Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Thank You And Farewell Mrs. King

"I am often identified as the widow of Martin Luther King Jr. Sometimes, I am also identified as a civil rights leader or a human rights activist. While these designations are factually correct, I would also like to be thought of as a complex, three-dimensional, flesh-and-blood human being with a rich storehouse of experiences, much like everyone else, yet unique in my own way … much like everyone else."

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

Nichelles du Monde

And to think... there was a time when I thought that I was the only little black girl in the whole wide world that was named after Nichelle Nichols from Star Trek.


There's another blogging Nichelle, who's a lot better about blogging than I am. She also produces comedy shows and is a cupcake connoisseur -- a Nichelle after my own heart. There is the novelist Nichelle D. Tramble. I remember getting a little thrill the first time I saw one of her books in a bookstore (it was probably her first, The Dying Ground.) She also blogs.

There is a Nichelle doll (yes, I own one) and a Nichelle song (to the Original Nichelle, but shout out to The Dirtbombs anyway.)

I don't know about the other Nichelles, but I tried a few nicknames on for size during my formative years (Nicki, Nia.....nothing stuck.) Every Nichelle is saddled with "Michelle" at least twice a day (or even all day every day!) If I had a nickle for every time I said "It's Nichelle, 'N' like Nancy," I swear I would make Bill Gates look like a poor man. People will spell Nichelle any old way and pronounce it wrong, Wrong, WRONG (Ny-chelle? Nee-chelle?) Unless you have a legitimate French accent, do not say Nee-chelle -- would you call a Michelle Mee-chelle? I didn't think so...

Contrary to popular belief, the original Nichelle did not begin her career with Star Trek. She sang with legends like Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton before landing on the series. She didn't have it easy in her groundbreaking role: her mail was thrown out and her lines were cut regularly -- but she didn't quit because Dr. King himself persuaded her to stay. And thank goodness he did. While some of us got her name, Dr. Mae Jemison names Nichelle as her inspiration for becoming an astronaut.

Talk about out of this world!


Friday, January 13, 2006

The Buzz on Akeelah & The Bee

In what is surely an act of God, Starbucks will be promoting the new Laurence Fishburne/Angela Bassett Film Akeelah and the Bee.

According to the New York Daily News:

The giant coffee chain has cooked up a deal with movie studio Lionsgate, the first of a larger effort to forge into the movie business. Starbucks has agreed to put up "millions of dollars" to promote "Akeelah," in its 5,500 stores across the U.S. and Canada, Lionsgate president Steve Beeks told the Daily News. In exchange, Starbucks will get an undisclosed share of the movie's ticket sales. Starting this April, it will be hard for anyone waiting for their Starbucks order to ignore the flick. There will be movie trailers through its Wi-Fi network, spelling games on Starbucks' chalk boards, and flash cards on tables, all tieing in to "Akeelah's" spelling and literacy themes. Ever try spelling the word "pulchritude?" The brain-twister, which pops up in the movie, will be getting plenty of exposure on tens of millions of Starbucks coffee sleeves. The chain will also sell "Akeelah" DVDs of the Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett film, as well as soundtracks.

As a former elementary school spelling bee challenger and MS Read-A-Thon champion, I am already officially obsessed with this movie. And since I spend big bucks in Starbucks nearly every morning, I'm finally going to have some justification for it!

Ghetto Fiction: Don't Get Me Started...

I wanted to comment right away on Nick Chiles' New York Times Op-Ed "Their Eyes Were Reading Smut" , but I was busy working on my own book, which I suppose will be lumped in with my skinfolks in the 'colored section' on bookshelves one day, regardless of genre.

I never liked the way some bookstores separate all books by black authors into one section (Where is the Indian-American or South Asian section, by the way?) I don't see what the problem is -- if you want a book by an author by the name of "Leroy", look under "A" for Albert.
Okay, so there are better examples -- you get the point.

I think it's reasonable to group books by genre (Romance, Mystery), so I don't understand why the "street fiction" titles are lumped into "African-American Literature". It's one thing to group books under "African-American Studies" (but even that can be problematic, as some non-fiction books by black authors on a topic like surviving in Corporate America will be grouped under "Sociology" instead of "Business".) Street fiction writers don't seem to shy away from that label -- so why not have a "Street Fiction" section in bookstores? Or, better yet, no labels at all!

Chiles states in the piece: "defenders say that the main buyers of these books, young black women, have simply found something that speaks to them, and that it's great that they're reading something."

I hate when that is said about young black readers --- as if they are just so stupid, they couldn't possibly start off with reading a contemporary book like Veronica Chambers ("Mama's Girl") or even James Baldwin or Maya Angelou because it would be "too hard" or would not "speak to them" because it's not set in the streets. Puh-leeze! I was reading Baldwin and Angelou when I was 12 years old. Did I understand everything? Of course not -- but that is the beauty of reading. You can discover a book at age 12 and understand it as a 12 year old. Then, you can pick it up again at 17 and understand it as a teenager. At 27, you will have an entirely different perspective, based on your life experiences and other things you've seen and read. That's the way it works. If you live in the ghetto, fine -- there's no rule that says you can't visit other places in the world of literature. It doesn't always have to speak to your exact experience for you to relate to it. It helps -- Maya Angelou's autobiographical books are some of my all time favorites -- but it's not necessary.

For an interesting perspective on this debate (explored through fiction) try Percival Everett's novel Erasure. Written in 2002, it's about a black writer who is sick of being accused of "writing white" -- so he pens a parody of "ghetto fiction" called My Pafology under the pseudonym Stagg R. Leigh. He is stunned to get a six-figure book advance and millions for the film rights for what turns out to be a runaway bestseller.

I guess all of the "literary" folks can read Erasure itself, and all of the folks that people are "just so glad to see reading anything" (those "po' ignorant chilluns" -- it's the best they can do!) can skip to My Pafology, which is actually included (in the center) of the book.

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