0 comments on “#BlackHistoryMonth Treat: How Playwright Lorraine Hansberry Inspired My Novel, Love’s Troubadours”

#BlackHistoryMonth Treat: How Playwright Lorraine Hansberry Inspired My Novel, Love’s Troubadours

LT-ALandLorraineHansberry

My debut novel, Love’s Troubadours was inspired by a speech given by activist and playwright Lorraine Hansberry in February 1964. She spoke to a Harlem-based group of aspiring young, gifted, and African American writers about the power to love in America. In her remarks, Hansberry stated,

“O, the things that we have learned in this unkind house that we have to tell the world about! Despair? Did someone say despair was a question in the world? Well then, listen to the sons of those who have known little else. If you wish to know the resiliency of this thing you would so quickly resign to mythhood, this thing called the human spirit … Life? Ask those who have tasted of it in pieces rationed out by enemies. Love? Ah, ask the troubadours who have come from those who have loved when all reason pointed to the uselessness and foolhardiness of love. Perhaps we shall be the teachers when it is done. Out of the depths of pain we have thought to be our sole heritage in this world-O, we know about love!”

She referred to African Americans as troubadours, the descendents of people who used the power of love to live through and overcome despair and insurmountable odds. She went on to urge the audience to seek wisdom from African Americans because of their capacity to love.

I first read about Hansberry’s speech in Salvation by bell hooks in 2001. Salvation discusses how African Americans have used the power of love to transform their lives and communities. hooks’ writings caused me to question how I could use my gifts as an artist and writer to promote love as a healing tool in the lives of individuals and communities in America. I answered that question by writing Love’s Troubadours, a novel that tells the story of Karma Francois, a 30-something museum curator and yoga teacher who loses her job, discovers family secrets after a loved one dies, and begins a healing journey as she relocates from New York City to Washington, DC. Learn more about her in the video below.

Karma learns many life lessons as she comes face-to-face with the choices she has made in her life and relationships. Watch the video below and learn about some of them.

Throughout her journey, she uses journaling, meditation, mindfulness, poetry, spirituality, therapy, and yoga to heal and love herself. Hansberry’s wisdom on mindful living inspired the way I wrote about Karma’s healing journey:

 “I wish to live because life has within it that which is good, that which is beautiful, and that which is love. Therefore, since I have known all of these things, I have found them to be reason enough and–I wish to live. Moreover, because this is so, I wish others to live for generations and generations and generations and generations.”

Watch the video below and learn how Karma’s healing journey transformed her idea of love in her life.

After reading Hansberry’s book, To Be Young, Gifted and Black, I made a conscious decision to use my novel’s characters to celebrate the beauty and diversity of people of African descent. Watch the video below and learn about the diverse characters.

 

Listen to a chapter excerpt from Love’s Troubadours that illustrates the diversity of African Americans when Karma walks into Mocha Hut, a coffee and tea café in her U Street neighborhood, and eavesdrops on a conversation.

 

0 comments on “Ananda’s National Yoga Month Teaching Gig for Smith Farm Center for Healing and the Arts at Allen AME Church in DC”

Ananda’s National Yoga Month Teaching Gig for Smith Farm Center for Healing and the Arts at Allen AME Church in DC

National Yoga Month 2010 has been a blast. I taught a kind and gentle yoga class series on September 11, 18, and 25 at Allen AME Church in Washington, DC. The yoga classes were a part of the Healthy U Program for African American DC residents. Smith Farm Center for Healing and the Arts sponsored the event with Allen AME Church and Union Temple Church. Click here to see more photos from the Healthy U Program.

By the way, I  also work as a Smith Farm artist-in-residence at the National Navy Medical Center in Maryland. Visit www.smithfarm.com.

1 comment on “Ananda’s reflection on Kuumba (creativity), the 6th day of Kwanzaa”

Ananda’s reflection on Kuumba (creativity), the 6th day of Kwanzaa

Greetings All!

Happy New Year’s Eve!  Happy Kuumba (Creativity), the 6th day of Kwanzaa!

What does creativity mean to you?

How have you been creative in 2009?

What are your creative plans for 2010?

Click on my Cinchcast below to hear my reflection on Kuumba and an excerpt about creativity from my new book, That Which Awakens Me: A Creative Woman’s Poetic Memoir of Self-Discovery (available on Amazon.com – http://tiny.cc/7uFsg).  I also mention the way African Americans are using their creativity and social media tools (Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, Twitter, etc.) to tell their stories on web TV shows such as my new five favorites: “Anacostia”, “Buppies”, “Kindred”, “The New 20s”, and “Wed-Locked.”  All of these shows represent a new wave of artistic freedom in 21st century visual culture.  They celebrate the independence of creative folks who are willing to tell a wide range of stories that document the many facets of African American life.  For me, they echo one of my favorite mantras: Black folks are NOT and will never be monolothic!  They also  remind me of my debut novel, Love’s Troubadours – Karma: Book One (www.lovestroubadours.com ; available on Amazon.com –  http://tinyurl.com/yfxtqyq) are also sources of inspiration for my next novel, Love’s Trouabadours – Symon: Book Two. 

Enjoy your day and New Year’s Eve!  Many blessings to you and your family in 2010! 

Peace, Compassion, and Creativity,

Ananda

0 comments on “Fathers and Daughters on July 31st Episode of The Ananda Leeke Show on Talkshoe.com”

Fathers and Daughters on July 31st Episode of The Ananda Leeke Show on Talkshoe.com

BAPdaddysgirl

Me and my father Dr. John F. Leeke affectionately

known as “J” hanging out in Adams Morgan in DC

 

Happy Wednesday!

Join me for a juicy conversation with my father Dr. John F. Leeke (a/k/a “J”) about fathers and daughters on the July 31st episode of The Ananda Leeke Show at 8:00 p.m. EST on Talkshoe.com. Click here to listen to the show:  http://www.talkshoe.com/tc/15820.  We will discuss how our father-daughter relationship has impacted my life choices, creativity, and career. 

daughterandfathers1

We will also share our thoughts about the book, Daughters of Men: Portraits of African-American Women and Their Fathers (http://www.daughtersofmen.com) by Rachel Vassel.  I recently gave this book to “J” for his 70th birthday.  It’s one of his favorites!

If you miss the show, don’t panic. You can download a recording to your computer or via iTunes a few minutes after the show airs or whenever you have free time.  Click here to download a recording:  http://www.talkshoe.com/tc/15820.

What is your relationship with your father?

How has your father impacted your life choices and career?

Enjoy your day!

Peace and Creativity,

Ananda

0 comments on “Diversity Among African Americans: We are not monolithic!”

Diversity Among African Americans: We are not monolithic!

 

 

annapolisbeach1

akml-beach%20life-may%2020051

Photos taken at Oyster Harbor Beach in Annapolis, MD

 

Happy Monday!

While my dad and I were getting some much needed “plage de temps” (French phrase that means beach time a/k/a chilling out, chill-axing, cooling out, R&R) on Sunday morning in Annapolis, he shared soundbytes from the Washington Post about Judge Sonia Sotomayor and his all-time favorite person, President Barack Obama.  He spent time talking about Eugene Robinson’s op-ed that discussed several comments President Obama made about his speech at the NAACP’s 100th anniversary. Click here to read Robinson’s op-ed:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/18/AR2009071801045.html.

Obama-NAACP-100th-Anniversary-Speech

Robinson’s op-ed also referenced President Obama’s statement about how the civil rights movement weakened itself by promoting a one size fits all definition of what it means to be Black: 

“One of the ways that I think that the civil rights movement . . . weakened itself was by enforcing a single way of being black — being authentically black. And, as a consequence, there were a whole bunch of young black people — and I fell prey to this for a time when I was a teenager — who thought that if you were really ‘down’ you had to be a certain way. And oftentimes that was anti-something. You defined yourself by being against things as opposed to what you were for. And I think now young people realize, you know what, being African American can mean a whole range of things. There’s a whole bunch of possibilities out there for how you want to live your life, what values you want to express, who you choose to interact with…  I do think it is important for the African American community, in its diversity, to stay true to one core aspect of the African American experience, which is we know what it’s like to be on the outside… If we ever lose that, then I think we’re in trouble. Then I think we’ve lost our way.”

TWAM-LovesTroubadours-Blackfolksmonolithic

Love’s Troubadours: Black Folks Ain’t Monolithic by Ananda Leeke (2005)

Message on painting: The truth is that Black folks ain’t monolithic.  No folks are. You dig! When Deno and I started writing the novel, we wanted to show the depth and breadth of Black folks loving themselves and each other in and out of life’s joys and pains … in and out of our identities…gender…class…religions…ages… We wanted to tell the truth.  The truth being that Black folks are Love’s Troubadours.”

 

I am so happy that President Obama talked about the diversity among African Americans and how being African American means many things.  His statement echoes a familiar chant that I have addressed in my novel, Love’s Troubadours – Karma: Book One (www.lovestroubadours.com), Love’s Troubadours Art Collection, and my new book, That Which Awakens Me: A Creative Woman’s Poetic Memoir of Self-Discovery (Summer 2009 – iUniverse, Inc.): African Americans are not monolithic.  See the photo of my painting, Love’s Troubadours: Black Folks Ain’t Monolithic above.  The lives of African Americans are filled with multi-layered stories.  We are much more than what we read about in mainstream media.  Our lives are richer and deeper than what we see on television and movie screens.  That’s why we must be vigilant in telling and documenting our stories. 

More on President Obama

Last night I had a chance to catch up on my reading. So I read an op-ed by Shayne Lee, one of my favorite authors. Click here to read Shayne’s op-ed: www.philly.com/inquirer/opinion/50451437.html?cmpid=15585797.  In his op-ed that was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on July 10, Shayne discussed how former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka cleared President Obama’s path to becoming Senator and President.  How could that be?  The topic itself made me blink a few times.  To see why I blinked, read an excerpt from Shayne’s op-ed below.

“Let’s go back to 2004. National Democratic leaders strategize feverishly in an effort to win enough seats to control the U.S. Senate. They have their eyes on Illinois, a state with no incumbent running for reelection. Obama wins the Democratic nomination for the open seat, and the Republican nominee, Jack Ryan, drops out of the race due to the embarrassing details of his divorce records.

Obama is looking down a clear path to the Senate – until Mike Ditka begins flirting with the idea of running on the Republican ticket.

Some Democrats are champing at the bit for their Harvard-educated lawyer to pit wits against the charismatic but nonetheless inarticulate jock. But others fear that the former NFL coach, who brought Chicago its first and only Super Bowl championship, enjoys instant name recognition, while Obama is still establishing himself with Illinois residents. They find the prospect of a young politician with a weird name running against one of the state’s greatest sports legends somewhat daunting.

So, to raise Obama’s visibility, they grant him the great privilege of addressing the 2004 Democratic National Convention in prime time. Ironically, Ditka announces he will not enter the race shortly before the convention. But Obama’s name is already carved in stone on the schedule.

Almost 10 million Americans watch Obama deliver a riveting speech that changes his life and American politics. Before long, Obama is the new face of the party, criss-crossing the nation in fund-raising efforts for struggling candidates, building strategic alliances, and thereby taking steps toward a viable presidential candidacy.

I sum things up with a sort of syllogism: Obama’s presidential run is unimaginable without the political power and rock-star status bestowed upon him by his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. His speech never happens without a sports legend threatening to run against him for the vacant Illinois Senate seat. Therefore, Barack Obama would not be president today without Mike Ditka.

There is a lesson to be learned from the president’s remarkable journey. Even an immensely gifted, highly competent, Ivy League-trained talent such as Obama needs a bit of luck to achieve great success in America. How much more of it do the rest of us need”?

Okay now what do you think? 

If you are like me, you might be saying, “this cat made me think.”  That’s why I am a huge fan of Shayne’s work.  His writing always pushes the envelope and causes me to consider a different perspective.  He uncovers facts and weaves them together with insightful commentary that sheds light on areas most folks miss.  I think Shayne moonlights as an “Easy Rawlins” detective when he leaves his gigs as an author, sociologist, and professor at Tulane University.  

For more information about Shayne, visit http://www.tulane.edu/~sociol/slee.pdf

Be sure to check out and buy Shayne’s books on Amazon.com: T.D. Jakes: America’s New Preacher (NYU Press, 2005) and Holy Mavericks: Evangelical Innovators and the Spiritual Marketplace (NYU Press 2009).  Support Shayne!  His work will enrich your life! 

To read my review of Shayne’s book, T.D. Jakes: America’s New Preacher, click here: http://kiamshacom.blogspot.com/2009/02/book-review-td-jakes-americas-new.html.  

Visit BAP Living Radio to listen to a recording of my February 23rd interview with Shayne (search for Episode 13):  http://www.talkshoe.com/tc/18598.

Enjoy your day and week!

Peace and Creativity,

Ananda

0 comments on “Happy June! My Summer Reading Adventures – Colson Whitehead’s Sag Harbor”

Happy June! My Summer Reading Adventures – Colson Whitehead’s Sag Harbor

Happy June!

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 Onewww.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,

Ananda

colsonwhitehead

Colson Whitehead, author of Sag Harbor

Photo from Reed Johnson’s article in the May 31st issue of the Los Angeles Times 

sagharbor

YouTube Link to Author’s Video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aILSfknGqFY

Copy of Los Angeles Times Article

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-ca-africanamerican31-2009may31,0,7855305.story

 Center stage: middle-class African Americans
As Colson Whitehead’s and Lydia Diamond’s new dramas show, the way black artists represent themselves and are perceived by others is changing.

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.”