‘Black Market Reads’ continues to amplify Black writers with new season

Photo courtesy of www.idream.tv Sarah Bellamy and Lissa Jones on stage for Black Nativity at Penumbra. Courtesy of www.idream.tv

Black Market Reads (BMR), a prestigious offering from the renowned Givens Foundation for African American Literature, recently launched its fourth season of highlighting African American writers with a dedicated podcast series.

Billed as a “menu for Black literary consumption” that explores the rich tradition of African American storytelling, the monthly podcast features conversations with Black artists to engage listeners in arts and culture.

“I’m very excited about it,” said Herman Milligan, Givens Foundation Board chair and overseer of the project. “It’s an innovative program [that] has global reach.”

Recently, iDream.tv president/CEO and BMR Executive Producer Edie French, host Lissa Jones, and writer-strategist-webmaster Maya Auguston sat down with the MSR at iDream.tv studios. Paul Auguston producer, drifted in and out, duties precluding his joining the exchange.

With walls adorned by paintings from local artist Ta-coumba Aiken — who also provided the banner art on the BMR website — the setting was high-tech but laid back. All on-hand were upbeat, delighted to get the word out on the program.

Jones enjoys a strong livelihood of connecting with the community. As executive producer/host of Urban Agenda on KMOJ radio station, she is well-versed in confronting social issues with candid conversation, spiritedly celebrating Black culture. Black Market Reads proved a perfect fit.

“Duchess Harris, Ph.D., who inspired the movie Hidden Figures, was my inaugural interview and I was hooked,” said Jones in a press release. Other notables who have been featured on the show include celebrated local author Alexs D. Pate, Dr. Mahmoud El-Kati, Mary Moore Easter, Justice Alan Page and most recently, DeRay McKesson, activist, and author of On the Other Side of Freedom, and Sarah Bellamy, artistic director at Penumbra Theatre.

DeRay McKesson (right) and Lissa Jones recording at Shir Tikva Synagogue during a recent visit.  Courtesy of www.idream.tv

Jones reflected on conversations with Pate, saying, “Alexs got me to thinking about the first time or last time I felt innocent as a Black person… about how we teach our children to be innocent.”

“Alexs,” said French, “tells a powerful story during his podcast interview about an event in his life where he inexplicably questions his own fundamental innocence, simply because greater society makes an assumption of guilt about Black men.”

Another memorable conversation involved Dr. Artika Tyner, author and associate vice president for Diversity and Inclusion at the University of St. Thomas. “Dr. Tyner made me think about ‘Justice,’ a little girl in a cape who goes around dispensing justice, a Black girl,” Jones recalled. “And I see…that Dr. Tyner wants to inspire little girls and little boys to want to seek justice. So, it was awesome to see her build her interview around that.”

“My mark of a great session is when Lissa and the guest both cry,” said French, who has produced documentaries for the University of MN, Minneapolis Public Schools and Walker Art Center and served as Minneapolis Arts Commission chair.

“Generally, the conversations are so full of heart,” she continued. “Lissa does a great job of being in that space where people come in and afterward, are just surprised. [They] say things like, ‘Wow, I thought this was just going to be an interview, but I’ve never said those things before.’ The joy of being privileged to sit next to those conversations as they happen has been really exciting.”

Jones referred to French as “a magic maker. She makes sure we get to hear from the voices people want to hear from, [people] who otherwise might not receive that kind of amplification — especially early in their career.”

She refers, as an example, to Julian Randall, a 2017 Cave Canem Poetry Prize recipient for his collection Refuse (University of Pittsburgh Press). Her appreciation is reciprocated. Jones gladly shared an autographed copy of Refuse that read, “Dear Lissa. What a wonder this space and this love…this podcast and the hands that made [it].”

BMR guests have included seasoned and new faces in literature. Pictured (l-r) Mary Moore Easter, Patricia Smith and Danez Smith Courtesy of www.idream.tv
Photo courtesy of www.idream.tv

BMR has, as well, highlighted an aspect of veteran poet Easter’s career that may elude her followers. During her visit, Easter spoke about her mother, internationally noted composer Undine Smith Moore. French recalled, “In addition to the interviews, which were fabulous, Maya reached and found ‘go deeper’ information. She found a video clip of [Undine Moore’s] music being played by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.”

Maya Auguston, content to mostly observe, didn’t say much. Jones noted that her contribution to the podcast is nonetheless noteworthy. “Maya and I sit together,” said French. “She listens and asks questions from her perspective. She has the depth and discipline to know about the craft.” She summed up, “We have a remarkable team.”

The growth of Black Market Reads,’ which originated in 2015, has been “one of the greatest joys of my life,” said French. “It gets better and better, a great collaboration. It inspires me.”

She added that the website archives preserve invaluable exchanges, affording audiences in-depth access to authors’ careers and work via links and videos. “From a technical perspective, we’re always improving. Paul [Auguston] does just a great job of the recording, making sure we get good, clean sound.” She concluded, “Overall, it’s been a pure, unmitigated joy.”

Visit BlackMarketReads.com for more info. Black Market Reads is also available on Apple Podcasts, Android, Stitcher, Libsyn and many other platforms.