Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The elections and the Essence Literary Awards

What does one have to do with the other? Subtext, my fanboys and girls. Subtext. Did you think I was giving up AUDACITY for Lent? Please!
First, tomorrow night at Le Park Meridien in Manhattan, sandbox of the "Cloverfield" beast, Essence Magazine will honor 2008 nominees in the field of prose and poetry. Now, Essence is no longer owned by black folks (then again, illegal immigrants comprise 65% of the cotton-pickers in Miss. and Alabama, while we're dancing to Soulja Boy on the street corner down there). It's also less Vanity Fair and more Cosmo with a tan--and a stunning number of generic (i.e. white) ads. But Patrik Henry Bass, Book Editor-for-life, has at least tried to maintain standards amidst the flux.
Here are the nominees. Sense a pattern? Hint: think of Nat Turner's trip to the gala Hurston-Wright Awards with Mrs Nat, and to whom I presented the most prestigious award. Edward P. Jones. One of the few Americans who won that night, and certainly no purveyor "genre" fiction...or thug lit, or softcore porn for churchladies...or straight-up hardcore gossip.
FICTION Red River by Lalita Tademy/Grand Central Publishing ; Casanegra by Blair Underwood, Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due/Atria ; The Pirate’s Daughter by Margaret Cezair-Thompson/Unbridled Books ;New England White by Stephen L. Carter/Knopf; Knots by Nuruddin Farah/Riverhead
MEMOIR Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat/Knopf; The Women Who Raised Me by Victoria Rowell/William Morrow ; Alek by Alek Wek/Amistad ; One Drop by Bliss Broyard/Little, Brown and Co. A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
INSPIRATION Reposition Yourself by TD Jakes/Atria From the Heart by Robin Roberts/Hyperion Quiet Strength by Tony Dungy/Tyndale Do You! by Russell Simmons/Penguin How Strong Women Pray by Bonnie St. John/Faith Words
NONFICTION The Bond by Sampson Davis, George Jenkins and Rameck Hunt/Riverhead; Friends: A Love Story by Angela Bassett and Courtney B. Vance/Harlequin ; I Got Your Back by Eddie and Gerald Levert/Harlem Moon ; Foreigners by Caryl Phillips/Knopf ; Supreme Discomfort by Michael Fletcher and Kevin Merida/Doubleday
CURRENT AFFAIRS Come on People by Bill Cosby/Thomas Nelson The Covenant in Action by Tavis Smiley/Smiley Books An Unbroken Agony by Randall Robinson/Basic Civitas Know What I Mean? By Michael Eric Dyson/Perseus Books Group Twice As Good by Marcus Mabry/Modern Times
PHOTOGRAPHY Daufuskie Island by Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe/University of South Carolina Press Pop by Carol Ross/Stewart, Tabori & Chang Jimi Hendrix by Janie Hendrix/Atria Let Your Motto Be Resistance edited by Deborah Willis/Smithsonian Press Jewels by Michael Cunningham and Connie Briscoe/Little, Brown and Co.
CHILDREN’S BOOKS Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine illustrated by Kadir Nelson/Scholastic Sugar Cane: A Caribbean Rapunzel by Patricia Storace and Raul Colon/Jump at the Sun Marvelous World by Troy Cle/Simon & Schuster’s Children’s Publishing The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor-mbachu/Jump at the Sun Sallie Gal and the Wall-a-Kee Man by Shelia P. Moses and Niki Daly/Scholastic POETRY Duende by Tracy K. Smith/Graywolf Press Acolytes by Nikki Giovanni/William Morrow Totem by Gregory Pardlo/American Poetry Review
STORYTELLER OF THE YEAR Eric Jerome Dickey Lori Bryant-Woolridge Trisha R. Thomas L.A. Banks Tananarive Due

Some of the nonfiction's pretty pedestrian (with the exception of Kevin and Mike's bio of Clarence Thomas--they were first interviewed on this blog), but at least it's not another "The Life and Times of Willy Lynch" etc. Now,"Storyteller of the Year" is a weird catch-all. Here, they are trying to nod to "popular" fiction. If you don't count Eric Dickey's cheesing us over The Darker Mask, all of these folks are friends of mine and I am sick to root for just one. Indeed, my wife nominated one of these authors, and I personally voted for another--though it was tough as hell. However, these folks--even Dickey yuckyuckyuck--represent the pinnacle of genre fiction and are about as close in order and genus, though not species, to street lit, etc. as you will get. About as close as humans are to Capuchin monkeys, actually. Both primates, but one far more advanced. So what's the message? Perhap Patrick Bass is telling us that there is a profound paradigm shift. It's not the street lit authors braying about how Essence (orHurston-Wright) is out of touch with the masses. The key is that masses are out of touch with reality. Ignorance and ignorant writing is not something to celebrate. Hell even Bass will say behind closed doors so as not to offend the more bamma bookclubs out there--but maybe they NEED offending. Anyone who says that the mass of garbage out there "speaks to me and my experiences" or "tells the truth" is either high or retarded. 90% of these books are mere brain candy, farce, more fairy tales or soap operas than "hard personal reality." Fans of it and the folks who write it and the WHITE PEOPLE who print it and reap the cash are either lying to you, or themselves. Guess which category the publishers fit it, eh? Paradigm shifts are scary things to some folks. No wonder you heard all kinds of howling when these nominations hit the public. And even Mr. Charlie and Missy Ann, content in sales figures backing up the ignorance, still sweat. Sweat hard. Maybe these nee-grows aren't carnal, wild, sasssy, dumb, sex crazed, dangerous as we'd like them to be for marketing purposes...

Onto "Super Tuesday" and another paradigm shift. Obama's leading in the delegate count. He's got $30 mil in the bank. What he doesn't have are white women ages 36-60. But for the first time since LBJ and Hubert Humphrey were running things is white men. Imagine that. In Utah. What he has are black people who no longer want to follow self-aggrandzing Civil Rights era or 197os-80s FOSSILS like Maxine Waters. Shifts upset people., as will the Essence choices. On the other side, the GOP continues it's friggin' fratricide over McCain. Look, in a contest between McCain and Hillary, guess who I'll be voting for--and a LOT of you, too. He is the reincarnation of Eisenhower: old mean white man from the military who becomes a MODERATE as president, and that has the Dick Cheneyites. the fatcat Wall Street/outsourcing/sell the country to China/layoff everyone-and-take-the-Golden Parachute/greed is good Republicans shitting their breeches. Lord--Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh endorsing Hillary Clinton?! They just as scared of Huckabee (even a VP Huckabee) because even though a President Huckabee might sign a law OK-ing witch trials, burning abortionists, gays and Muslims at the stake, and providing for prison terms on viewing anything but reruns of The Waltons and 700 Club, he'd ALSO sign a law mandating universal health care/cross the board Medicaid-like benefits for all Americans, and a tax on oil companies, etc. Now you see what the drama is all about. Shifts hurt. The powers that be, be they on the "left" or "right", or the annointed ignorant flavor of the month and it's sponsors, will die before they let the shift occur. Us--we got to do what Chuck D says. What the Isleys say. We're so close...


your brother from another mother in Oaktown, Cali said...

Astute and entertaining per usual--once I figured out what the hell you were talking about!

Lisa said...

That's so true about Huckabee. the guy has enough to scare everybody--democrat or republican!

Barack is ahead in delegates by the way.

I'm a little dubious about Casanegra. I love Tananarive Due's stuff. I know people who love Steven Barnes, and of course I lust for Blair Underwood, but I would not call it literature, and I think this is just Essence being Essence!

Anonymous said...

Yes the paradigm is shifted and damn near destroyed--now you are quoting Chuck D. The world is turned upside down!
Keep up the fight.

Eisa said...

See Bridgett Davis' forthcoming essay on the state of Black Lit - and Black lists, stores, and contests - on It's a strong statement. Very cohesive.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

brilliant. You are so right about McCain. What is wrong with Rush and Ann?

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