Songs We Love:
Tiny Desk Concert
Tiny Desk Concert
Forty-Five Is Not So Old
It was 1:30 in the morning. Lucinda was half a jigger away from inebriated as she held a double shot of Seagram’s and 7-Up poised before her glossy, hot pink painted lips. Precisely at that moment, Lucinda made up her mind “since I’m going to die eventually, I might as well live tonight” which meant she didn’t want to go home alone tonight. In fact, she hoped she wasn’t going home at all, at least not to her own home.
Billy must of thought she was a fool. “Away on business” or so he had said with feinted casualness. Lucinda knew. Even as she had allowed herself to act like she believed him when he said he had to go to Portland for four days, she knew. Maybe he really did have some business to do there, but for sure he was sleeping with Sandra with her little narrow ass. It didn’t matter that Billy Jo had left Thursday during the day and that Sandra was at work on Friday, answering the phone when Lucinda called on some pretense or the other. “I know something is up,” Lucinda mouthed right before the cool liquor crossed her lips.
Lucinda was a public relations specialist, she knew how to make things look like what they weren’t. Who had said life was just an illusion? Wasn’t it true that illusions were part of life? The only question was do you believe? Do you believe in what’s not there? Damn, this liquor makes you think some funny thoughts. But no, Billy Jo’s disinterest was no illusion. Nor was Sandra an illusion.
Just thinking of that little 96-and-three-quarter-pound strumpet made Lucinda angry because invariably it made Lucinda think of when she weighed 115 pounds and was good to go, but that was at least eight years ago. Her eyes growing increasingly glassy, Lucinda silently surveyed herself in the large mirror behind the bar. One hundred fifty-five pounds really wasn’t that heavy, “besides I’m tall and have big breasts. How is it these little skinny wenches can get men so excited, what’s to it?
“Furthermore, the slut has buck teeth. What in the world could skinny Sandra possibly do for William James Brown that he likes better than what I do for him,” Lucinda wondered as she took another slow sip of her mixed drink. “I don’t look bad–for my age. Hell, in fact, it’s not really age. It’s experience. I look good to say I’m as experienced as I am.”
Lucinda smirked as she thought about how Sandra couldn’t massage Billy Jo’s feet like she did, then wash them in a little antique porcelain wash basin–I bet she doesn’t even own any antiques–dry them with an ultra-fluffy, teal-colored towel, and then slowly suck his toes as her flawlessly-lacquered fingernails crawled up and down the soles of his size-eleven feet. And for sure, Sandra had no clue of some of the more stimulating thrills Billy Jo’s big toe could arouse. Like when Lucinda felt really risqué, really felt like lighting up Billy Jo’s little firecracker in her sexy night sky, after cutting his toe nails with a clipper and gently buffing the edges to a smooth evenness with an emery board, after washing them in warm water with a scented soap, after tenderly drying them and then sucking them as he lay back on their bed, and after massaging his feet with baby oil, and as it got good to him, after all of that, Lucinda would climb up on the bed and slowly stroke her pussy with his big toe, stroke it until she was wet. God, a woman didn’t know what she was missing if she had never reached a climax with her lover’s toe tapping on her clitoris. What did that inexperienced child know about sophisticated lovemaking? Lucinda took a long sip of her drink.
Lucinda recalled how pleasantly surprised Billy Jo always seemed whenever she dropped in on him at work. With a toss of her luxuriously coiffured hair which had been crafted into a gleaming and glistening, jet black, lengthy, chemically-treated mane that languidly lay across her shoulders, Lucinda smiled slyly as she reminisced about how it had been, the last time she turned Billy Jo on at his office.
“Billy, I was in the neighborhood, on my way to that little boutique I discovered, you know the one I told you specializes in silk batiks and as I crossed Poydras I felt this twinge like a little spark of lightening.” He had looked at her partially annoyed but also partially pleased as she stroked his male ego. “I couldn’t wait. So…” she slid seductively around his desk, “I decided to stop here.”
Lucinda reached down and slightly opened Billy Jo’s bottom desk drawer. She propped her leg up on the edge of the drawer as she took his right hand and cunningly glided it beneath her skirt and up her thigh. Lucinda shuddered involuntarily as she expertly guided his fingers into the curly mass of pubic hair and the moist flesh of her mound. She tensed her thigh muscles when his fingers reached her clit. “Yes, yes, I needed that,” she salaciously whimpered while throwing her head back and squeezing her eyes close with the same intensity as the forceful contractions caused by Billy Jo’s fingertips tap dancing on the head of her clitoris. Lucinda savored the first trickles of what would soon become a flow. And then his phone rang. It was intrusive Sandra reminding “Mr. Brown” he had an appointment in ten minutes.
“That’s enough,” Lucinda said pulling his hand away, “for now.” And then she remembered his astonishment as she bent over to slowly suck her moisture off of his fingers. “We can’t have you smelling like pussy when you shake hands with the movers and shakers of industry.”
When Lucinda completed tongue washing each finger, she reached into her mauve silk purse which hung by a silver metal shoulder strap dangling off her left hip. Moving aside her black satin panties which she had removed in the parking garage, she withdrew a pink linen handkerchief that was embroidered with her initials. Before she finished drying his fingers, there was a knock at the door.
As Sandra entered, Lucinda ostentatiously finished her task with a flourish, waving the handkerchief, “there, all clean, all dry.”
After daintily refolding her handkerchief and replacing it in her brightly beaded pouch, Lucinda slowly kissed her husband on his clean-shaved cheek, paused to close the bottom desk drawer and cheerfully called out to him over her shoulder as she sashayed past Sandra, “have a good meeting honey, we’ll finish ours tonight.”
Pausing at the doorway, Lucinda pirouetted coyly, “and Sandra, you have a nice day. OK.” That little narrow-ass secretary didn’t know anything about how to administer sexual quickies, didn’t know that men liked sexually aggressive women who were otherwise the model of ladyhood.
* * *
While she was lost in the reverie of remembering the sexual games she often played with Billy Jo, an impeccably dressed young man sat on a stool one removed from Lucinda. Attracted by the resonance of his masculine baritone ordering a cognac, Lucinda turned to look directly at his massive profile. She sniffed and caught the faint whiff of an expensive cologne. He was ruggedly handsome.
“Hi,” she smiled at him.
He looked at her, briefly. Lucinda saw the almost imperceptible survey flicker as his eyes started at her face, moved quickly down her body, strayed briefly to her behind–she sat up straight and slightly arched her back–and down her legs, and… and, nothing. He turned away without even responding.
She wanted to throw her drink at him. Instead she decided to annoy him. “I said, hello.”
He grunted, turned his head and pretended he was ignoring her. Lucinda hated to be ignored.
She got up, slid onto the stool next to him, and ignored his ignoring her. “My name is Lucinda.”
“And your name is?”
Oh god, what a common name, Lucinda thought, he probably doesn’t even have a college degree. Lucinda’s liquor continued the conversation, “Jawon, that’s nice.” Pushing her purse aside, Lucinda leaned forward on the bar’s leather lining. “Jawon, I’m conducting a survey. Would you mind if I asked you a couple of opinion questions?”
Jawon grunted without looking at her.
“I take that grunt to mean, ‘oh god, why doesn’t this old bag just leave me alone with her silly questions. I’ll answer one or two, but she better make it quick’.”
Jawon was slightly taken aback by her boldness. He turned to get a second look at this woman. Lucinda leaned back slightly, crossed her legs, and did not bother to tug down her worsted wool dress. Noticing her broad, soft-calf leather, black belt with the bold, gold buckle, Jawon accessed she was probably some kind of leather freak who liked to tie down men or spank them with a black riding crop. Nah, it’s not worth it, was his final appraisal.
“If our ages were reversed,” Lucinda leaned forward again, bracing her flawlessly made-up face with the back of her exquisitely manicured hand, “If I was a mature man and you were a young attractive woman, would you be offended if I brushed you off without so much as a civil hello?” Sporting a self-assured smile, Lucinda looked directly at Jawon awaiting his answer.
Acid cruelly dripped from Jawon’s thickly mustached lips, “I think you ought to be at home baby-sitting your grandchildren instead of out here trying to rob the cradle.”
“Ah ha. Well, Jawon, ten years from now, I hope you’re not sitting on the other end of this question, and if you are, I hope the lady whose attention you’re trying to attract, is just a bit more understanding than you are now. That’s all. You may go now.”
Jawon backed off the stool and walked away, leaving a dollar tip on the bar while offering no further acknowledgment of Lucinda.
* * *
Lucinda turned to face the mirror behind the bar and in the reflection caught sight of Roderick, the genial bartender, standing discreetly to the side, dressed in black slacks, a crisply starched white shirt topped with a hand-tied black bow tie, and a black and white checkered vest highlighted by a metal name tag which mirrored the bar’s multicolored neon-and-florescent-lit interior. There was neither smile nor smirk on Roderick’s placid face, nor did his eyes give any indication that he had watched the drama unfold. Without bothering to look directly at him, Lucinda sat her drink on the dark wood of the bar and familially addressed Roderick, “Well, Rodney don’t just stand there. Freshen my drink, please.”
As Roderick moved toward her, Lucinda glanced at her watch. It was almost midnight in Portland. Lucinda mischievously decided to call Billy Jo and disturb whatever little excitement in which he might be engaged. Before Roderick could pour the freshener, Lucinda waved him off, “Rodney, I’ve decided to go home instead of sitting here and getting my feelings hurt. Be the gentleman that you are and call a cab for me please.”
Lucinda never, never ever drove her white Lexus when she went alone to paint the town. A solitary woman cruising down the avenues late at night was like flashing a baked ham in front of hungry bulldogs. Any man that she might meet would pay more attention to her car than to her, and assume that where there was a Lexus there was a big bank account that they might access. Besides, it was safer this way. Not that she had ever done much more than flirt, just to see if she still had what it took to attract a man ten years younger than she. Most of the time… oh, why think about.
Pulling two crisp, new twenties from her purse, Lucinda waved them at Roderick, “I assume this will cover my tab for three doubles and also adequately provide for your well being.”
Roderick nodded affirmatively as he received the bills with a smile. His clean-shaven head was oiled to a soft, attractive sheen and were it not for the gaucherie of two gold-capped teeth, Lucinda might have found him attractive as well as personable.
“Will there be anything else I can do for you?” he asked Lucinda in a charming tone that implied he was both a trustworthy listener and a resourceful procurer.
Lucinda’s liquor got the better of her normal disinterest in what other people did or didn’t do. “Does diabetes run in your family, Rodney?”
“Not that I know of. No, I don’t believe so. A little arthritis is all I’ve ever heard about, but then my folks are from the country, out Vacherie way. Don’t a day go by they don’t walk at least a mile and all their food is fresh, home cooked.”
“You’re fortunate, Rodney. Did you know the treatment for diabetes is deleterious to the libido?”
“So, I’ve heard.”
“Watch your diet young man, we wouldn’t want your libido going south before you’re sixty-five.”
“Ah, no mam. We certainly wouldn’t want that to happen.” Roderick had been idly wondering if she were single or out for a fling, or both. Without her having to say anymore he knew that she was grieving for a husband or lover who was no longer sexually active. Someone called to him from the other end of the near empty bar. Roderick waved an acknowledgment to the customer while he was wrapping up with Lucinda. “Is there a particular company you prefer?”
“No. How would I know, I don’t usually take cabs.”
“OK. I’ll be right back.” Roderick walked briskly down to the waiting customer, served him, reached under the register, pulled out the bar’s phone and rotely punched in the White Fleet number as he walked back to where the matronly woman sat.
“A cab is on the way. The dispatcher will ring me when they’re outside.”
“Such an efficient young man you are.”
“Thank you,” said Roderick with a graceful bow of his bald head.
“Rodney, one more thing.”
“Yes. At your service.”
“Might, I use your phone to make a quick long distance call?” requested Lucinda while removing another crisp twenty from her purse along with the note page on which Billy Jo had written his hotel telephone number. “My husband would just love to hear from me at this particular moment.” Roderick took the twenty with his right hand and handed the phone to her with his left.
“Take your time,” Roderick said over his shoulder as he moved to the far end of the bar.
“Mr. William James Brown, please. He’s a guest.” Lucinda smirked at the thought of calling Billy Jo from a bar.
Although she felt her mood turning foul, when Lucinda heard Billy Jo answer the phone, she brightened her voice, “Hello, my lover. Where ever you are.”
“You know where I am. I gave you the number and you called it.”
“I miss you.”
“I miss you too, honey.”
Then there was an awkward hush as Lucinda waited for Billy Jo to indicate interest in her. And waited. And waited.
“Other than missing you, I’m doing all right, thank you,” Lucinda finally broke the stalemate, not bothering to mask her sarcasm.
“I’ll be home late Sunday night.”
“Should I wait up?”
“You don’t have to.”
“Billy Jo why do you…” her words trailed off into a strained silence. Something was in her eye, she paused to dab the edges of her left eye with the heel of her hand. “You know where I am now?”
“No, I don’t Lucinda. Where are you?”
“I’m sitting in a bar, but I would rather be somewhere with you.”
Something else was in her eye now. “Billy, I just want to make you happy. Be good to you. Make it all good to you…” Lucinda abruptly stopped babbling. “You see you’ve got me babbling. Would it excite you if I told you I wanted you so much that we could make phone sex right now. And…,” Lucinda paused. “I started to say something really naughty but this is a mobile phone and anyone could be listening.”
The liquor kept her talking long after she normally would have stopped.
“I’ll be forty-nine next week and, in another four months or so, you’ll be forty-six, and that’s not so old. I was thinking maybe some other medication might help you, I mean, maybe, make you feel less, or, I mean, feel better, or…,” his tight-lipped silence was not making it easy. “Are you sorry that I couldn’t have children?” As Lucinda questioned Billy she instantly regretted saying anything and wished that he would say something. Anything. “Billy are you there?”
“Yes, I’m here.”
“And I’m not.”
“Lucinda, I think you’ve had too much to drink.”
She had not realized she was slightly slurring her words.
“It’s all right. I’m catching a cab home.”
“See you Sunday night, honey.”
Lucinda held the phone to her ear long, long after the dial tone sounded following Billy Jo hanging up. As Lucinda lowered the phone from her ear, Roderick moved toward her. Before she could hand the phone back to him, it rang and startled her. She almost dropped it. Roderick grabbed it, also catching hold of her hand in the process of securing the phone.
“It’s OK, I’ve got it.” She left her hand nestled in Roderick’s as he used his free hand to expertly hit the talk button, shift the phone to his ear, and answer, “Hello.” While he listened to whomever was talking, Lucinda tightened her fingers on Roderick’s hand. “Thanks. She will be right out.”
Roderick hit the talk-off button and leaned on the bar without trying to pull his hand away. “Your cab is outside.”
“Yes, it is.”
“Rodney, you wouldn’t be interested…?”
“I don’t get off until four and I’ve already promised…”
“Just kidding.” said Lucinda unconvincingly as she reluctantly released his hand. “Have a good night.”
Lucinda slowly descended from the stool, studiously attempting to maintain her balance and walk as straight as she could. Roderick shook his head. She didn’t have a ring on her finger and she was calling her husband from a bar at almost two in the morning; Roderick had seen so many like her, “the world is full of lonely people.”
* * *
At the door Lucinda paused before heading out into the chilly dark. Who was she fooling, she had never cheated on Billy Jo. And never would; even if she did like to sometimes pretend she would enjoy being promiscuous. No, what Lucinda really enjoyed was being desired. Desired like Billy Jo used to do before his illness flared and… Lucinda didn’t want to think about it.
So, why did she keep thinking about how unfair it was that she had been a virgin when she first married, stayed married for five miserable years, spent seven wasted years so-called “dating” until she found Billy Jo floundering in a marriage that was all but legally over; so terribly unfair that now that she have found the man she wanted he didn’t…
Lucinda had salvaged Billy Jo from Betty’s neglect. That woman was so…beneath Billy Jo, so incapable of helping him achieve the finer things in life. Unfortunately, for Billy and Betty’s children, all three of them looked like their mother and, worse, acted like their mother. They were all parasites, they just wanted what little money Billy Jo had saved, which wasn’t much. What was a measly $78,000 anyway?
It’s amazing what one can think of when opening a door.
Betty didn’t understand Billy Jo, what he wanted in life, what a legal career could mean. She was uneducated and Billy Jo deserved more. Betty undoubtedly didn’t know how to do all it took to keep a man—Lucinda used to say to “keep a man happy.” These days she cynically just placed the period after man. Later for this happiness crap.
But wasn’t she entitled to happiness? People admired her—she came from a good family, was well educated, took care of herself. That thing with her uterus didn’t stop her from being a woman. And my, my, my, wasn’t she some kind of woman? Exactly the woman Billy Jo needed as a helpmate to eventually become a judge.
Lucinda loved Billy Jo. He would be a public success, and God knows he was privately terrific. Lucinda loved the way Billy Jo made love to her, even though she knew he was not as interested in loving her as she was in being loved by him… Oh, this was all too… Lucinda pushed against the burnished brass plate etched with the club name, Black Diamond.
* * *
As the door swung open, an early morning gust sent a shiver through Lucinda and she suddenly remembered asking Billy Jo to turn around. “I want to suck too,” she had said while he had been patiently slurping her wetness with an almost disinterested expertness.
In her dating career, which seemed like another life time ago, she had had the opportunity to sexually examine maybe twelve dicks. Ah, the variety of the male sex organ, the little differences, particularly when aroused. She liked the feel of some, especially the way they throbbed when she squeezed or how they jumped as she teased the scrotum with her fingernails; for a couple of others it was how they looked, the veins pulsing on…what was his name, yes, Andre, light-skinned Andre, with the thick veins crisscrossing the surface of his thing, or the hooded darkness of Jerome’s uncircumcised penis; and then there had been the size of Harold’s tool. A basketball player’s big dick, but he hadn’t known what to do with it, or without it, for that matter.
Love making with Billy Jo had been the biggest turn on, surprisingly so—oh, you could never tell just by how a man looked, or even how he danced, you could never tell if he knew how to make love without using his dick. Billy Jo knew. And Lucinda really, really liked that.
Moreover Billy Jo wasn’t squeamish about her freaking him. He hardly moved the first time she inserted a forefinger in his rectum, while she was sucking him and he was busy down there giving her head. Why was she like that? What did it look like? She supine, he on top of her, his head bobbing between her quivering thighs, his knees astride her head, his member in her mouth, her nose just beneath his taunt testicles—Lucinda really liked that he was clean so the smell was never suffocating—and her hand spread across his bottom, one long finger deep inside him. What would a photograph of that look like?
He never questioned her, or made her feel embarrassed or feel anything but happy to have her way with him—not even the time she reminded him to shower and have a bowel movement before they jumped to it when they had been out on that wonderful weekend at the spa in Nevada, and had had a big lunch, and a scrumptious dinner, and had been out all day and dancing half the night, and…her finger was all the way in him, plunging at him, and the more deliberately she pushed, the more he nibbled at her clitoris, and she sucked him so hard she was afraid she was going to hurt him, but it felt so good. Why? Why all of that? Why did it take all of that?
* * *
At the curb, the cab driver held open the back door of his maroon Toyota Camry. Lucinda slid in, thanking the driver by flashing a wide smile and making no attempt to hide her thighs as, one by one, she slowly swung her legs into the sedan. She would have really given him a good peek but he was studiously not looking, and Lucinda was not sure whether he was just being a gentleman or if, for some unfathomable reason, he really didn’t want to catch sight of what lay between her legs.
Lucinda slid all the way over to the driver’s side of the back seat so that she was directly behind him when he got in. After she gave him the address, Lucinda folded her arms, briefly; she made sure the door was locked and then pushed her body deeply into the corner of the back seat.
Lucinda knew what she was going to do. Lucinda knew what she shouldn’t do.
She scooted down, lay her head on the fabric of the backseat and pretended to sleep.
Her hand crept under her dress. She had not worn panties.
“Any particular way you want to go?”
“Oh, whatever. I’m sure you know how to do your job. Take whatever route. This time of the morning, what difference does it make? Are you…?” Lucinda stopped herself. She didn’t want to make small talk. She wasn’t even mildly interested in this young foreigner. She certainly didn’t want to know what country he was from with his African accent. What did that matter?
Yes. Her left hand was there.
“Don’t mine me. I babble sometimes after a drink or two. I’m not used to drinking.”
Good, he was taking the expressway. No lights. No stops.
If he turned around and saw her—God, I would be so embarrassed, Lucinda lied to herself, halfway hoping he would look at her, would… “Oh.” She scooted down further and gapped her legs wider. Forefinger in the hole, thumb on the button.
She was beginning to breathe heavily—is that why he turned the radio on? “Is OK I play radio?”
“Yes. Of course.” Their eyes met briefly in the rearview mirror. Could he imagine how smooth her thighs were? The treadmill and the exercise ball were really an effective way to keep her legs toned. What would he think if he turned and saw her, saw down there? The way she kept her private hair close cropped. How the dark of her looked in the shadows, the deep chestnut of her bulging labia major set off by the cream of her dress bunched up almost to her hips. Would he pull over and try… even on the expressway? What would he do if he could see the glistening sheen of the beginnings of a mildly musky flow dripping down there?
Lucinda smiled wanly. The guy looked away and pretended to be just driving a woman home. But Lucinda knew. Maybe he could smell her arousal. “Billy.” Barely audible, her utterance was more a release than a sounding. Lucinda wanted to touch her nipples, to rub them between her thumb and the side of her pointing finger. She could smell the driver, he reeked of Old Spice or was it one of those obscenely-colored (whoever heard of quality perfumes in those garish shades), one of those obnoxious body oils those unkempt street merchants hawked? Lucinda closed her eyes.
Lucinda imagined Billy Jo’s lips sucking her breasts. Could you call this sex? A short tremor shot through her. Lucinda’s legs jerked and she bumped against the back of the driver’s seat. She knew she should stop. Billy. Just thinking about him.
She turned slightly sideways as though she was going to curl up on the seat or like she was trying to get comfortable, or look out the window. Or anything but… “Oh.” Why was she doing this to herself? She never usually made sounds during sex with Billy Jo because she usually had him in her mouth when she came. Lucinda wanted to stop, wanted to move her hand. But. “OH!”
“You OK, lady?”
“I’m OK.” Lucinda caught her breath and held the air inside her chest, tensing to enjoy the sweetness of the release that was just about to happen.
Lucinda paused, turned and looked up at the rearview mirror; she was certain the man was leering at her. But he wasn’t. At least he was pretending he wasn’t. Lucinda was sure he was waiting for her to close her eyes and then he would stare. “OH,” a sudden contraction caused her to jerk. Her free hand flew to her mouth. She bit her fist.
Lucinda knew that men got off on watching women please themselves, however, she no longer cared whether he was furtively observing her. Lucinda squirmed as she continued and her thumb press hit just the right rhythm. “Oh-Ohhh.” She turned her head just as the driver adjusted his rearview mirror.
Patrice Orobio saw the woman fling her head back and open her mouth, like she was, well, like she was… No, she couldn’t be. These crazy American women. He didn’t like that they were so out of control.
Meanwhile, in Portland, after replacing the receiver and pausing for a moment of silence, Billy Jo lay on his side in the dark, Sandra firmly massaging his back.
“That was Lucinda.”
“What did she want?”
“Nothing. She was drunk.”
—kalamu ya salaam
On the morning of December 11, 2016, a notice in the Chicago area news read as follows: “Author Lerone Bennett Found Safe After Being Reported Missing.” The 88-year old scholar and journalist had decided to go for an early morning walk, without telling anyone. According to the notice, Bennett had been located hours after he had gone missing. While the news report provided few details about the incident, it indicated that Bennett was “the author of multiple books” who had “previously worked as an editor at JET and Ebony Magazine.” The brevity of this note calls attention to two important facts: that Bennett is not dead as many have assumed, and that he is still largely known for his work at Ebony and for the publication of two critically acclaimed texts even though he produced over ten. While this notice locates Bennett, it fails to account for the extraordinary impact of this important figure.
Lerone Bennett, Jr.—social historian, Black Studies architect, and intellectual activist—spent over four decades at Ebony magazine. Ebony, arguably the premier African American lifestyle magazine of the 20th century, was founded by John H. Johnson in 1945. In addition to Ebony, Bennett also maintained a full organizational life, holding memberships and associations in such organizations as the short-lived Black Academy of Arts and Letters, the Race Relations Information Center, the Institute of the Black World, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Center. In 1965, John Henrik Clarke was the first to announce Bennett as a social historian and historian Pero Dagbovie revisited Bennett’s influence on Africana Studies in an article in the Journal of Black Studies. Renewing the interest in Bennett’s life opens us to several objectives: to gain a sense of African American historical expertise and craftsmanship, to achieve an expansive definition of intellectual history and the social function of the historian, to contextualize Bennett’s productivity, motivations, and range as a thinker, to achieve a view into his philosophy of life, and lastly to arrive at the creatively disruptive and reparative dimensions of history, all of which are discernible in Bennett’s robust body of work.
Born and bred in the south, Bennett moved to Chicago after a stint at the Atlanta Daily World and was named Associate Editor at Ebony in 1954. Bennett’s time at Ebony was unique. Starting out slowly, he later emerged as one of Johnson’s trusted advisors—he eventually co-wrote Johnson’s autobiography. He used the prestige of one of America’s most successful black entrepreneurs to teach and disseminate black history. The common association of Bennett with the popularizing of history reduces his impact. His record shows that far from watering down the African American experience in the United States, he sought to forge a reparative, justice-centric, visionary account of past human endeavor and the stakes of social disequilibrium. For Bennett, history looks backwards and forwards simultaneously. A brief survey of Ebony issues over this period reveals several principal social concerns, including: African American struggles over rights, passionate interest in the decolonization of the African continent, the uncovering or rediscovering key contributors to Africana intellectual life, and measuring the growing discontent with the prospects of American democracy. On one hand, Ebony emphasized high-life aspiration and on the other it cultivated a devoted and deeply engaged readership. Throughout the 1960s Bennett published a broad range of essays commenting on African American politics, culture, and Afro-diasporic history. Virtually no subject escaped Bennett’s pen. Among the writings in this period are essays on African independence, civil rights militancy, popular culture, and other histories that comprised the series “Pioneers of Protest.”
However, Bennett’s career took off upon the publication of Before the Mayflower in 1962, which began as a series of Ebony essays in 1961. The book was an immediate sensation. Mainstream press outlets such as the Chicago Tribune favorably reviewed the book. The Tribune also carried book reviews written by Bennett while he served as associate editor at Ebony. Historian and activist John Henrik Clarke’s review essay for the black left periodical Freedomways in 1965 locates Bennett in relation to the Civil Rights upsurge carried out by “A new generation of restless black Americans.” For Clarke, Bennett was part of a new generation who, like himself, could be called participant historians. In other words these were historians who not only documented history, but were themselves poised and principled activists in their own regard. Clarke offered readers a glimpse into Bennett’s background before diving into a review of key sections of Before the Mayflower and several of his seminal Ebony articles. Accompanying the piece was two of Bennett’s poems, showcasing a multitalented intellect.
The great irony of Bennett’s career, perhaps, is found in his relationship with Ebony, a magazine known for its dependency on advertising that peddled skin lighteners, platform shoes, cigarettes, scotch, the latest styles, and wigs. Bennett was bent on using the popular magazine of the black high life as a reputable platform to document and forecast black struggle, and he succeeded. Still, this did not mean he went unquestioned about what some perceived to be a contradiction.
Without question, Ebony was a critical platform for Bennett. In the front matter of every book he published for JPC, he earnestly thanked Johnson for allowing him the massive platform, time, and resources to research and write. He could reach larger audiences than professors at exclusive colleges or universities, but he could also keep relationships with those institutions that had no effect on his work. Ebony thus emerges as a premier, if unlikely, site of black cultural knowledge production. In this sense Ebony was a different kind of public institution. Bennett certainly benefitted from this unique arrangement and never took it for granted. Not only could he be in the thick of key debates as sage and journalist and historian, but also Ebony’s book publishing gave him a direct line to the national book networks. Among their many publishing pursuits, Bennett and Johnson had plans for an Ebony Encyclopedia.
Bennett’s approach to publishing was methodical and systematic. Lectures and speeches became articles, articles became books, or anthologies. Ebony therefore was unparalleled in its disruption of American consumer trends and U.S. based intellectual work. Bennett had the best of both worlds in terms of institutional credibility among all sectors of the black community. Bennett’s work ethic and standards of excellence had earned him the trust of John H. Johnson. The two carved out what was an enviable relationship. Bennett had access to the publishing mogul, and Johnson needed Bennett’s intellectual heft to bolster the magazine’s reputation and commitment to sincere and earnest coverage of black life beyond the simple demands of capitalist advertising and an aspiring black middle class’s pursuit of the high life. But Johnson was no fool. And although he refused to wear his politics on his sleeve, Bennett viewed Johnson as a sincere and chief advocate of black life. Effectively, Bennett was the bridge across a full spectrum that stretched from a petty capitalist, black bourgeoisie, churchgoing, assimilationist community, to grassroots militants and middle- and working class intellectuals with nationalist proclivities, alongside full expressions of black elite aspiration. No matter the segments of the black community and their ideological shadings or capitalist accouterments, in Bennett’s view, their fates were linked, and, moreover, they all had to answer the call of history and the demands of time.
At the turn of the 21st Century, Bennett remained active. On April 26, 2000, Bennett testified in front of the “Joint Hearing of the Finance and Human Relations Committees of the Chicago City Council on Reparations for African-American Slaves and Their Descendants.” The sage historian took full advantage of the opportunity to underscore the unpaid debt long past due. Interestingly, atop the typed speech, in Bennett’s cursive handwriting are the words, “Held in Trust by History.” It was as if Bennett was reminding himself of the duty to once again shine due light on the evidence and make the case plain.
Like W.E.B. Du Bois and Carter G. Woodson, he showed a commitment to “living history” and modeled a kind of public intellectualism that was both strident and sensitive. His time at Ebonysuggests that a popular media platform could just as easily become a classroom. For Bennett, history was not just a discipline–it was obligation, memory, and art. He was moved by the opportunity, calling, and challenge of doing good work on behalf of a people’s struggle. Lerone Bennett, Jr. no longer needs an “All Points Bulletin/Missing Persons Report.” He has been here the whole time.
Saint Lucian poet and playwright Derek Walcott, who received the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature, has died aged 87.
The Nobel laureate – best known for his collections “In A Green Night: Poems 1948 – 1960” and the epic “Omeros,” inspired by Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey” – was at his home on the Caribbean island when he passed away. His death was confirmed by his publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, who said this morning that he had been in poor health for some time.
Walcott was often regarded as one of the greatest Caribbean poets ever.
In addition to having won the Nobel Prize, Walcott won many other literary awards over the course of his career, including an Obie Award in 1971 for his play “Dream on Monkey Mountain,” a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” award, a Royal Society of Literature Award, the Queen’s Medal for Poetry, the inaugural OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, the 2011 T. S. Eliot Prize for his book of poetry “White Egrets,” and the Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry Lifetime Recognition Award in 2015.
In his later life, he was Professor of Poetry at the University of Essex from 2010 to 2013.
As this is a film blog… there is really just one feature documentary on Walcott’s life that we’re aware of, released in 2013, titled “Poetry Is an Island, Derek Walcott,” directed by Ida Does, and produced by Does and Rebecca Roos, which premiered in Trinidad Tobago that year, but has not yet been officially released in the USA. Although you can buy a copy on DVD directly from the producers of the film if interested.
“Derek Walcott, Poetry is an island” is an intimate portrait of Walcott, as viewers visit his art studio, his childhood home, and his residence in St. Lucia. It also includes exclusive archive material from the Nobel Prize Festivities in 1992 when he was honored. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this film is about Walcott’s poetry.
More from the filmmakers about the documentary: Derek Walcott, Literature Nobel Laureate has traveled the world while remaining closely connected to his beloved island St. Lucia. As a poet, playwright, painter and even filmmaker, Derek Walcott has been hymning the Caribbean for over 60 years. This documentary presents an intimate portrait of him, set in his beloved native island St. Lucia. The place he always longs for, when he is taken to far away places by his universally acclaimed work. What moves and inspires this great poet? Who are the people whose lives became poetry through his writings? And how do they experience the gift of language of their friend, their mentor, and their father? This film explores the poetry of Derek Walcott, the landscapes and people that inspire it. It observes Walcott in places essential to his work and life, and gathers the thoughts of some of his closest childhood friends. Most importantly, this documentary is a celebration of the greatest gift Walcott has given the world: his poetry.
DVD copies of the film can be purchased (for $25) via the website set up for it, which you can access here.
Below, watch the trailer for “Poetry Is an Island, Derek Walcott.”
The “I” in the ghostly documentary I Called Him Morgan is Helen Morgan, the “him” Lee Morgan, the transcendental bop trumpeter whom Helen (his wife) shot in the chest on a snowy night in 1972, some years after she’d pulled him out of the gutter and helped him kick the heroin habit that had ended his career. The movie’s Swedish-born director, Kasper Collin, makes magic with ingredients that are magical to start with: a handful of contemporary interviews; black-and-white candids of Morgan and such friends and colleagues as Wayne Shorter, Bennie Maupin, Billy Harper, and Charli Persip; and an audiotape of Helen, sounding old but firm a scant month before her death in 1996. Oh, yes, there’s music, lots of it. If you don’t know Lee Morgan, it will be love at first listen.
The events recounted in I Called Him Morgan are elemental, in the world of 20th-century bebop perhaps even archetypal: Morgan’s auspicious debut with Art Blakey; his growing fame; the drugs that led to a burn scar on his scalp from when he OD’ed and fell against a radiator; his rehab and new life and then evident feeling of entrapment; and his infatuation with a younger woman who now insists to Collin that Morgan’s “sexuality was very, very limited.” Not much of the above is filled in, but it hardly needs to be. The movie is like a record you could spin again and again. The musicians must be the most photogenic men alive — almost every shot evokes a freedom of spirit, a simultaneous relaxation and alertness. Collin supplies a visual motif as connective tissue: ash, smoke, snowflakes, rain, all of them swirling against winter skies or clubs like Slugs or the apartment building on the Bronx’s Grand Concourse where Morgan got his chops back. The movie has the perfect soundtrack for swirling. It’s mesmerizing, too vivid to be evanescent, too precious to hold.
*This article appears in the March 6, 2017, issue of New York Magazine.
The formation of Haiti as a sovereign state and the emergence and evolution of its people and its culture have followed a complex route. Since the birth of the nation of Haiti, multiple hierarchies and interconnected systems of oppression and exclusion have engendered structural inequities with respect to Haitian citizenship. As the society has continued to claim equality and liberty, differentiated and unequal citizenship have actually prevailed, with social, racial, colored, and gendered social groups having different levels of rights of participation and belonging.
Colonial St. Domingue’s socio-political and economic landscape granted unequal access to power and privilege. The Haitian Revolution did not achieve a radical transformation of these unequal relations. Rather, the régime agraire of Toussaint Louverture and the Code Rural of Jean-Pierre Boyer reproduced the patterns of exploitation and exclusion of the slave society. These practices led to the construction of the category moun andeyò–the peasantry, a class of people whose severely limited access to power and resources render them the primary actors in waves of migration and the primary victims of natural disasters. Over time, the moun andeyò concept has been mapped onto other categories of people such as women, the urban poor, practitioners of Vodou, and people of different sexual orientations.
The Haitian Studies Association will hold its 29th Annual Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, a site that offers scholars a look at how the “making of the people” occurs outside of the geopolitical spaces associated with a nation-state. Indeed, the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804 forced not only the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, but also the migration of slaves, slave owners, and free blacks and mulattos between the two former French territories. These movements of people led to the creation of new spaces where migrants linked to an emergent Haiti would become part of a new North American dynamic also characterized by inequalities and exclusion.
The questions that the Conference will seek to answer address the nature, scope, and dynamics of citizenship in the making of a Haitian people. We want to
Finally, we want also to analyze issues of otherness, marginalization, exclusion, and struggles for inclusion in the “moral community of the nation.” We want to explore how citizens with partial or limited rights find ways to assert, reclaim, exercise, and redefine their rights within existing conditions created by enduring structural inequalities.
We seek a diverse set of scholarly interrogations of these themes from disciplines across the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. We are especially interested in fully constituted panels, and will prioritize panels that speak directly to our themes and attempt an interdisciplinary dialogue.
Panel and roundtable proposals are to be no longer than 500 words, clearly listing the individual paper titles and authors. Individual paper abstracts should be around 250 words. Presenters are expected to register for the conference in advance to ensure their names are in the program.
We will be accepting proposals until June 1st, 2017.
General Submission Requirements
1. Contacts: For panel, roundtable, paper, video, art exhibit, or a performance please include the name, affiliation, and email for each individual participant.
2. Abstract: For individual proposals, videos, art exhibits, and performances, please submit a 250-word abstract and a 500-word summary for panels and roundtables. The overview should include:
For a panel proposal, please include a title and overview for each paper on the proposal form. Panels should include no more than three papers and a Chair/Discussant, who must be identified on the proposal form. Roundtable proposals should include no more than four participants plus a Chair/Moderator, who must also be identified on the proposal form.
It is essential that the contact information be listed for all those designated in the proposal form. For a group presentation please identify a primary contact person for notification of acceptance. HSA will contact only the Chair/Moderator.
HSA welcomes as many people as possible to participate in the conference. Therefore, each participant is limited to one paper presentation. However, a participant can perform two different roles—presenting a paper and chairing a panel, or presenting a paper and participating in a roundtable discussion.
Registration will begin in August. All presenters must be members of HSA to present, and must register and pay two weeks prior to the conference date to attend. If you are not a member yet, please join when you send your proposal.
Proposal Review and Selection Process
An anonymous review of conference proposals will be conducted by a minimum of two reviewers each. Proposals will be reviewed on the basis of quality and contribution to the theme of the conference.
Notification of Decision
Decision regarding acceptance of presentations will be announced by July 15, 2017.
Publication in the Journal of Haitian Studies
Manuscripts from selected abstracts and presentations can be submitted for publication in the Journal of Haitian Studies (JOHS) at the end of the conference. All manuscripts will be peer-reviewed and subject to an editing process prior to final acceptance. Manuscripts should not have been published elsewhere in similar form with substantially similar content. For information on the JOHS, please contact Dr. Claudine Michel firstname.lastname@example.org .
The official languages of the conference are English, Kreyòl, and French. You may write your paper and present it in one of the three official languages. HSA will not provide translation or interpretation during presentations.
Submit a Proposal
Please ensure your abstract does not exceed maximum (250 words for individuals, 500 for panels and roundtables). If you are submitting a roundtable or panel, please make sure that the names, affiliations, emails, and proposal summaries for all panelists are included on this form.
Submit your proposal NOW!
Should you have questions regarding the proposal submission process, please email email@example.com.
A special call for submissions from Boston Review‘s fiction editor Junot Díaz:
Over the last decades dystopian narratives have proliferated to the point where they seem to have become our default mode for conceptualizing the future. But dystopias are not merely fantasies of a minatory future; they offer critically important reflection upon our present. If (as Tom Moylan has argued) traditional dystopias crafted cognitive maps of the terrors of the twentieth century, what cognitive maps does our current dystopian turn provide us of our turbulent global present?
Throughout 2017, we will feature stories, essays, and interviews on the theme of global dystopias. The project will culminate in a special print issue in the fall of 2017.
We are seeking essays, interviews, and fiction from writers around the globe that engage the theme of dystopia. Nonfiction, personal essay, genre fiction (SF, fantasy, horror, Afrofuturist, slipstream), and work that resides across/between genres are welcome.
Submissions might explore, but are not limited to: