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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

St. Clair Bourne: A sad loss to the film community

I just learned that filmmaker St. Clair Bourne passed away after surgery Saturday, Dec. 15. My prayers to out to his family. He is already missed so much!

Pan African Film & Arts Festival NewsletterLos Angeles February 7-18, 2008One City, 12 Days, Over 80 Countries...Film::Art::Culture::Community
Monday, December 17, 2007

PAFF Mourns Loss of Veteran Filmmaker St. Claire Bourne
Photo credit: Ian Foxx

Reknowned documentary filmmaker St. Clair Bourne died early Saturday morning (Dec. 15) in a New York hospital after an operation to remove a brain tumor. He was 64. According to his sister Judith, St. Clair made it through surgery without complication only to be attacked in the aftermath by a blood clot in his lung. Bourne was a veteran producer, director and writer of documentaries for HBO, PBS, NBC, Sundance Channel, BBC, National Geographic.

Bourne was the recipient of the 2007 PAFF Pioneer Award.
On Nov. 30th, before entering the hospital, Bourne wrote in his
"I'm writing to let you know that the usual stream of CHAMBA NOTES will not be forthcoming for about a month. I am scheduled to undergo an operation within the next couple weeks to remove a benign tumor that is pressing against my brain. While this is scary, the operation is not as dangerous as it sounds. First of all, the tumor is benign but it does periodically causes spasms and numbness in my left arm and leg. Second, the surgery will not penetrate the brain itself because the tumor is located on the surface of the brain. Finally, this type of operation, while not quite routine, has become commonplace enough so that most of the previous difficulties in this procedure have been worked out. I hope to be back in action by the new year. Send me your best wishes, prayers and good vibes. - St.Clair Bourne"

As head of his production company Chamba Mediaworks, Inc., Bourne made more than 45 films concentrating on cultural and political themes. Among the most notable, Bourne produced the feature-length, Emmy-nominated documentary "Half Past Autumn: The Life and Works of Gordon Parks" about the photojournalist and filmmaker for HBO. With actor Wesley Snipes as executive producer, Bourne directed "John Henrik Clarke: A Great and Mighty Walk," a feature length documentary about the respected historian and Pan-African activist. He also directed "Paul Robeson: Here I Stand!," a 2-hour documentary for the "American Masters" PBS series followed by "Melvin and Mario at Sundance," a documentary short for the Sundance Channel.
At the time of his death, Bourne was developing two dramatic feature film projects: "The Bride Price," a contemporary thriller set in Senegal about a romance between an African-American businessman and an African holy man's daughter and "The Visitor," about an African Muslim filmmaker's visit to his African-American counterpart just as the 9/11 attack erupts. He was shooting two documentaries: one about veteran Black photography Ernest Withers (who shot the Martin Luther King assassination photos), and the other, a documentary series on the rise, fall and legacy of the Black Panther Party for the PBS network.

Bourne was a founder of the Black Documentary Collective, a New York-based documentary service organization as well as the LA-based Black Association of Documentary Filmmakers-West.

His popular blog, "Chamba Notes," was a personal commentary about current productions, new projects, opinions, musings, political analysis, even short, any information about new and traditional media production and distribution with a special focus on - but not exclusively about - the African Diaspora.
Bourne is survived by a sister, Judith Bourne, a lawyer in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.

Miami Dolphins: Victory tastes good!

POST-SCRIPT: Once I found it within my heart to watch the Miami Dolphins play even when I didn't think they would team finally won! The excruciating talk of a winless season is over. I watched players I've suffered with celebrate the fruits of their labor.
Final score: 22-16 over the Baltimore Ravens. Greg Camarillo ran in a touchdown after a pass from Cleo Lemon. And the dramatic overtime win unfolded with the 1972 undefeated Dolphins team members watching from the stands as they gathered for their reunion.
Next to fall...New England?
The Dolphins shut out New England last year. Win or lose, it sure is nice to believe.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Zen & the Art of Being a Dolfan: The 2007 Miami Dolphins

Teach us to care and not to care.
Teach us to sit still.
–T. S. Eliot

When the way comes to an end, then change—
having changed, you pass through.
–I Ching


DECEMBER 16, 2007—Sunday’s home game for the winless Miami Dolphins is a sellout—and I’ll be watching from California. Nearly ten years after leaving Miami in 1998 to write novels full-time and begin married life, this year I finally made the switch to DirecTV so I would never miss a Miami Dolphins game.

This year. The worst year in franchise history.

Our beloved Dolphins haven’t won all season. They just lost their twelfth straight game, and the unlucky thirteenth may be today. They’re in danger, in fact, of becoming the first 0-16 team in NFL historythe team that carved the only undefeated season in 1972. A dazzling array of injuries has only added acid to the wounds. Week by week, I’m watching history unravel in a surreal tunnel of mirrors.

Yet, I can’t stop tuning in.

The heartbreak of the experience has redefined my idea of what it means to be a fan. While the Dolphins are crashing, I have turned a bend: I’ve rediscovered how to enjoy watching my hometown team.

Up until this year, I’d been in recovery. And denial. And in pain.

Dan Marino’s final playoff game—that ghastly 62-7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2000 that was the worst loss in franchise history—nearly knocked the Dolfan out of me.

I was too young to remember the legendary 1972 Miami Dolphins, but I remember golden days in the 1980s and 1990s: Unflappable Coach Don Shula and his disciplined army. Receivers Mark Clayton and Mark Duper. The Bruise Brothers, Lyle and Glenn Blackwood. Quarterback Don Strock, who could lob bombs into the end zone when all hope was lost.

And Dan Marino, of course: the leader on the field who threw laser-beams and routinely called forced opponents to scurry with confusion and dread. The score never mattered as long as Marino was there, not until the clock read 00:00.

For a lot of us, I guess, Dan Marino was the Miami Dolphins.

Then came That Game in Jacksonville. With Fate and age against him, a retirement-bound Dan Marino was gone from us forever.

It hurt. It still does.

But we had no idea how bad it was going to get. That Game was only an omen of days to come, as if a santero in a bad mood had sprinkled powder on us.

A curse. Just as we suspected.


By 2000, I had moved away from Miami.

Soon after That Game, my husband and I had a pitch meeting in Hollywood with a television executive who happened to be a Miami Dolphins fan. It’s the kind of rapport you beg for when you’re trying to sell a TV series idea—but as soon as the exec brought up the Dolphins, my lips clamped shut. I was blinking away tears. Couldn’t even talk about it. So much for rapport. (We didn’t sell the show; I blamed the Dolphins.)

Since games were only aired once in a blue moon to those of us on the west coast anyway, my heart wandered. When we lived in Washington state, I tried to fall in love with the Seattle Seahawks. (At the time, they were losing too; no thanks.) My former Northwestern University coach Dennis Greene was with the Minneapolis Vikings, so I tried that too. And Indianapolis. I love head coach Tony Dungy, Peyton Manning reminds me of a young Marino, and I have roots in Indianapolis, so...

So, nothing.

Year after year, I searched for a new reason to be excited about football season. I could take satisfaction rooting against Dolphin arch-rivals, but it wasn’t the same. I found myself forgetting that it was Sunday afternoon or Monday night. As a fan, I was homeless.

I could admire other teams’ skills and artistry, but no other team could make me scream with joy, catch my heart in my throat or cramp my stomach. I realized that watching football wasn’t just about winning, or good players. What, then?

History, that’s what.

As a child, the only reason I started watching football was to try to spend time with my father, as he patiently—or impatiently—explained the rules of the game while I sat on the sofa beside him, mostly enjoying the feeling of being there. Dad took me and my sisters to see the Dolphins at the Orange Bowl stadium, and later at Joe Robbie Stadium. Those games are some of my most thrilling childhood memories.

What other team could inspire the memory of Thanksgiving and Christmas games on the widescreen TV at my Aunt Eva’s house, with my late grandmother sitting in the kitchen nearby, sneaking herself another plate?

I loved the Miami Dolphins more than the game itself.

If I wanted to care about football again, I would have to go back home.


Like most people recovering from a traumatic episode, I took baby steps. And trust me, the Dolphins haven’t made it easy.

Sports is all about familiarity. Players are celebrities on the field the way Will Smith and Denzel draw patrons to movie theaters. You’re a family, or at least you pretend to be. You learn players’ personalities and quirks, their weaknesses and strengths. Even if you don’t always like them, you know them.

Not in Miami.

Every year, there were so many new faces. New coaches. More quarterbacks than I can name—thereby poisoning other games for me, since so many quarterbacks who could not perform in Miami seem to be doing just fine elsewhere. At one point, even the Dolphins jersey changed color; I couldn’t recognize them on sight.

Baby steps. Before I had DirecTV, I listened to radio broadcasts on my computer. Since the offense never found its Dan Marino, I learned to love the defense. Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor embody the spirit of the Dolphins I remembered from olden times; some years, they seemed to be the only thing about the Dolphins that felt right.

I discovered preseason games, which had never interested me even when the Dolphins were winning—but for a while, the preseason games were the only ones I could count on seeing every week on cable. So, I found a way to care.

I checked out the new talent, especially the quarterbacks, to see if any cream would rise. I was thrilled to see a running back emerge, Ronnie Brown. I had the breathless exhilaration of seeing Wes Welker’s first spurts in a Miami Dolphins uniform. (I ain’t mad at ya, Wes, although did you have to go to the Patriots?)

During preseason, I thought Cleo Lemon was the most promising quarterback on the field—but the coaches never cared what I thought. Still, though, at least I had an opinion. I was on my way home again.

The sight of Pro Bowl quarterback Daunte Culpepper in a Miami Dolphins jersey on the cover of a sports magazine was the very portrait of Hope, as if the thrill-ride of the Marino days might be back on track at last.

Naive hopes, it turned out. So naive.

But two moments made all the difference: Last year, the Dolphins’ undefeated 1972 season was challenged by the as-yet unbeaten Chicago Bears. The Dolphins had been playing poorly, but their record was at stake.

Something close to miraculous happened: The Miami Dolphins won.

Later in the season, we shut out the powerhouse New England Patriots, sacking quarterback Tom Brady four times. The Patriots might be bound for the stratosphere in 2007 while we ere bound for humiliation, but for precious moments we remembered what it felt like to be a better team again.

I shrieked and shouted and celebrated.

I’m the only football fan in my household, unless you count my four-year-old son Jason’s insistence on rooting against whatever team I’m rooting for. But as the Dolphins pulled off their Patriots shutout, I gave spiritual high-fives to my father in upstate Florida and my sisters in Atlanta and Dallas.

We don’t watch games as a family together anymore—my sisters don’t even want to hear team updates since Marino left—but on that night, I knew I had made it. Finally.
If I could help it, I wouldn’t miss another game.


What fresh hell is this?

I was literally open-mouthed, watching the catastrophic game in horror, when Dorothy Parker’s words were the only ones that fit: What fresh hell is this?

There’s an aptly-named Internet forum called The Dolphins Make Me Cry, a place where Dolfans gather to commiserate, but I don’t cry over football games. I may rant and feel my mood dimming, but tears and sobs are for real-life tragedies.

That day, though, was the closest to tears I had been since 2000.

It was Week 5.

Our new quarterback Trent Green went down with his season-ending injury. When he was injured, removed from the field on a backboard, the players prayed on the field in a mass huddle that felt like a funeral. My husband, who has been very supportive, gave me a hug.

We’ve lost star running back Ronnie Brown to injury too. And star defensive lineman Zach Thomas. Chris Chambers, our most promising receiver, got traded. Pro Bowl running back Ricky Williams, whom we had lost to his demons in years past, returned to Miami only to be injured after only six carries. Gone. We’ve lost almost everyone this year.

What fresh hell is this?

Something snapped in me the day I saw that huddle of prayer on the field, with yet another quarterback gone and the prospects for our season disintegrating.

Either stop watching, I told myself, or stop needing to win. Let go.

I couldn’t stop. But I had to care in a different way. About different things.

Do I hope the Dolphins will break their losing streak Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens? Of course I do. I’m not surprised there’s a sellout crowd. At the very least, one way or another, fans will be watching history.

There’s a point in a game when fans know that winning isn’t probable; you can see your team is overmatched. But the Dolphins have almost won a lot of games. Often, that delicious feeling of not knowing lingers until the very end. The fighting spirit is there.

I missed the last Dolphins game against the Buffalo Bills, but I’m watching it piece by piece on my DVR. I’d read the breakdown of the score quarter by quarter on the Internet before I started, so I knew the first quarter was going to be painful. I knew the stats.

But stats and highlights aren’t the game.

It was only by watching the game that I could see for myself how Cleo Lemon rallied his team’s spirit by completing a 54-yard pass right after John Beck was pulled from the quarterback’s spot in the first quarter; the kind of pass we Dolfans don’t often see.

The Dolphins still give me reasons to smile.

Sure, it’s hard. I have to wallow through the pain and muck to find a single flower and savor every precious petal. It’s like a meditation, almost. For me, a fan who was spoiled rotten in my youth, it’s a wholly different way to watch football.

And who knows? Soon, we’re playing the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football. How sweet would it be to see the Miami Dolphins derail the Patriots’ undefeated season to defend the Miami Dolphins legacy?

Words couldn’t describe it.

I have accepted the possibilities. The Dolphins might go winless.

And next year, I’ll learn a new Dolphins team. Probably a new coach, I would think. Maybe a new quarterback, too, although Cleo Lemon is my favorite since Marino.

I really hope Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor will stick around. Too often, a strong defense to keep us from being humiliated was the best we could hope for, and they have come through year after year. But I feel guilty for wanting them to stay: They’re not rookies anymore, and rebuilding from the ground up takes time. I don’t want them to miss their chance at their Super Bowl rings. They’re true-life brothers-in-law now, so maybe they’ll end up somewhere together. (Just not the Patriots—please?)

If we lost them both, or one of them, I might even shed a tear.

But next summer, I’ll keep up with the preseason. Assessing the talent, especially the quarterbacks. Next fall will be hard. Maybe fall will be a hard for years to come.

But as long as my team is in Miami—and as long as they’re called the Miami Dolphins—I’ll be watching. Just like the pigtailed girl with the dog named Toto says as she’s clicking her heels together with hope and longing, there’s no place like it.

© Copyright 2007 by Tananarive Due

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Coming soon...BLOOD COLONY!

Hello, faithful readers...

I am excited to announce that my new solo novel, BLOOD COLONY, will be published by Atria Books in June of 2008. I am unveiling the mock book cover here so you can get a glimpse of what is to come... Soon after the first of the year, I will post an exclusive excerpt.

Here is a larger image of the proposed cover (which is subject to change before publication):

I don't usually post book covers this early, but this one is so striking that I wanted to share it. BLOOD COLONY continues the journey of my immortals---Dawit, Jessica, Lucas Shepard and Fana---as they strive to use their Living Blood to heal. But it's not as simple as it sounds: Something as miraculous as this Blood was bound to draw unwanted attention, and so it does... Fana is 17 in this story, so BLOOD COLONY takes place in the year 2015, making it my first near-future novel.

That's all I'll say for now. As I said, I will post more about this book later. But I wanted to share the cover with you right away!

ONE NOTE: As you shop this holiday season, please remember to support your black and independent bookstores. It may be less convenient and a few more dollars, no doubt, but we can't complain about the loss of our institutions if we're not willing to support them.

Happy Holidays!

Best, Tananarive

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Edwidge Danticat interviews Junot Diaz (and mentions me!)

NOTE: This is from BOMB magazine:

Junot Díaz
by Edwidge Danticat
Issue 101 Fall 2007, LITERATURE

Junot Díaz.
If Marvel Comics had gotten around to it, Oscar Wao would have been a hero. As it is, Junot Díaz stepped in and made him one first. Oscar is a Dominican nerd (an oxymoron) who “could write in Elvish, could speak Chakobsa, could differentiate between a Slan, a Dorsai, and a Lensman in acute detail.” A young aspiring writer with wet dreams, Oscar steps out of the Dominican diaspora in New Jersey with such a singular vision of romance, such a nonstop hankering for a world where the underdog actually wins, that we fall in love with him. Oscar, spawned by a writer with a profound understanding of the mythical implications of science fiction as well as the history of the Dominican Republic under what Díaz would call a bad-ass dictator named Trujillo (true story), is heir to a fakú. That’s a curse. So too are his people, in the immediate and more general sense of the word. It started with Columbus, read the book. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is epic, not only in its historical rendering of heartbreaking violence, of a cross-generational, exiled family, but in its language: a courageous patois from the streets of New Jersey, via the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, flying right up and into the face—and the canon—of great literature.
The inimitable Edwidge Danticat has a new book out, this one a poignant memoir of her family’s own diaspora between Haiti and the United States. At the core of Brother, I’m Dying is the tragic tale of Danticat’s uncle—her “second father”—Reverend Joseph Dantica, a beloved Baptist minister whose power of speech is stolen by cancer and whose life ends under deplorable care in a detention center in Miami, after he has fled the murderous gangs terrorizing Port-au-Prince in the wake of Aristide’s departure. The book is at once an account of one family’s generations and a reflection on leaving loved ones behind—a reckoning of the price that is paid by staying, and by leaving.

Edwidge Danticat I think most folks would want me to ask you, those of us who’ve been waiting with bated breath for this book: What the heck took you so long?
Junot Díaz What, really, can one say? I’m a slow writer. Which is bad enough but given that I’m in a world where it’s considered abnormal if a writer doesn’t produce a book every year or two—it makes me look even worse. Ultimately the novel wouldn’t have it any other way. This book wanted x number of years out of my life. Perhaps I could have written a book in a shorter time but it wouldn’t have been this book and this was the book I wanted to write. Other reasons? I’m a crazy perfectionist. I suffer from crippling bouts of depression. I write two score pages for every one I keep. I hear this question and want to laugh and cry because there’s no answer. What I always want to ask other writers (and what I’ll ask you) is how can you write about something so soon after it’s happened? What’s to be gained by writing about something—say, the death of a father and uncle, as you do in your new book, Brother, I’m Dying — when the moment is close?
ED There are several factors for me. The first is that I’m totally compulsive. If something is on my mind, writing-wise, I have do it and do it in the instant. I have to at least put down a first draft. Otherwise, I am so afraid I will lose it. Like you, I live with the eternal fear that I am not supposed to be doing what I’m doing. Who do I think I am to be writing books and shit, as you might say. So I write when the moment is close so it won’t slip away. Writing is also the way I process things and when I am done with a piece I feel a lot closer to understanding the subject.
Now back to you and your brilliant new book, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I knew I had entered a Junot Díaz universe when the book’s epigraph had a quote from the Fantastic Four and a poem by Derek Walcott, both poignant and immediate windows into the book. The Fantastic Four quote is from April 1966, a little bit before you were born. It says, “Of what import are brief, nameless lives…” That’s not all it says, but that’s the gist of it. The Walcott quote ends with “either I’m nobody or I’m a nation.” You know I am obsessed with the notion of namelessness and the idea of brief lives and how individuals and nations disrupt and end lives, so Oscar Wao was the kind of book I could easily swallow whole. I was preparing to read about this one life, however, this person who is immediately named in the very title of the book and is claimed from namelessness. But I ended up reading about a nation. How did Oscar Wao come to be?
I’m not going to play the autobiographical game too much, but you and he share so many things: you’re both writers, sci-fi and fantasy nuts. Does he come from some inner part of you? Or is he wholly a creature of your imagination? Were you once a game master who tried his hand at being a real writer?
JD There are, as you and I well know, certain kinds of people that no one wants to build the image of a nation around. Even if these people are in fact the nation itself. Poor dark people are not usually central to a nation’s self-conception (except per-haps as a tourist attraction). But in this novel I wanted to start with a different kind of erasure, a smaller one but one that to me felt equally horrible. In the Dominican culture that I know, a character like Oscar was not going to be anyone’s notion of the ideal Dominican boy. In the Dominican culture I know, someone like Oscar would not be labeled Dominican, no matter what his actual background was. So that’s what really attracted me to him. His compassion, his outré interests, his dearth of traditional masculine markers—these were the things that defined Oscar in my head but that also guaranteed that no one would ever happily connect him to the nation he grew up out of and the nation, that I thought, he was representative of.
But the character himself, this supernerd. I was a ghetto nerd supreme: a smart kid in a poor-ass-community. The thing with me was that I was a nerd embedded in a dictatorial military family where the boys had to fight all the time, where we were smacked around regularly by our father (to toughen us up), where we shot guns every weekend (just in case anything should happen), where you were only a human being if you were an aggressive violent hombre. So I was a nerd who had all this “man” training, for lack of a better term. I was a nerd with a special passport that allowed me to hang with the non-nerd boys. So I grew up with this whole group of smart kids of color, was one of them and yet wasn’t, and that’s how Oscar came to be. Oscar was a composite of all the nerds that I grew up with who didn’t have that special reservoir of masculine privilege. Oscar was who I would have been if it had not been for my father or my brother or my own willingness to fight or my own inability to fit into any category easily.
I must have had him in my mind a long time because he emerged, like Athena, almost fully formed out of my skull. His sections of the novel were the easiest for me to compose. It was the rest of it that took years.
ED I am utterly intrigued by the idea of Fukú americanus, “a curse or doom of some kind; specifically the Curse and the Doom of the New World.” There are so many examples of this all around us still. In our part of the world, we have not totally recovered from colonialism and even have a new brand of it we’re currently dealing with, being so close to the United States. We see Fukú americanus just rip through the lives of the characters in this book. Is there any hope of recovery from it?
JD Well, the fukú has been one of those Dominican concepts that have fascinated me for years. Our Island (and a lot of countries around it) has a long tradition of believing in curses. The fukú was different in that it was the one curse that explicitly implicated the historical trauma of our creation, as an area, a people. I mean, how crazy is that? A Dominican curse that seems to have its origins in the arrival of the European? In Columbus? Say his name aloud and bad shit will happen to you? For a writer like me—the fukú was a narrative dream come true. I’m not the only one: when the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtusenko visited Santo Domingo and learned about the fukú it inspired him to write a book-length poem called — surprise, surprise — FUKÚ. (I’ve read it; it’s pretty damn good.)
For me, though, the real issue in the book is not whether or not one can vanquish the fukú—but whether or not one can even see it. Acknowledge its existence at a collective level. To be a true witness to who we are as a people and to what has happened to us. That is the essential challenge for the Caribbean nations—who, as you pointed out, have been annihilated by history and yet who’ve managed to put themselves together in an amazing way. That’s why I thought the book was somewhat hopeful at the end. The family still won’t openly admit that there’s a fukú, but they’re protecting the final daughter, Isis, from it collectively, and that’s close, very close to my dream of us bearing witness to (in Glissant’s words) “the past, to which we were subjected, which has not yet emerged as history for us (but that) is however, obsessively present.”
ED Both Fanon and Glissant discuss the use of language as a manifestation of different types of pains, personal and communal traumas. Glissant talks in his particular context about délire verbale, verbal delirium. This book is epic in so many ways, with a canvas as broad as the Americas and beyond. You often talk about the immigration experience as resembling space travel in the sense that you leave one completely different world, get in a steel machine that flies and suddenly you’re a resident of a vastly different planet. Reading this book I felt like I was traveling through time and space. It was delirious and dizzying at times. The range of experience and characters are simply breathtaking. I do see why you needed all this time. You needed these people to reveal themselves to you. You needed time to unravel. Like Oscar you needed to address your own furies and organize your personal pantheon to tell this huge story.
Aside from Octavia Butler, Tananarive Due, and Walter Mosley, I don’t read much fantasy and science fiction, but science fiction is an obvious influence, as are comic books. Were there any patterns in these types of narratives that you wanted to follow? Any traditional voices?
JD Praise from my favorite writer who’s been writing epics for years? Thank you, Edwidge, thank you.
I’ve always wanted to write epic books. My favorite books as a kid were all epics. Watership Down, Lord of the Rings, the Lensmen series. In the DR all my dreams were about a future in the US but in the US all my dreams were about a future…elsewhere. And I’ve definitely been wanting to write science fiction/fantasy, to write genre, to use some of those models to strike out in (for me at least) new directions.
Why this continued commitment to genres? So much of our experience as Caribbean Diasporic peoples, so much of it, exists in silence. How can we talk about our experiences in any way if both our own local cultural and the larger global culture doesn’t want to talk about them and actively resists our attempt to create language around them? Well, my strategy was to seek my models at the narrative margins. When I was growing up those were the narratives that most resonated with me and not simply because of the “sense of wonder” or because of the adolescent wish fulfillment that many genre books truck in. It was because these were the narratives that spoke directly to what I had experienced, both personally and historically. The X-Men made a lot of sense to me, because that’s what it really felt like to grow up bookish and smart in a poor urban community in Central New Jersey. Time-travel made sense to me because how else do I explain how I got from Villa Juana, from latrines and no lights, to Parlin, NJ, to MTV and a car in every parking space? Not just describe it but explain the missing emotional cognitive disjunction? I mean, let’s be real. Without shit like race and racism, without our lived experience as people of color, the metaphor that drives, say, the X-Men would not exist! Mutants are a metaphor (among other things) for race, and that’s one of the reasons that mutants are so popular in the Marvel Universe and in the Real. I have no problem re-looting the metaphor of the X-Men because I know it’s my silenced experience, my erased condition that’s the secret fuel that powers this particular fucking fantasy. So if I’m powering the ship, at a lower frequency, I’m going to have a say in how it’s used and in what ports of call it stops.
For another example, we have as a community been the victim of a long-term breeding project—I mean, that was one component of slavery: we were systematically bred for hundreds of years—but in mainstream literary fiction nobody’s really talking about breeding experiments. If you’re looking for language that will help you approach our nigh-unbearable historical experiences you can reach for narratives of the impossible: sci-fi, horror, fantasy, which might not really want to talk about people of color at all but that takes what we’ve experienced (without knowing it) very seriously indeed. Shit, they’ve been breeding people in sci-fi since its inception (The Island of Doctor Moreau) and the metaphors that the genres have established (mostly off the back of our experiences as people of color: the eternal other) can be reclaimed and subverted and expanded in useful ways that help clarify and immediate-ize our own histories, if only for ourselves. To quote Glissant again: this time that was never ours, we must now possess. Because it certainly has no problem possessing us any time it wants.
ED There are many footnotes and asides in The Brief Wondrous Life. You seem to be purposely addressing your own anxieties about writing through Oscar’s. Paradoxically Oscar dreams of being the Dominican James Joyce, at the same time “He saw his entire writing future flash before his eyes; he’d only written one novel worth a damn. . . . wouldn’t get a chance to write anything better—career over.” Were there moments when you worried that you might not write again? Does Junot Díaz, minimalist in Drown and definitely Joycean here, dream of being the Dominican James Joyce?
JD Edwidge, you’ll like this one. The footnotes and the reference to the femme matador in the text are a shout-out to my favorite of Caribbean writers: Patrick Chamoiseau. I read Texaco many years ago and it blew my head off. I wanted to write a book with footnotes like that. Hell, I wanted to write a book like Texaco.
Vollman and Danielewski and the postmodern white-boy gang have been deploying footnotes for a while and Cisneros used them in Caramelo but nobody, and I mean nobody, has done them like Chamoiseau. As for Joyce: Lola wants Oscar to be the Dominican James Joyce but Oscar just wants to be a Dominican Andre Norton. I’m a Joyce fanatic—the Irish have had a colonial relationship with the English a long, long time and that’s one reason they’re so useful to immigrant writers of color in the US—but I don’t dream of being Joyce any more than I dream of being Jack Kirby. If I dreamed of being any writer I dream of being a Dominican Octavia Butler or a Dominican Samuel Delany. Prolific, brilliant, and impossible. But since this is not a fantasy world: I just want to write four books before I die. For real. And yes: I worry all the time about never writing again. Most of my writer peers write like it’s a daily they’re producing. I write like it’s an organ I’m pulling out of myself. I wish I could do what they do. But you can only be yourself. And for me that means being a dedicated writer who can only write a book a decade if I’m lucky.
ED There are many wonderful writers who started a lot later than you and take their time and have produced an incredible body of work. In my crystal calabash, that’s what I see for you.
JD You have the Power so I won’t argue. Fingers crossed.
ED In this book, you do tackle a lot of people, including Joyce. Maria Montez is here—cue J.Lo for movie role. Kim Novak, among others. You also address other novels that have been written about the Dominican Republic. Are you responding to some of these books?
JD Yes, guilty as charged. I populated this book with as many side characters as possible. Maria Montez is my favorite bad actress in the world. (Really. Have you seen Cobra Queen?) And besides, her name was María Africa Gracia Vidal—how can you hate that? (But I’d rather see Dania Ramirez in the role.) There are also a lot of fake people in the book. Darkseid is my all-time favorite comic book villain and he casts a long, long shadow over the story. His main power? The Omega Effect. That can vaporize a person until he chooses to put them back together again. Now if that’s not a basic dictator power I don’t know what is. But more than people, fake or real, I tried to stuff as many books as I could into Oscar Wao. I mean, shit, even the title refers to Oscar Wilde and The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber simultaneously.
ED Damn, how could I have missed that?
JD What can I tell you? I’m book-obsessed and I wrote about a book-obsessed protagonist. The narrator too: book-obsessed. You better believe that I was fucking with other books written about the Dominican Republic. I mean, have you read The Feast of the Goat? Pardon me while I hate, but people jumped on that novel like it was the greatest thing on earth! And you should have seen the Dominican elites fawning over Vargas Llosa. The Great Vargas Llosa has deigned to visit the Dominican Republic! Call me a nationalist slash hater, but Vargas Llosa’s take on the Trujillo regime was identical to Crassweller’s and Crassweller wrote his biography 40 years ago!
ED Uhm . . . have you ever met the great man?
JD Only in the books.
ED “What is it with Dictators and Writers anyway?” is one of the questions raised in the book. One of the answers proposed is Salman Rushdie’s claim that tyrants and scribblers are natural antagonists, competitors. But this is refuted for the notion that like recognizes like. Writers too are dictators. I find this interesting because a lot of dictators, in Haiti for example, have considered themselves writers. No writer of his time was left alive long enough to be as prolific as Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier. Did Trujillo try to write poetry? I remember hearing that. I think dictators want to silence writers because they want to be the only ones speaking.
I think of the poem by Carolyn Forché, where the poet goes to dinner at the dictator’s house. After dinner, he spills a bag of human ears on the table while saying something like, This is for your poetry. This dictator was trying to take away the power he knew this writer had by attempting to stun her into silence. Still I agree that dictators and writers will be eternally linked in battle. Even when dictators kill or disappear the writers, though, the writers win. In Haiti we have the case of the extraordinary Jacques Stephen Alexis, one of our best writers, who was killed by Papa Doc’s henchmen in the 1960s. His work has certainly outlasted Papa Doc’s treatises. People have embraced him even more in death than they had in life. Most writers won’t sit quietly by while a dictatorship rolls on—though people in today’s US seem to be missing the clues—and the dictators know that.
JD Yeah, I do have a weird view of both writers and dictators. The dictators we’re talking about, Trujillo and Papa Doc (or as I call him in the novel, P-diddy) both had their writing components. Trujillo wrote the Foro Publico where he would publicly humiliate his enemies, the discursive click, before he followed through with some terminal praxis, the killing clack. But I think that this “scribbling” was just a sideline to Trujillo’s real writing, which was done on the flesh and psyches of the Dominican people. That tends to be the writing that the Trujillos of the world are truly invested in, and it’s the kind of writing that lasts far longer and resonates far deeper than many of its victims would care to admit. I don’t think there’s a Dominican writer, past or present, who’s matched the awful narrative puissance that Trujillo marshaled; his “work” deformed, captured, organized us Dominicans in ways we can barely understand, and this “work” has certainly outlasted his physical existence. (And unless I’m nuts, this writing continues to be more popular than the work of any of the competition—me and my peers included. What I write about the Haitian community moves maybe three people, but what he “wrote” about the Haitian community still moves the fucking pueblo.) If you think about it: Ozymandias would have had more luck if, instead of carving stone, he had carved people. Then he could have lasted—sheesh, almost forever.
I remember that Forché poem! But I read it a little differently. The dictator, perhaps without being conscious of it, by throwing down the ears, is basically saying, This is how I write: now what you got? It’s an attempt to terrorize, clearly, but it’s also implicitly a challenge. I impact, viscerally, collectives—how about you? And if we regular writers can’t admit how powerful and tenacious this other form of writing is, I doubt we’ll ever be able to counter it.
And maybe I’ve been to one too many writer’s conferences, but I really do believe that writers and dictators are eternal antagonists primarily because yes: like recognizes like. Partially it’s Rushdie’s point and yours: dictators, no matter from what side of the globe they hail, tend to recognize the power of word magicians, which is why they so thoroughly seek to control, negate, or exterminate the narrative competition. And many writers discern that this is ever the dictator’s weak point, like the missing scale on Smaug’s underbelly in The Hobbit. The more they silence, the more powerful the voice that speaks into that silence becomes.
ED Trujillo is a big presence in the book. He is a kind of fukú himself. He died before you were born, but are there any firsthand accounts that were passed on to you as a child? People believed he had supernatural powers, just like they thought Haiti’s Papa Doc had supernatural powers.
Of course, people like Papa Doc and Trujillo took great pains to foster that perception. Papa Doc used to dress every day like Baron Samedi, the lwa or spirit that was guardian of the cemetery. People thought he roamed the streets at night personally looking for them. When he died, my mother said, a strong wind swept down around the earth, probably a protest in hell.
This perception of being supermen—there’s the sci-fi for you—was crucial to their reign. I guess what I am asking is, what was it about Trujillo, in your opinion, that allowed him to remain in power for so long?
JD Like I sort of said earlier: these guys are a lot better at manipulating narratives—in this case traditional folkloric ones—than most folks give them credit for. And believing Trujillo to be a super-being can be a narrative of consolation for a pueblo, but it can also be a useful metaphor to understand what we’re really dealing with. I think it’s these outsized visions of these dictators that are most accurate about their power and its awful consequences.
I for one will never forget the Trujillo stories I heard while growing up. My father was a police soldier for Balaguer’s post-but-pro-Trujillo regime so I was exposed to a lot of trujillista craziness through him. (One of the scariest moments I had with my dad in Santo Domingo was when he “jokingly” locked me into one of the prison cells in the cuartel where he worked. Same cells where the Trujillo regime used to torture its victims. Real swell dad-son moment.)
The fear people had of speaking, really speaking—that’s not something I will soon forget, and I wonder if it wasn’t what shaped my frankness, my distrust of politeness (its own form of silencing).
ED You use the “N-word” liberally in this book, as you have done in the past. There’s been renewed discourse on this recently, a renewed sensitivity. Are you concerned about any backlash over the use of the word?
JD There’s a lot of language in this book that many could find offensive. The N-word is without question one of them. But as I’m always saying: there’s a difference between representing a thing and endorsing it. The Yunior narrator feels comfortable using “the N-bomb” but Oscar never would, not for anything, and I think it’s important to remember that. What’s funny is that this is a conversation that interests the middle class and the upper classes in our communities—but talk to kids where I grew up or where I’m living now and that’s not really what’s at the top of their priorities. They’re wondering why they’ve been abandoned educationally, politically, culturally—why living in these urban zones is so very bad for your goddamn health.
As an artist and as a person of color who’s never had a moment in his life where someone hasn’t been actively trying to control my tongue, I’m seriously conflicted about these debates. To keep it short: language has never been a good dog and its free exercise will never provide comfort to cultures of respectability. And I guess I’ve never really been one for comforting my readers either.
ED Recently the Miami Herald published two articles. One, that was also run by the Associated Press, about the American embassy having to call out Dominican clubs for denying entry to its black American marines and other embassy staff. The other article was called “Black Denial” and it was about the desire of most Dominicans not to be considered or called black. The piece was extremely controversial, in part because a well-known Dominican intellectual was quoted as saying black women have enormous asses and that no black woman could be considered beautiful in the DR. I was extraordinarily upset by this for reasons I didn’t even understand at the moment. But thinking back to the touchy issue of genocide and how it sometimes turns on phenotype, I was heartbroken by these remarks.
In your book one character says, “That’s the kind of culture I belong to: people took their child’s black complexion as an ill omen.” I felt like this great intellectual woman, in spite of herself, belonged to that kind of culture, but people kept saying she did not, but rather was only trying to explain it. Here when I say culture I mean the culture of black denial, not necessarily Dominican culture, as I know many black and proud Dominicans. Do we all belong to that black denial culture courtesy of racial supremacy? Even then it’s so hard to forgive in our own, because it has wounded us so deeply in the past.
JD The club thing is endemic. Me and my boys were denied entrance to a club in Santo Domingo and the doormen came right out and said: you and you and you are too black! We filed a lawsuit against the owners and guess what happened? Nada! God bless the Third World! The elites in the DR are as brazen as they are racist as they are cruel and there has yet to be a protracted social action to knock them back.
The black denial article was a slightly different matter—I took umbrage with it for a number of reasons. First off it was another on the same: once again someone pathologizing Dominicans as self-hate machines par excellence. For those who don’t know: Dominicans are perpetually singled out whenever there’s a discussion of self-hatred and black denial. (It’s almost like if we talked about Dominican self-hatred we don’t have to talk about anybody else’s self-hatred.) Mostly because it’s easy—owing to some awful peculiarities in Dominican history, our version of “black denial” grates on the Imperial Black sensibilities common throughout the US. Dominicans are easy to single out about the blackness problematic because we make certain issues explicit, not because we’re alone in having these issues. This can’t be emphasized enough. The same author, Frances Robles, later wrote an article on Cuban “black denial” but she went out of her way to historicize it, something she denied her Dominican subjects. (Another note of ridiculousness: how Robles could spend an entire article talking about Dominican self-hatred and never mention the one term that defines all these dysfunctions: white supremacy. Some real blame-the-victim shit.) Robles certainly didn’t touch on the fact that Dominicans have historically had to define blackness in the face of the anti-Haitian genocide we inflicted and survived in 1937. You wonder why Dominicans might be a little leery of talking about blackness in the same way as folks in the US or Jamaica do? You’d be amazed how you reconstruct self when there’s a machete in your face. That article was so wearying and under-cooked. People who truck in this kind of simplification never deal with the fact (for example) that of all Latino groups in the US, Dominicans have the highest rate of identifying themselves as “of African descent.” And we’re not talking by one or two percentage points, we’re talking by a lot.
It’s not that I’m saying that Dominicans don’t have trouble with their African-ness. No one, after all, has a black problem quite like black folks. (Please notice I’m talking about collectives, not individuals; this might seem like sophistry, but it’s not.) In Oscar Wao I’m deeply interested in (and critical of) this craziness, but instead of insisting that Dominican “black denial” is a pathology unique to Dominicans, I try to foreground the Dominican example in order to explore how general and pernicious this is throughout the African Diaspora. Scarily enough, it’s one of the things that “in the darkness binds us.” It’s one of the great silences of our people—no one really wants to talk about how much a role anti-black self-hatred has in defining what we call “our cultures.” But the Dominican example for me helps unlock the other examples. It’s a key, not a lock.
And yes, I do believe we all belong to that culture where a child’s dark skin is often taken as a bad omen. Even those of us who don’t suffer from this peculiar malaise individually live in communities that do suffer from it, extensively. It’s a fukú we desperately need a zafa for. Problem is, most of us don’t want to believe it’s even a problem. After our lawsuit in the DR I told our sitting president Leonel Fernández about the incident and he denied that such a thing could happen in the DR. My fucking god.
ED You’ve just won The American Academy of Letters’ Rome fellowship. Before you won, I was reading the new Ralph Ellison biography by Arnold Rampersad, where that fellowship seemed to have been, to put it mildly, a mixed blessing for Ellison. Please read that book before you go. When do you leave for Rome, and what are you going to work on there?
JD I’ve read the Rampersad biography and it’s drop-dead amazing.
As far as the Rome Prize is concerned I think I have a sense of what you mean by “mixed blessing.” But we’ll see. (I’m predisposed to negativity so I’m trying hard to keep my mind open about Europe.…) Everyone I’ve talked to has said it’s been an unforgettable experience and I’m hoping this proves to be true for this easily-confused-for-a-North-African brown man.
I leave in September, and while at the Academy I’m hoping to write a chunk of the science fiction novel that I failed to write in the years before Oscar Wao. This book was supposed to be a 9/11 novel—not that 9/11, but the other one, which the US inflicted on Latin America (see Pinochet), a shadow 9/11 viewed through an apocalyptic science fiction filter. (Sound crazy enough for you?) The book, Dark America, is set in an alternate US where New York City has been destroyed by a psychic terrorist (a plot that was inspired not by the “real” 9/11 or the TV show Heroes but by all those damn end-of-the-world books I read as a kid). The book (my very own Dominican Akira) deals with the aftermath of this apocalypse. About the survivors and the growing sense that a worse eschaton is in the making. We’ll see. I always start with the best intentions and then end up screaming.
ED Finally, in spite of Oscar’s brief life, the narrator’s life—writing-wise—ends on a happy note. Yunior says, “These days I write a lot. From can’t see in the morning to can’t see at night. Learned a lot from Oscar. I’m a new man, you see, a new man, a new man.” Is Junot Díaz a new man?
JD Again: I wish. I’m happier, no doubt about it, and less devoured by my fears, but I still have no handle on my talent. I don’t know how to make it work. I don’t write with any regularity or joy. I fear that it might take me another eleven years to write another book. But I did finish a novel that was threatening to break me, and I finished it in a manner that I feel reflects my hard work, and this finishing has been one of the happiest accomplishments of my life. Through all those years I never did think I would ever finish Oscar Wao, so the fact that somewhere inside me I found the strength to do what I thought was impossible…it almost makes me believe that one day I will be like Yunior: a new man, a new man.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Blair Underwood goes under covers

By Greg Braxton

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

August 14, 2007 12:00 AM

BLAIR UNDERWOOD was behind mirrored shades at the rear of a Studio City cafe, discussing his good fortune, flashing the wholesome, pearly-white smile that has paved the way for a solid career in television and film during the last 20 years.

But it was a new kind of project that brought a gleam to his eye -- a project that proves he can get his X-rated freak on and, Underwood hopes, may bring him the breakthrough leading role that has all but eluded him since his career took off more than 20 years ago with the landmark drama "L.A. Law."

Viewers tuning in to the upcoming TV season will find it hard to miss the effortlessly handsome Underwood, who is featured in three series. He's one of the richest men in the world in ABC's soapy drama "Dirty Sexy Money" and a troubled Iraq war veteran undergoing therapy in HBO's "In Treatment," set to premiere early next year. He's also continuing his role as the object of Julia Louis-Dreyfus' flirtation in CBS' "The New Adventures of Old Christine."

His most inventive endeavor to date is a true passion project, in more ways than one. He's joined forces with two established African American writers -- Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes -- to create Tennyson Hardwick, a former gigolo and down-on-his-luck actor who is forced to turn into an amateur sleuth when he is implicated in the murder of a popular female rapper.

Hardwick is the central character in "Casanegra," the first in a planned series of L.A.-flavored noir novels generously sprinkled with steamy erotica. While Tennyson is a conflicted soul searching for a job and peace of mind, he's more than secure with his sexual prowess, and the scenes in which he demonstrates his skills are extremely explicit.

The novel, in which urban hot spots such as Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles, Eso Won Books and the lower-class Baldwin Hills-adjacent neighborhood known as "The Jungle" are prominent locales, reflects the influences of Walter Mosley ("Devil in a Blue Dress") and Zane, whose bestselling novels of black erotica have a hearty following of black female readers."If you want to compare us to them, there can be no higher compliment," said Barnes, who is married to Due.

'Casanegra's' cachet

And while most celebrity-penned first novels are ignored by critics or wind up in the bargain bin of bookstores, "Casanegra" (the title is a tongue-in-cheek twist on "Casablanca") is scoring positive reviews from mainstream publications. "The pace is taut, the dialogue is snappy, and it's hard not to fall for Underwood's fallen hero," said Entertainment Weekly. Essence recently recommended the novel for its book club.

Said Christine Saunders of Atria Books, the division of Simon & Schuster that published "Casanegra": "It's been doing very well, and the sales have been increasing each week since the book officially came out in June. And it really is a collaboration. Blair has been intensely involved in everything from the very beginning."

"All I can say is, I'm so blessed," Underwood said. "I don't take anything for granted. I'm incredibly fortunate. But I'm also extremely selective in what I do. The way I keep interested is to find things I'm really passionate about. If you can create that passionate attitude toward your work, it opens up so many things."

There's a creative calculation to the book venture. Underwood is hoping that the novels will serve as a launch pad for Tennyson to hit the big screen. And there is a clear first choice on who would play the sexed-up gumshoe. The partners are attempting to develop "Casanegra" as an independent film while working on the second Tennyson Hardwick novel, "In the Night of the Heat" (the Hardwick books will all have titles with variations of classic films).

Underwood said such a role would allow him to display his wide acting range, particularly his desire to show the sinister behind the smile. Though he has been able to bring some menacing elements into various portrayals (he played an abusive fiancee in last year's "Madea's Family Reunion"), many of his characters have emphasized his smooth, charming persona, accented by his model looks."Doing roles like that is very flattering, but it's really not my favorite thing to do. I have a track record of playing that character. But I really like to get into the darker side of things."

Trying on noir

It's the first foray into the mystery genre for all of the writers. Like many mystery novels featuring a Chandler-esque hero, the story is drenched with irony and dry wit (the hero is working in deodorant commercials). The blend of hip-hop, Hollywood and the staples of the genre -- gunplay, violence, betrayals -- is a flavorful, though occasionally overcooked, stew.

Making Tennyson a former male escort was Underwood's idea, said Due. "He really wanted to bring that erotic angle to it." The team worked smoothly together. Underwood came up with the idea for the character, and the three worked on an outline. Due did the majority of writing of the first draft, which was revised and tweaked by Barnes. Those chunks were then delivered to Underwood, who added ideas and input, particularly to Tennyson's place as a man inside Hollywood just enough to be a minor celebrity.

Said Barnes: "Through our friendship with Blair, we really got to see him in various surroundings in Hollywood, and how people react to him. He carries himself with gentleness, but there is the sense of leashed energy."

The trio displayed an affectionate chemistry at a recent get-together at the W Hotel in Westwood, where they munched on appetizers, paying little attention to the trendy chaos in one of the establishment restaurants. Barnes joked about how secure he must feel to have his wife spending so much time working with Underwood. The actor, who first became acquainted with Due when he optioned the rights to one of her earlier books, "My Soul to Keep," smiled and tossed back barbs of his own.

The path into mystery and erotica territory seems to be an unusual turn for a deeply religious, happily married husband and father of three who has never attracted scandal or been involved with behind-the-scenes diva shenanigans. He addresses the apparent disconnect in his dedication to God at the end of "Casanegra": "Though many will choose not to understand why this book was written, I thank YOU for granting me the understanding that we are all flawed, damaged and fall short of your Glory. Often the journey is not as politically correct as some would like and sometimes the journey is sordid, dark and even erotic. Nonetheless, the odyssey must be embarked upon. . . ."

"Casanegra" also marks an unusual arrangement. Underwood's name is in large print on the cover, while Due and Barnes are given smaller billing with red lettering. Underwood's slim, muscular physique is pictured on the cover, but with his back to the camera, the face hidden.

But it's a truly yin-and-yang arrangement that has the partners more than pleased that their respective audiences will be expanded by the association. Underwood's name helps attract readers who may be unfamiliar with Due and Barnes. At the same time, the actor is linked to authors who have solid literary credentials (Due is the author of several novels, including "My Soul to Keep" and "The Black Rose," while Barnes has written several science-fiction novels, including "The Cestus Deception").

Even as the team awaits word on financing, Underwood is embarking on a heavy show business schedule. He's in post-production on his first feature directorial effort, the drama "Bridge to Nowhere," starring Ving Rhames. He's also involved in the production of reality shows, including "Stage Black," a stage drama competition on TV One.

"It's always been important for me to have several things going at the same time," Underwood said. "In many ways, I feel like I'm just getting started. I hope to keep that hunger I had when I first got out of college. That's what keeps me going."

Thursday, July 5, 2007

CASANEGRA appearances & GOOD HOUSE movie news

Hello, readers---
I hope everyone had a restful 4th of July! My husband, son and I stayed close to home and had great fun.

**There is MOVIE NEWS for THE GOOD HOUSE. The paperwork is finally signed--Steve and I sold our screenplay version to a studio, and it is now officially in development. I can't divulge details yet, but it will be a very exciting announcement. (And I hope it will have a ripple effect on the delayed film version of MY SOUL TO KEEP, which is still in development after several years...Keep your fingers crossed!) News in coming weeks.

**I couldn't be more excited about the positive feedback on CASANEGRA, the new erotic mystery novel I co-authored with my husband, Steven Barnes, and actor Blair Underwood. If you have read CASANEGRA and enjoyed it, please don't keep it a secret: Please tell your friends, and post reviews on and/or Those reviews make a big difference to potential readers.

**CASANEGRA has been getting amazing attention. In addition to July's Essence Book Club, you may have seen the story with Blair's photo leading the Life section of USA TODAY last Thursday, 6/28. (If you missed it, here's the URL:

**Monday, Blair Steve and I were interviewed on NPR's "News & Notes," with host Farai Chideya. In case you missed it, you can listen to the interview here:
There is also a nice photo of the three of us at the radio station, as well as a book excerpt.

Now, the television blitz begins.

**Thursday, July 5, Blair will appear on ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT.

**Monday, July 9, Blair will appear on EXTRA.

**Sunday, July 15, Blair will appear on the Weekend TODAY show on NBC.

**Monday, July 16, Blair will appear on REGIS & KELLY on NBC.

**LIVE APPEARANCES: For those of you in NEW ORLEANS, Blair will also appear at the ESSENCE MUSIC FESTIVAL, which runs today through this weekend. (He's working double-duty for Atria Books and HBO, where he is co-starring in a new series called "In Treatment," with Gabriel Byrne.)

**Also, Blair is appearing solo at Hue-Man Books in NEW YORK (Harlem), Monday, July 16. If you live nearby, please contact the store for details.

**All three of us will be doing at least one appearance in LOS ANGELES this summer, but the date has not been set. I will update you when I have more information, since joint appearances are rare.

**I will be making a solo appearance in DALLAS in late August, and Steve and I will make a joint appearance in OAKLAND on Sunday, October 28th. I will post more details about those appearances soon.

Thanks so much for your support! Now I have to get back to working on my sequel to THE LIVING BLOOD, which is tentatively entitled THE COLONY. Almost done!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

USA Today article about CASANEGRA

Hello, readers--
Here's an article that ran in USA Today on Thursday, 6/28. Hope you enjoy it!

Underwood in role of author

Actor-author Blair Underwood's Casanegra is a play on the 1942 film classic Casablanca.

By Deirdre Donahue, USA TODAY

Philip Marlowe, watch your back.
If actor-turned-author Blair Underwood has his way, a new series featuring gigolo-turned-actor-turned-L.A. tough guy Tennyson Hardwick will be in bookstores every summer.
HERE'S LOOKIN' AT AN EXCERPT: Get a taste for 'Casanegra'
The first novel in the series is Casanegra (Atria, $25).
With a noir mix of murder, mayhem and sex, "it's like Walter Mosley meets Zane," says the Sex and the City co-star. "It's great summer reading."
FIND MORE STORIES IN: Casablanca Blair Underwood Photography Atria
The new book is an unusual literary collaboration. Underwood's co-authors are well-known married writers Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes. Underwood, 42, says the trio has ideas for 10 more Hardwick adventures. They've already sold the second book, In the Night of the Heat, to Atria.
Publishers Weekly praised Casanegra as "seamlessly entertaining." The novel takes on rappers, Hollywood glamour, inner-city despair, the LAPD and the seamy world of professional sex workers.
Underwood, best known for his years on the hit show L.A. Law, did not draw upon any firsthand knowledge of gigolo-hood. "Not at all!" says the actor, who's married and has three children.
But the inspiration for Hardwick came from a project years ago that matched Diana Ross as an older woman with Underwood as a gigolo. Though it never materialized, Underwood was fascinated by the idea of "taking that road of selling your body and your soul for money." He proposed the character of Hardwick to Due, whom he had met after optioning her 1997 supernatural suspense novel, My Soul to Keep.
Due wrote the first draft, then Barnes and Underwood weighed in. "But now we can no longer tell who wrote what line," Due says.
Underwood contributed his insider knowledge of the L.A. entertainment scene he has known for 20 years. His TV credits include The New Adventures of Old Christine and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. He'll also star in the upcoming HBO drama In Treatment, which stars Gabriel Byrne as a psychologist. Underwood plays his Tuesday appointment, a fighter pilot.
Underwood — who has made People's "Most Beautiful People" and "Sexiest Men Alive" lists — wants to launch Hardwick as "a brand, a franchise." He hopes to produce a Hardwick film independently and has solved the major casting question of who would play the hero.
"That's me," he says.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Essence Book Club article on CASANEGRA: July, 2007

Hello, readers--

There is no substitute for picking up a hard copy of Essence magazine, if you don't already have a subscription, but here is a peek at the Patrik Henry Bass's article about CASANEGRA in the brand new July issue. Wow. We are thrilled beyond words.

Incidentally, the magazine version also has photos of Blair and the book cover, FYI...

Hollywood Swinging

Don't miss our ninth ESSENCE Book Club pick, a sizzling mystery that will keep you guessing to the very end.

By Patrik Henry Bass

Credit: Atria Books

L.A.'s dark side is exposed in a hot new novel.We know what can happen when there are too many cooks in a kitchen. But when you see three names on the cover of the juicy new thriller Casanegra (Atria Books, $25), don't fret. Yes, celebrity novels written with established authors have proved to be a dicey mix, but kudos to actor Blair Underwood for having the good sense to create Casanegra with talented scribe Tananarive Due (whose novels, such as 1997's My Soul to Keep, have terrified us) and her equally gifted husband, Steven Barnes, author of 2002's Lion's Blood. They've concocted an exciting whodunit that we chose as our ninth ESSENCE Book Club Recommended Read.

We think you're going to really dig on Tennyson Hardwick, a suave, sexy, reformed gigolo who finds himself in the middle of a murder mystery in this page-turner set in Hollywood. It's a town that Underwood knows well. "I was working on a movie with Diana Ross. I was going to play a gigolo, but the film never got off the ground," says Underwood, 42. "Somehow, the character never left me. And when I was in New York visiting the publisher of my children's book, Before I Got Here, I realized they had also published Due's novel My Soul to Keep. From there the ideas started to flow."

It wasn't so much his 2004 role as an urbane physician on Sex and the City that inspired some of Casanegra's provocative bedroom scenes but rather Zane. Yep, he said it. "We wanted to find a way to fuse Black erotica with elements of mystery and some brilliant writing," Underwood explains. It's safe to say the trio, who outlined the project last fall, has succeeded on all counts. They also plan a screenplay, with a certain photogenic leading man considered a shoo-in to play Tennyson in a film adaptation.

But the Tacoma, Washington-born father of three children with wife Désirée says he and his collaborators weren't chasing Hollywood's bright lights in penning Tennyson's story. "We want this novel to succeed on the merits of the storytelling," Underwood says. "I'm proud that we've created a fascinating journey for the reader to enjoy."

30-second excerptIn this exclusive passage from Casanegra, hero Tennyson Hardwick has a fateful encounter with the mysterious April Forrest, who just may end up causing him a whole lot of trouble:

"I've studied people all my life, the closest thing I got to acting lessons before college. I examine their faces, their style, their gestures. Sometimes I can see things people have missed after a lifetime in their own skin. So, I knew what this woman was about. Her clothes were neat but not fashionable, she used minimal makeup, and she wore flats, not heels. She was a worker. Ambitious, trying to impress somebody, and she was in over her head."

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Wednesday, June 6, 2007

CASANEGRA: A grand time with Steve and Blair at BEA!

NOTE: At the end of this entry, you'll find a great Publishers Weekly blog item by Bethanne Patrick about the African-American Booksellers' luncheon Steve and I attended with Blair Underwood at BEA, the major national Book Expo, on May 31, 2007. She wrote a terrific piece about the luncheon, sponsored by Atria Books.

Here are my own BEA highlights:

This was the first time Blair, Steve and I appeared in public to promote our erotic mystery, CASANEGRA: A TENNYSON HARDWICK NOVEL--which, incidentally, is now available on and (It should be in bookstores any time...)
We knew the room would be aflutter because Blair's presence always brings out the flutter in people, but the event was even more exciting than I had anticipated. Here's why:

** The three of us have always had great chemistry, but aside from Hollywood pitch meetings, we haven't had many opportunities to "strut our stuff" in public. The topic of the panel was "Writing Outside of Your Comfort Zone," and one of the questions was about the greatest challenges--and the greatest benefits--of our new project together.
As for challenges...well, let's just say that I once had a very personal writing process, so collaboration did not always come easily to me. I have really sharpened my skills since I've been working in Hollywood, which is Collaboration Central. I mentioned that Steve and I had a few arguments when we first started collaborating on screenplays, and the two of us also had a few minor disagreements in the formation stages of Casanegra. It's always tough to find a shared vision, no matter how close you are. That's probably the hardest part.
As for the benefits? I was sitting BETWEEN Blair and Steve at the table, so I rested one hand on Steve's back and one on Blair's with a huge grin on my face:
"Lucky me!" I said.
The audience laughed. Enough said. Working with two handsome and dynamic men is never boring, and my point was plain as day.

**It was a real treat to meet erotica writer Zane, who was also on our panel. Some of you may not have read Zane, but you need to know her name. She is a one-woman industry unto herself, with her own line of books at Atria and a whole slate of media projects she is storming Hollywood with. Zane is pleasant, gracious and demure. And she is committed to helping other writers fulfill their dreams, a truly admirable trait. And her new advice book, Dear G-Spot, is getting good reviews as well as good buzz!

**If you haven't read Nathan McCall's Makes Me Wanna Holler, you really should. Even as someone who was raised by civil rights activists, Nathan's smart insight into black male rage in America opened my eyes in new ways. Nathan was on our panel promoting his first novel, entitled Them, which is going to blow audiences away yet again. Nathan is a terrific and important writer, and it was a pleasure to share a panel with him.

**There is a new writer named Stacey Patton who is publishing her first memoir, That Mean Old Yesterday, and her presence on the panel infused it with a sense of both freshness and gravitas. Her memoir recounts a painful childhood and a legacy of physical abuse with roots in American slavery. It was lovely, and heartbreaking, to hear her tell her story. She is brilliant, lovely woman who has overcome adversity with her heart and soul intact.

**The Rock Bottom Remainders: I don't think I've ever mentioned it on my website, but over the years I have been privileged to sing backup, dance and even play keyboards with the Rock Bottom Remainders, organized by author Kathi Goldmark. Even if you've never heard them play, you might have heard of the band members: Stephen King. Dave Barry. Ridley Pearson. Mitch Albom. Scott Turow. Amy Tan. And others.
I first met Stephen King while playing with the Rock Bottom Remainders, and through that contact he was gracious enough to read and blurb my second novel, MY SOUL TO KEEP.
Aside from that, as someone who would trade my writing talent for more musical talent any day (sorry), it has been a dream come true to stand on a stage with these writer/musicians, and performers like now-deceased rock legend Warren Zevon, to experience the heady rush that comes from playing and singing music on a stage.
Steve and I stopped by during the rehearsal and sound check at Webster Hall to say hello. I'd been invited to sing backup during the concert later that night, but I ultimately couldn't make it because of exhaustion (I was in bed by 9:30!). But it brought back a rush of memories to have the chance to climb on the stage one more time, however briefly, and stand beside Kathi and Amy to sing back-up and play a kazoo while the band rocked on.
Needless to say, any chance I have to say hello to Stephen King is precious to me. Without King's work to tickle my imagination, I don't know that I ever would have discovered my love for writing novels about the supernatural. King hasn't performed with the Remainders nearly as frequently since his devastating accident...and you've got to see the bliss on the man's face while he's up there on stage. Music has its own magic. King was as excited to meet Warren Zevon for the first time as I was to meet him!
Dave Barry first invited me to jump on stage with the band about ten years ago, while we were both working for The Miami Herald and I ran into him in the company cafeteria. (It just goes to show, folks: Even if you're really shy about asking a question, it never hurts. Next thing I knew, I was playing a keyboard in front of my first live audience!)
Wish I'd seen the concert last Friday night. I know they were great.
Thanks for the memories, gang! Hope to play with you again.
(One of these days, I'm going to post an audio link so you can hear Tina Turner's version of "Proud Mary" I recorded--with Warren Zevon singing Ike's part--for Kathi Goldmark's Don't Quit Your Day Job Records. The CD features several writers singing, including Norman Mailer, Maya Angelou, Dave Barry, Stephen King, and others. It's a real hoot! You can grab a copy of this rare CD for yourself at

That's my BEA roundup! Can't wait for BEA in Los Angeles next year.


The Publishers Weekly piece follows:

The Book Maven

Bethanne Patrick
Book Expo 2007: Atria's African-American Luncheon May 31, 2007
Today I attended the African-American Booksellers Luncheon (sponsored by Atria this year) -- far and away the most congenial BEA event, open to all and always fresh and interesting.
The theme for 2007 was "Writing Outside of Your Comfort Zone," with panelists Nathan McCall, Stacey Patton, Zane, and the writing team of Blair Underwood, Tananarive Due, & Steven Barnes, along with moderator Adrienne Ingrum. Everyone on the panel has written a new book in a genre different from their previous one:
-- McCall, a journalist and the author the autobiography Makes Me Wanna Holler: A Young Black Man in America, has a debut novel coming out in October called Them.
-- Patton, a journalist and academic, has a memoir called That Mean Old Yesterday due out in September.
-- The ever-prolific and adaptable Zane will release her first nonfiction title, Dear G-Spot, in July (just wait until you see the fabulous cover!).
-- Due, Underwood, and Barnes have collaborated on a new mystery series called Casanegra (and yes, Blair Underwood is that Blair Underwood -- but besides star turns on Sex in the City and Madea's Family Reunion, he is the author of Before I Got Here: The Wondrous Things We Hear When We Listen to the Souls of Our Children), the first mystery series for any of them.
A few fun quotes and moments from the standing-room-only crowd in the large ballroom where the luncheon was held:
-- After Steven Barnes decried the lack of creation stories for African-Americans, there were shouts of "Preach it!" from the crowd.
-- Zane, just about everyone's favorite erotic author, saying of herself, "I'm no sexologist!" but also pointing out that her book's cover (with its gorgeous photo of a woman's torso) is much hotter than anything from "Dr. Ruth or Dr. Phil."
-- Stacey Patton describing a newspaper assignment in which she interviewed an older man whose shoeshine business was about to be shut down because of new construction: "We talked about shoes all day... and I finally felt I had stepped into his life... that was a powerful moment."
-- Tananarive Due telling the story of an email from a reader who said that after reading one of Due's books, she (the reader) felt able to cope with and fight off an attacker. "That's the kind of reader I want."
-- Nathan McCall responding to a submitted question about potential reader disappointment when an author tries something new: "Our primary responsbility as artists is to write the book we would want to reader."
Sing it, Brother McCall. Thanks, Atria Books, for a wonderful kick-off to this year's BEA.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


Hello, readers--

Welcome to the new and improved "Tananarive Due Readers' Circle." I apologize to those of you who joined my former AOL Group who have had trouble sending and receiving messages in the past...but we have now arrived in a new era!

I am christening my brand new blog to tell you about a project I am VERY excited about--my first mystery novel, Casanegra: A Tennyson Hardwick Novel. But that's not where the excitement ends: This novel is a three-way collaboration between me, actor/director Blair Underwood and my husband, Steven Barnes. It's a taste of Hollywood on your bookshelf!

Casanegra will be published in July, and the buzz is already beginning. Here are a few highlights:
** Casanegra is the July pick for the Essence Book Club.
** Publishers Weekly called Casanegra "seamlessly entertaining."
** A video interview with the three of us will soon be posted on YouTube.
** New York Times bestselling author E. Lynn Harris writes: "Casanegra is a wild ride through Hollywood, heart-pounding in every way. Smooth, ultra-sexy Tennyson Hardwick is a man readers will want to meet up close. He is all heart and danger, a knight in battered armor. You will love this novel!"
What's it about?
Here's the jacket copy: "Casanegra follows the adventures of Tennyson Hardwick, a gorgeous, sexy actor and former gigolo, living on the fringes of the good life in Hollywood. This story, which chronicles the redemption of a prodigal son, combines the glamour of Hollywood with the seedy hopelessness of the inner city.
"In this hot and steamy mystery, Tennyson struggles to hang on to his acting career and redeem his sex-for-pay history, which estranged him from his family--especially his father, a decorated LAPD captain who raised Tennyson to call him 'sir.' Now, in the wake of his father's sudden stroke, Tennyson has to save himself from taking the fall for the first murder of a female rapper. In the process, he discovers his hidden talents--the hard way.
"Golden Globe-nominated actor and author of Before I Got Here, Blair Underwood joins bestselling novelists Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes to create a cool, irresistible character in Tennyson Hardwick. This gritty, provocative mystery will keep readers craving more."
Why a collaboration?
Casanegra is a brand new experience for all three of us, something none of us as individuals would have written on our own. I have known Blair for many years, since he optioned my novel My Soul to Keep and helped set it up at Fox Searchlight studios, where it is still at the script stage. The idea of a collaboration came up in our ongoing conversations. Steve and I moved to Southern California two years ago to have a more direct role in shepherding our books to films, and we consider Casanegra to be our first "co-production." It is a book written to be a movie, complete with an actor as the star. It is an utterly unique project.
There is no supernatural element in Casanegra, which is what my writing is best known for, but the book has enough suspense that I don't believe my readers will be disappointed. As in all of my work, there is a serious message beneath the entertainment: namely, the violence that plagues rap music and LAPD corruption linked to rappers. This mystery series is designed to take news from real-life headlines and fictionalize it in Tennyson Hardwick's world, all of it packaged under classic movie titles. It was great fun to write!
Are you still writing solo novels?
Absolutely! I am currently writing a sequel to my novels My Soul to Keep and The Living Blood, entitled The Colony, which will be published by Atria Books in 2008. Thank you so much for your patience, but I wanted to get it right! The Colony is set in the near-future, following the adventures of my African immortals, especially 17-year-old Fana. I will update you when I know more about the publication date.
Once again, welcome to my blog. If you want to email me, please write to me at I can't always respond right away, but I look forward to hearing from you!