A couple weeks ago, I wen to the The 12th Annual National Black Writers Conference at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn. The plan was to cover it for work and also use it as that week’s Artist Date. Weeeeeell, I did use it as an Artist Date, but the coverage thing didn’t happen. Le sigh. As a freelancer, sometimes that happens. Does not happen to me often, but it happens. So, I decided to share some of my thoughts about it anyway here on my little blog.
The conference was a whole weekend packed with book signings, panels, after parties, spoken word events, workshops and film screenings. This Harlem girl was all the way UP in BK tough that weekend. Of course I didn’t get to everything. Folks like Asha Bandale, Marc Lamont Hill, Walter Mosley, Tananarive Due and Leonard Pitts Jr were among the people speaking there and it was just impossible to go to every event. But I did make it to a few different things on each day and here are three new things I learned from my time at the conference.
Gordon Parks Directed a 12 Years a Slave movie for PBS 30 Years Ago
Steve McQueen’s critically acclaimed, Academy Award winning film is technically a remake of a made-for-tv movie that was released on PBS in 1984. Directed by legendary photographer and filmmaker Gordon Parks (he also directed1971’s Shaft), the film was called 12 Years a Slave: The Odyssey of Solomon Northup and later released on VHS under the title Half Slave, Half Free. The movie starred Avery Brooks in the title role, Rhetta Green as Jenny (the Patsy character) and John Saxon as slave master Epps. During the NBWC film series presentation, Parks’s version was shown and a panel discussion followed featuring author and journalist Herb Boyd, African American history professor Barbara Krauthamer, filmmaker Marquis smalls and filmmaker Janay Shabaz, who actually worked on the 1984 production.
The conversation was about the differences between the two films. Both filmmakers took creative liberties with the story, but McQueen’s version was more faithful to the details provided in Northup’s memoir and had a decided focus on the brutality of Northup’s enslavement. By contrast, Parks filled in a lot of the domestic holes in the narrative and focused more so on the everyday interactions and even moments of laughter in Northup’s life before and during those 12 long years. Gordon’s version is available to rent or buy via Amazon’s instant video program.
Founders of the Black Arts Movement and Umbra Movement are Your Uncles
Askia Toure, David Henderson, Ishamel Reed and Steve Cannon were the panelists for a discussion called “Maintaining Cultural Legacies: The Black Arts and Umbra Movements.” The men, mostly in their 70s were a riot. The stories these men had of the their 1960s and 70s exploits are the stuff of legend. Fights, threats from Bumpy Johnson, Allen Ginsberg showing up at a house party, guns being drawn during a “truce” between two bickering organizations—these men have stories for days. The poor moderator Tonya Foster tried her best, but was no match for “Let me just say one more thing…” which seemed to precede minimum 10-minute monologues every time it was uttered and it was said numerous times. Though it was a panel discussion in an auditorium, their banter made it feel like the audience was invited to an intimate family dinner. It was kind like how your uncles might behave at Thanksgiving. They argued with each other, they talked over one another, but ultimately they laughed together and it was a heart warming highlight of the conference.
Faith Ringgold is Michelle Wallace’s Mother
Maybe I’m just late to this information and everyone already knew this, but Michelle Wallace, the author of 1979’s incredible book Black Macho and the Myth of Superwoman is the daughter of artist/quilter/phenomenal woman Faith Ringgold. Did you know that? If so, why didn’t you tell me? That’s a lot of intelligent black woman creativity in one family and I’m here for it. During a panel discussion called “Race Power and Politics,” Wallace spoke alongside Marc Lamont Hill, Obery Hendricks and Jelani Cobb. During her presentation, she showed slides of her mother’s political work in the 70s and mentioned that she’s working on a book dedicated to her mother. Faith Ringgold was sitting in the front row during the event looking resplendent with a glorious grey ponytail swinging from the side of her head.
So there you have it. New things I learned! Thanks NBWC!