This past weekend really put icing on the cake. The cake I’m talking about is the Essence Music Fest in New Orleans and meeting all those incredible people and stock piling photos and video—the episode in the Hilton Hotel room. Wow.Just the hoot that made my year so far a hot; alright, well maybe hot and wet. But hot nonetheless. Anyway, life is that rollercoaster ride these days; I served as the Master of Ceremonies for the Wheatley Awards (I’ll be uploading a lot of the audience comments soon to www.youtube.com/relentless )
The evening was a complete gas for me (or my ego), especially when this one lil’ old lady got in my ear to say: “You really should stop acting so silly up there. This isn’t the Apollo.” I wanted to give the lady a tongue-lashing for being TOP HATER. But she was just so sweet wearing that robe of stupidity—you know these types because you too have cursed them out (at least in your mind) for driving 30 miles per hour in the 60mph lane. Actually, she was even out-done when I rushed to the lobby to capture video clips—testimonials from most everyone who left the Shomburg Auditorium.
After a few dozen mentioned how ‘awesome’ I was as the emcee, this one pretty, black chic had her nose up in the air. When I asked her how I did, she made a face. Then she hesitated before finally agreeing to comment. But just before she could get one word out, another audience member rushed us and in place of some thunderous applause he cheered about how great I did. I immediately seized the moment and said, “well you know these events can be kind of tight, and bourgie.” Emphasis on the word tight. And no I did not simultaneously turned my nose up for the pretty-bourgie-tight snob to see up close while she witnessed this! Oh hell yeah I did. The impact of this moment was amusing at least, to be at the center of this difference of opinion, but Miss bourgie didn’t think it was funny that the gentlemen accompanying her caught on and snickered. Today, I can still see the fire in her pretty eyes as she tried to suppress her discontent.How dare I?!
Here was my STATE OF THE INDUSTRY speech for the 2008 Wheatley Awards…
I realized how relevant I was when I got a call to be a guest on Ed Gordon’s NPR Radio Broadcast, called ‘News & Notes’. The segment was set up as a (sort of) debate between some guy who was upset about his being ‘grouped’ into a genre known as ‘urban lit’ and how the majority of our generation’s books were beginning to look sordid by the overtones of sex and violence. And then you had me, fresh out of prison, wet with sweat from my disciplined work on the streets, and game for a fight from whatever direction is was waged. Ed Gordon’s producers could’ve called upon Sista Solja, Eric Jerome Dickey or even Omar Tyree. But I was the one tossed ‘into the fire’. (side note: I handled myself very well; not at all what you’d expect from a man so hood with his books, yet so prolific in his interviews.)And what does relevant mean to all of us? Well, you need to be well versed, with knowledge of publishing, the current events of our industry and even the history of our craft. But not until so recently was I even familiar with the writings of Alice Walker, James Baldwin or even Langston Hughes. See, I was that mischievous kid who grew into a teenage mutant, and then a wayward adult. But, like I tell people, I WAS ONCE A WEED, LEFT ON THE FORREST FLOOR TO FEND FOR MYSELF. BUT BECAUSE OF CERTAIN REFERENCES IN MY LIFE, I KNEW I WOULD NOT SURRENDER TO THE FORCES SUPPRESSING ME. I WOULD NOT BLEND IN WITH THE REST OF THE FORREST FLOOR. SEE, I HAD REFERENCES IN MY LIFE LIKE MY DAD, WHO LOST HIS LEG JUST AS HE WAS TO PLAY FOR THE
After the coffee and our goodbyes at IHOP on 135th, I stopped by PJ’s to say hi to Pat (she wasn’t there) so I strolled on over to Zip Code in my white suit (appropriate for the literary awards, NOT the streets of Harlem at midnight. But, nevertheless, I let it do what it do, and stepped into ZC where my man Unique (owner of the since closed Entertainers, on Webster Av) was waiting for the fashion show to end so that he could get his regular promotion off the ground. “I promote Thursday, Friday & Saturday” Unique said. And it’s good to see Unique doing well, after spending many days and nights in that same environment I was in so many years ago. (Do your research). Meanwhile, the fashion show that my baby featured in came to a close, and I went in to snap some pics.
Shetalia (you know the chic) came maad late, and got in some photos too; don’t know how! Keep in mind, it’s nearing 1am, and I have a full day of interviews at the Harlem Book Fair ahead of me!
Snapping photos, podcast interviews and video interview was my agenda from 9am. I recall how it was once me who was up all night planning for this huger-than-huge event, looking forward to meeting readers and showing them the latest Relentless Aaron products. Except, this year was different. This year I’d play Anderson Cooper (since he wasn’t available) and I’d get as much exposure for as many of the authors as I could.
The results would be endless youtube clips and more comments than I could handle from authors who admired my climb from the bottom. That, I guess, was one of the fring benefits of my plans. But the blessings that came my way were pretty incredible; such as the 40 or 50 students who just happened to be touring the Shomburg Library. Of course, they had no clue about the book fair taking place on the street just outside, so I took license to be their tour guide for ten minutes. We were directed to a room in the library and I got an impulsive opportunity to give a speech (cause that’s what I do). And I commenced to explaining about the Harlem Books Fair, it’s history and about my own emergence in the industry. Of course I recorded the moment for a podcast, and there were questions thereafter.
3:45 – 5:00p
FICTION OR NONFICTION: WHICH IS THE GREATER TRUTH?
MODERATOR: Relentless Aaron (Author/Publisher/Street Lit Phenom)
PANELISTS: James Cherry (Shadow of Light), Kimbala Lawson Roby (One In A Million), Nelson George (The James Brown Reader), Kenji Jasper. aka D, (Got) Art and life often mirror each other but never more so than in fiction writing. These popular, best selling authors discuss their work, the sources of their inspiration, the advantages and disadvantages of writing in each genre, and just how far their fiction falls from.
Nelson George, Kimberly Lawson Roby and Kenji Jasper were the only authors to show (no sign of James), and we already got off to a rocky start because (frankly) I wasn’t prepared. However, Kimberla is familiar to me, and Nelson is a God in this game (to me, at least), and I’ve sold or promoted a few of Kenji’s books; so this would be a cinch. There were no debates, not really a lot of difference of opinion, and the audience, for the most part, was receptive.
The only issue I did NOT agree with was that James Brown’s music was somehow the bread and butter of life; the air and water, the earth. NOT. Sure, he spoke in important themes, but (in my opinion) music and entertainment is just that, and hardly feeds the masses, clothes them or protects them from inclement weather. Sugar-coating our rough rides through these concerns? Yes. Music and entertainment DOES that. But it is not the brick and mortar of life. James Brown (God Bless him), Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, included. If I had to choose between a cd or a hammer in the woods, damn right I’d take the hammer. And in a few hours, I’d have some semblance of a roof over my head.
That said, we really were four intelligent souls who spilled our beans on the table for all to interpret. The entire panel discussion was videotaped, and we will be uploading! Every other part of the Harlem Book Fair was euphoric. Let the pictures tell the rest of the story! Word.
Note: Maad Pics from the Harlem Book Fair: www.myspace.com/relentlessaaron