talking with Bill Jaker

I've done five or six radio interviews so far but this one, for WSKG's "Off the Page," was the first one I did in the flesh. Got to see a membeership drive happening and even read the station phone number a few times. I donated 2 copies of the book "for the next caller" from Penna, and 3 people called right away. So went out to the car for a 3rd book.

It was an hour interview, with Bill Jaker (from Queens like me). He had read the book closely. He requested the short passage I read - the "Well I hope she's done" hypothetical letter to a racist stranger who ruined our day. I hope his listeners can take it! I notice some sales at Amazon right away.

They have posted the whole interview with a very cogent intro by, I assume, Mr. Jaker. He had asked for J or T to call in and talk some too. Jamarr said yes. Very nice. Except he mumbled the name of his music group, Philly Starz. He's got to get that promo thing going on! overcome that fear of success. Seriously - he and his brothers are good, tight. Once they get a website I'll link there. And if you need an R & B group for an event in the Philly, NY, NJ area, think about them. I can give you their manager's number. They've done a lot of gigs and are very professional.

The interview is available here. Thank you dear friends who listened. Nice to come home to your calls and emails.

in the triangle of poverty, a bratty voice

Sue Clark and I are sitting in a coffee shop in Indiana, PA, on the edge of IUP. It's raining. Crosby-Stills-Nash & Young are playing and Sue's reading about James Naylor...

Cleveland, Toldeo, Detroit. We've been to the first two of those. It's a triangle of poverty, Joyce Litten, chair of the Social work dept. at Lourdes College told us. More children living in poverty than anyplace in the U.S.

Cleveland's population has gone in the last ten years from 1 million to 500,000. We could feel it in the roads: bumpier than the narrow gravel road I live on. Smaller tax base, the clerk of Cleveland Meeting explained, but same roads to maintain. Or not maintain.

I brought a book of sci-fi short stories with me. Cleveland felt a little like a post-something place. But with the world class orchestra and museums, and the memory of having been great, central, industrial, rich, a first American home for millions of immigrants who love her still.

And I read from the book, Chapter 6, about Lamarr's violent childhood. Not an easy chapter to hear but that's what prayer led me to. Driving west from Syracuse, where I picked up Sue, I had been feeling I wouldn't read from the book at all, would just tell the story, discuss the issues.... Talking to Sue helped me question that notion. Then when I went into worship that night in our room on the 3rd floor of the old former-mansion meeting house I heard a voice. Not God's. My own voice, as if overheard - a bratty child's voice saying "I don't want to read from the book anymore, I don't want to..."

So I laughed at myself and read from the book. One white man, the adoptive father of two black sons aged 5 and 10, listened with great intensity and immediately shared a story of his own. If he ok's with it I may paraphrase that here. Maybe we came just for him, his sons. Maybe just to see and feel Cleveland. Maybe just to rehearse faithfulness for some larger production.

I'm feeling grateful and open and, thanks to wonderfully gracious hosts, not too tired. More later. Sorry I'm not traveling with a camera, but may get some pics from others.

crossing the river one hop at a time

I'm leaving for a western PA and Ohio mini-tour at the end of the week, accompanied by F/friend Sue Clark. She's coming down from Troy, NY. Without her the book would never have been published . . . that story maybe in a future post.

First stop is Cleveland Friends Meeting, then on to Lourdes College at the western end of the state, just south of Detroit and Ann Arbor (which I hope to get up to to visit my old college friend Walburga). Sounds like Lourdes has done a lot of preparation for my Monday evening lecture there. They're is a Franciscan school, justice a core value. Will they be open to the idea of reparations? I'll see how I'm led. Already thinking I may read the family court chapter. Suggestions?

After Lourdes it's back east to visit Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), this set up by a Anne, a Quaker woman I haven't met yet. She writes that she wants to bring the book's perspective to her neck of the woods. A neck with some, you know, red on it, she says.

Well alright. She's worked hard to make it happen and I can't wait to meet her.

These good people are like boulders in a river, each a part of the makeshift bridge I cross on. But where, what, is the other side? I don't know. I hop to the foothold, and then look ahead. (I wrote hope instead of hop there.)

a Diamond

Kaki came back from two weeks away, most of them in Philly, with a veritable Easter basket full of treats: photos of the boys at baseball practice, and with the photos her descriptions and stories.

If you read the book you know how desperately we wanted them to have more time outdoors, playing and learning and extending their boundaries. I guess we just needed to be patient.

I wrote this already but I'll write it again - God Bless their coach Kevin, and all the people who coach children's sports. Twenty kids went out for the team. Only about half that could make it. His criteria? No missed practices.

The boys didn't miss a practice, and neither did their mom. Because you know Tahija's not about to let stay down at the field, after dark, for hours. And last night, Kaki said, some guy was there with his pit bull terrier running loose and Tahija and her friend called the cops on him because not only was the dog running loose, and with all those kids around, he looked starved.

Nothing gets to Tahija like a mistreated dog.

Kaki sat on the bleachers with the cold parents. I was glad to hear that about 2/3 of the kids are white. Glad because it's been looking like white flight has re-segregated the neighborhood pretty quick - in about ten years. But I guess it's not the whole neighborhood, yet. I know Tahija and Lamarr are doing their part - making friends, being good neighbors, building bridges, like they know how to do. And now the boys, playing on an integrated team.

But those other kids, of whatever race, are BIG, sompared to the triplets. Least it's not football.

Damear was playing second, Kaki said, really doing the squat and sway and chatter and smack your mitt thing. Mahddy, Mr. former failure-to-thrive, appears to be going out for catcher. If I was the coach I'd pick him for that too. He's tough and smart, and he's got a good arm. Those millions of push-ups paying off.

Little Lamarr is not exactly athletically inclined. But we knew that. His self-esteem remains pretty high though; he's doing the best in school and he's been favored since birth by many of them women in the family (see Chapter 14 if you have the book). He's throwing lefty and having fun. He's got a really big mitt.

Kaki had wanted to give them baseball mitts last Kawanzaa. I remember the two of us standing in the toy store debating it. I said they'd never get to use them. I might have said never-ever. I might have felt hopeless.

Thank you Kevin. Thank you Tahija and Lamarr. Thank you, you remnant of the working-class Italian and Irish community that built the field and the tall bright lights. Thank you working-class African-American and Latina/a people moving in, sharing your sports and ways, sitting with the white folks on the park bleachers so that your kids can feel it, be supported and protected by it: Community.

Thank you Kaki for being there that night and rushing home with your bright basket of descriptions. You are a bridge builder too.

We'll get some baseball pics of them up soon.

something pushing up through the loam

It's not easy thinking up original titles. . . . Anyway, off tomorrow to another academic gig at Temple U. A callback, I guess, from a professor who attended a Frbruary program and invited us to a larger thing. But not that large, and no stipend. I guess stipends are a thing of the past. But I always sell some books, sometimes sell out, and I'll get to see the boys the next day. Kaki's already down there and heading for her mom's in Virginia after, me right back up here to the new book, a novel, "Real Moon." But another, about race, seems to be pushing up too. It was around while I wrote Walk with Us - how I experienced race growing up, a souls of white folk type book, or maybe more like Ralph Ellison's milestone novel, his only novel, Invisible Man.

Experimental in form, about race but not didactic, intense and reflective at the same time. It shook me when I read it in my early twenties - the pure power of the prose, and the weightiness of the symbolism. The book forged its own form, because realism wasn't real enough and naturalism not big enough to contain its insights.

No wonder I feel a little blocked when I think about undertaking a work that even dares to try to approach what he accomplished . . . but I feel a form incubating in me that could hold what I have to say...

Notice Tahija's pseudonym in the book is Ellison. And another fact - Time Magazine ranked Invisible Man in its top 100 best English language novels since 1923. So, if you haven't read it yet you have something to anticipate! I'd loan you my copy but it's very marked up. Here's the terse prologue - clear, intense, private and historical at the same time, somehow.

And here is the first chapter, the longer, much-anthologized, gripping "Battle Royal." Works as a short story.