Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sister Souljah, Part III: The Creative Side

Sister Souljah, Part III: The Creative Side

I closed the final page of Midnight: A Gangster Love Story the other day and though it left me with a million and one questions, I have to give Sister Souljah her props. If it was her intention to grab the reader and give one a walk through a cultural landscape, she accomplished it with me. If she wanted to give us an intimate view of how people live, die, work, play, love, and make money in New York and how a city can become a character itself, she did it for me. If it was her desire to impart the importance of a sense of values in a society that has declining values, mission accomplished. Sister Souljah WROTE this book. Did she need to take nine or ten years to do so? I don’t know, but I ain’t mad at her. That is not to say the book was perfect; it was not. There were holes, flaws, and nicks in some of the logic going through Midnight’s fourteen year-old man-child constant stream of consciousness. There was stuff that even had me slightly pissed off, until I remembered, hey, this is fiction; or is it? The pen is a mighty sword and I suspect that a lot of Sister Souljah’s beliefs and feelings were spoken through the character of Midnight. She said at her book signing that this is her favorite book. Pieces of her heart went into the writing of it.

How did Sister Souljah create this book? She was asked the question every author is asked: What is your writing process? She said that you hear over and over that a writer is supposed to write every day; her process though is that she might write twenty pages and then write nothing for two weeks. She might get up in the middle of the night to use the restroom and end up writing until morning and then not a word for several days. She also writes everything in long hand first. Now with 498 pages that sounds like a serious case of carpal tunnel, but that is her process.

Sister Souljah wanted readers to get a feel for the characters and she wanted creative control and so she had pictures in her book. She was told that fiction books do not have pictures and her response was well, I want pictures, I am a leader and I will set a precedent. The model for Midnight was a teen she saw at the mall and approached him with her husband and asked if she could have him professionally photographed. After talking with his mother, everything was set up. For the character of Akemi, she advertised and the model in the book is her perception of that character. Umma’s model was referred to her by a neighbor who she had asked to find her someone who could instruct her in the Sudanese culture.

Sister Souljah was a curious, intelligent child who was always asking questions and was teased by her brother’s friends who said things like, “When is your sister meeting with the President?” or “ Is your sister having tea with China officials?” She said she had a lot of male friends; there was nothing sexual, but that they were into her mind. Sister Souljah was able to write in a male voice because of her ability to get into their minds from being around men and being able to talk with them and understand how they think.

Everyone wanted to know about the movie version of The Coldest Winter Ever, so here is the deal. She met Jada Pinkett at the Million Woman March and Jada told her she wanted to produce TCWE. HBO bought the rights, (BTW, Jada was never the intended actress for Winter as that character’s age ranges from 13- 18) they talked, negotiated back and forth, etc and then basically HBO faked on them; they backed out of the deal. In order to get her rights back, she had to pay $250,000.00 dollars. It is back in her possession and she insists it will be made but ONLY when the business is right. And Sister Souljah is a business woman; you just know she don’t play when it comes to her business.

So, there you have it; the creativity behind Midnight. And that concludes the Sister Souljah series.

Peace out--

Friday, December 12, 2008

Sister Souljah, Part II- Did We Get It Yet?

Sister Souljah, Part II- Did We Get It?


In the first few pages of The Coldest Winter Ever, Winter Santiaga, the main character, makes a disparaging remark about the Sister Souljah character. That, right there is a direct clue into Winter’s attitude and personality. Nevertheless, most readers loved Winter, the fly, rich bitch, living in a mansion, designer wearing girl with the cool guys. Many wished they could be Winter and many tried to be. But did we really get what Winter represented? Sister Souljah was solid, an activist and unpretentious, and uncelebrated while Winter was glamorized and romanticized. The first few chapters made Winter’s life look as if it were all that, but as the real Sister Souljah pointed out last Saturday, the remaining part of TCWE was the story of a dismantling of a drug empire, a fall from grace. Winter ended up in jail, disfigured and her family destroyed. But did we get it?

A young woman in the audience at the book signing said she read TCWE in high school and unlike her friends who loved the book, she did not like it. When she asked them why they liked it, they could not tell her, they just liked it. This young woman was unimpressed with Winter’s antics. Sister Souljah replied that 100 people can hear a message and maybe 20 will get it right away, and maybe another 20 will get it some years later, but everyone is not going to get it.

A lot of folks did not get it. In the ensuing years, we saw a resurgence of The Coldest Winter copy cats; imitations that just did not measure up with Winter-like characters, bling blinging and living large. A new genre was reborn that had not been in vogue since Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim in the 1970s. Street lit, urban lit was on and poppin’.


In Midnight: A Gangster Love Story, the life of the character, Midnight is chronicled from age seven to fourteen years old. The story is told in the first person point of view of a young Muslim boy who becomes a man. He arrives from the Sudan, a place where he had intimate knowledge of his father, his grand father and his great-grandfather, and comes face-to-face with American ghetto life in Brooklyn, New York up front and personal. He is precocious, mature, intelligent, and wise beyond his years. How is this possible? We wanted to know and this question was asked of Sister Souljah. She maintains that one of the biggest fears is fear of black intelligence, black genius. Interestingly, the fear is not always from the mainstream culture, but WE, black folks fear black intelligence. Sister Souljah said if she told us some of the things she did and said as a little girl, we would claim she was lying. She was an inquisitive child, wanting to know everything. As she puts it, she was annoying to the adults around her. Her mother took her to the library at age five to get her library card and there she began to explore the universe. I took it that Sister Souljah was a genius. Have we gotten it yet?

Exceptional intelligence and the culture in which Midnight was raised dictated that boys become men at an early age. Men that were about business and taking responsibility. At the age of seven, Midnight was given the charge by his father to come to America with his pregnant mother and take care of and protect his family. He took that seriously. Sister Souljah immersed herself in Sudanese culture and literature. The authenticity of Midnight’s character was formed by her research and her study of the Koran, the Holy Torah and the Holy Bible, three books that she contends, anyone who wants to know what is going on in the world, need to study.

In TCWE Midnight was the object of Winter’s affection, yet a fantasy. Winter was empty-headed and Midnight was a man driven by his faith of Islam. Midnight is a powerful coming-of-age love story years before Winter enters the picture. So who is the object of Midnight’s affection in this story?; a Japanese born girl named Akemi. A brother in the audience, a poet and community activist I see quite often at Marcus book signings asked Sister Souljah, why an Asian girl? Her reply was that people who asked that question either did not read the book or they read it and didn’t get it. With the theme of immigration, these are two young people, from foreign lands who found a commonality. She said that New York City is a place where all the cultures and races of the world live; Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, West Indians, Africans, Jewish, Asians, Middle Easterners, Eastern Europeans, and the list goes on. It is inevitable that the children of these immigrants will meet and come together at some point. When that happens, love can happen. As one of my APOOO sisters said, the world is getting smaller. Sister Souljah also noted that in TCWE, it was mentioned that he had studied the martial arts and had always been interested in Asian culture. That is evident in Midnight’s story also. Furthermore, Sister Souljah said she wants Midnight to reach out globally.

So, do we get it yet?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sister Souljah: Part I, A Commentary

They came in anticipation to the East Bay Church of Religious Science in Oakland Saturday evening, December 6. And they got everything they expected and more. Sister Souljah, activist, former rapper, and best-selling author of No Disrepect and The Coldest Winter Ever, was in town, and she did not disappoint. Sponsored by Marcus Book Store of Oakland, the event was well attended and despite the competition of the De La Hoya fight and several football game playoffs, the brothers were in the house representing. Sister Souljah was ready. She started off saying that she would answer all questions; she is a big girl and she can take it and hopes we can do the same. Brown-skin, face devoid of make-up, a pug nose, she had two pony tail puffs, very young looking, belying her claim of being the mother of a 15-year old son; black long sleeved tee and black slacks, very unpretentious

We sat mesmerized for almost two hours as this Sister preached, philosophized, and prophesied about life as she saw it and of course, talked about her new book, Midnight: A Gangster Love Story. Let me back up a little. The book, Midnight, is a bit of a controversy. You see, what happened was…. Sister Souljah wrote The Coldest Winter Ever almost ten years ago, which was one of the most phenomenal literary occurrences in history. It was particularly popular in the black communities across the U.S touted. as the new re-emergence of what is called street or urban literature. Literature that speaks to the hearts and minds of the hip hop youth, the disenfranchised, and those who are living on the edge of society. TCWE and the copy cats that followed has been touted as responsible for bringing a whole generation of formerly nonreading teens into the literary arena. While TCWE opened the doors for a lot of authors to write stories that “kept it real”, surprisingly or surprisingly not, Sister Souljah does not want to be labeled a street/urban writer. She wants to be a writer that appeals worldwide. But let me tell you about the book signing event; I will go into detail on some points SS made so this might take two or three blogs. There is a lot to talk about.

My online book group, APOOO (A Place of Our Own) chose Midnight as our December book of the month. Now we are a group that gets down to the nitty gritty when discussing and dissecting a book. So, I will be referencing some comments as well as conversations with others about this new release.

Somewhere along the way, something got misconstrued. We had been hearing for almost a year that SS was writing a sequel to The Coldest Winter Ever. So, and because almost everything promoting Midnight, including the publisher of the book, Simon & Schuster sending out material indicating it so, that is what readers were expecting. It was not until Sister Souljah gave an interview with Publisher’s Weekly, when she adamantly emphasized that Midnight was a prequel, not a sequel Unhun, um. Well, the book was one of the all time best-selling of pre-ordered books on and a lot of those people did not get the memo, according to many of the reviews on that site. Not only is the book getting mixed reviews, Sister Souljah has been getting hot emails, folks complaining about many things among them, not having Winter (the main character in TCWE) in the book to what they perceive as blatant disrespect to Black Americans.

So let me school you on what Sister Souljah has to say about all that noise you all are out there making.

To the charges that she, as a proud black woman, is disrespecting black people, she finds ludicrous. The angry, passionate letters and emails she is getting has her scratching her head. She is writing from a point of view of a young boy from the Sudan in the character, Midnight. This is the way he sees things in his young mind, having grown up in Africa where men are taught to be men and take responsibility. Besides, Sister Souljah wants to know if these same people who are writing to her, would they write to the sister who sold millions of books by telling the world how she slept with some of hip hops most respected artists.

In speaking with one of my Marcus Book Club members Saturday, she said she read the book and was not the least bit offended by the things the character, Midnight, had to say about black people. She said something to the affect, “What is being said, is for the most part true and the truth hurts.” Ouch! So, I leave you with this, for those who have read Midnight: A Gangster Story, do you feel American born blacks are displayed in a negative light? For those who have not read the book, do you think Black Americans/African Americans are in competition with other blacks from the Diaspora (African natives, West Indians, South American blacks, black Brits and other black Europeans)? Are black Americans unfairly compared to these others?

More on this and much more about Sister Souljah and Midnight: A Gangster Love Story.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

My name is Dera and I am a bookaholic

My name is Dera and I am a bookaholic. Is there a 12- step program for those of us who cannot stop buying books? Probably so, there is something for everybody. Well, I better join and quick. One of my sister members in my online book club, APOOO-, lamented today that she is a bookaholic. She spoke of the excitement, the giddiness of holding a book in her hand of one of her favorite authors, and then purchasing it, and the joy in knowing she now owns it. Many of you are very familiar with the feeling; I need not explain. Have you ever walked into a bookstore and felt like you could spread wings and fly. That is the feeling I got walking into the new Borders in Alameda a couple of weeks ago. It is huuuuge. Two large floors, wall-to-wall books. Time got away from me as I became engrossed up on the second floor, buried in the colorful travel and cookbooks. I even ventured over into the inviting children’s section, planning holiday purchases. And then they had the nerve to put a Peet’s Coffee cafĂ© over in the corner. Grab a cup of gingerbread cocoa and a book on a late fall day; it just does not get any better than that.

Are your shelves bulging with books and overflowing off of the bookcase? Are books in every nook and cranny throughout the house? You have a problem. If you cannot locate the book you are reading (because you carry it from room to room), are you yelling at someone, “Who took my book?” Even when no one else is there? Then you have a problem. If someone gently suggests that maybe you should have a garage sale or take your books to the flea market or church fundraiser, are you mumbling under your breath, silently cursing that person, who only means well and is really concerned about you? Do you look at them like they have two heads and act as if they asked you to give away your first born? You got a problem.

Despite the dismal economic outlook, are you still sneaking books in the house? Sure, I have made a half-hearted attempt to go to the library and make use of my library card for something other than videos, but it is 3 to 1. For every book I check out, I am purchasing three. And don’t let the book be unavailable? That’s it,, here I come. I have a problem. But those same people also enable you. They are always giving you book gift cards for birthdays and holidays. Every month, after I order a pile of books, I swear this is it, no more until next year, and then I do it again, claiming just one more. I have a serious problem.

Well, they say the first step to recovery is acknowledging you have a problem. I acknowledge it. But I think the purpose of a 12- step program is to rid you of your damaging vice. And when I think about it, I guess there are worse things. After all, I got this honestly; I inherited it and it appears I have passed it on-- to an extent anyway. So, it is 1:00 am and I’m still up wondering what I am going to get with this gift card someone just sent me. Let me see, I only have 1,250 books on my wish list. I have a serious problem. Somebody stop me!

My name is Dera and I am a bookaholic.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Black Republicans. Who Needs Them?

Black Republicans. Who Needs Them?

I have wanted to write this column for three months, but I did not trust myself to say the right thing the right way or even the wrong thing the right way. I was trying to keep in mind a blog I had read regarding writing about political views that admonished bloggers about getting personal or indulging in name calling. That is why I have remained silent. But two days before the most momentous, historical election and one of the most outstanding, if not THE most outstanding occasion in U.S. history, I feel compelled to just let it out. In the words of our guest pastor today, Rev. Mark Wilson of Oakland, California, if you need to make a stand, JUST DO IT.

I do not have any need for Black Republicans. If that sounds blunt, it is meant to be. Let me explain. My grandmother was a Republican; southern born and raised, she was proud of the fact that she was able to register and vote. If she was still living, she would be over 100 years old, so what does that tell you? The Republican Party, at one time, may have been the party for blacks but it has not been for a very long time. But even though my grandmother was a Republican, she understood that she was black first, or in her words, Negro, and that race trumped party affiliation.

I agree with a local columnist who said that the majority of blacks are overwhelmingly conservative in some of their views. In California we are voting on a controversial measure, Proposition 8, which would ensure gay marriage. This is one that many black folks have to agree to disagree on, but that is a whole other story or blog. Because black people highly regard their church and religious views, sometimes they get the thing all mixed up. Based on a religious organization’s poll, black churches in Ohio were urging their congregants to vote according to this guide.
My God, have they lost their ever-loving minds?! Don’t fall for the okey doke black people.

I also do not have any need or respect for smug, rich or wanna be rich black folk who are so self-centered and have self-serving agendas by voting Republican because people like Donald Trump do so. In their quest to be in the company of those who make the multi-million dollar deals or desire key appointments, they forget from whence they came or from whence their ancestors came. I remember back in the 1980s when the Amway pyramid was all the rage, many black people who were in that business said they were changing to the Republican party because that is the party of the rich. Come on black people. Again, don’t fall for the okey doke.

We are not a monolith, you say. You are so right. That is my mantra; we do not all think alike, we don’t all like the same thing, have the same view or values, or talk the same talk. Should we be one party? Nope, that is not what I am saying. This is a free country and everyone has the right to choose who they support and how they vote. What I am saying and I hope it comes across, is just like my grandmother, if you are a Republican, does not mean you vote Republican. There might be a Republican worthy of voting for but it sure is not in this election. I’m saying, THINK. Think about the issues, think about how those issues affect black people and realize that a vote for the Republican candidate is not the way to go.

Most of us tuned in to the Republican convention—if only for a few minutes. It was overwhelmingly white and frankly, most of them like it that way. They kept showing the same few blacks over and over. Cindy McCain even brought an African woman onstage, her friend she called her, to demonstrate that they are “We are the world.” Not buying it.
When I see a black Republican on CNN embracing the Republican ticket, they look silly to me. They look and act like puppets. One guy even had the nerve to say that Obama running for President is a conspiracy. ??? They look like they are singing and dancing a tune for Mr. Charlie. Yeah, I said it, it’s a coon dance. Paraphrasing Kanye West here, “The Republicans don’t like black people.”

Well so much for trying to rein myself in and trying to adhere to good, political blogging etiquette. Believe it or not, I did not write near about what I truly wanted to say. But I’ll leave it at that. I have had a good day at church and the sun is shining after a blustery, cold downpour of rain on Saturday. Whew! Glad to get this off my chest. Wish I had done it months ago.

*See a likeminded opinions

Friday, October 10, 2008

Fall into Fiction 2008

Fall Into Fiction 2008

It was a beautiful, sunny day of 80 degrees weather in beautiful Long, Beach California when over 200 beautiful people descended on the Long Beach Petroleum Club on Saturday, September 27, 2008 for the second annual Fall into Fiction event sponsored by the United California African American Book Clubs aka UCAAB. UCAAB is a consortium of African American book clubs in California. They all have two things in common; they love books and they love to meet and mingle with the authors of the books they enjoy reading.

Last year we met in Oakland and Marcus Book Store (home of Marcus Book Club) was the bookseller. This year, Eso Won Books, another long time black-owned bookstore was the designated book seller. LaRhonda Crosby-Johnson and I flew down for the festivities from Oakland and hooked up with our sisters, Tira McDonald and Deb Burton.

This years guests were Tananarive Due, Stephen Barnes, Gabriella Pina, Victoria Christopher Murray and Gary Hardwick. Roland Jefferson, a local writer, gracefully maneuvered a Q & A session with the authors as the master of ceremonies. Some of the questions asked were about reviews; can authors influence them and how do they react to negative reviews? Other questions asked were “What motivates you to write?” and “How did you get published?”

Tananarive Due does not appear to take well to negative reviews; her first book The Between received an unfavorable review from a fellow journalist which was quite painful for her. She has an upcoming anthology, The Ancestors, with Brian Massey and L.A. Banks (which is going to be an Essence book of the month), and her current release is Blood Colony, the long awaited sequel to My Soul to Keep and The Living Blood. Speaking of which, everyone wanted to know if and when My Soul to keep is going to make it to the big screen. Due said that the studio still has the rights and they are in limbo. Surprisingly, her best-selling book has been Casanegra, a mystery she collaborated with her husband, Stephen Barnes, and actor Blair Underwood. Due is a favorite with both Marcus Book Store (we have discussed all of her novels) and my online book group, APOOO.

Stephen Barnes’ current release is Great Sky Woman and he is working on the sequel. He appreciates well-written, intelligent reviews by people who actually read the book. He went to Africa for research for GSW; it was a must to create this half-science/half-mystic masterpiece. Barnes is also a screenwriter with several credits, including a BET movie based on Hannibal with Vin Diesel in the lead role. He believes you can break into publishing by writing short stories and giving yourself permission to suck. He recommends The Lion’s Blood as an introduction to his work for the first time. In that book where slavery was reversed with whites slaves, he gave more humanity to them than they ever gave to us.

Gabriella Pina is a wife and mother of three children. She finds it is best to work on one project at a time. Her third book is actually due to her editor this month but it might take a little longer. She believes authors have no say-so in reviews and does not take them personally. Pina went back to grad school at USC for a writing degree and is now teaching there. She cites the Writers Market as a great resource to get an idea of what agents and publishers want. Her books, Bliss and Chasing Sophea are favorites with fans.

Victoria Christopher Murray has been called the bad girl of Christian Fiction because she includes gasp! S-E-X in her stories of fire and brimstone, redemption and forgiveness. She has even received reviews that have gotten personal, questioning her Christianity. A puzzle to her is how she even got pigeon-holed into the CF genre. She is the author of three books that feature bad girl, Jasmine, the woman you love to hate. The series includes Temptation, A Sin and a Shame and Too Little, Too Late. She writes three books a year and is now writing young adult/teen fiction. She believes persistence is the key to getting published.

Gary Hardwick was clearly a favorite at the event. This brother, writer of political thrillers and screenwriter/producer of such films as The Brothers and Deliver Us from Eva, is a multi-tasker, always juggling several projects on any given day. Hardwick is working on a script to make his Executioner’s Game into a movie with Jamie Foxx playing the lead. He has thrilled fans with other novels Supreme Justice, Double Dead and Color of Justice, which has been one of his biggest best-sellers. He has been called the black Elmore Leonard, who like Hardwick, is a Detroit native. But Hardwick said he could not have dreamed up what is currently happening in his hometown with the sex, lies, and tapes replete with bodies in the river scenario being played out. Hardwick would like to produce Due’s My Soul to Keep and is quick to acknowledge the racism that goes on in Hollywood.

I was able to catch up with my APOOO sister, Joan Burke Stanford, with her sisters from the African Violet Book Club from the Los Angeles area. Membership is open to all African American book clubs in California. We are looking to grow to grow our membership. See you next year back in the Bay Area.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I've Been Called Out

I’ve Been Called Out

It isn’t the first time I’ve been told to get off my duff in regards to writing. This time Yasmin Coleman of told me I need to blog every week. Not something I didn’t already know. I have a million and one excuses but none are good enough. Nothing like someone pointing the finger at you to make one ashamed. It’s not like I don’t have anything to say or write about.

Wednesday night my local book group, Marcus Book Club, discussed one of my and our favorite authors, Diane McKinney Whetstone’s latest release, Trading Dreams at Midnight. Diane McKinney Whetstone is a master storyteller and does an excellent job of placing her readers in the landscape of Philadelphia; a definite sense of place. Her stories give us a view of black people navigating the complexities of urban living in the “City of Brotherly Love” against a backdrop of the social and economic issues of the United States. The city is actually a character in itself. Whetstone has written a complex story that entails an often convoluted storyline involving relationships on different levels, mother/daughter conflict, mental health issues and alcoholism. Our book club has reviewed every book Whetstone has published but this was our least favorite. It was received favorably for the most part. Individual ratings ranged from C- to A with an average of B minus I was the facilitator and I jotted down some of the comments.

It kept my attention
It didn’t keep my attention.
It read quickly.
It was a slow read. I just wanted to get finished.
It wasn’t my favorite but it was well-written.
It was missing something.
The characters were well developed.
Some of the characters weren’t developed enough.
This book was about the complexities of life.
It taught me to have compassion.
I like the way she revealed things little by little.

As you can see we have varied opinions as it should be. My online book club discussed this book about a month ago and we pretty much were in agreement with Marcus Book Club--- mixed reviews. What we all agree is that Whetstone is one of the best and that she can write circles around the many writers who churn out garbage and expect us, the reading public to lap it up. I see there are mixed reviews over at

Now that wasn’t so hard. So yes mam, I need to be blogging every week. A couple of weeks ago I started a folder of topics I want to sound off, tell it like it is. They include:

Stevie Wonder Summer Concert
Black Republicans
The Face of Romance
Cuba Travel Stories
Until the next time. Peace out.

September 18, 2008

Thursday, August 14, 2008

I've Been Tagged

I just received an email from Jennifer Coissiere saying I've been tagged to participate in the Book Buzz Tag. I guess she was determined to help me keep me my word to blog on a regular basis. This is her link.

Thanks J.C. for handing me a challenge. Now let's do this and keep it moving.

Here’s the idea (you can copy this paragraph to use in your post):
I am going to list three categories of books. 5 MUST Read Books, 5 Books on Your Nightstand, and 5 Look For These Soon. Keeping with the theme, I am going to tag at least 5 bloggers. They should put these same lists on their blog but SUBTRACT one book from each list and ADD one of their own. Then they should tag at least 5 more bloggers. It will be fun to see how the lists change as it goes around the blogosphere. Please come back to this post and leave a comment so I can see how the lists are changing as they go around the blogosphere. Since this is Book Buzz…please keep your lists to titles released in 2007-2009.

5 MUST Read Books:
Them by Nathan McCall
Orange Mint and Honey by Carleen Brice
Song Yet Sung by James McBride
Seen It All, Dome the Rest- Pearl Cleage
Conception by Kalisha Buckhanon

5 Books on the Nightstand:
Up Pops the Devil by Angela Benson
Blood Colony- Tananarive Due
From Harvey River by Lorna Goodison
Stand the Storm by Breena Clarke
Trading Dreams at Midnight by Dianne McKinney Whetstone

5 Look For These Soon:
House at Sugar Beach by Helen Cooper
The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family
In Love With a Younger Man by Cheryl Robinson
Red Light, Green Light by Margaret Johnson-Hodge
The Signifying Monkey by Henry Louis Gates

The bloggers I’m asking to post the lists (and make one book-for-book change to each list if they wish)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Cruisin' On a Summer Afternoon

This is the first time I have participated in something like this, something called a meme. I had not a clue as to what a meme is, so I looked it up.


Show Spelled Pronunciation[meem] Pronunciation Key
a cultural item that is transmitted by repetition in a manner analogous to the biological transmission of genes.
[Origin: 1976; < href=""> (accessed: August 06, 2008).
Modern Language Association (MLA):

Yasmin Coleman of APOOO Books threw out the challenge to cite thirteen things one remembers from childhood summers and to link it to your blog. I blog so seldom; on the spur of the moment I decided to participate. Maybe this will be a start of my blogging on a regular basis.

This exercise reminded me I have written a collection of childhood memories that have a working title of what else? Childhood Memories. Obviously, I need a better title. Two of those have been published and I need to work on polishing some more up and submitting somewhere. Growing up in Oakland, California was a lot different from the Oakland today. We roamed the neighborhood and beyond during the summer; sometimes, our parents didn’t know where we were but we knew to be home before dark. I grew up in a multicultural family neighborhood and there were a lot of Leave it Beaver moments. Boy, were those the days.

So, to get on with the Thursday Thirteen, I present thirteen summer occurrences I remember about my childhood.

Links to the post on Thursday Thirteen Childhood Summer Memories (with links to other posters’ blogs) and the original Thursday Thirteen are below.

1. 4th of Julys in Arkansas, either down in the country in Union County or in Little Rock surrounded by cousins and good food. Being the child of African American southern parents, making the trek back to the south to our place of our roots was a way of connecting with our history and ancestry.

2. Walking more than a mile to the swimming pool at Diamond Park. It would be a big group of us carrying our swimwear, including a swimming cap; even as a little girl, I had to protect the do. I write about my hair woes in the story “Shirley Temple Curls.”

3. Gathering at the top of E. 21st Street, watching the boys drive their homemade go carts down the hill. This was a bittersweet memory as one of my childhood friends, Tyrone was killed when he rolled down hill into the path of a bus and was killed. I wrote about this in a piece, “Blackberry Summer” that was published in a journal.

4. Digging up some change to go to the corner store for a big, fat, juicy dill pickle and pack of Kool-aid. There was nothing like it; busting open that packet of Kool-aid, preferably my favorite, grape and rubbing the pickle in it. mmm. Good stuff.

5. Roller skating and riding our bikes. Now my sister and brother claim I would be sitting on the porch reading while they were skating and biking but I know I did those things because I broke my arm roller skating when I was nine and stayed in Children’s Hospital for two days. But I can remember sitting on the porch reading a Nancy Drew mystery. Yep, my siblings were right, I did sit on the porch and read when I wasn’t playing and wrote in my journal also.

6. Going to our cabin in Morgan Hill as a teenager. That’s where my dad’s civic organization, East Oakland Business and Professional Men’s’ Assoc., had their annual summer picnic. Some of the Bay Area’s Talented Tenth attended this event and there were some cute guys! Mariea Johnson’s family had a cabin there also and I remember going to her debutante party in Berkeley. I definitely need to write about that, especially since the death of Dr. Clarence Avery this past spring.

7. Walking over to Jennifer’s house and the smell of her father’s gumbo meeting me at the front door. Her parents were from New Orleans and there was always something good at her house.

8. Gary U. S. Bond’s “School is Out at Last” blasting from the cars at the end of the school year. That was the standard song in the 60s. Jennifer, Lisa and I would be in one of our bedrooms watching Dance Party and American Bandstand, learning the new dance steps. Occasionally, one of us would show a new step from a visiting cousin or something we brought back from our visits to the South.

9. Walking to the movies from my cousins’ house at the Fruitvale theater on Saturday afternoons. My dad would give us money; it cost .25 cents to get in the theater. Wow, I’m dating myself.

10. Going to Housewives Market and seeing all the cases of different meats and foods and visiting with people. It was the meeting place for black folks. We also got back-to-school clothes there. We kind of mixed it up with items from Cap wells and Rhodes. A little downtown mixed with uptown.

11. Going over to Celia’s house on the day her mother made tortillas. Those were the best and the beginning of my love affair with Mexican food.

12. Playing tetherball and kickball at Manzanita School playground. I remember Deborah Stewart wanted to fight me because I beat her playing tetherball. She was a bully. Hey, I need to write a story about this.

13. Walking to the library once a week and carrying as many books as I was allowed to check out. My mother, the schoolteacher, saw to it we, my brother and sister and I got library cards as soon as we could write our names. It was big brown building over by my first elementary school, Garfield, around the corner where my little red-haired kindergarten friend, Peggy lived. I have a story about our friendship.

August 7, 2008

Friday, June 6, 2008

History in the Making

There are thousands, maybe millions of blogs this week about the momentous occurrence this week when Barack Obama became the Democratic candidate for the President of these United States. I’m jumping into the mix; I blog so seldom but maybe someone will happen upon my two cents worth of rambling. This is an exciting time in American history in general and Black American history, in particular. Dr. Brown, the chair of African American Studies here at Merritt College, commented that history and political science books are being written at this moment and will be a part of our children’s and grandchildren’s curriculum.

Little did I know last fall, when I attended a rally for Obama in downtown Oakland’s City Center, would I believe the man who stood before a cheering crowd of thousands, proud and tall, would make it this far. My feelings at the time were he has promise, but maybe 2012 he would come into his own. Ha! But what did I know? Like millions of people, I saw him speak on television at the 2004 Democratic Party Convention and was absolutely blown away. I knew then he was a young brother to keep my eye on.

My coworker expressed how her 81 year-old mother marveled at the fact that she lived long enough to see a Black presidential candidate. For many of our elders this is a miracle as they remember, especially those born and raised in the South, the trials and tribulations our folk had trying to cast a ballot. I think about my late grandmother, Otelia Gilliam Rowland, and what she would be thinking about Obama. Grandmother was a die-hard Republican. LOL. Yep, she sure was and would not hesitate to tell you. When she first told me I must have been about nine years old when Kennedy and Nixon were running for president. I was shocked and outraged in all of my child understanding about politics and race. A Republican? But Grandmother, how could you vote for Nixon? He doesn’t like Negroes! It took me awhile to reconcile that Grandmother was from the old school Southerners who continued to follow the party of Abraham Lincoln. After all, he set us free, right? And he was a Republican. Well, Grandmother held steadfast to that theory and she took her right to vote very seriously.

Black folk and voting have had a tenuous, often violent history. After the Civil War, during Reconstruction, we exercised the right, albeit briefly. Then we were denied, threatened, harassed and beaten to keep us from the ballot box. It was a long, slow process; much marching and preaching, blood, sweat and tears, progress was made slowly. Some folks, like my grandmother in Arkansas were given the privilege while Black folk in Mississippi and Alabama were intimidated every time they walked up to the courthouse to register. Finally the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted under President Lyndon Johnson’s administration which essentially prohibited the denial of the right to vote.

Getting back on topic here, see I told you I was rambling….. Here we are in 2008 and we have a serious Black contender for the President. But it is not all about race. Your vote is a person and private right. Just go do it.

Oh, and our illustrious candidate is an acclaimed author. Obama’s two books are, Dreams From My Father (see my review.
and The Audacity of Hope.

Until the next time….and who knows when that will be.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Dreaming in Cuban

I took a trip of a lifetime to Cuba this spring. For eight days from March 22 through March 30, I lived and breathed the beauty of this small island of 11 million people.
I went with a group of faculty and staff from Merritt College in Oakland, California where I am employed working with curriculum. This was an educational field research trip which included visiting primary schools, the University of Havana, the medical school a polyclinic. BUT, we also immersed ourselves in the culture of the country.
Cuban live and breath their art and there was art everywhere. Music, dance, literature,visual and performing art. The children come out of the womb dancing salsa and rhumba. I got to see the world famous Cuba Internationa Ballet perform "Giselle". We danced in the streets in the Trininad Province at a block party in our honor. We walked through the marketplace and viewed the artistry, the crafts, the paints, oh my. I brought home two pieces of art. We danced at the Havana Club, learning the meringue. Pablo Menendez staged a concert for us at his rooftop home.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Not Exactly a New Year Resolution.... But a Start

I'm not one to declare New Year resolutions, however, I think if I write my goals for 2008 publicly, it will encourage me to look at what I have done and what I need to do. I am one to beat myself up about what I did not do and what I should have accomplished by now. But it is a new year and no more shouldas, couldas, wouldas. I placed in a short fiction contest in summer of '06 and then I seem to have languised since then. I still have a glob of a novel that is seriously in need of revising big time and just have not touched it in almost a year. BUT it is not like I haven't been writing. I have been writing my family history with my genealogy writing group and expect to have a couple of those stories published in a family journal. And a publisher of local and family histories is interested in my writing about the area in Arkansas where my mom was born and raised. I also have had scholarly/academic work published in the last year in a Greenwwod Press encyclopedia and am in the process of writing a big piece for a peer review journal on romance writers that I feel strongly about.

Knowing I needed a jumpstart on getting back to my fiction, I attended a one day "Crazy Child Writing" workshop one Saturday in early December. I wrote twenty-five pages in long hand on a new novel that I am excited about. But I am about to set my goals and one of them is to attend a revision workshop and or make the sacrifice and get a writing coach/developmental coach to get my first novel finished because the second one is really grabbing me. My problem is discipline and sticking to one thing and I need to correct that. Unfortunately I cannot chew gum and walk at the same time. LOL.

In the last six months several women have come into my life who have expressed a need to write or restart writing and I think I have the makings of a group of sisters where we can meet monthly or whenever and write freely and safely and who knows what can happen. So that is a goal. I have a few more days before I go back to work and I am taking myself on a little mini-retreat, checking into a nice hotel about 30 miles away while the storm comes into night and raining the next few days. I will be transferring my new storyline from paper to my new laptop and mapping out my 2008 writing goals. Whew, that felt good just getting this out.