Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Going to Tea....on a Sunday Afternoon

In honor of my birthday, March 31, my daughter, Rebecca, took me to a new tea shoppe for High Tea on Sunday. It is located in downtown Hayward about 12 miles from Oakland. The Golden Tea Garden is black-owned and is quite elegant, decorated with a large garden mural on one side of the room and beautifully displayed tea pots of all shapes, styles and antique cups and saucers, and crystal chandeliers. Right up my alley. I collect teapots and tea sets, not to mention a collection of books on having tea, brewing teas and the history of tea, so this felt like home. The tea shoppe has over 750 tea selections.

I admire anyone who initiates a business in this tenuous economy. For the owner, Beneba Thomas, this is her third career. She is a former attorney and real estate agent who is taking a chance. Frankly, I am delighted that she had the guts to follow a dream. Some people might think this is a frivolous endeavor. I have already heard comments such as “Who wants to pay $20.00 to have tea? I can make my own” or “That kind of stuff is bougie.” My people, my people.

Raised by a properly raised southern mother, who was raised to be a proper lady, having tea parties and going to tea was as natural as drinking sweet tea at a country picnic. Mom told of her mother, Grandmother Otelia, in rural Arkansas, having weekly quilting parties with neighboring women. At some point during their tedious sewing, they stopped for a snack of something sweet and tea, iced or sweet tea in the summer and hot tea in the winter. Having tea is more than drinking a hot beverage; it is an act of calming the soul and soothing the tenseness that gathers in the crook of your shoulders and neck. In the right company of women companions, taking tea can be a time of bonding and building intimate relationships. I cannot count the times I have gone to tea with either friends or family and came away feeling closer, a knitting of minds and souls. I have been to bridal shower teas held in private homes, book club teas with hats and 1950s styles setting in a recreation room, High Tea at the Fairmount Hotel in San Francisco with the finest of china and a breakfast tea in Savannah. I have been to tea tasting rooms to sample numerous teas with light snacks and Bed and Breakfast inns with three course tea meals. It is not just the setting, or the scones spread with cream, or the full-bodied flavor of teas from China, Africa and India, it is the sharing of secrets, desires, and hopes of women who over tea become sisters of the soul.

In times such as these with job uncertainty, high cost of living, and fear of terrorism; taking the time to pause, rejoice, and reconnect with not only other people, but the spirit, to me, is of high priority. People need these kinds of moments to slow down and take a deep breath and if the attendance at The Golden Tea Garden was any indication, others feel the same. There were whole families as well as groups of women. One little girl had on a beautiful blue, floral dress and white gloves, looking like Easter morning. The two women sitting next to us said they were walking and found the shop, which has only been open a month. Contrary to what one of my daughter’s friend who had suggested to her mother a few months ago to open a tea room, that “people around here wouldn’t appreciate it”, it is apparent that a ethnically diverse and varied income folk welcome a slice of contentment in this hectic world. Why not take some time to go out and have tea with a friend or brew your own? Add a few savories and have your own tea party. Stop, breathe and enjoy the moment.
The Golden Tea Garden

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Time to Weep, a Time to Heal

It is a sad time in Oakland, California, the city of my residence, the place where I came of age. It has been a week and a day since four police officers were killed by a young black parolee. Sgts. Mark Dunakin, Ervin Romans and Daniel Sakai and Officer John Hege were gunned down like animals. It is reported the gunman, Lovell Mixon, after ambushing Dunakin and Hege on their motorcycles during a traffic stop, walked over to their bodies and shot them numerous times in the head. He then ran down the street to his sister’s apartment and when a SWAT team came in, he fired an assault weapon, gunning down Romans and Sakai. Seven children have been left without fathers, wives now widowed and a million questions gone unanswered.

I am saddened by this occurrence. I am afraid for my city, which lacks effective leadership and viable solutions. Like other urban cities, black residents and the police force have a long history of distrust and ill feelings. It is unfortunately, however, the unhealthy stance some blacks have taken, vilifying the dead officers, who were white and one Latino, victimizing and glorifying the gunman, and making this about race instead of human beings. There is so much tension, so much pain, so much blame and so much nonsense being spewed out of some misdirected, misguided youth and adults who should know better. My sister, a psychologist at a local high school talks of her students who are glorifying the gunman and disparaging the police. They will not listen to reason, refusing to acknowledge any wrongdoing. A young man was picked up last night a few blocks from the killings after police searched his home and found an assault weapon. My daughter believes this is just the beginning. There will be more violence, copycats and more Oscar Grants, the young brother who was shot and killed by BART police in Oakland on New Years Day. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/01/07/MNOV154P0R.DTL

During community vigils for the police officers, protesters verbally attacked black attendees, calling them traitors and Uncle Toms, putting up Mixon’s picture and calling him a victim of the OPD; this despite the information that his DNA verified him as the rapist of a 12-year old girl and information that he allegedly killed another black man in 2007. Unbelievable. Bear in mind, this in no way represents black people in Oakland; only a segment, who are bitter and misguided. We are not a monolith and the majority of blacks are outraged. Outraged and sick and tired. If this madness continues, it is going to tear this city apart. It is going to be a long, hot summer. All eyes are on Oakland. It is time to get on our knees and pray for healing. It is time to heal.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

He’s Back….E. Lynn Harris Back in Familiar Territory

I went to see E. Lynn Harris last month at Marcus Books in Oakland. It had been pouring raining and I was thinking about not going but there was a let up in the deluge so I went on and I am so glad I did. I had forgotten what a good speaker Harris is and despite the issues I have had with his books of late, he is a dynamic person and speaker and so appreciative of his fans and audience. He was late coming from San Francisco—he always stays in the City and the Bay Bridge was tied up. He kept saying he appreciated us coming out in the rain on a Friday night and he never wants to take his fans for granted.

Harris was on tour and just came from Los Angeles. He doesn’t fly; therefore his tour was by car; with a driver. His current book, Basketball Jones, is his 10th New York Times bestseller. He wrote Basketball Jones in a very short time span compared to his previous book. After writing a straight book, he wanted to see if he still had it in him to write a gay theme. A couple of years ago he got a call from a NBA player’s rep or agent, who wanted Harris’ help in coming out of the closet. Evidently this person was being blackmailed by someone in his family; however he never heard anything more and assumed the ball player went ahead and paid the blackmail. He never knew who it was. This scenario also plays out in BB Jones.

Harris’ previous book, Just Too Good to Be True, (original title was The Great Pretenders) took four years to write. There were editors and creativity issues. This was his first straight book and he constantly battled with his editor on issues of the main character’s celibacy; he was told the characters were too perfect. Another factor was the editor did not know football or black men. She also told him to add more sex. He prefers working with editors like Blanche Richardson, the owner of Marcus Books, who does not inject themselves into the editing process. Blanche has edited some of his books.

Another reason JTGTBT took so long can be attributed Harris’ writing block caused by his 1) teaching schedule (he is still teaching writing at the University of Arkansas; 2) his depression which he is very frank about 3) and the fact that he is a father (he adopted a son). He said that The Best African American Fiction: 2009—he is co-editor and The Best African American Essays: 2009 will be a continuing series with Gerald Early as the main editor for both books and with a guest author editor every year. He said he chose all the stories which are mostly literary and he was pleased with his selections. He has a three-book series with St. Martin’s Press. Bentley, a gay man, is the main character. Blame it on the Sun will be released later in 2009, the Bentley series in early 2010. Blame it on the Sun brings back the character of Yancey eight years later from Anyway the Wind Blows. Women have always been important and have always served a valid part of Harris’ life and literature

Invisible Life has been his best selling book; over one million copies have been sold. Not a Day Goes By is also a big seller. All his books have been sold for movie rights; however he is not involved in the stage play of Invisible Life. His demographics have changed, crossed over the years to white women and lesbians and others. There was a white guy and Asian guy in the audience who enthusiastically asked questions.

Writers have to be good readers but must find your own voice and trust that voice. He appreciates Toni Morrison’s and Colson Whitehead’s styles but would not copy them.
He is involved in choosing his covers and the models that grace them. Characters just come to him; he takes notes on small legal pads. His writing stride usually hits him around 7:00PM. He had an inspiration at around 4:00PM that day which would have been 7:00PM in Atlanta. Another quirk; he cannot write lead characters on same day.

He is going to teach a young people’s writers workshop at Dillard University in New Orleans this summer. Harris’ son, Brandon, is senior at U of A. He sent him to the NAACP Image Awards (Harris was nominated for BB Jones) the previous week and Brandon sat next to Blair Underwood and was enthused over meeting so many celebrities.

We had an unexpected visitor, one of our street people wandered in and was a bit of a distraction for a minute but after Harris agreed to buy him a book, he left. Just another day in Oaktown. I finished Basketball Jones last week and it was a quick, entertaining read that will let his fans know he has not lost his touch.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Literature for Women's History Month

APOOO All-time Favorites for Women's History Month
March is Women’s History Month and a dialogue came up among APOOO members about what books we would choose among our all-times favorites list. --http://www.apooobooks.com/library/apooo-all-time-favorites/. Some of us needed clarification of what books qualifies to be on the list. Does is just have to be a book written by a woman? Or about a woman? Does it have to be historical? Just what? The conclusion was that everyone would define the criteria for themselves.
There were so many books on our All-times Favorites list and I reviewed each one that I had read and deemed why it made my Women’s History Month literature list. Below is my list and a brief explanation why each book qualifies to be on this list.

72 Hour Hold by Bebe Moore Campbell- ground breaking; brought mental illness to the African American community forefront

And on the Eighth Day She Rested by JD Mason- survivor, coming into her own

Angel of Harlem by Kuwana Hausley- historical fiction about a New York’s first black woman doctor

Cane River by Lalita Tademy- historical; women surviving slavery, racism, and slavery

Coldest Winter Ever by Sistah Souljah - ground breaking- girl child lost

Color Purple by Alice Walker - classic; women survivors, strong women of early century

Conception by Kalisha Buckhanon- young woman coming-of-age against odds

Crawfish Dreams by Nancy Rawles- matriarch of large Creole family keeps family together

Darkest Child by Delores Phillips- What poverty and racism and lack of education does to black women; survivor

Daughter by asha bandele- explores mothers and daughters relationship in the deepest way

Disappearing Acts by Terry McMillan - woman learning to survive despite heartbreak- women’s fiction

Douglass Women by Jewel Parker Rhodes- powerful; another I will survive

Freshwater Road by Denise Nicholas- historical; young woman coming into her own during civil rights

Fruit of the Lemon by Andrea Levy- young woman learns the meaning of her roots; awakening

Gal by Ruthie Bolton - Survivor story if there ever was one

Getting Mother’s Body by Suzan-Lori Parks- ground breaking; hecka funny

Hottentot Venus by Barbara Chase Riboud- historical; a testament to racism and survival

Hunger by Erica Turnipseed- learning to get beyond the pain and becoming a real woman

Jump at the Sun by Kim McLarin- finding oneself when the world is swallowing you up

Justus Girls by Slim Lambright- girlfriends, the 60s, and survival

A Love Noire by Erica Turnipseed- loving oneself and finding self

The New Moon’s Arm by Nalo Hopkinson- women and midlife, menopause

No Place Safe by Kim Reid- autobiographical; living through history of mass murder of black children

October Suite by Maxine Clair- 50s era woman and how society, class, and racism shaped educated black women

Orange Mint and Honey by Carleen Brice - another mother/daughter dynamics; getting through pain

Passport Diaries by Tamara Gregory- throwing cares to the wind and doing your thing

Piece of Cake by Cupcake Brown- autobiographical; survival

Playing My Mother’s Blues by Valerie Wilson Wesley another mother daughter, secrets and lies and how the past shapes women's circumstances

The Prisoner’s Wife by asha bandele- ground breaking memoir- why an educated, intelligent woman would marry a prisoner

The Professor’s Daughter by Emily Raboteau- finding oneself in a color conscious world

Push by Sapphire- survivor classic

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry- how women hold families together

Rhythms by Donna Hill - historical coming-of-age

Shifting Through Neutral by Bridgett Davis- daughter/father story- how having a father shapes you

Song Yet Sung by James McBride- I am woman slave survivor

The Street by Ann Petry- a mother's love defies poverty and racism

Unburnable by Marie-Elena Jones- finding self; discovering roots

Upstate by Kalisha Buchanon- coming of age of young woman at crossroads of life

When Did You Stop Loving Me by Veronica Chambers- daughter searching for elusive father

When She Was White by Judith Stone- the politics of race on a young woman who didn't have a choice in Apartheid South Africa

Who Does She Think She Is by Benilde Little - I'm going to do it my way; loving self

A Woman’s Worth by Tracy Price-Thompson- the title says it all

March 8, 2009