Thursday, July 23, 2015

Blues Vision - African American Writing from Minnesota

Edited by Alexs Pate with co-editors Pamela R. Fletcher and J. Otis Powell

Enthusiasm is growing for Blues Vision! In celebration of the short summer season in Minnesota, we hope you enjoy these summer selections.

Blues Vision is a groundbreaking collection of incisive prose and powerful poetry by forty-three black writers from Minnesota who educate, inspire, and reveal the unabashed truth. This anthology was co-published with the Minnesota Historical Society Press, which was made possible in part by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the vote of Minnesotans on November 4, 2004.

Lilac Week by Roy McBride
It’s lilac week.
Everywhere you

Heard these punks
Running down the
Laughing their fool
heads off,
Old Lady Duncan
yelling at them about
stealing her lilacs.
It’s lilac week.

Hey, man!
Some good shit!
Meet me back
in the alley
Smell those lilacs.

and every shade

It’s lilac week.
Lilac week.
The world
surrenders to lilacs.

Migrations by Angela Shannon

The diesel truck grunts to pick up the house, to
ease the residence onto its broad back, to haul 1619

whole down the highway. The home­­­­­–––wobbles
without foundation, trembles by sudden movement,

by turbulence and blurring trees, is disturbed
by groundlessness. It wavers and hiccups,

reduced to numbers on a flapping door, growing pains
without Little Africa or Creek Center claiming its walls.

After this crossing from South to Minnesota, will
wooden floors hold when the truck settles them?

Will walls endure after being upswept or will
the house crack and crumble? What of the father

driving the Buick, the mother unwrapping
sandwiches, the three children in the backseat singing?

Preston’s Dream:  Version No. 1 by Philip Bryant

Preston came over one Saturday afternoon
with his usual six-pack of Miller
and armful of records. He was in a quiet
pensive mood – almost doleful.
My father caught on and started playing
some Billie Holiday.
“How’d you know I was thinkin’
about Billie?” Preston asked.
“I don’t know,” my dad said. “A hunch, I guess.”
They listened to
Billie’s version of The Way You Look Tonight.
Billie’s version of Pennies From Heaven.
Billie’s version of I’ll Never Be the Same.
Finally, Preston said,
“These are all Billie’s songs, you know.
She coulda written ‘em herself.
In fact, I think she just took ‘em
Hokey and corny as they are
‘cause nobody wanted ‘em anymore.
Like in slavery days, the slaves
gettin’ pigs’ ears, snouts, feet, and guts
---all the pieces
the massa felt beneath him to eat---
and makin’ ‘em into delicacies.
She mined songs,
Got the diamonds in ‘em that
Nobody cared for or knew how to get.
She got it.
Re-created these songs into her own.
She adopted them.
They were all her children,
and they called her Mama.
Because she was.”
My father drank a little beer and smiled.
Billie was singing Laughing at Life.
Preston continued.
“I had the strangest dream last night.
I was in this small Midwestern town, all white,
on the Fourth of July. It was sunny,
and a warm breeze blew the flags aloft.
I was watchin’ the parade go down Main Street,
bands playin’ Stars and Stripes Forever
and floats of all kinds advertisin’
the Jaycees and historical society
and people all dressed up in buckskin and Indian outfits.
I was gettin’ nervous
‘cause I was the only spot in the crowd,
when here comes the last float in line---
I hear Teddy Wilson playing the opening of
I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.
And there
on a float made of white and yellow gardenias
---Billie, in her prime---
big and beautiful and leanin’ and singin’
into one of those old-fashioned microphones.
and Prez was there, too---pork-pie hat
and shades and cream-white suit
and Little Jazz Roy Eldridge and Joe Jones
and Walter Page and Ram Rameriz! All of ‘em!
I couldn’t believe my eyes!
I said to a woman holdin’
a big blond baby boy high
over her head and
bouncin’ in time to the music
What year is it? I thought
They’re all dead---but there they are!
She didn’t say anything,
just nodded and smiled
and kept time to the music.
Then I saw Billie turn as she passed us
and smile at the baby
and throw a white gardenia to the mother.
By this time I was cryin’ and wanted to catch up---
the float had almost disappeared down the street,|
the crowds were too thick,
I couldn’t get through.
Then an old toothless farmer in dirty coveralls
put his hand on y shoulder and said
They’re gone now,
But they’ll be back next Fourth.
You be sure to come back, son,
you’re more than welcome here.
I shook his hand, so dirty and gnarled
And hard from heavy farm work.
I said I would, I will---
And then I woke up. My heart was poundin’.
I wondered how I could get back, but it was only a dream.”
Billie was singing Why Was I Born?
“Jesus, Preston, that was some dream.”
“James, it was like it was real.
Prez, Billie, Joe, Teddy
---all of ‘em alive!---
playin’ in that hick town somewhere
in the middle of nowhere
on the Fourth of July.”

Blues Vision artwork by Ta-couma T.Aiken, “Speak”

Available for purchase at Minnesota Historical Society Online store and on

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