Saturday, February 28, 2009

Blues for Central Avenue

Last night I saw Will Manus's play Blues for Central Avenue, which celebrates Los Angeles's famous Central Avenue after World War II, at Write Act Repertory Theater, 6128 Yucca Ave, Hollywood. During the 1930s and early 1940s Los Angeles was a Jim Crow town, with severe housing segration written into housing convenants all over the city and with blacks confined to the Southcentral ghetto. African-Americans created on Central Avenue the hottest night life in Los Angeles with jazz clubs, restaurants, hotels that regularly hosted Duke Ellington, Count Basie, T-Bone Walker, and Lionel Hampton as well as birthed the next generation of jazz greats like Charlie Mingus. By the late 1930s and 1940s whites including Hollywood elite would go to the Central Avenue clubs just as some whites in 1920s New York went uptown to the Harlem clubs. The most original music out of Los Angeles has for decades come from Southcentral.

The playwright Willard Manus in the notes said he learned about Central Avenue listening to Johnny Otis's radio show in the early 1980s where Otis, himself a wonderful musician, had on his radio program "such Central Avenue stalwarts as artist Cal Bailey, sax player Buddy Collete, trumpeter Dootsie Williams, vocalist Caroline Harlson, and dancer Clarence 'Frenchy' Laundry talk about their experience" on Central Avenue. The play's director Ken Cosby also reminesces in the notes that after he graduated high school in 1989 he jammed with his idol Jimmy Knepper, who had been Charlie Mingus' s trombonist. The notes also has reproduction wonderful paintings by Rich Hyman of musicians playing in Central Avenue. African-American artists in Los Angeles through this play are paying homage to their past and to our past.

The play is not caught up nostalgia for the past but focuses on the crucial turning point for Central Avenue right after World War II. Then black servicemen returned to Central Avenue like the play's hero Lowell Swift, a wounded veteran, returns with the dream of founding a recording company to record new Central Avenue singers. Black woman like the heroine Roberta Youngblood had war jobs making good money but were laid off as she complains to Lowell so the jobs could go to returning veterans. Zoot suits are still in fashion, as the hero has to shed his army clothes for a zoot suit. Roberta enters the singing contest at Club Alabam and wows the audience, leading to Lowell making her first record as these characters rush for their dreams in post-war Los Angeles. Wallace Demaaria acts wonderfully as Lowell Swift showing his charm, his dreams, his persuasiveness, his love for Roberta, and his frustration that his record company has no distribution so he can't pay his singer anything. A Hollywood producer and his entourage come to the club, hear Roberta, and the producer convince her to leave Central Avenue to go uptown to be in the movies, leaving Lowell devasted.

The play's bittersweet climax is when one character rushes in saying the courts outlawed Jim Crow housing convenants allowing blacks for the first time the right to buy or rent any property anywhere in Southern California. The play's characters celebrate this great victory, now having even bigger dreams of going to live in rich white neighborhoods. Yet this moment of triumph is bittersweet as Lowell Swift says in a great monologue to the audience. In Central Avenue and Southcentral blacks had built their own clubs, hotels, restaurants, nightlife, newspapers, and insurance companies, but by 1955 Central Avenue would end as blacks moved out over the city. The whole nightlife scene would vanish. The play celebrates the Last Hurrah for Central Avenue in the last 1940s and early 1950s and illuminates why and how the Black Broadway of Los Angeles ended.

Blues for Central Avenue

Write Act Repertory Theater

6128 Yucca, Hollywood, 323-469-3113

Run through March 7.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The War Economy, the MLA, and My Brother Who Has Parkinson’s

In the late 1970s I was involved in the anti-nuclear movement, wanting to work to reduce military budgets after the Vietnam War was over. I read Seymour Melman who predicted in that huge military budgets of what Melman called The Permanent War Economy would bankrupt the two Superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States. Melman predicted that the two Superpowers, putting most of their resources in military hardware, would have declining education and health services until they bankrupted themselves. Few people in the Superpowers were listening to Melman and his small groups of followers in 1980.

In the late 1980s the Soviet Union had declining health for its population, was bankrupt, and finally collapsed, with whole provinces spinning off into independent states. Melman’s prophecies about Superpower #1 going bankrupt was right.

In 1980 the United States began the 1980 Regan military buildup and has had ever increasing military budgets along with declining wages and declining health care. I’ve very concerned with health care since my brother got Parkinson’s in 1998. At that time the United States was at peace; Congress had allocated for the first time $100 million for research in Parkinson’s. Researchers told my brother with five-ten years there would be big breakthroughs in Parkinson’s treatment or even a cure. In 2003 the Iraq War stated. I knew immediately that the money wouldn’t be spent on research and that there would be no big breakthroughs in treatment in this disease.

December 2003 my brother, a dedicated father who lived ½ time with his 10-year old daughter, was given by a Safeway pharmacist a wrong medication, overdosed, and nearly died. First, he went to the hospital in rural California which misdiagnosed him twice. Locals make jokes that you go to this hospital to die. He survived because he was helicoptered 50 miles away to the nearest trauma center.

I flew up to visit him in the hospital, and then went to the MLA convention in San Diego. I am member of the Radical Caucus of the Modern Language Association, the largest association of professors in languages—English and other languages. Pat Keeton and I were going to present to the MLA Delegates Assembly our Radical Caucus resolution: the MLA should come out against the Iraq War and ask the money spent not on war but instead on health and education.

Before you present a resolution the MLA, you document it. Keeton and I presented 60 pp of documentation showing decline of public spending of higher education from 1980-2003 (13% decline in state spending on higher education; 1% decline in federal spending = 14% in spending). We also showed statistics on U.S. health as measured by infant mortality and how long men and women live comparing the U.S. versus other countries. In 2003 U.S. has worse health statistics than any other industrialized nation . We were about the same in our health statistics as Costa Rica.

I show up at the MLA to help argue for our resolution. The Delegates Assembly, the Congress of the MLA, approves our anti-war resolution. Hurrah. A few months later the Executive Committee of the MLA throws out the resolution. They say our documentation hadn’t proven that the Iraq War spending caused cuts in health and education spending. They said that such a resolution was not sanctioned by the MLA Constitution and was out of bounds.

My brothers out of the rehab hospital, gets out of a board and care and struggles on insufficient funds to take care of himself, but is never able to live again ½ time with his daughter. He gets pneumonia in winter 2007. He goes to the small rural hospital which was unable to diagnose pneumonia and is again saved because he was helicoptered out to the nearest city hospital. He gets pneumonia in summer 2008 and nearly dies. He makes it through both times. In fall 2008 Joseph Stiglitz, Noble Laureate economist, publishes a book The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict saying the spending on the Iraq War is ruining our economy, There have been no breakthroughs in Parkinson’s research—I was right about that. Many Parkinson’s patients die from pneumonia.

Now it’s not just some marginalized peaceniks saying this but a leading U.S. economist. Now 50 million U.S. citizens have no health insurance and another 50 million had such inadequate insurance that they forego getting treatment regularly. That’s 1 in 3 Americans lack health insurance and adequate health care. Most rural health care is pathetic. Melman was right in 1980! Oh yeah, Melman thinks deindustrialization of the United States along with our Permanent War Economy has helped bankrupt our country. Our Permanent War Economy has led the U.S. to bankruptcy and led to suffering from disease of our citizens and our death for many.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Laying Off Teachers/Throwing Away Students

Laying Off Teachers/Throwing Away Students
by Julia Stein

February 18, 2009, 9:40 am

Throughout the fall of 2007 and winter of 2008 I've been hearing stories of teachers being laid off in Orange County, Bay Area, Sacramento, Florida, and of small groups of trade unionists fighting to save teachers jobs. I teach at a junior college, and only now this spring have a small number of classes been cut at my junior college for the first time.

Still I wasn't aware of how many teachers were threatened with losing their jobs nationally until I read Nicholas D. Kristoff's editorial "Our Greatest National Shame" last Sunday, Feburary 15 in the New York Times who quotes a University of Washinton study that "the recession would lead to cuts of 574,000 school jobs without a stimulus." In the stimulus package just passed through Congress was $100 billion toward education, so this stimulus will save some of this 574,000 endangered jobs. Probably not all jobs will be saved. How many teachers jobs will be cut in 2008? I have no idea.

I've been teaching as an adjunct in higher education, and have survived layoffs in my job four times. Since I started teaching in 1990, I was just hired in time to face the layoffs in the recession of the early 1990s where the ESL program in a Southcentral Los Angeles junior college I was teaching in was threatened to be totally cut three times. Three times we instructors and students saved the program. I used these experiences to write a series of poems about teaching during cutbacks and layoffs in my last published book of poetry Walker Woman.

After the book was published, I got a better teaching job and sincerely hoped my period of fearing for my job was over. I didn't want the poems to be prophetic of teacher job cuts in the future. No way.

No such luck. In 2003 California had another budget emergency. Santa Monica College, where I now was teaching, had a president in spring 2003 who wanted to cut 400 teachers, staff, and downsize the college 6,000 students. The president also wanted to end the vocational programs like auto repair, tourism, fire safety for future firemen, or criminology for future policemen through which students got job in Santa Monica. The faculty and staff fought for months to save the jobs and save the vocational programs but we lost.

I was one of the lucky ones who kept my job but I had a friends who were laid off. The faculty and staff both had votes of no confidence in the president where we voted 8 to 1 no confidence. After the cutbacks I had discussions with students who said their friends who wanted to take vocational educational classes which had been cut were sitting at home looking for jobs or waiting until they were old enough to get jobs as policemen or firemen.

About a year and a half later our president voluntarily left and we got a much better president. I noticed that with the better president at my college and more amicable relations between faculty and administration we faculty turned our energy to developing new curriculum including a new class on California literature in our English Department--that's where we should be putting our energy. Again, I hoped never to see such layoffs again.

Nowe we face massive national layoffs of teachers. Yes, the federal stimulus package will help but still many teaching jobs have already be lost and more teachers will lose their jobs in 2008. We should have discussions on how to save teaching jobs. Of course. We should talk to our legislators. Of course.

We should remember the 1930s. Alfred Hayes published a wonderful poem in 1934 "In a Coffee Pot" about the young people who had no future at that time:

The bright boys, where are they now?

Fernando ... the school's big brain

He's a bus boy in the eat-quick joint

At seven per week twelve hours a day.

His eyes are filled with my own pain.

His life like mine is thrown away.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Reading 1930s Literature, Watching 1930s films, Looking at 1930s Photos

If one wanted to look at 1930s culture, a good way to start would be to watch two films:

1. Tim Robbins' The Cradle Will Rock is a fun account of the government's failed attempt to censor Mark Blitzstein's musical- everybody shows up in the film from Diego Rivera to Orson Wells to Rockerfeller

2. John Ford's Grapes of Wrath- Ford was a great American film director and this film is an excellent rendition of the novel.

As for poetry, Carey Nelson's wonderful Anthology of Modern American Poetry included such poets as Genevieve Taggard, Joseph Freeman, Lucia Trent, Sterling A. Brown, Kenneth Fearing, Langston Hughes, John Beecher, Kay boyle, Joseph Kalar, Richard Wright, Edwin Rolfe, Sol Funarof, Tillie Lerner Olsen, and Muriel Rukeyster. To me, the three most important 1930s poets are Langston Hughes, Muirel Rukeyser's US 1 with its great poem "Book of the Dead" about silicosis lung disease among West Virginia miners, and Kenneth Patchen.

Any look at 1930s culture should include photographers such as Dorthea Lange and Walker Evans, especially the photos from the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men written by James Agree.

For a good anthology , Paul Lauter's Heath Anthology of American Literature Modern Period 1910-1946 Volume D 6th edition has an excellention selection of poets and fiction. The book has "A Sheaf of Political Poetry in the Modern Period" including Joseph Kalar, Kenneth Fearing, Alfred Hayes, Tillier Lerner Olson, Kay Boyle Langston Hughes, Lola Ridge, Edwin Rolfe and Genevive Taggard. The fiction includes a selection from Michael Gold's Jews Without Money, John Dos Passos' USA, Albert Maltz's short story "The Happiest Man on Earth," and Meridel LeSueur's "Women on the Breadlines," an excerpt from Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, two Richard Wright short stories, and an excerpt from Pietro Di Donato's Christ in Concrete, one of the great works of Italian-American literature. The book also includes the 1930s most popular play Clifford Odet's "Waiting for Left," which was performed all over the country in union halls and community centers. Students can perform it in a classroom in about an hour and a half.

If one was interested in United States women writers of the 1930s, look at Charlotte Nekola and Paula Rabinowitz's excellent Writing Red: An Anthology of American Women Writers, 1930-1940. The book has three sections: fiction, poetry, and reportage, theory, and analysis. The book argues that the 1930s was a period of great growth for women's writings as women in the 1930s no longer just wrote about domestic issues. The female reporters like their male colleagues covered strikes, wars, revolutions. During the 1930s women made great strides as journalists, covering the world: Josephine Herbst reported from Cuba; Agnes Smedley from China; Tillie Olsen on the San FRancisco general strike; and Elaine Ellis on "Women of the Cotton Fields."

A hard-to-find but wonderful anthology is Jack Salzman's Years of Protest: A Collection of American Writings of the 1930s (1967, Bobbs-Merril Educational Publishers). The book includes a great range of 1930s poets, fiction writers and critics who included social or political issues in their writing in Part I: Alfred Hayes, Erskine Caldwell, Steinbeck, Woody Guthrie, James Agree, Dos Passos, Edmund Wilson, Clifford Odets, Hemingway, Auden and even Ezra pound. Part II titled the "Social Muse" includes argument by left, center, and right literary critics of the 1930s including Michael Gold, Archibeld MacLeish, John Crowe Ransom, James T. Farrel, and Malcolm Crowley. The last section "Blazing Sun" includes 1930s writers who avoided politics such as Henry Miller, Robins Jefferson, William Saroyan, Daniel Fuchs, Nathanel West, William Saroyan, and Henry Roth. Hopefully a publisher should reprint this excellent anthology.

For teaching an Introduction to Literature class, the anthology Understanding Literature edited by Walter Kalaidjian et al has a good selection "Critical Perspectives: A Casebook on Poetry and social Activism Between the Wars" including poets Kenneth Fearing, Langston Hughes, Alfred Hayes, Tillie Olsen, Genevieve Taggard, Edwin Rolfe, Mureil Rukeyser, and Joseph Kalar. The anthology also does a good introduction to postmodernist theories good for freshman students.

Two other films:

1. Scarface (1932) with Paul Muni starring, Howard Hawks direction, and screenplay by Ben Hecht-one of the very best on the 1930s gangster films

2. Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times (1936)- Chaplin's wonderful comedy about the assembly line

Reading 1930s literature and looking at 1930s film can remind ourselves that despire the Great Depresion American fiction writers, poets, playrights, critics, filmmakers, and photgraphers did brilliant innovative work. Life carried on.

Anybody else have any ideas about favorite 1930s writers? films? photogrpahers?

Friday, February 13, 2009

I Was a Writer for the Government!

In 1980 I got a job as a writer on an oral history unit of CETA (Comprehensive Education Training Act). The Federal government during the really bad recession in the 1970s established CETA, which was a revival of the WPA of the 1930s. Both the WPA and CETA gave jobs in a variety of fields and job training including jobs for writers, artists, and performers. In the 1930s WPA was the biggest employer in the United States.

My oral history project was called American Profiles. We were housed in Van Nuys in the San Fernando Valley and were part of American Dance Theater, which was a folk dance group in CETA directed by Joyce Aimee. We were supposed to interview senior citizens who had lived a long time in Los Angeles about their lives to gather information about Los Angeles history from 1900-1980. I was told that one could have the job for eighteen months, and the previous writers had done oral histories of Los Angeles seniors downtown and Culver City but not the San Fernando Valley, so we were supposed to find people to interview in the Valley.

Actually, this was a great job. At first we read histories of Los Angeles (though living in L.A. since I was a baby I didn't know Los Angeles had a history!). I read Carey McWilliams great history about the region "Southern California: An Island in the Sun." I read Robert Gottlieb's and Irene Wolt's "Thinking Big," a great history of the Los Angeles Times newspaper, which had dominated Los Angeles for nearly a 100 years. My whole view of my hometown was transformed! The only available histories of the San Fernando Valley were a couple short, superficial books, but I read those too.

In one of these books I saw a photograph of the Neggens family; the caption said that the Neggens were one of the first families to farm in Northridge circa 1910. After Los Angeles city fathers brought the water into Los Angeles first through the San Fernando Valley, the owners of large parcels of Valley property broke down the property into smaller parcels and sold off family farms. In the Neggens photo was a father, mother, and bunch of little kids. I figured one of the little kids was about 6 in 1910 he would be 76 in 1980. I looked in the phone book for Northridge, found a Menton Neggens, called. Yes, he had been a child in the photo. I interviewed him about growing up in a family farm 1910-1930, and then learned about his long career in the LAPD in the Valley.

I interviewed Abe Maymudes who had been an immigrant Jewish radical organizer in Boyle Heights in the 1930s-1940s and then a chicken farmer in Canoga Park in the 1950s. I interviewed Marion and Lucille Johnson whose grandparents, father, and uncle had homesteaded in the 1880s in the Big Tujunga canyon area of northeast Valley and who had grown up on a small farm in Big Tujunga canyon. I interviewed Robert Rowley, who father owned the first store in Sunland in the northeast Valley when Sunland was dirt farmers. I was the only one in my unit interviewing children of the farm families in the Valley. I was the only one I know about who interviewed these farmers in the Valley. By the 1940s developers were buying up the farmers, building suburban tract homes, and destroying all the farm life. I interviewed the last generation who remembered these small family farms which by 1980 had completely vanished.

As we were doing our research, interviews, and editing, President Regan was elected and one of his first acts was to end the CETA program. We were told instead of eighteen months we had been promised we would only have the job for 6 months, and had a month or two to finish up our interviews. I had published parts of my Maymudes interview in the "Big Valley" magazine. We could have published more if our program wasn't ended. Our director and editor made plans for all the oral histories to be housed in California State College Northridge archives and also in the Sunland-Tujunga library. As far as I know they are still there. We were pressed to finish editing down our interviews and our project of three writers, one editor, and a photographer produced a 249 page volume titled "Valley Portraits: The Living Past" which has ll interviews detailing history of all areas of the San Fernando Valley. Our publication was Volume III of our oral histories.

This job gave me a lasting fascination for history of Los Angeles. I kept on learning and read Los Angeles poetry and literature. I hiked through Los Angeles and learned the geology and botany of the area. When I begin teaching at Santa Monica College, I used my background in Southern Californian history to develop new English curriculum. I made out a list of 100 historical sites around Los Angeles and had my students research one site for a research paper as I was teaching the research paper. Some of my students did brilliant original research learning about buildings in their neighborhood for the first time. A couple years ago I was in the library and picked up a new history of San Fernando Valley, a much better history. Low and behold the author quoted my interview with Menton Neggens. I think it was important to interview the people we did and catch their history because they died.

The original WPA writers interview elderly people who had been slaves, and you can still read these interviews in the Library of Congress. Later historians took these WPA interviews and published books on African-American history. We in Los Angeles also interviewed elderly people capturing their history and helping later historians understand the history of Southern California. Without these two programs an important part of the history of the American people would be lost. The WPA Writers/artists Program should be revived as it made invaluable contributions to American culture.

Shuttin' Detroit Down

Heard the song "Shuttin' Detroit Down" by John Rich on the radio while driving yesterday. Rich wrote the first great song of the the economic recession. On the tune the fiddle is really good, the band sounds good, and this is a tune you can dance to. Here's John Rich's web site where you can listen to him sing "Shuttin' Detroit Down."

Here's some of the song:

In the real word they're shuttin' Detroit down.
While the boss man takes his pay and jets out of down
DC's bailing out them bankers while they ground the farmer down.
While they're livng up on Wall Street in NY city town
here in the real world they're shuttin' Detroit down.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Stimulus Plan Needs to Include Writers and Artists

from Institute for Policy Studies website

Arts Stimulus Plan

Declaration by John Cavanagh, James Early, Barbara Ehrenreich, E. Ethelbert Miller, Marcus Raskin, Andy Shallal, Melissa Tuckey. Published December 18, 2008 12:00AM

Here’s a detailed call for the stimulus plan to include a program that will support artists and writers.

Programs that paid thousands of artists and writers comprised one of the most creative aspects of the New Deal. Thousands received relatively small outlays of funds for their work, and the nation’s artistic heritage was greatly enhanced. The same kind of initiative is needed today.

Congress needs to recommend that the government spend one percent of the stimulus plan on arts and culture (that would mean $6 billion if the final package is $600 billion), building on the New Deal’s Federal Art Project and the Federal Writers Project. Below, we offer 11 ideas on how the money could be spent. We also support ideas that link different parts of the stimulus package; for example, new murals and sculptures could adorn the new schools that will be built.

The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was created in 1935 to bring jobs to those who had become unemployed or underemployed during the Great Depression. Since artists and writers were also hit by the economic hard times, two divisions of the WPA were assigned the task of creating suitable jobs for such people — jobs that would not only take advantage of these individuals' talents, but would also serve to enrich America's cultural heritage and embellish public spaces. The grouping of the largest of these programs is collectively known as the “Federal Project Number One.” Included in this collective were the Federal Writers’ Project, the Historical Records Survey, the Federal Theatre Project, the Federal Music Project, and the Federal Art Project. All of these programs were divisions of the Works Progress Administration. Out of the approximately $4.8 billion allocated to the Works Progress Administration, Congress permitted $27 million to fund the Federal Project Number One projects.

The Federal Art Project, along with several other WPA-backed programs, created well over 5,000 jobs for American artists. These artists created over 2,500 murals, over 17,700 sculptures, 108,000 paintings, and 240,000 prints. The project's legacy still lives on, since it supported artists like Jackson Pollock, Arshile Gorky, and many other abstract expressionists whose work helped shift the most dynamic center of the art world to shift from its traditional location in Europe to where it now resides, in the largest cities of the United States.

The Federal Writers' Project created over 6,600 jobs for writers, editors, researchers, and many others who exemplified a given level of literary expertise. Established on July 27, 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Federal Writers' Project (FWP) operated under journalist and theatrical producer Henry Alsberg, and later John D. Newsome, compiling local histories, oral histories, ethnographies, children's books and other works. These writers created over 1,200 books and pamphlets, and they produced some of the first U.S. guides for states, major cities, and roadways. In addition, the FWP was responsible for recording folklore, oral histories, and, most notably, the 2,300 plus first-person accounts of slavery that now exist as a collection in the Library of Congress. As with the Federal Art Project, the FWP's contributions to American literature were both significant and long-lasting, giving authors like Saul Bellow, Zora Neale Hurston, John Steinbeck, Sterling Brown, and many others the opportunity to continue their work in a time of difficult economic circumstances.

Here are some of the ways the funds could be used:

1. National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH): Increase funding for the NEA and NEH. Increase the staff at both agencies. Maintain many of the new NEA projects started by Dana Gioia, for example: The Big Read and Operation Homecoming.

2. Archives: Support the preservation of literary archives across the country. Many collections need to interface with modern technology; staff needs to be hired at various institutions. We don't want to lose our past.

3. A Secretary-level post for Culture/Arts: We support the idea of Bill Ivey, former NEA Chair under President Bill Clinton, and head of the arts/culture Obama Transition Team for a Secretary level post for Culture/Arts. Indeed, the United States and Germany are the only wealthy nations without a Minister or Secretary of Culture. Ivey’s initiative involves the refocus and revitalization of the extant Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, which could be a better interim and/or long-term mechanism for new arts and culture policies.

4. Arts Education: Educational institutions, especially public school systems in low-income and underserved communities, would hire artists and writers. Funds would be made available for artist and writer-in-residence positions.

5. Arts in Public Spaces: Support for the arts in public places; especially parks, metro stations, airports, etc. Every major city and community should have access to concert series and readings in their major parks, especially in times of economic hardship.

6. Workplace: Funds to bring poets and writers into the workplace. Build literacy by enlivening the reading public. Contemporary writers would bring their work to the people. Readings could be held around noon at workplaces.

7. Document history: Document U.S. literary and cultural history on a city, state and national level. This would be similar to the old WPA program. Interview major writers and painters. It could be done by doing a series of films.

8. American Artists Overseas: Money should be set aside to send American artists overseas for three-six month periods, with an emphasis on countries where the United States has been at odds. They would serve as cultural ambassadors and give lectures and performances. They would also collaborate with artists of the host country to produce cultural events.

9. Fellowships/Scholarships awarded to working/low income individuals who wish to enroll in creative writing programs: Many older people wish to return to school to pursue careers in the arts but have no money for tuition.

10. Black colleges: Money should be set aside to develop creative writing programs at historically black colleges. No creative writing program exists at any black college. This would create teaching jobs for many African American authors.

11. Libraries: We should support library infrastructure and provide writer and artist-in-residence programs for our libraries, especially those in low-income communities. Our nation's libraries are public treasures and many have been closed in recent years. Money is needed to keep our libraries open and alive.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Interviews with artists of WPA artists program

Watch "Soul of a People: Raw Selects" which is interviews with two people who worked in the 1930s on the WPA artists program; Studs Turkel and Stetson Kennedy, who along with Zora Neale Hurston collected spirituals

Republicans cut arts out of stimulus package

>> Republicans With Support Of Feinstein & Feingold Eliminate Funding To Aquariums, zoos, golf courses, swimming pools, community parks, museums, theater, art centers and highway beautification

>>from Americans for the Arts
>> February 6, 2009
>> Breaking News
>> This afternoon the U.S. Senate, during their consideration of the economic recovery bill, approved an egregious amendment offered by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) that stated “None of the amounts appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, swimming pool, stadium, community park, museum, theater, art center, and highway beautification project.” Unfortunately, the amendment passed by a wide vote margin of 73-24, and surprisingly included support from many high profile Senators including Chuck Schumer of New York, Dianne Feinstein of California, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, and several other Democratic and Republican Senators.
>> If the Coburn amendment language is included in the final conference version of this legislation, many arts groups will be prevented from receiving economic recovery funds from any portion of this specific stimulus bill. It is clear that there is still much work to be done in the Senate and in the media about the role that nonprofit arts organizations and artists play in the nation’s economy and workforce.
>> Plan of Action
>> * Arts advocates need to quickly contact Senators who voted for the Coburn Amendment and express your extreme disappointment with their vote. We need these Senators to know that their vote would detrimentally impact nonprofit arts organizations and the jobs they support in their state. We have crafted a customized message for you to send to your Senators based on their vote on the Coburn Amendment. The correct letter, customized to each of your Senators will appear when you enter your zip code. If your Senator voted for this funding prohibition, you can send them a message expressing your disappointment and ask them to work to delete this language in the final conference bill with the House. If your Senator voted against the Coburn Amendment, you can thank them for their support of the arts.

>> * We need as many news articles as possible this coming week to publish stories about the economic impact of the nonprofit arts industry and how the recession is negatively affecting arts groups across the country. Please click here to customize an opinion editorial to your local media. We have provided you with easy-to-use talking points.

>> * Next week, Americans for the Arts will be sending you another action alert that targets the White House and the soon-to-be-named Senators and Representatives who will serve as conferees to the final economic recovery bill. Please be prepared to take action on this alert as well.

>> * Americans for the Arts itself is submitting op-eds to several national newspapers and online blogs. We are enlisting high profile leaders to co-sign these letters as well.

>> * Americans for the Arts is purchasing full-page ads titled “The Arts = Jobs” in Washington’s top political newspapers in Roll Call, Politico and The Hill on Monday and Tuesday of next week. We encourage you to post the ad on your social network sites.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Inventing the Future

Last night I went Los Angeles Eco Village to hear Chris Carlsson speak about his new book "Nowtopia: How Pirate Programmers, Outlaw Bicyclers, and Vacant lot Gardeners are Inventing the Future." Carlsson has long been a leading figure in the California underground/counter-culture.If you want to know about the California underground check out Carlsson's website and the book:

Carlsson and his merry friends put out in the 1990s an infamous magazine Processed World, which was the voice of San Francisco's unhappy bike messengers, disgruntled financial workers, and subversive computer workers. The magazine proudly called themselves the magazine with the bad attitude. Actually, Processed World, which also put out an anthology, is hilarious as if Charlie Chaplin were running amuck in information processing jobs. I was a fan.

Next, Chris Carlsson and merry friend started Critical Mass, the monthly bike rides in San Francisco where thousands ride en mass; last night he showed us slides on how Critical Masses' bike rides have spread around the world.

As he spoke to a rapt audience, he explained about the bike culture he helped to build with it's huge bike rides and its non-profit bike repair shops. Residents at LA Ecovillage, a large group living in an apartment house near downtown Los Angles, started Bicycle Kitchen which helped people for free make and repair bikes. The Bicycle Kitchen grew so successful it moved into a storefront near Los Angeles City Garden. God knows Los Angeles needs less cars and mass bicycling.

Carlsson told us about the revival of urban gardening happening across the United States as well as the past history of U.S. urban gardening. Los Angeles has had a huge struggle over Southcentral Farms, a large urban garden which was destroyed. Now a film about this struggle called "The Garden" is up for an Academy Award in the documentary section.

What was also fascinating was Carlsson's telling about ground-up science and popular interventions in scientific culture: perma-culture, a grassroots science about biology and agriculture; the 1970s women's health movement which was grassroots women starting clinics and improving women's reproductive health care; and the 1970s anti-nuclear movement which helped stop the building of U.S. nuclear power plants; the free software movement where programmers developed and then gave away free software. He tried to empower the crowd that we all can do science and make our voices known about science and technology that affects our lives.

Carlsson is talking about the non-consumer society and people regaining skills such as gardening, fixing bikes, etc that we once have. Now that the country is in a recession, these ideas are even more important.

Friday, February 06, 2009

James Joyce a Feminist

James Joyce was never a favorite writer of mine. I had to push myself to read all of "Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man," which was assigned in college; Irish Catholicism was totally foreign to me, and I had little understanding of its strength. I was, however, deeply moved by the stories of trapped Irish lives in Joyce's short stories in "Dubliners." I always felt I should read "Ulysses," but could never do it.

Brenda Maddox's 1988 biography of Joyce's wife titled "Nora: A Biography of Nora Joyce" really changed my idea of Joyce and informed me about Nora, who was usually called not very intelligent and a bad cook. Maddox basically argues that Joyce was a feminist, was inspired by Nora to write strong portraits of Irishwomen which helped liberate downtrodden women in Ireland.

What I learned from Brenda Maddox's biography of Nora Joyce was how hard Nora and Joyce's lives were. They gave from impoverished families--the grinding poverty of 1900 Ireland-- and both had alcoholic fathers. Joyce did capture that desperate poverty and feelings of being trapped in Ireland in "Dubliners," but he and Nora courageously left the country to start a new life outside. I do admire both of their courage tremendously. Moreover, Nora ran away with him in 1904 and lived with him without marriage until he actually married her in 1931. For an Irishwoman woman to run away with a man and then live without the marriage ceremony was utterly scandalous.

Though living without a marriage license, Maddox shows they had an incredibly strong, loving marriage. Though seen as libertines, Nora and Joyce were always sexually faithful to each other. They simply insisted on choosing their life rather than following traditions they disagreed with.

They had two children. Brenda Maddox convincingly argues that Nora Joyce was the rock on which her family rested. They had tough times. They were terribly poor for years as a young married couple with two small children. Joyce needed many eye operations, but then went blind, and Nora survived cancer. I was horrified by what they suffered and amazed by their stoicism. Their daughter Lucia went mad, which was heartbreaking for both her parents. Her grandson Stephen says that Nora "was a rock. I would venture to say that he [Joyce] could have done it it, written not one of her books without her." Maddox convincingly shows that Nora was strong and Joyce was totally dependent on her strength.

Maddox says that Marxist scholars argues that in Finnegan's Wake 'Joyce wrests English from its colonial past ... by investing his own language" out of English. He took the language of the colonialists and transformed it. Also, Joyce was inspired by his wife Nora's voice to create powerful woman's voices in "Ulysses" and "Finnegan's Wake." In fact, Joyce barely knew Ireland outside of his hometown Dublin, so he learned about Ireland from Nora who was from Galway in the west, that part of Ireland where Gaelic customs were least stamped out by the English.

Maddox says that Nora is the Irish woman--feisty, original, humorous, strong, sexy--who inspired all Joyce's female characters, and influenced all of Irish literature and society: "That Joyce should raise Nora to the status of his personal goddess is not surprising. That the ordinary is extraordinary is the meaning of Joyce. Nora was ordinary. That is to say, she accepted life, with its madness, drunkenness, poverty; it music, it comedy, and its sexual imperatives."

Maddox quotes critic Colin McCabe, ""if young Joyce was to antipathetic to the national ideology... it was not so much to the specific claims of Gaelic .. but to their service of a notion of Irish purity ... to be more specific, the pure Irish woman ... '" Other writers like Yeats created ideologies of Irish nationalism that helped them gain independence, but "Joyce related the repression of women to male brutality in [Finnegan's] Wake." Ireland both has repressed its women and had a violent past.

Maddox argues that given the repression of women in Ireland, "Nora ... was more than Joyce's Ireland; she was Irish Woman as he thought she should be. Just as 'Finnegans Wake' creates on the page an Irish national that history has never allowed to exist. Nora combined a mixture of Irishness with female libido, two qualities that Irish society still strives to keep apart. Joyce chose her to be his companion .. because she embodied the idea of the headstrong Celtic woman who trusts her intuition and her passions ...." Maddox is convincing that on the surface Joyce never tackled politics, but his exalting ordinary people and his creation of literature about an Ireland that he wished to see with religious freedom and equality between the sexes is quite political. Maddox has written a book that revises how we look at Nora Joyce, James Joyce, and his writing.