robertogreco + garnettecadogan   4

BOMB Magazine — Edwidge Danticat by Garnette Cadogan
"Despite her accomplishments, it is clear from talking to her and reading her books that her ambition is to be nothing less than an attentive observer—her works display exemplary watchfulness and empathy. Over the course of a weeks-long correspondence about her writing, she kept gently nudging me to listen more closely, to be the kind of reader on whom nothing is lost, a reader who recognizes people as irreducibly various and complex. And she made it seem so simple. Except it’s not. (Relatedly, her prose’s deceptive simplicity is part of its appeal.) She has been described as “the bard of the Haitian diaspora,” but, really, her terrain is whatever world her fertile imagination takes her to. Her latest stop is the fictional town of Ville Rose, in which Claire of the Sea Light is set—a heartbreaking-yet-wondrous world."



"GC Claire, this “luminous child,” comes to us in a fable-like series of interrelated stories. Why that structure? Was there something about the themes you wanted to tackle, or about the way you wanted to delineate linked lives in Haiti, that made you choose this form?

ED Initially I wanted to write a book that was like a transcript of a popular radio show in Haiti, featuring news, gossip, interviews, and testimonials. I was not going to use the transcript format, but each chapter was going to be a story that was an episode of the show. The book is as much about Claire and her father as it is about the other residents of Ville Rose. We meet many different characters and get into each of their houses and heads. There is a schoolmaster and his wayward son. There is an undertaker, as well as Louise George, the radio hostess, and others. I imagine the reader as a visitor to Ville Rose on the one night that the book takes place. You arrive on the beach and you start meeting people and you try to piece all the pieces together. I like books, like mysteries, that leave something for the reader to do, a puzzle to solve. I hope this book does that.

GC Were you worried that the fantastical elements of your story might be taken as allegorical and therefore lessen the blow of the horrors you describe?

ED There are not that many fantastical elements in this book. Everything that is mentioned can and actually has happened in different parts of the world. Rogue waves happen. Supernovas happen. Frogs die en masse in many places. Also, even when fantastical elements appear in stories, in my experience, they often highlight rather than reduce horrors.

GC The tiny seaside town of Ville Rose is painted with magical strokes that point to a life beyond the one we can see. They reveal the townspeople’s connection with each other and also their connection to the world beyond. How do you perceive the world that we can’t see shaping the one we do see?

ED I am certainly of the belief that there is more to us than what we see. This is why I would resist the notion of death as ultimate exile. I believe that we remain connected to our ancestors long after they’re gone. It is a deep spiritual connection that is hard to explain. I sometimes think, for example, that I see traces of my grandmother in my daughter’s expressions. This is both genetic and magical at the same time. We are all part of a cycle of life, shaped by all that has come before. Some call it evolution. Some call it God, by whatever name they call God. In Haiti you might say Gran Mèt la, the Grand Master or Creator, which would be part of most religions, even ones where people have trouble agreeing what God should be or look or sound like.

GC In an essay published on the year since the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, you quoted a saying of your grandmother’s: “In Haiti, people never really die.” The dead are still among us, you pointed out. How does your awareness of your ancestors and your intimate connection to the dead influence your writing?

ED Again, not to sound too mysterious, but there is so much happening when I am writing that I don’t quite understand. In many ways this is linked to the fact that your subconscious is doing most of the work when you’re in the middle of any creative act. Yet sometimes, on good days when the writing is going well, you feel like there is someone on your shoulder whispering things in your ear that you are just transcribing. You’re a vessel. You don’t even notice time going by. The words just flow. On those days, some people say that the muse has been by. I like to say that my ancestors have been by, sharing with me some of what they have learned over several lifetimes, because there is no way I can individually know what everyone in my bloodline has known together, collectively."



"GC You seem to carry the burden—and liberation—of being from multiple worlds, Haiti and the United States, and speaking to and on behalf of both. Do you see yourself speaking from one world to another, or speaking to both worlds simultaneously? Or speaking to both worlds and the diaspora, that homeland caught between the two?

ED I carry no such burden, frankly. If you give yourself that burden, that is your burden. If I thought of myself as this person “being from multiple worlds,” then I would probably just shut down and do something else with my life. No one elected me to speak on their behalf either in Haiti or the United States. I’m certainly not going to assign myself that role because it would be presumptuous and arrogant and just plain too much. To express an opinion, I would have to take a survey first. I can add my voice to someone else’s. I can help raise other voices. But I can’t take on this massive undertaking that you’re suggesting. I would fail miserably. I don’t have the personality for it or the stamina. Also, the idea of this great anguish of living between two worlds has diminished somewhat for many immigrant people, artists and non-artists alike. Not that there is not some uneasiness, but it is no longer the single most urgent anxiety of every immigrant’s life. And honestly, maybe it never was—except, perhaps, in literature.

Recently I read Patricia Engel’s It’s Not Love, It’s Just Paris, in which a father wants to convince his daughter to join the family business, but she wants to be an artist. He says to her that all immigrants are artists, that the overall action of recreating your life in another country is a work of art. That was a wonderful intergenerational moment about the pressures of immigration—something I personally needed to hear, something that moves the conversation beyond culture clash and “I am neither here nor there,” to a more nuanced situation where people are talking intimately about immigration and not screaming, “I don’t know where I belong!” I would like us to move beyond these tropes of speaking to or for, and of being only between two worlds. We are at the same time speaking to no one and everyone."



"GC One truth that stands high in your work is that love is a potent combatant to loss. Elaborate on the hopefulness that runs through your recent novel and your work in general.

ED I don’t know how to do this without singing a corny love song, but if you have ever suffered a loss, or have been deprived of a love, or have watched someone’s life slip away—of course all positive emotions can offer some kind of comfort. Love is certainly one of the best for that. When things are difficult, the love a parent has for a child, romantic love, or the love a neighbor has for a stranger or a friend, can sustain a person in ways that even the person being sustained might not fully understand at the moment. The year my father and uncle both died, I can’t imagine how I would have survived if not for the love of my friends and family who got me through a pregnancy, a birth, and all the craziness—mostly with words. Words of comfort in cards, texts, and emails, when I could not even pick up the phone. Not to sound too corny, but sometimes love can also be the difference between life and death. Countless poems, novels, essays, and films vouch for this."
edwidgedanticat  garnettecadogan  writing  literature  haiti  2014  interviews  immigration  migration  howwewrite  whywwewrite  exile  motherhood  subconscious  identity  patriciaengle  nikkigiovanni  love  childhood  fiction  alienation  history  ancestry  noticing  observing  listening 
july 2016 by robertogreco
BOMB Magazine — Ned Sublette by Garnette Cadogan
"Musician turned musicologist Ned Sublette unravels the histories and sounds that shaped New Orleans, our most “American” city."



"GC You end the book with the Mardi Gras Indians. They’re not merely your coda—they’re an index. They embody New Orleans’s uniqueness, and stand as a powerful and poignant metaphor of persistence—in the face of constant battering and challenges from without and frustrations from within.

NS They embody black New Orleans’s insistence on connecting with its past—in a society that did everything possible to erase the people and their history. To the extent of giving them one-way tickets out of town to forty-some different states in 2005.

GC And they [the Mardi Gras Indians] make this connection largely through their music, which has long functioned as a shield against erasure.

NS Music in New Orleans is a way of resisting one’s own erasure. Mardi Gras Indians were out there in their suits representing in 2006, at the first Mardi Gras after the flood, representing not only for their own neighborhood, but for the entire city.

GC In the book that you’re working on now, The Year Before The Flood — which, by the way, is not about the flood but about the rich cultural traditions of modern New Orleans — you make a similar claim about the city’s hip hop artists.

NS There are remarkable correspondences. There’s a number by the Hot Boys, from their album Guerrilla Warfare, with B.G. chanting: “Dem boys at war / I said dem boys at war / I said dem niggaz from Uptown / dem boyz at war.” The Mardi Gras Indians don’t use the N-word, but apart from that, it could practically be an Indian song. Black art is constantly transforming, but the continuity is there. The Mardi Gras Indians—like the Abakuá of Cuba, like hip hop—are very much a manhood cult. Expensive new suits, beefing over territory—although what the Mardi Gras Indians do is a highly ritualized theater of beefing that emphasizes diplomacy. When you go see a Mardi Gras Indian practice, and they practice challenging and battling, despite the theatrical aspect, they get so into it that you might wonder if they’re gonna take it outside and settle it. There’s the cultivation of a violent aura to chase away those who might otherwise try to take it over. Despite the occasional white megastar, hip hop in the main has remained pretty much impervious to takeover by white artists. It has many layers of encryption and elaborate security systems that make it hard to copy.

GC It’s also interesting to note the commonalities between New Orleans hip hop musicians and those within the city’s venerable brass band jazz tradition, not to mention the Mardi Gras Indians—these are all intensely local musical traditions.

NS It’s intensely local, and it’s the same community. Soulja Slim’s mom was in the Lady Buck Jumpers, and his stepfather was leader of Rebirth. Everybody’s got a relative who’s in a Social Aid and Pleasure Club, or is a Mardi Gras Indian or something. Until they boarded up the projects and tore them down this year, they were all living in the same projects. I went on the Revolution Social Aid and Pleasure Club second line this spring, one of the best second lines I’ve ever been on. How’s this for a recapitulation of New Orleans history? It began in front of Congo Square and ended at the rubble of the newly demolished Magnolia Projects.

GC Geographically connecting the reputed fountainhead of jazz with…

NS The fountainhead of R&B! Because right by the Magnolia Projects was the Dew Drop Inn, the great black showplace of New Orleans in the ‘40s and ‘50s, crucial to the formation of rhythm and blues."
2008  neworleans  music  history  nedsublette  garnettecadogan  havana  us  reggae  cuba  funk  slavery  south  race  religion  haiti  nola 
july 2016 by robertogreco
Due North | VQR Online
"I arrived in New York in October 2005 and immediately began walking all over the city, exploring for hours at a time. As I traversed its landscape, I discovered a topography of social conditions. Some days, I would linger on Thirty-Fourth Street among the glamorous workers of Midtown Manhattan rushing to and from their high-rise buildings—in swift pursuit of their ambitions, I’d assumed. I’d watch them zigzag around and dart past the enthusiastic tourists filing into the Empire State Building, that colossus rising majestically above as a beacon of hope and symbol of American derring-do.

Then I’d stride northward, eager to explore Whitman’s “Numberless crowded streets – high growths of iron, slender, strong, light, splendidly uprising toward clear skies.” A little over two hours later, I would end up in Harlem at the courtyard of a housing project on 125th Street, where residents lounged on benches and welcomed each other with cheerful banter. They also welcomed me, and I sat beside them, took one of the kiddie’s box drinks they offered, and enjoyed their jovial talk in that relaxed, open space in Harlem far removed from the hurried dynamism of Midtown.

But as I’ve circulated through New York’s streets, nothing reveals the city’s opposites in stark juxtaposition like the walk from the Upper East Side to the South Bronx, two neighborhoods separated by a brisk ninety-minute walk, or a quick twelve-minute subway ride. I’d call them neighbors were it not so clear that they occupy such distinctly different worlds. To walk the streets from one to the other, as I often do, is to bear witness to a landscape of asymmetry. The city that comes into view is one of uneven terrain, vistas of opportunity alongside pockets of deep poverty too often lost in the periphery.

In early 2006, almost six months after moving to the city, I was hobbled from roaming around because of a botched surgery on my right knee. A few months later, I switched hospitals to the Hospital for Special Surgery, located on the Upper East Side, where I eventually underwent two more surgeries to get back to walking the streets without chronic pain. As a result of the operations and follow-up physical therapy, the Upper East Side became a regular destination. I spent a lot of time watching people go about their lives, many of whom were middle- and working-class people employed in hospitals, museums, universities, hotels, and elsewhere on the Upper East Side. Plentiful as these workers were, they didn’t define the neighborhood—at least, not in a way that forcefully impresses itself upon the mind when you think of the Upper East Side. No, the population that embosses its mark on the neighborhood is the wealthy—the extraordinarily wealthy, to be precise.

The Upper East Side houses one of the richest zip codes in the US. This wealth touches almost everything in its vicinity. Many of the less-flush people I met going about their days worked at institutions that were among the world’s finest—the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Hospital for Special Surgery—and that were easy access for their upper-class neighbors. In addition to stellar medical care and world-class museums, I’d walk past some of the city’s best private schools, public libraries abuzz with parents and nannies—many of whom were foreigners—playing with children, and music schools with eager and not-so-eager kids developing their skills. Here was a neighborhood stocked with the resources for worldly success.

Walking through that part of the Upper East Side was not unlike a jaunt in a museum. On Park or Fifth Avenue, for example, one could walk for hours and admire magnificent buildings fronted by well-manicured gardens and quiet, clean sidewalks. Serenity suffused the atmosphere. Nothing seemed out of place, and, to my untrained eye, it all looked unspoiled.

There are stunning apartment buildings that look like cathedrals in high heels. Überchic boutiques—throne rooms of specialization meant to cater to people with the most rarefied, and demanding, of tastes—abound. You can pick up scented shoelaces for your teen daughter from a store filled with accessories for tweens, buy a bra for a few hundred dollars from an Italian lingerie store, and then drop off your puppy for a spa day, all in under a half hour. And, shhh, the stores were very quiet, I’ll-glare-if-you-speak-loudly quiet. I was often hushed, too, since sticker shock often dumbfounds me. Though, I should confess, something perverse in me wanted me to scream upon entering those hush-up stores.

All around are luxe restaurants with patrons to match, and sophisticated bistros with fresh-looking, pleasant-smelling—oh, those lovely scents!—upscale clientele. And for outdoor relaxation and play, Central Park is a quick stroll away—across the road, even. It’s as if the neighborhood was curated to cater to the needs and pleasures of its wealthy residents. Dig through the historical record and you’ll find that, indeed, starting with Fifth Avenue in the late nineteenth century, later joined in the early twentieth century by Park (formerly Fourth) Avenue, elegance and convenience have characterized the Upper East Side’s moneyed class and its tony residences.

Yet, for all its beauty, the neighborhood today feels like a welcome mat with spikes, or, more aptly, like a museum after closing time. You could stand nearby and look in, but that’s as far as you could go: admiration from a distance. My feet met their limit.

So much of the lives of the very wealthy was a mystery to me, not least because I couldn’t hope to stand and chat with them. The city was this enticing language I was learning, but they were a cipher. They lived, as my friend and walking companion Suketu once put it to me, in vertical gated communities—fortresses within layers of insulation. I’d see them shuttle from cabs or chauffeur-driven cars into their elegant buildings fronted by attentive doormen. Or I’d see them interacting with each other as I strolled past a posh establishment. They were sharply dressed ghosts; I would see them for a brief moment, only for them to quickly disappear into vehicles or buildings as mysteriously as they came.

There was a come-hither-stay-away quality to it all. Apartment lobbies looked inviting, but dapper doormen in their white shirts and black ties stood between you and them. Brownstones were beguiling, but you dared not sit on their steps. And I couldn’t shake the feeling that someone my shade, the color of the neighborhood’s nannies and gardeners and janitors but not their neighbors (at least, none that I saw), was more unwelcome on a stranger’s stoop.

Nor would I ever see people hanging out on their own steps. The beauty of the Upper East Side, the visual allure, had a placidity I felt detached from. There was something disquieting about all that silence. Certainly, one of the joys of living in the city is the wonderful solitude it affords, the option to, as E. B. White memorably put it, opt out and announce, “I did not attend.” The city is a place of escape as much as it’s one of pilgrimage, and, to someone outside of their circle passing through, the affluent inhabitants of the Upper East Side resemble a group who entered a compact to “not attend.” The serenity felt fragile, and I feared that if I did anything that was perceived as a threat to it, no matter how simple—approaching that friendly face to have a chat, leaning over to inhale perfumy flowers—that I would be promptly reminded that I could inhabit those streets only so much.

When I leave the Upper East Side on foot, the streets declare it to me almost immediately. I cross Ninety-Sixth Street—on Park Avenue, say, and the picturesque quickly recedes. Islands of gardens are supplanted by train tracks that tear out of the ground and rise alongside and above houses, transporting streams of Metro-North trains and dispersing noise across the neighborhood. Pristine sidewalks are replaced by dusty ones, and time and again micro-dirt tornadoes, with candy wrappers within, whirl around. And luxury mansions are replaced by tenement-type buildings, row houses, and “superblocks” of housing projects.

And the population becomes increasingly darker. A lot more. And friendlier. A lot more. More Spanish is heard (significantly so), more bodegas are seen on corners, and the hum of the Upper East Side gives way to a skipping, sometimes clamoring, beat. (On weekends with good weather, there are block parties aplenty). You almost begin to wonder—at least, I often do—if East Harlem is the town crier announcing, “Yeah, you’ve left the Upper East Side. The South Bronx is three miles, and an hour’s walk, thataway.”"



"On the way back home, Suketu drove through the Upper East Side, past glittery boutiques and sexy bistros, enticing department stores and showy high-rise apartment buildings. At that moment, I recognized that, for me, there wasn’t much difference between cutting through the neighborhood on foot and in a car. There was, of course. But leaving from Hunts Point, where time in a car away from residents removes so much of the neighborhood’s pleasure, and arriving in the Upper East Side around fifteen minutes later, only to recognize that I felt at arm’s length from a lot of its residents even when I walked through, reminded me that inequality also deprives the very wealthy. In ensconcing themselves in their circles, the very wealthy had cut themselves off from a range of perspectives and temperaments and stories—stories that are a central part of their city’s vibrancy and appeal. In Hunts Point, I witnessed deprivation due to an absence of resources; in the Upper East Side, I witnessed deprivation of a different, but related sort: the absence of enriching interactions.

I became an obsessive walker as a matter of necessity. Too poor to take taxis when I was growing up in Jamaica, and living in a … [more]
walking  serendipity  2014  garnettecadogan  nyc  inequality  discovery  wonder  possibility  ebwhite  wealth  waltwhitman  rebeccasolnit  micheldecerteau  observation  flaneur 
july 2016 by robertogreco
Walking While Black | Literary Hub
"Within days I noticed that many people on the street seemed apprehensive of me: Some gave me a circumspect glance as they approached, and then crossed the street; others, ahead, would glance behind, register my presence, and then speed up; older white women clutched their bags; young white men nervously greeted me, as if exchanging a salutation for their safety: “What’s up, bro?” On one occasion, less than a month after my arrival, I tried to help a man whose wheelchair was stuck in the middle of a crosswalk; he threatened to shoot me in the face, then asked a white pedestrian for help.

I wasn’t prepared for any of this. I had come from a majority-black country in which no one was wary of me because of my skin color. Now I wasn’t sure who was afraid of me. I was especially unprepared for the cops. They regularly stopped and bullied me, asking questions that took my guilt for granted. I’d never received what many of my African-American friends call “The Talk”: No parents had told me how to behave when I was stopped by the police, how to be as polite and cooperative as possible, no matter what they said or did to me. So I had to cobble together my own rules of engagement. Thicken my Jamaican accent. Quickly mention my college. “Accidentally” pull out my college identification card when asked for my driver’s license.

My survival tactics began well before I left my dorm. I got out of the shower with the police in my head, assembling a cop-proof wardrobe. Light-colored oxford shirt. V-neck sweater. Khaki pants. Chukkas. Sweatshirt or T-shirt with my university insignia. When I walked I regularly had my identity challenged, but I also found ways to assert it. (So I’d dress Ivy League style, but would, later on, add my Jamaican pedigree by wearing Clarks Desert Boots, the footwear of choice of Jamaican street culture.) Yet the all-American sartorial choice of white T-shirt and jeans, which many police officers see as the uniform of black troublemakers, was off-limits to me—at least, if I wanted to have the freedom of movement I desired.

In this city of exuberant streets, walking became a complex and often oppressive negotiation. I would see a white woman walking towards me at night and cross the street to reassure her that she was safe. I would forget something at home but not immediately turn around if someone was behind me, because I discovered that a sudden backtrack could cause alarm. (I had a cardinal rule: Keep a wide perimeter from people who might consider me a danger. If not, danger might visit me.) New Orleans suddenly felt more dangerous than Jamaica. The sidewalk was a minefield, and every hesitation and self-censored compensation reduced my dignity. Despite my best efforts, the streets never felt comfortably safe. Even a simple salutation was suspect.

One night, returning to the house that, eight years after my arrival, I thought I’d earned the right to call my home, I waved to a cop driving by. Moments later, I was against his car in handcuffs. When I later asked him—sheepishly, of course; any other way would have asked for bruises—why he had detained me, he said my greeting had aroused his suspicion. “No one waves to the police,” he explained. When I told friends of his response, it was my behavior, not his, that they saw as absurd. “Now why would you do a dumb thing like that?” said one. “You know better than to make nice with police.”"



"Walking had returned to me a greater set of possibilities. And why walk, if not to create a new set of possibilities? Following serendipity, I added new routes to the mental maps I had made from constant walking in that city from childhood to young adulthood, traced variations on the old pathways. Serendipity, a mentor once told me, is a secular way of speaking of grace; it’s unearned favor. Seen theologically, then, walking is an act of faith. Walking is, after all, interrupted falling. We see, we listen, we speak, and we trust that each step we take won’t be our last, but will lead us into a richer understanding of the self and the world.

In Jamaica, I felt once again as if the only identity that mattered was my own, not the constricted one that others had constructed for me. I strolled into my better self. I said, along with Kierkegaard, “I have walked myself into my best thoughts.”"



"Walking while black restricts the experience of walking, renders inaccessible the classic Romantic experience of walking alone. It forces me to be in constant relationship with others, unable to join the New York flaneurs I had read about and hoped to join. Instead of meandering aimlessly in the footsteps of Whitman, Melville, Kazin, and Vivian Gornick, more often, I felt that I was tiptoeing in Baldwin’s—the Baldwin who wrote, way back in 1960, “Rare, indeed, is the Harlem citizen, from the most circumspect church member to the most shiftless adolescent, who does not have a long tale to tell of police incompetence, injustice, or brutality. I myself have witnessed and endured it more than once.”

Walking as a black man has made me feel simultaneously more removed from the city, in my awareness that I am perceived as suspect, and more closely connected to it, in the full attentiveness demanded by my vigilance. It has made me walk more purposefully in the city, becoming part of its flow, rather than observing, standing apart.

* * * *

But it also means that I’m still trying to arrive in a city that isn’t quite mine. One definition of home is that it’s somewhere we can most be ourselves. And when are we more ourselves but when walking, that natural state in which we repeat one of the first actions we learned? Walking—the simple, monotonous act of placing one foot before the other to prevent falling—turns out not to be so simple if you’re black. Walking alone has been anything but monotonous for me; monotony is a luxury.

A foot leaves, a foot lands, and our longing gives it momentum from rest to rest. We long to look, to think, to talk, to get away. But more than anything else, we long to be free. We want the freedom and pleasure of walking without fear—without others’ fear—wherever we choose. I’ve lived in New York City for almost a decade and have not stopped walking its fascinating streets. And I have not stopped longing to find the solace that I found as a kid on the streets of Kingston. Much as coming to know New York City’s streets has made it closer to home to me, the city also withholds itself from me via those very streets. I walk them, alternately invisible and too prominent. So I walk caught between memory and forgetting, between memory and forgiveness."
garnettecadogan  racism  blackness  race  walking  nyc  neworleans  nola  serendipity  anonymity  fear  judgement  fatswaller  waltwhitman  kingston  jamaica  us  via:ayjay  racialprofiling  police  lawenforcement  possibility  possibilities  grace  favor  faith  hermanmelville  alfredkazin  elizabethhardwick  janejacobs  memory  forgiveness  forgetting  freedom 
july 2016 by robertogreco

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