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Monthly Archives: November 2014

“No One Will Make This Beauty A Burden”: Poetry As A Response To Ferguson

Hours after authorities announced that the grand jury in Ferguson, Mo., would not indict police officer Darren Wilson for killing unarmed teenager Michael Brown, The Strivers Row – a performance collective in New York City -- began posting poems to its Facebook page.One was "Sing It As The Spirit Leads," Joshua Bennett's forceful ode to black excellence written after George Zimmerman was acquitted in 2013 of killing Florida teen Trayvon Martin. Bennett begins by echoing the last stanza of a Lucille Clifton poem: "Come, celebrate with me. Every day something has tried to kill me and failed.”Bennett performed the poem a year ago at Kent State University, where he told the audience that he writes to dig at the truth and help listeners and readers shed shame. "Poems should be archeology,... Read More →

2014 Dayton Literary Peace Prize Honors Year’s Best Literature On Peace And Social Justice

From left to right, the 2014 Dayton Literary Peace Prize winners: Margaret Wrinkle, Bob Shacochis, Louise Erdrich, Karima Bennoune, and Jo Roberts pose with their prizes before the awards ceremony. On a recent sunny Sunday morning, four celebrated American writers rose early to meet for breakfast and chew over the merits of Kentucky Fried Chicken. “I worked as a Kentucky Fried Chicken hostess,” said novelist Louise Erdrich, who won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for A Plague of Doves.  “And I’ll just say it: the secret ingredient is sugar.” Marlon James, whose ambitious new book about Jamaica, A Brief History of Seven Killings, is already anointed one of the best of 2014, insisted that KFC tastes better when eaten outside the United States.   “It is a joy to be back in... Read More →

REVIEW: “Beyond the Lights” Avoids The Cliches, Puts New Stars In The Limelight

Gina Prince-Bythewood on the set of the film, Beyond the Lights When Gina Prince-Bythewood last directed a big-budget film, Barack Obama had yet to be sworn in as president. Now she's back with "Beyond the Lights," an appealing new film that chronicles the rise of Noni Jean, a Rihanna-esque R&B singer who meets trouble on the road to superstardom.  The film begins just a few weeks before the release of a raunchy debut album from Noni, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw of "Belle." The lewd lyrics upend a career trajectory that Noni had hoped might mimic Nina Simone’s. Overwhelmed by the realities of becoming a "product," Noni perches precariously on a balcony after the Billboard awards, planning suicide. Kaz Nicol (Nate Parker), the LAPD officer assigned to her security detail, reaches her... Read More →

New Charter School In Cleveland’s Central Neighborhood Wins 2014 Anisfield-Wolf Memorial Award

A bold decision to start a school in an underserved Cleveland neighborhood, made by the leaders of a 150-year-old institution, has born early fruit. Test scores are up among 112 kindergarteners and first-graders at Stepstone Academy, and the work has garnered an Anisfield-Wolf Memorial Award. OhioGuidestone, formerly the Berea Children’s Home and Family Services, launched the new charter school in 2012, picking a building on E. 32nd St. and Carnegie Avenue in Cleveland’s Central neighborhood. Students at Stepstone Academy in Cleveland's Central neighborhood. The newly enrolled youngsters, living in one of Cleveland’s poorest sections, tested that August in the bottom 10 percent of students nationally. Nine months later, 85 percent of the children had made more than a year’s... Read More →

A Cultural Icon Revisited: Poet Russell Atkins Honored At East Cleveland Public Library

Well-wishers share memories with Russell Atkins (seated). Photo credit: Rodney Brown Poet Russell Atkins, his hair a white halo, his torso tucked into a wheelchair, rolled onto the stage of the East Cleveland Public Library, where he silently accepted a dozen orange roses and the accolades of a crowd. More than a hundred well-wishers gathered on a sunlit fall afternoon to honor a poet whom Langston Hughes and Marianne Moore considered a peer. “As a community, as a collective, we can tell Russell Atkins, ‘job well done,’” said Sheba Marcus-Bey, the library’s executive director, as applause swelling around her. “He stood his ground as an artist and allowed us here in Cleveland to get on the literary map.” Atkins worked long decades in Cleveland as a composer, a musical... Read More →

In Midst Of Breakthrough Year, Laverne Cox Speaks Out On Gender Identity And Self-Love

by Tara Jefferson with additional reporting by Karen R. Long "Kent State University, how ya feeling tonight?" actress and LGBT activist Laverne Cox boomed as she took the podium in the university student center. Dressed in a bright green shift dress and black cardigan, Cox thanked an audience that waited hours in line to hear her speak.  With her high-wattage smile and impeccable grooming, Cox is reveling in the spotlight of a breakthrough year. In June, she became the first transgender person to land the cover of Time magazine. A few months later, she broke another barrier: nabbing an Emmy nomination for her role as Sophia Burset on the Netflix comedy ensemble, "Orange is the New Black."  In November, Cox will accept a woman-of-the year award from Glamour Magazine, alongside U.N... Read More →

REVIEW: Norman Lear’s New Autobiography, “Even This I Get To Experience”

For a stretch in the 1970s, television producer Norman Lear had nine shows on the air at once—with four in the top ten Nielsen ratings. He marvels at his own prodigious output in Even This I Get To Experience, a new witty and exhaustive autobiography.  Born in 1922, young Norman got off to a bumpy start. During the Great Depression, when he was 9, his father Herman went to prison for selling fake bonds to a Boston brokerage house. Norman shuttled among various relatives in Chelsea, Mass., while his mother and sister moved two hours away to New Haven, Conn. This abandonment would haunt Lear most of his life. By the time his father was released, Norman had found a new role model: his uncle Jack, a publicist. This, he decided, is what he would be when he grew up.  After the Japanese... Read More →
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