“To Survive You Must Tell Stories.” –Umberto Eco

 

What a wonderful way to begin the first of March with the celebration of 3 writers born today!  Ralph Ellison, novelist and essayist, was born in 1914 in Oklahoma; poet Robert Lowell was born in Boston in 1917 and poet Richard Wilbur was born in 1921 in NYC. Ellison didn’t grow up believing he would be a writer; he was more interested in composing, but after meeting Langston Hughes and Richard Wright, his direction changed. Lucky us!  Robert Lowell had bipolar disorder and struggled with that in and out of mental institutions all of his life. Richard Wilbur started out as a journalist, but while serving in WW II, he read a lot of Edgar Allan Poe and started composing poems about the loneliness he was feeling. Wilbur wrote, “I would feel dead if I didn’t have the ability periodically to put my world in order with a poem. I think to be inarticulate is a great suffering, and is especially so to anyone who has a certain knack for poetry.”The Writer’s Almanac   

The opening line of Ralph Ellison’s most famous novel and even the very first paragraph of that novel continues to be studied throughout the world:

”I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids – and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”  Sadly, we still have too many “invisible” men, women and children throughout the world.

On a lighter note, The Who’s Roger Daltry is 70 years old today!!!!!!   I have great memories of seeing The Who several times at the Fillmore East in NYC.

 

 

 

 

 

“I Have But One Passion…

 

to enlighten those who have been kept in the dark, in the name of humanity…”

-Emile Zola

As a young woman, I devoured the books by French novelist, Emile Zola…they were soap operas; they took on the plight of the poor, the disenfranchised, women, anti-semitism… Today, in 1898, “In France, Emile Zola is imprisoned for writing his “J’accuse” letter accusing government of anti-Semitism & wrongly jailing Alfred Dreyfushistoryorb.com Currently, there is a new movie out starring Jessica Lange based on Zola’s novel, Therese Raquin, titled, In Secret.  Zola fled to England and was not jailed and all charges against Dreyfus were found to be false.

Today, the brilliant educator, professor, activist, philosopher, W.E.B. Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts in 1868. If you haven’t read his full length biography by David Lewis (just to name one), do so. Du Bois lived a very full life filled with many accomplishments.

Our Day Will Come,”  a beautiful song sung by Ruby and the Romantics entered the charts today in 1963 when I was 10 years old. Oh how I loved to sing that song and Ruby’s voice?   Silky smooth!!!!

Our Day Will Come means so many different things to so many different people. To Zola it meant the end of anti-semitism; to W.E.B. Du Bois, it meant equality among all people; to Ruby and the Romantics, it meant maybe one day getting the royalties they deserved from their huge hit.

 

 

 

An Incomparable Artist

 

with James Baldwin

Nina Simone was born today in 1933 in North Carolina. My husband and I continue to listen to her and hear her influences in many of today’s artists, whether they’re aware of it or not. She was a huge personality…strong…powerful…direct and her original compositions, such as “4 Women” were evident of that. Nina Simone was an outstanding interpreter of lyrics, mood, nuance and just the best of the best. I urge you to read about Nina Simone and her very interesting & sometimes, turbulent, life. In the meantime, enjoy the selections:

My Lazy Days of Winter

      

      

“Inspiration is a guest that does not willingly visit the lazy.”-Tchaikovsky

It has been 4 days since my last posting. Just didn’t know what to write about. Life has been OK, no emergencies…Mom’s doing all right, though she’s been in the house for weeks due to the weather and the mountains of snow; yet she doesn’t complain. As long as I always have library books for her and she does her daily crossword puzzle, she’s not bored. How lucky I am that she has never been a demanding person who needs to be entertained. Speaking of Mom, I’ve written before on the time she took me uptown to see a panel discussion on Civil Rights in the early 60s at the NY Society for Ethical Culture. The society is over 100 years old. I definitely remember Sydney Poitier and Harry Belafonte being on the panel and I think James Baldwin also was there among others. Well, today is Mr. Poitier’s 87th birthday!!!  I remember mom and I going to the movies to see “Lilies of the Field” and singing “Amen” along with Sydney Poitier and the nuns. I’ve seen every one of his movies. Today also marks the death of the great Frederick Douglass in 1895. It was a sudden death after having a very nice and productive day at a Women’s Rights conference. Folksinger, Buffy Sainte-Marie was born today in 1941. Always loved her music.

So, I found a little inspiration today to do my blog posting! Yay!

Hope all are well out there in WordPress Land!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking Clearly and Mr. Tolson

    

“Speak clearly, if you speak at all; carve every word before you let it fall.”Oliver Wendell Holmes

As an educator, I’ve always found it very important to enunciate each and every sound for my students as I spoke and also to be a model for how they should speak. My students came from all over the world and I would put them in situations where, even though they didn’t know English, they were supplied the words in order to make them feel comfortable, have the new words roll around their tongues, feel good about themselves and shine. The classroom was our stage and we also used the auditorium stage as well as marching into other classrooms and performing. They loved performing, even if they just entered my classroom that day!  It was always an accepting learning environment. A few years ago, the movie, “The Great Debaters” came out starring Denzel Washington as the debate team’s coach, Melvin B. Tolson. Well, today is Mr. Tolson’s birthday and he was born in 1898 in Missouri.

In 1924, Melvin Tolson accepted a position as instructor of English and speech at Wiley College. While at Wiley, he taught, wrote poetry and novels, coached football and directed plays. In 1929, Tolson coached the Wiley debate teams, which established a ten-year winning streak. The Debate Team beat the larger black schools of its day like Tuskegee, Fisk and Howard.

 After a visit to Texas, Langston Hughes  wrote that “Melvin Tolson is the most famous Negro professor in the Southwest. Students all over that part of the world speak of him, revere him, remember him and love him.”

 According to James Farmer, Tolson’s drive to win, to eliminate risk, meant that his debaters were actors more than spontaneous thinkers. Tolson wrote all the speeches and the debate team memorized them. He drilled them on every gesture and every pause. Tolson was so skilled at the art of debating that he also figured out the arguments that opponents would make and wrote rebuttals for them-before the actual debate.

 In 1930, he pursued a master’s degree in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University; met V.F. Calverton, editor of Modern Quarterly; wrote “Cabbages and Caviar” column for The Washington Tribune and organized sharecroppers in South Texas.

 In 1935, he led the Wiley Debate Team to the national championship to defeat the University of Southern California before an audience of eleven hundred people. In 1947 he was appointed poet laureate of Liberia by President V. S. Tubman. He left Wiley to become professor of English and Drama at Langston University in Oklahoma.”Wiley College

Melvin B. Tolson was also a writer and a poet. I love his ode to Louis Armstrong:

                                      Old Satchmo’s

                   gravelly voice and tapping foot and crazy notes

                                      set my soul on fire.

                                            If I climbed

                         the seventy-seven steps of the Seventh

                 Heaven, Satchmo’s high C would carry me higher!

                      Are you hip to this, Harlem?  Are you hip?

                           On Judgment Day, Gabriel will say

                                  after he blows his horn:

                    “I’d be the greatest trumpeter in the Universe,

                         if old Satchmo had never been born!”

 

 

 

Another Snowy February Day in the North East

   

“One winter morning Peter woke up and looked out the window. Snow had fallen during the night. It covered everything as far as he could see.”-Ezra Jack Keats, The Snowy Day

The author/illustrator, Ezra Jack Keats has always hit a home run in the elementary school classroom. His stories, seemingly simple with simple illustrations appealed to children from all over the world. I’m sure they still do. “Ezra grew up and lived in New York City, where he saw children of different races and nationalities every day. And as the child of struggling immigrant parents, Ezra knew what it meant to feel like an outsider. When he was a young man, he happened to see a series of photos in a magazine of a little boy who was black about to get an injection. Ezra kept these pictures for many years without knowing why they were so important to him. When he decided to write and illustrate his own picture book, it struck him that all the children’s books he had ever seen were filled with white children. That was when he realized why he had kept those pictures. This little boy was going to be the hero of Ezra’s book, and, in a way, to represent Ezra in the world of his own childhood.”-ezrajackkeats.org

I was a teacher who taught about all cultures in my classroom and didn’t limit my lessons to particular months, i.e. February is Black History Month…March is Women’s History Month…October is Hispanic American Month…May is Asian Pacific Heritage Month and so on.  In a way, the designations of teaching certain cultures during specific months forced teachers to at least get a lesson in on that particular culture/race/heritage. There are classrooms that would never get even one lesson if not for those assigned months…sad to say.

This month, personally, gives me the opportunity to revisit writers, artists, philosophers, entertainers, sports legends, actors and so on that I have admired for oh so many years. Today I choose writer/observer James Baldwin and writer Nella Larsen of the Harlem Renaissance era. I used to love listening to James Baldwin when he was interviewed…the tone of his voice was mesmerizing and he never held back. I’ve read everything he wrote and ditto for Nella Larsen who doesn’t have a large body of work.

Here’s what Baldwin had to say about education many, many years ago:

“February is Merely as Long as is Needed to Pass the Time until March.”-Dr. J.R. Stockton

Haiku by Ilene OnWords

February’s here!

We’re 1 month closer to spring,

THAT should bring a smile!

 “No great poet has ever been afraid of being himself.”-Langston Hughes

Today is the birthday of one of my favorite, favorite poets, Langston Hughes who wasn’t “afraid of being himself” as he faced very uncertain and dangerous times to be a Black man in America and a gay one at that. When I was a child, my mom used to read aloud his column, “Simple” in the NY Post. Simple was a character who was anything but simple and was Langston Hughes’s alter ego to comment on society.”In 1942, during World War II, Hughes began writing a column for the African American newspaper, the Chicago Defender. In 1943 he introduced the character of Jesse B. Semple, or Simple, to his readers. This fictional everyman, while humorous, also allowed Hughes to discuss very serious racial issues. The Simple columns were also popular–and they ran for twenty years and were collected in several books.”-kansasheritage.org  If you never read his biography, it’s well worth reading; he had an extremely interesting life; a troubled relationship with his dad; traveled widely; wrote prolifically and documented history through his poetry. I would use his poetry in my classroom and read his poems to my own 2 children.