St. Nikki 

Poet celebrates in Concord

Every year, the Black Families Association of Contra Costa County holds a Black History Month Celebration Dinner Dance, sort of an unofficial prom for the African-American community. This year's event, on Saturday night, is titled "Extended Family ... All Races, All Creeds, Same Dreams, Same Needs," and its guest of honor, poet Nikki Giovanni, is quite distinguished indeed. She has received honorary doctorates from twenty universities, a US Senate Certificate of Commendation, holds the keys to at least seven cities, has an official day (declared in 2000 by the city of Buffalo, NY), and the National Festival of Black Storytelling even named an award after her, the Nikki Giovanni Award for Young African-American Storytellers. She is currently Professor of English and Gloria D. Smith Professor of Black Studies at Virginia Tech. Much has been made of Giovanni's radicalization in the late '60s, when her collection Black Feeling, Black Talk/Black Judgment brought her national acclaim. Shortly after, in 1972, she recorded an album called Truth Is on Its Way, cementing a radical reputation that had already garnered her "Woman of the Year" awards from Ebony, Mademoiselle, and Ladies Home Journal. But her magic lies in her ability to take the political very personally, as in "Revolutionary Dreams": "I even used to think I'd be the one/to stop the riot and negotiate the peace/Then I awoke and dug/that if I dreamed natural/dreams of being a natural/woman doing what a woman/does when she's natural/I would have a revolution." In Giovanni's latest collection, Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea: Poems and Not Quite Poems, she eulogizes her grandmother and Gwendolyn Brooks, and writes of cancer bouts, Harry Potter, Bush, and Gore, all in her trademark bluesy, straightforward, and often sarcastic style.

There will also be silent and live auctions, a "no host" bar at 6 p.m., and, of course, dinner at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $50, and the event takes place at the Concord Hilton, 1970 Diamond Blvd., Concord, 925-680-2849. -- Stefanie Kalem

Radio Free Usurp

Do you know how the pirate got from Richmond to Berkeley? He took BARRRRT. But it's going to take more than a few extra Rs for Berkeley Liberation Radio to recover from the US Marshal's December raid on its studios, wherein the pirate -- sorry, make that micro-radio -- station lost supplies of all stripes. You can help get the broadcasters back on their feet by attending a benefit Friday night. The 924 Gilman bill is appropriately eclectic: the Phenomenauts' glammy surf-rock; garage-y good times from the Rock and Roll Adventure Kids; the greasy, bad-ass surf punk of the Teenage Harlets; and hardcore from 8-Track Mind and Tronn. The event is all-ages, cover's a mere $5, and the fun starts at 8 p.m. 510-525-9926. -- Stefanie Kalem

Big-Time Wrestling

Nationally known music journalist Danyel Smith's work has taken her to New York and beyond, but she never forgot her Oakland roots (just as longtime readers will never forget the rap reviews she wrote in the Express in the early '90s). Oakland in the age of the crack cocaine wars of the 1980s is the setting for Smith's More Like Wrestling, a novel about young men and women growing up stressed. In her writing, hip-hop culture is the portal of intensely personal dreams, the inner lives of a generation most journalists automatically wrote off. Not Danyel Smith (at right). These are her people. She reads from her new book Friday at 7 p.m. at Cody's Books, 1730 4th St., Berkeley, 510-559-9500, -- Kelly Vance

Downtown Upbeat

It's Third Thursday again, time for strolling around downtown Oakland, stopping in at various open galleries, sipping wine, and soaking up the creative juices of the East Bay. February 20 at the Crafts & Cultural Gallery in the State of California Office Building (1515 Clay Street Atrium), catch a live set by UpSurge! and JazzPoetry Ensemble, who perform original spoken-word pieces and poetry with cool, sophisticated instrumental backing, at 5 p.m. At 7 p.m., artist Joe Sam talks about his Afro-Asian and Crazy Quilt series, and you can view Sam's work on display in the gallery. It's all part of the "Third Thursdays Oakland Art Night" series, and it's all free and open to the public. For more info, visit -- Kelly Vance


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