Archive for the ‘art’ Category

imagesI often share that piece of advice when signing books—“Feed your imagination: read every day.” Right now I’m reading A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvette Edwards, and I got quite a few pages read while returning from Baltimore by train earlier today. I don’t have an iPod; I read on the subway and I *try* to turn the TV off so I can read at home, too. I’ve mentioned before that I now write with the TV on, but it was *so* nice these past two days to NOT watch 3 hours of news reports every evening. I didn’t miss my 4-hour diet of NPR morning programming either because I was too busy hanging out with my dear friend Shadra Strickland! At the last minute I decided NOT to pack my laptop, which meant I couldn’t work on The Deep for a couple of days. Instead of writing I filled up on art and movies and excellent conversation (we also admired the historic Peabody Library). Shadra picked me up from the train station late Tuesday night and we went to an all-nite diner for a bite to eat. It was great to have another artist/professor to swap stories with—how was your semester? who were your best/worst students? are you getting your REAL work done? On the train ride home today I made a plan for 2013. Shadra usually makes a one-year and a five-year plan; I find it really hard to think that far ahead, but it was imageshelpful to make a list of the trips I plan to take, the books I want to finish, and the articles I hope to have published this year. The last item on my list is: “consume more art!” On Wednesday Shadra got up early and made a lovely breakfast for me and Deborah Taylor, librarian at the Enoch Pratt Free Library, who stopped by on her way to work. We talked about children’s books and US presidents and the legacy of Emancipation. As much as I love waking up to silence and solitude, that can’t really compare to freshly baked biscuits and *great* conversation with friends! Later that day (after a midday nap) we went to the Walters Art Museum and saw the exhibit “Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe.” We didn’t get to see the response of contemporary artists at Galerie Myrtis but I managed to find my favorite painting in the exhibit by Jules Arthur. It’s amazing how beauty feeds the soul…this morning Shadra insisted that I watch one scene from Hero and next thing you know, we were watching the entire film in our pajamas and I was practically sobbing as Broken Sword died…I ate way too much sugar in Baltimore (they have great cake!) and we didn’t wind up going for a run, but we laughed a lot and there’s always tomorrow…


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For me, being alone is a luxury. Being in London for Xmas was wonderful, but the real indulgence was the days I spent indoors, seated next to the window with my laptop warming my legs. If the curtains were open there was a draft, so I sometimes shut the drapes, turned on the lights to fight the winter gloom, and delved into The Deep. I watched a lot of TV while I was over there, though I managed not to get sucked into watching Lord of the Rings again. Instead I watched back to back episodes of (US) Law & Order, and three or four episodes of Time Team. A writer is a kind of digger and so it’s no surprise that I should be fascinated by archaeology. I’ve got a London novel u_48284861_-29 - Copybrewing in my mind. Ever since I found out about Sarah Forbes Bonetta and Walter Dean Myers’ nonfiction book about her, I’ve been interested in fictionalizing her story. My original idea was to focus on the mulatta sugar heiresses who came to London from the Caribbean hoping some desperate second son would overlook race in favor of wealth. Then I learned there was a large black population in Wales and that intrigued me. Now I feel like anything’s possible since black people have lived in England for hundreds if not thousands of years. For now I’m focusing on Nyla and her initiation into the league of “pressers.” I wrote for hours on Xmas, reaching 10K words, and then did some structural work on Boxing Day. The next day I cleared out of the flat and met my friend Mary for a full English breakfast. I’m so grateful to have friends who love literature as much as I do, and Mary’s a scholar of African American women’s fiction so we talked for hours about black authors and their books. On the flight home I thought about our conversation and the way motherhood impacts a woman’s ability to make art. I’ve blogged before about the film Who Does She Think She Is; mothers are unbelievable multi-taskers and parenting doesn’t preclude making art. But it changes things. I watched Miss Potter while I was away imagesand couldn’t help but frown at the way wealth enabled Beatrix Potter to develop her charming characters and highly profitable book series. She was encouraged to sketch and paint as the child of wealthy parents, she was taken on annual holidays that nourished her imagination, and then she had the choice of accepting an aristocratic suitor or remaining unmarried in her parents’ home. She had the time and means to produce art—something a working class woman wouldn’t have had. I love Peter Rabbit and I know it wasn’t easy for even a wealthy white woman to become a published author at the turn of the 20th century. But most women in the world can’t afford the luxury of a room of one’s own—never mind a home full of servants who silently cook your food and wash your clothes. Mary and I discussed my future as an author and she encouraged me to stay in the academy. I became debt-free this year and plan to work hard at staying debt-free for as long as possible. But as someone who doesn’t write commercial fiction and struggles to place each manuscript, the academy is a decent home. What other job would give me five weeks to write over the holidays? This past semester nearly broke me but I’m developing a new course for the spring and hope that finishing The Deep will lift my spirits. I’m working on my end of year slideshow and was surprised to see how productive 2012 was—I fell short of some goals but achieved others and have a long To Do list ready for 2013. Jayne Cortez passed away yesterday and the death of a great woman artist always reminds me to press on. Tomorrow isn’t promised so produce TODAY…

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Summer Edward shared this announcement with me:

imagesCaravan for Literacy offers a special and unique opportunity for children in your school, church, or youth program to meet and interact with nationally acclaimed children’s book illustrators and authors.

For a limited time only, the Caravan for Literacy authors/illustrators (Colin Bootman, E.B. Lewis, and Eric Velasquez) are now available to come to your school, church, or civic organization for FREE (with minimum book order)! This program is limited to the following East Coast states: Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, and North Carolina. Please visit their new website for more information: http://caravanforliteracy.org/
If you’re interested in having the Caravan for Literacy come to your school, church, or civic organization, you can email Colin directly at colinbootman at yahoo dot com.

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img495We’re nearing the end of the semester, which means I have a ton of grading to do and my students are thinking about their final art project. I made a demo this morning, drawing on a quote from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, which was repeated in Percival Everett’s satirical novel Erasure: “How does it feel to be free of your illusions?” I wanted to created a kaleidoscopic effect and largely failed but at least they’ll see how symbols can be teased from the texts. My nieces in Nova Scotia made some beautiful self-portraits for our Mickalene Project. You remember I bought a giraffe-print fedora, photographed myself, and then added glitter and patterned IMG_1619paper to mimic the jeweled portraits by Mickalene Thomas. I’m taking my students to see her work next week, and hope they’ll also appreciate the majestic portraits of black men painted by Kehinde Wiley. It doesn’t help to ask, but I often wonder what impact this art would have had on me when I was a child. I’m not sure hold old I was when I realized that black people also made art…how would I have known that without seeing black artists’ (at) work? I hope my nieces know that they have gifts to share with the world. I hope they never have to unlearn all the lessons I learned as a child that made me think/fear that beauty and genius belonged to one race and no others…

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Today began with a migraine but ended with some great news—I found out that I’ve been accepted into CUNY’s Faculty Fellowship Publication Program, which will enable me to spend the spring semester focusing on The Hummingbird’s Tongue. Around noon today, when I could bear to sit at my sun-soaked desk, I scanned and printed out an illustration by Leonard Weisgard from The Little Island. Now, up on the wall, I’ve got an 1871 map of Nevis, an 1817 slave register, the logo for my future Black Dog Arts Center, my partially-completed family tree, and this image:

I spoke with my aunt in Nevis this morning and learned some good and bad news. The good news is that my citizenship application was approved—on my birthday! So I am now a citizen of Nevis. The bad news is that my aunt’s doctor found a mass during her colonoscopy and she has to have surgery next week. I hope to hear soon about a grant I applied for that would fund a trip to the Caribbean in January, but I’m thinking I should just go ahead and book the ticket now. Until I get there I’m sending love and prayers and positive vibes across the sea…

Are you wondering what to get that special someone for the holidays? Why not support Hands Across the Sea, a nonprofit that provides books for Caribbean children? Sonita Daniel, Director of the Nevis Library Service, let me know that Hands Across the Sea has selected Nevis to receive donated books this year so any amount you give will help to provide books for children in Nevisian schools and community centers. I’ve got a school visit early tomorrow morning and think I’ll put the honorarium towards the Steel Pan Band package, which includes a “Selection of 35 hardcover titles from well-regarded Caribbean niche publishers.” Other packages range from $10 – $2500.

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art with heart

It is COLD up here in Toronto but the snow, when it falls, doesn’t seem to stick. This morning my cousin and I took a leisurely stroll through the nearby cemetery and I snapped this shot—I know many Americans think Canada’s climate is comparable to Siberia but it’s not really that bad. It was balmy when I arrived on Thursday and still fairly mild on Friday when my cousin Bethany and I went to see the Frida Kahlo exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario. We admired her art, questioned her devotion to Diego Rivera (who slept with dozens of women during their marriage, including her SISTER), and then bought some pretty earrings for ourselves at the gift shop. We both turn 40 this year, and it’s amazing how you never seem to run out of things to say to someone who’s known you your entire life. I’m actually surprised at myself—I’m not a very social person, but I’ve done a lot of socializing this weekend and it’s been great (though tomorrow will likely be a day of silence). After the exhibit we had lunch at our favorite health food restaurant and then stopped at a grocery store on the way home to pick up butter tarts (yum!) and a Christmas tree! Once the tree was up we found Frida on demand and watched the film, which ended just as our guests arrived for dinner. My cousin felt we should celebrate my 40th birthday, which was in October, and she asked people to bring a poem with them instead of a gift. My cousin Anna’s children made me lovely, glittery cards and wrote out “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou; my cousin Laura gave me a poem I had given her years ago—Martha Graham talking about the artist’s purpose:

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time. This expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it.

It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.

No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.

Words I needed to hear right about now…My cousin Juli came straight from her long shift at the hospital and after dinner we talked about travel and the difference between planning a vacation and embarking on a journey. I haven’t done the latter in quite some time but hope my Xmas trip to London will contain some magic and/or adventure. The trick is being OPEN to the possibilities, which I’m often not—I’m too tired, or too busy, or too cranky these days. Being here in Toronto has helped me to think about my next book project—what does it mean to write about/or from within an archipelago? When did I first step foot on or see an island? My earliest memory is of The Little Island (written by Golden McDonald, aka Margaret Wise Brown, and illustrated by Caldecott winner Leonard Weisgard), a book my kindergarten teacher/mother shared with me. “All land is one land under the sea”—that’s the line that has stayed with me to this day. When you’re an introvert you generally try to keep things separate, but no woman is an island and even if you do try to compartmentalize you still end up with a chain of little islands that are nonetheless bound together. This weekend has been a pleasant sort of jumble. I spent Saturday with my mother and she sent me off with a peanut butter & chocolate birthday cake, which I have shared with my many cousins (one of whom is taking me to the airport in an hour). I have no contact with my three siblings, all of whom live in Toronto as far as I know, but I have an enormous extended family and thanks to them I’m going back to NYC feeling very blessed. Tomorrow it’s back to work, back to grading, and onward as we march (drag ourselves) toward the end of the semester…

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Collage is harder than it looks! I’m trying out an art project with my nieces in Nova Scotia—the Mickalene Project. They couldn’t see the exhibit at the BK Museum so I thought this would be a fun way for them to learn about her work and make some art of their own. I’m a writer and I haven’t been writing lately, which sucks. Apparently I wrung the sponge dry in September; I wrote about 10K words but fell short of my 20K-word goal. This month I’ve barely cracked 1K, yet here I am cutting and pasting and playing with glitter. On the train I’m reading Hanging Captain Gordon, which is about the only slave trader hanged for his crimes against humanity in NYC in 1862. I *loathe* naval history but have to become familiar with the blockades and revenue cutters and smugglers operating along the Atlantic coast. Putting Judah on a ship is hard but having him on a slave coffle is harder. How far did they walk? Were battles being fought all around them? Sometimes I wonder why I write historical fiction—all the fact-checking is time-consuming and tedious. And I only wind up using 10% of all this research. I started reading Sugar in the Blood last week and immediately began dreaming of Nevis again. But I need to focus on Judah’s Tale right now so those dreams will have to wait…

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It’s Thanksgiving weekend up in Canada, which usually makes me crave Stove Top stuffing and pumpkin pie. This year I actually haven’t thought of holiday food, in part because I have some Canadian friends in town and instead we’ve been catching up on politics. I realize that one way to minimize job stress is to spend a couple of days NOT grading, NOT developing lesson plans, and NOT attending work-related events. The latter is especially hard to do—on Saturday I went to the Brooklyn Museum with friends to see the Mickalene Thomas exhibit, which is phenomenal. I saw one of my students, which I expected, since I offered extra credit to my Black Women in the Americas class. I walked out of the gallery feeling an overwhelming sense of pride—Thomas is brilliant and I’m sure my students will be blown away by her glittering portraits of black women.

I haven’t managed to do any writing this month, which is disappointing. But I was heartened to learn that Teaching for Change has a fantastic post on Banned Books Week and the OTHER barriers to equal expression:

Government censorship, of course, is just one element that determines what we can and cannot read. People often overlook another cultural phenomenon that can have a similar effect: publishing industry censorship. Each year there is a scarcity of excellent children’s picture books published. Missing are titles that reflect the realities of students’ lives and communities while encouraging children to think beyond the headlines.

The data bears out our suspicion: Researchers at the University of Wisconsin’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center find the number of books by and about people of color fluctuating and decreasing slightly, at the same time that children in the United States increasingly come from families of color. This doesn’t mean that those books aren’t being written—rather publishers refuse to seek them out or reject them, fearing they lack universal appeal, or as one frustrated former editor laments, fail to speak to “the lowest common denominator.” Zetta Elliott, author of the award-winning children’s book Bird, writes on her blog that she is fighting to find publishers for her many children’s book manuscripts. Some are “slice of life stories.” Others, like Bird, speak sensitively to childhood trauma.

The post concludes with a list of wonderful books that have since gone out of print. It’s a wonderful resource for teachers and parents seeking books that truly reflect the diversity of our society.

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Summer Edward asked me to share this call for submissions with you; the deadline is August 25 so start writing!

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more art, please

One of my sort-of resolutions for this year was to see more art. It’s very easy when you live in NYC to take access to art for granted—you hear about an exhibit and make a mental note to see it, and then another exhibit opens, and another, and another. I live near the Brooklyn Museum and yet only caught the “Question Bridge” exhibit because it was extended for a few weeks *and* my cousin came to visit. Out of town guests are often the push I need to explore the city I call home. And now that I’ve started seeing some art, I’ve got art on the brain, which makes it hard to concentrate on this essay. Last week my cousin came with me to PS 399, a school in Brooklyn that was celebrating the achievements of its bookmaking club. The students participated in the Ezra Jack Keats bookmaking competition and had a chance to share their beautiful creations with family and friends. I gave a presentation and read from Ship of Souls, and a spoken word artist performed before handing the mic to students who also shared their poetry. It was a great event, and I left feeling hopeful. Imagine what the art scene will look like in ten or twenty years when these kids of color become young adults! On Saturday I went to MoCADA and saw an incredible student exhibit, “Afrofuturism: Imagining Tomorrow.” The museum sent teaching artists into several local schools and helped kids (K-12) develop art projects that express an African sensibility toward technology and the future. One class visited the African Burial Ground and photographed themselves (wearing futuristic clothing) next to adinkra symbols…if you’re in NYC, make a point of going to see this show. It made me want to take an art class! But instead I came home and searched for this video of Hassan Khan‘s film Jewel. I saw it earlier this year at the New Museum with a friend from out of town…the only downside of feeding the need for more art is that it makes me dreamy and then it’s hard to get my own work done. I’m reading Ruth Chew‘s books about witches in Brooklyn but every so often I stop to play this clip and on Wednesday we’re going to see Beasts of the Southern Wild…will try to get some work done in between. Taking the train uptown is a good way to get some reading done and the Studio Museum of Harlem has a new exhibit on Caribbean art

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