The Passing of a Multi-talented Artist

Dateline: On May 28, 2014, the writer, Maya Angelou died at age 86. Over the years she had received many awards for her writing. Perhaps, her most prestigious was the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded by President Barrack Obama in 2011.

Inside the Flame Nebula  Image Credit: Optical: DSS; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech; 
Inside the Flame Nebula 
Image Credit: Optical: DSS; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech;

Many Artists

Today in our media-crazed society there are many artists, both known and unknown. Sometimes there are so many that they seem like stars in the sky. I guess with the exploding population on our planet (it’s now around 7 billion) and the proliferation of Indie artists and authors on the internet, it’s a miracle that anyoneever  gets any mention, at all. Perhaps Maya Angelou was lucky because she came of age, when music was recorded on vinyl LPs and books were made from dead trees. No idea how she would have fared in today’s topsy-turvey world of social networking and self publishing. But nonetheless, here’s a brief  tribute to a spunky lady who had a popular nightclub act, played a major role in the “Roots” TV drama, read poetry at Bill Clinton’s inaugaration, plus penned a series of seven autobiographical novels that brought inall  kinds of awards and recognition.

Miss Calypso was Maya Angelou's first recording. Released in 1957, the LP recording was based on her popular nightclub act.
Miss Calypso was Maya Angelou’s first recording. Released in 1957, the LP recording was based on her popular nightclub act.

Who Was Maya Angelou?

Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Annie Johnson on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis. She picked up the nickname in early childhood from her older brother, who couldn’t quite pronounce my sister and so he just used the simple phrase, “Maya”. Then in the her twenties she married a Greek man by the name of Angelos. Although the marriage did not last all that long, the name, with a slight twist did.

My Experience With the Writer

Back in the nineties I read two of Maya’s autobiographical novels. The first was titled All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes: and then I read her classic I Know Why he Caged Bird Sings. Looking back now, I think the Traveling Shoes tale of going back to Africa and coming across a village, where several residents looked like they could be her identical twin, has hag the most lasting impression on me. Anyway you look at it, picking up any one of her most remarkable novels and sitting down and having a good read is well worth the time invested.

Maya Angelou, a year before she died, from wikipedia photo credited to York College ISLGP
Maya Angelou, a year before she died, from wikipedia photo credited to York College ISLGP

“A Black Grandmother In the White House, My Goodness”

Not too long ago Maya spoke these exact words on the Anderson Cooper Show. My only question is whether she was referring to Barrack Obama or Michelle Obama. Both have black grandmothers, though Barrack has one, while Michelle has two. But if she is referring to the Barrack children, their black grandmother could only come from their mother’s side. Is this a put down of Barrack Obama or perhaps just a little bit of sisterhood bonding with the First Lady. I suspect the latter.

In Conclusion

Probably nobody sums up Maya Angelou’s amazing and tumultuous life better than John McWhorter of the New Republic:

“And Angelou’s life has certainly been a full one: from the hardscrabble Depression era South to pimp, prostitute, supper club chanteuse, performer in Porgy and Bess, coordinator for Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, journalist in Egypt and Ghana in the heady days of decolonization, comrade of Malcolm X, and eyewitness to the Watts riots. She knew King and Malcolm, Billie Holiday, and Abbey Lincoln.”

Who could ask for more?

Write Drunk, Edit Sober


Hemingway carousing at a bar in Cuba
 Hemingway carousing at a bar in Cuba

Questionable Advice

Recently, I came across this beautiful little piece of writer’s advice on the web. The short catchy phrase is attributed to the legendary, Ernest Hemingway and goes like this: “Write Drunk, Edit Sober“.  I have found this  slogan, mentioned in writing blogs, printed on T-shirts and incorporated into decorative posters. If taken at face value……maybe this is not the best piece of advice one can receive…..but when interpreted to imply that creative writing requires an altered reality from everyday experience…..then maybe there is some truth to the four words.

I pair airplane crashes  1954, Ernest Hemingway and his wife, Mary Welsh , were involved in Africa
I pair airplane crashes 1954, Ernest Hemingway and his wife, Mary Welsh , were involved in Africa

Hemingway and the Bottle

In January 1954, Hemingway and his wife were involved in two seperate small plane crashes, while elephant hunting in Uganda. According to a NY Times report, Hemingway walked out of the jungle with his arm in a bandage, yet he was still able to carry a bunch of bananas and a bottle of gin. Throughout much of his life, Hemingway has been associated with alcohol, taverns, high adventure and having a good time, but even if Ernest did have a drinking problem, it did not prevent him from winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954.

Hemingway was often photographed with a bottle in hand, a situation, which often lead to many misconceptions about the author’s drinking habits.

Bars Associated With Ernest Hemingway

Though Hemingway traveled the world his favorite watering spots seem to have been Havana, Key West, Madrid and Paris. In Havana, La Floridita and La Bodeguita del Medio got the Lion’s share of his attention, while in Key West, there are two drinking establishments that claim home to both Mr. Hemingway and the Sloppy Joe sandwich. They are Captain Tony’s Saloon and Sloppy Joe’s Bar. Maybe the best way to resolve this dilemma is visit both, but I do suspect the Sloppy Joe may have originated in Havanna, Cuba and not the Conch Republic.

In Paris, Hemingway’s favorite bars included Harry’s New York Bar, the Dingo Bar, the Ritz Hotel on rue Cambon and the La Closerie de Lilas among many others. And then there is Madrid, a bustling city that Hemingway visited off and on for 40 years. In this Spanish capitol, places with names like Museo Chicote, La Venencia and the (Westin) Palace Hotel got most of Ernest’s patronage.

Drinking and Writing

Although Hemingway did sometimes write while sitting alone in a bar with a drink in hand, the author claims to have never written when inebriated. Instead, Hemingway enjoyed working in the morning before the heat of the day set in.

Origin of Write Drunk, Edit Sober

These four terse words have never been connected with Hemingway. Instead, they are most often traced to the writer, Peter deVries. In his 1964 novel, Reuben, Reuben, the main character, whom is loosely based on Dylan Thomas, says this:

“Sometimes I write drunk and revise sober, and sometimes I write sober and revise drunk. But you have to have both elements in creation – the Apollonian and the Dionysian, or spontaneity, restraint, emotion and discipline.”

So there you go with the real nuts and bolts of writing drunk. But next time you see this text in print, maybe you should check out Hunter Thompson to see if he was sober, when he finally sat himself down in front of his typewriter and started pecking. My hunch is that his mind may have in a relatively subdued mood.

“All The Rains Down In Africa”

Painting by Jacob Hendrik Pierneef, entitled South West African Landscape with Termite Hill, Umbrella Trees and Mountains in the Background; from Wiki Commons

24 Million Dollar Book Deal Is Awarded to Popular English Author

An octogenarian English Author by the name of Wilbur Smith has just earned a six book deal worth 15 million pounds….. or about 24 million American dollars. And the weird thing is that Smith is not going to write the entire manuscript for all six books. He will merely provide the basic outline or treatment for each novel and other writers, including his wife,Niso, will complete the manuscripts. In fact, it is definitely possible that Smith may not be around to see all six books published. According to his publisher, Harper Collins, the last book will be published by the end 0f 2015.

Kibo summit of Mount_Kilimanjaro
Kibo summit of Mount Kilamanjaro, photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim

Smith’s Background

This man is named Wilbur Smith and he has a been a popular English adventure writer for 50 years, though not as many in the U.S. are familiar with his lexicon of African tales. During his writing career, Smith has penned over 30 novels, accounting for 120 million pounds of sales. His first book appeared in 1933 and was called When The Lions Feed. His latest novel, Those In Peril, was released in 2011. Though born in Rhodesia (now called Zambia), Wilbur now lives in London. Nine of his stories have been adapted to film or television.

Wilbur Smith signing books, from Wikipedia photo by Richard001
Wilbur Smith signing books, from Wikipedia photo by Richard001

Wilbur Smith’s Worldview

Having been born and raised on the African continent, Wilbur Smith has always claimed that this place of vast vistas and stunning herds of wildlife has always been his greatest inspiration. Nonetheless, Mr. Smith has  sometimes been criticized for having an “old school” vision of Africa which might be a bit sexist and racist. However, his readers obviously enjoy his storytelling and do not seem the least bit bothered by his viewpoints on life.

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