“My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry; to get my work done and try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return.”
The death of author Maya Angelou on May 28 and the murderous massacre in Isla Vista in Santa Barbara County, California, on May 23, 2014, occurred within a week of each other. Both forced me to turn my attention away from work on the final proofs for Journey through the Power of the Rainbow, Quotations from a Life Made Out of Poetry. Then both, in the end, for different reasons, persuaded me to remain as focused as I could and to get the work done.
That last phrase in particular––“get the work done”––stood out because I recalled Angelou using it when noting how prolific James Baldwin (as an author of novels, plays, poems, essays, short fiction, and screenplays) had been in comparison to Ralph Ellison (celebrated during his lifetime mostly for a single history-making novel and collection of essays). Angelou acknowledged Ellison’s towering achievement with Invisible Man but also felt Baldwin deserved recognition for the more extensive body of critically acclaimed work. Therefore, upon her passing, those words thundered through my skull with the full volume of her majestic articulation: “Get the work done.”
It was a wholly different matter in the case of the misogynistic implosion that Elliot Rodger unleashed in the form of a psychotic detonation that took the lives of six people, wounded seven more, and scarred countless others. The introductory essay in Journey through the Power of the Rainbow talks about how the book was inspired largely by social media’s adoption of a certain quote that might have helped Rodger change his troubled mind. It is one that encourages individuals to seek, claim, and celebrate their innate value as human beings rather than suffer from––or make others suffer from––delusions of rejection and insignificance.
The Man in His Mental Mirror
Rodger acted from the perspective of a mental model––or image of the world held in his mind–– that gave him a lot of misleading assumptions and generally bad information. He assumed his experience of college life must necessarily mirror that of the stereotypical representations so often depicted in popular films and TV programs. Otherwise, it meant either he was failing as a human being or others were failing him.
He convinced himself that being a virgin at the ripe old young adult age of 22 was a reason for self-condemnation. He persuaded himself––while enjoying forms of privilege and luxury unknown to most––that others disliked him when he probably spent too little time actually communicating with anyone to learn whether they truly did or not. Or to determine if it mattered as much as he apparently thought.
Please Click to Read Part 2: Maya Angelou, Elliot Rodger, and Getting the Work Done Part 2
Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance, first published by Facts On File in 2003 and through Infobase Publishing in 2010, is now available as a Kindle Edition on Amazon and that is big news for a lot of good reasons.
For one, 2013 marks the tenth anniversary of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance’s publication and a new edition of a new edition of a modern award-winning classic is always a good way to celebrate such occasions.
Secondly, advances in technology proved a powerful component of the Harlem Renaissance just as it has in the contemporary era. During the 1920s and 1930s, important developments took place through the growing radio and the recording industries. Those advances not only allowed African Americans to showcase and preserve the marvels of black music such as jazz, ragtime, and the blues. It gave also them a foothold in an industry that allowed many to earn a living (though just barely for some) and a few to attain wealth.
Another significant development during the period was the growth of the publishing industry in New York City and other urban locales. Without that expansion, the odds of authors such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Claude McKay, and Zora Neale Hurston becoming as well known to readers as they are today would have decreased considerably.
The Kindle story is one of the defining chapters of the digital era. In many ways, it represents the same kind of growth in publishing that the establishment of important literary houses did during the Harlem Renaissance Jazz Age. It has helped make more titles available to more readers while simultaneously increasing opportunities for more authors to publish their books. It has not––and should not––replaced the print industry but it is now an integral part of publishing overall.
The Harlem Renaissance as a whole meant forward movement in regard to the practice of democracy in the United States and astonishing social and political progress for the generations of African Americans who, with substantial cross-cultural assistance, made it happen. A Kindle Edition of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance means forward movement of different kind: for this specific book and toward the 100th Anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance.
“Sometimes the words came like ecstatic utterances, sometimes like songs whispered from another time, like actual angelic possessions, or like mental files that had been downloaded while I slept and then printed via my pen as soon as I got up.”
I was thoroughly convinced a month ago that by the time World Book Day (April 23) rolled around I would have finished selecting material for my proposed book of quotations. That did not happen and I came close to getting frustrated over it. But I consoled myself with the thought that the next best thing to greeting readers and signing books at an event on World Book Day was working to complete a title already in progress.
My chomping-at-the-bit anxiety was also tamed by the kind of special gifts that almost always turn grown writers into overjoyed hand-clapping babies. One was a corresponding website for the book in progress, which has now been given the title Journey through the Power of the Rainbow. The reasons for the switch are noted on the site. The second reason my disquiet took a back seat to humility was an unexpected new book cover.
Yes, it more than likely was presented to encourage me to move a little faster on the job at hand. But even so, a new book cover for a forthcoming book is the kind of thing that helps give visual form and substance to something that is mostly an abstract idea until it rests in some tangible form within your hands. It also provides additional motivation to keep the flow going and serves to help validate the value of all the long hours spent in solitude to finally get the work done.
Who knows, the pages worked on so diligently during World Book Day 2013 may very well turn into the book that gets frequently signed, discussed, and placed on wish lists at World Book Day 2014.
24 April, 2013
“A poem is not so much a thought, as it is a mind: talk with it, and it will talk back.”
The approach of World Poetry Day and National Poetry Month always inspires me to celebrate the different ways literary culture has enriched and empowered both the global community and my individual being. I wasn’t sure at first how I was going to celebrate this year on the personal level. Then, in the midst of honoring a new year’s resolution to become better organized, I came across my text for Portrait of a Poet: The Noble Night of Joy, an address delivered October 19, 1995, to open the Poetry Society of Georgia’s 1995-1996 literary season. Rediscovering and reading it was an eye opener––even for me–– when seeing how candidly I spoke about early influences on my poetry.
The program was an exceptional one only partly because it allowed me the honor of delivering a presentation before one of the oldest literary organizations in Georgia. It was also special because as author and actress Dufflyn Lammers pointed out in her article about it, the event was a multimedia one that also featured original music (composed for one of my song lyrics) by the extremely talented Adam Traum and art by Luther E. Vann. In addition to the introduction below, the program included a recital of some 7 poems with introductions providing background information on each. The poems, minus the individual commentaries, are listed following the Portrait of a Poet: Noble Night of Joy introduction with links to some of the ones currently posted on the Internet.
(continues after photo with text of presentation)
Contemporary award-winning author of classically-styled works in history, poetry, creative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and journalism.