Wednesday, October 25, 2006

double dog dare

Scene I
So The Natalies are chillin' in the back of Reg and Max's Prius, driving through the streets of San Francisco. The trunk is filled with copies of DT, which we joke about hawking a la Master P. We just left the UC-Berkeley campus where we'd given back-to-back DT talks at the graduate journalism school and the graduate black studies department. We have a few minutes to kill before we have dinner with the staff at Cleis. Since Nat M. volunteers in the Chicago office of the writer Dave Eggers' nonprofit, 826 Valencia she had emailed him with an invitation to check out our reading at Modern Times books in San Fran. Eggers emailed his regrets he couldn't make the reading. But he left her a message that said good to hear from you and why don't you stop by? Sitting in the Prius, The Natalies look at each other and shrug. Despite his familiar tone, Nat M. has never met The Dave Eggers, literary it-boy. His offices were within walking distance of both our dinner spot and the bookstore. So why not?
"I dare you to make Dave Eggers come outside and buy a copy of DT out-the-trunk," Natalie H. says. "You know, so he can get the "authentic" hip-hop experience."
"You aren't daring me are you?" Nat M. says. "You aren't daring me are you?"
"I double dog dare you," Natalie H. replies. Maxine and Reggie laugh.
Scene II: Eggers greets us warmly at the offices of McSweeneys. Nat M. immediately points out that, they have, in fact, never met. Oops! Meets so many people...happens all the time....wife is always getting on him 'bout that.
He politely asks to see the book. He flips through the pages of DT with what looks like genuine interest. DT rests on his desk and we talk for about 20 minutes. We're thinking, this he's mad cool and down to earth! Eggers is humble, friendly and generous with advice about book marketing strategy, industry politics, the benefits of being with a small press versus a big press. Then Natalie M. makes an observation.
"One of the reasons that our publisher likes us is that we know how to hustle books," Nat M. begins. "So...we won't make you go outside to our trunk. But we can offer you that copy in your hands for the deep, deep discount of 10 dollas." A tickled Nat. H can't believe the dare worked. She giggles and takes a picture. Notice Nat. M's loud bracelets. Hey...we're just trying to move units!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Oaktown, USA

Think we need to work on our game faces?
The pic you see here is of The Natalies pondering one customer's 5-minute question at a DT reading at Marcus Books in Oakland this past Saturday night. A 75ish woman wanted advice on A) how to beat a recent arrest B) how to get judges to open up criminal records, and C) advice on the best way to restructure a racist/sexist police department. That, unfortunately, does not fall under the purview of DT. We are flattered by the customer's faith in us and all the love Oakland gave us as a whole. The turnout was great and at the end of signing for customers, we tackled a large stack of preorders. We were honored to sign copies for Terry McMillan and Iyanla Vanzant. Both had preordered copies at the suggestion of Marcus Books owner Blanche Richardson. I hope you ladies enjoy it! Good looks, Blanche for helping to promote the book and for that wonderful blurb you wrote. Shout out to Jayi for dinner and drinks and Bobbie and Shauna for coming out to kick it afterwards. And a special, special, special dedication to our friends Reggie and Maxine, hosts, friends and hustlers extraordinaire. Thanks for everything you've done for us and Tyrone and also for giving the world such an inspiring picture of black love. You guys are too cute for words!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Notorious D.I.C. in Los Angeles

This pic is of the last sale of the night at our very first DT reading at ESO WON Books in L.A. This customer, who we'll call the Notorious D.I.C., had been screaming broke, mumbling something about having to fill a prescription. With our characteristic subtetly, we gently suggested that DT might be a better way to spend his last 20 bucks. Thanks to d.i.c. and all who came out to our inaugural DT reading Thursday. We'd been battling nerves all week and it didn't help that we got caught in the traffic on Crenshaw BLVD so we arrived slightly late. Luckily most folks were running on CP time. By the time we got cooking, the room had filled to standing room-only. A radio producer was there recording the session for a local affiliate. Terrific question-and-answer session. We signed books for all kinds of folks, a wonderful mom with three boys from Compton, a sweet couple who were HU class of '48. When they learned we graduated 50 years later than them, they said we were babies, "wet behind the ears" and proceeded to rub them. Gotta love that Howard love (: Shout out to Lauryl's mom, Jennifer, Karlief, Kelly, Hassani and his wife, t.t. and c.c. and of course, the d.i.c. and his fabulous sister Lysa.
We had two minor "Crash Moments" after going out with friends to celebrate. We arrived at the chic Viceroy hotel in Santa Monica, where a friend of a friend was having a birthday party. First there was the long, humiliating wait in the line outside. The bouncers were unconvinced that we belonged and apparently cell phone confirmation was not enough. The host had to personally come outside to vouch for the lone colored folk at the party. When we got inside we attempted to get one of the tables to order food. No sooner than we sat down, an older black gentleman we'll call Ruckie walked over to us, and told us we could not sit down. We said we wanted to order some food. The kitchen was closed, Ruckie said. In other words: get your things and go. We shrugged, got up and availed ourselves of the open bar. Soon we watched streams of white folks repopulating the tables and being handed menus. 20 minutes later, unaware of our encounter with Ruckie, one of the less colored friends in our group secured a table and waved us over. We sat down and ordered our food. Our bellies full, we mean-mugged Ruckie for the rest of the night.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Chat with the Natalies 10/18 @

In conjunction with the Washington Post's "Being a Black Man" series, we will be discussing "Deconstructing Tyrone" during a live chat. The live part of the chat won't begin until noon Oct. 18 but you can log in now to submit questions. As you can see from the Book Tour calendar to the left of this page, we also kick off our national book tour next week. First stop: Los Angeles. If you know people in any of these cities, please send these links on so they can also join the conversation. If you have other suggestions for places for us to talk about Tyrone, send those, too. We can't wait to get things started!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Trial by Media

It’s an old game, kinda nasty, but it gets the job done. A cop is dispatched to investigate a crime, but struggles to gather enough evidence to convince a prosecutor that a case should be presented in court. The cop grinds away at this task for months, but ultimately, he's not sure if he's got what he needs. Fortunately for him, there is always another route well known to many black men: Trial By Media.

The cop calls up a reporter at the local paper. He tells the drooling scribe that he’s got a hot scoop about a black man convicted in one of the most notorious crimes in state history. He drips out a few salacious details about a new allegation. The writer dutifully publishes the factually inaccurate "scoop" that charges will be filed in the case the next day. By the time the prosecutor receives this evidence, the train of media spin has gone into overdrive. A columnist adds his two cents to the mix, further inflaming public sentiment against the suspect. The Associated Press picks up the story. Local television jumps into the mix, by then the public is hungry for blood. Won't this prosecutor, who is elected by the public, oblige them?

In one phone call, this cop has accomplished what the Algerian philosopher Althusser might describe as media being used as an "ideological state apparatus." We would describe it more plainly: The media has been chumped. The prosecutor has been chumped. And sadly, so has the integrity of the justice system.

What is so surprising about this latest round of drama swirling around Kofi "Debo" Ajabu, who is also the subject of the “Boy Born Friday” chapter in DT, is not that this game is being played. (As readers of our book will learn, Indiana officials played it relentlessly throughout the original 1995 Ajabu trial.) What’s surprising is how clumsy this particular cop, Indiana State Police detective Bob May, has played it. A T-shirt was covering the face of the attacker? He has not found the weapon, but he is certain it was a sock-covered lock? Kofi Ajabu attacked a guard because...the guard treats everyone fairly? After four months you still have not found a witness who saw Ajabu commit this crime?
We first heard about these allegations this summer and we blogged about it here when things appeared to come to a head. Since then, we’ve been writing letter after letter to Indiana officials asking for basic information about the allegations but were never given the requested documentation. We will be watching closely to see how this whole thing plays out. If any of these "objective" journalists bothered to call the Ajabu family, as we did, they would learn that they are certain the evidence will eventually prove their son's innocence and that they only want the legal process be allowed to run its course without prejudice. Is that too much to ask?

Thursday, October 05, 2006


It's no secret that we loathe 50 cent. Here he goes again on his anti-Oprah crusade. So what if she won't have you on her show! That's the power of O. His salty ass is hating on Oprah for having Kanye West on. Guess he doesn't keep it real enough. (Although we are pretty sure that's KW's real name, and not one pilfered from a long-dead gangster.) If she's so insignificant to him, one wonders why he's sweating her so tough. Our pal Jelani Cobb wrote an excellent piece about the Oprah flap with rappers and how their hatred is nothing more than ongoing misogyny toward black women.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Chocolate City Loses Flavor

What my old political science professors, a wide selection of conspiracy theorists, and brothers on the street have been predicting for years has finally come to pass: The Chocolate City has officially given way to Vanilla. The latest demographic figures came out in today's Washington Post: "Some of the most dramatic shifts are taking place in the District, where African Americans are no longer a majority among homeowners. In 2000, 54 percent of D.C. homeowners were black, and 41 percent were white. But a decline of 6,000 black homeowners since then, and a surge of 7,000 additional white homeowners, brought the two groups to virtual parity in the 2005 survey. The decline in black homeowners in the District was offset by growth in the suburbs." (SOURCE)
A threshold has been crossed in a city full of racial and political symbolism. Those who heeded my call to invest in black D.C. neighborhoods back in 2001 are now sitting on hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equity in a much paler city. So what does this mean for the future? Just this past Sunday, I was sitting in my teeny backyard overlooking the alley, enjoying the gorgeous fall weather, flipping through the Sunday New York Times when a young black couple came to the open house on the block and wandered outside. Neither of them looked particularly impressed. For a minute it looked as though the husband looked kinda hopeful, then he sighed and then gave a helpless shrug. The pricetag for the Victorian row house was 9 times what the former owners had paid for it in 1999 as a shell. Part of me wanted to befriend the couple, chat them up, tell them how great the block is, invite them to join the Big Daddy Running Club, tell them how our block has evolved into a diverse and friendly village, but one that will soon be running low on Chocolate...But the other part of me had an attack of moral conscience. These are my peeps. How could I advocate spending that kind of money on a block where you can still catch a bullet? I smiled, said hello, then went back to reading the newspaper.