Friday, May 27, 2016

ICYMI: The Last Week in Black Writing and Culture (5/21-5/27)

"On the first novel published by a Black Caribbean Writer in England" - Minty Alley by Cyril Lionel Robert James. The novel was among the first to focus on social class, realism, and race in Caribbean literature.

Ta-Nehisi Coates's new comic book Black Panther has become one of the best selling comics of the year. Coates's comic reinvents the Marvel character The Black Panther, who appeared as the first mainstream black superhero in 1966.

Jamaican writer Nicole Dennis-Benn discussed her debut novel Here Comes the Sunabout a young woman who is coming to terms with her sexuality and dealing with the effects of tourism on her village. In an interview with The New York Times, she stated, "I wanted readers to see the other side of paradise; I wanted them to see the real people behind the fantasy life advertised in commercials. Next time a reader visits any place — be it Jamaica or Thailand or India — perhaps now they might be more inclined to venture outside the gates of the resort."

Michael Henry Adams of the New York Times spoke about the effects of gentrification in Harlem in "The End of Black Harlem."

A new TV series of Roots aims to further "confront, discuss and try to understand our complicated racial history." The series, based on Alex Haley's 1976 novel, seeks to retell the history of slavery, improving upon "overdrawn" and "oversimplified" elements in the original 1977 TV series.

Singer Candice Hoyes, on her debut album On a Turquoise Cloud, confronts the complex history of jazz in the United States and how race, identity, and womanhood intersect.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Medgar Evers International Writer's Conference, Report 2 of 2

Creating Dangerously: 

Confronting the Cracks in Oppression that Creators in the African Diasporas Shine Through

I was not sure what to expect as I entered the auditorium for the fourth time Saturday for the panel, Creating Dangerously: Courage and Resistance in the literature of Black Writers: A Conversation. The conversation was moderated by Victoria Chevalier and featured novelist and short story writer, Edwidge Danticat, and scholar and author, Charles Johnson as panelist. Many of the previous conversations seemed to be coming from a far away place mentally, chronologically, and generationally. Many panelists were reflecting on a time that I was still soaking inspiration from to create a new artistic space in the present, making it difficult to connect my experience as an artist in 2016. I was eager to see how the past was interacting with the present to create an exciting artistic future. Where did I fit in, the 22-year-old poet in the broader conversation of Black art and expression?

Although I do not feel the conference directly addressed my question, this panel did solidify that it’s possible that just by being a black woman, poet, and writer, I am connecting to the past in the inherent politicization of my narrative. Charles Johnson said it best, “Nothing is more radical than addressing the nature of the self: Who am I?” I found that this question rattled the institution of art. When a black woman asks herself who she is and puts it to paper, she is creating a disruption and breaking through an intellectual incarceration that is White Supremacy, as it expresses itself in the literature world. The next question: How do we “murder” and “chip away” White Supremacy in our artistic process and the world. My first thought: despair. How could we possibly answer this question? Danitcat said it plain, “We arm ourselves with all the knowledge and skill and still the problem exists.” My second thought: I am probably among the bravest artistic minds in this moment. When writing my poem about body image or womanhood or unapologetic sensuality, was I unknowingly sharpening the machete of literary warfare? Forcing my narrative in the conversation? If not, what is keeping me from taking Johnson’s suggestions in not policing my imagination? Needlessly to say, it was a lot to consider. 

The conversation was not only a war cry for unapologetically searching ourselves and our work, but also a type of theoretical reflection, for in order to create we must first listen. Yes, we must listen to even them. Johnson called it epistemological listening and together Danticat and Johnson addressed the theory of "other." I began to question my own ideologies around active listening. In the past, the only time that I employed active listening was in my poetry workshops with young students in middle school I was teaching at. It never once occurred to me that I needed to listen to the "other." Why? What could they say that was going to help me? According to the panelist, many things! Active listening to the other, whoever the other may be, opens us up to further define and inform who we are as artists. Was I active listening to the “other”? Why not? What could I learn by epistemologically listening to other communities and people? It was clear, everyone in the audience had a lot to consider. Mr. Johnson asked a crucial question: “Why write? When writing is at its best, we come out of the story not as clean as when we went in.”

As theoretical as the conversation was, the questions that were posed were very tangible from the panelists’ perspective as well as the Q&A that came after. The conversation began to steer towards White Supremacy in general and its timely death. Could it ever die? Could we kill it? Was it killing itself? The community in the room could agree that White Supremacy, no matter its vitals, needed to go. However, one gentleman asked the question that seemed to stop the room in its tracks and put a crucial crack in a space where we all thought we were on the same page: If we were willing to destroy white supremacy, were we able to destroy all oppressive systems? Down to the lights that were on in the auditorium killing the atmosphere? The panelist looked at each other and lightly chuckled nervously before agreeing and advocating for the erasure of oppression everywhere. I could feel that some of the passion left the room in advocating down to the smallest detail. IT is in these spaces, the light laugh and agreement, that I think it truly gets complicated. As we write our narratives into oppressive spaces, are we making room for other oppressed narratives to speak? Are we using our platform to make room for other oppressed voices, even if it makes us uncomfortable? Most of us want to say yes, but I have a feeling that, as in anything in the creative process, it is never that easy.

During any other panel conversation that left me with more questions than answers, I would be perturbed. However, this panel not only left me with crucial and necessary questions but also the courage to find the answers… by any means necessary.

[by Tayllor Johnson]

Since discovering her passion for spoken word at 15 years old, Tayllor hasn't stopped writing, performing, or teaching. Working with Get Lit, a non-profit literacy advocacy group, and representing Los Angeles in Brave New Voices 2010 taught her the healing and empowering force that was inevitable through spoken word. She hopes to grow and reach new heights in her performance and writing, always keeping in mind her mission to find new ways spoken word can empower the voiceless, soothe the wounded, and disturb the status quo to set all of us on a path to freedom.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Music/Painting/Poetry: Outroducing Expectations

William F. Gross--composer
Larry D. Lean---visual artist
Lenard D. Moore --poet, vocalist

The Satire Project: a collaboration of art, music, and poetry (book + DVD). Mount Olive, North Carolina: University of Mount Olive, 2016. ISBN 978-0-692-68026-1. $15.00

Gross, Lean, and Moore based their satiric project on two primary beliefs: (1) combining painting, poetry, and music can produce "a work that would be more imaginative than any of the single disciplines could create alone" and (2) Aristotle was correct in proposing "the whole would be greater than the sum of its parts." If one likes the sonic work of the avant garde chamber music ensemble Imani Winds or The Cosmic Quintet (Kidd Jordan, Douglas Ewart, Alvin Fielder, Chris Severin, and Luther Gray), the poetry of Bob Kaufman (check out his magnificent poem "The Ancient Rain") and Safia Elhillo (check out "a suite for ol' dirty" in The BreakBeat Poets), and paintings of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paul Klee, Miles Davis, and Pavel Tchelitchew, it is probable that one will like The Satire Project. It does not disappoint in its outroducing of expectations.

Gross, Lean, and Moore assume that satire can direct "attention to shortcomings in our society." In the 21st century, however, satire directs far greater attention to the yearnings of artists than to violations of or failures to live up to American social values . Ask Spike Lee who struggled to give us redemptive satire in "Bamboozled" and guilt-inducing satire in "Chi Raq." The success of satire depends on some consensus regarding desirable values and behaviors. In some dim past there may have been such nominal consensus in our body politic, but in the present we can only agree that we do not agree. The success of The Satire Project isn't located in moving us to make things better (whatever "better" might entail) but in moving us closer to aesthetic recognitions. And the most important recognition is that time does more to outroduce expectations than to introduce them.

Moving forth and back between Lean's paintings and Moore's ekphrastic poems in the book constitutes a special exercise in visual rhetoric, but the more rewarding aesthetic pleasure comes from negotiating the atonal offerings of Gross, the graffiti acrylic paintings of Lean, and vocal performances of Moore on the DVD. Inspired no doubt by Gross's unpredictable soundings, Moore transforms his print texts into minutes of ear-jazz, and, in many instances, Moore "sounds" better off the page than he does on it because he liberates the words. The outroducing of expectations in The Satire Project as book and DVD is a fine investment of American time.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr. 

 April 23, 2016

Friday, May 20, 2016

ICYMI: The Last Week in Black Writing and Culture (5/14-5/20)

Levelle Porter, assistant professor at CUNY, wrote on the politics of Audre Lorde: "It is not our differences that divide us, it is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences."

Jim Marshall, creator of the "Hope" image of president Obama, highlighted new subjects in a new exhibit called "American Civics." Among the new subjects is Fannie Lee Chaney, whose son was killed by the Klu Klux Klan while registering black Americans to vote in the south.

While HBCU's are commonly known for their education of African American students, they also celebrate the diversity of the diaspora and blackness.

Author D. Watkins spoke about growing up around crack in his east Baltimore neighborhood, addressed in his newest book The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir. Despite the system that set him up for failure, Watkins went on to Baltimore University to earn a bachelor's, John Hopkins University for a Master's in education, and then Baltimore University for an MFA. For Watkins, college and education was his escape from drugs.

Poet Tayllor Johnson wrote a recap on the Medgar Evers International Writer's Conference. Stay tuned for part 2 of the conference recap.