Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Bronx Tale

Today I attended two events sponsored by the African and African-American Studies Department. The first of which was the department's open house, the second a book talk for The Rat that Got Away a memoir written by Allen Jones with Mark Naison.

At 11:30 in the morning I met Dr. Naison (also known as Notorious PhD) and two other students from my Feeling the Funk class to go pick up the food for the open house from a small hole-in-the-wall BBQ joint called Johnson's BBQ in the Morrisiania neighborhood of the Bronx.

As we drove down Notorious PhD gave the three of us an impromptu tour of the area, pointing out a few school yards where the likes of Gradmaster Flash would hold his hip-hop sessions early in the movement.

Johnson's was about the size of a large closet, with no seating and only one employee, Duane Johnson. The smell of the food hit us as soon as we stepped out of the car. For health reasons I'm glad I don't live within walking distance of this fine establishment, otherwise I think I would be unable to prevent myself from eating the ribs, fried chicken and collard greens that this place serves everyday (If you haven't ever had the food, you MUST).

After the department open house I went to Duane Library to hear the talk for Allen Jones' memoir. Jones grew up in the Bronx in the 1950s and 60s before going to Luxembourg to be a professional basketball player in Europe and ended up working in banking for a number of years.

Dr. Naison, Jones, and Angela O'Donnell worked together on the book, mostly via email. Jones still lives in Luxembourg while Naison and O'Donnell are faculty at Fordham. Naison emphasized a few things in the talk that I found interesting.

The first was the collaborative element of the writing. Without Naison, Jones never would have written his memoir, and without O'Donnell's editing skills, the memoir would not have its driving plot.

The book, as Naison mentioned, was mostly written via email. The technology that allows me to write this blog, and Jones' to write his novel has made information sharing easier than ever before, and made projects such as this possible. No longer does there have to be the lone writer in a room with his work, the image that Naison contrasted this work with.

Which brings me to the second point that Naison brought up, which is that due to the nature of this writing project, it required a great deal of trust. Trust on the part of Jones' to share his writing with Naison, from Naison that Jones was the real deal, and O'Donnell that all the hard editing work she did would be taken seriously.

This speaks to kind of balancing act we all have to do in this technological era. We have to work together, but we also have to be careful not to be swindled. Its easier than ever to steal someone's identity or personal information. In the case of Naison, Jones and O'Donnell, working together helped everyone and now Jones' memoir is being read in middle and high schools in the Bronx and being given to members of local youth sports teams.

I guess the point of this blog is that you have to be careful on the internet but not so careful that you miss out on the opportunity to write your memoir when someone asks you to, just make sure they're legitimate. And also the Bronx is an amazing center of culture and I hope to get to know more about it so I can write some more of these blogs.

1 comment:

Sara said...

Wish I could have made it to Duane library for the talk. Allen Jones' life story, from what you mentioned and Professor Naison told us in class, is truly inspiring. With determination and the drive to succeed, people can really change their lives for the better. And I agree, Johnson's BBQ food was GREAT! I also really enjoyed listening to Notorious PhD's rap on gentrification during the open house. I wish he did more live performances :)