Hey everyone! I have exciting news! On June 26th from 2:30-5pm, I will be facilitating a workshop at the Lewis Latimer House Museum!
If you are not aware, Lewis Latimer was a 19th-early 20th century African-American self-taught inventor and draftsman, who worked with Thomas Edison and was greatly involved in the development of the light bulb, specifically in the production of carbon filaments. He lived in the same house in Flushing, Queens, which was later moved to location it is now and was turned into a museum. Not only was Latimer an inventor, but he also was a poet, playwright and painter. He was truly a polymath!
My workshop will explore the intersections between writing, invention and social change, three areas important to Latimer; we will analyze his poetry (and also a poem inspired by one of his poems); and attendees will be given prompts to write their own poetry. If you are in NYC and are interested, please RSVP at the email in the flyer!
I hope to see you there!
Last Friday, I was privileged with a ticket to attend Black Spectrum Theatre’s play Timeless: The Mystery of Dark Water, written by the theater’s founder, Carl Clay. This was my first time seeing a play at the theater in recent memory and if I had to sum up the play with four M’s, it would be Mind Research, Memories, Mystery and Murder!
For those who are not aware of it and its history, The Black Spectrum Theatre was founded in 1970 in Roy Wilkins Park in Jamaica, Queens, and its mission has been to bring African-American cultural expression and the American contemporary theater and film to the local community.
Clay’s Timeless follows a New York insurance employee, Kyle, who is under interrogation by police after his girlfriend, Mya, a psychotherapist, is found murdered. What comes after is a story that explores memory, past lives, reincarnation, and connections between people across time and space.
Inspired by his own life experiences in April 1994 and works like that of psychotherapist Brian L. Weiss, who does hypnosis and past life regression, Clay manages to explore this psycho-spiritual concept without any heavy-handedness and turning audiences off from engaging with it. Using the plot of a romance/murder mystery with a bit of humor, the play was down-to-earth and captivating with enough suspense and clever manipulation of lighting, film screen and sound effects to pull us in as audience into its web.
The character Kyle (played by the charming actor with a commanding presence Reginald L. Barnes) meets “by chance” Mya (played by Claudia Rodriguez, who provides an strong foil for Kyle, especially towards the end in the more emotional scenes) at the bar Josie’s. Through meeting Mya and undergoing her hypnosis/dream therapy sessions, Kyle discovers knowledge about himself beyond the daily life he lives currently. Those in his life from Mya to his best friend Mel to the detectives in the investigation to even the bartenders at the bar are all connected to his life in the present and in his distant pasts.
Over the course of the play, we see Kyle gathering fragments from previous lives, including being a soldier on a war submarine, a farmer who leaves his marriage to find a new life in the city and other lives further back in time. Mya and him are brought closer as they find out that they have met before in another life and clues and events in their lives have crossed time and space. One in particular is an ex-husband who wants revenge for the cheating wife who leaves him, even if its means getting it in the next life. With a criminal mystery crossing through time, the detective work is much more complex and left us all guessing who the vengeful murderer was until the last moment because with reincarnation that person could be anyone.
The twist and turns of this murder mystery resembles well the twist and turns of the
mystery of life and past lives. The unresolved nature of the story and the unresolved, unending nature of life and the soul allows the story to possibly continue into the future (and I wouldn’t mind a sequel). It gives the play a Borges-like feel to it, much like in his short story collection Labyrinths, which includes stories, like “Death and the Compass;” both have themes of a deeper search for meaning in life, the metaphysical interconnection of all things and spaces through all time, and murder and detective work.
In Timeless, death becomes a revealer of life’s lessons and truth and that in this universe all live and stories are interwoven across time and space in a mystical round, a perpetual motion of creation. Like spiritual detectives, we are forced to lift the veil of separation between us and between the past, present and future to go deeper to new dimensions. It is as Mya says, a future exploration by journeying through the inner space to a higher consciousness.
Go see Timeless, showing for the next two weekends: Friday-Saturday 8pm and Sunday 4pm!
And here’s a treat from the small museum inside the theater – a poster from an earlier Carl Clay play!
Welcome back to my Space:Queens blog series!
For the past month, I’ve been participating on the advisory council committee and as a creative writing workshop facilitator for the upcoming No Longer Empty exhibition, Jameco Exchange, that is opening on May 21st at 89-62B 165th St. No Longer empty is an organization that works with local artists and community members in various neighborhoods throughout NYC to revitalize empty storefront spaces and other underutilized properties.
One of the exhibiting artists and performers will be Margaret Rose Vendryes, a local York College art professor and artist behind the African Divas Project, which combines traditional African mask ritual with iconic Black woman music divas. Her work comments on the intersections between traditional masquerade, spectacle, celebrity, iconography, beauty ideals, gender and racial performance, and spiritual ritual.
1) Tell the readers a little about yourself.
I was born in Kingston, Jamaica and (with the exception of my first 5 years and two years of high school), and raised in Queens as the third of six daughters and one son.
I completed a BA at Amherst College in Western Massachusetts, an MA at Tulane University in New Orleans and a second MA and PhD at Princeton University in New Jersey. With only four studio art courses at Amherst College, the majority of my higher education was in art history concentrating on American art.
I continued to paint when I could, usually during the summer months. Finally, I began my full-time teaching career in 1997, and continue to teach both art history and now, studio courses, at York College, CUNY.
2) What first inspired you to start the African Diva Project?
In 2007, I left NYC, and teaching, for Boston where I had the opportunity to focus on painting. It was a huge risk that I was compelled to take. That summer, I spent a month in Mali, West Africa. I returned so thoroughly inspired, not so much by the art made there, which is awesome, but by the way artists appeared fulfilled by making their art. They were whole in a way that I wanted to be.
Although understood in retrospect, my African Diva Project began in 2005 with a painting of Donna Summer from the back of her Four Seasons of Love LP. I painted her wearing a Baule mask (Côte d’Ivoire) from my African art collection. That painting, which I thought would be just one experiment and am still changing as the mood inspires me, helped me realize that I had a “project” when I returned home to face it waiting for me on my easel. I finally saw myself as a driven visual artist as much as an art historian with a purpose. I invented a hybrid professional category for myself, I am an “Artist Historian.”
Welcome back to the next installation of my Space: Queens segment!
Last Saturday, I attended the 2nd annual Afrofuturism conference at The New School and in the panel I attended, Conjuring Black Futures, moderator, Jamal Lewis mentioned that conjuring is associated with possibility, the “otherwise.”
I had the pleasure to interview Shanté Paradigm Smalls, a local professor at Queens’ own St. John’s University, and how she is manifesting the “otherwise” in her own work involving sci-fi, fantasy, comics, hip-hop, and queer studies.
Hey everybody! Welcome to the first installment of my Space:Queens segment, where I explore afrofuturistic art, culture and influencers in my home borough of Queens, NY!
First up is Yvonne Shortt, who is the creative director of RPGA Studio, Inc., and is the curator for Queens Art Initiative, where she works on several community-based art and technology projects in the borough. Enjoy!
1) Tell the readers a little bit about yourself and and what inspired your love of technology and math.
I’m an an artist, mathematician, African American female, technologist, and mother. My inspiration came from my uncle who started a company to help the deaf communicate with others and my mom who bought me my first computer, a Commodore 64. Also my aunt, her belief that hard work makes all possible shaped me.
2) How do you see Queens as a place of possibility and speculative/futuristic exploration?
We have so many people from so many countries and this diversity is an amazing power to draw from. It reminds me to use diversity in my work in my exploration – diversity including art, design, technology, education… This is what makes my work important and relevant I think.
Hey everyone! I’m sorry I was quiet on here last month. Due to illness, work and some technical difficulties, I wasn’t able to do much posting. But I wanted to share for National Poetry Month the chapbook I made for the DIY chapbook challenge.
For my, chapbook, Lucy’s Bone Scrolls: The AF Mystery School, I wrote several poems inspired by the New School Afrofuturism conference last year. I used parchment paper and chenille sticks/pipe cleaners to create the book because I wanted to give it a kind of scrapbook kind of look.
Check out some photos of the project below and I will be showcasing it live at the Women Writers in Bloom Five-Year anniversary event this month. If you are in NYC and want to come, I welcome you to do so; the wonderful poet Mariahadessa Ekere Talle will be the feature!
Sometime in the near future, I will publish the chapbook as an e-book, so stay tuned for that! Also, as I promised last month, I will premiere my Space:Queens segment next week!
Like Dorothy, I took my home for granted…
Welcome to Women’s History Month! We just left Black History/Future Month and a thought came to me to do a link between the two with a new segment called “Space:Queens.” In this new blog segment, I will be doing writeups and interviews focused on afrofuturism within my own home borough of Queens!
Growing up in Queens, it always felt as if the borough was treated as outer space. It’s reputation as a kind of wasteland was popularized by F. Scott Fitzgerald calling it “The Valley of the Ashes” in The Great Gatsby, which Robert Moses later turned into Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Flushing Meadows Corona Park was home to the 1964 World’s Fair, whose focus was to showcase the latest and possible innovations of the day. Yet, most of the attention of the city has been focused on Manhattan and Brooklyn. I know many people who have said they didn’t like to venture out to the borough. I even wanted to move to Brooklyn once because I thought it was a central mecca for Black and Caribbean cultures.
But recently I have been exploring more and more of my borough and all the wonderful
surprises hidden in it. There is so much unexplored within Queens, which is why I decided to set my fantasy book (“The E”) in the borough.
Because of Queens’ treatment as an outer space region of the city, the history of the World’s Fair and technological innovation, the technological transformation of the Valley of the Ashes into Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and The Unisphere and NYS Pavilion having this retro-futuristic appearance, I am not shocked that the later two have been used in science fiction and fantasy film, including Men In Black, The Wiz (“Munchkinland”) and Tony Stark’s Stark Expo.
Starting this month, I will post features about Queens-related visionaries who are helping to change the borough, the city and the world and visionary stories about Queens! First up are Yvonne Shortt and Shante Paradigm Smalls!
The Mask as Technology Part 3:
Although I tried not to add onto the dozens of think pieces that are already out there about Beyonce’s latest video, “Formation,” sometimes I like to jump on the bandwagon to either use it momentarily like a free ride to a needed destination or to veer it off into my own direction.
The video has opened the door for much conversation and possibility of new connections, which to me is the main benefit of it, and there has been valid thoughts on all sides about it from the possible meanings of its symbolic artistic imagery and bringing some focus to black cultures that often have been forgotten, marginalized or denigrated, even by black people themselves, to the critiques that highlight the problematic centering of a cis-gendered, non-queer, high class, wealthy, light(er)-skinned, thinner celebrity against the marginalized realities of poorer, lower-class, heavier-set, darker-skinned, queer and transgendered people. Looking at the video and listening to the lyrics, it is difficult to ignore its use of Western capitalistic and white-centric measures of power, including Givenchy and Bill Gates, and their stark contrast against the images of disasters that affected those marginalized communities and black traditions that helped us to survive the violence and trauma created by the former. It does appear on the surface to be a form of capitalist opportunistic exploitation, appropriation and a softer silencing/erasing of marginalized cultures despite the “inclusion” of their imagery.
But as a creative writer/artist myself, I tend to look at culture and imagery more ambiguously. In trickster philosophy, various contradicting realities and meanings exist at once; we all wear various conflicting masks to negotiate with and maneuver through society at large. At the end of the day, Beyonce is a pop artist, not an activist per se, and just as I can learn and be inspired by various sources, I can be inspired by her work and apply it back to my own work.
Certain aspects of “Formation,” and responses to them, kept stirring thoughts in my mind, especially in relation to recent posts I had on this blog. Not saying all the thoughts below went through Beyonce’s mind, but these are the thoughts her video inspired in me. Let us look beyond Beyonce because it, for me, is not about her but the larger symbolism and archetypes that are part of human psyche and social cultures.
Here is a list of my (random) thoughts:
For Black History Month, I present to you my published essay, “The Spiritual Technologist: An Afrofuturistic Techno-Ethos:”
Using the title of the character Rinehart from Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” I explore briefly the concept of the spiritual technologist as a way to develop my own philosophical ethos for the movement of Afrofuturism.
You can buy the essay for $1.99 at Smashwords!
Welcome back! Here is part 2 of my interview with Louis Chude-Sokei! You can read part 1 here.
“…What will matter in the long term is the impact we have on the (Sci-fi) genre itself, not on its packaging or clichés…”
4) Science fiction and fantasy have in the past been centered around European/Western stories and tropes and even in Afrofuturism, it was promoted previously as mostly Western/U.S.-centric. Briefly, how do you see Caribbean cultures, African cultures and other cultures around the world as early incubators, already exploring those ideas of science fiction, fantasy and futurism? Why is it important to explore those ideas in these cultures?
Science Fiction (SF) itself was produced directly by the response to slavery and colonialism in England and America. This is a fact. Therefore SF has always had within its DNA racial, colonial and sexual concerns—so its a mistake to see the genre as either “white” or “Western” or “European” since all of those categories depend on slavery and colonialism and, of course, industrialization. As such it isn’t necessarily anything-“centric,” though the modern history of SF hasn’t been as good as it should be about making all of this clear, hence the necessary interruption that is Afrofuturism as well as the explosion of global SF.