There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce

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A Year in Reading: Brontez Purnell


Essential Deren: Collected Writings on Film by Maya DerenWhenever people ask me “what’s it like being high as fuck on ketamine” I’m always like “it’s like being trapped in a Maya Deren movie”–IM NOT KIDDING. She was a Ukrainian-born dancer, and filmmaker and was also the personal secretary of world-famous mother of Black American dance Katherine Dunham herself (see book down below). In a move that pissed Dunham off, she got access to her contacts in Haiti and made her pivotal film and book “Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti.” And as if she wasn’t bad ass enough, Deren is also the mother of American experimental film–“I MAKE MY PICTURES FOR WHAT HOLLYWOOD SPENDS ON LIPSTICK” she said.  In these texts she defines all her craft, philosophy, list of grievances and as they said in the 40’s (when most of this was written) “the straight dick” behind independent film making–“Your mistakes will not get you fired”. TOU-MUTHAFUKIN’-CHÉ.  

Confessions of a Sex Kitten by Eartha KittSO once again we explore the coven of the mother of American Black Dance Katherine Dunham. Eartha Kitt began her career as a dancer in the Dunham Company (there’s like pictures of her and James Dean taking classes together at the Dunham school that like melt my heart every time). What we know to be fact: Eartha got fired in Paris for sleeping with some of Ms. Dunham’s lovers. Stranded in Paris, she began a nightclub act and so was the transmogrification of Eartha Mae Keith into EARTHA KITT.  You could say Eartha was on one but in actuality she was on a COUPLE; she moved to Europe and had a baby by a white man to secure the bag, she also got profiled by the FBI, cussed out the President’s wife and a bunch of Karens at a Ladies’ Luncheon at the White House (effectively getting her career banned in the States for decades) and also, SHE WAS THE FIRST BLACK CATWOMAN. She was from that classic era where like an abused farm girl could one day wake up a global sensation. It’s by far one of the most compelling true-life Cinderella stories.

The Notebooks of Martha Graham by Martha GrahamI became obsessed with this book when I was a dance student in my 20s (I read about it but could never find a copy) and so sometime in my early 30s I found one online for like 100 bucks and was so shocked that it was like 900 pages of gibberish (Graham was a notorious drunk genius). But also, it feels like a deep witchcraft spell book that begs for bibliomancy. In fact, let me practice some bibliomancy on the book and post my first 5 findings–here we go: “or is it one great figure? Like Corn Maiden? Spider-Woman?,” “plaint of Celtic Whimsey, fatalism, and the erratic shift of mood,” “made virgin by the experience,” ”girls who see themselves as birds,” and last but not least “no longer shall my prophecies like some girl new-married glance from under veils, but bright and strong as winds.”

I Love Myself When I am Laughing…and Then Again When I am Looking Mean and Impressive (A Zora Neal Hurston Reader) by Zora Neale HurstonPg. 55: “In New Orleans I delved into Hoodoo or sympathetic magic…In this particular ceremony my finger was cut and I became blood brother to the rattlesnake. We were to aid each other forever. I was to walk with the storm and hold my power, and get my answers to life and things in storms…In another ceremony,  I had to sit at the crossroads at midnight in the complete darkness and meet the Devil, and make a compact. That was a long, long hour as I sat flat on the ground there alone and invited the King of Hell.”

Andy Warhol’s The Chelsea Girls
So this is like a big picture journal thing about “The Chelsea Girls”–I was at the Moma in New York watching the Judson Church exhibit (Yvonne Rainer was even showing that day) and I remember being in the book shop eyeballing the fuck outta this book being like “I should totally shop-lift this book”–any who I have no clue why I shoplift still, I’m conspicuous as fuck (i.e. faggy and Black) and really me shoplifting is just some form of self-harm where I want to practice failure. I just pretend that when I’m stealing that the security guard or cashier is just staring at me because I’m extremely attractive. Any who I’m like shoving this big ass book in my tote bag (I carry a tote so that people know I’m a bottom) and like the cashier is looking at me and I accidentally make eye contact with them and it’s this hip old white lady who sees me stealing and actually GIVES ME A THUMBS UP–I almost cried–it was as if my Black life mattered–but I digress–I told myself that owning the picture book of “Chelsea Girls” would be easier than watching that long ass film–I watched the film for about 30 minuets and was like “damn–these were some HIIIIIIIIIGLY celebrated junkies” but ended up falling asleep not too far after.

Mechanical Fantasy Box: The Homoerotic Journal of Patrick CowleySo, my homie runs this record label in SF called Dark Entries. The label puts out out-of-print electronic music of the 70s and 80s and the man who runs the label is the custodian of the Patrick Cowley archive. He was going through boxes of his amazing reels and stumbled upon his sex diary! So, Patrick Cowley is the father of HI-NRG disco–totally made hits for Sylvester and also was a huge slut. This journal chronicles his party boy life in San Francisco from 1974 until his 30th birthday in 1980. It’s written well before gay dudes starting writing about gay sex in the most inexcusably emo ways (and yes, I am part of the problem, but I digress) and it SHOWS. It’s penned in this flash story style that has a very beatnik swagger (again, San Francisco) but also while simultaneously reading like really really really self-important smut–and that’s not a read that’s a compliment. Let me give you a bar: “Nov 28TH 1976 So we have a hot fuck after all. His nice prick up my ass gives me an orgasm from within, without a stroke to my cock I shoot it all over my belly as he fills up my ass with his warm morning load.”

The Wolf, The Duck, and The Mouse by Mac Barnett illustrated by Jon Klassen
“‘Where did you get the jam?’ the mouse asked. ‘And a tablecloth?’ The duck munched a crust. ‘You’d be surprised what you find inside of a wolf…I live well! I may have been swallowed but I have no intention of being eaten.'”


Sex by MadonnaI had waited to own this book since I was 10 and out of nowhere my homie sold me one for 25 dollars and basically this shit still slaps. She rimming gay dudes wearing jockstraps in Gautier gowns! She having a three-way with Naomi Campbell and Big Daddy Kane! Fake anal sex with Vanilla Ice! She having sex with pubescent Puerto Rican boys! GIRL–like almost 30 years later this collection of photos, stories, art still feels like a REALLY BOLD ASS CHOICE. Rumor had it is that the production of it got her career semi-banned for a few years. Methinks we discard Madonna as our Disco auntie too much (albeit the disco auntie with a FINE ASS 20-year-old Jamaican boyfriend might I add) but like I advise anyone who is coming for her legend simply flip though this book to remind themselves that auntie really was THAT BITCH. OMG THO.

Happenings by Mildred L. GlimcherI’ve actually never read this book and only bought it for the pictures, but from what I gather it chronicles the 60s New York downtown performance and art scene and basically in every picture everyone looks like a happy ass weirdo and really that’s all the catharsis one should need I think.


There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker“I know my pussy is real good because they told me so” is FUCKIN’ LITERALLY the post-Mod, post-nervous breakdown, pro-Black, pro-over it, pre-traumatic stress syndrome, urban Black girl rallying cry that I needed for so long and finally got. I think Parker could have literally just made that the only line in the book and it would still warrant a Noble Peace Prize (Nobel Pussy Prize?). “All they Want is My Money, My Pussy and my Blood” indeed!

The Insiders by Rosemary RogersI specifically sought this book out because it’s the first book of smut I read as a child. It all some crazy shit. It’s set in San Francisco in the 70’s. It all cocaine, swingers and lots of gnarly group sex scenes. The other part too is I remember my parents owing this book and an older friend told me that Rosemary Rogers was actually a really popular writer at the time and that this book was one that could be purchased at basically any grocery store off the book rack and I honestly can’t conceive of something with this level of like INTENSE kink like just living at the grocery store. Don’t read this shit unless you like being really really really triggered.

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