The Spotlight: Lorraine Currelley

Hey! I know it’s been a while – just going through the ups and downs of quarantine life. But, I’m glad to be back with an interview with Lorraine Currelley, who I first met a few years back at a writing workshop and got to know during my time on the Bronx Book Fair planning committee. Lorraine was recently named the National Beat Poetry Foundation Bronx Beat Poet Laureate New York State.

What are some of the responsibilities of the National Beat Poetry Foundation Bronx Beat Poet Laureate New York State?

I’m still trying to navigate this new role and what it means for me. I believe it’s up to the individual laureate to define what that role is. My role is an extension of who I am and what I continue to do as a writer, artist and individual.

It’s advocating for poetry, reading, literacy and the arts. It means representing my Bronx borough, shining a spotlight on the
wonderful things happening in my community as well as it’s residents, my neighbors.


I’m excited to be working with my community to advocate for needed opportunity and services. It’s the joy of collaborating with individuals as well as cultural, educational and social organizations via the Bronx Book Fair and Poets Network & Exchange. Two of the most innovative organizations in the Bronx and New York City.

For those who may be unfamiliar with your writing, how would you describe it?

I’m a multi-genre writer. I write and enjoy exploring different writing topics and styles. They include fiction, non-fiction, and of course poetry. I’m especially fond of narrative poetry. My writing topics include but are not limited to mental health, children literature, African and African American history, culture and family life, ageism, racism and gerontology. I inherited a love of learning, writing and literature from my mother Annie Daniels Currelley.

Who are some of your favorite writers? 

Some of the writers named entered my life at specific periods and unexpectedly. Their work resonated spiritually, philosophically, or emotionally. There was a connection. It’s not necessarily their entire body of work. It could have been a poem, a story, or a specific book. They are Jesmyn Ward, Sonia Sanchez, Carmen D. Lucca, Nikki Giovanni, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ibram X Kende, J. California Cooper, Roxanne Gay, Rita Dove, Isabel Allende, Edward Currelley, Gary Johnston, Claudia Rankine, Paula Giddings and Tracey K. Smith. There are also so many unsung writers.

Tell us about any upcoming projects you’re working on.


I’m happily completing my manuscripts for publication. I’m also participating in Climbing The Walls Multi Media Exhibit.

Climbing the Walls is a collaborative project between Studio Theater in Exile and Hudson Valley MOCA that asked for artists across genres to contribute, visual art, music, monologues, and poetry, that explore the ways we are experiencing life now and how we imagine the future. Climbing the Walls was conceived from a desire to create in a time of disorientation and disconnection. We conceived of the project as a way to connect and explore a shift in the moment, ultimately looking both at COVID-19 and the protests. As more and more people decided to participate, across all genres, we realized how lucky we were to be in an artistic community that came together to communicate, to teach, to learn, and to create.

I had the great joy to contribute to COVID-19 and to conceive and guest curate a Junteenth exhibit “Freedom A Failed Promise.” at the invitation of  Artistic Director/Dramaturge Studio Theater in Exile, Mara Mills. I am very pleased with the result. It’s an important exhibit. Climbing The Walls is innovative and wonderfully creative and exciting ( online.) Participating artists are phenonmenal. It opened on June 13th, 2020 and viewers will have an opportunity to experience it until September 13th, 2020.

CLIMBING THE WALLS MULTI MEDIA EXHIBIT JUNE 13-SEPTEMBER 13
On www.studiotheaterinexile.com/climbing-the-walls
and www.HudsonValleyMOCA.org

The Spotlight: John Henry Soto

For this edition of The Spotlight, I interviewed Bronx  filmmaker John Henry Soto. Keep reading to learn more about his new television show “Pitch” set in the Bronx!

 

Which neighborhood in the Bronx are you from? How has it inspired the setting for your new show “Pitch”?

I grew up in the Hunts Point area of the South Bronx. On Southern Blvd, Bryant Ave, Westchester

Ave and Aldus St. I was raised by my grandparents and my grandma liked moving. 🙂 The corner

bodega to me was always a place of comfort because everyone knew who you so no matter what might

be happening outside, in there you were cool. If you needed to find someone you would walk in and

yell, “Hey! Have you seen Tito!?” It was effective. The idea for Pitch came to me because I love

detective shows. From Columbo, Baretta, Magnum PI to Monk, SVU and everything in between. I got

good at figuring out who committed the crime and really enjoyed that element. But, I always noticed

that very few shows would ever venture up into the Bronx. I decided to not only venture up there but

have the character live and work there too. Having him work in a bodega in the Bronx seemed

perfect.

How has the neighborhood responded to the filming of “Pitch?”

“Well a few interesting things happened which I thought were great. During our initial scouting for

bodegas to shoot in, we were having trouble looking for a place that had character and didn’t look

gentrified. When we finally found a place I walked in and it was the same owner and he recognized

me! It’s was great and we knew we had our spot. Then came the day of shooting a test scene and word

got around the neighborhood that they were “Shooting” in the bodega! So people gathered to find out

we were shooting a film and there was no violence in the store. I guess that’s one of the unfortunate

realities that someday I would like to eradicate about the Bronx. But on the positive side, the

neighborhood did gather to support the store so that was good.”

Tell us a bit about the main character Pitch. As a writer, I put a bit of myself into all of my characters. Does Pitch have any of your characteristics?

Sure. As you mentioned, I think anytime you’re writing it’s inevitable that part of you gets infused

within your characters but also for me it’s more fun to try to add characteristics that are a little more out

there. For example, Pitch isn’t shy about approaching anyone or asking anything from anyone and I’m

like that but writing for an evil politician can be even more fun. Pitch grew up in the South Bronx with

the hopes of becoming a police officer. Unfortunately for him his short stature made it difficult for him

to pass the physical exam needed to get through the academy so he failed. He then began working for

his father’s bodega and solving crime on the side. He got so good at it that his best friend, who did

become a cop, comes to him for help time to time. The police chief and other officers do not like Pitch

because he’s rather arrogant about how good he is and they are threatened. It’s a fun character with

many layers that we hope to explore for at least 6 seasons. 🙂

What are your top three favorite places in the Bronx?

I love the building I grew up in. 1058 Southern Blvd. I hope to get permission to shoot there someday.

It’s a big classic pre-war building with great character.

Botanical Garden is amazing. I grew up going there and it was always shocking to me that we were in

the Bronx.

There’s a bakery on Southern Blvd that I use to go to when I was a kid and it’s still there. I just went

there a few weeks ago and had an amazing cup of coffee with a Cuban sandwich. Love it. But as I

walk around my old neighborhood I find so many places that I really love and the memories are what

keeps me motivated to bring this show to life in a big way.

Now that the show has gone into pre-production, what are the next steps? Are you working on any

other projects?

Right now I just completed a new script and turned in to the production company No Name Brand

Films. We’ve already shot part of another script which we have used for marketing purposes. The new

script will be shot in its entirety and we will be casting for that soon. We really want to generate

excitement behind the show and tell as many people as possible. I’ve spoken to Councilman Fernando

Cabrera, got a Twitter reply from Senator Espaillat and News 12 the Bronx will be doing a story once

we go into production. That’s just a few of many more. The excitement is building and we hope to get

rolling soon.

As far as projects, I’m always working on something. I have a new web series titled Write in Bayonne

about a writer in the small town of Bayonne, NJ and all the characters he runs into. I’m always writing

for a few internet sites and auditioning. Keeping busy with the things you love is a key to success in

my opinion. I always love helping other artists so I teach guitar and help actors anyway I can. I’m

always available for that.

The Spotlight: Chief 69

This month’s Spotlight is on Renaissance man, Nelson “Chief 69 Seda: 

Chief 69

You were born in Brooklyn, what brought you to the Bronx? What neighborhood do you represent? :
I was Born in Brooklyn yes, then moved around from Fl. back to NYC and as a young child moved all over from the Bronx , Harlem , Lower East Side , and then ended up back in the boogie down Bronx. I like to say I don’t just represent one neighborhood of the Bronx but I am from the Fort apache area..I consider myself a beacon of light to all of the greater South Bronx being I am  in many ways a product of the environment as a whole.
You wear a lot of hats – emcee, bboy, graffiti artist- how do these roles complement each other? Do they all serve as different ways of promoting a similar message or theme? 

I practice most of the HIP HOP elements mainly because of my knack to envelop myself truly into things I am drawn to , also in many ways the elements in my eyes at least have no real separation , you see when I do writing or graffiti it is comparable to the dynamic feats of the Dance I do , When I emcee it is the same poetic flow I place into the creation of Burners on a wall or in a blackbook. In many ways being I am in different circles I get to have different ways to stay inspired I realize people who only Emcee or only do Graffiti can easily become bored with HIP HOP because they are mentally so boxed in and don’t have a much broad perspective on what is really beneath the surface.I try to have all my work on a basic level to be straightforward for the most part in addressing social ills and bringing forth substance and clarity to a misrepresented , diluted Culture…I like to think my work is a tool of reminding my audience of what HIP HOP not only was because I don’t live in the past but what HIP HOP truly IS…

What are your top three favorite places in the Bronx?

My top 3 favorite places in the Bronx in no particular order are…

  •  MY HOUSE – I like to be home around my work and in my creative space.
  • Crotona Park – in the summertime I love to attend the events to hear good music and rock out , meet a  child and show them REAL skills It brings me a lot of joy to teach kids and make new friends in the park jams …this has always been a common denominator in many peoples lives who are involved in HIP  HOP
  • My neighborhood and really all of the Bronx around me because I feel the people have a specific walk , talk and demeanor about them that I find comforting , I feel at home here and when I go downtown or travel out of NYC I miss The Bronx , there is NO PLACE LIKE IT
Are there any upcoming projects you’re working on now that we should look out for?

Well, I have a lot in the works …still working on my Album project  “Knowledge of Self” , which had some setbacks due to my crazy agenda , I am also planning on doing a lot more work in the South Bronx along the lines of Community Murals , Youth Programming , Showcases and Performances and creating opportunities for my friends and HIP HOP family around me so we can all prosper and get QUALITY HIP HOP out there.

…BIG UPs go to all my crews , TBB,UZN,FRC,SSB,WOTS,MW…… I would also like to note my inspirations on a last acknowledgment that my work would be Impossible if not for a few KEY individuals below:

– Rock Steady Crew – all members past and present gave me the foresight to what I could manifest.
– James Brown – keeps me FUNKY.
– Bruce Lee – keeps me focused.
– EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM OF USA. – even with its many faults the teachers and students created the person I am today… THANK YOU….
PEACE AND ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE !!…

The Spotlight: Morgan Powell

This month’s Spotlight is on Morgan Powell, a writer, landscape designer, and founder of Bronx River Sankofa.

MorganKristopherPowell

Are you originally from the Bronx? If so, which part? If not, where are you originally from and what brought you to the Bronx? 

I’ve lived in the Bronx since I was 1 year old.  I’ve now lived in three apartments between Gun Hill Road and Pelham Parkway since 1974.

What might Bronxites be surprised to learn about African American history in the Bronx?

Some of the less expected Black Bronx research revelations include over 50 historically important 20th century figures buried at Woodlawn Cemetery, unsigned African burial grounds within public parks, a much richer civil rights heritage than most people seem to have ever considered, numerous business people of note making their stamp on society in these parts and a vastly deeper pre-WW II community profile and journey than most had ever hear of.  My favorite story is of the Jamaican-American Vietnam War Veteran who founded the orchid collection at the New York Botanical Garden and worked there for 19 years.

You chose to include the Akan word ‘Sankofa,’ which means “go back and get it,” describing the journey of drawing on the past for wisdom and strength, to describe your organization. How can Bronxites get involved in this movement? 

Bronx River Sankofa is an environmental and cultural spinoff from a larger effort that will make big news this year.  2013 is the 10th anniversary of the Bronx African American History Project for which many public programs are upcoming. Also, there are great videos, transcribed interviews and more which all may search on the web wherever they geographically.  I encourage all to type our project names in quotation marks into any search engine!

What are your top three favorite places in the Bronx?

It’s hard to isolate just three however I offer: a) hiking trails in Van Cortlandt Park, b) the Bronx Walk of Fame on the Grand Concourse, and c) Feeding Tree Jamaican restaurant on Gerard Avenue just a few storefronts north of 161st Street!

Are there any upcoming events or projects we should look out for?

What’s Good in My Hood?  Beginning time and location: March 9, 2013 11:00 a.m.  Zimmerman’s Park (Barker to Olinville Avenue off Allerton Avenue; 1 block from the Allerton Avenue train station).

This all new interactive walking tour is designed for all ages.  We will explore the joy of lifelong learning by looking at neighborhood parks and landmarks. How many flowers, bushes and trees in your local parks can you name?  Do you enjoy local wildlife like migrating butterflies and birds?  Is there a special building near your home you’ve always wanted to know more about? Great, this tour is designed to empower you to find answers! This program is co-presented by G.I.V.E. (Getting Involved Virginia Avenue Efforts) and the Bronx River Alliance.

The Spotlight: Intikana

This month’s Bronxite in The Spotlight is activist/poet/artist and 2010 BRIO Award winner, Intikana!

What part of the Bronx are you from? 

I was born and raised on the northeast side of The Bronx. Gun Hill area between the 2 and 5 train.
Your one man show, Penumbra, focused on your experience growing up in the Bronx and utilized different multimedia elements. What was it like preparing and presenting such a personal and complex story on stage?
Preparing and presenting Penumbra was a very transformative process for me. It took a lot of work, patience, and dedication. It also allowed me to share my story of growing up in the Bronx in such a way that was therapeutic and provided healing. The initial rehearsals were difficult because of the level of vulnerability I was exposing myself to. However, over time, I began to feel comfortable on stage. Through hosting talkbacks after the show where audiences were able to ask questions, I learned that there were many people who related to elements of the play and were moved to make changes in their own lives. That was very encouraging and made it all worth it. In 2013, I intend on releasing a published copy of the script and in the coming years, I will be turning Penumbra into a movie.
 A lot of your work has very strong political and cultural messages in it. How important would you say having access to creative outlets is for people, especially Bronxites, who want to get involved in their communities and voice their concerns? 
Having access to creative outlets is essential to both cultural survival and personal sanity. Art is a medium that grants us the opportunity to share how we see the world. Be it through music, film, theater, photography, painting, etc. Math, science, language, astrology…these too are all forms of art. We are often taught that art is separate from everything else and many times it’s not given the same importance. But it is extremely important. It enhances the human experience. I encourage all “Bronxites” to take advantage of all creative outlets available to us and most definitely get involved with community organizations that have our best interests at heart.
What are your top three favorite places in the Bronx? 
This is hard because I love a lot of places in the Bronx for different reasons. The following is in no particular order:
Friends of Brook Park
 Any upcoming projects we should look out for?
Currently, I’m working on completing a new mixtape entitled “Native Eyes.” It will be a compilation of songs that speak from the native-indigenous person’s perspective. I’m really excited about this project because I will be releasing Hip Hop music that intertwines both the personal and political. This one has been a long time coming and will be available on my website www.intikana.net (Sign up for the email list!). There is no release date as of yet but I will be releasing a new music video to promote the project before the end of 2012. Stay tuned!