstream will go for the Christian Arab American writers before they go for the Arab Muslim writers, or the Muslim writers from non-Arab countries because we have been branded as “the enemy.” But, with the help of Allah/God, inshallah, it will come to pass.

Listening to THE ESSENTIAL HERBIE HANCOCK this morning.
2010 - Maiden Voyage again?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


" I didn't campaign on the public option."
- President Barack Obama

Who knew or did we just forget the card?
Monday was the 130th birthday of Stalin.

This is so sad:

Ethelbert is looking for readings west of the Mississippi in 2010.
He is interested in conducting memoir workshops.
He will not judge poetry Slams.
He can be reached at:

but love
is different, it
is something, that
when it comes, is more
than the excitement of
that first kiss, or that
first night when you
never have enough
when you are abed, and
her skin is velvet and silk
and you dream into one another--
it is that later hug, that
smile, that time when you
awaken again
after a short slumber
feeling like
this world should never
end, but should go on,
and will go on...
- Sam Hamod
Everything is not going online. Consider Poet Lore - the oldest poetry publication in the US.
It started in 1889. We are traditional in a futuristic way.
We are reducing our subscription rates next year. Do you know what that means? It means no excuse for not having this publication in your house. $10 is an old haircut price. Think a(head).
Where can you find poetry you can still enjoy? You might not be reading poetry now - but what about tomorrow? Prepare yourself for the New Year and the new you:

Come visit us.


OF NOTE is out.
To view as a web page, click here
Be sure to watch the video. It's like a page out of my memoir where I talk about Xeroxing and black people. LOL.

HP looking into claim webcams can't see black people -


Anita Nahal called me a few days ago. We had a nice conversation. Below is and open letter and a summary of what she is doing. Are you interested in issues of diversity? Anita is bringing folks together.

Dear All:

wishes all its friends and patrons a very happy,prosperous and peaceful New Year.
Please visit our website for the following updates:

1) We invite our readers to contribute to our first e-book, Diversity Banners and become published authors! For details please visit: Dialogue/ DescribeDiversity/ E-BOOK 1 or click on E-BOOK 1 from the Announcements page (linkavailable at the top left corner of any page).

We are looking at apublication date of summer 2010. Please send in your entries as soon aspossible.

2) We have posted comments by our website viewers and readers in our“Reviews” section (link available at the top left corner of any page). Ifyou sent your comments and these are not featured in our Reviews section, andyou would like them featured, kindly send an email to Anita Nahal

If you do not have Microsoft outlookconfigured on your computer, please copy and paste the email address in youremail "to" box.

3) Read poems by Lady Jan├ęt R. Griffin in our Culture/Poetry section.We look forward to a continued exchange of ideas, thoughts and views on diversity. I personally thank everyone for taking the time to visit my website, and writing back with their warm and heartfelt encouragement and comments. Your support has meant a lot to me as I have endeavored to translate my vision into reality.

Once again, wishing everyone a blessed holiday season with lots of smiles and laughter, ringing in 2010 and many more years to come, full of good health,prosperity, joyousness and peace.

Best regards,

Anita Nahal