vendredi, décembre 02, 2005

Ode to August Wilson: Icon #4

"Blacks have traditionally had to operate in a situation where whites have set themselves up as the custodians of the black experience"
---August Wilson

"I'm trying to take culture and put it onstage, demonstrate it is capable of sustaining you. There is no idea that can't be contained by life: Asian life, European life, certainly black life. My plays are about love, honor, duty, betrayal - things humans have written about since the beginning of time"
---August Wilson

God bless August Wilson. He is the 4th icon who died this year whose legacy will far outlast his physical presence. Currently, I am writing an article on the films Todd Solondz and his portrayal of Black, white, and Latino sexualities. His indie cred and fame shot through the roof with his 1996 film Welcome to the Dollhouse. This weekend, I watched Happiness and Storytelling. After watching them both, Storytelling in particular, I was riddled with a boat load of mostly negative feelings and thoughts: the ludicrisy of the racialized narratives, horror, preidctable surprise, etc. And I remember thinking what a privilege it was to have had someone like August who took pride in documenting the lushness, beauty and complexity of African American life not making a mockery of it like so many others.

"When I saw his [Romare Bearden] work, it was the first time that I had seen black life presented in all its richness, and I said, 'I want to do that -- I want my plays to be the equal of his canvases". And he set about this task by vowing to complete a cycle of ten plays, each set in a different decade that depict the nuances and tragicomedy of Black life:

1900s - Gem of the Ocean (2003)
1910s - Joe Turner's Come and Gone (1984)
1920s - Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (1982)
1930s - The Piano Lesson (1986) - Pulitzer Prize
1940s - Seven Guitars (1995)
1950s - Fences (1985) - Pulitzer Prize
1960s - Two Trains Running (1990)
1970s - Jitney (1982)
1980s - King Hedley II (2001)
1990s - Radio Golf (2005)

So, in honor of August and his legacy, I have selected the following poem, "Black N' Blue Stylin" by Ntosake Shange:

(French sugar-beet farmers, overwhelmed by mulatto competitors, plastered Europe's cities with advertisements proclaiming: "Our sugar is not soiled with black blood." A popular Afro-Cuban saying is: "Sugar is made with blood," while in the South of the United States, cane growers processed natural sugar "to get the nigger out.")

Fragrant breezes in the South
melt to melodies round small fires
mount tree limbs
with bodies black
and swayin' black n croonin'
songs of sunsets
comin' from the fields bawdy
hard to put yr finger on
like the blues
like the strum of guitars on dark damp

southern nights
hard to put your finger on
like screams in the black bloody southern soil
sweet black blood echoin' thru the evenin' service
grindin' by the roadhouse door
sweet black blood
movin' with slow breath

outta breath
young negroes run to pick up a bale of cotton
run to flee southern knights
crosses bare blazin' signals black bloods
gone runnin'
for Chicago
for the hollow
for the C.C. Rider
for the new day sweet
blocked melodies ache in young girls' throats
rip thru their lips like the road to freedom was lit
all lit up with the grace of God and
Sears Tower
the Ford plane and Pontiac's vision
all lit up sleek fires
sheddin' the haunts of poll taxes and test questions like
where is America cost
a finger
a ear
a heart a teardrop fallin' from the saggin' front porch
to the project stairway
from the water fountain to the chain gang

the night train carried smuggled goods news
of struttin' signifyin' fellas with gold teeth
neath they feet and brawny sway for blocks and blocks
far as the eye cd see from Biloxi to Birmingham
the contraband of freedom seeped thru
the swamps the air hung heavy
with the cries of "ain't gonna let nobody turn me round"
and young boys in nice-cut suits
who was awready standin' with they heads up
awready prancin' with finesse and grand stature
like men wit eyes
don't never look down
men wit eyes burstin' wit glory
from the red sedans
and the seats in schools to the right
to set wherever they want
and when the sounds of the harmonica was slowed
by snarlin' dogs and hoses
when the washboards and bottleneck players
was skedattlin' out the bullets way
up came a roarin'
force a light blue controlled fire in un-mussed lame´
pleated silk and faces
bearin' no scars
to say "we ain't been touched"
we the sweet black fires of dreams
& of unobfuscated beauty

like the trails of freedom
the Good Lord himself lit up
we gonna take this
new city neon light
volumes for milliom
to hear to love themselves
enough to turn back the pulse of a whippin' history
make it carry the modern black melody from L.A.
to downtown Newark City
freedom buses
freedom riders
freedom is the way we walk that walk
talk that talk
gotta take that charred black body out the ground
switch on the current
to a new sound to a new way of walkin' a new way of talkin'

defyin the sound of gravity

for a people singin'
about the sashay of blood rhythms set free.

gaucherie -- n: 1. A socially awkward or tactless act.2. Lack of tact; boorishness; awkwardness

"Illusion is the first of all pleasures"
--- Oscar Wilde