Human fortunes have curious ways of reversing course. And so would it eventually come to pass that the man who had briskly and confidently walked into the editorial suite of the New York Amsterdam News that sultry late-summer day in 1988 would end up employing, albeit very briefly, the man who had refused to hire him as a new arrival to the Big Apple from Ghana.
As recalled earlier, Mr. Mallory had been interviewed by the then-Managing-Editor of the leading African-American weekly in the New York Metropolitan Area. The Ghanaian-born editor looked to be about 45 years old, roughly twenty years older than Mr. Mallory and had also worked at the celebrated Ashanti Pioneer newspaper some eighteen years earlier. Anyway, looking at his full shock of hair, one could not readily determine his age. Dapperly dressed in Armani suits and jackets, virtually on a daily basis, Bill Quayson Kwegyir (not his real name) took a special, near-religious attitude towards the fashionable art of hair dyeing.
Indeed, so jet-black was his hair that some who did not seem to hold him in any particularly high regard routinely joked behind his back that Mr. Kwegyir wore a toupee. I, on the other hand, quickly dismissed the entire idea about my fairly respectable countryman being an avid subscriber of such tacky artificiality of fashion. The several times that I had visited him at home, during which times he had been in his most relaxed of moods and postures would have readily given away the game, if, indeed, there really existed any such game at all. One thing that I knew quite well about Mr. Kwegyir is that he had an eagle eye for pretty and dashing women. So I was not the least bit surprised to shortly discover the year before, when he had taken me on as an intern and shortly thereafter as a cub-freelance reporter, that Mr. Kwegyir was in pursuit of a torrid romantic affair with the young svelte editorial suite receptionist.
On several occasions, I saw the couple go out to lunch together and also hail the same taxi-cab home. Most of the time, however, Mr. Kwegyir would return from a hurried lunch with a generously wrapped package for the young chocolate-complexioned African-American woman whose tresses extended all the way to her supple waistline.
The young woman (she looked to be about nineteen or twenty years old) seemed to have taken a quite uncanny liking to me; however, having witnessed the couple several times in what may be aptly termed as “romantic postures” during my first year at the Amsterdam News, I wisely kept my distance. After all, my primary motive in working for the Amsterdam News was to learn the nitty-gritty of the trade. Unfortunately for another intern, an African-American bloke who looked to be a year or two older than I was called James Guitard, Gaynelle Robinson (not her real name, of course) looked too attractive to resist.
Mr. Guitard, it may be recalled, had been taken on board the year before my friend and City College classmate, Bill Shepard, introduced me to Mr. Kwegyir. The young man had so impressed the Amsterdam News’ managing-editor that he had invited Mr. Guitard to spend his next summer holidays working for the newspaper – this time for money. Pocket money for school, he had politely and generously put it.
The Amsterdam News did not pay either its freelance writers or its full-time staff writers particularly well. In fact, the joke was that the paper was a modern mini slave plantation. It must promptly be said, however, that its going rate was comparable to the prevailing rates at other “ethnic” or minority newspapers in the New York Metropolitan Area.
In 1988, for instance, the paper paid its freelance writers $20 (twenty dollars) per published article. What the foregoing means is that one only got paid only if one’s article appeared in a particular edition of the newspaper. In other words, unlike such mainstream American newspapers as the New York Times, the Daily News and the New York Post which paid its freelance writers what in media-speak is called a “killing fee” for all commissioned writing projects that never made it to the newsstand, in the at once curious and peculiar case of the Amsterdam News, if the freelance writer’s article wasn’t published, it was simply another bout of wasted effort or a foolish commissioning.
A couple of years later, the paper’s now-deceased publisher and editor-in-chief, Mr. Wilbert A. Tatum, would “generously” up the per published article rate to $40 (forty dollars), still well below the going rates at the mainstream newspapers. The New York Daily News, for instance, paid by the word. I know this for a fact because I had a classmate from southern Africa who regularly freelanced for the latter paper. In fact, Jay was fond of telling me that had it not been for the fact that he regularly had to send remittances to his aging father and siblings back home, he would literally be swimming in dollars.
Anyway, one morning I walked into the Amsterdam News’ editorial suite to find a sunken-faced Mr. Guitard collecting his personal belongings at his desk, just behind my own. “Jack, what is wrong?” I said in a whisper. “Your boy asked me to leave,” James said in a barely audible voice. He would, however, not tell me exactly why he was being so abruptly let go, just when I was beginning to know the man and getting to quite like him. I would later be told by a staff writer at the paper, the one who sat immediately before my desk and had been working at the Amsterdam News longer than almost every writer at the paper, that James, as I soon came to know and call him, had been spotted making what the managing-editor interpreted to represent amorous advances towards his girlfriend, the teenage receptionist. I could only heave a deep sigh of wistfulness and anguish and tersely say to myself, “If this is really true, then, indeed, that was a foolhardy act of bravado.”
That was the last time that I heard of the young man who was then attending one of those institutions classified as the “United Negro Colleges” somewhere in the North Carolina area. Recently, however, I learned from a colleague that James Guitard is now the bestselling author of several African-American culture-focused novels, essays, plays and poetry. I also learned that Mr. Guitard is a regular presenter on the proverbial lecture circuit, and that he has even appeared several times before United States’ Congressional Committees to speak to the socioeconomic, political and cultural plight of African-Americans.
Back in 1987, though, James Guitard must have felt the ladder of his climb into the literary world abruptly crumble; and all for the simple and, in retrospect, the relatively trivial fact of having exchanged a few pleasantries with a woman designated as a forbidden fruit by a managing-editor at the New York Amsterdam News.
The irony of fate would eventually ensure that the man who summarily “fired” James Guitard, for purely personal and selfish reasons, would also have his comeuppance, except for the fact that in the latter case, such firing would be chalked off by the Amsterdam News’ publisher as “gross professional misconduct.”
Source: Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe
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