Alyssa Mastromonaco

On Her Years in The White House

Former Deputy Chief of Staff for the Obama administration, Alyssa Mastromonaco, on her years in The White House.

Live Your Truth

NeueHouse x Kiki

Watch the cast of Kiki live their truth at NeueHouse Madison Square’s Gallery Penthouse. Created by The Shop, in collaboration with Sara Jördano and IFC Films.

YAA GYASI

"HOMEGOING"

YAA-FEATURED

Yaa Gyasi’s debut book and New York Times bestseller, “Homegoing,” (Penguin Random House), traces the generations of family who follow, as their destinies lead them through two continents and three hundred years of history, each life indelibly drawn, as the legacy of slavery is fully revealed in light of the present. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, “Homegoing” makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.

 

Directly following her discussion with visual artist Toyin Ojih Odutola at NeueHouse Madison Square, Gyasi sat down with NeueHouse member, Larry Ossei-Mensah, to share further insight into her world and the world of “Homegoing” including, putting a name to the lost faces in history, her fascination with Yaa Asantewaa, and her mantra in life.

 

Larry Ossei-Mensah: You were born in Ghana and raised in Alabama. Did the juxtaposition of your upbringing influence the initial storyline for Homegoing? If so, why?

 

Yaa Gyasi: The juxtaposition is really what Homegoing is all about. It’s about putting these two worlds, Ghana and America, against one another. It’s about having them in conversation with one another to inform each other and look at all of the ways that we became separated between Ghanaian and African American culture. It’s also the way that we connect the two. I think it’s everything.

Boyle_NH_YaaGaysi_0214

LOM: Homegoing is your debut book. What was the curation process like when creating a compilatory book that focuses on several different centuries at a time? How did you decide what particular periods to focus on and what to not focus on?

 

YG: I knew that I wanted this book to cover a long period of time, to start in the 18th century and end in the present. As I was writing, I was thinking about different moments in history that might be nice to have pit stops in and some of those moments include the advent of cocoa farming in Ghana or the Fugitive Slave Act in America. Once I figured out the places that I was interested in exploring, I would structure the novel so I could stop at these places and let people see what life in that time and place might have been like.

 

LOM: You mentioned that each of the characters taught you something as you were going through the process of writing. What is the most significant thing you’ve learned from writing this book?

 

YG: The most significant thing I’ve learned is that it is important that we see people as individuals. It is imperative that we recognize the people who faced these extreme circumstances by speaking their name and not allowing them to become part of this nameless, faceless mass. It’s important to draw out individual stories, so that we can see the people who were thrust into these circumstances are just like us with the same kinds of hopes, fears, and dreams that we have for ourselves.

 

LOM: Was it difficult to come face to face with the horrific realities that you discovered through your research when writing the book?

 

YG: It was really difficult. Some of the moments in this book are really traumatic. I felt how traumatic it was for me to research it and write it, and, of course, it was ten-fold more traumatic for the people who were going through it. I felt like I had a responsibility to them, to these characters, and to the people that they represent from our reality to tell their stories and to talk about them.

Boyle_NH_YaaGaysi_0194

LOM: I read that reading and writing was your best friend growing up. How would you describe your writing style now, particularly working on the next project? What do you keep from Homegoing and what do you let go of?

 

YG: From Homegoing, I will always keep this privileging of storytelling over some of the other things that writers sometimes privilege. It’s important to me that you tell a good story as well as learn something and write beautiful prose, but it’s important to me that people enjoy the story that they are reading and so, I will take that with me to the next book.

 

LOM: When you were writing the book, was that something you were constantly thinking about in terms of these parallels between the past and present? Many of the characters dealt with a variety of issues such as how people of color engage with the police, people in uniform, familial  relationships, loving each other, and loving themselves. Was that something you were consciously thinking about when writing the book?

 

YG: Yes. I was thinking about all of that. What we inherit–physical inherencies and emotional inherencies, these scars that we carry with us from these decisions our ancestors made, from the decisions that our governments make–it impacts our life in a very real way.

 

I was also thinking about repetition, these moments in history that come back and the ways we can recognize them. In Kojo’s chapter, when he makes his children present their free papers to him, that kind of looks a lot like the way black parents talk to their kids today about interacting with the police. So these moments that I think have a rhyme and this repetition to them, I wanted to bring them out.

Boyle_NH_YaaGaysi_0161

LOM: If you could live in any other period in time, thinking about the generations that this story spans, when would it be?

 

YG: You know, a lot of these periods, it’s hard to be black and a woman, so I don’t know if I would want to go back to any of the times that I write about. If anything, I would want to go forward. So, the future.

 

LOM: Which historical figure do you most identify with?

 

YG: I don’t know if I identify with her most, but I am so fascinated by Yaa Asantewaa who I write about in one of these chapters. Just the fact that she rallied her people against the British in this major war –she’s our Ghanaian Joan of Arc, yet so many people don’t know her story. It was great for me to be able to write about her.

 

LOM: What do you want readers to walk away from after they’ve read your book?

 

YG: I want readers to recognize that a lot of things we are dealing with in the present today, they have a precedent, they’ve come from these other historical moments. This current political climate didn’t appear out of thin air. It was built and we can see exactly how it was built. I want this book to kind of connect this present to our history.

 

LOM: Which living person do you most admire?

 

YG: I suppose I would go to some of my writing heroes. Toni Morrison has to be one of them.

 

LOM: What is your mantra in life?

 

YG: Be kind.

 

Credits:

Larry Ossei-Mensah is a Ghanaian-American independent curator and cultural critic who has documented contemporary art happenings for various publications including Uptown and Whitewall Magazine. Ossei-Mensah is also the Co-Founder of ARTNOIR, a global collective of culturalists who design multimodal experiences aimed to engage this generation’s dynamic and diverse creative class. ARTNOIR serves as a tangible extension of Ossei-Mensah’s curatorial vision of “bridging cultural gaps” through the power of art.

 

Photography: Andrew Boyle for NeueJournal

Arianna Huffington

'The Sleep Revolution'

Arianna Hiffington0725 copy

Arianna Huffington has no shortage of innovative and transformative ideas — the Greek media mogul’s determinedly feminist approach to the written word has transformed journalism as we know it over the course of her career. Last time she visited us, we celebrated her book ‘Thrive’ – where she extolled the virtues of a work-life balance. This time around, the author, columnist, Co-Founder, and Editor in Chief of The Huffington Post stopped by NeueHouse Madison Square with her daughter Isabella Huffington to talk about her new book ‘The Sleep Revolution,’ the obnoxious roommate, and the buffoonery that is Donald Trump.

 

NeueJournal: You’ve referred to the sleep revolution as a feminist issue. Why is that?

 

Arianna Huffington: Our current notion of success, in which we drive ourselves into the ground, if not the grave— in which working to the point of exhaustion and burnout is considered a badge of honor— was put in place by men, in a workplace culture dominated by men. But it’s a model of success that’s not working for women, and, really, it’s not working for men, either.

 

For far too long, we’ve been operating under a collective delusion that burnout is the necessary price we must pay for accomplishment and success. Recent scientific findings make it clear that this couldn’t be less true. Not only is there no tradeoff between living a well-rounded life and high performance, performance is actually improved when our lives include time for renewal. And as we try to create a world where walking around sleep-deprived becomes stigmatized instead of lauded, women are uniquely positioned to lead the way.

 

NJ: Do you think you would have had the same level of success had you worked a bit less and slept a bit more?

 

AH: I’m often asked a question that goes something like this: “Arianna, it’s great that you get all this sleep now, but would you have had the same career if you had done this earlier in your life?” And my answer isn’t just a categorical yes—I also believe that not only would I have achieved whatever I’ve achieved, but I would have done it with more joy, more aliveness, and less of a cost to my health and my relationships.

Arianna Hiffington0764

NJ: What is the last great idea you had while sleeping?

 

AH: Adding the disclaimer at the bottom of every HuffPost article about Donald Trump pointing out the truth, along with supporting links, of who he is. Early on we decided to not cover him as a normal candidate since it’s clear he’s a dangerous force in American politics. So we initially covered him in our Entertainment section, which seemed a fitting place for his buffoonery. But as his campaign gained steam, along with the buffoonery, we had to take him more seriously. So now we run the following disclaimer at the end of every HuffPost piece that mentions him:

 

“Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.”

 

And I was waking up from a great night’s sleep when I had the idea to launch our HuffPost Sleep Revolution College Tour, which we’ve now taken to more than 300 colleges across the country, drawing on the latest science to raise awareness and spark a national conversation about the importance of sleep and the dangers of sleep deprivation. It’s had an incredible response.

 

NJ: New York is known as ‘the city that never sleeps.’ What do you think the benefit would be, city-wide, if we became more well rested?

 

AH: Our lives – not only as individuals but our collective life as New Yorkers – would improve in nearly every way. We’re living in a golden age of sleep science—revealing all the ways in which sleep plays a vital role in our decision making, emotional intelligence, cognitive function, and creativity. New York is already doing pretty well in all these departments! But imagine how much the city would improve if we were all operating at full capacity, instead of feeling burned out and depleted all the time?

 

It’s particularly important because a city that prides itself on never sleeping is particularly susceptible to “second-hand sleep deprivation.” When you’re sleep-deprived, it doesn’t just affect your own life – it also makes life worse for everyone around you. If you’re moody, irritable, and depleted, that affects everyone you come into contact with. And when it comes to drowsy driving, which is responsible for 1.2 million car crashes and 8,000 deaths a year, our sleep deprivation can truly endanger the lives of others.

 

NJ:  What is your proudest achievement so far?

 

AH: I’m most proud of everything we’ve been able to accomplish at The Huffington Post. Eleven years after our founding, we strive every day to innovate and seize new opportunities, but at the same time stay true to our DNA. We’re committed to covering our core editorial pillars — news and politics, wellness, and solutions to the world’s biggest problems — and using every available tool and platform, including virtual reality and immersive storytelling, to inform, inspire, entertain and empower. With editions in 15 countries, we’re able to reach more people than ever before, and voices that once would have gone unheard have a chance to join the conversation, and maybe even have a chance to change the world.

 

NJ: If you could sum up the current presidential race in three words, which would they be?

 

AH: Media’s ultimate test.

 

NJ: What is your most prized possession?

 

AH: As I thought about this question, I realized there is absolutely nothing I couldn’t live without. But something I love and wear all the time, to the point of my friends asking me if I have another pair, is a pair of gold hoop earrings with a pearl, which a dear friend gave me for Christmas one year.

 

NJ: How would you define happiness?

 

AH: For me, happiness is living life, as the poet Rumi put it, as though everything is rigged in our favor. By this I mean that we are never going to avoid upsets, obstacles, heartbreaks. Our happiness is determined by our attitude to what happens in our life.

 

NJ: If you were given the ability to never feel an emotion again, would you accede to this? If so, which emotion would you get rid of?

 

AH: I would give up judgments, especially self-judgments. I’m a big proponent of silencing the voices of self-doubt in our heads, which I call the obnoxious roommate. It’s the voice that feeds on putting us down and strengthening our insecurities and doubts. I wish someone would invent a tape recorder that we could attach to our brains to record everything we tell ourselves. We would realize how important it is to stop this negative self-talk. It means pushing back against our obnoxious roommate with a dose of wisdom. I have spent many years trying to evict my obnoxious roommate and have now managed to relegate her to only occasional guest appearances in my head!

 

NJ: What do you believe is the meaning of life?

 

AH: I strongly believe that we are not put on this earth just to accumulate victories and trophies and avoid failures; but rather to be whittled and sandpapered down until what’s left is who we truly are.

 

Photography: Manolo Campion for NeueJournal 

Timothy Bloom

Inherited Spirituality

Timothy Bloom is as smooth and honest as his music. In fact, as he tells us in the photo studio of NeueHouse Madison Square ahead of his performance, “honesty…is the most important thing in all aspects of life–friendship, music, and this conversation right now.” With a silky voice and lyrics that encompass matters of life and love, it’s no surprise why the North Carolina native has made a fruitful career as a producer, singer, and writer, the latter of which earned him two Grammys for songs he helmed for Ne-Yo and Chris Brown. The multi-talent sat down with us for an intimate chat, where he talked about the power of childbirth, walking around naked, and an inherited spirituality.

 

NeueJournal: What is the biggest difference between writing material for other artists and writing material for yourself?

 

Timothy Bloom: The big difference is I don’t mind giving songs away to other artists that I’m not going to use for myself, but songs for myself I can’t give away. This record that I’m working on right now, I can’t imagine giving it away and the songs not being for myself. The majority of the time I write music for myself, but I’m always creating and always working, writing, or producing so it’s a natural thing.

 

NJ: How does your religious upbringing inform who you are as an artist?

 

TB: My religious upbringing as an artist today has been very convoluted, as I don’t call myself a religious person. I’m much more of a spiritual person. I think my mom and dad influenced some of my spirituality since they raised us to pray and be respectful. I do believe there is a God and I do believe Jesus was the Son of God, but I don’t really get into that too much when it comes to them raising me on a religious side, because they were just great parents.

 

NJ: What musicians made the biggest impact on you as a child?

 

TB: Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Prince (RIP)…Goodness gracious, there’s a long list of amazing artists and musicians that influence my music, from gospel, to classical music, to country, to rock n roll…the list goes on.

 

NJ: It’s Saturday morning. What are you doing?

 

TB: I’m walking around the house naked. No, I’m lying (laughs), I have my kids on Saturday. But when I don’t have my kids on Saturdays I am walking around the house naked.

 

My kids wake me up super early and it’s interesting because they are in this very educational phase so they’re like, “Daddy, I want to do multiplication.” They are on this path of education and it’s really cool. Their mom is a teacher and I’ve been very active in their education so I’m like, “Hey let’s do some math.” They take it to a whole new level. My oldest is ten and my youngest is three. They’re very smart kids.

 

NJ: How old were you when you first fell in love?

 

TB: I first understood love when I saw my mom and my dad as who they are. When I first fell in love I was 14 years old. She broke my heart, which happens. Heartbreak teaches you to watch the mistakes we all make.

 

NJ: What would constitute a perfect day for you?

 

TB: Going to the beach. Just being in the sun and relaxing with no care in the world and taking in life. In the summer, winter, spring or fall.

 

NJ: What do you value most in a friendship?

 

TB: Honesty. For me, it’s the most important thing in all aspects of life–friendship, music, and this conversation right now.

 

NJ: When is the last time you laughed until you cried?

 

TB: I can’t remember. The last time I cried was when Prince died. I felt like one of my heroes passed. It was a mournful cry.

 

NJ: What, to you, is the meaning of life?

 

TB: Living (laughs).

 

NJ: What is your most treasured memory?

 

TB: That’s easy…it’s almost cliché. When my kids were born. To see life come out of a woman is amazing. It’s very powerful.

 

 

Featured Portrait: Ira Chernova for NeueJournal 
GIF: Mr. Gif x Ira Chernova for NeueJournal