Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Motown madness

The picture to to the right is of a writer and photographer who came to one of our Detroit events. More on that in a second.
We had a lot of anxiety going into this trip to Motown. All along, Nat M. was reluctant to read about Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick in his hometown because the subject is too raw and too close to Detroiters, being that he is the current mayor. The Natalies heard rumors on the grapevine that there was some official concern about the chapter. Nat H. --whose only authority on Detroit was a week we spent finishing up the manuscript there last year--naively said, eff that! We stand by our work! Bring it on!
Well, we did. We spoke at Wayne County Community College - East Side campus. As Nat. M read the chapter detailing the strengths and foibles of their mayor and his rocky relationship with the media, the tension was so, so thick...Let's just say that Nat. H has a brand new level of respect for the judgement of her book partner. No one walked out, and many bought books, but it was quite a ride for everyone on both sides of the podium. Thank-you, students administrators at WCCC for being open-minded enough to hear our our crazy ideas on Detroit politics and sexuality. When the smoke cleared, it lead to one of the most engaging discussions and rewarding experiences we've had so far on this tour.

The next day were at a Detroit bookstore, Shrine of Black Madonna, we were expecting an empty house being that so many of our friends bailed to watch the Michigan v. Ohio State football game. One friend said the game was "a once in a lifetime opportunity." Sorry 'bout your luck...The death of Michigan football coach legend Bo ...(what IS his name?) affected bookstore attendence and bumped us off of more than one media interview. Our Detroit friend Nichole was one of the few to skip the game. Said something about how she couldn't get into college football because it was too much like $40 million dollar slavery...Some how, life went on. We sold out the books at the Shine and we had a terrific discussion. We also sat down for an interview with a writer from Wayne State's student newspaper, who later concluded that DT suffers from ADD. Thanks for the review, Meghana! We enjoyed talking journalism shop with you. And thanks Thomas Richardson, a Detroit attorney who is also an avid photographer, for the lovely pictures.
Special shout outs to Carrie, our hosts Kenny and Rachel, Chastity, also Chris, Don, Peter, Renee, and Nichole and Naomi for dinner.


Here is the JoeMoore, Nat. M's dad, holding a Tyrone placard at Chicago's Women & Children First Bookstore after a reading on Thursday 11/16. We counted many victories in the Chi. For one, it's the first time no one has asked us "is this male bashing?" or "why are two women writing this book?" Progress! The turnout was great; it was Nat. M's hometown but a lot of strangers came, which is needed to get Tyrone out in the world. JoeMoore sat in the front row and could be heard clearing his throat, shifting in his chair and otherwise wincing each time his daughter used a curseword. Afterwards Joe&NatMoore playfully argued about who embarassed who more...(thanks to all who came out to kick it afterward, J-Roc, L.B. and )

The next week JoeMoore invited Nat M. do a reading before the legendary Boule group. He warned her beforehand to curb the cussing because this was a group of older black men. Um, yeah, right. Talk about highbrow/lowbrow. These men were off the hook and wanted to know about strippers and their dads, a la Chris Rock, and had plenty of questions about the so-called "DL." Nat couldn't get through the introduction without a barrage of questions. One man commented, after hearing the "Tyrone at Work" chapter that he was envious people in the hip-hop generation because we're rebellious and will walk out of a job, if necessary, to do our own thang....All we can say is "wow!" The Natalies may not solve world hunger. We haven't discovered the cure for cancer or AIDS. We may not even tell you who Tyrone really is. But if reading our work leads accomplished members of the much famed Civil Rights/Greatest Generations to be envious of us, the so-called slackers of droopy drawers and potty mouth, we think we just may be on to something.

Monday, November 13, 2006

So-called Poster Girls

"I tried to come to see you at Busboys & Poets last night," said the voicemail from our friend Yolanda Saturday morning. "But I got turned away. What I'd like to know is: was that a concert or a book reading?"
It was easy to see how one might be confused. We took the stage at the artsy/intellectual D.C. hotspot (see some of the crowd that did get in at the picture to the right) with a spotlight on us at the table covered in white linens. Outside the restaurant/cafe/bookstore's Langston Room, a no-nonsense bouncer blocked dozens of people at the door, providing increasingly testy explanations of fire code regulations to an increasingly irate crowd, including one cameraman who was to film the event, Nat. H's husband Rudy, separating him from the kids, and one salty customer who came all the way from New York to see us. Inside, we had no idea about the commotion outside, and had a blast. The audience laughed at all our jokes, clapped after we finished reading the 2 excerpts, and followed up with a lively Q&A session afterward. A long line of people spread across the room for autographed books, which the store ran out of before we even finished reading.
It was a lot to take in for two little colored girls from the Midwest. We thought of all the rejections from publishers, agents, newsroom tyrants and other kinds of haters. We cued Mike Jones as we recalled writer Amy Sohn's description of her own rise from "pathetic nobody to poster girl for the urban literati."
Tyrone hasn't been out a month yet but all of our hard work and hustling has begun to pay off! The dams hath broken! First Busboys, next, world domination! We called up the owners of Karibu Books, where we were to appear the next day, and blew up their phone with text messages and voicemails urging them to make sure they were well-stocked at the Pentagon City store where we would be appearing, stat!!!
We arrived at Karibu around 2 p.m. the next day and posted up at the front of the store at a table. A slow trickle of folks come into the store, mostly our friends who got locked out of Busboys. After about 2 hours, at the gentle, but firm urging of the store clerk who needed to make way for the next author, we called it quits. All told, we made a fistful of DT sales that we weren't expecting. If we were still wondering about our place in the literary galaxy on Saturday afternoon, we got it on our way out, when Nat. M went to the Karibu cash register to buy 2 gifts. Nat M. handed her credit card to the clerk, who stood in front of a stack of unsold copies of DT. The clerk eyed the credit card, looked up at Nat M and said: "Can I see some ID?"

Monday, November 06, 2006

Tavis, Oxy and On the Phone With Ti-rone

Our interview with Tavis Smiley finally aired on Sunday 11/5.
We made another quickie trip to L.A. for a gig at Occidental College 11/6 to kick off their "Exploration of Blackness" conference. We got in late Sunday night and had arranged to meet with Brian Price, Nat. H's old friend from high school, and his wife, also an HU grad Nikel.
At Monday's talk at Occidental, students filled the auditorium of every hue. Introduced by theme music, we read the "Tyroninity" chapter which breaks down the Tyrone code, then afterward, we continued the discusssion with a roomful of select students. Thanks Alexandria for feeding us off your meal card, and the countless other Oxy students and administrators who ferried us around, paid our hotel and otherwise gave us the star treatment at the urging of Kenjus and Ryan, the two organizers extraordinaire of Oxy's Blackness exploration. We would have paid good money to see their conference earlier this year, the highly controversial "Exploration of Whiteness" conference. The study of Whiteness and privilege is one of the most exciting fields of academic research going. Strangely enough, there was no such backlash to the Blackness conference. Apparently to some people, it is still only OK to look at "black" problems, and "white" problems are strictly off limits.
After lunch we borrowed an Oxy administrator's office to conduct a 30 minute phone interview with "On the phone with Ti-rone" star Brad Sanders, who Brian agreed to hook us up with. (Good looks, Brian!) Both The Natalies grew up in the Midwest listening to Sander's On the Phone with Ti-Rone radio advice column Cla'ence Updates recapping the soaps. And of course, Brad tapped into the Tyrone code before Erykah. During an interview for his radio show, We had a giggle-filled repartee with Brad about our Tyroninity theory. We explained our thesis that Dave Chappelle aptly diagnosed the formula for deciding whether a media figure is good or bad for The Race. It is a blurry, ambiguous and fine line to straddle, but there is nothing in between: you are either dancing or shuffling, playing or getting played, a pimp or pimped. We gave Brad/Ti-Rone/Cla'ence a few examples.
Flava Flav--shuffling
Been shuffling for a minute. Was dancing with Public Enemy in the 1980s, but something went awry on cable.
Kanye West--dancing
KW is in full control of his trickster powers. Just listen to Kanye explain to MTV why he recently stormed the stage to protest losing at the MTV Europe awards: "It was not a publicity stunt, but I wouldn't be against doing something like that as a publicity stunt," Kanye told MTV. "How can you pull a publicity stunt at an awards show? Why are you there for? You at the award shows for publicity and to stunt...I think more people should drink when they at award shows...If you was in a dream world right now, what would you do? That's what I be doing...If anything, people should have an inspiration from it."SOURCE.
Later on that evening we sat on a "Blackness" panel with black Oxy faculty and the Natalies found ourselves in the bizarre position of defending Tiger Woods and Condi Rice from the black authenticity police. We don't understand Condi and The Cablinasian's choices but we don't blame them for the racism that drove them there. Let's keep it moving, people! Nothing to see there. To us, "Blackness" is about focusing on the real solutions to real problems facing black people. And sometimes it takes a trickster remind us about the crucial details.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

A Great Day in Harlem

We are happy to add to our growing string of DT endorsements, this one to the right from one of Harlem's finest comedians, Sleepy Floyd! We met Sleepy Floyd at a cafe after a lively reading at Hue-Man books in Uptown on 10/30. The afternoon began with a fine Jamaican feast courtesy of Nat H.'s in-laws living in a beautiful brownstone nearby Hue-Man books(Thanks Aunt Mae & Aunt Birdie!) Then we walked over to the store near Magic Theaters. As in every city we've toured so far, HU, once, again, represented. Hard. Not only did the store run out of books, but our HU folk saved us from the spectacle of the Two Natalies coming to blows with one customer over our analysis of the "babydaddy" phenomenon. We won't go into details, but we still blame Russell for instigating.
Afterward we and a group of HU folk (and one from the other HU) went out to eat at the Harlem Cafe. (Thanks to Steve, Chana, Bernard, Kamilah, Alexis, Rashida, Jazimine, Jadasa, Ben, Russell, Aida for all coming out.)

As the night wore on, the cafe turned into an open-mic comedy and we found ourselves in the front row, VIP section. The emcee, Sleepy Floyd quickly introduced us to the fine art of the dozens, Harlem style. He said Nat. M looked like "tinkerbell" in her fly Anthropologie skirt, and that Nat.H's metallic-colored bubble vest looked like she was about to be microwaved like a potato. After we told him about DT and our signing at Hue-Man earlier that day, Sleepy made the requisite, but still dreaded "male-bashing" accusation. We spent a long time on this issue in the Introduction of DT but in each city we go to, our answer to this question has gotten shorter and shorter. (No....Next?) But we love you, Sleepy and we won't hold it against you--especially since you sprung for Appletinis and we got this nifty picture out of it.

Hip-Hop Evolves at Vertigo

"Can I get the Tyrone discount?"
This was the question from this brother at a DT event at Vertigo Books in College Park, Md. on Saturday 10/28. It is the least we could do, being that he single-handedly inspired our book and all. But seriously, thank you, Tyrone Stewart, PhD student at Maryland, for coming out and supporting us Saturday 10/28. Meeting Tyrone was just one of many pleasant surprises that came out of the panel discussion "Mic Check: Hip-Hop Evolves." The Natalies were on a panel featuring Spelman history professor William Jelani Cobb who has caught fire in the past several months over his Essence story telling the open-secret about Black men and the sex trade in Brazil and has a new book on hip-hop coming out early next year. We were also looking forward to seeing our old BFF and Hilltop alum Ta-Nehisi Coates, who now writes for Time magazine. Unfortunately Ta-Nehisi had a last minute family emergency and was not able to make it but the incomparable DC poet,DJ Renegade took his place instead and as always, represented. It is always a treat to hear Renegade's perspectives on being a hip-hop deejay in the 1980s, among his other vast pools of knowledge. Moderator Esther Iverem of did a great job of not only neutralizing Renegade's love affair with his own voice (love ya renegade!), but also steering the discussion beyond the woes of contemporary hip-hop which we are frankly tired of preaching before the choir about.

Instead we had a provocative discussion about the evolution of one of the most important cultural movements of our time. We all shared our Brown Sugar moments. Nat M. read from the "hip-hop" chapter in DT about her adventures hanging out with video vixen Melyssa Ford in Chicago. We heard Renegade's theory of hip-hop as the "Age of the Gilded Ghetto Pass." Hip-hop has taken a similar trajectory of other art forms, such as blues and jazz, Renegade explained, but the inversion of class values may be one legacy that rap can call its own. Esther allowed the last word to go to the Natalies who urged the audience not to accept external definitions of hip-hop (usually ones ignorant and sensationalist), and also, remember that hip-hop at its best is an art form not a business. By that measure, artists such as Jean Grae, are the most successful hip-hop artists working today. Also, in the rapidly changing media landscape, a shakeout is going on which is allowing more consumer choices, so that means that despite the challenges to the integrity of the art form, there is only one direction to go...Up, of course.

Other evidence that hip-hop has evolved was sitting in the audience. First there was of course Nat H's two children, Maverick and Maven, but also the Parker kids, the Brown-Andrews kids, and Crooms-Porter child, and Marcia's son Dave. Afterwards, at Nat H.'s husband Rudy and Renegade's insistance, we took everyone out to eat at Famous Dave's restaurant with Nat M.'s sister Megan, and Kyle, who comped us a copy of the new Callaloo journal's amazing Hip-Hop issue which he edited. Thanks Bushead Ed for filming the event for us and thanks to everyone else who came out: Steve from the PG Arts Council, Jared, Lezli, Shani, Allison, Lonnae, Ralph, Natasha, Yolanda,Cousin Kim with Robert and Derek & Tracey. Thanks also to Delece & Ben, two Maryland journalism students who came out to cover the event for the Black Eclipse and the Diamonback student newspapers. Thanks Bridget for organizing!