There's been a great deal of talk over the past few weeks on this blog, and elsewhere, about the duties of story-tellers. My sense, from the beginning, has been that the primary loyalty of a story-teller is to the narrative that keeps them up at night, not to "diversity," "fairness" or any other so deemed societal good.
That belief comes from two places: First, the bit of story-telling I've done myself, and the horror I'd feel at being charged with carrying a flag, apart from the one that urged me to put pen to paper. But more than that there is the old Malcolmite that says that the absence of our narratives is not simply a charge to lobby other people, but to speak those narratives ourselves.
This Malcolmite portion is the marrow of me. As a boy, my first job--about age six--was working for my father's small publishing press. The mission was republishing African-American authors whose work had long gone out of print. These were our stories. You can weigh the value of them however you wish. But the point was they were "our stories," and thus it was primarily our job--not Random House or FSG--to make sure they weren't forgotten.
I grew. I went off to school, I became a writer. The whole way I was obsessed with "our stories," and a method by which they could be awarded the platform I believe they deserved. I was lucky in that I met like-minds. One of them, coming from a totally different perspective but reaching the same end, was my good friend Neil Drumming. We met fifteen years ago while working together at Washington City Paper, obsessed with giving hip-hop the criticism it had earned, and profiling its artists in long-form.
We have inhaled way too many beers and burgers together, have shut down bars, have had polite dinners with our wives. A good 70 percent of our conversation always boiled down to this--How do we tell "our stories?"
This is a long way of informing you of a few things:
1.) For the next month Neil will be shooting his first film--Big Words
--here in New York.
2.) Neil is going to be chronicling the process of making his film for The Atlantic
is the first entry.) I urge you to follow Neil's travels. The beautiful thing about this is not pre-made. It's hot. It's him experiencing the process as it happens and sharing it with you. These are DVD extras, long before the DVD.
3.) I am really really excited about both of those developments.
4.) I have a meager financial involvement with the film and (tentatively) a brief on-camera scene. Neil's film-making diary here at the magazine happened largely because of my relationship with Neil and The Atlantic. I have no idea what sort of realm we are in terms of journalistic disclosure. But given my involvement, it seemed sketchy to not disclose this.
A bit more on the money: I am a big fan of that old line from Shine And The Titanic--"Get your ass in the water, and swim like me." When Neil came with this script, and I read it--and I loved it--it seemed imperative to make good on those years of talking we'd done. To do anything else would mean all that bluster at Disiac was just that, was really the Sangria talking.
And a bit more on that small scene. We're going to need extras. I'll have the date for you by tomorrow. I know call-time is around six in the morning. If you are a New Yorker and have sat stewing in the comments section over these past few weeks, I would urge you to make your mettle known. We must tell our stories.
It's fine to talk about the institution inequalities at work in the world. We do our share here. But all of that talk must be backed by an effort to make good on those advantages which have accrued to us from (if I may be so earnest) those who came before us.
No more talk. Do the damn thing.
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is a national correspondent for The Atlantic
, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of The Beautiful Struggle
, Between the World and Me,
and We Were Eight Years in Power