Thursday, November 16, 2017

Matilda Rabinowitz memoir published by Cornell Press

Robbin Legere Henderson has published Immigrant Girl Radical Woman, the memoir of her grandmother Matilda Rabinowitz, who was a key leader of the 1912 Little Falls textile strike and an organizer in many other labor battles. The book is beautifully illustrated with Robbin's own sketches.

The book is available from Cornell University Press and following is the description from that site:

"Matilda Rabinowitz’s illustrated memoir challenges assumptions about the lives of early twentieth-century women. In Immigrant Girl, Radical Woman, Rabinowitz describes the ways in which she and her contemporaries rejected the intellectual and social restrictions imposed on women as they sought political and economic equality in the first half of the twentieth century. Rabinowitz devoted her labor and commitment to the notion that women should feel entitled to independence, equal rights, equal pay, and sexual and personal autonomy.

Rabinowitz (1887–1963) immigrated to the United States from Ukraine at the age of thirteen. Radicalized by her experience in sweatshops, she became an organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World from 1912 to 1917 before choosing single motherhood in 1918. "Big Bill" Haywood once wrote, "a book could be written about Matilda," but her memoir was intended as a private story for her grandchildren, Robbin Légère Henderson among them. Henderson’s black-and white-scratchboard drawings illustrate Rabinowitz’s life in the Pale of Settlement, the journey to America, political awakening and work as an organizer for the IWW, a turbulent romance, and her struggle to support herself and her child".

And here's an example of Robbin's illustrations in the book:

      Matilda at work

More on this site about Matilda Rabinowitz plus photos

Monday, November 13, 2017

New edition of "The River That Flows Both Ways"

The River That Flows Both Ways has been issued in a revised edition drawing on new research and correcting inconsistencies noted by readers in the 2008 edition. The novel centers on Harmen van den Bogaert, a nearly forgotten early Dutch explorer and surgeon who has recently been recognized as a gay martyr. In a 2015 Huffington Post article, Gay New Amsterdam: The Queer Case of Harmen van den Bogaert, Kim Dramer describes the historical record upon which I draw in this novel. And Ted O’Reilly, the head of the manuscript department at the NY Historical Society posted an interesting article in June: The Bad Fate of Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert. George O’Connor also published a well-received graphic novel on Harmen’s visit as the Mohawk villages: Journey into Mohawk Country.

My novel is told through the voice of Matouac, a young Mohican who comes to live with Harmen and his family after his own family was slaughtered by Mohawk raiders. The story is imagined as being transcribed by the Calvinist pastor, Johannes Megapolensis, who provides his own footnotes to quibble and critique the tale of the boy he views as a heathen. Many other historical figures from the Dutch settlement at Fort Orange (now Albany NY) appear, including Harmen’s wife Jelisje and his African slave, Tobias. Harmen’s downfall came when his relationship with Tobias was discovered, and they both fled to the more tolerant society of the Mohawks.  

    Navajo two-spirits

Although suppressed by Christian missionaries, indigenous tribes often made provision for same sex couples, whom many called “two-spirits.” The seventeenth century century Dutch, like other European countries of that era, provided the death penalty for the same behavior. The power differential between Harmen and his African slave certainly suggests to us today that the relationship was predatory. However, the historical fact is that Tobias fled with Harmen into Mohawk country, perhaps out of fear or dependence but also possibly out of genuine affection. Here is a brief excerpt from my book on their refuge with the original inhabitants of the Mohawk Valley:

    There were also two women living in the lodge. They dressed as men and cut their hair in a scalplock. They were seldom in the lodge and were usually out hunting with their bows.
    “I am happy here,” Harmen said to me. “These are good people and they do not say that Tobias and I are wicked or wrong. They say that they will teach me all their ceremonies and in the corn festival next year I will be made a member of their secret society.”
   “Will you be here that long?” I asked.
   “I want to stay here,” he said. “I will never return to the country of the whites.”
   “Is Tobias is happy here?” I asked him.
  “Yes,” he said, watching Tobias help one of the men-women stretch a deerskin over a framework made of branches. “The Mohawks do not look down on him because he has black skin. He can be a person here, as he could never be among the whites.”
    Realizing that Catharina was listening closely to our conversation, he added. “You, too, Catharina, can find a true home here. You will never be a slave again if you live with the Mohawks.”
   I knew that the Mohawks were capable of great cruelty and might easily turn on us as they had turned on Ondessonk. I never forgot my grandfather’s warning that they, even more than the whites, were the true enemies of my people. But for now, the Mohawks were our friends and we would be warm and have enough to eat as the winter deepened.

Ondessonk, to whom Matouac refers, meant "the indomitable one" and was what the Mohawks called Isaac Jogues, the Jesuit missionary and martyr. In the novel Matouac comes to know and admire him, and is present when he is killed at Ossernenon. 

The River That Flows Both Ways, 2017 edition is now available:

Amazon Kindle          $1.99

Lulu Paperback        $14.95

For more on the historical sources of the novel see The Tale of Harmen Meyndertz van den Bogaert on this site.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Renegade Archaeologist & other tales

Newly available in paperback at Amazon and Lulu, this collection of three novelas and eight short stories ranges from distant star systems to an America only a few years in the future. Originally published in small SF magazines in the 1970s, the stories were influenced by anthropologists and  novelists I was reading at the time, such as Chagnon, Boas, Leguin, Tolkien, and Clarke . The forty year old manuscripts have been only slightly revised but seem, at least to this author, still relevant to the issues of the present. 

The title novela, “The Renegade Archaeologist,” is composed of various documents from 90,000 years in future, after global warming provokes an ice age and diverts human evolution in divergent directions. The protagonist is inspired by a form of Christianity that reveres an ancient saint, Tayyard de Chardin, although the prevailing ideology denies both climate change and evolution.  In other parts of the continent new beliefs have accompanied the rise of new species of humanity. 

The second novela, "The Monkey Men of Drimmold,"  focuses on an anthropologist who faces opposition to his claim that a peaceful species resembling spider monkeys is truly part of the aggressive pananthropoid family that has spread across the galaxy. After many months with the tiny hominids, he believes that the possession of fire, use tools, and capacity for violence are not essential to a human identity.

"Sole Surviving Victim," originally published separately as "Conflagration 1793," is a story of time travel. Three African teenagers are the victims of a drive-by shooting in present day Albany and are transported back to the era of Northern slavery that followed the  American Revolution. Dinah, the only one of the three to recall their 21st century life, struggles to prevent a violent uprising that she fears will lead only to slaughter.

"Speaking in Tongues" describes an evangelical Christian dictatorship, which I originally wrote before Margaret Atwood’s Handmaids Tale. "The End of the Fourth World" is  an apocalyptic tale inspired by Hopi myth myth. In "The Wizard, The Knight and the Daughter of a God," a space traveler named Jack Murphy is worshiped as a god on a distant planet. When he disappears, a wizard and a knight set out in search of him. 

"Gullrider of Mund" is about a brave young woman who tries desperately to save a doomed human colony where all technology is based on the control of giant sea creatures. In "Long Toes," the last man on earth has never met another human being and in "aboard the Saint Jude Thaddeus," a starship commander begins to question his loyalty to the Vatican. "In the Time of the Honchos" is set in a devastated future that may remind some readers of the Mad Max movies - minus the machinery.

In a more recently written story, "You Don't Need a Weatherman,"a retired couple adjust to an overheated world where climate denial is official policy, but are worrying about their rebellious grandson. 

 Lulu paperback           $7.95

Amazon paperback       9.95

    Also on Kindle           2.99

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Albany Fire of 1793 and the Hanging of Three Slave Children

Conflagration 1793 is a short historical fiction which takes us back to a little-known episode in the history of Albany, the state capital of New York. The story begins with the drive-by shooting of three African American teenagers near the State Capitol in December, 2016. Two die on the spot but one girl, Dinah Valker, awakens in the distant past. She discovers that not only is she a slave of the local merchant Volkert Douw but that her friends Pompey and Bethany are also living in that other world.

  NYS Capitol, site of the hanging
    of three young slaves in 1793

Here's the moment of Dinah's awakening after she was shot on Elk Street behind the State Capitol:

“Girl! Come here, I say, girl!” Mistress Douw turned in exasperation to her husband. “Meister Douw, do ye see what I be saying? The wench has gone daft.”
“How long is it that the wench is so bespelled?”
“Above half an hour, I ken. She was able and cheerful as ever when she woke and ‘sisted with all the morning chores. Then of a sudden she is in such state as this, stock still and staring as if stricken with an apoplexy.”
“I doubt it be an apoplexy, mistress mine.” Volkert van Douw took the clay pipe from his mouth and went up close to the girl, waving his broad hand before her face. “She has scarce fifteen years.”
“Ye said the Ulsterman you bought her of said she was hale n’ hearty.”
“He did.” Volkert pinched the girl’s arm with getting any reaction. He pulled both her ears. She did not move.
“The dusky ones are said to be prone to sickness.”
“I’ve as oft heard the contrary to be true. My father was fond of saying that the darker the hue, the sturdier the stock.” He sat down at kitchen bench and re-lit his pipe. “Tho I will confess, my heart, that the Ulsterman did drop his price without much cavil.”
“I’ve always said you were too quick to take the lowest priced goods.”
“Oh, tush your self, my dear Anna, we’ve had good service of this wench for near two year. Perhaps if you slap her soundly?”
“In the face?”
“Try the rump. “Twill not leave her marred.
“And wherefore should I be the one to chastise the wench?”
“I’d take it as a favor, for I’m too kind-hearted to strike the maiden meself, black as coal tho she is.”
Mistress Van Douw reached down a wooden spoon from a peg on the wall and stepping behind the apparently frozen girl, proceeded to strike her first once, then twice and three times. On the fourth blow, the girl yelped and gave a little jump.
“Fuck! What’d you do that for, lady?”

Ten years after the end of the Revolutionary War, New York had not yet taken any legal steps toward the abolition of slavery the enslaved population of the Hudson Valley was the highest of any state north of the Mason-Dixon line. The greatest number of slaves worked on the large plantations owned by the Livingstons, Van Rensselaers and other wealthy families, but well-to-do families in Albany, New York and other towns relied on slaves as their household servants. Slave masters, however, were uneasy at newspaper reports of the bloody rebellion that had broken out in Haiti two years earlier. It was in this climate of fear that a fire broke out in Albany on the night of November 17, 1793, destroying the central section of the town, bounded by Market Street, State Street, Middle Lane and Maiden Lane. The primitive fire-fighting methods available, principally a bucket brigade to the river, did nothing to stop the blaze until a sudden sleet storm put out the fire.

         Maiden Lane at the present time

Dinah finds herself implicated in setting this fire, which in my version of the events, is part of a planned slave uprising instigated by two men, Sanders and Bessbrown, who played a mysterious in the actual 1793 fire but were never charged:

 “Lemme ask you both somethin,” Pompey looked from the one man to the other. “Why you come to Albany to start this here uprisin? Ain’t there a lot mo slaves down South?”
“We’ve done our research, Pomp, and the Hudson Valley has more slaves than any place north of Virginia. These old patroons have very large plantations over in Kinderhook and Claverack. Hundreds of slaves, all chained up. But here in Albany, you people have a lot of freedom to traipse about on your own. If we can get fifty men to rise here, set fire to the town and march to the plantations, those slaves will soon join us and we’ll seize the city of New York. From there, we’ll gather thousands to advance into the deep bastions of slavocracy in Maryland and Virginia and the Carolinas.”
But what do ye think all the other whi’ men be doin whilst you lead the black folks off to war?” Pompey asked them. “They gonna jus sit by and watch?”
“But don’t you understand, Pomp. I told you all about France, didn’t I? How the poor whites rose up and tore down the king and all the rich people?”
“Aye, ye tole me all that,” the boy muttered sullenly. “Back when I was yo family’s slave. Before I got sold to Vischer.”
“You know that I did not want my family to sell you, Pompey. I would have surely freed you as soon as I came into my inheritance.”
“So you say, but you went to France and yo mother sold me lickety-split. When I tole her you promised me my freedom, she had me whipped. That ain’t right.”
“I apologize, Pompey, for my mother’s actions.”
Bethany nudged her friend. “Now I seen everythin! A whi’ man apologizing to a nigger.” Dinah shook her head, still unable to believe the incredible racism even Black people took for granted here.
“Why’nt you buy me my freedom now?” Pompey complained.
“I would if only I could come into my inheritance,” Sanders tried to excuse himself. “But Judge Ten Eyck won’t budge. It’s all in the way my father’s will was written.”
Bessbrown was clearly growing impatient. “Listen, sanders, enough with all this palaver. If your boy can’t raise the men he promised, we need to change our plan to another town. Kingston perhaps.”
“No, no, Pomp can do it. And these brave girls will perform their part.” For the first time Sanders looked at Bethany and Dinah. “Are you primed to strike for your freedom, lasses? You should have seen the maidens of Paris when they rose up, kitchen knives in hand. I swear, Marat and Danton would have had no revolution at all without les femmes de Paris behind them!”
He reached out and took both their hands in his own. “And comely wenches such as you are surely capable of inveigling stout men to join the cause, are you not?”
They each nodded uncertainly. “Is we to be paid?” Bethany dared to ask. “Paid?” laughed Sanders.
“You’ll be paid with the finest coin of the realm, liberty itself!”
As they descended the hill back toward the sleeping town, Bethany asked Pompey if those white men were crazy. “It sound like they want us to burn up Albany town and kill all the other whi’ people. That don’t make no sense.”
“First of all, Mr Bessbrown, he a nigger too but he gotta act like he Mr. Sander’s slave. So they’s only one whi’ man, Mr Sanders. He kinda stupid but he truly want all niggers to be free.”
“All I know is they both stupid if they think us niggers gonna get free by doin what? Burning down all the whi’ people’s houses? What that gonna do ‘cept get us hanged?”
“Yeah,” added Dinah. All this time she had been watching Pompey and saw no signs that he had any memory of the other world. She laughed out loud at the strangeness of it all and her friend smiled at her.

    Simeon DeWitt's 1793 map of Albany, from the NYS Archives

Much like the contemporary inclination to immediately suspect Islamic terrorism for any act of mass violence, the white people of Albany assumed that their slaves were responsible for the fire. The immediate reaction can be found in an 1830 newspaper account quoted by Joel Munsell’s in his 1854 Annals of Albany:

The fire was so plainly the work of an incendiary, that not only were several slaves arrested upon suspicion, but subsequently a meeting of the common council was held and an ordinance passed forbidding any Negro or mulatto, of any sex, age or description whatever, from walking in the streets or lanes after 9 o'clock in the evening, or from being in any tavern or tippling house after that hour, under penalty of twenty-four hours confinement in the jail. At the expiration of such confinement they were to be brought before the mayor, recorder or an alderman, when they were at liberty to show, by their master or mistress, that they were out upon lawful and necessary business. If they established this fact, they were discharged upon paying the jail expenses; but if they failed, they were further punished by fine and imprisonment. The municipal authorities were active in ferreting out the perpetrators of this high crime, which, according to the English law, was punishable with death. It was then the law of this land, and as punishment was more summary than it is now, the guilty parties knew that hanging would follow conviction, proceedings in court which followed this fire attracted much attention, particularly among the colored population, in consequence of several of their number having been arrested upon suspicion of being implicated in the arson. [The above taken from the Albany Evening Journal which began publication in 1830]
Predictably, three slaves were quickly arrested. In the state archives in Albany is a very old legal document, the confession of one of the three, a slave girl known as Bet. The ancient paper bearing her mark, the signatures of three aldermen, Abraham Ten Eyck, Joseph Lansing and Durch Ten Broeck is the primary source for my fiction.

    The final page of "Bet's confession"from the NYS Archives

Her confession, written in the third person by her interrogator, outlines the role of two other slaves, Pompey and my main character, Dinah. The document also indicates a key role of two white men in instigating the fire, a man named Sanders from Schenectady and a mysterious figure named Bessbrown. According to Bet, Sanders had offered a gold watch to Pompey if he would set fire to the property of Peter Gansevoort, and Pompey inveigled the girls to join the plot.. According to her account, Sanders was angry because Gansevoort had blocked his courtship of his daughter. Bessbrown’s role is less clear, as is the role of a third white man, a jeweler named Murray.

Since 1788 slaves were entitled to a jury trial but I could find no record for the trial of Bet, Dinah and Pompey. What is known is that none of the whites were charged but after some delays, all three of the young slaves were hung at Pinkster Hill, now the site of the State Capitol building.

        from NY History Blog 

The history of slavery in Albany, and the fate of these three young people, has not been completely ignored in recent years. In 2015 Schuyler Friends, an education project sponsored by historic Schuyler Mansion produced a dramatic recreation of the events which can be found on You Tube as The Accused: Slavery and the Albany Fire of 1793. The Friends of Schuyler Mansion also developed a set of lesson plans on slavery and the 1793 fire for elementary, middle school and high school levels.

There have been significant efforts to make sure that new generations do not forget the tradition of the Pinksterfest, Albany’s Dutch-African Spring Festival which was once held on the same hill where the three slave children were executed and where the State Capitol now stands. (See reference in this article to “the merchant prince” Volkert Douw, who features in my story as the owner of the slave girl Dinah.)

Conflagration 1793 is available on Kindle for 99 cents and also

on Wattpad free.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Upstate Perseus, a play in four scenes

Perseus by Benvenuto Cellini at Florence

Upstate Perseus is a play in four scenes, inspired by the ancient Greek myth of Perseus. A boy is raised by a single mother, grows to manhood and undertakes the dangerous mission of bringing down a possibly mythical beast. Along the way he rescues a beautiful girl named Andromeda from another kind of beast, accidentally kills his father, and returns home to kill, perhaps by accident, a tyrant who has been oppressing his mother.

The Perseus myth has been told and retold for perhaps three thousand years, and has been the subject of sculpture, paintings, drama and film. The popular 2010 movie Clash of The Titans (a remake of the 1981 film with the same title) draws on the same tales, as does the popular young adult series of Percy Jackson novels. Euripides and other Greek dramatists tackled the myth in various plays which have not survived.

In other words, it’s a good story worth telling and retelling. My version, written in the summer of 1977, was intended for a theater group that appeared only momentarily in a tent on Limekiln Lake in the Adirondacks, i.e. it was never performed in any serious way. On rereading the old manuscript, it seems worth making it available under a Creative Commons Sharealike license so that any interested groups could perform or draw upon it in any way they wish. There is no cost for downloading the PDF at

Andromeda by Domenico Guidi
 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

This version of the ancient myth is set in upstate New York and along the Canadian border and features teenage characters who happen to bear those powerful names, Perseus and Andromeda. There’s an Athena who runs a diner and a Hermes who works as a delivery man. No one rides on Pegasus, though, and Medusa doesn't exactly turn anyone to stone. Otherwise the plot, through a series of remarkable coincidences, recreates the events of an ancient myth in a 1970s setting.

Here is the scene in which Perseus rescues Andromeda from a monster, in this case a human one:

Scene 3

The curtain rises on total darkness. The howling of a wolf can be heard, slowly blending into the the terrified scream of a young woman. The lights come back up on a forest road. A man, is dragging a fiercely resisting young woman off the road into the surrounding forest. Enter Perseus, who pulls Herman’s rifle out of its bag, and runs offstage after the woman and her assailant. The sound of fighting can be heard, a gunshot, and then silence. Perseus re-enters, leading the badly shaken young woman.

PERSEUS: This is the first time I ever tried to shoot somebody. I think I missed him.

ANDROMEDA: I hope you hit him. I hope he goes off somewhere and bleeds to death.

(She sits on a rock, glancing up at Perseus who stands leaning on the rifle.)

I don’t know how to thank you. You saved my life.

PERSEUS: Oh, that’s all right. I had to do what I could.

ANDROMEDA: You saved my life.

PERSEUS: Are you all right, miss? Do you need to go to a hospital?

ANDROMEDA: No, I’m all right. Just let me sit for a minute.

PERSEUS: Shouldn’t we call the police?

ANDROMEDA: No way! That bastard has more money than you or me. We go to the cops and we’d be the ones ending up in jail. (She extends her hand to Perseus.) Uh, I’m Andromeda, by the way.

PERSEUS: Andromeda? No kidding?

ANDROMEDA: I know it’s a weird name.

PERSEUS: No, that’s not it. My name is Perseus.

ANDROMEDA: Perseus? Wow! I guess your parents were really into myths too.

PERSEUS: Yeah, my mother was. But hey, you know the story of Perseus and Andromeda, right? How he came along and rescued her from a monster.

ANDROMEDA: Yeah, this is like the most amazing coincidence ever. I mean, that old man you shot really was a monster.

UPSTATE PERSEUS can be downloaded as a free PDF at the Wilderness Hill Books site.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

South Bronx version of Medea now available at as free download.

In 1976 the Elder Avenue Playhouse in the Bronx staged a play based on Euripides’ Medea which my classes at the time had been studying. The Playhouse was a very informal company, making use of various spaces in the Soundview neighborhood, then in the early phases of what came to be known as hiphop culture.

The various scenes in South Bronx Medea were acted out by adolescents and included plenty of improvisation. Many years passed and I came across a set of scripts and notes both in my handwriting and in that of a variety of students and fellow teachers. I have put together that fragmentary material in a single new format which is now made available as a free PDF. The script is licensed under a Creative Commons Non-commercial ShakeAlike “copyright.” This means that any person or group is free to make use of the material in a non-commercial manner as long as they acknowledge and link to the license.

Unfortunately, the early versions of some of the scenes has long since vanished, as have the last names of students listed in the notes as Jose, Ernesto, Roland, Jeff, Hector, Papi, Sapo, Maria, Cookie, India, Milagros, Medody and many others. I certainly cannot take all, or even most credit, for the drama which I now offer to the public. Hence the authors are listed as “The Elder Avenue Players” and myself as the editor.

Student writers at Claremont Park in the Bronx

The play closely follows the plot and characterization of Euripides tragedy. Like her namesake, Medea Rodriguez is enraged at Jason, here an NYPD officer, for leaving her and their two sons and marrying a woman who will enhance his career prospects. Her rage builds to a horrifying finale but, as in the original version, Jason continually underestimates the danger she presents to their two small boys.

The entire play takes place in front of a typical five story Bronx walk-up tenement. The three neighborhood women are inspired by the Chorus of Euripides’ tragedy. Ellen is a social worker and Hank is a Special Education teacher; both serve the same role as Medea’s servants in the original drama. Creedon, the Bronx district attorney, is the modern version of Creon, king of Corinth, while Alvarez serves the same function as the king of Athens.

An excerpt from South Bronx Medea”:

(Suddenly Medea appears on the steps of the building, wildly disheveled. The three women shrink back in fear from her.)

MEDEA: What are you bitches looking at? Go ahead and stare all you want! What do you think, I’m just a crazy Dominicana? I got reasons to be crazy. Ese maldito hijo de puta! He thinks he can leave me! Mierda esa puta blanca flaca!

FIRST WOMAN: You need to calm yourself down, Medea.

SECOND WOMAN: You think you the first woman to ever get ditched by a man?

MEDEA: He wants a young piece of ass so he forgets about me. You saying that’s right?

THIRD WOMAN: You’re making a fool of yourself yelling in the street like this. You want the whole world to know your man doesn’t want you any more?

MEDEA: Who you calling a fool? You the fool for taking shit from men all your life. But not me! I’ll see us all dead before I let him walk over me like I was nothing!

FIRST WOMAN: Don’t talk like that. It ain’t right.

MEDEA: I Pray to God to hear me! God strike us all dead before you let that son of a bitch get away with this!

ELLEN: Medea, you don’t mean what you’re saying.

MEDEA: Don’t I? I know all about killing. I know how to use a knife. I know what poison can do. I can get some gasoline and set a fire as good as that moreno who burned up all those people on Southern Boulevard.

ELLEN: (putting her arms around the boys) Think of your sons, Medea. You have to be there for them.

MEDEA: I am not like some stupid little white bitch who runs to her Daddy. I know how to get even with people who treat me like shit!

FIRST WOMAN: She doesn’t know what she’s saying.

SECOND WOMAN: Dominicans always act wild like this when their man leaves them. Later, they calm down.

THIRD WOMAN: Yeah, when they find another man. All Medea needs is a new man.

(The three women laugh.)

MEDEA: Cutting his heart out would be too good for him. He needs something to twist up his insides and make him really suffer.

(Medea goes back into the building, muttering to herself.)

FIRST WOMAN: Hey social worker, you think it’s safe to leave her alone upstairs? It’s bad to be alone when you’re in the kind of mood she’s in.

SECOND WOMAN: People get strange ideas when they’re all alone.

THIRD WOMAN: Try to get her to come out again and talk to us. We know her. We understand her.

ELLEN: I’m not so sure I can help right now… She probably just needs time to adjust to her new reality...Wait! She’s coming back.

(Medea comes back out onto the steps.)

MEDEA: You all talking about me? You all got your nose in my business, don’t you?

ELLEN: We are concerned, Medea. We are here for you, Mr. Baum and I and your friends.

MEDEA: You gotta know what I gave up for that maricon. I come from a family that hated cops. When I went with Jason, my mother and my sister told me they never wanted to see me gain. They went back to D.R. and when I called, my mother hung up on me. When I sent pictures of my kids, she ripped them up and sent back the pieces. And now Jason is tired of me. I’m too old and I’m not una mujer rica like that white bitch. Now he pretends we were never anything together. Now he walks out on me so he can screw that little flaca.

FIRST WOMAN: I don’t blame you for hating Jason, Medea, but watch what you say.

SECOND WOMAN: Don’t forget that Jason’s a cop and his new father-in-law is the D.A. They could throw you in jail for making threats.

MEDEA: You think I care? I don’t give a shit what they do! I’ll see their blood dripping all over these two hands. I’ll lick their blood up in the streets.

THIRD WOMAN: Shut up, Medea! Here comes Creedon himself with some cops. Just stay shut, will you?

(The women go off to one side. Ellen stands next to Medea as the district attorney and two patrolmen enter.)

Upcoming: A version of the Perseus myth originally presented by the Limekiln Theater Company in the summer of 1977.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

"America Love It or Leave It," a Viet Nam-era Antigone

A New York march against the draft in the 1970s

The one act play, "America Love It or Leave It," is inspired by the ancient Greek tragedy of Antigone and takes place in the summer of 1968 on the New York-Canadian border.  Originally staged in 1975 at the Elder Avenue Playhouse in the Bronx, the one act play is now being made available as a free PDF.  It  is published under a Creative Commons ShareAlike license and may be performed by any non-commercial organization or group.

The entire tragedy takes place in the kitchen of an upstate New York farm house, where a  backyard fence marks the border with Canada. A middle-aged immigration agent lords it over his small family of a daughter and two sons. His eldest boy is about to take his first solo flight from the nearby Plattsburgh Air Force base, and promises to fly directly over the farmhouse. His second son openly mocks his father and threatens to join the draft evaders who keep passing through the back yard on their way to Canada. Andrea, still in high school, has been dominated by her overbearing father until the morning of the play.

As the drama opens, Andrea and her aunt are watching draft evaders pass through a hole in the fence that keeps reappearing no matter how many times her father patches it.

A middle-aged woman and a teenage girl are standing by the kitchen window, looking into the back yard.

SUZETTE: There goes another one.

ANDREA: That makes three today.

SUZETTE: Really? I thought this was only the second one.

ANDREA: No, I saw one very early when you were still in bed.

SUZETTE: You didn’t go out into the yard, did you? You know what he said.

ANDREA: Yeah, yeah, I know what he said. First there was no talking on the phone on school nights. Then there was no dating until I was eighteen. And now this new rule about not going in the back yard is even crazier.

SUZETTE: I can’t blame him.

ANDREA: You never do!

SUZETTE: He's afraid those hippies will bother you.

ANDREA: That’s not it.

SUZETTE: What is it then?

ANDREA: Here’s a clue, Tante Suzette. There is a big hole in the fence. Those hippies are heading for that hole.

SUZETTE: Which fence?

ANDREA: The one that our United States government put up years ago to show where the border is between the U.S. of A. and Canada.

SUZETTE: There is a hole in the border fence? That’s not right. Why doesn’t somebody do something about it?

ANDREA: My father has been patching up the holes with chicken wire but somebody keeps cutting new ones. Who do you think would do that? Do you think maybe my father has been cutting and patching up those holes himself?

Border Crossings, Then and Now

Ever since the American Revolution, the contradictions and shortcomings of our republic have been reflected in those who fled across the northern borders of our state to find freedom in Canada. It began with the freed slaves of New York City who left for Canada with their Loyalist allies. Then came the runaway slaves of the Underground Railroad. In the Civil War, one of my own distant ancestors, Mike Clark, went back to Canada, leading his middle aged father Patrick to enlist in the NY 16th Volunteer Infantry in his place. In the Viet Nam era, thousands of draft evaders and deserters passed through our northern border, although  not quite as depicted in this play.

Bill and Christine King were among
the many thousands who fled to Canada
decades ago 

Most recently, the ones fleeing to a better life in Canada have been immigrants who once dreamt of a new life in the United States, only to find themselves targeted by the current administration in Washington.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Mr. Dolge’s Money and other titles now available in paperback on Amazon

Mr. Dolge's Money inspired by the final days of a visionary German-American industrialist best known as a forerunner of Social Security, is now in paperback  at Amazon as well as in the original ebook format.

Following the collapse of his utopian dreams in Dolgeville, NY in 1898, Alfred Dolge went on to build a new fortune and a new Dolgeville in California. The central character of the novel is Rudolf’s son, Jose or Joseph Dolge, who travels from Venezuela to California in the closing days of World War I in search of his grandparents.

After getting to know his grandson, Dolge dispatches the young man to Europe by the only route then open, across the Pacific to Vladivostok. The boy’s mission is to gain access to millions of dollars hidden away from his grandfather’s creditors and to direct that money into the hands of the German socialists struggling to wrest control of their devastated nation.

With the old monarchies in collapse, violent new forces of the Left and Right are provoking chaos in Russia and Germany. Joseph barely survives a rail journey across Russia, fleeing the Bolshevik terror into Ukraine and coming to Berlin just as outright war breaks out between the Spartacists and the Friekorps. Beset by treachery on every side, he sees Rosa Luxembourg murdered and is held prisoner by a crazed band of anti-Semites who will become the leaders of the Nazi party. And then, Alfred and Anna Dolge make their last trip to the old country with the goal of saving their beloved grandson.

Each of the five stories or novelas collected in this volume have been sold as e-book singles at 99 cents and remain available in that format. The stories, sharing a common link to New York history, are set in the twentieth century except for “You Don’t Need a Weatherman which imagines a near future in which climate change has drastically changed our local landscape. The retired couple at the center of the story live in a time when climate change denial persists even after the sea has covered New York City.

The Wobbly and The Witch Girl” is set in the immediate aftermath of World War I when repressive forces targeted radicals and misfits of every sort. Fleeing the draft to New York City, Tom Ryan is befriended by the anarchist leaders Carlo Tresca and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. They send him north to organize the workers of the Julliard factory in Stottville, NY and from there he flees the law into the isolated hill country of Columbia County where he discovers a people who have lived part from the outer world for a century. Here Tom falls in love with a girl who has inherited strange powers from her distant Puritan ancestress.

The Real Twentieth Hijacker” is inspired by my teaching at Laguardia Community College at the time of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The main character is a young Muslim immigrant who is drawn into the 9-11 conspiracy only to break away from the other plotters when he falls in love with an American girl.

Her Name Was Margarita” is loosely based on my experiences with a Fordham University project in Mexico in 1966. Beginning with marches against the war in Viet Nam, the scene then shifts to the province of Vera Cruz where the title character encounters a force or power that her faith cannot explain.

A Good Catholic Girl” is based on the murder of a parochial school girl by a deranged young man she barely knew. In my version of this tragedy, set in the Irish Catholic neighborhood of the North Bronx, she manages to turn the tables on her stalker.

Previously available on Kindle, this is one of only two non-fiction works I have written and describes educational philosophy and practice at a small public school in the South Bronx, Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, from 2003 to 2009. The innovative portfolio assessment and interdisciplinary curriculum at Fannie Lou was based on the philosophy of the Coalition of Essential Schools and offers a valuable alternative to the standardized data-driven models now in favor in New York state and the nation. In a genuine tragedy for public education, the Coalition for Essential Schools was compelled to cease operations in March, 2017. This has made it even more important to preserve and publicize the truly student-centered learning environment as CES schools like Fannie Lou. As part of that effort, this book will also be available as a free PDF at

The work at Fannie Lou and other small public high schools was supported by the National Academy for Excellent Teaching at Columbia University Teachers College. NAFET was unfortunately dependent on foundation funds invested with the Madoff ponzi scheme and ceased operations in 2009.

Art and Humanities class at Fannie Lou

Monday, January 30, 2017

Emmet Till's Father and a Guy from Auburn NY

    Emmet Till

This week of “alternative facts” emanating from Donald Trump has coincided with the admission – sixty years too late – of a lie that condemned a young black boy named Emmet Till to a horrible death. The racism and hatred which our new president is calling up from the depths of our history has never been more than occasionally dormant,  but we need to believe that truth in the end will always overcome even the most vicious and destructive of lies. 
     As to the amazingly trivial lies that pour forth from new chief executive about the weather, the size of crowds and what he said five minutes earlier, those may defy expectation but they do serve to create a climate in which the big lies about Mexico, Muslims, and Black people are more readily believed - even in some corners of our usually rational upstate New York.
    Of course, people can hold to a lie for a long time, a lifetime even. But at long last the woman whose lies cost young Emmet Till his life in 1955 has finally come clean. Historian Timothy B. Tyson told The Associated Press on Saturday that Carolyn Donham broke her long public silence in an interview with him in 2008. According to the professor, he spoke to the 83 year old Donham for several hours and she admitted inventing the attempted rape story about Emmet, although she did not offer any explanation for her actions. Her husband and his brother were charged with the 14 year old boy’s murder and she testified in their defense during the trial, claiming that Emmet had grabbed her and “in profane terms, bragged about his history with white women. An all-white jury predictably acquitted them although Donham’s husband Roy Bryant later admitted, or bragged, about his guilt to Look Magazine.

    Carolyn Bryant Donham

  Shocking as Carolyn Donham’s sixty-two year silence is, I find it even more remarkable that after her admission, she evidently resumed her silence and made no effort to reach out to the Till family or to tell anyone else what she had done. Professor Tyson’s only defense for not revealing this information when he first heard it nine years ago is that “historians think in different terms than do journalists. I'm more interested in what speaks to the ages than in what is the latest media thing.”  Professor Tyson’s privileging of history “over the latest media thing” suggests that writers and historians owe nothing to the moral crises of their own time, but the corroding issue of racism is not something that can be put on a shelf for later study. In every era of American history, the racists will always say they must murder or abuse black or brown men to save us (white) people from some dark and evil threat. And the bizarre immigrant rape fantasies spewed by Breitbart and similar Trumpist sites are direct echoes of the lies told by Carolyn Dunham so long ago.

    Louis Till

By coincidence this week also brought attention to the great African American novelist John Edgar Wideman’s  Writing to Save a Life about the life and execution of Emmet’s father, Louis TillLouis has long interested me, in part because he was jailed with the poet and fascist collaborator Ezra Pound near the end of the second world war. He makes an appearance in my short novel, inspired by the war stories of an old friend, John Schillace (Squillace in the novel) of Auburn, NY.  

USO Dance at Auburn NY around the time when 
John Schillace was drafted (from the Fingerlakes Blog)

Here is an excerpt: In The Forest of Tombolo:

    There weren't any cots and only a few blankets. I looked around and saw thirty or forty colored guys staring at my face, probably ready to blame me for everything every white man had ever done to them. Washington tried to tell them I was okay but that only got him some shit. Both of us were slapped around a little bit before one of them said they should lay off.       “This white boy can't be too bad if they threw him in here with us.”
   “I'm Louie Till,” he said when the rest of them went back to whatever it was they were doing before we interrupted their fun. “You a poet?”
    “A poet?”
    “Yeah, the other white guy here says he's a famous poet. Crazy as a bedbug.”
    “Naw,” explained Washington. “We been runnin' a black market game.”
    “You're shittin' me. They don't put y'all here for black market. This here tent's for the worst of the worst. They gonna hang me as soon as they get round to it.”
    “For what?” I asked.
    “Rapin' and murderin' an Italian girl. Only I never done it. White boys did it but I'm the one they gonna hang for it.”
    “You mean they gonna hang everybody here?” Washington winced, pretty banged up from the beatings he took.“We deserters but we never killed nobody.”
    “Maybe they hang you and give this white boy life. But I think they hang white boys too. Everybody says they gonna hang the poet on account of he was workin' for Mussolini.”
    I was plenty scared, thinking they would charge us with joining the enemy. That had to be a hanging offense. “You said the poet guy was crazy. They won't hang crazy people, will they?”
    “You thinkin' of doin' a crazy act, huh? Don't think you could do it like old Ezra. I was handcuffed to him all the way from Genoa and I guarantee you never gonna talk as crazy as that old man. He sayin' President Truman gonna fly him straight over to Tokyo on account of how he can talk Chink and Jap. Him and this Chink named Confucius gonna work out the whole thing so Japan surrenders nice n' peaceful. He says he gonna do some deals with old Joe Stalin too, 'cause he talk Russki like a champ. Can you match that kinda crazy talk?”
    “I guess not.”
    Louie Till was a very decent guy, and as I got to know him, I could see he wasn't taking the prospect of hanging as easy as he put on. He had a baby son and when he talked about never seeing his boy, he got real sad. You probably heard about the son, Emmet Till. He grew up without a father after Louie got hung, and it was all over the news when the KKK down in Alabama lynched him just for whistling at a white woman.
    Every day it seemed they took out another colored fella to be hung, and I was scared shitless. I knew there had to be a court martial first, but those were always fixed deals, and you only had a few hours before they put the rope around your neck. I was awake all night dreaming up totally impossible ways to escape. Besides the two lines of barbed wire and the dogs, the klieg lights were on all night and the MP's had two machine guns trained on the barracks. Like Louie said, they considered us the worst of the worst and weren't about to let any of us go climbing over the fence and strolling away.
    I thought my number was up on the day that Sergeant Sessions and his pal came into the tent and pointed a long bony finger in my direction. “Wa'al, you a whi'man, huh? Git ov'here.” His southern accent was so bad I hardly understood a word he was saying. When I didn't move, he just yoked his arm across my throat and dragged me out of there. Washington must have tried to stop them because the last I saw, the other GI had beaten him to the floor and was kicking him in the head.
    When we were outside the wire, they dumped me on the ground. “What' a you, a fuckin' nigger-lovin' queer or a whi'man? Stand y'self up at attention when I'm talkin' t'you.”
    I got to my feet and did my best to stand steady while the sergeant walked around me, poking at my ribs with his billy club. “Tha's better. Now folla me and try'n act like a whi'man.”
When we reached a bunch of tents that weren't surrounded by barbed wire, Sergeant Sessions told me I was a fucking disgrace to my race. “But ya ain't no nigger, are you? You kinda dark. You half-nigger? You tell me the truth or I beat you to death here'n'now.”
    I told him my parents were Italian but I was born in New York state. “You a yankee Eye-talian? Tha's almos' bein' a nigger in my book.” He thought he was pretty funny and began to laugh himself silly. “Na, you ain't no nigger. Sorry 'scuse for a whi'man but a whi'man all the same. I got a job for ya.”
    “Yes, sir.”
    “Ya can call me sarge, that's good enough. Sergeant First Class Lucius B. Sessions from Shit Creek, Alabama. Here, have some coffee.”
    Sergeant Sessions handed me some clean fatigues, and outlined his plan for me. “Get you a shave'n'shower and you'll pass for a soljer. No reason why you can't stand guard for a sixteen hour stretch, is there?”
   “No sarge, I'll do whatever I'm told to do.”
   “Sure as shit you will. Just keep your eyes open for brass and don't never fall asleep, and we'll be the best a'friends. The thing is we got us another whi'man here, but I can't do nothin' for him. He's a traitor and your job is jus' make sure he don't kill himself before he gets hung.”
   “The poet?”
   “You know'im?”
   “No, I just heard there was a crazy poet here. Or writer or something.”
  "Asshole buddies with old Benito is what Mr. Ezra Pound was. A genuine traitor who I woulda had shot the day we got'im but the brasshats are stallin'. Meantime we gotta stand guard and I am sick of staying up all night long watchin' the fuckin' traitor snore away like he dint have not a care in the'world. And that's where you come in. You gonna watch him sleep, only you best not fall asleep y'self or I beat you to death, you get it?”
    And that's how I ended up meeting Ezra Pound. Of course, I'd never heard of him, being a high school dropout like I was, but I knew I had fallen into a pretty sweet deal. Sergeant Session was the worst bigot I ever met but lucky for me I was white, and one thing he could not abide was seeing a white man thrown in with a bunch of coloreds. Seemed too much like race-mixing to him, I guess, so he killed two birds with one stone. He and his cousin Lamar got out of having to guard Pound every night and he stood by a fellow white man. I didn't know it at the time but he covered his tracks by ripping up all the paperwork on my crimes. As far as the official Army records went, I had never deserted, never ran a black market game, never fraternized with Nazis and Fascists, never been arrested during the raid at Tombolo.

    John Edgar Wideman

Wideman’s book, of course, is not focused on an unknown upstate guy assigned to guard a crazy poet, but on a black man who was hanged for rape and murder and whose son would be lynched ten years later. As Thomas Chatterton Williams (New York Times 1/29/2017) puts it, “(Wideman's) disposition is to bypass blunt polemic and make his case through description and story, which is by necessity inventive, conditional and ambiguous. Simplicity sells, but the truth is seldom simple.” Williams goes on to say:

    He (Louis Till)  is not Rosa Parks by any stretch and Wideman makes no attempt to sanctify his character. Yet there is undeniably something in him that the author not only relates to but also admires, and it has to do with the fact that Till does not ever beg or plead but keeps quiet, even stoic, in the face of a system that “provides agents ample, perhaps irresistible, opportunities for abuse.”
    What unsettles Wideman about the Till case is not only that it was flagrantly flawed but that everything had the veneer of propriety about it. “Every T crossed, every I dotted,” he writes. “But seamless, careful, by-the-book performance provides no evidence of what the spider’s thinking about the fly enmeshed in its web.” Even participants in an unjust system can be blind to the ways they sustain it. It’s a jarring idea when taken to its logical conclusion, that, independent of any willful bigotry, the person on the jury or in the voting booth may not even know why she decided the way that she did. For Wideman, this means that transcendent racial harmony may permanently lie on the horizon, just beyond our reach. Which is also why, in his view, storytelling takes on the dimensions of a battle royal, a “never-ending struggle” to make sense of the world, which implies a kind of “ultimate democracy” but also “a kind of chaos.”

The reality, the facts, are
always there, but it is a "never-ending struggle" to find them in the sea of lies and delusions surrounding race, resentment and fear in America - and never has that been more true than today.

On Amazon