Black authors discuss their lives and passions

admin | 11/16/2011, 10:51 a.m.

The 28th edition of the Miami Book Fair International (MBFI) got things started on Sunday, Nov. 13 with great fanfare on the campus of Miami Dade College. This year, authors representing the African Diaspora as well as those whose work illustrates Black culture and interests have a huge presence. Geoffrey Philps Marcus and The Amazons, is a story that teaches youth about the civil rights movement. Philp, a popular Jamaican author, tackles themes of freedom and non-violence. Kadir Nelson, whose award-winning illustrations of the Negro Baseball League are now being shown in Miami as part of a national tour, is in town to talk about his latest book, Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans. The artist draws on inspiration from his own familys history to create an introduction to the history of Blacks who have transformed this countrys history while demanding that it be true to its promises of liberty and justice. Elizabeth Nunez, 67, hails from Trinidad but has lived in New York for most of her life. She is the author of eight books including her latest, Boundaries, is a distinguished professor at Hunter College and is one of the founders of New Yorks National Black Writers Conference. I worry about our future and wonder where are the Richard Wrights, Charles Chestnuts or Toni Morrisons of today, she said. Fiction should mirror what is going on in society; my new work takes on the publishing industry and its tendency to stereotype what Black readers like and what Black writers can do. If you are writing not because of the thrill you get from composing but for the money you can make, theres a problem. There is perhaps no one more knowledgeable about pop cultures visual representations of black beauty than Deborah Willis. She began her search as a student of photography in the 1970s and in her latest work, Posing Beauty: African-American Images from the 1990s to the Present, she constructs a bold presentation of the changing notion of beauty, both male and female, and how Blacks have often been intentionally excluded. Images are powerful; we see and react to them on our streets, in newspapers, in the media and in our homes, Willis said. I have been thinking about how beauty is nuanced in photography for quite some time. Central to my concern is an ongoing question on how the display of the black body affects how Black people are viewed. The word beauty is rarely used with Black. Its been 11 years of research and struggling to convince people that I am not defining beauty I am offering the reader/viewer to re-imagine their own understanding of beauty. Mat Johnson, 41, is a Philadelphia native and instructor of creative writing at the University of Houston. His novel, Pym, is a challenging meditation on race, literature and obsession. It engages Edgar Allen Poes The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym Poes sole piece that focuses on the racism of the 19th century where black was associated with chaos and savagery while whiteness meant perfection. I was inspired by John Carpenters film The Thing which was based on a short story that had clear influence from Poe, Johnson said. Even my ideas of Antarctica, the setting for the novel, come from Poe and his idea of a lost Black civilization in that land of total whiteness. Johnson believes we are entering a moment in time where there are a lot of exceptional Black fiction being produced. He cites Colson Whitehead, another Black author featured during this years fair as one example. Whiteheads new book, Zone One, is a zombie-horror story that takes a satirical look at pop culture. For those who are drawn to the world of hip hop, there is the noir novel, The Plot Against Hip Hop, by Nelson George that is packed with suspense while providing a history lesson of sorts. The murder mystery draws on the authors long career as a writer, producer and cultural critic. He was one of the first journalists to document the rise of hip hop and is working on documentary about Magic Johnsons announcement 20 years ago last October that he had tested HIV-positive. Other authors that may be of interest to our readers include: Alan Cheuse, Nell Irvin Painter, Randall Robinson, Randall Kennedy, Cedelia Marley and Toure. By D. Kevin McNeir kmcneir@miamitimesonline.com