Category Archives: Literature

01Apr/20

Panama Jackson on His Four Favorite Women Authors and Being Unapologetically Black

Panama Jackson

“People are not looking for [our] articles, they are looking for me and Damon Young when they read Very Smart Brothas,” explained Panama Jackson, co-founder of Very Smart Brothas, about people who ask to be in the publication in order to gain some notoriety. I have been an avid reader of the blog and The Root column (also partnered with Very Smart Brothas) for a while now. After meeting Jackson at a few events, I knew it was time to feature him in Taji Mag. 

The first time I heard about Very Smart Brothas, I was talking to another freelance writer at the 2018 African American Black Film Festival in Miami. She suggested I read their published works and I found myself pre-occupied with doing so on my flight back to DC. The first article I read was Panama’s “So It Turns Out ‘Electric Boogie,’ the Song Your Mama ’nem Electric Slide To, Is About a Vibrator. Life Is Different Now.” It was then I knew I had a couple of writers I could look forward to reading and, hopefully one-day, meeting. My list now included the Very Smart Brothas and Jemele Hill, but that’s a feature for another day. Stay tuned! Wink wink.

Me and You, Your Mama and Panama’s Book Too! 

Panama Jackson is known for his hilarious blogs that cover everything from family political debates to film and book reviews. He is also known to post his monthly book list which is typically composed of some of his favorite women writers, including the following:

  • Zora Neale Hurston. Well-known Black writer and essayest, some of her work has been released posthumously like Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo and Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick: Stories from the Harlem Renaissance.

  • Nafissa Thompson Spires. Known for her multiple award-winning book, Heads of the Colored People: Stories.

  • Toni Morrison. Jackson mentions he has a love-hate relationship with her stating “Some of her work is brilliant, her work is not an easy lift, but I am a person that appreciates an easy lift in reading. It’s not that I can’t understand what’s happening but sometimes it’s just difficult to weigh through it.”

  • Samantha Urby. He stated, “She is a great essayist and I cannot do what she does. I could try, but I just can’t.”

  • Bassey Ikpi. Jackson stated, “Her newest book I’m Telling the Truth But I’m Lying: Essays is one of the best books I have read in my life. Off the strength of one album (book), she makes my list!”

Jackson’s colleague, Damon Young, has published a book titled, What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker. When asked about his personal book deal, Jackson responded, “I am looking to have my own book out one day, it will be titled Elevators because the book will be about me and you, your mama and your cousin too!” (If you don’t know, the title is a nod to the legendary Hip-Hop group, OutKast, and their early chart topper entitled Elevators). Jackson talked about his ideal book which would include things like parenting, how Hip-Hop is tied to his masculinity, and a few other areas of his life. His goal is to explain how music and entertainment have shaped him as a man and as a human being. 

In the Words of Nas, “Keep Integrity at Every Cost.”

Panama Jackson

Very Smart Brothers Founders Panama Jackson and Damon Young at The Root Gala

Being asked to review films for other popular platforms, Panama speaks on the importance of maintaining integrity when taking on commissioned pieces. One instance he recalls was when a notable publication asked him to write a review of Cardi B’s song Bodak Yellow and the cultural significance of the song. Jackson wrote the piece and turned it in, but the publication did not like his review. They wanted something more “culturally sound.” He recalls, “I had to leave the money on the table, I just thought Bodak Yellow was a great song. Cardi B killed it and that was it. I wasn’t going to force-feed this idea to their white audience that there was cultural significance in the song. It’s just good music and Black people make good stuff.”

He went on to talk about how he felt Black culture gets short-changed in the most popular publications. He used last year’s Jidenna album, 85 to Africa, as an example. “I read a lot of reviews on that album because I loved it so much. I really didn’t see anyone do the album real justice, so I told myself that I had to. Most reviews I saw were 200 words or less. I wrote 1500 words because I felt it needed context and as much effort as possible since I didn’t see it happening anywhere else.”

“Those that don’t got it, can’t show it. Those that got it, can’t hide it.” – Zora Neale Hurston

Panama Jackson: From Black Bloggin to Very Smart Brothers

Panama explained the process it took to get to where he is now as a writer and even talked about his improvement along the way. “If I could give my younger self advice, I would tell myself to be more thoughtful and not be so hell-bent on a hot take. Back ten years ago, if I had an idea, I was willing to defend it to the ends of the earth and that’s not the way to be. This definitely took longer for me to learn than it should have.”

Jackson went on to explain his most significant growth as a writer stating, “I have also become Blacker in my writing. Very rarely you will see me write about white people. I have not done that for years and it’s something you would not notice unless you are actively paying attention. I write about Black people, Black experiences, and that’s it. My writing has become intentionally unapologetically Black.”

Panama Jackson talked about how lucky he and Damon were to make Very Smart Brothas as big as it is now. “It was timing. We started during the Black blogger’s scene and were lucky to build from there. It’s kind of like Jay-Z’s albums presently. If he comes out now, I don’t think he matters. But because he’s been around for so long, when he does put out an album now, people pay attention.” Jackson said he and Damon wrote everyday about their thoughts and opinions. From there they were able to build a fan base. 

As we practice social distancing and quarantine ourselves during this Coronavirus pandemic, I recommend you head over to Very Smart Brothas to find some entertaining articles and videos to help pass the time. Jackson has also done a podcast called “What If Tyler Perry Had a Writer’s Room” which can be heard on SoundCloud and Spotify. The first episode features one of his favorite female writers, Bassey Ikpi, as they discuss Perry’s Netflix feature A Fall From Grace. Check it out and don’t forget to stay safe during these rough times.

Panama Jackson

28Jan/20
bam futurelit

BAM and Graywolf Press present FutureLit: A Conversation & Celebration — Feb 6

BAM partners with Graywolf Press to present an evening of readings and conversation with authors from Graywolf. Donika Kelly, Danez Smith, and Malcolm Tariq will present their original work, prompting dialogue about what the future of art holds, written and otherwise. After the conversation, drinks, light snacks, spaces to mingle, and comfortable corners to read will be available to audience members. The event will also include a dance party where audience members are encouraged to continue the conversation through movement.

Books will be available for purchase through Greenlight Bookstore, BAM’s official bookseller, with selections by featured authors available at a special 15% discount for attendees of this event.

bam futurelit

Donika Kelly is the author of Bestiary, which won the 2015 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. Her second full-length collection, The Renunciations, from Graywolf Press, is forthcoming in May 2021.

Danez Smith is the author of Homie and Don’t Call Us Dead, winner of the Forward Prize for Best Collection and finalist for the National Book Award. They live in Minneapolis.

Savannah, Georgia-bred poet Malcolm Tariq is the author of Heed the Hollow the winner of the 2018 Cave Canem Poetry Prize and Extended Play winner of the 2017 Gertrude Press Poetry Chapbook Contest.

Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) is recognized internationally for its innovative programming of dance, music, theater, opera, and film. Its mission is to be the home for adventurous artists, audiences, and ideas. BAM presents leading national and international artists and companies yearly during the spring and highlights groundbreaking, contemporary work in the performing arts with its Next Wave each fall. Founded in 1983, the Next Wave is one of the world’s most important festivals of contemporary performing arts. BAM Film features new, independent film releases and a curated, daily repertory film program. In 2012, BAM added the Richard B. Fisher Building to its campus, providing an intimate and flexible 250-seat performance venue––the Fishman Space––as well as the Hillman Studio, a rehearsal and performance space. BAM serves New York City’s diverse population through community events, literary series, and a wide variety of educational and family programs.  BAM, America’s oldest performing arts center, has presented performances since 1861, and attracts an audience of more than 750,000 people each year. Visit BAM.org.

Graywolf Press is a leading independent publisher committed to the discovery and energetic publication of twenty-first century American and international literature. We champion outstanding writers at all stages of their careers to ensure that adventurous readers can find underrepresented and diverse voices in a crowded marketplace.

11Sep/19

How Ardre Orie Is Changing Black Literature

With the loss of literary great Toni Morrison, the world looks to many great authors who can create inspiring works as she has – talented authors like Ardre Orie. She is an author, playwright, ghostwriter, and Black creative who has worked with many high profile clients and told many moving stories. Taji Mag got to speak with her about her career and her inspiration for writing.  

“Those that don’t got it, can’t show it. Those that got it, can’t hide it.” – Zora Neale Hurston

Dapper Dr Feel ( DDF): When did you write your first book? 

Ardre Orie (AO): I wrote my first book at the age of 10 when I was in elementary school.  At this age, I was one of those students that talked a lot and my teachers were thinking maybe we need to give her something else to do. My teachers gave me a special assignment, the opportunity to create something, anything from drawing, painting, etc.

DDF: What was your book about? 

AO: I decided to write a book about women in my neighborhood and how they were examples of excellence. I thought they would be great role models to the young women in my community. 

I completed the book and then got it published. Next, I hosted a book signing, I invited the press/media, and I had a big article in the newspaper. It was pretty amazing because I had no idea that is what I would be doing as a career 30 years later in life. 

Ardre Orie

DDF: What was the next book you wrote? How did you develop it? 

AO: The second time I wrote a book, I resigned from my job as an assistant principal at an elementary school in Florida. After that I relocated to Atlanta with my family. I made the decision to take a leap of faith into entrepreneurship. 

As I pursued this goal, I had not gone to school for entrepreneurship and it was a learning curve for me. I started a non-profit organization where we taught entrepreneurship and leadership skills to young ladies. We were servicing 500 families of women and children. 

“Never be afraid to sit awhile and think.” – Lorraine Hansberry

DDF: When did your non-profit start and what was your next move? 

AO: 2009 is when the non-profit started, the economy was not doing well as this was during the recession. I thought to myself, I really need to be selling something, to really make a profit. I had all these women and girls and, with that, I decided to create a cosmetic line. It consisted of lip gloss and lipstick. I knew I had an audience that loved that, so I started to make the products. This placed me in the makeup, beauty, film, and entertainment industry in Atlanta. At this time, Black Hollywood was forming in the area. 

Ardre OrieDDF: What made you come up with a cosmetic line? 

AO: I started to notice that there were a lot of women that were concerned with self-esteem and I wanted to be able to get this message out about these products. The name of my products were called I Love Me, but I didn’t have the budget to advertise the company traditionally, so that had me look at what I had in my hand and what I had available to me, and that was the ability to write. So I decided to write a book that only showcased women and their different stories, but it would also serve as a marketing tool for this cosmetic line to promote it. That is how the book evolved, it was out of a need to market a product, to market a message, to market a brand that I was creating.

DDF: You had a unique way of advertising the book, tell me about that? 

AO: While developing the book, I enlisted 21 women and teens. I hosted a casting call. I got the women to come to Atlanta to have a makeover, particpate in a photoshoot, then I interviewed them and I turned around and wrote the book and their stories as if I was them. This was my introduction to ghostwriting. I remember what I did for my book when I was 10. I studied the industry after that book; it was successful. I had a signing at Barnes and Noble and then I started to receive calls for writing. 

DDF: When did you start seeing yourself as a ghost writer? 

AO: One of the first clients was from VH1. They had a show coming out and they wanted to know if a book could be made in a short amount of time. The book did well and so did the show.  I started to receive more calls after that via word of mouth from VH1, MTV, We TV, Centric, etc. This is when I started to understand that I had found my niche as a ghostwriter. 

DDF: How do you approach your work as a ghostwriter? 

AO: As my career as a ghostwriter progressed along the way, I developed my processes and how I approach situations. The most important thing is that I grew up in a home with a counselor – my mother was a counselor for 35 years. It was through her, I learned how to listen very well. I learned to not only listen to the words but to also the delivery, the emotion attached to those words, and the yearning of their souls. 

DDF: How are the working relationships with you and your clients during a project? 

AO: The reason why my clients say “That’s what I was trying to say but I didn’t know how to verbalize it!” is because I try to listen deeply within them. Like what motivates them, what drives them, I am trying to understand their pain, trying to understand the things that make them truly happy, how they find true joy, the things that cause them pain along their journey. I try to pay attention to things that just deal with words. I approach all projects like that no matter if my client is a man, woman, child, etc. There is no difference in the process, but each person’s story is different. 

Ardre Orie

DDF: How did you get your second book published? 

AO: When I went to publish my second book, I was doing research and I looking up companies to help me get published. The first quote I got was for $10,000 and this included me doing the writing myself. I was like oh my gosh, I just walked away from a career that took me ten years to build. I am married and have children and that amount of money is nothing just sitting around for me to spend for that kind of project. In that moment, I thought that I would never become an author even though I know that I can write, I have a story to tell, and I know that this project can help other people. That was very disheartening to me, it caused me to do a lot of research about the industry. In doing that, I found a second company that cost $6,000, which was still a stretch, but I made the decision to make an investment in myself because if I don’t make an investment in myself, then how can I expect anyone else to do the same? 

“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.” – Zora Neale Hurston

DDF: What is the origin of your publication company 13th and Joan? 

AO: After I started to learn more about the industry, I soon started writing theatrical productions and screenplays because my creative juices were starting to flow. All this content flowing from me and I realized that I could create this content and it wouldn’t cost me a dime to create. It was the same thing in elementary school. It was then that I decided I needed a company that is about the promotion media, especially for stories of color.

We publish everybody, 13th and Joan does not discriminate when it comes to the content we produce, but I just realized there is no home for people of color to tell it with some sauce on it. We believe that our books use correct grammar, sentence structure, and that our projects are in alignment with the industry standard for well-edited books, but we want to be able to add flavor to our books. We provide stories that mainstream told us that there is no market for. 

My research is what lead me to understand that there was not a black-owned publishing company. Some of these companies that do exist, have been in existence for over 95 years. If you trace back 95 years, you can clearly explain why we weren’t having our own publishing companies.

“A thing is mighty big when time and distance cannot shrink it.” – Zora Neale Hurston, 

DDF: Out of all the books you have written, which is your favorite? 

AO: I have so many favorite books that I have written but there is one that touched me. The author was so in love with the finished product that he wanted to add my name as a co-author of the book. The author’s name is Thomas McClary (Rock and Soul: Thomas McClary Founder of The Commodores). Lionel Richie, also one of the founders of the Commodores, was discovered by McClary. Richie was playing an instrument and not singing, McClary is the one who encouraged Richie to sing. They founded this group at Tuskegee University and they were Motown royalty.  He also was the first person to integrate schools in Lake County Florida. We had to do over 60 years of research for the book. Through that, I learned a lot about history. 

DDF: Why is this book so special? 

AO: It is very special to me because we were able to tell his life story, achievements, and all he had to overcome as a Black man during a difficult time. I am proud to give the story to any Black boy or man to show them what they are capable of.

Follow Ardre Orie on Instagram or Facebook and be sure to visit her website!