The Common Good
November-December 2001

A Few of My Favorite Things

by E. Ethelbert Miller | November-December 2001

Besides watching baseball (especially Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle
Mariners), here are a few other favorites of poet and writer E. Ethelbert Miller:

Besides watching baseball (especially Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners), here are a few other favorites of poet and writer E. Ethelbert Miller:

dark, by Kenji Jasper (Broadway Books). When a new novelist appears with a good book, critics can often go overboard. I read about Jasper in The Washington Post and decided to see what the fuss was about. dark marks a bright spot on the bookstore shelf. With an overabundance of black romance being published, there is often a need to relax with a book in which the language is major league. Jasper’s character Thai Williams is a young man living in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Thai pulls us into his world of violence and we see things from his perspective, not one revealed on the evening news. His killing of another young black man kicks the book off; you’ll be running until the last page.

West of Rehoboth, by Alexs D. Pate (William Morrow). Pate can tie two stories together like a boy scout on a field trip. His latest book captures black life during those Delaware summers when folks wanted to get out of places like Philadelphia and see the beach. Here, generations interact and we understand secrets as well as traditions. The two main characters are a young boy, Edward, and his mysterious Uncle Rufus. The second part of this book overshadows the first couple of chapters, and the ending is too sweet for my taste. But Pate gives riffs on paper that make you stop and look for the choir. His novel will make you think twice about the identity of old black men walking down the streets of our neighborhood. It’s also a good book about coming of age.

The Essential Miles Davis (Columbia Records). Just released this year, this is the music I pack in my bag and take to work; it’s best to begin the day with "Now’s the Time" and "’Round Midnight." The full range of Miles Davis’ career is represented here—from 1945 to 1986. Even the cotton candy ditty "Time After Time" is included.

Miles Davis and American Culture, edited by Gerald Early (University of Missouri Press). This is the book on my desk I want to read. It looks awesome. Essays and interviews. Quincy Jones, Quincy Troupe, Ron Carter, Alex Haley’s Playboy interview with Davis...all here. Whew...I want to jump into this book. I need to find the time, now the seasons are changing and I’m humming "Someday My Prince Will Come."

Rise, by A. Van Jordan (Tia Chucha Press). This is the best book of poetry I’ve read from cover to cover in a long time. No skimming here. Too many gems. "A Debt is Paid" and the long poem "John Henry Tells Alan Lomax About the Work Song the Night Before He Races the Steam Drill" will make you place Van Jordan somewhere between Sterling A. Brown and Yusef Komunyakaa. After I read Rise, I went around town reciting the last words from Jordan’s "Beggar’s Song":

Let my naked body be a mirror to the world.
Smell what lack of love does to the flesh.

E. Ethelbert Miller is chair of the Humanities Council of Washington, D.C. His most recent book is Fathering Words: The Making of an African American Writer.

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