Author Archive | Dan Wakefield

Mark Vonnegut Has a Message for Us

Mark Vonnegut is coming to town to talk about art, creativity, mental illness, and “the myth of mental wellness” as part of “The Uncle Dan and Sophie Jam” at The Jazz Kitchen on Tuesday, March 27, 6-8 pm.

Mark is the author of two absorbing memoirs, The Eden Express and Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness, Only More So. He is a practicing pediatrician in a town outside of Boston.

“I spent two years as part of Harvard Medical School’s admissions committee, where the shorthand for artistic accomplishment was ‘extras,’” Mark said.

“The arts are about as extra as breathing,” he added.

This message is especially crucial for Indianapolis right now, as the Indianapolis Business Journal has announced it will no longer be covering the arts. To implement this plan, the IBJ has fired Lou Harry, its longtime writer on the arts.

Are the arts not a business, as well as a form of creativity, expression, beauty, and entertainment? Don’t people buy books, paintings, sculpture, tickets for plays, symphonies, movies, comedy shows, dances, singers and bands? Don’t they go to museums, pay to hear people speak about books and the arts? Don’t they pay for classes to learn to write stories, poems, memoirs, plays, novels and movies? Does no one pay to see The Heartland Film Festival, or attend events and talks and programs at The Vonnegut Museum and Library, Conner Prairie, and The Children’s Museum? Do these events and institutions not enhance and bring prestige to a community?

The sad situation of Lou Harry’s dismissal is made even more discouraging because – as far as I know – he was the only writer who wrote a regular column reviewing books and the arts. Last year a new book of Kurt Vonnegut Complete Stories, the only volume to include every short story written by this city’s most renowned native author, received only one review in any Indianapolis publication. It was by Lou Harry in The IBJ.

How important are the arts? Our state is reeling from an Opioid epidemic, ravaging towns with young peoples’ suicides and prostitution. Mark Vonnegut, doctor and author, says “The arts are both a reason and a way to get well.”

Come to hear Mark talk about the arts with me and the brilliant saxophonist Sophie Faught for “The Uncle Dan and Sophie Jam” Tuesday, March 27, 6-8 pm at The Jazz Kitchen.

Oh – and Mark isn’t just talking; he is bringing his saxophone, too.

– Dan Wakefield

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Emmett Till talk at Martin University

“What I Learned from the Till Trial and My Friendship with James Baldwin” is the subject of a talk I will give at Martin University, Thursday, March 1, at 6pm.

The address is 2186 N. Sherman Drive. Free Parking.

I covered the Emmett Till murder trial for The Nation Magazine, and knew James Baldwin when he and I lived in Greenwich Village 1957-1963. Baldwin wrote of my first book, Island in the City: The World of Spanish Harlem:

“Dan Wakefield has a remarkable combination of humility and tough-mindedness and perhaps that is why he makes theses streets and houses and those struggling, despairing and bewildered lives so vivid.”

This event is sponsored by Child Advocates, Inc. and is a free event.


“New York in the Fifties” Made by Hoosiers!

It wasn’t until the documentary based on my book New York in the Fifties was shown Tuesday night to a full house at The Jazz Kitchen that I realized the film was basically an Indiana production! It all started on the night of the premiere here of “Going All the Way,” based on my novel of the same name, when Tom Griswold invited me to dinner with his then wife Betsy Blankenbaker. Tom had come to some of my readings at bookstores here in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and identified himself as a fellow graduate of Columbia College in New York City. At our dinner on the night of the “Going All The Way” premiere, Blankenbaker told me “I had always wanted to make a movie of Going All The Way, but now that’s been done, how about a movie of New York in the Fifties?”

No one had ever thought of that before, including me. The idea of a documentary, though, of that great era of writing and the arts in New York, while most of the people I wrote about were still alive, seemed like a great idea. Griswold and Blankenbaker co-financed the production and Blankenbaker assembled the crew and talent and acted as director as well as producer. We premiered it in New York and Indianapolis, and it was selected to be shown at film festivals in Denver, Santa Barbara and other venues.

Although I knew all the Hoosiers who had helped make it happen, it never occurred to me how many there were and what key parts they played, until many of them showed up for the screening at The Jazz Kitchen. My life-long friend from Shortridge and room-mate for three years in the Village, Ted Steeg, was a key film-maker on the team (he also later worked with Blankenbaker on her classic film of the great Crispus Attucks two-time state basketball champions, “Something to Cheer About.”) Sadly, Steeg (who was the inspiration for the character “Gunner” in Going All The Way), died a few years ago after a  fine career as a film maker of documentaries and business films for his company in New York City, Steeg Productions, and he lived his whole life in Greenwich Village. Happily, he is one of the frequent on-screen commentators in the film.

For Tuesday night’s screening, I invited Steve Allee, who composed the music for the film (and did a terrific “New York in the Fifties” CD with his band), to come and play some ‘fifties songs with our great saxophonist Sophie Faught after the movie. It was especially appropriate since Steve is the father of David Allee, owner of The Jazz Kitchen. Steve Allee and Sophie Faught played some of the classics of the ‘Fifties including “This Will Be My Shining Hour,” and “I Should Care.

Just before the screening began, a tall familiar-looking man tapped me on the shoulder and reminded me that he was Steve Marra, the film editor who had edited the documentary here in his studio in Indianapolis. Unfortunately, Betsy could not be here from her present home in California, and is always hard to find due to her world travel and commitments, which include an orphanage in Zimbabwe. (She promises to be here in the fall to promote her latest book, Beyond Orgasm.)

The other Hoosier involved in the making of the film was me, who wrote the book and spoke of matters both proudly public and painfully personal in the documentary. It was all received graciously by a full house on this memorable night at The Jazz Kitchen.

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Policy/Apology Note: A comment was made from the stage concerning a political figure. In this era of divisiveness, Uncle Dan hopes to deal with issues we feel are important, as we have in the past, but not to speak ill of personalities or assume that all good people hold the same opinions.

Dan Wakefield

Dan Wakefield