There is a state of excitement about experiencing and/or creating art — literary, visual, musical, or cinematic — that I refer to as being “plugged in.” In this state, which approaches the spiritual, one is moved equally by individual works themselves and by the very fact and possibility of exploration and discovery, present and future.
As with any emotional or quasi-emotional state, it is not possible to be plugged in continuously. The mood is broken by moments of ennui, skepticism, or despair: What’s the point of all this? How can anyone read every book, view every film, hear every piece of music — even in a specific genre — or see every painting, let alone appreciate it all sufficiently? Given the obvious answer to that question, what is the purpose of this constant search?
The point, I would argue, is not to consume the totality of art but to appreciate the totality — that is, the oneness. We can do this, savor the shared essence of all creative pursuit, by discovering the connections between and among different forms. I give a name to this aspect of being plugged in: plugdinism.
Here is an example — the first I can remember encountering. It is from Stanley Crouch’s 1983 Village Voice essay “Body and Soul,” reprinted in Notes of a Hanging Judge. In it Crouch observed the way in which the artist Giotto had upended tradition by focusing on the individual rather than the setting in his paintings. “In his own way,” Crouch wrote, “Louis Armstrong did the same. He discovered that his powers of imagination could stand alone, with the clarinet and the trombone of the conventional New Orleans band silenced, no longer needed to express the intricate and subtle musicality provided by the multilinear antiphonal style.” Crouch, an African-American like Armstrong, went on to write of “relaxing into the thought of how much of my own experience had been clarified by exposure to foreign forms.”
In my own explorations of books, jazz, film, and painting, and in my own writing, I have been on the lookout for such connections between seemingly disparate forms. (See my collection of essays or my essay “Notes on Notes.”)
And what, one might ask in a moment of cold-eyed skepticism, is ultimately the point of all that? Where does this idea lead in the end, except to ridiculous lengths and variations, to a kind of intellectual parlor trick?
The answer is simple. These disparate forms often arise from different cultures, and the connections among them underscore the commonality of the creative impulse — and of all humanity. This is an easy idea to ridicule in 2013. But I am ready to risk what David Foster Wallace called “the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists” to promote it. Plugdinism encourages work in all disciplines exploring links among arts and cultures, for the sake of celebrating our common humanity.
Announcing that Love for Sale and Other Essays, my nonfiction collection exploring books, race, film, painting, jazz, love, friendship, and more, is now an ebook!
Click HERE to read Bob Cashill’s review of the book on popdose.com.
And HERE to read a review on goodreads.com.
A while back, in a post called “Books for My Daughter,” I presented a list of what I considered essential reading and asked for suggestions of works to add to it. There were quite a few suggestions — good ones — leading one astute reader to comment, “This is, in the end, a list for Cliff D. Thompson.”
Turns out she was right.
Another commenter pointed to works by contemporary black poets: two Pulitzer Prize winners, Natasha Trethewey and Tracy K. Smith (Trethewey is also the current U.S. poet laureate), and Nikky Finney, whose Head Off & Split won the 2011 National Book Award. Now, regular readers of this blog (all six of you) may recall a June 2011 post called “Confessions of a Poetry Dunce,” in which I complained that I find a great deal of work by acclaimed modern and contemporary poets to be incomprehensible. Several commenters on that post agreed with me, but a couple advised me, in essence, to stop getting in my own way when reading poetry — to worry less about literal meaning and, in the words of one commenter, embrace the “unintelligibility” that “turns out to be a new way of ‘sense-making.’”
Not for nothing is this blog called “Tell Cliff.” I decided to try to apply my readers’ advice when checking out the work of Trethewey, Smith, and Finney. Ironically, having girded myself for the opaque, I found many of the poems by these three women to be as accessible as they are elegant. They also, often, defied expectations. A confession: when I encountered the poem “Red Velvet (for Rosa Parks, 1913–2005),” in Finney’s Head Off & Split, I sighed inwardly, feeling that I knew more or less what was coming, that for a little bit I could have written myself the bland, fawning verse I was about to read. Man, was I wrong. “Red Velvet” honors Parks, yes, but hardly in the usual lip-synched, Black History Month/Martin Luther King’s Birthday kind of way. Instead, it focuses on Parks’s work as a seamstress to build a metaphor for her contribution to the freedom struggle: “. . . A nimble, on-the-dot / woman, who has the help of all things, needle sharp, / silver, dedicated, electric, can pull cloth and others / her way, through the tiny openings she and others / before her have made.”
Finney’s poem “Negroes with Guns” is likewise not what you might expect, with its portrait of a down-home, backwoods wife and mother who is able to “blow the x out the Maxwell House can” but for the moment has a “trigger finger slick & wet, wrinkled/ soapy, content for now, devoted for now/ to coaxing egg & cheese off a casserole dish.” Other poems in Head Off & Split tested my new willingness to forgo complete understanding. Reading the title piece, for example, was a bit like looking at an Expressionist painting; just as I feel an overall mood being conveyed by a painting without knowing the impulse behind every brush stroke, I failed while reading the poem to “get” every image, at the same time coming away with the idea of a grown woman who feels some sadness over the choices she probably wouldn’t undo even if she could.
The title of Tracy K. Smith’s 2011 collection, Life on Mars, gives a clue as to its concerns, which include the place — both physical and metaphysical — of the individual and the human race in the universe. The poems point to our smallness in the grand scheme and to our hubris, not altogether objectionable, in the face of that fact. In “The Universe Is a House Party,” Smith writes, “A conflagration of suns? It sounds like the kind of party / Your neighbors forget to invite you to: bass throbbing / Through walls, and everyone thudding around drunk / On the roof . . .” The poem ends, in reference to the universe: “Of course, its ours. If it’s anyone’s, it’s ours.” Still, there is no denying how little we know of it, as Smith suggests in “My God, It’s Full of Stars,” describing an astronaut adrift in space in the film 2001: “Is it still his life he moves through, or does / That end at the end of what he can name?”
Back on Earth, we have Native Guard (2006), by Natasha Trethewey, which includes poems about racial prejudice and atrocities as well as elegies for the poet’s parents and for her childhood in the South. The poems are sometimes formally structured, nearly always poignant. From “Graveyard Blues,” about burying her mother: “It rained the whole time we were laying her down. / Rained from church to grave when we put her down. / That suck of mud at our feet was a hollow sound.” From the title poem, which deals in part with black Union soldiers in the Civil War who were shot down not by Confederates but by white Union troops: “ . . . Smoke that rose from each gun / seemed a soul departing . . .”
Of all these metaphors, I find myself returning to Smith’s — the idea of the unknown, mostly unexplored universe, which is largely filled, for me, with books of poetry.
My new book, Love for Sale and Other Essays, has won the Autumn House Press nonfiction prize and is now available online! Click HERE to purchase your copy on amazon.com.
Love for Sale includes personal essays as well as musings on race and the general problem of being human. Best of all, it revels in the connections I find among the art forms I love: books, jazz, film, and painting. Explore them with me! (I did the cover art, too. Heh.)
My recommendation for reading this book: pour your favorite drink (I suggest straight bourbon); put some good, old jazz on your stereo or iPod; and lose yourself in ideas linking Zadie Smith to Clint Eastwood, Coleman Hawkins to Thomas Hardy, Charles Mingus to Robert Altman . . .
It’s not exactly breaking news that the holiday season has gotten longer, or, to put it more accurately, that we have begun celebrating earlier. In stores, Christmas decorations are seen and carols heard well before Thanksgiving, a holiday that has been reduced to the last hurdle before the start of the great shopping frenzy. As that would suggest, of course, much of this trend is commerce-driven, but there is something else at work, too. People just like to feel good, and in days that are dark in many senses, we take cheer where we find it, and so what if it’s not quite December yet? December will come; but then, so will January. The vehicle of our cheer recedes into the great murk of yesterdays, and we are back to the winter gloom, without the wreaths and mistletoe.
But there are other ways to inject rosiness into gray days. One is through beautiful representations of the gloom itself, in art, in literature, even in music. An example: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The House of the Seven Gables, from 1851. In this story of a family seemingly cursed because of the greed of one of its ancestors, the physical center of the action is the imposing, decayed, lonely, spirit-inhabited New England house of the title — “a character in itself,” as they say — which Hawthorne describes this way:
. . . as for the old structure of our story, its white-oak frame, and its boards, shingles, and crumbling plaster, and even the huge, clustered chimney in the midst, seemed to constitute only the least and meanest part of its reality. So much of mankind’s varied experience had passed there — so much had been suffered, and something, too, enjoyed — that the very timbers were oozy, as with the moisture of a heart. It was itself like a great human heart, with a life of its own and full of rich and somber reminiscences.
The deep projection of the second story gave the house such a meditative look that you could not pass it without the idea that it had secrets to keep, and an eventful history to moralize upon.
What I admire about Seven Gables as much as its atmosphere of foreboding, and even more than its story, are its insights into the human character and condition, as in:
As is customary with the rich, when they aim at the honors of a republic, he apologized, as it were, to the people, for his wealth, prosperity, and elevated station, by a free and hearty manner towards those who knew him; putting off the more of his dignity in due proportion with the humbleness of the man whom he saluted, and thereby proving a haughty consciousness of his advantages as irrefragably as if he had marched forth preceded by a troop of lackeys to clear the way.
At almost every step in life, we meet with young men of just about Holgrave’s age, for whom we anticipate wonderful things, but of whom, even after much careful inquiry, we never happen to hear another word. The effervescence of youth and passion, and the fresh gloss of the intellect and imagination, endow them with a false brilliancy, which makes fools of themselves and other people. Like certain chintzes, calicoes, and ginghams, they show finely in their first newness, but cannot stand the sun and rain, and assume a very sober aspect after washing day.
But to return to artful evocations of gloomy, overcast settings, there is the first sentence of Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Fall of the House of Usher”:
During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country, and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.
So: chase those post-holiday blues away! Find a comfortable spot, with a view out the window of bare tree limbs silhouetted against the gray sky, and relax with a “quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore . . .”
The moral of what I’m about to tell you is . . . well, maybe you can help me out there. I’m not sure myself.
Many years ago I wrote a short story, “Judgment,” about an interracial romance on a college campus. Terry McMillan published it in her anthology of black fiction, Breaking Ice. The story is no masterpiece, even if its heart is in the right place. But that’s neither here nor there.
More to the point is that in 2000 a woman named Suzanne Jones emailed me for permission to include the story in her own anthology, Crossing the Color Line. Ms. Jones was, from all indications, a very nice person, and we stayed in touch sporadically by email in the years after her collection was published.
In 2009 I (self) published a novel, Signifying Nothing. To support it, I created the arts blog you’re now reading, and in part to support both of those things, I started a Facebook account. Reaching out — as they say — to as many old friends and acquaintances as I could think of, I sent a friend request to Suzanne Jones, which she accepted. Suzanne’s profile picture showed her to be an attractive and, unless I missed my guess, biracial young woman; her interest in my story made even more sense. She turned out to be as friendly on Facebook as she was via email.
That brings us to last week. On Facebook Suzanne invited me and others to an event in Manhattan that she had helped organize. The invitation to The Curly Monologues promised “Real Hairy Stories from Real Curly Girls.” Well, it sounded . . . different, and it would give me a chance to finally meet Suzanne in person. And so, this past Sunday afternoon, I threw on some jeans and a vest and my trademark homburg and took myself to the Flatiron Hotel, where I discovered once again, to paraphrase another writer, that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in my philosophy.
On the hotel’s first floor was a lounge with pastel sofas and love seats, a cash bar, a stage, and, behind that, an eye-level view of the corner of Broadway and West 26th Street. On the sofas and love seats there was a sprinkling of men, a couple of them black, like me; the vast majority of the people, though, were women, young and middle-aged, white, black, and biracial, all — or almost all — with one thing in common: very very curly hair. I got some red wine and took a seat. On the stage two women who looked enough alike to be sisters were singing to test the sound equipment. They had nice voices. I was pretty sure the one in the black and white top was Suzanne, and when the two of them were on their way out of the room for a minute, I jumped up and introduced myself. Up close, Suzanne was tall (taller than me, anyway — admittedly not that hard) and looked to be in her late thirties at the very most. “I thought that must be you,” Suzanne said, and then she introduced me to — sure enough — her sister, Stephanie, and to their respective young daughters, who were seated nearby. “I didn’t know you sang,” I told Suzanne, who shrugged modestly before continuing on her way.
When they came back, the show started. We heard first from the event’s impresario, a white man named Jonathan Pillot, who wore a clownlike, bright green, magnificently curly wig that he took off just long enough to show his hair-free head. Jonathan told us that in thinking about a project that would bring people together, he decided that it would be wise to appeal to women, and that when he considered issues women had in common, he thought of hair. Next, the Jones sisters — actually, The Jones Twins — came back to the stage. Backed by a band, they performed a rather charming original song, “Unidentified Female Object,” about a character named Marian who is both African and European and, for that and other reasons, takes a while to find herself. After that, women went to the stage one at a time to tell, in poems, essays, songs, and off-the-cuff anecdotes, what were largely variations on a single theme: that of struggling with curly hair as girls and young women and then coming to accept and love it later on.
At a certain point I began to feel like a Cub Scout who had strayed into a sorority meeting, and yet there was a nice, positive energy in the room — which, paradoxically, only increased when the program took a slightly strange turn. A black woman stood up and told about how, as a girl, she wanted to be white — a familiar if sad story; but then she began talking about her friend. This friend, also black, had been born with a very flat behind, which she never liked. As an adult she heard about a party where women could get injections to give them more ample rear ends. She got injected. Then she got infected. She went to see doctors, who told her the infection was so bad they would have to amputate her hands and feet. At this point the woman telling us the story said, “Does anybody here read Essence?” This got little to no reaction. She then pulled out a copy of that magazine’s November issue and opened it to a spread that showed a seated woman with, yes, neither feet nor hands. Our storyteller’s voice broke as she said, “I told my friend I was coming here, and she wanted me to tell her story. She wanted me to tell you that it’s important to accept who you are and love yourself. Turn to the person next to you and say, ‘You are beautifully made!’” I turned to the woman next to me — who looked a little like Carson McCullers — and she turned to me, and we told each other this, a bit bashfully but word for word. (Well, what would you have done?)
There were more testimonies, and a closing song from The Jones Twins, and then, around five o’clock, after two hours, the program was over. I went to tell Suzanne I had enjoyed it.
And now we come to the point of this little tale.
“I’m so glad you came!” Suzanne said to me. “So . . . how did I meet you again?”
I was a little surprised by that, but I thought, well, here is a woman with a very full and active life — small wonder she would forget publishing my little story over a decade ago. “Actually,” I said, “we never have met, but you put a story of mine in your anthology years back.”
She looked perplexed. “I don’t remember that. I’d love to put a story of yours in an anthology . . .”
We parted pleasantly, if in slight confusion. And I was leaving the Flatiron Hotel when dawn, metaphorically speaking, broke.
Back home in Brooklyn I googled Suzanne Jones — not the one I’d just met, but the one who had published my story. My original Suzanne was sixty-two years old now and, contrary to my assumption of a dozen years, white.
How had I decided that the Suzanne I’d found on Facebook was the one who had published my story, and why had I not questioned for a second whether I had found the right person? Maybe the answer supplies part of the moral I mentioned at the beginning of this post. I got a lesson I thought I’d already learned, which is that not every motive has to do with skin color.
The other moral, of course, is that I’m a world-class space cadet. But I need to accept this about myself and not worry about changing. I am, after all, beautifully made. Someone told me so just the other day.
Recently my older daughter was home for college break and asked me to put together a list of literary classics for her; an acting major, she was concerned that she would miss important books in the normal course of things. Touched and flattered, I came up with the following list.
I aimed for the list to be both as compact and as comprehensive as possible; that was why, for example, I put The Odyssey but not The Iliad, though I’m second-guessing that decision now. There were some books I left out because I knew she had read them already (The Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, and Frederick Douglass’s autobiography); there are some on the list it turns out she’s read already; and there are others missing because I didn’t think of them in time (Theodore Dreiser’s novels).
What else would you include?
IMPORTANT AND RELATIVELY EASY READS
Sun Tzu: Art of War (short)
Sophocles: Theban Plays
Marcus Aurelius: Meditations (short and amazing)
13th – 18th CENTURIES
Machiavelli: The Prince
Cervantes: Don Quixote (this is long but very funny)
Milton: Paradise Lost
Edward Gibbon: Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Goethe: Faust, Part 1
Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen: Emma
Mark Twain: Huckleberry Finn
Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Scarlet Letter
Charles Dickens: anything, really, but crucially: A Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield, Great
George Eliot: Middlemarch
Victor Hugo: Les Misérables (very long, exciting – one you’re past Chapter One – and sad)
Victor Hugo: The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Henry James: Washington Square
Henry James: The Portrait of a Lady
Thomas Hardy: Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Thomas Hardy: The Mayor of Casterbridge
Gustave Flaubert: Madame Bovary
Leo Tolstoy: Anna Karenina
Fyodor Dostoyevsky: Notes from Underground
Fyodor Dostoyevsky: Crime and Punishment
Charles W. Chesnutt (black, though you couldn’t tell by looking): The House Behind the Cedars
Willa Cather: O Pioneers! (better than it sounds)
Willa Cather: Death Comes for the Archbishop
Edith Wharton: The Age of Innocence
Edith Wharton: The House of Mirth
Ernest Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises
William Faulkner: As I Lay Dying
James Joyce: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Virginia Woolf: Mrs. Dalloway
Virginia Woolf: To the Lighthouse
W. Somerset Maugham (pronounced “Mawm”): Of Human Bondage
W. Somerset Maugham: The Razor’s Edge
Rudoph Fisher (Harlem Renaissance writer): The Walls of Jericho
Zora Neale Hurston (Harlem Renaissance writer): Their Eyes Were Watching God
James Weldon Johnson (Harlem Renaissance writer): The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man
E. M. Forster: Howards End
Carson McCullers: The Ballad of the Sad Café
Carson McCullers: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
Vladimir Nabokov: Lolita
Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451
Joseph Heller: Catch-22
Richard Wright: Native Son
Ralph Ellison: Invisible Man
James Baldwin: Go Tell It on the Mountain
James Baldwin: Notes of a Native Son (essays)
Graham Greene: The Quiet American
Graham Greene: The Power and the Glory
Susan Sontag: Against Interpretation (essays)
John Updike: Rabbit, Run
Saul Bellow: Herzog
Norman Mailer: Armies of the Night (nonfiction)
Philip Roth: Goodbye, Columbus
Philip Roth: Portnoy’s Complaint (hilarious, though some think gross)
Philip Roth: American Pastoral
Toni Morrison: The Bluest Eye
Toni Morrison: Song of Solomon
Gabriel Gárcia Márquez: One Hundred Years of Solitude
Gabriel Gárcia Márquez: Love in the Time of Cholera
Alice Walker: The Color Purple
Gloria Naylor: Mama Day
IMPORTANT THOUGH LONG AND/OR DIFFICULT
Herman Melville: Moby-Dick (less difficult than slow in stretches)
James Joyce: Ulysses (reading it along with Cliff Notes helps)
Marcel Proust: Remembrance of Things Past, aka In Search of Lost Time (multivolume work,
more long than difficult, and very, very beautiful)
Robert Musil: The Man Without Qualities
Thomas Pynchon (b. 1937): Gravity’s Rainbow (good luck with this one—so far I’ve started it
I recently picked up two books by different authors with the same name. The works of the first Mark Harris (1922–2007) include the baseball novel Bang the Drum Slowly and the novel I just read, Wake Up, Stupid. I was interested in that book because an article I read years ago — about something else entirely — mentioned that it was the kind of underground novel that two people at a party, upon discovering that they had both read it, would discuss in a corner for the rest of the evening. The book, from 1959, turns out to be an epistolary novel about a college professor and playwright, Lee Youngdahl. It is that frustrating sort of work that is just good enough to make you wish it were better. Occasionally it is laugh-out-loud funny, and one part, an evaluation of the main character by the college’s tenure committee, is almost worth the price of the book. On the other hand, the nature of Youngdahl’s relationships with some of his correspondents is not altogether clear; those looking for a tight plot, or, really, any plot, will be disappointed; and one running joke— involving letters composed on a typewriter with a faulty or missing “f” key — ought to stop running long before it does. Fans of Wake Up, Stupid may remain limited to those two partygoers huddled in a corner; but they will have a good time.
A more consistent and successful novel about life among college faculty is Randall Jarrell’s Pictures from an Institution, from 1954: a warm, hilarious, sharply written work I can’t recommend highly enough.
And what’s funny about that, at least in the nerdy realm that is my mind, is that the title of Jarrell’s novel must have inspired (unless I’m way off base) the title of the nonfiction book I’m now reading, by the other Mark Harris. Pictures at a Revolution (2008) is about the five Academy Award nominees for best picture in 1968 and the changes they signaled with regard to the movie industry. It is fascinating. So far I’ve learned that Dustin Hoffman, as a New York theater actor in the 1960s, couldn’t buy a role on stage or screen before he was cast as the lead in The Graduate; that when Warren Beatty, as producer of the outlaw love story Bonnie and Clyde, decided to play Clyde himself, he knocked one of the potential Bonnies out of the running — his sister, Shirley MacLaine; that during the making of Dr. Dolittle, the acts of its aging, infantile star, Rex Harrison, included insisting — successfully — that Sammy Davis Jr. be cut from the cast; and that the racial tension simulated in In the Heat of the Night was nothing compared with what happened in real life when its star Sidney Poitier turned up in the Tennessee town where Heat was partly filmed. And I’m still reading!
When I was in college, an unbelievably long time ago, I saw Stanley Kubrick’s film A Clockwork Orange. It is one of the two most disturbing things I’ve ever watched (the other being Deliverance), and not coincidentally, it’s only now that I’ve gotten around to reading the Anthony Burgess novel that inspired it. That was a very different experience. In the novel Burgess created tension by juxtaposing horrific acts with humor, the latter coming in part from the ridiculous teen slang used by the narrator, Alex; the reader’s response is nervous, guilty laughter. This is a delicate balance, one that depends greatly on the discretion with which the violence is presented, and that discretion and balance are what Kubrick’s blood-spattered film tosses out the window. (That is true according to my memory, anyway, and since no power on Earth could get me to watch that film again, memory will have to do.) The humor gets lost in all the violence, and while the story’s message comes through intact, the context all but nullifies it. Watching what Alex and his ilk do to innocent people before his state-imposed cure, we don’t care that his rehabilitation is achieved through the destruction of his will and power of choice. Totalitarianism? The police state? They never looked so good.
Anyway: if you haven’t read the book, I recommend it. The movie, well . . .
Another funny book I read recently — a novel otherwise as different from A Clockwork Orange as one piece of fiction can be from another — is The Snapper, by Roddy Doyle. Is it possible to compare a novel to a sitcom without condemning it? The sitcom-like feature is not the triteness, predictability, fraudulent emotion, or lame humor of the worst sitcoms, but a sort of unspoken, unwritten agreement between writer and reader that nothing too bad is going to happen. (That is chiefly how The Snapper differs from A Clockwork Orange.) Within that seemingly limiting framework, Doyle accomplishes a lot, with his touching, unsentimental story of a working-class Irish family whose oldest daughter is unmarried and pregnant and won’t say who the father is.
A page from The Snapper resembles a page from a sitcom teleplay in its sparseness. This is not laziness but minimalism at its best, one that draws on the most powerful source of imagery there is: the reader’s imagination. (Here The Snapper manages what the best modernist painting achieves; see my post “But I Know What I Like.”)
Even funnier than The Snapper is The Commitments, Doyle’s short novel about a briefly successful Irish soul band.
What other Doyle should I read?
I call this painting “Mt. Rushmore.” I have brought my limited skill and unlimited zeal to an attempt to portray seven figures who have meant a lot to me at various stages of my life. You can click on it for a better view.
Please note that (a) the quotes are not above the appropriate people’s heads and (b) the absence of women is not intentional and is certainly not intended as any kind of comment. Your heroes are your heroes.
In the (not unlikely) event that I haven’t rendered them well enough to identify by sight, I have (a) put some tributes/hints below and (b) put the subjects’ names in a comment. So:
Tributes/hints, left to right:
1. Many, many people identified with the anxieties of the child protagonist of your comic strip.
2. Your innovation was that your costumed heroes, in addition to having fearsome powers, had confused inner lives and, as you once put it, feet of clay.
3. Your skills in the ring were nearly matched by your fearlessness, integrity, and bragging ability outside it — while the gleam in your eye let us know that the bragging wasn’t serious.
4. Your warm, hilarious comedy albums helped at least one person come through childhood with his sanity intact.
5. The sixteen-year-old narrator of your resoundingly successful, literature-altering novel made alienation seem cool and let some of us know we weren’t alone.
6. You converted your pain, rage, compassion, bravery, and literary skill into heartfelt novels and beautiful essays that illuminate the American condition.
7. Less famous than the others, you nonetheless made the term “black American” seem not an oxymoron but a redundancy, and you cleared up a lot of confusion.