The flies were lazily buzzing around as I poked through a box my son had chucked in the garbage can. I batted them away as I thumbed through a 1996 edition of the Village Voice. When all the old issues I had saved were banished from the basement to the garage, it was part of the process of putting them out of sight if not completely out of mind.
One thing about growing older is you watch things that meant something to you at a point in your life grow old too. I haven’t read the Voice since the last time I was in NYC (ten years ago) and the paper itself isn’t available west of Manhattan anymore. The few remaining newsstands no longer carry it and libraries can’t get it. Then again, why would a library in Ohio even want to carry a left-wing, artsy-fartsy New York rag?
The Voice was how I stayed in touch with New York City when I wasn’t able to be there. More than that though it was the one publication that featured more talented writers, especially Black writers, than any other magazine or paper.
More than just giving me an ear to the ground in NYC, the Voice gave me direction for my own previously unfocused writing.
In The Voice I found my own voice and it gave me the confidence to try my hand first at writing for alternative newspapers where there wasn’t the spirit-dulling adherence to the inverted pyramid of Journalism 101 reporting (who, what, when, how and sometimes why) and far more freedom to dig deeper, writer more expansively and go off on the occasional mad tangent. Had there been no Village Voice to give my creative energies a much needed goose, I never would have had considered writing for alternative newsweeklies.
Even more importantly for me The Voice was a bastion of Black talent. Names such as Nelson George, Stanley Crouch, Harry Allen, Joan Morgan, Peter Noel, N’Gal Croel, Lisa Jones, Joe Ward, Greg Tate and Lisa Kennedy mean little to the non-journalists out there, but for an aspring writer they were invaluable inspriational role models just as much as Michael Jordan is to a kid dribbling a ball between his legs on the court. Once I established some bona fides as a journalists there was nothing I wanted more than to get an article published in the Voice.
I met Joe Wood in 1995 at the National Association of Black Journalists convention in Philadelphia. I was a hardcore fan of the Voice and it’s impressive array of talented Black writers including Joe who wrote the “Local Color” column. He kindly listened to me when I cornered him trying badly to be cool, but babbling on about how much I dug his writing. He gave me his card and invited me to pitch him a story. I did and Joe ran it up to the higher ups before it got shot down. But he encourged me to try again and I never forgot it.
Joe would move on to other pursuits. I still remember an excellent story he wrote for Esquire about director John Singleton. I had planned to attend the 1999 UNITY convention, but couldn’t swing the cash to fly to Seattle. Wood went missing following a hike in Mount Rainier National Park. Despite an exhaustive search his body was never found.
I was stunned to hear about Joe’s disappearance. I wrote a letter to the Voice about his death. I felt like I had lost a brother. To this day I know both his writing and small act of kindness helped shape me as a writer.
July 9 marked ten years gone since Joe vanished in thin air.
I left the Voice behind after it wnt through one too many editorial changes and purges of talent. Writers like the late Jack Newfield wrote briliant investigative pieces and was one of the best to expose the seedy side of boxing. Alexander Cockburn and James Ridgeway collaborated on scatching pieces about Washington, political hypocriscy and the new face of White supremacy. Michael Musto’s gossip was hilarious. Andrew Sarris and David Edelstein’s film reviews entertained and enlightened me. C. Carr and Ellen Wills expanded my consciousness to both performance art and women’s issues. Robert Christgau’s record reviews turned me on to bands I would have never known about and Gary Giddins brought jazz criticism to different realms.
I didn’t always read everything in the Voice, but what I did read put me in a different head space than any other publication I’ve ever read before, after or since.
In a very late bit of spring cleaning, I didn’t feel the need to hold on to 13 year old issues of a paper I no longer think about. Now I hope I can dig those issues back out of the trash. I very much want to read some Joe Wood one more time.