10 Ways Writing a Book is Different From Writing 963 Blog Posts o.0

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Last summer I finished writing “Black Girls Are From the Future: Essays on Race, Digital Creativity and Pop Culture.”

I will be doing a book launch in Oakland, Saturday March 22nd, @ Betti Ono Gallery. Tix are $10.

1. There is a tie for number one. But I will say that being able to edit in real time was one of the major differences. With the blog, I also have an idea of who the audience would be. With a book, I had no idea where the ideas would travel. So I had to learn how to write in a way that assumed that I’d have to explain more.

2. Book formatting is the DEVIL. There was a template provided by Create Space, but I didn’t know that it would take me the better part of a week to actually format the page numbers, the text and fonts. Really, really stressful.

byrd lady

3. I had thought that writing a book, I’d feel lonely and away from my friends. But it was just the opposite. I was busy but I still saw folks; just on off hours or at planned times. But I was out, because I don’t write well at home. I remember one day in particular when I was writing at Whole Foods and the Delta Centennial was taking place and Keondra just came to the Whole Foods on P street to sit with me as I wrote in the cafe. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have extreme periods of solitude, because I do. But it ended up being more manageable than I expected.

4. Going digital. I had no idea the Kindle contract was 17 pages long. So I had it and read it, and thought about it for a long time. I wanted to be certain with my digital publishing choice. The book has been on Kindle since last week.

Zora+ Dilla

5. Getting book blurbs. The work flow process of doing a second edition is HELLA non-linear. I actually have two blurbs and an academic review coming out (Peace to Perez) but I had no idea that when I started this process these were the kinds of things that I’d want to add to the back as a blurb and that I’d have to wait, plan and coordinate adding the blurbs to the book. All things I am grateful for.

6. I have NO idea what people think of the book, unless someone actually TELLS me. Blogging is a feedback system. Writing in print is not. Folks found me to tell me on social media, but it just isn’t the same. I am not complaining, just marking the difference.

7. The internet isn’t a respected medium. It was deep to me to learn that having written 963 blog posts isn’t as significant as having 16 essays in print. I get it now, books are tangible, they require waaaaay more resources, and books can travel to places where digital cannot. Which brings me to my next point. I felt like the same person but folks will see you different in print. It just is the nature of the game.

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8. You never know who is going to show up when you shine your light, and I was scared at first, but now I am fearless in it. Why? I learned in February that the book was selected by Ruth Nicole Brown to be taught in the Education Justice Project. Reading what men and women prisoners had to say about my work (typos and all) changed.my.fucking.life. Like to know that brothers and sisters TOOK my words so seriously AND  that a sister took it upon herself to teach it (And folks say Black women don’t support each other. Some do. Some don’t.) My God. You have no idea. I felt like whatever book writing hangups I had, I needed to address them at the root, because there are, in Ruth’s words “folks who are ready to read Black feminists words on Black feminist terms.”

9. I’m ahead of the game when it comes to a lot of folks who are independent because I’ve been blogging for so long and interacting with folks, I don’t have to over rely on traditional mainstream media gatekeepers. @MarquetteJones has been telling me this for years. But I HAD TO EXPERIENCE it in order to believe it for myself.  This is important as Black feminists have been writing and creating public work in the US for at least the last 100 years, and I am grateful to be a part of their legacy on the internet. (More about my project on this later.) You cannot build a community overnight, and in many ways the game is saturated right now. It isn’t impossible to start today. Just work.

10. Marketing, marketing, marketing. In some ways writing the book was EASIER than the marketing. There is maintaining Good Reads, Twitter, Instagram, Tumbler, Facebook, doing events, creating promo material, getting blurbs, finding places to do a pop up shop. The marketing piece is IN SOME WAYS, the bigger part of all of this and I now see why many creatives don’t do it. I had NO IDEA that this was the case. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know that it would be work in its own right, but I didn’t know that writing the book was just the beginning. I felt like a crossed a finished line and jumped into the deep end of the pool.

If this is your first time reading my work here are some examples of my blog posts:

1. On Kim Kardashian’s Empire and Race

2. Is A Black Web Browser Racist: BET x Kevin Kelly, x Blackbird

3. Race, Class and Prostitution in the City: Washington DC’s Black Madam, Odessa Madre

4. How Zora and Dilla Helped Me to Claim My Crush

5. Black Women and Pleasure

6. For Colored Bloggers Who Consider Sexism and Racism

7. Are Black Men Really That Homophobic?

8. Kill Me Or Leave Me Alone: Street Harassment as a Public Health Issue

9. The Gender Politics of the Dance Floor

Sign up here to receive  Newsletter,  and here is the Facebook page. I am excited to see you old friends, and I am excited to meet you new friends.

Is there anything else you want to know about moving from the blog to the book. Let me know, and Ill answer your questions.

On the {Sexual} Politics of Viola Davis’s Natural Hair at the Oscars

It wasn’t until my homie Gisele, a Black woman and working actress pointed out to me that Viola Davis graduated from Julliard in the late 80’s, that my growing obsession with Davis began to make sense.

In Davis, I saw myself.

I saw the struggles of so many Black women who try to remain whole in the face of economic, racial, sexual and financial circumstances that threaten to undermine them, in a mainstream culture that reads them by and large as maids, hypersexual video vixens, or as invisible.

A couple of weeks before the Oscars I watched the Tavis interview with her and read two articles at Shadow and Act titled “It’s a Difficult Time to be a Black Filmmaker with an Imagination” by Tanya Steele and “A Young Viola Davis Thought Experiment” by Charles Hudson. This material helped me to flesh out my ideas around Davis.

I wanted to know, what Davis’s process for deciding whether or not to take the role?  When I learned from the Tavis interview that she thought about it for three months, that it kept her up at night, she had me.

In the bookToms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks Donald Bogle studies the history of representations of African Americans in film. Bogle contends that all of these stereotypes are rooted in entertaining to stress “Negro inferiority”. Which leads me to ask, what is the political purpose of seeing “Negros” as inferior?

You see, I believe that one of the most interesting intersections to explore is the intersection between race and cultural productions because they can teach us both about the insidious and peculiar history of race and gender. This is important because I believe that understanding history can possibly lead us to a different, equitable and just future.

As many of you know I enjoy writing about films more than I writing about rap music these days, largely because the financial and racial politics of filmmaking remains highly undertheorized in pop culture blog spaces.

Which brings me to Ms. Davis and erotic capital.

Viola Davis and Erotic Capital

I take the idea of erotic capital from Siobahn Brooks. She has done some interesting work on class and race in strip clubs in New York and Oakland.

Erotic capital is made up of the things that are used to evaluate a womans sexual desirability in the public marketplace. So for Black women, I see erotic capital as hair texture, hair length, skin color, skin hue, body shape, nose and mouth size.

If we look at Ms. Davis, against mainstream standards of beauty that says that thin, white, young, curvy and blond is the norm, then I read her desire to show up to the Oscars with short chestnut afro as a rupture in popular culture representations of beauty. At least for that moment.

In a moment, when she knew that the focus would be on her, she chose to show up wearing a hairstyle that many people, some Black women included would call uncivilized.

What does it mean to  show up to the Oscars as a Julliard trained dark skinned Black woman, who is nominated for an Oscar for playing a maid in a movie that is a mainstream/hegemonic narrative about the “Good Old South”? In 2012?

Viola Davis and Black Women’s Genius

I knew that Davis was a genius when I learned two things. The first, is that for her role in Doubt she created a thirty page report/dossier on her character because she knew she only had two scenes to nail the character.

Thirty pages? That means you are invested in your craft.

The second reason why I knew she was a genius is because of Toni Morrison’s Sula. In some ways when I read that she created this dossier, I was immediately reminded of Morrison’s Sula, and the idea of a woman without an artistic form becoming dangerous.

It was in this moment that I realized that Davis, needs to produce her work otherwise she wouldn’t be right.

What do I mean by being right?

How many broken spirited people do you know who ain’t right largely because they knew they were put here on this planet to do something, but rather than embrace that thing, they took the path of least resistance?

What does it mean in 2012 to not take the path of least resistance when your Julliard training implicitly tells you that you should expect to be doing Shakespeare after you graduate from your acting program?

What do you do when you learn that the rules for you and the rules for your peers are not one and the same?

What does it mean to be a Black woman, looking to be validated by an industry that has historically seen people like you only as being fit to play a maid?

Pariah and Red Tails: Film Finance, Sexuality and Race.

I will be writing a series of posts about Pariah. This is the first of three or four.

Dedicated to @Very54. I missed you too.

The conversation around Red Tails and Pariah is interesting in it brings the politics of black stories and professional Black storytellers to the forefront. (Peace to James McBride for the language of professional Black storytellers.)

This post isn’t about the content of the films, but about how audiences perceive movies, the history of White hollywood and the politics of getting stories made and distributed that feature Black subjects.

George Lucas personally financed Red Tails, after the Hollywood establishment decided that a film with all Black leads isn’t viable.  Forrest Wickman in Slate writes,

George Lucas, who produced the movie, has said that he was forced to finance it on his own—to the tune of $58 million—when studios balked at the marketability of a film with all black leads.

Last week, after the release of Red Tails,  on John Stewart’s show, Lucas went on record saying that the Hollywood establishment did not know how to market Red Tails with an all Black lead casts.  Sofia Hernandez writes,

He continued, “They don’t believe there’s any foreign market for it and that’s 60 percent of their profit…I showed it to all of them and they said ‘No. We don’t know how to market a movie like this.’ ”

Unlike the Matthew BroderickDenzel Washington Civil War drama Glory or other films depicting black soldiers in battle, the World War II pic Red Tails does not feature a white protagonist, said Lucas, “It’s an all-black movie. There’s no major white roles in it at all. It’s one of the first, all-black action pictures ever made. It’s not Glory where you have a lot of white officers running these guys into cannon fire. They were real heroes.”

As a scholar, I do the political economy of culture, which is a fancy way of saying that I examine the way race, gender and institutional power impacts how art (music and films and books) is made.

The fact that the overseas market plays such a huge role in determining whether or not the Hollywood film establishment would support Red Tails is significant.

Filmmaking is capital intensive and historically the domain of White men. For me, it would have been interesting if Lucas mentioned that movies featuring Black subjects have a hard time within the Hollywood establishment and went on to mention the fact that it is a miracle that Pariah has been made. This would have opened the space to talk about films made featuring Black people by a seasoned White male filmmaker and a new comer Black woman filmmaker. It would have opened the space to ask how does money, and race, and sexuality impact their films similarly and differently?

I’ve seen Pariah twice. The first time was at a screening with the producer, Kim Wayans, Dee Rees the director, Nekisa Cooper the producer and Adepero Oduye the star. The second time was with a nearly all Black sold out crowd at an art house theater.  I’ll see Red Tails next weekend.

Based on my notes from the Q&A on Pariah, the film cost approximately five hundred thousand dollars to make, and it took them 18 days to complete it. As of January 22nd, 2012 it made $497,579. This is a second career for the director/producer duo as Cooper and Rees met while they were both in corporate America, working a Proctor and Gamble. Cooper and Rees also fundraised and used credit to get the film made. Lastly, many of the crew members were willing to work without pay (temporarily) because they believed in the project.

Given the fact that the birth of film in the United States is largely thought to be “Birth of a Nation” it is in fact a miracle that Pariah was made in the first place.

What is interesting to me is that Reese and crew’s narrative has been one of we did it, come out and support, I have been working on this story for a while, no it is not autobiographical, but there are parts of me in here and I am glad we were able to make it.

So my questions are.

Why were Black folks in social media spaces and in comment sections of the mainstream press seemingly more willing to rally around Lucas’s film but not Reese’s?

Yes, the films are two different audiences, but they both feature Black casts, they both have awesome and interesting back histories in terms of film finance and they both feature stories that need to be told.

Is Black homophobia working here?

If we take the statement “We need to support Red Tails because if we don’t the Hollywood establishment may not make anymore movies featuring us” then don’t we assume that we have more control over film finance than we actually do?

Why would a Black person in 2012 assume that they can control which films come out of Hollywood, when it is clear that “overseas marketing possibilities” have far more control, at least with Red Tails?

I love writing about movies the way I use to Love writing about rap music. I hope it shows.