Hats off to your music editor and the entire nominating committee for the Houston Press Music Awards for finally elevating me and my band to the ranks of the other established Houston-based artists (ZZ Top, Lyle Lovett, Clint Black, etc.) by not including us in any of the categories on the ballot. As a multiple winner in the keyboard division, I feel relieved to step aside and yield my laurels to the younger, less-celebrated up-and-comers. And how unfair it would be for the nominees for best song to have to compete with "Bolivar Ferry," the cut from our recent CD that gets daily rotation airplay on KQUE.
I'm sure the thousands of Rocket fans who thrilled to the talents of the consummate musicians who comprise the Works would agree that to single out any one of them for recognition after all that NBA playoff glory would be an injustice to the relatively obscure struggles of this year's nominated players. In short, let's all get behind the Houston Press Music Awards as a way to show the world that there really is a Houston music scene, and it's not the few bands actually making a living playing original music and selling CDs; it's the networking myriad of visionary artists you've spotlighted. Perhaps their infrequent musical efforts yield little or no monetary reward, but they had the foresight to forge relationships with the managers, agents, club owners and record label executives who make up your nominating committee.
Mind the Kids
The Houston Press provides a service to its readers by providing diverse opinions and well-researched information. However, an adverse effect has resulted from Tim Fleck's article "Center of Dispute" [News, July 20]. Obviously, Fleck was only striving to gain his own center of attention. His cynical comments regarding Senator John Whitmire were conveniently outlined within the article itself, as well as in The Insider on the same page.
The true center of importance here is our troubled youth. Unfortunately, that importance was overshadowed by the misguided distrust Fleck's articles placed on Senator Whitmire. The truth of the matter is Senator Whitmire has devoted his political and professional career to developing and supporting our youth. In today's society we need to commend the efforts of those who care enough to give of themselves. And Fleck, "if you become an elected official (or just a legal toady to one)," there's no price tag that could be placed on the personal or professional time you choose to share with our youth.
I congratulate Claudia Kolker on her article, "Family Feud" [News, June 29], which tried to fairly represent all sides in the conflicts involving Nick Kanellos at Arte Pblico Press and disgruntled authors. (We should make a distinction between Arte Pblico and Mr. Kanellos, after all. They are not one and the same enterprise.) It's not easy to listen to both sides of a loaded issue and not come off as holding the gun to either side. I felt Kolker tried to listen fairly to all sides. What she conveys most successfully in her article is the pained sense that no one is a winner in these disputes that tear apart our sense of what a community should be.
However, I do want to take issue with Kolker's representation that Latino authors were once one big happy family and we only started squabbling once we moved into the mainstream. To represent us as such makes the mainstream the culpable other instead of acknowledging that we ourselves are accountable for our misdeeds with each other. It also encourages us to think of any success as suspect, as if anyone who achieves some mainstream attention is somehow a sellout or betrayer of some happy, united communidad that never existed.
The other issue I'd like to clarify is the image of Susan Bergholz as some sort of literary Mephistopheles tempting us to sell our souls for fame and glory. Let's face it: Susan Bergholz is about as "mainstream" as Nick Kanellos. For years, she's championed minority authors, working for little or no money, often helping an author out financially, nurturing and encouraging many of us struggling Latina writers. She's as much to be applauded as Nick Kanellos for her work in getting a readership for Latino and Latina authors. Perhaps if many Latina and Latino authors have ended up at Susan Bergholz's door, it's precisely because of her devotion to her clients. If she points out an unfair contract to an author who doesn't read her contract carefully enough that certainly should not count as "a deadly deed." Perhaps Susan Bergholz is taking better care of her writers than Mr. Kanellos is.
I just returned from a trip out of town and read Tim Fleck's fine article about Beneva Williams Nyamu ["The Struggles of Beneva Williams Nyamu," June 8]. Let me add a postscript to it.
In Houston during the early 1980s, the politically progressive community was badly divided, mostly along racial and ethnic lines. Blacks marched with blacks, Hispanics with Hispanics, whites with whites and Asians didn't march at all. This self-imposed and self-defeating tribalization --a kind of enlightened false consciousness, if you will -- naturally fractured and thus greatly diminished the power of progressives in Houston. Ironically, it benefited mostly those whom progressives sought to oppose. The downtown corporate and civic elites must have enjoyed a good belly laugh about it; they could not have devised a better divide-and-conquer strategy. The only other gainers were a few local tribal leaders, all articulate and some probably even well intentioned, who constantly beat the drums about past injustices done to their tribe by other tribes, thus further alienating progressives in all tribes from one another and effectively holding the present and future as hostages to the past.
Into this situation stepped Beneva Williams Nyamu. Without criticizing what others were doing, she simply moved in another direction. Focusing on the freedom struggle in South Africa, she recruited a dozen or so people from Houston's various tribes (though mostly blacks and whites) into an organization initially called the Southern Africa Task Force and later the Free South Africa Committee. Fleck's article itemized the respectable accomplishments of this organization: month-after-month protests at the South African consulate, booting the South African state airline out of Intercontinental Airport and backing a city ordinance to stop the investment of public funds in companies doing business with the racist South African government. And Fleck might have added: weekly protests that ran for several years at One Shell Plaza downtown to protest Shell's continued supply of petrochemical products to the South African government, the annual Nelson Mandela Freedom Run, persuading Channel 8 to stop broadcasting disingenuous programs about South Africa, countless educational forums at area churches and universities and more. This was not bad work for a relatively small group of working-class people of modest means.
Beneva Williams Nyamu didn't originate this brand of political activism, and she will not be the end of it. But she did help to move an effective agenda along for a time here in Houston, that's for damned sure, and in the process earned the affection and the respect of those who worked with her.
Who's That Watching Me?
I have read your article "Among the Paranoid" [By Randall Patterson, July 27] and it seems to me that the opponents of the militia are the paranoid ones in this society. There has not been an incident of militia craziness yet reported in the press or media. But the government is killing with seeming alacrity all the time. Militias troop and stomp with legal firearms. How does that frighten anyone? Better you be wary of the federal "police" who have what amounts to a license to kill and intimidate.
Donald V. Clerkin
Editor's note: We didn't know we our circulation reached so far. It's enough to make us ... paranoid.
While I very much appreciate Claudia Kolker's fairness in reporting my interview in your, "Family Feud," [News, June 29] I would like to fill in some omissions to further clarify my the situation in regard to Arte Pblico Press.
My literary agency is small, independent and totally involved with writers. A third of my clients are Latina or Latino. Eight of these were published by Arte Pblico at some time. Most are not any longer. Their reasons are not base, they are basic.
As I advise all those I represent, writing is an unpredictable employer. The work is terribly risky and the rewards often meager. Publishers -- large or small -- are supposed to even the odds as much as they can. At the very least, they must protect the writer's creation and reduce the economic risks faced by the writer with clear and fair contractual arrangements that spell out not only the particular writer's obligations, but also the publisher's. Arte Pblico's contracts were not clear, not protective, and they certainly were not consistently honored.
That made for disgruntled authors and Dr. Kanellos' "flames of discontent." The situation had become incendiary long before I appeared. It would seem that Arte Pblico failed in some ways in its obligations to its writers. It failed to inform them, to consult them, to maintain contact, to reward them with what they had earned, to protect them, even after they had succeeded. Arte Pblico could have repaired the situation with a modicum of effort. But they did not, and instead chose to see author complaints as ingratitude and defiance.
Only the threats of enforcement of copyright regulations and contractual obligations by Sandra Cisneros, Denise Chavez, Juan Felipe Herrera and others brought some change. It took the courage of the writers themselves to illuminate issues of basic fairness. They did what the Press had failed to do: they acted. And all Arte Pblico authors, and the Press itself, owe them a debt of gratitude.
I and authors I represent invest a great deal of ourselves in trying to educate the public and people in publishing We often find ourselves fighting racism, sexism, classism and plain willful ignorance. I admire these writers for their talent, their hard work, guts, passion, and beautiful and varied voices. It is sad to me that one who so long ago could recognize their qualities and potential as artists, who discovered and nurtured generations of writers, could fail to see and meet their most basic needs as responsible adults.
Susan Bergholz Literary Services
New York, NY
Why, I wonder, did you assign dinner theater reviews to a critic who obviously despises the genre [Theater, "Play With Your Food," by Peter Szatmary, July 20]?
I've been to Let's Kill the Boss. It was a fun evening, which had been described by the reservations agent as "a comic interactive murder mystery dinner theater." Consequently, I was neither surprised nor dismayed to be seated with strangers and addressed by the cast.
If you believe Press readers to be too sophisticated for that sort of entertainment, then don't bother to review it. But if you do review it, please send someone who doesn't walk in determined to have a terrible time.
Kathryn J. Escandell
As some astute readers have pointed out, the band identified as Planet Shock! in one of the photos in last week's Houston Press Music Awards story was not, in fact, Planet Shock!. It was instead Aftershock, one of the two groups that have been formed in the wake of Planet Shock!'s (apparent) dissolution. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.
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