Observations of life by author and poet Charles L. Chatmon
Last night, I read the news that a very good friend, author and publisher Barbara Wright Sykes has passed away, via a Facebook page of fellow author and friend Linda Coleman Willis. This are her heartfelt words about our dear friend:
"On July 18, 2014 I lost my best friend, Barbara Wright Sykes. She was an awesome woman and friend. I will miss her dearly, but I know she is with the love of her life, Fletcher Sykes. She will live on through her daughter, son-in-law and grand children. Her work as a publisher and award winning author will live on forever. May God bless your soul, Barbara." Barbara was a widow when we first met, having lost her husband.
Barbara was the author of Good Lovin Ain't Easy, and as I found out, one of her last works. The last time we saw each other face to face was back in 2009, after I moved to Northern California to be with my wife. We met with another good friend of ours, the publisher of Empire Beat Magazine, Michael Thomas. In fact, she was a contributor to the online magazine along with myself, Linda and Pamela Samuels Young. It's right here.
After five years in Northern California, I recently returned home to L.A. and had hoped to reunite with Barbara and other friends that I had lost touch with over the years, but as we can now see, that won't happen. This is along the heels of hearing about a fellow church member and friend also is facing health challenges of her own. Tomorrow is not promised. Not to you reader or anyone else on this earth. It is not promised.
My memories of Barbara will always focus on her as a mentor, accomplished woman and kindred soul always ready to lend a hand to new authors. She was a true, honest friend and I will miss her greatly. Her bio below mentions her great accomplishments and accolades.
Here is Barbara’s bio from her website: Collins Publications
Barbara Wright Sykes
Sykes is no stranger to success. She was known as the engaging on-air personality at radio station KACE for stimulating a broad wave of discussion, while arming a vast generation of individuals with the tools necessary to become successful both personally and professionally. Barbara is a veteran author (Overcoming Doubt, Fear and Procrastination, Pricing Wihout Fear). She’s been a frequent guest on television and radio, making 125 appearances in one year alone. Among those were: KTLA, BET, WGN, ABC, CBS, to name a few. She’s been recognized and praised by leading newspapers and magazines such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Income Opportunity, and Health Magazine. Barbara Wright Sykes has also been a featured writer for numerous magazines such as The Empire Beat.
Funny to write about this subject since this has been a part of my life for the past eight years, but I feel I have to talk about it the closer we all get to the event.
For the past eight years, I’ve been the executive director of the Los Angeles Black Book Expo. It’s something long time readers of this blog know about and have shared with me in the ups and downs of this endeavor. From 2001 to 2005, I was known as a poet with the publishing of my two books, The Depths of My Soul and the Voices of South Central. I enjoyed time with my fellow authors and poets in the literary fairs and festivals in the city such as the Black Writers on Tour and the Black Writers Festival. Until 2004, those were the only two major book fairs in Los Angeles - until the Black Book Expo. For the first two years of the expo, I was mainly an exhibitor, and glad to be part of the event. Before I took over, LABBX struggled to get an overwhelming crowd of readers to attend. I can’t say much as changed since I took over, but it hasn’t been for a lack of trying.
This expo, while it has defined me, has been a challenge for my creative process. Time and effort and emotion which could have been better used to write more articles or columns for local newspapers, have been devoted to making sure the expo is an event authors like myself can attend and enjoy. I find that I’ve suffered creatively as a result, part of the sacrifice I suspected would take place once I said ‘yes’ to the founder and previous executive director, Dr. Itibari M. Zulu. That new book everyone’s waited for a little over a decade? Not possible as of yet (although it’s finished and needs edits). In the meantime, I’m busy working the expo’s social media pages, speaking with authors who want to come via email, over the phone or by instant message, then there’s the matter of dealing with the politics of it all.
Yes, politics. Didn’t know I would ‘go there’, but this is where the post is taking me. When we started advertising this year, our flyers mentioned we would be in a different place other than L.A. Southwest College in September. Our first destination was a mall in which we thought we had clearance to hold our expo there BUT……management at the mall wanted to go in a different direction, so much in fact that another book fair is holding their event there next month. Like I said, it hasn’t been for lack of trying.
I took over as executive director when I turned forty. Never in my wildest dreams did I envision by the time I turned forty-five, I would have authors, even those I had networked with, turn away from me. It goes with the territory I guess, I’m just not happy about it. I’m nearing fifty in a couple of years and moving back to L.A. helps with going to other literary events to promote #LABBX14, but it helps my other project, Authors N Focus that it does LABBX. Had I not accepted to run the expo, I might have finished that new book, plus continue to work on other projects I had in the works. Still, I took over the expo for one reason only; to make sure it stayed around as a community event ‘we’ can call our own. Part of my lifelong ambition besides running a bookstore was to create and produce my own event. Why should the Festival of Books have all the fun?
I have no regrets about how far I’ve come with running LABBX, except for a couple of major projects that had I known better, might have given a second glance and said, ‘no’ to. On the other hand, whatever I’ve done for good or ill, was all to help promote the expo, nothing but that. I just have to know that my role as executive director has and will trump the titles I’ve worked my life for as a writer and author. At least before I die, I’d like to be known as those names all the same.
Taking a trip back memory lane on a “Throwback Thursday”, a Facebook ritual in which users submit past photos of themselves in their profiles for all to see, I participated in submitting a copy of the Los Angeles City College English Department produced ‘Citadel’, the 1986 edition in which I submitted a poem “A Drunk’s Tale” (page 25 and seen below) which my English instructor in charge of the publication, placed it in there. (long live Jay Kelly!)
This had me thinking about the attitude of friends when I started to concentrate on my writing during those early days. I wrote a action themed novella over that summer, showed it to my friends who made comments to the effect of “you write nice” to absolutely loving it. My best friend for thirty years and fellow City Dog, HWD loved it as has been supportive of my work during that time. It was easy back then in college as I wanted to grow as a writer, even contributing to the campus’s newspaper, The Collegian, as a sports writer, took a load of elective English classes and perfecting my art by writing every day I could. (good thing there was no such thing as social media back in the ‘80’s.)
Even as a young writer, I had no idea how much my talent would be appreciated. I had my struggles, but every summer I would write these long novellas as I began writing short stories as early as junior high (now called middle school). It seemed my range had grown along with the length of stories I had written. I constantly stayed focused on creating another story if it was on my mind. These days, it’s hard to generate that same focus due to social media and the need to ‘promote’ myself or the Black Book Expo on it, plus writing entries for other blogs.
Perhaps uploading that copy of Citadel reminded me of how far I’ve come and how far I need to go in order to be the best writer I’ve dreamed of. Reader, you have to excuse me if I don’t mention ‘author’ because in my early days, writing a book wasn’t my goal. I love to write as you can tell, and publishing books was never part of the plan - but I have thought about it before.
Those days, books were assessable to buy, even in supermarkets that had them. I remember this Ralph’s (now under a different name) in South Los Angeles that had a bookshelf and they had quite a few paperback books there along with comic books. Was it a dream to publish a book and see my name up there? No, I didn’t think that far but literature was everywhere and inspired by that, maybe that’s what encouraged me to write. Was that bookshelf the reason why I’m the writer and author I turned out to be? Could be.
It’s late and this Thursday’s almost over. I guess I’ll keep writing until then, but for now, that’s all I have to say about my throwback memories.
Here’s the poem from Citadel: A Drunk’s Tale (remember I was nineteen when I wrote this, so be gentle…smile)
All my life I’ve been twisted and turned,
Tossed and smothered and even burned,
I'm in the city; I don't know where,
For none of the people seem to care.
I'm sitting in the alley alone with a sigh,
People say pleasant things about me as they pass by.
If you must know, I'm a person unique;
So what if I sleep on hard, COLD concrete?
A man's a man, my lads, always remember,
Though maybe I've had too much to drink during December.
Whiskey's my mate for a cold winters night,
You'd say I drink too much, but I know what's right.
It's hard following the same old step;
With everybody moving, I need some pep,
But it doesn't matter; my lifestyle's a flub,
'scuse me, I'll sit back with my Canadian Club.
Charles Chatmon - for L.A. City College Citadel, 1986.
In our last episode, we mentioned that as an author, nothing else should be expected of me rather than what you read in my books and to keep the discussion there. I prefer to speak about the imagery in “Take a Minute and Pause” in the Voices of South Central than to discuss endlessly about the subject matter in the book. I’m trying to sell it to you, the reader, not to start a rant outside of the pages of that book as many armchair activists have done online.
Armchair activists. If you have a Twitter and Facebook account, you too can play this game by constantly posting what’s wrong with our world and society that spirals out of control. However, as an author, my job is to tell you what’s going on in this world and that’s by talking about the themes and topics in the things I’m passionate about. This may offend a great deal of friends who are already posting current news and/or opinions from the philosophers or great men and women of influence in the past, but newsflash: your ‘fans’ are interested in YOU, not the postings of an anti Obama tirade. Yes, you may appeal to your fans who are just as interested as ‘freeing the sheep’ but unless you talk about your book, the same book you put an effort to produce and eventually publish, then outside of that circle, chances are the gains to attract new readers will fall short.
Look, if you’ve read my posts this far (over a thousand) then you know on what issues I stand and where my heart lies with the subjects that concern me the most. But I am a poet and author who speaks on life’s foibles, not an armchair activist who posts something on social media which eventually will be pushed further down in the news feed within a manner of seconds. If any reader wants to know who Charles L. Chatmon is, I have a website, an updated bio, even a guestbook if they want to maintain in touch (and I do suggest you sign the guestbook, smile) with me. Chatwrites2@yahoo.com is my email address. The one thing I am not nor will ever be, is an armchair activist. I have good speaking ability, but not of the legendary quality. I have stood behind a pulpit and preached a sermon twenty years ago, and while my gift of writing may be used as a ‘bully pulpit’ on paper and on screen. My job as an author is to share with you, the reader what I wrote in my published books and keep a dialogue with you in this forum about future appearances, etc., rather than recreate the Civil Rights Movement here. As I said last time, better and greater men and women than I can succeed in that task.
In a forum like this, a blog (how many folks continue to read blogs anyway?) it’s my responsibility to provide content that reveals my thoughts and feelings. You, the reader must decide if future visits here are worth your time. In a past article, I referenced websites such as the old Black Voices and Net Noir where folks had their say about Presidents Clinton and Bush, touched on the same issues as Black people we’re still going through and yet…..those websites are closed, shut down. So our armchair activism really didn’t account for much, did it?
Social media is all the rage right now, but as an author it is my hope that it doesn’t take away the human factor in going out for book signings and/or events such as the L.A. Black Book Expo. It’s created a monster in that everyone, everyone has an opinion, an agenda, a cause, a mission, you name it, everyone’s on the internet distracted from the things that matter including ‘pulling out of thin air’ philosophies that make no sense at all. Personally, I will continue to use my social media pages to post important news stories while focusing on the book scene. I seriously doubt my tirade to the president, congress or even Shoe Shine Boy will make a difference. The machinations of men will continue to grind with or without an insightful and conscious probing post. Perhaps those memes of Kermit the Frog sipping some tea while telling you whatever is none of his business will make our ‘leaders’ quake in their boots. An author shouldn’t waste time dealing with foolishness like that, nor he or she should encourage it.
Reminder: I’m an author, not a world leader, revolutionary or armchair activist. I write books and articles, not social policy.
I’m an author, not a world leader or revolutionary. I write books and articles, not make strirring speeches which fire up the soul or go out in the campaign trail. Yet somehow, in this world we call the internet, it seems anyone can assume the mantle of ‘saving us’ by posting quotes from social role models, etc. It is far too easy for someone like me (and you have almost one thousand examples of this) where I use my talent to ‘influence’ others on what’s happening in the world and my own observations of it.
There comes a time when I try to heed what Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 12:12 ”But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body.” (New American Standard) So if the wisest man who has ever lived can make a statement like that and if writing (of books or anything is endless), then perhaps our minds are ‘worn out’ by constantly offering every opinion, every personal agenda, every point of view we hold in our social media, without knowing we’ve built a ‘fan base’ who reads and absorbs all of this - and yet we are writers.
If you have a moment, google some famous authors you know and admire. Look at their websites. If they have a social media account, look that up too. See how they interact with their fans, watch how they respond to each criticism or praise. They don’t spend time ranting about drama they have or will never control, don’t go on about the conspiracies we’re force fed to believe, the authors I’ve seen interact, keyword - INTERACT - with their fans and answer every question given to them, Maybe they offer a remedy on chicken soup, but they stay within themselves and speak their minds about a current event of the day, but not required to answer all of life’s questions in their posts. They’re human, just like you and I.
Therefore, I think it’s laughable to think even I as much as I’ve shared a lot of my personal thoughts and opinions (it is my blog you know), I have to assume the duty of a wise sage, a soothsayer for my readership. They can buy my books and look at my poems to see where I stand which is always up for debate. I also tried to offer opinions on the writing business and the changes happening before our eyes. It’s tempting not to ‘stay within oneself’ and pretend that I’m some ‘leader’ who’s leading our race towards the mountaintop. Better and greater men than I have the ability to encourage, influence and inspire the multitude. I’m not nor will ever be that person. Again, I’m an author, not a world leader.