Broken Turtle Blog

Broken Turtle Blog

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Two of Delaware's Best Living Artists

Now that Delaware's best living artist Edward Loper has passed away, there are many still with us who deserve that mantle. The criteria for best living artist is, of course, the quality of one's work. The other would be the sheer volume of it. Did Picasso outlive Dali, or was it the other way around?

Here, I would like to submit two candidates who are among Delaware's best artists. I chose them because they have one thing in common. They are both expatriates. One is an expatriate from another country, and the other is an expatriate in another country.
Painting by Roldan West
Sax Player by Roldan West
Roldan West lives and works in Wilmington, but he was born in Nicaragua. The other, Jonathan Bragdon was born in Wilmington. He now lives with his family in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. As a teenager, Roldan West  joined the Sandanista Revolution leading him to play a major part in their literacy program on behalf of Nicaraguan peasants. With the artist Sergio Michellini he crafted murals in Managua. He visited Mexico to learn from the murals of Sequeiros, Orozco and Diego Rivera.  He studied with Mexican artists Arnold Belkin and Geraldo Cantu. Roldan traveled extensively through Europe, Asia, and Africa learning the craft of graffiti art by use of spray cans. An excellent example of Roldan West at work can be found a

Jonathan Bragdon left Wilmington in 1961 and moved to Switzerland and the home of an uncle who lived there. One of his earliest inspirations came after visiting the Louvre. Jonathan later attended the Ecole Superierure des Art Decoritifs, studied under the artist Biagio Frisa and received encouragement from the artist Jasper Johns. His earliest shows in the United States in the late 1960s sold very well. His success selling in European galleries have also done very well. More about Jonathan's artwork may be found at:

The author with Jonathan Bragdon on the left from 1959. Behind 
us is an original painting by Delaware artist William D. White. 

Back Garden, Dresden by Jonathan Bragdon
                       Kruidberg, Santpoort Noord by Jonathan Bragdon

Being able to achieve success in the sale of one's artwork surely contributes to the value of one's art. Doing that over a long period during an artist's career will assure the reputation of an artist after having passed from the scene. Such is true with many past Wilmington artists, beginning with Howard Pyle, through any number of the Brandywine School artists, through those who began their work during the WPA like Edward Loper, Edward Grant, Bayard Berndt and William D. White, as well as others including Gayle Hoskins and Jefferson David Chalfant. The list is large and the Delaware Art Museum has played a central role in preserving this legacy.

Today, the city of Wilmington has developed a downtown art district hosting a number of galleries and art schools. This assures us a plethora of gifted and living fine artists for a long time to come. Whether they been working here for a long time, like E. Jean Lanyon and Edward Loper Jr, or are fresh out of art school and intending to make the vicinity their home, both Jonathan Bragdon and Roldan West are in good company.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Mullen Remembers M*****d

In There’s a House in the Land, Shaun Mullen chronicles how a tribe of Vietnam vets and associated pals and gals made an old farm north of Newark, Delaware into an island of freedom. Like his earlier work, The Bottom of the Fox, Mullen’s House provides insights on the American Seventies. This time, however, he treats those of his contemporaries inhabiting the piedmont west of Philadelpha, PA to a wild and wonderful reminiscence. 
Thousands remember—and more wish they did—the Flag Day parties, with their roasting pigs, the house band Snakegrinder, the socializing of bikers with profs, the abundant garden among disused trucks and cars, the tanker-loads of Genesee Cream Ale, and the mountains of marijuana, much grown there. 
The Seventies were the shore the Sixties washed up on. Those who climbed out of the surf were left to rebuild the American Dream, shredded by Vietnam, JFK, MLK, THC, LSD. Who knows how many such islands of self-reliance and rugged individualism there were in America, but few had in residence an amanuensis as talented as Shaun Mullen.  Mullen shows that while American rules were shattered, American values persevered.
Mullen chooses a sort of roman-à-clef approach, changing almost all the names except his own, that of the band Snakegrinder, and the dog Meatball. I, receiving an advance copy for my tangential familiarity, will not fink, only that New Park is Newark, Delaware, and the New Park Tavern, portrayed in its piss-smelling splendor, is the old Deer Park Hotel. There, it is apocryphally reported, Edgar Allan Poe drunkenly cursed all who stopped in that village of philistines that they might never leave. Still, many will recognize lead singer “Edward,” who died on the railroad tracks while attempting to flag down a train, subsequently appearing in a dream to tell “Rafe,” the Weather Underground fugitive, to grab his kazoo and start singing center stage. Many bought belts from Doctor Duck’s leather shop, but few, beside myself, ever tasted a sub on a whole-wheat roll from his short-lived deli.
In episodes and thematic chapters, Mullen details the geology of “Kiln Farm,” the flora and fauna, the architecture, the dogs, the goats and other livestock, the roles the denizens filled and the crafts they practiced, the ambiguous status of women, the tragic crash that killed “Pattie” and her daughter “Caitlin,” and Mullen’s road trips to Aspen and the Florida Keys.
Eventually, the tribe moved on. They “didn’t so much grow up,” Mullen explains, “as succumb to the mechanistic gravity of the real world that compresses all but the roundest of pegs.” The vicissitudes of erstwhile freedom were neither good nor bad, but they accompanied some wonderful progress in education, ecology, and human unity. Hey, the shit-house Bible at the farm was the Whole Earth Catalogue, that “Access to Tools” for anarchists and late twentieth century pioneers.
There’s a House in the Land may shock or titillate, but Shaun Mullen captures the spirit of a time and place. Those who were there will chuckle and maybe weep.
Mullen will sign copies of There's A House In The Land beginning at 1 p.m. on Sunday, September 28 at the Blue Crab Grill in Suburban Plaza off Elkton Road in Newark. Snakegrinder and the Shredded Fieldmice, a popular Newark band in the early 1970s, will reunite for the occasion. The title of Mullen's book is from a lyric in a Snakegrinder song. (Postscript Sept. 8: Due to the high demand, a second show has been added at 8 p.m.)
Shaun Mullen blogs at Kiko’s House and The ModerateVoice.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Announcing the Broken Turtle Booklist

Broken Turtle Books is proud to announce the online Broken Turtle Booklist, a catalogue of Delaware regional authors, local publishers, and literary communities operating in Delaware. The Booklist includes audio and video recordings of Delaware authors, as well as their major works. It provides easy links to Amazon, Paypal, or publishers for folks who want to buy.

Each month we will feature a selected work by a Delaware author. In our inaugural offering, we are featuring A Visit With Uncle Richard, a compilation of the popular series written by Spectator columnist and Editor Pat Gibbs. Uncle Richard is familiar to listeners of Even Steven’s Boptime, where Gibbs as Uncle Richard holds forth cantankerously and provocatively on issues of the day. Boptime’s DJ is our own Steven Leech, of course.

There are lots of great writers in our hidden corner just off I-95. The Broken Turtle Booklist hopes to raise our profile and contribute to your success.

Broken Turtle Books, if you don’t already know,  is a group of writer-editor-publishers who have been part of the Delaware literary scene for four decades. Most of us have been associated with Dreamstreets Press, which published Dreamstreets Magazine, produced radio programs on WVUD 91.3 FM (University of Delaware), and a television clip on WHYY TV (Wilmington/Philadelphia) and founded the 2nd Saturday Poetry Readings at various venues in Wilmington, Delaware. We also blog occasionally on matters literary, artsy, historical, and political at the Broken Turtle Blog.

For a while we were Broken Turtle Books LLC, intending to publish our own and historical works through a small company that we controlled. However, as most writers and publishers know, alternative vanity presses, small run printers, and publish-on-demand opportunities have proliferated in cyberspace, making our business model obsolete. Yet our mission remains the same: to promote diversity and cutting-edge literature in a state known for its insularity and paucity of opportunities “downwind from chateau country.”

Our list is a work in progress. We have a number of authors in our in-box ready to be added. For the most part, we are limited to poetry and fiction by Delaware authors who have their work available as a collection, print or electronic.

Check out the site and see what we have added so far. If you believe you have been overlooked, would like to recommend a Delaware author, or just have suggestions for the website, follow the instructions at the “About the Booklist” page.

Spread the word, peruse the site, and buy local books!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

From Publisher to Promoter

Today, Broken Turtle Books will be inaugurating a transition from Delaware book publisher to Delaware book list, featuring works by a great variety of Delaware writers. Our first event will be today at the Hockessin Art and Book Fair at the P.A.L. Center in Hockessin. Give the plethora of instruments for low-run publishing, our business plan seems obsolete, but our mission is on course: To promote books to repair a broken world, works that stand outside the metropole of grantsmanship, academic workshops, and sycophancy. Not that you should eschew grants from chateaux country, when you can get them, but they are not the way to create a literature of empowerment.
Anyway, look for a revamped web site that promotes not only books under our own imprint, but books by other authors at the cutting edge of the margins.
Look for us today in Hockessin, and look for us wherever troublemakers are troubling the discourse.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sci-Fi for the 99%

By Phillip Bannowsky

by Franetta McMillian

With monks who channel voudoun spirits and bisexual scientists who heal the earth, Franetta McMillian’s Love in the Time of Unraveling confronts our current dysfunctions as few post-apocalyptic works dare. Mad Max and The Road more escape our world than expose it, abandoning their heroes to a feral struggle in an empty landscape. We may enjoy vicarious bloodletting or lament our Hobbesian fate, but either way, the life we know is over.

In McMillian’s future, set in the latter part of the present century, the power structure that preceded the collapse is still holding on. One-percenters luxuriate beneath an air-conditioned Dome while we ninety-nine percenters wheeze through short and brutish lives in a toxic “Outside,” texting and sharing videos from hermetic abodes. We don hazmat suits to commute, often on ferries, given the high sea level of our iceless world. The smog that choked 2013 Bejing and Mexico City is ubiquitous now and getting worse. October swelters but the sun never shines. Beauty fades before it ripens, and we die young of disease or crushed in collapsing mines.  Protest is permissible, but only in “free-speech” zones, just like 2013. Adding insult to injury, Domer do-gooders slum in the Outside. The press gossips, but rarely reveals. The market is up, while prosperity is down. Yet spiritually and sexually, our world is very much alive.

The first in this collection of interrelated stories concerns Magdalena Ocunto, a seven-foot former hacker and black priest-in-training in the Knights of the New Star, a monastic order of the “New Catholic Church.” When the environmental cataclysm split the Church, it also unraveled Cartesian reality. Ocunto can read thoughts; the voudoun demigods will speak through her. Her first big assignment is to write computer code to crash the stock market during the G20, still doing mischief at century’s end. Her church, in the borderlands between politics and spirit, calls this a “deep act of conscience.”

Then we meet billionaire scientist Lillian Ruby, whose androgyny in name and orientation re-enforces the borderlands theme. Lillian, who came from the “Deep Outside,” a now uninhabitable part of Louisiana, gathers fellow prodigies to heal the earth. One of his recruits is David Grove. Over red wine and marijuana (Lillian’s preference), their collaboration grows to love. Love is the healing alchemy in this work.

For example, Allison Flowers, a Domer and revolutionary graffiti artist, has the power to heal with touch or, for more serious maladies, with sex.

Love, both sacred and worldly, binds Morian Watts and his mentor, Father Allen, who trains him to release the souls of the dying and perform exorcisms. Though he hates the super rich, Morian exorcises seven-year-old Caitlyn Traynor, a mine baron’s daughter, who is haunted by the workers who died in her father’s mine, called Destination Hill.

This echo of the 2010 Massey Mine disaster is not the only place where McMillian confronts our contemporary calamities. The Upper Ninth Zone, setting for much of the action, is located in a region known as the Crescent and suggests the inundated Ninth Ward of New Orleans, the “Crescent City.” There is Great Mountain Security, a Blackwater-like private army that protects the barons from the growing revolt. There is even a super hurricane called Kali, sounding like Katrina and Sandy and named for the Hindu goddess of time-doomsday-death. Accompanying all these disasters are End Times Signs and Wonders. Of Kali, Morian Watts says, “Sometimes an event is so unthinkably horrible that it actually blows a hole in time and everything becomes unsettled.” He adds that the outcome, unlike that of Tim LaHaye’s Armageddon, “is malleable. It could all turn up roses or it could all go to shit.”

The extraordinary cast includes members of the Richard Corey Club, teens planning suicide by the supernatural psychedelic Blue Sky; Mei Ling, a Beijing transgender hooker-cum-weaponized HIV terrorist; and various members of the families Traynor, Flowers, and Storm: Innesto Storm, an Outsider and Allison’s summer fling; his estranged wife Angie, a psychic and devotee of voudon; and son Zaden, a prodigy who declines to join Lillian Ruby’s firm. By the time we get to the final episode, a letter by Lillian Ruby to Allison Flowers, we are invested in these characters and their struggles, not only because they are so gripping, but because they are our own. Happily, Lillian’s letter suggests a sequel.

Science fiction often projects a limited notion of the future. Whether it is gee-whiz-bang gimmickry or dystopian nightmares, it tends to repeat our dominant ideology of individual entrepreneurs discovering exotic natives. It is blind to the humanity not only of the natives that dwell in the future, but of the natives that struggle in the now.

If you are one of these natives, this book is for you, for Love in the Time of Unraveling is about now, where now is heading, and how we may prevail. Franetta McMillian peels off our time’s blinkers and lets us look outside the lines, in the borderlands between genders, classes, and races and between Cartesian reality and the spirit world.

As Lillian Ruby asserts in his missive to Allison Flowers “You lived in the borderlands, outside the lines, and there is a wealth of power there.”

You can order Love in the Time of Unraveling at Amazon.

Sci-Fi for the 99%

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Was a Story Set in Wilmington Among the Earliest Influences on the Literature of the Harlem Renaissance?

Among the earliest literary figures who lived in Delaware in the early 20th century was Alice Dunbar-Nelson. She was born Alice Moore in New Orleans on July 19, 1875. Her first husband was the American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar who died in 1906, about three years after she moved to Wilmington where she had family. Probably the best and most recent example of her influence on Paul Laurence Dunbar and about their the stormy relationship can be found in Eleanor Alexander’s 2002 book Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow (New York University Press). Her own literary career did not end there. Her literary work showed up, both before and after her marriage to Dunbar, in places like George Jean Nathan’s and H. L. Mencken’s Smart Set as well as in Crisis when it was edited by W. E. B. DuBois. While in Wilmington she married Robert Nelson and is better known today as Alice Dunbar-Nelson. Later she worked as an educator and social activist as well as publisher of the local African American newspaper, The Wilmington Advocate, during the early 1920s, making her a pioneer of local Black journalism. Her literary and journalistic works inspired many who participated in the Harlem Renaissance during the 1920s. 

One of Dunbar-Nelson’s early short stories, “Hope Deferred,” is among her most anthologized. Two anthologies where the story can be found are: Ebony Rising: Short Fiction of the Greater Harlem Renaissance Era, edited by Craig Gable and published in 2004 by the Indiana University Press, and “Girl, Colored” and Other Stories: A Complete Short Fiction Anthology of African-American Women in The Crisis Magazine, 1910-2010, edited by Judith Musser and published in 2011 by McFarland & Company, Incorporated.

“Hope Deferred” was first published in 1914 in Crisis 8, the main publication for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The story was most certainly written in Wilmington and gives clues regarding its locale. Early on in the story, Dunbar-Nelson states that the city in the story is,  “if not distinctly southern, at least one on the borderland between the North and the South.” Later on in the same story she divulges that the protagonist, Edwards, is serving time at the “county workhouse.” The “Workhouse,” during a little more than the first half of the 20th century in New Castle County, was the name given to the county penal institution then located at the intersection of Greenbank Road and the Newport-Gap Pike (Route 41) near Price’s Corner. The “Workhouse” was also the place from which an uncharged inmate, George White, was kidnapped by local white citizens and lynched nearby in 1903, the year that Alice Dunbar arrived in Wilmington. The “Workhouse” was also the location, where about two weeks before the lynching of George White, several men were publicly whipped and made to stand in the pillory. Delaware finally outlawed the pillory in 1905, but the state did not abolish corporal punishment until the late 1960s. One of the guard towers of the ‘Workhouse” still remains in the Park at Price’s Corner.

Alice Dunbar-Nelson wrote “Hope Deferred,” which is most probably set in Wilmington, at a time when the Dupont Company was about to make an obscene fortune from profits from World War I, when the United States occupied the impoverished country of Haiti, when the Ku Klux Klan in Delaware was at the height of its power and influence and when both major political parties heard racist views. Even though the Progressive Era was in full bloom in places like New York City, and the Modernist Movement was making significant cultural advances, hope seemed to be waning for Wilmington’s African-American community. It was a bleak time in Delaware to be writing for social and cultural progress. In spite of this, Dunbar-Nelson wrote a story that was echoed in a refrain attributed to Langston Hughes when “hope deferred” became transferred into a “dream deferred.”

Alice Dunbar-Nelson only has a small citation in Alain Locke’s monumental tome, The New Negro: Voices of the Harlem Renaissance, published in 1925. Perhaps she might have had a greater part in Locke’s anthology and commentary had she gone to Harlem and played a greater role in that flowering of modern African-American culture. She chose instead to remain in Wilmington, and in her later years in Philadelphia, writing and struggling for social progress. Alice Dunbar-Nelson died on September 18, 1935. She is interred at the Wilmington and Brandywine Cemetery.