The Amiri Baraka Film Archive, and other quick updates

 

I was honored to have my essay “The Baraka Film Archive: The Lost, Unmade, and Unseen Film Work of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka” included in the most recent issue of Black Camera, a scholarly journal I really love and admire. It’s a piece that builds on some of the collaborative work I had participated in last year, bringing Baraka’s previously-lost 1968 documentary The New-Ark to Rutgers-Newark (which I also wrote about here, to complete the link-orgy). Continue reading

Merry Belated XXXMas, and Out of the Archives, Into a Book

Not particularly timely update here, but just to log this in the way of eight-newscycles-late blogging lethargy, I co-wrote a fun piece with the great Laura Helen Marks that wound up on Salon on Christmas Day: “Merry XXX-Mas: a brief history of Yuletide smut“!

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Ferguson/Newark/Gender (/Chicago/Brooklyn/etc.): a semester of smut and symposia

Oh dear: we’re a fourth of the way through 2015, and I haven’t posted a damn thing; it’s an internet desert up in here.

The reality is, I’ve just been overwhelmed to the point where blogging, the whole point of which is to be a fun mode of writing (in contrast to the soul-killing slog of generating publishable scholarly prose—or maybe I’m just bitter because I’ve had a few rejections lately and had thus toiled fruitlessly on the apparently unpublishable), has felt more like a burden. But I also have a backlog of Newark films to write about, so here’s a clearing of the pipes, mostly an excuse to post some cool images.

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We kicked off this semester at Women’s & Gender Studies by bringing Pop-Up Museum of Queer History founder Hugh Ryan and Vice photo editor Matt Leifheit to Newark to discuss the life and art of David Wojnarowicz—a great presentation that finally got me reading the copy of Wojnarowicz’s book Closer to the Knives, which I’ve had sitting around for nearly a decade.

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Then there was my run of smut-related events. I was honored to have an essay (“Queer Smut, Queer Rights”—okay, kind of on the nose, but I must have been in a terse and bitter state when I wrote it) in this new collection, New Views on Pornography: Sexuality, Politics, and the Law, edited by Lynn Comella and Shira Tarrant, with great pieces by people I really dig, like Carolyn Bronstein and Mireille Miller-Young. Lynn and Shira have been getting the word out in ways that put my own pathetic promotional efforts to shame, including a nice interview (albeit one saddled with an awful clickbait title—though isn’t everything these days) in Salon.

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rewinding is bourgeois decadence

I also got to venture to DePaul University in Chicago to give a talk sponsored by the American Studies Department, which had a poster I loved dearly and was the first time I’ve ever been introduced with a reference to OMGcatrevolution, courtesy department chair Amy Tyson.

Next, I participated in a panel, “Documenting Sex: Passionate Collections,” at the NYC Porn Film Festival in Brooklyn. Our discussion of archives may have lacked the flair of the Tila Tequila sex video (also screening at the fest!), but it drew a surprisingly packed house, with a cool and engaged crowd, so kudos to Richard John Jones for planning and executing a rockin’ series. Also, there was a fun article about it in Brokelyn, with one of the only pictures of myself I’ve ever liked. Mostly because of Priapus letting his stuff hang out above us.

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(Apparently the Godz of Lulz have spoken, since we also made it into Mashable, with another delightful shot, albeit one that forces a certain contrast between physique models and panelists):

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For reasons beyond my comprehension—okay, “filling dead air,” I believe—radio station NJ101 interviewed me about why New Jerseyans looked at so much porn during a snow day. I mean, I spend my time in archives and have no idea why people do anything, but I tried. “Maybe people in New Jersey were more disappointed by the failed snowstorm and needed something to compensate” was the best I could do.

(Finally, thanks to a Google Alert that rarely goes off, I also got to see my debut in the Latino media, in an article about average penis size. Okay, it just quotes something bland I said to the Temple student newspaper several years ago, but whatever, I was all, “hey, I’m famous” for a good fourteen seconds).

One thing that brought me great delight was collaborating with Women-in-Media Newark, which ran a remarkable Women’s History Month film series (as they do every year). I had long hoped to do a screening of Janie’s Janie, the early 70s feminist documentary that I wrote about a few years ago, and last year we were set to do it with W-I-M and the Ironbound Community Corporation (whose origins are documented a bit in the film), until a really unfortunate fire at the ICC derailed it. So kudos to Pamela Morgan at W-I-M for sticking with the idea, because the series opened with this at Aljira in downtown Newark, and drew a big, enthused, eclectic crowd. Everyone from Janie’s daughters to the singer of the theme song (who performed it!) was there, and I introduced the film and moderated a panel with Peter Barton, the co-director, Nancy Zak from the ICC, and artist Alyson Pou. The whole thing was pretty exhilarating.

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Lastly, the WGS symposium: Ferguson/Newark/Gender had been planned for early March, then canceled because of a tragically misplaced snowstorm. It was a colossal bummer—presenters had flown out from Pittsbugh, L.A., and elsewhere, and the non-event was heartbreaking.

It took some serious juggling, and not everyone was able to make it back, but we still held a rescheduled version yesterday. Check that amazing poster, courtesy Christina Strasburger and Eric Ortiz.

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I’m hardly neutral here, but I thought it was pretty great. Nyle Fort and Darnell Moore offered brilliant comments on the need to expand current resistance narratives beyond police brutality to the less visible, but daily, state violence against people of color, with Moore pushing the crowd to really begin imagining how a liberated black future might even look. On the second panel, Elizabeth Parker from the Puerto Rican Community Archives at the Newark Public Library spoke on the politics of preservation and historical memory, I talked about a lost gay left in Newark that hasn’t been written about much, and Kwame Holmes delivered a fascinating new analysis of the sexual politics of urban crisis and riots, which left black sexuality itself trapped in a structural queering of sorts. I’m not doing justice to the complexity of any of this (there’s some great live-Tweeting of it courtesy Andy Lester at the Rutgers-Newark WGS Twitter), but my head is still spinning from it all. It was an honor to be involved with such important activists and scholars, and I’m profoundly grateful we were able to pull this off after the disheartening cancellation last month.

Some pics, courtesy Tim Stewart-Winter (who generously moderated the second panel):

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And with that, I’m caught up at last–Newark film blogging to resume shortly, finally!

tallying notches

I have been a failed blogger of late, letting this thing linger unattended for far longer than I’d have liked; this semester has kinda swallowed me whole. But just to keep track of some things I’ve done elsewhere, a quick rundown:

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The brand-new collection Understanding and Teaching U.S. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History, edited by Leila Rupp and Susan Freeman and published by the University of Wisconsin Press, has a great set of essays by a bunch of historians whose work I admire immensely, so it’s a thrill to have a piece of my own, “The New Right’s Antigay Backlash,” included. The title of my essay, however, pales in comparison to several of the others–with the indisputable highlight, IMHO, being Ian Lekus’s “Queers of Hope, Gays of Rage: Reexamining the Sixties in the Classroom.” Seriously, I wish I had come up with that.

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Then there’s this mysterious LP, which led Mary Rizzo and I to write a two-part investigation of Moms Mabley, historical memory, scholarly wish-fulfillment, and internet knowledge-production at the Public History Commons–“Moms at the Myth,” part one here, part two here. This one was a lot of fun to write.

Marc Stein is one of my favorite historians, so seeing him give a talk in Philly last month was a real treat. Wrote about it here, in an essay called “Queer Sex in the Archives,” at the hip new history of sexuality blog Notches–and Marc’s latest article, related to his talk, just appeared in Radical History Review, scrutinizing the continued absence of the Philly-based 1960s periodical Drum from homophile historiography. Highly recommended!

Finally, I was honored to have Perversion for Profit favorably reviewed by the great Rebecca Davis in the Journal of Women’s History, alongside other important new books by Carolyn Bronstein, Elizabeth Fraterrigo, and Carrie PItzulo, and apparently I made my national television debut on an updated version of the History Channel’s History of Sex, which exists somewhere out there in the digital wasteland but I can’t quite bring myself to look (pretty sure I’m better on a keyboard than in front of a camera, in every way). But most important, we at the OMGcatrevolution tumblr only just learned that we’d been cited in the Sydney Morning Herald many months ago–now that‘s the kind of thing that I can revel in!

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On a much sadder note, however, my friend and colleague Clement Price, whose image graces the very post below this one, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly earlier this month. It’s a colossal loss, to Newark and everyone whose life he touched–a group which, judging by the wake and funeral held the other week, was nearly immeasurable. This blog would probably not exist without Clem’s influence; it was he who got me started watching Newark films, loaned me rare works like the Sightseeing in Newark VHS that opened my eyes to the city’s rich cinematic history, and regularly provided pointers and insights when I had questions. It’s a minor example of Clem’s impact, but a perfect example of his generosity and warmth. There’s an extensive list of articles, obituaries, and tributes to him here that show just how far these qualities reached. He will be dearly missed.

Queer Newark updates

A few quick updates related to the Queer Newark Oral History Project, with which I am involved at Rutgers:

We’re planning an October historical panel on queer club spaces in Newark, through the lens of “Sanctuary.” It’ll happen in conjunction with a remarkable monthlong series of events throughout the city, ranging from art exhibits to a resurrection of the HIV/AIDS fundraiser FIREBall. So, building toward this, I’ve updated the Queer Newark bibliography that I maintain, with a new section on clubs and ballrooms.

As well, we’ve created a new document: a working timeline of queer clubs in Newark, from the 1940s through the early 21st century. It’s a rough, preliminary sketch, but we’re hoping it will be generative in drawing feedback, additions, corrections, oral history leads, and–most pressingly, at the moment–visual material for the panel. Queer Newark has been woefully under-archived, very much a function of the overlapping and intersecting axes of social marginalization that mark its history; bars, clubs, and ballrooms provide a local counterpoint to the homophile, gay liberation, and queer activist groups that played a central role in other cities from Los Angeles to Philadelphia–but of course, the spaces of Queer Newark left less of a paper trail (that’s the great thing about formal bureaucracies, to any historian). As a result, whatever documentary trail is out there remains privately held–diaries, letters, photos, memorabilia, etc. We are very much hoping community members will be inspired by this project to share some of their holdings–and thereby contribute to the collaborative history we hope to facilitate through this project. (If anyone has leads, by all means, please let me know!).

Meanwhile, I’m also delighted that an article I had a hand in writing just appeared in a great upstart journal–QED: A Journal in GLBTQ Worldmaking, which just began publishing last year and has already delivered powerful theme issues on “the end of bullying” and Chelsea Manning. The new issue is about queer pasts and presents, and features this:

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Right now, a free pdf of the article is available at the QED site; if that disappears and anyone wants to read it, just let me know.

I’d never written a collaborative scholarly article before, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better set of collaborators: Darnell Moore is an astonishingly productive writer, scholar, and activist (I could get carried away describing his work, but examples: inaugural chair of the pathbreaking Newark mayoral LGBT advisory commission; author of a fantastic Advocate cover story, “Black, LGBT, American,” last year; editor at The Feminist Wire; a very long “and etc.”); Beryl Satter is an historian whose important book Family Properties has been foundational to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s ongoing series on race, real estate, and reparations at The Atlantic (as he just again acknowledged, this very day!); and Tim Stewart-Winter, having written superb pieces on everything from the Castro to WWII conscientious objectors, has a book in progress about gay politics and race in Chicago, and I couldn’t be more excited about it. I am truly privileged to count all three as friends and colleagues.

So, that’s what’s in progress. On a lighter note, I couldn’t resist this: the debut appearance of this very blog in a scholarly journal! I probably should have taken five extra minutes last year and come up with something less ridiculous than “Strublog,” but so it goes:

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catching up: recent work and trembling in the face of book reviews

A few new pieces that I wanted to mention here—

Most recently, I did a really long-form interview about Obscenity Rules over at the Critical Margins site. It took me an unconscionably long time to finish, but that’s a testament to the great questions Hope Leman asked—it’s always an honor when anyone takes your work seriously enough to really dig into it with sharp inquiries, so I’m grateful to Hope, and hope it makes for a good, if perhaps lengthy, read.

Also, cool pic:

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The other thing I’m most excited about is a four-(short!)-part historical essay on Queer Newark that I co-wrote with my friend and colleague Tim Stewart-Winter, over at the wonderful OutHistory.org. This stems out of work we’re both involved in with the Queer Newark Oral History Project at Rutgers-Newark, and it’s something I care about on multiple levels—both my love for the local community in Newark, and also my excitement as an historian to think methodologically about under-documented histories.

Writing for OutHistory works on a different (but only slightly different, I think) register than formal scholarly prose, but because there are very few LGBT archives in Newark, Tim and I had to approach this history through literary texts, brief glimpses in straight histories that often skip right over important material (I have a heartbreaking example from an oral history with a now-deceased activist that I might write more about later), and other sources. It could definitely use more oral history, to be sure—but it’s only a sketch, and something I know both Tim and I—not to mention the rest of the QNOHP!—plan to return to from various angles (in fact, we have another piece underway for a journal, which will hopefully come out later this year).

Also, we tried to think very visually for the piece—it’s full of great images, but my favorite is this, which I found while flipping through endless LGBT New Jersey periodicals of the 1970s, and finding very little about Newark. Then, in the March 1975 issue of Hold Hands, newsletter of the Gay Activist Alliance of New Jersey, presto! Now I want to learn more about this place…

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Finally, I meant to post this two months ago, but I also did a guest post at the always-enjoyable Writers Read blog in January, about what I was reading. I leave for California in two days, and as always, will be packing some Donald Westlake.

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And then there are book reviews. I wrote one, for the latest Journal of American History, on Leigh Ann Wheeler’s fantastic new book How Sex Became a Civil Liberty, which caused me to look at the early ACLU’s sexual-rights efforts in a whole new light (I’ve been pretty critical of midcentury ACLU obscenity policy in my own work), and also puts a smart, fresh spin on the consumerist nature of 20th-century American civil liberties. Definitely highly recommended  (as is Wheeler’s first book, Against Obscenity, which inspired me when I was in grad school).

The other book reviews are more nerve-wracking, since they review me (well, my book, but what is a book to a neurotic academic but an extension of the ever-fragile self?). Having one’s book reviewed is akin to receiving a public peer review, except without the option of crumpling it in shame and going into hiding. Fortunately, Gillian Frank’s review of Perversion for Profit in the latest Journal of the History of Sexuality is a positive one—which is a relief, because I’m a huge admirer of Frank’s own work (I’ve assigned both his “Discophobia” article and his recent, really amazing, article on the racial origins of Anita Bryant’s late-70s antigay campaign). He calls me out for some points that are “underelaborated,” such as the contrast between nominally-secular antiporn activism of the 60s and the “marked religiosity” of such efforts in the 80s—and I find myself in agreement, wishing I had further developed this theme. Perhaps in a future essay…

Alas, Perversion fares less well at the hands of Timothy Hodgdon at H-1960s. Hodgdon does have some rather flattering things to say (he may be the only person on earth to have ever called me a “polymath”—wholly untrue, but delightful to pretend I’m in the company of my former Temple colleague Samuel Delany!), but the title of the review, “For Want of a Nail, a Shoe was Lost,” kind of sums it up.

It’s probably churlish to bicker with a review on a blog, so I won’t—the truth is, while I don’t agree with all of Hodgdon’s quite extensive critiques, I do agree with several of them; most painful is his observation of my “remarkably truncated understanding of the history of liberalism.” This one hurts because Perversion is a somewhat lumbering beast of a book, and even still required extensive whittling down to meet my (already generous) word count. A more thorough analysis of liberalism was something I knew belonged there (and even existed there, in earlier incarnations), but something had to give, and much of that discussion wound up on the cutting-room floor.

I’m not sure what I’d do differently today—cutting material is always challenging for me, probably because I’m guilty of the great historian sin of falling too in love with my material—but in any case, I agree with Hodgdon that, given the centrality of liberal sexual politics to the book, the history of liberalism more broadly should be better developed. Mea culpa.

Hodgdon’s review makes for a good, if occasionally idiosyncratic read (it might be the only scholarly book review I’ve read to take note of the author’s undergraduate majors!). I winced at my first encounter, but returning to it now, I return to my above comment about gratitude for sheer engaged reading—even though Hodgdon thinks I lost my shoe (something I’ve certainly done in real life, not even figuratively, including the time I kicked it onto the roof of my elementary school), he clearly read the book carefully and critically, so I’m grateful for that. Though if the next review were to be a glowing assessment that finds no flaws whatsoever in the book, that would be okay too; if any book-review editors need my mother’s email address, please just ask…

And OMG: the actual best review of the recent past comes not of a book, but of OMGcatrevolution, the collaborative tumblr on cats in radical cinema that may actually be my greatest (shared) achievement; longtime, awesome film-blogger Girish Shambu called it “a great website on cats and cinema.” Terse, but utterly satisfying!

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Sightseeing in Newark (1927) and a reverie on a scholarly journal article

Rarely do I enjoy a scholarly journal article as much as I did Caitlin McGrath’s “’I Have Seen the Future’: Home Movies of the 1939 New York World’s Fair,” from the fall 2013 The Moving Image, which I read while traveling home last night. It’s something of an esoteric niche topic, I know, but McGrath uses the abundance of home movies shot at the fair to make very smart historical points about how these seemingly dull, often inept films can become useful in giving “a more palpable sense of what feeling swept away, overwhelmed, and dazzled by the fair looked like; stylistically, they reflect the excitement and confusion that resulted from such a visually stimulating environment.”

Now, I’m quite partial to home-movie studies, a small but fascinating academic field that grew largely out of Patricia Zimmerman’s 1995 book Reel Families, partly for idiosyncratic personal reasons (perhaps due to my own misspent youth as an amateur filmmaker, making backyard micro-epics like Chuck and Bob Fight Saddam Hussein, shot in miserable Wasilla, Alaska during the first Gulf War and reflecting some deeply internalized American triumphalism that definitely preceded my introduction to punk and Noam Chomsky; I will still vouch for Those Who Have Puked, though). But I think the genre could profitably be linked to work on early gay erotic cinema, too—I sort of missed my chance when writing about Pat Rocco’s guerilla-shot gay Los Angeles films, but maybe someone should situate Bob Mizer’s Athletic Model Guild physique films—newly available on DVD—in this context, that could be interesting.

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