Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 10, 2007

Assata Shakur

Filed under: african-american,Film — louisproyect @ 3:26 pm

Last night I attended a private screening of “Assata”, a 93 minute ‘docudrama’ written and directed by my old friend Fred Baker. Despite the obvious shoestring budget, the film has more impact that the average Hollywood blockbuster costing 1000 times more. It is the story of Assata Shakur, nee Joanne Chesimard, the sixty year old Black liberation activist who fled from a New Jersey prison in 1979 and was granted political asylum in Cuba.

Along with Mumia and Leonard Peltier, she was one of the most prominent victims of the American injustice system. For many young people first coming around the Black liberation movement today, she is a symbol of resistance as the New York Times reported on December 13, 2006:

The chancellor of the City University of New York yesterday directed the president of City College to remove the names of two fugitives linked to violent crimes from the entrance to a student clubroom.

Matthew Goldstein, the chancellor, called the designation of the room as the Guillermo Morales/Assata Shakur Community and Student Center ”unauthorized and inappropriate.”

Ms. Shakur — once known as Joanne Chesimard — was a member of the Black Liberation Army convicted in the 1973 killing of a New Jersey state trooper. She is currently a federal fugitive living in Cuba. Mr. Morales, also in Cuba, was a leader of the Puerto Rican independence group known as the F.A.L.N., which claimed responsibility for a tavern bombing in Lower Manhattan that killed four people and injured others. Both were students at City College…

But the students were not ready to acquiesce.

Rodolfo Leyton, a City College senior and the center’s director, said students planned to speak to a lawyer, Ronald B. McGuire, and possibly ”seek legal remedies.” The center sued college and university officials in 1998 when it discovered a surveillance camera in a smoke detector across from it. That suit is still pending.

Mr. Leyton also said that while others view Ms. Shakur as guilty, ”we see her as a leader in her community who was framed and unlawfully convicted.” He said minutes of college proceedings in September 1989 dedicated the room to one of the groups still using the center, Students for Educational Rights. Others also use the space.

Fred Baker blends documentary-type material, including interviews with former Panther leader Kathleen Cleaver, now a law professor at Emory University in Atlanta, with a love story revolving around two young African-American characters who are both committed to finding out the truth about Assata Skakur. Justin (Charles Everett) is a documentary film maker who we first meet filming an outdoor jazz concert on a New York street. (As the director of acclaimed jazz films featuring John Coltrane, Stan Getz and others, Baker must have a strong identification with this character.) During filming, Justin runs into Asha (Erika Vaughn), a pretty college student who falls in love with him in a rather old-fashioned way. After a few visits to his apartment, she discovers a bookshelf full of material on Assata Shakur. This leads to a showdown with Justin to see how involved he is with her story. It turns out that he is very involved. The remainder of the film is structured around his recounting of Assata’s arrest and flight to freedom to Asha.

In a way, his passion for finding out the truth reminds me of the young African-American film-maker Keith A. Beauchamp’s dedication to Emmett Till. The martyrs and heroes of the Black Community have a way of inspiring succeeding generations of truth-tellers.

As somebody who had only very limited exposure to her case in the 1970s, I found Fred Baker’s film most instructive. Like many “old leftists” (Trotskyist, to be specific), I found much of the Black Panther and Black Liberation Army activities that Assata Shakur was involved with to be an ultraleft diversion from more pressing tasks in the mass movement. My political differences might have even led me to assume the worst about her, a mistake that the movie very effectively corrects.

Despite her reputation as a “terrorist,” there is no evidence that she actually shot a New Jersey State Trooper on January 23, 1973. Doctors testified that she was shot when her hands were up, while one of the arresting officer’s testimonies was riddled with contradictions. In one of the more dramatic scenes of the film, we see a recreation of the confrontation on the New Jersey highway that led to her arrest. It has the same kind of chilling effect as Earl Morris’s recreation of a similar incident in “The Thin Blue Line,” in which the police testimony is revealed to be full of holes. If there is anything that can be learned from cases such as Mumia’s or Assata Shakur’s, it is to take the word of the cops with a wheelbarrow full of salt.

In the early 70s, Assata Shakur became a kind of symbol of evil in the minds of white racist America that Nat Turner was in an earlier age. The police were anxious to hold her practically responsible for every crime that the Black Liberation movement was accused of around that time to the point that it became ridiculous.

Assata was never forgiven for her flight to freedom. Last May she was identified as a “domestic terrorist” and a one million dollar bounty was put on her head. Such is the state of the American justice system that she is still being hounded, while mass murderer Luis Posada Carriles is released on bond from a Texas jail. For news and information on Assata Shakur, check the website: http://www.assatashakur.org/

Fred Baker

In the Q&A last night, Fred Baker mentioned that his movie would eventually have a website. When it does, I will post a link to it. Considering the state of racial relations in the USA, with Don Imus’s “joke” about the Rutgers women basketball players and a white cop firing 31 bullets at an unarmed and unresisting Sean Bell, such a film is more urgent than ever.


“Assata” Website



April 9, 2007

Don Imus forced to apologize

Filed under: african-american,racism — louisproyect @ 4:22 pm

For the first time in his nearly 40 year career in radio, Don Imus has been forced to apologize for his racist “jokes”. This morning I listened to him apologize profusely to the women’s basketball team at Rutgers and to Black Americans in general for calling them “nappy headed ho’s” [ho’s means whores] last Wednesday.

Black political leaders have not been mollified by his apology. This afternoon Imus is scheduled to appear on Al Sharpton’s radio show at 1pm Eastern Standard Time. Fortunately, this can be heard online at: http://www.sharptontalk.net/. Sharpton is a very sharp critic of racism in the media and in society generally, so this should make for a very dramatic exchange.

Today’s NY Times summed up the controversy in the business section.

“Imus in the Morning” is scheduled to start this morning like any other, with Don Imus and his crew cracking wise about the weekend’s events, riffing off the news and chatting with Evan Thomas, one of Newsweek’s top guns. Later Tom Oliphant, Washington author and former op-ed columnist for The Boston Globe, will check in for some political talk.

Given that Mr. Imus spent part of last week describing the student athletes at Rutgers as “nappy-headed ho’s,” you might think he’d have trouble booking anyone, let alone A-list establishment names. But Mr. Imus, who has been given a pass for this sort of comment in the past, also generously provides airtime to those parts of the news media and political apparatus that would generally be expected to bring him to account.

Mr. Imus’s comment about the Rutgers team last week was not just, as they say, over the line — you can’t even see the line from where he landed. It was not a gaffe, a slip of the tongue, a joke in poor taste. (Nor was the on-air comment to Mr. Imus by the show’s longtime producer, Bernard McGuirk, calling the women’s final the “Jigaboos vs. the Wannabees,” in a bad attempt to borrow a phrase from a Spike Lee movie.) Mr. Imus’s slur was the kind of unalloyed racial insult that might not have passed muster on a low-watt AM station in the Jim Crow South.

The article goes on to mention that its own African-American reporters have been the butt of Imus’s racist jokes. When Gwenn Ifill, now a host of a PBS talk show, was working at the Times, Imus referred to her as a “cleaning lady” and to sports writer William C. Rhoden as a “quota hire.” Evidently this has not persuaded NY Times columnists Tom Friedman, Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd from making regular appearances on his show over the years.

Imus’s ability to attract powerful political and media figures over the years has earned him inclusion on Time Magazine’s list of the most powerful 25 Americans in 1997. It said:

But what he really plays is people. “Imus is the best political interviewer,” says New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. “He’s read everything, and he gets to the heart of everything.” The host claims that all he wants from guests is to “goad them into saying something that ruins their life.” Spoken like a 29-year veteran of shock-jocking. But Imus does more: probing and prodding like a national inquisitor, he translates stodgy politics into vital popular culture.

Like many people, I listen to the radio in the morning from the minute I wake up to the minute I walk out the door. About 10 years ago, I switched from Howard Stern to Imus because there somewhat fewer commercials. I also found conversations with Frank Rich somewhat more interesting than those with porn stars, if only marginally so. Back in the 1980s, my radio was always tuned into WBAI in the morning. As the station began to enforce a “preaching to the choir” litmus test, I began to look elsewhere. I tried NPR briefly but the smarmy, suburban, New Yorker magazine, centrist politics made me scream. I backed the WBAI rebellion in the late 1990s if for no other reason that one NPR seemed sufficient.

Some of the best reporting on Imus’s racism comes from Philip Nobile, who has been trying–mostly unsuccessfully–to shame his guests from appearing on the show. This item appeared on the webzine MobyLives:

I once sought to write about Spike Lee’s fake conversion to Islam for the New Yorker. Charles Michener, the commissioning editor, gave me one piece of advice. Regarding the magazine’s style circa Tina Brown, he said, strive for “ironic distance.”

The title of this article was fashioned with the New Yorker’s standard in mind. It is meant to gently signal the reader to the ridiculous position that David Remnick finds himself in as Don Imus’s buttboy.

“I love David Remnick, I just have to tell you that,” Imus said on Friday, September 27, setting up his treasured guest.

Imus tends to fawn over the celebrity journalists who perfume his anti–gay, anti–black, anti–Asian, anti–Semitic, and sometimes anti–handicapped ridicule. Remnick is especially dear. In 1998, the flattery took the unusual, some might say tasteless, form of a $50,000 payoff––via a one–time Imus Book Award for “King of the World.” From that moment on, Remnick has kept his Gentlemen’s Agreement, pretending that Imus’s merde is meringue.

At any rate, it is a sign of some progress that Imus is finally on the defensive. The fact that Black America can raise the stakes in such a struggle to the point where powerful media companies can see the necessity to restrain its pit bull marks a degree of progress. Listening to Imus’s apology this morning gave me a sense of satisfaction, but I think that the real payback will be listening to Sharpton rake him over the coals. The show comes on in about 40 minutes and should be archived as well. Check it out.

April 7, 2007


Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 7:33 pm

Available in home video since February 2007, Yilmaz Arslan’s 2005 “Fratricide” is a unrelentingly grim and pessimistic study of feuding Kurd and Turkish youth in the streets of some unnamed German city. Despite an ostensibly political theme, it is much more about the need for absolution and intimacy in a heartless world. Its most obvious antecedents are the Brazilian film “Pixote” and Buñuel’s “Los Olvidados.” In all of these films, feral youth bind with each other in a largely futile effort to remain human.

In the opening scene of “Fratricide,” we find ourselves in the desolate and remote hillsides of Eastern Anatolia. A mailman has come to deliver a letter to Azad, a Kurdish teenager. His brother Semo, a pimp living in Germany, has sent him money to escape the desperate poverty that makes life impossible for an oppressed people. When the mailman asks where Azad may be found, an old woman tells him to drive until he sees a fig tree. Then he must take a right and look for the third yew tree. There Azad will be found.

When we see Azad again, he is living in a hostel for refugee youth. The counselors have brought in an eleven year Kurdish boy named Ibrahim (nicknamed Ibo) to share the room with him. In a flashback, we learn that Ibo’s parents have been killed by the Turkish army. The two youth, starved for family ties and homesick, bond to each other immediately. Azad, who scrapes out a living as a barber in the men’s room of a Kurdish-owned restaurant, makes Ibo his assistant–his job is to hold up a mirror.

Fate draws the two boys together with Ahmet and Zeki, a couple of unemployed Turkish brothers who are a bit older than Azad and into the by-now universal ‘gansta’ life-style popularized in American rap music. They spend their days working in their father’s grocery store and their evenings looking for trouble with their pit-bull in tow.

When Azad and Ibo are returning home from work on a subway train, they run into the Turkish brothers and their dog that begins to snarl and lunge at a frightened Ibo. When Azad asks them politely to restrain the dog, they tell him to fuck off. When the Kurdish youth get off the train at the next stop, Azad curses the Turks out through the window of the departing train.

Some days later, Azad and Ibo are on the street talking to Semo, Azad’s older brother, who is reprimanding him for treating him unfraternally, even after Azad has benefited from Semo’s money. We understand Azad’s reluctance to spend much time with his brother. He is an evil pimp who we have seen beating one of his whores into a bloody pulp after she has annoyed him. Without any redeeming qualities, Semo seems to be the counterpart of the Turkish brothers.

At that moment one of the two Turkish brothers, with the pit-bull in tow, happens on the three Kurds on the street and begins to advance on Azad. Without a moment’s hesitation, Semo takes out a knife and slashes him in the gut. As the three Kurds run off, the Turk falls on the street holding his guts in his hands. In keeping with the film’s impulse toward graphic violence, we see the pit bull begin to feed on his dying owner’s guts.

The remainder of the film consists of the surviving Turkish brother’s vendetta against the Kurds and their own blood feud against him. As the violence escalates, we feel no sense of the underlying political grievances of the Kurds–only a sense of futility. Indeed, as some of the Kurdish counselors at the hostel begin to try to politicize the feud, Azad lashes out at them. He is tired of the “cause” and only wants to live in peace.

The emotional core of the film is the relationship between Azad and Ibo, who are played respectively by a couple of nonprofessionals: Erdal Celik and Xevat Gectan. They remind us once again of the toll that civil war and globalized poverty have on the most innocent and vulnerable of its citizens. In the end, director Yilmaz Arslan has no salvation for such lost boys, only a sense of outrage that young people can live this way.

Arslan himself was born in Turkey, but came to Germany at an early age. He began working in theater at the outset but began making films in 1999. He dedicated “Fratricide” to the late Italian Marxist film director Pier Paolo Pasolini, whose first film “Accattone” focused on a pimp like Semo.

While “Fratricide” is a deeply pessimistic film, it is also an honest one. As one of its side benefits, it gives one the chance to hear native Kurds speaking their language. Since this is a people whose demands for language and other cultural rights are roiling the entire Middle East today, it is an opportunity to see through an open window into a reality that remains obscured for the most part.

April 3, 2007


Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 3:32 pm

My first reaction to the 2005 Indian movie “Water” was fairly positive. Set in 1938, it told the story of widows who had been forced by Hindu tradition to live a life of self-abnegation, including the child bride Chuyia (Sarala), who at the start of the film is informed by her father that her husband has died. Her reply: I did not know that I was married.

After her father abandons Chuyia to a widow’s ashram on the banks of the Ganges in the city of Varanasi, she rebels against the strictures and seeks solace in the limited human pleasures there, including a puppy kept in secret by Kalyani (Lisa Ray), a beautiful widow in her 20s, who begins to act as an older sister to her. Eventually, another widow named Shakuntala (Seema Biswas), becomes a surrogate mother. These three protagonists are allied against Madhumati (Manorma), the corpulent and intimidating woman who runs the ashram. She sends the women out each day to beg in the streets and is not above sending out Kalyani as a whore to wealthy clients turned up by the eunuch pimp Gulabi (Raghuvir Yadav).

One day Kalyani encounters the handsome young Brahman law student Narayan (John Abraham) on the street, who almost immediately falls in love with her. The plot is driven forward by her ultimately tragic inability to break free of the ashram’s bonds and Chuyia’s efforts to enjoy a normal childhood despite all odds. The audience cannot help cheering for these women.

Salvation for Chuyia comes in the form of a kind of deus ex machina, as Gandhi makes a train stop in Varanasi shortly after being released from a British jail. Narayan, an avid Gandhi supporter, boards the train as it is leaving the station with the intention of becoming a full-time activist. At the very last minute, Shakuntala shows up with Chuyia and urges Narayan to rescue the child. Her salvation and India’s salvation appear to rest on Gandhi’s bony shoulders.

The Western audience, the natural target demographic for this film, would no doubt identify with the words that Gandhi speaks to the crowd in the train station. “When I was young, I believed that God was the Truth. Now I believe that Truth is God.” After watching innocent women enduring terrible suffering for the better part of two hours at the hands of religious fundamentalists, your natural inclination is to blame everything on Hindu backwardness.

For a brief moment in the film, we get an idea that the religious justification–based on ancient Vedic texts–might simply be an excuse for keeping the late husband’s property out of the hands of the widows. In Narayan’s view, it is all about “One less mouth to feed, four less saris, and a free corner in the house. Disguised as religion, it’s just about money.”

This kind of economic interpretation is also alluded to in Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s famous (infamous in the eyes of the anti-postmodernists) essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Preceded by a ponderous and almost incomprehensible exegesis on the writings of Guattari and Foucault, it eventually settles on relatively firm ground with an examination of sati, or widow self-immolation. Banned by the British, it was the quintessential symbol of Hindu savagery that a benign occupying force would eradicate. Spivak tries to mediate between the racism of the British and possible motivations for suicide that have nothing to do with such stereotypes. She makes a valiant effort in my opinion but is not entirely successful. The greatest value of her essay is the inclusion of scholarly material such as the following:

In certain periods and areas this exceptional rule became the general rule in a class-specific way. Ashis Nandy relates its marked prevalence in eighteenth- and early nineteenth century Bengal to factors ranging from population control to communal misogyny. Certainly its prevalence there in the previous centuries was because in Bengal, unlike elsewhere in India, widows could inherit property. Thus, what the British see as poor victimized women going to the slaughter is in fact an ideological battleground. As P.V. Kane, the great historian of the Dharmasastra, has correctly observed: “In Bengal, [the fact that] the widow of a sonless member even in a joint Hindu family is entitled to practically the same rights over joint family property which her deceased husband would have had…must have frequently induced the surviving members to get rid of the widow by appealing at a most distressing hour to her devotion and love for her husband.

Unfortunately, there is no attempt to provide any such historical context in “Water”. The audience is thrown into the middle of a terrible situation, the cause of which is unknown. If Gandhi is intended to be the widow’s salvation, we are not exactly sure why. Has he taken a stand against such mistreatment? If so, it is not made obvious.

Whatever criticisms one might have of Deepa Mehta, one could certainly rally around her rights as a film-maker which were abrogated by the ultraright BJP party in 2000 that forced her to film in Sri Lanka.

Scotland on Sunday, March 5, 2000, Sunday
By Natasha Mann In Delhi

DEEPA Mehta, the non-resident Indian movie director, flew back to her home in Toronto this week after aborting the filming of Water, her controversial new script.

The shoot was plagued by attacks and demonstrations by Hindu fundamentalists. In her wake she left a debate about the question of free expression and a perceived increase in right-wing intolerance in a supposedly secular country.

Mehta is now $ 800,000 out of pocket – half her budget -and is faced with the prospect of having to decide when and where she will be able to resume her project.

In an interview with Scotland on Sunday she expressed anger and bewilderment over the series of events that have forced her back to Canada.

“Either this is a democracy or it is not,” said Mehta. “It is cultural policing. What is happening is pre-censorship. It is not as if the film has been made and now there is a hue and cry. Who is actually ruling the country is what scares me.”

In India, Mehta is a notorious figure known for her previous internationally acclaimed film, Fire, which explored a lesbian relationship between two middle class Indian women. When the film was released here it received a violent response as opponents vented their outrage.

Water is the third of a trilogy that includes Fire and another film, Earth. The script, about a group of Hindu widows, is set in the 1930s and follows the women’s forced descent into prostitution.

Originally it had been passed by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government before the crew and cast set out to film in the holy city of Varanasi. But before they could get to work Hindu fundamentalists – known collectively as the Sangh Parivar -with links to the BJP claimed to have a copy of the script and declared it denigrated Hindu culture and religion. Then began a series of protests and filming was eventually stopped by the BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh state government .

“It is very dismaying,” said Mehta. “Because what does it say on a much larger scale? At some point it stops being about Water. Now it is about the law being used against you and cultural fundamentalism.

That being said, one cannot help but feel that there are stronger voices that can be heard on behalf of India’s subaltern classes. One wonders if Deepa Mehta has a bit too much in common with the Iranian expatriate feminist left that is all too anxious to blame their country’s woes on a failure to incorporate Western “democratic” ideals. I am also particularly bothered by her decision to work with George Lucas on a TV spin-off of the Indiana Jones series. If there is anything that defines mind-numbing racist Orientalism, it is this kind of work.

“Muse India,” an online literary journal has a very good review by Ketu Katrak of “Water” and Sharada Ramanathan’s “Sringaram: The Dance of Love,” another film that deals with the exploitation of women, in this case devadasis or temple dancers. She writes:

Leaving the auditorium after seeing Water, I was uncomfortable and angry to hear the usual and predictable responses from mainstream Americans, such as “These poor Indian women. Thank God we live in America.” The fact that India is part of the vast South Asian sub-continent with many variations of social custom, religious practice, and cultural traditions remains invisible. Not that one film has to show all the complexities of modern Indian society, but unfortunately there are very few South Asian representations in mainstream cinema. Hence, the few that “make it” to commercial distribution carry a certain burden of representation that with all its artistic freedom, demands a level of integrity and responsibility. And when the filmmakers are historically bound in terms of portraying the 1920s and 30s, that nearly 100-year old ambience is projected as part of the 2006 viewers’ collective unconscious. The troubling binary of tradition vs. modernity raises its ugly head again. Let us all become “modern” since “tradition “ is so backward. Neither tradition nor modernity are monoliths and need to be analyzed and evaluated in their specific historic time and location. Hence, one needs to question what the appeal of historical reconstruction is, especially when such a reconstruction portrays women as victims, controlled by religion and trapped in patriarchally controlled traditions. These representations unfortunately come across as timeless and ahistorical and leave the audience with a sense of hopelessness about the injustice that these women face.

Both filmmakers aim to move beyond merely showing women’s oppression as rooted in tradition. However, even the strong resistance of women to patriarchal domination comes across as sentimental and romanticized at best, and unconvincing and self-destructive at worst. Although women’s agency is certainly crucial in challenging unfair social customs such as the treatment of widows, two significant questions remain: is it enough to resist, whatever the outcome? And why is resistance glorified even when the outcome is destructive, or self-destructive for the women? It is as important to think about the resulting social reality for women especially when they take on traditions sanctioned by the weight of religious authority. I consider it highly problematic when the outcome of resistance is self-destruction—suicide or other forms of marginalization and forms of exile from their communities—as is often the result of women speaking up or acting against social norms.

If only Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak could write so clearly!

April 2, 2007

Richard Greener’s “The Knowland Retribution: the Locator”

Filed under: literature — louisproyect @ 10:55 pm

Richard Greener

When I took a writer’s workshop class at NYU in 1980, the instructor told the students that their first novel should come out of their own experience. That would certainly be true of Richard Greener’s “The Knowland Retribution: The Locator,” even though Greener has never been an assassin or a private detective. But using his knowledge of the customs and values of the Atlanta upper middle-class, drawn from his life and career there as president of WAOK, the city’s largest Black-oriented radio station (he is white), he has written a gripping crime story that pits one of these middle-class men against the nameless and faceless merchants of industry responsible for the deaths of his family and hundreds of other innocent people.

Leonard Martin is a successful real estate lawyer who decides to take revenge against the top management of a Wall Street investment firm and the principals of a meat-packing company after his wife and children eat beef that is tainted by e-coli bacteria. As a personality, he is just as bland and as set in his ways as the men who go rafting on the fictional Cahulawassee River in Northern Georgia in James Dickey’s “Deliverance.” Instead of a confrontation with hillbilly rapists, Martin is forced to take action against men who profit from diseased meat.

Even after he has received a substantial class action settlement from the crooked businessmen, Leonard Martin is not satisfied. He feels–rightfully so–that the payoff would not inhibit them from killing again, just as penalties to GE for dumping PCB’s into the Hudson were seen merely as part of the cost of doing business.

Martin decides to go into deep hiding and reinvent himself as a kind of Rambo. Imagine the weak and pudgy character that Ned Beatty played in “Deliverance” transformed into the muscular and lethal Bert Reynolds character and you will get a sense of the character transformation. Not only does he shed excess pounds, he sheds all human contact except with his son-in-law who becomes an accomplice. Using his knowledge of the real estate business, Martin secures hideaways around the country which making tracing him impossible. In these retreats, he practices long-range marksmanship and works on hit lists.

Shortly after the dirty meat pushers begin to get shot dead, the survivors hire a “locator”. In the detective business, these are specialists who are good at finding runaway husbands or children. But occasionally they get called in to find somebody as elusive as Leonard Martin. The locator they hire is a Vietnam veteran named Walter Sherman who lives on a Caribbean island. Sherman takes their money but doesn’t show that much enthusiasm for the job. That, of course, does not interfere with his carrying out of the assignment. He is the consummate professional.

Sherman eventually hooks up both professionally and romantically with Isobel Gitlin, a NY Times obit writer who after seeing a pattern in the killings becomes the paper’s most celebrated investigative journalist. More than anybody else, she is able to tie together the murders of the dirty meat purveyors and Leonard Martin.

Ironically, “The Knowland Retribution: The Locator” is thrilling because the characters and their settings are so mundane. Leonard Martin has a tendency to set up meetings at Holiday Inns, just as a real estate lawyer would. In the typical escapist crime thriller, the author feels a need to place his characters in glamorous or exotic settings, such as the Riviera or Thailand. With the exception of Walter Sherman’s home base in the Caribbean, Greener has created a fictional world that is typical “red state”, one that consists of Rotary Club boosters, Saturday night dinners at Red Lobster and NASCAR races. That is why when one of its own becomes an assassin determined to crush an evil capitalist corporation it becomes so compelling.

“The Knowland Retribution: The Locator” joins a celebrated gallery of ‘genre’ novels that demonstrate sympathies for the left. Including spy novels, we are reminded of Graham Greene, Eric Ambler, John Le Carre and the latest addition to this tradition, Alan Furst. All of these authors dispense with the patriotic nonsense found in Ian Fleming or Tom Clancy and show how the “enemy” is often more human than the power elite in one’s homeland. We also must include the Easy Rawlins detective novels of Walter Moseley, who fights for the dignity and civil rights of the African-American while nailing the bad guys. Even Subcommandante Zero of the Zapatistas has gotten into the act, co-authoring a detective novel with the renowned Mexican master of the genre, Pablo Ignacio Taibo II.

It is not a coincidence that Subcommandante Zero and Richard Greener are grappling fictionally with an identical problem: the impact of rapacious capitalism, either in rural Mexico or wealthy suburban Atlanta. Quite rightly, William Greider describes Greener’s novel in his back cover blurb as follows:

Corporate greed kills, but the ‘retribution’ in this tale is heart-warmingly delicious and fiendishly clever. The corporate suits get their comeuppance from a most unlikely bunch of characters, led by the Locator, a savvy freelance sleuth who should emerge as a popular and long-lived mystery hero. A terrific read.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I have known Richard Greener since 1961, when he was a senior at Bard College and I was a freshman. That year I arrived at school all wet behind the ears with a belief in libertarian/conservative politics. As the perennial contrarian, I simply had chosen to put a minus where my high school classmates had put a plus. In my first semester, Richard and his friends, who lived in the same dormitory, disabused me of my conservative beliefs.

That year, Richard and the same friends had launched something called the Welcome the Bomb Committee that had staked out the position that a spurned nuclear bomb would be a dangerous bomb, so we choreographed a welcome ceremony for the bomb on the Bard campus. That year we also showed up at the Young Americans for Freedom convention in New York where the irony of our message was instantly recognized for the subversive message that it was.

After graduating Bard, I lost touch with Richard and most of his gang. We were brought together by the Nicaraguan revolution, of all things. After making contact with Richard’s best friend Jeffrey Marlin–co-director of the Welcome the Bomb Committee–I soon was reconnected with Richard as well. The two of them were staunch supporters of a project I had become involved with to send volunteers to work with the Sandinistas. Additionally, Richard had been responsible for some groundbreaking coverage of the revolution on his radio station, all the more important for the fact that it was reaching African-Americans.

After WAOK was sold to another broadcasting group, Richard retired and began to try his hand at fiction. Unlike many aspiring writers, he did it mostly as a pastime and not as a way to become rich and famous. He never even bothered to approach a publishing house and the novel only saw the light of day after his son-in-law took it upon himself to shop it around.

It has not been easy for Richard to sustain his writing career, even though it is his main passion in life, outside of his wife and family. Congenital heart problems began to take more and more energy away from him and even threatened his life. His doctors advised him that he needed to have a heart transplant as soon as possible. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on June 5, 2005:

Richard Greener’s imagination comes alive in the middle of the night. He dreams up stories with intrigue and subversive themes.

He frequently wakes up from a not-so-sound sleep with chest pain caused by his ailing heart. Breathing becomes labored as he lies in bed. Unable to toss and turn, Greener gets up, leaving his half-sleeping wife, Maria, and jostles with characters and plotlines.

The Roswell resident is waiting for a heart transplant.

His illness and his nightly routine have resulted in a novel due in bookstores in March called “The Knowland Retribution.”

Greener, 63, completed that book and another tentatively titled “The Lacey Confession.” He is working on a third.

“I only started writing when I had chest pain,” said Greener, a retired radio executive.

Greener inherited coronary artery disease from his father, he said. He’s had three heart attacks since 1980. Over the past 25 years, Greener has had quadruple bypass surgery, experimental laser surgery and a pacemaker implanted.

“I was only comfortable when I was sitting straight up. I thought I may as well do something to help pass the time,” Greener said. He was placed on the national transplant list in 2003. His status was upgraded to priority in December.

Greener has had an active life. He has twice run the Peachtree Road Race and loves golf, tennis and travel.

But his heart condition means he must stick close to home.

Even if he’s physically up to it, Greener can’t stray too far. When a new heart becomes available, he must be able to get to the hospital at a moment’s notice.

Sometimes he needs oxygen to help him breathe.

The wait is frustrating, he said. “It’s like being under house arrest.” The idea for the first book came to him one night two years ago. Greener had started writing a letter to a friend, mostly to pass the time. He quickly realized he had more than a note about a recent vacation.

In his story, hundreds of people die, including the family of a Southern lawyer, in a massive outbreak caused by E. coli bacteria. Grieving, the lawyer exacts revenge on those responsible. The intricate plot takes several twists and turns as an obituary writer at The New York Times uncovers the corporate conspiracy behind the poisoning. “I lost myself in research,” Greener said.

With the Internet at his fingertips, Greener writes at a desk surrounded by three walls of family photos and framed newspaper stories from his radio days.

A native New Yorker and one-time vice president, general manager and partner at WAOK, Greener retired from the radio business after his second heart attack in 1988. He and Maria Greener have been married for 38 years.

Greener’s wife had no idea he could brew up a mystery thriller so easily. “He’s taking all of his energy and channeling it into this one source of creativity,” said Maria, 60, a real estate agent.

The new author never intended for his work to be published, but he let his brother-in-law send the manuscript to a few reputable agents. Nine months later, New Age publisher Llewellyn in Minnesota bought not one, but two books from Greener. The novels will be published under a new book line called “Midnight Ink.”

The characters seem like real people, Greener said. His hero continues in his next two novels. The character tries to solve the Kennedy assassination in “The Lacey Confession” and searches for the missing Nixon tape material — made infamous during the Watergate scandal — in “18 1/2.”

“It’s exciting to see when he finishes a chapter. He looks forward to every day,” Maria Greener said.

Writing books shifts his focus.

“It gives meaning to my mind. These [characters] are part of my life now,” Greener said. “I get so involved and I’m no longer aware of any physical discomfort.”

The good news is that Richard finally got his heart transplant and has returned to doing what he loves and what will be his legacy, along with his life-long service to progressive politics and the Black community through WAOK. He has already published his second novel “The Lacey Confession: The Locator” and is working on his third. Look for Richard’s novels on amazon.com or your favorite bookstores. They are superbly written and offer potent social commentary.

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