Thursday, February 5, 2009

EL NUMERO UNO; runnings in Toronto and Calgary

El Numero Uno or the Pig from Lopinot is a play (for children, sort of, I guess) that I’ve been working on for the last few years, during which time it’s been through several workshops at the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People. LKTYP commissioned the script when Pierre Tétrault was Artistic Director, and current AD, Allen MacInnes and his crew have nurtured it since. The most recent workshop was in January when Lisa Codrington, Sham Downer, Jujube Mandiela, Billy Merasty, Karim Morgan, Karen Robinson and Rhoma Spencer gave it a workout, under the direction of ahdri zina mandiela and with dramaturg (that’s with a hard ‘g’), Stephen Colella keeping tabs, and apprentice director Joan Kivanda looking in and on. Allen MacInnis, LKTYP’s Artistic Director, visited with us from time to time. Allen has enriched the offerings at LKTYP, the current production, The Forbidden Phoenix, being a good example of the diverse fare that LKTYP now has on the boards. (See below for further info on The Forbidden Phoenix.)

So this here is a big, public thank-you to all these folks! Merçi, gracias, tanx, thank-you. I can’t say it often enough because it’s a real privilege to have something you’ve written taken through its paces in this rigorous, attentive, whole-hearted way. It’s also enormously useful. The script has evolved over time, and, what with changes from the last workshop, we may now have something with which to go forward to production. Whether we do get that far or not, I couldn’t have hoped for a better experience than I’ve had working on the play with these, as well as other actors like d’bi young and Alison Sealey-Smith. So nuff respec and big ups, all! “Irie, amen, and seen!” as Ras Onelove, one of the characters in the play, would say.

The Forbidden Phoenix
The current production at LKTYP, The Forbidden Phoenix, has its world première tonight. A musical, the play is loosely based on the experience of Chinese immigrants brought to Canada to work on the railroad in the 1800s, and explores themes of freedom, diversity, family, community and environmentalism. It fuses martial arts, acrobatics, stunning costumes, and contemporary musical theatre and cleverly weaves the comic antics of traditional Monkey King stories with the powerful tale of a father’s sacrifice to provide for his family. Check

Pamela Mordecai Reads in Calgary
I go to Calgary on 2 March at the invitation of the University of Calgary for a class visit with Aruna Srivastava’s class on 3 March and a public reading on 4 March. Details for these events forthcoming, but just wanted to give you an early heads up.

There will also be a reading of my Good Friday performance poem, de Man, at St Stephen’s Anglican Church, 1121 14th Avenue SW, Calgary. Calgary resident, Howard Gallimore will join me in the reading. Howard reads the part of Samuel and I read Naomi.

Toronto Launch of Half World by Hiromi Goto
On Friday February 13th at 7:00 p.m., Canadian author, Hiromi Goto, launches her novel, Half World, at the Toronto Women’s Bookstore at 7:00 p.m. For more n this crossover/YA novel, visit

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Willful blindness? Justice in the United States of America

Justitia, godess of justice, is always depicted as blind. She holds scales in one hand and a sword in the other. Somewhere along the line my knowledge of the symbolic meaning of this blindness (that justice is rendered without fair or favour) translated itself into a quite opposite interpretation (that justice, being blind, would be unable to see the true nature of things and apply the law with equity). How this happened and when it happened I don’t know, but I recently found myself telling one of my children that the blindness of Justitia meant that she could not be fair, and hence was intended as a caution about what one should expect from legal systems. It wasn’t a wry comment. It was straight — and necessitated his correcting me.

Jason Vassell’s story may help to explain how my understanding was unwittingly transformed.

Jason Vassell is a young Jamaican American man, formerly a student at UMass, Amherst. Early in the morning of 3 February 2009, that is a year and a day ago, he was attacked in his dorm by two drunk, young white men who hurled insults at him, broke his window, entered the dorm (though not through the broken window) and physically attacked him. (Unable to secure help from the campus police in time, he called a friend. When he opened the door to the dorm to let in the friend, the two white men forced their way in at the same time.) He tried to defend himself with a pocketknife. He did stab both men, but their injuries were not serious. One of the men broke Jason’s nose.

Jason Vassell has no prior criminal record. The attackers have prior records of disorderly and violent conduct, including (in the case of one in particular) racially motivated violence. Jason Vassell has a good academic record and was working full-time and performing community service when the attack took place. Numerous students, faculty and others have come forward eager to testify to his exemplary character.

Jason Vasell explains that he thought, while the attacks were in progress, that the men were going to lynch him. This would explain his use of the pocketknife. We remind that they had broken his window, and that they came, uninvited, into the place where he was living (his ‘home’ at the time) and attacked him, and he has a broken nose to prove it.

The upshot of all of this? As a result of defending himself against this unprovoked assault, Jason Vassell, the victim of the attack, has been charged with two counts of aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon and now faces charges carrying a possible sentence of up to 30 years. One of his attackers faces no charge at all; the other faces a maximum of five years. Members of the UMass community (excepting the university administration) have rallied around Jason and attempted to lobby the state to drop the charges against him, so far without success.

“The Memorandum of Law in Support of the Motion to Dismiss” Jason Vassell argues that there is compelling evidence of racial discrimination both in the actions and attitudes of some members of the police department and in decisions made by prosecutors of how to proceed — or not to proceed — against all three men. There are eyewitnesses to the incident and video tape of the encounter between Vassell and the men. One of the police officers involved in the incident noted that “[both white males] smelled strongly of an alcoholic beverage and were slurring their speech when trying to give statements.”

Further information on the matter is available at

Barack Obama may be in the White House but American jails remain full of young black males in horribly disproportionate numbers. Perhaps a story like Jason’s helps to explain why. Perhaps too, if sufficient persons in, what we hope is a new America, rally to Jason’s cause, Justitia will begin lifting a hand to peel off the blindfold. When a symbol comes to mean the opposite of itself, then perhaps we need to dispose of it.