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review 2019-02-26 22:57
A Raisin In The Sun by Lorraine Hansberry | #BlackHistoryMonth
A Raisin in the Sun - Lorraine Hansberry

This groundbreaking play starred Sidney Poitier, Claudia McNeill, Ruby Dee and Diana Sands in the Broadway production which opened in 1959. Set on Chicago's South Side, the plot revolves around the divergent dreams and conflicts within three generations of the Younger family: son Walter Lee, his wife Ruth, his sister Beneatha, his son Travis and matriarch Lena, called Mama. When her deceased husband's insurance money comes through, Mama dreams of moving to a new home and a better neighborhood in Chicago. Walter Lee, a chauffeur, has other plans, however: buying a liquor store and being his own man. Beneatha dreams of medical school. The tensions and prejudice they face form this seminal American drama. Sacrifice, trust and love among the Younger family and their heroic struggle to retain dignity in a harsh and changing world is a searing and timeless document of hope and inspiration. Winner of the NY Drama Critic's Award as Best Play of the Year, it has been hailed as a "pivotal play in the history of the American Black theatre." by Newsweek and "a milestone in the American Theatre." by Ebony.






Pulling its title from the Langston Hughes poem "A Dream Deferred", A Raisin in the Sun chronicles the lives of members of the Younger family, a black family living in Southside Chicago in the 1950s. All living together in one cramped, rundown apartment, each person in this family has their own dream of bettering their life.


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Matriarch Lena Younger, recipient of a sizable insurance check following the death of her husband, wants to buy a house out in the predominantly white suburbs and get her family out of the city altogether. Her son, Walter, urges his wife Ruth to coax his mom into giving up some of the insurance money so he can put it towards a business startup that he hopes will enable him to quit his job as a chauffeur to rich white families. Ruth knows her husband though. He's always full of dreams and schemes that never quite pan out. She'd rather just put her energy into providing the most stable environment possible for their son, Travis. Then there's Walter's younger sister, Beneatha, who also has a bit of the dreamer bug, prone to flights of fancy, but has recently set her heart on becoming a doctor. 


The bulk of the play comes from the discussions that come up as each character tries to make their goals realities, and the harsh life truths that sometimes come about in the process:


* Walter doesn't really have the support of his family behind his latest get-rich-quick scheme, but he carries it out on the sly anyway, only to once again come up on disastrous results. 


"Sometimes it's hard to let the future begin." 


~ Walter 


* Beneatha wants to be a doctor, hopefully somewhere where it will really make a big impact, but she also finds her heart being captured by her African friend and teacher, Joseph Asagai, even though he irritates her when he teases her about being an assimilationist because she straightens her hair. 


* Lena gets the house she wants, but soon after goes up against a representative from the Claybourne Park "Welcoming Committee" as he ever so careful tries to explain to her that the neighborhood prefers "people with common backgrounds" ... aka no black folks wanted. 


 "Son, I come from five generations of people who was slaves and sharecroppers  --- but ain't nobody in my family never let nobody pay 'em no money that was a way of telling us we wasn't fit to walk the earth. We ain't never been that poor. We ain't never been that --- dead inside."


~ Lena to Walter


Originally produced for the stage in 1959, this play beautifully illustrates the universal drive, the craving for something better in life than what you currently have. Though the play focuses on an African-American family, many of the themes Hansberry incorporates transcend race differences. True, some topics mentioned are unique to African-American culture, but the beauty in this play is how in such a simple yet moving story it brings everyone in the audience together to root for the Younger folks. EVERYONE. Everyone knows the feeling of wanting to live in a better place, to wish for more respect from your boss, to have your interests and choice of educational path taken seriously, the extent of the sacrifices our parents make for us to get us to a better place, that we sometimes forget or ignore. As Lena tells her son, Walter, "I never owned, wanted or asked for nothing that wasn't for you."


Beneatha: Be on my side for once! You saw what he just did, Mama! You saw him -- down on his knees. Wasn't it you who taught me to despise any man who would do that? Doing what he's going to do?


Mama: Yes -- I taught you that. Me and your daddy. But I thought I taught you something else too... I thought I taught you to love him.


Beneatha: Love him? There's nothing left to love.


Mama: There is always something left to love. And if you ain't learned that, you ain't learned nothing. Have you cried for that boy today? I don't mean for yourself and for the family 'cause we lost the money. I mean for him: what he been through and what it done to him. Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most? When they done good and made things easy for everybody? Well then, you ain't through learning --- because that ain't the time at all. It's when he's at his lowest and can't believe in hisself 'cause the world done whipped him so! When you starts measuring somebody, measure him right, child, measure him right. Make sure you done taken into account what hills and valleys he come through before he got to wherever he is.




And it's not all hardships either. Yes, this family yearns for better, but what gives this story so much of its heart is the love and warmth that exists within this clan, regardless of where they live. There's humor, hugs, a dose of tough love now and then, and a "no matter what, we got you" vibe just washing all over the Younger residence! 





* In 1959, author Lorraine Hansberry was just 29 years old when she became the youngest American, first black playwright and fifth woman in history to win Best Play of the Year Award from New York Drama Critics!


*Sadly, Hansberry passed away from cancer just a few years later in 1965 at the age of 34. 


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review 2019-02-18 18:04
Fires In The Mirror by Anna Deavere Smith
Fires in the Mirror - Anna Deavere Smith

Derived from interviews with a wide range of  people who experienced or observed New York's 1991  Crown Heights racial riots, Fires In The  Mirror is as distinguished a work of  commentary on black-white tensions as it is a  work of drama.  In August 1991 simmering tensions in the racially polarized Brooklyn, New York, neighborhood of Crown Heights exploded into riots after a black boy was killed by a car in a rabbi's motorcade and a Jewish student was slain by blacks in retaliation.  Fires in the Mirror is dramatist Anna Deavere Smith's stunning exploration of the events and emotions leading up to and following the Crown Heights conflict.  Through her portrayals of more than two dozen Crown eights adversaries, victims, and eyewitnesses, using verbatim excerpts from their observations derived from interviews she conducted, Smith provides a brilliant, Rashoman-like documentary portrait of contemporary ethnic turmoil.





On August 19th, 1991, the motorcade of a Lubavitcher Hassidic rebbe was traveling through Brooklyn. While driving through the Crown Heights neighborhood, at 8:20pm, one car in the motorcade drove up on the curb suddenly, the car striking and killing seven year old Gavin Cato and also leaving his older cousin with a broken arm. Word quickly spread that a black child had been killed by a Jewish motorist. Some witnesses even said the driver appeared to be intoxicated. Three hours later and five blocks away from the site of the crash, a visiting Hasidic history professor from Australia was stabbed, dying at the hospital some hours later.


The basic timeline of events:


* August 19th, 8:20pm -- Seven year old black child Gavin Cato killed by car that jumps a curb
* Same night, 11:30pm -- visiting Hasidic Jew professor Yankel Rosenbaum, with no connection to the death of Gavin Cato, is stabbed five blocks away from crash site.
* August 20th, 2am -- Rosenbaum dies at the hospital from his stab wounds; later that day, Trinidad-American teen Lemrick Nelson, Jr. is arrested in connection with the stabbing. By August 21st, he is charged with second degree murder (but by October 1992 is acquitted).
* August 21st -- funeral of Yankel Rosenbaum; that same day marks the start of days of rioting and looting throughout the Crown Heights community. That first day, 16 arrests and 20 police officers left injured.
* August 22nd -- the arrest count during the riots rises to 107, the police presence increased to over 1500 officers.
* August 24th -- 1500 protesters led by Rev. Al Sharpton and Alton Maddox march through the streets of Crown Heights.
*August 26th -- funeral of Gavin Cato; Rev. Al Sharpton delivers the eulogy.
* Violent acts and courtroom drama in connection with the deaths of Cato and Rosenbaum continue back and forth between the black and Jewish communities through 1992 and 1993, both sides wanting justice and vengeance.


Image result for Fires In The Mirror by Anna Deavere Smith



In 1993, Anna Deavere Smith crafted a one woman stage play depicting these events, compiled from the numerous interviews she did with more than two dozen Crown Heights community members, representing both sides of the story, as well as the impressions of high profile members of the black community such as Rev. Al Sharpton and writer Nzotake Shange. Smith pulls from the interview transcripts verbatim to create the monologues for the stage show, ending on the words of Carmel Cato, Gavin Cato's father.


The early portions of the play explore the political and emotional environment that existed prior to the events of August 1991, while the later monologues get more into the course of events on August 19th itself (I was surprised to see the text here included one of the actual crime scene photos under one of the passages). Smith, in her foreword, writes of how it was difficult to get a clear, unbiased look of the events at the time when there was media bias from nearly every angle. It was her hope and goal to use the interviews, and later the play, to give a more honest, balanced display of this tragic and emotionally charged time. Also, prior to the start of each monologue, Smith gives contextual history such as when / where each interview took place, even what the person was wearing. For example, in regards to the use of the interview with rapper Big Mo, Smith notes that the interview used in the text was actually one done in 1989. 


"Fires In The Mirror is part of a series of theater (or performance) pieces called On the Road: A Search for American Character, which I create by interviewing people and later performing them using their own words. My goal has been to find American character in the ways that people speak... my goal was to create an atmosphere in which the interviewee would experience his / her own authorship. Speaking teaches us what our natural "literature" is. In fact, everyone, in a given amount of time, will say something that is like poetry."


~ Anna Deavere Smith on her process



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While I appreciate Smith's unique approach to the subject matter, I'm not sure it entirely worked for me, personally. I was expecting for these passages to be more impactful. While some of them are quite good, there are others here where I was wondering about the relevance. The words themselves always didn't quite hit the mark for me, so I did a watch of the stage show itself. While better, even there something was falling short. Again, I can appreciate and acknowledge the work that clearly went into crafting this show, but the execution ... something was a little off for me. It didn't always strike me as unbiased a portrayal as Smith claimed she was aiming for and some of the acting did come off as at least a little bit too caricatur-ish. 


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review 2019-02-09 21:01
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (Wisehouse Classics Edition) - Frederick Douglass

There are two introductions preceding Douglass's autobiography, one by a journalist William Lloyd Garrison and one by an abolitionist Wendell Philips who knew Douglass. They're not really crucial to the narrative itself and they can easily be skipped, but I did in the end appreciate reading them if only because of their core message which I kept in the back of my head while reading the atrocities that Douglass had to endure while a slave: he had it easy.


Baltimore might be in the south, but it's a far cry from the Deep South and the cotton plantations that comes to mind when most people think of slavery. To be "sold down the river" was equated with death because of how much worse slaves were treated in the Deep South, but the slaves in the rest of the south were hardly treated kindly. There are instead degrees of cruelty.


Douglass details his life growing up in Maryland, the various masters and slave bondsmen he served, how he learned to read and write and use that to his advantage and how that knowledge also made his enslavement that much harder to deal with. He describes the abuses and murders he witnessed in his young life and some of the whippings he endured himself. He's unflinching, eloquent and starkly honest about it, and his observation of the hypocrisies of the southern "Christians" who were Christian in name only but not in deed.


He doesn't give any details of his escape, citing the desire to keep those details from the slave hunters who would use that information to capture other slaves running for freedom. He even admonishes some of the Underground Railroad participants who were so proud of themselves they bragged about their deeds, thus endangering the very people they were supposed to be helping to save. (Why does there always have to be people like that?) There are a few details of his escape here, along with more details of his life after arriving in New Bedford, CT, and coming to the notice of the abolitionist party.


He wrote a couple other autobiographies, and I hope to find time to read them one day. 

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review 2019-02-05 15:54
Reminded me of "If Beale Street Could Talk" Though I Didn't Like the Main Characters
An American Marriage - Tayari Jones

Well I went into this expecting a compelling read. It was that at times. I think the biggest reason why I just didn't get into this story that much was that the story should have stayed between Roy and Celestial. Adding Andre actually took away from both of them. And having the narrative go to their letters to each other was a bit hard to get into since the rhythm was off. Except for a few clues here and there you are pretty unaware of dates unless someone says it was a year or two years. I also kind of hated the end.


Everyone was yelling about "An American Marriage" last year and I finally finished it this weekend. I don't know what to say. I thought it was okay, but I just finished "If Beale Street Could Talk" and thought Baldwin did it better. This book shows a more modern look at Fonny and Tish.



Celestial and Roy recount how they have been married a year. Celestial makes dolls (the whole doll thing creeped me out) and is pushing to become a more recognizable artist. Roy wants them to start trying for a baby soon. Roy tends to keep things from Celestial and they fight and make up. They go home to visit Roy's family and from there tragedy occurs that affects Roy and Celestial's marriage. 


Woo boy, a friend said it best, the only likable people in this one were really the parents. I felt for Tish and Fonny throughout "If Beale Street Could Talk". I wanted Fonny free to be the artist he dreamed of living in a loft with Tish and their children. I didn't like Celestial at all. Celestial was selfish as the day is long and Andre wasn't about shit. And Roy was frustrating as hell. I think telling the story the way Jones chose to just ended up taking me out of the story. Everything felt very overly written and as I said above, the letter portion doesn't really work at all. 


I really needed the writing to show me why Celestial and Roy are even together. Eventually Jones goes back to how they met, but it didn't ring true or at least not true enough to show me why they even pursued a relationship.


The flow was off after we get to the tragedy aspect. Jones starts off showing Roy and Celestial's POV. Then Jones shifts to letters between the two of them and it just takes something away from them. We know we are missing pieces, and we don't get to really see Celeste until the third part and I was not impressed. After we shit back again to their POV's, Jones then adds in Andre who was not necessary and just had me feeling irritated. 


The book is set in Atlanta, but we jump around a lot too. I don't want to say in the review since it can lead to spoiling for potential readers.

The ending was not it for me. I don't get why Celestial made the decisions she did. She was beyond confusing though she was supposed to be acting as if she was deep. Don't get me started on Andre. And Roy was just sad to me in the end. I just did not see this as really an American marriage. Just a whole lot of messiness. 

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review 2019-02-05 04:05
The Color Purple
The Color Purple - Alice Walker

“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.”


I still remember the first time I saw the movie The Color Purple. It was at home, when it was on TV, and I was probably around 7 or 8. I only understood about half of what was going on, but it spoke to me. Celie's love for her sister Nettie and her strife living with Mr and her friendships with Sofia and Shug, all being filtered through Celie's open and loving heart caught hold of my own heart.


It wouldn't be until my late teens I finally read the book and fully comprehended everything that went over my head years earlier, and to reread it now nearly two decades later I see the themes here in a way I couldn't back then. But at the heart of it, it's still that same story of self-discovery, of love triumphing over hate - if not injustice - and learning to be comfortable in your own skin, learning to listen to your heart and the hearts of those around you. It's learning that even when you lose all hope, there's still more hope left to discover, that bad things will happen but good things will happen too. 



The book also examines the racism in the deep South that existed after the end of slavery, during the Jim Crow years, but doesn't stop there. It examines, through Nettie and her missionary work, how it also tore apart the African tribes at the start of the slave trade and continues to damage it to the present day. It doesn't let anyone off the hook. It examines the struggles of people of color, and especially women of color in a time when no one cared about them. 


It could be a very depressing book with all the issues it tackles, not just racism and gender inequality but also rape, incest, injustice, domestic abuse and cheating - nearly everything I don't like reading about all in one book. But from the POV of Celie, as she prays to God and later writes to her long-lost sister, the story flows with a strange mixture of innocence and knowing that helps sooth over what would otherwise be very difficult passages to read.

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