In her introduction to the new Best Black Women’s Erotica (Cleis, $14.95), best-selling author Iyanla Vanzant confesses that “my body parts have names.” Her hands are “Fric and Frac” … and then there’s “Molly.”
“Every woman has a Molly,” Vanzant explains. “When I first heard someone refer to her as ‘Vagina,’ I had no idea who or what she was talking about.” Growing up, the writer had been warned by her momma “never to display Molly publicly. She warned me about all the trouble Molly could get me into if I allowed people to touch her or talk to her.” Molly was a betrayer, Vanzant’s grandmother affirmed.
It took years to unlearn those lessons. The author confides that, recently, she changed Molly’s name to the more dignified Mabel, although “she is now known in a very private arena as ‘Peaches and Cream.'”
Edited by Blanche Richardson, the tireless manager of Oakland’s Marcus Books, the collection includes stories by Nikki Giovanni, Tananarive Due, and others including the East Bay’s own Aya de León and Nilaja A. Montgomery–the latter’s tale of four best friends livening up a dull afternoon is both witty and wild.
Richardson’s own contribution to the book is a masterpiece of a monologue, and one of the most explicit stories is by Richardson’s daughter, Cherysse Welcher-Calhoun.
“It was hard to write,” Welcher-Calhoun admits, “because my mom was the editor. But she’s cool. She said, ‘Don’t hold back.’ I’m married and I have two kids and she knows they weren’t immaculate conceptions.”
Think Dubya‘s a hoot? It’s easy to laugh, says Mark Crispin Miller, at a man who makes verbal gaffes like “Is our children learning?” and “How many hands have I shaked?” But “to smirk at his alleged stupidity is,” Miller writes in The Bush Dyslexicon (Norton, $24.95), “not just to miss the point, but to do this unelected president a great favor since, as Shakespeare‘s Prince Hal reminds us–and as Bush himself has often said–it suits a politician to have everybody thinking he’s a dunce, especially if he wants to do things his way.” Our plight is anything but “a comic one,” the author notes, because this President “has a highly seasoned, wholly ruthless, and, for that matter, deeply humorless cabal of rightist pols around him–and that’s no joke.”
In liltingly poetic prose that only makes the truth hurt worse, Miller analyzes hundreds of Bush’s quotes on leadership, race, the economy, and more, baring a leader both illiterate and blithely indifferent. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.
After the Florida fiasco, “I had a mission,” says the author, a former Berkeley habitué and now an NYU media studies professor. “I had to do something.” Blaming the mainstream press for what he calls a coup, Miller lambasts reporters for “consistently refusing to remark on the obvious. People who feel outraged today should remember that they’re actually in a majority. The word ‘elected’ gets thrown around, but in this case it’s not true.”
Having “been tricked out of our democracy,” we’ve got “a gifted dirty fighter” in the White House, Miller notes, bird-dogging Bush’s links with his dad’s campaign and, ominously, with Richard Nixon.
“If this book helps readers find out what really makes Bush tick,” then it’ll be both validated and vilified, says Miller, whose work richly deserves to make waves. “We’ve got to grasp the fully enormity of what has happened to us.”
In Girls Got Game (Holt, $15.95), a new anthology of sports stories and poems for young readers, girls hit and kick and punt and pass. They join football teams, as in a tale by Berkeley’s Lucy Jane Bledsoe, and track teams and crew teams: “An eight-oared symphony/as our strokes hit one stride,” exults a poem by Boston Marathoner Grace Boutilier.
“I wanted to write about the conflict between a person’s sense of herself and how she performs on the court,” says the Express‘s Linnea Due, whose story in the anthology is about a young hoopster learning to find inspiration within. “Athletics is 95 percent mental,” Due says. What with the struggle to “just believe you’re good enough to play,” she laments, “sometimes it’s three steps forward, four steps back.”
Edited by sports author Sue Macy, the book’s stories and poems all have female protagonists.
“They would have been really different if they’d been written fifteen years ago,” Due says, because girls’ views of their own bodies are “so much less conflicted now than in the past.” Young athletes “can see their bodies as tools” rather than minefields: a benefit, “one generation beyond,” of the Women’s Movement.
It’s nothing short of “a revolutionary concept,” Due says, though “some would say feminism is all about not liking sex.”
When he’s teaching at San Francisco’s New College these days, Berkeley poet David Meltzer still fields questions from legions of students eager to hear about his wild times with Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, and others who later became lionized as Beats but who, Meltzer insists, were “not consciously establishing a movement.”
Almost invariably, he says, “it’s young guys who have this fascination today” with the road trips and revelatory rap sessions they imagine were Beat staples. Now these dreamers–and anyone else curious about the Beats–can find real revelations galore in Meltzer’s new collection of interviews he conducted with a dozen leading lights over the last thirtysome years. In San Francisco Beat (City Lights, $19.95), Diane di Prima, Michael McClure, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and others offer more insights into life and spirituality and the act of writing itself than you can stuff into a Big Sur cabin.
“Poets talk to poets differently” than to professional reporters, Meltzer believes. The result is a refreshingly natural set of dialogues that illuminate not only the Beat era but the years before and after. Philip Whalen proves self-effacing; Vallejo-born Joanne Kyger recalls Beat sexism; her ex-husband Snyder and the late Kenneth Rexroth (whose KPFA show was a ’50s legend) are so brilliant it hurts.
“What impresses me most,” Meltzer says, “is how they all endured.”
In summertime, the highway beckons and, under those blazing blue skies, tumbledown shacks sure look fetching. In Ghost Towns of Northern California (Voyageur, $19.95), Philip Varney points the way to some sixty old mining camps and wide places in the road where high grass grows over the graves. East Bay offerings include the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve near Antioch, where five towns once thrived around the state’s most lucrative coal vein; and Drawbridge, near the eastern entrance to the Dumbarton Bridge, created by the South Pacific Coast Railway Company as a place where its workers could hand-crank two drawbridges allowing boats to pass through the train line.
“By the turn of the twentieth century, a cottage industry of several gun clubs” had sprung up there along with hotels and homes, Varney explains. “It was common for 500 hunters to invade Drawbridge during duck season.” As the Depression years found surrounding towns dumping their raw sewage into the bay, Drawbridge grew “considerably less attractive,” the author laments. Still, its last resident stayed on until 1979.
For more thoughts about slow boats and tickets to ride, drop into Easy Going in Berkeley on July 31, when the Wild Women Travel Writers’ Group will read their work and have a panel discussion on their most memorable sojourns across the universe and down the way. Keep an ear open for tales of lemurs and the Left Bank as East Bayites Pamela Michael, Linda Watanabe McFerrin, and their fellow midnight ramblers make the scene.
Our forebears ploughing fields or yanking levers in factories would have been baffled at the sight of us striding, wearing Walkmans, on treadmills.
They didn’t need to go out and “get exercise,” back then, because they did physical work, says Rebecca Solnit. But the end of hard labor and the advent of motorized transit has had a terrible price: “the loss of bodily life. The body has shifted from being a workhorse to being a pet poodle,” says the essayist, whose Wanderlust: A History of Walking is just out in paperback from Penguin ($14).
Incorporating Solnit’s own experience–headland hikes in Marin, for instance, and a surreal jaunt along the Vegas strip–the book unites philosophy and sociology. Drawing upon the works of Hokusai and Wordsworth and legions of other movers-through-landscapes, it’s a serious read. But no more serious than what the author calls “the suburbanization of the mind” and its effect on the legs; or, as she puts it, the crisis by which “the multiplication of technologies in the name of efficiencies is actually eradicating free time by making it possible to maximize the time and place for production and minimize the unstructured travel time in between.”
Solnit did most of the research for this book in Cal’s libraries, but a lot of walking went into it as well.
“It’s still a principal means of thinking things through.”
East Bay poet and screenwriter Al Young is one of several local literati on the guest list for the Ripe Fruit School of Creative Writing’s tenth anniversary party, free and open to all on July 8 at the SomArts Gallery, 934 Brannan St. in San Francisco. Readings, hands-on creativity stations, independent bookstore tables, a world-music DJ, tapas and wine, and other temptations of the body and spirit are planned for the afternoon; call 415-337-4369 for more information.