Posts in Essays and Reviews
Painting Beyond Black and White: Vincent Valdez’s The City (Review and Q&A)

Vincent Valdez’s recently debuted painting The City I is tucked away on the second floor of the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin, perhaps to shield certain visitors from its controversial nature, but also to make a metaphoric point: racism doesn’t need to be front and center for it to be alive and well. In the case of Valdez’s artwork, a large format four-panel painting depicting 14 fully garbed Klansmen—including a baby cradled in the arms of its hooded mother—his piece dominates the space in a semi-hidden room, away from the main art exhibit taking place on the ground floor. If you’re willing to turn a few corners, you will be met with the defiant stares of larger-than-life hatred glaring back at you, which could also be said for our country’s ever-present racial tension and discord. On the one-year anniversary of Charlottesville’s Unite the Right rally, how far have we come as a democracy, a nation of immigrants, a post-slavery society, and where exactly are we going, especially if we choose not to admit that there is an enemy among us, and possibly within us? 

Read More
Thinking Its Presence: Form, Race, and Subjectivity in Contemporary Asian American Poetry by Dorothy Wang

Every now and then, an Asian-American student asks me, “Should I write about race? It’s important to me and I want to, but I’m afraid I’ll be pigeonholed.”

I always think it through on the spot, to make sure I still agree with myself. Among my answers: “Poetry is such an obscure genre, it’s not worth doing anything but what means the most to you.” Or: “Robert Frost said a poem begins as a lump in the throat. Without that, your poems will lack urgency, so write about what’s eating at you.” Or: “Look at what’s happening politically, all over the Western world. Open racism is back. Your story needs to be told.”

Read More
On Some of my Favorite Photographers

Since having written this in graduate school several years ago, I have been lucky enough to see some quite extraordinary photography exhibitions in my new home, New York City. I went to see the Speed of Life retrospective honoring Peter Hujar’s work at the Morgan Library and Museum recently along with William Eggleston’s Los Alamos series at the Met. Before that I was amazed by Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photographs of India at the Rubin Museum. I have also been incredibly impressed by Emma Elizabeth Tillman’s work and, most notably, her recently published collection of photographs entitled Disco Ball Soul. All of these photographers have inspired me to take a look back at this piece I wrote where I discuss some of the artists who made an impact on me as a college student.

Read More
Long-awaited Nas album, Nasir, falters under great expectations.

After a six-year hiatus, the much-anticipated release of Nas’s album, Nasir, left fans and critics with mixed reactions. The album arrived as part of the “Wyoming Sessions,” a series of albums executively produced by Kanye West as part of a grand experiment of rapid-fire studio production. The other albums include Pusha T’s Daytona, West’s collaboration with Kid Cudi eponymously entitled Kids See Ghosts, Teyana Taylor’s K.T.S.E. (Keep That Same Energy), and West’s own album, Ye. Each album is limited to seven tracks, and West has hinted at a loose thematic relationship to the seven deadly sins.

Read More
“David Grossman’s A Horse Walks Into A Bar: a Stand-Up Transcription of Humanity”

Most of us have experienced that nauseating awkwardness - the physically agonizing discomfort - of sitting through a comedy show that’s just not going right. That shifting in the seat when a joke falls flat. That cacophonous cough when a pun doesn’t receive the laughing track that was anticipated. Nobody characterizes that experience better than David Grossman in his most recent novel, A Horse Walks Into A Bar. Translated from Hebrew, this novel recounts the sometimes-magical-sometimes-excruciatingly-unsuccessful final standup of Dov Greenstein, an Israeli comic at a dive bar in Netanya, north of Tel Aviv. Over the course of his two-hour act, sprinkled with Holocaust jokes and ‘humorous’ stabs at the audience, Dov relates the battered tale of his life — what’s led him to his disturbed state, as a comedian today.

Read More
Take to the Stage: A Review of the Ridgewood Coffee Company Open Mic

I remember, vividly, my first performance at the Ridgewood Coffee Company Open Mic. A summer evening, about six or seven years ago. I remember pacing outside, along the faded, orange brick of the cafe’s exterior; fingers tingling with the nerves of a performer on deck; replaying the track of Billy Gillman’s “Oklahoma” I was prepping myself to cover. The music from my IPhone mingled in the air with the humming and guitar-strumming from musicians around me, sounds native to a coffee shop like this: pulsating with artistic energy.

Read More
Review of, Welcome Distractions: Accessible Poems for Time-Strapped Humans (Autonomedia, 2018)

Let's be perfectly clear. Carol Wierzbicki's Welcome Distractions: Accessible Poems for Time-Strapped Humans is a terrific book of poems of/for our time. A book, dare I say it, of terrific female-take poems of and for our time, that will last, that should be required reading for all. And fun. And you will gasp: Yes! she nailed it.

Read More
Ocean’s 8: The quirky little street kid to the Ocean’s big brothers

Some film introduce you to characters that stay with you hours afterwards or are so profound you only find more genius in it with every viewing. Ocean’s 8 does neither but it knows what it is and that’s pure unadulterated, a fun, breezy comedic break from the heavy cloud of a chaotic political climate, and viewed at the movie theater, escape from the blistering sun. Ocean’s 8 is the playful younger, street kid to it’s heavier three big brothers. In the theater someone joked that it was called Ocean’s 8 because they couldn’t find 14 actresses as this not a pre-quel ,but takes place after Ocean’s 13.

Read More
“For the Artists, by the Artists: a Visit to the Nachalat Binyamin Market”

I’ve been wearing the same necklace for five years — a dove, wings stretched, perched inside a silver triangle; its wings, beak, and the points of the triangle outlining a Magen David, a Jewish star. Five years ago, I bought this necklace from an artist on Nachalat Binyamin, a bustling artisan market at the heart of Tel Aviv, Israel. Adjacent to the famed and always-hectic fish market, Shuk haCarmel; a ten minute walk from one of Israel’s hippest beaches; and polka-dotted with restaurants selling a wide range of authentic cuisines, Nachalat Binyamin is an Eden for artists, as well as for the admirers who patron their work.

Read More
Review of Ishmael Reed's - "Conjugating Hindi"

All little stories when they grow up want to be Ishmael Reed novels. They know that the nonpareil knowledge, freedom, and fun will be exhilarating. It’s the only place where in one paragraph you can bump into James Baldwin, John Waters, Chester Himes, Frank Zappa, Murphy Brown, Mary Richards, Beyoncé, Stephen King, Amiri Baraka, Edward Albee, Andy Warhol, and Snoop Dogg (11-12). You are privy to grappling with European and Indian mythology. You also get to visit art galleries and museums because plentiful graphic images are often part of the package. As Loop, a character in Reed’s 1969 Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down, expresses it, “No one says a novel has to be one thing. It can be anything it wants to be (36).” In Conjuring Hindi, Reed’s eleventh offering, the author reinforces this statement and buckles everyone in for a wild ride.

Read More
Small Screen Grandeur: Ava DuVernay’s Queen Sugar

It's been said before and will probably be said for many more years to come - we are in the golden age of television. All of which began like a trickle with a few A-list dwelling actors taking on roles in shows where the storylines had a cinematic prowess and solid direction. At the time television was starved for depth amidst the extremely popular reality show boom of the 2000s - but scales were tipped by the presence of dramas like Mad Men (a career defining moment for actor Jon Hamm), Weeds (starring Mary Louise Parker), Damages (starring Glenn Close but including many guest stars by actors like Ted Danson and John Goodman), and House of Cards (starring Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey). Television no longer belonged to sitcoms and sketch comedy and by 2018 the aforementioned ‘trickle’ caused a dam to break and networks clamoring to present equally worthy TV to their viewers. A necessary move to ensure their place in the market especially in the face of mega producer - the streaming service Netflix, that produces shows around the clock, thus keeping viewers constantly engaged, interested and subscribed to the service and killing network competition.

Read More
Q&A WITH BRENT JONES: AUTHOR OF GO HOME, AFTON AND THE NEW AFTON MORRISON SERIAL THRILLER SERIES

A Disturbed Vigilante Children’s Librarian in Pursuit of a Violent Sexual Predator. A small town librarian with a dark side, Afton, twenty-six, has suppressed violent impulses her entire adult life. Impulses that demand she commit murder. Go Home, Afton is the first of four parts in a new serial thriller by author Brent Jones. Packed with grit and action, The Afton Morrison Series delves into a world of moral ambiguity, delivering audiences an unlikely heroine in the form of a disturbed vigilante murderess.

Read More
Native American…or Indian…or whatever you call us - "There There" book review

The first time I revealed in a public place that I was Native (American) I was in 4th grade. It was part of the usual Elementary multicultural day celebration and I was asked to stand in front of the class and present my culture. I spoke simply and stated I am an American Indian” and presented corn bread as my potluck contribution (as if corn bread is some national identifying Native food.) Before I could sit back down in my seat I was heckled at from a child across the room “INDIANS ARE EXTINCT -- LIKE THE DINOSAURS! You’re a liar!” It was the first time I questioned my identity, am I a liar? Am I not Native? What does it mean to be an American Indian?

Read More
Review: Beyonce, Jay Z Push Empowerment with Art in Apes**t Video, The Carters Album

Most musicians film videos on private jets, boats and dance clubs. Hip-Hop Icons Beyonce and Jay-Z used famed Paris-based Louvre Museum as the backdrop for the hit single “Apeshit” video. Beyonce and Jay-Z just released the best music video of both careers spanning two decades of Hip-hop and R&B. There hasn’t been a video with this kind of interesting detail captivating audiences since TLC’s “Waterfalls” released in 1995.

Read More
Review of Eve Packer, Foss Park: Poems

Eve Packer continues her photojournalistic exploration of New York (and her own emotional interior landscape) in these spare, eloquent poems. Many of the poems have dates, and some are even time-stamped, giving the impression of journal entries. In this way Packer marks events in the news, the seasons, the deaths of friends, and the closing of mom-and-pop businesses with a nod to the passing of time—a reassuring constant when so much else seems to be in flux.

Read More
Review of "Gospel According to André"

In the Gospel According to André, the documentary (directed by Kim Novak) takes account of the life of one of the fashion industry's most recognizable figures. André Leon Talley - born and raised in North Carolina, experienced his career birth in 1970s New York - as a one of a kind fashion editor flourishing amidst many of the most heralded artists, creators, movers and shakers of the age.

Read More
“Being Bare: A Review of Carmen Winant’s My Birth”

A pregnant woman, naked, leans back in a chair. Her arm is lifted behind her head, her face buried in her elbow, as she concentrates on her breathing. Her husband crouches beside her, his fingers cradling her ballooned lower belly, dipping just above her exposed vagina. She heaves, he heaves, a seemingly simultaneous labour, as the next chapter of their life crowns its head from the space between her legs.

Read More
Home on Earth - Review of Tracy K. Smith's "Wade in The Water"

Wade in the Waters is Tracy K. Smith’s fourth collection of poetry, and it follows her 2011 Pulitzer Prize winning Life on Mars. In Life on Mars, Smith travels away from earth and its troubles to mourn, meditate and maybe to reconcile the loss of anchor. In this collection, she floats back only to find that the troubles and trespass she has left behind remain waiting for her reckoning.

Read More
Zora Neale Hurston’s ‘Barracoon’ Gives Graphic Details About Slavery’s Last Victims

Zora Neale Hurston’s “Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo” provides eye opening detail about the last years of Africans captured into slavery. Many books have been written about slave ships, plantations, and sale of human lives in exchange for money and goods, but Hurston manages to give more description to an already disturbing story of the dehumanization of African people.

Read More
Review of Hank Willis Thomas’s “What We Ask Is Simple”

An anxiety has steadily grown alongside the maturing of visual culture in late-capitalist societies over how an image can not only stand out from the countless others competing for attention across advertising, entertainment, and art but how it can also break loose of the cultural baggage that comes with its content. This second concern centers around what the French call signifiance, which describes the extratextual meaning that can attach itself to language that allows a repurposing to take place. What was once an early sign of winter (“snowflake”) can become a descriptor for an entire generation and these linguistic mutations can now take root faster than ever thanks to the multimedia onslaught provided by social media and smartphones.

Read More