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Archive for the tag “writing”

Blue Line Black Men: I am not afraid

There were black men yelling on the Market Frankford El today.  We all got on the train at the same time, but separately, at 69th Street, the end/beginning of the line.  The first guy, who sat across the aisle from me, was on his cell phone.

“Did you hear about the Sixers?… They tradin’ Hawes!… That’s a bad move, man!”

Other guys pile into the car, in uniforms and work boots, bundled in puffer coats or in hoodies covering their heads.  They take empty seats or stand near the poles at the double doors, some of them with their friends and in their own conversations.  But the man on the phone is loud and the other passengers are forced to eavesdrop.  A murmur begins among the strangers.

“Naw, that’s good!”

“That’s a good move for the Sixers, dawg!”

“That’s what they need!”

The man on the phone hangs up with the caller as the train begins to leave the station.  Before hitting the button to close the call, he is responding to the other passengers. The men all become passionate about the subject. There are hand gestures and scrunched up faces, “naw dawg’s” and “C’mon man’s.” The oldhead tucked in the corner of the car offers up a comment and they all pause to hear him before they all chime in at once again.

The train stops at Millbourne, 63rd and 60th Streets, gaining and losing passengers, both pushing traffic through the loud, good-natured discussion.  It’s all gibberish to me. I know nothing about the 76er’s and could care less about basketball.  But I enjoyed being caught up in that moment with them—black men yelling, unafraid for those moments, interacting with each other, passionate about a thing.

I am used to black men yelling: my father is a Pentecostal preacher, my grandfather was a bit of a pimp, my brothers get pretty riled up when telling stories, my Uncle Joe sits on my grandmother’s couch quoting Farrakhan from behind an open Final Call.  I am not intimidated.  I am not shaken. I am not moved.  As a matter of fact, I feel right at home when it gets loud and rowdy—whether it’s on a Septa train, in a family room back home, or when walking past a neighborhood basketball court.

More importantly, though, I am used to black men.

I am reminded of this when I enter the classroom of Philadelphia FIGHT each week to teach my writing workshop, “Making Each Word Matter.”  When collaborating with FIGHT’s Institute for Community Justice and their weekly creative writing class, I am in a classroom with black men, 20-30 of them, ages ranging from early 20’s to late 60’s, all of them armed with pens and paper, spilling ink and creativity.  And I tell you, it is only here, in this room full of black men, first loud with their ideas, then quietly writing their words, then patiently waiting to share what they’ve written while patiently listening to others… it is here in this room, full of stagnant stale air, yet vibrant with fresh art, that I become afraid.

I am afraid that no one will hear their stories or know their worth.  No one will hear the rhyme, the rhythm, the cadence of their poetry.  No one will hear the questions, the answers, and the brilliance of their tales.

I am afraid that whether black men are yelling on the El or yelling on the page, the only ones who will listen are those of us who are not intimidated, shaken, or moved—those of us who are used to black men yelling. Or more importantly, used to black men.

The others, too busy blinded by the darkness and deafened by the noise, will continue to keep black men silenced and make up their own stories.

And I am afraid that that will not be enough.

It’s raining sunshine

I am soaked down to the bone

My skin is my proof

—- John Tolbert, haiku from “Making Each Word Matter”

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Building Character(s): A Call for Personal Stories

I am working on my very first novel, which has been both daunting and exciting.  I am also simultaneously finishing a couple of short stories and writing speeches– it is a very busy time.

However, in comparison to the short stories, which are primarily memoir pieces, the novel requires so much more time and energy and RESEARCH. When writing essays and creative nonfiction, which has been my focus since undergrad, I am telling stories from my own memories and experiences– what I’ve seen and felt and conquered, if you will. But when creating fictional characters and scenes, some of which are complexly different from me and what I’ve experienced, I am learning that I may need to go beyond beautiful language and pictorial settings to get at the heart of my characters. Instead, I must actually meet these people, live their lives, hear their stories, and watch them work– that is, if I desire a well-rounded, well-written body of work.

That said, I am looking to meet people and hear some stories.  So here it is, my call for personal stories:

  • I am looking to meet young black men who are or have been members of a traditional, predominately black church and active in some form of ministry (ie. choir, praise dance, mime etc.) who are or have also struggled with sexual/gender identity and lives or have lived a double life or ultimately left the church because of it.
  • I am also looking to meet pastors or church leaders who have relatively strong views regarding same sex relationships, gay rights, and “homosexuality” as a whole.

There will be no judging or telling here– I simply want to hear your story. All correspondence will be kept confidential.

Lastly and for the record, I will not be telling your story, but rather listening and gathering information to help inform my characters’ point of view and help me create a narrative that is both realistic and relatable.  If you are interested in sharing your story or would like more information about what I am writing, please feel free to contact me at lastletterfirstword@gmail.com

Writing with Giants

Earlier this year, I took writing classes with Sonia Sanchez.  Next week, I will be in workshops lead by Binyavanga Wainaina.  Today I am in a class with Eghosa Imasuen and Chimamanda Adichie has been teaching all week.

With each interaction with these accomplished authors, I have taken the opportunity to carefully construct new material as assigned, observe the examples chosen by the instructors, and put into practice the feedback and advice given regarding the art and practice of writing.

This process, however, would not be as effective and inspiring if not for one of the most vital entities of such learning environments: its students.  My peers.

With any creative piece of work, as its creator, we are very protective and even defensive about the art that is born out of our souls.  Generally, we are usually receptive to the opinions of professionals—taking their word as gospel regarding the formula in which we should write, the words to employ, and how tone, voice, and point of view has positively affected the work we have shared.

However, when it comes to building with others who come from different backgrounds and varying levels of expertise, our vulnerability heightens.

In writing workshops, trusting the other to respectfully critique your work while, in turn, delicately offering suggestions on how one can improve her/his creative piece is quite a balance.

This week, I, along with 21 other New African Writing Fellows, have opened our 8-9 hour workshop days with creative compositions that we have spent the previous night composing and perfecting.  When we share our pieces, we are thoughtful about the other’s style and voice and we respond accordingly, working only to provide feedback to improve the flow and readability.

It is no small feat, actually.  Sometimes, we are fighting for why we have chosen certain words while at other times, we are persuading our friends on why particular sections of a piece should be omitted or revised.  It’s a BIG task before a writer further develops work, revises the work, and ultimately, submits the work.  It takes writers who are just as BIG to both dish out and take in feedback that will help elevate the work.

This week, I am happy to be writing with Giants who understand that aspiring to be great at what we do should be no tall order.

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