Tag Archives: Norman Mailer

Keep Dreaming: Martin Luther King Jr., Amiri Baraka, Tamera Mowry, and Kim Kardashian

20 Jan

494px-Martin_Luther_King_Jr_NYWTSphotograph of Martin Luther King, Jr., taken by Dick DeMarsico via Wikipedia

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

We need to keep on dreaming and keep on working for a better future. I was saddened and frustrated to hear about these two recent incidents:

I don’t post a lot about pop culture, but these two headlines grabbed my attention. What is wrong with people? So hurtful and bigoted.

And this is why I felt uneasy about so much of the negativity I read after the passing of Amiri Baraka. The poet wasn’t one to mince words, and while I don’t agree with everything he said … neither did he: there were times he moved away from earlier statements. Yet one must think about the time period in which he grew up and was writing — the March on Washington, the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the assassination of Malcolm X, the publication of Norman Mailer’s “The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster” — and not be blind to the racism many people still face today. Sometimes strong rhetoric is needed to get one’s point across.

Stuart Mitchner’s “Looking for Amiri Baraka and LeRoi Jones on Martin Luther King’s Birthday” sheds some much-needed perspective on Baraka’s poetry and tells of Baraka’s tribute at the 2011 Community Celebration of King at the University of Virginia.

Baraka’s work through the Black Arts Movement gave others a voice.

We need writers to continue to challenge the status quo. We need writers to share their experience. We need writers to share their dreams. We need writers to share their nightmares. We need writers to be honest.

We cannot censor writers. We need to give writers a larger platform.

We need readers to read widely. We need readers to read outside of their personal experiences. We need readers to go straight to the source. We need readers who don’t rely on recaps, articles, blog entries, and soundbites. We need readers to speak up for the types of books they want to read.

This isn’t about school assemblies or having a day off of work. This isn’t even just about the facts. A study recently came out that said reading literary fiction improves compassion. We need to publish and promote more voices, and we need to read those voices.

Here’s a look at St. John’s Church, which is where more than 700 people met the day of his “I Have a Dream Speech”:

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Writing Wednesday: Richard Stratton

18 May

On Saturday night, I went to a professional’s group gathering in which author-filmmaker Richard Stratton spoke and presented a short film.  My friends were hosting the event in their lovely Financial District apartment, where we could watch the sun set over the Statue of Liberty.  After a cocktail hour of mingling over wine and beer, cheese and pretzels, we settled into chairs to hear more about Stratton’s life story and projects.

Richard Stratton smuggled drugs before getting caught and imprisoned for eight years.  He was friends with Norman Mailer and while in prison wrote the novel Smack Goddess.  The PEN American Prison Writing contest awarded him first prize for a work of fiction in 1989.  He has since gone on to write for Esquire, GQ, Rolling Stone, and Spin. 

When he was released from prison, he brought his knowledge and experience into his career as a writer and filmmaker, raising American consciousness on what that life is really like.  He was a consultant on the Emmy Award-winning HBO prison documentary Thug Life in D.C. and on the dramatic prison series Oz and producer for the indie film Slam, a favorite at Cannes and Sundance.  Steve Fishman wrote a great article on Stratton for New York Magazine, which goes into more depth on his fascinating life story.

One tidbit revealed during the chat on Saturday night is that Stratton—who is originally from Provincetown, MA, and now resides in New York—is related to the Lowells who came over on the Mayflower.  Lowell, MA, is named after the Lowells.  Lowell is where Jack Kerouac (On the Road) is from, so if you’ve been following my blog for a while you’ll probably guess that my ears perked up at the mention of Lowell.  I’ve actually been working on a piece set in Lowell, and now I’m considering doing some more research into the Lowell family.

Stratton is currently working on a film about an autistic child who loses his firefighter father on 9/11, and screened a short of it for us.

The evening inspired me to think more broadly about writing—both in terms of how writing and film are connected and in its purpose for raising awareness for the general public.