“Good morning America, how are you?” sang Expression Mondays East cohost Bobcat Carruthers, playing “City of New Orleans” — the Steeve Goodman song that Arlo Guthrie made famous — with guitarist Sal Fusco and Terence Clarke on harmonica.
Others in the audience answered with their own instruments, and another night of sharing and expression began.
When I arrived at the People’s Center on Howe Street, the door was locked and two men were hanging out on the front steps waiting to get in. I introduced myself to Baub OneGod Bidon, the night’s featured performer as well as the founder of the long-running spoken-word open mic Free 2 Spit. I told him I hadn’t wanted to bother him as he was getting ready.
“Next time, you come right on over. When you come here, you’re family. You just come on in. Everybody is welcome here. This is our family and our community,” he said. He set the tone for the entire night.
Artists have a stage and they sure should use it. They could sense dangerous shifts in the body politic before non-artistic citizens do, and they should act on on these instincts. And poets are always in the midst of difficult times — it comes with the profession — so they could guide others when the difficulties spread.
Tyrese Dejesus ran onto the stage of Hill Central and lifted both hands in the air. He puffed out his chest and took a quick, deep breath. Then he looked out into a swelling audience, ready to make an announcement.
“I am not a poet!” he declared.
His peers raised their eyebrows and cocked their heads to listen closely. A few looked as though they were ready to call his bluff. Others waited to hear more.
Chad Herzog, the International Festival of Arts & Ideas’s interim co-executive director and director of programming, stood on the stage in a large room on the first floor of Alexion, on College Street. Before him, artists and filmmakers mingled with bankers and civic leaders. A countdown clock projected on the wall that looked more like something for a sports event — maybe a nod to March Madness? — had just run out. Herzog was on stage to announce A&I’s lineup for 2017.
A black novelist was so sick of the portrayal by his fellow writers of the Negro as fundamentally different from other homo sapiens that he wrote a satire, Black No More, starring a doctor who invents a procedure to lighten skin pigment.
A white champion of the new black lit himself penned a novel called Nigger Heaven, featuring sexual promiscuity; it sold well, and he was accused of exploitation.
And one of Langston Hughes‘s earliest blues-inspired poems was called “Fine Clothes to de Jew”; it broke new ground but its subject infuriated the black middle class — and, yes, there already was one in the Harlem of the 1920s and 1930s.