Sunday, April 24, 2011

I See the Promised Land

I just finished Arthur Flowers' new book, I See the Promised Land; A Life of Martin Luther King Jr. Arthur was my teacher at Syracuse University, and one of the many things I loved about this book was how loud and clear his voice was, telling me this story.

Also, there was all this stuff I didn't know, or didn't remember knowing! Like the children of Birmingham and the Children's Crusade in 1963, the kids marching because so many of the adult protesters were in jail.

And the way Arthur tells this story, the details he chooses... there have been a million books written about MLK, but these details were new to me:

During the Birmingham bus boycott, King
ask one old woman walking by if she wasn't too old for this, ask her if her feet not tired.

My feet is tired she say, but my soul is rested.

He like that.

He like that a lot.

Made his heart full to bursting.

He quotes J. Edgar Hoover calling King
"The most dangerous and effective negro leader in the country." Even better, "That goddamned nigger preacher."

He also talks about how King was "dismayed" when the SNCC called him an Uncle Tom, and points out that
(Actually Uncle Tom has gotten a bad rap. Check the text, he wasn't that bad. Did what he could with what he had. Wasn't no Gunga Din.)

The rhythm, the details, the humor. I love that Arthur Flowers.

This is a graphic novel of sorts, illustrated by Manu Chitrakar, a "Patua scroll artist" living and working in Bengal, and designed by Guglielmo Rossi, an Italian designer. There were a lot of beautiful things about the illustrations, and the design was so cool. But it seemed strange to me to have such an American story be illustrated by such a not American artist. I completely appreciate the idea behind it--"Turning King's journey into a truly universal legacy," as it says on the cover--and I would have been able to get behind this idea much more if the people looked more like actual African-Americans and white Americans. Instead, they often look Indian. There are a lot of moustaches. Also, there are many images of political protests--and the protests are holding either signs without text on them, just empty white (which I liked) or signs that appear to have Arabic characters on them. I did a search online and on the publishers' website and was unable to find any information about the language or translations for the text on these signs.


arthur said...

elissa love, thanks for the props
i love you too

it was an interesting project
its designed for indian audience

not a us one, and the artwork is traditional patua aesthetics

for instance all the diff skin tones is a traditional device

ive learned all this since becoming involved in it

i came into it late, it was the publishers idea to ask me onto it when she heard me perform at the jaipur festival but the artist is a reknown master in his part of bengal, and my understanding is that the protest sign language is bengali, what it says i do not know

there were all kinds of cultural glitches in the collobaration but i was too tickled to be asked to work w/an indian artist in an indian work

some of the cultural glitches turned out interesting like his depiction of the underground railroad as a train w/blackfolk on it and an indian face

his slaveships look like viking ships to me but they have a certain appeal

he is a tribal artist that has never been out of his village, and doesnt even speak hindu, they had to take a translator w/them whenever they went to confer w/him

and i have to say i love that little strange fusionwork of a book,

they told me i could do whatever i wanted to do, but i knew they wanted more historicals that i would have put in because it was for an indian audience primarily, but i was able to get off my downhome storytelling thing since it was supposed to be a dialogue between two storytelling traditions

i real fond of that book, thanks for showing it some love

Elissa said...

arthur--thanks for the context. I had a feeling, even just from the book itself but also from what I read online, that the artist was maybe on board first then you were chosen for the project. Good choice!

& knowing more about the artist--I appreciate those cultural glitches more. Before, I thought they were funny but weird. Now I think they're great--what would you come up with, as an artist, hearing "underground railroad" out of context? & the slave ships, agreed. except I was like, "wait a minute, they're rowing it?"

anyway. agreed. I love that strange little fusionwork of a book too. =) I wish maybe there was a foreword explaining some of this stuff? have you done an interview anywhere about it or anything? maybe we should do one. =) thinking about what would help me get the book into my classroom and into the hands of my students...