Narratives: Remembering Stanley Crouch

A very fine article I found reminded me of the type of serious longform writing and print-era that, once I discovered it, shaped and fascinated me as a young newspaper reporter. The Village Voice and its crew, of which Stanley Crouch was a part, were in this great, fascinating NYC-centric, newsstand literary universe.

I was definitely not a fan of the content, philosophy or personal style of Crouch (who had left The Voice when I began to read it), but I was a fan of the idea of him. This act of remembering–published in one of the remaining traditional 20-centuryish places left for this kind of writing–brought back memories of a time long gone: of picking up The Voice at Newark Penn Station while on the way to or back from Harlem on an early 1990s Friday, all the while wondering what was possible for me and writing.

Later in the 1990s, embedded in graduate school, I was even more obsessed with The Writers’ Life. For example, I actually bought a transcript and video of the below because I wanted to absorb this discussion.  (Not surprisingly, these writers–who were actually post-World-War-II-nouns, who wrote in the mid-20th century for a living–didn’t see that nonfiction and fiction were going to move en masse to the academy.) I succeeded: this 23-year-old talk has been almost completely memorized over the years and, as a result, it serves as part of my internal writing clinic when/as I write.

https://charlierose.com/videos/3810

My Latest Very-Quickie-Type Book Reviews……

are here and here.

Mumia Abu-Jamal and Linn Washington in 1995

Compiling an anthology about Abu-Jamal, and Linn Washington gave me this article, published shortly after Abu-Jamal escaped the guillotine the first time a quarter of a century ago. It reminds me of dose days, when I was a part-time intern at the National Newspaper Publishers Association and constantly surrounded by Black newspapers. I always had a soft spot for The Philadelphia New Observer because it would print these huge, remarkable 20,000-word Black/Afrikan history supplements by James G. Spady, then a Black Philadelphia living institution.

A Quick Thank You To……

…..my friend Annette Alston, who just finished scanning 700 pages of Mumia Abu-Jamal’s FBI files (1968-1974, during his Panther days) for me–using her iPhone! (Do we REALLY have any legitimate excuses now for not preserving, holding onto and using our historical documents?!? 🙂 )

Some Unorganized Thoughts As To How We Live Now

I’m listening to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo now as I type, telling me how long COVID can stick on surfaces and hang in the air. He’s become my daily obsession. The Mumia Abu-Jamal event I’m waiting for is a little less than four hours ahead.

Still meditating on what happened just a couple of hours ago. I opened the front door, unmasked, waiting for my Whole Foods delivery, and immediately saw a sanitation worker–Friday is Garbage Day in our ward–in distress. Something powderish (?) had spilled on his face while working on our block, and he was less than panicked but more than disturbed.

He asked for warm water and soap and, thanks to me and the homeowner, Annette Alston, we quickly compiled.

Coming back out, I hear a voice to my right yell, “Amazon!” Delivery Dude is peeping the happenin’, so he quickly drops my bags at the foot of the stairs (social distancing, rigghht) and does a great imitation of Ricochet Rabbit. Annette hands me my mask to wear–after all, I’m now in close proximity to two people–and for the first time since the Apocolopyse, I wear it. I’ve been inside the house for weeks, writing my Mumia bio–only leaving the house to take out the garbage–so I hadn’t fully accepted this reality until I finally yielded to Paul Lawrence Dunbar.

Cuomo is talking now about an “economic tsunami” and is daring Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) to allow states to declare bankruptcy legally. “I dare you to do that!”

I really felt for the Sanitation Brother, an Essential Worker. This is not the time to be dealing with unknown substances. What was on his face? Oh, man…..

A neighbor from across the street is checking from her window, asking about his welfare. (Newark is a small town that, paradoxically and correctly, looks like a Big Ghetto from the outside.)

“What did we learn?” Cuomo is asking.

As a “lifelong student of Black media” (a quote from my bio), it’s fascinating how fast we have Zoomed along.  We were well along the road to becoming our own Black public-affairs shows via Facebook Live before the drip-blip, but it’ll be interesting to see how much of Black America will just junk prepared broadcast packages altogether for the live and interactive, the digital harambee. (Meanwhile, The Afro-American newspaper is trying to hold on, having laid off 25 percent of its staff.) I like to approach the study and teaching of media history from many perspectives, and one is from the changing of habits. Are we, slowly and eventually, the “B-SPAN” (Black C-SPAN) I’ve/we’ve been looking for?

Cuomo reads a letter from a Kansas farmer who has sent a mask for a New York health worker. “God Bless America,” Cuomo declared, who is not, he keeps saying, running for president. 🙂

Now he’s talking about taking versus giving. I’m glad Annette and I were able to help the brother. In this time of fear and uncertainty, our community is standing steady. He thanked me as, of course, we are all thanking them.

 

Netflix “Who Killed Malcolm X?” Doc: Nine Thoughts On Malcolm As CSI, Stagecraft Over Sincerity

1) Now everyone will see Newark the way I see it: as a small town. Treating it as a “small town with deadly secrets” was amusing. It is a place where, if you ride a bus or sit somewhere and be quiet, you will hear Old Heads talk about their time with The Nation. Now I finally understand why, in a city where historically you can get killed for looking at someone wrong, Bradley was able to walk around untouched. You also now know that we, as a group, care more about collective, community advancement than ideology and argument: the comment by Newark Mayor Ras Baraka that he learned from his father to “leave that alone because that won’t advance our cause” is classic Newark. Congrats to my brother, Baba Zayid Muhammad, for his honesty in this documentary. He educated me a lot about what this Black Power city is still like. I absolutely believe that Newark “got there first” in Black Power zealotry.

2) Continuing with Newark: why would Bradley be in Booker’s Newark mayor campaign commercial? Why would New Jersey Lt. Gov. Shelia Oliver be at Bradley’s funeral when she knew?!? Point-blank, Newark is a community service city, and all the community servants know each other. If you do “change your life around” and “do something positive,” particularly for our youth, we wipe your slate clean. That how we be. If Bradley had killed, say, Rahim Johnson, it wouldn’t even be brought up.

3) Last Newark note: I love the irony of Bradley’s high school being eventually being renamed after Malcolm. 🙂

4) It was extremely annoying that Peter Goldman, who wrote 85 percent of this documentary’s content back in the 1970s (!!!!!), was almost invisible, blotted out. The only thing more annoying is that Baba Zak Kondo was “second historical bananna” to David Garrow–this documentary’s Obi-Wan Kenobi. Kondo should have been the main voice here, and his wrap-up almost redeems this time-waster.

5) The big winner here was WABC-TV, who clearly sold a lot of footage. (Why did the documentarians keep misdating that Talmadge Hayer interview as 1970? That was very annoying and needs to be fixed!) See how great “Like It Is” was, folks outside of New York? Today I am very proud to have a doctoral dissertation that has a small part devoted to it. I will appreciate this Nextflix series forever if it leads to the show finally getting archived.

6) The “search” for Bradley was ridiculous stagecraft. And where were articles like these, since Bradley was so difficult to find? LOL! This program could have easily been cut by three hours. The phony drama should have been replaced with more on the Ali-Malcolm schism. That deserves its own doc or movie.

7) And speaking of future MX media products, my vote for the next movie or documentary needs to be solely based on his extraordinary travel diary. The fact that Malcolm tried to unify the African-Muslim world–and that he chose to return to America when he had choices to possibly stay alive longer–is a story that desperately needs to be told.

8) Um, where was this part? Did I miss it when I was in the bathroom? Did I miss any mention of the Minister? What’s going on? And if Goldman and Kondo were read so carefully, why didn’t Obi-Wan tell Luke that the FBI reported that Louis X was at the Newark mosque on the day of the assassination?!?

9) This could have been a lot worse, seeing that Henry Louis “Skip” Gates was the exec producer and Manning Marable’s wife a consultant. At least this is better than Spike’s treatment. This puts Spike’s movie in the fiction category the way Marable’s disastrous bio, at its best, put The Autobiography in that same category.

Asante Sana, The Village Voice

Even putting on my media historian’s hat, it is difficult for me to explain how important The Voice was to American journalism.

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 readers) or master (as writers) 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 Yorker to 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.

 

Book-Mini Review: Organic Black Feminism Within Traditional Black Community Activism


Lucile H. Bluford and The Kansas City Call: Activist Voice for Social Justice.
Shelia Brooks and Clint C. Wilson II.
Lexington Books. 112 pp., $80.

The story of how Lucile Bluford helped lead Black Kansas City from the late 1960s through the 1980s via her newspaper, The Kansas City Call, is not unusual, as 20th century Black press stories go. And that very normality is what makes this monograph important. When not roadblocked by Black male sexism (and even when they are), Black women seek, and fight, to save, heal and transform the entire Black community–to save it from itself, even if that work results in personal attack and vicious slander. These women, like Bluford, are strategic. And Brooks and Wilson explain that tactical nature, along with that unswerving commitment, in qualitative and quantitative form, showcasing well her roles as local activist, cheerleader and critic. In the Twitter Age, one in which Black feminist perspectives often lead national Black (digital) activist discourse, Bluford’s brand would today hold up as well as her electric typewriter on the book’s cover: she often used a male pseudonym when it was time to talk tough. But that is not the point here, although that historic action of Black press female reporters and editors should be the focus of future 19th and 20th century Black newspaper studies. Happily, there is no attack and slander in Bluford’s story, because she earned the respect of Kansas City as its Black informational leader and independent advocate. Future monographs about 20th century Black press publishers, reporters and editors should explain in further detail the ideological/personal relationships between Black newspaper staffs and Black activists, especially the idea that the Black women who have always driven local Black activism were major portions of these papers’ audiences. But for now, with more books published on Black women journalists in recent years than ever before, academia is now seeing a significant growth in the topic of Black press herstory.