4.11.2008

Turn The Page: Colin Channer

Back in the day, I had aspirations of being a writer. After reading the works of Langston Hughes, Dorothy West and Walter Mosley, I just knew that writing was what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to put something on paper that would affect people in a profound way. Move them to action. Nobody told me about the insane amount of self-discipline it takes to complete a book. Seeing things through to the end has never been one of my strong points. Plus, I tend to be a little scatter brained sometimes. You just don’t know how difficult it is for me to complete an entry for this blog. Some of the most simple ones take me days to complete because I’ve totally lost my train of thought and can’t get back on track. Thus, my admiration for people who can put sentences together which are a beautiful display of the English language. Since I’ve already shared with you some of my favorite movies, I decided to give you a glimpse at the books and writers that I love. I plan on doing this periodically so stay tuned for more.

One of my all time favorite books is Waiting In Vain by Colin Channer. Check out this piece of brilliance:

They sipped mojitos in the courtyard, a moldering square of tiles around an almond tree, and shared a macanudo (cigar) and talked and listened and argued, entangling their minds in a wrestling match, which she won with ease, for she, was wiser and more worldly. She'd lived in five countries, including Morocco and India, and spoke Arabic, Farsi, French, and Hindi.

They went inside when the night brought rain. Setting cans to catch the leaks in the parlor, they talked some more, leaning against each other on the swaybacked sofa with their feet propped up on a milk crate.

At some point--he could never remember when, because it had been so unexpected--she'd pointed to the record changer, a hefty old thing from Albania, and asked if he had any jazz. The questions felt like a test, a requirement for entry to her finishing school. He knew this by the way she smiled when he asked her, like a bartender at a good hotel, "What can I get for you?" She smiled from the inside, happy for the both of them.

They listened to Johnny Hartman, giggled each time the record changer fell asleep. Then he put on the Wailers--Kaya--and the bass began to lick them like a curious tongue . . . and nothing was funny anymore.

"Would you like to dance?" he asked. She said yes, and he held her by the waist, which was soft even then, and sank his hips into the sweet spot. She shook when he started to stir it up, then answered his circumlocutions with inquiries of her own. They continued to dub after the last track had faded like the paint on the wall she was against. Her legs were apart. Her dress hiked up. Her body clammy with their mingled sweat. What to do? They weren't quite sure. Then there was a power cut, and it was inevitable.

"What are you thinking?" she asked.

"That I want you to stay the night."

She slipped a hand down his thigh. "Why?"

"I want to see you naked."

She coaxed his hand into the pulpy split. "See me through your fingers," she said. "Let's pretend to be blind."

"I want to see you," he replied, "to keep a piece of you with me forever. We might have the night and lose the day."

"But I only need today," she whispered.

"But I need tomorrow . . . I'm just that kinda guy. Share a little tomorrow with me."

She kissed him.

"Before I say yes," she said, "I should tell you something. I am woman . . . I am water. You are man . . . you are stone. Water will wear down stone."

Next up, he hit me over the head again with Satisfy My Soul.

“Okay, Chadwick, on the night before you’re set to go to the gallows you get a set of choices. A last book. A last song. A last meal with any writer living or dead. And the chance to sleep with anyone in the whole wide world—a living anyone, of course.”

The producer on the raft beside us smiles and makes a fist. This is how she told me that she wants the show to be—arch and energetic.

I am a guest on Trapped in Transit, a travel show on A&E.

Each week on TIT, as all the members of the crew appear to call it, an odd couple chosen from the worlds of politics and entertainment take a journey: Howard Stern and Yasir Arafat canoeing in Mongolia. Martha Stewart and Biz Markie on a llama in Peru.

Chadwick is a congressman. If his reparations bill is passed, every black American will receive a million dollars in exchange for relocation to Liberia.

I’m a playwright and director whose grandfather moved to Harlem from West Africa in the twenties. Chadwick is fifty. I am thirty-eight. Chadwick is married. I will never be. He is a Republican. I like to call myself a Negro. He is bald. My locks are wrapped around my head to form a turban.

His freckled cheeks are settling into jowls. His nose is sharp and owlish. He does not have an upper lip. His forehead lasts forever.

“I think I’d have a rack of lamb,” he answers. “And it is always hard for me to sleep without my wife. My favorite book has always been Heart of Darkness. Conrad is amazing. You should read him. I would dine with Rudy Kipling. As a boy in Oklahoma I felt connected to his stories . . . all the Indians. I know that our natives aren’t the same as Kipling’s Hindus, but I could still relate. As far as music is concerned I think I’d listen to Aretha Franklin. And you—you asked the question. What would you do?”

I glance at the producer, a desert-colored woman with a secret trail of bites along her neck and stomach. Her name is Amaranta.

Smiling as she looks away, she scoops her copper hair into a ponytail. When she looks again I recognize the contour of her body in her nose. Like her back, it arches inward on a bony spine then flares into a bulb of spongy flesh.

The diamonds on her wedding ring are glinting. Her cheeks are hard and chiseled like the stones. But as a woman she is soft. Her skin. Her voice. Her touch.

Last night, as she read to me in bed, I told her that her skin reminded me of sand. She drew her nipple on my chest and said I was her Tuareg . . . the way I wrap my dreadlocks like a turban, the oily blackness of my skin, the height of what she calls my Libyan nose. She held me by my cheekbones when she kissed me. She christened them my little horns.

“Ride all over me,” she whispered. “Find water.”

Chadwick leans toward me.

“On my final night on earth I would experiment with pork.”

“You would cook it in a whole new way?”

“More than that. I’ve never had it. My father was a member of the Nation of Islam. My mother is a Jew.”

“So you’re mixed,” he says appraisingly. His voice is engaged but impersonal, as if I were a piece of art. “I would not have known.”

“And now you do. What does that mean?”

“Well . . . nothing.”

“So why did you ask? What does it mean in terms of reparations? Do I get less for being a diluted brother or do I get a little extra for the Holocaust?”

“And what would be your book?” he asks me after we have sailed a mile in silence.

“I would read the Book of Psalms. I’d listen to “Redemption Song” and some fish and bread with my closest friend Kwabena Small, the best playwright I know.”

“And what would be the other choice? The woman?”

I burrow through the crates that line the basement of my mind and mount a retrospective of my lovers. It’s an exhibit of ambitious scope. The catalog is thicker than a phone book. I can’t decide. But I know that I have loved them all . . . at some time . . . in some way . . . with some degree of faithfulness and truth.


By now, I hope you can see why I love this dude’s work. Please go out and support good writers who are creating good art. Speaking of supporting, if you happen to be in Atlanta on April 24Th, come through the M Bar and show love to the homeboy Torrence Stephens for his book signing.

8 comments:

Torrance Stephens bka All-Mi-T said...

Hey man good look, and u need to go head and get that first book out

Gemini Girl aka GG said...

Wow..the passage from Waiting in Vain left me wanting more...thanks for entertaining me during my boring lunch break. GOOD STUFF Krush! now can I borrow some books?? lol...I used to be so into reading when I had free time to just sit and read - uninterrupted...now I just can't find time to really soak in the characters and savor the words..browsing a magazine is easier and quicker for me these days..but you are inspiring me!

The Jaded NYer said...

Writing is a mother*BLEEP*

But I honestly don't know what else I can do in this life to bring me as much pleasure and satisfaction as writing does, and I've tried A LOT of stuff! It pays squat, but I've come to accept that; it's what is known as a "labor of love"

Good luck!!

Ieisha said...

Reading these passages have me thinking of giving Mr. Channer another chance. I attempted Waiting in Vain a few years back and didn't dig it all. I'm an EJD fan through and through but I'm older and wiser so I may appreciate his writings more now.

As for the book, my BFF has been writing a novel for 10 years now and I think she's on chapter 1, lol. I feel ya pain.

Check out Walter Mosley's advice on writing a novel in a year. The book is called "This Year You Write Your Novel"...hopefully that helps.

Skoolboi Krush said...

All-Mi-T - No problem! I put it down some time ago but I've been thinking about trying it out again lately.

GG - Yeah, I'll let you hold a book or two. Honestly, I haven't made time to read much lately either. Feeling inspired, huh? When you gonna come through and get a book?

NYer - Tell me about it. I'm so jealous that you've found something to do that you truly love. That is what's up!

ieisha - I love this book but I can admit that it has its flaws. Give it another try though. Different time, different perspective. I've grown into a EJD fan. His first couple books did nothing for me but his latest offerings are very good. Thanks for the advice and encouragement.

MsMarvalus said...

I love Colin Channer! I read Satisfy My Soul 3 times...totally in love with this brotha and his writing!!

Vivrant Thang said...

You already know I love this post! I have both of CC's books waiting on my very overflowing bookshelf to be read. I'm late getting to him but I hear rave reviews. You might make me move him up to the front of the line.

I'm glad you're considering taking up your writing again. Blogging here regularly is a good start. Like you, it also takes me entirely too long to write posts. I swear I have ADD sometimes! But in the end, when I sit back and read what I created, it's SO worth it. I miss the novel I did complete and am itching to go back and revise it. I miss my characters. I am working on my self-discipline. The time is now, while it's all about me.

I look forward to seeing the other writers you enjoy. I can't wait for Dianne M-Whetstone's next one that should be out soon...if it's not out now.

Lola Gets said...

I have a book at home, forget the title, but its a collection of short stories, and Colin Channer is one of the contributors. The biggest problem I had with his piece is his use of the phrase "...her fattage shimmered...". I just googled the word "fattage" and apparently it has something to do with ones weight to height ratio, but I still hate that phrase. Im not quite sure what he was trying to convey with that phrase, but it just did nothing for me. And because of that first bad experience, I have not tried Channer again.

He keeps getting published, so I know Im in the minority!

L