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Praise for Lit Fest



Praise for Lit Fest

I attended the Oxford American's panel on great music writing today at the Arkansas Literary Festival. The music writing (and reading) was great; both the essays by Carol Ann Fitzgerald and Kevin Brockmeier were thoughtful and caught me and this is the exact sort of thing I dig about the festival in general. The Q&A, as you may know, got a little tense. And as is usual for me, I thought of the exact thing that I wanted to say approximately two hours later than the chance to say it. So I'm writing it to you guys in hopes that it reaches the appropriate eyes.

There are a couple of things I very much appreciated about the editorial choice made by Mr. Smirnoff in assigning Carol Ann Fitzgerald to write about the music of Bessie Smith.

The first is that I think Bessie Smith's music (and the blues of women, in general) is as much about sexuality, and femininity (and feminism, for that matter) and the woman scorned and the low down dirty men who scorned them as it is about race and prejudice and slavery and the South and the general unfairness of this life. It's all inextricably connected in her voice and emotion and in the blues itself. Miss Fitzgerald illuminated just a piece of this milieu, and she did it with breathtaking honesty and an ear attuned to the thread of heartbreak and risk and just what it feels like to be a woman gasping for air in the wake of a romance gone wrong that runs through Bessie Smith's songs. It would have been a wildly different piece had it been written by a man, or by a specifically black man or woman, and that's not to say it wouldn't have been a good one. Just different, you know? Attuned to a different thread. I loved the piece. For me it pulled out and shared the fact that something that feels so intensely personal and isolating when it's happening to you (heartbreak, that is) is actually deeply universal.

Which leads me to the second thing I appreciate about the editorial choice, the very thing being debated in the Q&A: the fact that an upper-class white girl in the 21st century was listening to (with deep reverence, it seems) the music of a poor black woman whose timing in history barely outran slavery. She connected with it, and heard Bessie's voice, and learned from it, and it changed her. And isn't that the point of music anyway? 

So that is what I wish I had thought to say at the time. Loved the festival. CALS and all involved, keep it up.

 Natasha Deal

Little Rock

Free Choice and missing Max

I thought I would never see the day when I would say I missed Max Brantley, but the guest editorial April 16 by Professor Martin Halpern of taxpayer-supported Henderson State University was so far to the left it paled Doug Smith and Ernie Dumas to parlor pinks and made me wonder if the province of our college teachers was to educate or indoctrinate.

Jim Johnson



While Martin Halpern makes a decent case for the so called “free choice act” in his April 18 guest column, he failed to mention the one part of the act that makes any person who favors democracy not support it. It discourages the secret ballot. Without a private vote, both union organizers and management can intimidate employees.

Tim Irby

Little Rock

Two thumbs up

All the pundits are standing by with pad and pencil in hand waiting to rate Obama's first 100 days. We tend to judge each new president by the performance of the previous president and, I gotta tell ya, the bar is set pretty darn low. If Barack just makes it another two weeks without being knocked unconscious by a pretzel he'll get two thumbs-up from me.

David Rose

Hot Springs

Why do they hate capitalism?

We've all seen those full page ads in the statewide paper: “A big tax is coming for US if we don't act now.”

Who's the “US” in this mix? The oil, gas and coal companies. (I do commend them for at least identifying themselves in the ad.) But what's the reason behind them not wanting the tax and printing full page ads to get support against change?

In the next year, some of Bush “goodies” for the trio will disappear. The “goodies” were mostly tax breaks that gave the industry a chance to break earning records. And yes, they did spend some of this capital to look for new sources. But for the most part, it made a lot of Bush's buddies even richer.

Since they are in that rarified group of business flush with cash, maybe they could help out by getting back on a more fair tax footing. Before you tell me “they just pass it on to the consumer,” you can stop right there. This is a bridge that will have to be crossed one of these days, so why don't we go ahead and start the process so we can see what a fair market price for oil, gas and coal are. How capitalistic! Get paid for what the market says you're worth. If it costs more, the market will wash the increased cost out by folks paying the new price, doing with out some, or looking for a cheaper alternative.

Steve Heye

Little Rock


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