A Brief Story Review: “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin

This summer I read Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin. Baldwin’s style of writing immediately stood out to me as extremely personable and relevant to this current day. His relationship with words and stories and sentences really put me in awe as a reader. I found myself re reading pages as I went, stuck in this smooth and enticing circle of words I didn’t want to escape. His character development was next level, afterall, he is one of the greats. I spent an evening listening to a talk by Christina Sharpe, and then my professor assigned us this story. I planned to just start it before dinner, and before I knew it I sat there reading the whole world, every word, full of the best and worst. Gulping and digesting quickly only to be surprised by a new layer of flavor. 

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in jazz clubs, jazz cafes, whatever you want to call them. I’ve been doing some great reading on stories from Harlem, Audre Lorde is the other name that comes to mind. This story though related to me more than any I had read before. These are my initial thoughts, I’m sure I’ll understand his themes and big picture points after we talk about it in class. I will say the point that stuck out with me the most was the relationship our narrator has with his brother is truly tragic and familiar and emotional and uncomfortable but so cozy too. Read about an algebra teacher in Harlem and a duplex that looks like the rest of them. Another man on the front of a newspaper and a big wooden structure with hammers and strings and sometimes ivory. Go tell it to your mom and dad, go tell them about Sonny’s Blues.

“I wanted to say more, but I couldn’t. I wanted to talk about  will power and how life would be– well, beautiful. I wanted to say that it was all within; but was it? or, rather, wasn’t that exactly the trouble? And I wanted to promise that I would never fail him again. But it would have sounded– empty words and lies”

The Little Girl and the Ever-Changing City

I wrote this for my Growth & Structure of Cities class called “Form of the City”. It resonated with a lot of my family members and I figured some of my readers here would appreciate it too.

In a small city, smack dab in the middle of the Garden State, lies a community of many kinds of people. In 1783 Princeton NJ was the provisional capital of the United States. Now lies a small city with a world-renowned university, a group of local “Princetonians”, and the constant stream of tourists who visit every weekend. A little girl has recently been granted permission to go “downtown” by herself, from her parents. This little girl has lived in Princeton her whole life, she’s one of the locals who lives in the shadows of the distinguished campus. When she was little her grandma would take her downtown to their favorite local coffee shop, Small World Coffee, wedged between an alleyway and an ever changing store lot. Most of the college students go to the Starbucks around the corner facing campus, so this spot is truly one for the locals. On special occasions they get ice cream at Halo Pub. Out of the three ice cream joints in town: Thomas Sweet is designated for tourists due to Albert Einstein’s love for the sugary scoops, Bent Spoon is too overpriced although very delicious, hence Halo Pub, one scoop for two dollars forty five is also another local secret. The little girl knows which crosswalk has the light that allows pedestrians to cross the fastest, but she also knows which side-streets are narrow enough to just j-walk unnoticed. She loves going to campus to look at the architecture, walking under the impression of stone fortresses. When she was younger she would pick a new tree to climb every time she went on walks with her grandma. For the tourists, her bff’s mom runs “ghost tours” where she convinces out-of-towners that there are spirits floating around in the dark. The little girl helps her sometimes, she knows the campus like the back of her hand so leading on eager spectators only seems natural. 

I have many names. Sometimes it’s children who give them to me, sometimes it’s the occasional tipsy adult who falls onto my back a little too hard. I am one of many on campus. Although there are many that look like me I like to think I am special. Nestled near the secret garden it usually only allows the dedicated campus-explorers the ability to find me. I am not as popular as those in front of Nassau Hall. Every year when the alumni come to reunions they get all the action. In the daytime pictures are snapped of the genius kids with their even-smarter parents. At night those same parents come back to relive the “best four years of their lives”. I am deeper into campus so I’m farther away from the hustle and bustle of the traffic on Nassau Street. I don’t get to see any cars, I don’t get to see the buses or the local dinky. I see people walking and biking and eating Jules pizza. When it rains all the finger-prints wash off of me, the water settles in the little indentations of my body. My face and back are fading into a different color from all the oily hands that grab at me, but I don’t mind. 

The little girl gets her hot chocolate from the nice barista at Small World and waits to cross from Witherspoon to Nassau. When the stream of cars roll to a stop, she crosses and enters the gaits of campus. In her mind she puts on her invisibility cloak like from her favorite book and floats around to explore. The little girl likes to escape the hustle and bustle from town to be on campus. In town there are so many new stores arising, new brick apartments that cost so much- her mother won’t even tell her the number. When she was smaller there used to be a lot of old lady’s with nice dogs, but now she sees more fancy people with suits talking quickly on their phones. Every year her elementary school classes get bigger and bigger. Her favorite neighborhood besides being on campus is the historic Guatemalan and Black community that lies on the edge of town. Her mom tells her that developers keep offering the nice people loads of money to knock down their houses. The little girl feels sad when she thinks about that, she imagines a world where the nice men don’t sit on the front steps talking about telenovelas, the mom’s inside making yummy tamales and her friends playing soccer with her at the local field. Already her mom points out the old, abandoned historic elementary school once for “colored children” that has been turned into apartment buildings where a bunch of young adults who wear man-buns and yoga pants like to rent from. She thinks how sad that one of her favorite places in Princeton might be destroyed, but at least for right now she is under the cloak of stone buildings and willow trees on campus that feel safe and protected. 

While a lot of people visit me I do remember some particular faces. It isn’t usually the college students that come to sit on my back like you would guess, it is usually the kids of the professors or those that call themselves “Princetonians”. When I was younger less people with big cameras and maps would come to visit me, but as time has gone on they seem more common. I hear men in suits walking past me quickly talking about their next construction or development project downtown. It has even gotten to the point where over the hundred year old trees I can start to see roofs peaking out, construction men far away building higher and higher. Although I try to remain optimistic and greet all the new people happily, I do miss the times when it was the same group of people who would visit me. Lately the weather has been really bad. It seems like in the past couple of years I am either completely baking under the sun, being flooded by a ton of rain, or being iced over by the cold. Sure, this has happened since the beginning, but it seems like recently it has been more extreme. Not to mention lately, people have been walking around with face coverings and hand sanitizer bottles that are sticky. Today though I see one of my favorite local little regulars coming up to me. She carries a hot chocolate from Small World in her hand and is walking from shady tree to shady tree.

The little girl makes her way through campus. Although not aimlessly, she does like to let the day’s mood affect her whereabouts. Ultimately though, she knows the goal of her journey. She arrives at her favorite part of campus. The little girl likes it here because it reminds her of the memories she’s made as she’s grown up. She thinks about how her grandma used to climb on top with her, how they’d both make roaring noises. Every year they’d measure her against it to see if she had grown taller. In the winter it is cold and can be almost sharp to the touch, but on a cool spring day it feels refreshing. Now that she is allowed to go downtown by herself she still loves to come here. She doesn’t feel scared of the new people in suits or the big brick buildings. She knows that it has been here for longer than them, and she hopes that it will outlive them too. She thinks about the community she loves so much that is being bulldozed over and wishes it was as sturdy as her favorite spot on campus. She feels sad, not knowing what in the world she could ever do. So instead of crying, she climbs up and sits down. 

Princeton is a growing city full of new stores, apartment buildings, and tourists. And if you’re lucky enough to visit it one day, you might just see a little girl sitting on a sculpture of a tiger, wishing their home would never change.

A Great Revolutionary was Murdered: My Time Learning about the Great Malcolm X

Reading Malcolm X’s autobiography was one of the most life changing texts I’ve ever been able to experience. Malcolm X to me became more than just a historical figure, more than a man you read about in the classroom (if you’re lucky). I spent a good amount of time savoring his narrative, I brought it with me to different places in the country, I brought his name up in conversation with different kinds of people. I read about Malcolm’s sister named Ella in the rolling hills of a small town in New Hampshire. I read about his time in Mecca while quarantine at home. What struck me the most was Malcolm’s willingness to learn, his willingness to educate himself constantly to understand the routes of systems of oppression. For the first time I could see myself idolizing someone who did not idolize themself. I read through Malcolm’s time believing what he would later reject, I read about the education that encouraged that rejection. 

Malcolm was murdered by the fbi, the police, the United States whatever you want to call it. But his legacy today I would argue is only becoming more and more poignant. While all the other histories just seemed to be putting bandaids on explanations of oppression routed in systems that would have to be dismantled, Malcolm knew that was the real problem. Malcolm was an anti-capitalist when his blackness was in-itself enough to end his life in violent performance. Malcolm believed in liberating all apartheids, all segregational societies, all systems of injustice. Malcolm knew the danger of the white moderate, he knew the danger of neo-liberalism in our culture. 

Eventually I asked myself what Malcolm would want me to do. I ran miles and I read books. I talked to people and I learned about their stories. I listen, I listen a lot more now. I write down what I hear, I don’t accept what I hear. I am courageous in what I choose to hear. Here is a girl or a person, whatever I want to call myself, here is a moment where I feel like I have a religion. An organization or a north-star of freedom. Malcolm X will forever be my greatest inspiration, to fight hard. To fight hard even when it hurts.

How To Be a Good Writer

1. Imagine you’re standing in a wild blueberry-bush. Thorns that are prickly, barefeet that are dirty, flies and ants, sun and water. 

2. Imagine you’re a spoon with garlic and honey, sliding down a semi- willing throat. 

3. Imagine you’re the stars on a different side of the world being visited for the first time by an alien of a different hemisphere. 

4. Imagine you’re sucking hard on an altoid while pulling hard on some weeds in the backyard for your mother. 

5. Imagine you’re a greenlight and a delayed reaction of a driver on a cold and dark late night with a moon that didn’t show up for the night shift. 

6. Peel an orange and discover sections of trauma, bits of good memories, and seeds of all that in between. 

7. Squeeze your toes and think about all those life lessons you’re going to tell your grandkids one day, plan your exaggerations in anticipation. 

8. Light a flame at the campfire but don’t let the smoke go after your throat, keep walking round and round until you beat it in a race you created yourself. 

9. Grab a notepad, a good pen and your glasses. Sit down, or stand, and think about the most wild tales one could imagine. Think about knights and castles and childhood innocence and feminism. Dismantle the system while writing about your life story that revolves around it. 

10. Don’t brush your hair if you just took a shower and it is rapidly drying there is no time! 

11. Create a list of how you’re going to approach your writing.

12. Ah, see I got it!

Pictured: Ella writing at Tarpaulin Cove

The Brontë Sisters, a Whole Lot of Reading, and Bernie Sanders

So I’m taking a class called “Reading Childhood Through the Brontës”. I felt it necessary to make it aware to the seven followers on here that my wonderful short book reviews would therefore be temporarily ending. I’m not going to write a review on the nine books I have to read for that class because I sort of already have to do that for the class itself. 

I’m really excited to jump into these books and to escape to worlds full of Jane Eyre’s. You know I recently had a healthy debate with my friends which has stuck out to me in many ways. We talked about the likelihood of a Sanders nomination in 2020 actually panning out to be a Democatic win against Trump. My opinion on this subject is that he would have won like Biden, perhaps even more impressively than Biden. There are lots of points I didn’t make during the debate that I am thinking about now (this always happens doesn’t it). The lack of awareness for political spectrums and parties outside of the US seems to be something some people don’t think about. I was also reflecting more on the role liberation and anti- bourgeois movements have had in uniting those of the left and right. But this is besides the point. The point I am making is I have these views because of the reading I have done, and lots of that reading has been reviewed on my blog for all of you. I’m grateful and proud.

You see while I guess I hope that books and getting lost in words will provide an escape, deep down I know it never will. I know I’ll always get pushed back to thinking about how that issue relates to something that is going on now; how I see my friend through a particular character. We might try to read to escape but we can’t forget that is why writers write. They write to figure out, to confront problems and experiences in their own existence. There is a book I have to read for the course called The Brontë Myth by Lucasta Miller. This introduction to the course has encouraged me to think more about that exact question: why writers write and hence why we read.

I’m going to be doing a lot of both this semester, and I’m really excited. I’ll try to keep posting things here, and I’m sure I will find creative ways to do so, but just know that I am in fact still writing. Still reading and escaping, still writing and exploring. Dancing hand in hand with the Brontë sisters, imagining a Sanders presidency, just trying to figure the big world out.

A Brief Book Review: Women, Race, & Class by Angela Y. Davis

CW: mentions of sexual assault

What is great about this book is what most other pieces of leftist literature seem to lack: it is not pretentious. The language is approachable, the sentences don’t go on and on, and it covers advanced topics and ideas while not seeming overly complicated to get through. Make no mistake, this book does not have simple ideas, rather this book finds a way to convey complex topics in ways more attainable and broken down than I’ve encountered before. 

Davis is also that perfect bridge between two entities who’s stories didn’t include each other for far too long: communist theory and black (specifically female and femme) liberation. Like I said in my piece on the Communist Manifesto, black stories, stories by those that are marginalized by the bourgeois and capitalist system, their stories are oftentimes ignored in this sphere of communist stories, theory, and literature. Finally the obvious link is made and we can read about the intersectionality, the way both movements are inevitably tied, the revolutionary tales of the fight to defeat an unjust system of oppression. 

This book is also great because so often feminist theory is completely clouded in “white- feminism”. It has gotten to the point where I oftentimes avoid the theory and conversations surrounding feminism itself because I am so dissatisfied with the “white-feminist” culture that has flooded feminsit theory. Davis obviously tells feminism as it should be, as it has historically been, and how it truthfully is. Davis tells the true tale of feminism, a movement that white women excluded women of color from too selfishly and systemically put themselves first. If you’re interested in feminism, don’t read about it from any other woman but a woman of color. 

The chapter I actually enjoyed the most was surprisingly Chapter 11: “Rape, Racism and the Myth of the Black Rapist”. One of my favorite lines of the whole book was in this section:

“It seems, in fact, that man of the capitalist class and their middle-class partners are immune to prosecution because they commit their sexual assaults with the same unchallenged authority that legitimizes their daily assaults on the labor and dignity of the working people”


I thought that this really summarized the main narrative of the book. We witness the systems that enable oppressors to reign control in almost every conflict in society. That dynamic of the proletariat systematically being held down is especially and more ample in the lives of black womxn. 

On your journey to liberation through education, the journey that I have found myself on, read this book first. I am not saying this is necessarily an introduction, or a more simple text, but it does so obviously remain remarkable in its ability to convey the complex into a digestible bite.

A Brief Film Review: Portrait of a Lady on Fire

If you can actually believe it I only just watched Portrait of a Lady on Fire written and directed by Céline Sciamma. I have to admit the fast-paced, short-attention span needing culture of tik-tok has made it harder to watch movies. Although I was hesitant, scared of being interested but slightly bored, I was absolutely and comprehensively proven wrong. 

My favorite kind of storytelling is that which has few to a single character(s), and a limited setting. Catcher in the Rye, is an excellent example of this. I love the power that puts on the integrity of the narrative and the story that the character is going through. For me, it creates a moment where no frills can distract from the goodness and incorruptibility of the mere story itself. In the past I might not have included love stories into this pure category, this film has proven me wrong. 

The act of telling a bigger story in a visual one that is digestible and viewable to film observers (or just those who love any sort of story), is extremely challenging. The beautiful setting, compelling and dreamy soundtrack, and simple yet still-intricate costumes are shamefully good. The camera shots themselves tell a tale and a story separate of the dialogue, characters, and plotline. Every move, every word spoken, every action is so purposeful that it seems like the most ideal story one could ever witness. Like Marianne’s painting of Hélouise’s smile, something seemingly so simple can hold so much weight in the bigger story.

This film does not have a clear sex scene yet it is extraordinarily sensual. This film finally has a lesbian story that isn’t soley about being gay or coming out. This film is haunting.

I shouldn’t be surprised that I love this film so much, it is technically right up my alley. Yet I am still so satisfied with how well this film was executed. A story that so easily could have become mundane or sleazy remains at an extraordinarily high standard of film. A definite win for the girls. 

The Communist Manifesto and Me

So yeah, I read it. After two failed orders my copy finally came. Was it interesting? Definitely. Do I have more insight on class struggle, historical relevance in the proletariat fight, and vocabulary to express my own thoughts on systemic and oppressive structures? One hundred percent. 

For me Marx and his manifesto is a dictionary, a road map, a study guide. It’s like when you quickly go to sparknotes and cram their bullet notes before a pop quiz on a whole book you didn’t read. It’s hard to actually understand the story if you haven’t taken that time, that process to dive deeply into those words, to interact with them, to understand them. Sure, you get the general gist, can point out some key symbols, and even some simple analysis. But nothing beats sitting down on a rocking chair on a cold, rainy day, book in hand, reading every single word on the page. Stories are what tell the whole picture.

Don’t get me wrong, you should read it. But maybe read it with your hard-cover, worn-down book at the fireplace. Use it as a study guide to quiz your friends who didn’t sit down like you did. Use it if there’s that one paragraph in the story that just doesn’t make sense. But read the story first. 

Read about Audre in Harlem. Read about Malcolm in Mecca. Read about Sethe in that old haunted house in Cincinnati Ohio, 1873. You see those sparknotes have a purpose, they have a benefit, but they cannot replace a story.

But Ella? Didn’t that supposed cheatsheet come before these tales? 

I argue that this is exactly the point. These tales of liberation, the fight against oppression and violence from the bourgeoisie, these stories are not only innate, but are anachronistically timeless. This is not the chicken and the egg per se. It is clear that life is full of stories that have been vividly experienced before they were so clearly defined by Marx. 

So maybe what I’m trying to say is you should just keep it in your back-pocket with your keys and phone. Pull it out when you need it, but don’t miss out on the story happening right before your eyes.

He Was A Journalist: Alfred Hopkins’ Story as Told by His Brother

This isn’t my story to tell. As much as I love to say that my great uncle was at Che Guevara’s trial, my favorite niche fact that I tell all of my historically-inclined friends, this story is for someone else to disclose. Thomas Sawyer Hopkins, otherwise known as “Hop”, “Hoppy”, “Grandpoppy”, or just “Poppy”, deserves an audience ready to listen. 

As I walked into Sisi (my grandma) and Poppy’s house on this chilly day, with the door propped open and properly face-masked up and distanced, Poppy was dressed in an elaborate Argentine leather vest. The beret that topped his head was another trait he stole from his late brother Alfred. Poppy’s face was more rosey than usual, I’d like to think from the joy of dressing like his relation. Throughout this interview Poppy oftentimes referenced these tangible representations of his brother, the outfit, a small framed picture of Alfred in his later years that Poppy references every night, and some stored letters that survived many voyages across the oceans. 

Let me be clear, this isn’t a podcast. This is an auditory interview, a story that took place with my Grandpa. There isn’t necessarily a lesson to learn from this tale, a rising plot and metaphor. But I do think there’s value in the simple notion of asking about more. More of a person’s story, more of a person’s past. More about the sisters and brothers and loved ones we have. More in this case, about Alfred Hopkins who was a great journalist in this world. His story as you listen, is quite complex and beautiful.  

Raised on a lemon, orange, and avocado farm, he felt slightly isolated from society. And in a polarizing time he put himself through a higher education: to write about people. He was a journalist in this country who eventually headed south. Mexico, Cuba, Guatemala, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile were a few of these places. As Poppy says many times through this interview, Alfred often confronted the notions of Marxism, US foreign intervention, and the embarrassing oppressive acts done by this country. In Cuba he wrote about Fidel Castro, up close and personal. In Bolivia he wrote about the great revolutionary- Che Guevara who was murdered. In multiple countries, but perhaps most well known in Argentina, Alfred was snatched off the streets: arrested and tortured. 

These stories are sort of like when your English teacher asks you to find the symbolism in the same object you’ve been spending a week on already. Eventually, it becomes pretty hard to understand all of the worldly meaning in something as vague as a red room. To be honest, beyond the family Alfred later created and artful words he sent his family back home, we don’t know much about the true torture and trama he endured. We know he was one of the men we learn about who the regime (supported by the United States) decided to just “disappear”. Poppy told me that he thought the trauma he went through was too much to talk about. I reflected on my own traumas, I think about the march I was at just months ago. I imagine as I am taking a picture, a man grabs me and I disappear from the world. 

Alfred has always inspired me. Everyone loves that cool relative they have in their lives. I’ve always been interested in writing and the idea that I had a great uncle living in a foreign country making his living as a drama teacher was just fascinating. At the time, I didn’t know he was forced out of his initial profession of journalism by a government with dictators in place because of our government. He still managed to tell stories though, and he still managed to stay in a place full of good food and flair, beautiful tango, and ideally away from the grossness of America’s systems.

As I grew older I began to educate myself on the same historical figures that my uncle so closely wrote about. I began to educate myself in Marxism: much like Alfred’s time in college, I began to do more thinking on the quality of life for people. I wanted to learn more about Alfred and his journey, I wanted to be like him. I reached out to his fiancé and life-long partner, Louise. She pointed me to some of his work in the libraries of Berkley. Ironically my college-friend lives less than five miles away from the building that stores his work, but Covid has made visiting prohibited. Back to the drawing board I went.

I think many times we’re scared of having these conversations. We go through hoops and jumps, we track down pieces of paper in libraries thousands of miles away. In reality a lot of times our answer lives just down the street. So we made the two and a half minute drive on down, we took off our shoes and kept the sliding door open. I did the obvious thing, I did the harder thing. I asked Poppy to tell me about his late brother Alfred. 

Talking to a relative who battles with not only hearing-loss from his time as a navy-seal, but with old age and memory-loss can be difficult I will admit. My family teased me saying he was going to go off topic the whole time. But around halfway through I realized that was kind of the point. You see this story isn’t meant for you, this story isn’t meant for me. I realized this story was meant for Poppy. I decided to not edit or take anything out. Moments where his voice goes quieter and I encourage him to speak up. Moments where he gets lost in memories of the time he spent loving his brother. These moments I realized are what make a good story matter. 

I also got the opportunity to dive into some of Poppy and Alfred’s letters to each other. It’s a great mix between brotherly roasting, and some serious reflections on real life situations. Being able to read primary source documents about the observation of things I’ve studied and researched: the United Fruit Company, US Involvement and militarism in Cuba and Guatemala– to be able to read these things not only first hand but from my relative is extraordinary. I find myself wondering if our children will scroll through old imessages between my friends and I to learn more about the time of Corona. That great year of ‘20.

The one thing I will leave this story with before you listen to the recording is something Poppy said about his brother that pulled at my heart. When I was probing Poppy more to tell me about Alfred’s specific opinions on Fidel Castro, he quickly and decisively shut me down. With a look in his eyes Poppy took a deep breath and in the clearest and loudest voice he’s used in years he said just this about his brother.

“No, he was a journalist.”

Alfred spent his life telling these stories, and that is the desire I realized I share with him. That is my Great-Uncle Alfred’s legacy. But more important than recognizing my shared desire with Alfred I realized the power this story had for my Grandpa, and for my own relationship with my Grandpa. How beautiful it is to hear stories about a man who was a storyteller, through stories told by his brother who loved him beyond words.

If anyone wants to write captions please email me. I apologize for the times where it is hard to hear.

First link above is interview.

Second segment is slideshow of Alfred, Tom, and documents written between the two.

A Brief Film Review: The Red Turtle

When I found out that Studio Ghibli (who produced one of my favorite films of all time: The Wind Rises) had another similar film, I knew I had to watch right away. The Red Turtle is a wonderful experience that viewers don’t often get to see. With no words or dialogue, we can only deduce a story surrounded in so much beautiful imagery, the many tragedies never seem impossible to conquer. But don’t be alarmed, the finesse and mastery of emotions in this movie make you think no more surrounding the lack of script. This story takes place in one of the most classic and simple stories: man alone on an island, forced to survive. But with the symbols and themes that the red turtle brings, and the glimmering images that besiege our screens, this story does in no way seem mundane or predictable. While I want to keep this review brief and not reveal any of the major plot points, I do want to take the time to appreciate the pure artistry in this film. It is impossible to watch the wind blowing through the man’s hair, the waves lapping the beach ever so softly, the green bamboo forest that rustles in-sync with the clouds; it is impossible to watch these scenes and not be utterly transfixed. And this beauty aids the objectively simple story into an emotional and heavy tale. A tale we can all appreciate and recognize in our own lives.