Great News! The Ananda Leeke Show, an online radio program that celebrates creativity in everyday life, will launch on June 30, 2009, at 8:00 p.m. (EST) on Talkshoe.com: http://www.talkshoe.com/tc/15820.
Join me as I share my own creative adventures, advice, artwork, books, challenges, discoveries, healthy life practices, insights, inspiration, lessons learned, resources, and tips as an artist, author, writer, blogger, creativity coach, yoga teacher, Reiki Master practitioner, and innerpreneur.
The first episode will discuss my insights on writing my upcoming poetic memoir, That Which Awakens Me: A Creative Woman’s Poetic Memoir (Summer 2009 – iUniverse, Inc.).
Click here to read the press release: http://www.prlog.org/10257014-authorartistcreativity-coach-ananda-leeke-launches-the-ananda-leeke-show-to-celebrate-creativity.html.
So it’s week 2 in my Wreck the Journal journey (http://www.tnc-wreckthisjournal.blogspot.com). Yesterday morning I played in my book and finally faced my fear of following the instructions to burn page 4. Remember page 4 scared me last week. Even though I was born under the fire sign of Sagittarius and have no problems lighting candles and incense with a lighter, I am still afraid of lighting a match and watching paper burn.
First let me say that Jenn Lee was my inspiration. Jenn’s video blog (http://www.lifeunfoldsblog.com/2009/06/04/wreck-this-journal-week-1-playing-with-fire) last week really hit home. The image of her burning the page stayed with me all week. So here’s what went down in the wee hours of my chakra castle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chakra). Yes indeedie sweetie, I have all of the chakra colors represented on the various walls of my apartment. 7 bold colors. Red, royal blue, light blue, orange, yellow, pink, and purple. Sounds wild, right?
My morning began a wee bit early. 6 a.m. I must admit that my Wednesday afternoon acupuncture session really relaxed me and sent me to sleep early. Getting acupuncture on a monthly basis for the past four years has been such a healing experience for me and my body. After I did a series of yin yoga poses in bed, I walked into my sunny yellow kitchen and got the urge to light some Nam Champs incense and smudge myself with sage.
When I finished smudging myself, I decided to smudge my entire chakra castle. As I walked around, I chanted one of my favorite Tibetan Buddhist mantras: Om Mani Padme Hum (http://www.dharma-haven.org/tibetan/meaning-of-om-mani-padme-hung.htm). I lit another stick of incense and a yellow candle when I returned to the kitchen. I placed the yellow candle on my Buddha altar sitting in my red window. My eyes closed as I stood in the mountain yoga pose. The morning echo of birds lulled me into a place of stillness. After a few minutes, my inner voice (you know Ms. Intuition … She is my Ananda archetype … a spiritual woman – click here to see a photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/anandaleeke/3161424573) instructed me to get my Wreck the Journal. So I walked back into my pink and purple bedroom and picked up the journal. My inner voice invited me to turn to page 4. I stared at the page and smiled. My hands gently grabbed the lighter and flicked a flame onto the page. I watched in sheer delight. A few seconds later I noticed the flame had left its own footprint of sorts. It looked like someone had taken a bite out of the page. That was really cool!
So later in the day I found myself thinking about my newfound courage born out of creative fire: How could I use it in my life? The answer came early this morning when I realized that I could use the creative fire to overcome my current fear of delaying the publication of my new book, That Which Awakens Me: A Creative Woman’s Poetic Memoir of Self-Discovery with a request to have the font of the text changed (the current manuscript that I received from the publisher this week doesn’t look right….it makes my words look messy). I didn’t want to face this fear because it means more WORK and summer is a time for play, right? Well, I am working to transform my concept of WORK. I decided to say that I am PLAYING with my creative fire to make sure others can play with it when it finally comes out in my new book at the end of the summer.
My other favorite exercises from Wreck the Journal were:
- page 26 – tearing the strips up
- page 36 – chewing on the paper
- page ? – crumbling the paper
- page ? – making a paper cup and drinking water
Confession time. I still haven’t made it around to most of my Wreck the Journal sistaloves’ blogs. The one thing that I am looking forward to is visiting everyone’s pages this weekend. Me and my creative fire are gonna have some good times with our online visits.
Thanks for stopping by!
Enjoy your weekend!
Peace and Creativity,
Mami Wata, circa 1987 by Zoumana Sane (dates unknown, Senegal)
Photo Credit: Don Cole
Today I reflected on how I launched my annual summer museum adventures last weekend. I started with a visit to the National Museum of African Art. The goal of my trip was to soak up the beauty and splendor of the Mami Wata: Arts for Water Spirits in Africa and the African Atlantic World exhibit. http://africa.si.edu/exhibits/mamiwata/intro.html. It arrived at the Museum on April 1 and leaves on July 26.
Mami Wata (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mami_Wata) is a water spirit celebrated throughout most of Africa, Brazil, Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Haiti. I first learned about Mami Wata in 1991 when I discovered the West African Yoruba goddesses Oshun (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oshun) and Yemaya (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yemanya) who are her sister water spirits. I immediately embraced her image which is often portrayed as a brown-skinned mermaid. I love that fact because she reminds me of me. Her power as a nurturing mother, sensual woman, healer, and provider of riches also appealed to me. Mami Wata, Oshun, and Yemaya introduced me to Erzulie (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erzulie), the Haitian goddess of love. These water goddesses played a pivotal role in my early artwork and writing. They still do! Erzulie is a major force in the artwork and characters featured in my debut novel, Love’s Troubadours – Karma Book One (www.lovestroubadours.com— iUniverse, Inc. – 2007). Click here to see Erzulie’s veve which appears inside my novel and serves as the logo for the Love’s Troubadours novel series (scroll down to the second photo and look for the black and white drawing of a heart-shaped image): http://www.lovestroubadours.com/id26.html. It also appears in the painting featured on the back of my novel. Click here to see a photo (scroll down to the bottom of the page and look for the heart-shaped symbol in the center of painting): http://www.lovestroubadours.com/id7.html.
The Mami Wata exhibit was powerful because it explored the visual culture and histories of Mami Wata and her sister water spirits. It also taught me about several new water spirits such as Lasirèn from Haiti and Santa Marta la Dominadora from the Dominican Republic. At the end of the exhibit, I decided to participate in the creative exercise set up by the Museum. I never turn down an invitation to play! The exercise involved making drawings of Mami Wata-like mermaids, fish, and shells. Iloved the exhibit so much that I purchased the exhibition book as a keepsake. I plan to go back later this month to see the Mami Wata exhibit one more time before it closes. Yes it’s that good!
So do you have any summer museum adventures planned? If so, where are you going and what will you see when you get there?
After the museum, I stopped at Teaism in Penn Quarter for lunch (http://www.teaism.com/Restaurant/PennQuarter7.html). Teaism is one of my favorite places to drink tea, eat healthy food, meet friends, and write. I wrote several chapters of Love’s Troubadours – Karma: Book One (www.lovestroubadours.com) and my soon-to-be released poetic memoir, That Which Awakens Me: A Creative Woman’s Poetic Memoir of Self-Discoverywhile sipping tea at Teaism. I even wrote about my novel’s main character Karma Francois eating a salty oat cookie and drinking tea at Teaism on Dupont Circle! I treated myself to one of my favorite entrees, the salmon bento box. As always, it was delicious. Before I left, I purchased a chocolate salty oat cookie for my afternoon movie snack.
Enlighten Up! (http://enlightenupthefilm.com) is a new yoga documentary by filmmaker Kate Churchill. It tells the story of Nick Rosen, a twenty-something journalist from New York City, who explores the world of yoga in search of a practice that meets his needs. The film was yoga yummy and funny. The yogini/yoga teacher inside of me adored the Enlighten Up! because it gives everyday people an opportunity to witness Rosen’s down-to-earthsearch for a yoga practice with some of the most widely known and not so known yoga teachers in New York City, Los Angeles, Hawaii, and India. I highly recommend the film. If you go see Enlighten Up!, tell me what you think about it.
Do you practice yoga? If so, describe your practice.
Right now I am practicing yin yoga (www.yinyoga.com and http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/580?print=1) in the early morning before I get out of bed and before I go to sleep at night. My morning practice includes sun salutations, twists, cat-cows, cobras, and forward folds.
If you are in DC this weekend, please consider attending my free community yoga class on Sunday, June 14 at 9:00 a.m. in Malcolm X – Meridian Hill Park in Northwest, DC. For more information, visit http://yoga.meetup.com/584.
Thanks for stopping by!
Peace, Creativity, and Summer OMs,
On Sunday, June 7, I participated in Jamie Ridler’s Full Strawberry Moon Dreamboards event. To learn more about Jamie and her full moon events, visit
http://starshyneproductions.blogspot.com/2009/06/full-strawberry-moon-dreamboards-june-7.html. I ended up making five collages that reflect my intention and commitment to live a juicy sweet, tranquil, and joyful life this summer. I labeled them Honey Oshun Mooon Collages. See below. I was inspired by the West African Yoruba goddess Oshun, a love goddess who governs creativity, sweetness, honey, femininity, sensuality, joy, abundance, the arts, dance, sweet rivers, motherhood, jewelry, and healing. She is one of my patron goddesses.
Do you have a favorite goddess? If yes, who is she?
Enjoy your day!
Honey Oshun Moon Collage Series
This collage is called “Aspire.Learn.Love.Create.Evolve.” It honors my yoga practice and use of ayurveda. It reminds me to maintain a daily practice of honoring my body temple. I included two pictures of myself. One shows me sitting in the easy yoga pose. The other shows me smiling. I also included a photo of Ganesh, the Hindu god of overcoming obstacles. I took it at Shakti Mind Body Studio (owned by my yoga teacher Faith Hunter – www.shaktimindbodystudio.com and www.faithhunter.comin DC). There are several clippings of a tea pot with herbs, meditation sculpture, and the phrases – your practice will bloom, yoga, om ayurveda, and aspire-learn-love-create-evolve. A quote by Joanna Macy is included: “The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe.”
This collage is called “Tranquil.” It reminds me to practice extreme self-care (a phrase coined by life coach and author Cheryl Richardson). I included a picture of me smiling and clippings with the lunar phases of the moon, a woman relaxing, and fireworks. There is an affirmation at the bottom which reads, “love your life.” A quote from Audre Lorde is featured: “and look mother I am a dark temple where your true spirit rises beautiful and tough like a chestnut.” I also pasted in a message about inspiration: “Stay inspired! Your soul goal – to acknowledge all your successes, not only those measured in pounds and inches; Your soul payoff – Increased determination and a renewed sense of Yes-I’m-amazing! confidence.”
The name of this collage is “Serving America with My Gifts.” It reminds me to use my gift of optimism to create positive change in the world like President Obama is doing. The collage also contains two pictures of me. One shows me posing in the warrior yoga pose. There are several clippings with messages: 1) optimism rules, 2) give optimism, and 3) the world is a magical place. A quote by poet Lucille Clifton is included: “may the tide that is entering even now the lip of our understanding carry you out beyond the face of fear.
The name of this collage is “Vive La Vie” (live life). It reminds me to live my life fully without limitations and with joy and fun. The collage contains 2 magazine clippings featuring a man and a woman enjoying time together. It also has a butterfly with flowers, a clipping of American playwright Lorraine Hansberry (one of my favorite creative folks and inspiration for my novel and poetic memoir), a clipping of a woman as she relaxes, and picture of me. There is also a quote which says, “Women who have an abundance of joy are those who make a priority of finding pockets of it within their own lives.”
The name of this collage is “Quintessentially Free.” It reminds me to live freely as a golden girl who loves butterflies, tunics, flat sandals, fashion, style, polka dots, and yoga clothing. It contains a picture of me along with a quote that says, “You already know it: Money can’t buy joy, so instead of spending your earnings, spend time on things that really do delight you.”
On Saturday evening I finished reading Floor Sample, a creative memoir by Julia Cameron (www.theartistsway.com), author of The Artist’s Way. The Artist’s Way is one of my favorite books. My sistalovefriend Toni Blackman (www.toniblackman.com) introduced me to the book in 1995. Together, we embarked on an accountability journey of morning pages, artist dates, and long walks. I know the work that I did during this period solidified my calling, commitment, and creative expression as an artist. It also laid the foundation for my current role as a creativity coach who midwifes the creative efforts of other creative folks.
Cameron’s Floor Sample was a powerful read. When I learned that she grew up Catholic and attended Georgetown University like me, I felt more connected to her story. Floor Sample helped me understand Cameron’s journey as a creative person, divorced mother, and sober, recovering alcoholic. I learned a great deal about her creative process and the importance of taking great care of yourself, claiming your creative life, and nurturing your creative gifts. I was inspired by the way Cameron has been able to work on multiple creative projects and produce a timeless body of work that serves others. Her creativity energized mine! I needed that boost of energy for the final round of my new book’s publication process. My favorite quotes from Floor Sample were:
“Stop trying to be a great writer … That’s your ego. Get your ego out of your writing. You should be writing from a spirit of service. You are just the vehicle, the channel. Let God write through you.”
“My story was one more story amid many. And that story wasn’t over. I wasn’t at an end. Instead, I was at a beginning. I could add my voice to a choir of voices. I could try. That’s all you need to do.”
Aren’t they? I’m going to write them on a piece of pink construction paper and keep them near my writing desk for inspiration.
Thanks for stopping by!
Peace and Creativity,
PS: My copy of Colson Whitehead’s Sag Harbor hasn’t arrived yet. So I started reading a social media book, The New Influencers: A Marketer’s Guide to the New Social Media by Paul Gillin (http://paulgillin.com/newinfluencers). The BAP Living Radio (http://www.talkshoe.com/tc/18598) series on Black women in social media that I have been hosting this month inspired me to pick up the book. I am so glad I did. It is so yummy because I am gaining a big picture perspective of 21st century communications and how to use them in branding myself as an author/artist/creativity coach/blogger/innerpreneur/radio host/yoga teacher/Reiki Master practitioner/social media strategist. It also help me revise my social media marketing strategies for my author web site (www.anandaleeke.com – launch date at the end of June) and new book, That Which Awakens Me: A Creative Woman’s Poetic Memoir of Self-Discovery. After I finish The New Influencers, I am moving on to Gillin’s second book on social media, Secrets of Social Media Marketing: How to Use Online Conversations and Customer Communities to Turbo-Charge Your Business. I plan to finish both books before I head to Chicago for the Blogging While Brown Conference next week (www.bloggingwhilebrown.com).
I am trying to decide which books to take with me to Chicago. I really need to finish Toni Morrison’s A Mercy before I take on another book. However, Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street, a coming-of-age novella that tells the story of Esperanza Cordero, a young Latina growing up in Chicago.
So what are you reading this summer?
Wreck This Journal by Keri Smith – www.kerismith.com
Good Morning All!
It’s 6:40 a.m. in D.C. The June rain that is hitting the pavement outside of my apartment fills the air with autumn chills. It’s hard to believe that summer will be here in 15 more days. I’ve already had two cups of green tea. They warmed me up and got me energized for my new creative adventure : Wreck This Journal by Keri Smith.
Wreck This Journal is an invitation to play and be free. It was extended by Jamie Ridler, a certified professional co-active coach (http://www.jamieridler.blogspot.com). Jamie founded Next Chapter, a book blogging group that has created an online sisterhood of support for creative women like myself. I recently participated in Jamie’s Next Chapter book blogging group from January to April. We read and blogged about The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women by Gail McMeekin (one of my favorite books – read it for the first time in 2000). Click here to learn more about the group: http://www.tnc-12secrets.blogspot.com.
Today marks the first step in my Wreck This Journal adventures with a group of groovy creative women. Click here to learn more: http://www.tnc-wreckthisjournal.blogspot.com. Read about my first Wreck This Journal adventure below.
The clock registered 6:00 a.m. when I started my Wreck This Journal adventure. I opened the book and read the title page. My heart jumped when I read: “To create is to destroy.” What a powerful mantra! It was medicine for my creative soul. It was also a permission slip to just be without an agenda. I needed the medicine and permission slip after spending the past year and half working on my poetic memoir. I really got excited when I read Keri’s warning statement: “You may begin to live more recklessly.” My giggles let me know that I was on the right journey! I shouted “Hallelujah!”
The first page I wrote in asked me to fill out who this book belongs to. I wrote nice and neat like a good Catholic girl: Ananda Leeke. The next line asked me to write my name in white. I panicked and realized I didn’t have a white pen. My sense of play left for a nanosecond until I wrote my name in any ole’ way. That’s when I started to do my own thang despite the instructions. My archetype called Madelyn, the lawyer/CEO lady, cringed. My archetype called Puf, the little girl who rocks the world with her BoHo BAP (Black American Princess) fabulousness and Black-eyed susan southern debutante swagger, grinned and got on with the wrecking process. Puf got the party started! It lasted 30 minutes.
My favorite pages were:
1) Pour, spill, drip, spit, fling your coffee here.
I used green tea instead. Rebel girl Puf didn’t blink an eye at my choice. Then I dipped my finger three times in my tea cup and fingerpainted 3 long drips on the page.
2) Color This Entire Page.
Kiamsha, my creative woman archetype, took over on this page. She decided to write a poem first. Here’s the poem.
It is a rainy today.
Play is what’s on my mind.
Play opens the space of gratitude in my heart.
It reminds me of my Yogi tea bag message.
“Gratitude is the open door to abundance.”
Color it all with love.
After writing the poem, I walked from my bedroom into my art studio and picked up my box of crayons. I brought them back to my bed and proceeded to randomly pull out a few colors. I started coloring the page with two different crayons. I shaded in places and scribbled in others. I added more colors. When I was finished, I realized that my coloring had given birth to a new poem. So I copied it on the opposite page.
Coloring is my favorite.
It is scribbles of joy.
Two crayons together going sideways, upside down, and all around.
Yellow and orange.
Pink and red.
White and violet.
Blue and green.
They kiss a blank page with their rainbow colors with joie de vivre.
My final act from this scene in my creative adventure was coloring the page. When I finished, I looked at the page with all of its colorful shadings and waved a cheery goodbye.
3) Fill this page with circles.
I decided to skip several pages and have some more morning fun. That’s how I landed on page 32. I let out a big WOW when I read the direction about filling the page with circles. My Puf archetype loves to draw circles. So much fun, right? I pulled out my crayons again and made crazy swirls of colorful circles until I got dizzy. I drew blue circles on top of pink ones. Yellow ones layered the pink ones. Green ones moved next door to orange ones. They were a family of swirling circle dervishes that Rumi would be proud of! After I finished with this page, I closed the journal and made my way to my yoga mat for a round of sun salutations, mantra chanting, and meditation before my oatmeal breakfast! What a way to start a Friday!
To my Next Chapter book blogging group sistaloves: Thank you for joining me on this journey. I am so excited to be taking it with you. This summer I have more time on my hands so I will be able to visit your blogs more regularly (didn’t do that on the last Next Chapter book blogging journey due to my poetic memoir writing). I look forward to learning more about your Wreck This Journal experiences.
Thanks for stopping by! Enjoy your day and weekend!
Peace and Creativity,
Last night I hosted a juicy discussion on BAP Living Radio (http://www.talkshoe.com/tc/18598) with the following brilliant Black women bloggers:
-Sondra Lewis, makeup artist, fashion editor, and founder of Chic Chocolate For Fashionistas, Stylistas, Urbanistas In DC & Beyond
-Shwana Ruth-Bridges, attorney and founder of Character Corner: The Blog Where Hip Hop Meets Scripture
We talked a lot about the power and freedom of expression Black women have discovered in blogging. Blogging allows Black women to explore their creativity, build community, and establish connections with others. Blogging gives Black women the space to tell their stories in their own authentic voices. Blogging opens the door to new creative possibilities for Black women. Blogging builds sisterhood among Black women. Blogging offers Black women a chance to advocate for causes and campaigns that reflect their personal interests. Blogging allows Black women to share their thoughts and information about race, gender, books, motherhood, fashion, beauty, culture, politics, popular culture, spirituality, health, travel, and so much more. Blogging serves as a form of therapy for Black women … a way to release stress … an opportunity to inspire and honor others. Blogging makes it possible for Black women to earn money with online ads. Blogging helps Black women brand their businesses, build their audiences as a writer/author, and market their creative efforts with assistance from Twitter and Facebook. Blogging helps Black women network online and offline. To hear more about the ways blogging and social media have impacted Black women’s lives, click here to listen to the show (episode 21 – aired on June 3 – 1 hour, 42 minutes): http://www.talkshoe.com/tc/18598. Be sure to tune into BAP Living Radio episodes on Black women in social media on June 7, 9, and 10.
More about social media … Today I read several blog posts that I think social media folks might be interested in. See the links below.
1) Barack Obama’s Blackberry As An Effective Communication and Business Tool – http://barack20.com/index.php/barack-obamas-blackberry-as-an-effective-communication-and-business-tool
2) Is Bing the Search Engine of the Future? – www.blackweb20.com/2009/06/04/is-bing-the-search-engine-of-the-future
3) Marketing vs. Advertising vs. Public Relations: An Analogy – http://www.elasticmind.ca/innerpreneur/index.php/2009/05/12/marketing-vs-advertising-vs-public-relations-an-analogy
4) Blogging for Small Business – http://pink-heels.blogspot.com/2009/05/blogging-for-small-business.html
5) Internet Marketing: A good Investment During an Economic Slowdown – http://blogs.openforum.com/2009/06/04/internet-marketing-good-investment-economic-slowdown
6) 3 Questions Entrepreneurs Should Ask Themselves – http://blogs.openforum.com/2009/06/04/3-questions-entrepreneurs-should-ask-themselves
7) Is Twitter Evolving from the Facebook to the Myspace of Microblogs? Analyzing Twitter trends and demographics – http://www.briansolis.com/2009/06/is-twitter-evolving-from-facebook-to.html
8) Out of bounds – http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2009/06/out-of-bounds.html
9) Audience or Community – http://www.chrisbrogan.com/audience-or-community
Yesterday I read a Los Angeles Times article written by Reed Johnson about Colson Whitehead’s new book, Sag Harbor. See author photo, book cover photo, and YouTube link with an author video below. The article made me smile. Why? It reminded me how important it is to write novels (Love’s Troubdadours – Karma: Book One – www.lovestroubadours.com), memoirs (That Which Awakens Me: A Creative Woman’s Poetic Memoir of Self-Discovery – Summer 2009 – www.anandaleeke.com), and poetry about my experiences as an African American woman who self-identifies as a Boho BAP (just one of my many identities!) and came of age during the 1970s and 1980s (BAP References: What is a BAP? – http://www.lovestroubadours.com/id15.html; BAP Living social networking site – http://baplivingforbapsandebw.ning.com; and BAP Living Radio – www.talkshoe.com/tc/18598) . It also affirmed how thirsty I am for stories about people with similar experiences. That’s why I ordered Whitehead’s book from Amazon.com this afternoon and will add it to my summer reading list.
What are you planning to read this summer and why?
Thanks for stopping by! Enjoy your day and week!
Peace and Creativity,
Colson Whitehead, author of Sag Harbor
Photo from Reed Johnson’s article in the May 31st issue of the Los Angeles Times
YouTube Link to Author’s Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aILSfknGqFY
Copy of Los Angeles Times Article
By Reed Johnson
May 31, 2009
Guess who’s coming to the beach barbecue this summer? Middle-class African Americans, that’s who.
In two new critically esteemed works, Lydia Diamond’s play “Stick Fly” and Colson Whitehead’s just-published semiautobiographical novel “Sag Harbor” (Doubleday), the focus is on middle-class blacks summering on, respectively, Martha’s Vineyard and rural Long Island. While both works address some of the perennial challenges of African American life, they also depict their characters basking in such fair-weather pleasures as hanging out with family, eating waffle cones, playing board games and schlepping across sand dunes.
Diamond’s comic drama, which is running through June 14 at the Matrix Theatre on Melrose Avenue, and Whitehead’s buoyant coming-of-age tale follow on the heels of Jill Nelson’s “Finding Martha’s Vineyard: African Americans at Home on an Island.” Published in 2005, her book is a lyrical memoir-history of the author’s half-century love affair with the Oak Bluffs community, a longtime African American enclave off the picturesque Massachusetts coast.
As Americans of all colors reconsider the meanings and milieus of the African American experience in the Obama era, we may be witnessing a gradual sea change in the way that African American artists represent themselves and are perceived by others. In both “Stick Fly” and “Sag Harbor,” the characters intermittently analyze their language, relationships and socio-cultural heritage (or baggage) as African Americans. But what’s also striking about these works is that they present their well-educated, witty characters as matter-of-factly inhabiting a world of leisure and affluence, a very different way than many white Americans may be used to seeing black people portrayed in popular culture.
“Often, people who make decisions about what gets produced have only known black people as a service provider,” Diamond, 40, said in a phone interview last week. That’s partly why an educated, middle-class black family such as the Huxtables, when they first appeared on “The Cosby Show” a quarter-century ago, caught off-guard viewers who hadn’t imagined that such families existed, she suggested.
Like the Huxtables’ comfortably rambunctious Brooklyn home, what the communities of Oak Bluffs and Long Island’s Azurest, Sag Harbor Hills and Ninevah offer is a more neutral, less historically and symbolically loaded backdrop against which to examine their fictional characters. They are depicted as places where middle-class African Americans are in some ways more free to be themselves than they are in the rest of white-dominated American society.
As Nelson writes in her memoir of Oak Bluffs: “There was no need to be the exemplary Negro here, or to show white people that we were as good as or better than they were, to conduct ourselves as ambassadors for integration and racial harmony. For the months of summer the weight of being race representative — and all the political, emotional, and psychic burdens that come with demanding that an individual represent a nonexistent monolith — was lifted. . . . Here, it was enough that you simply be yourself.”
“Sag Harbor,” which is set in the mid-1980s, elucidates not the chronicle of a people’s historic struggle, but simply the minutiae of its teenage protagonist Benji’s daily routines, shrewd reflections, sophomoric gibes and occasionally fumbling but earnest attempts at self-transformation.
“According to the world, we were the definition of a paradox: black boys with beach houses,” Whitehead writes. “A paradox to the outside, but it never occurred to us that there was anything strange about it. It was simply who we were.”
To some, “Stick Fly” and “Sag Harbor” may appear to present a kind of alternative history of the Great American Summer Vacation. But among East Coast middle-class blacks, that history is well established.
“Even in college, I’d say, ‘I’m from Sag Harbor,’ people would be like, ‘I didn’t know black people went out there,’ ” Whitehead, 39, said last week in Los Angeles, where he appeared in the Aloud public conversation series at the downtown Central Library. “Meanwhile, for us it was the opposite. We didn’t know white people went out there. We thought all the white people who lived in East Hampton, Bridgehampton, were townies.”
Not only are the worlds of “Stick Fly” and “Sag Harbor” strikingly different from those usually glimpsed in mainstream movies and television, they’re also quite removed from the environments typically associated with some of the most illustrious African American artists. Viewed from the plush living-room set of “Stick Fly” or the weekender bungalows and fried-clam shacks of “Sag Harbor,” the gritty precincts of Spike Lee’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood or August Wilson’s Hill District(Pittsburgh) in Pittsburgh seem a world away. So do the hardships endured by the struggling characters (including slaves) who populate the fiction of the nation’s most celebrated African American writer, Nobel laureate Toni Morrison.
Diamond has said she believes that “America has a real comfort zone with seeing African Americans in certain ways,” usually either as historical figures revisiting past wrongs inflicted by white people, or in a contemporary urban setting where many of the same historic, race-based struggles still occur.
Changing the setting of a play or novel from the Mississippi Delta or Detroit to an idyllic island bluff doesn’t mean those struggles necessarily have ended, the Boston-based playwright maintains, but it can offer a different lens on the nature of those continuing struggles.
In “Stick Fly,” set in the present, the LeVay family’s summer home in Oak Bluffs testifies to the hard-earned progress of a clan as well as an entire ethnic group. Its walls and crannies are covered with African carvings and an original painting by the African American artist and writer Romare Bearden. The bookshelves include the Riverside Shakespeare and “Parting the Waters,” Taylor Branch’s history of the civil rights movement. (John Iacovelli did the Matrix production’s evocative set design.)
In a program note, writer Carrie Hughes traces the African American history of Oak Bluffs to the late 1700s. The community swelled during World War II with African American “doctors, lawyers, dentists, teachers and business people, as well as politicians and artists.”
In that rarefied milieu, “Stick Fly” shapes up less as a play about race per se than about the economic and social distance that separates the LeVay brothers, Kent (Chris Butler) and Flip (Jason Delane), and their successful doctor father ( John Wesley) from Kent’s working-class, hyper-intellectual, hyper-opinionated girlfriend, Taylor (Michole Briana White) and the family’s disgruntled young housekeeper (Tinashe Kajese), all of whom are African American.
“When I wrote the play, I knew I was writing a play about class,” said Diamond, who grew up in what she describes as a single-parent, “solidly lower-middle-class home.”
In fact, several of her play’s plot points turn on matters of class, education and/or gender. Subtly, “Stick Fly” demonstrates that privilege, like discrimination, wears many masks, and is often invisible to those who benefit from it — even, or perhaps especially, if they themselves are the victims of some form of discrimination.
The nature of privilege also figures as a theme of “Sag Harbor.” Benji casually confesses to his youthful ignorance of some of the canonical heroes and cultural idols of African American history, such as W.E.B. DuBois. He’s aware at some level that his own more fortunate lifestyle was made possible by his ancestors’ sacrifices. But he’s also liberated by not being constantly consumed with that historical legacy.
Whitehead, author of the novels “The Intuitionist,” “John Henry Days” and “Apex Hides the Hurt” as well as a book of essays about his hometown, “The Colossus of New York,” said that “the hopes and dreams of my grandparents’ generation,” those African Americans who first started coming out to Sag Harbor, were obviously different from those of him and his childhood friends.
“Definitely they were part of this scene, a really new emergent black middle class. And for them to go out there was something that they were inventing. You know, they wanted it and they went for it, and no one’s going to tell them no.”
His parents, living through the civil rights era, also had their own, different perspectives and motivations, he said. “And then for our generation, [we would] sort of take their struggles for granted, playing with ‘ Star Wars’ figures in the dirt. Not aware of this whole history, just being the beneficiaries, the clueless beneficiaries.”
For Whitehead, Sag Harbor symbolized something of a refuge from his family’s life in New York City, where “I was a target for the police if I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” (Once, as a high school senior, he was taken to a police station in handcuffs after being falsely fingered as a robber.)
Not that Sag Harbor was an idyll. “If we were out of Sag Harbor we were out of our territories,” he said. “And you couldn’t just go strolling around, driving aimlessly around through the streets of East Hampton.”
Yet for Benji, Sag Harbor represents a world of dawning possibilities, in which worries over “keeping it real” and acting “authentic” can be allayed, the stereotype-filled “great narrative of black pathology” can be set aside (at least from Memorial Day to Labor Day) and it’s OK to like Siouxsie and the Banshees as well as Run-DMC.
“I probably would’ve had too much anxiety about being called ‘bourgie’ if I had written this book in the ’90s,” Whitehead acknowledged. “Like I can’t reveal that I actually had a comfortable upbringing.”
Are we in a different place now? “No, I’m in a different place,” he said. “This is the way it went down, and I don’t care if you know that.”
Narrative: Memories. In Your Own Words.
A six-word memoir collage by Ananda Leeke
Copyright 2009 by Madelyn C. Leeke
Photo Credit: Leigh Mosley – www.leighmosley.com
It’s official. WordPress is my new blog home. If you would like to read my old Blogspot.com blog, click here: http://kiamshacom.blogspot.com. Beginning June 1st, I will share excerpts and artwork from my upcoming book, That Which Awakens Me: A Creative Woman’s Poetic Memoir of Self-Discovery (Summer 2009 – iUniverse, Inc.). I’ll also post audio and written blogs about my:
-yoga and meditation practice;
-summer adventures with family and friends;
-work as an artist-in-residence for Smith Farm Center for Healing and the Arts at Howard University Hospital (www.smithfarm.com);
-yoga teaching experiences;
-volunteer service as a yoga teacher (http://yoga.meetup.com/584) and radio show host for three Talkshoe.com’s programs (BAP Living Radio – http://www.talkshoe.com/tc/18598, Go Green Sangha Radio – http://www.talkshoe.com/tc/21325, and Sisterhood, the Blog – http://www.talkshoe.com/tc/42015);
-participation in creative workshop experiences at Smith Farm Center for Healing and the Arts;
-museum and gallery visits; and
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Enjoy your weekend!
Peace and Creativity,