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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  July 22, 2010 3:00pm-3:30pm PST

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tavis: good evening from los angeles. i'm tavis smiley. first up tonight, a conversation with pulitzer prize winning writer alice walker. the author of "the color purple" is out with two projects, overcoming speechlessness and "the world has changed." the latter is a collection of conversations with alice walker conducted over a 35-year period. also tonight, a visit from the only living original member of the temptations, otis williams, along with lead singer terry weeks, the tempt akeses are out now with a new cd and summer tour. next year marks the 50th anniversary of the legendary motown act. we're glad you have joined us author alice walker and
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>> and by contributions to your pbs station for viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] >> please welcome alice walker back to this program, the pulitzer-prize winner writer is out with two new projects. she's been busy overcoming speechlessness, and it's not what you think it's about but we'll get into that book in a second. a second text called "the world has changed," which is a
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collection of conversations spanning a 35-year period. alice walker, always an honor to have you on this stage. >> thank you very much for inviting me. tavis: we're glad to have you. i want to get into both of these texts but i asked you when you walked on the stage to do me a favor and you were so kind to oblige, this book is called "the world has changed." before we get into a conversation about the book, there is a wonderful poem that you wrote back in 2008, december 7th to be exact, that's called "the world has changed," and i wonder since it's so beautiful if you might not commence our conversation by reading that piece. >> i would love to read it. >> please. >> the world has changed. wake up and smell the possibility. the world has changed. it did not change without your prayers, without your faith, without your determination to believe in liberation and kindness, without your dancing through the years that has no beat. the world has changed.
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it did not change without your numbers, your fierce love of self and cosmos. it did not change without your strength. the world has changed. wake up. give yourself the gift of a new day. the world has changed. this does not mean you were never hurt. the world has changed. rise, yes, and shine. resist the sirne call of disbelief. the world has changed. don't let yourself remain asleep to it. tavis: i could spend the whole show talking and dissecting and deconstructing this poem. let me just ask how it is that we go about resisting the siren call of disbelief, how do we do that? >> well, we just notice that everything changes, that the world is always changing. it has always done that. it always will.
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and we should enjoy it. we should learn to accept that change is truly the only thing that's going on always. and learn to ride with it and enjoy it. tavis: this book, as i said, the first one the world has changed, conversations with alice walk ier, is a collection of conversations over a 35-year period. let me ask a simple question for you, what is the value of conversation, of good conversation? and i ask you that because we live in a world where people seem to condemn conversation, that chattering class that says all we do is talk, talk, talk, talk, as if there's no value to good conversation anymore these days. what's the value of a good conversation? >> the good conversation, the value there is the listening, and that is what's missing often because people do talk a lot and they don't listen and they don't hear and until we listen and hear each other, we will always have, for instance, war, because people feel that if they can't be heard, they have to be louder and louder and louder, and what
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is the loudest thing? well, it's a big bomb on your house. tavis: i've been asked many times what i think makes for a -- a good interviewer or a good talk show host and my answer is pretty simple, you have to learn how to be a generous listener, you have to learn how to listen generously. the more generous you listen, the better you can be sitting in a chair like this. it's clear from your conversations over the years and the books you have written, you have become a good listener over the years. talk to me about how you became such a good listener. >> i'm entirely interested in people and also other creatures and beings, but especially in people. and i tend to read them by emotional field more than anything. and so i have a special interest in what they're thinking and who they are and who's hiding behind those eyes and how did he get there, and plus the story really. tavis: just a very curious person. you've always been that way? >> curious but truly interested. interested in the sense of
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wanting to -- to share something with the person that transforms both of us, and that is what happens in good conversation. we transform each other. tavis: you have had, i suspect, i have been subject to a few of them on this program and on my radio show, so i know what it's like to be engaged in good, high quality conversation with you. since you have been engaged in so many of those i suspect over the course of your life, how do you choose the good conversations that make the cut for this book? >> well, i asked someone else to do it. my friend -- tavis: you took the easy way out. >> i did. i took the easy way out, yes. i gave my archives to emory university because there's a really dear friend who teaches there, rudolph bird, and he's the editor. so he made the choices, and i just said, i want it to be solid. i want it to be not, you know, fruefrue. i don't want any light stuff. i don't want any stuff that's just about publicity for books. i want it to be about
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life-and-death issues and i want people to really feel sustained by what they encounter in it. and so with that, he went about choosing the thesis. tavis: i assume there have been occasions in your life where you have taken something away from a conversation, maybe even to your early word and then transformed by the conversation even though it might not have been on balance a good conversation. does that make sense? >> it does. tavis: yeah. >> because some things are ver disturbing. tavis: yeah. >> i remember sitting in africa when i was working on female gentle mutilation and going to the house of one of the women who did this practice and actually waiting for her to come out and talk to me about why she did it, and her telling me that she didn't hear the children scream as she was cutting them. that was one of those conversations that was so difficult, so challenging, gave me such a bad headache, and yet it strengthened my determination to bring the subject to the light, and also to -- to embrace
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this old woman because this was all she was able to do given her preparation and her society, which had not, you know, prepared her to do anything other than something that was injurious to the whole culture. tavis: and you speak now of female mutilation, bodily mutilation. it's a nice segue to the second of these books that you have out now, overcoming speechlessness? and as i said at the top of the show, this title overcoming speechlessness is not about overcoming stuttering or shyness. the subtitle tells the full story, a poet encounters the horror in rwanda, eastern congo and palestine/israel. and so what you want us to wrestle with, courtesy of this text, is to talk about those things that are so difficult to address, why is this such a passion for you? >> well, because i realized in my own life that some subjects i have encountered were so horrible, i couldn't believe people could actually do these
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things and i was silenced for years. you know, it may not seem like that to many people because there have been complaints about my not being silent. tavis: haven't heard those. >> yeah, well, but actually, the truth is that especially in the last century or so, there have been such horrific acts done by humans to other humans that really we as a people -- and i mean humanity, we have been silenced. we didn't know what to call them. we couldn't put them anywhere. we couldn't recognize them often and they're just heinous. so we have been self-silencing, and that means that all the children who need us and all of the women often who need us don't hear from us for like 10 and 20 years because we are reeling. we're still -- why is this happening? tavis: how do you get folks to talk, alice walker, if you can't even get them to agree on language? for example, if you have leaders who are afraid to say the word genocide, then how do you talk
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about genocide? >> well, you just do. there's a definition for genocide, what it means. and if it applies, you just use that word and you take the definition into any conversation that you have. then they can not evade it. tavis: how do you get traction? i started reading this last night, the overcombing speechlessness text. it's a small book. you can read it relatively quickly. it's a quick read, pardon my english, but it ain't an easy read. it ain't an easy read. because the stuff you talk about is hard for me to read, the stories you tell about the things you have saw, about man's inhumanity to man or man's inhumanity to humanity f. it's hard to read, how do you talk about it? >> well, that's why i'm a writer. i discovered early on that's one of the reasons people do write. they encounter horrible stuff. and they understand that -- well, i can't say this, you know, but if i learn, if i go to
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school and i teach myself how to express this, i can express it in writing and then i can show it. i can share it. and it gives a space to the reader, so, for instance, i'm sorry you read this at night. nobody should read it at night. but at least when you read it, you can give yourself some distance and you will know the information but you don't feel like you have to immediately do something. it's much better to -- to contemplate, meditate, think about what is your role now, you know, having this information. for, for example, about things in the congo, you know, the congo is now considered the most awful place on the face of the earth to be a woman. and there are reasons for that. find out what they are, you know, and then see what can you do to make one woman feel safer in her home, and one child feel safe in the yard. that we can do. tavis: your point about not reading at night, thank you for
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the advice, a little too late but thank you. one of the things it did do for me last night looking at it was it underscored something for me that i had not really thought of -- shame on me perhaps, and i can be wrong about this, but something hit me last night that never hit me before, as much as i read your work, seen your work, talked to you in conversation over the years, your work seems to express -- this is my words, not yours -- your work seems to express -- your work seems to suggest to me that there is a burden that you bare in your soul for humanity, a burden for women. i don't want to describe what it is, but -- again, all of these years of having access to you, i finally, looking at your work holistically see that there's a burden that you have born throughout the balance of your life that winds up on paper. am i -- am i making sense? >> yes, you are. and you know what it is, it's
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love. i love us so incredibly insanely deeply, it's almost unbearable to see what we do to ourselves. it's almost unbearable just to see how we have sunk, you know, over the last -- even the last in my lifetime, the thanges that people do to each other, the things that they say to each other, the way they behave. it's almost unbearable because i see us with such love. i see -- i just see that we're wonderful, you know. people are wonderful. just like everything else on this planet. but look at what we do, so this is the burden. this is the burden of love. tavis: since you are burdened by this and obviously wrestle with this, have you figured out why our civilization has become so uncivil? >> well, capitalism is a real problem because with capitalism, you are just going to keep buying and selling things until there's nothing else to buy and sell, which means gobbling up
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the planet. the central thing seems to be greed. it seems to be, you know, people feeling empty. they don't have anything inside, they think. they haven't looked. they do have something inside, i feel, but they're afraid to look. they don't want to take the time to sit and find out anything. so there they are, you know, trying to get more and more of everything, just taking it more and more in, and we will gradually just be people who are empty and exploding. tavis: lastly, i love the photo on the cover of this book. what do you -- what do you know or remember about this photo? >> well, i was pregnant. and i was carrying my daughter, who's my only child. and i had made that dress myself. and my mother had bought a sewing machine for me when i went away to college, she gave me a sewing machine, typewriter and suitcase and my mother made $17 a week working as a maid 12 hours a day and she did that for me and she and my father put me
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on the greyhound bus and they sent me off. so many years later after i had gone through college and all kinds of adventures, i took that sewing machine inbought some african fabric and i was pregnant in mississippi, where i as in -- where i was interracially married illegally and i sewed a dress for my and my daughter, she's in my tummy, to wear. and i love the dress and my sister has it still. tavis: wow. that dress ought to be in a museum somewhere. >> i'll try to get it back from her. tavis: it's a gorgeous dress. it's a gorgeous photo. and for all of those parents watching right now who are later this year going to be sending kids off to college, if you give them a typewriter, a sewing machine and a suitcase, who knows, they might turn out to be an iconic and prolific author like alice walker, with two new books out. "the world has changed: conversations with alice
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walker." and "overcoming speechlessness." alice walker, always an honor to have you on the program. >> thank you. tavis: up next -- otis williams, the last living original member of the temps. the temps about to turn 50. i will always be joined by the current lead singer. stay with us. we're back in a moment. nearly 50 years ago otis williams joined four other talented artists to form one of the most successful and inflaunsal groups in history, the temptations. the band had a lot of changes and incarnations over the years but now fronted by lead singer terry weeks, they're out with a new cd called "still here." otis williams, good to have you on the program, sir. >> as always, it's good seeing you again, tavis. tavis: nice to meet you. i know what it's been all of these years and i looked down, it's the shoes. the camera, you can't do justice
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to that. that's a purple, lavender, suede -- don't take off them shoes, otis. don't take them off. you ain't going to get them back. >> thank you. tavis: does it seem like 50 years? >> you know when you have a fun time, it passes so quick, no. and celebration of coming up on 50 years, we're getting ready to start gearing ourself up for the 50 years cd. tavis: right. >> and i hope to get the imprint of mr. gourde because it started with him and i feel as though this one should have his handprint, his creativity involved in this. but, yeah, we're getting ready to do that now that "still here" is here. in fact, speaking of still here, this is for you. tavis: hand me that. thank you. oh, i love it. >> a young man took that -- tavis: it goes with it. oh, cool. thank you. i appreciate this. thank you, man. thank you very much. the drk barry was on this set not long ago as we celebrated
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the fifth anniversary of motown. obviously, the temps are at the epicenter of that history. how much of your success had to do with being at the right label, otis, at the right time, being at motown? >> well, i think we hit a pretty good portion of success with motown. because it was just so coincidental that mr. gordie and myself, we were doing a record hop and my group at the time was otis williams and the distance and we had a regional hit that he heard and liked. he said i like your group. i'm starting my label. come see me and gave me his card and we game disenchanted with the company that berp -- that we were with. we signed with them in 1961. when i reflect back to what we were doing, it was something meant for me and the other guys to do and to be at that place at that point in time because i never would imagine so much success would have happened. you have tipped me over with a feather to tell me we would be so influential to help motown become the name that it is today. tavis: for those of you who
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haven't seen the movie or don't remember the story or never heard the story, tell me quickly how these various groups came together to form the temptations. >> well, at first like i said, my group was the distance. and i knew paul, eddie and a guy by the name of osborne and they were the primes and we used to be managed by a guy name jenkins. to make a long story short, primes broke up. eddie went back to birmingham and then he came back to detroit and we developed a friendship when we were under the management of mr. milken jenkins. he called and said hey, man, i'm back in town. i said great, because i need a tenor. i looked at gourde and he wants to sign us. great, can i bring paul williams? i said as bad as paul williams s. please bring him. at that time the group consisted of melvin franklin, a guy by the name of rich brian and myself. when paul and eddie joined, that's when we became the temptation and four years later,
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david ruffin. so it was something that happened to us and evolved to be what we were today. tavis: the temptations, that's not the first one? >> the first name after the elgins were the elgins and we found out there was another group called the elgins. tavis: i like temptations better. respect to the elgins but the temptations sound better. i'm glad you got that right. 50 years later, the elgins. >> don't have that ring. tavis: it don't sound the same. how then does one step into being the lead singer in -- in this kind of history-making enterprise? >> you know what, you better do your homework first. but it's been a wonderful journey. you know, the audiences that we perform in front of, you know, you can't come in here trying to reinvent something, because i always say when we come in and do, i can't do any more than what was done before. the original five, the great legacy and all we're doing is extending this legacy as long as
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people want to hear it. tavis: you ever feel intimidated by the legacy? >> absolutely, absolutely. tavis: every day, huh? >> every day, every day. tavis: what about them steps, how long did it take you to learn all of that? >> you know what, we're still learning those steps. absolutely. you wouldn't be a temp if you didn't do the steps. tavis: how much of that, otis, everybody knows that whenever anybody tries to do their impersonation of the temps, it all starts with the steps. how much of that had to do with the success over the years, the moves? >> well, i will tell you something initially, tavis, when we started singing, we can spend insane with anything. but paul was insane. we got the moves fixed. eddie and myself, what's this? eddie said, i can't dance. he said, you'll dance when i get through with you. paul williams, i have to give the accolades to him. he started us being known for the choreography.
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and i know that's a very important part of the temptations. just to come out there and stand and sing, i think our fans would say, no, you got to do what you're known for. so that is our mainstay, is to be known for our choreography. tavis: i was online last night looking at you all over the years, at some of the outfits. >> right. tavis: is there any period that you wish you could just take a pencil and erase where the costumes are concerned? or are you pretty cool with the look over 50 years? >> you know what, eddie kendricks was in charge of uniforms then and i think he did a great job. you're right. when you look back and see some of the things we used to wear, jesus. i mean, the -- up to your ankles and whatever. but that was a sign of the times. just like that, that was -- but eddie kendricks did a wonderful job of taking care of the uniforms. tavis: how much do you think it matters, terry, that so much of what people, to my mind at least, love about the temps is that they can sing along?
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they know the words. >> it's a family friendly show. you can bring the entire family, kids. all the way up to grandparents. the thing is, the music's not offensive, can you sing along with it and it tells a great story. you start with a good song. you add all of these elements and you double the good song. tavis: tell me about this new project, "still here." >> "still here," which was released yesterday, may 4th. the last two albums we did were cover jobs. so by us being out on the road and our fans are always asking us, when he were going to do a new one? i said, we're gearing up to do that. will be original stuff? we made it a point to do some original stuff because we felt as though it was that time to go back in and do something that was unheard of as far as original material that came from us. so i love it. and i am very critical of what we do. i sit back and listen and scrutinize and what have you. and i feel pretty good about it. but, yeah, there's great songs
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on there that i had the help of a guy by the name of johnny brit and a couple out of birmingham, alabama. i can't think of their name offhand. the conductor for the spinners, he did shorty. you know, so it's a very good album, i think. tavis: it's been almost 50 years, believe it or not, that the temps have been blessing us with their talent in this country and indeed around the world. the last surviving member of the original group, otis williams, is my man and terry is now the lead singer. what do you have -- >> i have something for you. tavis: let me see what this is. oh, not so bling. what? let me get rid of this thing, man! this has to go by the side. >> that's the gentleman. you ever heard of him? tavis: absolutely. laid out d.c. >> that's right. carved the watch out of wood that ran correctly for 50 years. tavis: i got me some bling!
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oh, yeah. i like it. i can rock that. i can rock that. oh, yeah. now, if i just learn a few steps to go with it -- >> oh, yeah. i don't want you to do that. i might take out your job. tavis: oh, no. i will drop one right in the chair. otis, good to see you. terry, good to meet you as well, man. that's our show for tonight. catch me on the weekends on pri, public radio international. you can access our radio podcasts at pbs.org. thank you for watching. until next time, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit "ta
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>> and from contributions from viewers like you. thank you. ng blues music]
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♪ (raggs) ♪ pawsuuup, everybody ♪ diddy-do-wah-day ♪ the raggs kids club band is coming down your way ♪ ♪ we've got a song to sing ♪ we got something to say ♪ the raggs kids club band ♪ can you come out to play? ♪ ♪ razzles makes us dazzle ♪ she's our go-to girl ♪ pido keeps the beat while he catches a curl ♪ ♪ b.max writes the tunes that raggs and trilby sing ♪ ♪ so come along and sing your song ♪ ♪ it's a happening thing yeah! ♪ pawsuuup, everybody, diddy-do-wah-day ♪ ♪ the raggs kids club band is coming down your way ♪ ♪ we got a song to sing ♪ we got something to say ♪ the raggs kids club band ♪ can you come out to play? ♪ the raggs kids club band ♪ is getting set to play yeah! ♪
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hi, trilby. oh, why are you so sad? i just said good-bye to my friend, polly possum. good-bye? is polly going away? yep, her bags are packed. she's moving away this afternoon. oh, how sad. polly's one of your favorite friends. i know. i miss her already. she was the best possum friend a dog could ever have. cheer up, trilby. you've still got lots of other friends. yeah, like us. and we'll always be friends, 'cause we have so much fun together. aw, i'm so lucky to have you as my friends. i just wish i could find a way to stay friends with polly too after she moves away. we'll help you find a way, trilby. yeah, 'cause that's what friends are for. thanks, gang.

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