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Posts Tagged ‘Martin Luther King Jr.’

Affectionate, Yet Arch: An Interview with Vanessa Davis

February 2, 2015 | by


Vanessa Davis is a cartoonist and illustrator living in Los Angeles, the author of the collections Spaniel Rage and Make Me a Woman. Her father was the photojournalist Gerald Davis—last year came Strange Stories, a book commemorating his photography. Selected by the designer Todd Oldham, the images in Strange Stories make a strong case for Gerald Davis as a unique and under-recognized talent, a keen observer of mid to late twentieth-century American life with a wry, playful sensibility that falls somewhere between William Eggleston and John Waters. Late last year, in a busy, light-filled café on Sunset Boulevard, I talked with Vanessa about the book and her father’s life and work.

Your dad was born in New York City. Was he always into art?

He was born in 1940, in Brooklyn, but he grew up in the Bronx. When I was a kid, he would tell stories about growing up and it sounded like a classic 1940s Bronx-Jewish childhood. He played stickball, people called him Slim, he had a girlfriend named Cookie.

I know he went to Baruch College to study petroleum distribution—whatever that is—but at the same time he was hanging around at the New York Times photo library, where my Uncle Danny worked. And after that he took a class at The New School with the photographer Lisette Model. He went to museums all the time, but it just seemed like something that was sort of organic, part of his New York experience. He didn’t live in the world of fine art—being an artist wasn’t part of his identity in a really self-conscious way. But he was very art-minded. Like, he loved the painter Morris Louis, and he used to talk about this one time when he just sat in the Museum of Modern Art and looked at Picasso’s Guernica for an hour. Read More »


An Urgent Message

February 21, 2014 | by

Bob Adelman’s amazing photographs—the majority of them black-and-white prints—fill the second floor of the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale, where they will be on display until May 17. He photographed what came to be significant moments in the civil rights movement as they were happening. As a photographer for CORE, SNCC, Life magazine, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, he was on the scene for moments both momentous and not, to photograph Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. and also never-to-be-famous individuals, families, children—people we wouldn’t have seen again, had Adelman not been there to show them on the sidelines as well as in the forefront, their eyes their own camera lenses, looking back; exiting “White Men Only” bathrooms at the courthouse in Clinton, Louisiana; and then kids who climbed up in a tree to view the memorial service of Dr. King, attended by Robert Kennedy (what a portrait of grief), who’d be dead himself only months later. As a documentary photographer, nothing stopped Bob. It was dangerous work, as was pointed out by one of the speakers at the January 19 museum opening, but Bob found inequality inexplicable and insupportable. In his college years, he studied philosophy to try to figure out the point of being alive. In the civil rights movement, he found his answer.

Don’t miss (not that you could) the enormous enlargement of the contact sheet from when Bob was first focusing on the police’s attempt to blast away protestors in Birmingham by aiming fire hoses at them. It gives you a chance to see the photographer’s mind at work, frame after frame, and is unforgettable as an image, the people holding hands, some with their hats not yet knocked off, in Kelly Ingram Park, struggling to remain upright in the blast, a fierce, watery tornado that obliterates the sky as it seems to become a simultaneously beautiful and malicious backdrop that obliterates the world. The large photograph in the museum took two days to print. Dr. King, upon first seeing Bob’s photograph: “I am startled that out of so much pain some beauty came.”

Ann Beattie’s story “Janus” was included in John Updike’s The Best American Short Stories of the Century.



Being a Tough Guy, and Other News

January 21, 2014 | by


A lobby card for The Tough Guy, 1926. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

  • What’s it like to share a name with a Tom Clancy hero and teach at the Naval Academy? “I would be lying if I didn’t say that when I walk out Gate Three of the Academy from time to time—which is the gate that Jack Ryan walks out of during Patriot Games and gets shot—that there’s a sense of surrealness to it.”
  • Speaking of which, masculinity in art is undergoing a transformation. We’re “questioning yesterday’s tough guys.” Condolences, tough guys!
  • In honor of MLK Day, The New Yorker has lifted the pay wall on Renata Adler’s 1965 classic “Letter from Selma.”
  • What New York’s editors want in a good book: “Are you writing a dinosaur erotica novel, or the book that all dinosaur erotica novels will be measured by?”
  • The poet Mamoun Eltlib on writing and reading in Sudan: “You don’t feel it’s a living language; you just feel it’s like a dead language, a bloody language.”
  • Now accepting applications for admission: the Yale Writers’ Conference, a summer program with a formidable faculty including Nathaniel Rich, Je Banach, Teddy Wayne, Trey Ellis, Marian Thurm, Colum McCann, Rick Moody, Chuck Klosterman, and others.



Hear Chinua Achebe Discuss Martin Luther King Jr.

January 20, 2014 | by


Achebe at the fiftieth anniversary of Things Fall Apart. Photo: Angela Radulescu

Last week we brought to light a few videos of George Plimpton we’d found on the original version of our Web site, circa 1996. Today we have another highly apropos discovery from those days: audio from an unused portion of the Art of Fiction No. 139, an interview with Chinua Achebe conducted for our Winter 1994 issue. In this clip, Achebe, who died last year, discusses the legacy of none other than Martin Luther King Jr. A transcript follows:

Yes, I think certainly, in my view, that Martin Luther King is an ancestor. And although he died at the age of thirty-nine, this is something we do not often remember: how young he was when he was cut down. But his achievement was such that some who lived to be a hundred didn’t achieve half as much. So he does deserve that status, that standing. If he were in my country, he would be worshipped … I did not meet him, unfortunately, and I think one of the reasons was what I have just said: that he died too young. He was thirty-nine. Gandhi, with whom he is often compared, had not even returned to India at thirty-nine; he was still studying. We are thinking not about a sportsman, who can achieve his peak at eighteen; we are thinking of a philosopher, a thinker, who had to mature into action. I have been lucky in the past few years to be invited, again and again, to speak on his day—two years ago at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and then last year at the Smithsonian, so I’ve become something of an expert on Martin Luther King.



Future Tense: An Interview with Kiese Laymon

October 3, 2013 | by


Right across the street from my apartment in Bedford Stuyvesant, there’s a bookstore, True South Books. BOOKS ARE BETTER THAN TV, reads a sign in the window, in bold, black, hand-drawn letters. Another one reminds, DO THE READING. From open to close there’s a stereo that sits on a stool out front. The sounds of Boyz II Men or Nina Simone or Bob Marley often drift across the street and through my window. A few weeks ago, there was a reading there to celebrate two books published this year by Kiese Laymon: his first novel, Long Division, and a book of essays, How to Slowly Kill Yourself in America. The bookstore was packed that night. (Bookstore/barber shop, I should say; there was a haircut in progress well into the reading.) In spite of all the questions directed at Laymon, he did his best to make the night about community rather than himself, sharing the stage with several other young writers.

Laymon was born and raised in Mississippi, but now lives upstate, teaching at Vassar College, where he’s an associate professor of English and Africana studies. He’s also a contributing editor at Gawker and writes regularly for ESPN. He has a lot to say about race, gender, sexuality, love, and how to survive as a young black man in America.

Long Division tells the story of fourteen-year-old City. After telling off the judges at a sentence competition (like a spelling bee) for asking him to use the word niggardly in a sentence, he finds himself a viral video sensation and arouses the ire of his mother, who dumps him at his grandmother’s in rural Mississippi. There he starts reading a paperback novel about a fourteen-year-old boy also named City, set in 1985. And through the book and a hole in the ground in the woods, both Cities travel in time between 1964, 1985, and 2013. Laymon notes this isn’t The Invisible Man. Neither City is in this hole alone—Shaylala Crump (City loves the way she smells) and a couple of other teenagers jump back and forth in time with him.

When I called Laymon to talk about Long Division, he remembered me. I was the one sitting cross-legged in the front row, wasn’t I? He was genuinely interested in asking me about me, where I’m from, what I do. Finally we got around to talking about him.

Ever since that event, I’ve been reading your novel and everything you’ve written for ESPN.

It’s just weird when anyone reads anything that you write. It’s crazy. Don’t you think so? Any time you think about people sitting alone or in moving spaces like trains reading some shit that you wrote? It’s weird.

When you’re writing, are you thinking about an audience?

When I think about audience, it’s strange. I think about people in a theater. In my mind, I’m always thinking about what groups of people are going to take turns sitting in the front row. Who is going to be at the front? Who is going to be at the back? Who is going to be on the balcony? Things like that. Even though reading is not like that. It’s so personal and individualized, but in my mind when I’m creating, I think about all these different people in a theater. So when I hear about people reading or when people take pictures of people reading—which is what my friends have been doing, taking pictures of people reading the book that they see different places—it’s beautiful and wonderful, but it’s really disorienting because people are just spending time with themselves and this book. That’s weird.

When you were writing Long Division, who were you thinking was in the front row of that audience?

It changes. The people in the front row the most often are the characters in the book, the kids like City and Shaylala. They are the primary audience. They are in the front the most. But sometimes they’re in the back and I’m thinking about people who have written shit that I’ve read that has inspired me. Those people are in the audience. And then I’m thinking about people like fucked-up English teachers who told me I’d never be shit. They’re in the audience. All these people occupy part of my imagination. It’s really like you’re writing to different parts of your imagination, but they’re dressed up in the form of characters or memories or whatever. Different sections have different audiences, are differently audience specific, but the characters are always really close to being at the front.

Did you talk to kids while writing the book?

I would talk to kids about it a lot, kids between ninth grade and twelfth grade. And even when they didn’t know I was talking about it, I’d be talking about it. You have to listen to kids nowadays and see you know how they are talking, how they are using verbs. I definitely had to talk to a lot of kids for the 2013 part. Because of the Internet, they just know so much language. Right? They just know so much language. Read More »