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Gracie Book Club Season Two: Framing Ralph Ellison’s INVISIBLE MAN

Framing Ralph Ellison’s INVISIBLE MAN in Today’s “Black Panther” Visibility & #BlackLivesMatter

“You Have Been Selected to Attend Gracie Book Club!” That’s the email subject line that announces I’ve finally won the equivalent of the New York mega-million lottery – from a bookish point of view, that is. Armed with my winning lottery ticket, aka invitation, I arrive at Gracie Mansion a few weeks later to find a line of other bookish folk waiting at check-in. We are scanned by security, before we’re guided to the front entrance of Gracie Mansion, up its magnificent staircase, and to our seats.

Gabrielle Fialkoff, Senior Advisor to Mayor Bill de Blasio, welcomes us to Season Two of Gracie Book Club, for a discussion on Ralph Ellison’s INVISIBLE MAN, published in 1952. I’m reminded that First Lady Chirlane McCray launched the Club in 2016, as a place for readers, writers, and publishers across the five boroughs to be connected by their love of books. I look around the well-appointed room, with its high ceiling and its windows offering expansive views on to the lawn, which stretches through Carl Schulz Park. I admit to myself that more than ever before, even in its grandeur, Gracie Mansion might become The People’s House as it is often touted – at least in this gathering of book lovers this evening.

First Lady McCray welcomes us via taped video. She frames the evening’s discussion by juxtaposing Ralph Ellison’s invisibility of black people with the visibility of blacks in Black Panther, the movie.

“Little black boys and girls, and adults, too, across the country are seeing themselves as superheroes. They are seeing themselves! Period. That’s a victory for visibility!”

In coming together to discuss INVISIBLE MAN, she also notes: “…we will explore what it means for people to be systematically unseen, unheard, unrepresented… that kind of invisibility is what Ralph Ellison evinces with his masterpiece INVISIBLE MAN, and in doing so he tells a story that still resonates deeply today.”

I’m caught unawares by First Lady McCray’s linking of Ralph Ellison’s novel to the Marvel comic book. I am thrilled by this sudden charge of seeing, this instant flash of knowing, which only broadens as the two panelists are introduced. Alondra Nelson, a professor of sociology at Columbia University, is also a scholar of science, technology, and social inequality. She is the author most recently of The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome. Clinton Smith, a PhD candidate at Harvard University, is a 2014 National Poetry Slam champion, author of a published collection of poems entitled Counting Descent, and has delivered popular TED Talks, including How to Raise a Black Son in America.

I’m already on the edge of my seat. I’ve always found INVISIBLE MAN to be as difficult to unravel as its author. The two panelists make reference to the tension between Ellison and writers in the Black Arts Movement, such as Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, Maya Angelou, and many other luminous writers and artists associated with it such as Toni Morrison and Ishmael Reed. I recall my politically aware mother saying Ellison was not viewed as being an activist in the Civil Rights Movement, unlike James Baldwin and other writers. Even decades after my first reading of the book in college, I am disturbed by its imagery, its haunting lyricism, and its many fantastical renderings. The battle royal, the funeral speech, and the question posed to the reader about “lower frequencies” in the novel’s final sentence still fill me with something like terror. Both the novel and the author trouble the waters for me.

It turns out; I’m in the right place this evening. Smith reads the funeral speech, which the unnamed narrator/protagonist (“invisible man”) delivers to the crowd after the young man Tod Clifton is killed by police. I’ve always seen the funeral speech as one of the most trouble-the-water passages in INVISIBLE MAN:

Here are the facts. He was standing and he fell. He fell and he kneeled. He kneeled and he bled. He bled and he died. He fell in a heap like any man and his blood spilled out like any blood; *red* as any blood, wet as any blood and reflecting the sky and the buildings and the birds and the trees, or your face if you'd look into its dulling mirror--and it dried in the sun as blood dries. That's all. They spilled his blood and he bled. They cut him down and he died; the blood flowed on the walk in a pool, gleamed a while, and, after a while, became dull then dusty, then dried. That's the story and that's how it ended. It's an old story and there's been too much blood to excite you. Besides, it's only important when it fills the veins of a living man. Aren't you tired of such stories? Aren't you sick of the blood? Then why listen, why don't you go? It's hot out here. There's the odor of embalming fluid. The beer is cold in the taverns, the saxophones will be mellow at the Savoy; plenty good-laughing-lies will be told in the barber shops and beauty parlors; and there'll be sermons in two hundred churches in the cool of the evening, and plenty of laughs at the movies. Go listen to ‘Amos and Andy’ and forget it. Here you have only the same old story. There's not even a young wife up here in red to mourn him. There's nothing to give you that good old frightened feeling. The story's too short and too simple. His name was Clifton, Tod Clifton, and he was unarmed, and his death was as senseless as his life was futile. He had struggled for Brotherhood on a hundred street corners and he thought it would make him more human, but he died like any dog in a road."[Excerpt only. From Chapter 21]

Smith notes that while there has been some progress in dismantling racism and violence against African-Americans, we can see in Black Lives Matter that police brutality against black bodies persists – even 65 years after the publication of INVISIBLE MAN. He shows me the novel’s ties to today’s #BlackLivesMatter movement – and protests in historical context, eschewing dichotomies between “literature” and “protest.”

Nelson offers me a way of thinking about speculative fiction by her reading of the narrator’s lobotomy, in Chapter 11. Her intentional selection of this passage jars my memory of a telephone call last year from my son, who’d just seen the movie Get Out. Earlier, this week the movie’s writer, Jordan Peele, was awarded the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. A first for an African-American. The Oscar Awards is 90 years old.

During the Q & A, a man in the book club audience asks about the following question posed in the Epilogue:

"Ah," I can hear you say, "so it was all a build-up to bore us with his buggy jiving. He only wanted us to listen to him rave!" But only partially true: Being invisible and without substance, a disembodied voice, as it were, what else could I do? What else but try to tell you what was really happening when your eyes were looking through? And it is this which frightens me: Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you? [Excerpt only.]

In response, another man in the book club audience leafs through his copy of INVISIBLE MAN and begins to read the Epilogue. I’m delighted by such connecting with one another. I’ll think a good deal about these two passages that the panelists and people in the book club chose so as to be in conversation with each other – and with us.

The book club conversation also led me, for the first time, to consider Ellison’s “frequencies” as being related to the metal vibranium in Wakanda, the fictional African nation of the Black Panther movie and Marvel comic book. Vibranium absorbs sound waves and other vibrations and kinetic energy making it stronger. Compared to higher frequencies, lower frequencies better penetrate walls and other obstacles. How serendipitous that First Lady McCray led me to consider Black Panther and that Smith and Nelson selected passages that helped me grow in understanding of protest and black speculative fiction!

Indeed, I was offered an evening in which I could sit in Gracie Mansion and in the company of other New Yorkers who love reading, simply talking with them about what we’ve read. It also showed all of us gathered that evening that we make up a book club, simply because we’re in the room together, centered on engaging together to explore and share. Several times throughout the evening, Nelson reminded us of our “being in-community.” All of us New Yorkers are invited to join the Gracie Book Club community – and in my book, that’s a good thing, a hopeful thing for my beloved, fractured New York City.

Watch: Live from Gracie Mansion -- Gracie Book Club discussion on Ralph Ellison’s INVISIBLE MAN

Q & A with Minnette Coleman, author of THE TREE: A Journey to Freedom

“BOOKish blog” – a blog about authors and books: When a Tree Stands Tall for Freedom

“The Tulip Poplar tree dates back to before 1800 and was present during the documented operation of the Underground Railroad in Guilford County between 1819-1852. The tree serves as a silent witness to the lives and actions of African Americans (enslaved and free) and their white allies which included many Quakers from New Garden,” North Carolina. The tree is in Guilford College Woods, NC. -- Guilford College Underground Railroad website.

Luvon Roberson: Why did you write THE TREE: A Journey to Freedom?

Minnette Coleman: It all started with the Tree and my desire to create a myth or legend surrounding it. The Tree -- the real tree in Guilford College Woods -- is on land that was never part of a plantation. Therefore, my story couldn't be based or focused on the enslaved blacks imprisoned on a farm. Instead, the story is based on a hero – in this case, a female character named Epsie—who escapes that prison and on what Epsie must endure and then encounter to escape and to be free. Most stories that touch on slavery do not focus on the fear that enslaved Africans faced when it came to leaving their prison. The stories focus on their trials and tribulations and leave it at “this was wrong.” They don't focus enough on the real history that went behind the movement to free those suffering. Therefore, I had to step outside the comfort zone of just talking about slavery and let my character show the other side.

By that, I mean the other side of the story about our country’s history that contained communities of free blacks and abolitionists, especially Quakers, who are also called Friends.

The Tree represented in Minnette Coleman book visited by Guilford College 2017 Freshmen students to learn about Quaker history 700x525

Guilford College freshmen students visiting Tulip Poplar trees that inspired Minnette Coleman's book, The Tree: A Journey to Freedom

Typically, the abolitionists are usually the heroes of these stories, but that is far from the truth. The heroes were those who shared the story of the Tree, who tried to get to Freedom, and who got to the Tree. It is a story of people across racial, religious, or other lines, who came together against injustice, and for freedom. Epsie is that kind of hero. Epsie shares the story of the Tree from one generation to the next.

LR: What do you see is the role of "myth" or "legend" in THE TREE?

MC: I must share that I believe that truth begets legends. "When the legend becomes the fact, print the legend." That is a quote from the movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, starring Jimmy Stewart. So myth goes a long way to getting someone out of a bad situation into a good one. And even though we know that this Tree physically exists, there is no proof of its saving powers except that some people have gotten there and survived to live in freedom.

But because it is just a Tree, there are probably those who got there and got caught. But myth, which some might say is the basis for religion, is built on faith and belief. So you have to believe that there is such a Tree with saving powers. You have to believe there were white people out there that may help get you to freedom. You have to believe in something you have yet to see. Therefore, you take the legend and run with it and give those in need something to hope for. Epsie never would have gotten to freedom if she hadn't believed.

Look for more on THE TREE: A Journey to Freedom, in my upcoming interview with its author Minnette Coleman on What’s The 411 TV. Be sure to tune in or visit You can see the Underground Railroad Tree, when you visit The Underground Railroad’s Network to Freedom, a National Park Service site, in Guilford College Woods, in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Listen: “Following the Trail to a Living Monument: Underground Railroad Tree,” David Ford’s interview with James Shields, Director of Community Learning, Guilford College.

Discover: Quakers and The Abolition Project

About the Author: Minnette Coleman

Minnette Coleman is the author of The Blacksmith’s Daughter and No Death by Unknown Hands, both historical novels. An active member of the Harlem Writers Guild, Coleman also wrote Hand-Me-Downs, a one-woman show that she toured across the United States.

Minnette Coleman author THE TREE A Journey to Freedom 12282017 Photo Credit Luvon Roberson 700x933

Minnette Coleman, author of the book, THE TREE: A Journey to Freedom. Photo Credit: Luvon Roberson

Coleman’s research for The Tree began after she graduated from Guilford College, on whose campus grows a centuries-old tree that is part of the Underground Railroad tour and history. As historian for the Black Alumni Advisory Board of Guilford College, Coleman researched how this tree served as a focal point for “running aways” and the Quakers who helped them.

Coleman’s father was the city editor of the Atlanta Daily World, and her grandfather was one of the city’s last blacksmiths. A wife, mother, and grandmother, Coleman lives in New York.

Contact: @MinnetteColeman or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Visit Amazon’s online bookstore to purchase The Tree: A Journey to Freedom



Fifty Shades Freed Entertains [MOVIE REVIEW]

Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) return in the third and final film series based on the bestselling Fifty Shades novels.

The film opens with Christian and Ana trading marriage vows, looking to a new life of shared love and luxury.

Of course, there’s a lot of sex, but Fifty Shades Freed, more than anything else entertains and it gets a See It! rating.

The story does strain credibility in an effort to bolster the story. In the scenes after the couple gets married, Anastasia behaves more like someone who just met Christian than someone who knows and agreed to marry him: She didn’t know he had a domestic staff at his apartment, he had his own plane, and that she will have a security detail following her around. Apparently, after the long and extensive history of sexual gymnastics, they don’t know each other’s viewpoint on having children.

However, the characters are fuller and richer than in Fifty Shades of Grey where they both seem empty and vacuous. In this edition, they are more interesting and more balanced characters. While sex can be a draw to a movie, there has to be more to a film for it to succeed. Here there’s drama and amusing dialogue.

Fifty Shades Freed gets a B+ for cast diversity. Set in Seattle, a city in which people of color make up about a third of the population, the film has a diverse group of people of color in supporting and background roles.

Fifty Shades Freed is rated “R” for strong sexual content, nudity, and language and it is approximately 105 minutes in length. Fifty Shades Freed will be worth your time and money.

T.A. Moreland

T A MorelandA film critic for over 20 years, T. A. Moreland, also produced and hosted a film review television program in New York City for four years.

Moreland wrote for The New York Amsterdam News, The Harlem World Magazine and a Harlem Critic Blog on World Press. His reviews have appeared in and international publications: and Similarly, he provided commentary on the entertainment industry for Essence magazine and BET.

Moreover, T.A. Moreland’s description of the 2008 film “Valkyrie” as a “True Life Mission Impossible” was prominently featured and was the lead quote in the nationwide and international ad campaign for the film starring Tom Cruise.

A prolific writer, T.A. Moreland has written three screenplays and numerous television treatments.

T.A. Moreland resides in Harlem and is an attorney who specializes in energy and economic development issues. He holds a B.A. from Indiana University in Bloomington, Juris Doctorate from the University of Dayton, and Masters from the University of Pennsylvania.

Black Panther actor, Chadwick Boseman, says he’s incredibly blessed

Boseman, an actor who has played several iconic characters, is breaking down barriers and making Hollywood screen history

Are you going to see the movie, Black Panther?

What’s The 411Sports correspondent, Crystal Lynn, caught up with the Black Panther star, actor Chadwick Boseman, after the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game held at Madison Square Garden.

Boseman, one of the players representing the East, says he is incredibly blessed and lucky to have played iconic characters in movies.

Boseman said that he is enjoying every moment of his acting career and hopes that whatever he does is enlightening to people. The Get on Up actor wants to do something different with each role; that’s all you can do is to “enjoy it and be thankful for it.”

Boseman’s role as T’Challa in Black Panther is certainly different and the movie is inspiring and we are all thankful for it.

If you haven’t seen Black Panther, run, don’t walk, and don’t wait for it to come to your video streaming service, catch Black Panther in theaters now!

Sex Dolls are Making Their Way to the US


In the midst of the Me Too movement, sex dolls are making their way to the U.S.

In a previous episode, Kizzy Cox and Onika McLean talked about Japanese men falling in love with human-sized dolls.

Now, sex dolls are making their way into the United States, some selling for as much as two-thousand dollars.

Against the backdrop of the Me Too movement, one wonders are sex dolls a fad, or will it become a multi-billion dollar industry? Will these dolls cut down on sexual molestation, or contribute to an increase?

Time will tell.


VIDEO DISCUSSSION: Trinidadians warned that whining without consent could land you in jail!

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