by Liz Gre
Step 1. Cool your jets.
Actual title: How to make it through this period without burning out.
1: Explore new ways to make sound.
Remember when you didn’t write for deadlines and you just played with your instruments or tools? Wasn’t that great!? I find most inspiration for melodies, themes, and sounds from the natural, external environment. Being locked inside has been a detriment to my wells of inspiration until I realized the world that I had been ignoring in my home. Consider that being in your home has given you new eyes and new ears! What can you do with the sounds that you may have overlooked? Like the sound of raw honey riding a spoon on its escape from the jar or the sound of your nine-year-old’s markers hopefully not on the wall?
2. Challenge yourself with childhood joy
When was the last time you giggled? Or doubled over laughing? I believe that the creative’s Gift is one of JOY - that of a child. We are able to seize the purity of a moment. Remember the things that you did as a child that brought you joy.
3. Take it easy on yourself
You don’t have to tick off a to-do list every day. Shifting from one way of life to another is jarring! And placing an expectation of productivity on yourself is not necessary. Easier said than done, I do realize. The moment I rest, my mind buzzes up with anxiety over the things I “should” be doing. So it is a constant decision to release expectation from myself.
4. Reconnect with your “why”.
Now that we are slowing down, it’s a great time to take a moment to reflect on why really you’re pursuing your work. You were divinely engineered to do what you are doing. No one else can do it like you can. Others may try, but let’s be real - you’re one in a million, baby. Take a moment to ask yourself and be radically honest about why you wake up every day and chase after this dream.
5. Bonus: Check out COOS's online offerings
Not only does COOS post a weekly BIBA Blog here, but COOS has created virtual programming that includes 18 world premieres of miniatures by Black composers, Kids Korner storytime readings, and a Poetry Nightcap Series! Find out more at castleskins.org ... naturally!
Liz Gre is a composer and vocalist writing strange, experimental, ethnographic compositions with Black Women for Black Women. In 2017, she performed the title role in Mother King, an opera about Alberta Williams King (the mother of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.). She was a 2019 Inside/Outisde Fellow at The Union for Contemporary Art (Omaha, NE). Currently located in London, UK, she is working towards her MPhil/PhD in Music at City University of London. Social Media : IG/Twitter - @lizgrelizgre
by Ashleigh Gordon
On this day in 2018, Boston Conservatory hosted New Music Gathering: a three-day meet-mingle, listen-and-be-heard convening of friends, both old and those you didn’t know you’d make. The fourth gathering of its kind, it was a platform to share honestly, connect, be inspired, and amplify a long overdue discussion: diversity in new music (be sure to catch Helga Davis’ opening keynote on the topic here if you missed it).
From left to right: Melanie Zeck (photo by Liz Boros Kazai), Ashleigh Gordon (photo by www.RobertTorresPhotography.com, and Lucy Caplan
It was at this gathering when I had the chance to challenge the fundamental concept of what “new music” is. With fellow provocateurs Melanie Zeck (Reference Librarian at the American Folklife Center of the Library of Conference, and former Research Fellow at the Center for Black Music Research in Chicago) and Lucy Caplan (Lecturer at Harvard University with particular interests in African American music, opera and cultural criticism), we argued that the music of Black composers is often new to our ears regardless of when it was written. It’s “new music” in the sense that it’s unheard and unknown by most audiences, long since left from main concert stages, and failed to cross people’s minds as even being a possible creation in the first place. Highlighting archival research, scholarship, and performance application, we challenged the notion of a fixed music canon, discussed the ramifications that structural racism bears on legacy and accessibility, and advocated for how we can use resources already in place to dismantle a cycle of neglect. We unpacked the ways our very words exacerbate the issue: how a composer like Florence Price could be “rediscovered” multiple times despite the fact that scholarship and performance of her work never ceased in some circles; or how others still could be “forgotten” or “lost” as though misplaced like a set of keys without regard to the intentional and calculated efforts that enabled their “disappearance.” New Music Gathering provided us with the opportunity to openly discuss such topics with a community willing and eager to listen.
While this is certainly a time when convening and gatherings of community in public spaces are prohibited, this is still the time to engage in dialogue around representation, accessibility, visibility, and diversity. In fact, this is arguably a perfect time to quite literally build a new and improved cultural landscape with equity at its center. With the ongoing ICE New Music Virtual Town Hall Meetings, New Music USA and American Composer Forum conversations, and the June 15-30th virtual New Music Gathering, there are ample opportunities with captive movers and shakers in the field to engage, probe, prod, challenge, and co-create such a future. When new music gathers with diversity and equity at its center, we all win.
by Anthony R. Green
Happy Mother's Day from Castle of our Skins! In 2015, COOS received a Travel to the Collections grant from the Center for Black Music Research (CBMR) in Chicago. While the center itself has dramatically changed, the time that COOS spent doing research there will always remain invaluable. One focus that we had at that time was researching music and contributions by Black women composers. The world of classical music has historically mistreated its women, and efforts to bring justice to female composers of the past and the present are quite often met with misogynistic or otherwise awkward responses, from both men and women. Many of these responses fail to acknowledge the many challenges that women have historically faced from male-dominated societies, who often define men as the only gender that can contribute to society in a grand, important way. Among these challenges include gender role stereotypes, expectations, and also motherhood. As rewarding as motherhood is, imagine how difficult it was for female composers to balance being a creative as well as being a mother, among other responsibilities?
Through COOS's CBMR research, we came across the wonderful music and life of Lettie Beckon Alston (1953 - 2014). Not only was Mrs. Alston a composer, a pianist, and the first Black composer (of any gender) to receive a doctorate degree from the University of Michigan in 1983, but she was also a mother to her son Darnell, and a mother figure to many students. As a student herself, she studied with powerhouse composers such as William Bolcom and Leslie Bassett, among others. Her composition practice also included working with digital and electronic processes, and she studied electronic composition with George Wilson and Eugene Kurzt. She used these lessons and her wealth of experience to become a beloved and respected pedagogue at Wayne State University, Oakland University, and Eastern Michigan University. Yet her quiet presence has left her as a respected composer within the circle of musicians and enthusiasts who are familiar with her work, but not so popular outside of this circle. This is proven by many online sources (including Wikipedia) that still do not have her death year registered.
Fortunately, there are current efforts to increase the number of performances of Mrs. Alston's music, including from the Hidden Voices: Piano Music by Black Women Composers project at the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU Boulder). This project continues the work of the beloved pianist and scholar Helen Walker-Hill (mother to violinist and composer Gregory Walker, who is the son of the late Pulitzer prize winner George Walker). And for those who are keen to hear her music, simple YouTube and Google searches will yield plenty of links, where you can enter her unique musical world. With that, a wonderful place to start is with Karen Walwyn's fantastic interpretation of Alston's Well Marked, the first rhapsody from her Three Rhapsodies for Piano. Enjoy and Happy Mother's Day!!
by Sakari Dixon
Today's post is an interview with Kori Coleman, the founder and executive director of the Chicago organization D-Composed. Through unique and often cross-disciplinary chamber music experiences, D-Composed engages audiences with the works of Black composers and musicians in both popular and classical genres.
photo by Orel Chollette
BIBA : In your bio, you state that D-Composed was founded out of a desire to create more fine art and luxury experiences that are tailored to the Black community. Can you tell us a bit more about how D-Composed began? How did you and Danielle Taylor meet?
KC : Prior to D-Composed, I ran a luxury lifestyle website called The Chicagolite. It highlighted luxury events and activities throughout the Chicagoland area. I went to fashion shows, restaurant openings, art exhibit openings. I was very much like a part-time high society girl (LOL). My goal with the site was to show my audience that you don’t have to wait until you are wealthy to enjoy the finer things in life. Plus, by being very visible I wanted the Black community to know that the spaces I was entering (although very white) weren’t off limits, and we should make our presence known wherever we want to go. I had people tell me that they were inspired to even explore the North Side of the city by seeing me go to events.
However, as I attended more high-profile events, I noticed that not too many experiences catered to the Black experience in the way that I hoped to see it represented one day. Eventually I got tired just being an attendee, and I knew that eventually I wanted to create something that made a difference and reflected the change that I wanted to see.
D-Composed came about because one day I went to an event that highlighted Black composers, and it was like this light bulb went off. Throughout my entire life, the thought of Black composers never crossed my mind. I played the violin throughout much of my youth and not once was I introduced to a Black composer. It took me becoming an adult and exploring the arts scene for that world to open up to me.
Following the event, I started researching Black composer events and I couldn’t find any events outside of Black history month or MLK Day. Plus, finding Black ensembles was even harder. I had been planning events prior to D-Composed, so I felt like I had what it took to create the series. We just needed to find someone who could lead the music. That same night of the event, I decided that I wanted to pursue creating my own series, so I started researching Black musicians in Chicago. I came across our now Artistic Director Danielle Taylor, and I saw that she had already been researching Black composers ... and the rest is history! Danielle was instrumental in identifying our core quartet so the right people came together at the right time.
It was by fate that we both happened to share a similar vision to really redefine the classical music world and make our own rules and playbook along the way.
photo by Ally Almore
BIBA : What are some of the most unexpected ways in which your background in experiential marketing has influenced the way that you curate programs for D-Composed?
KC : Throughout each phase of my career I’ve been able to take so many key learnings from experiential marketing. Ultimately, when working in agencies, clients come to you because they want you to create the most compelling content or activations to promote their brand. We don’t approach creativity in a typical way with our clients, so I carry that same thought process with D-Composed.
When I first started my career as a strategist, I learned about creative concept development. That’s when I started to challenge my creativity to think of programs as concepts with their own unique narrative and story. As a strategist, it’s important to be well versed in all aspects of culture and society at large, so I always have my eye on trends and general inspiration.
And now that D-Composed is growing and developing as a business, I’m able to apply my strategic learnings in much more intentional ways, like having a pointed strategic vision for the company and just overall creating with more specificity and intention.
I like to think of myself as the person who makes sense out of creativity. Being a strategist allows me to think through every single detail of the business, and I truly believe we aren’t creating just for creativity's sake. Every action has a purpose and message that we wish to communicate.
BIBA : D-Compressed, your "music yoga experience", has become one of your most popular events. Can you tell us how that collaboration came about? What do you most look forward to in the next iteration of D-Compressed?
KC : I love blending genres and mediums together, so I thought why not combine yoga & chamber music? What’s interesting is when D-Composed first started, I mentioned to Danielle that the next phase would be yoga & chamber music, but let’s do a more traditional concert first.
The reason yoga & chamber music makes sense as it relates to our vision is because both classical music and the profession of yoga have a serious diversity issue, especially as it relates to Black people. By bringing these two forces together, we’re making and creating our own space in worlds that weren’t the most receptive to us. Plus, both classical and yoga have their own set of preconceived rules with how you are supposed to behave in those spaces, and we just wanted to dismantle all of that.
What I love so much about D-Compressed is how much fun we have with the music. The set-list is primarily contemporary pop culture songs, and Danielle consistently kills it with each of her arrangements. With D-Compressed, you can hear artists like Beyoncé, Janelle Monae, Tyler, The Creator, Juvenile, Sisqo. And all the songs are selected to compliment the actual flow of a yoga class. It’s meant to just be a fun experience where our attendees can be themselves. Also, twerking on the mats is a thing that happens and is encouraged. We’ve even had people stop what they are doing just because they are feeling the music, and that’s OK. We play whatever we want to play with D-Compressed. I’m just excited to see musically what’s in store. We might do some special themed set-lists in the future, but for now it’s a hodgepodge of just really dope music.
BIBA : Part of your vision includes reaching out to the youth through programs such as family concerts (which feature a lovely coloring book!) and your nonprofit D-Composed Gives. What is some of the most inspirational feedback that you have heard from youth attendees or their parents?
KC : There’s not a single show that happens where a parent isn’t asking for more or wondering when the next event is. I think that can be the challenge for us because D-Composed is small, but mighty; but there’s always this incredible desire for the work we’re doing. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with the demand. Usually parents express so much gratitude that D-Composed even exists. One parent told Danielle that he was considering having his son play an instrument even though they were only pushing him towards sports! By seeing that concert, that opened that parent’s eyes to a new world of possibilities that weren’t previously considered. That type of feedback is powerful, and it further exemplifies why we do what we do. This is why we make a point to feature all Black musicians so those kids can see themselves in anyone on that stage. Also, there has yet to be a concert where someone hasn’t walked up to us crying. It’s an overwhelming experience for a lot of people, so we acknowledge the huge responsibility we have to create a space with so much intention and thoughtfulness behind it.
BIBA : What advice would you give to up-and-coming organizations who share a similar mission as D-Composed?
KC : The biggest advice I can give is to stay true to your vision. You may get a bit of pushback, there may be some naysayers, but staying true to yourself is well worth the risk. With D-Composed, I’m proud to say that we create exactly what we want, and I’m incredibly proud of everything that’s been put out there. We will not compromise our vision, and if that means not getting all the support, that’s OK. Regardless of what you do, I would say stay true to your vision and make sure at the end of the day you are creating something that you are genuinely proud of.
To learn more about D-composed, please visit their website at: https://www.dcomposed.com . You can also follow them on Instagram @dcomposedchicago, and watch past and upcoming videos of their artistry on their YouTube channel! In the future, stay tuned to find out how you can support D-composed in their journey to play at the prestigious festival, South by Southwest (SxSW)!! Due to the coronavirus pandemic, SxSW was cancelled this year.
by Liz Gre
Hey BIBA readers! I’m so excited to be a new contributor to this blog!
It seems to me that collaboration between visual artists and sound artists is taking over the landscape in the art world as a whole. While the environment can still feel quite separate (painters here, singers there, composers somewhere in a dark corner yelling at Sibelius…no shade…) artists are incorporating "multi-sensory" in new and exciting ways. This is not a new concept. Multidisciplinary artists from Maren Hassinger to Sanford Biggers have dissipated any sense of barrier between their installation work and their performance. I’m particularly intrigued with how multiple artists come together to create collaborative multi-disciplinary work that honors the practices of all artists involved. From the beginning, Black artists of all disciplines have stretched our imaginations with exciting, feeling-forward, sometimes tough, and critical works. So for my first BIBA series, I’m focusing on connections that have been forged between visual artists and sound artists (of all leanings). First up - Alexandria Smith!
In 2019, I was commissioned by Visual Artist Alexandria Smith to collaborate on an installation at Queens Museum (NY). Alexandria has had a stellar rise in the last 3 years, with shows of her work in all corners of the United States, London, the Netherlands, and Italy. She is the recipient of numerous awards and residencies, including most recently the Queens Museum | Jerome Foundation Fellowship; MacDowell, Bemis, Yaddo and LMCC Process Space residencies; a Pollock-Krasner Grant, the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture Fellowship, the Virginia A. Myers Fellowship at the University of Iowa, and the Fine Arts Work Center Fellowship from 2013 - 2015. Her recent exhibitions include a forthcoming solo exhibition at the Queens Museum; the first annual Wanda D. Ewing Commission and solo exhibit at The Union for Contemporary Art in Omaha, NE; a traveling group exhibition called “Black Pulp” at Yale University, International Print Center NY (IPCNY), USF and Wesleyan University, and a commission for the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Her work is currently included in "The Lure of the Dark: Contemporary Painters Conjure the Night" at Mass MoCA.
BIBA : Your practice has taken a journey from illustration to installation. If you could, describe how external influences have impacted your practice.
AS : Initially, I wanted to be an animator and comic book artist, which then lead to illustration, all of which are dependent on audience engagement. It seemed like a natural progression for my practice to evolve into painting and then installation. My engagement and eventually audience engagement became integral to my practice. A lot of the visual artists and musicians that inspired me early on in my artistic development such as Kara Walker, Wangechi Mutu, Janet Jackson, and Traci Chapman had an investment in the audience that moved me to desire the same in my work.
BIBA : It seems that you take a liking to storytelling. What were the stories/fables/folktales that have shaped your growing?
AS : Parallel to my desire to be a visual artist was also a strong interest in fiction writing. I was always an avid reader, especially of the magical realism genre, fantasy stories, and fables, specifically Aesop’s Fables, African/Southern Black folk tales, and later Toni Morrison novels were instrumental in my artistic development. I was fascinated by the ability of writers to provide insight to parallel worlds within these stories. Our reality was simultaneously happening alongside this fantasy world of absurdity.
BIBA : How do you think Black music has shaped your artistry?
AS : Black music provided me with the tools to understand how to emotionally and psychologically move an audience and tap into their innermost desires and feelings. This is something that I strive for in my own work, which is probably why I have moved towards more immersive ways of working. There’s something sensorial that you experience when you listen to music that cannot be replicated with visual art. I believe that’s the reason why creating has become so collaborative and interdisciplinary.
BIBA : You recently collaborated with me (:-D) to create an installation for Queens Museum, Monuments to an Effigy. What led you to include experimental new music with your installation?
AS : I have always wanted to collaborate with a musician and this exhibit in particular desperately needed to include all sensorial elements. I wanted visitors to the museum to be captivated by the sound first, and then feel its visual impact. Another personal reason, which I rarely share is that my dad is blind and has been for the past 10 yrs. It has been frustrating for me as a visual artist to share my work with the world when my father can’t actually see it. My knowledge and love of music has come from him, and it was important for me to bring that inspiration directly into my practice. I would wake up every Sunday to music blasting from his extensive collection of records which he would play all day long. It is a tradition that I carry on today in my own home. In many ways, I partly wanted to pay homage to my dad by creating an exhibition that he didn’t have to see in order to feel. Bringing him into the space and allowing him to touch the walls, feel the sculptures and hear the music was an incredibly moving experience for both of us. The music was my way of connecting with him, with you, and our ancestors. It was my way of providing access in all its forms, which has become important for me to continue in my work moving forward.
BIBA : If you could collaborate with any musician, alive or ancestor, who would you work with and why?
AS : I would collaborate with Prince. Prince’s ability to move through styles of music-making and performing, captivate a crowd and still maintain autonomy and freedom within an industry that historically has eaten up and spit out Black musicians is what I strive to achieve in my own practice as a visual artist. I truly believe that if Prince had decided to collaborate with a visual artist, it would have yielded an innovative and unique approach to creating unlike anything that we have experienced.
60 x 72 in
acrylic, oil and enamel on canvas
courtesy of the artist
To learn more about Alexandria Smith, please visit her website at www.alexandriasmith.com and follow her on Instagram: @alexandriasmithstudio
(photo by Sarah White/Fotos for Barcelona)
Liz is a composer and vocalist writing strange, experimental, ethnographic compositions with Black Women for Black Women. In 2017, she performed the title role in Mother King, an opera about Alberta Williams King (the mother of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.). She was a 2019 Inside/Outisde Fellow at The Union for Contemporary Art (Omaha, NE). Currently located in London, UK, she is working towards her MPhil/PhD in Music at City, University of London. Social Media : IG/Twitter - @lizgrelizgre
by Shannon Sea
When people think of Alice Coltrane, they often remember her as a celebrated jazz composer and musician. She, indeed, was a virtuoso on the piano and harp. She replaced McCoy Tyner as John Coltrane’s pianist, and later developed her own sound that infused improvisational jazz with harp and spirituality.
People also remember Coltrane for her devotional music, which comprised ambient synth soundscapes, harp, vocals, organ, and Hindu chants. Yet, many overlook Coltrane’s avant-garde classical pieces, which incorporate strings, harp, synthesizers, and Messiaen-like extended techniques. Furthermore, little is regarded about Coltrane’s re-interpretation of Stravinsky’s Firebird and Rite of Spring. She said she was inspired to rework those pieces after Stravinsky spoke to her in a dream.
(Art/Image by Victoria Topping)
I would like to bring your attention to Radhe-Shyam, one of my favorite classical pieces by Coltrane. Radhe-Shyam begins with strings playing a dissonant chord. Coltrane then swiftly enters with her electro-acoustic harp, and immediately the music draws you into another realm -- into a spiritual hyper reality. A lush counter-melody ensues as the strings gradually shift from one dissonant chord to another, and Coltrane dances with her harp. Coltrane’s melody is modal, and evades a tonic center, which gives the listener an other-worldly feeling.
In Radhe-Shyam, Coltrane uses silence perfectly, as she creates space for her ethereal harp solo. The strings re-enter in stark contrast, and then break out into Messiaen-like bird calls. The piece then ends without explanation or apology.
Radhe-Shyam has haunted me since the first time I heard it. There was something so distinct about every part of it, especially the string orchestration. As I inquired more about Coltrane’s composition techniques, I learned that she defied the traditional balance of string ensembles in order to create her own sound. For instance, on Radhe-Shyam, the string section consisted of three violins and one viola.
Coltrane is one of my favorite composers, and her music is authentic, spiritual, and intellectually sophisticated. I hope you will discover more of her string compositions on her albums
Transcendence and Eternity.
by Ashe Gordon
Happy Sunday, COOS and BIBA Fans! Today's BIBA Blog features the Haitian-born poet, educator, publisher, and social advocate, Enzo Silon Surin! He is the author of When My Body Was A Clinched Fist (Black Lawrence Press, July 2020), and the chapbooks, A Letter of Resignation: An American Libretto (2017) and Higher Ground (2006). He is a PEN (Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, Novelists) New England Celebrated New Voice in Poetry, and the recipient of a Brother Thomas Fellowship from The Boston Foundation and a 2020 Denis Diderot Grant as an Artist-in-Residence at Chateau d’Orquevaux in France. Surin’s work gives voice to experiences that take place in what he calls “broken spaces,” and his poems have been featured in numerous publications and exhibits. Explore more in his interview below!
photo by Richard Howard
BIBA : You were born in Haiti and lived in New York among other places. How did/do those two worlds shape you and your creative practice as a poet?
ESS : The introduction to OutKast’s sophomore album ATLiens is a track titled “You May Die.” The album signified not just a new era in hip hop but in my life as well. I spent most of my childhood being alienated from self, from homeland, in a place that was supposed to be a refuge. As a Haitian-born poet, I immigrated to the United States at a young age, fleeing a country littered with political violence and landing on the shores of another country with just as much social violence. I spent most of my days in Jamaica, Queens, thinking any day was going to be the day that I would die. You can charge that to being a refugee, to New York City streets or to the police that patrolled them. The only safe place was the retreat of my own mind and body. Which eventually led to the discovery of the page as a safe place to frame and tell stories about my experiences.
I started to write poetry as a way of expressing my emotions and as a way of getting through the day. It was a matter of survival, really. Being a product of two countries, I drew from my Caribbean roots and our penchant for telling stories and mixed that with the rhythm and cadence of my new country’s burgeoning hip hop culture. And since English was my third and not my first language, I fell in love with the process of trying to find the right combination of words to be able to tell an effective and compelling story. To this day, I consider the dictionary and thesaurus to be a poet’s best friend, and the page is still a very safe place for me.
BIBA : You describe your work as amplifying experiences that take place in “broken spaces”. What do you mean by this and can you give an example of a "broken space"?
ESS : When I write about broken spaces, which is a term borrowed from Afaa Michael Weaver’s poem “Blues in Five/Four, the Violence in Chicago”, I mean the places that most of us would rather forget. I am referring to the crevices that Black and brown folks often fall into, the cracks of society, the wrinkles & folds, the corners and other spaces we call home, only to be traumatized within them or forced to live out past traumas. These spaces are also often forgotten places that have collapsed over time, which means that some of the people who inhabit those places are also out of sight and out of mind. In other words, no one is really checking for them under the rubble. Yet, within these same spaces, people make a living, make a way out of no way, make the best of each day by writing or rewriting the narrative of their demise. These are the experiences that are amplified in my work and also in the work of the writers I publish through Central Square Press.
An example of a broken place would the title poem for my forthcoming book, WHEN MY BODY WAS A CLINCHED FIST, which chronicled the years my mind and body endured while growing up in Queens, NY from the mid-eighties to the mid-nineties. When I was 13, I witnessed someone being beaten within an inch of their life over a glare. As a youth, I also witnessed odd exchanges between rival posses: sanctioned peaceful football games and fights scheduled at a specific time and location. The violence wasn’t always chaotic—sometimes, it was a methodical type of violence that was predicated on an odd respect for order—but more often then not, it would erupt like one held the balance of the universe within their fist. On the way to and from school, that’s the world I navigated. It’s the world I try to chronicle through the eyes of a little boy who spent 10 years of his life negotiating this terrain. That is still someone’s reality today and I’ll keep writing about it until we figure out a way to mend these broken spaces together.
BIBA : What drew you to create your own publishing company, Central Square Press?
ESS : The idea for Central Square Press was born out of numerous heartfelt conversations with my peers about the perilous journey to get their work out into the world. These folks were phenomenal poets, some with MFA degrees and beyond, who had very-little-to-no success finding a home for their book manuscripts. At first, I just wanted to create an opportunity for these poets to publish their work, you know; to provide one more entry point for manuscripts trying to make their way into the world. However, thanks to an organization that released a report with the acceptance rates of journals and publishers based on demographics, I was able to see the dismally low percentage of Black and brown writers being published, especially female writers. We decided to narrow focus and publish underrepresented writers, especially those whose poetry reflects a commitment to social justice regarding African American, Caribbean and Caribbean-American communities.
In addition, the number of independent Black publishers is very low compared to what it used to be while hundreds of Black writers come out of writing programs every year. I was very conscious about needing to launch a small press by a Black publisher. The conversation in many circles I frequented rarely went beyond our roles as writers in publishing; it shifted from the lack of publishing opportunities to the creation of publishing opportunities. We often want to be published but not necessarily become those who publish other writers. As a result, we fall in line with a pre-determined path for publication, even when it doesn’t successfully serve us in a way that is always fruitful. That wasn’t always the case and I wanted to draw from the lineage of Black publishers who created opportunities for other Black writers.
Cover art: “When I Ruled the World” by Carlos Rancaño
BIBA : As an educator, what are some of the tools you share with your students (or use yourself) to help craft a compelling story? Are they different for poems vs. short stories vs. non-fiction?
ESS : I have dedicated my life and career to affecting social change through creative and critical writing. As such, it is important that my students are exposed to all the necessary tools available in the writer’s toolbox. Whether they are writing poetry, fiction or non-fiction, I always challenge my students to remember their goal—the point of writing the story—and whether their goal to write a compelling story has the reader in mind. One tool I often focus on in my creative writing workshops is something called the human scale. It is a term that I borrowed from the field of architecture, which is used the determine whether or not a particular design has considered actual human beings inhabiting the space. I use the term to remind my students that another human being will be reading their work and to always keep that in mind.
Literary devices are tools to enhance a story and are not the story themselves. The average reader can tell when a writer is more in love with language than the story they want to tell. As such, my focus during the drafting process is to pose questions for them to entertain more than it is to provide line suggestions or feedback. I want my students to fully interrogate their own work before declaring a story or poem is complete: Have they left enough room for the reader to inhabit the lines of the poem? Have they considered the different ways a reader might enter a story? What hasn’t been said that needs to be said? What do you want the reader to walk away with? What will leave them satisfied or wanting more? With the last question, both elements are essential to writing a compelling story or poem. As a writer, one should always want a reader to feel full or wanting more but never satiated or famished.
BIBA : Your new, full-length debut When My Body Was A Clinched Fist is a coming of age story "where hip hop and Haiti flow through the borough of Queens" (Tara Betts, author of Break the Habit). Can you share the process of working on this work, reliving moments from your childhood, and how that affected you as an adult today?
ESS : The decision to write When My Body Was A Clinched Fist was not a complicated one, but it certainly was one of the toughest things I have done in my life. At some point, I realized the anxiety from which I suffered most of my adult life was connected to the pathology of fear I experienced as a youth. The collection was written as a way of coming to terms with what was a very difficult decade of my childhood in Queens, New York, one that would follow me well into adulthood. I wanted to chronicle the experience of growing up in an environment prone to social violence, where a simple walk down the street could lead to serious, and at times, deadly predicaments. However, I also wanted to address the human element in such circumstances and the versions of ourselves that are created when faced with these predicaments, and the sometimes detrimental effects of choosing not to participate in the violence.
In a poem titled “My Body As A Clinched Fist”, I tell the story of what it felt like to watch a schoolmate get beat up by a mob simply because he looked at someone the wrong way. The incident happened when I was 13 years old and it had taken me almost three decades to be able to write about it. Such experiences were always readily available to write about, but in writing about them I would have to relive each moment. That type of emotionally challenging and creative work is necessary for a breakthrough, but it takes times—it took over ten years for the collection to come together.
I am a freer and healthier person because of this book, and I hope it will help others to be a bit more free in their own lives.
COOS INTERRUPTS YOUR SEMI-REGULAR SCHEDULED BIBA POSTING TO INTRODUCE ...
THE BLACK COMPOSER MINIATURE CHALLENGE! #BCMC
Composers who identify as Black or part of the African Diaspora are challenged to compose pieces for COOS co-founders Ashleigh Gordon and Anthony Green! Each piece must be 30 seconds or less. Pieces can be scored for:
- solo viola
- solo piano
- viola & piano duo
Auxiliary instruments and other options may include:
- voice (simple melodies, spoken word, percussive and other sounds)
- various shakers, thunder tube, bird whistles, finger cymbals, 2 differently pitched singing bowls, a toy keyboard (only 4 notes at a time), a toy piano (25-key), common objects, Chinese toy pellet drum, a kalimba, and common objects (paper, pots and pans, sticks and stones, etc ... )
- simple electronic playback (no live electronics, please!)
- piano 4-hand is also an option
* if wanting to use auxiliary instruments or think outside of these parameters in any way, please consult with Ashleigh and Anthony at info [at] castleskins.org BEFORE starting your piece!
- Pieces are due May 1, 2020 by 11:59PM; early submissions are welcome and encouraged!
- Depending on receipt and demand of the submissions, COOS will begin broadcasting virtual premieres of each piece starting May 15, 2020 (or later!) on COOS social media! Please feel free to share with friends and family!
- Postings of the virtual premieres will continue for as long as necessary, but COOS will not take submissions after May 1, 2020, so get your pieces in!
How to submit:
- Please send your piece as a PDF and any necessary material for performance (parts, tracks, notation keys, etc ...) in any relevant format to anthony [at] castleskins.org
- along with your piece submission, please send a creative headshot and a 100 word or less bio, with any social media handles/website links you would like shared.
WE LOOK FORWARD TO PREMIERING YOUR MINIATURES!
Happy Sunday BIBA Readers!
The world has changed! And as these changes occurred, BIBA has taken a bit of an unexpected-but-necessary hiatus. During that time, however, we have collected wonderful posts which will be published throughout the rest of the season! As expected, all of COOS’s planned physical events have been cancelled or postponed. However, our online presence has NOT been cancelled! Therefore, if you are not doing so already, please be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (@castleskins) and subscribe to our YouTube channel to maximize your COOS content!
This post, however, is about the Castle of our Skins call for a Creative-In-Residence. THE DEADLINE HAS MOVED TO MAY 3RD, giving interested applicants more than a month extra to work on proposals! For those interested in applying, continue reading! For those who may want to share this post with creative friends and colleagues, please share this link as widely as possible!
photo by Monika Bach Schroeder
Are you a creative interested in applying to our call? If so, below are some tips to help with your application process!
1) Castle of our Skins regularly collaborates with artists and creatives of multiple genres, including but not limited to dance, spoken word, fashion design, DIY, creative writing, historical research, creative education, and – of course – music. We welcome applicants of ALL practices, as well as interdisciplinary practices!
2) Our application material list is for the judging panel to know who you are, and not necessarily for you as an applicant to specify what project you would have in mind for COOS. In sum, we are interested in knowing who you are, what your practice is, and why you want to work with COOS! However, thinking about possible collaborative projects would not be frowned upon, as collaboration questions will most likely arise during the interview process.
3) Concerning work samples, we are looking for 10 maximum, and they can be a mixture of images, audio, video, text, and whatever else is applicable. Audio and video files should not equal more than 15 minutes in total. Therefore, a possible work sample portfolio can include 3 audio files of 4 minutes each (12 minutes), a video file of 3 minutes, 3 images, 2 PDFs of press releases, and 1 PDF of a creative writing sample. Another example of a portfolio can be 2 audio files of 7 minutes each, and 3 images (professional and/or candid). Any combination of samples that helps COOS develop a well-rounded perspective of you and your practice/experience would be advantageous!
4) As COOS is highly enthusiastic about cultural curiosity, please do not be afraid to discuss any unique cultural aspects related to your practice. Examples could be personal and/or professional experience in other countries, ability to speak foreign languages, interest in artistic and culinary practices of other cultures, research into artistic practices of other cultures and how that has shaped you as an artist, and more. The sky is the limit!
Thanks for reading and sharing, and we look forward to reviewing your applications!
photo and MassQ by Daniel Callahan
by Anthony R. Green
Social media always has some amazing Black History Month related memes and posts, and it is refreshing and sometimes entertaining to scroll and come across something enlightening or simply knee-slapping, breathtakingly hilarious! I've seen people share speeches and quotes by luminaries such as James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, Nina Simone, and others. Friends shared book recommendations by Olaudah Equiano, Katherine McKittrick, and others. There were also some incredible memes, one of which asked which "Blackity Black thing will you do this month? I will cover my sofa in plastic!" (This is SUCH a Black joke, and probably even niche in the Black world, too, but made me spit out my tea!)
It is also relevant to ruminate about the failings of Black History Month, not for the purpose of breaking down a culture and criticizing the creators, but for the purposes of knowing how February celebrations can be improved. Many artists refer to February as "Black Employment Month", implying that organizations especially (and even sometimes desperately) call on Black artists and creatives to put something together for February, then abandon any connection/collaboration until next February. This is DEFINITELY a problem that can be improved by insisting on long-term collaborations, and holding such organizations accountable for their ignorance. Sadly enough, organizations led by people of a myriad of ethnic backgrounds fall into this deplorable trend.
While SoundCloud isn't your typical social media platform, I was pleasantly surprised to come across an incredible poem by Sapient Soul. I believe the poem itself is called Black History Is, but it is within a track called process. The poem speaks of the poet's transition from "hating" Black History Month as a child to "thinking it is funny/ironic" today. It is a beautiful and brutal critique of a month where we as Black people can do more to convey the Black presence in WORLD history, rather than repeat the same practices that seem to dominate February celebrations everywhere. Sapient Soul evokes names: Ida B. Wells, Denmark Vesey, Shirley Chisolm, and more. She speaks of how her non-standard persona kept her questioning the February rituals, and how she retrospectively knew she should have been taught something deeper, something that reaches further back in history, establishing the pride and richness of Black culture before the trans-atlantic trade. This poem, along with the other uninhibited works on the album, is an incredible diagnosis of Black History Month, and should be heard and contemplated by all! You can listen to it on SoundCloud (starts at 6:30), and you can purchase the entire album (warning: explicit content) on BandCamp (name your price).
Sapient Soul is Marlanda Dekine.
Writings, musings, photos, links, and videos about Black Artistry of ALL varieties! Feel free to drop a comment or suggestions for posts!