Category Archives: The SPB Q

The SPB Q: Grad Chapter: Lisa B. Thompson

lisa thompson march 2010 headshot copyI met Lisa B. Thompson when she was at Harvard in 2010-11 as a fellow at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute. We’d already “met” on Facebook, but meeting her in person was an automatic game-changer. Her generous spirit and ferociously funny personality made many a lunch or coffee date into an uproariously fun and educational event. I can’t walk by Chipotle these days and not think of her smile, her candor, her fierceness—and her love of burritos. Lisa’s become a wonderful friend and ally in this crazy world of academia, but she’s also become one of the peeps I look up to most. And as great as I think she is, it was during a heartfelt salute to her grad school mentor Richard Yarborough, for whom the American Studies Association’s Minority Scholars Committee named it’s new mentoring award, that I really saw the kind of soul and generosity Lisa brings to the academic world. She held forth in an early morning room crowded with scholars of all levels, and kept us laughing and tearing up as she expressed the love and respect she has not just for Yarborough but for mentoring as an important and viable project.

I think I identify with Lisa so much because she is the epitome of the scholar/artist. (The first time I’d actually heard her name was as the author of Single Black Female, her funny, touching, highly-regarded play, which was the toast of NYC in the summer of 2006. I can still remember everyone going to see it, and talking about it.) Her devotion to scholarly excellence—as a writer, professor and mentor—doesn’t take a backseat to her ambitions as a creative writer, and she moves smoothly between the two worlds with ease, balancing a remarkable lack of self-importance with a huge dose of self-assurance that makes her not just the perfect role model for peeps who are trying to do the same, but also a better cultural producer in both fields. Her first academic book, Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class— published by University of Illinois Press in 2009 and called “complex and nuanced” by E. Patrick Johnson and “path-breaking” by Valerie Smith—looks at representations and negotiations of black female sexuality in American popular culture, film, and literature, and received honorable mention for the National Women’s Studies Association’s Gloria E. Anzaldua Book Prize, 2010. Single Black Female, which has been performed around the country and was a 2004 nominee for LA Weekly’s Theater Award for Best Comedy, was recently published by the theatrical giant Samuel French. Lisa recently left SUNY Albany for  University of Texas, Austin, where she’s an Associate Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies, and where she seems to be flourishing and enjoying life, if her Facebook statuses and late-night texts are any indication. She also has one of the best kids in the game. Read her work if you haven’t; see her play if it’s ever in your neck of the woods…There’s a new one coming soon. You’ll know about it cause I’ll be blogging, tweeting, and status-messaging about it with the quickness. Hope you enjoy her SPB Q!

Name:

Lisa B. Thompson. My trailblazing grandmother chose my middle name so I always use my initial in honor of her.

Hometown:     

San Francisco, California. Yes, I’m a West coast sista. And no, you better not call it Frisco!

Grad School/Year:

Stanford University, Modern Thought & Literature, 2000

Dissertation/Book Title:

Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class (2009)

Favorite book:

I’m an old school bookworm so I cannot select just one favorite text. There are beloved books from each era of my life. During my girlhood Ezra Jack Keats’s Snowy Day sparked my imagination and warmed my heart. When I was a teen, reading Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow was enuf changed the shape of the universe for me. I carried it around all the time and performed the monologues for my girlfriends. During college I saw George Wolfe’s Colored Museum and felt assured that there was a place for my quirky, nerdy, irreverent, comic sensibility in the world.

Favorite author:

Toni Morrison! Sula Peace, Frank Money, Pecola Breedlove, Bill Cosey, Jadine Childs and Milkman Dead? Such unforgettable characters! I also deeply appreciate her work as an editor and public intellectual.

Favorite movie:

I’m cheating again by picking two. I love Charles Burnett’s To Sleep with Anger. His rendering of black Los Angeles is so rich and layered. I pray he releases it on DVD soon so I can finally dispose of my VCR! I’m also a huge fan of the Bette Davis classic All About Eve. I’ve probably watched it more than any other movie. It’s about the intricacies of female friendships and the backstage drama in the theatre world, so what’s not to love?

Favorite song:

I absolutely adore the Duke Ellington masterpiece “In a Sentimental Mood.”

Academic text(s) that most influences your work:

Patricia J. Williams’s Alchemy of Race and Rights: Diary of Race and Rights; Glenda Carpio’s Laughing Fit to Kill: Black Humor and the Fictions of Slavery; Farah Jasmine Griffin’s Who Set you Flowin?’: The African American Migration Narrative; Daphne Brooks’s Bodies in Dissent:  Spectacular Performances of Race and Freedom, 1850-1910 and Valerie Smith’s Not Just Race, Not Just Gender: Black Feminist Readings. I’m inspired by dazzling ideas expressed in gorgeous language.

Academic(s) who most influences your work:

I had the pleasure of working with Kimberlé Crenshaw, Robin D. G. Kelly, Valerie Smith, and Richard Yarborough as an undergraduate and Masters student at UCLA. They showed me it’s possible to enjoy an impressive academic career while also mentoring the next generation of scholars. I also cherish my time at Stanford. I credit my graduate school colleagues Darieck Scott, Meta DuEwa Jones, Richard Benjamin, Diana Paulin, Lawrence Jackson, Nicole Fleetwood and Asale Ajani for creating such a rich environment to learn, think and write.

Academic High:

Spending my sabbatical as a fellow at Harvard’s W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research was my career high. I call it my magical year in Cambridge. I conducted research for my current book project on contemporary African American theatre, and Colman Domingo directed a staged reading of my new comedy Mamalogues at the Hiphop Archive.

Life High:

Without a doubt giving birth to my son in 2005 is my greatest moment. I still can’t believe that my play Single Black Female debuted off-Broadway six months later.  It was like having twins! He’s my Nigerian American Prince. Although being a “momademic” presents numerous challenges, there is simply nothing that gratifies my soul more than being his mother.

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

I’d take the entire Mad Men series—I never tire of watching that show. My library would consist of a massive volume of poetry such as The Oxford Anthology of African American Poetry. John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, Stevie Wonder’s Greatest Hits and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill would provide my island soundtrack.

Your favorite quote:

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Although I would revise that Frederick Douglass quote a bit to say broken people. Can you imagine a society where there are only strong children? Perhaps that shouldn’t be the goal because great wisdom comes from understanding your particular brokenness and using it to shape your journey and better the world.

Guilty pleasure:

Anyone who knows me knows that my weakness is dessert. I’m talking peach cobbler, oatmeal cookies, pecan pie, brownies, red velvet cake, apple pie á la mode . . . There is nothing better than devouring a decadent dessert while taking in a good movie. That’s my idea of heaven.

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The SPB Q: Grad Chapter: Mark Anthony Neal

The first time I “met” Professor Mark Anthony Neal he emailed me to let me know he was going to be teaching my book HUNG in a class at Duke University. After I picked myself up off the floor, I wrote him back and thanked him, and I been on his jock ever since (only slightly kidding; this brotha’s bad!). I’d already been a fan of Mark (or MAN as he’s affectionately known by those who love and roll with him), having read all his work before meeting him. Starting with What the Music Said: Black Popular Music and  Black Public Culture (1998) and Soul Babies: Black Popular Culture and the Post-Soul Aesthetic (2002) through Songs in the Keys of Black Life: A Rhythm and Blues Nation (2003) and especially New Black Man: Rethinking Black Masculinity (2005), I hadn’t encountered a scholar who’s work blended the elegant prose stylings of a great cultural journalist with far-rangingly trenchant and revealing analysis of African American culture and the ways in which it asked some hard questions about gender, race, and sexuality while defining so many oft-problematic contours of the relationship between nation, community, identity, and masculinity. I’d read MAN’s work and secretly wished that I could do what he did—go deeper into my field without losing the presentational effects of good writing that was so important to me. It wasn’t until he and Joan Morgan invited me down to Duke back in 2006 to talk about hiphop, society and journalism that we met in person. And he did that thing that he does, that thing you see him do on his weekly webcast talk show “Left of Black”: he engaged me with his openness and curiosity; he seduced me with his smoothness; he cracked me up with his witty and subtle running commentary on the world around him. In MAN’s presence you feel truly engaged; he listens. One can only imagine how this quality must resonate with his students—experience has taught me that there aren’t many academics who listen as well as they lecture, participate as much as they preach. Recently, at a dinner while he was visiting Harvard for a lecture, our table was dynamic with conversation that ranged from Theories of Oprah to Old School Hip Hop to Life in the Academy to Race in Age of Obama, and never missed a beat because MAN, the frequent NPR commentator that he is, was leading the charge with his nuanced perceptions and witty asides. And you can catch these same qualities in his online presence, from Facebook to his blog to Twitter (you can follow him here, by the way): Whether he’s tweeting a link to one of his brilliant essays or providing academic info or recounting nuggets of family life, his Twitter game is always on. For a dude like me, coming to this academic game, Mark Anthony Neal provides a perfect model of the modern black intellectual: how to keep it real when the “real” can seem as surreal as a Dali painting, and how to be a good brotha when keeping it good sometimes feels like a losing proposition.  MAN is the “public intellectual” that I look up to. Mostly because he doesn’t look down at anyone from his status as a great thinker, terrific writer, and supportive scholar. I’m looking forward to his new book Looking for Leroy: (Il)Legible Black Masculinities (Spring 2012 from NYU Press) as well as the 2nd edition of That’s the Joint!: The Hip-Hop Studies Reader which Neal co-edited with Murray Forman, which will be published in July. (You can also check out some of his cool Black Music Month writing at his blog New Black Man.)
To get a taste of MAN’s public intellectualism, check out this talk he did at TED:

Hope you enjoy his SPB Q…I did, very much…

Name: Mark Anthony Neal

Hometown:   The place we affectionately call the “Boogie-Down” Bronx

School/Year:  State University Cat: BA/MA SUNY-Fredonia (’87, ’93); Ph.D. University of Buffalo ’96 in American Studies

Dissertation Title: Discursive Soul: Black Popular Music, Communal Critique, and The Black Public Sphere of the Urban North.  It was directed by the influential Black Feminist/Lesbian Masani Alexis DeVeaux

Favorite bookGreg Tate’s Flyboy in the Buttermilk [editorial note: one of the best collections of essays I’ve ever read!]; everything changed after I read that.  Recognized that literary style and intellectual substance were not mutually exclusive.  Also Haki Madhubuti’s Enemies: The Clash of Races; my introduction to a Black thinker.

Favorite author:  It’s not PC, but I love Ishmael Reed’s fiction (Paul Beatty’s a close second)—try to tell Ish that every time we spar.  Favorite poet is Henry Dumas—want to write a critical study one day (shout to Eugene Redmond).

Favorite movie:  Love baseball movies. The Natural, but especially For the Love of the Game, for linking the grace of the game with the grace needed to survive getting older.  If my wife were to ask me, it’s The Five Heartbeats, which we’ve watched together about 63 times.

Favorite song:  You’re joking right?  Linda Jones’s “Hypnotized” takes my breathe every time.  Have pulled to the side of the road many times with Donny Hathaway’s “Thank You Master for My Soul” in the car. Every time I hear Diana’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and Jr. Walker’s “What Does it Take?” they take back to times with my parents when I was really little—attach those songs to the sweetness of my childhood.  Conjure my grind every day with Jay’s “Roc Boys”—“I wish for you a 100 years of success, but it’s my time!”

Academic text that most influences your workMichael Eric Dyson’s Reflecting Black, bell hooks’ Yearning and Robin Kelley’s Race Rebels gave me tools that I couldn’t have imagined before I read them.

Academic who most influences your work:  Every time I read William Jelani Cobb, I need to go back to the lab.  Daphne Brooks’ attention to detail.  Fred Moten. Damn, just no words there. Sharon Patricia Holland, who made me love theory again. Richard Iton, because he’s just a beast and one of the most generous of readers.

Academic High:  Handed Dyson a copy of my diss back in ’96 when he visited Xavier in NOLA where I started teaching.  He called me 5 hours later at 2am to tell me he dug the work.  Needed that affirmation at that time.  Robin Kelley responding to a letter I wrote a year earlier as a grad student.  Tricia Rose taking time to talk with me for 2 hours at MLA back in ’92 before I got in a Ph.D. program.  My parents being able to witness my hooding.

Life High:  Still have vivid memories of the first times I held both of my daughters;   Being able to record a 70th Birthday tribute for my dad for NPR. My oldest daughter reciting  Langston Hughes’ “Mother to Son” at my Mother’s Going Home ceremony.  Minutes later when I couldn’t remove myself from the front her casket, it was my then 10-year-old daughter who came and got me.  Damn, just started tearing up thinking about it.

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

  • Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On
  • The 5 Season Box Set of The Wire
  • The Collected Criticism of Amiri Baraka
  • Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace
  • The 9 Season Box Set of The Cosby Show

Your favorite quote: From my blog ““I am a man of my times, but the times don’t know it yet.” –Erik Todd Dellums as “Bayard Rustin” (in the film Boycott)

Guilty pleasure:  Wii Baseball; Reruns of The King of Queens; Fig Newtons

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The SPB Q (Grad Chapter): Christina Sharpe

It’s my contention that every new grad student should have a Christina Sharpe in his or her life. At least that’s what I’ve been telling myself since we first met, via Twitter back in the summer before I started my second year of doctoral study. She tweeted something that made me laugh; I tweeted back; a friendship was born. Every new grad student should have a Christina Sharpe because she has turned out to be that most wonderful of things: a friend outside of the cloistered world of your own campus, yet not so far away that she’s not around for a much-needed coffee break or convo session that makes you feel appreciated yet also keeps you grounded. She knows how to keep you sane when anxiety strikes but also knows how to laugh when the time is right. (Which I’m sure is why she’s such a great and popular mentor on campus!) … She also has incredible taste in soup.

Christina is an associate professor at Tufts University, where she’s affiliated with both the English and American Studies departments. Her areas of expertise include African American literature, multi-ethnic literature, African Diaspora literature, cultural studies, and visual culture (particularly around the African Diaspora and including such artists as Kara Walker, Robert Colescott, Isaac Julien, Tracey Rose).

Last month saw the Duke University Press publication of Christina’s first book, the fabulously-titled and deeply engaging Monstrous Intimacies: Making Post Slavery Subjects. Hailed by such academic notables as Sharon P. Holland and Ashraf Rushdy as “remarkable,” “lucid,” “thoroughly engrossing,” and “consistently intelligent,” Monstrous Intimacies is an ambitious and compelling work of literary and cultural criticism that maps the ways in which the turbulent violence(s) of slavery and its after-effects have still marked raced subjectivities into the present day. Sharpe’s book–which explores such artists as Bessie Head, Isaac Julien, Gayl Jones and Kara Walker–is the kind of broad-minded yet focused interdisciplinary work young scholars like myself dream about producing, multi-valent in the way you want your academic work to be, yet readable with supple prose that digs deep.

I’ve been begging this busy new friend of mine to do The SPB Q, and she finally got some time away from her committed teaching, student advising and campus service to turn out a good one. Read her book; look for her articles. And, if you’re in the Boston area, check her out on Tuesday November 2nd at Boston University (4pm – 6pm, in the African American Studies Library, 138 Mountfort Street, Brookline) where she’ll be doing a talk about her book and her work.

Name: Christina Sharpe

Hometown:  Philadelphia (but I was born in Bryn Mawr & grew up in Wayne, PA)

School/Year: BA/University of Pennsylvania; MA/PhD Cornell University

Dissertation Title: “The Work of Re-membering: Reading Gertrude Stein, Gayl Jones, Julie Dash, Cherríe Moraga and Bessie Head”

Favorite book[s]: Beloved, A Map to the Door of No Return

Favorite author: I’ll name three favorites —The constants are Toni Morrison, Dionne Brand, James Baldwin.  I sometimes get obsessed with authors and try to read everything they’ve written even if/especially if I find their work productively problematic.  One person in that category was Doris Lessing.

Favorite movie: Daughters of the Dust

Favorite song: Music goes in cycles but I can almost always listen to Gil-Scott Heron, Fela, Grace Jones, Massive Attack (w/Tricky), Stevie Wonder, P.J. Harvey, and Angie Stone.

Academic text that most influences your work: Wow, there are so many and they’ve changed over time but for my book I’d say: Dionne Brand’s A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging; Hortense Spillers’ work (“Mama’s Baby,” “Interstices”); Saidiya Hartman’s Scenes of Subjection; Gayl Jones’s Corregidora; Fred Moten’s In the Break (Aunt Hester’s Scream); but also Marianne Hirsch on Post-Memory & Cathy Caruth’s Unclaimed Experience.

Academic[s] who most influence your work: Saidiya Hartman & Hortense Spillers.

Academic High: Finally finishing Monstrous Intimacies.

Life High: One life high is intimately connected with the work of teaching and mentoring.  It can be difficult work and I struggle with it at times but it is also capable of giving me moments of great sustaining joy.

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

Your favorite quote:  Too hard.  But here’s one:

“People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state  of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.” ~ James Baldwin

Guilty pleasure: Several, but I refuse the guilt!

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The SPB Q (Grad Chapter): Farah Jasmine Griffin

I fall in love with writers, and their books. I’m just funny that way, re-reading passages or whole chapters, remembering why the initial pangs of love were there. I knew I was going to fall in love with Farah Jasmine Griffin’s book Who Set You Flowin’: The African-American Migration Narrative when I read the dedication: “For My Grandmother, Willie Lee Carson (1904-1981), who migrated from Eastman, Georgia, to Philadelphia in February 1923; and Her three Philadelphia-born Daughters, Eunice Cogdell (1924-1991), Eartha Mordecai, Wilhemina Griffin.” As a person most interested in African American names, history, and genealogy (and the mothers of mothers who provide all three), I experienced a world in those 33 words, a contained moment of love and honor and respect that felt whole and real. Then I read the epigraphs a few pages later and saw quotes from such richly disparate figures as Toni Morrison, Cornel West and music group Arrested Development—and I knew it was going to be one of those books. And it was. Crossing all kinds of textual terrain in her study of migration as a major theme in African-American culture—Toomer’s Cane, Morrison’s Jazz, the art of Jean Lacy, the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks, among other significant texts get investigated—Griffin’s work is like a journey in itself, gracefully climbing the hills and wading the valleys of what she calls the “metanarrative” of the black migration experience with supple prose and clear-eyed cultural and literary analysis.

Currently a professor of English, Comparative Literature and African American Studies at Columbia University, Farah Griffin has served as the director of Columbia’s Institute for Research in African American Studies. She’s what I think of as a truly interdisciplinary academic, casting her scholarly eye on not just literary subjects but also fields like jazz (she co-edited an issue of Callaloo entitled “Jazz Poetics”) and travel writing. Her writing has also appeared in the New York Times, The Guardian, Harper’s Bazaar and the African American Review.

I got to meet Professor Griffin here at Harvard (where she did her undergrad work) a coupla times, most recently at a conference honoring renowned historian and totem of African American studies Nathan Huggins, and she turned out to be as down-to-earth as I thought she might be after (twice!) reading her book. The warmth and regard she expressed for her subjects was exactly the same warmth she exhibited in person, and I’m sure that was why she seemed to be the one person in the room that everyone was drawn to at one point or another. I’m still looking forward to reading her book on Billie Holiday (If You Can’t Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday), but until then it was a pleasure reading her responses to the SPB Q. Hope you enjoy it, too—and definitely check out Farah Griffin’s work if you fall in love with great writing about American history and literature like I do…

Name:  Farah Jasmine Griffin

Hometown:    Philadelphia

School/Year: Harvard, 1985; Yale 1992

Dissertation Title:  “Who Set You Flowin’?: Migration, Urbanization and African American Culture”

Favorite book:  Too Many to Name

Favorite author:  Impossible.  Morrison; Wharton

Favorite movie:  Impossible.  Eve’s Bayou, maybe.  Double Indemnity

Favorite music:  Can’t Do This…Love music too much to have a favorite, but at the top would be Cassandra Wilson’s “New Moon Daughter” and Mary Lou Williams at Montreux

Academic text that most influences your workStephen Kern’s Culture of Time and Space and Cornel West’s Prophetic Reflections: Notes on Race and Power in America (Beyond Multiculturalism and Eurocentrism)

Academic who most influences your work:  Edward Said; Robin Kelley; Thadious Davis

Academic High: Membership in the Jazz Study Group, Columbia University.  Robin Kelley, Salim Washington, Robert O’Meally, Brent Hayes Edwards, Diedra Harris Kelley, John Swzed, Fred Moten, and others were my intellectual family, my comrades, my joy.  The set my brain dancing.

Life High:  The day I met the little girls who would become my step-granddaughters:  Diata and Mariam Cannon; my participation in Billie and Me at the Barbican, London.

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

Your favorite quote:

“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” ~ Attributed to Jesus, Gospel of Thomas

Guilty pleasure:

Bad television marathons.

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The SPB Q (Grad Chapter): Salamishah Tillet

“You can mark Du Bois as an important founding father and Anna Julia Cooper as a founding mother of those who used intellectual work to create social change and to do really interesting artistic or literary work alongside or as part of their political mission.” ~ Salamishah Tillet, 2009

{I met Salamishah Tillet, assistant professor in English at the University of Pennsylvania, on a dare. Basically, I dared myself to email all the graduates of Harvard’s Am Civ program who now had tenure (or tenure-track jobs) to find out whatever I could about their experience in the graduate program I planned on attending. Chatting on the phone with Salamishah that first night was like talking to an old friend who just wanted to look out. She gave me the highs and the lows, the good and the bad, and even told me where I might find some good food while chilling in Cambridge for a few years.

Of course, just meeting her, I didn’t know I was talking to the very model of a real public intellectual. Salamishah has really dug deep to examine not just the intellectual intricacies of African American cultural work, as she does in her writing and teaching about black feminist theory, African-American literature, popular music, and film, but has also used her own personal experience to create a celebrated body of work that goes directly to the community. She is the writer and producer of Story of a Rape Survivor (SOARS), an award-winning multimedia performance that tells the story of her own effort to reclaim her body, sexuality, and self-esteem after being sexual assaulted in college (see trailer below). With her sister, Scheherazade Tillet, Salamishah co-founded A Long Walk Home, non-profit that uses art therapy and the visual and performing arts to end sexual violence. She is also the development director of Girl/Friends, an art-based, sexual violence prevention summer institute for adolescent girls who have been impacted by violence in the Chicago-area, and in 2006, she served as an associate producer for Aishah Shahidah Simmons’s groundbreaking documentary, “NO!” and is featured in the Cambridge Documentary’s award winning film Rape Is… Also in 2006, Ebony Magazine named her one of America’s top 30 Black leaders under 30 years old.

Salamishah’s scholarly work straddles many areas as well: she is the co-editor of the forthcoming The Day that Martin Died: Music, Memory, and Martin Luther King, Jr. She recently co-edited a special issue on Ethiopia for the journal Callaloo, where she’s an associate editor, and her book Peculiar Memories: Slavery and the Post-Civil Rights Imagination (forthcoming from Duke University Press) examines how contemporary African-American artists and intellectuals re-imagine slavery as a metaphor for post-Civil Rights citizenship and political desire. Currently, this music-lover (who wrote liner notes for John Legend and The Roots’ Wake Up!), is working on a book on Nina Simone.

I was hoping that I’d be able to chill with her in Philly when I head down there for a conference at Penn in September, so we could chat some more about music and TV and all sorts of other good stuff, but no go: homegirl is spending the 2010-2011 school year serving her Woodrow Wilson Career Enhancement Fellowship at the Center of African American Studies at Princeton University.

I’m happy that Salamishah found time to do the SPB Q. She’s been a real inspiration to me as a scholar, a Harvard Am Civ grad, and a new friend. Hope you enjoy her Q!}

Name: Salamishah Margaret Tillet

Hometown: Boston, MA; Port of Spain, Trinidad; Orange, NJ

School/Year: B.A., University of Pennsylvania (1996); M.A.T., Brown University (1997); A.M, Harvard University (2002); Ph.D. Harvard University (2007)

Dissertation Title: “Peculiar Memories: Slavery and the American Cultural Imagination”

Favorite book: Toni Morrison, Beloved

Favorite author: Toni Morrison

Favorite movie: Eve’s Bayou, dir. Kasi Lemmons starring Jurnee Smollett, Lynn Whitfield, and Samuel Jackson

Favorite song: Nina Simone, “Lilac Wine”

Academic text that most influences your work: Henry Louis Gates, The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism (1988)

Academic who most influences your work: I think in threes: Farah Griffin, Michael Eric Dyson, and Edward Said

Academic High: Organizing two conferences with my academic partner in crime, the brilliant Dagmawi Woubshet: first, our “The Future of African-American Studies” graduate student conference at Harvard University in December 2000; second, was the Callaloo “(Black) Movements: Poetics and Praxis” conference at Addis Ababa University in July 2010.

Life High: The moment I realized that I had the strength to love and the courage to be loved by my life partner.

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

Your favorite quote: “…I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Guilty pleasure: I’m quite guilty: Eating dark chocolate without remorse, watching every episode in the Law & Order franchise, and scheduling my entire Sunday around football.

Attention SCOTT TOPICS™ readers: As SOARS celebrates its 10th anniversary and Girl/Friends turns a year-old (and as they kick off their national “Got Consent?” campaign) all of Salamishah’s great public service work has been rewarded with a nomination for her and her sister as Glamour Magazine’s Woman of the Year. They need your votes! Click here at GLAMOUR to cast a vote for the Tillet sisters! Voting ends on Monday, August 30, so go now…

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The SPB Q: Bassey Ikpi

You know how you meet someone new and it feels like you met them before, like in another life or something? Well, Bassey Ikpi, who I “met” on Facebook a coupla years ago, is one of those people. Either that or we’re just the same person—as Bassey says, no one has ever seen the two of us in a room together. Both of us are Michael Jackson fanatics (please read her devastatingly personal and brilliantly written eulogy for MJ here at her blog, Bassey’s World and the year-after follow-up here.). And rarely ever does one of us tweet or Facebook some tidbit about a line of dialogue from an old TV show or a lyric from a song without the other immediately shouting out the other one and claiming said reference as an all-time favorite. It really is spooky. But in a good way. Bassey Ikpi is one of those people who gave me faith in the social networking thing. We chat online—because life somehow hasn’t allowed us to “meet” in person yet—and it always feels like old-home week: her jokes and one-liners make me actually LOL (and always when I’m drinking coffee or soda); her poignant and revealing stories about her struggles with mental illness have touched me deeply. With words, she has the rhythm of a musician and the timing of a comedian, and it all blends together into dazzling yet personable and heartfelt performances of honesty and truth.

Watch this video, a tribute Bassey wrote to singer Phyllis Hyman, entitled “One Good Reason To Stay,” to see what I’m talking about.

Or this one from the 2nd season of Def Poetry, where I, and many, first discovered her work:

The Nigerian-born poet/author eventually became a featured cast member of the National Touring Company of the Tony Award-winning Broadway show, Russell Simmon’s Def Poetry Jam. She’s been published or profiled in such magazines as Nylon, Marie Claire, Glamour and Bust, and has recorded an original poem for the Kaiser Foundation’s HIV/AIDS campaign, “Knowing Is Beautiful.” She spent this summer on a 5-city tour, taking her Basseyworld Live show on the road and, from what I can tell by the Twitter buzz about it, turning the kids out with her combination of smarts, humor, poetry, and politically incorrect (and very direct) interactive panel discussions touching on everything from politics to pop culture. Her book, a collection of poetry and prose with the wonderful title Blame My Teflon Heart: Poetry, Prose and Post-Its For Boys Who Didn’t Write Back, will be released soon.

You know how you say about someone cool, “That person should have a TV show”? Well, those words were meant for Bassey Ikpi. Seriously. Or, funnily. Or both.

It turns out, weird and coincidental as things get when we’re both Tweeting, that Bassey and I actually had been in the same space at the same time—though neither one of us can confirm whether anyone saw us or not. (Is that like if a tree falls in the forest and no one—oh, never mind.) Turns out we’re both very much members of the 21st century: Not only did we have that experience known to many 90s/New Century creatives—working at a splashy new dotcom that eventually went under—we worked at the same splashy new dotcom that eventually went under, ten years ago. And only realized it a coupla days ago. But that’s Life With Bassey (well, there’s the title of her TV show!): unexpected, always surprising, full of revelation, connected. I’m honored and excited that she’s this week’s SPB Q. You will be, too.

Name: Nyono-MmaBassey (Bassey) Ikpi

Hometown:     Ugep, Cross River State, Nigeria and Stillwater, OK

Zodiac sign:    Mighty, Mighty Leo

Favorite book: Favorites are so difficult for me… Anything by J. California Cooper, The Alchemist, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Assata, Anne of Green Gables, Sula

Favorite author: J. California Cooper, Paolo Coelho, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Aliya S. King, Denene Millner Scott Poulson-Bryant [ed. Wow!]

Favorite poem: “angels get no maps” by Suheir Hammad, “Dream Variations” by Langston Hughes, “smoke, lilies & jade” by Richard Bruce Nugent, “The Highway Man” by Alfred Noyes, anything by Rumi

Favorite poet: Favorites are so difficult for me, depends on what time of the day and what day of the month. I love Suheir Hammad always and forever. Pablo Neruda injects more beauty into a few syllables than any of us are blessed enough to feel in a lifetime.

Favorite movie: Something’s Killing Tate, Anne of Green Gables, The Parent Trap (Original Recipe), The Sound of Music, Goodfellas, Brother to Brother… I have the worst taste in both music and movies.

Favorite song: Michael Jackson everything he’s done (except “Stranger In Moscow”) and “Everybody Here Wants You/Lover You Should’ve Come Over” by Jeff Buckley

Fictional character or poem you wish you had created: Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables. She was the first written character that spoke to me in a language that I felt in the core of me. She gave me permission to be eccentric and to live my life on the boundaries past what any one else could understand. She was true to herself and her emotions and she was unapologetically odd. As an odd kid (and adult) I needed that validation even if it was just in books.

Career High: Performing at the NAACP Image Awards doing an original poetic tribute to Venus and Serena Williams. Then meeting the sisters and Angela Basset afterwards.

Life High: Getting my mental health under control and finally living life the way it was meant to be without anxiety, fear or self doubt. I’m the happiest and most centered I’ve ever been in my entire life. Makes my whole life “high”.

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

UGH! You’re killing me! Five? I’d pick things that bring me joy and comfort.

  • Jeff Buckley, Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk
  • Wicked Original Broadway Soundtrack
  • Michael Jackson- History 1 & 2
  • The Sound Of Music: Anniversary edition
  • Paolo Coelho, The Alchemist

Your favorite quote: “Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all.” ~ Toni Morrison (favorite quote today.)

Guilty pleasure: How much time you got? Pop music, reality TV, celebrity gossip…

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The SPB Q: Barry Michael Cooper

{I remember seeing New Jack City the first time and thinking, Damn, my friend wrote that! I also remember tearing up at the end of Sugar Hill and thinking the same thing. Both viewings were in small New York screening rooms and both times I was with a little crew of friends, all of whom pretty much had a similar relationship that I did to award-winning journalist and (now successful screenwriter) Barry Michael Cooper—he was a mentor, a friend, a hero.

When it came to mentors during my early days at the Village Voice, I was like a kid in a big left-leaning ink-stained downtown candy store. I learned many things from many peeps; I learned how to keep it real, both in life and on the page, from Barry Michael Cooper. The first day we met, I was a bit intimidated: This was the kat who’d written that brilliant Voice story about Teddy Riley (the writer who’d invented the term “New Jack Swing”) as well as the devastating article that gave New Jack City its name (“Kids Killing Kids: New Jack City Eats its Young”)—what was I gonna say to him? But I didn’t have to say much. Before I could let him know how great I thought he was, he was telling me how much he liked my nascent, New Jack stabs at journalism. The second time we met, later that week, me, him, and Ben Mapp (a writer and copy editor at the Voice, and a dear friend) spent about five hours on a bench down in SoHo, talking about everything under the sun…or the moon, as it were, in that late-night case.

I hadn’t met many writers by that point—I was a recent college dropout thinking he could make it as a journalist in early 90s NYC—but after meeting Barry, I didn’t have to. Talking to him, about any and everything, was like a master class in life: he told me Harlem stories, he told me Village stories, he told me B-More stories, he waxed well about movies as much as music. He seemed to have a laser beam where other people merely had a brain, scooping up knowledge and blasting it back around with the quickness. Barry once called me F. Scott Poulson-Bryant—before he even knew how much I loved Fitzgerald’s work. I laughed it off—I had to, of course; what writer wants that pressure on his neck?—but it secretly gave me a boost of confidence that I was onto something in this writing game.  When I wrote my Puff Daddy profile for VIBE in 1992, the first call I got about it was from Barry, telling me how good he thought it was. I had to tell him: I couldn’t have written it without his Teddy Riley story setting the stage.

Nowadays, we don’t see each other as often as we did when we were NYC’ers on the journalism grind, but BMC’s always in my heart and on my mind. So if we’re not tweeting each other or emailing, I’m checking out his blog Hooked on the American Dream, where he posts news and information (he also writes for The Huffington Post) as well as some of his old articles and tributes to some of the hiphop greats who defined eras. Go there right now and read “Mary J. Blige: Our Lady of Glamorous Sorrows,”  from the Andre Harrell memoir Barry worked on in 2008. Or check out the “The Diary of Nino Brown,” a novella that’s the prequel AND sequel to New Jack City. I’m so glad to have Barry doing the SPB Q. After years of chat I sorta knew what some of the answers would be; but, typical of Barry, he still managed to surprise me in some ways. Just as he always will. Hope you enjoy!}

Name: Barry Michael Cooper

Hometown:   Harlem, New York, NY

Zodiac sign:   Not sure. My birthday is in the second week of June.

Favorite book: The Bible (and after that Crime and Punishment and Native Son)

Favorite author: GOD (and after that Fyodor M. Dostoevsky and Richard Wright)

Favorite movie: The Godfather Part II (and after that The Conformist and Sugar Hill)

Favorite song: Marvin Gaye’s “Wholly Holy” (but really, too many to mention)

Fictional character you wish you had created: Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov (and after that Bigger Thomas)

Career High: The release of both Sugar Hill and Above The Rim in the same year (1994), a month apart from each other (February 25th and March 23rd, 1994. The first time a Black screenwriter had accomplished such a feat. GOD Is Great.)

Life High: Me being in the delivery room for the births of each of my two wonderful Sunz.

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

Wow. Okay.

CDs:

  • Marvin Gaye What’s Going On
  • Curtis Mayfield, Super Fly
  • Omar, Best By Far
  • Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers, Jesus Gave Me Water
  • Parliament-Funkadelic, Funkentelchy and the Placebo Syndrome

Books

  • The Bible
  • Crime and Punishment
  • Native Son
  • Garry Wills, Nixon Agonistes
  • Gay Talese, Honor Thy Father

DVDs:

  • The Godfather Part II
  • The Godfather
  • Sugar Hill
  • The Conformist
  • There Will Be Bloood

Your favorite quote: “What shall we then say to these things? If GOD be for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31

Guilty pleasure: Café Cubano and/or Ethiopian coffee.

Go here to read Barry’s Teddy Riley profile: Hooked on the American Dream.

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