TONIGHT ON THE TERRORDOME: Part 2 of Denis Simpson and Berend McKenzie, and James Baldwin in conversation with Kenneth Clark
CJSR FM88.5 Edmonton
As the play’s title suggests, it’s an examination, through vignettes of several parts of McKenzie’s life, of the pain, humour, bewilderment, exhilaration, alienation, terror and love of growing up in Alberta as a gay African-Canadian boy in the 1970s and 80s.
It also happens to be superb, powered by both creators’ understandings of the dual exclusions and humiliations of racism and homophobia.
African-Canadian actor and playwright Berend McKenzie appeared alongside Halle Berry and Sharon Stone in the feature film Cat Woman, and has taken roles in television programmes such as Cold Squad, Jeremiah, Life or Something Like It and Andromeda.
Jamaican-Canadian actor, singer, songwriter, dancer and director Denis Simpson is probably best known as the brother who was the host of longtime Canadian children’s show The Polka Dot Door.
I sat down with both men at the University of Alberta on August 15 to discuss their play, and of course our conversation—at times quite emotional—ranged over the territory of both men’s pains, resentments, insights and inspirations, which in Simpson’s case included James Baldwin.
Part 2 begins with Berend McKenzie exploring his and his audience’s discomfort with both words of his title, and how and why he chose to try to transform those words.
Denis Simpson spoke at length about his profound admiration for James Baldwin, the acclaimed American novelist, essayist and social critic who was also a gay man of African descent.
Born 1924 in Harlem to a religiously conservative family, Baldwin became a teenaged Pentecostal preacher. He struggled through poverty to build a career as a writer. Several magazines published his articles, including The Nation, Commentary, Partisan Review and The New Leader.
In 1955 in Europe he wrote the play The Amen Corner, returning to the US to participate in the human rights struggle, which came to propel and define Baldwin’s artistic production, his social vision, and his criticism. His celebrated books include Go Tell It On the Mountain, Giovanni’s Room, and Nobody Knows My Name.
His non-fiction book The Fire Next Time is Baldwin’s exploration of the Nation of Islam, founder Elijah Muhammad, and its then-National Representative Malcolm X, whom Baldwin came to admire deeply, despite his criticisms.
In 1963, Baldwin spoke on American television with African-American psychologist, education activist and human rights advocate Kenneth B. Clark.
Tonight we’ll hear their conversation, startling for its candor about the racial divide even 46 years later, and troubling for how much it says that is still relevant in the allegedly post-racial society in the age of Obama as proclaimed by corporate, Euro-American media.
The audio begins with Clark alluding to a recent meeting between Baldwin and then-US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who, unknown to Baldwin at the time, was subjecting Martin Luther King to FBI surveillance.