Friday, October 4, 2013

Voice and Hammer, Virginia Quarterly Review, 2013

I didn't think Virginia Quarterly Review would post my latest essay, "Voice and Hammer," online, but they have.

Belafonte was first. First black man to win a Tony; one of the first to star in an all-​black Hollywood hit (Carmen Jones, 1954); first to star in a noir (Odds Against Tomorrow, 1959—​“best heist-​gone-​wrong movie ever made,” says James Ellroy); first to turn down starring roles (To Sir, With Love ; Lilies of the Field ; Porgy and Bess ; Shaft) because, he said, he’d play no part that put a black man on his knees or made of him a cartoon. We’re here in this screening room to watch a forgotten hour of television for which he won the first Emmy awarded to a black man for production, for being in charge.  
When I found the show in the archive, I thought it would be more of what I believed I already knew about Belafonte. The albums I’d bought were labeled “easy listening” or “folk,” as in harmonizing trios who wore matching sweaters. Then I watched. My eyes went wide. I started shaking my head in disbelief. I think I gasped. I was wearing the archive’s cheap headphones, sitting at a monitor in a dark room. Other researchers hunched over screens, all our faces flickering blue. I laughed. I slapped the desk. My eyes watered. Goddamn. I felt like I was watching a different past, one in which the revolution had been televised.Goddamn. As if that was what TV was for. A signal. This, I thought, this
Read more. It's a great issue, the first under the new editorship of W. Ralph Eubanks working with my old pal Paul Reyes as well as Allison Wright, Jane Friedman, and Jon Peede. I haven't received my hard copy yet, but the essay I'm most excited about is "Love is Here and Now You're Gone," by one of my favorite living nonfiction writers, Garret Keizer. There's also work by some other favorites of mine -- Francine Prose, Jack Hitt, Lawrence Weschler, and Kevin Young, and fascinating literary journalism by Emma Rathbone, on the man who prosecuted Mandela, and Elliott Woods, reporting from Nebraska on the fight against the Keystone Pipeline. So, really, you should probably just buy it. If you're too cheap to subscribe, that is.