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The Next Best Thing

For David 5: Ride the Music

- By David's friends and family

(Photo: David Lenson, courtesy of Pamela Glaven)

A little over a week ago, David Lenson died at home, in his Mill Hollow apartment in Amherst. A poet, essayist, musician, and legendary professor, he was seventy-five years old.

Brother Barry remembers David as a Victory Baby, born in 1945; the boys grew up together in Nutley, New Jersey. Their mother June was an aspiring poet; their father Michael was director of the murals project for the Works Progress Administration in New Jersey and painted murals in Newark City Hall and Weequahic High School. The Jewish comedian Sam Levenson was their uncle. From his youngest days Dave wrote poems and played the saxophone in combos that practiced “Tequila...

The Next Best Thing

A Toast to Eric Bentley

- By Jules Chametzky

It is Friday, August 7th, and I just finished reading in the New York Times the major, generous, and informative obituary of Eric Bentley, written largely by the late editor of the Times Book Review Christopher Lehmann-Haupt. It was deeply moving to me. For more than sixty years I knew Bentley and much of his major work, sixty plus years out of the 103 he spent on this earth.

In my last year in college, 1949-1950, I began to write plays, more or less successfully, that were produced at Brooklyn College in its Writers Workshop in the late afternoon, as well as a whopper of a production of a longer play staged in the evening, after my graduation, to a large public audience. That year I also read Bentley's first major book, The Playwright as Thinker,...

The Next Best Thing

To Do Justice to the Experience

- By Jim Hicks

Melanerpes carolinus. Photo: Toni Herkalokoch, for the Audobon Society

To capture a life in words is not possible, especially when words were—more than anything thing else—the very stuff of that life. It seems to me, then, that only one way could pass for close to adequate in remembering the journalist, translator, and activist Frederika Randall: to pass along as many of her own words as possible. For those of you who knew her, her voice will be unmistakeable; for those not so fortunate, you will gain a least a bit of what we’ve lost.

I should start, then, by noting that I myself only got to know Frederika five years ago, in January 2015. Encouraged by Margaret Carson and Alex Zucker from the PEN Translation Committe, I wrote to...

The Next Best Thing

Thoughts From a Dark Girl on Robert Pruitt's "Pretty For a Black Girl"

- By Kymberly S. Newberry

Photo: Photograph of Robert Pruitt, Cedric Angeles

Gwendolyn B. Bennett

To a Dark Girl

I love you for your brownness
And the rounded darkness of your breast
I love you for the breaking sadness in your voice
And shadows where your wayward eye-lids rest.
Something of old forgotten queens
Lurks in the lithe abandon of your walk
And something of the shackled slave
Sobs in the rhythm of your talk
Oh, little brown girl, born for sorrow’s mate
Keep all you have of queenliness
Forgetting that you once were slave
And let your full lips laugh at Fate!

Several years ago, I remember sitting in the Bing Auditorium of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, when art...

The Next Best Thing

The Promissory Note and Notes on Jacob Lawrence's "The Architect, 1959"

- By Kymberly S. Newberry

Photo: Photograph of Jacob Lawrence, Carl Van Van Vechten, Courtesy of the Library of Congress

In the summer of 1941, A. Philip Randolph, founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, called for a march on Washington to draw attention to the exclusion of African Americans from positions in the national defense industry, then a feverishly growing enterprise supplying material to the Allies in World War II. For African Americans there were high levels of unemployment, minimal wage employment, and persistent racial segregation in the South. In March of 1963, Randolph telegraphed Martin Luther King and asked for his participation in another march—this time “for Negro job rights”—being planned for August.

On August 28, 1963, as his eyes...

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