James Baldwin

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Remembering an influential legend

Yesterday, May 28th,my day started out like many others before it. I tuned into WBGO and heard the voice of the host of Mid-Day Jazz, Rhonda Hamilton. Instantly I could sense sadness in her tone, and then she said it: “Dr. Maya Angelou has passed at the age of 86.”

Nothing could have prepared me for that moment. She was a phenomenal woman, prolific writer, poet, and civil rights activist, among many other things. What I will remember most is hearing her talk in Minneapolis at the State Theatre on October 23, 2012, as part of a series of talks presented by the Star Tribune, called Unique Lives, and Experiences. Continue Reading →

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Recently e-published writer ‘digs humanity’

Name the subject — any subject — and Dwight Hobbes will have something unique to say about it. After his writing appeared over the years in such publications as Reader’s Digest, Mpls/St. Paul Magazine, Essence and the MSR, Hobbes finally relented after being oft-asked when he’d write a book. Continue Reading →

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Playwright Lesli Lee dies at age 83

By Dwight Hobbes

Contributing Writer


Lesli Lee, one of America’s most significant Black playwrights prior to the emergence of August Wilson, died January 20 in Manhattan at 83 of congestive heart failure. Lee is best known for his Obie Award-winning and Tony-nominated drama about middle-class life, The First Breeze of Summer (Negro Ensemble Company). The original cast included company founder Douglas Turner Ward, Frances Foster and Moses Gunn. Not until Pulitzer Prize winner Charles Fuller and later Wilson was another African American author similarly accomplished. A 2008 revival of The First Breeze of Summer (Signature Theatre Company), directed by noted actor Ruben Santiago-Hudson, won honors at the prestigious Audelco Awards. Continue Reading →

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My Country ‘Tis of Thee: My Faith, My Family, Our Future

Ellison’s bio a cutting-edge tale of resisting bias religious and racial
By Dwight Hobbes

Contributing Writer


Unequivocally a singular success, Congressional Rep. Keith Ellison is one of the more fascinating figures in contemporary politics — indeed, an unprecedented, historic presence. Anyone who doesn’t believe he’s capable of becoming the second Black president of these United States needs merely consider this: How likely was it that with the country still rankling from 9/11, he accomplished a virtually unthinkable feat — becoming the first Muslim elected to Congress? My Country ‘Tis of Thee: My Faith, My Family, Our Future (Gallery Books/Karen Hunter Publishing, $25) is a newly published memoir cum biography and, whether you admire or abhor his consistently controversial stands on hot-button issues — for instance, the proposed mosque at ground zero, downtown Manhattan site of Al-Kaida’s 2001 terrorist attack on America — the book is a significant, definitively informing work that belongs in the library of every American — Black, White, Brown, Muslim, Protestant, Catholic, whatever — who wishes to know what he or she is talking about when they discuss the consequence of Keith Ellison. It should surprise no one that a significant amount of the material here concerns itself with Ellison’s devotion to his religion. Along with being the first Muslim to hold his office, he historically is strongly vocal about Muslim Americans getting a fair shake in society. Continue Reading →

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Austene Van ascends in role of Aida




Austene Van, a brilliant performer, has long been outshone by fellow stars Jevetta Steele and Regina Marie Williams. But not because she’s, per se, a lesser talent. However, Steele saw her profile incredibly heightened by a stint in her autobiographical hit Two Queens, One Castle at Mixed Blood Theatre and Williams saw hers receive a tremendous boost when she performed in  Dinah Was…at Penumbra Theatre Company. I’ve written on more than one occasion that Austene Van, —while for years enjoying the enviable success of not needing a day job and being able to make a rock solid living at theatre — sings beautifully, acts her hips off and can trip the proverbial light fantastic hadn’t come across just the right vehicle to distinguish her as a leading lady. Well, she found one in the form of Aida, which had a recent run this past January in downtown Minneapolis at the Hennepin Theater Trust’s Pantages Theatre. It’s fairly understandable why Austene Van — to those for whom the name doesn’t ring quite the same bell as does Steele or Williams — has been a harder fit for the Cinderella slipper, despite the fact that she’s a Penumbra company member and mainstay on the venue’s stage. Continue Reading →

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A conversation with Maya Angelou

Renaissance woman speaks on Tyler Perry, Obama and ‘the sweet language’

By Charles Hallman
Staff Writer

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Dr. Maya Angelou is a renowned “renaissance woman” who as a teenager became San Francisco’s first Black female cable-car conductor, and worked with both Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

James Baldwin helped guide her toward working on what would become her first of over 30 best-selling books. A three-time Grammy winner, she also has written for the stage, screen and television, and her poetry is legendary. Last week, Dr. Angelou (MA) called the MSRfrom her home and talked about her life present and future.  
To read the full story, click here

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http://www.spokesman-recorder.com/subscribe/ Continue Reading →

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GLBT characters of color on the big and small screens


It’s hard enough finding straight people of color — including Black folk — on TV and film, never mind non-hetero depictions. Here’s a thumbnail sketch roundup of positive portrayals. In the interest of being thankful for small favors, let us acknowledge that pitiful as it is, some progress has been made. True Blood, the HBO hit pitting vampires versus werewolves with humans stuck in the middle, against a rural Louisiana backdrop, saw a gay Black man not only as a principal character, but also one with strong dimension. Nelsan Ellis (who, by the by, plays Martin Luther King, Jr. in 2013’s The Butler) plays pragmatic hard-a** with a heart of gold Lafayette Reynolds. Continue Reading →

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Rich summer music menu: Bill Frisell, Rachelle Ferrell, Cassandra Wilson


I was scanning the magazine newsstand the other day and picked up a copy of the June issue of Ebony magazine. It’s their music issue. I open it up, and who is the first person I see? It’s Esperanza Spalding. So, I read the blurb about how the bassist/vocalist would like to model her career after Ornette Coleman and Madonna. Continue Reading →

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The Amen Corner: Penumbra breathes life into James Baldwin play



Lou Bellamy brilliantly directs James Baldwin’s The Amen Corner at Guthrie Theater for a Penumbra Theatre Company/Guthrie Theater regional premiere. Bellamy, of course, is best known for taking scripts through their paces in St. Paul on Penumbra’s home ground at the Halle Q. Browne Community Center. An ace with ensemble casts, Bellamy has shown his hand to admirable effect with memorable Penumbra productions of August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Seven Guitars and Two Trains Running. Here, Bellamy tackles an unwieldy script to winning effect. Continue Reading →

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What you can do to preserve Black history — and why you should



”When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his ‘proper place’ and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. Continue Reading →

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