NEW YORK — Hey, Mr. Mom.
What's up, Workaholic?
Whether they say it out loud or acknowledge it at all, that work-home divide traditionally reserved for the Mommy Wars can also rear between dads who go off to the office every day and the kind in the trenches with the kids.
There are bound to be rifts, given the growing league of dads staying home at least part-time. But do the paths of work dads and home dads intertwine enough to make them care quite so deeply as the ladies? How exactly are they perceived, not by researchers or journalists, but by each other?
"To be a stay-at-home dad requires a lot of confidence in who you are," said Paxton Helms, 41, in Washington, D.C.
He became one about four years ago, when his daughter was 3 months old. A son followed and he now takes part-time contracts as an international development consultant, with flexible hours. His wife also works part-time.
"The strangest thing that ever happened to me as a (stay-at-home dad) was riding on the Metro with both my kids and a guy asking me, 'So where's Mom?' I couldn't even think why in the world somebody would be asking me that question, so I couldn't even muster an answer," he said.
SUSPICION OVER WIVES, LAYOFFS
Other at-home dads worry about jealousy from working brethren (What are they really thinking about all that time spent with the women?). Or suspicion that they're out of work. And dads on both sides of the divide report the occasional cold shoulder.
"It seems that they try to avoid me or don't want to talk about what life is like for them," said dad-of-one Donald DeLong, 55, a Bloomfield Township, Mich., attorney who acknowledges a "deeply rooted need to work and 'earn a living.'"
"When I do talk to them, the topics stay guy-safe. That is, sports, cars. After all we're both still guys. We don't talk about that sensitive touchy-feely stuff."
Other at-home dads, those by choice or pushed out of the job market, said they've endured some snark, but they consider it more of a dad-on-dad discomfort than a serious divide.
Martin Weckerlein, 33, is among them. He simply doesn't have the time to care. He was a tank commander in the Germany military, then a bank worker for six years before he gave it up to be an at-home for his three kids, ages 8, 3 and 9 months. The family lives in suburban Washington, D.C., where his wife has a government job.
"When I'm with other dads who are my age, whether they work or stay at home, they tend to be pretty accepting and even curious as to how that works that we can afford me staying home, what I do during the day with the kids, and they say it must be nice to have that time," he said.
"When I am talking with men who aren't fathers or who are older, their questions usually focus on what my career goals are after I am done being home with my kids. They seem to assume this is only a temporary thing for our family, a pause in my career for a few years, instead of an investment in our family," Weckerlein explained.
Yes, Mr. Mom comes up, the newest iteration in the shape of Chris Rock and his goofy band of dads with infants strapped to their chests in the movie "What to Expect When You're Expecting."
It's been nearly 30 years since Michael Keaton was that guy on screen, setting the kitchen on fire and making his kids miserable in "Mr. Mom," but the lingering moniker feels more like yesterday for Weckerlein and other at-home dads.
"I hate that phrase, Mr. Mom. I can't imagine my wife going into the office and saying, 'Hi everyone, it's Mrs. Dad,'" said Dan Zevin, a humorist, at-home dad to two and author of a new book, "Dan Gets a Minivan: Life at the Intersection of Dude and Dad."
In Boston, 32-year-old Nolan Kido is no stereotype. He's the exhausted at-home dad of an 11-week-old daughter as his wife completes her dental education. He deferred work on his doctoral degree in accounting after doing some recession-era math: his earning power versus her earning power in the face of more than $360,000 in student loans.
"At the very beginning they were a little weirded out, like what do we talk about, what's the common themes, but now the impression that I get more is actually jealousy," he said of his working dad friends. "It's not, like, mean kinds of things but just, 'Oh, I wish I could stay home' or 'Oh, I'd love to go to that park.'"
The number of at-home dads who are primary caregivers for their children reached nearly 2 million in 2010, or one in 15 fathers, according to one estimate. Al Watts, president of the National At-Home Dad Network, believes a more accurate count is about 7 million, using broader definitions that include part-time workers. That amounts to one-third of married fathers in the U.S.
Most, he said, want to be there, as opposed to the kind who never thought about it until the ax fell on their careers. And more often than women, they do earn a bit of income at the same time, he said.
COULD THEY DO IT?
Watts, in Omaha, has been home with kids for a decade, since the oldest of his four was a baby. He sees a subtle shift in attitudes emanating from working dads.
"Eight years ago, one of my wife's customers, when he found out that I was an at-home dad he said, 'Oh you know, I'd really love to do that.' I knew what he really meant was that he assumed he could then just hang out at home and play video games and watch TV and not have to go to work anymore," Watts said.
"Now when I have those conversations, they're generally like, 'You know, I really wish I could do that. But then they find out I have four kids and they're like, 'Well, I couldn't do that!'"
The raised eyebrows, pregnant pauses and need to hide their real interests — shopping, crossing guard duty, laundry — for more generic work-dad friendly fare is tedious sometimes for Trey Parker, 32, in the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta.
With a full-time working wife and two boys, ages 2 and 9 months to care for, a trip to Costco holds more allure than last night's game or chatter about sales quotas.
"It's a little harder to speak with guys who are corporate dads," Parker said. "At Christmas parties and stuff like that, there's absolutely nothing in common with them. They're either talking about sports or whatever sales or whatnot they have going on at the office, and you can't comment on any of that stuff. You're naturally drawn to the women because they're talking about the kids and the family."
Weckerlein wasn't used to the idea that wanting to stay home with the kids was something other than perfectly natural: "It's kind of surprising that this is really a big deal because in the 21st century I thought we could think a little bit different. But yes, I get that 'Mr. Mom.'"
There won't be any of that from 41-year-old Marty Guise in St. Louis, but he does feel the distance.
He has a full-time job and a part-time one to pay the bills. The consultant for nonprofit organizations has two kids, ages 13 and 11. His wife quit her teaching job to be home but now works as a substitute.
"'What do you do for a living?' is a pretty common ice breaker," he said. "When a man tells me that he stays at home, it's usually preceded by or followed quickly with a justification, like 'I lost my job.' I receive that as a defense for staying at home. Right or wrong, men like to be the breadwinners."
He quickly adds: "I think it's devaluing of men or women to say that staying at home is any less important than working 40-plus hours a week."
WHAT'S IT LIKE CHANGING ALL THOSE DIAPERS?
Do you miss having a real job?
Tony Reynolds, 47 and at-home dad for 11 years, has heard it all since a downsize at a large insurance company solidified his decision to be home in suburban Columbus, Ohio, with his two youngest boys from a second marriage.
"The other dads make snide comments or ask bizarre questions sometimes," he said. "I say it IS a real job and I bet you couldn't do it."
Once pretty much by himself with the moms all day, the economy has driven some of his former dad doubters his way.
"One used to say 'I wish my wife made so much money so I could stay home,' then he lost his job and started taking care of the kids and was like, 'Wow, this is a lot of work,'" Reynolds said.
"Another used to drive a Mercedes," he added. "He's now a crossing guard at the school. I got him the gig." -- (AP)
At the outset, I must mention my closest friend Charles M. Greene, “The Greene Man.” He is my “main man” at least 90 percent of the time. I must give him recognition because the subject of this column comes from him. Last week, I told him I was in a hurry to get home, as a painter was coming to provide an estimate for painting our kitchen. He mentioned an exhibit at a local museum featuring the interior of a home in Harlem. He commented on how different homes were decorated in the past in comparison to homes today. He suggested this would be a great column for me. So, Charlie, my good friend, thanks for the suggestion.
How many of you grew up in homes where your parents resorted to protecting the living room furniture with plastic covers? I suspect many of you recall those covers on your sofas, love seats or armchairs. There was no way to remove them short of cutting them off. Do you recall sliding off of the plastic covers or perspiring during the summer because of the heat they generated? My dear mother swore by these covers; they eliminated any concern abut stains or dirt, especially when children were permitted to sit in the living room. Those who have plastic-covered furniture today must forgive me. I suspect most of you will agree that such furniture is unacceptable in any living room today. However, such covers were viewed as necessary to enable furniture to last over an extended period of time, back in the day.
I only know a handful of people today who have wall-to-wall carpet and ceiling-to-floor draperies in their living rooms. These draperies had a sheer interior curtain. Draperies were viewed as classy; they “dressed up” the living room. Do you recall the Venetian blinds of the past? I know some of you go back to the days of the wood slats; if you do, then you will recall the “restringing” of the blinds. That was a real task. Recall the Venetian blinds with metal slats, with edges so sharp you could easily cut your fingers.
I clearly remember the huge mirrors used as accessories in the past. They were usually over the sofa, or “couch,” as it was known in my home. They covered a large portion of the wall space above the sofa. These large mirrors gave a spacious appearance to living rooms. And I cannot ignore those small mirrors that were on walls throughout one’s home. They could be found in the vestibule, dining room, hallway and the wall along the stairs from the first to the second floor. Many of these small mirrors had frames that often had been painted gold.
Family photographs were everywhere; on the coffee table; end tables; mantles; and the radiator covers. With regard to pictures, if you reflect on your living room walls back in the late 1960s, I know you will recall pictures of Jesus, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. Those who have carried this display of pictures to the present have now added Barack Hussein Obama.
Another familiar item was the framed piece with the words, “God Bless Our Home.” Perhaps there was an upright piano that had been handed down from one generation to another. You might also remember decorative pillows lining the sofa and large pillows in special areas on the floor. Plants, artificial or real, were also important in home decorating. Lamps ranged from the large table lamps to floor lamps, usually found in the corner of a room. Other items you might recall in home furnishing back in the day include cathedral-type radios, candy dishes on the coffee table, and ashtrays. While my father did not permit smoking in our home, we did have several decorative ashtrays in the living room. Were there knickknack shelves or a curio cabinet? Did you have a cast iron doorstop? My parents had a cast iron buffalo and a cast iron dog. Often a coat rack, or at least coat hooks, could be found in your vestibule or hallway adjacent to the living room. A console television set with a radio and record player completed the decor for your living room. Most of these would not find there way into our homes today because they just do not fit; they are too old-fashioned. Our modern way of life has made them obsolete. Still, many of them, in particular, our Zenith console, will be part of my memories of our living room of back in the day.
I grew up in a large three-story home in West Philadelphia. A long hallway led from our vestibule to our kitchen. Besides the plastic on our living room sofa and armchairs, plastic was also found on the floor. Once we graduated to wall-to-wall carpeting, my mother purchased a plastic runner that covered the hallway carpeting from the vestibule to the kitchen door. I would guess it was at least 50 feet long. This plastic runner was removed on Saturday evening to display the carpet.
I used the expression, “graduating to wall-to-wall carpet.” Well, some of you will recall how floors were covered in the past. Linoleum was a standard decorating practice; not any linoleum, but cheap linoleum. This type was so cheap that newspaper was placed under it to give it support and enable it to last. Some of you may also recall what families did prior to the linoleum days; I know someone can go back in time to the days when families used that ugly brown paint to cover their wood floors; no, not hardwood floors, just plain wood. It was during the era of the painted floors that throw rugs were popular. Then there was shag carpeting, popular in home decorating back in the day.
Can you think about any room, particularly the living room, in a home in the past without seeing wallpaper? It was everywhere! There was wallpaper with large floral prints, or perhaps you recall wallpaper with bold, wide stripes. I love wallpaper, but it seems to be a decorating technique buried in the past. In fact, wallpaper hanging is a dying craft. Just try to find a paperhanger today.
I recognize that some things closely related to home decorating in the past can still be found in homes today. Without a doubt, some homes have a grandfather’s clock today. They have them even though they dwarf some rooms and appear to be out of place. I doubt, however, that many homes have cuckoo clocks today. Chandeliers are also found in homes today, particularly in dining rooms. However, those gaudy, glass chandeliers, as beautiful as they are, have become things of the past, except in older homes with high ceilings seeking to provide a throwback look.
It has been some time since I have been in a home that had plates hanging on walls in dining rooms. Also, can you recall the last time you visited a home and saw the dining room table laid out with china and silver in a manner that suggested dinner was being served? Now, reflect on the breakfront in your dining room. I bet it contains a few of your favorite dinner sets. I suspect you will recall the term “china closet.” Whenever I think of this piece of furniture, my mind goes to my mother’s collection of salt and pepper shakers that she proudly displayed in her china closet, back in the day.
Do you have a stepstool in your kitchen? What about an oversized wooden fork and spoon hanging on the wall? When I was a kid, washing machines were typically found in the kitchen. I doubt this is where you wash your clothes today. Are there heavy quilts on your beds? Does anyone still sleep on bunk beds? Is there a Bible on the nightstand by your bed?
Of course home décor is significantly different today than in the past. Given my love for revisiting the past in my column, I admit that there are some things our parents and grandparents did to improve the appearance of their homes that appeals to me today. Thus, I would not hesitate to return to some of their decorating styles that were indicative of style and taste and were characteristic of home life, back in the day.
French-born Frédéric Yonnet, best known for his on-stage collaborations with music icons Stevie Wonder and Prince, has been described by Rolling Stone magazine as Prince’s “killer harmonica player.” Yonnet’s musical skills and stage presence crush every preconceived notion you’ve ever had about the harmonica. For decades, it has primarily served as the instrument of choice for street musicians and loners who express themselves through country or blues. However, in Yonnet’s hands, those stereotypical walls come tumbling down with each note he plays. He presents the harmonica in a refreshing and modern context — as a lead instrument in a supremely tight 8-piece band throwing down urban jazz, funk and R&B. Yonnet, who is featured on the title tracks of Philly-based Kindred The Family Soul’s current top-charting release, “Love Has No Recession,” has also performed with Erykah Badu, John Legend and India.Arie.
In 1998, while performing at the Cannes Film Festival, Yonnet met several Americans who encouraged him to showcase his talent in the United States. In 2001, Yonnet moved to Washington, D.C. where he performed in area festivals and clubs, quickly developing a reputation as a “genre-bending” harmonica player. After hearing Yonnet’s music, comedian Dave Chappelle invited him to make guest appearances during Chappelle’s 10-city Block Party Concert tour in 2006. Later that year, Yonnet, along with Erykah Badu and Goapele, were invited to Ohio to perform at the AACW Blues Festival hosted by Chappelle.
During Chappelle’s introduction of Yonnet at Bluesfest, he tells the story of how he introduced Yonnet to Stevie Wonder when they were backstage at the 2006 Grammy Awards. “[Fred] pulled his harmonica out of his pocket in front of Stevie Wonder and I said ‘Damn,’ and he started playing that harmonica — I was scared for him… and Stevie started doing like this, [swaying back and forth] — now they hang out every Tuesday and Thursday.”
While the pair may not be hanging out twice a week, Yonnet and Wonder have performed together numerous times, always teasing the crowd with a competitive rendition of Wonder’s “Boogie On Reggae Woman.” “Every time (Wonder) comes to town, or if we are in the same city, we try to connect as much as possible,” said Yonnet. “When we do get together, the harmonica is definitely a language that we have in common.”
It was during a Stevie Wonder concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden when Prince first saw Yonnet perform. Several months later, Yonnet was invited to record and ultimately tour with Prince. “Dave Chappelle actually brought us to Prince’s house that night, and Prince recognized me after a couple of plays,” recalled Yonnet. ”He then started calling me to work with him.”
Yonnet’s star-crossed path began with his birth in Normandy, France. His paternal grandfather, Jacques Yonnet, was the noted French artist, writer and author of "Paris Noir” — a memoir that explores the dark heart of the “City of Lights.” As a child, Yonnet and his father performed as a comedy duo in small theaters across France. By the age of 14, he started playing drums and after demonstrating considerable promise as a drummer, he was selected to perform at the Marciac Jazz Festival. However, throughout his childhood, Yonnet suffered with asthma. By 19, he decided to revisit an instrument he had as a child, the harmonica. After dedicating time to mastering the instrument, he noticed a significant decrease in his asthma attacks. Today, he carries a harmonica instead of an inhaler and his past experiences as a drummer influences his rhythmic and percussive style of harmonica playing.
“My attraction to the instrument comes from so many different perspectives,” explains Yonnet. “First, I do have asthma. I realized later on, after practicing the harmonica for a little while, that it helps me in managing my respiratory deficiencies. Also, I have a love of music. I wanted to be a drummer, but as I was playing the drums I realized I could not really take the lead, and I was limited in certain ways harmonically. So I go from playing the drums, to something that fits in your pocket. And that’s the other side of the harmonica that really, really made me fall in love with it. It is very friendly, it fits in your pocket, it’s inexpensive, it’s you lose one it’s easy to get it replaced. All your creativity can really go into something that is almost like a toy. But the real lesson I got from it is that it is limited in a way that forces you to extend your perspective to the instrument, and bring things to the instrument that is in your own mind.”
Frédéric Yonnet will open the 42nd season at the Painted Bride Art Center with two shows on Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., and feature works from his new project “Reed My Lips: The Rough Cut.” Tickets are $25 in advance; $30 day of show. Patrons with proper ID are welcome to BYOB for this special event. For concert-goers and nightlife seekers alike, a pre-concert reception takes place at 6 p.m., before the 7 p.m. show; an after-party, sponsored by GPTMC’s Philly 360, will take place immediately following the 9 p.m. show. Patrons will enjoy cabaret-style seating and free range over the Bride’s café and spacious bi-level gallery while DJ Joey Blanco of Soul Travelin’ fame provides an eclectic mix of classic soul, jazz, funk and hip-hop. To purchase tickets or for more information, call (215) 925.9914, or visit paintedbride.org. The Bride is located at 230 Vine Street on the northern edge of Old City.
In an effort to engage African-American women in motivational career workshops, HelloBeautiful.com hosted its first event this past Saturday, called “I’ve Got Work to Do: Women in the Workplace Workshop.” Women gathered at the InteractiveOne studio at 850 Third Ave. in New York City from noon until 4 p.m., to get insight and share ideas from panelists in different careers and professions.
HelloBeautiful.com is a website of the InteractiveOne platform that serves as an African-American woman’s online lifestyle guide. The site contains topics on sex and love, style and beauty, fitness and career advice. InteractiveOne launched by RadioOne in 2007, is a media company with other platforms that targets the African-American community.
The event was filled to capacity as excited and eager women gathered in the conference room at InteractiveOne to hear panelists dish their advice on being a dynamic female leader. The day was broken up into four workshops: “Who Do You Know?,” “Showing My Color,” “Straight Ahead” and “You’re Not The Boss of Me.”
HelloBeautiful.com hosts monthly online series indulging in variety of topics. This was the site’s first event held offline and the staff was pleased with the attendance and the response.
“Over 200 people R.S.V.P.’d to attend,” said executive director of women and lifestyle at InteractiveOne Leigh Davenport. “People really want to have this dialogue and be a part of discussions like this.”
The event kicked off with the “Who Do You Know” workshop, discussing the importance of networking, mentorship and how to use digital media to build relationships. The panelists, Lauren Grant, account executive at the Nielson Company; Jenna Bond-Louden of Lady Bird & Co.; Tiffany Hawkins, account planning director of Blue Flame Agency/Bad Boy; Lily Himmelsbach, director of operations at LetsGiftIt.com; and Monica Dennis, co-founder & co-director, of S.O.W Leadership Development Institute, engaged with the audience on how networking was instrumental in their careers.
Grant said there are very few places where women feel comfortable asking the questions that were addressed in the panel.
“I think what HelloBeautiful has done, was create an avenue for people to be comfortable with who they are, comfortable with not knowing and comfortable with discovering the answers and receiving the answers,” Grant explained.
As the conversation surrounding networking came to a close, the next workshop with panelists Demetria Lucas, author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life;” Jana L. Taylor, attorney at law at Epstein Becker Green; Bevy Smith, social media socialite; Margaret Anadu, vice president of Urban Real Estate Development at Goldman Sachs; and celebrity fashion stylist Becca Alexis, all addressed the topics of personal appearance, conflict resolution and professionalism.
The audience chimed in as the panelists discussed ways to handle being grouped and judged as an African-American woman. One attendee was so touched by the guidance she shared her joy in being around other Black women and feeling pride in her culture like never before.
Fashion stylist Becca Alexis, shared her “must-haves” that she feels all women should abide by. Alexis listed black pants, a good blazer (that’s at least 50 percent wool) and three types of black dresses as important investments for all women.
Attorney Jana L. Taylor expressed the importance of “zooming out” to look at the big picture in your career.
“I was very proud to have been asked to participate,” Taylor said. “Once you zoom out you’re able to see the affect that everything has on the big picture.”
Davenport had a particular connection to the following workshop “Straight Ahead” where panelists, Rochell Brown, vice president and account manager at the Nielsen Company; Thai Randolph, director of emerging media at VML; Danielle Robinson, account director at 360i; and Shante Bacon, CEO/founder of The 135 Street Agency, discussed the idea of creating an upward track in your career, without sacrificing yourself.
Davenport felt this workshop expressed the need for women to understand how to negotiate salaries and be positioned for promotions.
“A lot of times you get in jobs where people fit you where they think you should be,” she said.
Vanessa Denis, editorial assistant for HelloBeautiful.com realized the messages from the workshop deeply touched the audience, by the level of responses and tweets on Twitter.
“I think that it was a success,” Denis said. “It’s important to have a platform for women to talk about work.”
The event concluded with the final panel of Simone Smalls, CEO of Simone Smalls PR, Inc.; Sarah Pickett and Ginger Johnson, co-founders of Ginger & Liz Nail Polish; Claire Sulmers, founder, fashionbombdaily.com; Winsome Sinclair, casting director/producer, WSA Casting/Legacy Media Group; and Blake Scotland, owner of Blake Scotland Men and Women’s Designer boutique, discussing entrepreneurship and transitioning careers.
The discussions were well received as the attendees asked questions, made comments to show gratitude and spoke individually with the panelists afterwards.
Yannize Joshua, Queens resident, caught wind of the event by an e-mail at work and a tweet posted by Demetria Lucas.
“I thought this sounded like a great event and there aren’t enough events like this that bring women of color together,” Joshua explained. “The panelists were very engaging and it’s important to hear of people’s experiences and how they got to where they are.”
Based on the success of the event, Davenport explained the site will plan to host future offline events. She feels the attendees walked away with knowing that there is a community and there are benefits in coming together.
“The power of Black women coming together is always going to be what’s most important,” Davenport said.
A compelling novel of desire, secrecy and sexual identity, “In One Person” (Simon & Shuster, $28.00) is a story of unfulfilled love — tormented, funny and affecting — and an impassioned embrace of sexual differences. John Irving’s 13th novel features Billy Abbot, the bisexual narrator and main character of “In One Person,” who tells the tragicomic story (lasting more than half a century) of his life as a “sexual suspect,” a phrase first used by Irving in 1978 in his landmark novel of “terminal cases,” in “The World According to Garp,” his first international bestseller of nine. Worldwide, the Irving novel most often called “an American classic” is “A Prayer for Owen Meany” (1989), the portrayal of an enduring friendship at that time when the Vietnam War had its most divisive effect on the United States. In 2000, Irving won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for “The Cider House Rules,” a Lasse Hallström film that earned seven Academy Award nominations.
Irving’s novels are now translated into 35 languages, and his latest tackles the often unheard-from type: the bisexual. Irving has long been a champion for sexual freedom and “In One Person” is an intimate and unforgettable portrait of a bisexual man who is dedicated to making himself “worthwhile.”
“The bisexual men I have known were not shy, nor were they ‘conflicted,’” explained the 70-year-old author. “This is also true of the bisexual men I know now. I would say, too, that both my oldest and youngest bisexual male friends are among the most confident men I have ever known. Yet bisexual men — of my generation, especially — were generally distrusted. Their gay male friends thought of them as gay guys who were hedging their bets, or holding back — or keeping a part of themselves in the closet. To most straight men, the only part of a bisexual man that registers is the gay part; to many straight women, a bi guy is doubly untrustworthy — he could leave you for another woman or for a guy! The bisexual occupies what Edmund White calls ‘the interstitial — whatever lies between two familiar opposites.’ I can’t speculate on why other writers may choose to eschew the bisexual as a potential main character — especially as a point-of-view character (Billy Abbott is an outspoken first-person narrator). I just know that sexual misfits have always appealed to me; writers are outsiders — at least we’re supposed to be ‘detached.’ Well, I find sexual outsiders especially engaging. There is the gay brother in ‘The Hotel New Hampshire’; there are the gay twins (separated at birth) in ‘A Son of the Circus’; there are transsexual characters in ‘The World According to Garp’ and in ‘A Son of the Circus,’ and now again (this time, much more developed as characters) in ‘In One Person’. I like these people; they attract me, and I fear for their safety — I worry about who might hate them and wish them harm.”
The author’s choice to make libraries an important part of Billy Abbott’s development was based on his own childhood. “I love libraries,” said Irving. “I used to read in libraries, write in libraries, hide in libraries; libraries embrace a code of silence — that was just fine with me. I went to libraries to be left alone. So much of being a writer is seeking to be alone — actually, needing to be alone. Bookstores aren’t the same; they’re social places. I was a fairly antisocial kid; libraries were my cave.”
Once called the place where “the brave new art scene comes alive,” the Sande Webster Gallery (SWG), one of the few galleries to showcase work by African-American artists on a regular basis for more than 40 years, has closed. Gallery owner Sande Webster explained that while she has weathered many recessions over the years, the latest economic downturn hit her clientele hard.
“The gallery business is not what it was,” Webster said. “I just read an article where 70 percent of art today is being sold at auctions, fairs and online. People are just not going to galleries. In New York this year, 32 galleries closed. Several galleries in Philadelphia have become co-op galleries. So I'm moving on. I'm ending one phase of what I do, but I'm going on to the next phase: arts consulting.”
The premier Rittenhouse Square-based art gallery was established in 1967, and Webster — a white Jewish woman — stood out as an exception to an unspoken rule and chose to invite artists based on the quality of their work, regardless of race.
“I have never ever thought I was doing the wrong thing,” Webster said. “We did what no other gallery did 42 years ago, and what most galleries are not even doing today. We have a diversity in our gallery as far as the artist that is unmatchable. Those artists that came to me many years ago — many of them out of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Tyler, University of the Arts, Moore — and most of them have gone on to become part of major corporate collections, museum collections.”
Webster, who will now offer personalized services and workshops for new collectors, says she will remain committed to the African-American art scene that has blossomed and waned to varying degrees throughout the late 20th century to the present.
“There’s a whole new world out there and I want to be part of that,” Webster said. “My concept is that this will continue and we will continue to do interesting things, maybe different from what I was doing before, but still viable and very exciting for people to share.”
For more information on the Sande Webster Brantley Art Studio, call (267) 977-1739 or visit sandewebstergallery.com
Patrice Evans is The Assimilated Negro (TAN), a hyper-observant, savagely pop-savvy instigator devoted to turning modern racial discourse on its head. For the past half decade, ever since the debut of his popular “Ghetto Pass” column for Gawker.com, Evans has occupied a prime spot in the middle of the highbrow-lowbrow, Black-white matrix of today’s America. In other words, Evans has been the rare voice capable of speaking to junkies for both White Castle and Colson Whitehead with equal insight and aplomb. His first book, “Negropedia (Three Rivers Press, $14)” is a wide-ranging, deeply idiosyncratic tour through the tricky racial landscape of the Obama era, aimed at pop-culture consumers at the intersecting fan bases of “South Park” and “Chappelle’s Show,” “Scott Pilgrim” and “The Boondocks.”
The book echoes the tones of his popular blog and reflects a background honed by his formative years as the beneficiary of New York City’s Prep for Prep program, where he was plucked from the South Bronx, and sent to a predominately white boarding school and liberal arts college.
“In prep school and college I always used the word ‘Negro’ in a jokey irreverent way,” Evans recalled. “Then sometime after the blog started, I often saw folks on the Internet using the ‘pedia’ suffix for content — Wikipedia most famously. And, at some point in brainstorming ideas for a title ,‘Negropedia’came up and just stuck. For a while we though it might be too controversial and the title was ‘The Book of Black,’ but then we went back to ‘Negropedia,’ which I think is the best. The name of the blog itself, ‘The Assimilated Negro’ has become a cultural Rorschach test of sorts. Some people laugh and immediately wink and tell me they ‘get it.’ Some people get upset, and don’t like the irreverent and/or reckless tone. Some people are confused. Some people get stuck on assimilated. Some get stuck on Negro. Some say I’m a sellout, some say I’m too ‘Blackcore’ — it runs the gamut.”
Evans has written about the intersection of race, class and pop culture for “Time Out New York,” Gawker.com, “McSweeney’s” and CollegeHumor.com, as well as “What Was the Hipster?,” an essay collection published by the literary journal “n+1”. In addition to writing for print and online, he also writes rhymes and stand-up bits for fun and profit and says there is a difference in him and his persona.
“It morphs a bit,” Evans explains. “Sometimes I thinks I’m still working it out. Of course, Patrice Evans is a full, living, breathing person and probably doesn’t talk or think about race and culture as much as his persona TAN would have you believe. I think it takes a lot more work, and also courage to be a full, living person talking about their life and ideas online — one, to be interesting, and two, not to have the hazards of online ephemera impose in your actual life. I started with TAN and Patrice having a lot more overlap on the Venn Diagram, but increasingly I’ve removed the Patrice Evans circle from the picture. I think the Internet culture is a little more settled, and you can let people in now with less risk. It was a little wild wild west there for a while, and you were advised to keep your personal self out of harm’s way. Now I think we can compartmentalize a bit better.”
Whether deconstructing rapper Lil Wayne’s “no homo hypocrisy,” outlining the all-important Clair Huxtable code for finding a mate, or assessing Susan Sontag’s street cred, Evans provides a stream of daring outsider anthropology.
“As a humor book dealing with issues many people take seriously, you’re trying to find that thin line where you can be provocative, but not overly offensive, and you want to be careful about just having something present for shock value,” said Evans. “I orginally concieved the book right before Obama got into office, and now he’s about to run for his second term. It’s amazing how a Black president can change the tenor of the conversation on race in America, for bad and for good. And with so may intelligent people writing immediately online, you also miss some topical windows. Ultimately, I do think there’s a huge void for this sort of book, a satirical take on the community of Assimilated Negroes, along the lines of a hipster handbook, or preppy handbook, and so I hope ‘Negropedia’ can be the start of a trend. The Assimilated Negro is dead, long live The Assimilated Negro — we are Assimilated Negroes, hear us roar. Let’s go get it!”
Hundreds of thousands of readers came to know Luis J. Rodriguez through his fearless classic, “Always Running,” which chronicled his early life as a young Chicano gang member surviving the dangerous streets of East Los Angeles. With over 400,000 in print since 1995, “Always Running” is now widely regarded as a classic of Chicano literature and remains timely and at once vivid, raw and powerful. The long awaited follow-up, “It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing (Touchstone, $24.99),” is the equally harrowing story of Rodriguez starting over, at age 18, after leaving gang life — the only life he really knew.
“It Calls You Back” opens with Rodriguez’s final stint in jail as a teenager and follows his struggle to kick heroin, renounce his former life and search for meaningful work. He describes with heartbreaking honesty his challenges as a father and his difficulty leaving his rages and addictions completely behind. Even as he breaks with “la vida loca” and begins to discover success as a writer and an activist, Rodriguez finds that his past — the crimes, the drugs, the things he’d seen and done — has a way of calling him back. When his oldest son is sent to prison for attempted murder, Rodriguez is forced to confront his shortcomings as a father and to acknowledge how and why his own history is repeating itself, right before his eyes.
“Any unique, compelling, powerful story is worthwhile,” said Rodriguez. “Humans and communities are wellsprings of stories. The earth itself holds stories in its rocks, bushes, trees, and even earthquakes and fires. Memoir has the quality that the story — even if some of the facts are changed — is not made up. But memoir is also based on, more or less, re-imagining of what happened. People who expect memoir to be a fully accurate account of one’s life will be disappointed. But truth is paramount, even if names, details, circumstances aren’t exactly as they may have been due to the filtering process — or even just to protect people. But the prism of memory can also congeal, crystallize and make succinct what is otherwise complex and confusing. Also, reflecting on the qualities and features of your life can draw out lessons that can resonate with others. One’s story has been described as having been written before one is born — the key is to live it out. Writing this story should not replace having a full, conscious and active existence.”
LAGOS, Nigeria — Africa-influenced fashion, from Yves St. Laurent's 1960s collections to Proenza Schouler and Derek Lam's Spring 2012 shows, have been featured in designs for decades. Now, however, more and more African fashion designers are using both their heritage and international trends to gain attention on the world stage.
ARISE Magazine Fashion Week in Lagos, now in its second year, highlighted the work of mostly African or Africa-influenced designers. The 77 designers offered a range of outfits blending traditional fabrics with international aesthetics, elevating the mundane with elegant dresses and offering a taste of haute couture in a hotel-turned-fashion haven, separated from the hustle-and-bustle of the megacity of Lagos.
"We are demonstrating that Africans can contribute and be the best and be world class," said media mogul Nduka Obaigbena, who publishes ThisDay newspaper and ARISE Magazine and partially bankrolled the event.
But the struggles affecting both the poor and the rich wrought havoc on an event meant to run six days. The first two days were canceled as electricity problems are rampant in a city where most depend on generators for power. Obaigbena himself, wearing a traditional outfit, supervised the installation of four generators the size of a standard moving van at the site, while local up-and-coming models complained about their pay compared to their international counterparts.
But the show finally began and drew a crowd that embraces African fashion not as a sideshow, but as a main component of international design.
Folake Folarin-Coker, the creative director of Tiffany Amber, has been making dresses for Nigeria's rich and famous for 13 years. Last year, she was invited to her first London Fashion Week, after showcasing collections in Paris and New York.
Folarin-Coker belongs to a school of Nigerian designers who have attracted international attention by translating local prints usually found on stiff fabric onto flowy cloth that drapes the body.
In her "Metissage" collection, she took it a step further by printing sequences of woven bamboo on silk to make a head-to-toe patterned ensemble. She also featured classic dresses, some referencing a military trend, such as a black flowing chiffon dress with long sheer poet sleeves and three rows of heavy metal buttons sewn on a black guipure lace with a wide and sturdy pattern. Lace, like prints, are widely used to make traditional clothes across Nigeria. Here, they found a new interpretation.
A Paris exhibition on Alix Gres, a peer of Chanel and Lanvin, was the starting point of London-based Nigerian designer Tsemaye Binitie's research.
His textured collection included a sleeveless black catsuit festooned with bits of hand-embroidered vinyl, creating a kaleidoscopic effect.
He then added utility to elegance by pairing a black backpack with a little white dress.
"I wear a baseball cap every day, a T-shirt and a backpack because my computer is in it, so I took those pieces from my wardrobe and interpreted them for women," Binitie said.
Binitie is a young designer who has worked for famed British designer Stella McCartney. He sells his designs in London, New York and Lagos.
"We do everything in London, but we are a global brand," he said.
New York-based designer Loza Maleombho debuted a collection that draws from the nomadic Tuareg people of the Sahara Desert and Afghan traditional wear. She brought another twist by using popular West African fabrics such as the colorful Ghanaian woven cloth known as kente and the ankara print fabric popular in Nigeria.
It was an eclectic and wearable collection of browns and blues that reflected the young designer's own cultural mix.
"My inspiration is to mix different cultures, because that was how I was brought up," said Maleombho, who was born in Brazil, raised in Ivory Coast and later moved to New York.
Ozwald Boateng, a British couturier born to Ghanaian parents, was the main attraction for those attending the event. He presented a collection inspired by a trip he made to Japan in 1990, while he was still making his name in fashion.
"It's a traditional English look, with a Japanese inspiration," he said.
Male models wearing the designs walked in dim lighting that dramatized the mostly black-and-white collection of a designer who has been called the "peacock" of British haute couture for his generous use of color in the past. Still, the feel was very modern and strongly masculine.
Color did make an appearance in some pieces. At the end of this finale show, the crowd gave a standing ovation when Boateng himself appeared on the runway in a royal green suit, canary yellow shirt and black tie with a matching straw. He walked the U-shaped runway, dancing at the end of his walk, to applause and cheers.
Boateng, the first black tailor to move to London's prestigious Savile Row area back in 1995, said he makes clothes for the man who wants his clothes to communicate who he is.
"My clothes help that happen," Boateng said.
Like Boateng, South Sudanese supermodel Alek Wek, received rousing applause when she appeared on the catwalk, each time responding with a smile.
"I was very impressed designer after designer; the diversity and the shapes, the fabrics, the music and the energy," said Wek, who's now in her mid-thirties. "It's beautiful to be a part of that."
African models are eager to participate on the international playing field. Many of the Nigerian models who walked on the runway have day jobs to sustain themselves, with the local fashion industry still in its infancy.
Those local models remain eager to take up the mantle from Wek's generation and other African models who have come after her. However, it remains unclear when another chance will come. Obaigbena announced at the show's finale Sunday that interest had been building up in Cape Town, South Africa and Nairobi, Kenya to host the next Africa-focused fashion week. With Nigeria's logistical challenges, Obaigbena and his partners may seek a new location where fashion — not electricity — remains the only concern. Unless the great number of designers and fashion lovers in Lagos can convince them otherwise. -- (AP)
ARISE Magazine: http://www.arisemagazine.net/
Are you a proud product of the Baby Boom (approximately 1946 to 1965)? Do you fancy yourself an R&B expert? Do you know how to do the “Funky Chicken” and “The Penguin?” If so, you are qualified to take “The Baby Boomer’s Soul Aptitude Tests,” also known at “The BBSATs.”
This challenging collection of quirky quizzes on R&B music and pop culture was conceived and compiled by Anthony C. Davis, a former lifestyles editor and television writer for the Philadelphia Tribune who recently retired from the Philadelphia School District after more than 30 years as an English teacher.
“The BBSATs” is the fourth book by Davis, whose most recent project was “I Ain’t Lying — Short Stories from West Philly to West Africa.” He is also co-author (along with Jeffrey W. Jackson) of “Yo Little Brother — Basic Rules of Survival for Young African Males,” Parts I and II.
With a foreword written by yours truly, “The BBSATs” has a main test of 250 questions that actually read like the history of soul and R&B. There are also over 20 smaller quizzes that are broken into categories like “male/female duets,” “songs about destinations,” “songs about dances,” “songs about mothers,” “songs about fathers” and more. This is a quite a reversal from Davis’ intense, yet inspiring releases of the past.
“A couple of people have said that to me,” Davis observed. “They said, ‘You’ve pretty much flipped the script on this one. Your first books are out there trying to save young Black men.’ I said, ‘I’m still trying to save something. I’m trying to save soul music. Our music is sampled so much by young people, but young people don’t know where these songs come from. For the past 30 years, ever since hip-hop came out, I’ve been teaching in the Philadelphia School District, and every year I get at least 10 kids — you know, now they do it with the Ipod, but this is back when the Walkman first came out — they would come and say, ‘Hey! Listen to this, Mr. Davis,’ and they would put the headphones on my head. I’d say, ‘Oh yeah, that’s funky, but that’s Kool & the Gang from 1971, ‘Whose Gonna Take the Weight.’
“Even when Tribe [Called Quest] came out, they were like ‘Tribe is the baddest group out!’ and I said, ‘Yeah, they are pretty bad. Tribe Called Quest, they sound good, I like the music, but that song right there, that’s ‘Let’s Get Funky’ by the Chambers Brothers — 1969.’
“For years, they would doubt me, until in the past 10, 15 years, they’re able to go on the computer and go right on You Tube and find these songs I’m talking about, and it would just blow their minds. The fact that the music that they’re listening to was already made in the past give me a connection to them. I think it was Stetsasonic that said that rap brings back old R&B, and you listen to this music, and it just brings back everything that you lived. It’s like the soundtrack to our lives.”
Copies of “The BBSATs” will available at a book signing taking place at 2410 Golf Road in Philadelphia on Saturday, February 4, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. There will be food and live music, as well as an opportunity to challenge the author with your own musical knowledge! You can also purchase copies by calling 888-795-4274, ext.7879 or online at www.xlibris.com.