Category: Arts & Culture

Maywood Native John Prine Says His Upbringing Here Played Out in His Songs

Wednesday, September 27, 2017 || By Local News Curator || @maywoodnews 

Featured image: Maywood native and famous songwriter John Prine. | Wikipedia

A recent article published in the Courier-Journal, Louisville, Kentucky’s main newspaper, captured Maywood native John Prine talking about how his upbringing in the village influenced his famous songs.

Continue reading “Maywood Native John Prine Says His Upbringing Here Played Out in His Songs”

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Proviso Idol Open Auditions Set for Sept. 23 in Melrose Park

Tuesday, September 19, 2017 || By Community Editor || @maywoodnews 

Auditions for Proviso Idol 2017 have been announced. They’ll take place on Saturday, Sept. 23, 9 a.m., at Bulger Park, 1601 Hirsch St. in Melrose Park. More info in the flyer below:

Continue reading “Proviso Idol Open Auditions Set for Sept. 23 in Melrose Park”

A Giant Sculpture, Made in Maywood, Fits Well in Grant Park

Wednesday, August 23, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews|| Photos: Alexa Rogals/Wednesday Journal

A 15-foot wooden sculpture that was built in Maywood last year by contemporary artist Tashi Norbu has now become part of the fabric of Chicago’s Grant Park.

The sculpture, called “Urban Buddha,” was built from reclaimed Brazilian wood on the grounds of Re-Use Depot, 50 Madison St. in Maywood.

Continue reading “A Giant Sculpture, Made in Maywood, Fits Well in Grant Park”

Novelist With Maywood Ties Explores Suffocating Reality of Race

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Marian L. Thomas takes a break from a book signing and discussion inside of AfriWare Books in Maywood on Saturday to talk about her most recent novel, “I Believe in Butterflies.” | Michael Romain/VFP

Monday, June 5, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews 

In the opening scene of Marian L. Thomas’s new novel, “I Believe in Butterflies,” Emma Lee Baker, one of the lead characters, is standing on a bridge “during the heat of the day” and staring at fish.

“I ain’t crazy. I just like staring at freedom,” Baker says through the book’s first-person narration. Moments later, the reader finds out the 76-year-old woman’s grim discovery — the body of a young girl who appears to be no older than 14, her blonde hair “wrapped around her neck like it was the thing that choked the poor life out of her.”

Thomas flips the script, so to speak, on a very familiar literary occurrence — instead of a black male found dead, the victim of a lynching; here is white innocence itself, a young blonde female teen, symbolically lynched by the very standard of beauty and power meant to be her protection. Before long, racism makes victims of us all, Thomas’s novel proposes.

Race and its many, suffocating complications, loom over much of the author’s body of work, which includes a children’s book, a play and six novels.

But it took leaving relatively integrated Oak Park and moving to Atlanta for Thomas to start working through those many complications.

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In Oak Park, Thomas lived with her maternal grandparents, who were one of two black homeowners on the block, she said. The reality of race here, however, wasn’t quite as domineering as it was in Atlanta.

For the most part, Thomas’s grandparents lived the American Dream, which they earned through a degree of thrift that’s rare nowadays. Thomas’s grandmother, a nurse at Mt. Sinai Hospital and her grandfather, a baker, bought their Oak Park house and their Cadillacs in cash.

“They drove Cadillacs that were paid for and they would drive a car until it just fell apart,” Thomas, 45, recalled during a recent interview after a book signing event held Saturday at AfriWare Books in Maywood.

 “We don’t do that today, but that was them. They paid cash for everything,” she said of her grandparents. “They didn’t believe in credit cards. In the book, Emma Lee Baker talks about how her husband was able to afford the home she still lives in and how it was unheard of for African Americans to own a home.”

In 1988, Thomas moved to Atlanta with her father and stepmother. She was only one of two black seniors in her high school’s graduating class. Thomas said her father now lives in Maywood.

“Growing up in Oak Park, I didn’t really understand the whole black, white, interracial dynamic until I moved to the South, which is a very different culture,” she said. “It was an eye-opener.”

If moving to the South sparked an awareness of grand themes that would define her work, Thomas’s time in Oak Park fertilized her passion for storytelling. It was in the library at Oak Park and River Forest High School where she wrote he first short story, which became the basis for her first novel, “Color Me Jazzmyne” — published two decades and many rewrites later.

The book climbed to the top of the Amazon bestseller’s list and won a Sankofa Literary Society award.

Thomas had by then graduated from college magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in business. She said she was pushed by an old boss to rework her high school short story into a novel.

Now, Thomas, who works full-time as a digital marketing professional, is experiencing a fresh surge in popularity and appeal. Her message, though, is as age-old as her grandparents’ thriftiness.

“Emma talks about her fish and why she loves her fish, which she call ‘freedom,’” Thomas said. “That’s because that’s how God meant for all of us to be [just as fish are fish, people are people]. We should focus on being men and women. Race shouldn’t be the first thing we think about. The message in the book is to treat each other as humans.” VFP

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Village People: Cassie Dodd, 28, is Feeling Free

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Maywood native and fashion designer Cassie Dodd wears a gown she created. Below, she poses with models donning her clothing line, which includes gowns she’s designed for prom. | Submitted photos 

Cassie Dodd along with other modelsWednesday, May 17, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

Cassie Dodd, a Maywood native, actress and full-time fashion designer, recently hosted a show in Chicago that featured the spring collection of her C. Marie Designs fashion line. Her clothing has also been featured during Black Fashion Week USA, among other platforms.

Dodd, who graduated from Northern Illinois University, learned to sew at Proviso East High School, her other alma mater.

In a recent email, Dodd explained her motivation and her journey in the world of design.

I learned the basics of sewing at Proviso East, but later I taught myself everything else about sewing and fashion. The class, fashion tech, was so much fun. Other than English, it was one of my favorite classes.

Although I got my bachelor’s degree in political science and public law, and community leadership and civic engagement in advocacy, I transitioned into sewing after college because my desire is to design. I’ve always been creative. As I saw members of my family going off to prom, the more I thought to myself, ‘Hey, I can make their dresses.’ So, in 2014, when one of my nieces started getting ready for prom, I took advantage of the opportunity to show what I could do. It went extremely well.

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Right now, I design full-time and work as an extra on TV shows that film in Chicago like “Chicago PD,” “Chicago Justice,” “Chicago Fire,” “Empire” and others (to name a few).

On April 29, I hosted the first show, called The Emancipation of C. Marie Designs, to feature only my designs at the Douglas Park Ballroom in Chicago. I displayed my bridal collection, summer wear and couture looks.

I drew my inspiration from ancient queendoms and Nubian warriors. When I create, I’m naturally drawn to patterns and colors that reflect my African ancestors. I love sequin and all things glam, but African prints are my favorite. As Maya Angelou said, “I come as one but I stand as 10,000.”

I came as one, but people need to know that I am standing on the shoulders of the thousands that came before me. The ones who died for all of my opportunities to be educated, fearlessly creative and unapologetically me. VFP

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‘Tendu, Plié, Voilà!’ Alvin Ailey Dancer Leads Maywood Fine Arts’ ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Rehearsals

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Christopher Jackson and Maywood Fine Arts dancers during a rehearsal for ‘Sleeping Beauty’ on Saturday inside of Stairway of the Stars in Maywood. |  William Camargo/Wednesday Journal 

maywooddancers_AWN_032217_1March 20, 2017 || By Community Editor || @maywoodnews

Alvin Ailey instructor and Chicago native Christopher Jackson guided Maywood Fine Arts dancers through a rehearsal of “Sleeping Beauty’s” third act on Saturday.

The dancers will perform the classical ballet (with music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky), alongside professional guest artists from Chicago and New York, at Trinity High School in River Forest on March 25.

The performance will commemorate the 10th anniversary of Maywood Fine Arts’ Classical Ballet for New Audiences.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and $5 for children. They can be purchased at the door or in advance at Stairway of the Stars, 20 N. 5th Ave. in Maywood. Call (708) 681-2788 or click here for more information.

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At 100, Gwendolyn Brooks Still Inspires

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The late poet Gwendolyn Brooks, who was the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize. | Photo by Nora Brooks Blakely

Golden Shovel book .jpgTuesday, March 14, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

The poet Gwendolyn Brooks, who died in 2000 at the age of 83, would have been 100 years old this year. In Illinois, particularly in the Chicago area, Brooks has become something of an institution. There are no fewer than five schools across the state named after the late poet.

Last month, the Art Institute of Chicago’s Rubloff Auditorium hosted all five living African-American winners of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, the Chicago Tribune reported. The night climaxed with the tony crowd chanting Brook’s famous 1959 poem, “We Real Cool.” And that was just the start of a spate of Brooks centenary celebrations happening all over the state this year.

Beyond Illinois, however, the legacy of Brooks — the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize and the first black woman to be appointed a Poet Laureate, a position she held in Illinois from 1969 until her death — can still sometimes seem unjustly underappreciated, says Peter Kahn, Oak Park and River Forest High School English teacher and Spoken Word Club sponsor.

That’s partly why Kahn set out to compile hundreds of poems, written by poets both famous and up-and-coming (including around 20 OPRF alums), based on lines from several Brooks poems, including “We Real Cool.”

The result is The Golden Shovel Anthology: New Poems Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks, which was published this year by the University of Arkansas Press.

“Golden Shovel” was inspired by a poem written less than a decade ago by National Book Award-winning poet Terrance Hayes called “The Golden Shovel.” The last words of each line in Hayes’ work are words from at least one line pulled from Brooks’ “We Real Cool.”

According to a description that appears on the jacket of the anthology, “The poems are, in a way, secretly encoded to enable both a horizontal reading of the new poem and vertical reading down the right-hand margin of Brooks’ original.”

Hayes writes the forward for the book and his “Golden Shovel” is the first poem in a collection of at least 200 other Golden Shovel poems by some of the greatest living poets in the country, including Brooks admirers like Nikki Giovanni and Rita Dove — herself a Pulitzer Prize winner and the first African American U.S. Poet Laureate.

Kahn said it took approximately three years of frequent emails and follow-ups to compile the book, which he co-edited along with poets Ravi Shankar and Patricia Smith. The fact that he’s a teacher, he added, may have helped ease his pitch.

“In some instances, people would send me a poem on the day I requested it,” Kahn said last week. “In other instances, I emailed three or four times over the course of 2-3 years. I think mentioning that students were involved was helpful.”

The Golden Shovel poems by Kahn — whose poem, “Gray,” is based on a line from Brooks’ “Kitchenette Building” — and two dozen of his former students are also featured in the book.

For Chicago poet Asia Calcagno, who said Kahn introduced her to poetry while she was a student at OPRF roughly a decade ago, the anthology was as much an ode to Brooks’ life work as it is to her poetry.

“I think Peter cared a lot about getting different generations involved in the book, similar to how Gwendolyn cared about youth and the arts,” said Calcagno. “Peter didn’t just want popular poets but also young poets who are starting to come into their own voice.”

Calcagno’s poem, “Gravestones,” is based on a line from Brooks’ poem, “Riot,” about a linen and wool-clad, Jaguar-owning white man named John Cabot, “out of Wilma, once a Wycliffe,” who stumbles upon a group of “black and loud” blacks during a domestic disturbance.

One of the poem’s last lines, “You are a desperate man, and the desperate die expensively today,” runs down the left margins of Calcagno’s poem about a deep, philosophical conversation she once had with a friend during a smoke break.

“I don’t think I realized how profound [Brooks] was until I was starting college,” Calcagno, a former school teacher, said. “Her being a woman of color from Chicago who had a deep appreciation for youth and education and the arts — everything in my life has revolved around those things.”

Adam Levin, another of Kahn’s former students and his current Spoken Word teaching assistant at OPRF, said the opportunity to be published beside poets like Billy Collins, the former U.S. Poet Laureate, was “incredibly humbling.”

“I think it’s a testament to Peter, that he’d be willing to do that for his former students,” Levin said. “People like me almost never submit poems to anything for publication. He asked me to do it and stayed on me, having me re-write drafts until I had something worth being in the book.”

Kahn said he was simply taking his cues from Brooks, whom he met three times when the poet was still alive. Each time, he said, the poet exhibited the kind of humility and openness that endeared her to so many poets and non-poets alike.

“I was always blown away at her combination of being so humble, yet so fierce and so accessible and so genius,” said Kahn. “Those are words you wouldn’t normally associate with one another. She was extremely generous with her time and her own money. I think that’s partly why we were able to get so many people like Nikki Giovanni, who looked up to Brooks, I imagine, not just as a writer but also a mentor.”

Those qualities in the late poet may be what makes Levin’s Golden Shovel poem, “We were gonna go through with it, and then we lost it,” so profound. He borrows part of the last line from Brooks’ “The Mother.”

“Believe me, I loved you all,” writes Brooks. “Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you all.” VFP

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