Geography, Tree, Charley Patton, and Ralph Lemon

Saturday, August 13 to Wednesday, August 17 – “Geography,” “Tree,” and “Come Home Charley Patton” by Ralph Lemon

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On Saturday, I spent the morning at Asado Coffee Company (a small place, but really good coffee) and the afternoon at Emerald City (bigger and cozier, but a little bit crowded so not great for working if you need quiet). On Monday, I went for a run in the morning and then read at Deering for the rest of the day. On Tuesday, I spent the morning at Heritage Outpost (one of my favorites, very minimal and clean-cut) and the afternoon at Kitchen Sink (yummy bagels, otherwise nothing special but definitely not bad). On Wednesday, I went to Elaine’s Coffee Call in the morning (smallish and attached to a hotel) and Eva’s Cafe in the afternoon (another favorite, really big and cozy).

These three books are a trilogy by Ralph Lemon, which is why they’re lumped into one post. They are each about a different piece of his, and consist of letters and journal entries and anecdotes from the time he was creating the piece.

“Geography” was the quickest read and the least actual reading (it involved a lot of pictures and things like that). One recurring theme in all of these books that started in “Geography” was the notion of what it’s like to be black in America versus what it’s like to be black in Africa. He also repeatedly deals with the issue of what it means to be a black dance artist, as well as the notion of text in dance (and of having a script for a dance performance). My favorite part of “Geography,” however, is a drawing of a sink that says, “When I was puking in this sink I was in the same position that I pray in.”

“Tree” is possibly the most aesthetically beautiful book I’ve ever owned. It’s still a great deal about race, but in “Tree” Lemon travels to India a few times and tells anecdotes of his time there. One of the most striking things to me was the question of what it means to be black in India–some South Indians are dark enough that they could be mistaken for being black, but for some reason Lemon is consistently set apart. This is something I feel, too, when I’m in India–I’m not sure if it’s because of the way I dress or talk or act, but I definitely feel very “other” despite my skin tone fitting in, and I sense that I am “other” in the minds of the people around me.

In “Come Home Charley Patton,” Lemon travels through racially significant locations in the southern United States. This was probably my favorite of the three books; it involved a bit more of a storyline than the other two and it was easier to follow, which may be part of it. The most exciting part of this book, for me (although this was in the others) was Darrell Jones. Darrell came to Northwestern to choreograph a piece that I was in for Danceworks in 2015, and reading about him in this book (and seeing pictures of him) was really incredible–it just highlighted how insular the dance world really is. I wish I had known when Darrell came, because I would have loved to ask him about his experiences working with Lemon.