Monday, November 05, 2007
iconoclasts

The Sundance Channel has this really wonderful series called "Iconoclasts"...where they pair up two people who often don't know each other in 'life' though they are certainly familiar with each other by reputation....And they meet and spend time with one another talking about all sorts of things regarding their life experience and their work, as well..... It is a fascinating, informative and often moving 50 minutes or so The ones that have interested me the most have to do with two people who's lives have more in common than not, though the threads of that commonality may appear to be somewhat obscure. The two that stand out for me are Dave Chappele and Maya Angelou....the first of these pairings that I saw, and the most recent one which played on Friday night, Alicia Keys and Ruby Dee....Here is a little YouTube clip from this one:

It is obvious in a way that the disparity of age is an important factor....in each case, there is an 'elder' and there is a 'younger'. The conversations that Dave Chappelle had with Maya Angelou were just fabulous. Her life experience as a black woman in America in contrast to his experience as a young man of color, decades later, were quite illuminating and wonderful...The respect that they have for one another----the things that they both admire in each other, well....it was a very informative meeting of people, not just for each other, but for the audience, too.....A stunning meeting, one might say....Here is a short little clip from that show:
The time that Ruby Dee and Alicia Keys spent together was so sweet and so filled with the exchange that two 'artists' can have with each other....so much respect for one another...I found it deeply touching. In this program, they each took the other to the place where they started their growth as artists....Ruby Dee to the actual Theatre where she got her start as an actress, in Harlem, and Alicia Keys took 'Miss Dee', as she called her throughout the program, to Hell's Kitchen where she grew up and to the theatre there where she got her start....They shared poetry and songs and history and their talent....

Both these particular programs had a theme in common. Both Maya Angelou and Ruby Dee lived through incredibly historic times in the struggle for Civil Rights.
Both knew Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, very very well.....this history, these important milestones of the struggle for 'change' are part of what made both these women who they are today. The 'youngers' get to hear this history and 'feel' it right from someone who lived it....How special is that? To me, it is everything. Here we have extremely talented and successful people getting together and sharing life experiences with one another and we as an audience have the privilege of peeking in on this sharing....This series is a truly spectacular idea of the amazingly talented Robert Redford, and it comes off like gangbusters. Other pairings that have already aired are Redford and Paul Newman---I think that was the very first one of the very first season.And Renee Zellweger and CNN news correspondent Christiane Amanpor---that was a wonderful one, too, Sumner Redstone & Brian Grazer--a very interesting one because these two men are powerhouses in their work and so very many more...
If you get a chance, look for it on The Sundance Channel...you won't be sorry, I promise you....
Watching Ruby Dee, I was reminded of a couple things...
My introduction to Langston Hughes' poetry was around 1958-59, while watching a wonderful series on PBS, (I think), called Camera 3.....Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis spent the whole half hour reciting in a very artful way, all this wonderful poetry by a number of black writers....it was, actually, my introduction to many writers I was unfamiliar with, and also my introduction to a side of these two wonderful actors that I had not seen before---their love of and their commitment to writers of color, and the sharing of same to a mostly white audience who like me, had probably never heard of any of them till that morning....

About thirty years later, I went to a book signing, with my dear friend Rosetta LeNoire, held here in Los Angeles, of a book called "IN THE SHADOW OF THE GREAT WHITE WAY" - Images from the Black Theatre. This great book features the magnificent photographs of Bert Andrews. Images which he took in and around the greater New York area of a certain period of all the Black Theatre that was happening at the time.....The story of how this book came about is pretty miraculous in and of itself. Due to a horrendous fire in 1985, the building that housed Bert Andrews Studio in New York City on the corner of 8th Avenue and 46th street was destroyed and with it went 40,000 to 50,000 images and negatives. A devastating loss to say the least....

But because of that devastating fire, Bert Andrews went to all the theatres were he had photographed plays, actors, playwrights and directors---the Negro Ensemble Theatre Company, the New Federal Theatre, the Frank Silvera Workshop, the Richard Allen Cultural Center, etc.---to see what each of them might still have of the photographs he had taken over those years. He was able to retrieve almost 2000 prints and in so doing, a history of black theatre and all the great great artists who had worked in plays at those theatres during that time---1957 to 1984, were saved and preserved and now reside in a special place in Schonburg Center, in The New York Public Library, at Lenox Avenue and 135th Street...Not far from where Ruby Dee got start as an actress.This book signing was a joyous joyous evening...so very many actors, playwrights, directors, etc, who are in the pictures included in the book--I believe there are 150 or so pictures....were there. The feeling in the room was unlike any other event that I have ever been to, before or since, of this nature....There was so much love and camaraderie in that room---I was utterly thrilled to be there and to be among 'artists' who I admired so greatly. I got to talk to Ruby Dee and she signed my book along with many other special people....

And I also thought about my slight connection to Maya Angelou, too....
In 1994 I was invited to a special book signing by another very dear friend, Samella Lewis, an artist and Art Historian as well as one of the bravest and smartest women I have ever known. This book was a "special limited edition" of a true work of art---A book of poems by Maya Angelou called "OUR MOTHERS" with beautiful illustration by the incredibly talented artist John T. Biggers....It is an over sized book---22" X 17", with a very beautiful cloth binding and it sits in it's own protective box, just big enough to hold the book.....I honestly do not remember how many books are in this Limited Edition, but I believe it was no more than Five hundred. I will have to look this up....Samella had invited about 50 or so people there and Maya Angelou was to be there signing books in this edition as well as another published edition without the illustrations, etc, of just a regular sized book of the same poetry....


It turned out that there were only a very small amount of the "special Edition" at Samella's house that day, and when they ran out, there would be no more available for signing---at least not there. When it came time for the actual signing---Miss Angelou had arrived and spoken to us as a group for a short time----Miss Angelou took her position behind a large table, big enough to hold this huge heavy book, where she would be signing them.
Everyone formed a line and I was about halfway back in the line...And this edition was quite expensive because, indeed, you were buying a work of art....! I didn't know if I would be lucky enough to get one, but I hoped I would. Maya Angelou took a lot of time with each person who bought a book---weather the special edition or the regular edition.....I was so impressed with her complete total interest in whomever sat down next to her...It was awesome! As I got closer and closer, I could see the small pile of these special editions dwindling before my eyes....But, as luck would have it, I got the very last one and I believe there were only ten all together.
At my turn, Maya Angelou greeted me and said to sit down and then proceeded to talk to me as if I was the only person in the room, just as she had with everyone else. Interested in what I did and how I knew Samella, etc....I realized later---much much later, that when I said my name was Naomi Caryl, she took that to mean that this was my first name, like Carol Ann, or Joanie Sue, and so when she signed the book, she wrote, 'Naomi Caryl' Joy! and signed her name and the date, 9/11/94.

This was a very special afternoon for me for so very many reasons, not the least of which was and is, my deep admiration for this great great artist. I do feel incredibly lucky to have met and/or known so very many inspiring people throughout my life.....these women---Ruby Dee, Maya Angelou, Rosetta LeNoire, Samella Lewis....all have been inspiring to me on many many levels....these four women growing up in a basically racist country, achieved so much with such odds against them that one cannot even imagine....three are still alive, Bless them, and one, Rosetta, has left us....But all of them are fantastic role models of a life well lived in spite of adversity's that are unimaginable....So do watch ICONOCLASTS and see what grace and wisdom and talent that Ruby Dee and Maya Angelou possess. It touches me more than I can say.......

More To Come.......







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31 Comments:
had this to say:

Ohhhh Naomi! Maya Angelou!! I could listen to her voice all day long! Yes, I would call it lucky that you were so fortunate to meet and talk with her..(and get that last book!)

Monday, November 5, 2007 at 3:38:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

I listened to a lovely interview with Ruby Dee on NPR last week. You can check it out here...http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=15803385

What a class act she is!

Monday, November 5, 2007 at 4:34:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

I really wish we got the sundance Channel! What a fabulous post, Naomi, with people who are truly iconoclasts for the ages. They are/were all wonderful. Is there anyone whose smile can light up a room the way that Maya Angelou's can?

Monday, November 5, 2007 at 4:49:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

Iconoclasts - what a fascinating concept for a show! I have not heard of it before, but perhaps we have it showing here on foxtel (cable) - I don't have a lot of time to discover much on tv but will definately see if I can find this one.

A very inspiring post. Thank you!

Monday, November 5, 2007 at 5:42:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

I've been watching Iconoclasts since it started and TiVo every episode. I just love that show and this last one with Ruby and Alicia was great!

Monday, November 5, 2007 at 9:00:00 AM PST 

Blogger PI
had this to say:

This is such a fantastic post- so much loving enthusiasm and information. Some times we are lucky and some of your better programmes make their way across the ocean. How I hope Iconoclasts comes our way. Thank you for sharing it Naomi.
I have often heard Maya on the radio and can now recognise her voice.

Monday, November 5, 2007 at 11:21:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

What a treasure to have, Naomi. I love the Maya writes, the way she puts words together compassionately.
Thanks for sharing another great story.
~S :)

Monday, November 5, 2007 at 12:05:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

Sounds like an absoultely wonderful program to watch, Naomi !

Monday, November 5, 2007 at 2:00:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

i have noticed the series listed on my channel guide, but never stopped to watch it. next time i catch it showing, i definately will. we pay way too much money to have all the channels comcast offers in our area, so we actually do get the station now.

when i noticed your comment on the doggie law sign, the first thing that went through my head (before i read the comment of course) was a long time ago you had a post on your blog with a picture of a fellow who used a tiffany bag to carry away his dogs "treasure". that picture still makes me smile.

Monday, November 5, 2007 at 2:01:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

Another great entry, sharing with us so much wonderful information. I've always admired Maya Angelou. Such a dynamic and inspirational woman.
This series sounds terrific. I'll have to check if we get that channel. It seems like a wonderful way of "passing it on." Both the series and you sharing it all with us.
I'm curious, Naomi....what are your thoughts on the current writer's strike? Saw them in LA on the news tonight and was wondering how you felt about it.

Monday, November 5, 2007 at 4:24:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

Sounds like a great show!

And thanks for the memories :)

Monday, November 5, 2007 at 5:12:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

I had heard about that program and then totally forgot it. I am sure I would love it. That kind of program is always fascinating to me. Thanks for the reminder to not forget it again.

Monday, November 5, 2007 at 5:19:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

What an absolutely lovely post...I don't get the programme u speak of, but maybe it will come out on dvd some day ,,,would love to see the shows!!

Monday, November 5, 2007 at 7:52:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

Oh, dash it all we don't get that channel because those clips looked amazing. I would have loved to have seen the Robert Redford and Paul Newman show.

Monday, November 5, 2007 at 11:14:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

We get the Sundance Channel but I forget about it a lot, what with the trillions of other channels, but I loved those clips and will look for this show in the future. I've always said you've had a great life. Are you going to write a memoir? I wish you would. I still want to hear about your connection with "The Byrds."

Tuesday, November 6, 2007 at 12:04:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

I will have to check out Iconoclasts. Thank you for pointing it out to me. I would love to see Maya Angelo and Dave Chappelle...I enjoy both of them for very different reasons.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007 at 4:38:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

I will have to tune into this show. I know I'll love it. I especially enjoyed the Maya Angelou/Dave Chappelle clip. Ms. Angelou's poetry is phenomenal; she is just that, a phenomenal woman.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007 at 7:37:00 AM PST 

Blogger Art
had this to say:

A fascinating post. I've never heard of that show but it sounds wonderful.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007 at 10:59:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

That Sundance Channel sounds great! And I didn't know this lady until today. You always have such interesting stories and I am always amazed how you remember everything so well! that's real talent ::wink::

Tuesday, November 6, 2007 at 11:00:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

Thank you so much for all of the history and photographs you include with your posts.
You are a great writer, I felt like I was in line at the book signing with you. I'm so happy that you got a copy.
You also make me wish that I had cable television.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007 at 12:13:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

I adore the Sundance channel. I have never seen this partiuclar show, but I will certainly watch it now, after reading what you've written. Excellent post!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007 at 6:39:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

My daughter has watched a couple episodes of Iconoclasts. I haven't seen any.
How neat that you met Maya Angelou!! She does seem like she would talk to a person as if there were no one else in the room. I bet she makes REAL, hearfelt eye contact.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007 at 7:58:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

I have not watched this show, but it sounds very interesting!

This was another wonderful post dear Naomi!! You could easily be a writer and have your own book signing!! Seriously.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007 at 8:37:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

Naomi - it was a clever little "wow, how does he do that?" You can see it here.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007 at 11:20:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

That I posted on your Facebook wall I mean - sheesh it would be nice if I could explain myself properly for a change :o)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007 at 11:21:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

What a wonderful idea for a programme. I can imagine it is full of moving moments.

I love your story of the book signing. She sounds like she is a very special lady, talented in many ways including relating to people. It is great that she took the time to talk to you and the other people when it was their turn. When I worked in the theatre I met talented people like this, and some who were , shall we say, more insular. I think truly great people are so grounded that they can shine the spotlight on others for a while and not feel insecure, if you know what I mena.

Wonderful post that I have been trying to find the time to comment on for a couple of days! At last I managed it!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007 at 12:13:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

I have not heard of the Sundance Channel, but I would love to watch that program! Thanks for the You Tube videos!

Thursday, November 8, 2007 at 5:13:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

Maya Angelou is my most favorite of writers. I would love to have lunch with her. Some day I should be so lucky~

Thursday, November 8, 2007 at 2:22:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

Wow! This sounds like a spectacular series. Unfortunately I don't get the Sundance Channel. Do you know if it will be put on DVD at some point?

Thursday, November 8, 2007 at 7:27:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

You got the last one! It was a cliffhanger post.

I have to come back later to play the videos. Joe is asleep and I don't want it to wake him. Thanks for sharing this, Naomi. It's very inspiring.

Thursday, November 8, 2007 at 8:25:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

Enjoy the personal touch you give the accounts of contacts with these artists who are friends or acquaintances.

I recall my first awareness of Maya Angelou through a PBS TV Bill Moyers interview special years ago. I was especially impacted by her recounting stories of her youth, when I realized I had some awareness of the atmosphere, time and place where she described growing up.

I can still picture the scene of her those years later, as an adult, walking up the train tracks with Moyers, but not willing to cross the invisible barrier to the other part of town where as a child, she would not have been welcomed because she was black.

I recalled, as a young girl, my own shock, sense of incredibility and revulsion when I first observed such overt and covert discrimination in that State.

Moyer's interview motivated me to buy Angelou's book "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings" which was just the beginning of my reading more of her writing.

Not long after she appeared at one of the local colleges as a speaker. I made certain to be present and was enthralled. I especially recall her dramatic strut across the stage simultaneously demonstrating and explaining why young black men walked as they did, which so many people of other races misinterpreted and often resented.

Thursday, November 8, 2007 at 11:30:00 PM PST 

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