Ernest J. Gaines | The Artist and the Heart Surgeon

Ernest Gaines, San Francisco, California, March 13, 1975. Photograph from Black Writers. Photograph Credit: Jill Krementz. Postcard from my collection.

Without love for my fellow man and respect for nature, to me, life is an obscenity. –Ernest Gaines (January 15, 1933 – November 5, 2019)

I had a different blog post planned for today. but then I learned Ernest J. Gaines, my favorite Louisiana author, passed away today.

I’m pretty sure that Gaines was the first African American writer with whom I came in contact–through one of his earliest works, Miss Jane Pittman.  Much later, as a young professor, I began to include his A Lesson Before Dying on the reading list for my composition courses. After reading A Gathering of Old Men, my hubby was hooked. Gaines became his favorite author.

I don’t normally swoon when I meet “celebrities,” but I gushed when I met him at the Short Story Conference in New Orleans some years later–he was personable, wise, humble. I squealed when one of my colleagues gave me an autographed portrait of Gaines for my birthday one year.

I’m saddened over the loss of another elder, another critical voice in the American literary scene, but I am grateful for his life and works, his bringing to the fore the complications of personhood, race, life, and love in rural Louisiana.

Yesterday, I shared some brilliant first lines, but today I’m sharing literary wisdom from some of Gaines’ works:

Ain’t we all been hurt by slavery?  —The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

I think it’s God that makes people care for people, Jefferson. I think it’s God makes children play and people sing. I believe it’s God that brings loved ones together. I believe it’s God that makes trees bud and food grow out of the earth.  —A Lesson Before Dying

How do people come up with a date and a time to take life from another man? Who made them God?  —A Lesson Before Dying

Sometimes you got to hurt something to help something. Sometimes you have to plow under one thing in order for something else to grow.  —A Gathering of Old Men

The artist must be like a heart surgeon. He must approach something with sympathy, but with a sort of coldness and work and work until he finds some kind of perfection in his work. You can’t have blood splashing all over the place. Things must be done very cleanly.  —Conversations with Ernest J. Gaines

If you haven’t read any of his fiction before, I encourage you to add Gaines to your reading list. Click here for a list and overview of his novels: Gaines’ novels.

To hear Gaines talk about books, writing, and his own story, be sure to watch “Conversation with Ernest J. Gaines” produced by the National Endowment for the Arts:

Rest in Peace, Dr. Gaines.

Sunset: Stillness and Dreams

“Sunrise” by Lisa C.

Out of Sunset’s Red
William Stanley Braithwaite

Out of the sunset’s red
Into the blushing sea,
The winds of day drop dead
And dreams come home to me. —
The sea is still,— and apart
Is a stillness in my heart.

The night comes up the beach,
The dark steals over all,
Though silence has no speech
I hear the sea-dreams call
To my heart; — and in reply
It answers with a sigh.


About the Image: Today’s post features a photo by my Love Notes friend, Lisa C of Chasing the Sun. Lisa shoots gorgeous sunrises and sunsets as evident in this photo. This is a sunrise photo, but for some reason it makes me think of  William Stanley Braithwaite’s poem [above]. You can read a few more of his poems here: Poems by Braithwaite.

NaBloPoMo Note: November is National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) and I’ve been figuring out how to squeeze in daily posting with all the general madness of end-of-semester and my “more serious” writing projects. I need the daily moment away from the madness, so for the fourth year in a row, I’m in! Besides, my “to be blogged” bin overflows and NaBloPoMo will [hopefully] give me a chance to empty it a bit. Most posts will be “short and sweet,” but I plan to be here every day, so I hope you’ll check in every now and then and cheer me on! 🙂

#ThursdayTreeLove | You’ve Got a Place Here Too

A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots. –Marcus Garvey

It rained so much during the last two weeks that my heart sang whenever the rain ceased or the sun brightened the skies–even if for only a few moments. As always, I took every opportunity to note the trees.

For some reason I was most drawn to the interaction of the trees: Trees touching. Bare trees mingling with half-dressed trees. Signs of spring and winter in one shot.

I enjoyed witnessing the elements of nature conspiring to push us toward certain awakening.

I read Nikki Giovanni’s poem, “BLK History Month,” earlier today, and I realized how often we use trees to underscore the importance of Black history and presence. And since the final #ThursdayTreeLove of the month falls on the last day of Black History Month (BHM) this year,  I’m ending with Giovanni’s poem, which uses a tree [?] analogy to challenge the argument that BHM is not needed.

“BLK History Month”
If Black History Month is not
viable then wind does not
carry the seeds and drop them
on fertile ground
rain does not
dampen the land
and encourage the seeds
to root
sun does not
warm the earth
and kiss the seedlings
and tell them plain:
You’re As Good As Anybody Else
You’ve Got A Place Here, Too
Nikki Giovanni, from Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea

I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

Walk with Truth

Children, who made your skin white? Was it not God? Who made mine black? Was it not the same God? Am I to blame, therefore, because my skin is black? …. Does not God love colored children as well as white children? And did not the same Savior die to save the one as well as the other? –Sojourner Truth

I chuckled to myself when I realized the reason for today’s Google Doodle. Initially, I wondered why Sojourner Truth. Did the google gods discover today is her birthday? Then, it occurred to me today is the first day of Black History Month (BHM).

Why the chuckle? Because it’s predictable.

Sojourner Truth–like Martin Luther King, Jr., Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman–is almost always brought up when discussing anything related to Black history.

Do I mind? Not really.

I like Sojourner Truth. I like her moxie. I love how she stood up for herself when the odds were most certainly against her. There are a lot of amazing lessons in her life.

Today, I opened class by talking briefly with my first-year students about not allowing themselves to  be so focused on the mountain in the distance that they render themselves incapable of taking the tiny day-to-day steps that make conquering the mountain achievable.

I wish I’d thought to weave some of Sojourner Truth’s life into that brief talk.

Sojourner Truth didn’t look at the mountains in front of her and freeze with fear or run in the opposite direction. She didn’t see the obstacles of her skin color, her gender, or her status as enslaved person as barriers to conquering the insurmountable. As a result, among many other “unlikely” accomplishments, she won a lawsuit against her former “owner” who sold her son into slavery after the State of New York had declared slavery illegal. And while we haven’t quite figured out whether Sojourner Truth said “Ain’t I a woman?” or “Ar’n’t I a woman?” in her famous speech at the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, the reality is even if she never said a single word, the fact that she showed up to a party she wasn’t invited to and insisted on her Black presence and humanity says enough for me.

She literally walked the path to freedom in her own truth and with a righteous insistence on her own humanness. As long as she held on to the essential value of her personhood, no racial or gender mountain could stand in the way of her truth.


The art above is part of the “Celebrating Women” banners that were on display at The Lower Eastside Girls Club’s Celebrate Cafe in New York City when I visited several years ago. If I remember correctly, each piece of art added to the banner was created by a young woman who was involved in the Club.

If you want to know more about Sojourner Truth, click any of the links above, particularly the Google link.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. | Self-love and Soul Work

One of the most amazing experiences I had last year was traveling to Montgomery, Alabama [with a colleague and several Huntsville area K-12 teachers] and walking the path where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began his activism. We often discuss King’s leading the fight for Civil Rights in this country with emphasis on his practice of non-violent/passive resistance. But, while he worked to build bridges between blacks and whites during one of the most turbulent eras of United States racial history, King also addressed the need for African Americans to resist the stigmatization of blackness. He urged us to love ourselves in spite of our country’s ingrained propensity to chip away at any inclination we possess toward authentic self-love and acceptance.

King would have been 90 today, and since his birthday falls during Pics and Posts’ “Self-love Week,” I am sharing an excerpt from a speech that encourages self-love.

I come here tonight to plead with you. Believe in yourself and believe that you are somebody. I said to a group last night: Nobody else can do this for us. No document can do this for us. No Lincolnian emancipation proclamation can do this for us. No Johnsonian Civil Rights bill can do this for us.

If the Negro is to be free, he must move down into the inner resources of his own soul and sign with a pen and ink of self-assertive manhood his own emancipation proclamation.

Don’t let anybody take your manhood. Be proud of our heritage…we don’t have anything to be ashamed of.

Somebody told a lie one day. They couched it in language. They made everything “black” ugly and evil. Look in your dictionaries and see the synonyms of the word “black.” It’s always something degrading and low and sinister. Look at the word “white,” it’s always something pure, high and clean. Well, I want to get the language right tonight.

I want to get the language so right that everyone here will cry out: ‘Yes, I’m Black, I’m proud of it. I’m Black and I’m beautiful!”

And because MLK’s speeches are best experienced aurally:

King spoke specifically to African Americans in this speech, but there’s something in his speech for everyone. Dig deep and do the work. Love the skin you’re in. Find within you that which is good and strong and beautiful.

Perhaps, if everyone took the time to love themselves the world wouldn’t be such a mess! We wouldn’t have to feast on fear and hatred or make ourselves sick building superficial lives in search of acceptance by others.

People who love themselves love people. People who love themselves are beautiful. People who love themselves use their energy and resources to build up others, not tear down and destroy.

Self-love is work, but one of the best ways we express self-love is through the soul work of loving others.

 

Voting: Your Right and Responsibility

Protest Art on display at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

Since we are heading to the polls in a couple of days, I decided to share a two-minute video reminding Americans why we must vote. In the video, my 83-year-old relative recounts her experience with attempted voter suppression and finally casting her first vote for U.S. President.

I’ve heard far too many “reasons” people don’t vote or didn’t vote in this or that election. As Cousin Marie declares, “your vote is where your rights are.” A decision not to vote may eventually lead to revocation of certain rights.

Despite the struggle between Democrats and Republicans that is constantly thrown in our faces, your vote should not be about party affiliation or who makes the most noise. Make an effort to ignore what one candidate or political party says about the other. Avoid the all-day news commentary. Steer clear of social media. Make time to research each candidate for yourself. Take notes. Make lists. Think about what you want for our country, and vote for the individuals whose actual values most align with your own principles–hopefully, principles rooted in love for humanity. Pay attention to what they do, not just what they say.

In short, as my friend Uzoma O. posted as his Facebook status recently:

Stop being Democratic or Republican. Be honest. Have morals. Show empathy. Value integrity. Be a good human.

If it all still sounds like noise to you, vote anyway.

I’ll spare you the lecture on how many people fought and died for our right to vote.  I realize our right to vote includes our right not to vote, but I hope you choose the former. Why? Because beyond being a right, voting is also a civic and sacred responsibility.

In his sermon this weekend, my pastor reminded the congregation that in voting we comply with two of the directives of Micah 6:8–to act justly and love mercy. In voting, we raise our voices, protest, and do our part to right societal wrongs. We stand up for social justice and we work to make compassion and kindness part of our personal and national character.

There’s too much at stake this election season. Your vote–your voice–is far more powerful than silence. Nothing is gained through inaction.