A Look Back at 2014

 

Star Formation in the Tadpole Nebula  Image Credit: WISE, IRSA, NASA; Processing & Copyright : Francesco Antonucci
Star Formation in the Tadpole Nebula
Image Credit: WISE, IRSA, NASA; Processing & Copyright : Francesco Antonucci

Good Riddance to 2014

Though 2014 has not been all that bad a year, I am more than glad to see it banished into the realms of past history. For me, as a writer, this past year has been one of great promises, all of which seem to have gone unfulfilled or turned into dead-end back alleys. All the good contacts and leads, which I had so painstakingly advanced, dissolved into nothing.

Then there was the closing of Yahoo Voices, a site which I had started to contribute to, way back when it was called Associated Content. Finally, as of this year, the site was beginning to produce some real revenue, but as soon as that begin to happen, YV closed it doors and took all articles off the web with just a 30 day warning…….2015 has to be better!

Important Literary Events of 2014

By far the most important literary event of 2014 was the ongoing feud between Amazon and Hachette. Although this dispute was settled last month, just in time for the Christmas sales, the ebook pricing agreement will affect all the large publishers, who wish to sell ebooks on Amazon.com. Another important Amazon action that will affect many self-publishing Indie authors is the introduction of Kindle Unlimited (commonly called KU) by Amazon. This decision will be especially detrimental to authors, who sell a large number of self-published ebooks  in the $2.99 to $7.99 range through Kindle Select. Stay tuned for there is more to come on this new development.

And finally there is the most recent success of The Interview, a recent Sony pictures release that depicts the death of the leader of North Korea. This is a complex story, where Sony originally eighty-sixed the movie after hacking repercussions, but later released the movie in an unique way that has made the dark comedy a smash hit around the globe.

In Passing

For me, the most notable passing has been the death of Maya Angelou, theaward-winning  African American writer, who penned such American favorites as I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes. Also gone are Thomas Berger (author of Little Big Man), Nadine Gordimer (July’s People), Graham Joyce, P.D. James and Ralph Giordano (a holocaust surviver and author).

2014 Success Story

One of the most amazing events of 2014 was the landing of a ESA spacecraft on a moving comet. On November 12, 2014 the Rosetta spacecraft successfully landed on the Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko and immediately started beaming back pictures, such as the one below. Unfortunately, a notably 20th century problem has now disconnected the adventurous, ESA spacecraft from the planet Earth. And that problem is low batteries, which is something many of us experience all the time.

The Cliffs of Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko  Image Credit & Licence (CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO): ESA, Rosetta spacecraft, NAVCAM; Additional Processing: Stuart Atkinson
The Cliffs of Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko
Image Credit & Licence (CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO): ESA, Rosetta spacecraft, NAVCAM; Additional Processing: Stuart Atkinson

What the Future Might Bring?

image from the Vimeo short film titled The Wanders
image from the Vimeo short film titled The Wanderers, which was created by Eric Wernquist and Christian Sandquist and features the words and voice of Carl Sagan.

To view The Wanderers go to the NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day site, here.

 

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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?

Lightcatchers

A solar prominence
A solar prominence captured on film by the SOHO satellite, Credit: SOHO-EIT Consortium, ESA, NASA

Our Main Source of Light

Even though a minuscule amount of starlight reaches our planet, by far the greatest source of extraterrestrial  energy arrives from our own sun. To an astronomer, the sun can be simply described as our nearest star. In fact, in scientific terms the sun would be classified as a yellow dwarf star, also known as a G V star. Typically, a G V star has a surface temp of 5,000 to 6,000 K and fuses hydrogen into helium to create light. Average lifetime of a yellow dwarf is about 10 billion years with our own sun being considered middle-aged.

High Rise Buildings

Minneapolis tower at sunset
Mirror image of Minneapolis tower at sunset

Recently, I had the privilege of spending a weekend in the Twin Cities, which are  locally referred to simply as “the cities”.  High rise buildings dominate the downtown area, presenting a golden opportunity and graphic challenge for the digital photographer. This one building literally turned a golden color in the fading moments of the day.

old and new towers in minneapolis
St. Olaf’s belltower with tall high rise in background, photo by author

Here is an interesting juxtaposition that contrasts a church tower with a modern high rise.

Reflection of one building on another,
Reflection of one building on another, Minneapolis, photo by author

And here in this scene, the reddish color of one structure is reflected upon the overwhelming blue tint of a different building.

the Mayo clinic in Rochester
Abstracted patterns of the Mayo clinic in Rochester, MN

This image was made in Rochester, which is a small city located about a two hour drive south of Minneapolis. This building  is actually part of the world famous Mayo Clinic, but in this case, it was the striking grid design of the windows that caught my eye.

Modern Architects and Ancient Sculptors

sculpture on Easter Island
Relocated sculpture on Easter Island, from Wikipedia

I know this is pure conjecture, but to me, there is something strangely similar with this sculpture on Easter Island in the middle of the Pacific and the tall towers of Minneapolis. Incidentally, the icon pictured above was only recently returned to its original resting place, as for years, the artifact had been placed on display in a museum. Nonetheless, this sculpture acts in ways that are remarkably similar to some of the more recently completed urban downtown glass towers that can be found in almost any modern city. And this similarity would be that each unit functions as a visual unit, which ever so subtly changes color in the fading light of the evening and early morning hours. True, the high rises have a very utilitarian purpose as well, but in both cases, the play of light on the surface seems to be an intricate part of the viewing process. Furthermore, I think that this was by done by design and original intention.

Des Moines building
Des Moines building caught in the early morning light, photo by author

The Case For Slam Poetry

Northern Lights Over Iceland, Credit: Stephane Vetter (Nuits sacrees)
Northern Lights Over Iceland, Credit: Stephane Vetter (Nuits sacrees)

Controversy At The White House

Just last week the White House invited a rapper, who goes by the name of Common Sense, to give a reading at a Wednesday Night poetry reading. Common Sense, whose real name is Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr., has been on the rap scene for many years now. He still manages to draw White House attention, even though he has not recorded anything substantial, since 2000. Nonetheless, “Common Sense” managed to draw some fire this time from Sarah Palin, among others, due to his pass support of Assata Shakur.It should be noted that Common Sense has appeared before (notably the Christmas season) without drawing any fire.

Further Developments

The debate did not stop there, for just last night Jon Stewart appeared on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News program, “The O’Reilly Factor”, just to exchange views with the host about Common Sense’s White House visit, rap music in general and the limits of free speech. It appears just by his appearance and ability to hold his own on the Fox News show, Jon have may benefitted more from the debate. Anyway the two pundits got to know each other much better, and left the show best of friends.

Pushing The Envelope

But why should the WH appreciation be limited to listening to one Chicago over-the-hill rapper. Why not sponsor a genuine Poetry Slam with numerous contestants, a panel of judges and a lively audience cheering on their favorite contender. Slam Poetry fests are a lively form of literary entertainment that could  use some more exposure. Although they display a verbal influence from Rap, they are very much different to sitting in a bar or state occasion getting bombarded with the latest lyrics du jour.

Who Was Zora Neale Hurston?

Zora Neale Hurston by Carl Van Vechten, courtesy of the US library of the Congress
Zora Neale Hurston by Carl Van Vechten, courtesy of the US Library of the Congress

I have a confession to make; I enjoy reading writing magazines.  A recent issue of “The Writer”, brought to light the life and literary accomplishments of a noted Southern writer, who moved to NYC in the “Roaring Twenties” to pursue her writing career.

Once a part of the Harlem Renaissance, Zora Neale Hurston had moderate success as a writer during her own lifetime. Her literary notoriety began in 1934 with the publication of her first novel “Jonah’s Gourd Vine”. A year later “Mules and Men” was put out by her publisher, Lippincott. This accounting of black dialect began as a play done in conjunction with Langston Hughes, but turned into her on publication after a major rift developed between her and the noted poet. These writings were followed by her most acclaimed novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God”, which was released in 1937. Another novel, “Moses Man of the Mountain”, came out in 1939, followed by an autobiography entitled, “Dust Tracks On a Road”. Her last release was called  “Seraphs on the Suwanee” (1948) and it featured as the central characters, a rural white couple living in rural Florida.

After the publication of Seraphs on the Suwanee, times changed and Hurston’s work fell out of favor with the general public. She died in 1960 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Port Pierce, Florida, after having spent the last ten years living alone in a welfare home. However, Zora and her literary accomplishments did not remain forgotten for long.

In the 1970’s, the contemporary novelist, Alice Walker, helped resurrect Hurston’s literary status with an article  entitled, “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston”, which was published in Ms. Magazine. Walker also tracked down Hurston’s grave and added a headstone to mark her final resting place. Though the writer’s resurgence was already on the rebound, the article by Alice Walker did a lot to put her writings on the reading list of many readers throughout the world.

Nonetheless, the legacy of Zora Neale Hurston is complex. She contrasted sharply with many of the celebrated male writers of the Harlem Renaissance, even the legendary Hughes. The woman from Eatonville, Florida did not fare much better with the publishing world with her written journey into the folkways of the rural South. This was made most apparent by her 1950 article entitled “What White Publishers Won’t Print”, which was published in the “Negro Digest” in 1950. Fortunately, today her books are readily available in most bookstores.