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 ebony.com 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- http://www.brookstephenson.com/ 
-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 Ebony.com 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 (Guernica.com). 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.

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.

Friday, June 13, 2014

“Forget safety.
   Live where you fear to live.
Destroy your reputation.Be notorious.” -Rumi

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Child Labor in the U.S.

Check this important program by my friend Rayner Ramirez on child labor in the United States of America. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Sister to Sister: Letters from the Diaspora

'what to make when your child asks for a sibling.' by the lab 2004

Hi Lesley-Ann,
I am fine. Hope you are well.I hope it is not a virus.We are  trying to finalize things  at school for the year. I just got back from reviewing with my students for the coming June   U.S.History Regents. Now we will be rated based on how our students do on the  yearly exams.The City of NY  under new administration  just offered us a new contract dating  from the year 2009 when  the former mayor Bloomberg refused  to grant   us one.I know each year I say I will be leaving but it is not  easy to retire and live off the measly pension that  the teaching profession gives.
Hey, my offer for you  to visit Panama is still  there . Just tell me when you want to visit and I will see if I can  plan to make  the trip .  Here in the States sometimes i cannot  understand how this country is still so racist.Everyday  there is one person here  making some of the most racist statements, it  is so mind boggling at times. One wonder what is wrong with some of these people. Are they that unhappy  and miserable?  Any way, It is always nice hearing from you. Stay well.


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