Considering gay economies of desire, intraracial romance, and sexual intimacy

This week in North Philly Notes, Cynthia Wu, author of Sticky Rice, writes about issues of race and sexuality, the subjects of her new book, a critical literary study.

Last month, Sinakhone Keodara, a Lao American actor, screenwriter, and entertainment executive, made headlines when he announced on Twitter his plans to file a class-action lawsuit against Grindr, a popular geosocial networking app for men interested in dating other men. The problem? The commonplace declarations that announce “no Asians,” which are allowed by moderators to remain on user profiles. Those who broadcast this restriction are mostly, but not exclusively, white.  Their ubiquity creates a hostile climate for Asian American men.

In a separate statement, Keodara clarified that white men should not “flatter [themselves]” to imagine that Asian American men need to convince them of their appeal. Rather, these outward expressions of racial loathing tap into a larger historical fetch of inequities leveled against people of Asian descent—from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the World War II Japanese American internment, and the Department of Homeland Security’s present-day profiling of Arab and South Asian Americans.

Keodara’s refusal to uphold white men’s primacy in the gay economy of desire resonates with the premises of Sticky Rice: A Politics of Intraracial Desire.  “Sticky rice” is a term coined by gay Asian American men to denote those amongst them who prefer intraracial romantic and sexual intimacies. As the logic goes, Asian American men who stick to themselves—like the types of rice grains favored by many Asian cuisines—disrupt presumptions about their aspirations to both whiteness and heteronormativity.

Sticky Rice_smMy book is not an ethnography of these men, however. It is a literary critical study that borrows from their language of intraracial bonding to revisit some of the most widely read selections in the canon of Asian American literature. In so doing, it revises an origin narrative about this body of work that has taken the heterosexuality of its seminal texts for granted.

John Okada’s 1957 novel, No-No Boy, presents a key example of how returning to old texts with new lenses produces a more nuanced story about the rise of an Asian American arts and culture movement. The novel, ignored upon its publication, was later championed by an all-male vanguard of separatist cultural producers in the early 1970s. These novelists, poets, and playwrights were known for their public condemnation of femininity and queerness. Okada’s work, they asserted, portrayed a shining model of politicized Asian American manhood in line with their stringent ideals.

No-No Boy, set in the period right after World War II, tells the story of an unlikely friendship between two Japanese American men, a disabled veteran and a nondisabled draft resister. The former holds the approval of the United States for his patriotic sacrifice to the nation, while the latter is condemned for his refusal to join the Army from within the confines of an internment camp.

The novel is often read as a treatise on the impossibility of choosing between a violent and—ultimately—fatal assimilation and a resistance that could not be realized in the midst of the Cold War. What has been overlooked in the literary criticism on No-No Boy is the erotic and sexual attraction between the main characters. I argue that the bond between the two men dissipates the either-or dichotomy that divided Japanese Americans during and after the war. Moreover, it calls into question the favorability of proximity to whiteness and heterosexuality alike.

That men of color could afford or would want to turn away from these trappings of legitimacy is often unthinkable. The lawsuit Keodara is threatening against Grindr, after all, is a reaction to the social acceptability of rejecting Asian American men on racially discriminatory grounds. We all know that a common response to rejection is more impassioned efforts at inclusion.

However, rather than compensatorily clinging to mainstream standards, the male characters in Asian American literature’s seminal texts show that we need a wholesale rethinking of love, intimacy, justice, and community. Their bonds with one another and their relentless intent to stick together become the basis on which we can imagine a different order of values.

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Another chance to see Tommy and Me

Tommy and Me, the autobiographical play by Ray Didinger, author of One Last Read and the forthcoming Eagles Encyclopedia: Champions Edition, is getting an encore production at the Media Theater August 8-26. This week in North Philly Notes, we re-post the author/playwright’s blog entry, slightly tweaked from what published last summer after the original production ended its run.

I didn’t know it was possible to have an experience that is both exhilarating and painful. But that’s what I was feeling when Tommy and Me, my first—and probably last—stage play, had its final performance at the Fringe Arts theatre.

It was exhilarating because the sellout crowd sent the play off with a standing ovation and afterwards people stayed around to say how much they enjoyed it. The story flashes back to the 1950s and ’60s and the career of Eagles great Tommy McDonald and dozens of people came up to me to relate their own memories of Franklin Field. Some still carried the ticket stubs in their wallets. Three bucks for a seat in the end zone. Yes, it was a long time ago.

TommyandMe SetThe painful part was walking back into the empty theatre and seeing the crew dismantle the set. During the two-week run I virtually lived in that theatre. It became my world and each night when the lights went down and the actors took the stage, I was transported back to my boyhood when I was the freckle-faced fan who wanted nothing more than to carry Tommy McDonald’s helmet as he walked to the practice field. It brought a lump to my throat every night. But on Sunday, seeing it stripped down and silent, reminded me it was, indeed, over.

I knew this night was coming. I knew there would be that moment when I had to let go and Tommy and Me would become a memory, but it did not lessen the sense of loss. We sat at the bar for a long time—the cast, the crew, the whole Theatre Exile team—and talked about the play and how it grew into something larger than we first imagined. All 12 performances were sell outs and each show ended with a standing ovation that seemed to grow louder each night. Tom Teti, the veteran actor who played Tommy McDonald, said, “This was a rare one.” The others at the bar nodded in agreement.

Picture_r688x459Once we left the theatre that night last year we would go in different directions. I would return to talking about the Eagles on WIP Sports Radio and Comcast Sports Net.

Eagles;Champions_smBut for a little while longer, we were sharing the bond that was Tommy and Me, the play I wrote about my boyhood hero and our unlikely 40-year journey to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I had never written a play before and when I started I wasn’t at all sure it would ever be produced. But thanks to Joe Canuso, who believed in the project, and Bruce Graham, the superb Philadelphia playwright who helped in its development, we were able to bring Tommy and Me to life. To sit in the theatre each evening and hear the audience laugh, sometimes cry, boo any reference to the Dallas Cowboys and ultimately applaud at the final curtain was a thrill unlike anything I had experienced before. I know I’ll never forget it.

Each night ended with the cast returning to the stage to answer questions from the audience. The very first night, a woman stood up and said: “I’m not an Eagles fan. I don’t even like sports…” I thought, “Where is this going?” Then she said, “But this story really touched me.” Several theatre critics [reviews below] made the same point: it isn’t a football story. It is a story about a boy, his hero and dreams coming true. It is a story I always wanted to tell and that’s why it was so hard to let go.

Read the DC Metro‘s review. 

Read the Broad Street Review‘s review

Read Philly.com‘s review

Read NewsWork‘s review

Read Philadelphia Magazine‘s review 

 

 

Celebrating Black History Month with our African American Literature titles

This week in North Philly Notes, we focus on our African American books about books in honor of Black History Month

From Slave Ship to Supermax: Mass Incarceration, Prisoner Abuse, and the New Neo-Slave Novel by Patrick Elliot Alexander

In his cogent and groundbreaking book, From Slave Ship to Supermax, Patrick Elliot Alexander argues that the disciplinary logic and violence of slavery haunt depictions of the contemporary U.S. prison in late twentieth-century Black fiction. Alexander links representations of 2426_reg.gifprison life in James Baldwin’s novel If Beale Street Could Talk to his engagements with imprisoned intellectuals like George Jackson, who exposed historical continuities between slavery and mass incarceration. Likewise, Alexander reveals how Toni Morrison’s Beloved was informed by Angela Y. Davis’s jail writings on slavery-reminiscent practices in contemporary women’s facilities. Alexander also examines recurring associations between slave ships and prisons in Charles Johnson’s Middle Passage, and connects slavery’s logic of racialized premature death to scenes of death row imprisonment in Ernest Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying.

Alexander ultimately makes the case that contemporary Black novelists depict racial terror as a centuries-spanning social control practice that structured carceral life on slave ships and slave plantations-and that mass-produces prisoners and prisoner abuse in post-Civil Rights America. These authors expand free society’s view of torment confronted and combated in the prison industrial complex, where discriminatory laws and the institutionalization of secrecy have reinstated slavery’s system of dehumanization.

Black Regions of the Imagination: African American Writers between the Nation and the World, by Eve Dunbar, a title in the American Literatures Initiative

Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and Chester Himes were all pressured by critics and publishers to enlighten mainstream (white) audiences about race and African American culture. Focusing on fiction and non-fiction they produced between the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement, Eve Dunbar’s important book, Bla2239_reg.gifck Regions of the Imagination, examines how these African American writers—who lived and traveled outside the United States—both document and re-imagine their “homegrown” racial experiences within a worldly framework.

From Hurston’s participant-observational accounts and Wright’s travel writing to Baldwin’s Another Country and Himes’ detective fiction, these writers helped develop the concept of a “region” of blackness that resists boundaries of genre and geography. Each writer represents—and signifies—blackness in new ways and within the larger context of the world. As they negotiated issues of “belonging,” these writers were more critical of social segregation in America as well as increasingly resistant to their expected roles as cultural “translators.”

Pimping Fictions: African American Crime Literature and the Untold Story of Black Pulp Publishing, by Justin Gifford, a title in the American Literatures Initiative

“Lush sex and stark violence colored Black and served up raw by a great Negro writer,” promised the cover of Run Man Run, Chester Himes’ pioneering novel in the black crime fiction tradition. In Pimping Fictions, Justin Gifford provides a hard-boiled investigation of hundreds of pulpy paperbacks written by Himes, Donald Goines, and Iceberg Slim (a.k.a. Robert Beck), among many others.

Gifford draws from an im2186_reg.gifpressive array of archival materials to provide a first-of-its-kind literary and cultural history of this distinctive genre. He evaluates the artistic and symbolic representations of pimps, sex-workers, drug dealers, and political revolutionaries in African American crime literature—characters looking to escape the racial containment of prisons and the ghetto.

Gifford also explores the struggles of these black writers in the literary marketplace, from the era of white-owned publishing houses like Holloway House—that fed books and magazines like Players to eager black readers—to the contemporary crop of African American women writers reclaiming the genre as their own.

Black Theatre: Ritual Performance in the African Diaspora, edited by Paul Carter Harrison, Victor Leo Walker II, and Gus Edwards 

Generating a new understanding of the past—as well as a vision for the future—this path-breaking volume contains essays written by playwrights, scholars, and critics that analyze African Americ1429_reg.gifan theatre as it is practiced today.

Even as they acknowledge that Black experience is not monolithic, these contributors argue provocatively and persuasively for a Black consciousness that creates a culturally specific theatre. This theatre, rooted in an African mythos, offers ritual rather than realism; it transcends the specifics of social relations, reaching toward revelation. The ritual performance that is intrinsic to Black theatre renews the community; in Paul Carter Harrison’s words, it “reveals the Form of Things Unknown” in a way that “binds, cleanses, and heals.”

Savoring the Salt: The Legacy of Toni Cade Bambara, edited by Linda Janet Holmes and Cheryl A. Wall

The extraordinary spirit of Toni Cade Bambara lives on in Savoring the Salt, a vibrant and appreciati1900_reg.gifve recollection of the work and legacy of the multi-talented, African American writer, teacher, filmmaker, and activist. Among the contributors who remember Bambara, reflect on her work, and examine its meaning today are Toni Morrison, Amiri Baraka, Pearl Cleage, Ruby Dee, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Nikki Giovanni, Avery Gordon Audre Lorde, and Sonia Sanchez.

Admiring readers have kept Bambara’s fiction in print since her first collection of stories, Gorilla, My Love, was published in 1972. She continued to write-and her audience and reputation continued to grow-until her untimely death in 1995. Savoring the Salt includes excerpts from her published and unpublished writings, along with interviews and photos of Bambara. The mix of poets and scholars, novelists and critics, political activists, and filmmakers represented here testifies to the ongoing importance and enduring appeal of her work.

Yo’ Mama! New Raps, Toasts, Dozens, Jokes and Children’s Rhymes from Urban Black America, edited by Onwuchekwa Jemie 

Collected primarily in metropolitan New York and Philadelphia during the classic era of black “street poetry” (i.e., during the late 1960s and early 1970s) these raps, signifyings, toasts, boasts, jokes and children’s rhymes will delight general readers as 1453_reg.gifwell as scholars. Ranging from the simple rhymes that accompany children’s games to verbally inventive insults and the epic exploits of traditional characters like Shine and Stagger Lee, these texts sound the deep rivers of culture, echoing two continents. Onwuchekwa Jemie’s introductory essay situates them in a globally pan-African context and relates them to more recent forms of oral culture such as rap and spoken word.

Unbought and Unbossed: Transgressive Black Women, Sexuality, and Representation, by Trimiko Melancon, a title in the American Literatures Initiative

Unbought and Unbossed examines black women’s literary and cultural production of the 1970s and early 1980s. Considering texts in the socio-cultural and historical moments of their production, Trimiko Melancon analyzes representations of black women that not

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only transgress racial, gender, and sexual boundaries, but also diverge from both discourses of “whiteness” and constructions of female identity imposed by black nationalism.

Drawing from black feminist and critical race theories, discourses on gender and sexuality, and literary criticism, Melancon illuminates the complexity of black female identity, desire, and intimacy. She sheds light on a more complex black identity, one ungoverned by rigid politics over-determined by race, gender and sexuality, while also enabling us to better understand the black sexual revolution, contemporary cultural moments, and representations in the age of Michelle Obama.

Re-Viewing James Baldwin: Things Not Seen, edited by D. Quentin Miller, foreword by David Adams Leeming

This new collection of essays presents a critical reappraisal of James Baldwin’s work, looking beyond the commercial and critical success of some of Baldwin’s early writings such as Go Tell it on the 1463_reg.gifMountain and Notes of a Native Son. Focusing on Baldwin’s critically undervalued early works and the virtually neglected later ones, the contributors illuminate little-known aspects of this daring author’s work and highlight his accomplishments as an experimental writer. Attentive to his innovations in style and form, Things Not Seen reveals an author who continually challenged cultural norms and tackled matters of social justice, sexuality, and racial identity. As volume editor D. Quentin Miller notes, “What has been lost is a complete portrait of [Baldwin’s] tremendously rich intellectual journey that illustrates the direction of African-American thought and culture in the late twentieth century.”

African American Writing: A Literary Approach, by Werner Sollors

Werner Sollors’ African American Writing takes a fresh look at what used to be called “Negro literature.” The essays collected here, ranging in topic from Gustavus Vassa/Olaudah Equiano to LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, and in time from the Enlightenment to the Obama presidency, take a literary approach to black writing and present writers as readers and as intellectuals who were or are open to the world.
From W.E.B. Du Bois com2396_reg.gifmenting on Richard Wagner and Elvis Presley, to Zora Neale Hurston attacking Brown v. Board of Ed. in a segregationist newspaper, to Charles Chesnutt’s effigy darkened for the black heritage postage stamp, Sollors alternates between close readings and broader cultural contextualizations to delineate the various aesthetic modes and intellectual exchanges that shaped a series of striking literary works.
Readers will make often-surprising discoveries in the authors’ writing and in their encounters and dialogues with others. The essays, accompanied by Winold Reiss’s pastels, Carl Van Vechten’s photographs, and other portraits, attempt to honor this important literature’s achievement, heterogeneity, and creativity.

Temple University Press’ Annual Holiday Sale

This week in North Philly Notes, we prepare for the holidays by promoting our annual Holiday Sale December 7-8 from 11am-2pm in the Diamond Club Lobby, (lower level of Mitten Hall at Temple University)

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Announcing the new issue of Kalfou

This week in North Philly Notes, we highlight the new issue of our journal, Kalfouedited by George Lipsitz at the UCSB Center for Black Studies Research

Kalfou volume 4, no. 1, continues the journal’s pioneering work in creating timely and lively conversations among academics, activists, and artists. The new issue features a forum on the BlackLivesMatter movement and its impact on and implications for the Black Prophetic Tradition in religion and politics. Participants in that discussion are Juan Floyd-Thomas of Vanderbilt University; Johari Jabir of the University of Illinois, Chicago; Lawrence Brown of Morgan State University; and Kalfou senior editor George Lipsitz of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Arts activist Natasha Thomas-Jackson writes about the ways in which her innovative youth performance troupe RAISE IT UP!! mobilized young people to step up and speak out about the water crisis created by racially targeted privatization schemes in Flint, Michigan.

University of Wyoming American Studies Professor Lilia Soto compares and contrasts the commemoration of the activism of César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, and the United Farm Workers movement in Napa, California, with public commemorations of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.

Musician, arts administrator, and researcher Russell C. Rodríguez contributes a moving eulogy for Ramón “Chunky” Sánchez, a legendary Chicanx musician and activist.

Also featured is a teacher’s guide to the film Becoming Ourselves by Asian Immigrant Women Advocates; a rumination on apologies and reparations by Washington University anthropologist Peter Benson; and a discussion by Venise L. Keys of her artistic practice.

Table of Contents

Feature Articles

Lawrence T. Brown
Johari Jabir
Juan Floyd-Thomas
George Lipsitz

Talkative Ancestors

Keywords

Peter Benson

La Mesa Popular

Lilia Soto

Art and Social Action

Venise L. Keys

Mobilized 4 Movement

Natasha Thomas-Jackson

Teaching and Truth

Asian Immigrant Women Advocates

In Memoriam

Russell C. Rodríguez

Book Reviews

Barbara Tomlinson

Temple University Press staff picks for Black History Month

This week in North Philly Notes, Temple University Press staff members select their favorite titles for Black History Month

Ann-Marie Anderson, Marketing Director

I was totThe_Parker_Sisters_emboss_smally captivated by Lucy Maddox’s The Parker Sisters! In 1851, the two free black sisters were kidnapped from a farm in Chester County, Pennsylvania, and sold back into slavery for a full year. Their story reads like a novel with twists and turns at every angle as the true story of the two young sisters unfolds. True freedom was not to be had for many African Americans during that time, and for both the free and fugitive living in border areas like here in Pennsylvania and nearby Maryland, danger lurked everywhere. Slave catchers were a mighty force, getting legal and illegal assistance from both black and white. Through newspaper accounts, diaries, and courtroom documents, Maddox traces the sisters harrowing experiences and provides a glimpse into what life was like in mid-19th century America.

Gary Kramer, Publicity Manager

I’m a complete sucker for Sandra Bullock and her film The Blind Side. But after reading Matthew Hughey’s The White Savior Film, I can’t look at this (or any other) film about racial uplift the same way again. Hughey’s cogent unpacking of “saviorism” has prompted me to call it out whenHughey_front_012814_sm I write about film, and also to find films that eschew this trope that perpetrates stereotypes about race, class (and even gender). Reading Hughey’s book makes me even more conscientious of racial equality in film. And “The DuVernay Test,” named for African American filmmaker Ava DuVernay (I Will Follow, Selma), was devised to monitor films to ensure “African Americans and other minorities have fully realized lives rather than serve as scenLayout 1ery in white stories.” The current Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures, which features a trio of female African American mathematicians playing vital roles at NASA, passes the DuVernay test, and despite scenes of saviorism, is decidedly not a White Savior film. These women were real people whose abilities paved their way to success. Incidentally, Hidden Figures also evokes another Temple University Press title, Swimming Against the Tideby Sandra Hanson, about African American girls and science education, which also demands reader’s attention.

Mary Rose Muccie, Director

Aden_2.inddThousands of people come to Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia each year to visit the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and the nation’s first White House, known as the President’s House.  There they’ll also see the only memorial to slavery on federal land.  As Roger Aden explains in his book, Upon the Ruins of Liberty: Slavery, the President’s House at Independence National Historical Park, and Public History, the memorial’s location is more than a gesture. When he came from Virginia to live in the President’s House, George Washington brought with him nine African slaves and later found a loophole in Pennsylvania state law that allowed him to avoid granting them their freedom.  The stories of freedom and liberty associated with the events that took place in Philadelphia rarely if ever acknowledged the existence of the slaves present as history was being made, and Aden’s book speaks to the importance of expanding the “history” commemorated at the site and describes the perhaps unexpected issues around doing so.  Its discussion of the sometimes uncomfortable presentation of this piece of our history speaks to many of the threads woven into Black History Month and to the need to change what we’re taught about how the notion of  liberty was applied.

Ryan Mulligan, Editor

Layout 1We’ve seen sports serve as an intensely visible and symbolic ground to showcase the slow march towards progress that has, in fits and starts, propelled black history. In sports we’ve seen exclusion become segregation, participation met with resistance, success met with fear, and finally and most ironically racial pride become national pride. This last transition is visible in the distance between now and the 1968 Olympics, when Tommie Smith scandalized America by celebrating his gold medal in the 200-meter dash with a raised fist gloved in black as the National Anthem played. That scandal forced spectators to reconcile America’s progress with its work to be done, that if it wanted to take pride in its native son’s achievement, it would also need to hear his protest. This seems to me emblematic not only of a step in black history but also in the telling of black history. Black history, taught and learned well, cannot be restricted to a story white people tell about statuesque historical figures frozen in time but must give a platform for those figures to speak for themselves. That is why I’d like to call attention to Silent Gesturewhich Temple published 10 years ago in which Tommie Smith tells his own story and his silent gesture takes on a living voice.

Aaron Javsicas, Editor in Chief

Tasting Freedom_AD(12-16-09) finalDan Biddle and Murray Dubin’s Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America is a masterfully told story about this important figure in both Philadelphia and American history. Catto’s heroic activism and tragic murder at the hands of a racist mob on election day in 1871 foreshadowed the century of civil rights struggle to come. As Philadelphia prepares to unveil a statue memorializing Catto’s life later this spring on the grounds of City Hall, please consider picking up a copy of this engrossing and important biography.

Temple University Press’ Spring 2017 Catalog

This week in North Philly Notes we showcase our Spring 2017 catalog of books and journals!

 

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