Yes, I am Thinking and Saying Things, Just Not Here

9 07 2010

Oscar Grant mural in downtown Oakland on 17th and Telegraph

As a person of color, a writer, an activist, as a long-time resident of Oakland and someone who is Bay Area born-and-bred, I have some strong opinions and feelings about yesterday’s verdict in the Johannes Mehserle trial re: the murder of Oscar Grant. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to blog about it now because I have other writing to do, but if you’re interested in finding out more about what I think, please visit my Twitter feed, which is the main way I’ve been communicating with folks about what’s happening here.

And special shout out to Max Elbaum, fellow activist, writer and Oakland resident, whom I ran into at the rally last night downtown. He told me he's been following my blog (not sure which one) so just want to give him special thanks!

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VONA (and a pic of Rona) in the new Poets & Writers

7 03 2010

I’m so thrilled that the esteemed national magazine Poets and Writers has profiled the Voices of Our Nations summer workshops for writers of color in their current issue. VONA has been a huge part of my development as a writer, a place where I have met dozens of amazing fellow writers and poets, and also where I’ve had the good fortune of studying under esteemed writers (and my personal literary idols) Chitra Divakaruni, Jessica Hagedorn, Chris Abani and Junot Diaz.

I was even more thrilled that one of my VONA workshop-mates from this past summer, Jennifer de Leon, wrote the profile and was able to include a photo of our fiction workshop folks (along with our instructor, Junot) at the beginning of the piece! So, technically, I’ve had my first-ever appearance in Poets and Writers! Of course, it’s just my photo (and also one in which I’m acting very silly—winking at the camera to be exact), but it was still fun to see.

The VONA application deadline for this summer’s workshop is coming up in April, so if you’re a writer of color and you want to study, hang out and network with some amazing folks in the literary world, check out the web site and consider applying. Maybe I’ll see you there!





Favorite Writers: James Baldwin

28 02 2010

This is the first in a series of posts that I will write occasionally—when I can’t think of writing anything else—about some of my favorite writers, my literary influences I guess you could say. The first on this list—though by no means my ultimate favorite writer, as it seems impossible to me to have only one favorite writer—is James Baldwin, since I will be leading an online discussion of his first novel, Go Tell it on the Mountain, as part of a Goodreads group I started called Literary Fiction by People of Color.

Strangely enough, considering how many Ethnic Studies classes I took in college, I have just recently discovered James Baldwin as a writer. The first time I read his work was when I bought a copy of Notes from a Native Son many years ago. It’s Baldwin’s first collection of non-fiction essays, titled in response to Richard Wright’s novel, ‘Native Son’, one of the seminal texts of the Harlem Renaissance and of African-American literature overall. I have to say, I didn’t take to Baldwin’s non-fiction very readily. Perhaps it seemed too dated to me at the time, although now when I go back and read it I can see how we can still draw lessons from it even today.

So I left Baldwin alone for a long time after that, convinced that he was one of those ‘great writers’ that I just didn’t like. It wasn’t until Chris Abani recommended I read ‘Giovanni’s Room’, Baldwin’s second novel, while I was in workshop with him at VONA a few years ago that I gave Baldwin another try. I loved Giovanni’s Room, and learned a lot from it about writing. It’s a perfect gem of a book, and Baldwin was only 32 when it was published, and already a literary sensation.

I’ve always identified with writers who pushed the envelope of what was socially acceptable to write about at the time, and Baldwin is a shining example of a writer who challenged conventional values by writing gay or sexually ambivalent characters long before this was seen as socially acceptable, even in literary circles. (Some might say it’s still not very socially acceptable to do so, but all things are relative).

He also wrote about race and gender relations, with a stylistic subtlety and precision that I’d venture is yet to be matched. And not only did he write about controversial topics, but he did so with such elegance and technical control, with such compelling emotional weight that the controversial aspects of his work would, over time, seem to me almost background notes to his literary mastery. To narrowly categorize any writer as merely ‘Black’ or ‘Gay’ or ‘Female’ is often an act of ignorance, but to do so to a writer like Baldwin is almost a literary crime.

Feel free to join the Goodreads discussion if you’ve read the book before, or if you’re interested in reading more literary fiction by people of color. The group is 300+ members strong now, and reads a different book every month. Hope to see you there.





Upcoming publication in “Are We Born Racist?”

18 01 2010

It seems appropriate to announce today, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, that one of my essays will appear in the book, Are We Born Racist?, forthcoming in August 2010 from Beacon Press. My fellow writer and friend Jeremy Adam Smith was the lead editor (working with co-editors Jason Marsh and Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton) who approached me to write the piece. The book is a project of Greater Good Magazine, a cool publication that looks at the science behind positive human attitudes like compassion and altruism.

My essay (not sure what the final title that will appear in the book is) is about the complexities of being a person of color in a multi-racial world. Sign up for email updates (see the button to the right) and I’ll let you know about any book release parties or readings that may be happening later this year.