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Showing posts from 2011
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Water Song
It was heartbreaking.  I had hoped to win the Walt Whitman Award in 1983, but my manuscript, something entitled "City Folk," had only been selected as one of forty finalists out of a field of twelve hundred manuscripts.  I have only rarely submitted manuscripts to contests and have not done even that in many years, but at this point in my life I can say that was not a bad showing.  I was still in factory, working as a janitor in the warehouse at Baltimore's Procter & Gamble plant, and I wanted to escape.  I had a plan, but the best laid plans are only plans.  The imponderable civic of human activity and the intelligence that governs it have other plans.  
         In 1975 I wrote the first version of what became "City Folk," and that became "Water Song" in 1985, a sojourn of ten years between first draft of a manuscript and a published book.  In 1975, "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest" was a box office favorite, and ten year…
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Meet Me at the Old Chuckwagon Milton Avenue
I was raised on westerns, and my first sight of real horses was when the "Arabbers" came through the alleys selling topsoil and fresh produce. They sang out street vendor songs and walked beside horses that were either ponies or slightly larger. Often they would be pintos or piebalds. Once in awhile I saw a palomino, but chestnut came to be my favorite color in horses, so when I watched the westerns I learned to distinguish the colors somewhat. With a black and white television in the early sixties, it was not so easy to see anything other than the limited chiaroscuro of our 19 inch RCA.
My uncle Ronnie was a self-made film expert, and he helped bolster my early accumulation of westerns watched, if I can take the time to name a category. My father's favorite was "Shane," and I have it on DVD in my collection. Every now and then I pull it from the shelf to try to figure why my father called it his favorite. I have …
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MARYLAND PENITENTIARY "Central Booking" East Baltimore
February 11, 2011

Central Booking is what the Maryland Penitentiary has come to be known, and it is the oldest prison in the western hemisphere still in daily operation. You can reach it by driving west on Madison Street from Johns Hopkins hospital, which sits in the middle of an old black neighborhood and up the street, so to speak, from Dunbar High School, named for Paul Laurence Dunbar, the great African American poet who wrote the line "I know why the caged bird sings..." which inspired the title of Maya Angelou's incredible autobiography.
Jail, as we call Central Booking or any of the other "correctional" institutions in Baltimore, is full of black men, and in my sixtieth birthday year I am given to looking back over my life from this point to the black men I have known. I am not alone among black men from poor and working class urban backgrounds who can say they are survivors. In Baltimore beg…