But May is also a month where tornados may strike some parts of the nation, causing great destruction with their incredible winds, rain, hail and lightning strikes, not to mention floods. The month of May, like life, is complex, holding within its parameters the constant dualities of life and death. It is the month when the great musician, Miles Davis was born — May 26th 1926 to be exact — and who left us way to soon on September 28th, 1991. And because Miles was born during this month, it has also been a bittersweet time for me because the many musical celebrations that usually surround his birth also remind me of his death.
Which brings me to the fact that I find myself today remembering all the friends, colleagues and others whom I’ve admired over the years who have died, since the last issue of Black Renaissance Noire was published. The list is much too long in my opinion and include the great Nigerian novelist, poet and essayist, Chinua Achebe; poet and essayist, Jan Carew; poet Harvey Shapiro; art critic, Thomas McEvilley; poet and performance artist, Jayne Cortez; poet and organizer, Brenda Connor-Bey; original Watts poet, Emery Evans; home-girl singer, Fontella Bass; poet, Amselm Hollo; poet, Ruth Stone; novelist, Piri Thomas; composer, and musician, Butch Morris; the photographer, Hugh Bell and the ground breaking African art dealer and collector, Merton Simpson, among others. Surely, there will be more by the time this installment of My Take appears.
Usually in this space I present my personal views regarding what I feel are some of the pressing political, social and cultural questions impacting the country, like the first election of Barack Obama to the office of President of the United States and his subsequent re-election to that important post. But I will dispense with my usual angst this time around, because so many difficult questions still face the nation and I can’t possibly address them all here in this limited space. Suffice it to say many of this country’s political, media and cultural leaders — countless regular citizens — seem to be having complete mental breakdowns that render them incapable of solving many of our most urgent and pressing political, social, religious and cultural decisions. I attribute it to what I call “Obama-dystopia,” or “Obama-distortion” — take your pick of either linguistic formulation, since both terms are my own neologisms. What I mean by these neologisms is the severe, intractable opposition especially by those republicans in Congress to anything having to do with President Obama. In other words, if President Obama is for something, they are against it, no matter what.
This opposition is literally tearing the nation apart in so many important areas, which anyone with a brain can identify. All one has to do is just look at the American landscape to identify the widespread destruction of many of the nation’s historical mores, political institutions, its civility and civil life. As a consequence many of our important institutions, like the media and the press, the halls of jurisprudence, cultural life — literary, film, music, you name it, are being debased and corrupted. The desperate grab for power by conservative, wealthy, racist and xenophobic forces that have joined together to influence the future direction of the country out of a profound fear of the demographic changes the country is undergoing. These destructive forces refuse to accept that nothing can stop this transformation. Consequently the nation suffers because of the terror white people feel at what they imagine is their impending loss of privilege and control.This, in my opinion, is at the heart of all their anxiety and dread and disharmony, which I fear threatens national paralysis and collapse of our basic, fundamental institutions.
On the other hand, often lasting important, historic, and ultimately progressive changes come amidst great chaos and on that note let us focus on the optimism inherent in the idea of rebirth, exemplified during the spring season in the month of May. As the old axiom goes, “April showers bring May flowers.”
In the new issue of Black Renaissance Noire, we celebrate the poetry of Brenda Connor-Bey and Jayne Cortez. We acknowledge and honor these important cultural workers with an essay on the work of Brenda Connor-Bey by Gary Johnston, as well as a poem by Brenda, and one by her friend, Mervyn Taylor. The section on Jayne Cortez – which is larger because of her affiliation with nyu’s Institute of African American Affairs and the celebration of her life that took place on February 6th, 2013 at Cooper Union’s Great Hall. From that celebration, we are publishing the tributes by: Amiri Baraka, Manthia Diawara, Rashidah Ismaili, Robin D. G. Kelley, Dr. Rosamond S. King, Eugene B. Redmond, and me, the editor of this journal. Also included are sculptural images by Jayne’s husband, Melvin Edwards, which alternates with 4 poems by Ms. Cortez. Chester Higgins’ photograph of Jayne Cortez, opens this section. The section closes with photographs of the Cooper Union Celebration by Joyce Jones and Eugene B. Redmond.
In addition, brn is also proud to publish the poetry of Darryl Alladice, George Barlow, Tara Betts, Kwame Dawes, Tyehimba Jess, Jacqueline Johnson, Quraysh Ali Lansana, Bojan Louis, Brandy MacDougall, David Mills, David Mura, Cynthia Dewi Oka, Cedar Sigo. Also in the issue is fiction by A. Igoni Barrett, Aimasi Hines and Iheoma Nwachukwu, as well, as excerpts of a memoir by Patricia Jabbeh Wesley. We are also pleased to publish Ishmael Reed’s essay on his recent trip to China and a personal essay by David Mura. We look at the work of Richard Wright in a piece by Dr. Floyd Hayes, III. Art historian and critic, Lizzetta Lefalle-Collins contributes essays enhanced with visuals on the paintings of Robert Colescott and Mary Lovelace O’ Neal to produce a stunning spread of the works of these important artists. Last, but not least, we are pleased to offer the stunning photographic art of Lesley Dill, whose artwork graces our cover.
As always, we at BRN welcome your feedback on this new issue and we thank you for your continued support of our efforts.