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.
There was no featured artist, and it had already been raining for two days straight, but that didn’t keep a small group of devotees from showing up at the Outer Space on Wednesday night for what could be the longest-running open mic in the New Haven area. For good reason.
For jazz musician and professor Willie Ruff, the Langston Hughes Projectshow on Friday — with spoken-word poet Kenyon Adams and the Ron McCurdy Quartet — echoes back to another time in his life in New Haven, when Langston Hughes himself came to town.
The first time performance artist Kenyon Adams read Langston Hughes’ epic, emotional Ask Your Mama: Twelve Moods for Jazz, he was young and not totally floored by the poetry of each word, the urgency and grace in every line, every verse, every mood. He let the poem languish for a few years. And then something happened that would change the way he thought about it forever.