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PM Press at the Baltimore Book Festival

For the second year in a row, the 2009 Radical Bookfair Pavilion will be taking place at the Baltimore Book Festival, which runs from Friday September 25th through Sunday the 27th in Mt. Vernon Place. The Radical Bookfair Pavilion is a project of Red Emma's Bookstore Coffeehouse, and they have an amazing lineup of great authors, so don't miss it! We'll be updating the speaking times as soon as we have them, so check back.

Friday, September 25th


Robert King
Book: From the Bottom of the Heap:The Autobiography of Black Panther Robert Hillary King
DVD: The Angola 3: Black Panthers and the Last Slave Plantation
6:00 PM

In 1970, a jury convicted Robert Hillary King of a crime he did not commit and sentenced him to 35 years in prison. He became a member of the Black Panther Party while in Angola State Penitentiary, successfully organizing prisoners to improve conditions. In return, prison authorities beat him, starved him, and gave him life without parole after framing him for a second crime. He was thrown into solitary confinement, where he remained in a six by nine foot cell for 29 years as one of the Angola 3. In 2001, the state grudgingly acknowledged his innocence and set him free. This is his story.


Saturday, September 26th


Victoria Law
Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women
Time TBA

Victoria Law is a writer, photographer and mother. After a brief stint as a teenage armed robber, she became involved in prisoner support. In 1996, she helped start Books Through Bars-New York City, a group that sends free books to prisoners nationwide. In 2000, she began concentrating on the needs and actions of women in prison, drawing attention to their issues by writing articles and giving public presentations. Since 2002, she has worked with women incarcerated nationwide to produce the zine Tenacious: Art and Writings from Women in Prison and has facilitated having incarcerated women’s writings published in Clamor magazine, the website “Women and Prison: A Site for Resistance” and the upcoming anthology Interrupted Lives.

 

Andrej Grubacic
Wobblies and Zapatistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism and Radical History
Time TBA

Andrej Grubacic is a dissident from the Balkans. A radical historian and sociologist, he is the author of Globalization and Refusal and the forthcoming titles: Hidden History of American Democracy and The Staughton Lynd Reader. A fellow traveler of Zapatista-inspired direct action movements, in particular Peoples' Global Action, and a co-founder of Global Balkans Network and Balkan Z Magazine, he is a visiting professor of sociology at the University of San Francisco.

Sunday, September 27th


Peter Kuper
Diario de Oaxaca: A sketchbook Journal of Two Years in Mexico
Time TBA

Peter Kuper is a co-founder and editorial board member of political graphics magazine World War 3 Illustrated and a teacher who has taught at New York's School of Visual Arts and Parsons The New School for Design. Best known for drawing Mad magazine's Spy vs. Spy comic since 1997, he has also illustrated covers for Newsweek and Time magazine. He is the author of the graphic novel Sticks and Stones, which won the New York Society of Illustrators gold medal, and his autobiography, Stop Forgetting to Remember. He lives in New York City. 

 




PM Press Falls for the Fall for the Book Festival

September 21-26, 2009
George Mason University
Fairfax, Virgina
www.fallforthebook.org
(photo credit: Shaun Roberts)

"What began as a two-day literary event in 1999, organized by George Mason University and the City of Fairfax, has expanded into a week-long, multiple-venue, regional festival that brings together people of all ages and interests, thanks to growing community interest and generous supporting partners."

That's the general info, but a great deal of the creative and political spice will be brought to you by some of PM's finest authors...just scroll down for the exciting list, and order your books now!

Monday, September 21st


E. Ethelbert Miller
The 5th Inning
2:00 PM

E. Ethelbert Miller is a literary activist. He is board chair of the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). He is also a board member of The Writer's Center and editor of Poet Lore magazine. The author of several collections of poems, his last book How We Sleep On The Nights We Don't Make Love (Curbstone Press, 2004) was an Independent Publisher Award Finalist. Miller received the 1995 O.B. Hardison Jr. Poetry Prize. He was awarded in 1996 an honorary doctorate of literature from Emory & Henry College. In 2003 his memoir Fathering Words: The Making of An African American Writer (St. Martin's Press, 2000) was selected by the DC WE READ for its one book, one city program sponsored by the D.C. Public Libraries. In 2004 Miller was awarded a Fulbright to visit Israel. Poets & Writers presented him with the 2007 Barnes & Noble/Writers for Writers Award. Mr. Miller is often heard on National Public Radio (NPR).

Wednesday, September 23rd


Peter Kuper
Diario de Oaxaca: A sketchbook Journal of Two Years in Mexico
4:30 PM

Peter Kuper is a co-founder and editorial board member of political graphics magazine World War 3 Illustrated and a teacher who has taught at New York's School of Visual Arts and Parsons The New School for Design. Best known for drawing Mad magazine's Spy vs. Spy comic since 1997, he has also illustrated covers for Newsweek and Time magazine. He is the author of the graphic novel Sticks and Stones, which won the New York Society of Illustrators gold medal, and his autobiography, Stop Forgetting to Remember. He lives in New York City. 

 

Robert King
Book: From the Bottom of the Heap:The Autobiography of Black Panther Robert Hillary King
DVD: The Angola 3: Black Panthers and the Last Slave Plantation
4:30 PM

In 1970, a jury convicted Robert Hillary King of a crime he did not commit and sentenced him to 35 years in prison. He became a member of the Black Panther Party while in Angola State Penitentiary, successfully organizing prisoners to improve conditions. In return, prison authorities beat him, starved him, and gave him life without parole after framing him for a second crime. He was thrown into solitary confinement, where he remained in a six by nine foot cell for 29 years as one of the Angola 3. In 2001, the state grudgingly acknowledged his innocence and set him free. This is his story.


Thursday, September 24th


Robert King
Book: From the Bottom of the Heap:The Autobiography of Black Panther Robert Hillary King
DVD: The Angola 3: Black Panthers and the Last Slave Plantation
6:30 PM

In 1970, a jury convicted Robert Hillary King of a crime he did not commit and sentenced him to 35 years in prison. He became a member of the Black Panther Party while in Angola State Penitentiary, successfully organizing prisoners to improve conditions. In return, prison authorities beat him, starved him, and gave him life without parole after framing him for a second crime. He was thrown into solitary confinement, where he remained in a six by nine foot cell for 29 years as one of the Angola 3. In 2001, the state grudgingly acknowledged his innocence and set him free. This is his story.


Friday, September 25th


Victoria Law
Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women
4:30 PM

Victoria Law is a writer, photographer and mother. After a brief stint as a teenage armed robber, she became involved in prisoner support. In 1996, she helped start Books Through Bars-New York City, a group that sends free books to prisoners nationwide. In 2000, she began concentrating on the needs and actions of women in prison, drawing attention to their issues by writing articles and giving public presentations. Since 2002, she has worked with women incarcerated nationwide to produce the zine Tenacious: Art and Writings from Women in Prison and has facilitated having incarcerated women’s writings published in Clamor magazine, the website “Women and Prison: A Site for Resistance” and the upcoming anthology Interrupted Lives.

 

Andrej Grubacic
Wobblies and Zapatistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism and Radical History
6:30 PM

Andrej Grubacic is a dissident from the Balkans. A radical historian and sociologist, he is the author of Globalization and Refusal and the forthcoming titles: Hidden History of American Democracy and The Staughton Lynd Reader. A fellow traveler of Zapatista-inspired direct action movements, in particular Peoples' Global Action, and a co-founder of Global Balkans Network and Balkan Z Magazine, he is a visiting professor of sociology at the University of San Francisco.




Lower East Side Story:

After ten years of living in Berkeley, Eric Drooker still dreams of New York
By Rachel Swan
East Bay Express

Although Eric Drooker has lived and painted in Berkeley for the last ten years, nine times out of ten his dreams still take place in New York City. Drooker grew up in a seventh-floor apartment building near Manhattan's Lower East Side. He's famous for drawing cityscapes that press against the edge of the page and crush out the organic forms: bruising, two-dimensional illustrations of steel-framed skyscrapers, subways, soft drink billboards, electric nightclub signs, tenement fire escapes, the East River, and the Williamsburg Bridge. These drawings have a very specific time and place (Brooklyn or Manhattan, usually in the 1970s, almost always the same view), but they employ metaphors that anyone could pick up and understand. His mass-produced poster art, some of which is collected in the new postcard book, Slingshot, operates in much the same way. The images might have a specific origin and intention, but what they depict — a dove flying over the subway train, or a barefoot woman kicking a policeman — is universal and eternal.

Drooker's images have more currency than his name. Born to a family of artists, Drooker was always looking at things from a slightly different angle than everyone else. He also was a troublemaker who liked to throw shit out of the window of his high-rise: firecrackers, cherry bombs, water balloon condoms, bottles of ketchup, pee-pee, a balloon filled with pornography one New Year's Eve, and once, a container of hot water on a cluster of policemen below. Drooker wasn't into superhero comics, but did gravitate "to all the really perverted shit," like Zap and R. Crumb, who taught him all about human sexuality. He sketched his first cityscape at age eleven, and it was just a slightly cruder version of the ones he does now. He could get inspired by anything: a ketchup bottle splattering on the sidewalk, the city skyline, two bums warming their hands over a garbage can fire, a red umbrella that flew in his field of vision while he was sitting outside a squat in Amsterdam, smoking a joint.

In the '80s, Drooker parlayed his rebellious personality into activism, and became a tenant organizer in the Lower East Side. He made posters and pasted them all over New York City, eventually catching the eye of Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, who would peel the images off lampposts and the sides of buildings and collect them. The two first hung out at length in August of 1988, during the Tompkins Square Park Police Riot. (Their friendship eventually led Drooker to illustrate Ginsberg's poetry collection Illuminated Poems.) Drooker's protest images — of a small tank going up against an army of musicians with trumpets and drums, of a woman using a mallet to bust through a brick wall, of Mumia Abu-Jamal pecking at his typewriter through the bars of a jail cell — have become iconic. He gives them away to activists whose causes he believes in. Many people have Drooker images adorning their punk show fliers or even tattooed on their bodies, and might never know it.

He lived for roughly twenty years in the same tenement building on East 10th Street, first in a storefront downstairs that flooded when a pipe burst (and became the inspiration for his noir-ish 2002 graphic novel, Flood), then upstairs in an apartment that opened up when the previous tenant died of AIDS. During that time, Drooker had been designing covers for The New Yorker magazine, which he does to this day, to help eke out a living. In the old days, he would finish a painting and walk over to the office on 42nd Street, flirt a little with the art director, and see if it sold (it usually did). Later, after moving to the Bay Area in 2000, he'd mail the original over. He didn't get his first computer until 2004.

His current studio sits in a downtown Berkeley office building where he's surrounded by insurance salesmen, attorneys, and even a condom distributor. There's a large rock garden in the atrium with pebbles and tropical-looking plants. His studio walls are adorned with pictures — the oil paintings and pastel drawings of human figures, the self-portrait in a New York subway station, an image of one of his recent New Yorker covers with monkeys and a toucan gazing out over a bridge in New York City. Drooker always has his current sketches on the wall — last year around this time he was working on a classical image of a man with a bull head and a bayonet that became the painting "Moloch." Free jazz plays from an Internet radio station, and a gymnast's rings hang from the ceiling. Stacks of his new postcard book, just released under the wing of Oakland's new independent publisher, PM Press, lie in a box. The images included are among the most provocative in Drooker's oeuvre: a screaming infant; a hand drowning in a polluted harbor; and of course, the cover graphic of a wild-haired woman in a ballet dress, brandishing a slingshot.

Drooker likes for his work to be mass-produced, whether in the form of New Yorker covers, posters that are printed up and distributed throughout the neighborhood, tattoos that are inscripted on body parts, graphic novels (besides Illuminated Poems, he's published Flood! A Novel in Pictures and Blood Song: A Silent Ballad), CD covers, or guerrilla-style public art. When Drooker visited the Gaza Strip in 2004, he helped several teenagers from the village of Beit Hanoun paint a giant orange tree on a wall of their youth center. (The Israeli army had already bulldozed every last citrus tree in the area, Drooker wrote in an article for Counterpunch, submitted from an Internet cafe in the West Bank.) He says that while most gallery painters focus on form, his work tries to emphasize substantive content. "I like the image to be very clear, and very concrete," he explained. "So that it's about something."

Drooker's work is highly accessible, but also can inspire many different narratives — most of them beginning or ending in New York City. In Flood, the principle character — a lonely, alienated, artistic bachelor-type — wanders through a world of tenements, seedy bars, and subway tunnels that turn into a kind of Inferno but also become an extension of the character's emotional life. The woman in Blood Song rafts all the way from a remote island to New York harbor, after her village is raided by the military. The perils of the city are sublimated in the landscape: giant, oppressive high-rises, cranes, smokestacks, policemen with truncheons. She falls for a saxophone player who offers her canned sardines and cheap wine, and makes love to him on the roof.

That's a little detail dredged up from Drooker's past. As a teenager in New York City, he was obliged to share a room with a younger brother who was constantly trying to kick his ass. Rooftops were the only place he could find solitude — and a good view of the skyline.

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Eric Drooker Takes Aim With Slingshot

By Ben Terrall
San Francisco Bay Guardian

I met Eric Drooker when we were both callow teens experiencing the joys of a coed Quaker socialist hippie camp in Vermont. We skinny-dipped, which was part of the camp's official policy, and smoked pot, which wasn't. Drooker has lived in the Bay Area since the mid-1990s, but his art is closely associated with New York City. A lanky, laconic man in his late 40s, he was born and raised in Manhattan, and the city still dominates his imagery. This is true of his wordless graphic novel Flood: A Novel in Pictures (Dark Horse), which won an American Book Award in 1993. It also applies to the haunting silent ballad Blood Song (Harvest Books), published in 2002.

Yet Drooker is perhaps best known for oil paintings that grace covers of The New Yorker — in early September last year, his 15th cover for the magazine appeared on newsstands. Some of these paintings are also included in 2006's Illuminated Poems (Running Press), which pairs his art with writing by the late Allen Ginsberg. Most recently Drooker published a book of postcards titled Slingshot (PM Press, 68 pages, $14.05). It consists of 32 images created with razor blade on scratchboard.

Drooker's work is widely disseminated in leftist circles, at times in ways that make the idea of a body politic quite literal — the PM Press Web site notes that his art is "plastered on brick walls from New York to Berlin, tattooed on bodies from Kansas to Mexico City." He's largely bypassed the more lucrative realm of art galleries, while allowing activists to access and use (via www.drooker.com) his images free. "I enjoy working on diverse projects that will be seen by a cross-section of the public — not just the gallery-goers," he says.

The grandson of lower East Side socialists, Drooker was born at the tail end of the post-World War II baby boom. As a teenager, he began participating in progressive politics on a neighborhood level. Early influences on his artistic style included the woodcut novels of Frans Masereel and Lynd Ward and the underground comics of Robert Crumb. During his time in Manhattan, Drooker was active in the late-1980s struggles against gentrification, and in countless antiwar campaigns. Many of the images on display at www.drooker.com stem from those political battles. Today, he believes his hometown has "become inhospitable" to anyone other than the wealthy. "It's not even a city for the middle class anymore," he says. "Unless you have big money, the message is: don't show up."

Nonetheless, Drooker still dreams about New York: "It wasn't until I moved away from Manhattan that I became more obsessed with it, and started to really appreciate its significance." He calls Manhattan "the archetypal city," and admits that its infrastructure continues to fascinate him. This quality is apparent in the meticulously detailed attention that his work pays to water towers on rooftops, subway tunnel walls, and myriad types of urban pedestrians.

As a youth, Drooker spent many hours watching vintage cartoons. His sense of humor sometimes betrays a still-evident love for Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. He also haunted New York's repertory movie houses in the 1970s, where he watched films made by the era's anti-Hollywood rebels, and giants of international cinema such as Akira Kurosawa, Luis Buñuel, and Federico Fellini. Given that much of this impressively prolific artist's longer form work has the narrative feel of both classic animation and the silent films of Charlie Chaplin, it isn't surprising to learn that he's been collaborating with an SF animation studio on an animation project for the last year.

Given Drooker's decades of political engagement, it's no surprise that he's opinionated about the political challenges artists face today, from economic instability and increasing gaps between rich and poor to global war and global warming. He cites Sue Coe ("amazing, hard-hitting") and Seth Tobocman as two favorite peers. Drooker is a long-time contributor to World War 3 Illustrated, the comics collection Tobocman cofounded in 1980. He has a new piece in the next issue, due soon.

Drooker maintains that the most common contemporary political art is "right wing": namely, advertising imagery, a form he considers "as much propaganda as any mural Diego Rivera did." He says he sympathizes with people who produce commercial art to keep their families fed, but that the work is "selling you this myth of consumer culture: 'Buy this and maybe you won't feel so bad.'"

"We're surrounded by political art wherever we turn," he added during a follow-up e-mail discussion. "Advertising art is ubiquitous, it grabs us by our emotions — as all art does — and tries to sell us things. Its aesthetics are powerful, and its politics are clear. The mural-sized billboards in our public spaces were all created by artists who went to art school. What is the political message? Faith in consumerism. Until the Renaissance, artists were employed by the church. What was the message of medieval religious art? Fear god. Worship a Jewish guy being tortured to death on a cross. Obey the Vatican — or else." 

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Announcing the Release of Peter Kuper's Diario de Oaxaca

PM Press is very proud to announce the release of Diario De Oaxaca: a Sketchbook Journal of Two Years in Mexico, an incredible view into the politics and culture of Oxaca during the uprising of 2006.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peter Kuper is a cofounder and editorial board member of political graphics magazine World War 3 Illustrated and a teacher who has taught at New York's School of Visual Arts and Parsons The New School for Design. Best known for drawing Mad magazine's Spy vs. Spy comic since 1997, he has also illustrated covers for Newsweek and Time magazine. He is the author of the graphic novel Sticks and Stones, which won the New York Society of Illustrators gold medal, and his autobiography, Stop Forgetting to Remember. He lives in New York City. 

More about the book
Meet Peter Kuper
Advance reviews

Diario de Oaxaca

Diario de Mexico: A Sketchbook Journal of Two Years in Oaxaca
By Peter Kuper
Publisher: PM Press and Sexto Piso Editorial
ISBN: 978-1-60486-071-9
Published Sept. 2009
Format: Hardcover
Page Count: 208 Pages
Size: 9.25 by 6.5
Language(s): English and Spanish
Subjects: Art, Politics

$29.95

Painting a vivid, personal portrait of social and political upheaval in Oaxaca, Mexico, this unique memoir employs comics, bilingual essays, photos, and sketches to chronicle the events that unfolded around a teachers’ strike and led to a seven-month siege.

When award-winning cartoonist Peter Kuper and his wife and daughter moved to the beautiful 16th-century colonial town of Oaxaca in 2006, they planned to spend a quiet year or two enjoying a different culture and taking a break from the U.S. political climate under the Bush administration. What they hadn’t counted on was landing in the epicenter of Mexico’s biggest political struggle in recent years. Timely and compelling, this extraordinary firsthand account presents a distinct artistic vision of Oaxacan life, from explorations of the beauty of the environment to graphic portrayals of the fight between strikers and government troops that left more than 20 people dead, including American journalist Brad Will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Buzz

“Kuper is a colossus; I have been in awe of him for over 20 years. Teachers and students everywhere take heart: Kuper has in these pages borne witness to our seemingly endless struggle to educate and to be educated in the face of institutions that really don’t give a damn. In this ruined age we need Kuper’s unsparing compassionate visionary artistry like we need hope.”
—Junot Díaz, Pulitzer Prize winning author of
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

“An artist at the top of his form.” —
Publishers Weekly

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Events

October 29, 2009 7PM

University of Michigan
Lecture /presentation

October 30, 2009
Toledo, OH
Toledo Ohio Museum: LitGraphic: The World of the Graphic Novel( Keynote address)
http://www.toledomuseum.org/Art_Exhibitions_LitGraphic.htm

November 28-29, 2009
Guadalajara Book fair
http://www.fil.com.mx/ingles/i_index.asp

 

Praise for Diario de Oaxaca

 
Diario de Oaxaca
By Bruce Jensen
Library Journal

In 2006, illustrator Kuper moved from New York to the impoverished but ethnically and historically rich southern Mexican city of Oaxaca, bringing his wife and pre-teen daughter. The region was wracked by a massive teachers’ strike that made headlines worldwide, by the corruption of the state’s notorious governor, and by conflicts in the streets involving tens of thousands of protesters and troops—an interesting place for a politically minded artist to be. Kuper has done covers and other illustrations for a host of major topical publications including TIME, Newsweek, the Progressive, and the New York Times, and has for more than a decade drawn the “Spy vs. Spy” comic series for MAD Magazine. This is the appealing product of his two years in Mexico. Kuper’s diary entries, paired with a side-by-side translation into Spanish, help set the context for the 150-odd pages of paintings, sketches, cartoons, and collages that are the highlight of this book. Kuper’s offbeat eye and his MAD sensibility make for some striking images—comical ones, too, such as his Day of the Dead tribute to the Peanuts gang, which shows the skeletal dog Znupé digging through a boneyard while his Charlie Brown ruminates about death. Fans of comics and art lovers will appreciate Kuper’s unusual take on a remarkable place. Recommended for libraries, particularly those with graphic art and design collections, as well as general bookstores.—Bruce Jensen, Rohrbach Lib., Kutztown, PA

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Diario de Oaxaca
By Michael C Lorah

A warning: this book missed Diamond's cutoff numbers, so you may have a hard time finding it in your local comics shop.  But it's worth the extra effort to track down a copy.  Peter Kuper, co-founder and co-editor of "World War 3 Illustrated" and current author of "Mad"'s "Spy vs. Spy", spent two years living in the southern Mexican state Oaxaca, arriving just in time for an annual teachers' strike in the cause of increased wages to turn violent, leaving dozens of people dead.
 
Diario De Oaxaca: a Sketchbook Journal of Two Years in Mexico
Fiction Book Review

Kuper has long been among the most politically engaged and stylistically distinctive artists working in comics, and both qualities take center stage here. This dazzling annotated sketchbook recounts two years Kuper and his family spent living in Oaxaca, Mexico. Anticipating a sojourn from American politics, Kuper instead found himself in a city roiled by a teachers' strike that was violently suppressed by the regional government. He recorded his observations in his sketchbook and in illustrated letters home, crisply reproduced in this bilingual (English and Spanish) book. Kuper's facility with diverse art media shines in early pages covering political action, as colorfully penciled protestors stand against rigidly inked military barricades set against the lush backdrops of Oaxaca. As the populist forces are rapidly suppressed, Kuper records a panoply of further visual impressions: beaches, stores, dogs, vendors, ancient ruins, street art and many, many insects. Throughout, Kuper's letters, rooted in personal observation but clearly intended as eyewitness reports for public consumption, provide helpful context. And if his increasingly profuse style mixing suggests a departure from earlier visual in the book, the final observations about a beautiful, merciless natural order obliquely ratify the political convictions that open the book. (Sept.)

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Diario De Oaxaca: a Sketchbook Journal of Two Years in Mexico
ForeWord Magazine

Kuper’s hardcover opus Diario de Oaxaca, excerpted briefly in Wordless Worlds, is not as distant as it might appear at first glance. Peter Kuper is probably stuck with his best known credit, “Spy vs Spy” in Mad magazine, at least until this publication (in its second half-century and now reduced to quarterly appearance) goes out of business. Kuper inherited the spy piece from another era of Mad, and it has been noticeably wordless all these decades (Kuper took over it over in 1997). The author of arguably the only pantomime strip in widely-distributed comic art, Kuper explored the wordless form throughout his career in graphic novels like The System and Sticks and Stones. With Diario, his sketchbook journal from two years of living in Mexico, he is the observer removed not by silence so much as a keen awareness of his personal status: as visitor.

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A Poet's Confession

By Jonetta Rose Barras
Examiner Columnist | 3/31/09 9:23 AM
 

I know this man, I assert, picking up E. Ethelbert Miller’s new memoir, The 5th Inning (PM Press/Busboys and Poets), released earlier this month. I have known him since I first arrived in the District wearing a wild Afro hairstyle and an attitude to match.

But after reading the book, I realize the fallacy about the breadth of my knowledge. Everyone has secrets, deep and personal, aggressively protected from others’ discovery. And then, there is the soul, a shy, intensely private creature.

“Traditionally, it’s viewed as a female occupation, to strip away the layers and examine the experience of relationships with a partner, with children, within one’s own interior emotional life,” author Joyce Maynard said about The 5th Inning.

“Here comes a strong, real male voice, exploring the terrifying territory of growing older,” Maynard added. “... Ethelbert Miller writes with naked honesty and courage about what it is to be a man no longer young. Youth may have left him. Passion has not.”

“It’s a blues book,” Miller explained, a day after a signing party at Busboys and Poets, owned by Andy Shallal and located on 14th Street Northwest.

It’s clear that baseball is Miller’s religion and the organizing metaphor for his life: “Balls and strikes can also stand for BS. How much is thrown at a person by the time they reach 50?”

This column isn’t a book review — although there is much to appreciate in Miller’s second memoir. It’s experimental: part jazz riff, part poetic meditation reminiscent of Pablo Neruda and filled with multiple voices. It’s haunting. Rather, this is a salute to a South Bronx transplant who has enriched the cultural and political life of the District for more than three decades.

Miller is “literary man”; he’s been that since the 1970s.

“Ethelbert’s name always comes up as the person to see and to get to help promote your career,” said Misty Brown, the literary editor for the Washington Informer newspaper who has known him for more than two decades. “He’s a poet’s poet.”

In the beginning, Miller’s outpost was principally Howard University. He’s the director of the school’s African American Resource Center — a trove of all things related to blacks in America and the Diaspora. From 1974 through 2000, he ran the off-campus Ascension Poetry Reading Series, showcasing emerging and established poets and fiction writers. For a time, he also published, with now-deceased author Ahmos Zu-Bolton, groundbreaking anthologies. He was the force behind the District establishing a poet laureate.

In the past decade, Miller has gone global. He has helped build an international community of political and literary activists. Maybe I should say politically active literary artists.

He is the chairman of the powerful Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank involved in anti-war efforts and immigration reform. This month, he was a guest at Abu Dhabi’s International Book Fair. A collection of his poetry was translated this year into Arabic.

“He put D.C. back on the map as a literary capital,” Brown said. “Citizens, artists, the entire city have benefited. We’re happy he’s here.“

Jonetta Rose Barras, an author and political analyst, can be reached at rosebook1@aol.com

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Eat Food, Cook Food, and Don’t Forget the Salt

By Sarah Henry
Lettuce eat Kale

Perhaps the best thing about Cook Food: a manualfesto for easy, healthy, local eating by Lisa Jervis is that it’s a slim little volume.

That’s not some snarky reviewer comment. Writer Jervis, founding editor and publisher of the feminist mag Bitch, aims to demystify how to eat well and cook real, simple food by keeping her book brief. She includes some 20 recipes of the beans, greens, grains, tofu, and tempeh variety. Well seasoned, as Jervis advocates, these ingredients can form the basis of a decent recipe repertoire for the eco-conscious (both environmental and financial).

lisa-jervisPhoto: Sarah Henry

This guide may hit a chord with people interested in food politics who don’t have a clue about what to cook in the kitchen and don’t need pretty pictures to motivate them to make a meal. (This is not your typical photo-driven cookbook.) Folks inspired by Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, and Stuffed & Starved author Raj Patel, whose book blurb adorns the back cover, come to mind. And Cook Food might also serve as a handy reference for college students, making the switch from dorm life to truly independent living, who need assistance figuring out essential equipment, pantry basics, and practical tips and techniques (note to self: ditch the lame-o rice cooker and get a jelly roll pan for roasting veggies to perfection.)

Regardless, if Jervis, who sports a cool beet tattoo, happens to be reading in your neighborhood do stop by. At The Green Arcade bookstore in San Francisco last Friday, it feels like I’ve entered the kitchen of a friend who could use a little help getting the dinner on.  More group discussion and less typical book reading, Jervis distractedly composes a farmers’ market salad for her audience to sample — and to support her thesis that preparing satisfying food is within everyone’s reach.

She fields questions while she chops. We learn she’s politically aware (conscious of her carbon footprint, locavore advocate, mostly vegan), and a bit of a renegade (a liberal user of oil and salt, she signs her book, salt early, salt often). She also confesses in the course of her cooking demo that she’s confused an Asian melon for a lemon cucumber. It doesn’t seem to faze her. There’s nothing slick going on here, which leaves you feeling comfortable that you, too, can cook food.

In this era of celebrity chefs and network cooking shows, it’s easy to feel intimidated by food. Jervis serves as a reminder that we don’t need to be.

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It's Gary Phillips' World

BSC Review
July 31, 2009

2009 is the year of Gary Phillips. A spate of releases confirms what some already know, that its Gary’s world and the rest of us just live in it. The different releases offer a range of voices in a range of styles in a range of mediums.

The Jook

Zelmont Raines has slid a long way since his ability to jook, to out maneuver his opponents on the field, made him a Super Bowl winning wide receiver, earning him lucrative endorsement deals and more than his share of female attention. But Zee hasn’t always been good at saying no, so a series of missteps involving drugs, a paternity suit or two, legal entanglements, shaky investments and recurring injuries have virtually sidelined his career.

That is until Los Angeles gets a new pro franchise, the Barons, and Zelmont has one last chance at the big time he dearly misses. Just as it seems he might be getting back in the flow, he’s enraptured by Wilma Wells, the leggy and brainy lawyer for the team–who has a ruthless game plan all her own. And it’s Zelmont who might get jooked.

The Jook was originally published in 1999 and is being reprinted by Switchblade, the new imprint of PM Press.

Yes, as Nerd pointed out already, one of the main hooks (and the thing you notice immediately) is the voice. Too often fiction told in a first person POV lacks a distinct voice but Zelmont Raines has a rhythm and style that is all his own. And quite frankly it is a rhythm that we don’t often hear in crime fiction; the rhythm of black men. I would partly attribute this to Gary Phillips’ unabashed acknowledgement of the so-called street lit books as an influence, maybe not the current 50-Cent crop of books but certainly the classics (Iceberg Slim, Robert Deane Pharr) and to the influence of Chester Himes.

If the black man is lacking from crime fiction then the black woman is absent. As black woman have come to dominate the world of street lit they have been largely absent from crime fiction and if crime fiction readers aren’t aware of the dynamics of the experiences felt by characters like Gena (True to the Game) and Winter (The Coldest Winter Ever) then they should be. This is a round about way of saying that Wilma Wells, the prime female lead in The Jook is a breath of fresh air. She’s smart, she’s sexual, she never veers into femme fatale territory and she dominates the men by being better then them at everything. The Jook of the title is just as much her move as anyone else’s in the story.

Part of Phillips’ strength, and what sets him apart from the others, is that he has taken an influence that others don’t have and married it with the traditional crime novel to come up with something else.

High Rollers

High Rollers is a graphic novel by Gary Phillips from Boom! Comics. The story is of the rising through the criminal organization ranks variety. The story is crisp and well told with some interesting characters. Some of the art didn’t work for me, achieving a rotoscopic (I guess) type effect that looks, at times, overly cartoonish. My only complaint is that the story just ends, leaving the reader with a feeling that the story is incomplete. This will be easily resolved if there are future issues/volumes with these characters I just don’t know if that is the case or not.

***

In addition to a dark crime fiction noir and a rise-to-power comic Gary Phillips also has a standout story in the anthology Black Noir called The House of Tears and a historical novel about black soldiers in World War II called Freedom’s Flight.

Bottom line: Gary Phillips is one of the best kept secrets in crime fiction.

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Jena 6 on Political Media Review

By Bill Templer
University of Malaya
Political Media Review 

“The DA’s pen has replaced the lynching noose” -Mumia Abu Jamal

Barely noticed In the midst of the hullabaloo and media hype over the death of Michael Jackson, a notorious case of racial injustice against six working-class African-American youths came to a quiet conclusion in the LaSalle Parish courthouse on June 25, 2009, in the parish (county) seat of Jena, state of Louisiana.

Five of the six teenagers, originally charged by LaSalle Parish DA Reed Walters with attempted murder and conspiracy against a white fellow student, agreed to plead ‘no contest’ to a greatly reduced minimal charge of misdemeanor simple battery. That plea does not admit guilt (1). The sixth, Mychal Bell, was convicted on a charge of second-degree battery and served 18 months in juvenile detention, nearly killing himself in despair last December. Mychal is now free and planning to go on to college this fall. One defendant, Bryant Purvis, is already in college, and the four others have similar plans.

Public pressure and the biggest civil rights demonstration the South has seen in 50 years served to save these high school kids from a massive miscarriage of justice and long-term incarceration in the American Prison-Industrial Complex.

The PIC now has 2.3 million behind bars, nearly half African-American. In the process, supporters managed to raise $275,000 to hire a strong defense team for the six. Hundreds of thousands of others are not so lucky (2). Their sentence when originally accused in late 2006 was a potential 100 years, and in the process of struggle was reduced to seven days on probation — quite a victory.

This DVD is powerfully narrated by long-incarcerated African-American radio journalist Mumia Abu Jamal (a trailer here: http://www.bignoisefilms.com/films/tactical-media/99-jena). It recaps the case from its inception, with two nooses found hanging from a high school tree in August 2006 after Black students attempt to integrate the schoolyard. In the aftermath, Reed Walters told a school assembly, his eye reportedly on the Black students: “I can destroy your life with the stroke of a pen.”

In retrospect, that racist statement was the spark. Racial tensions under Jena’s crust flared at the high school. The school was mysteriously set ablaze in November. A fight at the reopened school on December 4, 2006 left a white youth, Justin Barker, with an injured eye and a concussion — although that same evening, Justin attended a major school event. Soon after, six of his fellow African-American classmates were charged by DA Walters with attempted murder and conspiracy, and Walters promised to seek the maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Shocked, the families decided to fight this injustice. On September 20, 2007, the movement built by their initiative peaked in the largest civil rights protest North America had seen for five decades. The film chronicles this in 18 short chapters.

But the film does not deal with later developments, which ultimately led to the incarceration of Mychal Bell in December 2007, his attempted suicide a year later, and recent release. So coverage is in fact partial. One critic feels the docu-film is poorly structured, far too brief for the complexity of its topic, “while interviews with several closed-minded locals establish quick hero-villain roles early on” (3).

Yet I think it captures well the political core of the Jena events. As Mumia sums it up: “North and South, we all live in Jena. And despite our denials, some of Jena lives in us.”

The Jena 6 brings the case home in numerous interviews, strong visuals and Abu Jamal’s riveting commentary. The film is a compelling chronicle

  • of how working African-American parents can be politicized, self-empowered by circumstance to struggle against injustice, exemplified especially in the person of Caseptla Bailey, Robert Bailey’s mom. Marcus Jones, father of Mychal, ends the film stressing that “the day he sets foot out of jail, I’m gonna tell him, I’m gonna tell him again: you know what it is to be black now. Here, here it is.”
  • of how to forge bonds of solidarity, local and beyond, as people come out of the silos of their isolation and oppression.
  • of concrete class struggle, as poor Black families, literally ‘from the other side of the tracks,’ living in a ghetto outside Jena’s municipal perimeter, fight to oppose bogus charges against their kids and the bourgeois power establishment in LaSalle Parish. It’s about racial justice, but at the core of that is class justice, the poor versus the privileged. Much has been written about this case, but not about the wealthy elite that actually runs the parish and much of central Louisiana.

The DVD is also a window onto how working-class white folks in Jena, themselves victims and products of that same System, are blind to its gross inequities. Racist policies are spread and reproduced by exploiting racial divisions and the various economic, cultural and political anxieties and biases of whites, especially in the working-class. “This is part of the familiar divide and conquer strategy which pits poor whites against people of color for the sake of profit and power” (4).

And in a new turn of the old racist screw, Jena’s mayor Murphy McMillan has been busy this past year promoting the opening of the LaSalle Detention Center in town, a newly refurbished facility for incarcerating ‘illegal aliens’ dedicated a year ago. This is to be Jena’s new involvement in the booming ‘detention industry’ under Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) (5). That center is probably seen as a plum by the parish moneyed elite whom the mayor represents.

This is a film for consciousness-raising and critical pedagogy. It can be

  • used in examining the PIC and criminal justice system in the U.S. and elsewhere. It can be combined with the DVD film The Angola 3: Black Panthers and the Last Slave Plantation, recently reviewed in PMR.
  • viewed and discussed in labor organizing, showing how solidarity among working families can be catalyzed and built.
  • incorporated into classrooms by social justice educators, like Linda Christensen, who reminds us: “I try to find fiction and nonfiction about people who disrupt the script society set for them. I want students to see that history is not inevitable, that there are spaces where it can bend, change, become more just” (6)

It’s a war on the workers waged in part through the justice system, and the work of resistance must and will go on. Organizations like the Prison Activist Resource Center in Oakland, a prison abolitionist collective, can forge paths forward (7). Mumia, long on death row, has to be acquitted and freed (8). Leonard Peltier has to be finally set free, his case up for a parole hearing in late July 2009 (9). Countless others, of all hues of the rainbow, have to be released from the grip of the PIC.

As John Mellencamp’s song “Jena” reflects: “Some day some way sanity will prevail / But who knows when that day might come / A shot in the dark, well it just might find its way / To the hearts of those that hold the keys to kingdom come” (10) And throughout this tale of a nooses hung on a schoolyard tree, the lyrics echo of Abel Meeropol’s and Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” (11).

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Notes

1. See http://news.aol.com/article/jena-six-case/542897 ; see also http://tinyurl.com/23lkqm ; for a more bourgeois liberal view of the case and its complexities, see Amy Waldman’s article: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200801/jena6

2. See also in PMR: http://www.politicalmediareview.org/2009/06/1617/#more-1617

3. See http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/33737/jena-6-the/

4. See http://illvox.org/2008/06/jena’s-divide-and-conquer-politics/

5. See http://www.ice.gov/pi/news/newsreleases/articles/080610jena.htm

6. See http://rethinkingschools.org/archive/23_04/joy234.shtml

7. See http://www.prisonactivist.org/

8. See http://tinyurl.com/nqht6p

9. See http://www.prisonactivist.org/node/522

10. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sU-TqXNEucw&feature=related

11. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=isU_OjY94NY




ForeWord Magazine on Diario de Oaxaca

Diario De Oaxaca: a Sketchbook Journal of Two Years in Mexico
ForeWord Magazine

Kuper’s hardcover opus Diario de Oaxaca, excerpted briefly in Wordless Worlds, is not as distant as it might appear at first glance. Peter Kuper is probably stuck with his best known credit, “Spy vs Spy” in Mad magazine, at least until this publication (in its second half-century and now reduced to quarterly appearance) goes out of business. Kuper inherited the spy piece from another era of Mad, and it has been noticeably wordless all these decades (Kuper took over it over in 1997). The author of arguably the only pantomime strip in widely-distributed comic art, Kuper explored the wordless form throughout his career in graphic novels like The System and Sticks and Stones. With Diario, his sketchbook journal from two years of living in Mexico, he is the observer removed not by silence so much as a keen awareness of his personal status: as visitor.

He is not a tourist exactly. He came to Oaxaca (pronounced Wa-Ha-Ka) in 2006 with his wife and child to take a sabbatical from the Bush-administered United States, as well as to broaden a young daughter’s linguistic skills and sensibilities. It just so happens that earth-shaking developments sweep through the city while he is there: the struggles of Oaxacans against a staggeringly corrupt government, seeking decent wages for public service, turn into class and cultural warfare. Kuper might almost have been the Courbet of the modern Paris Commune, but this uprising is crushed with great violence and dozens of casualties, including American journalist Brad Will. Kuper captures the dramatic events through his writing, drawings, and photos as they unfold, as well as when the city returns to its status as tourist center for foreigners seeking a warm, relaxing good time, close to archeological sites of lost civilizations. During the interim, all kinds of rebellious art and artistic graffiti appears on city walls, some of it reproduced here in drawings and photographs, while he sketches his own family’s daily lives, with equally heavy emphasis on natural surroundings.

Throughout, Kuper demonstrates his fascination with insects, not only the Monarch butterflies (whose breeding grounds are nearby) but also bugs of every variety. From stinging scorpions to corrupt politicians, Kuper draws parallels between the natural beauty and the dangerous reality that Mexicans encounter every day. The insects represent the “jungle of freedom” of the surrealist world view, the proliferation of life forms absent in Western cities but so much a part of homo sapiens’ transhistorical experiences—that is, of the species launched in the hot climates only gradually advancing to colder places.

The wondrous character of the sketches is in no small part their color, as it overflows with the sampling of Mexican art of everyday life. Understandably, the “Day of the Dead” makes a huge impression on the artist, but so do Aztec memories, the masks of assorted celebrations, the colorful dress, the omnipresent dogs, the occupying soldiers armed against an unarmed population, endangered sea turtles, professional wrestlers, pyramids, and other highly assorted phenomena. One is tempted to say “All in Living Color”—but of course, the Dead are among the most vivid inhabitants, and the long-dead civilizations as well. In any case, this is an artist-traveler’s notebook to cherish and flip through almost endlessly. Each visit to its pages will bring the reader some new gift.

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