I AM…

 

(for Billie, who insisted that I boldly say, “I AM,” and for Nevaina (nih-von-yah)—one of many actors who were once under Billie’s direction—who reminded me to say it even louder)

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I am Thomas and Syble’s daughter.

I am the granddaughter of Lorena and George and Minnie and Will.

I am a historian.

I am an intellectual.

I am a dramaturge and patron of theatre and the arts.

I am a Jazz fan.

I am a Johnny Mathis fanatic.

I am eloquent.

I am also a great procrastinator.

I am one who is often impatient.

I am one who does not like braggarts or pretenders.

I am a good and loyal friend.

I am also one who, some times, does not listen.

I am a woman who will drop you like a bad habit if you lack empathy or fidelity.

I am an environmentalist.

I am a lover of animals and nature.

I am a lover of children.

I am a Black Nationalist because it makes sense to take care of your home and your people first.

I am a woman that does not deal easily with shallow people.

I am a woman that prefers simplicity.

I am a woman who is fond of the exotic.

I am a woman who has learned how to say, “No” the hard way.

I am a woman who does not like playing small.

I am a woman who never discounts what other people have to go through to do whatever it is that they need or have to do…which is why I am deeply offended when other people discount what I go through.

I am a woman that dislikes men and women who try to prove their worth with things rather than demonstrate who they are by what they believe in and what they put into practice.

I am a woman who would prefer the company of a poet over that of a stockbroker or the company of a musician over that of an accountant or the company of a college professor over that of a CEO of a Fortune 500 company…

I am my mother and father’s daughter.

— Leslye Joy Allen 

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

Saying Goodbye to Dr. Kuhn

By Leslye Joy Allen

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I am writing this tribute now, because I have to mentally recalibrate, take a brief break over the holidays and get back to work on writing my dissertation. Dr. Kuhn would not want anything less than that.   Dr. Clifford Matthew Kuhn, Associate Professor of History at Georgia State University and the first Executive Director of the Oral History Association joined the ancestors the second week of November.  He was 63-years-old…he was also my Dissertation Advisor…

He was…there is that word: was.  You would think that as a historian I would be accustomed to the past tense.  Yet, referring to him as anything other than vibrantly and intellectually alive is difficult. Preparing for the Georgia State University Memorial for Dr. Clifford Matthew Kuhn on December 13, 2015 is harder than I ever could imagine.  I first met him when he was preparing the centennial of the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot back in early 2006…

Dr. Glenn T. Eskew introduced us because he recalled my telling him that my late maternal grandmother, born in 1886, was a 20-year-old student at then Clark Normal School (later Clark College, now Clark Atlanta University) when the campuses of Atlanta’s Historically Black Colleges became the refuge for so many of the Black victims of the Atlanta Race Riot.  Dr. Kuhn was delighted to find a graduate student such as myself that had a personal story that I could tell about this particularly painful moment in Atlanta’s history.  Dr. Clarissa Myrick Harris, who partnered with Dr. Kuhn, interviewed me while filmmaker Ms. Bailey Barash filmed it for posterity.  I was proud and humbled to contribute my grandmother’s story.

Nearly everything I know about Oral History, I learned from Dr. Kuhn: how to get people to talk about their lives; how to make sure they know that they are not obligated to tell their stories; how to make sure that I, the historian and interviewer, did not and will not ever exploit their memories; how to truly listen. I remember everything he taught me.

One of the last things he said to me was that he was so proud of a brief and recent assignment I had in the Georgia State University Library’s Digital Collections where I conducted four interviews for the Planning Atlanta Project. He recommended me for that position and I was glad that I did well and did not let him down…

As I prepare myself, as best I can, to attend Georgia State University’s Memorial Celebration for Dr. Kuhn, I fondly recall a conversation where we discovered that both of us loved Jazz.  Not long after that conversation, there were a few times when we were supposed to be doing something academic, but we drifted into a deep discussion about everyone from Duke Ellington to Nina Simone to Wayne Shorter to Ahmad Jamal.  Yet, that is natural for us historians.  WE have to be aware of everything, so we often look at and listen to everything.  Our conversations were often mixtures of him talking lovingly about his wife Kathie Klein and his two sons Josh and Gabe Klein-Kuhn and History and Jazz.   I will miss that…  

So, below is one for the late, great historian and scholar Dr. Clifford Matthew Kuhn: a video of the great Jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal playing the classic “Poinciana.”  When the percussionists in Jamal’s quartet go into full swing around the time 4:53, I found myself ferociously patting my foot to the infectious rhythms and crying at the same time. Àṣé.

 

 

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

Frank Wittow’s Legacy…Nevaina’s Dream

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

The late great actor-director-educator Frank Wittow remains one of my favorite figures in Atlanta’s rich theatre history.  His work with the late, great Georgia Allen was second to none—He placed this multi-talented Black woman in a non-servant role on an Atlanta stage in the early 1960s when the city and indeed the nation were still grappling with the idea that maybe Black folk were more than just the servants of White folk. Georgia Allen had appeared in numerous films and theatre productions throughout the nation and on the campuses of Spelman and Clark Colleges, and Wittow was wise enough to recognize Allen’s superior gifts.  He was simply a different kind of White man. There were no syrupy and useless White liberal platitudes about race relations spewing out of his mouth—he just did what he wanted to do.

Now, Allen predated Wittow’s arrival in Atlanta and she had a much longer career, and to fully honor her contributions to all of the arts and to education would require writing a tome. So, I will save that project for a later date.  Much like Allen, however, Wittow directed, trained, and mentored some of the best performers on the planet and took theatre performances into Atlanta Public Schools throughout much of his life.  He did this almost to the day he died in 2006.  One of his younger protégées had the benefit of his training…

Her name is Nevaina Rhodes—her first name is pronounced “Nih-Von-yah” like “lasagna.”  The first time I saw her perform, I did not know she had any affiliation with Wittow.  When she told me her basic philosophy about acting there was something refreshingly new about her approach to her craft, but also something rather familiar…Let me explain…

You see, when I was growing up in Atlanta, an actor, a musician, a poet, an academic, an intellectual, was simply part of the community in which we all lived.  Importantly, you had to participate in the arts and the humanities, and it did not matter if you had talent or an exceptional intellect or not.  While I adore and admire many younger performers and scholars—and by younger, I mean anyone born after the Baby Boom—I find an increasing number of them who are quite insular; they have fewer connections to each other or with the folk in the communities where they live.  Unlike the Atlanta of my childhood, in recent years I have attended far too many functions filled with musicians, actors, poets, filmmakers, and historians and I end up being the only person in the room who actually knows everybody in that room…

Well, to make a long story short, Nevaina’s conceptualization of Real Actors Workshop (RAW) makes it open to amateur and professional alike.  Her basic theory is that whether you are a professional actor or not, all of us humans act and perform in certain ways depending on the circumstances.  In other words, she insists that, we all are actors. Although she is a North Carolinian by birth, her approach feels much like the Atlanta of my youth, where the long theatre traditions on the campuses of our Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and people like Georgia Allen and Frank Wittow made certain that theatre reached who it was supposed to reach—the people. We were not a community of strangers…everybody knew everybody, which is the way it should be.

I should add that I am writing this to inform you that Nevaina is not only a dazzling performer and an amazing drama coach, but she is also a real survivor. Native Atlantans, in particular, love people with a strong work ethic and those who bounce back when things do not always go as planned.  Less than five years ago, Nevaina miraculously and fully recovered from a stroke that could have easily killed her; and she remained positive while she also endured some personal losses that probably would have destroyed some weaker souls.

Today her Real Actors Workshop (RAW) is headquartered at Dream Café, Atlanta’s first cafe and empowerment lounge, which is owned by Nevaina and her partners, Jay White and Stevie Baggs.  Dream Café‘s premise is simple.  It is designed to be a place where artists, intellectuals, young and old folk can meet and greet and talk and achieve their dreams, over coffee and healthy food.  This concept and these young owners have my support not only because it feels familiar to me, but because it feels right…and it also feels rather cyclical…

Now, I am aware that my hometown has changed.  Nothing stays the same, nor should it stay the same.  Yet, there are some core elements that we must never lose—namely, the ability to connect with each other and exchange ideas.  Not even a semblance of community can survive if we lose this ability.  So, I am proud to call Nevaina a friend. It has been a great privilege to watch her perform; and I have been encouraged by her intellect, her big smile, and her big spirit…I am also certain that Wittow (and Allen) are watching her from that place where great souls go when they leave this earth…So, in honor of them and in honor of future generations, go visit the Dream Café, and write your dream on the wall. Àṣé!

To learn more about Real Actors Workshop (RAW), and Nevaina’s distinguished career as an actor, drama coach, and public speaker, click here: Nevaina Rhodes Inspirational Speaker and Drama Therapy Specialist.

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

Artistic and Intellectual Dangers: Two Scenarios

By Leslye Joy Allen                                                                                                     Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Ph.D. Candidate

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

Scenario One:

Although it now seems ages ago, I remember one of my former classmates told me something quite revelatory shortly before my graduation from Agnes Scott College.  She told me that when my classes were over, and I had turned in that last paper, I was going to make a discovery:  I would discover my reading and analysis addiction.  I laughed.  After all, I thought, we both were older when we returned to school to complete our college degrees.  Were we not naturally immune to the kind of excesses that affected much younger women?  Agnes Scott’s student body was and still is well over a fourth non-traditional age students, meaning students over the age of 25.

The benefit of attending school with students of various ages was that we all learned something from each other.  I was a History major and every semester I was usually assigned anywhere from 18 to 22 books to read in semesters that were usually no longer than 15 or 16 weeks.  When my classmate (who graduated before me) told me that after graduation she would get up at 6:00 AM just to go out to fetch the morning newspaper to read, I was certain she was telling one of her funny stories.  I was wrong!

After I turned in my final paper for the Senior History Colloquium, I lounged around for a couple of days and then it started: the hunt for reading material.  Now, I already owned over a thousand books.  I suddenly found myself opening books and re-reading chapters of books I had read years ago; then magazines, scholarly journals, and the TV guide.  I read a couple of stage plays, including the stage directions.  Was it possible for me to just stop reading and just let my brain relax for a moment?  Was it possible for me to pause and not do what I was trained to do?  Yet, if I did read something, could I read it just for pleasure?

Like most “Scotties,” my classmate gave me some good advice.  She said we all know that most people need to read more.  We tell our children to read books; and there is a genuine crisis in how little some people read.  Yet, she said, anything you cannot turn off for a while is controlling you, not the other way around.  Reading is absolutely necessary and essential to any good education.  Yet, when you have to struggle to allow yourself to take a break, there is a problem.  Reading and deep analysis must always be self-directed.  Deep analysis can become ineffective once it becomes an involuntary reflex.

Scenario Two:

On a few occasions, I have attended stage plays with actors.  Most of these actors I love to death.  We have sat in the audience making small talk before the show began and then WHAM!  Less than two minutes into the production, the same actors that I love were analyzing every thing:  “I wonder why the set designer placed that chair over there?”  “How did the stylist get that woman’s hair to look like that?”  After the play was over, the analysis really kicked into high gear:  “I thought that this character should have entered from the left instead of the right.”  “It was a great play, but I would have placed the intermission in a different place.”  “Why was that odd sculpture on the table in the corner?”  Soon I was thinking to myself, “Why, oh why, did I not just come to see this play by myself?”

Now, to be fair, all actors, playwrights, directors, and etcetera have to analyze plays like this.  If they do not do this, they risk overlooking important details that might compromise the integrity of their future performances and productions.  It is an exercise in understanding what works on a stage and what does not work on a stage.  They cannot take anything for granted: the lighting, the set, costumes, particular moments in the script that they believe need to grab the audience’s attention.  Yet, there is a problem when the criticisms and evaluations seem to run on automatic pilot.  There is also a problem in not being able to simply sit in an audience and just enjoy the show.

So why are these two scenarios a bit dangerous?  After all, there is every reason to complain about the lack of intellectual and artistic stimulation in society as a whole.  Most of us with any degree of brains knows that putting a book in a child’s hands or taking them to see a play or to a concert is far better than giving them $200 sneakers and video games.  Most of us have witnessed the performance that pandered to the audience for cheap laughs or sank into a ridiculous melodrama designed to do nothing more than make people weep.  We have all read the book or essay that seemed written purely for titillation.  We do not need any of that.  Yet…

The danger in never being able to simply watch a performance just for sheer enjoyment is dangerously close to losing the joy of viewing performance art altogether.  The danger in not being able to momentarily, put the book down or not being able to stop analyzing everything is also very close to becoming entirely disconnected from the very people you wish to reach and teach.  When you watch what they watch or read what they read, do you do so through their eyes and ears?  How can you know what the people expect or need to know or want to know or want to experience or need to experience unless you occasionally JOIN THEM?

So, take a moment and just chill.  Every once and awhile, when you read, simply drink in whatever you are reading, and leave your criticisms, questions, and analysis for some later time.  If you are watching a play or listening to a piece of music, just watch, just listen, just enjoy.  Pause and try to recall when everything that you know now (or think you know now) was once perfectly fresh and new to you.  Take that occasional moment to deliberately NOT review, but to renew.  Then, get back to work!

Peace.

Leslye Joy Allen is a perpetual and proud supporter of the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.
Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.

What I Learned About Creativity from My Worst Subject

By Leslye Joy Allen

Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Doctoral Student

May in the Park, No. 24
Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I do not typically write about Education per se.  Two of my favorite bloggers ModernDayChris and Matt Wilson of Everything Needs to Change do the best writing about the subject, particularly the education of children in our public school systems from Kindergarten to 12th Grade.  This essay is not so much a critique as it is a reminder about something often forgotten when conversations and analyses take place about what is wrong or right or that needs fixing in American education overall.

First, let us be honest.  Not all American public education is flawed; it is often unequal based on race and/or socioeconomic factors.  It can also suffer from certain regional economic problems, which are beyond the scope of this essay.  The quality of American higher education runs the gamut from mediocre to the best in the world.  Yet, there are certain actions and habits that can help any student regardless of the quality of that education.  Of course, the best education nurtures these habits.  So here goes…

For the record, I was possibly the world’s worst Biology student.  After routinely making grades of “A” in subjects like History and English, I nearly flunked Biology in high school.  I will not bore you with the stories about my nausea and headaches when I had to dissect some dead animal preserved in formaldehyde—That is a whole other essay by itself.  When I had to take Biology in college, I determined that I needed to not only study, but also come up with some creative ways to study.  After getting a lousy two out of twenty identifications correct on a Biology Lab Practical Exam, I arranged a meeting with my professor.  (For those of you who have forgotten what a lab practical is, it is simply a test where you identify bacteria, amoebas, and other items physically located in a biology lab, many of which are under a microscope.)

My professor informed me that he typically set up everything in the lab on Saturdays.  I asked if I could come by on Saturdays.  He said that I could, and that I could stay as long as I wished so that I could examine and take notes about all of the items in the lab.  Off to campus on Saturday I went carrying my notebooks and an assortment of colored markers so that I could literally draw what I was examining so that I could study it at home, over and over again.  On nearly ten consecutive Saturdays, I also got a chance to talk at length with my Biology professor.

I joked with him that a historian’s brain dealt with a lot, and it did not have much room for Biology.  My professor admitted that he had never been a good student of History.  We both took note of the fact that History typically tells a story; and it also typically argues a thesis, which is why you can find so many different History books about the same event that argue entirely different positions about why that event happened.  This is why Law students typically have to have some academic background in History—History teaches you to see more than one side of an argument.  Biology, however, is another matter.  That amoeba cell that you just examined under that microscope is going to remain an amoeba cell.  You can either recognize it or you cannot!

During these Saturday sessions, I had the opportunity to ask my professor numerous questions about everything in that lab.  I swiftly took notes of everything he said.  When both he and I were taking breaks from the subject matter, we discussed History, Politics, Performance Arts, and whatever was happening in the news.  He quickly discovered that while I would never be a great biologist, I was a good student in History, and a burgeoning intellectual.  So, what is my point?

The point here is I listen to students and some educators talk about subjects they describe as not preparing students for the kind of work they will be doing as adults.  “Why do I have to take Biology if I am never going to use it?”  That is a fair question.  Yet, my experience with taking a subject I might not have to use or need to use taught me several important lessons about the intrinsic value of a good education beyond the mere mastery of any particular subject matter.

First, when I made a solid “B” as my final grade for Biology, I knew I had earned it.  No one—and I certainly did not—really wants to go back to school on Saturdays.  I went back and stayed long hours and it paid off.  Second, because I was often the only student in the lab on those Saturdays I was free to speak with my professor without interruption.  Technically, I got free tutoring lessons simply by showing up and availing myself of his expertise.  Third, my professor witnessed me making an extra effort in a difficult subject.  While professors do not grade for “effort” (nor should they), it does not hurt for an instructor to see a student put in extra time in order to master a difficult subject.  Fourth, I learned that I could conquer that which was difficult.

I also finally understood lessons that my mom and my uncle, both educators, often emphasized throughout my childhood and adolescence:  Education is as much about endurance as it is anything else.  And as my mom often stated: You cannot expect a student to become the next Einstein if he or she cannot get along with other students (teamwork) and also willingly and creatively work on difficult subject matter.  Importantly, both Mom and my uncle insisted that one of the keys to a good education was the “social” skill of learning how to navigate difficulties and put in extra time without resorting to short cuts or cheating or other forms of skulduggery.  Tackling a subject that one is not good at forces a certain level of creativity—that is creativity often born of unorthodox or unconventional ways to retain and master the subject matter, and pass the class.

It is right about now that the folks that know me well would assume that I would go into one of my soapbox sessions about the necessity of arts education in schools, and how the arts make students more creative and help with spatial reasoning and a host of other skills, including enhanced skills in Mathematics and Sciences.  Well, I am not going to do that, exactly.

Exposure to the arts certainly enriches and develops creativity; and I have never met an artist that was not creative at something.  Yet, creativity is not the exclusive domain of the arts or artists.  I have met many individuals who did not have an artistic bone in their bodies, but who were highly creative people.  If students are to develop into productive individuals who can think their way through and out of complex problems, regardless of academic discipline, then education needs to not only expose students to the arts, but it should also advocate that creativity—artistic or otherwise—is an essential skill for all academic disciplines.  Furthermore, arts education advocacy need not exist on, nor should it lay sole claim to, some creative island minus its other academic counterparts.  Perhaps, this is where the real debate about education needs to begin.  More to come later…

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Leslye Joy Allen is proud to support the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.