BLENDED HERITAGE: Last night I drove down to my hometown of Fayetteville, GA for the annual Blended Heritage celebration at the Fayette County Library. Christeen Snell (longtime friend and who features on my CD) is the director of the library and the festival is her baby. Of course, holding an event called "Blended Heritage" during Black History Month has caused some controversy. A few years ago, the event made the cover of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution because of protests both locally and from around the country. Chris said she used to receive telephone calls from other African-Americans calling her an Uncle Tom and worse. Luckily, over the last couple of years, the festival has proven to be a gigantic success with several hundred in attendance and the controversy has passed. I suppose the naysayers finally wised up and realized that Chris is trying to bring all races together and not separate them further. Last night, it was a full house at the library and a very diverse mix of entertainment. This year's theme: "Bridging the Gap."

Chris commissioned me to write this year's "theme poem," which was printed in the program and that I read during my time last night. Of course, the poem was not without a bit of controversy. Chris and I went back and forth on the content. Fayette County is VERY conservative, and my poem was...well...let's just say it wasn't conservative. I offered to rewrite the poem, but Chris said she liked the message and the call for tolerance of all beliefs. Here's the poem:

Bridging The Gap (Tightrope)
for the 2005 Blended Heritage Celebration

First dismantle stereotypes,
that every Caucasian hides a burning cross in his closet,
that every African is a lazy drug addict,
that every Muslim has a bomb under his galabiya,
that every Homosexual is undermining faith,
that God is an old man sitting on a throne in the sky
with a giant third eye trained solely on America.

Then accept the things we cannot change,
that there will be different religions,
different morals,
different cultures,
different families
and that they all have the same right to enter heaven,
and that heaven is not necessarily angels, puffy clouds,
and pearly gates guarded by a list of good and evil.
Trust in your faith, but do not dictate it to others.

And then move out of your comfort zones,
don't let politicians lull you into fear and complacency,
so that when you look around the room,
you are not afraid to reach across the aisle,
take that white hand or that brown hand into your own,
and do not worry who they sleep with,
what they worship, how they live their life,
simply, for once, see them as just another human,
who has hopes and dreams,
who walks with you on this delicate thread,
this tightrope between the living and the dead.


When I was reading the poem, I saw a few eyebrows go up, but overall the response was quite positive. I was very excited about this. The poem took a week or so to write, and I freely admit taking a few cues from a trio of very diverse artists: Toni Morrison, Sharon Olds and Laurie Anderson. I wanted the poem to have that strong command at the beginning like Morrison does with her poetry and end with an extrapolation of Anderson's piece called Tightrope. I was thinking of Olds' book The Dead and The Living for the last stanza as well. I think it pays homage to these brilliant artists who have fed me creatively with their work.

The festival also featured my friend and fellow author, Ferrol Sams. He's been my doctor since I was a kid and is forever telling me to get my tonsils taken out and lose weight. He also wrote one of the greatest novels ever published, Run With the Horsemen. Sambo, as everyone calls him, is also a great storyteller and lover of poetry. Last night, he reeled of Edna St. Vincent Millay's sprawling Renascence from memory and the audience was hushed and awed. I am proud to know him. He's 82 years old and sharp as a tack. He also proved to be a helluva dancer. During a musical segment by Heriberto Payan, Sambo got up and jitterbugged with one of the bellydancers who had opened the evening. The whole audience was screaming and cheering. They stole the show! Also on the bill was the amazing soprano Chelsea Cook, who is going to be the next Kathleen Battle. She blew us away with a number from The Barber of Seville.

I also had time to stop in and see my parents. My dad had minor surgery this week, so they didn't attend the show. He has to start dialysis in about a month, and is so not looking forward to it. I think he will feel much better and be more active once he starts. He's just been so unwell for the past year and a half. I'm going back down next weekend to help do some things around their house. I realized driving home last night that while I've had my differences with my parents, they have always been supportive of my writing, didn't give me any grief about being gay, so it's time to start giving back. We're all getting older, and time goes so fast. I simply cannot believe I'm going to be 36 this year. Who knows where the time goes...

Today I taped a couple of episodes of my radio show The Business of Words, including one with the fabulous Jean Lehrman. I met her in NYC last summer and we've been in touch ever since. She published an incredible chapbook called If You Come Back I Won't Have AIDS, which I return to again and again for it's heartbreaking and beautiful words. A few years ago, Jean was on life support and very close to death. Now, she's healthy and beautiful and spreading the word about what it's like to be a woman living with AIDS. If you're ever in NYC, she reads regularly around town, including Cornelia Street Cafe. Stop in and see her. You can hear her reading some of her work when the episode airs, starting on Tuesday, March 8. Click on the link above for times and details. You can also read some of her work at this link.

On a closing note, I've been helping Cecilia Woloch keep up her blog, Catching Up With Cecilia, while she's in Paris. Last week, she went to hear Margaret Atwood speak at Abbey Bookstore for the release of Oryx and Crake (which has been renamed Le Dernier Homme for it's French release). I have never met Atwood, but she has been one of my literary and poetry idols for many years. Cecilia got Atwood to sign a copy of her collected poems for me!!! I was squealing and almost crying with delight. Cecilia, you are simply a true and dear friend. Bisious.

Comments

Teamaster said…
One of your best entries, I must say. Touching, honest bit about your parents. I applaud you. And congrats on the Atwood autograph. What a gift!

-D.
Jimmy said…
A great piece of writing and a great reading under the circumstances. Enjoyed the celebration and enjoyed hearing you once again.
Jimmy Hurd

Popular Posts