Kalamu ya Salaam's information blog


photo by Alex Lear






The End of the World,

As We Know It



“Little Zutie asked me, what is god?”


“And you said?”


“I don’t know.”


“Zutie, please, I’m sure you know what you said.”


“That’s what I said: I don’t know.” Big Zutie’s eyes twinkled as she raised a wrinkled digit to the crown of her hairless head. “Little Zutie piped back at me, you an elder Ank, you know the answer. Then I said, I told you the answer to your question.”


Big Zutie dropped to the floor. I brought her a bowl of gumba. Zutie thumped her foot in an excited 6/8 rhythm. “Oohh weee, you killing me.”


“Good.  Die happy,” I laughed as she finished the bowl in two quick gulps. I grabbed the empty ceramic container and glided back to the stove, refilled it halfway, and then returned to where Big Zutie was lying on her side and humming to himself. I knelt before her. As I offered her the bowl she shook her head and pulled at my penduta. “Wait, tell me about Little Zutie,” I asked. There must have been a reason Zutie even brought this up. She doesn’t usually make small talk with me.


“What is there to tell? I told Little Zutie, whenever someone says ‘god,’ all they’re saying is, ‘I don’t know’. God is the mystery of life. Whatever we don’t know, that becomes god.” While Big Zutie is talking she is rubbing me and my penduta firms up beneath her touch.


“Look how pretty and long it is.”


She embarrasses me whenever she talks like that even though it is true that my penduta is longer than average. Zutie always said she picked me because of that, “You know, the thicker the penduta, the sweeter the nectar.” I turned my head away. My penduta was sensitive now. I moaned.


“Come  here, I want a mouthful.”


I tried ignoring Zutie. Most Ank’s would slap you silly if you ignored them, but Zutie and I were different. I pushed her hand away with my left hand as I picked up the bowl in my right hand and slowly sipped from it.


I felt Zutie listening to me as I noisily smacked my lips. I started to move to place the bowl in the corner but Zutie pulled me by my left arm and tightly grasped my penduta in the pudgy softness of her left hand. Sometimes, when their cycle comes around, I think Anks would rather nurse than eat.


Zutie and I have been together almost a whole rotation, and despite my age I was beginning to feel a certain tenderness for Zutie, and I know that’s crazy. Separating love from need is very difficult. When you don’t need someone and then you love them, then it’s easy to know that what you’re feeling is genuine and not just survival masking itself as some self-deluding emotion…


“Deimos, you think I don’t know that you are afraid to die.”


“Death is nothing.” My back stiffened as I stood up while backing away from where Zutie lay on the floor. Anks always think we penda are obsessed with dying. Even Zutie, who is so open in how she thinks, even she does not understand—but how can she? She is a womb. She lives to suck nectar and to give birth, and I survive by supplying nectar and by working hard.


As I turned to remove the bowl, I tried to sound nonchalant in contradicting Zutie. “No, Zutie, I do not fear death. I fear living without love.” There I had said it, admitted it.


“Death is real. Love is nothing,” Zutie spat the words out like fruit pits. When I returned Zutie was standing, reared up to her full height. Zutie fixed a withering stare on me. “Love… ask me… look at me!” Zutie sternly commanded, her voice dropping to a hiss. I kept my head slightly bowed as I looked up at her. “You are a penda, I am an Ank, and love has nothing to do with any of it. Nothing.”


I was trembling, now. Both brave and afraid. “Some times, Zutie…”


“Some times what?”


“Some times love makes life livable and death bearable.”


“Oh, what a load of crap.” Zutie slapped me so quickly I did not see it coming. The blow staggered me. I would have fallen but she caught me and steadied me. My head was ringing. Her breath was rancid on my face as she embraced me.


Blood rushed to my fingers. I hid my pulsing hands behind my back. But Zutie heard. She hears everything. Zutie grabbed one of my hands.


“Your pulse is screaming. You are really upset. I understand that.” There was a long silence. “Deimos what am I to do with you?” I said nothing.


Zutie dropped my hand. “I like the taste of you. We both know I could have as many other penda as I want. I have had many penda in my long life. So many, I have forgotten…” Zutie turned from me and spoke with her back turned. “Do you think the fact that I happen to really like the taste of you is love? That I keep you safe, is that love? That I talk with you?”


There was an awkward moment of stillness. Waving her hand just above her shoulder although not turning to face me, Zutie beckoned for me to come near her. I stood so close to her, the hairs on her back swayed in time to my exhales.


 “What I love…” Zutie turned, stared at me briefly, patted my penduta and chortled a short, cynical laugh, “…is the taste of your sweet nectar.” Then she lay down on her side, leaning against the wall.


A tear formed in my eye. Was providing nectar all I meant to Zutie?


“Stop being so sentimental. Old as I am, you may even outlive me. Now that Little Zutie is matured, and…” Zutie quickly turned melancholy. Neither of us said anything for a minute as we both knew that the rise of Little Zutie, who was both Big Zutie’s offspring and her successor, meant that death was near for Zutie whose body could produce no more Anks and that death was also near for me simply because time was catching up with me. Besides, I was sure that Little Zutie had her choice of penda in mind.


Though they both said my nectar was still the sweetest, I felt like the well was almost dry. My reverie was broken by Zutie’s hoarse but subdued revelation.


“Deimos, my transition date has been set.” Zutie gathered up the bulk of herself and slowly sat up. “It will be soon. Sooner than you know…”


Zutie pulled me close to her. I didn’t resist her touch, but inside I stiffened. I felt depressed, overcome by a sudden weight of guilt for not taking better care of her in her last days. I wondered how long she had known her time.


“Deimos, stop crying. We all die, eventually. The world will go on.” I didn’t know I was crying. Zutie pulled me close and licked the tears on my face. “Mmmm…”


Her hand was on my penduta again. Stroking. It hurt so much the last time. They say when the pain gets to be almost unbearable is when it happens.


I have known this conversation was coming and had tried to prepare myself, but obviously I had failed because I couldn’t stop crying. And the more I cried, the more Zutie’s tongue lapped at my tears. Then she pushed me flat on my back and moved her mouth onto my penduta. It felt good, but I knew the pain was coming. It felt really good. Really. And then her hands were on my nipples. Pinching. Hard. The pleasure was almost too much.


Suddenly she stopped sucking… I opened my eyes. Someone else was here. It was Little Zutie. Little? She was almost the equal of Big Zutie’s massive weight. I didn’t like Little Zutie. She never talked to me other than to give me instructions. I turned away from the sight of Little Zutie lumbering towards us and found myself looking at the cool stare of Big Zutie who drew back a bit and continued earnestly stroking my penduta with one hand while leaning on her side and staring blankly at me. Little Zutie started making that wheezing sound of anticipation that was normal for her when she was about to eat. I didn’t want to, but Zutie’s touch was arousing.


Emitting deep grunts of satisfaction, Big Zutie roused herself, rolled slowly beside me, bent over and resolutely started kissing my face and sucking my teardrops, which I was vainly trying to staunch now that I understood that Big Zutie was preparing me for Little Zutie to drink my nectar. There were so many other penda available. Zutie could have gotten one just for Little Zutie.


“Stop thinking so much, your thoughts will sour your nectar.” Zutie pinched my nipples again and then moved aside as Little Zutie scooted over to us. Little Zutie took my penduta into her mouth. This was my first time nursing Little Zutie.


Even though I able to will myself to stop crying, Zutie’s rough tongue kept lapping around the edges of my eyes. Meanwhile I tried to hold back, tried to stem my arousal by concentrating on the pungency of Big Zutie’s breath, but I could not help myself. I moaned as I felt the nectar stirring in my penduta, ready to geyser forth. And at the same time there was a stinging pain building in my groin. I moaned louder.


“Suck harder,” Zutie instructed and Little Zutie complied. My toes clinched as I screamed. The pain grew so quickly. I started thrashing. Zutie pressed down with her full weight to hold me still. The pain was so great my eyes hurt. Zutie clamped down on my face, my screams muffled by her body. I tried to buck, to turn my head to breath, but my nectar was about to erupt.




Little Zutie stuck a finger into my rectum. Spasms shot through my body and two long streams of nectar erupted. Little Zutie sucked harder after each spurt.


I must have blanked out for a few seconds. My penduta was soft. Little Zutie had rolled over onto her back, her tongue lolling out of her open mouth. Big Zutie was down between my legs. She gently squeezed my gonads and took a soft suck on my penduta. Pain shot through me, but I was too weak to do anything but utter a feeble yelp.


“There is always a little bit left in there after they erupt.” Zutie smacked her lips. I guess she was talking to Little Zutie, instructing her on the art of sucking nectar. “And it’s all good, so don’t let any of it go to waste.” When Zutie finished, I crawled into her waiting embrace and fell fast asleep.




“I knew of only two penda who lived to be older than thirty, and both of them never nursed,” Phobos said to me as we walked back to the shelters. The atmosphere was wonderfully chilly for this time of rotation.


“How did they manage that?”


“They were the ones who discovered Eroz rocks.”


“Eroz rocks?”


“Yeah, you know Eroz, the planet.”


“I don’t get it. Eroz rocks, so what?”


Before Phobos could answer, we heard the tinkling of bells. An Ank transition procession was coming. Phobos and I stepped aside and bowed to the Ank who was being carried by four penda, each of whom was much younger than us. They were headed down the mountain to Dry Lake. You didn’t usually see Anks on the surface unless they were like that group, headed for the last go round. It must be hard knowing for a long time before it happens exactly when you are going to be carried away. Much harder than just dying in an orgasm like we do.


“They say it’s painless,” Phobos whispered when the palanquin rounded a bend in the road and was gone from sight.


“Yes, I’ve heard that too.”


Almost as though he read my thoughts, Phobos added, “I heard that when a penda participates in an Ank transition, they give you this medication that dulls all the pain. You erupt and then you die but you don’t feel anything.”


I tried not to dwell on those morbid thoughts, but before I knew it, I was adding my own concerns to the mental image I had of dying, adrift on the floating pyre of a burning raft. I had never seen the ceremony, but we all knew about the disposal of Ank’s too old to breed… like Zutie. “Zutie’s time is almost here. She has not told me when, but from the way she is acting, I think it is soon.”


Phobos looked at me with the longing of one moon for another. I tried to smile to reassure Phobos, “But it’s ok. Zutie says she is going to get four new penda for her transition.”


I didn’t tell Phobos how much I disliked Little Zutie, nor did I mention anything about how much pain I had felt when I nursed Little Zutie because I knew it would make Phobos sad to know that my time was also near. But then, Phobos had to know. Just like I knew that his time was near. We were penda born of the same Ank.


Phobos put his arm around my shoulder. I looked at him. He briefly touched his forehead to my forehead. “Soon this old life will…”


I put a finger to Phobos’ lips to silence him. I loved him so much.


As far back as anyone could remember, we penda had short life spans and did all the hard work. Although the pain of nursing eventually killed you, at least life was both easier and longer if you serviced an Ank than if you worked the interior. But only a few of us were lucky enough to be chosen by an Ank.


There was no way to know what attracted an Ank to a penda except seemed like all Ank’s were crazy about nectar, and who could know why one pend’s nectar tasted sweeter than another? Maybe it was chromosome 13. Who knew?


I adjusted the straps of my water sack, hoisting the load a little higher. “Come, let’s get back before night light.” One moon was already barely visible, and the second was not far behind.


Phobos leaned in to touch foreheads again but I drew back, afraid that we would not be able to control ourselves. Phobos responded with a tight embrace. I closed my eyes but tears still squeezed out. My pulse raced against my will. Phobos began drinking my tears, greedily licking up and down each cheek beneath my eyes. As soon as he swallowed his knees buckled.


“No, not here.” I tried to hold him up, but I was not strong enough and he sat down clumsily, pulling me down with him. “No.” I stared at him. But he ignored me and his face became wet with tears. I could not resist him any longer. I leaned into him, kissing every wet spot I could find on his face.


We both knew the potency of our tears. We both knew how weak we would be and that we would be knocked out and might not awaken in time enough to get back to the shelters before night light.


I don’t know how long I was blissed out, but the next thing I knew Phobus was pulling me up. For a short while I did not know where I was, and then I remembered. Phobus just smiled at me and then started humming. I forced myself to get up but I really felt like sleeping.


I looked up into the emerald sky. We still had time. Phobus handed me my pouch, which I didn’t remember removing, and then he turned back onto the path. I pushed my arms through the straps and caught up with Phobus.


Although we walked hand in hand, we were both loss in our own thoughts. I glanced over at him. He looked straight ahead, almost as if I were not beside him. We hiked in silence, except for the barely audible sound of our breathing and the distinct swoosh of our footfalls on the ochre-colored, dusty slope.


Finally, I remembered to ask him about the Eroz rocks.


“Oh, it’s this theory that life started on Eroz and came here through the rocks.”


“That’s religious.”


“No, no. There is this zone that supports life as we know it…”


“What do you mean, as we know it?”


“The theory is life didn’t start here. The bang force of the universe zoomed the nine planets away from the sun and there is a certain distance from the sun that supports life, and Eroz passed through the zone before us and now it’s our turn and next…”


“Next will be Gaia, the third one from the sun.”


“Yes, and life goes from planet to planet carried by rocks.”


“So, you believe that life exists on Eroz?”


“Existed—long, long ago, but we’re it now. And, of course, every manifestation is different. There is no way for us to know what life was like on Eroz or even to guess what form it will be on Gaia.”


There was a distinct note of pride in Phobus’ voice as he shared his deepest musings with me. As attractive as he was, he could have made it on looks alone without thinking one original thought, but rather than his body, it was his beautiful brain that he was most proud of. His intelligence was breathtaking.


“You know so much…” I intoned admiringly and he responded to my complement by squeezing my hand a little. My voice stumbled slowly over the syllables as I offered up my self-depreciating assessment, “…and I know so little.” I looked down as I talked. The dust felt cool on the soles of my bare feet as we walked. When I took a quick, shy peep at Phobus I was startled by the concerned look on his face. I tried to joke away my embarrassment by referring to my other attractive asset, “I guess I just have sexy tears.”


Phobus stopped and yanked me around with a tender tug. “I told you many, many times, I love…”


“I love your spirit,” I finished his oft-repeated declaration. He grinned. But I fell into the funk that only the homely and the ordinary know. If anyone likes us, it is always for our intangibles. But the truth was I wanted to be beautiful, I wanted more than a big penduta, I wanted a body like Phobos’, I wanted to be able to think like Phobos. Who doesn’t…


“Deimos, the Anks got you believing that tears and nectar are all you are good for, but the way life is is not the way life has to be. That’s why knowing about Eroz rocks is important. Eroz rocks prove that the world can be different than it is.”


Phobus’ sincerity was energizing. I smiled despite the feeling of futility gnawing at what little confidence was inside me. I diverted my gaze to the road ahead. When I peeked back out of the edges of my peripheral vision, Phobus was steady smiling at me. I held my head up and after a few more steps, Phobus continued, “They say there are at least ten Eroz rocks in one of the secret Ank chambers.”


“Yes, but a rock is not life.”


“Aha, but that is what Nef and Amo discovered. Inside the rocks are spoors that are the seeds of life.”


“Seeds of life, that is what some Anks called our nectar.”


Phobus looked over at me and smiled sadly, “Yes, except rocks don’t have feelings.”




“Zutie, have you heard of Eroz rocks?”


She looked at me over the rim of her bowl of gumba. Licked her lips, took a long sip which emptied the bowl and then lay supine placing the bowl beside her, “Yes. They exist.”


Zutie said nothing else and simply stared at me as if to say, Deimos, where did you get this knowledge. I looked away. Who was I to question an Ank?


“To me, Eroz rocks prove god exists.”


“What did you say?”


I could not bring myself to look at Zutie as I repeated my words.


“Deimos, there are two big challenges in life: one is to be satisfied with the life you are given and the other is to always reach for more.” The vein that ran back down the middle of her head bulged as she stared at me. I waited dutifully for her to explain but, instead, Zutie intentionally changed the subject. “The gumba was excellent.”


“Cave water instead of synthetic wet. Makes a big difference.” I picked up the bowl and gestured to ask did she want more. Zutie shook her head no.


“I’ll take a little more,” Little Zutie said.


I moved to get her bowl but Big Zutie stopped me with her voice, “No, Deimos. I want you to eat the rest. Little Zutie and I are full enough. Besides gumba makes the nectar sweeter.”


I said nothing but my head was spinning. I was getting too old to keep on giving nectar. Nursing was going to be the death of me. Would there ever be a time when penda were more than simply a source of something sweet to suck? Maybe in the next world…


—kalamu ya salaam









April 2017



A History of


Protest Music:

When Nina Simone

Sang What Everyone

Was Thinking

“Mississippi Goddam” was an angry
response to tragedy, in show tune form.


by Tom Maxwell


Nina Simone, 1966. (Photo by David Redfern/Redferns) via Getty Images

On June 12, 1963, in the early morning after president John F. Kennedy’s Civil Rights address, activist Medgar Evers was shot in the back as he stood in the driveway of his Mississippi home. He was returning from a meeting with NAACP lawyers and officials, and carried an armload of T-shirts that read “Jim Crow Must Go.” Evers was taken to a local hospital, where he died less than an hour after being admitted.

On September 15, 1963, four girls were killed when white supremacists planted more than a dozen sticks of dynamite beneath the side steps of the African-American 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The children were preparing for a sermon titled “A Love That Forgives.” According to one witness, their bodies flew across the basement “like rag dolls.”

When she heard the news, jazz musician Nina Simone was paralyzed. “It was more than I could take,” she remembered, “and I sat struck dumb in my den like St. Paul on the road to Damascus: all the truths that I had denied to myself for so long rose up and slapped my face. The bombing of the little girls in Alabama and the murder of Medgar Evers were like the final pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that made no sense until you had fitted the whole thing together. I suddenly realized what it was to be Black in America in 1963, but it wasn’t an intellectual connection…it came as a rush of fury, hatred and determination. In church language, the Truth entered into me and I ‘came through.’”

Simone’s initial reaction was less than Christian. “I had it in mind to go out and kill someone,” she remembered. “I tried to make a zip gun.”

Andy, her husband and manager, intervened. “Nina,” he said, “you can’t kill anyone. You are a musician. Do what you do.”

An hour later, Nina Simone had composed a song called “Mississippi Goddam.” “It was my first civil rights song,” she recalled, “and it erupted out of me quicker than I could write it down.”

“Mississippi Goddam” became one of Nina Simone’s most famous compositions. It redirected her career. Crisply honest, it is a pure expression of rage and an indictment of inequality. Stylistically, it leapfrogged the righteous, passive anthems that characterized protest music of the time. It was knowing, biting, and inciting.

It was a step Simone was reluctant to take. “Nightclubs were dirty, making records was dirty, popular music was dirty and to mix all that with politics seemed senseless and demeaning,” she wrote in her autobiography I Put a Spell On You. “And until songs like ‘Mississippi Goddam’ just burst out of me, I had musical problems as well. How can you take the memory of a man like Medgar Evers and reduce all that he was to three and a half minutes and a simple tune? That was the musical side of it I shied away from; I didn’t like ‘protest music’ because a lot of it was so simple and unimaginative it stripped the dignity away from the people it was trying to celebrate. But the Alabama church bombing and the murder of Medgar Evers stopped that argument and with ‘Mississippi Goddam,’ I realized there was no turning back.”

“‘Mississippi Goddam’—that’s using God’s name in vain,” said comedian and activist Dick Gregory. “She said it, talking about ‘Mississippi, goddamn you.’ We all wanted to say it, but she said it. That’s the difference that set her aside from the rest of them.”

Shortly after the song’s debut in New York, Nina Simone performed it to a mostly white audience at Carnegie Hall in March, 1964. It starts off at a clip. “The name of this tune is Mississippi God-DAMN,” Simone declares to nervous laughter as the band vamps behind her, “…and I mean every word of it.”

Alabama’s got me so upset

Tennessee made me lose my rest

And everybody knows about Mississippi


The arrangement is at apparent odds with the sentiment. It’s a vaudeville tune, a clip from a musical review. It makes you see chorus boys, bright in the footlights, dancing in unison. But this is a dark message, delivered in a white envelope. Simone repeats the first verse more insistently, then asks for a witness in the middle eight.

Can’t you see it

Can’t you feel it

It’s all in the air

I can’t stand the pressure much longer

Somebody say a prayer

…then a recapitulation of the verse, to complete the standard AABA form.

What happens next is fascinating, and we need to discuss a little music theory to talk about it. Simone doesn’t change key, but begins playing in the relative minor. Musically, it’s like looking at the opposite side of the same coin: major chords (in this case A-flat, the song’s key base) are generally considered bright and happy, while minor chords (F minor here) are understood to be more melancholy and sinister. Because A-flat and F minor reside in the same key, we understand them as being of a piece. They may have a different root, but share the same scale. Not only that, A-flat is the very note that changes an F chord from major to minor. Simone is demonstrating, tonally, that there are two very different stories to be told from the American perspective: one of majority and one of minority. Furthermore, the existence of one causes the desolation of the other.

“This is a show tune,” Simone explains over the new minor vamp, “but the show hasn’t been written for it yet.” More tittering from the uncertain audience.

Then, a little over a century after president Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Nina Simone slaps gradualism in the face and throws politeness out the window. “You don’t have to live next to me,” she sings. “Just give me my equality.”

Yes you lied to me all these years

You told me to wash and clean my ears

And talk real fine just like a lady

And you’d stop calling me Sister Sadie

Oh but this whole country is full of lies

You’re all gonna die and die like flies

I don’t trust you any more

Keep on sayin’ ‘Go slow’

“Everyone knows about Mississippi,” Simone sings as the song comes to a racing close. “Everyone knows about Alabama. Everyone knows about Mississippi. Goddamn.”

“Mississippi Goddam” was included on the album “Nina Simone In Concert,” and released as a single, with the offending word bleeped out. “It may be the most topical selection in years,” read the sleeve notes. “This outstanding message song, with the great ‘SIMONE’ feel and rhythm, makes this a @*?!!;; hot disc.”

One box of promotional singles was returned from South Carolina with each record broken neatly in half. Most southern states banned the song.

“Nina Simone In Concert” contains another original composition, “Old Jim Crow.” Jim Crow was a character originating in a blackface minstrel song from the 1820s, and was the name of the prevailing racial caste system in the South after slavery.

“Oh I’m a roarer on de fiddle, and down in old Virginny,” goes the original lyric to “Jump Jim Crow” from 1828,

They say I play de skyentific like Massa Pagannini

Weel about and turn about and do jis so,

Eb’ry time I weel about and jump Jim Crow

“Old Jim Crow, what’s wrong with you?” Nina Simone sings in her song.

It’s not your name, it’s the things you do

Old Jim Crow don’t you know

It’s all over now

There were many songs sung during the Selma to Montgomery Civil Rights March in early 1965, a year after Nina Simone’s concert at Carnegie Hall. The marchers burst into “We Shall Overcome,” the anthem of the Civil Rights movement, several times. (Folk music icon Pete Seeger had taken the old spiritual and replaced “I will” with “We shall” in the title, making it a more universal pean to perseverance and gradualism.) Two young supporters sang “Woke Up This Morning With My Mind Stayed on Freedom” after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s remarks in Selma on the morning of the march. Along the route, white supremacists blasted “Bye, Bye Blackbird” from loudspeakers.

At the end of the march, in Montgomery Alabama on March 25, a concert was given. Ten thousand people gathered around so tightly that 57 of them fainted. Accompanied only by her guitarist, Nina Simone sang “Mississippi Goddam” on a stage made from empty coffin crates. After the performance, she was introduced to Martin Luther King.

“I’m not nonviolent!” she declared, sticking out her hand.

“That’s okay, sister,” Dr. King replied. “You don’t have to be.”

The terrible decade ground on. A tense interview with Down Beat in January, 1968 was interrupted when segregation came up. “What kind of thing are you doing?” asks husband and manager Andrew Stroud. “We’re not interested in the race issue.” Later that year, when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, Simone and her bassist Gene Taylor composed “Why? (The King of Love Is Dead).”

Nina Simone moved to Europe and Africa in the early 1970s. “I left this country because I didn’t like this country,” she told an interviewer. “I didn’t like what it was doing to my people and I left.” She was ever after associated with the Civil Rights movement, even though her ultimate conclusion was that political music was a professional liability. She told one interviewer that she regretting writing “Mississippi Goddam” because it hurt her career.

“There is no reason to sing those songs, nothing is happening,” Simone told the interviewer in the 1980s. “There’s no Civil Rights movement. Everybody’s gone.”

But there had been a reason to sing those songs, even when it was done at personal expense. “It was dangerous,” she said about performing for the movement’s marches and rallies. “We encountered many people who were after our hides. I was excited by it, though, because I felt more alive then than I do now because I was needed, could sing something to help my people, and that became the mainstay of my life, the most important thing.”

On another level, Nina Simone, as a musician, understood the universality of being human. Music, after all, is our common emotional language. It does not know age, or race, or class, or gender. Though it informs each, it is available to all. Protest music, specifically, is nothing more than a complaint when such equality — a condition articulated by our founders, but not yet fully achieved — is violated.

“It’s funny about music,” she said at the end of the Down Beat interview. “Music is one of the ways by which you can know everything which is going on in the world. You can feel…through music…Whew…you can feel the vibrations of everybody in the world at any given moment. Through music you can become sad, joyful, loving, you can learn. You can learn mathematics, touch, pacing…Oh my God! Ooh…Wow…You can see colors through music. Anything! Anything human can be felt through music, which means that there is no limit to the creating that can be done with music. You can take the same phrase from any song and cut it up so many different ways — it’s infinite. It’s like God…you know?”


Tom Maxwell is a writer and musician. He likes how one informs the other.

Editor: Mark Armstrong; Fact-checker: Matthew Giles







July 13, 2017



At four years old, the

Black Lives Matter

network takes stock

of its work

on the ground


At four years old, the Black Lives Matter network takes stock of its work on the ground




The mamas bailout day, the interventions at Pride celebrations, the police precinct occupations and the trips to North Dakota to stand in solidarity with Indigenous activists at Standing Rock: these are among actions the Black Lives Matter Global Network says it took to enlarge its footprint since it was founded four years ago Thursday.

In a new report first shared with Mic on Thursday, the BLMnetwork, which consists of more than 40 local chapters in the United States, Canada and the U.K., takes stock of its work at the grassroots level. The report’s release comes as, in recent weeks, questions have been raised about the movement’s strength and visibility in an increasingly tumultuous national political climate.

“The Black Lives Matter Global Network is as powerful as it is because of our membership, our partners, our supporters, our staff and you,” the report’s authors wrote. “Our continued commitment to liberation for all black people means we are continuing the work of our ancestors and fighting for our collective freedom because it is our duty.”

Students carry a Black Lives Matter banner in a walkout protest against then-President-elect Donald Trump in Seattle in November
Source: Jason Redmond/Getty Images

The network was co-founded by the prominent national organizers Alicia Garza, Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Opal Tometi, following George Zimmerman’s acquittal of murder and manslaughter in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, on July 13, 2013. But the vast majority of the network’s accomplishments are a result of localized organizing by its member-led chapters, the report states. The BLM movement, which largely has been known for its street protests against black deaths at the hands of police, often organizes local efforts to little fanfare from broader communities.

For example, the success of the New York City chapter’s Swipe It Forward campaign, which calls attention to the criminalization of poverty through fare-beating arrests on the subway system, came together through partnership with other Movement for Black Lives groups that shared the chapter’s vision. Organizers are not always in agreement, but the mission of saving black lives is as critical as it’s ever been, Shanelle Matthews, the director of communications for the BLM network, said in a statement.

“The work we have set out to do is hard and tedious,” Matthews said in the statement. “Each year brings its own challenges — and for many of us, each of them tests our resolve in unimaginable ways. Despite all that we are up against given this new political landscape, we are uniquely positioned to build substantial power for black people.”

The network’s full report is being hosted at a newly created website, Celebrate BLM.

Aaron Morrison is a Senior Staff Writer for The Movement at Mic. He covers the intersection of race, justice, politics, diversity and civil rights. He has previously written for IB TImes, Miami Herald, The Bergen Record of New Jersey and the Associated Press. Send tips to






July 10, 2017




Octavia Butler:

Writing Herself

Into The Story




Octavia Butler at home. A lifelong bibliophile, she considered libraries sacred spaces.
(c) Patti Perret/The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens


Octavia Butler used to say she remembers exactly when she decided to become a science fiction writer. She was 9 years old and saw a 1954 B-movie called Devil Girl from Mars, and two things struck her. First: “Geez, I can write a better story than that!” And second: “Somebody got paid for writing that story!” If they could, she decided, then she could, too.

Eventually she did exactly that. Octavia Estelle Butler became one of the world’s premier science fiction writers, the first black female science fiction writer to reach national prominence, and the only writer in her genre to receive a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship. (“You have a Genius Grant,” Charlie Rose said in a 2000 interview. “They don’t call it that,” she corrected him firmly; “somebody probably made that up.”) When she died in 2006, she was lauded as a pioneer, an icon and one of America’s best writers.

Tracing a writer’s evolution

“Octavia Butler: Telling My Stories” is an exhibit currently at the Huntington Library, in the Pasadena suburb of San Marino, Calif. Curator Natalie Russell went through some “8,000 manuscripts, letters and photographs, and an additional 80 boxes of ephemera” to create an exhibition that shows, in chronological order, how Butler’s career was born and evolved, and what influenced her. 

Butler often posted reminders to herself when she created characters and worlds. It was important to her that the worlds she created be credible to her readers.

Butler often posted reminders to herself when she created characters and worlds. It was important to her that the worlds she created be credible to her readers.

(c) Estate of Octavia E. Butler/The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens

Large glass cases hold early notebooks and drawings, report cards from her days at Pasadena City College and notes to herself about character development. Early copies of her first editions are here. So is the one-page letter from the MacArthur Foundation notifying Butler she’d been chosen as a fellow in 1995.

The walls are hung with blowups of Butler’s childhood drawings and the affirmations she repeated to herself: “I am a best-selling writer, I write best-selling books,” one says. “Every day in every way I am researching and writing my award-winning books and short stories.”

That encouragement was probably essential: Butler faced a lot of challenges. She grew up black and poor in Pasadena, Calif., when legal segregation was dead, but de facto segregation was very much alive. She was also shy, unusually tall for her age, and not particularly social. “I’m an only child,” Butler told Sci Fi Buzz. “I had no idea how to get along with other children. And also, I was a strange kid who learned to stay by herself and make things up.”

She often made them up while sitting on the porch at her grandmother’s chicken farm, in the High Desert town of Victorville, Calif., where she dreamed about animals. The drawings of horses that illustrated one of her early stories are on the walls at the Huntington. After Devil Girl, though, Butler switched to science fiction, determined to make that her career.

Creating her own path

That was astonishing, because the world was not full of well-paid science fiction writers, and with very few exceptions, all of those were male and white. No one like Butler existed in the genre. And that didn’t seem to hold Butler back one bit. “I don’t recall every having wanted desperately to be a black woman fiction writer,” she told Rose. “I wanted to be a writer.”

She went to Pasadena public schools, then got an associate’s degree from Pasadena City College. And she kept writing. She had short stories published here and there while she held what she called “lots of horrible little jobs” —warehouse worker, dishwasher, potato chip inspector. (“The one good thing about all those jobs was they left her mind free to think about her characters,” Russell says.) Butler’s first book, Patternmaster, was published in 1976 and caught people’s attention. It became part of The Patternist series; the stories revolved around a group of elite beings with telepathic superpowers.

Cover for the first edition of Kindred, published by Doubleday in 1979 Huntington Library, (c) Estate of Octavia E. Butler

Kindred, one of the books most famously associated with Butler, was published in 1979. It’s the story of Dana, a contemporary black writer hurtled backward in time to antebellum Maryland. A spirited feminist, Dana must learn to conform herself to the times so she can survive; she needs to find her slave-holding ancestor to ensure her own existence more than 150 years in the future.

Butler researched the book arduously. “She needed to go to Maryland, to see what the geography was like, find out what a working slave plantation was like,” Russell says. “How far away were the towns? If you were trying to run away, where would you go?”

Those lifelike details made Kindred a classic. It’s taught in high schools and colleges annually, and it’s a book club favorite. Butler often said she was inspired to write it when she heard young black people minimize the severity of slavery, and strongly assert what they would or would not have tolerated if they were enslaved. She wanted them to not only know the facts of slavery, but how slavery felt. She wanted to make those militant young people see that even surviving such an institution made their ancestors heroic.

Making room for others

Butler wrote more than a dozen books in all. In addition to the MacArthur Fellowship, she was awarded science fiction’s equivalent of the National Book Award — two each of the coveted Nebula and Hugo awards. She became one of science fiction’s best-known female writers, considered a colleague of Ursula Le Guin and Madeleine L’Engle. And while Butler was the most prominent black female writer in the genre, she was determined that she not remain the only one.

A detail from notes Butler made for the Oankali, characters from the Xenogenesistrilogy. (c) Estate of Octavia E. Butler/The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens

Science fiction writer Tananarive Due recalls meeting Butler in 1997 as a new writer. “You could fit all the black science fiction and fantasy writers on one stage, and that’s not the case anymore — the field has exploded so much!”

Steven Barnes, Due’s husband, is a science fiction writer, too, and was a friend of Butler’s for two decades. “She opened a door and walked all the way through it,” he says, “and therefore created a path for others.”

Butler enjoyed having the company. A photo early in the exhibit shows her at Clarion, the science fiction/fantasy writers’ workshop, in 1970. It’s a group picture with her mentor, Harlan Ellison, at the center surrounded by mostly young, mostly male, almost all-white faces. Almost. There at the edge is a very serious Octavia Butler, almost fading into the background. Two decades later, she is with a group of black women at a writer’s conference sponsored by Essence magazine. She’s smiling broadly and glowing, clearly enjoying the reverence paid her by other young writers.

Octavia Butler’s death in February 2006 took everyone by surprise. She’d been living in Seattle, where she’d moved in 1999, and died after a fall that some think was possibly the result of a stroke. (She’d been having health problems for several years.) She was 58. Obituaries in important papers across the country emphasized her pioneering role in creating a space for people of color in science fiction.

In several interviews Butler said she wrote because she had two choices: write, or die. “If I hadn’t written, I probably would have done something stupid that would have led to my death,” she said cheerfully. We’re fortunate that she chose to write.







Africa in Dialogue, an online interview magazine is excited to announce a call of submission for its First Issue.

From  inception, Africa in Dialogue has been engaging in dialogues  with Africa’s leading storytellers on various contemporary, historic, philosophical and social discourses that affects Africans in Africa and the Diaspora. All of these dialogues have been facilitated by Gaamangwe Joy Mogami.

Now, Africa in Dialogue is opening its platform to African interviewers to submit interviews for its First Issue. The First Issue will be guest-edited by renown writer and interviewer, Emmanuel Iduma. With this First Issue, we aim to create a vibrant flow of dialogues between Africans living in all parts of Africa and the Diaspora. We hope that Africans can engage in dialogues about their stories, countries, cultures, narratives, philosophies and idiosyncrasies that matter to them.

We invite seasoned and upcoming African interviewers, writers and critics to submit original, unpublished dialogues with African Storytellers. We define African Interviewers as individuals who are born in an African country, is a citizen of an African Country, or has at least one parent who is/who was an African. An African storyteller is any creative who uses their artform to tell stories. This includes poets, spoken words artists, short story writers, novelists, journalists, screenwriters, filmmakers, bloggers, songwriters, music composers, painters, visual artists, comic writers, illustrators and photographers.

We encourage prospective contributors to base the dialogues on a piece of work that the storyteller has created or is creating. We also strongly encourage that interviewers try to engage in dialogues with interviewees from a country different from their own country of origin. The aim is to get Africans talking with each other!

Submission for the First Issue will be accepted from July 15 2017 until August 31st 2017. We aim to publish the First Issue on September 30, 2017, in commemoration of the one year anniversary of Africa in Dialogue.

Kindly find below our submission guidelines.

  1. We will accept original and unpublished interviews no longer than 5000 words in length.
  2. All interviews should be a titled in a manner that reflects the essence of the interview. The title should be formatted as follows: “Title of Interview: A Dialogue With Full Name of Interviewee.” E.g “The First Issue: A Dialogue With Gaamangwe Joy Mogami.”
  3. We accept no more than one interview at a time.
  4. Interviews must be submitted in English. We welcome interviews that have been translated, in which case, both the translator and original interviewer can submit the interview as a single submission.
  5. Interviews must be submitted via email to
  6. The subject line must read “First Issue Submission: (Your Full Name). e.g First Issue Submission: Gaamangwe Joy Mogami.
  7. All submission should be sent in a Word document (doc, docx) in a single file attachment. Make sure you do not  paste your submissions on the body of the email.
  8. Interviewers should submit the bio of the interviewee that is not more than 200 words in the same Word document.
  9. The Interviewer must also submit their own bio not more than 100 words in a separate Microsoft word attachment.
  10. All submissions should include high resolution images of both the interviewee, interviewer, and translator in cases of translated interviews.
  11. Interviews must not have been published in any form or any format.
  12. We accept simultaneous submission, but request that we are notified when the submission is accepted for publication elsewhere.
  13. We wish that we could provide honoraria for your work, but unfortunately we are not yet able to pay for your work.
  14. By submitting the interviewer grants Africa in Dialogue exclusive rights to the original work for 90 days, and thereafter agrees to notify any republication, and attributes Africa in Dialogue as first publisher.
  15. All entries will be replied to by September 15th. 

We look forward to reading and sharing your dialogues with Africa!







The Unclassifiables Contest is open
May 1 through July 31! 

This contest is for unclassifiable works: works that blur, bend, blend, erase, or obliterate genre and other labels. Works of up to 5000 words considered. Judged by Michael Martone. The entry fee is $8, and the winner will receive $500 and publication. Finalists will also be considered for publication.

Regular submissions are currently closed until August 1.

We nominate for the following prizes:

The Pushcart Prize
Best New Poets
Best American Short Stories
Best American Essays
Best American Nonrequired Reading

We’ve published R.T. Smith, Denise Duhamel, Donald Hall, Brett Lott, Maxine Kumin, Dinty Moore, Bob Hicok, Xu Xi, Lia Purpura, Mark Jarman, and David Kirby.

We pay $50 minimum or $10 per published page.

Note: By submitting to Arts & Letters, you’re also signing up for our newsletter which features news items. But we will never give out your e-mail to anyone else.

Arts & Letters Prize Contest will reopen February 2018. Guidelines for these contests can be found our website:







The Gulf Stream Magazine Summer Writing Contest is open to writers of fiction and poetry. The winner in each genre will be awarded $250.

The 2017 contest judges are Jennine Capó Crucet (fiction) and Denise Duhamel (poetry).


The winning story and poem from the 2017 contest will be published in a special summer issue of Gulf Stream Magazine and each winner will receive $250. Five finalists will be announced in fiction and ten poems in the poetry category. All finalists will be eligible for publication. Being a finalist does not guarantee publication. Entry fee for the contest is $7.

Fiction: Under 5,000 words

Poetry: 1-5 pages

–Contest opens for submissions on 6/1/2017 and closes on 8/1/2017.

–Please submit via Submittable.

–No entries via email or mail will be considered for the contest.

–Submitted work must be original and previously unpublished in any form.

–Please submit a cover letter with a short bio.

–Entry to the contest is $7.

–Please direct all questions or comments to

We only accept submissions through Submittable. Follow the link below to submit:

About the Judges:

Jennine Capó Crucet is the author of two books: the novel Make Your Home Among Strangers, which was a New York Times Editor’s Choice book, the winner of the 2016 International Latino Book Award, and was cited as a best book of the year by NBC Latino and the Miami Herald; and the story collection How to Leave Hialeah, which won the Iowa Short Fiction Prize, the John Gardner Book Award, and the Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award. A Contributing Op-Ed Writer for the New York Times, her writing has appeared on PBS NewsHour, the Los Angeles Review, and elsewhere. She’s the winner of an O. Henry Prize and the Picador Fellowship. Raised in Miami, she currently teaches at the University of Nebraska in the Institute for Ethnic Studies and the Creative Writing Program.

Denise Duhamel’s most recent book of poetry is Scald (Pittsburgh, 2017). Blowout (Pittsburgh, 2013) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her other titles include Ka-Ching! (Pittsburgh, 2009); Two and Two (Pittsburgh, 2005); Queen for a Day: Selected and New Poems (Pittsburgh, 2001); The Star-Spangled Banner (Southern Illinois University Press, 1999); and Kinky (Orhisis, 1997).  She and Maureen Seaton co-authored CAPRICE (Collaborations: Collected, Uncollected, and New) (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2015). Duhamel is a recipient of fellowships from the Guggenhiem Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. She is a professor at Florida International University in Miami.