A Q&A with author and political pundit Michael Smerconish

This week in North Philly Notes, Michael Smerconish talks about how he came to politics, his opinions, and his new book,  Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right

How did you develop your role as a political commentator?
I was interested in Republican politics and benefitted from some unique experiences at an early age. I was an assistant GOP committeeman, elected alternate delegate to a national convention and state legislative candidate all before age 25. By the time I was 29, I was appointed to a sub-cabinet level position in the George H.W. Bush Administration. Those experiences put me on the radar of some Philadelphia local network television affiliates who then began to call upon me for election commentary.

How did your background in politics shape your opinions, and how did it influence your approach to writing about local and popular culture?
I’ve always enjoyed writing about both political and cultural topics. As I look at the breath of my work as a columnist, it is pretty evenly divided between the two. I’ve written about a variety of 9/11 related issues, war, political candidates, and the economy. I’ve also written about yard sales, holiday decorations, and family pets.

You are always looking for a “good story” to turn into a column. In this age of “click bait” journalism, what makes a “good story,” or motivates you to think critically and provide thoughtful analysis?
A good story to me has nothing to do with the Red State/Blue State divide. What I most enjoy are telling those stories that are Seinfeldian, a slice of life that may (or may not) highlight areas of different opinion but not along the partisan divide. The kind of issues we enjoy talking about and maybe laughing about without being at each other’s throats.

Clowns to the Left of Me_smCan you describe the criteria you used to whittle down the more than 1000 articles you published to the 100 in the book?
Like Justice Potter Stewart once said about pornography, “I knew it when I saw it.” By my count, I published 1,047 columns for the Daily News and Inquirer between 2001 and 2016, and although I was making some swaps until the final submission, for the most part I had an easy time picking what I wanted to re-visit. Some things I got right and wanted to crow about, some things I got wrong but wanted to own, and others just plain stood the test of time and were insightful.

What observations do you have about the Afterwords you wrote for each entry? In some cases, you apologize for things you wrote, and in others, you show how your thinking on a topic has evolved.
I think most of us evolve over time with regard to our thinking. What separates me from many is that my opinions are all chiseled in granite, er, newsprint. And so you can easily discern how I viewed literally more than 1,000 issues. As I re-read everything I have published, there were certainly areas where my views have changed and I wanted to explain why. But there were plenty of times when I looked at what I’ve written and concluded that the times have changed, not me.

You write about everyone from Fidel Castro to Bill Cosby. You write about paying more money for a Cat Stevens concert than you care to admit. Who impressed you the most—or the least?
While I have been immensely fortunate to interact with many household names, those aren’t often the encounters that created the most meaningful columns. Yes, I interviewed Barack Obama and wrote about him, and Bill Cosby, and had a funny encounter with Led Zeppelin and Pete Rose—but the columns I’m most proud of are those I wrote about an old college professor, a woman who worked for our family in a domestic capacity, and a guy I went to junior high school with who today is a tomato farmer. Real people with compelling stories.

Do you have a favorite column that you published?
I once wrote a Daily News column—with my thumbs on a Blackberry—while standing in a 2-hour viewing line as it snaked through South Philadelphia. I think the headline was “Requiem for an Era.” I’m very proud of that column.

You are donating your author proceeds for the book to the Children’s Crisis Treatment Center. Can you explain why this charity is so important to you?
CCTC exists to serve children who are victims of trauma. If you hear a heartbreaking story about something that has happened to children, chances are, CCTC is involved. My wife is on the board and I wanted to highlight their good work.

About the author:
Michael A. Smerconish
is a SiriusXM radio host, CNN television host, and Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper columnist. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Lehigh University and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, he is of counsel to the law firm of Kline & Specter. He resides in the Philadelphia suburbs, where he and his wife have raised four children.

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Magnus Hirschfeld at 150: Sexual Rights and Social Wrongs

This week in North Philly Notes, Heike Bauer, author of The Hirschfeld Archives, blogs about Magnus Hirschfeld’s impact as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of his birth.

This year marks the 150th anniversary since the birth of Jewish sexologist and sexual activist Magnus Hirschfeld. Born on May 14, 1868 in the small Baltic town of Kolberg, Hirschfeld, a trained doctor, is one of the founders of the modern homosexual rights movement in the West. He is best known today for his efforts to decriminalize homosexuality in Germany and for his foundational studies of what he called “transvestism,” a term he coined to distinguish gender from sexuality, anticipating the later trans vocabulary.

In 1919 Hirschfeld founded the world’s first Institute of Sexual Sciences. Housed in an imposing building in central Berlin, the Institute was a place for research, political activism and public education. Here Hirschfeld and his colleagues worked on all kinds of questions relating to sex and gender. The Institute was a clinic and research facility, hosted public talks, and provided sex education and counselling services. But the Institute was not only a place of work. It was also a home. Hirschfeld lived there with his partner Karl Giese; other rooms were rented out to permanent and temporary staff and visitors from around the world, most famously perhaps the American writer Christopher Isherwood who gave an account of his time at the Institute in Christopher and His Kind (1976). Hirschfeld’s widowed eldest sister Recha Tobias for a time hosted lodgers in her rooms at the Institute including the philosophers Walter Benjamin and Ernst Bloch, although they did not engage with the Institute’s activities. Another famous inhabitant, Willi Münzenberg, the press officer of the German communist part, similarly remained detached from the sex researchers, but his partner, the journalist Babette Gross, noted that the busy, reform-oriented Institute environment was a great place to conduct semi-secret meetings of the Komintern, the communist international.

Hirschfeld Archives_smThe Institute of Sexual Science encapsulates what was new about Hirschfeld’s sexological work: unlike his medico-forensic predecessors, he was overtly politically motivated, believing that science could bring about social change and justice. As a socialist who engaged little with party politics, his sexual activism focused especially on the decriminalization and destigmatization of homosexuality. Hirschfeld produced, for example, the first surveys about suicide among homosexuals, using the data to support his argument that persecution could make lives feel unlivable. On a more practical level, Hirschfeld and his colleagues supported those whose bodies did not match their assigned gender.

The Institute’s doctors were among the pioneers of ‘sex change’ procedures. One former patient, Dora, who was born Rudoph Richter, was employed at the Institute as a maid, providing her with a secure income whilst maintaining, as the historian Katie Sutton has pointed out, fairly bourgeois domestic arrangements at this in many ways radical home.

Given Hirschfeld’s focus on supporting those whose bodies and desires did not match the norms of their time, it is no surprise that his name has become a byword for sexual activism. Today there exist numerous LGBTIQ organisations that have adopted his name. In Philadelphia, for example, a Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld Fund was set up in 2004 for HIV/AIDS activism and to support the LGBT community. In Germany, there is a Magnus Hirschfeld Society dedicated to his legacy whilst in 2011 the German state itself set up a foundation in Hirschfeld’s name, the Bundesstiftung Magnus Hirschfeld. It aims to foster ‘acceptance’ for people who are not heterosexual and stop the discrimination of LGBTIQ people.

The Bundesstiftung has organised a special ceremony to celebrate Hirschfeld’s 150th  birthday. Featuring scholars and senior politicians, its focus lies on Hirschfeld’s achievements, especially, as the related publicity material suggests, on his homosexual rights efforts. The Bundesstiftung recognizes elsewhere that sexual politics go beyond same-sex rights when it includes intersex people in its mission statement. While there is some debate about whether or not intersex should be included in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer rainbow, such visibility matters because intersex people still remain marginalized in many political debates. The artist DEL LAGRACE VOLCANO has long worked to challenge this absence in the VISIBLY INTERSEX project [http://www.dellagracevolcano.com/gallery/visibly-intersex-35548944]. In the U.K., a new exhibition entitled Transitional States: Hormones at the Crossroads of Art and Science, currently on display at the Peltz Gallery in London, asks questions about gender and the uses of hormones in defying or upholding social norms.

Such interventions are vital given that many intersex infants to this day are subjected to the violence of “corrective” surgeries that conform to social expectation rather than medical need and are undertaken without consent of the young person subjected to them. Hirschfeld did not see young children in his clinic, but he did gather a large collection of photographs of the genitals of intersex people. These photographs are reminders of the emphatic limits of Hirschfeld practice. They reduce people to their bodies. Hirschfeld’s related writings on intersex add little context about the persons under scrutiny, reinforcing their sense of isolation, which stands in marked contrast to the affirmative emphasis on community and collective identity that characterizes Hirschfeld’s work on homosexuality.

In my book, The Hirschfeld Archives: Violence, Death and Modern Queer Culture I turn attention to these today lesser-known aspects of Hirschfeld’s work. They complicate straightforward celebrations of his achievements. 150 years after Hirschfeld’s birth, it remains critical to remember that the struggle for homosexual rights was not a fight for social justice per se.

 

 

 

Can the Row’s Relics be Rescued?

This week in North Philly Notes, Dotty Brown, author of Boathouse Row writes about working with history buffs on Boathouse Row to find ways to preserve and archive the clubs’  fascinating historical records. 

We have all this stuff. Where do you start? What do you do with it?”

Henry Hauptfuhrer, of the Bachelors Barge Club, was not talking about cleaning out his house. This was about how to preserve 150 years of Boathouse Row history, everything from oil paintings and silver trophies to old log books and financial records.

Last week a handful of rowers toured two 19thcentury upriver social clubs – the Button (belonging to the Bachelors Barge Club) and Castle Ringstetten (Undine Barge Club) – then traveled down to the Malta Boat Club to survey artifacts desperately in need of preservation.

The problem is ubiquitous on the Row, where important historical records – many dating back more than a century – are variously stored in plastic storage bins, closet-like rooms with no air conditioning, or in the attics of officers’ homes.

Over the years, some clubs have moved their most valuable papers to facilities such as the Independence Seaport Museum or the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, where they are preserved, catalogued, and available to the public for review, sometimes even on the internet. But their space is limited (where to put all those trophies?), and archiving costs money which would have to be raised.

The quantity of stuff is so great, it could fill an entire museum – and many wish a Rowing Museum could be launched in Philadelphia.

Meanwhile, a rump group made up of Henry Hauptfuhrer of Bachelors, Rick Stehlik and Chuck Patterson of the Malta Boat Club and Katie Biddle of Undine, who is trained in archival work, hope their effort will pick up speed along the Row. Expect announcements of meetings and suggestions for taking steps to prevent papers from mouldering and how to move on from there.

A memorable moment of our little gathering was the quiet presentation by Bachelor’s Henry Hauptfuhrer of a 96-year-old gold pocket watch to the Undine Barge Club.

“A friend who knew I rowed alerted me about the watch” which was for sale decades ago at a jewelry store in Wayne, Henry explained. “It was engraved, “Peoples Regatta, Philadelphia, July 4th 1922, Senior Single Shells, 14 Mile Dash, Won By:….”

“I knew this would be an important item from the glory days of Boathouse Row,” Henry said. “However, the winner’s name was missing and I had no luck over the years” learning who might have won it.

But Rick Stehlik, in perusing old clippings in Malta’s trove, found that the watch had been won by Thomas J. Rooney, a champion rower of the years around World War I. In 1916, rowing for Long Island’s Ravenswood Boat Club, he won the National Singles Championship and would have gone on to the 1916 Olympics, but the games were cancelled because of the war.

It’s not clear how he ended up rowing for Undine in 1922, but his name appears on the club’s 1922 Mileage Trophy, honoring the member who rowed the most miles that year.

The watch, now returned to Undine, comes with its own challenge – that of figuring out how to safeguard it. Along with safeguarding so much more.

Anyone interested in joining this adventure in archiving, please contact Rick at rstehlik1@verizon.net, Henry or Katie or me at bhrthebook@gmail.com

This column was re-posted from www.boathouserowthebook/blog   Follow Dotty on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/BoathouseRowBook/ 

Celebrating National Poetry Month with Temple University Press books

This week in North Philly Notes, we highlight our books featuring and analyzing poetry in honor of National Poetry Month

1215_reg.gifMayan Drifter: Chicano Poet in the Lowlands of America, by Juan Felipe Herrera, Poet Laureate

In Mayan Drifter, Juan Felipe Herrera journeys to the Maya Lowlands of Chiapas on a quest for his Indio heritage and a vision of the multicultured identity emerging in America. He attempts to shed the trappings and privileges of his life in California in order to reduce his distance from the dispersed and shrinking Mayan population. In Mexico, Herrera seeks a deeper understanding of his homeland’s history, its exploitation, and looks to realize his own place in relation to the struggle of his people.

Like the Mayan drifter, the text crosses and extends boundaries. In a variety of narrative voices, poems, and a play, across time, Herrera recounts how the Maya have been invaded by the Spanish, the government, the multinational corporations of the petrochemical industry, and anthropologists. The Maya survive and resist as their numbers dwindle and the forces that mount against them become more powerful.

Inspired by the Maya’s resilience, Herrera envisions the disappearance of borders and evokes a fluid American self that needs no fixed identity or location.

Forthcoming in July from Temple University Press…

Who Will Speak for America? edited by Stephanie Feldman and Nathaniel Popkin

The editors and contributors to Who Will Speak for America? are passionate and justifiably angry voices providing a literary response to today’s political crisis. Inspired by and drawing from the work of writers who participated in nationwide Writers Resist events in January 2017, this volume provides a collection of poems, stories, essays, and cartoons that wrestle with the meaning of America and American identity.

THEFT 2502_reg.gif

Fran Wilde

–For Mia

That morning the officials
stole all the words

We bit into apples sliced thin
and drank coffee, not noticing
that the table had disappeared,
the window
even as we talked and chewed and laughed.

Friends wrote columns of blank space
demanding a return
of sense and empathy

and the officials heard the
and saw the

Then they returned our words
in sacks. Gave them back
to us upside down.

So we sit at the thin
and sip at a table

And we bite into windows
The brittle glass stinging our tongues
and we refuse to stop chewing

Also of interest….

On Becoming Filipino: Selected Writings of Carlos Bulosan by Carlos Bulosan, edited by E. San Juan, Jr.

A companion volume to The Cry and the Dedication, this is the first extensive collection of Carlos Bulosan’s short stories, essays, poetry, and correspondence. Bulosan’s writings expoun1184_reg.gifd his mission to redefine the Filipino American experience and mark his growth as a writer. The pieces included here reveal how his sensibility, largely shaped by the political circumstances of the 1930s up to the 1950s, articulates the struggles and hopes for equality and justice for Filipinos. He projects a “new world order” liberated from materialist greed, bigoted nativism, racist oppression, and capitalist exploitation. As E. San Juan explains in his Introduction, Bulosan’s writings “help us to understand the powerlessness and invisibility of being labeled a Filipino in post Cold War America.”

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 well 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. 1453_reg.gif

I HATE BOSCO

I hate Bosco
It’s no good for me
My mother poured some in my milk
To try and poison me
But I fooled my mother
I poured some in her tea
Now I don’t have no mother
To try and poison me

Flow: The Life and Times of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River by Beth Kephart

The Schuylkill River — the name in Dutch means “hidden creek” — courses many miles, turning through Philadelphia before it yields to the Delaware. “I am this wide. I am this deep. A tad voluptuous, but only in places,” writes Beth Kephart, capturing the voice of this natural resource in Flow.

An award-winning author, 1909_reg.gifKephart’s elegant, impressionistic story of the Schuylkill navigates the beating heart of this magnificent water source. Readers are invited to flow through time-from the colonial era and Ben Franklin’s death through episodes of Yellow Fever and the Winter of 1872, when the river froze over-to the present day. Readers will feel the silt of the Schuylkill’s banks, swim with its perch and catfish, and cruise-or scull-downstream, from Reading to Valley Forge to the Water Works outside center city.

Flow‘s lush narrative is peppered with lovely, black and white photographs and illustrations depicting the river’s history, its people, and its gorgeous vistas. Written with wisdom and with awe for one of the oldest friends of all Philadelphians, Flow is a perfect book for reading while the ice melts, and for slipping in your bag for your own visit to the Schuylkill.

Yellow Fever
It was a low-flying sheen that I could hardly see through.
It was a murderously persistent whine.
The eggs were slime.
I was too shallow.
Forgive me.

Books that bloom and flow

This week in North Philly Notes, in honor of the Philadelphia Flower Show, we celebrate our books that bloom and flow, in keeping with the flower show’s theme, “Wonders of Water.”

The Magic of Children’s Gardens: Inspiring Through Creative Design by Lolly Tai

Children’s gardens are magical places where kids can interact with plants, see where food and fibers grow, and experience the role of birds, butterflies, and bees in nature. These gardens do more than just expose youngsters to outdoor environments, they also provide marvelous teaching opportunities for them to visit a small plot, care for vegetables and flowers, and interact in creative spaces designed to stimulate all five senses.
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In The Magic of Children’s Gardens, landscape architect Lolly Tai provides the primary goals, concepts and key considerations for designing outdoor spaces that are attractive to and suitable for children especially in urban environments. Tai presents inspiring ideas for creating children’s green spaces by examining nearly twenty case studies, including the Chicago Botanic Gardens and Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA.

The Magic of Children’s Gardens features hundreds of comprehensive drawings and gorgeous photographs of successful children’s outdoor environments, detailed explanations of the design process, and the criteria needed to create attractive and pleasing gardens for children to augment their physical, mental, and emotional development.
Exposing youth to well-planned outdoor environments promotes our next generation of environmental stewards. The Magic of Children’s Gardens offers practitioners a guide to designing these valued spaces.

A Guide to the Great Gardens of the Philadelphia Region, text by Adam Levine, photographs by Rob Cardillo

Finall1851_reg.gify, for every resident and visitor to the region, a comprehensive guide to the gardens of eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and northern Delaware. Magnificently illustrated with nearly 200 full color photographs, A Guide to the Great Gardens of the Philadelphia Region provides essential information on how to locate and enjoy the finest gardens the area has to offer.

As the horticultural epicenter of the United States, Philadelphia and the surrounding towns, suburbs, and countryside are blessed with more public gardens in a concentrated area than almost any other region in the world. Stretching from Trenton, New Jersey through Philadelphia and down to Newark, Delaware, this area (often called the Delaware Valley) offers more horticultural riches than a visitor can possibly see even in a couple of weeks of hectic garden hopping.

City in a Park: A History of Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park System by James McClelland and Lynn Miller

Fairmount Park is the municipal park system of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It consists of more than one hundred parks, squares, and green spaces totaling approximately 11,000 acres, and i2348_reg.gifs one of the largest landscaped urban park systems in the world. In City in a Park, James McClelland and Lynn Miller provide an affectionate and comprehensive history of this 200-year-old network of parks.

Originated in the nineteenth century as a civic effort to provide a clean water supply to Philadelphia, Fairmount Park also furnished public pleasure grounds for boat races and hiking, among other activities. Millions today travel to the city to view its eighteenth-century villas, attend boat races on the Schuylkill River, hike the Wissahickon Creek, visit the Philadelphia Zoo, hear concerts in summer, stroll the city’s historic squares and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and enjoy its enormous collection of public art. Green initiatives flower today; Philadelphia lives amidst its parks.

Filled with nearly 150 gorgeous full-color photographs, City in a Park chronicles the continuing efforts to create a twenty-first century version of what founder William Penn desired: a “greene countrie town.”

Flow: The Life and Times of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River by Beth Kephart

The Schuylkill River — the name in Dutch means “hidden creek” — courses many miles, turning through Philadelphia before it yields to the Delaware. “I am this wide. I am this deep. A tad voluptuous, but only in places,” writes Beth Kephart, capturing the voice of this natural resource in Flow.

1909_reg.gif

An award-winning author, Kephart’s elegant, impressionistic story of the Schuylkill navigates the beating heart of this magnificent water source. Readers are invited to flow through time-from the colonial era and Ben Franklin’s death through episodes of Yellow Fever and the Winter of 1872, when the river froze over-to the present day. Readers will feel the silt of the Schuylkill’s banks, swim with its perch and catfish, and cruise-or scull-downstream, from Reading to Valley Forge to the Water Works outside center city.

Flows lush narrative is peppered with lovely, black and white photographs and illustrations depicting the river’s history, its people, and its gorgeous vistas. Written with wisdom and with awe for one of the oldest friends of all Philadelphians, Flow is a perfect book for reading while the ice melts, and for slipping in your bag for your own visit to the Schuylkill.

Boathouse Row: Waves of Change in the Birthplace of American Rowing by Dotty Brown

The history of Philadelphia’s Boathouse Row is both wide and deep. Dotty Brown, an avid rower and former editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, immersed herself in boathouse archives to provide a comprehensive history of rowing in Philadelphia. She takes readers behind the scenes to recount the era when rowing was the spectator sport of its time-and the subject of Thomas Eakins’ early artwork-through the heyday of the famed Kelly dynasty, and the fight for women to get the right to row. (Yes, it really was a fight, and it

2375_reg.gif

With more than 160 photographs, a third of them in full color, Boathouse Row chronicles the “waves of change” as various groups of different races, classes, and genders fought took generations to win.)for access to water and the sport. Chapters also discuss the architectural one-upmanship that defined Boathouse Row after Frank Furness designed the stunning and eclectic Undine Barge Club, and the regattas that continue to take place today on the Schuylkill River, including the forgotten forces that propelled high school rowing.
Beautifully written and illustrated, Boathouse Row will be a keepsake for rowers and spectators alike.

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.

Fly, E-A-G-L-E-S, Fly

This week in North Philly Notes, we continue the celebration of the Eagles and Ray Didinger, author of The New Eagles Encyclopedia.

Ray Didinger, longtime and beloved sportswriter, was remarkably composed when he visited Temple University Press’ offices in the week leading up to Super Bowl LII. But after the Eagles beat the Patriots in the big game, Didinger, who bleeds green, broke down on camera. Check out this video from NBC Sports’ Post Game Live, which shows Didinger getting emotional.

There is another video, “Philadelphia…This is your moment!” which also features Didinger.

The New Eagles Encyclopedia_smDidinger’s reaction to the Eagles win was also covered in this column by Rob Tornoe that appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on February 5.

 

By Rob Tornoe

NFL Hall of Fame writer and analyst Ray Didinger is generally known for his calm and level-headed analysis of the Eagles on NBC Sports Philadelphia and SportsRadio 94.1 WIP (unless your name is Chip Kelly).

But early Monday morning, after the Eagles stunning 41-33 victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl LII, the normally stoic Didinger got emotional when Eagles Postgame Livehost Michael Barkann introduced a guest on set — Didinger’s son, David.

David, who works for NFL Films, embraced his father live on air to celebrate the Eagles first Super Bowl win in an emotional moment that reflects the strong generational bond Birds fans have with their team.

“That scene is being repeated in Philadelphia thousands and thousands and thousands of times,” said former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell.

“It’s [for] everybody that didn’t have a chance that see this. My grandparents, my mom’s parents, my Uncle Kevin,” David Didinger noted as his father fought back tears. “I’ve waited 44 year and I swear I’d never thought I’d see this day.

Of course, Ray Didinger has waited longer for this moment than his son. The Eagles last championship came in 1960, when Didinger was just 13 years old. As he attempted to dry his eyes, he pointed out that he’s lived in the same house for 30 years, and during that time he’s had pigeons, hawks and even cats climbing on the garage.

On Saturday, Didinger’s wife told him when she woke up, there was an eagle sitting on the garage.

“I don’t believe in mysticism… She said to me ‘That’s either got to be the spirit of your father or your mother.’ And I truly believe that,” an emotional Didinger said. “To be able to share this with my son is beyond special.”

Last week, Didinger reflected on his family’s love of the Eagles, and tried to sum up what it would feel like if the Birds managed to knock off the Patriots to win the Super Bowl.

“My parents and my grandparents,” Didinger told Angelo Cataldi on the WIP Morning Show last week. “They’re all gone. But the last time they won this thing in 1960 we were all together in the east stands at Franklin Field watching it happen. If the confetti starts falling on Nick Foles on Sunday night, the first people I’m going to think about are my parents and grandparents. I think that’s true across the city.

“Family is so tied in to what people feel about this team, that everybody is going to feel exactly the same thing, ‘I wish grandpa was here. I was Uncle Bill was here. I wish they could all share in this,’ ” Didinger said. “Or, if they are still here, they’re all gonna share in it together.”

 

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