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Luvon Roberson @LuvonRwriter

Luvon Roberson @LuvonRwriter

Author Sighting: Nina Crews: Seeing Into Tomorrow

BOOK PARTY LAUNCH at City College Center for the Arts for Seeing into Tomorrow: Haiku by Richard Wright, by Nina Crews

Celebrated author, Richard Wright, wrote 4,000+ haiku? Yes. And, what's more: He wrote them in the final 18 months of his life! Turns out, the man who is among the world's most celebrated 20th-century writers, the man we know for BLACK BOY and NATIVE SON, was also a poet. And, it took a children's book illustrator and writer -- Nina Crews -- to introduce me to Wright, the poet, in her latest book SEEING INTO TOMORROW: HAIKU BY RICHARD WRIGHT

As you know, I've always believed that children's books are books for adults, as well. Last month, I witnessed the joy of many people, exploring SEEING INTO TOMORROW and Richard Wright's haiku at the book party launch, held at City College Center for the Arts, in Aaron Davis Hall. Gregory Shanck, who heads CCCA and hosted the book launch, agrees. He has stated that, “It's not just a children's book. It can be enjoyed by the entire family.”

Nina Crews Nina looks on as children create collages 600x450 IMG 9133 Photo Credit Luvon RobersonChildren enjoying making collages at the book launch event at City College for Seeing Into Tomorrow by Nina Crews. Photo Credit: Luvon Roberson

Indeed, at a fun-filled event, children, adults, and families created haiku and collages – working at tables stocked with tools to experiment with and to create. Young children, their parents, and other caregivers danced together, learning the rhythms and history of African drumming. And, Nina Crews read her book, whose memorable photo-collage illustrations were projected on a large screen. Each page seems to break out from the book, as if leaping into reality featuring the images of 12 young black and brown boys in nature and in-conversation, or so it seemed, with 12 haiku written by Richard Wright. My favorite:

“A spring sky so clear
That you feel you are seeing
Into tomorrow”

With SEEING INTO TOMORROW, her 14th book, Nina Crews has created a gorgeous, powerful, affirming book for all of us. My only regret? That my son is no longer a little boy who can see his image in a book that celebrates Richard Wright and haiku. Or, in reality, a book that celebrates creation, the act of creation in ordinary realities of life, which we can see every day in nature, in our world, all around us. Helping us, perhaps, to see little brown and black boys in our world, too.

CLOSING LINES

 When my son was a child, he loved books about transportation. FREIGHT TRAIN, by Donald Crews, was a favorite. I was able to meet award-winning children's book author and illustrator Donald Crews at the book party launch. He is Nina Crews's father. Her mother, Ann Jonas, also was a children’s book illustrator and writer. For more on FREIGHT TRAIN, visit Amazon for more details.
 Check out Amazon for more details about SEEING INTO TOMORROW
 Of the 4,000+ haiku Wright wrote, 817 are published in HAIKU: THIS OTHER WORLD (1998).

AUTHOR SIGHTING: Hartford J. Hough, Author of The Fur Beneath My Wings

A book signing in Brooklyn with Hartford J. Hough for his book, The Fur Beneath My Wings: Our Relationship With Animals & The Valuable Lessons They Teach Us

Hartford J. Hough, an award-winning chef, baker, and cake designer based in California, makes it clear in his inspirational debut book, titled The Fur Beneath My Wings, that the community of his faith tradition, family, and friends are the foundation of his life journey. Indeed, he chose to come home to Brooklyn to host the New York City launch of his book at an event held last month at the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church in the Fort Greene section of the borough.

Hough’s family members and many friends from elementary school, Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School, and Howard University packed the room, in a large show of support. Indeed, it was more like a family reunion than any book signing event I’ve attended. Several individuals, who also contributed their stories about their pets, eagerly pointed me to one of the 23 chapters of the 156-page book that show how animals can teach us humans valuable lessons about how to live. Each chapter concludes with a “Reflective Thought,” written by Hough.

Hartford J. Hough author The Fur Beneath My Wings and woman who purchased 10 copies at 3.17.18 book signing in Brooklyn 700x525 2 photo credit Luvon RobersonGloria Green, a book lover and supporter of author Hartford J. Hough, purchased 10 books of “Fur Beneath My Wings” for her pet lover friends.

Hough dedicates the book to Guffington and Mr. Belvedere, two cats he cared for, the latter a tabby and rescue animal with health problems. Both cats died in 2011.

From the first chapter on “Why Worry?” to other chapters on “Patience,” “Learning to Say Goodbye,” “The Power of Knowing,” “The Pathway That Finds Love,” and to the final chapter on “We Have to Get Along,” Hough and the seven contributors to his book guide us to see the unique and powerful bond that humans and animals can create. Each chapter begins with an inspirational quote and then shares a first-person story about how the individual developed a relationship with his or her pet. As each story unfolds we come to see how the relationship with a pet helps that person learn to navigate life’s joys and its many challenges.

At the book launch event, Hough shared his own story and relationship with Ginger, his Maltese Terrier. First, he lets us know that Ginger is 6-years-old and although tiny in size “is bodacious, something out of South Central, ‘Boyz N the Hood.’ Ginger can step to a pit bull with her ‘try me’ attitude.” Then, Hough tells us a memorable story about his frightening, potentially life-threatening experience and Ginger’s role:

“I had just finished walking Ginger, who I’d tried to hurry along, but who’d kept resisting my rushing. That was when I felt a pain on the right side, along my arm. Then, I just fell. I fell on my neighbor’s porch. Ginger was in-tune with her owner; that’s how I ultimately got the lesson I needed. I know that my stroke was caused by stress. The constant stress of my job. So, we have to learn how to read animals and their body language. Ginger was saying to me, ‘Slow down, my human friend.’ She wasn’t being obstinate. She was teaching me a lesson: Slow down and smell the roses.”

In the book’s final chapter, Hough tells us another story about how Ginger helps him control his feelings of frustration and increasing ire in the face of repeated security checks he was forced to withstand at the hands of TSA agents at JFK Airport. Readers will find the story a beautiful window into how Hough’s relationship with Ginger, whom he calls “the smallest of creatures,” plays a major role in his life.

Only after reading the book did I learn that Ginger is Hough’s registered Emotional Support Animal (ESA). And, only in hearing Hough’s stories that he shared at the book event and that he and his contributing storytellers share in The Fur Beneath My Wings did it occur to me that maybe every one of us humans needs an ESA. I, for one, am now a believer.

About Hartford J. Hough

A proud member of the Humane Society and the ASPCA, Hartford Hough is also a member of International Association of Culinary Professionals. He has been baking over thirty years -- for clients that include Sotheby's International Realty, Morgan Stanley, Universal Studios, and RealD Entertainment. He is as passionate about the care of animals as he is about baking and the culinary arts. Hough supports organizations and other resources responsible for finding "forever" homes for lost, abandoned and displaced animals. He is an advocate who is determined to raise awareness for animal welfare, to end animal cruelty, and to help ensure animal foster care.

For more about Hartford J. Hough and The Fur Beneath My Wings, visit: https://www.thefurbeneathmywings.com

BOOK REVIEW: SEA CREATURES FROM THE SKY

SEA CREATURES FROM THE SKY, by Ricardo Cortes, New York Times #1 best-selling illustrator, isn't just another children's book. The story begins with a shark posing an existential question and it challenges readers of all ages to honor the voices of others and their lived experiences.

Yet, despite its cerebral themes, SCFTS is distinctly a children's book. The cadence of its rhyming and its luminous illustrations of ocean depths, as well as an expansive sky-to-universe stretching palette, will render a child's wonderment for learning about a world that is brand-new.

For parents and other adults, Cortes, the author, and illustrator of SCFTS, has created a book that is likely to spark new ways of knowing and seeing such wonder.

And, while the shark storyteller's "I " may not always be reliable, the shark "eye" helps us to see beyond, perhaps to a far greater truth. Cortes merely wants us to suspend logic and simply delight in the playfulness of words.

Published by Akashic Books
Publication date: 4.3.2018
Children's picture book/fiction (pre-school - Grade 2)
SEA CREATURES FROM THE SKY is available for purchase on Amazon

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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

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