Eddie Murphy | The 1988 Academy Awards

Eddie Murphy | The 1988 Academy Awards

There was a good deal of deserved controversy this year surrounding the lack of people of color nominated for Oscars especially in the acting categories (where there were NO people of color nominated). The issue isn’t new, although most would think it would be better in 2015 than in the past.

A few months back I was talking to a theater director who worked with the legendary (read: LEGENDARY) playwright August Wilson and this director told me that not long after Wilson’s ‘Fences’ debuted on Broadway, Eddie Murphy convinced some Hollywood execs to buy the rights to turn the play into a film, arguing his . Wilson was the premier black playwright, known for his portrayal of the nuances and of black culture and in 1983, the same year Murphy’s standup film ‘Raw’ came out, he was explaining Wilson’s genius to some L.A. bigwigs?!

Lemme just say, I was born two years later in ’85, I grew up with Nutty Professor/Doctor Doolittle Eddie Murphy, not recognizing-August-Wilson’s-genius Eddie Murphy and certainly not racial-commentary-at-the-Oscars Eddie Murphy. Really I just want y’all to see Eddie’s intro to the award he’s announcing, not the award itself. But recognize the wisdom and bravery it took to say this to a room of the most powerful people in your industry. I don’t know why we haven’t been talking about his clip throughout this controversy of late.

 

 

 

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Entertainers vs Performers: When Poets Face Their Weaknesses

For the sake of my sanity and the sanity of those around me, I’m going to try to outline some questions I’ve been circling of late, I may not use the right terminology or frame them as best I could so please go easy on me. All of this is just a preliminary sketch of something I hope to write about more, and more clearly at a later date.

I have been thinking lately that the performance poetry genre has in the last few years really raised it’s poetry game. Since I came to my first Nationals in 2006 (I didn’t compete for the first time until the following year) I feel like I’ve seen the quality of writing onstage continually up it’s game. Matter of fact, in my narrow view, the quality of writing that I’ve seen has continually gotten better as a whole since the Def Poetry days. However I think that very few artists have come out of the performance poetry genre having challenged the performance end of things.

I think part of the reason for that is most slam/spoken word poets limit ourselves before we write a first word because we always write what we know we can perform. Our limitations onstage are our limitations on paper. For those of us who are less funny onstage, we don’t even consider writing something that could very well kill in another performers hands, much less try something out on our own. I say this because I’ve been thinking lately about poets being good entertainers with their poems, meaning they know how to hold an audience and stay in their lane, but maybe they aren’t the best all-around performers.

Lemme back up, in using these terms the way I am, I’m supposing that entertainers are those very capable of using their natural talents to keep an audience entertained, whereas performers are more well rounded in their abilities to present different types of work on stage. I may have assigned these terms differently than you would, but stay with me (please!).

I just mean that we writer/performers aren’t always great at both and I think the pendulum is certain to swing in the opposite direction soon. Matter of fact, I think that within the next few years we will find a few spoken word artists/slam poets (whatever you wanna call em) that blows the field wide open with pieces that were engineered as a performance work before the heavy lifting with words began. I think the next trend in our field will be work that reminds us more of performance art or theater or music or even short fiction than it does contemporary spoken word.

For a great number of reasons that have to do with slam (reasons I’ve outlined in previous blogs) I think that many of us, especially those who have found great success in slam, are a little complicit in carrying on a popular performance model that is easily accessible for the average audience. This hinges on the fact that most of us are not often in front of audiences that know us well enough to have previously digested our own personal performance style and so, we keep our performance styles in the middle of the road so as to connect with our words.

All I’m really trying to get at is, when are we going to take this artform of ours to the next frontier by focusing on the vehicle with which we deliver our work? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

 

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Nikki Giovanni on Poetry, Grief and Her New Book, “Chasing Utopia: A Hybrid”

Nikki Giovanni on Poetry, Grief and Her New Book, “Chasing Utopia: A Hybrid”

Several years ago, Nikki Giovanni was in Charlotte for a reading and I was on the volunteer committee for the event. I will never forget i ended up getting assigned to police the Green room where Nikki Giovanni and the other writers. Instead of providing “security” i actually when in the room and talked to her for about 45 minutes, we talked about writing, being a writer in the south, Virginia and Slam….(I will save her thoughts on slam for another post)

At the end of the chat she told me if I ever wanted to pursue my MFA and I wanted to attend VA Tech she would write my recommendation letter!!

This was me!!

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Nikki Giovanni was the first poet that I read when I was younger that taught me what poetry could be, she was the only poet in my grade school curriculum that was not Walt Whitman or Henry David Thoreau.

Then when I found out that she had Thug Life tattooed across her stomach, she has been one of my favorite poets on this planet. One of the things I love most about Nikki is she gives zero fucks when it comes to saying whats on her mind. She is raw and unapologetic, she does not speak politically correct she just says whats on her mind.

An American icon and an Oprah “Living Legend” Nikki Giovanni’s poetry has spurred movements and inspired songs, turned hearts and informed generations. Frequently anthologized, Giovanni’s poetry expresses strong racial pride and respect for family. Her informal style makes her work accessible to both adults and children. “I come from a long line of storytellers,” said Giovanni in an interview who said she gained her appreciation for her African-American heritage from her outspoken grandmother. Her early exposure to the power of spoken language has influenced Giovanni’s career as a poet, particularly in her propensity towards colloquial speech.

Giovanni is the author of 27 books and the recipient of seemingly countless honors and awards including a Grammy nominee for The Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection. Several magazines have named her Woman of the Year, including Essence, Mademoiselle, Ebony, and Ladies Home Journal.

In addition to collections such as Re: Creation (1970), Love Poems (1997), and The Collected Poems of Nikki Giovanni (2003), Giovanni has published several works of nonfiction, children’s literature and recordings.

Her new collection Chasing Utopia: The Hybrid is her first in four years.

Between 1970 and 2003, she received nearly one hundred awards and honors, as well as nineteen honorary degrees. She has been given keys to more than a dozen cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami, and New Orleans. Since 1987, she has been on the faculty at Virginia Tech, where she is a University Distinguished Professor.

In the below video (its long) She talks about her friendships with Rosa Parks, Toni Morrison, etc. She talks about loosing her mother and why she wrote the book Chasing Utopia. Check out the talk below!

 

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John Irving | In Conversation…

John Irving | In Conversation…

In the last few years, I’ve been working more and more on narrative than on poetry. I always wanted to write for the stage and screen and I’ve spent time studying both on my own and with teachers and mentors on the patterns and structure of storytelling. There were a handful of poems that I wrote early on where I knew the end before I started, namely “Till The Wheels Fall Off,” and “No Place Like Home.” When I took a stab at writing my first full length screenplay I knew exactly how it should end when I was still early in developing how to get there. I knew not only the last image but all of the dialogue in one of the last scenes. I have for years debated silently as to whether or not this habit is helping or hindering me. I think of my endings as the stars helping to guide me through the rough waters of the dreaded second act. Sometimes my endings have proved to be very effective and a few times they’ve kept me from ever being satisfied with the path I forced myself to take on the way.

John Irving is one of my favorite novelists. I’ve never been a big fan of fiction, I’d rather read a biography than anything else, but in the time I’ve spent with long fiction Irving has emerged as one of my favorite writers. It’s interesting to me that I can read all of his novels which often share geography, themes, even similar characters, and I’m always just as amazed with what he creates. I read recently that he always knew the last line in his novels before he started writing them, the thought of which sent me running to google any possible evidence I could find of this habit of his. I found this after a day or so of looking around and have watched it over and over since. I’m not claiming that my ability to tell stories has anything to do with Irving’s, that would be just be stupid. But maybe I can believe it’s possible. Only time will tell. Enjoy.

 

 

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M’Reld Green | Chicago

M’Reld Green | Chicago

I have seen a lot of poetry in my days. I’ve seen the best of the best features, and I know it sounds mean but I’ve seen the worst features too. I’ve toured all over and I’ve seen thousands of open-mic-ers, hundreds of features, and more slam poems than I could count, few of them were as memorable as M’Reld Green.

Bluz and I were in L.A. featuring at Flypoets one night and we were on the bill with someone named M’Reld. I’d heard of a poet from Chicago named M’Reld but that’s as much as I knew. We’d gotten into town earlier in the day with plans to stay with our friend Matthew “Cuban” Hernandez who was out of town until later in the day so we agreed to meet at Flypoets. We showed up early and found a table and at some point M’Reld showed up and John introduced us all. Later when Cuban showed up and sat down with us, he looked over to the next table over and yelled “YO IS THAT M’RELD GREEN?!?!”

Bluz and I opened the show that night with a quick feature spot each before M’Reld took the stage. From the moment she opened her mouth, she was riveting, entertaining, funny, provocative, and political not to mention very pregnant. Her set included a portion of an old Goodie Mob song, some cracks on L.A., some stories about her pregnancy and a poem about Chicago. That poem is below. I kept thinking about how great her feature was the whole drive to Modesto the next day. M’Reld is a bonafide performer and if you ever get a chance to see her live, DO NOT MISS IT. Enjoy.

 

Follow along with M’Reld using the links below:

WEBSITE

FACEBOOK

TWITTER

 

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