Chicago and New York Bookstore Readings
Making Connections Through Bob Avakian's Memoir
Revolution #027, December 19, 2005, posted at revcom.us
Two special evenings of readings from Bob Avakian's memoir, From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist, took place on Tuesday, December 6, in Chicago and Wednesday, December 7 in New York City. Bob Avakian's memoir was released nationally in Berkeley in May 2005 and a book reading in San Francisco was aired on C-SPAN's Book TV program.
In both New York and Chicago, guest readers took listeners on a journey through three unique but interwoven stories in Ike to Mao and Beyond.... The first tells of a white middle-class kid growing up in '50s America who goes to an integrated high school and has his world turned around; the second of a young man who overcomes a near-fatal disease and jumps with both feet into the heady swirl of Berkeley in the '60s; and the third of a radical activist who matures into a tempered revolutionary communist leader.
In addition to readings from the book, both events included a fascinating dialog between Maoist political economist Raymond Lotta and Quetzal Ceja, managing editor of Insight Press, the publisher of the memoir.
100 people gathered for an event sponsored by the Barnes & Noble DePaul Center bookstore in downtown Chicago to hear readings from Avakian’s memoir. The audience was a rare mix at a book event: people of all ages and of diverse nationalities, students and activists, people from the Cabrini Green projects and professionals. There were people who have been following Bob Avakian for years, as well as people for whom this was the first introduction.
Readers in Chicago were: Jaafar Aksikas, Columbia College professor of Cultural Studies; Linda Flores, poet and writer for Revolution newspaper; José Guerrero, artist/muralist; Susan Nussbaum, an actor and well-known disability rights activist; Joshua Schultz, theater director and artist; Dread Scott, artist; and David Shapiro, actor.
A Columbia College student, who learned about the event from one of his professors, said that he was surprised by the range of readings that showed how Bob Avakian is not just very thoughtful but also very funny. He leafed through the book Marxism and the Call of the Future, co-authored by Avakian and DePaul philosophy professor Bill Martin, and commented on the range of issues covered in it--that this is not what he thought communists were like, or what they concerned themselves with. Another young person remarked that Avakian was different from what he had expected, and that he wanted to learn more about what Avakian has to say.
These comments reflected something spoken to by Howard Zinn who says the memoir is "a truly interesting account of Bob Avakian’s life, a humanizing portrait of someone who is often seen only as a hard-line revolutionary." And by Lenny Wolff, who writes in the preface to the memoir: "Whatever you may expect in picking up this book--I guarantee you’ll be surprised... There is breadth to this man. And if you thought that ‘communism is dead’ or that all those who continue to uphold it conform to the stereotypes of ‘dogmatic totalitarianism,’ you are in for a real jolt." In a good way, people were "jolted" and had their curiosity peaked and eyes opened to this unique individual, his leadership and his powerful life story through an evening of readings from his memoir.
New York City
Labyrinth Books near Columbia University was packed for the reading organized by a recently formed committee in New York City. The audience was a mix of professors, activists, high school and college students, and others. A retired Columbia University math professor said that he had come off of an ad in the university's newspaper and was especially attracted by Howard Zinn's statement about the memoir.
The guest readers each brought their own flavor to their readings, their own humor or style, or spoke to how they related to the particular chapter or the author. Aladdin, a playwright and comedian, brought alive the "cornbread" story from the "High School" chapter. Columbia University Professor Neni Panourgia couldn’t keep from bursting out laughing at the funniest parts of her readings. There was a connection in the room--from author to reader to audience and back again--that was really moving and fun. Other readers were: Gamal Chasten, playwright and poet and from Universes; Joe Fortunato, attorney and member of the NJ Green Party; Bill Homan, actor; Noche Lares, a high school student, Shakespeare enthusiast, seasoned fencer and Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade member; Father Lawrence Lucas, deputy director for Ministerial and Volunteer Services for NYC Dept. of Corrections; and Justina Mejia, vocalist, poet, and performance artist.
"The readers really seemed into what they were reading. They brought a real energy to it, like what Bob Avakian must have felt when he was writing it,"said Simone, a high school student organizer for The World Can't Wait--Drive Out the Bush Regime. Victoria, also a high school student, said,
"The readers were really alive, and the last section that was read (from the final chapter) was so powerful. A lot of people don't know who he is--or they think of him as a communist but not as a person with a childhood, etc. Events like this make you feel closer to him."
Zeno, one of the organizers of the event, said:
"The committee was formed by people who see the importance of this book being in the hands of tens of thousands of people, becoming a classic; we want this book to be the talk of this city and beyond so people are asking each other, 'Have you read this?' because we can see the impact it can have. We want this book being used in history, philosophy, Marxism, and sociology classes."
The committee announced at the reading that this was just the first of many such events to promote this book and its author.
A unique and exciting aspect of the event was the grouping of prominent people who served as honorary co-hosts: Father Luis Barrios of Iglesia San Romero de Las Americas, NY; Dennis Brutus, South African poet and former political prisoner; reg e. gaines, poet; Lister Hewan-Lowe, radio DJ; Nicholas Heyward, Sr., of Parents Against Police Brutality; Larry Kirwan, lead singer of Black 47, playwright, novelist; Rev. Earl Kooperkamp; Father Lawrence Lucas; Jessica Care Moore, poet and publisher; Ralph Poynter; Juan Rodriguez-Muñoz, professor of Latino & Multicultural Studies; Miles Solay, Outernational; Lynne Stewart, attorney; Michael Tarif Warren, attorney; and Naomi Wallace, playwright.
In a message issued in building for the reading, the honorary co-hosts said:
"Coming from diverse outlooks and perspectives, we are proud to serve as honorary hosts for this celebration. At a very dangerous time in this country it is crucial that voices like Avakian's must be heard, his work and ongoing story of his life be engaged with."
Conversation on "And Beyond"
The programs of readings from Bob Avakian's memoir, From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist, in Chicago and New York featured a dialog between Maoist political economist Raymond Lotta and Quetzal Ceja, managing editor of Insight Press, the publisher of the memoir. They discussed how this book has important resonance right now because there are many, many people, particularly youth, who are thinking about what kind of life is worth living and what their life will be about. Lotta talked about Avakian’s life and body of work, including his summation of the socialist experience in China--boldly upholding, but also boldly criticizing its secondary weaknesses. And he contrasted this with the putrid world outlook and straight-up lies in the new and widely promoted biography of Mao (Mao: The Unknown Story) that negate all the revolutionary accomplishments of the Chinese masses under Mao's leadership. Lotta contrasted Avakian’s love for and confidence in people that comes through in the memoir with the utter disdain for the masses in the new Mao biography. The discussion also went into what is captured by the "and beyond" in the title of the memoir--Avakian’s powerful and provocative new reenvisioning of communism and socialism. Lotta talked about Bob Avakian's concept of communist leadership – the need to raise the sights of the masses to a communist world without exploitation and oppression and the crucial necessity to link the work and struggle of today to the goal of a communist world. He talked about how Avakian concentrates in his life and work, how the world is, how the world can be changed, and how it can be different. And Lotta encouraged people to check out Avakian’s other works, including his newest book, Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy.