Claudia Rankine on the Legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks

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Gwendolyn Brooks in her home in Chicago. Credit Associated Press

THE GOLDEN SHOVEL ANTHOLOGY
New Poems Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks
Edited by Peter Kahn, Ravi Shankar and Patricia Smith
278 pp. The University of Arkansas Press. Paper, $29.95.

REVISE THE PSALM
Work Celebrating the Writing of Gwendolyn Brooks
Edited by Quraysh Ali Lansana and Sandra Jackson-Opoku
Illustrated. 416 pp. Curbside Splendor Publishing. Paper, $24.95.

Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks was born in Topeka, Kan., at 1 p.m. on Thursday, June 7, 1917.

But her family moved to Chicago shortly after her birth, and she was a Chicagoan until her death, in 2000. The author of more than 20 volumes of poetry, Brooks holds the distinction of being the first African-American to win a Pulitzer Prize (in 1950, for her second book of poems, “Annie Allen”), and she received numerous accolades, including the National Medal of Arts and an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award. In honor of the centennial year of her birth, two anthologies have arrived: “Revise the Psalm,” edited by Quraysh Ali Lansana and Sandra Jackson-Opoku; and “The Golden Shovel Anthology,” edited by Peter Kahn, Ravi Shankar and Patricia Smith.

In their shared mission, these books complement each other without too much overlap. The novelist Richard Wright, in a reader’s report for Harper & Brothers in the early 1940s, declared Brooks essential: “America needs a voice like hers.” Confirming Wright’s claim are the hundreds of artists represented in these two new anthologies, poets who have used her work as a prompt or a point of engagement.

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“The Golden Shovel Anthology” structures itself around the form developed by the prodigious poet Terrance Hayes, whose own poem “The Golden Shovel” opens the book. A Golden Shovel poem sneaks an existing poem into the end words of each line. That way, the new poem always remains in conversation with its precursor. In his introduction, Shankar writes that the anthology is “an inherently collaborative effort, a dialogue, a response,” and the same description works for Hayes’s form, which unites all of the poems here. Read their end words, and you’ll find a Brooks poem. In the foreword, Hayes says he came up with the idea when he was helping his 5-year-old son memorize Brooks’s “We Real Cool,” which starts with a sort of subtitle or epigraph: “The Pool Players. / Seven at the Golden Shovel.” The words of Brooks’s poem moved into Hayes’s head space and became a lyric to push against or engage:

When I am so small Da’s sock covers my arm, we
cruise at twilight until we find the place the real

men lean, bloodshot and translucent with cool.
His smile is a gold-plated incantation as we

drift by women on bar stools, with nothing left
in them but approachlessness. This is a school

I do not know yet. But the cue sticks mean we
are rubbed by light, smooth as wood, the lurk

of smoke thinned to song. We won’t be out late.
Standing in the middle of the street last night we

watched the moonlit lawns and a neighbor strike
his son in the face. A shadow knocked straight

Da promised to leave me everything: the shovel we
used to bury the dog, the words he loved to sing

his rusted pistol, his squeaky Bible, his sin.
The boy’s sneakers were light on the road. We

watched him run to us looking wounded and thin.
He’d been caught lying or drinking his father’s gin.

He’d been defending his ma, trying to be a man. We
stood in the road, and my father talked about jazz,

how sometimes a tune is born of outrage. By June
the boy would be locked upstate. That night we

got down on our knees in my room. If I should die
before I wake. Da said to me, it will be too soon.

Nestled into the last word of each line is Brooks’s canonical poem: “We real cool. We/ Left school. …” Throughout this anthology, more than 60 other well-known Brooks poems can be read the same way, with lines from “The Mother” and “The Bean Eaters” tripping down the right-hand side of the page. The anthology ends with “Non-Brooks Golden Shovels” and “Variations and Expansions on the Form.” The cross-section of poets with varying poetics and styles gathered here is only one of the many admirable achievements of this volume.

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“Revise the Psalm” brings a more expansive response to Brooks. The editors have included poetry, prose, photographs and paintings created in recognition of both Brooks and her work. Essays speak back to individual poems like “The Mother,” or reflect on Brooks’s impact or on personal encounters with her. We get a keen sense of the poet and her fierce commitment to community engagement. For example, Adrian Matejka writes about attending a reading where Brooks spent more time reading poems by elementary school children than reading her own work.

The portraits represent Brooks at different points in her 83 years. Most notable is the author’s photo by Roy Lewis, for her 1969 book “Riot,” with Brooks wearing the Afro that signified her break with her mainstream publisher as she joined the voices of the Black Arts Movement. Lansana and Jackson-Opoku, the editors of “Revise the Psalm,” use the phrase “‘Gwendolynian’ influences,” describing their anthology as “a project of literary and artistic revision, the process of ‘talking back’ to works that inspire, teach, challenge and engage.” Not surprisingly, given this endeavor, the book includes some Golden Shovel poems.

More often than not, however, the poems in “Revise the Psalm” are more loosely inspired by Brooks’s subjects. Consider “Daystar,” by Rita Dove. (She is one of a handful of poets who appear in both volumes.) Though written for Dove’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Thomas and Beulah,” “Daystar” takes on a subject that was of central importance to Brooks — the quotidian outer life and the rich inner life of African-American mothers:

She wanted a little room for thinking:
b
ut she saw diapers steaming on the line,
a doll slumped behind the door.
So she lugged a chair behind the garage
to sit out the children’s naps.

Sometimes there were things to watch:
the pinched armor of a vanished cricket,
a floating maple leaf. Other days
she stared until she was assured
when she closed her eyes
she’d see only her vivid own blood.

She had an hour, at best, before Liza appeared
pouting from the top of the stairs.
And just what was mother doing
out back with the field mice? Why,
building a palace. Later
that night when Thomas rolled over and
lurched into her, she would open her eyes
and think of the place that was hers
for an hour — where
she was nothing,
pure nothing, in the middle of the day.

Whether one considers the breadth of writing inspired by Gwendolyn Brooks or drops down into the possibilities of the Golden Shovel form, Richard Wright was not wrong about her importance: She has served her readers across a century.

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Construction Begin On New Event Space At DuSable Museum Of African American History

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Park District leadership announced the beginning of renovations for an outdoor event space at the DuSable Museum of African American History along the eastern edge of the Roundhouse building. The site will be completed in time for the Chicago Architectural Biennial in September 2017.

“This new outdoor event space at the DuSable Museum will be a unique location to celebrate special occasions in Washington Park,” said Mayor Emanuel. “As the nation’s oldest African American Museum, DuSable is the ideal place for patrons to come together.”

The outdoor space will be approximately 15,000 square feet along the eastern edge of the Roundhouse building. Plans for the site, which is currently an asphalt lot, will include rebuilding the stairs at the Roundhouse basement, installing permeable pavers, landscaping, and building ornamental fencing along the south border.

Patrons can enter the space from 57th Drive along the north and Cottage Grove on the south eastern edge. As part of this project, truck access will be routed to the Cottage Grove.

The Chicago Architecture Biennial (CAB) launches in September 2017 and will align with EXPO Chicago, Navy Pier’s annual art and design convention. CAB will feature 141 participants from 20 countries at the Chicago Cultural Center and neighborhood anchor sites around Chicago. They include the Beverly Arts Center in the Beverly community, the DePaul Art Museum in Lincoln Park, the DuSable Museum of African American History in Washington Park, the Hyde Park Art Center in Hyde Park, the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen, and the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture in Humboldt Park.

Funding will be provided by the City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District.

This is part of Building on Burnham, the Mayor’s comprehensive plan to invest in the Lakefront, the Chicago River, natural areas and recreational opportunities in neighborhoods across the city. The Mayor began the successful expansion of Chicago’s park system in his first mayoral term, which has already added 750 acres of new parkland, 327 new playgrounds and more than $800 million in capital investment from neighborhoods and private sources.

 

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Genesius Theatre presents the musical ‘Dreamgirls’




Thirty-five years after the groundbreaking, Michael Bennett, musical wowed Broadway audiences, Genesius, proudly presents, the regional premier of the electrifying, Motown-inspired, six-time Tony Award, and also, Olivier, Grammy and Oscar winning musical, “Dreamgirls,” that opens Friday, Aug. 4 and running thru Aug. 19. Book & Lyrics by Tom Eyen & Music by Henry Krieger.

This megawatt Broadway crowd-pleaser electrifies the stage with Motown tunes and powerhouse voices. Loosely based on, Diana Ross and the Supremes, the story follows the turbo-charged rise to fame of the Dreams. “Dreamgirls” celebrates the advent of R&B in the 1960s with a Motown-inspired score, dynamic performances, and a moving look behind-the-scenes of the entertainment business. Experience all the onstage-joy and backstage-drama as an up-and-coming girl-group learns hard lessons about love, trust, and what it takes to make your way to the top!

This modern-day classic sparkles with almost as many awards and accolades as its costumes have sequins. Take a trip back to the seminal music scene of the 1960s, when young women sang their way to musical prominence in a man’s world. Set in the Motown era that brought us powerhouse voices like Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross—and ultimately Destiny’s Child and Beyoncé— Dreamgirls explodes from the stage with legendary songs and timeless appeal.

“Dreamgirls” takes you on a journey through the evolution of American music and it’s influence by the African American culture. As a predominantly black cast with three female leads, Dreamgirls addresses the issues of sex and race. In an industry dominated by men, Effie, Lorrell and Deena quickly learn how to navigate through the music industry and become powerful black women.


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With music set in the 60’s and 70’s the influence of World War II, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Black Power Movement are all relevant within this musical. After World War II, blacks from the south began to emerge up north and to western cities seeking escape from the harsh Jim Crow Laws. Rhythm and Blues was born out of the need for blacks to express themselves creatively while demanding to be heard. The tension during the Civil Rights movement inspired unity amongst blacks to thrive in a business where mostly whites were successful. Black artists were determined to make music that would break racial boundaries. The Black Power movement emphasized black-power and black-pride that eventually helped launch careers that propelled African-American music to become accessible to all audiences. Dreamgirls is a celebration of the music that helped build the foundation of many artists we have come to love. Through every dance, and every song, we pay homage to those who risked their lives to transform a nation with music. Featuring such musical hits as, “AND, I’M TELLING YOU”, “ I AM CHANGING”, “HARD TO SAY GOODBYE”, & “DREAMGIRLS”, audiences fall in love with this time-honored musical! As they sing in the show… “Dreamgirls will never leave you… all you got to do is dream, baby, and we’ll be there!”

The Genesius production is directed by Genesius artistic producer, L J Fecho, associate directed by Christopher Sperat, music directed/conducted by Kevin Cooper and choreographed by Jericho Joy of Monarch Dance Studio. Set design by, L J Fecho, Brad Hafer & Brandon Kegerize, light design by, Spencer Moss Fecho Julia Elberfeld & L J Fecho, costumes design by, Cathy Miller & Dara Himes, hair/makeup design by, Kim Siegel of United Artist Salon and sound design by, Albert Garcia. The set is constructed by John Bigos, Betty Gerstner, and Brandon Kegerize. The production is stage managed by Sarah Kiebach.

The Genesius production features a diverse cast of approximately thirty talented actors, singers and dancers. REGGIE BROWN of “BUNCH OF FUNK” (local R & B band) will play the James Brown-inspired character, James Thunder Early. THE DREAMS – The cast includes two very talented newcomers who hail from Easton, PA & Phillipsburg, NJ, who are making the trip to Berks, for every rehearsal and performance. Kiyanna Cox Jones will portray the tumultuous Effie White and Veronica Cummings is the flirtatious, Lorrell Robinson. Yesenia Mora, is back at Genesius, after her excellent performance as Danielle, in last summer’s mega-hit, In The Heights, in the role of Deena Jones, (loosely based on legendary singer, Dianna Ross)! Susie DeBooth, portrays Michelle Morris, the new back-up singer, who pushes Effie White out of the Dreams. The cast also includes: Nick Freer, as Curtis Taylor, Jr., Calvin Scott, as Marty, DeShaun Williams, as C. C. White, Anthony Disla, as Wayne, and Carroll Woodbridge, as Frank.

Genesius is a 501-C-3 Non-Profit organization. The Genesius, 2017 Season, is sponsored by Sandy Solmon and Doug Messinger of Sweet Street and the Lead Show Sponsor is David & Melanie Mattes – The Mattes Group of ReMax of Reading & United Artists Salon & Spa. Genesius Theatre, 153 North 10th Street, Reading, PA 19601

DREAMGIRLS – opens Friday, August 4 and runs 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 16, 18, SHOW TIMES – Wed thru Sat. show time is 7:30 PM, Saturday Matinees at 2:00 PM and Sunday’s at 3:00 PM. PRICE RANGE – Student $17.50, Senior $22.50, Adult $28.50, Premium Seats $30.00 and Deluxe Seats $33. Thursday, August 10, ONLY – Student Tickets are $15 and all other seats are $20.00. For Tickets please visit – www.genesiusdifference.org; 610-373-9500 card fees apply. Tickets also available at the door.

The play is PG-13-Rated – Genesius Theatre is handicapped accessible and there is free parking (limited spaces available) next to the theater. For more information, call the theater at 610-371-8151.

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J.R. Todd becomes first African American double-nitro winner

The magic of Sonoma Raceway continued for J.R. Todd on Sunday.

With artwork of the late Eric Medlen, a longtime friend killed during a test session in 2007, tucked into his race suit, Todd won for the second consecutive year at the 30th annual Sonoma Nationals before close to 30,000 fans.

After winning in the Top Fuel division last season, Todd prevailed Sunday in his SealMaster Funny Car to become the first African American to win races in the top two nitro divisions.

Todd (4.049 seconds, 323.27 mph) defeated Tim Wilkerson, who had engine problems, in the finals to win for the first time in his first season in Funny Car.

He joined season leaders Steve Torrence (Top Fuel) and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle), along with 18-year-old Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) in the winners’ circle.

“This is a magical place,” said the 36-year-old Todd. “I love this track. I can’t afford to live in this area, but I might ask (Sonoma Raceway president and general manager) Steve (Page) if he has an extra room to rent.”

Todd defeated teammate Alexis Dejoria, racing legend John Force and Jack Beckman en route to the finals. His semifinal victory over Beckman was epic, when he smoked the tires early and fell behind by 200 feet on the 1,000-foot track.

But Beckman’s engine failed at about 800 feet, and Todd found his traction and won the wild race, 5.741 to 5.920.

“I just hoped I had enough room to get by him,” Todd said. “In every race, you need an element of luck, and we got some there.”

As far as being the first African American double-nitro winner, Todd said, “I don’t know that it really matters if you’re black or white or purple, boy or girl. We have helmets on and no one in the stands knows what you look like. I’m just happy to win for a first time in this division.”

Torrence (3.784, 239.42) won for the sixth time in eight finals with a victory over Antron Brown (3.974, 281.83), who had defeated the Torrence Racing driver 18 of the previous 22 runs.

It was the first victory for Torrence at Sonoma and his 14th overall.

“I love this place and always wanted to win here,” Torrence said. “The longer you do this, the more places you like to win, and winning here is icing on the cake.”

Mitch Stephens is a freelance writer.

First African American woman chosen to lead YWCA Madison in its 109-year history

The YWCA Madison has a new chief executive officer, and it’s a first for the 109-year-old organization.

Vanessa McDowell is the first woman of color to head the local YWCA, which offers housing, transportation and job training services for low-income families while seeking to combat racism and empower women. She had been serving as interim CEO since January.

McDowell, a Madison native, was first hired as director of support services in 2014, and became chief programs officer in 2015. As interim CEO, McDowell said, she has worked to build staff morale and alter the perception of YWCA, especially with communities of color.

“I think the YWCA Madison was seen as having mostly white leadership, while a lot of the participants we serve are people of color,” McDowell said. “We’ve been coming from more of a charity model versus an empowerment model, and that’s something I’ve been adamant about changing.”

McDowell was a key figure in the move of the YWCA Empowerment Center from Latham Drive to South Park Street, a location “right in the heart of the community we serve,” she said. The new building is scheduled to open in September.

She also “took the baton” from previous CEO Rachel Krinsky on a project that will provide permanent supportive housing for homeless families. Called the “Tree Lane Project,” for the West Side street where it will be housed, the 45-unit building is expected to open to families in 2018. The YWCA is in the process of finding supporters and raising funds for the building’s services.

“We’re really trying to work with our community to be more collaborative, externally and internally, and see how we can better serve our community going forward,” McDowell said.

An open house for McDowell will be held at the new Empowerment Center on Sept. 15.

Horse troughs

In 1910, the National Humane Alliance and Adolph Melzer, soap manufacturer and animal lover, erected a five- ton, granite horse trough in front of the Municipal Market, located in the intersection of what was then Market and Pennsylvania Streets. About 125 similar troughs were constructed throughout the county, most at busy intersections. The troughs, including Evansville’s, were later deemed traffic hazard in an age of automobiles and were removed or relocated.

Horse trough-supporters protested the move, advocating for it to remain at the intersection in numerous letters to the editors. This photo, arranged by a photographer at the Evansville Press in January 1960, brought a horse to drink from the fountain for the first time in decades, only to find the water frozen.

In February 1962, the trough was moved to the grounds of Evansville Museum. During Main Street renovation in 1971, it was repurposed as a fountain on the walkway, where it can still be found between Third and Fourth streets.

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History Lesson is a pictorial history of Evansville compiled by Daniel Smith, local history and digitization librarian at the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library.

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