Thursday, November 30, 2006


Ahh, the holiday season is upon us. I LOVE this time of year. Okay, the busyness, the weight gain, the mindless spending and shameless commercialization, I could easily live without. And the years I spent exiled in the cold Mid-West put a huge damper on my bliss, to say the least . . . But thankfully, this holiday season finds me back in the South and joyfully reconnecting with all those things and beings I know and love--among them, sweet potato pie, Blue Bell Ice Cream, day-time temps in the 60's and 70's, Memphis and visits with Mama and 'nem.

Besides Thanksgiving, Christmas (Chanukah/Hanukkah for those of you who celebrate) Kwanzaa and the coming of the New Year, this season marks as well the birthdays of my two December babies.

My life's journey wouldn't be the same without these two guys. The two sounds that bring me the most comfort and joy during this season, if not throughout the year, are the hubby's voice and our lil boy's laughter. Even when they've worked my last good nerve, there isn't a day that goes by that I don't thank the Lord for having blessed me with them.

So . . . what are you thankful for? After all, despite what the advertisers say about shopping and buying, above all else, 'tis truly the season to count one's blessings. Dontcha think?

Monday, November 20, 2006


The "pat-down" is one of my family's holiday traditions. It typically takes place just as my brother or I am about to leave my parents' home after having visited for more than a day or two. Before we can say our final goodbyes, my Dad will turn to my Mom and say, "Did you check her/his/their bags? Every time one of them leaves from here, some of my cds and albums turn up missing." We all laugh, but everybody knows my Dad is only halfway joking. He owns a huge collection of vintage jazz and r&b records and cds. And for some unknown reason, he thinks we STEAL his music.

Now, I can only speak for myself. The only cds I have from my Dad's collection are the ones he's given me. But when it comes to vinyl, I've gotta confess, yes, I do own more than a few of THE OLD MAN'S albums. (Yeah, I can hear him now, See, see I KNEW they had my stuff!) In my defense, I didn't really steal them. These were records I used to listen to on my old stereo componet set (the one with the turntable, the cassette player and the 8-track!) before I went off to college. I had them in my room and well, they just sorta, kinda got packed up with all of my other personal items when I left home. For years, my Dad never said anything about them, so I figured he didn't really miss them.

For the record, I NEVER took any of the old man's vintage jazz. I don't have any of his Miles, Coltrane or Bird. Okay . . . I did take an album entitled "Soul Makossa" by Afrique, but I don't really consider that vintage jazz. Anyway, the following is a "near-complete (smile) list of titles.


1) THE MAGNIFCENT 7 (The Supremes & Four Tops) 1970 I'm not sure, but Dad might have given me this one. Back in elementary school, me and my friends, Lori P. and Leeda, used to play this album in my room and pretend we were the Supremes.

2) GREATEST HITS II (The Tempations) 1970 Remember the Temps song, "Ball of Confusion?" I can still remember me and my friend Lethea singing that song to the top of our lungs while swinging on her backyard swing set. "People moving out, people moving in, why because of the color of their skins. Run, run, run, but you sho'll can't hide . . ."

3) SKY'S THE LIMIT (The Temptations) 1971 My two favorite cuts from this one were, "Gonna Keep On Trying' Till I Win Your Love" and "Just My Imagination."

4) *WHAT'S GOING ON (Marvin Gaye) 1971 Who doesn't like this album? Let me just say, if I were ever stranded on an island and could only listen to 3 albums for the rest of my life, they would have to be the following three by Marvin.

5) *LET'S GET IT ON (Marvin Gaye) 1973 I bought this album as an anniversary gift for my folks, but ended up keeping it for myself.

6) *I WANT YOU (Marvin Gaye) 1976 The title of my novel, AFTER THE DANCE comes from a song by the same title on this particular album.

7) INNERVISIONS (Stevie Wonder) 1973 There isn't a single bad song on this album. My Dad used to play it to death, before I got ahold to it.

8) FULFILLINGNESS' FIRST FINALE (Stevie Wonder) 1974 I have no idea what the title means, but just like Innervisions, every song on here is worth listening to again and again.

9) SOUL MAKOSSA (Afrique) 1973 The only song I really ever listened to on this one was "Soul Makossa."

10) LET'S PUT IT ALL TOGETHER (The Stylistics) 1974 What ever happened to this group? Dude's falestto was something else.

11) DRAMA V (The Dramatics) 1975 As much as I liked this album, I must admit "cuteness" was also a factor. Ron Banks had some right dreamy eyes and Lenny Mayes had a nice 'fro and a pretty smile.

12) GRATITUDE (Earth, Wind & Fire) 1975 Yes, I did talk bad about Maurice and Verdine's hair. But that doesn't mean I don't appreciate their music. I love me some EW&F!

13) PERSON TO PERSON (Average White Band) 1976 Did you know these guys were originally from Scotland? Whenever I'm in the mood for some vintage blue-eyed soul, I reach for this album (or my The Best of Teena Marie cd). My favorite cuts are "School Boy Crush" "Cut the Cake" "Person to Person" "If I Ever Lose This Heaven" "I'm The One" Oh hell, just about all of them (smile).

All right y'all, don't act like I'm the only one. I know some of y'all left home with some stuff that wasn't yours (whether records or something else). So, who wants to 'fess up first? Seriously, any comments about the list are welcome. Do you think this list says something in particular about me? ( I mean, besides the obvious)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


In case you're wondering or haven't yet figured it out, I don't have an English Lit or English Comp background. To be honest, when I was in school I found those kind of classes incredibly boring and I only took the minimum required. I might also note that even though my work has appeared in a number of literary journals, newspapers and magazines, I only lasted a couple of weeks in the one journalism course I opted for in college.

So, no, I don't always put the commas in the right places, I can't spell worth a gosh durn and I wouldn't know a split infinitive if one walked up and hit me upside the head. Of course, those of you with more discerning eyes already know this (smile).

But here's a little something you might not know--I also don't have that internalized sense of fear that seems to besiege quite a few of the more "grammatically savvy" when it comes to writing. I don't agonize over the technical aspects involved in the creative placement of words onto a page. That's not to say that I think grammar, punctuation, spelling and the like are unimportant. They are extremely important. My thing is, I simply refuse to have some disapproving nymph of my own making (much less someone else's) peering over my shoulder and whispering reprimands and/or inappropriate advice in my ear when I sit down in front of a blank sheet of paper or computer screen.

My approach to writing is largely intuitive. According to Mom, when I was a baby, she and others would routinely hand me a book turned upside down and watch me cry until someone turned the book right side up. Besides being amused, my folks couldn't help but marvel at how I seemed to sense that something about the book just wasn't right.

Perhaps this intuition, this gut approach, if you will, is something I inherited. I come from a family of storytellers (at least on my father's side) and folks who seem to derive an inordinate amount of pleasure from a well told lie. Similar to Langston (and so many others), my appreciation for what is generally referred to as the African American oral tradition was born at my paternal grandmother's knee.

Ethel Virginia Johnson, (yes, that's her in the picture, seated on the porch of the house my granddaddy built) also known as M'Deah and/or Ethel V. to those who knew and loved her, could spin a tale like nobody's business. Her stories, which could best be described as a bubbling mixture of humor and pathos, generally centered around the folks and family members who live in "Johnson Sub"-- the 40 some odd acres of land in South Memphis (TN) purchased by my great-great grandfather, Prince Johnson.

My M'Deah's voice and her laughter are integral parts of the "music" I strive for in my own work. I will be forever grateful to my Mom for ecouraging me, way back in the day, to sit down with my grandmother and record both her memories of Johnson Sub and our family's history. I still have those tapes and every now and then, I pull them out for a listen. In my grandmother's voice, there is a rhythm and a cadence that both stirs my muse and speaks to my soul . . . Yeah, I know. I'm going way too deep for some of y'all. So, let me just back up off it a bit . . . at least for now (smile).

To simplify it for you--what my M'Deah did so effortlessly and with such verbal finesse, is what I attempt to do on paper. No more and no less. Through the telling of my own stories, I hope to honor her memory as well as pay homage to all that is Southern, Black, female and inherently Good in me. So, if I misspell a word or misplace a comma or two in the process, try not to be so hard or take it too personally, okay? And if you notice me making the same doggone grammatical faux pas time and time again, by all means, step in and school a sister. I'm open to learning . . . just so long as you don't try to turn my words upside down in the process (smile). Nuff said? All right, then.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Just so you know, I didn't forget. But for those of you who don't recall, I said I'd share with you what changes I'd make in that last posted excerpt of New Growth, (Tuesday, October 10, 2006) had I to do it over again.

Well, for one, I'd probably divide the material into shorter pargraphs. Actually, I went ahead and took the liberty of doing so in one section of that particular excerpt. I think shorter paragraphs are a little less daunting for the average reader and a whole lot easier on the eyes.

The second thing I'd probably change would be Jackie Ann's Sunday Morning Dance routine. I don't know too many old school grandmothers (from the South in particular) who are going to put up with that kind of showing out on a Sunday morning. Jackie Ann most certainly WOULD NOT have been allowed to be all up in the living room getting her groove on to some loud secular beat. I'm not really sure how I could have rewritten the scene, but I'm thinking maybe I would had J.A. in her bedroom with the door closed and the music turned waaayy down (smile).

One of my undergrad English Comp professors once told me that you never really get finished with a piece. The more you search, the more likely you are to find something else that could a use a bit of tweaking or could have been written another way. But eventually you have to turn it loose and move on. The key, I suppose, is knowing when . . .

Monday, November 06, 2006


1) GORILLA, MY LOVE by Toni Cade Bambara
I love short stories and this collection sits at the top of my list of favorites. I'm pretty sure I've read this particular book more than twice.

2) A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND by Flannery O'Connor
If I were stranded on a deserted island, this short story collection by O'Connor would be one of the three books I'd want to have with me. I love the Southern flavor, feel and honesty of these stories.

3) SULA by Toni Morrison
What can you say about Ms. Morrison? Her prose is breath-taking. I've underlined so many passages in my copy of Sula, I'd be ashamed to loan it to anyone. I've read this book at different points in my life and I've drawn something different from it each time.

4) SONG OF SOLOMON by Toni Morrison
This is one of the those books that forced me to read it a second time, in order to "get it." But again, Ms. Morrison's prose is so beautiful, diving into it a second time was more of a pleasure than a task.

5) A RAISIN IN THE SUN by Lorriane Hansberry
I "borrowed" this book from my mother's book shelf when I was in high school and never gave it back. The screen version (starring Sidney Poiter) is also one of my top ten favs when it comes to movies.

This was "the play" back in the day. I had the pleasure of seeing a couple of my friends star in the early 80's stage production LeMoyne Owen College presented of this work.

My father gave me this book to read when I was 13. The impact this book had on me is hard to describe. In short, reading it was truly a life-altering experience.

8) THIRD GENERATION by Chester Himes
This is another book I borrowed from my mom's bookshelf and never returned. I'm still not sure I understand the story, but the beauty of Himes's prose pulls me in every time. I'm thinking I may very well read it again sometime soon.

9) MULES AND MEN by Zora Neale Hurston
Even though a great portion of this book is written in dialect (which I personally can't stand) its emphais on African American folklore appeals to the anthropologist in me. Unlike a lot of folks, I'm not a big fan of Hurston's fiction. Hate to admit this, but I didn't read Their Eyes Were Watching God until a few years ago and I still don't see what all the fuss is about.

This is one of my favorite collection of essays. I'm actually a bigger fan of Walker's essays and short stories than I am of her novels.

The list of books I've read more than once is actually much longer, but 10 seems like a good place to stop. So, what books have you read more than once? I'd love to see one or two or heck even ten from your list, if you feel like sharing. If you're too shy to share in the comments section, feel free to communicate with me via email. My address is :

Friday, November 03, 2006


For those of you who missed it, on Tuesday (October 31), I had the honor of posting one of my favorite poems, "Dry Hill." The following is a bit of the Q & A I recently conducted with the poem's author, Michael Radcliff.

Q: Do you have any formal training as a poet?
A: No. I took a couple of creative writing courses in college. I think they were with Berry Morgan. Maybe Ellen Douglass. (Maybe both.) That was a long time ago! Poetry was certainly not the focus, but it seem that those were the only creative writing classes to be had. You take what you can get, I guess.

Q: Can you tell me where your poems have been published?
A: Mostly in a few, now-defunct small magazines: Poet Magazine, Artbeat Magazine and a couple of others. Every magazine that has published my stuff has gone out of business. Do you think that's a bad sign?

Q: Have you won any awards for your work?
A: I got a couple of Honorable Mentions and Special Merits. My poem "Land of Childhood" won grand the Grand Prize in Poet Magazine's 1st John David Johnson Memorial Competition. It's funny, I Googled that competition the other day and saw a few people who had won or placed in that competition in the years following and I thought . . .dang . . . I won it too and I don't even have a writing resume!

Q: What inspired you to write "Dry Hill"?
A: I think what brought it on was a realization of my parent's partnership. How they revolved around each other and worked together to get . . or make what they wanted. I think this really sunk in when I saw how they took a little fisherman's cabin and a piece of land and working together turned it into a home. Shortly after they moved there, I was home for a visit and helping my mother get something out of the car. She grabbed me and motioned off to one side. There was a beauftiful doe coming out of the woods. She went right across the front yard and down to the lake. Anyway, trying to tie my folks to that place came out as "Dry Hill".

Q: So, there really is a place called Dry Hill?
A: No. Well, there is to us. We jokingly referred to their place as Dry Hill because it seemed like it would rain everywhere but up on the hill. I remember standing there watching it rain out on the road without a drop ever hitting up at the house. My folks moved from there several years ago, but I talked to my Dad last week and he said it had been raining . . . everywhere except at the house. So, I guess wherever they go is "Dry Hill".

Q: Do you have a favorite poet and/or a favorite poem?
A: Robert Frost. "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening." I have been in the woods, in the dark, when it's snowing. There is nothing more serene.

Much love goes out to Michael for agreeing to be the OSM's first guest poet! I'd like to thank, as well, all of you who read and, in particular, those of you who were kind enough to respond. Later Y'all.