Thursday, September 30, 2010

Coon Bidness

Cover Image: 'GOLDLICKS (Wangechi Mutu)" By Marilyn Minter

"Is this a magazine CRITICAL of coonery, or is this some sort of avant-garde attempt at irony?" my friend Marcus asked when I told him about the new literary journal Coon Bidness. Indeed, twelve months ago when I received an invitation to contribute, I also had a problem with the name. On the otherhand, my Public Enemy loving-Black power spouting homegirl from Long Island thought it was the funniest thing she had ever heard. Yet, with editors Greg Tate and LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs overseeing the project, I was certain that Coon Bidness would be like nothing we had ever seen before.

Although I've yet to see the final version of the "debutt issue," what I have seen is simply amazing. Overflowing with art, fiction, poetry and essays, contributors include Wangechi Mutu, Miles Marshall Lewis, Jessica Care Moore, Minister Faust, Iona Rozeal Brown, Siddhartha Mitter, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Laina Dawes, Arthur Jafa, Earl Douglass and many others. My own Black rock inspired short story "Daddy Gone Blues" (shout out to Stephanie McKay, Joi and Honeychild Coleman) also made the final cut.

While I had planned on writing a blog essay about this exciting new magazine, invoking everything from Zip Coon to Stepin' Fetchit to how much Spike Lee's preachy Bamboozled got on my nerves, I decided to let Coon curators Diggs and Tate speak for themselves. This interview was conducted via email...

1. There are a few people who find the title Coon Bidness offensive. What is the meaning behind it?
Greg Tate

Greg Tate: Coon Bidness (CB) is in the fine colored tradition of reversing racialized polarities, negatives to positives. Many in our vicious circle actually find the name quite delightful. Funny thing is, only Black Americans feel like they can say it out loud without risking a beatdown or being exposed as a closet racist.

But, CB was a well considered if knee-jerk artistic and political choice: LaTasha and I got disgusted over some younguns we know bickerin online about literary journals that published scant few-a-you people of de Negro persuasion. I went ballistic. I told Tasha, 'Man that's some coon bidness there; especially 160 years since self determined folk like Frederick Douglass, Martin Delany and David Walker were self-publishing anti-slavery when Dixie was king and a nickel could get shot just for showing off they literacy.’ Plus, we couldn't call it Emerge, Upscale, Black Enterprise or Black Tail; all the other good Black Progressive names were taken.

CB is also our quiet homage to the late great jazz musician and conceptual dramatist, Julius Hemphill. He released a quite crackling avant-garde album by that name in the 70s. Whatever respectability CB has we've completely borrowed from the very refined and adventurous Mr. Hemphill.

However, CB is also our oblique response to the Obama era. Thanx to Brother President, his gorgeous sensuous ebony Glamazon of a wife Michelle, and those precious kids, Blackfolk have never moved about this land feeling so proud and respectable.

LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs: We did have a conversation about the name of this baby and came to an agreement that one, this was going to show out some folks while others would take the chance and support us with their work. I had folks – good friends – scold me about the name. They felt we (I in particular) was marginalizing/sabotaging myself especially since I am the youngster in this endeavor; that I do not have much suction anywhere and perhaps less resources that entities--be they those in some academic/publishing/programming power--don't know who I am or choose not to know who I am. I am, to a certain degree, taking the greater risk. They hated it. Some choose their petitions to be silent: politely so. Some just told me, ‘Hey I
just don't see myself being associated with some thing called this.’ They did not get it nor did they want to engage.

With that said, it highlighted an argument that is spoken in public when it comes down to our positions as writers of a browner hue. There is a presumed limitations of publications that exists and a an outer worldly desire desire to be accepted by the very publications that have denied us moderate access. That with this desire, we often rather complain and petition these very publications than create something new. The tradition of magazines, journals and chapbook series has always included one or several voices that decided they wanted to establish something ELSE and in doing so, they created yet another platform to feature WHAT they believe in.

With the rise of African-American writers coming out of MFA programs, there seems to be a lapse in realizing and remembering just how much power they have. I remember a talk Al Young gave to a workshop some years ago about opening oneself to the types of publications you least expect publish creative works.

Also, during the summer of 2009, I began researching the works of Al Young and Ishmael Reed. by Al Young

In my research, their history on do-it- yourself (DIY) really jarred me in a positive way. Regardless of what one may assume of their work, they highlighted to me a somewhat forgotten history of DIY publications occurring in their prime. Jayne Cortez is in my opinion, the very person I look to as an inspiration for DIY. She doesn't wait on jack.We have much to learn from her consistency in this matter.

If we turn to 2010, DIY still exists, often manifested in form of the urban novel, the chapbook created by the hottest slam poet, the young spoken word artist who had made a name on the college chitterlin circuit. Vanity publishing has for a moment, resided in the funny place. We celebrate those who can do it and yet, it can be looked down upon. There is an insistence that we can’t do for self without a major publishing house backing us up. And then every couple of months, the New York Times does a story on the cat who sells 10,000 copies of his joint on the subways.

I understand the politics of the game and what that/this means and where it /he/she/they can take. Greg nor I, are not particularly set of following that jive. Perhaps I should. You tell me. Would we be talking about CB had I? We are also giving a big "wake the fuck up bitches" to those who've forgot.

2. How would you define the Coon Bidness aesthetic?

GT: Highbrow but raunchy. Classy but nasty. Charming but racy. Vulgar but impeccable. Tart but smart. Radical but tactical. Militant but pretty like a mutha. We're calling our debutt (sic) 'The Critical Ass Issue' for some profoundly funkybutt reasons. All comedians and shake-dancers know The Ass has quite a mouth on it, a deeply probing intellect, and quite a raffish, roguish style in dress all it's own.

LD: About this particular issue: Ass of all equations. Assed Out. Showing One's Ass. Hot Ass. Prophetic Ass.

Ass Backwards. Sweet Ass. Lack of Ass. Linguistic Ass. About CB in general: Genuine. Intellectual. Young. Flexible. Political. Intimidating. Silent like a samurai.

3. How is Coon Bidness different from other literary magazines?

GT: Besides the obvious, as in being ill enough to BE a literary journal called 'Coon Bidness.' But, just know that when you compare CB to other journals, all I think of is Muhammad Ali. Like The Champ, CB is, ‘the loneliest of boxing’s poet laureates.’ CB is too pretty, too fast, too smart for those other rags to fight. Why, just last week CB, murdered a rock, injured a stone and hospitalized a brick.

LD: I don't if it's better than any at present. I don't know if it's a hot mess. All I can say is that CB may be considered an underdog. CB also scared the chitterlins out of a cab driver last week. When CB is mad, you really should take heed.

4. What were some of the joys and pains putting together the debut issue?

GT: First joy was realizing who among our contacts was too hoity-toity, too chickenchit or just too bored with us to bother consorting with some foolishness called Coon Bidness. Dem kinda proper folk sent us NO work, even after kindly repeated requests. Second joy was the high-cotton caliber of work we did receive from poets, writers and artists, some very well known, some all but unknown. Everybody brought their triple A game, some even brung their triple XXX game. Everybody brought the ruckus--The Bidness, as it were.

Third joy was that some of the best and brightest work in the mag came from writers neither LaTasha nor I had even heard of before we began stockpiling literary weapons. Fourth joy is how pretty our triple-fab designer LaRonda Davis is making CB look. LaRonda got style and she versatile.

Our biggest pain has been proofreading 123 pages of Certifiable Black Genius. Fortunately, our Research Queen/Copy Czar Sun Singleton is crawled up that 'Critical Ass' crack with a blowtorch, some pliers, and an optical speculum, all to insure we don't make a sloppy, medieval strobe-light ass of ourselves once the mag sees the light of day.

LD: We fought. I think we fought because of many of things Greg has already pointed out when we first sent the word out. NO ONE RESPONDED. It was deep. It was painful. It was a WOW moment. And yes, some folks we personally sought sent nothing. Now the reasons for why they don’t know, but it did cause some frustration. So yeah, it hurt my feelings, it hurt Greg’s: not at much to give it up.

When the submissions did start coming, CB began to look serious. We received a range of materials. In any case, we got enough to go blind over and whittle down to 123 pages. We changed the cover art several times because the women artists featured were throwing so many gems at us.

5. From Wallace Thurman's 1926 periodical Fire!! to the more recent Miles Marshall Lewis edited Bronx Biannual, black literary magazines don't seem to last long. How do you hope Coon Bidness will change that cycle?

GT: Ha--one never knows do one? We could be a one-off too. Of course titles do fade and get revived all the time in the publishing world, so maybe all those you mentioned above are merely in limbo, incubating until the Fire Next Time or til the hiphop nation comes back. For the record though, we've already begun working on the sequel ‘Advanced Ebonics.’ Keeping vernacular hope alive since Toussaint wrote the Art of War in kreyol. Nuff said and It's clobberin' time.

LD: Who really knows?. I’m enjoying the frustration and discovery of this endeavor and it’s going to go wherever it decides. We do have some pieces that did not make it to first one up in the second. However, as Greg knows already, I do not want give to this project a deadline or an ultimatum. I like to marinate. Let it be like Nathaniel Mackey’s Hambone and come out whenever we decide or let it be that one issue that set out to fuck with folks. We’ve achieved what we wanted to do.

Coon Bizness will be released on October 14th


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