Rux, Carl Hancock 1970-
RUX, Carl Hancock 1970-
Author, actor, and singer-songwriter. Actor in spoken-word performances and at Joseph Papp Public Theater, New York, NY, Ebenezor Experimental Theater, Lulea, Sweden, Sundance Theater Development Lab, National Endowment for the Arts/Theater Communications Group's Foundry Theater, and CalArts University, CA.
Fresh Poet Award, Nuyorican Poets Café, 1994; Literary Prize for writers on the verge, Village Voice, 1999, for Pagan Operetta; Rockefeller Map grant, 2000; Off-Broadway Award, Village Voice, 2002, for Talk; New York Foundation for the Arts Prize, and Gregory Millard fellowship, both 2002; Select Critics List for thirty artists under thirty most likely to influence culture, New York Times, 2003; National Endowment for the Arts/Theater Communications Group playwright-in-residence fellowship; National Endowment for the Arts Leadership Initiatives meet-the-composer grant; Creative Capital Artist grant; CalArts Alpert Award in the Arts.
Pagan Operetta (poetry and fiction), Fly by Night Press (Brooklyn, NY), 1998.
Asphalt (novel), Atria Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor of poetry, essays, and plays to anthologies such as Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Café, Action! Nuyorican Theater Festival Anthology, Listen Up! Spoken Word Poetry, NKA Literary Journal, and Everything but the Burden.
Song of Sad Young Men, produced at Producers Club Theater, New York, NY, 1990.
Chapter and Verse, produced at Dixon Place, New York, NY, 1991.
Geneva Cottrell, Waiting for the Dog to Die, produced at Mabou Mines, New York, NY, 1991.
Singing in the Womb of Angels, produced at Dixon Place, New York, NY, 1992.
Smoke, Lilies, and Jade, produced at Joseph Papp Public Theater, New York, NY, 1999.
Talk (produced at Joseph Papp Public Theater, New York, NY, 2002), Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 2003.
Also author of alternative theater/dance productions, including Iega, Jubilation Dance Company, 1990; Seeds, Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble, 1991; In the Image of a Darker Truth, Dance Theater Workshop, 1992; Elmina Blues, Dance Theater Workshop, 1992; Then, Teatro de Beligni (Naples, Italy), 1993; Fast Forward Dreaming in a Two Step, Tribeca Performing Arts Festival, 1993; Of Urban Intimacies, Tribeca Performing Arts Center, 1993; Pipe: A Courtroom Drama, Jim Henson International Puppet Festival, 1993; Kick the Boot, Raise the Dust, and Fly, Movin' Spirits Dance Theater, 1994; (with Laurie Carlos) Family Portraits, Tribeca Performing Arts Center, 1995; Languid Libretto for Womyn in the Bush, Urban Bush Womyn International Tour, 1996; Shelter, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, 1996; There Goes a Woman What Knows How to Walk, BAM Majestic Theater, 2000; The No Black Male Show, The Kitchen (New York, NY), 2000-01; and Hairstories, Urban Bush Womyn, 2002.
Apothecary Rx, Mercury, 1995.
Cornbread, Cognac, Collard Green Revolution, Free Records, 1996.
Rux Revue, Sony, 1999.
Bow down to the Exit Sign, Go Beat, 2000.
Jon Brown: Thirty Years Coming, Bongload, 2000.
On a Trip, Sony Japan, 2001.
Lamentations (You, Son), Giant Step, 2001.
Optometry, BMG, 2002.
Author, actor, and musician Carl Hancock Rux was born in the East Harlem section of New York City. His mother, a paranoid schizophrenic, was institutionalized until she passed away, and he never knew his father. Rux was initially raised by his uncle, a heroine addict, and his alcoholic grandmother, who died when he was only four years old. After that, Rux grew up within the New York City foster care system until he was adopted at age fifteen. His two brothers were raised by different families, and the eldest died of AIDS when Rux was in college.
Rux did not allow his difficult beginnings to hold him back. As a child he started writing by creating comic book characters to entertain his friends, then later wrote his own gossip columns featuring his peers in the roles of celebrities or athletes. He attended La-Guardia High School, where he sang in the gospel choir, and then Columbia University. His adopted parents, both born and raised in Harlem, instilled in him an appreciation for jazz music, introducing him to the artists they loved. In an interview with Liane Hansen for National Public Radio, Rux explained that "they really spoke about the way Lester Young would bend the horn, how he would sound, what he meant by that; the way Billie Holiday would lay back, how she would sing and snap sort of off beat.…As a kid, I don't know that I understood any of this … but somehow it stayed with me.…It was all of that that I think I brought to poetry." He participated in the Nuyorican Poets Café, where poetry and politics combined in spoken-word performances, and traveled extensively, even living in Ghana, West Africa, for a time, soaking up the rhythms, beliefs, and politics of other cultures. In an interview with Ernest Hardy for LA Weekly, Rux spoke of his time in Africa, saying "I was in love with how peaceful and accepting everyone seemed to be, even when openly discussing politics. I was also impressed by their use of natural resources.…But I idealized the peacefulness of these communities. Poverty is not a romantic notion."
Pagan Operetta reflects a number of these eclectic influences. A combination of fiction and poetry, the work is a retelling of Sophocles's Oedipus, updated with events from Rux's life, such as witnessing his grandmother's death and his discovery of the red-light district in Ghana. Lenora Todaro, reviewing the book for the Village Voice, called it "a funk fairy tale about turning away from a system of belief and chasing the pulse of mortality."
With his play Talk, for which he won a Village Voice Off-Broadway Award, Rux again revisits classical characters. The setting is a panel discussion about an invented literary figure named Archer Aymes, who has written one novel and adapted it for film. He later becomes a political activist, a decision that leads him to jail and, ultimately, death. Rux gives his characters Greek names, such as Ion and Phaedo, and mixes theatrical conventions with pop culture and intellectual theory. In an interview with Jocelyn Clarke for American Theatre, Rux explained, "when I first sat down to write this play, I was looking at postmodernism and questioning whether there was such a thing.…I wanted to research the progression of artistic invention in America and its impact on identity formation." New York Times reviewer Margo Jefferson wrote that "the friend who went with me loved 'Talk,' but felt that too many of the allusions were decorative, not organic. I don't agree—not altogether. The ancient still resonates. But her point raises real questions about seeing plays versus reading them. How many layers of metaphor and symbol can we take in at one sitting? I understood the classical structure much better as I read … but at a performance, multiple sights and sounds engage us." In a review for the Chicago Sun-Times, Michael Eric Dyson called Talk "an ambitious play of ideas," stating that "my brain teemed days after I left the theater."
Rux's novel Asphalt combines classical names and concepts with the gritty reality of a postwar New York to tell the story of families in conflict. Written almost entirely prior to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the book is filled with imagery of terrorism and devastation, tapping into Rux's views of the city from his youth. He told Hardy, "I was trying to find a way to illustrate how I saw the world as a child—an urban fantasia of beauty and ugliness with pedestrians inhabiting a mystical city of skyscrapers and abandoned buildings." Music also plays a role in Asphalt, from the jazz-pianist father of one of the characters to the rhythms of Rux's writing. Edward St. John, in a review for Library Journal, felt Rux's technique does not work; the "barrage of literary, cultural, and architectural references" renders the story "often incoherent." However, a contributor for Publishers Weekly wrote that "lyrically drawn though sometimes muddied," Asphalt nonetheless serves as "an elegantly gloomy addition to Rux's artistic achievements."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Theatre, October, 2001, Jocelyn Clarke, "If You Knew Archer like I Knew Archer" (interview), p. 66; September, 2003, p. 12.
Back Stage, July 3, 1992, Tish Dace, "Vanquished by Voodoo," p. 24; May 31, 2002, Leonard Jacobs, "NYFA Fellow Named; 'Talk' Playwright Tops," p. 2.
Billboard, October 30, 1999, Carla Hay, "Carl's Word," p. 17.
Booklist, May 1, 2004, Vanessa Bush, review of Asphalt, p. 1548.
Chicago Sun-Times, April 23, 2002, Michael Eric Dyson, "Three Plays That Zing: Masterpieces of the Theater Offer Viewers Something to Think about Long after the Final Curtain Falls," p. 21.
Chronicle (Detroit, MI), March 31, 1999, "Soul Healing Words, Liberating Thoughts: Poet, Playwright Carl Hancock Rux," section B, p. 12.
Entertainment Weekly, September 10, 1999, review of Rux Revue, p. 152.
Houston Chronicle, June 1, 2003, Craig Lindsey, "Writers Explore White Culture's Borrowing of All Things Black," p. 18.
Interview, February, 1999, Julia Chaplin, interview with Rux, p. 54.
LA Weekly, July 2-8, 2004, Ernest Hardy, "What Lies Beneath: Carl Hancock Rux on Asphalt, War-torn Cities, and the State of Black Literature in America."
Library Journal, June 1, 2004, Edward St. John, review of Asphalt, p. 124.
Los Angeles Times, August 11, 2004, Lynell George, "The Artist as His Own Collage," p. E1.
New York Times, August 25, 1998, Jennifer Dunning, "Charting Lives Public and Private," p. E5; April 21, 2002, Margo Jefferson, "The Feel of Real Life Working Its Magic," section 2, p. 9.
New York Times Magazine, October 5, 2003, "Forward and Back," p. 69.
Publishers Weekly, March 29, 2004, review of Asphalt, p. 36.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 19, 2003, Calvin Wilson, review of Everything but the Burden, p. E1.
Village Voice, June 2, 1998, Lenora Todaro, "Writers on the Verge: Carl Hancock Rux," p. 82; November 30, 1999, David Mills, "Truth or Dare" p. 130.
Carl Hancock Rux Home Page,http://www.carlhancockrux.com (August 27, 2004).
Foster Club Web site,http://www.fosterclub/com/ (August 27, 2004), "Carl Hancock Rux."
"Carl Hancock Rux Discusses His Plays, Poetry, and Music" (radio transcript), Weekend Edition, National Public Radio, June 27, 2004.
"Carl Hancock Rux, Writer and Performer, Whose Works Explore the Urban Black Experience" (radio transcript), Morning Edition, National Public Radio, November 3, 1999.*