Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Rhode Island Writers Colony: A Space to Write

the rhode island writer's colony is the brainchild of writer brook stephenson

I'm happy to report that I've been awarded a residency at Rhode Island Writers Colony - 10 days to work on my book in an environment with other writers. The other writers include Brook Stephenson, whom you should have met by now and Jason Reynolds 

Here's a little about Brook:
Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, I began people watching at an early age. First my parents showed me who they were, next the extended family, friends and on to my peers. One geographc place, one set of observations. Time to leave the small town/big city. Architecture and design were my interests not necessarily fine art nor creative writing.

Matriculating at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia I made new observations, gained new friends, interacted with more family and discovered as much as I enjoy photography, filmmaking and visual art, writing is where my main focus lies. I found a passion and pursued it mainly through a short fiction column for a weekly paper. Is it coincidence I started writing for the paper six months after I wrote my first piece of prose or that it opened the door to the entertainment industry and the possibilities therein?

Moving to New York City the process expanded. Getting a passport turned the view panoramic.  What did I see? The human condition five times over from the Americas to Europe to the Caribbean. What sort of stories do I tell? Good juicy rich ones about characters that remind you of people you know or experiences you’ve had-some are written others are multimedia.

& Jason:

Jason Reynolds is the author of several collections of poetry, including, Self, and the co-authored, My Name is Jason. Mine Too. A graduate of the University of Maryland, Reynolds has traveled the country, sharing stages with legends like Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, and the late Amiri Baraka. Recently, Reynolds celebrated the release of his debut novel, When I Was the Greatest (Simon & Schuster) garnering rave reviews from KirkusPublisher’s WeeklySchool Library Journal,Book Page, and Hornbook. His    upcoming novel, The Boy in the Black Suit, hits stores January 2015. He currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.  He will be at work on My Mothers House, the story of James, a young man growing up in Columbia, South Carolina, who finds out that his mother isn’t actually his mother and goes to meet her for the first time at her house for dinner. Find out more about him at and

Monday, August 25, 2014

Garon Peterson

garon and i talked all things spiritual & cultural. 

Garon is one of my guardian angels. I met him years, years ago when I used to work with Danny Simmons, the visual artist, on OneWorld magazine.  Garon's an artist, among many other talents, and I knew our friendship was sealed when on my first trip to Amsterdam, who do I bump into there, all the way from Brooklyn? Yup, Mr. Garon. And it only gets better - he goes on to give me and my friend free passes to that year's Cannibus Cup.  I'll never forget having the opportunity to hear & see Rita Marley in the flesh, and that year's winner's speech, "I would like to thank all of you who smoke pot and work!"
Anyway, that was ages and lifetimes ago, but when I was heading to New York on this last trip, I knew without an iota of a doubt that I wanted to see Garon- he's good people and always inspires the best from me.
Luckily for me, I got to spend some quality time with Garon, where we were able to talk African history, ideas and spirituality.  I had the opportunity to stay in Bedstuy at his place, and hey, sleeping in Brooklyn is always, always, always a welcome treat.
Shout out to Garon - thanks for making my trip to New York so special. You were an amazing teacher/mentor/friend!

the lab 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Talking with Rene

little house on the hill

One of the many highlights I experienced while in New York was being able to visit my old friend Rene' - who now owns the Juicy Lucy Juice bar, of which the Village Voice blog on May 20, 2013, had this to say: 

Juicy Lucy

A longtime East Village stalwart with tiny shops -- more like shacks -- in two locations, Juicy Lucy offers drinks that are equal parts tropical and free love. Usher in spring with a fresh-pressed greens blend or pick up a bottle of "Basic C," a reddish-hued mix containing carrot, orange, and "a ray of sunshine." Chase it with a shot of wheatgrass and lament the loss of the neighborhood's authentic charms. 85 Ave. A 212-777-5829.

Besides being an entrepreneur, Rene' made a move out to the countryside, not too far from the city but far enough- where she has guinea hens, the forest right outside her door and trickling creaks in the backyard. I spent time in this oasis - & last night, we were able to catch up since my return to DK. 
entrepreneur & free woman extraordinaire Rene' along with the fugitive
artist Preach R Sun  during our creative winter excursion,
not too far from woodstock.

I first met Rene' back when I was in college, when she first moved to NYC. She and I had mutual friends, and one of the things I remember really liking about her was her free spirit and courage to do what it seems she wants to do.  Of Cuban ancestry and raised in Alaska, Rene' has traveled the world and her tenacity and fierce sense of justice are certainly two traits I have always appreciated about her. 

The other day I spoke to an old friend of mine whose book is about to be published by a major publisher in January.  We both freelanced in NYC at around the same time, and it was always as writers we looked upon each other -thus the strength of our alliance.  Two writers are usually synonymous with two readers, so when we do talk it is usually about all things literature. 

"Why don't you have a book deal, Lesley? You've been writing novels since back in the day. And you're one of the best." He reminds me, because let me tell you, I do need reminding.  We discuss my strategy and move on to other, more interesting things, such as being an expat. "Man", he says, "I checked out this hotel room Baldwin stayed in London, and it was small."
"Yeah", I reply, "he really did it. He really followed his art. If it was about money, Baldwin wouldn't have written." 

"Being an expat sucks." He concedes. He's a Harvard graduate, from Brooklyn with Haitian roots. 
"Being an expat is overrated." I concur. 

"It's like you can come to Europe, but just don't ask for a job."  Again, he is a Harvard graduate. 

I bring these moments up because it reminds me, lest I forget of the sacrifice that is involved in pursuing your art. In a world where success is measured by many by the amount of your pay check, and where being a starving artist is at best scoffed at, I take this moment to salute my friends and family who understand and support, even if it's an email, a text message, a comment letting me know that they are there - thank you. 

the lab

Nature is Nurture

sakskøbing, 2014
Laika the cat, 2014
Luckily for me when I need to get out of the city, I get to go to a beautiful organic farm a couple of hours outside of Copenhagen. Recently I took such a trip and had the blessing of eating freshly dug carrots, freshly picked squash, onions and so much other stuff it makes me happy to just type about it.    While there, I saw Laika, the cat. Laika used to belong to my friend Ida, but her brother was extremely allergic to cats. I asked the folks down at the farm if they wanted a cat, and without an ounce of hesitancy Hanne gushed a yes! It's been about 8 months since we dropped her off there, and I haven't seen her since. I had the fortune of spending time with Laika, so I knew that she would enjoy every acre of that farm with its ducks, Hungarian pigs and chickens.  I was right. I was told that she rarely ever enters the house - but that on the day of my arrival, she was around a bit more than usual. As if she was expecting me.  When I did finally see her and was able to pet her, she crawled up on me with such delight, purring so deeply, that there was no doubt that she was happy to see me.  That night she found my room in the other house, and slept with me the entire night. It was an amazing trip out of the city to fortify my soul.  A big thanks to Hanna, Simon, Mark, Erik and the rest of the family for being such great hosts!

Since I've been back from New York, I've been hanging out at Belle du Jour - my friend Stine's shop in the colorful neighborhood of Nørrebro.  Stine has this incredible ability of collecting amazing people at her shop & it's been a wonderful way for me to transition back into life in Copenhagen. Her shop is a collection of second clothes, items from India, jewelry and shoes.  Some of the proceeds go to A School for Life - an organization dedicated to educating disabled children who belong to the caste below the untouchables (I didn't know there was such a thing! I also learned recently that it was the British who corrupted this system, although I have yet to look into this claim). When there, I  often get to see Vivi - who is half-Trinidadian, and Floppy - the rabbit that runs around the shop, pavement and backyard free.  Everyone falls in love with Floppy and the feeling he inspires in everyone from just hopping around calmly is truly transformative. A big thanks to Stine and all the work she accomplishes in her shop - namely that of not only bringing folks together, but of making people feel valued.
Speaking of making people feel valued, I really must send a special thanks to my mentor Marie D. Brown whose presence in my life is greatly valued.  In the confusion of life it's really important to have people you trust and that you believe have your back. It's important to know that there are people who value your work, and in my case, my writing. Marie has been supporting my work since the very first day I met her, back in 1994. I stayed on and worked with her for 4 years and through this experience was privy to some incredible life stories, people and experiences, all of which contribute to the person I am today. So this is a special thanks to you! Your insistence on the continuation of the tradition of reciprocity is a necessary strategy in addressing the issues that confront so many of us everyday. Thank you.

There are many out there in the world right now who I know are feeling the dis-ease of the realities that surround us.  We must foster and demand lives where integrity is involved.  We are not perfect, but this is why it is of paramount importance that we surround ourselves with people who first and foremost love unconditionally and secondly, challenge us to become better people, not abandon us out of disinterest or false ideas of normality.  We have to come together, and resist petty differences and suspicions that have been planted to keep us apart.  The world is hurting, we are hurting.  The first step is understanding that it's not about our intellects (brains) and it's not all about our emotions (heart/stomach) but about that ongoing cycle of breath that starts shortly after birth and ends when we transition. That is the one thing we all have in common and that is in actuality, eternal. This is the breath of life and it is what our ancestors insisted we master.

Enjoy your sunday,

Spiritual Revolutions in Denmark (or Why we smile at Each other.)

A recent Dutch Advertisement selling exclusive furniture.

Once when my child was very young, he asked me, "Mommy, why do Black people smile at each other?" It was a fitting enough observation: Whenever he took a walk with me and we came upon another Black person, a smile would/is most often exchanged.  Intuitively, I knew the smiles were of recognition, not only of our presence here which, especially back then, was few and far between.
When you look into the annals of history - when you seek further than the textbooks and narratives insisted upon by the status quo - you learn a lot about your own history. You learn that your history has been buried so that another history could grow up from it, flower from it and in the end, take all the credit (or sun, if we are to continue with this analogy).
One of my contemplations of late has been the connection/dis/connection between me and my ancestry. Identity has always played an integral role in my life through the virtue of my skin color.  In Trinidad, class and social status depended much on this, and there were, for sure anomalies. In fact, on Trinidad, due to its particular history, it is not unusual to meet someone who sports a Chinese surname with brown skin and hair that screams of Africa, or in my family's case, a cacophony of skin tones under a very Sikh name although again, none of us can claim we come solely from India and our family for all intents and purposes, claimed Catholicism (or perhaps Catholicism claimed them?).  I've always been fascinated by the way we choose to identify ourselves - intuiting early that of all the various ancestries I have coursing through me - East Indian (From Punjab, perhaps?), Unknown Africa (slavery & independent travels throughout the so-called "new world" ), Corsica (Colonial class), Portuguese - it was the African that I could and would claim most as this is what has always and still claims me most.  And when I say African, I mean those of us who have scattered far from the continent, representing through our skin our tenacity for survival and of spirit and through our very existence assure our ancestors that they are still here amongst us.
Moving to Europe has only opened up my awareness of how far we as a people travel.  It seems that wherever I travel in the world - from the Canary Islands to Southern Europe, from Sweden to Amsterdam - we are there.  We are here, like others, for many various reasons but most importantly, if you look through the holes in history, you will learn that we have always been here. There. Everywhere. Human beings, no matter what ancestry, are usually more intrepid than we are lead to believe. We often travel, migrate, in search of opportunity, novelty, or even Wisdom.  Some of us are tickled by the energy of landing in a  new place, forging new relations, and stepping on ground that have never before stepped upon the road it steps upon now. I suspect that patterns of migration have perhaps risen not only due to economic need, but more so due to the fact that our population has grown. Again, I can't shake this strong belief that some of us, no matter where we come from, are born to travel.
But although we are everywhere, there is, I am afraid, a pervading, steady ignorance of our humanity as a people, which stems from a lack of understanding of history.  You see this mostly in the media, where unfortunately Hollywood and other American media taught the world how to really buffoon us, demoralize us, to the point where one can argue, America's racism was exported to other countries and cultures via their televisions. One of my realizations lately is how the system of European supremacy permeates mostly every facet of our existence. So much so that the only god my family had to offer me was one that reflected them. Not us.
Denmark, like so many other European nations who gained wealth through the plundering of the so-called new-world and slavery, devotes about 2 pages in their school textbooks to the subject of slavery (although their participation in what is now the U.S. Virgin Islands in plantation life, including the trappings of African slavery spanned hundreds of years) but over 10 pages on World War II. To be fair, World War II is not only much more recent (most elderly Danes can still remember) but Denmark was also occupied by the Germans during this period. It was something that definitely effected them more personally in more recent history.
Denmark is a wealthy country.  Her populace is wild about collecting money for Africa. Yet no one asks where this wealth has come from. Many will tell you it's from the Marshall Plan, and I tell you to look into this and you will begin to understand why Denmark seems so tied to American politics and finances.
But not really explaining to the populace how wealth is generated has never really been the business of schools and states. The point is, however, that the tacit acceptance of many of the assumption of European supremacy is staggering.  This from even the most well-meaning of people, this even from people of color ourselves.  Whether it's so-called progressive colored folk from the Caribbean or even folks coming from Africa, the phrase I'm not Black says more about the person's knowledge of their own history and the results of years of social conditioning to disempower us. The psychological and social consequences of this is certainly indicative of the level of discomfort many still feel around discussing race.
It's been a frustrating tenure here in Denmark. I have met some of the most well-meaning of people, only to have them turn a beet-red from anger face towards me and accuse me of being a racist simply because I suggested that Africa's history and sense of identity was systematically suppressed by Imperialism.

When human beings learn our history, the world will be a better place, to paraphrase the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

I returned from my 3 month sojourn in New York to something to placate my nerves in the happiest country in the world:  'Spiritual Revolutions & "The Scramble for Africa" - BE.BOP 2014 (Black Europe Body Politics).  Curated by the vibrant Alanna Lockward & daring Jeannette Ehlers this unique gathering of African Diasporic  artists managed to knit a tapestry as wide, inspiring and varied as our people.  For many of you who may not be familiar with the term "Diaspora" it simply means 'a dispersion of people from their original homeland' If you think about people of African descent, well, there is a particular history connected to this, namely slavery. Slavery however, was not the only means our ancestors were dispersed throughout the world. Many, like so many others in the spectrum of our humanity's past/present/future - travelled seeking a better life, or hey, traveled just for the adventure of it.  Some of us didn't appear to travel at all- we appear to have been there all along. Check out stories of African's historical presence and influence everywhere from Europe to as far as China.  The best, in my and many other's humble opinion, is of course the work of Dr. John Henrik Clarke.

Spiritual Revolutions & "The Scramble for Africa" - BE.BOP 2014 (Black Europe Body Politics) was a cultural life-saver tossed in my veritable cultural sea of despair.  A four-day affair, full of polemics, creativity, scholarship and art, this potentially radical forum mostly took place in  Nikolaj Kunsthal - a former church now turned art exhibition space. While in New York  I met up with a no-holds barred Performance artist whom I will write more about later. One of the discussions we had was the role of art and Black liberation.  One of the questions we asked was, what does it really mean to exhibit your work in the halls of the elite? That these performances happened within a building that symbolizes the religion of colonialism, certainly did tickle my sense of poetic justice.   One of the highlights was witnessing Jeanette Ehler's profound exhibition on Denmark's bitter past of Sugar and Slavery. Here is a performance of her piece "Whip It Good" last spring:

One of the locations in which Jeannette Ehler's performed her piece Whip It Good was an old building in Christianshavn, a quaint little Amsterdam-like neighborhood whose exquisite architecture was mostly funded by, well- dead Black people.  

Jeannette Ehlers have managed to do what I haven't witnessed many artists of color (including myself) managing to do: she got Denmark to listen. Her exhibition Say It Loud fortunately not only created much press (thus educating many on this particular issue) but also brought together many and created a space to discuss these issues.  Her gentle demeanor and graciousness is certainly channeled in her work and I look forward to following her career and supporting her work as much as I can, both here and abroad. 

Alanna Lockward was a pleasure to meet.  Her positivity, respect and passion for ensuring the continuation of our presence makes this all possible. If you want to see what incredible work she is doing, check out Art Labour Archives for a taste of the truly radical work she is midwifing into this world.  Love is her foundation, and I encourage you to read her own words here Many Rivers to Cross.

Other performances and artists I had the privilege of meeting was Teresa Maria Diaz Nerco.  In Ni 'Mamita' Ni 'Mulatita'  Diaz Nerco creates a space that invites all present into a world of cultures rolled together and reminds us of the way in which ancestry reaches out from the past affecting our presence.  From the Dominican Republic, her work revolves around identity and representation and how that particularly plays out in not only her world, but those who also spring forth from this foundation.  From a flimsy bed sheet hanging from the ceiling images of a Dominican classic movie play out a story that reminds us of the inconsistency of wild colored women.  And the inconsistencies of brown/blackface, or not even being represented by ourselves. Around this flimsy bedsheet (perhaps symbolizing the ethereal material ideas/concepts/assumptions are made of) Diaz Nerco  moves that remind us not only of her African ancestry, but of her European as well. Her timid, sometimes playful, sometimes bold movements tell of that cultural insecurity that many of us throughout the Diaspora, perhaps feel when inhabiting multiple worlds.  

Patricia Kærsenhout
Patricia Kærsenhout is the one who stitches our stories back together again.  
Her Stitches of Power. Stitches of Sorrow is a profound act of keeping the past alive. Quietly sitting in a Copenhagen church which serves as an exhibition space, visitors were asked to dip our fingers into a bowl of water (brought back memories of going to church in Trinidad with my grandmother!) before entering what felt like a very solemn affair.  And it was.  Sitting on a chair and assuming the position of so many women (and men) who came before us and hopefully will continue onto the future, she not only invited us into the calm world of watching her stitch, but we were invited to do so as well. In the meantime, Angela Davis' revolutionary voice could be heard in the background while images of the artist herself were projected unto the floor revealing our modern Harriet Tubman.  I loved every second of this exhibition. 

Quinsy Gario's A Village Called Gario, 2014 performance took place also at Nikolaj Kunsthal. According to Wikipedia,
Gario is an activist in the movement against Zwarte Piet, as well as a performance artist. He was born in Curaçao and was raised in St Maarten before moving to the Netherlands. Gario created the project Zwarte Piet is Racisme (Black Pete is Racism) about Zwarte Piet. In 2011 he was arrested for public disturbance at the traditional annual Sinterklaas festival where he was protesting against the use of Zwarte Piet.[4][5] He appeared on a national television talk show in 2013 "to make his case" which was part of a series of events in October that The Economist says "polaris[ed] cultural life and dragging in celebrities, politicians, and even the UN" and "changed Zwarte Piet. For many, even if a year ago he was not a symbol of Dutch racism, he is now." 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Chillin in DK with the Dutchess & DK

the dutchess & DK in Copenhagen, DK

One of the things that I enjoyed a lot this summer was the close proximity in which I live to Christiania. Christiania, as I've written before, is a "free state" within the state of Denmark, and has been so since around 72 or 73. Anyway, it's an old military base that was taken over and squatted, and now offers a stunning array of houses and nature right in the middle of the city.
Christiania attracts all sorts of people and many come for the free hash market. Not that the smoke is free, but since Christiania is a "free state" the sell of hash has been tolerated there for quite some time. This doesn't mean that the place is immune to the periodical police raid, or that Christianshavn, the neighborhood Christiania happens to be located in, is not a stop and search zone.
But again, it continues to attract all sorts of tourists, and boasts a few pretty good restaurants, concert halls and bars.
The other day I decided to take a early before-work walk. I often find that taking walks through the back roads of Christiania to be soothing. With the water, dirt roads and lush setting, I am often reminded of the beauty that exists here.  While there I bumped into a young lady, who ended up being The Dutchess from Miami. She was traveling here with her manager DK, and we had an interesting time exchanging ideas and thoughts on everything from our interpretations of the Adam and Eve story to the current Ferguson, MO debacle in the U.S.
What was particularly interesting about them both was the passion they both displayed for travel.  Throughout my own travels, it's something I often hear from people no matter their station in life. Whether it's a clerk at Whole Foods on Columbus Circle or a soldier I met in Hawaii, or the bartender in a bar in Trinidad or the lady you meet on a bus in New Orleans - one thing is clear : it seems like a lot more people actually want to travel than actually do. This only tells me that in general, human beings are intrepid folk, and if traveling was more accessible, there would be a whole lot more people traveling. And the profound thing about traveling is the spirit in which you endeavor to meet the world. When you travel out of the sheer need to see other places, experience cultures and meet your fellow human being, I think it adds an expansive view to how we view one another. I would even go so far as to say that it should be a part of every education.
It was a delight for me to experience the wisdom these two artists encompassed and the extent to which they have thought about their lives and their presence in it.  In them I saw that very thing that I too possess - and that is to pursue life in the spirit of art and creation.  DK spoke of how powerful the force of music was for him in his life - from his childhood in Haiti to moving to Florida and The Dutchess displayed an uncanny ability to interpret and define many events currently taking place in this world. It was refreshing to experience.  A shout out to The Dutchess & DK!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Brook's Bistro

my pleasure to bring you:

Brook's Bistro
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 The Baldwin Effect
It’s been an interesting life since last post. A full circle of things occurred, James Baldwin Place’s street naming ceremony coincided with the author/ activist/ intercontinentalist’s birthday this year. I felt like it was a James Baldwin trifecta happening.
  1. My next door neighbor freshman year at Morehouse College is Baldwin’s nephew. Staying in touch and relating the trials and tribulations of being a black man in America always keeps us close. But being part of a legacy like that adds up to more in my eyes. That extra layer of responsibility is a beast that sometimes can be a burden. Watching my brother rising to the occasion just makes me a proud friend.  
  2. The celebration included more than a street naming as there was a reading of The Fire Next Time by friends and creatives of the man. The stories they told. One sister talked about going overseas for work and having no one to meet her at the airport. An African-American woman in Europe in the 50’s wasn’t any easier than today. She ran into Baldwin, who she knew, at the airport. He got her to her hotel, settled in, and maybe even took her out. He was surprised as she was to see her there and was nothing less than the most gracious of hosts.  Classic intercontinentalism right there.
  3. Didn’t really know how pivotal a role Baldwin played in the Civil Right Act of 1964 or rather putting the final nail in the coffin of Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s movement from passive to active support of legislation ensuring the freedoms of all citizens in America not just some. In the book in 1962 when Attorney General Robert Kennedy implored author/activist James Baldwin to get a group of black intelligencia together so he could hear exactly what the problems were it was actress/ activist Lena Horne, actor/activist Harry Belafonte, psychologist Kenneth Clark,playwright Lorraine Hansberry, “Jerome Smith, a twenty-four-year old veteran of the freedom rides,” and a few other accomplished professionals. It was a pivotal moment.  Imagine Kennedy berated by the black intelligencia. Can you see the Attorney General of the United States statements being dismissed by a twenty-four-year-old black man? Imagine this same man telling the Attorney General exactly how the federal government was failing him. Now imagine the Attorney General getting frustrated because he can’t explain segregation away, it doesn’t fit the profile of what America stands for yet its exactly what was keeping Smith second class. Kennedy didn’t truly believe he lived in such an America but he did. He was promoting it if he wasn’t denouncing or moving to change it.                                                        “Kennedy tried to explain the bills, but Smith just scoffed... Trying to inject some balance to the conversation, Baldwin asked Smith if he would ever fight for his country. ‘Never!’ Smith said. That drove Kennedy over the edge… ‘How could you say that?’ he demanded.  ‘Bobby got redder and redder and redder, and in a sense accused Jerome of treason,’ said Clark.” - The Bill of the Century: The Epic Battle For The Civil Rights Act by Clay Risen
After this conversation the Kennedy administration started to actively work towards creating legislation against segregation. The Civil Right Act of 1964 wasn’t easy to create or pass but it was necessary. Read the book.

What else? I’m still learning about the influence of this writer who lived life to the fullest in times when he could have given up and been much less.  It affects me because I wonder how my life will be viewed after I’m gone. I wonder about how I live and what I do and what I write. I feel the charge of contributing something to the fabric of mankind, hopefully eternally. Maybe, just maybe, you feel this pull too. What to do with this precious time on earth? Watch factions destroy each other over a made up political boundary called Israel? No one wins in wars, not mothers, not children, no one. Watch people displaced from the homes and communities they grew up in because of gentrification? I think of how Detroit, Michigan where I came up feels like Brooklyn, New York where I live-same energy, same ethnic groups making changes in select pockets-but also the same displacement of peoples. I worry about it.  Can we make a difference in the lives of those around us in any small or large way possible? Can we not passively watch but actively engage? Do something. Discover. GROW! I call this the Year of Giving and my 
Rhode Island Writers Colony will become a reality next month. I’m doing something larger than myself for others. I think Baldwin would be glad to hear that. I think, he might even say, “Just keep it up,” and I plan too.

When I read 
The Bill of the Century: The Epic Battle For The Civil Rights Act by Clay Risen I was already thinking these things, they just came to the forefront, again. We’ve come so far as a nation in the past and are back-pedaling even further in the present. And I’m not to sure about our future. But it’s the weak link system in effect.  Our country’s weakest link is the average citizen. You. Me. We. Let’s do something other than watch the news and shake our heads. Let’s be dynamic. It may cost a little effort and inconvenience but anything worth doing isn’t easy.

Check out my black lit round up this week here. From Civil Rights to Wu-Tang to A Detroit Anthology to African-American pulp hero stories there’s activism in various forms even though I may not relate each as such therein.



 For writers at any stage with questions find answers here on craft, style and technique. This link is on time and how you deal with that in a story. I figured it out for my novel. This may help you figure it out in your own work. 
Writer's Cafe link

The year of James
 A 90th Birthday Celebration

It was great. Check out some of The Clever Agency's picks of the event as it unfolded below.
link to photo album

Bling 47Breaks Dilla Edition:DJ Spinna-Thelonius

2 minutes and 50 seconds you need your speakers playing because thisseries by Detroit producer Wajeed just illustrates how much J Dilla was a master musician with that ear to find all the pieces to make hip hop from well, everything already made.
link to video

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Trini Litmus Test

If you know the words to this song, have heard a family member (including Grandmother's) sing any of the lyrics to Sparrow's Jean & Dinah, then you're a Trini.:

For many, the playful lyrics was more about a country feeling the relief from the yoke of a foreign presence being lifted rather than the lack of customers that fed into the Prostitution that the U.S. military presence encouraged.  It was every Trinidadian's jubilant exclaim to sing along with Sparrow when he sings, "Yankees gone and Sparrow take over now!"  I especially always enjoyed how my grandmother's eyes would light up and she would throw her arms up in the air and sing along, laughing at me, becoming for a minute a young, prepubescent girl, perhaps in the audience, gazing up adoringly at Sparrow, whom I suspect many Trini women adore. 

Well the girls in town feeling bad
No more Yankees in Trinidad
They going to close down the base for good
Them girls have to make out how they could
Brother is now they park up in town
In for a penny, and in for a pound
Believe me it's competition for so
Trouble in the town when the price drop low


So when you bounce up Jean and Dinah
Rosita and Clementina, round the corner posing
Bet your life is something they selling
And if you catch them broken
You can get em all for nothing
Don't make no row, the yankees gone, Sparrow take over

Things bad is to hear them cry
Not a sailor in town, the night clubs dry
Only West Indians like me or you
Are able to get a drink or two
And as we have things back in control
Ah seeking revenge with me heart and soul
Brother when I spread the news around
Is to see how them cave men come into town

(This verse is sometimes omitted)
When the Yankee was in full swing
Just imagine how I was suffering
Mavis told me straight to me face
How she find I too fast and out of place
No, no, no, they would start to fret
Money or not poor Sparrow can't get
Because with the Yankees they have it cool
Calypsonians too hard to fool

It's the glamour boys again
We are going to rule Port of Spain
No more Yankees to spoil the fete
Dorothy have to take what she get
All of them who used to make style
While they taking two shillling with a smile
No more hotel to rest your head
By the sweat of thy brow thou shall eat bread

Lyrics taken from here

Friday, July 11, 2014

Brook's Bistro: Art, Culture, + Literature

I had the pleasure of meeting Brook Stephenson many moons ago at a Soho cafe with Mr. John McGregor, whom I affectionately refer to as the Don Quixote of publishing.  Brook has continued to stay in touch, honing his craft in writing, teaching and well, just being Brook! 
Here's Brook's latest! I'll be reposting his writing here , and you can click here- 
-if you want to check out just how cool this guy actually is. 

Brook's Bistro: Art, Culture, + Literature

Another day in the kitchen just to make sure the food comes out right and the guests are engaged. The newsletter bistro will contain a lot of fixings from art, culture and lifestyle. It will definitely have my top picks for literature and events covered or upcoming. 

This week's booklist has some heat from children's picture books to poetry to popular fiction. If you have a child who's curious about hip-hop's start, a love of poetry and visual art, or just need a romance novel to get you through the week, click here for more  and check out previous breaking books for what you've missed. 

Below are my three hot picks of the week-a video by one of my literary peers Mitchell Jackson, my inaugural writer's colony page, and The Clever Agency's forthcoming periodical, the intercontinentalist. 

See you next week.
Brook Stephenson

Mitchell S. Jackson 

The Residue Years (Bloomsbury $26)
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When Mitchell first proposed doing a reading discussion at McNally Jackson books, event coordinator Alice Whitwham was on board, as were fellow author/professor Kiese Laymon (Long Division) and moderator Lisa Lucas ( His video says it best. 

Definitely the sort of social media writers need to aggressively take advantage of. 

Rhode Island Writers Colony (RIWC)

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The inaugural session will be ten days in September. If you are an emerging writer working on a project and need time, then this is for you. Details in the link to apply. 

The intercontinentalist

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 The intercontinetalist is a lifestyle publication for international adventurers and tastemakers who live by the mantra that the world is just a flight away. 

Sundays@...The Sackett
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And for those who are free Sunday the 29th. 
Come over to Park Slope for the Sunday's @...the Sackett reading series featuring VONA writers.
Click here for details. 
VONA is a writing workshop for minority writers based in San Francisco California. 
They are celebrating the release of their new anthology DISMANTLE.

Brook Stephenson

Director of Literature & Development 

The Clever Agency , LLC

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

The Candidate - Reverend Shine Snake Oil Co.

Check out more on Reverend Shine Snake Oil Co. here - R.S.S.O. & Co. recently dropped their album "Anti Solpsism pt. I Creatures" which you can buy here . If you're into blues, rock & roll, gospel, well, music in general- R.S.S.O.& Co. has a little something for everyone. I especially appreciate the poetry inherent in the lead singer's Claudius Pratt's lyrics. Having known Claudius since back in the 90s, it's inspiring to see his talent grow and how he has tended his craft with diligence and patience. Put that together with Mathias Klein on drums, Martin Ollivierre on  bass and Justin Moses Gunn on guitar and you have a pretty electrically-charged experience. If you ever have the opportunity to check these guys out live, I say do it. It truly is a multi-faceted submersion into time and space, where rhythms and cultures communicate with each other, weaving a tapestry of inclusion--thus achieving in music what so often fails in politics. From their 2013 press release:

"The album will be released in two parts.The first act “Anti – Solipsism prt. 1... Creatures” is tak- ing shape with the help of their new partner label EMK in Sweden. Recorded by Roger Langvik in an old prison in Gothenberg, Anti- Solipsism prt.1 & 2 are based on the compulsions, idiosyn- crasies and delusions of a mad hermit. His break from reality is brought on by the numerous failed relationships and his attachment to inanimate objects. He takes on a saw, a violin, an umbrella and some crutches as friends and breaths into them life through his stories of misadventure.REVEREND SHINE SNAKE OIL Co. has gained a reputation for intensity in their live shows, which is how they secured a booking contract with Germanys up and coming MAG- NIFICECNT MUSIC at the start of 2012."

R.S.S.O. & Co. is what you listen to if you want to feel the heartbeat of that by-gone era where the Lower East Side and the East Village was full of squatters, grit and history. It's what you listen to if you want a glimpse back to that time where anything seemed possible - including being able to look forward and imagine a re-calibrated reality. If you wanna come close to the originality of that time and place, a time where NYC was abuzz with colonizing artists rich with talent although perhaps poor on cash--this is the band to listen to. 


Last year Britain's Chanel 4 did a series on Scandinavia entitled "Scandimania" where the region's culture was examined. This episode is all about Denmark.

Friday, July 04, 2014

My Adventure in the world of New York City Performance Art

Mehdi-Georges Lahlou's performance was an intellectual feast of challenging our own preconceptions of gender, nationality, sexuality.  

One of the performances I was able to check out on my recent sojourn to NYC was  Preach R. Sun's Chrysalis (Cry + Solace)  , a performance I will write about in more depth later.  Through him, I met Jill McDermid Hokanson& Erik Hokanson of Grace Space and Gray Zone and given a crash-course on the world of performance art.

Some of the artists I had the distinction of seeing include, MEHDI-GEORGES LAHLOU [MOROCCO/BELGIUM/FRANCE] whose performance in red pumps, running on a treadmill while singing "Run, run, baby, baby, run run," among other ditties, and pouring a variety of seasonings on himself, well was, let's just say deliciously thought-provoking on subjects such as gender, religion, nationality. 

As China conquers the world, artists challenge
what they cannot in their ancestral homeland. 
Chun Hua Catherine Dong (China/Canada) Just Another Mouth to Feed was a harrowing peformance and commentary on the still-prevalent devaluation of the female political.  Her performance included hacking off the noses of stuffed-animals, preparing a dish from the innards of a commercial diaper (it does look cool when it's wet and you add some color to it) and many military references that brought close to the viewer the intimate relationship between what is considered personal and/or public space. 

Esther Neff with the proverbial ball and chain.
 The chain this time, is of course, gaffa tape. 
I also had the benefit of meeting up with Panoply Performance Laboratory's Esther Neff and Brian McCorkle and see them in action at Gray Zone in Kingston, New York. It was inspiring to be around so many committed, passionate folks and in the end I must say that this niche of  NYC/Brooklyn Performance artists are a pretty committed, critically-thinking group of people and I had an amazing
experience. If you want to keep abreast of what's going on the NYC/Brooklyn Performance Arts scene, check out Incident Magazine.

Preach R. Sun's Chrysalis was a certainly a stand-out and one I have written more extensively about and will post soon. As an artist, he challenges us to think about our own notions of art and manages to serve ideas, particularly of Black liberation, on a silver platter to the elite but most importantly, he takes his work and roots it in the street. Check out his website his Street Speaker, and if you haven't heard about the homeless guy sleeping in the MOMA, well, now you did and ask yourself what are the social, political and economic implications of that action?  Again, making us question the idea of 'Art', ownership of it, and the commodification of it - Preach R. Sun's work is worth checking out for all of you who are bored with the clumsy attempts at radicalism behind the institutional walls of the elite. 

Every time I see a piece of performance art (thus far) I'm usually blown away by the immediacy of it (it's sooo much better than tv!) and the political potential of it.  I'll be certain to keep my eyes on this genre and keep my fingers crossed that perhaps, just perhaps we'll all truly get what Shakespeare meant when he wrote those famous words, All the world's a stage...


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Blackgirls on Istedgade...

I'm reposting this article I wrote for an anthology back in 2004 because: a) my friend who I write about in the essay is actually moving from Copenhagen today :-( 
-- but good for her! And b) when I saw an Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie interview and she mentioned that she was stopped at Copenhagen International Airport and questioned at length. Confused, she asked her Danish host about it.  The host explained that given her Nigerian passport, they probably thought she was a prostitute. 

this summer i will be releasing all my essays about identity, womanhood, class & my experiences as a woman of color growing up in this very 'globalised' world. 

Black Girls on Istegade
By Lesley-Ann Brown

“It’s funny what people assume about you here in Denmark”, my friend Tracy confides as she takes the candy colored curlers out of her hair. It’s 10 at night, and I had just finished my shift at the restaurant. I was exhausted, but I needed a taste of Brooklyn before I went back to my loneliness and empty apartment. The moment Tracy opened her door and I laid eyes on her—with her curlers and bright pink bathrobe, I knew that I had rolled up to a place close to home. Tracy’s home on Istedegade was typical Brooklyn class—plush sofas in which you melted, an oversized television that fulfilled its entertainment purposes and an endless array of Black hair care products in her bathroom. Tracy wasn’t afraid of color, and this courage enraptured all that entered. Her apartment lacked the clinical minimalism that seems to dominate most Danish homes—and for that I was grateful.  I sat comfortably in one of her sofas and sipped on a can of freshly opened beer she had offered me. 
“I was at this party in Hellerup once and this man walks up to me and asks, ‘So, where do you clean?” We both laughed. Tracy is an Investment Banker and from Brooklyn. She is actually the only single American woman I know here who wasn’t lured here by love (sexual refugees my friend Paul calls us)—she was headhunted to work for one the largest Danish corporations. The man’s assumption wasn’t too far off though and I reminded her. “Yeah, but look at me—college educated and I clean.” 
“Ain’t that some shit though?” Tracy’s mid-night dark face looked thoughtful for a moment. I recalled the mornings, although not many, where I had to clean stores out in Lyngby. It was one of the first jobs I could get here in Denmark and as I took the train into Lyngby every morning I often contemplated my fate. How did I end up here in Denmark, where I had to start from scratch and work my way up again, alone and with a child? I remembered the relief I felt when I had gotten the job, so thankful that somebody, anybody, was willing to give me a chance to earn some money. And then I remembered the slight embarrassment I felt at the fact that here I was, 32 and having to clean toilets to barely make ends meet. The embarrassment melted quickly when I reflected on the fate of others who didn’t have the “privilege” of being American (passport to wealth, opportunity, terrorism and the ability to terrorize). I thought about the many others who had to come to Denmark not out of love, but poverty, political or religious persecution. Educated people, able people, probably more so than I, and whose fates were probably direr than mine. I remembered the many students I studied Danish with, and the many others who couldn’t even study at the same school as I because their English wasn’t good enough. They of course learned Danish much better than I did, but who would hire them?  There was the Pakistani who was a qualified computer programmer and had sent out hundreds of applications to no avail.  Then there was the gynecologist from Afghanistan or the engineer with a family from Iraq.  Their stories would come back to me, as I contemplated their fates here in this foreign land. 
 I then confided to Tracy, “Well, I was once asked if I was a prostitute.” Tracy looked unimpressed as she applied lotion to her legs.
“I get that all the time. When I walk down the street men sometimes approach me and asks me ‘how much?” We both shake our heads in bemusement…what was to become with our lives as two sisters here in Denmark?
Our conversation had things that were unsaid. We didn’t speak about the ambiguities of being Black American women here in Denmark. We didn’t speak about the fears we have that we will never meet men who see beyond the exoticism and see the humanity. For us, every man we met we had to get all Hendrix and asked, “Is he experienced?” We had to know whether we were some sexual experiment or seen as the women we really were. We both know that there are some Danish women who must think that it must be fabulous to be different. I’ve heard stories upon stories of women who talk about how “boring” they feel they look or how “lucky” I was that I was so “exotic”. They think how they have wanted to be different their whole lives, and look at us, so dark, so mysterious, so—inhuman? Tracy proceeds to get dressed. She is off to a party and she ties the long leather straps of her high-heeled shoes around her calves and puts on her beautiful black dress. She is thick and alive and so very woman. I feel so unhealthily thin when I am around her—how I wish I had a woman’s body and not this prepubescent frame I have been cursed with. And I laugh at how we are never satisfied about how we look. There are women who probably look at me and wish they had my hair, my hands, and my loud mouth. I look at other women and covet their curves, their asses and their breasts.  I know I should appreciate my difference but instead my difference becomes this barrier between me and the world, that makes me suspicious of people’s interest in me and sometimes it becomes tiresome to lug around this paranoia. That’s why Tracy and I lament the fact that we are not around Brothers—i.e. African American men. “Don’t you miss Black men?” I ask.
“Girl, who are you asking?”
“God, don’t you just love them?”
“And miss them”. But I wonder if this sentiment is merely a cover-up, a wish that there really was some Ideal that we could just never find here in Denmark.  But there was also something else I wanted to speak to Tracy about, but could not really articulate it at that time. It had to do with the staring phenomena that without fail, every person of color I have ever  met here have expressed that they have felt at one time or another.  There was David the trumpet player, Dina the Hawaiian the list was endless.  I suffered from it so terribly, that I found it quite difficult to leave the house alone for the first two years that I lived here. It’s this feeling you get that people are constantly staring at you. My friends used to tease me, “Relax, people are just staring at you because you’re pretty.” But it didn’t make sense. The stares were not complimentary, they were intrusive and abrasive and most importantly without love. I suppose I was being stared at with the same uncivilized eyes that gawked at the South African woman, Saartji Baartman (Hottentot Venus), who was once paraded around as a circus freak and whose remains were bottled in formaldehyde and remained on display at the Musee de l’Homme until 1976. 
“You know what the problem is, don’t you?” Tracy asks as she puts her earrings on. “It’s like people here think we’re all like what they see on television and in the movies.”
 “Yeah, suddenly you realize just how many people watch Rickie Lake.”
“And how many people be believing that shit too—that that’s how all Black people are in the States.” 
I remember a Eurowoman magazine I had seen on my arrival here in Denmark, where the editor-in-chief at the time displayed a picture of herself as a child with black smeared all over her face. The issue was supposed to celebrate African Americans, but instead, as far as I and every other person I had discussed the issue with, further illustrated Dane’s racial ignorance and insensitivity to otherness. There was also the continued sale of The Story of Little Black Sambo—where the story itself was surprisingly not offensive but the pictures were the epitome of racial stereotypes (the author’s original 1937 drawings were still used). 
“Lesley, I’m having so many problems at my job.”
“Yeah? How?”  In my eyes Tracy had it made. She had a job that paid well.. I’m working like 3 or 4 jobs around the clock—doing everything from cleaning motherfucking toilets to serving motherfuckers their food. Shit, I wish I had an office-gig like crazy. That way I could be financially independent and spend more time with my son. 
“It’s just my employee, she says the weirdest things.”
“Like I should know how to sing and dance cause I’m Black.”
“Are you serious?” I don’t know why I’m surprised, because I hear it all the time as well. But I guess I expected more from someone who worked within corporate Denmark.
“Yes. She also said that it’s okay to call Black people niggers.” 
“Are you kidding?” I rolled my eyes in disbelief and recalled the time when my husband’s friend called my son a nigger. No one-- not my husband, his mother and least of all the friend, understood my rage. Instead I was made to feel as if I was the one in the wrong and told to “relax”. 
“No girl. And it’s just exhausting being around that kind of energy all the time.” 
“I could understand that.”  Which is one of the reasons I cherish my job as a vikar at an international school in Frederiksberg. Most of the kids there are African and Middle-Eastern or anden generations dansker, and while they speak Danish and certainly identify with Denmark’s western culture, there is still a pride present about their otherness, their culture which one can see has been carefully handed down to them by their parents. It’s funny to see the girls, infatuated with Black Hip-Hoppers and who nonchalantly wear t-shirts that read, “Comfort Girl, Born 2 Serve. All Girl’s Military Unit” (Obviously she nor her mother knows the meaning of comfort girl).  
“Did I ever tell you about what these two girls asked me?” I laughed at the memory as Tracy shook her head no. 
“They asked me why I was in Denmark and I told them because I had married a Dane and one of them replied, ‘you mean you left all those beautiful Black men in the States to marry a Dane?” She looked at me as if I had truly lost my mind. Maybe I had. 
It’s also been particularly entertaining for me to note the Dane’s reaction to the veil. I mean in Brooklyn, Black muslims were part of the community, and it was not uncommon to be seated next to a veiled student, be served by a veiled waitress or have friends who are veiled. I went to school with a girl named Mecca, and for me, as a Black American, Islam has always represented a more positive and colorful alternative to Christianity. So when the whole school shook their heads in shame at Hadia, a young Pakistani girl who returns to school after the summer holidays with a veil and exclaim, “Oh, it’s such a shame. I thought the family was more progressive than that, I mean not even the mother wears a veil.” I can’t help but wonder, “What’s the big deal?” I am so sick of Danes and this superior attitude they have towards Islam, or rather, let’s just cut it down to the truth, difference. 
“Well, it’s like the end of her childhood.” Stina, my co-worker confided during a discussion in the teacher’s lounge.
“How? It’s just a veil.” I can’t tell you how many times I have found myself having this debate with Danish women. “Frankly, I don’t see anything wrong with it. You have these girls running around the city half-naked, but it’s more of an affront to people that there are some who would rather cover their hair…” I can’t understand it, I really can’t.” So it’s okay to show a woman’s ass in an underwear ad, but not okay for someone to cover her hair?
Tracy fingers her long curly braids and confides, “Girl, I’m getting a perm this weekend.” 
“Where?” I wonder where a sister can get her hair done here. It’s one of the reasons I decided to lock my hair—Although there are more and more Beauty Salons targeted toward Black women, you just never knew who you were letting up in your hair. Basically, a Black woman getting her hair done her in Denmark could be risky business. 
“Here, in Copenhagen.” She took a sip of her drink and pointed to her corner table. “That’s why I got my wig out—it’s all ready in case things don’t go as planned.” We laugh. I guess it’s the only thing we can do at this point. 
Tracy is ready to go to her party. I finish off my beer and slowly put my jacket on. I’m not ready to leave Brooklyn, Tracy or even her wig yet. But I must. I must go through her door and make my way up Istedgade, where I just might risk being asked, “How much?”  I suppose it’s not the worst one could experience as a foreigner here in Denmark. 

Kvinder Stiller Skarpt
Fotografi og historier
Informations Forlag, 2004

 The story could interestingly be a parable of how whites have continued to culturally appropriate all that is Black.  I could not help but wonder when I read it, if the story was that of the author’s own invention, or was originally an African tale “retold” thus she profited from. 
 The interesting thing is that many of the young girls at the school decide to cover their heads of their own volition.  An Egyptian I once studied Danish with had a younger sister, in her early 20s who, although not religious to that point, decided to start wearing the veil.  She immediately started to experience Danish people sneering at her, pushing her and even pinching her.


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