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The 5th Inning

In books on January 6, 2009 at 5:44 pm



In March, poet and literary activist, E. Ethelbert Miller will release his second memoir, The 5th Inning. In an exclusive essay for of note, Miller reflects on the family photo that inspired the cover art for the book. “Years before Michelle and Barack, we were the Millers,” he recalls of that ‘family-next-door’ moment.  

But as he unwraps the story behind the photograph – the story of a family and of years passed, he crafts a narrative about the fragments, the spaces, the isolation within our lives. “This is what we do as writers,” he says, “We write about the smiles we can no longer wear and the suffering that we do.”

I’m looking at the book cover of my second memoir, The 5th Inning. The cover features the artwork of my friend Andy Shallal, the owner of Busboys and Poets in Washington D.C. Andy was able to create a collage from a photo taken by Dan Moldea. He took the picture back in 2005 on the day my son Nyere-Gibran graduated from Gonzaga High School. It’s a remarkable photo in that it captures my entire family laughing and in a moment of complete joy. I have no memory of what we were laughing at, other than Dan perhaps saying just relax and disguise yourself for history. We are all standing in the backyard of our house on Underwood Street. In the picture with me are my daughter, mother, sister, son, and wife. What the picture doesn’t capture is what took place in front of the house before Dan arrived. 

It’s my son’s graduation and he is happy. My wife has fixed up the entire house, ordered chairs and tables for the backyard, cooked food and made arrangements for about 50 people or more. Standing in front of the house waiting for people to arrive, my son and I soon realized very few people were coming. I could feel the disappointment in his voice overshadowed by the jokes we  passed back and forth. We both knew that this special day was another day in our lives–that connected us more than blood or flesh. If I was a blues singer I would have presented my son with a guitar and congratulated him for graduating into my world.

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the art of the letter

In books on December 18, 2008 at 7:57 pm


When’s the last time you received a hand-written letter? Rare these days, isn’t it? To put pen to paper requires thought, intimacy, patience, reflection, and penmanship. The hand-written letter is increasingly becoming a lost art – soon we might only find them in dusty attics or museums enclosed in glass cases.

That’s probably one of the reasons why Pamela Newkirk finds the art of letter writing fascinating. Over coffee today, she handed me an advanced copy of her upcoming book, Letters from Black America (February, 2009) – a sequel to the previous collection, A Love No Less, Two Centuries of African-American Love Letters.

It’s an extensive collection with a diversity of letters penned by well-known politicians, artists, and entertainers, as well as the private correspondences of slaves, servicemen, and domestic workers. Of course, I’m very pleased to see a chapter dedicated to Art and Culture featuring letters from Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay among other men and women of note.

– Grace A. Ali

Toni Morrison “A Mercy”

In books on November 3, 2008 at 3:10 pm

Ana Juan

John Updike recently reviewed Toni Morrison’s latest novel, A Mercy (Knopf, 2008) in The New Yorker. He seemed more impressed with the legacy of Toni Morrison’s early body of work than her current presence on the literary scene. Needless to say, it was not a flattering review. Neither was the The New Yorker’s illustration of her (pictured above). Outlined in both image and review is an angry black woman. Both depictions are disappointing, to say the least. 

Updike: “This author’s early novels were breakthroughs into the experience of black Americans as refracted in the poetic and indignant perceptions of a black woman from Lorain, Ohio; as Morrison moves deeper into a more visionary realism, a betranced pessimism saps her plots of the urgency that hope imparts to human adventures.

A Mercy begins where it ends, with a white man casually answering a slave mother’s plea, but he dies, and she fades into slavery’s myriads, and the child goes mad with love. Varied and authoritative and frequently beautiful though the language is, it circles around a vision, both turgid and static, of a new world turning old, and poisoned from the start.”

books: War of the Kings

In books, Uncategorized on October 14, 2008 at 12:11 am


Here we go again. This is so unfortunate. The children of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King are at odds (again) over telling their mother’s story. What would Martin and Coretta say? 

In the third King v. King legal dispute in four months, two of Dr. King’s  children are refusing to provide a biographer of their mother, Coretta Scott King, who died in 2006, with a collection of her photographs, letters and personal papers. Their brother, Dexter King, chairman of  their father’s estate, has asked a judge to force them to comply.

Dr. King’s Children Battling Over Book, The New York Times, October  13, 2008

Photo: Ric Feld|The Associated Press