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Strong Words

I went to the Apollo Theater on Sunday for a panel discussion, “Where Do We Go From Here?; MLK and the Future of Inclusion.” January 15 would have been the Reverend’s actual birthday: 88- years-old. How wonderful that his birthday fell during this week of marches and civil disobedience. “Where Do We Go From Here?,” was the title of Dr. King’s last book. It’s still a good question.

The Apollo has been renovated since my last visit there, a gorgeous, welcoming space, and I was looking forward to the afternoon. Sadly, I felt stuck in my seat, sorely disappointed. Solid, incisive questions posed by WNYC’s Brian Lehrer and Jami Floyd went unanswered or evaded. Instead, there were lots of stale ideas, some pontificating, a good bit of posturing. I learned nothing new, nor did I feel hopeful until Jamaican-born, bi-racial, lesbian Staceyann Chin bounced onto the stage. As I rarely frequent poetry slams, I had never heard of her. Whoa!!

Suddenly the audience was upright, all impatient sighs silenced. Even her get-up—patterned tights, a flared mid-thigh dress—declared: PAY ATTENTION.

If agit-prop/polemical poetry is good, it wakes us out of our comfort zones, juxtaposes unexpectedly, and changes the air we breathe. Chin is good. This one-word-after another prose I am writing here can only approximate her performance on the stage.

“I am holding my own sorrow,” she said. That was just one line I caught as she thrashed and flailed her lithe body into her poem stories, aphorisms and tragic truths. “A system sworn to protect us owes us something when it fails.” That one seared. So, too, another which I will have to paraphrase here as it flew by so fast. It was something about white liberal/progressives taking responsibility for white supremacists, their hate speech. Something about finding a way to answer the hate with our own liberal/progressive words.

That’s quite a challenge, something I’ll have to think about in the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, I plan to read Staceyann’s memoir:

https://www.amazon.com/Other-Side-Paradise-Memoir/dp/074329291X  Read More 
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The Intimacy of the Radio Studio

I was on the radio last night with my student, Valerie Pepe. Her book, “Deformed; My Remarkable Life,” has just been published by our family-owned company—Mediacs.com—so this blog post is by way of celebration and thank you to Bill Russo of City World Radio for inviting us onto his show.

I hadn’t been on the radio since I was interviewed by Leonard Lopate when “Another Day in Paradise” was published. There were four of us in the studio that day: Iain Levine and MacKay Wolff, contributors to the book, yours truly, and Leonard Lopate. Four chairs and microphones in close proximity, headsets on, voices clear, deep concentration as questions are asked and answered. Pauses are not acceptable on the radio, they are called “dead air,” so one must be alert and swing right in. Listening is as important as speaking in a radio studio.

Leonard Lopate is an exceptional person and interviewer; he’s always well prepared. Of course, he has an excellent staff as back-up; he doesn’t work alone. Bill Russo does. He’s retired from the New York City Housing Authority and radio is his avocation, among many other pursuits. His program is scheduled once every-other-week so he has time to read-up on his studio guests and generate an interesting conversation interspersed with music. He relies on the engineer—Jade Zabric—to get the timing right and Aimee Duggar, who sat to his left last night, to provide a light touch.

Russo was impressive. He’d read Valerie’s book and quoted a passage or two, he’d read my resume and was interested in the writing process, how Valerie and I worked together over a period of more than two years, meeting for our discussions at the Hollywood Diner on 16th and Sixth Avenue where Valerie, who is on crutches, found respite as she walked from her downtown office on 9/11 with her co-workers. We joked that the diner should put up a plaque and so should all the other diners where Valerie writes. Because she now writes all the time and everywhere.

I began my connection to radio as an occasional reporter for the BBC in London and then went on to study radio production in grad school. But I’d forgotten how much I love the intimacy of the radio studio. Just the sound of well-chosen words and the resonance of the human voice.

Scroll down to Bill Russo 10/17/2016 to hear the show:


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