Category Archives: Books

Energy Never Dies: Afro-Optimism and Creativity in Black Chicago

This holiday season, my first book (which deals with many of the ideas and themes in this book, will be published through University of Illinois Press. I’m over the moon to get this collection of uplifting narratives about the city I adore out into the world. Energy Never Dies: Afro-Optimism and Creativity in Chicago outlines the undefeatable culture of Black Chicago, past and present.

ABOUT THE BOOK

From Afro Sheen to Theaster Gates and from Soul Train to Chance the Rapper, Black Chicago draws sustenance from a culture rooted in self-determination, aspiration, and hustle. Ayana Contreras embarks on a journey to share the implausible success stories and breathtaking achievements of Black Chicago’s artists and entrepreneurs. Past and present generations speak with one another, maintaining a vital connection to a beautiful narrative of Black triumph and empowerment that still inspires creativity and pride. Contreras weaves a hidden history from these true stories and the magic released by undervalued cultural artifacts. As she does, the idea that the improbable is always possible emerges as an indestructible Afro-Optimism that binds a people together.

Passionate and enlightening, Energy Never Dies uses the power of storytelling to show how optimism and courage fuel the dreams of Black Chicago.

“Contreras puts virtually every aspect of Black Chicago culture, music, business breakthroughs, and more on the table, then shows exactly how they are all interconnected. She writes the book as the Black experience is actually lived–this guy knows that guy, but the other guy used to work for the two of them. And none of it would’ve happened were it not for a certain audacious manner of hope and optimism found in Black Chicago.”–Lee Bey, author of Southern Exposure: The Overlooked Architecture of Chicago’s South Side

“In Energy Never Dies, Ayana Contreras crafts an intensely intimate and loving portrait of Black Chicago that that will illuminate, even to lifelong South and West Siders, the distinctiveness of our cultural history and worldview. This book offers urgently needed blueprints for extending the work and actualizing the dreams of the Great Migrants.”–Jacqueline Najuma Stewart, coeditor of L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema

You can preorder the book here: https://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/?id=84kcq6nx9780252044069


Ayana Contreras of Reclaimed Soul talks with Emily J. Lordi, author of Donny Hathaway Live

Soul singer/Songwriter Donny Hathaway’s life and untimely death are both shrouded in mystery.
Though artists like Stevie Wonder, Amy Winehouse, and Aretha Franklin have called him an influence, there is very little biographical work about him. I sat down with Emily Lordi, author of “Donny Hathaway Live”. Lordi’s recent book uses the album of the same name as a jumping off point for uncovering Hathaway’s legacy and his unique contributions to 20th century popular music.

Listen to Part Two of this conversation here: https://soundcloud.com/vocalo/ayana-contreras-of-reclaimed-soul-talks-with-emily-lordi-author-of-donny-hathaway-live-part-2

 


Donny Hathaway in Chicago.

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Donny Hathaway was born in Chicago and raised in St. Louis. Early in his career, he returned to Chicago. During that time period, roughly from 1968 until about 1971, Donny was very prolific. In this hour of Reclaimed Soul, Ayana Contreras explores Donny Hathaway’s early work arranging and writing for other artists in Chicago: from Albertina Walker, Syl Johnson, and Curtis Mayfield, to The Five Stairsteps and Little Milton. We’ll also hear some of his classics, compositions, and some of his very first recordings.

For more on Donny’s career, check out the recently published book “Donny Hathaway Live” by Emily J. Lordi.

Catch fresh installments of Reclaimed Soul Thursdays at 8pm (CST) on vocalo.org or over the air on 91.1fm

 


Tonite! New School Poetics Presents: These Are The Breaks – Chicago Book Launch

 

Idris Goodwin is back home to Chicago tonight to celebrate the recent publication of his first book. It’s a collection of prose, poetry, and essays titled THESE ARE THE BREAKS.
These Are The Breaks is the debut collection by NEA award-winning playwright, HBO Def Poet, and critically acclaimed “indie” rapper, Idris Goodwin. Diverse in scope and wickedly satirical, Goodwin’s poetic essays sample race, class, and culture, transcending the page with hip-hop musicality. Goodwin cross-fades past and present, personal and political: Motown’s last vinyl factory juxtaposes against Bronx rap legends battling in open-air arenas; Chicago’s Public School system contrasts against Santa Fe’s tourism industry; an Egyptian child drowns in the Dead Sea as Nat Turner sprints across Death Valley. These Are The Breaks is the literary mixtape of our cacophonous times.

It’s scheduled to hit shelves in March 2011, but he’ll be selling advance copies after the performance.

If you don’t live in Chicago…

If want to secure a copy sooner than later visit www.WriteBloody.com to place a preorder or just contact me www.idrisgoodwin.blogspot. com or if you use a Kindle you can purchase at Amazon.com.

 

 

NEW SCHOOL POETICS presents
THESE ARE THE BREAKS – CHICAGO BOOK LAUNCH
Hosted by Poet, Educator ,WBEZ Correspondent Kevin Coval
Featured Performers: Award Winning Playwright/Performer Tanya Saracho & Poet Lamar “the trufe” Jorden, star of the critically acclaimed documentary Louder Than A Bomb
CHICAGO URBAN ARTS SOCIETY
http://www.chicagourbanart society.org/

 

2229 South Halsted Street
Chicago, IL
 
$5 donation, students free.  No one turned away 

click here for a downloadable preview of the book, slated to hit stores Spring 2010.
 

Light on the South Side Book Release

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In the mid-’70s, photographer Michael Abramson set his viewfinder on the South Side of Chicago, specifically the many clubs and lounges that served as Hothouses of street fashion (among them, the legendary High Chaparral and the Showcase Lounge). They reflected where blues, soul and disco collided:  a dream of grit and gold lamé.  The resulting photos have been compiled into the book A Light on the South Side.

The Numero Group presents:
A Light On The South Side
Release party, Discussion, and Social
Sunday, November 1st 2pm – 6pm
Chicago Cultural Center
Discussion with Michael Abramson and Rick Kogan in the Claudia Cassidy Theater
Reception in the G.A.R. Rotunda

Following the talk there will be a book signing and reception where Intelligentsia Coffee will be serving a special Numero-inspired creation, the 24-Carat Blend, and the Numero staff will be playing South Side classics in the G.A.R. Rotunda.


Tim & Tom: it wouldn’t be funny if it weren’t so true

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As part of the Chicago Humanities Festival, this Saturday meet Tim & Tom… a “Salt & Pepper” comedy team born in the hotbed of sixties Chicago…

Tim Reid and Tom Dreesen met for the first time in tumultuous 1968 Chicago. As the heady promise of the sixties sagged under the weight of widespread violence, rioting, and racial unrest, two young men – one black and one white – took to stages across the nation to help Americans confront their racial divide: by laughing
at it.

“While the country was wracked by the civil rights movement, a sexual revolution, and a controversial war, these friends took the stage as the first—and so far, only—black and white comedy team. Together they spent five years touring the country, facing unabashed racism, occasionally violent hecklers, and cheering crowds. Reid went on to star in the sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati and create the influential Frank’s Place, and Dreesen spent 30 years in stand-up, including 15 years as Frank Sinatra’s opening act. The duo returns to the stage to tell their stories and reflect on a lifetime of unique experiences. Ron Rapoport moderates.”

–from Chicagohumanities.org

Where & When:

DuSable Museum of African American History
740 East 56th Place
Chicago, IL 60637
Saturday, October 17th 2pm-3:00pm

Tickets:

Adults: $5.00
Educators & Students: FREE
The book entitled Tim & Tom: An American Comedy
in Black & White
is published by University of Chicago Press.

Ronald Fair: Griot of Chicago Tales

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Ronald Fair is perhaps best known as a teller of crisp, satirical, and unsentimental Chicago Tales: inner city stories of struggle, morality, and overcoming (not unlike his own Chicago story).  Born in Chicago on October 27, 1932, Fair attended public school. He was inspired as a young man by fellow Chicagoan Richard Wright to begin writing. Wright, as well as a black English teacher encouraged him to keep at his craft despite setbacks. 

Fair ultimately published various short writings in the Chicago Defender, Ebony, Chat Noir, and other publications. His first novel, Many Thousand Gone: An American Fable, was published in 1965.  The book covers the span of time from the Civil War to the 60s, and presents a fictional town called Jacobsville, Mississippi, whose residents were unaware that slavery had been abolished.   The work, through symbolism, called for Blacks to wake up and rise against the systemic oppression they were under.  

His second novel, Hog Butcher (1966), set in the 1960s, told the story of three inner city Chicago boys and one tragedy that changed a community forever. It was adapted into the film Cornbread, Earl, and Me (1975, see the theatrical trailer below).  The film starred a pre-pubescent Laurence Fishburne, and featured a grooving soundtrack composed by Donald Byrd and performed by the Blackbyrds.

Fair’s next work, World of Nothing, was published in 1970.  The work consists of two edgy, perse, short novellas: one of which dealt with sexual abuse in the Catholic church and, like Hog Butcher, featured a young central character.

Soon after the publication of Hog Butcher, Ronald Fair moved to Europe, were he remained, as he was “fed up with American racism”.  While in Europe, he published what he considered his supreme work,”We Can’t Breathe” (1972).  The book covered the lives of five Chicago friends (one of whom becomes an author), and was deeply autobiographical.  The book sold well at first, and then sales inexplicably tapered off.

Ronald Fair still writes today, but has dropped off the national literary radar, unpublished in the U.S. in more than twenty years, yet the messages within his work remain eerily pertinent for folks coming up in our hardscrabble city.

 

 

Read more: http://biography.jrank.org/pages/2345/Fair-Ronald-L.html#ixzz0QiUlGCM4


Hey, White Girl! Susan Gregory’s Chicago Story

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The intersection of race and class. In Chicago. In the late 1960s.  That’s the backdrop of a memoir (rather cheekily) titled “Hey, White Girl!” written by Susan Gregory (Norton, 1970). 

In the book, teenage Susan transfers from well-heeled, suburban New Trier High School to attend infamous-even-then Marshall High School on Chicago’s West Side for her senior year.

What’s notable about this book is that save certain specificities (slang, style of dress, et al), the story would probably play out identically today: that’s how little race and class lines have shifted since then in the Windy City.

There are many notable moments in the book: some poignant, some funny, some perfect slices of Sixties Chicago.

“What jam can I mash on you?” the disc jockey asked… The words, the phrases were endless.  But I learned them, and slowly they became my own…

…A “humbug” was a fight. A “box” was a record player.  “The hawk” referred to the wind… Marshall and WVON helped me build my vocabulary.   — from Hey, White Girl

Find a copy, if you dare.  Definitely worth the search.  It’s wild.


Printers’ Ball Tonite!

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Chicago is a hotbed for so many fields of creative art: among them printed arts.  From edgy magazines (Alarm, Stop Smiling, et al), to indie book publishers, comics, literary journals, and newspapers, there’s myriad ways to get high on ink!

Celebrate our collective literary history at the Printers’ Ball, organized by Poetry Magazine (an iconic magazine in its own right). 

Thanks to poetryfoundation.org for the info. 

Fifth Annual Printers’ Ball

Ludington Building
1104 South Wabash Avenue
5:00 PM – 11:00 PM
Admission to the Printers’ Ball is free and open to all ages.

 

Sneak previews of Printers’ Ball publications, preparations, and secret invitations are available at the official Printers’ Ball blog, Chicago Poetry Calendar: http://chicagopoetrycalendar.blogspot.com.

Special Attractions:

• Free ink on paper, including magazines, books, broadsides, and more
• Hidden treasures
• Printers’ Ball Library, hosted by the Alternative Press Center and the Chicago Underground Library, which invites you to spend quality time with quality print. Visit the library to browse all publications; learn more about your discoveries, what you might have missed, and where to find it; and connect directly with publishers and organizations through our one-stop mailing list and subscription kiosks.
• Busy Beaver ButtonOmatic
• Papermaking and book-binding demonstrations
• Letterpress, offset, and rubber stamp printing demonstrations
• Silkscreen demonstrations by Anchor Graphics
• Minibook-making lessons from Featherproof Books
• Ratso from Chic-A-Go-Go
• Live interviews by Chicago Subtext’s Amy Guth
• Elevated Diction, presented by Silver Tongue


Another Beautiful Struggle

the-beautiful-struggle-198x300“We took comfort in the rebel music that was pumped into the city from up North. Hip-Hop was the rumble of our generation, unveiling all our wants, fears, and disaffections. But as the fabled year of ’88 came upon us, we saw something more in the music, a deeper thing that interrogated our random lives and made us self-aware. We needed 1988, like the mariners of old needed the North Star. I needed a text for understanding my present crack-addled world; Bill needed some conception of a future.”

— from The Beautiful Stuggle, Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ autobiographical ode to black manhood (and the struggle to reach it and to cultivate it) is the premise for The Beautiful Struggle (Random House, 2008), a title hip-hop heads might recognize from a 2004 Talib Kweli album.  The album popularized a phrase from a Martin Luther King, Jr. speech, in which he stated:

“We must move past indecision to action. Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response.”

In the Beautiful Struggle, Coates’ father is larger than life, both Black Panther & Vietnam vet, publisher and cultural historian, trying to raise up seven children in an era when crack created a desert tooled for the destuction of a whole generation.  A book that is both a love note to hip hop, a battle cry, and a tale of rising up, A Beautiful Struggle is beautiful to be sure.