The King’s legacy: Four decades after his death, what are we to make of the legend that was Elvis Presley?

FIFTY Million Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong was the over-the-top title of Elvis Presley’s 1959 greatest hits album, whose cover featured 16 images of the singer dressed in a gold lame suit made by tailor to the stars Nudie Cohn. It wasn’t even the hip-swivelling chart star’s first foray into greatest hits territory – that had come a year earlier with Elvis’s Golden Records – though in its defence, Presley had reputedly sold at least that many singles by then so perhaps we can forgive the album title its note of bombast.

Today, however, could 50,000,000 Elvis fans even be found, far less judged to be right or wrong? And if not today, then how about on Wednesday, which marks the 40th anniversary of the singer’s death?

Elvis Presley breathed his last on August 16, 1977 in Graceland, the palatial Memphis mansion he had bought in 1957. He died young in real terms but was old for a rock star whose executors found themselves with an icon to sex up and a reputation to burnish. Nor was his end one of those seedily glamorous deaths that had taken Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Brian Jones to early graves.

They all died aged 27, giving rise to the so-called 27 Club (later members would include Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse). Presley was 42 when he was found slumped in his toilet, and the official cause of death was given as heart failure though it was certainly exacerbated by years of abuse of prescription drugs and medicines. “Live fast, die young and leave a beautiful corpse” runs the famous line attributed (wrongly) to James Dean. Presley only managed the first of the three.

So the answer to the question posed above is yes – and also no. Certainly the thousands who’ll flock to Memphis to take part in the annual Elvis Week’s programme of events (highlights include the the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest And Showcase) will view themselves as members of a millions-strong family of fans. So too will those who think tuning into a live stream of Elvis Week’s all-night candlelit vigil is a worthwhile way to spend 12 hours. And so will the pilgrims who’ll pay to stay at The Guest House At Graceland resort (it opened last year and features the largest hotel to be built in Memphis in nearly a century) or who’ll queue to enter Graceland’s latest blockbuster attraction, Elvis Presley’s Memphis.

French fan Jocilyne Bellanttr, interviewed by an American news crew at the opening of the new $45 million, 40 acre visitor centre, probably speaks for many of those who treat a trip to Memphis as something akin to a pilgrimage. “When Elvis died, I said, ‘Well my life is over, my fan club will close and I will be lost’. But after all these years I’m still here, my fan club is still big and it’s a miracle. So to me, I’m living a miracle every day with Elvis.”

Bellanttr’s French Elvis fan club is one of around 400 still in operation around the world, according to The Elvis Presley Fan Club Of Great Britain, which was founded in 1957 and bills itself as “the world’s most respected” Elvis fan club. It has around 10,000 members itself and some 300 are travelling to Memphis for the events marking the 40th anniversary of Presley’s death. Multiply that by every other Elvis fan club worth its leather jumpsuits and, while it probably doesn’t come to 50,000,000, you can appreciate how busy Memphis International Airport will be this week.

But anyone who experienced the visceral thrill of Elvis when he was at his most potent – the mid-1950s – would now be in their late 70s or 80s. So it’s safe to assume that these Elvis fans are more recent converts, drawn not so much to the idea of Elvis the man as to the idea of Elvis the legend or even Elvis the dead showbiz icon. And what draws them to events like Elvis Week, what gives Graceland its title as the most-visited private residence in the world, what makes otherwise sane people fork out $20,000 for five nights in the light-filled Beverly Hills pad Elvis lived in between 1967 and 1973, is the lure of a very particular type of American celebrity – one built on graft and talent, but tinged with something darker and more tawdry.

More than that, these Elvis fans may be drawn to something they cannot quite explain. In his 1991 book Dead Elvis: A Chronicle Of A Cultural Obsession, hawk-eyed critic Greil Marcus dips into what he terms Elvis’s posthumous “second life”, “a great, common conversation, sometimes a conversation between specters [sic] and fans, made out of songs, art works, books, movies, dreams; sometimes more than anything cultural noise, the glossolalia of money, advertisements, tabloid headlines, bestsellers, urban legends, nightclub japes”. In other words, an Elvis constructed from a tissue of supposition, wishful thinking, rumour, conspiracy theory – is he really dead? – and nostalgia.

One thing we can say with certainty is that even 40 years after his death, Elvis is a serious money-spinner. Elvis Presley Enterprises (EPE), founded in 1979 to manage Presley’s estate, controls Graceland and its associated assets, of which Elvis Presley’s Memphis is just the latest. EPE also controls all Elvis-related products, films, television shows, plays and musical ventures and is in turn majority-owned by Authentic Brands Group (ABG), a New York-based brand development and licensing company.

“We are brand owners. Curators. Guardians,” runs the spiel on the ABG website. “We build brand value.” Other icon-related “brands” in ABG’s considerable portfolio include Marilyn Monroe, Muhammad Ali and Michael Jackson. In that sense, the King is in pretty good company – or Monroe, Ali and Jackson are, depending on how you look at it.

What people often forget, though, is the music. But the last few years haven’t been short of weighty box sets to buff the legacy and Elvis completists still snap them up. In 2010, for example, The Complete Elvis Presley Masters was released, a 30 CD set containing all 711 official recordings Presley made. In 2016 a 60 CD box set titled Elvis Presley: The Album Collection was released containing all the material the singer released on the RCA label between 1956 and 1977.

And last month came a more manageable three CD set called Elvis Presley: A Boy From Tupelo – The Complete 1953-1955 Recordings. As well as a containing alternate takes, outtakes, live recordings and early interviews, it features a 120-page book and (get this) a week-by-week chronology of Presley’s movements and activities in the period concerned. “Musical bedrock” was the phrase used by Rolling Stone magazine in a glowing five-star review.

The man behind that last release is Danish Elvis enthusiast and archivist Ernst Mikael Jorgensen. To his mind, you cannot over-stress the importance of Elvis Presley and he thinks that by reducing Presley’s career almost to the length of a tweet – he was in the right place at the right time, made great records in the 1950s, some terrible films in the 1960s and then died in the 1970s from popping pills and gorging on burgers – “you skip most of what’s really interesting along the way”.

“I’m convinced that history needs to be told and retold and retold again,” he said in a recent Los Angeles Times interview. “If nothing else should come through, it’s that we don’t need to go back to [the idea that] Elvis got lucky. He didn’t just get lucky. Chuck Berry didn’t just get lucky. Little Richard didn’t just get lucky. They adjusted to a new form of music that wasn’t like any other form of music. They did something original, something that affected everything that came later.”

It’s 63 years since Presley’s first single That’s All Right, a cover of a 1946 song by African-American blues artist Arthur Big Boy Crudup. “When you listen to that track now, you have to be reminded of how important, how groundbreaking it was,” said Jorgensen’s collaborator on the A Boy From Tupelo project, RCA’s John Jackson, in that same Los Angeles Times interview. “There was a lot of stuff released right around that time that sounds very similar, but to have that song, in that time, sung by that individual in that studio was one of the most important events of the 20th century. It set the stage for everything that followed.”

That’s true. Nobody denies the effect Presley had on the musical landscape of the mid-20th century. But since his death, and despite the continual flow of boxsets repackaging his work, much of his musical legacy has either been obscured by the achievements of those who came after him or simply forgotten about. Elvis may still be The King, but it’s not clear what he is king of or what his relevance is to many people under the age of 40.

Even 13 years after his death that was already starting to become the case. In a 1990 study of eight- and nine-year-olds conducted in a mostly white primary school in Tennessee and cited by Greil Marcus, English professor Charles Wolfe asked the question: do you know who Elvis Presley was? The answers are illuminating. “He was an old guy who was a king somewhere,” said one. “He lives in a big house in Memphis and he only comes out at night,” said another. “He was this guy who sang with his brothers Theodore and Simon,” said a third, confusing Elvis with Alvin, lead singer of 1950s children’s novelty act The Chipmunks.

One problem for Presley’s legacy as an artist is that he didn’t write his own songs. He was given co-writing credits on a few of them, including Love Me Tender, though that was mostly at the behest of his grasping manager, the infamous Colonel Parker. And he certainly put his stamp on any song he recorded, even going so far as to tweak the arrangements. But for modern music fans in thrall to the cult of the singer-songwriter and desperately seeking authenticity in the cultural material they consume, it makes Presley a performer rather than an originator.

The fact that in his early career he often covered songs recorded originally by black artists doesn’t help either. In the age of Spotify and iTunes, when virtually everything is available at the click of a mouse, why listen to Presley’s versions of That’s All Right, Hound Dog or Mystery Train when it’s so easy to find the earlier, earthier, rootsier – and blacker – versions recorded by Arthur Crudup, Big Mama Thornton and Junior Parker respectively?

And while we’re on the subject of anniversaries, last Friday’s Google Doodle was an interactive celebration of the 44th anniversary of the invention of hip-hop – arguably a musical form which is more influential and meaningful today than the rock music that Elvis Presley originated. Ask a group of American eight- and nine-years olds today who Jay-Z is and they’d have no problem telling you.

Likewise, any young teenage rock fan in 2017 would recognise the cover of The Clash’s ground-breaking 1979 album London Calling, with its famous picture of bassist Paul Simenon smashing his instrument. But how many would know that the design was a deliberate homage to Elvis Presley’s equally ground-breaking 1956 debut album?

So back to the opening question: how many Elvis fans are there really and which Elvis is it they relate to? The Elvis that got fat and lost his way, becoming a befuddled, right-wing, anti-Black Panthers gun nut who genuinely thought Richard Nixon would/could make him an undercover agent for the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs? The Elvis that Andy Warhol turned into a rock and roll cowboy and potent symbol of American rebellion when he used a still from his 1960 western Flaming Star to make a series of Elvis screenprints, one of which – 1963’s Eight Elvises – mimics that 1959 album in its replication of the singer’s image? The Elvis that crooned and hollered on those wonderful early records while Scotty Moore threw out his inimitable guitar licks? The Elvis who played Vegas in a costume that would become the go-to garment for a generation of middle-aged impersonators? Elvis as Christ? As Satan? As Buddha?

The only answers about Elvis’s appeal that Greil Marcus could come up with was that there was no answer, and that seems equally true in the 21st century. “There is a good deal in this book I cannot explain,” he wrote in an introduction to the 1999 paperback edition. “It’s easy enough to understand a dead but evanescent Elvis Presley as a cultural symbol, but what if he – it – is nothing so limited, but a sort of cultural epistemology, a skeleton key to a lock we’ve yet to find?” Elvis made history, he states, but when he died “many people found themselves caught up in the adventure of remaking his history, which is to say their own”.

Here’s a tempting line to end on, then: The King is dead, long live The King. But from a 2017 viewpoint, things aren’t quite as simple as that. For a start, the king is dead and not dead at the same time – and even if his “second life” is as long as that hoary old proclamation wishes it might be, it’ll unspool in a kingdom whose boundaries are continually being eroded and re-drawn.

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Racism, exposed once more in the terror visited on Charlottesville, Va., still scars America. Hundreds of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, klansmen and other fervid racists gathered — some armed with assault rifles, wearing camouflage. They marched with lit torches, yelling Nazi slogans, looking for trouble. They provoked the violence, terrorized a city, and took the life of Heather Heyer and injured many more. In the reaction to those horrors, character is revealed.

For Heather Heyer, the neo-Nazi assault revealed her passion for justice. She died standing for what she believed in, and her sacrifice helps to redeem an America that is far better than the haters.

She joined a peaceful demonstration against the neo-Nazis, standing with African Americans and people of conscience unwilling to be intimidated by the mob. She was crossing an intersection when a 20-year-old man plowed his car into the peaceful demonstrators and took her life, injuring 19 others. She now joins the blessed martyrs of America’s long struggle for equal rights. She stands with other angels who sacrificed their lives: Viola Liuzzo in Selma, Ala. in 1965; James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner near Philadelphia, Miss. in 1964; the four little girls — Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robinson and Denise McNair — blown up in the Birmingham, Ala. church bombing in 1963.

As Heyer’s mother stated, “Heather’s life was about — passionately about — fairness and equality and caring, and that’s what we want people to take away from this.”

Donald Trump’s reaction to Charlottesville will be etched in infamy. He refused to condemn the neo-Nazis and white nationalists, choosing only to decry the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.” The haters heard his message. The Daily Stormer, a white supremacist website, exulted that Trump “did not attack us. … No condemnation at all.” His campaign for the presidency purposefully stoked the forces of bigotry and intolerance. Now, as president, he has failed a test of simple decency. He shames a nation that is far better than that.

Some Republicans showed they know better. Conservative Sen. Orrin Hatch tweeted simply, “My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.” Sen. Marco Rubio spoke forcefully against the haters. Some Republicans even rebuked the president for his failure.

Decrying racism is necessary. Words are important, but actions are needed. Dr. Martin Luther King always warned against being satisfied with words: “Loose and easy language about equality, resonant resolutions about brotherhood fall pleasantly on the ear, but for the Negro, there is a credibility gap he cannot overlook. He remembers that with each modest advance the white population promptly raises the argument that the Negro has come far enough. Each step forward accents an ever-present tendency to backlash.”

The terrible church bombing in Birmingham was denounced, but King pushed us to keep our eyes on the demand for civil rights reform. The hoses and clubs of Selma were decried, but King kept his focus on pushing for the Voting Rights Act. Denouncing hatred is important, but we need to focus on who is prepared to act.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia denounced the haters that terrorized Charlottesville, and did so with a record of action. As governor of a Southern state, he pushed for voting rights reforms. He called on his legislature to accept the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare that would have provided health care to poor working people of all races. He personally signed some 200,000 clemency grants of those who had served their sentences so that they could regain the right to vote and be reintegrated into the political community. His denunciation was important; his actions even more so.

We applaud Republicans who, unlike Trump, call out the neo-Nazis and the Klansmen. But the measure of their sincerity is how they act. The Trump Department of Justice, under former Alabama Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, has moved consistently to reverse and weaken civil rights. He’s turned away from reforming discriminatory practices of police departments, even as Trump has celebrated police brutality. He’s turned civil rights laws on their head, gearing up to investigate university affirmative action programs that allegedly discriminate against whites. He’s backed off enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, which he has called “intrusive,” opening the door to more efforts to suppress the vote.

Trump has pushed for a selective ban on Muslim travelers to the U.S., and he continues to prey on immigrants and posture on his “wall.” The Republican Congress, with its push to strip millions of health insurance to pay for tax breaks for millionaires, and its budget plans to cut top-end taxes while gutting funding for education and for food and housing programs that support the most vulnerable, only adds to our entrenched injustice. The Republicans’ actions speak much louder than their words.

America has come a long way from the horrors of slavery and segregation. We are a better people and a better country for that struggle. Yet, as Charlottesville revealed once more, hatred and racism still fester. Unprincipled politicians can still play on race and intolerance for their own purposes. Violent hate groups are literally on the march.

These must be denounced, even as we celebrate Heather Heyer and the forces of conscience. We must also act. A good response to Charlottesville would be a massive voting coalition to drive out the forces of division and push for a new era of reform. We must act, change the institutionalization of bias, protect and extend the right to vote, and fight to ensure equal justice and opportunity for all.


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Racism Rears its Ugly Head

… was its underlying cause: racism. Plain, unabashed, unfiltered white … use by overtly opposing racism even more. Particularly because … in terms of combatting racism, most notably with the … the first president of African-American heritage. Not coincidentally, the … RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News

New Mexico Mesothelioma Center Now Offers a Diagnosed Oil Refinery or Veteran in New Mexico Direct Access to The Nation’s Most Skilled Lawyers Who Overachieve on Compensation

As we would like to discuss anytime at 800-714-0303 there is a direct relationship between having the most capable attorneys and receiving the best compensation for this rare form of cancer”

— New Mexico Mesothelioma Victims Center

NEW YORK, NEW YORK, USA, August 16, 2017 / — The New Mexico Mesothelioma Victims Center says, “We want to do everything possible to see to it that a person in New Mexico who was exposed to asbestos at an oil refinery or in the oil production business and now has mesothelioma receives the very best possible financial compensation. We also specialize in helping US Navy Veterans with mesothelioma. One of our primary services is making certain people with mesothelioma in New Mexico have direct and nearly instant access to the nation’s most skilled and experienced mesothelioma attorneys.

“As we would like to discuss anytime at 800-714-0303 there is a direct relationship between having the most capable attorneys and receiving the best compensation for this rare form of cancer-especially if we are talking about a former oil refinery, an oil production worker or a US Navy Veteran in New Mexico.” http://NewMexico.MesotheliomaVictimsCenter.Com

High-risk work groups for exposure to asbestos in New Mexico include Veterans of the US Navy, power plant workers, former shipyard workers, oil refinery workers, factory workers mill workers, plumbers, electricians, welders, auto mechanics, machinists, and construction workers. Typically, the exposure to asbestos occurred in the 1950’s, 1960’s, 1970’s, or 1980’s. Asbestos was widely used in oil refineries, in the oil production industry or in building construction in New Mexico during these time frames as the Center would like to explain anytime at 800-724-0303. http://NewMexico.MesotheliomaVictimsCenter.Com

Compensation Tip for a diagnosed person with mesothelioma in New Mexico or their family members from the New Mexico Mesothelioma Victims Center: “If you want the best possible mesothelioma financial compensation settlement please check the references of lawyers/law firms you have been talking to. If they cannot provide proof they recently obtained a million dollar + settlement for a diagnosed person who was exposed to asbestos at oil refinery, in the oil production industry or while serving in the US Navy, please call us anytime at 800-714-0303 for direct access to attorneys who have these types of references.” http://NewMexico.MesotheliomaVictimsCenter.Com

The New Mexico Mesothelioma Victims Center would like to emphasize theirs is a statewide initiative available to a diagnosed victim anywhere in New Mexico including communities such as Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Taos, Rio Rancho, Las Cruces, Roswell, or Farmington. http://NewMexico.MesotheliomaVictimsCenter.Com

For the best possible treatment options in New Mexico we strongly recommend the following heath care facility with the offer to help a diagnosed victim or their family get to the right physicians at the hospital we have indicated: The University of New Mexico Cancer Center, Albuquerque, New Mexico:

According to the CDC the states indicated with the highest incidence of mesothelioma include Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, Louisiana, Washington, and Oregon. However, mesothelioma does happen in New Mexico.

For more information about mesothelioma please refer to the National Institutes of Health’s web site related to this rare form of cancer:

Michael Thomas
New Mexico Mesothelioma Victims Center
email us here

First Presbyterian Church to host special music program

Soprano Randye Jones and pianist Marlys Grimm will present a program of arias and songs by American composers at 4 p.m. Aug. 27 at First Presbyterian Church in Newton as part of the church’s Sundays at Four program. The program includes works by American composers Scott Joplin, George Gershwin, Samuel Barber, Robert MacGimsey, Hall Johnson, Florence Price, Betty Jackson King, Hale Smith, Moses Hogan, Margaret Bonds, Mitch Leigh, Charlie Small and Richard Rodgers.

Randye Jones holds her Bachelor of Arts degree in music education from Bennett College, Greensboro, N.C., and her Master of Music degree in vocal performance from Florida State University in Tallahassee. She is currently a doctoral student in vocal literature at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Jones has gained recognition for her research of and published writings on African American vocalists and composers and as a performer and lecturer through her projects, “The Art of the Negro Spiritual,” “Afrocentric Voices in ‘Classical’ Music” and “The Spirituals Database.” She regularly presents lecture-recitals and concerts or has served as a panelist at events such as the Research, Education, Activism and Performance (REAP) National Conference on Spirituals, African American Art Song Alliance Conference, the National Association of Negro Musicians conference, and the Phenomenon of Singing International Symposium VIII. Jones currently coordinates the media collections for the libraries at Grinnell College, Grinnell.

Newton resident Marlys Grimm attended Sheldon High School, Sheldon, and Central College in Pella, where she studied piano with Donald Gren. She has collaborated at Dordt, Northwestern, Grinnell and Central colleges in student and faculty recitals. Grimm has accompanied high school, college, community and professional singers, instrumentalists and choruses throughout Iowa and at National Association of Teachers of Singing competitions. She has played for numerous conference, district and regional choral festivals. Grimm is currently the accompanist for the Grinnell Oratorio Society, Grinnell Singers, and the Central College Community Chorus.

The concert at First Presbyterian is free and open to the public. A reception will be held following the performance.

Jones and Grimm will be performing this program again a week later, on Sept. 3, as part of the inaugural Iowa Stock Music and Art Festival in Saint Charles. They will be part of Iowastock’s McLaughlin Investment Dr. Simon Estes Opera Showcase, a series of concerts featuring vocalists across Iowa. The duo will perform immediately before the concert to be presented by Iowa native and internationally renowned bass-baritone Simon Estes.


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Will Hurd: Trump Should Apologize for Charlottesville Remarks


Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, is a vulnerable House Republican. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, is a vulnerable House Republican. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)


Rep. Will Hurd called on President Donald Trump to apologize for his latest remarks on recent violence sparked by a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Hurd, who is African-American, is also one of the most vulnerable House Republicans.

“Nobody should doubt whether the leader of the free world is against racism, bigotry, neo-Nazis and anti-Semitism,” Hurd said in an interview on CNN Thursday evening.

Violence erupted Saturday in Charlottesville as white nationalists and neo-Nazis clashed with counter-protesters over the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. One woman was killed and dozens were injured when a car plowed into a group of counterprotesters.

Trump did not specifically condemn the white supremacists until Monday, drawing the ire of Democrats and a number of congressional Republicans.

But on Tuesday, Trump backtracked, saying “both sides” were to blame for the violence. Former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke thanked Trump on Twitter for his comments.

“I don’t think anybody should be looking at getting props from a grand dragon of the KKK as any kind of sign of success,” Hurd said.

Asked what his message was for the president, Hurd said, “Apologize. And that racism bigotry, anti-semitism of any form is unacceptable. And the leader of the free world should be unambiguous about that.”

Hurd also said the country should be talking about why some groups are becoming radicalized, how to prevent that radicalization, why white supremacists feel emboldened, and if law enforcement has enough resources to deal with the issue.

Hurd, a former C.I.A. agent, faces a tough re-election fight in a rated Tossup by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales. Hillary Clinton won Hurd’s district by roughly 3 points last November, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections.

Hurd has criticized Trump in the past, but his comments Tuesday evening were some of the most forceful by a Republican in the wake of the Charlottesville violence.

Fellow Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who’s long been outspoken against Trump, also condemned the president’s remarks.

“POTUS just doesn’t get it,” the Florida congressman tweeted Tuesday evening. “No moral equivalence between manifestations for and against white supremacy. He’s got to stop.”

Like Hurd, Curbleo is among the most vulnerable House Republicans in 2018. His 26th District voted for Hillary Clinton by 16 points. He was among the earliest GOP members of Congress to say he wouldn’t vote for Trump last year, and this year, hasn’t been afraid to bring up the prospect of impeachment.

Another top Democratic target, Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock, called out the president directly on Twitter Tuesday evening. 

“Mr. President, there were not ‘very fine people’ on the NeoNazi, white supremacist side; only haters. Grateful DOJ understands this,” she tweeted, re-upping her statement on Saturday criticizing the neo-Nazi march. 

Comstock won re-election last fall by 6 points in a district Clinton won by 10 points. She’s bucked her party and the president when she’s needed to, mostly recently voting against the GOP health care plan. 

Minnesota GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen, another vulnerable member in 2018, offered a more subtle rebuke of the president’s remarks. “This is cut-and-dry: White supremacists & neo-Nazis have no place in our society & that should be made unequivocally clear on all levels,” he tweeted.

Paulsen is a top Democratic target in 2018. Hillary Clinton won his 3rd District by 9 points last fall.

Ohio Rep. Steve Stivers, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, also chimed in.

“I don’t understand what’s so hard about this,” he tweeted. “White supremacists and Neo-Nazis are evil and shouldn’t be defended.”

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Zinzi Clemmons

About five years ago, Zinzi Clemmons’s mother’s health worsened dramatically, and doctors told her she didn’t have much longer to live. Clemmons, who was away studying, returned home to Philadelphia – a detail she says “is highly relevant because of what’s going on right now [with healthcare in the US]”, as it was partly an economic decision: “I acted as her primary caretaker, and my family wouldn’t have been able to afford that unless I had done it. And we’re not badly off in any way.”

At that point, Clemmons was working on a story about HIV, exploring illness and its politicisation – themes that remain in her mesmerising debut novel What We Lose – but she didn’t have “enough direct experience”, and it wasn’t working. At the same time, she had started writing vignettes about illness and anticipatory grief, born from “the idea that I would have to go through this process very soon”. At the encouragement of her agent, she turned them into the skeleton of her first novel.

What resulted was a transgressive and moving study of grief. Centred on a young woman, Thandi, who is dealing with the illness and subsequent death of her mother from cancer, What We Lose is highly experimental, told in intimate vignettes including blogposts, photos, hand-drawn charts and hip-hop lyrics. Jumping from Philadelphia to Johannesburg, Portland and New York, Clemmons’s debut is also a meditation on identity, race, politics, family and love.

Clemmons’s mother died around the time she started writing it. “I think it’s maybe better that way,” she says. “It’s a difficult thing writing about your family – I probably would have held back … and I think that’s why I’m proud of it, because I didn’t hold anything back.”

The clear emotional insight with which she maps Thandi’s grief is remarkable. She says she wanted to focus on the surprising complications that come with grief – as, for instance, with sex: “You think, when you’re going through grief, that everything else in your life stops. And [sex] is one of the areas where you feel conflicted, because it’s self-indulgent on a very basic level and you’re giving yourself pleasure when someone has just gone through a lot of pain.” She says she gets asked about this “almost uniformly” by women journalists: “I think it’s because a lot of the bad writing we read about sex is written by men, but when women can talk about sex honestly, it tends to look much less objectionable.” She laughs. “I’ve always written about sex. I think I’m kind of gonzo in that way.”

Thandi has been raised in an upper-middle class, majority white neighbourhood in Philadelphia by a South African mother and an African American father. She often goes back to the affluent Johannesburg suburb where most of her family lives (and Oscar Pistorius attended school down the hill). Much like Clemmons’s experiences growing up as mixed race and between cultures, she doesn’t feel as if she belongs in South Africa – where the violence terrifies her – nor in the US, where she is trying to fit in but is reminded by her peers that she isn’t “like, a real black person”. In the book, Thandi muses: “I’ve often thought that being a light-skinned black woman is like being a well-dressed person who is also homeless.”

Growing up in a similar suburb of Philadelphia to Thandi, Clemmons spent many summers in South Africa. “I never felt like I had a tribe that I could belong to without some qualification – ‘you are this, but’.” But this cultural situation has turned out to be useful for her fiction: “That kind of experience is what makes you a writer … I think all writers are outsiders, for some reason … They’re the people who kind of stand off to one side, they’re not participating, they’re observing.”

What We Lose distils how racism pervades relationships between women, in ways that can often be hard to articulate. Thandi has a conflicted relationship with her mother, who forces her to have her hair chemically straightened and cautions “that I would never have true relationships with darker-skinned women. These women would always be jealous of me.” Clemmons wanted to fictionalise her own complicated relationship with her mother; the last few years have been a “journey, through writing and otherwise, to understand my mother more.”

The novel’s experimental form works as a kind of stream-of-consciousness, almost as if the reader were reading her journal. Clemmons began writing “with very few ideas about what I should be doing, which allowed me a lot of freedom to approach it in my own terms. I didn’t see books as gospel.” Inspired by an index-card method she had read Jenny Offill used for Dept. of Speculation, she printed out the manuscript, cut it up and took it with her to residencies, spreading it on the floor and “moving the pieces around”. Much like Offill’s book, the fragmentary form works to concentrate the emotional potency. Best read in immersive, long sittings, What We Lose has a lingering, almost hypnotic effect.

Clemmons cites Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely as a big influence, alongside Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye – two fellow debuts. Of the latter, Clemmons says: “It works as a first novel because it is limited in scope and achieves a lot of what it sets out to do in a pretty innovative way; I wanted to do something manageable but also that I felt like it could let my talents shine.” She’s not afraid to sell those talents: just before the book came out in the US, Clemmons wrote an essay about how America’s concept of the literary avant garde omits black artists. “I wrote it to put it on people’s radars and to sort of clear room for myself, and say: this is a problem, and hopefully by the time of reading my book they’ve changed their minds!” She laughs. “Perhaps that’s Machiavellian of me, but I also think it’s cool and subversive, in a way.”

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GuideStone congratulates Hawkins on 20 years

Trustees for GuideStone Financial Resources gathered July 31-Aug. 1 in regular session to hear reports from GuideStone executive officers and staff about the board’s performance in key lines of business. GuideStone also honored O.S. Hawkins for 20 years as president of the Southern Baptist entity.

Hawkins joined the Dallas-based ministry after having served for four years as pastor of the historic First Baptist Church of Dallas. He thanked the trustees for honoring him and his wife Susie for their service to Southern Baptists through GuideStone.


“We remain so thankful to serve this ministry we have received from the Lord through Southern Baptists,” Hawkins said. “As we consider GuideStone’s first century, and look forward to our second century of service, it is with gratefulness for our heritage and confidence for our future, focused on the Lord’s leadership.”


Hawkins addressed trustees about the entity’s annual theme, “the Year of Innovation,” citing the need for GuideStone to not rest on its laurels as it prepares to mark its 100th anniversary in 2018.


Citing the ministry’s accomplishments of its long-range plan, GuideStone 100, which has guided its work for more than a decade, and Vision 20/20, which is an enhancement and extension to the long-range plan, Hawkins said the organization is focusing on three strategic goals: increasing market share, responding to changes in the marketplace and continuing to aggressively manage costs while keeping customer service as its No. 1 focus.

It is imperative for GuideStone to stay focused on its mission and to keep faithful to its vision and calling, Hawkins noted.

BP file photo
O.S. Hawkins

Additionally, Hawkins recognized the seven new trustees joining the board since their election in June, expressing his thankfulness “for the wisdom the [Southern Baptist Convention] showed when they elected to the GuideStone board of trustees such godly people.”


“I am particularly pleased to see the increased diversity in the board with the election of three more African-American trustees this year,” Hawkins said. “I know of no other Southern Baptist entity with a board as diversified as GuideStone’s board. For that, we are extremely grateful.”


Retirement and investments

Chief Operating Officer John R. Jones reported that total retirement and investment contributions were $485 million, an increase of $21 million, or 4.6 percent, year-over-year, with about 80 percent of that increase being directly attributable to GuideStone investment channels.


GuideStone’s award-winning mutual funds are available on 22 platforms. Platforms make mutual funds and other financial products available to financial advisors for purchase on behalf of their clients. GuideStone Funds are available on many major platforms.


“GuideStone Funds has had attractive performance in their peer universes and against benchmarks,” Jones said. “We have achieved stellar results in the first half of 2017.”



Like other providers of health plans, GuideStone continues to await an end to the stalemate in Washington regarding the Affordable Care Act.


Nationwide, many counties across the United States are currently served by only one of the state or federal health care exchanges, and some providers have threatened to pull out of the exchange market altogether. Some counties may find themselves without any options on the health care exchanges.


Despite the challenges, Jones described life and health plans as having “very encouraging results” this year. Total medical insurance enrollment has increased by 1.2 percent, year-over year, despite the headwinds in the industry.


Property & casualty coverage

GuideStone’s alliance with Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company, Jones said, continues to provide benefits for GuideStone and Southern Baptist churches served by Brotherhood Mutual. Jones called it a “home run.”


GuideStone has seen a renewal rate of 97 percent through mid-year. The hit rate, or the percentage of new accounts won based on bids, was 79 percent through June 30. Both the renewal and hit rates are significantly above industry average, proving the service and pricing provided by GuideStone and Brotherhood Mutual are being well-received by churches and ministry organizations.



Hawkins also told trustees about his two newest books, The Christmas Code: Daily Devotions Celebrating the Advent Season (available Sept. 5) and The Believer’s Code: 365 Devotions to Unlock the Blessings in God’s Word (available Oct. 24). As with all of Hawkins’ recent books, all author proceeds benefit Mission:Dignity. More information on the books is available at


Jones reported on continued success for Mission:Dignity, GuideStone’s ministry to provide financial assistance to retired Southern Baptist pastors, ministry workers and their widows in financial need. Gifts have increased 10 percent, year-over-year, as of mid-year. Strong participation in Mission:Dignity Sunday in 2017 will provide additional momentum into the third quarter, Jones noted.


As part of the celebration of GuideStone’s centennial, Mission:Dignity has launched a new marketing campaign, “100 Reasons,” which will be part of Mission:Dignity’s promotions through December 2018.


GuideStone will mark its 100th anniversary officially June 12-13, 2018, at the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roy Hayhurst is director of denominational and public relations services at GuideStone.)