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A Traditional Song Bridges African and African American Culture

Earlier this year, 75 year old South Carolina resident Mary Moran had the unique opportunity to go to Sierra Leone with other members of her family. Moran's mother had taught her a song in an African language which had been in the family since an ancestor had been brought over from Africa two hundred years ago. In 1989, through the efforts of anthropologist Joseph Opala and ethnomusicologist Cynthia Schmidt, it had been discovered that this song, composed in the Mende language, was still sung by certain villagers in Sierra Leone. In Freetown, Moran received an enthusiastic welcome and was able to sing the song with the villagers who knew it.

21:58

Other segments from the episode on June 3, 1997

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 3, 1997: Interview with Mary Moran, Joseph Opala, and Cynthia Schmidt; Interview with Michael Hashim; Interview with Linda McCarriston; Review of Jean Dominique Bauby…

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: JUNE 03, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 060301np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Linda McCarriston
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:40

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Moving is one of the more stressful events in life. A few years ago, Linda McCarriston moved from New England to Alaska to teach at the University of Alaska in Anchorage, in their new Department of Creative Writing and Literary Arts.

We asked her to read us a poem about the move. McCarriston last joined us to read from her book "Eva-Mary," which included several disturbing autobiographical poems about how her father beat her mother, and how she and her mother sometimes fled to a shelter.

The success of that book led her to read and speak not only at schools and colleges, but at prisons, public libraries, adult literacy programs and women's shelters.

Here's Linda McCarriston's poem "Last Frontier" about her move to Alaska.

LINDA MCCARRISTON, POET: Last Frontier.

Divorced, 50, she took the first good job that offered itself
Outfitted a pickup and drove alone to Alaska
It was not her myth
It was a man's myth
Odometer rolling over every tenth of the 5,000 miles, like dice
Who knew what could happen?
How many spruces did she pass?
They turned from Norway to Red to Sitka
The lakes went from bass, black, to the blue of glacier

Her myth had been the pie at the end of
The rainbow she had polished for 30 years
Mother, wife
Her myth was just this side of tatting doilies
Clapboard house, painted white; time, finally, to write
Her kids and their kids, yes, coming Sundays
One of the men whose lives she had lugged
Various and weighty as tinker's wagons by her

But for the sending switch and the oil pressure unit
She made the trip eventlessly
Her dog, sleeping days while she drove at night
Played the role of grown son or husband
Watched out

Her first year done with
Her 51st year
She recalls the memorable best of it:
A manicure every second Saturday in a cinderblock strip mall;
Stormy, her nail-tech.

GROSS: Linda, why did you end that poem with the memory of manicures?

MCCARRISTON: Because the first year that I was in Alaska, living in a log cabin 50 miles north of Anchorage, alone, about the most gratifying personal contact I had was going every two weeks to a nail salon, chatting with the girls, and getting my nails done. It was the most comforting thing that I experienced that first year.

GROSS: In your poem, you write that going to Alaska, it was a man's myth, not her myth.

MCCARRISTON: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: What was it about Alaska that wasn't your myth?

MCCARRISTON: Well, as I say in the poem, my myth was that around the time I would be hitting 50, my long stint as housewife and mother would be bearing fruit and I would be quietly entering my writing studio, not going on a great adventure; not heading into the great unknown with all of these challenges and perils around me -- bears and wolves and people-stomping moose, and, you know, 40 below zero and long winter nights.

I felt that the male myth was a myth of conquest and discovery and adversity, and in fact, I felt as though, in many ways, I'd had plenty of adversity close to home and didn't really need it in the landscape.

GROSS: When we were talking before the interview, you described the poem that you just read as a poem about economic necessity in the life of a menopausal woman.

LAUGHTER

And I'm wondering how going through menopause or having come through the other end, whichever, is effecting, if at all, your experience of Alaska and of uprooting yourself?

MCCARRISTON: Mm-hmm. First of all, of course, like many of my contemporaries, I'm taking Primerin (ph) or whatever, so where I am in menopause, I really don't know. But like most women of my generation, I'll be 54 this summer, I mean I really did grow -- I mean, I came of age before the social revolution of the '60s and I really did expect to kind of be sitting in a rocking chair and taken care of by my mid-50s.

I certainly didn't expect to be going off on the kind of adventure that would have been more appropriate when I was 17 or 22, and my mother would have had hysterics if I had decided at that point to undertake it.

So, yes, I mean, in a way coming here, I drove this pickup truck of mine right smack into all of the limitations and all the fears and all the constraints about growing old as a woman with which I grew up. And as much as I have kind of lived against those day by day, they're still there. They still live there.

And on the other side of it, not of menopause necessarily, but on the other side of this journey, there's part of me that's really delighted that I did. I'm really happy that I did that, and that I confronted those fears and limitations in my psyche, in this very physical way, because I did do it. And in many ways, I love my life in Alaska and I love the sense that I have of that being an adventure, and it certainly is.

Most of my friends back in the lower 48 think it's quite a marvel that I did this, although being up here, I realize that the people who did it 30 and 40 and 50 years ago were the real pioneers.

GROSS: Do you think that the climate and the remoteness of Alaska is affecting your writing?

MCCARRISTON: Well, what's more -- what really has affected my writing, not only the last couple of years but the few years before it, was the transition that's going on as the background of this "Last Frontier" poem, which is to go from having been married and teaching part-time as an adjunct, and raising kids and all of that stuff, to finding and to committing myself to, and becoming successful in, a full-time job in the academy.

I mean, this is a very tough time in higher education, and beginning faculty particularly -- coming to jobs where they're -- the expectation is that you are just going to be putting out 70 hours a week. And it's very, very difficult to have done a good job these last two and a half years, or almost three years now, and to have kept alive that part of myself that's paying attention to my own creative life and the language and the poems.

That's been, I think, more oppressive than anything else. I actually have been writing here in Alaska. I don't have as much done as I would like and I'm not quite sure about some of the things I've done, but I think I'll be able to write.

And I, in fact, I don't mind the winters. They're not, you know -- a lot of people come up here because it's an improvement in the winter weather. People from Minnesota come up here and just about wear t-shirts all winter, because it's so much better.

But I feel that I'll be able to write in Alaska. I am writing in Alaska. I just need the settledness and the time to do it, and the climate's fine with me.

GROSS: I don't know if you experienced this, but I know sometimes when I move like from one location to another, it takes me awhile to dream in the new location. My dreams are set in the old place.

MCCARRISTON: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And I'm wondering if that's -- if it took you awhile to dream in the new location? And if it's taken you awhile to write in your new location?

MCCARRISTON: Well, yes. And let me mention, Terry, that the five years prior to coming up here, I think I moved three times in Vermont, and then I moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts to be at the Brunting (ph) Institute, and then I moved to Washington, DC to be at George Washington University. And then I came here, and I lived in a log cabin 50 miles north, and then I moved into town.

So my dreams are still down at the post office trying to get my forwarding address.

LAUGHTER

They're saying wait a minute -- where the heck is this woman? And I -- it's tremendously dislocating. Moving, for me, is profoundly dislocating and I have done it about eight times in seven years, and a lot is still catching up with me. And so, yes, I don't just plop myself down in a new place and write well. So I agree with that.

GROSS: Linda McCarriston teaches at the University of Alaska in Anchorage. This is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Linda McCarriston
High: Poet Linda McCarriston is the author of several books, including "Eva-Mary" which is a collection of poems about the domestic abuse that McCarriston, along with her mother and brother, suffered at the hands of her father. In her works, she brings in to question issues such as gender and class equity and the difficulties of addressing her molestation. She now lives and teaches in Alaska. Her poems have appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines.
Spec: Family; Violence; Abuse; Books; Poetry; States; Alaska; Crime; Molestation
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright (c) 1997 National Public Radio, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. under license from National Public Radio, Inc. Formatting copyright (c) 1997 Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission. For further information please contact NPR's Business Affairs at (202) 414-2954
End-Story: Linda McCarriston
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: JUNE 03, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 060302np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:50

TERRY GROSS, HOST: "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is a new memoir by Jean Dominique Bauby. It takes readers inside the world of a man with "locked-in" syndrome. That's where the patient is completely paralyzed, but his mind remains alert.

Book critic Maureen Corrigan says the memoir was well worth Bauby's heroic struggle to write it.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: "Up until then, I had never heard of the brain stem," recalls Jean Dominique Bauby in his singular memoir The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. He's referring to the last normal day of his life, December 8, 1995, when his brain stem suffered a rare kind of stroke.

Bauby was driving when he began to feel dizzy. He pulled the car over and collapsed into a coma. Nearly two months later, he awoke to a scene out of Edgar Allan Poe. A doctor was sewing his non-functioning right eyelid shut. Bauby was terrified that the doctor would do the same to his left eyelid, which would seal him in darkness and cut off his only means of communication.

Bauby's left eyelid, you see, was the only part of himself he could move. At 43, Bauby, who was the editor-in-chief of the French edition of Elle magazine, as well as the father of two and an enthusiastic traveler and gourmand, found himself inured within the tomb of his own body.

Bauby died this year, a few days after The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was published in France. He wrote the memoir by composing paragraphs in his mind, and then blinking out the words, letter by letter, in an alphabet code to a devoted assistant.

I'll confess: the cynical thought did cross my mind that in a publishing season dominated by autobiographies whose survivor-authors seem to be competing for the title of "Most Severely Psychologically and/or Physically Maimed," Bauby certainly takes the prize.

Bauby could have blinked out nonsense rhymes and his book would have been touted as a major accomplishment. But unlike the many with a story to tell and no skill to tell it, Bauby was a writer and editor before he became a victim. His paralysis is mocked by his dexterity with words, which choreographs his memoir into a delicate, poetic and often sardonic performance.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly reminds me of some of Emily Dickinson's poems, those written in her proleptic voice -- the voice from beyond the grave. Banished from the world of the living, Bauby regards his caretakers and fellow patients with a wry intensity, all the while using that one fluttering eyelid to dig himself out of a premature burial.

"I would have to rely on myself," Bauby declares, "if I wanted to prove that my IQ was still higher than a turnip's." The first few chapters of his book banish any doubts about his mental acuity or humor.

Describing his first glimpse of himself in a hospital mirror, Bauby remarks: "I saw the head of a man who seemed to have emerged from a vat of formaldehyde. A strange euphoria came over me. Not only was I exiled, paralyzed, mute, half-deaf, deprived of all pleasures, and reduced to the existence of a jellyfish, but I was also horrible to behold."

Bauby's imagination -- what he thinks of as a fluttering butterfly -- takes him on journeys to Hong Kong and the shrine at Lourdes. He also concocts mouthwatering meals for himself. "Once I was a master at recycling leftovers," he boasts. "Now I cultivate the art of simmering memories."

The devastating losses, however, are what register most sharply here. He grieves for the fact that his children now have a zombie father, and for his enforced separation from his own 93-year-old father. "We are both locked in cases," Bauby pronounces. "Myself in my carcass; my father in his fourth floor apartment."

Reflecting on his fierce desire to write, Bauby says: "now everyone can join me in my diving bell," which is what he calls his inert body. Thanks to the power of his words, we readers can join Bauby, but like a novice diver, I found I could only stay submerged with him for short intervals. The depths of experience he descends to left me feeling weak.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She reviewed The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean Dominique Bauby.

Dateline: Maureen Corrigan; Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest:
High: Book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" a memoir by the late Jean Dominique Bauby.
Spec: Books; People; Jean Dominique Bauby; History
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright (c) 1997 National Public Radio, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. under license from National Public Radio, Inc. Formatting copyright (c) 1997 Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission. For further information please contact NPR's Business Affairs at (202) 414-2954
End-Story: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: JUNE 03, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 060303np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Doc Cheatham Remembered
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:55

TERRY GROSS, HOST: The trumpeter Doc Cheatham died yesterday, just a few days shy of his 92nd birthday. He was not one of those performers about whom you would have asked: oh, is he still alive?

The older Cheatham got, the better-known he was. He performed weekly at the Club Sweet Basil in New York, and he released several recordings in the 1980s and '90s.

In fact, his latest album of duets with trumpeter Nicholas Payton released earlier this year, has been a critical and popular success.

We'll close with a selection in which you'll hear Cheatham's delightful, lyrical playing, and his wonderful singing.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP DOC CHEATHAM AND NICHOLAS PAYTON IN PERFORMANCE)

ADOLPHUS DOC CHEATHAM, SINGING:

How much do I love you?
I'll tell you no lie
How deep is the ocean?
How high is the sky?

How many times of day
Do I think of you?
How many roses
Are sprinkled with dew?

How far would I travel
To be where you are?
How far is the journey
From here to a star?

And if I ever lose you,
How much would I cry?
How deep is the ocean?
How high is the sky?

GROSS: Doc Cheatham.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest:
High: We remember trumpeter Doc Cheatham who died last night at the age of 92 with a recording from his recent CD, "Doc Cheatham & Nicholas Payton."
Spec: Music Industry; Deaths; People; Doc Cheatham
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright (c) 1997 National Public Radio, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. under license from National Public Radio, Inc. Formatting copyright (c) 1997 Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission. For further information please contact NPR's Business Affairs at (202) 414-2954
End-Story: Doc Cheatham Remembered
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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