Table for One

By Lynell George

Via Open Space | SF MOMA

From the piece:

IF THE MOMENT were different, I would have been there, in the thick of it, shoulder to shoulder, with the rest. North Beach’s venerable gathering place, Caffe Trieste, would only turn sixty-five once and I wanted to celebrate its auspicious day. Instead, on the first of last April, I settled on a poem fragment alongside a vintage photo to post on one of my social media feeds. I augmented it with a congratulatory note, sent with love from my Southern California shelter-in-place hideaway. 

Moments later, a Bay Area friend replied with a portrait of the cafe’s late founder “Papa” Gianni Giovanni Giotta, resplendent in a black stingy-brim fedora and dark sunglasses — a chin-chin across cyber distance. In a blink, the photographer who had captured that moment added a link to a folder of images (portraits, celebrations, candids), cracking open not just a world, but a feeling.

I tumbled down that rabbit hole, eagerly paging photo to photo, happy to be floating back to one of my earliest North Beach touchstones — one that always seemed to exist out of time but never out of place. It was distinctly the San Francisco I craved before I lived there, the one I’d go seeking when I briefly made my home there. I went for the atmosphere: busy conversations about art, books, politics, or plans for general ruckus. I could experience it all from my single window seat: the photos summoned the sharp aroma of a freshly pulled espresso, the majestic arias soaring from the jukebox, the harsh snap of chill that roared into the room when the door swung open for another patron or cast member. 

Advancing through the frames, a half hour slipped away. An hour. More. Not until daylight fully faded did I stop myself: what sort of wish — or melancholy — sent me scrolling through scores of other people’s memories? Decades of regulars ringed around small tables, nursing the last swallow of a cappuccino; solo patrons’ eyes focused on middle distance; loose configurations posted just outside the entrance on Vallejo Street in animated conversation — stilled.

It wasn’t simply wistfulness that powered my search. Perhaps it was a shade of self-absorption or hubris, but I realized I was looking for myself. I was, without at first knowing it, hoping against hope to find some ghost of myself — part of this story, too. I was searching for evidence, not just that I had been there, but that it had moved through me.

You can read the rest here.

Locked Down? Try Letters



“finding that old letter-writing voice” — lynell george 

“I timed out on Zoom almost as soon as we all started being “safer at home.” Extended video chats make me feel more, not less, distanced from the people who matter to me.

Maybe it’s the narrow bandwidth of home WiFi, the lag, the stumbling over folks’ words, the “I’m sorry!” “No-no-no, you first,” or the way a face sometimes freezes mid-thought, stretched into a detail that would be at home on a Dali canvas.

Also, I stare into screens too much — laptop, smartphone, e-reader. By day’s end, I crave IRL interaction, something I can touch, something that brings the people I love into the room in the ways I most recognize them.

On an “essential” bill-paying run to the post office, I masked up and held my breath planning on a quick “contactless” dash to the mail slots. Instead, I lingered, marveling at the line of customers waiting for help and embracing stacks of multicolored envelopes and packages.

It hit me: Letters! Care packages! This was how to bridge the distance and be an ally.

In my early 20s, I was a dedicated postal correspondent. When my friends departed L.A. for college and long-distance telephone calls were too expensive to consider, we fell back on letters. I built a stash of inexpensive colored envelopes and matching tablets. Later, I made my own stationery — busy collages and, eventually, ’zine-like Xeroxed pages personalized for each recipient.

I spent hours hunting for the right collection of images to add another layer to every story. I thrilled at the payoff: postmarks from New York, Prague, London, Chicago, San Francisco. Exotic stamps. Visitors almost daily….”


You can read the rest here.




Troubling Calm


TOPSHOT-US-HEALTH-VIRUSBy Lynell  George/via LMU Magazine

DAYS BEFORE everything turned inside out, when I still had access to the full stretch of my old world, I attended an opera based on science fiction author Octavia E. Butler’s prescient novel “Parable of the Sower.” Fittingly, the story is set in a 21st century dystopian Los Angeles — a city ravaged by long-term drought and upturned by grim social disorder. Butler, who was born and raised minutes from where I now live, shrugged out of the label “seer.” Rather, she often spoke about how one can read the future just by being attentive to what’s outside the window. “Learn from the past,” she warned. But, too: “Count on surprises.”

Learn to read the cycles, Butler knew.

Of late, Los Angeles has been at its most impossibly lush: The mountains and their contours aren’t hidden by a scrim of haze. The sunsets bloom paint-box vivid — ribbons of lilac and blush pink. The air offers a perfume of new blooms — jasmine, citrus, sharp lavender. And now, with so much at a standstill — no conversations in the street, no rush-hour car horns blasting — nature is at the forefront.

This beauty, in other instances, would be comforting, but each day the world outside the door feels more threatening. How can these spring days be so dazzling, and yet they don’t quiet the sense of unease? They underscore it.

Since early March, with the arrival of the novel coronavirus, the sense of unease and sadness that I, and so many others, have been swimming through is as novel as the pathogen itself. Its slow approach is something we can neither hide nor run from. It’s a force we can’t even see.


To read more

Remembering Carolyn Kozo Cole

By Lynell George LA Times

Carolyn Kozo Cole gave Los Angeles one of of its richest gifts — a deeper, broader and more complex visual record of itself.


From the Shades of L.A. Project

A photograph featured in Carolyn Kozo Cole’s project “Shades of L.A” of Verna Deckard and Arthur Lewis at Santa Monica Beach in the segregated section, Aug 2, 1924. They married later that month. (Shades of L.A. Collection/Los Angeles Public Library)

As head of Los Angeles Public Library photo collection for almost 20 years, Cole, who died Dec. 6 because of complications of Alzheimer’s disease, is best known for her landmark project, “Shades of L.A.” The initiative collected thousands of photos from across the region — including a Japanese American family in their Sunday best posed before Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle to African American couples relaxing at the Last Word club on Central Avenue — to create more reflective vision of our city in the world’s imagination.

Read More Here

Louisiana in Los Angeles: How New Orleans Jazz Traveled to California

By Lynell George via Los Angeles Review of Books

“GOLD MIGHT BE  hiding in plain sight; some small stowaway that’s been overlooked, or somehow dislodged, knocked into plain view. I’m always hoping for some sliver of a remnant.

I knew better, but I tossed my notebook and camera into the car anyway and threaded out the driveway. A few years back, sparked by a couple of sentences I couldn’t shake, I slipped out just after dawn for a little Sunday morning ghost chasing. I’d gotten midway through Howard Reich and William Gaines’s vivid 2003 biography: Jelly’s Blues: The Life, Music, and Redemption of Jelly Roll Morton, my imagination adrift in the descriptions of Morton’s rollicking Los Angeles years. The broadcasting-24-hour Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe Morton (better known as Ferd or simply ‘Jelly Roll’) was his own sky-sweeping searchlight and publicity department; Los Angeles was just another stop along the frenzied nonstop press tour that was his entire life. As the self-proclaimed ‘inventor of jazz,’ Morton, despite his ornate yet delicate polyphonic piano stylings, was as much a genius as he was bombastic.

The reporter in me wanted more. The night before, I’d dashed out a couple of addresses and some approximations based on the narrative’s descriptions, and had them at the ready when I snaked south down the 110 Freeway to Central Avenue. I wasn’t aiming for the area we Angelenos consider ‘Jazz Street,’ but a corridor further north, closer to downtown’s heart . . . . 

But what I wanted to understand most: What did he and so many see when they arrived here, tired but exhilarated, finally unburdened of their pasts? What was their first glimpse? How did California suit them? How did it find its way into their creative imagination, their melodies?”


To read more click here to visit LARB

By Way Of: L.A. To L.A.


An L.A. Woman Embraces Her Ancestral New Orleans Home

By Lynell George

“Zigzagging through the crush of rush-hour commuters at L.A.’s Union Station, I’m hoping to make up for lost time. Suddenly, out of the edges of my vision, a man crosses in front of me, planting himself directly in my path. In a broad-brimmed Panama hat, cream-colored slacks and shoes to match, he’s a vision of not just another place, but another era.

“Where you from?” he asks.

I hold him in my gaze just long enough to assess the question: Rap? Ploy? Curiosity?

I land on the latter: “Los Angeles,” I say.

Without a beat, he lobs back: “Where’s your mama from?”

I let out an “I give” chuckle. Then: “New Orleans,” I respond. Full stop.

“Okay. Yes, of course.” He says nothing more, moves on so that I may do the same. But as I slide into my seat on the Metro, the exchange cycles through again and again, like always, leaving me wondering how I’m marked and how it shows.

I’m often asked versions of this same question by strangers, always other African Americans of a certain age. Where it might seem a logical inquiry within a train station—a busy hub between here and there, I’ve had it happen in other locales—markets or car washes, the dry cleaners. It’s a way of locating and understanding something essential about who we are, who we’re connected to as Americans—and who we were and what that means in a far-flung place—out of context. It’s a post-Great Migration inquiry. It’s often, in my experience, a “Southern thing”: “Oakland by way of Beaumont”; “San Bernardino by way of Knoxville.” But as time passes, and our favorite uncles and our first cousins become ancestors, I wonder how much longer we’ll be asking, and what it might mean to come from an ancestral elsewhere.”


To read more at Zócalo, click here

An L.A. Daybook

Check it out . . .

I’m happy to announce my new (and very first) chapbook, “Shifting Tenses”  from the wonderful Writ Large Press, Founded in 2007 by Chiwan Choi, Peter Woods,  Judeth Oden Choi and Jessica Ceballos, the press’ mandate has been to publish, connect  and promote overlooked writers across the region — and beyond.  A limited number of copies will be available today at L.A. Zine Fest in downtown Los Angeles.

If you’re not able to make it downtown,  you can still order it directly from Writ Large by clicking over  here.


“Envisioning California”

MY BOOM piece “State of Being” is getting some WordPress love!

Thanks WP!

Lynell George “I could remember everything about California, but I couldn’t feel it. I tried to get my mind to remember something I could feel about it, but it was no use. It was gone. All of it.” —Richard Hallas from You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up1 Gold Underneath the Street For […]

via State of Being: Envisioning California — Boom California

State of Being: Envisioning California




via Boom Magazine

by Lynell George

“I could remember everything about California, but I couldn’t feel it. I tried to get my mind to remember something I could feel about it, but it was no use. It was gone. All of it.”
—Richard Hallas from You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up1

Gold Underneath the Street 

For months now, I’ve been at the time-bending task of emptying out my family home, breaking down history as if it were a set.

It’s my childhood home, not the first, but the one we inhabited the longest. Moving through rooms, closets, and overstuffed drawers, I’ve unearthed all manner of lost treasures: pocket watches, maps, deeds to homes long razed. This house, I realize, became a nest—not just ours—but one made up of artifacts of generations of family members: Bibles and Sunday hats, old wallets still filled with gasoline “Charg-a-Plates” and oxidized pocket change, a cache of antique cameras still spooled with film, and a river of photographs documenting their journey west.

A few weeks back, making my way through the old kitchen, I put my hand in the dark recesses of a cabinet stacked with crystal water goblets, luncheon plates, and not one but two ornate turkey platters to find the most fragile porcelain teacup and saucer—once white with scalloped edges, a hand-painted small cluster of oranges at center. Beneath the fruit, in plainspoken yet fine-brushstrokes, unscroll the letters “C-A-L-I-F-O-R-N-I-A.” Whose tiny cup was this? My grandmother’s? My great aunt? My mother’s? Who purchased this souvenir? Who thought to save it? To protect it? I wondered. How had it survived so long, so dusty and delicate?


To read more at Boom, click here

Jumping Time


Intersecting with people, place, memory and history

by Lynell George

via LMU Magazine

What are we supposed to do in life and how do we figure out how to do it? Those are questions that even if answered today will likely be asked again tomorrow, especially when economic plates shift. For the past year, Los Angeles writer Lynell George has been talking with L.A. artists about the fault line between seeing the path of one’s life and staying on it. We asked her to tell us what she has seen and learned.

Sometimes life really does take you to a new place, and that has its analog in art.
— Elizabeth Alexander

Against my better judgment, late last spring, I found myself corralled onto a panel — an uncomfortably solemn affair that carried the weight of a wake. There was no body lying in repose, only a symbolic one: the world as we had known it. There we sat: three journalists who for much of our busy careers had reported wide-ranging stories about the lively arts — books, pop culture, fine art, and music that crossed borders and genres. We’d been gathered to sort through shattered infrastructure — not just the art world’s. As journalists, we would be turning over the detritus of our own.

ll in flux. I was no expert. Nonetheless, we waded deep into the murk: market crash, vanishing job categories, lost homes, fractured partnerships, both professional and personal. Half in jest — but only half — the moderator turned to me and lofted a question: Because I’d been focusing on long-form “process stories” about artists and the long trail of their working lives, he wanted to know if I might have anything — “anything at all” — optimistic to offer. . . . .

As a journalist who writes about people who make elegant, jaw-dropping leaps — creatives who ultimately conceive beyond-category art, music and food, or design vibrant community landscapes or networks — I see many who seem to share a key trait: the ability to pivot, to “see in the dark.” The darkness in this case is uncertainty: blind turns and difficult passages that we all must navigate at some point to find our way to the next phase, chapter, summit. Why, I wondered, are some better at the pivot than others? That facility begins with feeling comfortable in the space of the unknown.

to read the full piece  at LMU Magazine click here