Amiri Baraka: The Village Voice Years

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Photo by James Hamilton
Baraka in the Voice, 1980.
Amiri Baraka, the poet, playwright, and activist, died last week at the age of 79. Befitting a man with such a long, complicated and controversial career, not even his obituaries could agree. The New York Times calls him "polarizing," while the Jerusalem Post opted, among other qualifiers, for "hateful." The Anti-Defamation League, which once said his work had "a long history of hostility to Judaism and Jewish concerns," didn't weigh in on his passing. And the Washington Post noted: "Perhaps no writer of the 1960s and '70s was more radical or polarizing than the former LeRoi Jones, and no one did more to extend the political debates of the civil rights era to the world of the arts."

For Eugene B. Redmond, the famous East St. Louis poet and academic, Baraka's death was the end of a 53-year friendship. On a recent afternoon, Redmond's mind was on everything Baraka gave up to become a leader of the Black Arts Movement, black power's cultural and artistic twin.

"LeRoi Jones was poised to become the first black playwright or screenwriter that would've gone onto just unlimited success," Redmond says, using Baraka's former name (he was born Everett Leroy Jones in Newark in 1934). But instead, "He gave it all up and went into the movement. He went from a larger white bohemian world into the black world."

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Former Voice Editor Don Forst Dies; Joined This Paper to Work With Its "Homosexuals" and "Trotskyites"

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Don Forst in 2011 at the University at Albany journalism program's graduation. At right is program director Nancy Roberts
Donald "Don" Forst, the former editor of the Village Voice, who also helmed New York Newsday and the Boston Herald during his 50-year career as a journalist, has died at the age of 81. The New York Times obituary didn't cite a cause of death, but Peter Nessen, the friend who confirmed Forst's death to the paper, said Forst was undergoing treatment for colon cancer.

Forst wrote and edited at 14 papers over the course of his career, and was editor of the Voice from 1997 to 2005. He joined the paper after New York Newsday was shut down by its parent company and he ended a brief stint as the metropolitan editor at the Daily News. At the time, the NYT called Forst the "oddest choice" to edit the Voice, given his long run at more right-leaning outfits, as well as the fact that he was a 64-year-old white guy picked to helm a staff of "famously cantankerous writers, a youngish rainbow coalition of color and sexual preference," as the paper put it.

Forst, too, acknowledged that he was a strange fit, giving the NYT this unforgettable quote:

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Cynthia Zarin on New York: "The City Becomes a Kind of Character in Our Lives"

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Poet Cynthia Zarin writes hard truths with a soft voice, and for the first time she puts that same voice and poetic density into a book of prose. Out this month from Alfred A. Knopf, Zarin's memoir An Enlarged Heart: A Personal History is a series of essays about her life in New York: work, apartments, relationships -- all the normal things -- but written about from a rare place of fierce tenderness and self-awareness. I was caught up from the very first page of the book's first essay, "Real Estate," and by the time I'd finished it I knew I wanted to talk to Zarin about her book and her relationship to the city came to be. We spoke by phone.

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Damien Echols Tells Us How Stephen King Novels Taught Him to Write

Categories: Writing
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Free but still not quite exonerated, Damien Echols spent half his life in prison -- much on death row -- as punishment for a crime that he has never been linked to with, say, evidence. Many of those years he suffered in solitary confinement, even as the documentaries Paradise Lost and its sequels revealed this injustice to the world.

As he recounts in his new memoir, Life After Death, Echols taught himself meditation, the particulars of a host of religions, and even the one thing that might be truly unteachable: how to write well.

He credits his success with the latter to the years he's spent in the company of Stephen King. Echols has never met or communicated with King -- "I don't know that he knows my story," Echols says -- but it's possible that, after 18 years of incarceration, there's no other adult mind with whom Echols has spent more time. The Voice called Echols to ask about King's influence yesterday.

I heard an interview where you said you learned to write from reading Stephen King novels over and over in prison. You were actually reading these beforehand, too, right?
It goes back to when I was ten or eleven years old. My grandma got one of his books at a garage sale, and I want to say the first of his I ever read was Night Shift. I'm not 100 percent positive, but that's one of the earliest I remember. The reason it sticks out so much is the cover. It had a hand with a bunch of eyes looking out of it, all wrapped in gauze or a bandage. I thought, "What the hell is that?"


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11 Reasons You Should Never Fuck a WRITER

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In our concrete jungle, few species of humans are as ubiquitous and dangerous as WRITERS.

Not to be confused with writers, WRITERS are a breed best characterized by their habitat (over-priced speakeasies) and their method of stalking romantic prey ("I mean, I want to write a sitcom.") Though it is very likely you will encounter WRITERS in the wild -- say, scribbling in a Moleskine at Cafe Loup or dozing in your writing workshop -- do not approach WRITER.

They might appear charming -- seductively brooding, with an endless supply of backhanded compliments -- and might even offer to buy you a drink, but WRITERS are actually dangerous animals. As lovers, they are emotionally damaging and must be avoided at all costs.

So, here are 11 reasons why you should never fuck a WRITER:

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Ray Bradbury, Champion of Books, Writing Hero

Categories: Writing

Alan Light
Ray Bradbury, 1975
Ray Bradbury, the author and sci-fi legend, died this morning in Los Angeles at the age of 91. Bradbury, who sold over eight million copies of his books, and wrote for television, film, and theater, received the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation in 2000, and the National Medal of Arts in 2004.

As Victoria Bekiempis reminds us, the author may not have been a great fan of the internet or the rise in ebooks, but he sure loved reading. A few days ago, squashed on the F train, I read his essay Take Me Home, about discovering the fictional character of Buck Rogers, and the work of Tarzan-creator Edgar Rice Burroughs, when he was a boy in Illinois. It was a wonderful reminder of how pulp and the low-brow can be great. And, at their best, inspire greatness. (And silliness, too! I was delighted when my colleague Robert Sietsema pointed me toward a campy, sci-fi commercial for prunes, starring Bradbury.)


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Huffington Post Will Publish Your Undergrad Thesis and Probably Won't Pay You

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Maybe the aggregation turbine is broken?

Looks like HuffPo, the "internet newspaper," might soon become a term paper mill.

Huffington Post College tweeted late last night: "Want to publish your senior thesis on the Huffington Post? Email rharrington [at] huffingtonpost [dot] com for more details."

(H/T @mylestanzer, a former Voice intern who sometimes contributes to RS).

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Thank God It's Over!: New York NaNoWriMo Participants Speak On Their Ambitious Writing Endeavors

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Courtesy
Erin O'Brien, a member of the New York City NaNoWriMo group

They have overdosed on coffee, written on layovers in Canada, traveled from the Netherlands, put pen to pad on a packed tram headed to Roosevelt Island, and made time for writing even after dealing with a parent's heart attack.

They're New York City's NaNoWriMo participants, and no, they didn't do it for kicks.

The global writing initiative, also known as National Novel Writing Month, challenges participants to write a novel of at least 50,000 words during the month of November every year. Now that December is here, participants have collectively exhaled and some are even plotting to have their novels published--much to the dismay of critics.

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