(excerpt from my essay, “And Only One Was a Full Grown Man”)

At 6 o’clock in 1973, Black Larry’s voice, tainted by an opiate drawl, cut through a quiet summer morning: “Floyd! Floyyyyyd! Floyd!” Larry was standing in the driveway between my house and Floyd’s, right underneath my bedroom window. Bobby’s whining holler woke me up.

“Floyd! Floyyyd! Wake up man. Play some of that Marvin Gaye. Play that Marvin Gaye, man.” Floyd had a loud stereo that he build himself. He was the genius of the block.

Next thing I heard was the twang-twang-wah-wah sounding guitar, then the drum…

Malcolm X (photographer unknown)

Night fire

your daddy dead on the railroad track

Night fire

your momma on another track

Night fire

your sisters and brothers split but not broken

jitterbug in a zoot suit

your head bad


Roxbury Harlem

a toke

a snort

touting private bedroom things to strangers needing stranger things

and get high

a thief

full cocked strong

Smalls the Baby Grand the Apollo

Johnny Hodges spinning Daydream

Hamp vibed Flying Home

a cat leaped that Second Balcony Jump

You an itinerant purveyor of marijuana riding the rails like those jazz men you followed from city to city

Night fire

May 28, 2011, Harlem, NY

My ex-husband, Butch Lewis, is the kind of Black man who should be rich and famous. He’s a charmer. Good-looking. Knowledgeable. Has the capacity to talk much bedazzling sense in the Queen’s English and in some gutbucket, raw, funky blues stuff presented with poetical, streetified, Ebonics-laden eloquence. In another life, he will be a well-heeled preacher with a flock of adoring women, who he “knows” in the biblical sense; or he’ll be a prominent poet-musician that changes the way things are done, altering mindsets along the way. Like Gil Scott-Heron.

Butch is my authority on…

The Get Lit Book Club, on Alison Stewart’s WNYC program, “All of It,” featured Jonathan Lethem’s novel, Motherless Brooklyn, which was made into a film of the same name. It was shot partially on location at St. Nick’s Pub, in Harlem. During the filming, the Pub burned down and a firefighter lost his life.

This piece originally appeared in the Amsterdam News, in 2018.

I first stepped foot in St. Nick’s Pub in the late 1990s. Never knew who you might see sitting at the bar kicking back rum after rum, pouring libations on the floor to the ancestors. …

When I heard that Nina Simone would be featured on American Masters: How It Feels To Be Free, executive produced by Alicia Keys, I figured that it’s time for me to create my first Medium post. I wrote this piece after Nina’s memorial in 2003.

When the High Priestess of Soul walked on stage, it was to an ovation of clapping, whistling fans in love with her songs, her voice, her hands on the keys, and the ways she so perfectly embodied the message of the times. I sat between my mother and her lifelong friend, Shirley, mesmerized. …

Karen D. Taylor

Karen D. Taylor is an essayist, editor, sometime vocalist, and the founder/executive director of Harlem preservation organization, While We Are Still Here.

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