Baldwin, Gomez and literary Harlem
David Goodson | 8/2/2018, 9:59 a.m.
The No. 1 city in the world renown’s No. 1 city: Harlem USA. (Arguments are futile; it is what it is.) Among the many reasons that Harlem is held in such high regard is the language. Poetic, prophetic, profane/profound and next level cool would safely describe the verbiage. For the past couple of decades, the world was introduced to the uniqueness by way of hip-hop. But before the ASAP gang, Dipset, Lux, Big L, Moe Dee and the countless others lyrical orators, there were the authors.
Unfortunately, their contributions are being gradually pushed to the wayside. Soon there might be a generation that’s totally oblivious to the masterworks. What would that be like, a world without the ideas of, say, a James Baldwin? Said Jewelle Gomez when posed with that question, “Without Baldwin I think we’d lack the facility with language that underlies our ability to dissect our contemporary circumstance. The music of his thought and words bridges the past and carries us into a present where we are better prepared to analyze and dismember the oppression afflicting our communities.”
She continued, “He first influenced me because of his love of language. I became fascinated early on with the subtle differences in words and the power words have. The knowledge prepared me for the feminist analysis of how words are used to diminish women as well as people of color.” By the flow of the retort, it’s obvious that Gomez is a creative being. Author, poet, critic and now playwright are a few titles that pepper her resume. Her latest project, a stage play co-written with Harry Waters Jr., entitled “Waiting for Giovanni,” delves into a fictitious moment in the mind of Baldwin in which he struggles with writing a novel, his second, that he’s been told will ruin his career. Lending concurring and opposing arguments were his respective colleagues and legends in the making, Lorraine Hansberry and Richard Wright. Sixty-plus years after the release of “Giovanni’s Room,” the book still inspires.
Gomez enthused, “My muse for the play was absolutely Giovanni ‘loving with the certainty of the tides.’ While the story may be seen as the traditional tragic gay story where the lover dies in the end, I felt more power in his ability to live and love. It is also a story about class, so I was taken by Giovanni’s survival skills despite the cosmopolitan culture’s bias against the poor.”
Unlike a book, an endeavor such as theater is a collaborative effort, and Gomez has no problem with giving props to those associated with project. When speaking of the ensemble cast of Jonathan Dewberry, Joy Sudduth, Neil Dawson, Jordan J. Adams, Michael Striano, Robert Walker Jeffrey, Ken Simon along with director Mark Finely, she beamed, “It’s always magical to see actors breathe life into your words. The members of the cast are both subtle and forceful. I can feel their investment in not just the words but also the ideas. I love seeing people of color onstage showing their love for each other. Even when a character, Richard, for example, is angry with Jimmy, you can feel his love for his friend. The actors get that and build on the complexities. That’s thrilling to watch.”
Fans of Gomez the author may need to pause for the next book, as she has a few theatrical features on the pipeline. “I’m working on the third play of the trilogy for which ‘Waiting for Giovanni’ is the first piece. The second piece is about singer/songwriter Alberta Hunter and premiered last spring on the West Coast. Now I’m writing the third in the trilogy, “Unpacking in Ptown,” which is about the summer a group of retired entertainers of color spend on Cape Cod, uncertain what comes next in their lives.”
She concluded, “Each of the pieces deal in some way with how we maintain hope both in our personal lives as well as in the general sense of the world, as does my novel ‘The Gilda Stories.’”
“Waiting for Giovanni” concludes its run at the Flea Theater (20 Thomas St.) Aug. 4, with a special fundraiser Aug. 2, the 94th birthday of Baldwin.
Call 212-226-0051 or visit bit.ly/wfgcc for tickets.
Over and out. Holla next week. Until then enjoy the nightlife.