Black Styles

 By Nicosia Smith

For me, there is something exhilarating, about being natural without apologies. And for that matter, the confidence to share that creative experience with your community and the world.

There is something wonderful when we can be unique – and there is a joy when I see the celebration of black styles. Living in Brooklyn, you see a lot of creativity, reflecting what is happening in our society.

Recently, I have seen somewhat of a resurgence of natural black hairstyles, be it, plaits or braids, cornrows or afros.
Hair weaving and styling natural hair, practiced for centuries across continents, is widely known and practice among black families. I always take second looks, when I see afro-centric dressing and styles. Because it is different and those often wearing it, to me, stand out.
And I love to see it.
Tennis Superstar Serena Williams recently sported a cornrow braids hairstyle at the May 19 wedding of the royal highnesses of Duke and Duchess of Sussex Prince Harry and American Actress Meghan Markle, at St. George’s Chapel Windsor Castle, near London.
It was quite refreshing to see Williams in her cornrow braids at this very high fashion wedding; and Markle, being the first bi-racial woman to marry into the British royal family. She stood out in a crowd that was so much unlike her, in her very long plaited braids.
I began to think back to the 1960s and 1970s, when there was a push for more black styles. And indeed a welcomed embrace from black society of that particular style. Notably, communities blending in, black designs and culture into their everyday lives. Of course there was a strong political tone to that era, with the ‘Black Power’ movement quite on its way at the time.
Last month at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture there was a reflection of that time with a large collection of periodicals, newsletters, pictures and pamphlets about the black struggle and style of the ‘60s and ‘70s. What I particularly like with the exhibit was the pride shown by those wearing ‘black’ themed styles and its use, at the time, to create economic vitality within the community.
It was also used to push for the creation of jobs from within the community, through its unique creativity. It is a nod to a period that explored a style that was unique and stood out. At the time this was quite radical, because it was shifting the very foundation of what beautiful is and promoting ‘love’ for that beauty.
So here is to black styles, dashiki and all.
While today, there are radical black designs, I must say it is on a much smaller level. In my opinion, we have moved, it seems, back from that black collective cultural push from the 1960’s and 1970’s to a more personalized approach.

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Sky Weaver

“The weavings from nature are often made directly after the subject in the open sky…” Charlotte Schroeder

By Nicosia Smith

It’s weaving fit for royalty and believe it or not, the close spaces of an airplane seat is sometimes where the magic gets started.
While most travelers just want to get to where they are going, for Danish International Weaver Charlotte Schroeder it is more like a journey into her creative zone.

 

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Charlotte Schroeder (Nicosia Smith photo)

 

Schroeder told me that as she prepares to travel she would grab a bunch of colors for weaving and basically see what happens.
For the last 50 years Schroeder has done tapestry, patterns, portraits, landscapes and church textiles large and small. But it is her miniature pieces that’s a perfect fit to work on – when she travels. The sizes she sometimes begins during a flight are between 8 to 9.9 centimeters. ‘They do not take up much room, it’s like a small plastic bag’, she told me, describing the little space she uses. While Schroeder uses drawings to create her intricate weaves she said, “on the plane I just start.”
It’s very satisfying working in the air, she told me.
“The time kind of fly,” she said; as one can imagine.
For example, traveling from Copenhagen to New York is around eight hours and for about four hours she would weave. But even on shorter trips around Europe like to France, Italy and Spain, she also weaves.
While her work speak for itself, James Elkind of Lost City Arts at 18 Cooper Square, New York, New York told me in the world of good tapestry artist – Continue reading

T&T Student Math Phenom

For a large number of us the subject of Mathematics, does not hold a favorite spot in our educational memories .
It often brings to mind, anxiety, stress and one would even say painful thoughts of not being at our best.
The mortal I am, knows the feeling all so well. It is a subject that those that love it, seem not to understand, how the rest of us can’t seem to get it.
Well we just can’t it seem.
So when I had the privilege of meeting young Math genius Adolphus Daniel Jr, it was like wow. And wow again.
At the tender age of 10-years-old Adolphus got a perfect 800 score at the U.S College Board SAT Math Level 2 Subject test last year. Now this is a selective math exam used to determine the best of the best math students in the world. And yes, he became the youngest to ace it. His father Adolphus Daniel Sr told me a week ago that he wanted him to write it at 9-years-old but the SAT administration would not allow him because of his age. And according to him, the SAT administration said the restriction was to protect children from overzealous parents like him. But the restriction was removed after the family launched a campaign called The Dolphy Project to gather support for him to write the exam.
Before the SAT, he also aced the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) mathematics exam in 2015. And although he does not have his career path nail-down yet, he knows it with will be in the math and sciences. This eloquent and soft spoken Trinidad and Tobago student one can say is well on his way to making more history.

Grace Jones, Shabba Ranks,Chaka Khan

 

Eccentric, groundbreaking, triumphant and tumultuous may all be words to describe Grace Jones, Shabba Ranks or Chaka Khan , at some point in their illustrious careers.

All have had long career breaks, but their enduring personalities remain a pull, and of recent all three are on the comeback.

When I saw Jones at JFK Airport this month, I did not immediately recognize her. She was dressed in all black, in an outfit resembling aviation pioneer Ameila Earhart – hat included.

It was true Jones. Whatever your views of her are, she knows how to make an entrance.  Immediately I thought of her movies ‘Conan the Destroyer’ and ‘Boomerang’. Of course I began to detail her movies to her and she was quite indulgent, repeating signature phrases from Boomerang. She told me to look out for her new documentary and to buy ‘I’ll Never Write My Memoirs’ her recent book and departed with a hand-shake.

And sometimes you have to pay your way to that celebrity access.

I could not pass up an opportunity to hear my feel-good song, ‘Through the Fire’ by Khan. So I paid the $60, after discount, for the May 13 fundraiser at Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts. Khan is currently working on a series of mixed media visual works and a new CD for release this year, says the Center.

Well, I did not get to hear ‘Through the Fire’, but ‘Everlasting Love’, ‘Naughty’, ‘Tell me Something Good’, ‘Sweet Thing’, ‘Ain’t Nobody’, and the powerful ‘I’m Every Woman’ made up for it. I cannot say if the two unexpected restroom breaks prevented me from hearing my feel-good song. Or her heavy emphasis on her 70s songs. But my friend and her mother who were enjoying a pre-mother’s day outing enjoyed the experience. And being serenaded by the legendary 10 time Grammy winner who can complain.

And in April on his way to Trinidad and Tobago I met Jamaican Artist Rexton Rawlston Fernando Gordon aka ‘Mr Loverman’ also at JFK.  It was a fleeting contact that I made the best of. “I love your music,” I said, as he passed with his wife Michelle. ‘There is more coming,’ he said. I remember 90s hits like ‘Ting-A-Ling’ and ‘Twice my Age’ hits that define dancehall at the time. Of course he had hits like ‘Bedroom Bully’ and ‘Mr Loverman’, the question now is what lyrics can we expect. The legendary Ranks was the first to win a Grammy for his genre.

And so we wait!

Jamaican Ballet and Moko Jumbie

By Nicosia Smith

A story of folk songs, reggae and dancehall music is wonderfully told through graceful and skillful dancing.

When watching the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica (NDTC) you get an authentic, down-to-earth Caribbean experience through dance.

Choreographer Renee McDonald, ‘Into The Blue’ (2015), revised 2016, reveals a beautiful mixture of Caribbean integration. Nineteen dancers in blue danced as if the ocean pursued. It was a scene of battles lost and won at sea. Their fluid movements created a lot of waves that took you through the waters with them. The powerful dance moves, although distinctly Caribbean got a twist with official soundtracks from the movies ‘Gravity‘ and ‘Kung Fu Panda‘. To become a ballerina it takes years of training, some dancers begin at 4-years-old. But after seeing this piece these dancers have what it takes for ballet. I believe it should be the next step the company takes.

However, this will take more than just will but on the ground support.

Dance, culture and the arts must become more meaningful to the Caribbean populous. Our love for dance must transform our focus to demand more from our entertainment than street corner parties. It means we must support formal dance projects.

But back to NDTC.

NDTC co-Founder Rex Nettleford choreographed ‘Gerrehbenta’ an all traditional Caribbean folk piece. The folk singing, dancing and drumming in Gerrehbenta is charged with traditions, namely African ones. This piece showcase’s to its fullest that part of the Caribbean culture that was adopted from Africa.

It reminds us of a people brought to the Caribbean against their will. And reflex the content of their minds and the fight in their spirits to survive. I like that even the cloth around the waist and necks of the dancers were interwoven into the piece, as skirts flared and pants waist were tighten. In the center of this dance is a long moko-jumbie like character, with a cow-like mask a-top the colorfully clothed stick frame. The NDTC noted that the dance takes its name from two of the major traditional rites practiced in Jamaica, ‘gerreh’ in Hanover and ‘dinky-mini’ which uses the musical instrument, the benta, in St. Mary.

We have some ways to go to have the Caribbean’s distinct cultural dance styles achieve global recognition but certainly the NDTC is doing their part. And the audience last month at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College felt the same, judging by the thunderous applauding.

 

A Tiger Woods experience

By Nicosia Smith

It’s Spring in New York City and I was going to meet Tiger Woods.

Yes, the Woods.

The occasion, a Barnes and Nobel Event at 33rd East 17th Street.

Excitement bubbling, I entered the book store, I was already late for the 12:30p.m. event, or so I thought. A poster declared, signing on the Fourth Floor, so I confirmed with the book seller.

However, with sincere firmness I was told the signing was closed. For a moment that sounded strange.

So I kept probing. I asked! So no one else is allowed into the event. A resounding ‘no’, I got. My heart sunk. I heard the bookseller vaguely saying – at 9a,m. the store began sharing wrist bands, 300 bands were shared, allowing Woods to sign two books per person.

How naïve can someone be, I thought. How naïve could I be? Could this really have been a free-for-all event, even on International Happiness Day.

I circled in the store. Pondering, strategizing, rethinking and planning my next move.

I was not the only one trying to get in. Others were too. I got as far as the entrance to the Fourth Floor. A wired security guard was checking for wrist bands.

I watched.

There must be a way, I thought. Seeing Woods may be off the table, but maybe, I can get a signed book. Determined, I went to buy a book. Selling the book, the bookseller reiterated, I will not get it signed. I bought the book.

I returned to the escalator, at the ascent of the Fourth Floor. But who can get it signed for me?

The first person I asked, did not hear me or so I thought. Another man I asked was willing but already had two books. I changed to the other side of the escalator.

it was getting closer to 1 p.m. The event was closing at 2p.m.

I was desperate and I needed a bathroom break. As a slender man came-by with one book in hand – I made a move. I reached out my book pleadingly. Looking at the security he wanted confirmation to take it. Sensing his agitation I yelled, ‘you are allowed to have two books signed’. Satisfied he took the book. “Are you going to wait for it,” he asked, ‘Yes I said’. trying not to shout, ‘are you kidding me, you bet I am waiting’. “Do you know him,’ a man looking on asked, ‘No’, I replied. He too was trying to see Woods.

I moved to the descending end of the escalator and waited. I waited, waited and I waited!

Children, parents, grandparents and entire families came down. Lawn chairs, lunch bags and blankets in hand. The press interviewed, photographers shoot and book scalpers sought to buy the signed books. By this time, I was painfully awear that I could not withstand nature’s call much longer. But not wanting to leave I prayed the wait would end. I kept trying to remember the exact description of the kind man – blue flannel shirt and tall. Panic stepped in, is that all! Should I be remembering something else I asked myself.

I hope he does not take off the flannel shirt, I hope he remembered me and I hope I am not going to be ‘stiffed’. One man shouted toward the escalator: “How does he look?” Holding his signed book, “buff,” the man respond. Descending, they gently hugged their books, some smiled, proclaiming Woods’ generosity. In my mind I though, Woods must be tired. By now he had signed hundreds of books. One hour had passed.

But where is my book? Where is my book?

Then I saw him, to say I was happy to see him would be an understatement. I was ecstatic, thrilled and kept smiling at him as he descended the escalator. Looking at me, a slender man in blue fannel shirt, he remembered. Thank you, thank you, I said. As I held the book, I realized that I do not know his name – I forgot to ask him his name, but I will always remember him – my Tiger Woods replacement.

“The 1997 Masters-My Story,” by Tiger Woods with Lorne Rubenstein, will always mark International Happiness Day for me.

 

 

Hi Misty

 

By Nicosia Smith

Her glorious stresses spilling over her shoulder, did not hide that signature smile.

Prima, Ballerina.

Misty Copeland.

Standing behind a packed seating area on the Fourth Floor at the Barnes and Nobel Event, I listen.

American Ballet Theatre’s (ABT) first black principal dancer, was enthralling all with her eloquence. It is an astronomical achievement for Copeland, who accomplished what many before her did not. And even she admitted, during conversation with Damaris Lewis, her struggles. ‘It’s hard to accept that people can judge you base on something you have no control over’, Copeland said, speaking on her skin color.

Nevertheless she stressed, ‘I think it is important for me to represent’.

One cannot deny that ballet companies are very white. It took 75 years for ABT, one of three major companies in America, to make that ‘principal move.

It was a joy to see the numerous kids and parents in the audience. Their smiles and giggles of excitement could not be hid. As they held ‘Firebird’ dolls and books. Neither did they shy away from the microphone, asking a barrage of questions.

One wanted to know when she will take the stage again. Copeland in her signature “Hi,” before every response explain, ‘It’s so hard…I needed a year off’. Next month, she is set to perform ‘Giselle’, in Mascat, Oman. And the follow up, how does she remain motivated to continue dancing?

“I love what I do, I love going on stage and performing.”

Debbie Allen Dance Academy dancer enquired when she met the iconic Allen. At around 14-years-old, Copeland recall, she worked with Allen in the Chocolate Nutcracker playing Clare, while Allen played Oz. That was in her second year as a classical dancer. Allen is a pioneer in the field of contemporary dance.

On March 20, I attended the Tiger Woods signing, and Copeland’s the next day. At the first, scalpers were trying to buy books, wired security guards blocked the Fourth Floor entrance, suits milled around with strict wrist band enforcement.

No such thing at Copeland’s signing, even at 7p.m. – opening time, I could still  purchase a book and get a wrist band. What a difference a day makes.

And then it was time.

  • “Hi Misty,” I said, and there was that signature smile saying with a raspy slightly hoarse voice, “Hi.”

Signed “Ballerina Body,” by Misty Copeland in hand, I walked off the stage with a satisfied feeling.

 

 

Copy Editing at The New Yorker with Mary Norris

Ask the Agent

mary norris new small (1 of 1)Mary Norris started working at The New Yorker  thirty-one years ago, in the editorial library, moving on to the collating department and the copy desk. Since 1993, she has been a page O.K.’er, or query proofreader.  She has written for The Talk of the Town and contributes to the New Yorker books blog.  She is working on a memoir about having a transsexual sibling, the legendary Baby Dee.  You can read Mary’s fabulously entertaining blog: “The Alternate Side Parking Reader.”

 By the way, if you want to learn more about copy editing from those who are the best in the business,  check out: The New Yorker Festival (October 16-18). This year  there is  a master class in copy editing, on Sunday, October 18th, at 2 P.M., with Ann Goldstein, the head of the copy department; Elizabeth Pearson-Griffiths; and Mary Norris. A program guide to the festival is…

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Libraries – read, dream and become

By Nicosia Smith

For some it is their favorite place, where words and images spring off sheets of paper and tug at the heart.

Inspiring and giving reasons to change.

It is where the international and local meet and communities are invited to join in.

And kids can dream.

There are very few places where you can get this escapism for free. But I am grateful for this mostly publicly funded oasis – the library.

I have personally discovered societies the world over through the library. Even though, television has played its part in my discoveries.

But at the library I could feel and touch a book. There, I am much closer to Europe, Africa and North America. And I love it.

At  the Library I dreamt about the places I would visit, before stepping unto dusty and unpaved streets in my small town.

The Public Library – A Photographic Essay,” by Robert Dawson published in April brought back all my early library memories.

This book tells the importance of libraries across America, from the smallest to the largest of them. It took 18 years to complete and involves Dawson’s, immediate family, that is, his wife and son. So in the rare book room of the Strand Bookstore on 12th Street, I listen to Dawson tell the back-story behind his book.

I wanted very much to know what was new on the public library scene. And more importantly the similarities and differences of the library experience.

“We have a lot that we share…that was one of the surprising things,” Dawson said he found. And I agreed when he said that libraries were more about communities and less about the books themselves. But he also warned that it is not to be taken for granted, because there are no guarantees we can keep the current library structure.

In this technological age, it is places like the library that one can still go for a human touch.

That is, speaking to a librarian or an assistant and most of all, engaging with another mind. In contrast, different from having our fingers clued on our cell-phones with our eyes firmly fixed in the same direction.

I hope that libraries remain for a long time, to remind us why meeting, reading and conversing is so important.

 

 

 

FiFa World Cup decision Sunday

Bellaggio, next to the Vancouver Convention Center, Canada Place, has a welcoming sign for sporting fans needing a place to watch the game. (Nicosia Smith photo)

Bellaggio, next to the Vancouver Convention Center, Canada Place, has a welcoming sign for sporting fans needing a place to watch the game. (Nicosia Smith photo)

By Nicosia Smith

Come Sunday sporting fans around the world will be glued to their televisions.

And for what, to see the crowning of the FiFa World Cup champion.

One month of agony and defeat for some and marvelous joy for others will come to an end.

This world-cup has brought much lamentation for the host nation Brazil.

Namely, a 1-7 defeat by Germany in the semifinals.

And having to watch Argentina in the finals against Germany cannot be easy for Brazilians.

But this World Cup has also showed us that a team USA slogan, “I believe we can win” push the team out of the group of death. And this hope produced a record breaking 16 saves by team USA goal keeper Tim Howard.

I have embraced this world-cup like I have done many others, but I have lamented it as well.

Not only because teams I have supported have lost, like Brazil, but also for football itself.

While I have seen some teams fight to the last drop, others have given up so easily.

Others have disgraced themselves by un-sportsman like conduct. And whole teams have been embarrassed by their federations.

Financial disgrace, that is. Some teams did not have sufficient funds to sustain themselves at the tournament.

I love football, but much more needs to be done for this sport by the governments of these national teams.

So many children have attended these games and many of them may become players.

FiFa should ensure that they reach a better sport, worthy of the love it is lavish with.

So which ever spot you find yourself watching the game on Sunday enjoy, enjoy! I will be watching too.