Greetings from the isle of Martha’s Vineyard, where the living is indescribable, but I will try to report. It’s so different from any other beach town I’ve been to, and perhaps that is one reason why it is my favorite place in the whole wide world. The history dates back to the 1600s and is fascinating. I won’t bore you with those details, as there is so much going on in the present.
The island, located off the east coast of Massachusetts, is the easternmost piece of land in the United States. There are approximately 22,000 residents who live here year-round, while there are approximately 130,000 visitors during the course of the summer, a season that starts in July and ends after Labor Day. Those fortunate enough to own homes here gather in October for a final season farewell, when the air is crisp and the water a deep blue.
Though a daily trip to the beach is required, there is so much to do. You really have to keep a calendar to stay on top of everything. The central theme revolves around the arts, both literary and cinematic. This year, the Martha’s Vineyard Arts & Ideas Islanders Write Association featured several panel discussions, including one on the topic of “Developing Character and Voice: Novelists on Stealing From the Living and Bringing the Dead to Life.” Panelists included Geraldine Brooks, Nicole Galland and LaShonda Katrice Barnett. While promoting their new books, each told of her search to find the character whose voice the story would be told through.
Brooks began by stating she was once a Middle East correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. Wanting to take a much-needed mental break, she decided to go hiking in London (you call that a break?), where she passed through a small village that had once, many years ago, been stricken by the plague. As the tale went, rather than flee the village and spread the plague, the people voluntarily quarantined and set out to heal themselves. After two-thirds of the people died, those who survived heavily depended on one another to rebuild their village. Her book, “The Secret Chord,” delves into fascinating detail about the story of survival and the will to live when circumstances beyond your control descend upon you.
After lengthy thought, Brooks chose to tell the story through the voice of the village priest’s maid, for she was both an ordinary villager, yet also privy to conversations of the “ruling class.” To find out how a maid of that era would speak, what would she say and how would she say it, Brooks searched court documents of that era, as the courts were known to keep meticulous records. She also knew that women of that era were always being brought to court for having committed one infraction or another, such as saying something disparaging about a man in public; and so the tale began.
Barnett spoke of her fascination with American history beginning with Ida B. Wells Barnett, though mainly because they shared the same last name. Barnett’s new book, “Jam on the Vine,” is about a young Black girl who sets out to publish a newspaper. She was terribly inspired by Wells, whose background included being the country’s most fervent anti-lynching crusader. It was the summer of 1919 that became known as the “Red Summer.” Black soldiers, returning home from World War I, were lynched as they wore their uniforms, seeking to overcome the oppression of Black people in the United States. As an investigative journalist, Wells wrote of the horrors in newspapers across country. She fought then-U.S. President Calvin Coolidge for anti-lynching legisilation but was struck down. While Barnett doesn’t believe in conducting too much research, her golden rule is to know that something has happened and then let the imagination take over.
Galland’s new book is “Step Dog,” a true story of how she brought her beloved dog from another relationship with her into the new relationship with the man she eventually married, the unrest that it caused between them and how the dog finally won her new master over. Galland’s voice for the story was that of her Irish husband. The most difficult process in telling the story was finding the right rhythm. She wrote in a prose that simulated the dialect of people from southern Ireland when her husband was from the north.
Also happening on the island is the Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival. Everyone here has seen at least one film or attended one event, if not twice, or dare I say every single one of them. Julia, my brother-in-law Mic, who is staying with us, and I went to see Evidence, the dance company of choreographer Ronald K. Brown. This is a fascinating, high-energy company whose style can best be described as African dance with ballet technique set to jazz music.
Their steps are so intricate that viewers sometimes think each dancer is moving improvisationally until the group unites in syncopated formation. The music ranged from an Ornett Coleman, Miles Davis “Bitches Brew” type composition to the spiritual “Lord See My People Through” melody, yet each piece had a pulsating beat that kept it all going. Tonight is the sold-out featured “Color of Conversation” with Spike Lee and Nick Cannon in which they will discuss Lee’s new joint “Chiraq.” I got my tickets ahead of time so don’t worry, I will report on it next week.
This is the 13th year of the film fest, and it never disappoints. There are receptions, including one in particular by Stephanie and Floyd Rance, founders of the festival, sponsored by Hennessy, and after-parties with DJ Chris Washington, so it’s beach by day, culture by evening and party by night, with a little shopping in between, that keeps everyone busy.
Closer to home, happy birthday to Elizabeth Rankin Fulcher, who reminds us that the Ebony Society of Philatelic Events and Reflections, in collaboration with the National Park Service and the United States Postal Service, will hold a special celebration of the Maya Angelou Forever Stamp at the African Burial Ground National Monument, 290 Broadway, Ted Weiss Federal Building Lobby, Thursday, Aug. 20 at 11 a.m. The celebration will conclude with the sale of stamps and other memorabilia and the autographing of the celebration program. Ranger-led tours of the African Burial Ground will also be available. Visitors entering 290 Broadway are subject to airport-style security, which may include the removal of shoes and presenting of photo identification. Seating is limited, so please plan accordingly.
Until next week … kisses.