FPP Interview: Max S. Gordon

FPP spoke with essayist Max S. Gordon via email about the struggle to keep Trump out of our thoughts and conversations, how Pence needs to know he is not going back in the closet for him, and so much more. Come out to Shrine on Tuesday, November 7th when he joins Ibrahim Abdul-MatinYarimar BonillaKeesha Gaskins-NathanPJ MarshallMatthew Olzmann, Suzanne Russell and Carla Shedd for One Year Later: Writers, Artists, & Advocates Respond to Our American Crisis.

662F67E4-ED6C-4C62-B352-5297B7376F08What has this year been like for you? Bizarre.  Even now, a year later, when I watch the news it still has a surreal quality. I see Trump at the podium, and I feel like, “This couldn’t have really happened, could it?”  In some ways, I hope I never lose that feeling.  I am very determined that this never be okay.

One of the most difficult things is keeping him out of my head. I have friends who are anti-Trump, but they won’t stop talking about him, day and night. I understand following the news, but they don’t seem to understand that Trump is a narcissist, and on some level, narcissists don’t care whether you hate them or not, they just want you to keep them on the brain. It doesn’t matter, as long as they are the only conversation. I consider it a victory if I have a few hours a day where I haven’t thought or talked about him.

How have Trump’s politics and policies affected you and your communities? How have you been unaffected? I notice I’ve been keeping my eye on people, trying to locate who is a bit sassier during this administration, who feels more empowered to harm. I feel we are in the testing stage, it’s still pretty early, and we’re all watching each other, thinking, how far will this shit go?  What can I get away with? I think Trump feels the same way.  One wants to be vigilant without being paranoid, but sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

The other day I was walking along a path in the woods in upstate, NY, and there was a white family in front of me. A couple in the group was distracted and stood completely in my way and they didn’t move. I had to very obviously walk around them. They didn’t acknowledge me or apologize for taking up the entire space on the road.  It was like I wasn’t even there. I was so pissed. And the first thought I had was, “Is this going to be life in the Trump era?  Black Invisibilty?”

Now, to be fair, the same thing could have happened if I had been white.  They might have just been rude people. But I’m not white. And the fact that I was thinking that, that I was worried, means that Trump is affecting me on a deeper psychological level.  The way you know he’s won is when you wake up one morning and decide not to go for a walk in the woods because you don’t want to have to risk dealing with that humiliation, that shame.  The park then becomes all white.  And that’s how it begins – that’s how the world gets smaller and smaller.

Has the current political moment affected your art or work life? If yes, how so?  I’d like to think it has encouraged me to be bolder, to take more risks. That’s why I chose this picture. I think there is a process of coarsening that is taking place right now, a cultural homogenization. We can talk about walls, and bans, but it’s really all the same – it’s a war on difference.

Now Trump, on some level, no matter how much he panders to his base, is a New Yorker, and his time on The Apprentice means that he will always be a part of the celebrity freak show.  It’s Mike Pence I’m really talking about here.

I wrote about Pence when he was governor, and my message to him was, in short, I’m not going back into the closet for you.  People act like “the closet” is some cosy little space where you hang your shirts and jackets, where you keep a rack for your shoes, and a shelf where you tuck your sexual orientation until you’re ready to tell the world.  But I think the closet for many LGBTQ people looks more like those tunnels in the movie, It.  Sometimes you don’t know if you’re going to make it out of that shit alive.  That’s why we have to keep telling the truth, and boldly.

What didn’t you see coming?  Megyn Kelly hosting the Today Show.  For some reason I feel really violated by that. I read her book, Settle for More when I was in London and what I found out about Kelly is that she comes from a pretty liberal family and community–we could have gone to the same high school. In other words, I think she had to contort herself into this racist thing she became on Fox News.  She’s deeply contrived. And I’m offended that now on The Today Show she’s what she should have been all along–and she seems to be getting away with it.

I watch her studio audience sitting behind her and it feels like something from The Handmaid’s Tale.  I’ve heard her talk about sexual harassment and I very much admire her sexual harassment fight against Fox.  But I’d love for someone to ask her, “Has your consciousness about victimization and women translated to having more compassion for people of color and racial injustice?”  I can hear her now, “And we’ll be right back.”

What should people focus on right now?  A good friend of mine, the filmmaker Iyatunde Folayan, often talks about finding sanctuary.  I think we need to locate those places where we are accepted 100% for who we are.  In some cases, that may only be the bathroom mirror.  We need to know where we are welcome, where we can express ourselves and not be reduced.  I’m experimented right now with resistance through sensuality.  I’m not saying we don’t still march, and act up, but when the black body is in peril, bath oils and candles can be a form of resistance.  Right now, I’m dealing with my addictions to Coca-Cola and McDonald’s again because I’m really frightened when I read about Trump and North Korea and those are my childhood “fear foods” – they always pop up when I’m terrified.

Resistance for me must involve examining my self care as a man who is gay and black.  It’s what my recovery from alcohol and drug addiction is about.  I saw a black woman the other day in New York, beautiful in a yellow dress, so vibrant, absolutely radiant.   Seeing her, in some way, helped me to deal with this whole Trump thing in a way I can’t exactly describe.  But I do know that self care is an important part of one’s personal protest – especially when you come from a targeted group.

What gives you hope? The truth telling that’s been happening around bullies, and in particular, bullies and sexual assault.  I’ve written at length about Bill Cosby, but it is amazing to see the conversation taking place now around R. Kelly, Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, and especially Harvey Weinstein. With Harvey, there seems to be an unprecedented level of accountability. Anyone who was near him has to come forward and answer, “What did you know? And why didn’t you do anything?” It’s like Judgement at Nuremberg. And because of Weinstein’s power globally, this news has influenced the world. I’d like to think we’re moving closer to ending the reign of the entitled male, (and we’re finding out he can be a Democrat or Republican, straight or gay). If we are, the whole world is going to change, maybe overnight.

Is there a person, or a community, or artwork, or anything at all that has inspired you these past days?  I’ve always been interested in Harriet Tubman. For me, she’s the original Wonder Woman. I marvel at her courage and her accomplishments. And she inspires me because it’s so tempting to think, “I can’t shine right now or be in my full glory because things are so bad in 2017.” But, I imagine things were pretty shitty in 1849, and that didn’t stop her from escaping in her late twenties and returning 17 more times to help others go free. Harriet teaches me: you shine where you are from who you are. The rest is weather.

When you visualize a bright future, what do you see?  What do you hear? I am a child of the Seventies, inspired by “Free to Be…You and Me”, “Big Blue Marble”, “Vegetable Soup“.  I feel those works encouraged compassion and understanding, an appreciation for difference. So I am not ashamed to say, I visualize love and kindness.  I think Republicans and Democrats both have a lot to answer for. We play so many bullshit games when there is serious need out here in these streets. The bright future I see is an end to so many people’s suffering and pain.  Life is challenging, I think we all know this, but it shouldn’t be this hard for so many.  I keep seeing all these news reports about the opiod crisis, the opiod crisis.  We don’t have an opiod crisis, we have a crisis of heartbreak.

The beautiful singer, Nancy Lamott had a song called, “We Can Be Kind“.  And it’s true.  I think we have to look for sanctuary in small acts of lovingkindness. Sometimes I don’t know if we have ten years or ten minutes left with this man in office, but I do know that I can go downstairs to the deli in the next moment and be kind to someone. And maybe the next moment is the only one that matters.

One Year Later: Writers, Artists, & Advocates Respond to Our American Crisis

One year ago, Donald J. Trump was declared winner of the 2016 US Presidential Election. We’ve been coping with crises – new, and continued – ever since. Join us on Tuesday, November 7th (7-9pm) at Shrine Harlem as acclaimed writers, artist, and advocates respond. Bring your responses, too – they’ll be room for audience participation. Featured participants: Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, Yarimar Bonilla, Keesha Gaskins-Nathan, Max S. Gordon, PJ Marshall, Matthew Olzmann, Suzanne Russell, and Carla Shedd. Shrine is located at 2271 Adam Clayton Powell Blvd between 133rd and 134th, near the 2/3 135th stop and the B/C 135th stop. Admission is free.

ibrahim headshot (1) (1)Ibrahim Abdul-Matin is an author, radio contributor, and environmental policy consultant. He has appeared on FOX News, Al-Jazeera, ABC News, and contributed to “The Takeaway.” As a writer, he’s appeared in The Washington Post, CNN.com, The Daily Beast, GOOD Magazine, ColorLines, Wiretap and Elan Magazine. His is the author of the book Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet and contributor to All-American: 45 American Men On Being Muslim. He is a former sustainability policy advisor to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and member of the founding team of the Brooklyn Academy for Science and the Environment. He currently serves as the Director of Community Affairs at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection and on the board of the International Living Future Institute. Ibrahim earned a BA in History and Political Science from University of Rhode Island and a master’s in public administration from Baruch College, City University of New York.  

Yari B&WYarimar Bonilla is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Latino & Caribbean Studies at Rutgers University and currently a visiting scholar at the Russel Sage Foundation where she is completing a manuscript about Puerto Rico’s political, economic, and environmental crisis. She is the author of Non-Sovereign Futures: French Caribbean Politics in the Wake of Disenchantment and one of the founders of the website: Puerto Rico Syllabus: Essential Tools for Critical Thinking about the Puerto Rican Debt Crisis.

Screen Shot 2017-10-20 at 1.40.12 PMKeesha Gaskins-Nathan is the director for the Democratic Practice–United States program at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Ms. Gaskins-Nathan is a long-time organizer, lobbyist, and trial attorney. Prior to joining the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, she was senior counsel with the Brennan Center for Justice, serving as the director of the Redistricting and Representation program. Her portfolio included redistricting reform, voting rights, and elections, with a focus on voter suppression issues. Ms. Gaskins-Nathan is a frequent lecturer and writer on issues related to women and politics, movement building, and democratic reform. She is the author of a number of articles and publications related to voter suppression, voting rights, and redistricting. Ms. Gaskins-Nathan served as executive director for the League of Women Voters Minnesota, where she worked on a wide range of voting rights and civil rights issues. Prior to that, she was the executive director for the Minnesota Women’s Political Caucus. She worked for a number of years as a trial attorney, most notably with the firm Bowman and Brooke, LLC. Ms. Gaskins-Nathan also served as a special assistant appellate public defender for the State of Minnesota. She is a frequent commentator on voting rights and redistricting reform and regularly appears on numerous news and public affairs programming, including past appearances on PBS’s NewsHour, MSNBC, and Bill Moyers.

IMG_0985Max S. Gordon is a writer and performer. He has been published in the anthologies Inside Separate Worlds: Life Stories of Young Blacks, Jews and Latinos (University of Michigan Press, 1991), and Go the Way Your Blood Beats: An Anthology of African-American Lesbian and Gay Fiction (Henry Holt, 1996).  His work has also appeared at The New Civil Rights Movement, openDemocracy, Democratic Underground and Truthout, in Z Magazine, Gay Times, Sapience, and other progressive on-line and print magazines in the U.S. and internationally.  His published essays include, “Bill Cosby, Himself: Fame, Narcissism and Sexual Violence”; “Be Glad That You Are Free: On Nina, Miles Ahead, Lemonade, Lauryn Hill and Prince”, “The Cult of Whiteness” and “Faggot as Footnote: On ‘I Am Not Your Negro’, ‘Can I Get A Witness’, and ‘Moonlight'”.

Olzmann AJB 1Matthew Olzmann is the author of two collections of poems, Mezzanines, which was
selected for the Kundiman Prize, and Contradictions in the Design, both from Alice James Books.  His writing has appeared in Best American Poetry, Kenyon Review, New England Review, Brevity, the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day and elsewhere.  He’s received fellowships from Kundiman, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Kresge Arts Foundation. Currently, he is a lecturer at Dartmouth College and also teaches in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.

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PJ Marshall is an American actor known for his versatility, forceful onscreen presence, and athleticism. He began his career with guest roles on television, appearing on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Oz, and Law & Order: L.A. Marshall soon added movies to his resume, appearing in a variety of films, from Mississippi Grind, staring Ryan Reynolds, to Catch .44, starring Forest Whitaker, to Maggie, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Recent television credits include the plantation overseer Bill Meekes on WGN’s Underground, Detective Jack Colquitt on American Horror Story. His stage work includes Off-Broadway productions of Reservoir Dogs, Getting Out, Trailerville, Sam Shepard’s A Lie of the Mind and Fool for Love, for which he received a Garland Award nomination. Prior to becoming an actor, Marshall was a professional dancer, martial artist, and competitive surfer. He studied acting at the Wynn Handman Studio.

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Suzanne Russell is an activist artist, writer, and lawyer living in Copenhagen and New  York. A big part of her social art practice for the past ten years has been providing free legal and social support to refugees, mostly unaccompanied teenagers in Europe. Since the election in 2016, Suzanne has been focusing on changing the political system in USA through a combination of artistic and practical actions. She is currently a graduate student at San Francisco Institute of Art and a volunteer lawyer for immigrants in the USA and Europe.

 

Screen Shot 2017-10-20 at 1.37.17 PMCarla Shedd is Associate Professor of Urban Education and Sociology at The Graduate Center, CUNY. Shedd received her Ph.D. in sociology from Northwestern University. Her research and teaching interests focus on: race/ethnicity; crime/criminal justice; law/inequality; urban education, and urban policy. Shedd’s book, Unequal City: Race, Schools, and Perceptions of Injustice (October 2015Russell Sage), has won multiple academic awards including the prestigious C. Wright Mills Award given to the top book on social inequality each year. Unequal City deeply probes the intersections of race, place, education, and the expansion of the American carceral state using Chicago’s stratified education and residential landscape as its site of investigation. Shedd’s current research focuses on New York City’s juvenile justice system assessing how young people’s linked institutional experiences influence their placement on and movement along the carceral continuum. 

What Just Happened? Writers Respond to the 2016 Presidential Election

fpp-poster-111516-finalOn Tuesday, November 15th, FPP will focus on the 2016 presidential election. As in: what just happened? We have a fantastic lineup of writers to help us make sense of  – or complicate further – what has been a wild and wrenching year: Ibrahim Abdul-Matin; Grace Aneiza Ali; Hafizah Geter; Max S. Gordon; Hajar Husseini; Morgan Jerkins; and Chris Prioleau. We want to hear from you, too. Audience participation will be part of this program.

7:00pm-9:00pm at Shrine World Music Venue, 2271 Adam Clayton Powell Blvd.Near the 2/3 135th stop, and the B/C 135th stop.Happy Hour until 8pm. Cake will be served. Admission is free. Come talk politics, resistance, and the way forward with us in Harlem!

ibrahim-abdul-matinIbrahim Abdul-Matin is the author of Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet and contributor to All-American: 45 American Men On Being Muslim. He is a former sustainability policy advisor to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and founder of the Brooklyn Academy for Science and the Environment. In 2013, Ibrahim was honored by NBC’s TheGrio.com as one of 100 African Americans Making history today. He currently serves as the Director of Community Affairs at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. He has experience in the civic, public, and private sectors, and with government, public administration, and media. Ibrahim earned a BA in History and Political Science from University of Rhode Island and a master’s in public administration from Baruch College, City University of New York.

grace-ali-headshot-2014Grace Aneiza Ali is an independent curator, faculty member in the Department of Art & Public Policy, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University and Editorial Director of OF NOTE — an award-winning online magazine on art and activism. She has served as Editor & Digital Curator for several of the magazine’s art and social justice issues, including: The Water Issue, The Burqa Issue, The Imprisoned Issue, and The Immigrant Issue. Her essays on photography have been published in Harvard’s Transition Magazine, Nueva Luz Journal, Small Axe Journal, among others. In 2014, she received the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts Curatorial Fellowship. In 2016, she served as curator for Un|Fixed Homeland at Aljira, a Center of Contemporary Art, an exhibition which brought together global Guyanese artists using photography to explore issues of migration and diaspora. Highlights of her curatorial work include Guest Curator for the 2014 Addis Ababa Foto Fest; Guest Curator of the Fall 2013 Nueva Luz Photographic Journal; and Co-Curator/Host of the Visually Speaking photojournalism public program series at the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center. Ali is a World Economic Forum ‘Global Shaper’ and Fulbright Scholar. She holds an M.A. in Africana Studies from New York University and a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Maryland, College Park, where she graduated magna cum laude. Ali was born in Guyana and lives in New York City.

hafizah-geterHafizah Geter is a 2014 Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship finalist. Her poems have appeared in RHINO, Drunken Boat, Boston Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Narrative Magazine, among others. She is on the board of VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts, a poetry editor for Phantom Books and co-curates the reading series EMPIRE with Ryann Stevenson.

 

max-s-gordonMax S. Gordon is a writer and performer. He has been published in the anthologies Inside Separate Worlds: Life Stories of Young Blacks, Jews and Latinos (University of Michigan Press, 1991), and Go the Way Your Blood Beats: An Anthology of African-American Lesbian and Gay Fiction (Henry Holt, 1996).  His work has also appeared at The New Civil Rights Movement, openDemocracy, Democratic Underground and Truthout, in Z Magazine, Gay Times, Sapience, and other progressive on-line and print magazines in the U.S. and internationally.  His recent published essays include, “Bill Cosby, Himself: Fame, Narcissism and Sexual Violence”; “The Cult of Whiteness: On Donald Trump, #OscarsSoWhite and the end of America” and “Be Glad That You are Free: On Nina, Miles Ahead, Lemonade, Lauryn Hill and Prince”.

hajar-husseiniHajar Husseini was born in 1991 in Iran to an Afghan immigrant family. After the collapse of the Taliban regime, her family came back to Afghanistan when she was thirteen. After graduation from high school, she worked for several non-profit organizations. She started writing for Afghan Women Writing Project in April 2015. Her involvement with AWWP lead her to collaborate on a song about domestic violence with Eleanor Dubinsky. Currently based in Troy, NY, she attends The Sage Colleges where she received a full undergraduate scholarship from the Initiative to Educate Afghan Women to study “Writing and Contemporary Thought.” She wants to become a writer, a journalist, and a literary translator.

morgan-jerkinsMorgan Jerkins is a writer living in Harlem. Besides being a Contributing Editor at Catapult, her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, ELLE, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, and BuzzFeed, among many others. Her debut essay collection, This Will Be My Undoing, is forthcoming from Harper Perennial.  She received her Bachelor’s in Comparative Literature from Princeton University and MFA in Writing and Literature from Bennington College.

chris-prioleau

Chris Prioleau earned his MFA in Fiction from Columbia University, where he taught creative writing and helped found Apogee Journal, a journal of art and literature featuring work that explores and challenges identity politics.  Chris writes fiction, essays, and sketch comedy. His work has been featured on The Awl and at sketch comedy events throughout the city. Chris is the Development & Communications Manager for NY Writers Coalition and lives in Brooklyn.