Tony Medina

2004 EP. NO. 1
TONY MEDINA is one of the more prolific writers of color effectively shaping the new literary renaissance. Through the G.I. bill, Medina was able to earn a B.A. in literature at Baruch College. After teaching at Long Island University in Brooklyn as an adjunct professor for eight years, Medina completed his Masters and Ph.D. at SUNY at Binghamton, and is currently a professor at Howard University.

He has published five volumes of poetry, including Emerge & See (Whirlwind Pr., 1991), which Amiri Baraka included in his 1992 “Summer Reading List” in American Visions Magazine; No Noose Is Good Noose (Writers & Readers, 1996); Sermons from the Smell of a Carcass Condemned to Begging (Long Shot Productions, 1998), a long poem consisting of 96 sermons in the voice of a homeless persona or everyman named “Broke,” written in the tradition of Langston Hughes’ “Simple”; Memories of Eating (Long Shot Productions, 1999); and Committed to Breathing (Third World Pr., 2003).

Medina has co-edited some of the most groundbreaking anthologies of the decade. In Defense of Mumia (Writers & Readers, 1996) co-edited with S. E. Anderson, is dedicated to death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. This important collection of prose, poetry and art consists of a formidable group of artists, politicians, and activists, and is the winner of The American Bookseller Association’s Firecracker Alternative Book Award.

In Catch the Fire!!!: A Cross-Generation Anthology of Contemporary African-American Poetry (Riverhead Books, 1998) edited by Derrick I. M. Gilbert, Medina served as literary consultant. Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam (Three Rivers Pr., 2001), co-edited with Louis Reyes Rivera, is a collection of political spoken word that is identity centered, anti-racist and pro-activist, using poetry as social art. His latest offering Role Call: A Generational Anthology of Social & Political Black Art & Literature (Third World Pr., 2002), co-edited with Samiya A. Bashir and Quraysh Ali Lansana, is a “call-to-arms” to a generation grown fat on the limited freedoms won by the civil rights struggle, and takes on issues of race, sexuality, education, nationalism, spirituality, AIDS, globalization, hip hop and the rise of the prison industrial complex.

Medina has also published four children’s and young adult books: Christmas Makes Me Think (Lee & Low Books, 2001) illustrated by Chandra Cox; Deshawn Days (Lee & Low Books, 2001); Love to Langston (Lee & Low Books, 2002), illustrated by R. Gregory Christie; and the recently released, Follow Up Letters to Santa From Kids Who Never Got a Response (2003), with images by R. Gregory Christie.

Deshawn Days introduces readers to the world of an African-American boy who lives in the projects, whose story is continued in When the World Was New, while Christmas Makes Me Think explains the true meaning of community and caring during the holidays. Love to Langston is a tribute to one of America’s most talented and beloved poets, Langston Hughes. Written in the art form Hughes cherished most, this biography in verse captures glimpses of the poet’s world through his voice as Medina imagines it. In Follow Up Letters to Santa, Medina’s latest young adult book, takes readers into the world of children who are speaking from the heart and want Santa to bring them real answers and practical solutions to the issues that they face daily.

Medina’s work is featured in numerous literary and popular-culture publications, including the anthologies: In the Tradition: An Anthology of Young Black Writers (Writers & Readers, 1992), edited by Kevin Powell and Ras Baraka; Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets’ Café (Owlet, 1994), edited by Miguel Algarin and Bob Holman; Soulfires: Young Black Men on Love and Violence (Penguin USA, 1996), edited by Daniel J. Wideman and Rohan B. Preston; Spirit & Flame: An Anthology of African American Poetry (Syracuse Univ. Pr., 1997), edited by Keith Gilyard; and Identity Lessons: Contemporary Writing About Learning to Be American (Penguin USA, 1999) edited by Maria Mazziotti Gillan and Jennifer Gillan. He also published an essay in Spirit of Harlem: A Portrait of America’s Most Exciting Neighborhood (Doubleday, 2003), written by Craig Marberry, photographed by Michael Cunningham.

Medina tours the country reading his works, sitting on panels and participating in workshops. His work has been televised for a 1996 TBS special, which highlighted a “Soulfires” reading given at the Black Arts Festival in Atlanta. “The Big House Revisited” deals with the subject of O.J. Simpson and was featured on Vibe On-Line and in the New York-based documentary video show “No Channel Zero.” Medina’s lectures speak to multicultural issues due to his Afro-Puerto Rican heritage. His presentations address issues of racism and justice in American from the perspective of an urban Latino male.

artistic statement
Our culture shapes us to compete, to gobble each other up for money and prestige. This is never more apparent than with the current onslaught of sensationalized “reality” television shows like “Survivor” where the objective is to win at all costs. This popularized exhibition of Social Darwinism glues us to the tube while big business parades its endless battering ram of commercials and misinformation across our retinas and into our frontal lobes.

Poetry has taken a similar plunge with the advent of the Slam. The Slam pits poets against one another in gladiator-like scenarios where they compete for chump change and prestige, judged by a select group of audience members (sometimes consisting of other poets; most times not). Too often in this arena poetry is not what matters, but performance–how well one can recite a line or two, no matter how backward or banal. A cat could read the phone book and, if his or her voice hits the right note, their facial expression caught mid-strain in the glare of the spotlight, as if in mid-shit, they just may slam their way to the top of the (dung) heap. Here, poetry is cheap, is cheapened.

A good number of folks running around calling themselves poets care less about poetry than about “blowing up.” When I first hit the New York scene running (some twelve-odd years ago), we used the term “blow up” with regard to saying something political or profound, not about seeking some sort of fame or fortune. Poets I ran with talked about “dropping bombs,” or “blowing up the spot” like rappers talked about “dropping science”; it was about saying something deep and powerful – and leaving a hole in the stage! It is that same “stage” that haunts us today. Serious poets who also happen to perform well on stage are constantly being called spoken-word artists and are not taken seriously as writers. Poets (especially those of color) who use the word (use language) to effect change are therefore ghettoized by those in the academy and those at the gates as solely (or “simply”) oral, urban, or street poets. In other words, they are not real writers because they’re not busy polishing their poems until they disappear, creating verse to decorate the parlors of the rich and bloodless.

On a similar front, publishers tell us poetry doesn’t sell, yet the same old cats are constantly being published. The critics and canon shapers continue to insist that poetry and politics should not mix. . . . Any poet worth his or her weight in syllables and words uses poetry for certain reasons, be it to define one’s self, to defend one’s self, or to describe one’s environment with accuracy, communicating a clear understanding of what is going on in the world. But what appears in many of the so-called new American poetry anthologies are the usual lot of dry poets shitted out of the bowels of Ivy League schools and other stamp-of-approval institutions designed to stamp out creativity and promote mediocrity. They deliberately exclude socially responsible poetry that speaks for and to a generation that did not benefit from the reforms gained by the Civil Rights Movement or the riches of the so-called New Economy. They ignore poets who could care less about being the kind of poet who in neatly polished poem after neatly polished poem perpetrates a fraud on reality. . . . The primary goal of the poet, the primary role of poetry, is to humanize. These voices, these visionaries, understand this. This is their mission, their goal. This has been their objective all along. It is that face they see in the mirror, or through their window, that drives them to force the world to keep it real, act like it knows and, ultimately, to recognize their beauty and their pain.

Last updated 2009.

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