You could wager a year’s salary that virtually every Raven cover was going to be an entertainer. If the singer, actor or super jock chosen was just making it to the big time, one of us might have a shot at being assigned the story. That’s where office politics came into play.
The cover at Raven, like any other magazine, was the most coveted story assignment for a writer. Not only were you guaranteed a byline, but there also was usually a few paragraphs on the masthead page explaining why the story was on the front of the magazine and what changes you and the rest of the Raven staff went through to get it there. The covers to all three WIPE publications were grandly displayed in the lobby as giant cardboard mounted blow-ups hanging almost invisibly on 100-pound test nylon fishing lines. The cover was one of the few times a writer got real recognition in Raven so it was a sure-fire way to make a name for yourself. As often as not, Kevin Cook got the cover if the top editors didn’t.
Kevin had written a pulp novel. It was one-third porn, one-third mystery. The remaining third was pure ghetto aesthetics. It wasn’t critically acclaimed. It hadn’t sold well. But, just because he had published a work, the Tan Troika held him in special esteem. Novel aside, he was actually a good writer.
Donald Bidlenson was Kevin’s main competition, because, well, because, he was a Bidlenson. The Bidlensons claimed to have always been free Blacks, tracing their roots back to around the Mayflower. Back then, they had been explorers. Then New England traders. They were Boston craftsmen later. Then educators. Eventually, they became businessmen. Donald’s father was a prominent Black attorney in New Orleans. Donald, we speculated, was having an adventure in journalism before returning to Harvard for a Law degree so he could take over the family firm. It was also common knowledge that Donald dined frequently alone with David at his apartment.
And, of course, being friendly with David could make a difference in who got what story assignment.
Besides the Tan Troika, there was Verily Welch and Ernest Hill. Verily was the nationally noted novelist who was one of the young, intellectual leaders of the new New Negro movement in the early 1960s. His novel, Better Now than Later, was one of the staples of all those Black Studies courses that were popping up on college campuses across the United States. Had he not been Black, Verily might have been in the league of Mailer and Cheever. But because he was who he was, writing brilliant Negro protest novels, he was labeled, and then dismissed, as a polemicist by mainstream American literati. But in the Black world, Verily was a literary giant. He was the one and only star at WIPE.
Ernest, an associate senior editor, was his sidekick. Ernie was a veritable yeoman who took any assignment thrown at him and did it in a competent manner. Those two, along with the Tan Troika, made up the front five. They all had offices with windows overlooking Lake Shore Drive, Lincoln Park and Lake Michigan’s horizon.
David Farrowe was the wordsmith among the Tan Troika. He was the most colorful writer and sensitive editor. And the best gossip. Samuele Girma was in charge of production. He was the technician who made sure the presses ran on time. Maceo mainly kept an eye on the big picture and the photographs that helped tell every story. And, naturally, everybody kept an eye out for Mr. Wilson Jr.
The day before the DuPuis story was assigned, a car bomb went off in front of the Hotel Chateau Versailles in Montreal where, on the rare occasion when there was a story assignment in that Canadian city, Raven writers and photographers usually were booked.
French Canadian separatists were engaged in their on-going protests of English as the predominant language in the Quebec Province. The battle over which language should be spoken, and where, was a legacy of the 100 Years War. It was once again entering a violent phase. The bombing leveled almost all interest at Raven in going to Montreal. In a flash, the most sought after assignment of the month became the leper of the year. I got the call.
“This is your lucky day, Pierce,” David said, as I stood uneasy in front of his desk, waiting to hear why I’d been suddenly summoned. “You’ve been bugging us about an international assignment. After a hell of a knock-down, drag-out fight, I’ve managed to get you one.”
For reasons I couldn’t fathom at the time, Mr. Wilson Jr. wanted that story, “come hell or high returns.” The next day, I found myself on an early-morning coach flight to Montreal.
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