At the end of the month my new short story "Grace's Love Theme" will published in the UK collection The Global Village: Tell Tale IV edited by Courttia Newland and Monique Roffey. One of the best things about the internet is meeting creative folks like writer/editor Courttia Newland, who has written novels, essays and short stories; his 2008 book Society Within was turned into the BBC drama West 10. Besides our mutual love for Chester Himes, Stevie Wonder and hip-hop, I feel Courttia and I are on the same wavelength when it comes to the social science of post-soul/post-millennium fiction.
As part of the '70s era fictions I've written in the last few years, "Grace's Love Theme" is perhaps one of the most gentle. A love story about a Harlem native named Dorian Parker and his first real girlfriend, Jamaican transplant Grace Campbell, "Grace's Love Theme" centers around a group of friends going to see Superfly and the magical wonders of Curtis Mayfield's brilliant soundtrack.
Perhaps one of the most romantic stories I've written, "Grace's Love Theme" is also about my passions for New York City and my old neighborhood movie house the Tapia. Located uptown at 3589 Broadway between 147th and 148th, the spot reminded me of that run down theater in the Fat Albert cartoon where the gang watched monster movies and screamed in the darkness. I suppose the Tapia was a hood grindhouse with sticky carpets and broken seats (we only went to the bathroom in groups), but it was also our little piece of cinematic heaven above 110th Street.
Along with my own crew from 151 Street (lil brother Perky, Darryl Lawson, Beedie, Kyle and Marvin), it was at the Tapia where I saw Blaxploitation classics The Mack, Black Caesar, The Education of Sonny Carson and many others. It was also where I was introduced to the pop culture universe of Bruce Lee, Hammer Films, Burt Reynolds, American International Pictures, Charles Bronson flicks, Dirty Harry, redneckploitation (which was always movies about guys running moonshine), The Doberman Gang and Willard.
Every Saturday or Sunday, we trooped the four blocks and saw a double feature for .75 cents. The big lobby between the box-office and the concession stand was filled with posters for upcoming features. As a fan of comic books and album cover art, movie posters for Cotton Comes to Harlem, Shaft's Big Score, Five On the Black Hand Side, The Book of Numbers, Cooley High, just to name a few, opened me up to artists Robert McGuinness and Jack Davis.
Inside the theater, as I ignored the heckles and weed smoking of the rowdy audience, it was at the Tapia that I developed a passion for films that continues to this day. Years before, when one of my favorite writers, an uptown sister named Toni Cade Bambara (who mentioned the theater in her wonderful short story "Gorilla, My Love") used to go there, the theater was called the Dorset; by the time I started college in 1981, it had become the Nova.
Today, as can be seen on one of my favorite websites Cinema Treasures, it is a .99 cent store. Though the landscape of Manhattan might be an ever changing, at least with "Grace's Love Theme," I was able to capture a little piece of the Tapia's history.