As the third decade of the 21st century swiftly approaches, it might be difficult for some fine artists under 35 to understand a time when the self(ie) was not unapologetically at the center of the artistic experience. The first biography of Bearden in almost 20 years, and clearly the fullest, Campbell–who knew the author, trading letters with him going back to the 1970s–has crafted a quality book about 20th- and 21st-century Black ritually- and visually-based aesthetics through American history’s prism. (The fact that, as Campbell writes, “Bearden seemed to delight in exploring the use of color” has a acute, and subtle, significance.) With a lack of dangerous 20th century socio-political action and adventure to reconstruct, Campbell, president of Spelman College and a former leader in the New York City artistic community, must go around and through the topic, briefly profiling the many artists in his orbit, such as Aaron Douglas, Charles Alston and Augusta Savage. She documents well, and with great care, his artists’ organizing efforts, his many important writings and his forgotten early-political cartoonist career. What was most important to this reviewer is her detailed, and thoughtful, placement of Bearden at the slow-but-perfect storm of the development of 20th century American media, technology, popular culture and racial struggle. Although Campbell’s theme of the Black American Odysseus is sound, this book is actually about how someone fed on the European art classics and the organic African-American experience (of Harlem and Pittsburgh) slowly realizes something when the latter becomes in vogue in the 1960s (perhaps not-so-coincidentally), allowing him to ultimately collage his being fully as both an artist and a Black man: that being and presenting one’s Black self in New York City, the then-new center of the art world in the center of the century, forever seeing and remembering, is more than profound enough.
No, it wasn’t the record-breaking-rated, universally-loved show it is now seen as, almost ten years after it ended. No, it wasn’t unconditionally loved and cherished by its network–until the awards and critical acclaim came in, and the showrunners announced that the fourth season would be its last. From its beginnings 40 years ago as an often ill-fated attempt to bring the visual and spiritual power of Star Wars to ABC primetime screens every week, to its let’s-kill-every-rule-Star-Trek-ever-had-and-hold-up-a-mirror 21st century Sci-Fi (now SyFy) Channel revival during the post-911/WaronTerror years, Battlestar Galactica was almost always an acquired taste, a pleasant, almost-mainstream discovery. But how powerful the concoction! Altman and Gross, who interview as many cast and crew members that a human mind can absorb on a given page, take us step by step through the mythology as it developed, the last three words being key; perhaps the biggest shock of the book–practically its thru line–is how much of the new version was editorially done on the fly, and how its showrunners, Ronald D. Moore and the series’ often-unsung hero, David Eick, trusted its writers to fly Galactica–a complex series about race/identity and its connection to current politics, ancient Earth history and world religion–to a powerful, albeit controversial to many, end. What a great way for Altman and Gross to end a trilogy (four books, technically) of fan-favorites–StarTrek, then Buffy/Angel, and now BSG. These kind of books, especially with its oral history formats, take the rabid deep into the rabbit(-ears) whole, allowing the reader to see into the experience, and stay there. For a BSG fan, this is essential, since the series presented much but purposely answered little.
Once upon a time (at least from the 1970s through the 1990s), it was the place for uncompromising political and cultural journalism. It was required reading for people who wanted to absorb (as a reader) or master (as a writer) the now-dying art of longform mass-media journalism.
The Voice was important to me because I read there important Black writers such as Thulani Davis, Lisa Jones, Greg Tate,Peter Noel and Joe Wood. (I never forgot Wood’s 5,000+ profile of Albert Murray in the paper’s famous annual Arts Supplement pullout.) The Voice essay that still shakes me to this day is Joan Morgan‘s “A Blackwoman’s Guide To The [Mike] Tyson Trial,” an article that introduced me to sexual harassment, misogyny and rape culture.
It was for people who wanted hardcore journalism. It showed me you didn’t have to be at The New York Times or The New Yorkerto kick journalistic ass in New York! It made me want to be a real writer who wrote longform narrative journalism in nuance and detail. After I finish the book I’m writing, I’m going to do just that.
Why didn’t Minister Louis Farrkahan speak, or get to speak, at the funeral? All the other dignities–former President Bill Clinton, Rev. Al Sharpton, Michael Eric Dyson, and Rev. Jesse Jackson–sat with him, and they all spoke. Also: I’m glad some people noticed what I did–that he was being constantly cropped out of the shots, both photo and live video. He sat up there a long time to get gipped like that in public, if that’s what indeed happened. Whether he got cut from the pulpit or not, at least it seemed that he was enjoying himself. [OCT. 22 UPDATE: Richard Prince tells me today he didn’t want to speak, but he wanted to show up to thank the Queen for what she did for him in 1972 (!)].
I think I was in the kitchen when U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters gave the Wakandan salute. Just found out about that while researching this post.
As far as John McCain is concerned, well……let’s just say that if Angela Davis–an American hero!–becomes an Ancestor before me, I look forward to hearing tributes to her courage from the Right, Center and Center-Left (liberals). 🙂
Not a cold breeze in sight, and thoughtful films about American identity appear anyway. Yesterday’s cinema trip was for Spike’s latest and to finally see “Crazy Rich Asians” in an actual theater, offline. Spike, like this writer, is older, and “BlacKkKlansman” reflects not only his age, but his restraint. The former “Black nationalist with a camera,” teamed with “Get Out”‘s Jordan Peele in cooperation with white filmmakers, tells a story of late-1970s desegregation as Black-Jewish buddy-cop flick. He tries to keep his now-graying African-medallion audience by using a watered-down version of his normal racial tensions and contrasts, and finally, pun intended, has found a great use of his now-famous dolly. Tone-wise, Spike is now grown-folks-smooth-jazz; he’s learned to hold back. It’s fascinating, though, that his American desegregation triumph, billed as a based-on, isn’t accurate. So its value has to be hotly debated.
“Asians” is a novel, so it can stretch fantasy to fit its truths. Its victory is variety; finally, some context to the nerdy young male and hiphop-styled young woman (although there are questions about the latter). A story of intra-racial (at least, from Western eyes) class divisions disguised as a love story. The movie asks internally and externally: how alike, or not alike, are one group of people, or similar individuals, and what barriers are legitimate?
What a “Nicky Drayden sci-fi novel” is is, for now, solidified with this fine second inning. Set in a land that might be South Africa if you want it to be, this tale of twins, dark magic, African god possession and the horrors of boarding school really takes command after a too-long set-up. Secrets pile and spill, characters switch identities and loyalties and–in what is now Drayden’s style–monsters are shown, from the inside out, as all too human. What is important about Drayden as a novelist is two-fold: first, she seeks to destroy public (gender) identity’s use as a lazy marker of someone’s totality, and second, in this novel particularly, she shows that true balance is achieved by serving every side of imbalance. Definitions built, then crushed. Religion and science at odds, or working in harmony? Waaayy too simple. And Drayden delights in her humorous genre- and character-mashups. Like her first novel, “The Prey of Gods,” this is not your father’s fantasy Africa or Africans, and nor is it meant to be; it is another fully realized narrative from an author who refuses to see and satisfy any pre-supposed expectations or limitations.