Valerie June’s “Workin Woman Blues.” Normally I don’t listen to music when I write but this song has been haunting me as I work on my novella “Work.” Valerie Jane embraces her southerness and blackness here for a truly unique sound. Love it!

Excerpt of My Latest “Work”

I have so many writing projects going at once that at times it is difficult to feel productive. Since this is a summer that I am devoting to writing, and not just writing but finishing projects, I decided to publish some essays in journals and publish my creative writing in other places. These are things that I think that I need to release into the universe in order to feel like I can work on a book of essays entitled What I Learned From White Girls that I got a grant for nearly 4 years ago to complete. (Hello, can you say that I am not good at deadlines?) The following is an excerpt of a novella entitled Work that I plan to publish as an ebook on iTunes and Amazon by the end of the year.

Work is about the modern black woman’s dilemma of how to be yourself and still exist in the white corporate world. More than that, it is about the broken promise that the North offered many blacks coming out of the rural South at the turn of the Century. It sounds heavy, but I hope it is funny. Here is piece from the first chapter:

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Brooklyn, The Planet Earth, The Year of Our Lord, 2006

I was fired. Me. Fired. I don’t know how it happened. Well that is not really true. I knew how it happened, but I didn’t really see it coming. I hated my job, but I loved the life that it afforded me. I loved living in Brooklyn. I loved that so many of the friends that I had met in college seemed to have gravitated to the Big Apple and reconstituted themselves into an exclusive clique of black urban professionals. I loved shopping in Manhattan. I lived for the parties and relished the feeling of having “made it” that New York gives you.

It seems that my life was determined by the objects and fringe benefits that I was able to acquire because of my job—the expense account, the book parties, the fashion shows—but not by the job itself. The activity that consumed most of my waking hours was purely incidental. The exhilaration I felt every morning after the train ride into the city and first tasting my daily café mocha faded as soon as I stepped into the lobby of Laura Rubenstein Advertising and Public Relations. As soon as I hit the revolving glass door and spied the elevator that would whisk me up to the 15th floor (I used to pray for an elevator malfunction, anything to avoid work) and my cramped and disorganized desk, I felt a cloud of despair descend all around me.

I looked good. This again is one of the nice things about living in New York, access to some of the world’s best spas and ample opportunity to indulge my addiction to French cosmetics and skin care products. Usually I couldn’t be happy about how good I looked in whatever black ensemble that I happened to have on, because I knew that no one who really mattered would see me. Unless I was meeting one of my girlfriends for lunch—then I would take special care with my appearance—the way I looked was only for my benefit. What made my days bearable was the fact that I often arranged to lunch with my friends. Everyday, if duties didn’t demand otherwise. I was the only black woman, black person that is, at my firm. I needed to see my girlfriends during the day to keep me grounded, to keep me sane. Being the only is enough to drive you crazy. I don’t know how Jackie Robinson did it. Maybe he met his homeboys after his baseball games and chuckled with them about “the ways of white folk.”

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What We Know About Slavery

On a recent trip to Charleston, we had a chance to visit The Old Slave Mart Museum. This was a treat in itself, because Charleston, whose fortunes were built on slavery, seems to rarely deal with what slavery has meant to the culture and the day to day life of the city. What I realized by going to the museum is that we really do not know that much about slavery (when I say we, I mean the generally educated populace). What I found out in this really small museum is that slaves had a history of rebelling and of running away in much greater numbers than ever thought. For example, there were more than 250 slave rebellions in the 1700s alone. Before the Civil War upwards of 50,000 slaves each year ran away– each year! There were also systems of classifying slaves that determined how much they sold for. One classification in particular, ‘the second rate or ordinary girls,” stood out to me. What did it mean for you if you were sold as a second rate slave?

I am not sure what all this means, but I feel like it is something that I should write about. I guess you will have to stay tuned for this. Please check out the New York Times article in the link above and make sure to visit some of those places if you are ever in Charleston. Also do yourself a favor and take Alphonso Brown’s Gullah Tour. You won’t be sorry.

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