Category Archives: books

The New, Longer, Hotter Trailer for The VIPs!

I’m getting excited about the book coming out in just over a month…Wanted to share this new trailer with you all. Hope you like it. Hope you like the book, too! Remember, if you’d like to pre-order a copy of The VIPs, you can click here at amazon.com! Sincere thanks for all your support as the book was being written—and now it’s almost here!

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Two Women (Goddesses?), with Great Minds and Great Style…Toni & Angela

I saw this pic on The Silver Girl, author Tayari Jones’ tumblr site, and HAD to share it at SCOTT TOPICS™. Partly out of respect to Tayari–if you haven’t read her beautiful first novel (and Hurston/Wright Award winner for Debut Fiction) Leaving Atlanta, you haven’t read a good novel in years, for one thing–and partly out of respect to the two beautiful, ground-breaking sistas strolling through the city in this photo. You can read Tayari’s blog here. And her new novel The Silver Girl is coming from Algonquin Books next year. (Thanks Tayari!)

Toni Morrison and Angela Davis, in all their funky, intellectual, Afro-wearing glory…one can only IMAGINE what they’re talking about!!!…Hope this pic inspires you like it’s inspired me!

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New website BACKLIST.net (News, publishing, biz, entertainment…& they interviewed SPB!)

The Barker Center at Harvard: Where We Am Civvers Be Based At

Today is the launch of Felicia Pride’s newly-revised Backlist.net, and she asked me to talk about making the transition from working journalist and writer to PhD student. It turned into a great interview/conversation.

Please go see it here, and bookmark Backlist.net…it’s a good place to be!

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Reasons to be Cheerful Summer 2010

Every few months here at SCOTT TOPICS™ I like to assess my level of happiness. Of course, that can be a sorta futile exercise at times, considering a) the general state of the world and b) how busy I make myself and some of the ridiculous decisions I’ve made (go back to Brown AND still work at Giant AND try to finish a novel?) and continue to make (get a PhD?). That said, I did get to spend a great month in New York, visiting with my Mom and Pops, the greatest parents in the world (or at least they were from 1970 to 1980, and then again sometime in the late 90s—only kidding, Bryants, you know I love you), and seeing my lil sister, who keeps me grounded and likes to wax nostalgic with me. So I try to be thankful for the good things even when I’m chastising myself for being lazy or boring or jealous of my friends who got a chance to actually get a vacation this summer.

So, here’s my list of Reasons to be Cheerful. Maybe some of them make you happy as well…

  • Janelle Monae‘s album, yes, but also her amazing new video for “Cold War”—stunning, as they say, in its simplicity, making perfect use of her expressive face, and doing what rarely happens for me: making me like the song more than I had just listening to it on iTunes. As a constant complainer about the paucity of cleverness, drama and creativity in contemporary pop music, Janelle Monae has given me faith that music (and videos) that makes you think and feel can still be made with grace and smarts. Check out the vid here if you haven’t seen it:
  • Mad Men: Still so entertaining that I actually watch it first-run (and miss baseball) instead of DVR’ing it, just cause I have to. Even when its disgusting 60’s-era sexism and racism rears its ugly head—as, one guesses, it must, to stay realistic to the time—it’s never not watchable, and always resonant with such timeless meditations on loss, identity, desire and the often covert intricacies of pleasure. Scrumptious.
  • Shane Vogel’s Scene of the Harlem Cabaret: Race, Sexuality, Performance: A book, among a few others, that gave me faith that perhaps this grad school thing might just work out. Vogel’s cultural history of the “Harlem Renaissance” nicely traces some of the historical debates around African American “uplift” as it theorizes on the critical cultural work done by the “Cabaret School” of entertainers, writers and musicians who found space in the nightclubs of Harlem to critique many of those debates. Maybe my favorite scholarly text since discovering Daphne Brooks’ Bodies in Dissent last school year.
  • Cardullo’s: A gourmet delicatessen in Harvard Square that actually makes sandwiches, which seem to be in short supply around Cambridge, other than the Subway stores I stumble upon. It’s the closest I’ve come to a stylish NY sandwich spot, where I can also get gourmet jam or pasta sauce if I’m so inclined (or flush with cash). And the peeps who work there are actually pleasant and nice—something else in short supply in Cambridge. (Is it a New England, or Boston, thing?)
  • The SPB Q Grad Chapter and otherwise: The success of my new blog feature excites me to no end. Glad that so many cool peeps have agreed to do my fun little questionnaire. Good to share some behind-the-scenes interests of folks doing great work in their fields. Upcoming Qs (Grad Chapter or otherwise): Farah Jasmine Griffin, Christina Sharpe, Alexander Weheliye, Patrik-Ian Polk, Bassey Ipki, and some others I’m just starting to confirm!
  • blip.fm: Thanks to my new Twitter friend @Fortitude1913, I’ve discovered this fun website that allows you to DJ your own playlists. It’s like a virtual digging into the crates. Music Geek Central. Go give it a whirl.
  • Twitter: I wasn’t much of a social network-type til my agent and editor convinced me, around the time of HUNG’s release, to get into the blogging/Internet world to make my presence known beyond print media. When I got to Brown in 2007, like every other undergrad in the world, I joined Facebook. And loved it. Then came Twitter, which I resisted in a major way—way too much screen time that wasn‘t devoted to work. Then I tried it, and the community of new peeps in my life, mostly other grad students going through a lot of the same dramas and issues, has made this new experience bearable in an crazy way. Go on if you haven’t; you might find a community that needs you as much as you need it. (shout-outs to @soulunderthesun, @happybrowngirl, @redclayscholar, @ashoncrawley @negrointellect @sherealcool, @roopikarisam & all the other phd-seekers who’ve made my Twitter-time fun.
  • My lacrosse stick: Who, even though I sometimes used to  lose him due to fear, insecurity, time constraints, away games or combinations of any of the above, always managed to get found. And I gotta shout him out for letting me call him “my lacrosse stick” in very public spaces. ; )
  • Peter Pan Bus: When I don’t have to be in NYC in a hurry (and thus fly), it’s easy (and cheap) to hop on the Peter Pan bus from South Station. Amtrak isn’t even on my radar anymore when I can sleep, chill, watch a flick or go on the Internet…for 18 bucks, and be in NYC before I know it.
  • Darieck Scott’s Extravagant Abjection: Blackness, Power and Sexuality in the African American Literary Imagination: I came close to working with Professor Scott at Berkeley but decided to stay on the East Coast for my studies, but I can still learn a whole lot from this brother, an incredible writer and thinker. I cannot wait to get my copy of his new book in the mail later this week. Robert Reid-Pharr calls this theorization of the relationship between blackness and abjection “sophisticated, provocative, and indeed, titillating.” Sounds like a winner.
  • EBONY Magazine: Of course I grew up reading Ebony like every other black kid in the US of A. Never got a chance to write for it til last year’s tribute to Michael Jackson. Now, there’s a new editor-in-chief, my old Brown classmate author/editor  Amy DuBois Barnett, and I’m already writing for them. My “making-of” love jones article runs a coupla issues from now. Sending good thoughts to Amy in her mission to redefine EBONY for a new era and generation. Let’s all support a sister.
  • New De La Soul music: A coupla days ago I got a mysterious email. Opened it to find a link to a brand-new track by my favorite rap group of all time. De La’s recording a new album and this track, called “The Return of DST” might be on it. It’s a hot, funky, catchy lil record, clever as usual: paying tribute to DJ Grandmixter D. ST., the song eventually mutates into the actual Fantastic Five’s “gusto is going home with me” freestyle. (Which is sorta cute considering The Fantastic Five sampled The Headhunters’ “God Made me Funky” on that record—which was also sampled by De La on De La Soul is Dead‘s “Pease Porridge” and “Take it Off” from 3 Ft. High and Rising. It all comes full circle, old school to new school and all the way back again…) Hear the song here at SoulCulture.com.

So, till next time: don’t worry, try to be happy, and remember the things that make you cheerful…Oh, by the way, for those of you who don’t know the original song that gives this blog post its name and theme, here’s a video of Ian Dury and the Blockheads funky 1979 song:

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Links and Hijinks: Ellen, Anne Rice, Dexter, Potboilers and More…

  • The Baby and the Bathwater: Anyone who saw the 4th season of Dexter knows how much the game changed—horribly so. The trailer for the new season looks fantastic…and way different than any other season of the great Showtime show about a serial killer and the masks we all wear. Nikki Finke’s Deadline has the trailer here.
  • Pulp F(r)ictions: As someone (and a soon-to-be-academic) who really wanted his novel (coming out next year, haha) to be page-turning thrill ride, who really wanted to create an accessible, fun book that appealed to many peeps and (potentially) not just the other PhDs that I know, I was fascinated by this academic’s interestingly defensive defense of the fun and pleasures of what she calls “trashy paperbacks.” Of course, one woman’s trash is another woman’s flash. And as I’ve said before, trash, obviously, is in the taste of the beholder…but I love a good high/low culture debate with my morning coffee, don’t you?
  • Brotherly Love: And finally, I just had to post this news link. It intrigues me on so many levels: thinking about how rape shield laws operate in different geographical locations; how some news orgs cover stories in interesting ways–in this case, the Alabama network obviously re-cut a second version (see vids below); that age-old  race, gender, sexuality and class “intersection” that arises when we think about public representations of black folks; and finally, why do some vids “go viral” and others don’t? Antoine Dodson, step up for your close-up:

{Thank you to Crystal Durant, teacher/blogger/dope DJ, for pointing out the above vids…you can catch her funny  bi-weekly pop culture rants at Forcesofgeek.com}

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The SCOTT TOPICS™ Mailbag: On Blogging, Stephen King, & other assorted heartthrobs

“I really want to start a blog but I don’t know how. What should I write about? What if I can’t find something to write about every day? How do you do it?” ~ A.C.

Most bloggers I know of do not post every day. I don’t. I can’t, and don’t think I would if I could, time-wise, or wanted to. More power to those who do blog every day, but I believe that one should give your readers time to breathe, to recover from your pretensions and go enjoy someone else’s every so often, ya know? Nah, but seriously: write when you have something to share, about things you feel passionate about. I got another email from someone who asked why I didn’t post more “political” entries at Scott Topics™. It’s not that I don’t think about politics—in the “refudiate,” “health care as reparations,” snookered NAACP sense—it’s just that I don’t write that well about it, so why expose the world to my limitations like that when there are so many more peeps out there willing to do it? If you want to blog about books, do that; if you wanna blog about sports, do that. If you wanna mix it up, do that.  Or, here’s an idea: get a buddy or two and start a blog together. Neither one of you would be pressured to be on the grind every day, and you can switch off responsibilities. I blog, mainly, because I don’t have an outlet like journalism anymore, and because it’s such different writing from the main, “scholarly” work I’m doing now, blogging sorta clears my intellectual and emotional palate (or is it palette? can’t one of those be cleaned too?) before going back to that work. In other words I guess blogging is like a nice mint at a restaurant for me, only without everyone else’s germs all over it.

“I see that you’ve mentioned Stephen King often at your blog: So what’s your favorite Stephen King novel?” ~ R.T., Austin

The Stand. Sometimes I think its because, in Mother Abigail, it has the best Magical Negro of all of the ones that have Magical Negroes (or at least Good Morally Centered Negroes) in them, like The Shining, IT, The Green Mile, and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (King can even make a real live person into a MN! That’s talent!)—heck, Misery opens with the words “Goddess / Africa.” But back to business: Yes, The Stand is my favorite: it’s epic in scope, just the way a good apocalyptic tale should be, yet has incredibly tender, intimate moments; it might show off King’s gift at building believable, relatable characters better than any of his books (other than maybe Christine, which is actually a quite touching book in some ways, mainly because of the finely-wrought teen-aged characters), and it has a hurtling sense of inevitability to it, like a prediction of things you only think you’d like to see come, if only just to say it was cool. I also think that The Stand contains one of King’s best characters in Harold Lauder, perhaps the most sincerely tragic figure in all of the SK novels that I’ve read.  Thanks for this note. I think it’s time to re-read The Stand again. Like I have time.

“I saw your tweets about James Franco. What’s your fascination with him?” ~ H.J. New Jersey

Um, I’m guessing, since you sent me this email last night, that you are alive, right, that you have a pulse? How’s this for a reason to be fascinated: He’s fine.  (Please don’t tell my girlfriend I said that.)

“On Facebook, you list your political views as “heteroflexibility” and your religious beliefs as “homoflexibility.” What do those words even mean????” ~ F.K.

See answer to the question above.

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The SPB Q (Grad Chapter): Professor Robin D.G. Kelley

“It’s funny because I didn’t study history to be a historian. I studied history to attempt to solve a series of political problems.” ~ Robin D.G. Kelley, 2003

{When I decided to pursue graduate work for my PhD, I sent out one email: to Professor Robin D.G. Kelley. Why? Because in the years following my leaving Brown and going to NYC, he was pretty much the only scholar I read regularly. Why? His accessibility; his ability to synthesize sophisticated ideas into readable, elegant prose; his subject matter; his style (personal style, that is); and his ability to shift between academic work and consumer publications. His email back to me was funny, direct, a little skeptical and yet quite encouraging: I can honestly say that I’m where I am today, partly due to Robin Kelley. And I know I’m not the only grad student who feels that way.

Anyone interested in academic work, particularly in history, would be hard-pressed not to appreciate Kelley’s output, which has tilled the domain of African American cultural and political history with a blend of laser-sharp intellectual intensity and race-man love of community. His books—ranging from Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class to Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination, to my favorite (and maybe one of the best-titled books ever!), Yo Mama’s Dysfunktional!: Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America—have tackled working class social movements, radical political thought during the Depression, and African American artistic movements, and have been called “provocative” and “history at it’s challenging and transformative best.” Kelley challenges his readers to consider the brutal machinations of communities on the outskirts of mainstream resistance movements as well as the hopeful possibilities imbedded in the freedom quests of his narratives, and brings a passionate activist’s spirit to the process.

His most recent work Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, is a massive, meticulously-researched biography of the jazz legend, buttressed by rare Monk family archives accessed by no other scholar. It’s a passionate, nuanced work of jazz (and American) history, and it recently won the Best Book award from the Jazz Journalists Association (an organization not known for praising the work of scholars and academics!) The paperback of the book will be out this fall. Professor Kelley, who last year was the first African American to serve as the Harmsworth Chair at Oxford University, currently teaches in the American Studies and Ethnicity department at USC. I’m very honored to have him as the first professor to contribute to The’s SPB Q’s Grad Chapter.}

Name:  Robin D. G. Kelley

Hometown:     (Harlem) New York, NY

School/Year:  B.A., Cal State Long Beach (1983); PhD UCLA (1987)

Dissertation Title: “‘Hammer n’ Hoe’: Black Radicalism and the Communist Party in Alabama, 1929-1941”

Favorite book: W.E.B. DuBois, Black Reconstruction in America: An Essay Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880 (New York: Free Press, 1992, orig. 1935)

Favorite author: Elleza Kelley (she isn’t well-known, yet, but she’s the most brilliant writer I’ve ever encountered.  And she’s my daughter.)

Favorite movie: Nothing But a Man (1964) dir. Michael Roemer, starring Abbey Lincoln and Ivan Dixon

Favorite song:  Thelonious Monk, “Brilliant Corners”

Academic text that most influences your work:   Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (orig. 1983, New Ed. 2000)

Academic who most influences your work:  I can’t limit to one—at least three: Farah Jasmine Griffin, Cedric Robinson, George Lipsitz

Academic High:  Delivering Black History lectures to kids on lockdown at Boysville Detention Center, Saline Michigan, in the early 1990s.

Life High:  two: birth of my daughter, Elleza, and my marriage to LisaGay Hamilton last year.

You’re on a desert island and can only have 5 CDs/books/ or DVDs shipped in to you. What are they?

  • Beah: A Black Woman Speaks [Documentary by LisaGay Hamilton] [DVD]
  • Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall [CD]
  • Franklin Rosemont and Robin D. G. Kelley, eds., Black, Brown and Beige: Surrealist Writings from Africa and the African Diaspora (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009)
  • Desmond’s: The Complete First and Second Series [DVD]
  • Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Collected Works [OK, the last might be unfair because it’s 50 volumes.  But if I had to pare down to one, I choose Eugene Kamenka, ed., The Portable Karl Marx]

Your favorite quote: “You’re not worried about me marrying your daughter.  You’re worried about me marrying your wife’s daughter.  I’ve been marrying your daughter ever since the days of slavery.”  — James Baldwin

Guilty pleasure: Rockin’ Ice Cube (from the early 90s) on my iPod (at the gym or on my way to class)


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