Friday Staff Pick: Divine Horsemen

Divine Horsemen
The Living Gods of Haiti

Maya Deren

Recommended by Tân, City Lights Books

This is the classic, intimate study, movingly written with the special insight of direct encounter, which was first published in 1953 by the fledgling Thames & Hudson firm in a series edited by Joseph Campbell. Maya Deren’s Divine Horsemen is recognized throughout the world as a primary source book on the culture and spirituality of Haitian Voudoun. The work includes all the original photographs and illustrations, glossary, appendices and index. It includes the original Campbell foreword along with the foreword Campbell added to a later edition.


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Planet News

‘‘I went to Detroit to photograph the Ford factories, and then it was clear to me I wanted to do this. It was summer and so loud. So much noise. So much heat. It was hell. So much screaming.’’
Robert Frank in the New York Times Magazine

“I know in the States right now, movements such as Black Lives Matter have been grappling with this issue of whether those black lives also equal black female lives, and why the media doesn’t focus on the loss of black female lives as much as it focuses on the loss of black men. There are practical reasons,” she says. “Race studies professor Kimberlé Crenshaw has talked about how the numbers are just higher for black men. But there is a way in which black women are at the bottom. The invisibility of black women is astounding.”
Claudia Rankine interviewed in the Guardian

Future reprints of Citizen may include the victims of the Charleston shootings: Rankine, poignantly looking ahead, left space on the page. “In many ways, it’s a documentary text,” she says. “The book sits on top of a devastating and despairing reality that is both moving forwards and backwards.”
Question by serious student before huge crowd at University of Vermont conference: “Sir, how do you stand as to fornication?”
Answer: “As for fornication, I very seldom stand; I lie down.”
Second question: “Do you really think Christ is dead?”
Answer: “The way the world acts today, you would think so. He’s not here tonight, is he? I don’t see him.”
Voice from back of auditorium: “Here I am.”
March 30th 1960
An excerpt from Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s forthcoming travel journals! (To be published by Liveright link here)

“I’m glad I was in the Stonewall riot. I remember when someone threw a Molotov cocktail, I thought: “My god, the revolution is here. The revolution is finally here!”
Leslie Feinberg interviews Sylvia Rivera (via Verso)

Claire Denis To Make English-Language Debut With Sci-Fi Movie Set In Space, Co-Written By Zadie Smith

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Planet News

photo: Charles Brittin

“I have reached across the aisle. I have broken bread. I fully believe we all need healing in these moments, and that night, the symbolism was clear: a white person and a black person holding hands in the face of horrific racial violence, singing songs of freedom. What could be more comforting? But thanks to something I experienced the previous night in Charleston, I couldn’t shake a paralyzing feeling: When black people and white people clasped hands in the arena that night, the comfort wouldn’t be evenly distributed. The healing wouldn’t flow both ways.“
Dispatch From Charleston: The Cost Of White Comfort (via NPR)

“He had been reading Genet on this trip, and in thinking of Genet sauntering along La Rambla and into the Barrio Chino, Hauser felt less inauthentic and alone. Genet embroidered sacred joy over abject states of existence. To Genet the colors and roughness of prison clothing were reminiscent of the fuzzy petals of certain flowers. Genet wrote that theft was a hard, pure, luminous act, which only a diamond could symbolize. He said handcuffs shone like jewelry. Jewels and jewelry and flowers.”
Rachel Kushner’s short story, “The Sacred Family,” commissioned and read live at this year’s PEN World Voices Festival, is being featured as Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading this week! (via Pen America)

Please punctuate the following sentence:
According to The Huffington Post Ray Canterbury
a politician from West Virginia believes children
should work for their school lunch
(Your ability to punctuate this sentence will greatly
impact your eligibility for SSI/Food Stamps)


Tin House: If you could spend the day with a character, who would it be and what would you do?

Stephen Sparks: I’m going to cheat by imagining a three-on-three pickup basketball game. On my side, Beckett’s Watt (“a red-nosed potbellied little old fellow of unknown origin and nature”) and Djuna Barnes’ transexual raconteur and questionable man of medicine, Dr. Matthew-Mighty-grain-of-salt-Dante-O’Connor.
On the other, Flann O’Brien’s philosopher De Selby, who argues that the world is sausage-shaped (I can’t imagine this theory helping his post-up game); Bellow’s Herzog (that guy needs to have some fun and, probably, exercise); and Dezső Kosztolányi’s Kornél Esti, an incorrigible doppleganger known for his destructive antics, narrow yellow ties, and atrocious puns. I’m not sure any of these characters would stick around on the court long enough for us to get a game in.
Stephen Sparks (of another beloved San Francisco bookstore institution, Green Apple Books), interviewed in Tin House!

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Juan Felipe Herrera Appointed as 21st U.S. Poet Laureate

Gary Kazanjian/The New York Times
Gary Kazanjian/The New York Times

Juan Felipe Herrera has been appointed the 21st Poet Laureate of the United States for 2015-2016!

Forthcoming from City Lights this September will be Herrera’s new collection of poems titled Notes on the Assemblage.

Herrera, who succeeds Charles Wright as Poet Laureate, said of the appointment, “This is a mega-honor for me, for my family and my parents who came up north before and after the Mexican Revolution of 1910—the honor is bigger than me. I want to take everything I have in me, weave it, merge it with the beauty that is in the Library of Congress, all the resources, the guidance of the staff and departments, and launch it with the heart-shaped dreams of the people. It is a miracle of many of us coming together.”

Lots of media around the country and beyond announced the big news – here’s most of it:

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5 Questions with Banning Eyre

LionSongsCvrThis Tuesday at City Lights Bookstore, we welcome musician, writer, and producer Banning Eyre to discuss the music of Thomas Mapfumo and his new book on the man, Lion Songs. Banning’s answers to our 5 questions are below but first, a little bit about him and his new book.

Event: Tuesday, June 23, 2015 @ 7:00PM at City Lights Bookstore. A special evening of word and song celebrating the new book Lion Songs: Thomas Mapfumo and the Music That Made Zimbabwe (Duke University Press) by Banning Eyre.

About the Book: Like Fela Kuti and Bob Marley, singer, composer and bandleader Thomas Mapfumo and his music came to represent his native country’s anti-colonial struggle and Like Fela Kuti and Bob Marley, singer, composer, and bandleader Thomas Mapfumo and his music came to represent his native country’s anti-colonial struggle and cultural identity. Mapfumo was born in 1945 in what was then the British colony of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). The trajectory of his career—from early performances of American rock n’ roll tunes to later creating a new genre based on traditional Zimbabwean music, including the sacred mbira, and African and Western pop—is a metaphor for Zimbabwe’s evolution from colony to independent nation. Lion Songs is an authoritative biography of Mapfumo that narrates the life and career of this creative, complex, and iconic figure.

Photo by Robert Ebstein
Photo by Robert Ebstein

Banning Eyre ties the arc of Mapfumo’s career to the history of Zimbabwe. The genre. Mapfumo created in the 1970s called chimurenga, or “struggle” music, challenged the Rhodesian government—which banned his music and jailed him—and became important to Zimbabwe achieving independence in 1980. In the 1980s and 1990s Mapfumo’s international profile grew along with his opposition to Robert Mugabe’s dictatorship. Mugabe had been a hero of the revolution, but Mapfumo’s criticism of his regime led authorities and loyalists to turn on the singer with threats and intimidation. Beginning in 2000, Mapfumo and key band and family members left Zimbabwe. Many of them, including Mapfumo, now reside in Eugene, Oregon.

A labor of love, Lion Songs is the product of a twenty-five year friendship and professional relationship between Eyre and Mapfumo that demonstrates Mapfumo’s musical and political importance to his nation, its freedom struggle, and its culture.

About the Author: Banning Eyre is a freelance writer and guitarist and the senior editor and producer of the public radio program Afropop Worldwide. He is the author of In Griot Time: An American Guitarist in Mali (Temple University Press), Playing With Fire: Fear and Self-Censorship in Zimbabwean Music, and Guitar Atlas: Africa, and the coauthor of AFROPOP! An Illustrated Guide to Contemporary African Music. Eyre is a contributor to National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, and his writing has been published in Billboard, Guitar Player,, the Boston Phoenix, CMJ, Option, Folk Roots, Global Rhythm, and other publications. He has also performed and recorded with Thomas Mapfumo. His official site is

City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit?

Banning Eyre: An atmosphere of funky elegance, redolent with San Francisco’s brilliantly rebellious culture, and a curious audience game to discover something new.

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Friday Staff Pick

Recommended by Andy, City Lights Books

Armed with speakers, turntables, light systems, and records, Filipino American mobile DJ crews, such as Ultimate Creations, Spintronix, and Images, Inc., rocked dance floors throughout the San Francisco Bay Area from the late 1970s through the mid-1990s. In Legions of Boom noted music and pop culture writer and scholar Oliver Wang chronicles this remarkable scene that eventually became the cradle for turntablism. These crews, which were instrumental in helping to create and unify the Bay Area’s Filipino American community, gave young men opportunities to assert their masculinity and gain social status.

While crews regularly spun records for school dances, weddings, birthdays, or garage parties, the scene’s centerpieces were showcases—or multi-crew performances—which drew crowds of hundreds, or even thousands. By the mid-1990s the scene was in decline, as single DJs became popular, recruitment to crews fell off, and aspiring scratch DJs branched off into their own scene. As the training ground for a generation of DJs, including DJ Q-Bert, Shortkut and Mix Master Mike, the mobile scene left an indelible mark on its community that eventually grew to have a global impact.


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Planet News

Poem Against the State of Things by June Jordan on KPOO San Francisco 1977 (Listen Here, Via Cassandra Gillig)

‘The church is “symbolically recognized by everyone as a thorn in the side of the white body,” said the writer Edward Ball… “It’s at the very center of town, at the very center of white society,” he said. “This church is much more than a place where people sing gospel. It’s tethered to the deep unconscious of the black community.”’
(Attack at Black Church Hate Crime, New York Times)

“The Confederate flag’s defenders often claim it represents “heritage not hate.” I agree—the heritage of White Supremacy was not so much birthed by hate as by the impulse toward plunder. Dylann Roof plundered nine different bodies last night, plundered nine different families of an original member, plundered nine different communities of a singular member. An entire people are poorer for his action. The flag that Roof embraced, which many South Carolinians embrace, does not stand in opposition this act—it endorses it.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates (The Atlantic)

“I want to stimulate them instead of asking them simply to accompany me in front of the public. But I find that it’s very difficult to do, because the jazz musician is probably the only person for whom the composer is not a very interesting individual, in the sense that he prefers to destroy what the composer writes or says”
Ornette Coleman interviewed by Jacques Derrida (via Ubu Web)

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Rebecca Brown Interviewed on MOSS

rebecca brownNorthwestern Queer-lit extraordinaire and author of 7 City Lights books, Rebecca Brown, has been working in Seattle since the 80’s (and rent was under $500). Since then she has made her presence in the city worthwhile, participating in multiple educational programs and accruing some notable awards along the way. Winner of the 2003 Washington book award, Lambda Literary award, and Genius award from The Stranger, Brown recently gave an in-depth interview to  MOSS, a journal that focuses on fostering Northwestern writers and their communities. The journal also features an essay by Brown, “Four Memories of Breath”


from “Four Memories of Breath”

In the morning Chris woke up early. She was already by the river when I got up and opened the sleeve of the tent and looked. She sat by the river and dipped her hands and then her hands and a cloth into the river and onto her. She was washing herself with the water. The sun was coming up and there was mist rising off the river. It rose from the land and other things and the rain that had fallen the night before was turned back into mist or steam or something more or less than it. I looked and saw as if, for a while, the breathing of the world.


Enjoy excerpts from MOSS‘s excellent interview with Rebecca as she talks about Gertrude Stein, Oreos, Catholicism, Levertov, and the West. Do follow the link to MOSS issue 1.3 to get the full dose.

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New from City Lights Publishers: Writing on the Wall: Selected Prison Writings of Mumia Abu-Jamal

WritingontheWallWriting on the Wall: Selected Prison Writings by Mumia Abu-Jamal presents a selection of over 100 previously unpublished essays spanning the entire period of Mumia Abu-Jamal’s incarceration that crystallize his essential perspectives on community, politics, protest, history, social change and movement organizing in the U.S. and internationally. From discussions of Rosa Parks and Trayvon Martin, to Martin Luther King and Edward Snowden, Abu-Jamal articulates lucid, humorous and often prescient insight into the past, present and future of American politics and society. Written as radio commentaries from his prison cell on Death Row where he was held in solitary confinement for close to 30 years, Mumia’s revolutionary perspective brims with hope, encouragement and profound faith in the possibility of social transformation.

Published at a moment when the nation is grappling with the realities of—and backlash to—police violence in communities of color, Writing on the Wall couldn’t be more relevant, provocative or timely, and reads like a syllabus for understanding the daily civic and political realities of those marginalized by racism and class inequality.

Abu-Jamal is no stranger to such realities, and was the target of an unrelenting surveillance campaign from the time he was a 16 year-old sixties activist and long before the fateful night when he himself was shot, beaten and arrested by white Philadelphia police. From the moment he was taken into custody, Mumia has been subjected to gross violations of his rights, violations which have been well documented by Amnesty International and denounced by world leaders including Nobel Laureate, Bishop Desmond Tutu. These violations continue right up to the present time through U.S. authorities’ attempt to censor his speech and deny him adequate medical treatment required to address his life-threatening illness. At this moment, Mumia’s medical condition is fragile and uncertain. A half-page ad was recently placed in the New York Times to demand that state officials not further neglect his health. Of his current peril, Alice Walker writes that Mumia is “a rare and courageous voice speaking from a place we fear to know … losing that voice would be like losing a color from the rainbow.”

It is our hope that Writing on the Wall will contribute to the wider pursuit of such freedom and be read as a living contribution to the emancipatory tradition of African American literature, a tradition which champions the triumph of human conscience and dignity over state violence and oppression. Further, it is our hope that this document of Mumia’s humanity, insight, intelligence, and commitment will stand as a tribute to one of America’s most articulate and dedicated messengers of liberation.

Johanna Fernández speaks with Sonali Kolhatkar on Uprising Radio about Mumia Abu-Jamal:
Johanna Fernández speaks with Sonali Kolhatkar on Uprising Radio about Mumia Abu-Jamal:

Writing on the Wall was edited by Johanna Fernández, a former Fulbright Scholar to Jordan and Assistant Professor of History at Baruch College of the City University of New York where she teaches 20th Century US history and African American History. She is author of the forthcoming When the World Was Their Stage: A History of the Young Lords Party, 1968–1976 (Princeton University Press). Fernandez is the writer and producer of the film, Justice on Trial: the Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal and she is featured in the critically acclaimed documentary about Mumia Abu-Jamal, Long Distance Revolutionary. The book also features a foreword by Cornel West.

Please consider donating to the Indiegogo fundraiser hosted by Prison Radio to help aid Mumia in receiving much needed medical care and legal assistance. You can also visit Free Mumia for more resources. 

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5 Questions with Stephen Kessler

Veteran Bay Area poet, translator, essayist, editor, and journalist Stephen Kessler presents his three newest books in an evening of readings and conversation about heteroformalism, hybrid writings, the prose poem as journalism, the personal cultural essay, and the art of literary translation at City Lights Bookstore this Tuesday. Find Stephen’s answers to our 5 questions below.

Event: Tuesday, June 16, 2015 @ 7:00PM. Stephen Kessler celebrates the release of Where Was I? (from Greenhouse Review Press), Need I Say More? (from El Leon Literary Arts), and his new book of Luis Cernuda translations, Forbidden Pleasures: New Selected Poems (from Black Widow Press)

About the Books:

where was i1. Where Was I?: In these hybrid writings—a mixture of memoir, prose poetry, personal essay, travel journal, and spiritual meditation—Stephen Kessler synthesizes a lifetime of experiences in language of extraordinary concentration, vividness, and lyricism. The stories he tells and the visions he evokes of places and people he has known could be anyone’s, but they are the distillation of a singular personal history in a voice uniquely his own.

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