Thursday, July 30, 2009

Death of Writer E. Lynn Harris

Death of E. Lynn Harris

Author E. Lynn Harris died on July 24, 2009. It is hard to believe this renowned writer has left us. Not since James Baldwin, has an author attacked the topic of homosexuality, but Harris took it to another level, exploring the down-low culture of black men who lives two lives.

Invisible Life, his first novel, will go down as a classic. Poignant, well-written, and personal, a young college football player embraces his homosexuality and enters the world of black gay men in the closet. Readers embraced the honesty of Harris’ work and have been entertained by his subsequent novels. He published a memoir, What Becomes of the Brokenhearted in 2003 that revealed his painful childhood where he was abused by his stepfather and discovered his homosexuality.

I was in Arkansas last week and had just left Little Rock to attend my family reunion in Union County when I heard of Harris’ death. He was raised in Little Rock and in the last few years he had returned home as a visiting professor at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, his alma mater. I am so thankful I attended his last Bay Area book signing in February at Marcus Bookstore in Oakland, California. He was a favorite of Marcus and the book club. His graciousness and humility was endearing to us all.

I wrote a blog this past March honoring Mr. Harris and his work.

May he rest in peace.

July 30, 2009

Monday, July 27, 2009

Memory Monday-- The Way We Were

Being at my family reunion this past week has been a mind-blowing experience, both thrilling and chilling. The most poignant is listening to my 83 year-old mother talk about the past. The way things were---50, 60 and 70 years ago. Going down the country road where my grandparents' dilapidated house sits seemed to sadden her most. The road leads to nowhere, where once it lead to other places, like the road to LaPile where she was born or to the old place. Hearing her talk as if things stay the same. We have explained to her, things change, people move, people die, things change.

Mom talks of people of long ago, most dead and places of yesteryear-- that don't exist anymore. Of old friends. "Let's go by Lola's house, or Lucille lived there by Batts Chapel. Riding on the back of hay trucks, picking fruit and cotton to buy school clothes, getting second-hand books from white schools. That was the way it was. The way we were.

For the next few weeks I will be posting tidbits about the family reunion, family history and stories. Stay tuned.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Memory Monday- Going South

Early in the morning I am leaving for hot, hot Arkansas, Union County to be exact. That is where my mother was born and raised and the place of the Rowland Family Reunion. Arkansas and the south has a place in my heart; I was born in Little Rock, yet California raised since the age of two. There are times I feel this twoness, ala W.E.B. Dubois; living in two worlds. I love all things southern, well most things. The food, the history, the cadence and of course the culture. But there are times I have a love/hate relationship. When I hear people talking about how great Atlanta is and how they are thinking of moving back there, or how much land they can buy in Texas, the first thing I am inclined to say is, it's still the south. That is my snide way of saying I am still unforgiving of the south's racial history.

My family has traveled south frequently in my childhood and at a young age I learned the meaning of Jim Crow and that people actually did not like people who look like me. That was hurtful and a painfubeofe I board the plane.l lesson to learn.

For now because of time constraints, I will refer you to my former blog- Memory Monday--Coming of Age in 1963.

I will continue my discourse at a later time, hopefully next week. But right now I have to catch a few zzzzzs. In the words of Ray Charles, "Tell yo mama, tell yo pa, I'm gonna send you back to Arkansas."

Monday, July 13, 2009

Memory Monday- Blackberry Memories

The other evening I had blackberry cobbler and it reminded me of all the blackberries I picked and ate as a child growing up on 24th Avenue. The blackberries were plentiful, juicy and delicious.

Blackberries have significance for me. It was a blackberry summer that a neighborhood kid was killed when he rode his scooter into traffic and was hit by a bus. Tyrone had ridden his boxcar scooter along that fateful path, the same path as the blackberries in the fields and backyards of the houses he rode past, down East 23rd Street into the path of the bus on 23rd Avenue. I wrote of this memorable event; the piece was called “Blackberry Summer” and it was published by the Peralta Press journal in 2004.

I also wrote a poem called Blackberry Winter. It was the year my father died in 1990. I went to Little Rock to see him when he was dying of cancer and it was an icy spring day, the kind they call Blackberry winter. The way it was explained to me is that time at the end of winter and beginning spring, the seasons are fighting for control, and there is an icy, crisp air. That scene was evident in Little Rock as we rode to the hospital to see my father for the last time.

Blackberries, juicy, sweet, stains on my little sister’s shirt
Blackberries, juicy on a winter/spring day, bittersweet


Monday, July 6, 2009

Memory Monday- Remember the Time

I am a student of genealogy and history, particularly Black history. In the process of attempting to trace and study the life of my ancestors, I also am writing my own personal history. As Howard Edwards, president of the African American Genealogy Society of Northern California, of which I am a member and board member, says that in the process of writing our family history, we should write our own stories. I have been writing my stories for years. These stories, I hope, will be handed down to my descendants and other family members.

Writing about your own life is an interesting, tricky, delicate job. Memory can be fleeting and capricious. Trying to regain one’s earliest memory is easier for some than others. My earliest memories go back to the time I must have been three or four and my paternal grandmother had died. I remember seeing my father kneeling on my parents bed crying. I was strange for me to see my big, strong daddy crying and I reacted by laughing. My mother pulled me aside and said Grandmother Florence had gone to heaven. Another strong memory was being in kindergarten and there was an earthquake, and all the children were told to go under the desks. I remember the desks shaking and not being afraid but thinking, this was an adventure.

As I said, memory can be tricky, especially particular incidents from your childhood. You can remember something happening and a sibling’s remembrance of the same incident can be interpreted differently. For instance my sister remembers an incident with her and our brother from Jr. high school, that he remembers completely different. All in all though, writing our own personal stories is something that should be a common practice. Leaving a record is a gift to your children and extended family that cannot be matched.