The digital home of Richard Sebastian

Author: RichardS (Page 1 of 13)

Book Review: Washington Black

Washington Black

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This novel hooked me right away. The riveting, horrific slave narrative set in the mid-1800s on Faith Plantation in Barbados carried me along breathlessly through Part I. Edugyan’s powers of description are sumptuous and surprising, the character of Big Kit powerful and heart-breaking, and the problematic relationship between Wash and Titch both captivating and uncomfortable. As Wash escaped his enslavement and the novel took a turn into magical realism, I remained engrossed, excited to find out where Wash’s adventures would take him and how his complicated relationship with Titch would evolve.

But then, I was unceremoniously dumped into Part II, made to wander aimlessly with Wash to the Arctic and then Nova Scotia, eventually on to London and Morocco, past one red herring too many, characters introduced and then abandoned, and a thin plot forwarded by improbable happenstance and coincidence. And, while there are still moments of gorgeous and revelatory description reminiscent of the lively, detailed passages that propel the plot in Part I, Wash’s story in Parts II-IV is told mostly through plodding exposition–it’s a travelogue really–pushing forward a series of events that, in the end didn’t really seem to add up to much. By the time Wash meets Tanna I had mostly checked out. When we arrived in London in search of Titch I felt a faint hope that the novel would get back on course, but was ultimately disappointed.

This fascinating and magical story began with so much promise, unfolding during the tumultuous end of slavery and the blossoming of science, sending the narrator to strange and exotic locales, and featuring a haunted, brutalized protagonist who against all odds discovers and develops his own genius for art and science. However, in the end, after coasting aimlessly on fumes for several chapters, Washington Black just peters out, like a cloudcutter with a leaky balloon.

Jane McGonigal on CNN

I’ve never crossed paths with Jane, but I have been following her career with interest over the past few years. She was involved in designing the I Love Bees alternate reality game (ARG), and has since gone on to develop a number of innovative ARGS such as World Without Oil and other online games.  Now she is on the front page of CNN, talking about the positive impact that video games can have on the world.

Enoteca Sogna lands in Northside Richmond

Via Northside News, RVAFoodie, and Epicuriosity:

Enoteca Sogna, the locally-owned Italian restaurant that was unceremoniously booted from its digs on West Broad Street has settled on a new home here in Bellevue. Word on the foodie grapevine is that the restaurant will make its new home in a leased space on Bellevue Ave. According to Epicuriousity:

After several months of searching (soul and otherwise), Gary York has found a new space for Enoteca Sogno, on Richmond’s northside in Bellevue. The former Belle B and Bella Arte space at 1223 Bellevue Ave offers some interesting architectural details and neighbors such as The Northside Grill and Nicola Flora.

Good news for Northside Richmond. Terrible news for my budget.

Wanda Jackson Pt. 2

Wanda Jackson put on a pretty good show last night at Shenanigan’s Pub here in Richmond. The Lustre Kings warmed the crowd up and also served as Wanda’s backing band. She performed all of her hits—Hard Headed Woman, Mean, Mean Man, Let’s Have a Party, Fujiyama Mama—as well as a few covers, including her recently recorded version of Amy Winehouse’s You Know I’m No Good ( it was the first time they played that one live and it was, to put it delicately, a trainwreck). Oh,well. The woman is in her 70’s, but she’s still got some fire in her and is clearly enjoying herself.

Wanda Jackson has a profile of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Wanda Jackson, who is performing tonight tomorrow night  (sorry) right down the street from me at Shenanigan’s Pub.  Now 73, Wanda has an impressive rock-n-roll pedigree.

Jackson, often referred to as The Queen (or The First Lady) of Rockabilly, began her career in the mid-’50s. As a pioneering rockabilly artist she was a peer of other early key figures such as Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, and shared bills with (and briefly dated) Elvis Presley. She recorded for Decca Records as a teen, though Jackson had initially talked with Capitol about a deal, where she was told by a producer, “Girls don’t sell records.”


It’s been remarkable for Jackson to see the evolution of her audiences from the last years of her country career in the 1970s to today’s shows where she is held in reverence by fans who recognize her as one of the few remaining rock & roll pioneers. “The people are different these days, even in clubs. I’ve noticed that the generation, the people who are coming to see me now, are young adults. There are a few scattered people my age, from my era, but most of them are this new generation of rockabilly and ’50s-rock fans. They’re so cute because they know all of my songs, which is always shocking, and they sing along with me, and they know so much about my career. They’re just really great fans and they seem to esteem me very highly, which is very nice. Plus, I get paid a little bit more these days. That’s always nice, too.”

Shenanigan’s seems an unlikely venue for such a notable performer as Wanda. I would expect her to perform in a larger or more well-known space. But, really, all things considered, it’s  perfect.  Shenanigan’s is one of Northside Richmond’s trusty watering holes,  low-lit with a small stage by the door.  When you walk in you can smell the odor of stale beer mingling with bleach. Dedicated smokers cluster outside on the sidewalk, puffing away. It’s the ideal setting to hear the reigning Queen of Rockabilly sing about hard-headed women and mean, mean men.

Wanda Jackson with the Lustre Kings
Saturday, Feb 13 8:30p
4017 MacArthur Ave
Richmond, VA

Northside Dog Park

Ever since moving to Northside Richmond,  Elaine and I, and our dog Dewey,  have really missed what used to be a daily trip to the dog park on Forest Hill Ave. Soon after we moved here, I began  asking around to see if  there were any plans to build a dog park in the area. There had been some discussion about a dog park on our community listserv, but that forum trail had run cold. So I created my own post, in the hopes of reviving interest. So many people in Northside own dogs.  I knew a significant number of them would support this idea.

That was nearly nine months ago. Since then, I’ve been working with a small group of committed dog owners in the Northside community and with employees of the Richmond City Parks & Recreation Department (shout out to Larry & Mary Lois) to make this dog park a reality. Together we’ve identified a great location–a grassy, wooded area across the parking lot from Pine Camp Arts Center–and have applied for and been approved to be a partner of the Richmond Recreation & Parks Foundation. This gives us 501(c)3 nonprofit status and makes it easier to raise funds. After an orientation meeting with a member of the Foundation,  we’ll be ready to go out and promote our park plans, recruit volunteers,  and solicit financial help.

Our hope is the break ground in spring and open the park in late summer. The City Parks Department has been incredibly supportive, and is contributing significantly to the project. Stay tuned here as we move forward. If you want to know more, check out our Ning site: To become a member of our group, you’ll need to create a Ning account (it’s free) and then submit a request to join our group.

Update: You can now follow the progress of Northside Dog Park on Twitter. We’re @northrvadogpark

Harry Shearer

Last Sunday, Elaine and I went to see Harry Shearer speak at the Byrd Theater. He was there to raise funds for Harry ShearerWRIR, Richmond’s  independent radio station, and to give a short talk before introducing the movie, This is Spinal Tap, in which he plays mutton-chopped, cucumber-endowed bassist Derek Smalls.
Shearer took to the stage decked out in a purple velour suit accompanied by his silver Macbook from which he read, often awkwardly, his observations on Big Media,  the Entertainment Industry, Copyright Laws, and Hollywood. I am a fan of his long-running, weekly radio show, Le Show, so his sarcastic criticisms of news and media were familiar to me, but might have been a bit of a downer for audience members expecting more comedy than commentary. However,  I was a bit disappointed that his talk often seemed stilted and unrehearsed. A minor criticism, I guess, but I hate to think he was just phoning it in.

For me, the most interesting parts of his talk were when he stepped away from his laptop to tell a personal story or riff on some aspect of his very long and very interesting career.  I was familiar with his recent film roles (For Your Consideration, A Mighty Wind) and that he is the voice behind so many memorable Simpson’s characters, such as Ned Flanders, Principal Skinner, and Montgomery Burns. I also knew that he spent two unhappy seasons  as a writer and performer on Saturday Night Live. What I was surprised to find out is that Shearer has been in “showbiz” for most of his life. Born in L.A., Shearer worked with Jack Benny as a child and was the original Eddie Haskell (only named Frankie) in the first few episodes of  Leave It to Beaver. He also covered the Watts riots as a young journalist for Newsweek. He has his own record label and has exhibited several video art installations, most recently at Atlanta Contemporary Arts Center.

It was great to watch Spinal Tap again, which I haven’t seen in several years. Here’s one last sad fact provided by Shearer that added a bit of poignancy to my experience of rewatching this innovative film that took such creative risks (being almost completely improvised): according to the movie industry accountants, Spinal Tap still has not “officially” made a profit.

Tim Woodman

There is a great profile of my friend Tim McCready’s new furniture making school, Foxwedge School of Craft, in today’s RT-D. I know Tim primarily through his music, most recently,  his band Timothy Bailey and the Humans. So it is interesting for me to read about this other side of him–the craftsman, local business owner, and now teacher:

What started as a way to subsidize a rock band during his college days at Virginia Commonwealth University in 1992 turned into both a passion and a career for McCready.

He now owns the Foxwedge school and Bankston & Bailey, where he designs and makes fine furniture.

He started his career as a woodworking apprentice at Richmond-based design and fine-furniture maker Harrison Higgins Inc.

“As it turned out, I liked woodworking more than the band,” McCready said.

After graduating from VCU in 1998, he worked at a couple of research-related jobs before starting a doctoral program in counseling psychology at the University of Maryland.

“I stopped after one year because I wanted to get back to woodworking,” he said.

Effective Transtions in Adult Education conference: Providence, Rhode Island

On Tuesday I straggled back to Richmond late after attending the Effective Transitions conference in Providence, Rhode Island. This is the first year I’ve been to this conference, sponsored by the National College Transitions Network (NCTN). It has grown from a regional (New England) gathering into a national conference, with over 400 people from over 30 Effective Transitions in Adult Education conferencestates attending this year. I had the privilege of presenting on my work on the PlugGED In curriculum during the two mornings of the conference. Both sessions were well-attended and I got some rockin’ feedback, but it did mean that I had two less opportunities to attend other presentations that I was very interested in. Oh, well.

The Conference
What really struck me about this conference is the number of years that educators in New England have already devoted to the issue of transitioning, while in Virginia at least, the issue has only recently gotten any serious attention. It is clear by the large number of attendees from outside of New England that college transitioning finally has some national mojo, and that the pioneering work of adult educators in Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and other northern states is going to come in handy for the rest of us Johnny-come-latelys. These issues are urgent, and need immediate attention from our field. Hopefully by next year’s conference we will see significant progress.

I know I have quite a bit of catching up to do on this issue. Even though I have been working on a career pathway-slash-college transition project for the past year and a half, the curriculum that we produced was developed more from a foundation in workforce rather than transitioning research. Additionally, the technology plan for adult basic education in Virginia that I will be developing during the next two years will definitely need to correspond with Virginia’s transitioning efforts. So, time to brush up.

Here are a few other random thoughts about the conference:

  • Kudos to the conference organizers for providing an easy way for attendees to recycle their conference swag: the name tags & neck pouch-things, the noxious little tote bags (I have approximately 4,000 of them hanging on a doorknob in my office), and the glossy conference programs.
  • Having inflicted an untold number of poorly planned and ugly PowerPoint presentations on my audiences over the years (and having endured my share, as well), I decided to make this presentation different. Rather than simply present information, instead I told a story. I used humor,  along with fun, engaging images that I acquired from Flickr’s Creative Commons collections. The responses I received were extremely positive and, it seemed to me at least,  that I was able to hold the audience’s attention for the entire session. Yes, it was quite a bit of work, but it should be!  It was also quite a bit of fun to create. There’s ust no going back to those dreary, bullet-riddled slides. Like the first time I tasted a good microbrew, I just couldn’t stomach that Black Label swill anymore.
  • There is no getting around it: Providence is quaint. I mean that in the best way, of course. I am happy that I made the decision to stay at a hotel downtown instead of at the conference hotel 12 miles away in Warwick. While I didn’t have too much time to see much of the town, I did get to go to the RISD museum, eat at Fellini Pizza(the white pizza made me squeal like a girl) and Cafe Noir, drive through Federal Hill, and walk around the very compact and scenic city.

The cockles, they are warmed

OK, OK. I have to make it clear that I am less susceptible to “cutesy” videos than most people: giggling babies, clumsy kittens gettin-inta-trouble, sleeping puppies, etc. But for some reason, this video took an immediate hold on me.

Anyone who has met me knows I have a very large, very soft spot for hound dogs. And who doesn’t love a monkey (am I right), especially an orangutan? Put the two together and you got an irresistible combination of instant monkey-dog love. Watch and you’ll see:

« Older posts

© 2023 Richard Sebastian

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑