Tag 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.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Academia, The SPB Q, theater, Uncategorized

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

Bookmark and Share

2 Comments

Filed under Academia, The SPB Q, Uncategorized

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:

Bookmark and Share

7 Comments

Filed under books, music, PhD, Reasons to be Cheerful, TV, Uncategorized