Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Significance of Novel Time Period

[By Kenton Rambsy]

Novels, in many ways, serve as historical sketches of black culture as authors re-envision a range of significant moments from the past. The mid-nineteenth century stands out as a recurring focal point for numerous writers with several novels set in the mid-1800s or with flashbacks to the Post-Civil War era

Authors who have published novels in the early 1900s such as Charles Chesnutt and Oscar Micheaux as well as those who published in the second half of the 20th century such as Ernest Gaines and Margaret Walker offer representations of black life during the mid to late 1800s. Octavia Butler’s Patternmaster (1976), Parable of the Sower (1993), and Parable of the Talents (1998), however, are the only novels out of our study’s 100 that depict the future.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Prominence of NYC, Chicago, and California

[By Kenton Rambsy]

Given the larger history of slavery in America, the South has always figured prominently into the geographic settings of African American literature since the publication of William Wells Brown’s Clotel in 1853. However, the results of our study reveal that there has been a tendency among novelists to set their narratives in urban spaces, especially New York City and icago. 

Various locations throughout California also appear to be regular points of interest, as Los Angeles and San Francisco appear in novels by Walter Mosley, Octavia Butler, and Terry McMillan.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Growing Importance of Formal Education

[By Kenton Rambsy]

Every living author in our study that has published a novel since 1980 has completed a college degree of some sort. Prior to 1980, it was less likely that authors of major African American novels published had attended college. Notably, over half of the novelists who published books after 1980 received advanced graduate degrees.

Percival Everett, author of Erasure (2001) received a B.A. from the University of Miami and a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) from Brown University in 1982. Tayari Jones, author of Leaving Atlanta (2002) received a B.A. from Spelman College and an MFA from Arizona State University in 2000. And, Paul Beatty, author of The White Boy Shuffle (1996) received a B.A. from Boston University and an MFA from Brooklyn College in 1989.

Out of 63 authors:
- 63%, or 40 have a college degree;
- 11% or 7 have an MFA;
- 27% or 17 hold a graduate degree of some sort

Monday, December 5, 2011

49 African American Novels on Wikipedia

[Compiled By Kenton Rambsy]

The following list showcases novels in our “100 Novels Project” and their corresponding Wikipedia pages. Out of 100 novels in our project, 49 novels have Wikipedia pages of some sort.

We have organized the novels into three categories and by chronological order: Extensive, General, and Limited Overviews:

  • Extensive overviews offer publication information, plot summaries, character lists, references to pop culture and criticism (such as TV, Movie adaptations, etc.) as well as major motifs.
  • General overviews provide a general plot summary and, sometimes, historical information concerning the novel as well as critical reception.
  • Limited overviews provide publication information and a short/concise summary of the novel.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Growing Importance of Authors Awarded Fellowships

[By Kenton Rambsy]

Nella Larsen- First Black Woman to win a Guggenheim Fellowship (1930)

The Guggenheim Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, and National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) have been consistent sources of support for large numbers of critically acclaimed African American novelists.  Approximately 54% out of the 63 novelists in our study have received a fellowship of some kind—seven have received the MacArthur Foundation award, thirteen have received a Guggenheim, and eleven have received NEA awards.

Ishmael Reed author of Mumbo Jumbo (1972) received both a Guggenheim and an NEA award, Charles Johnson author of Middle Passage (1990) received MacArthur and Guggenheim awards, and Suzan-LoriParks author of Getting Mother’s Body (2003) received Guggenheim, MacArthur, and NEA awards. Nella Larsen, author of Quicksand (1928), was the first Black Woman to win a Guggenheim Fellowship (1930)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Evolution of Novel Covers

[By Kenton Rambsy]

 Since winning the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987) has gone on to gain wide attention in both academic and pop culture circles.  he 1998 movie adaptation of the novel starring Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover has even influenced subsequent print editions, particularly, the design of the novel covers.

The publishers often used enticing images such as Hollywood actors and movie stills to market the book after the release of the film. Similar to Beloved, other novels turned into feature films were reprinted with book covers that signaled the movie tie-ins.

After the break, take a look and contrast a sampling of Morrison's Beloved Novel Covers over the years.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Color Purple and Wikipedia

[By Kenton Rambsy]

The 1983 recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple (1982) has been produced as a major motion picture starring Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, Margaret Avery, and Oprah Winfrey; as a Broadway musical starring Fantasia Barrino, Renee Elise Goldsberry, and Kingsley Leggs; and as a BBC 4 (domestic British Radio) radio broadcast starring Nadine Marshall. Each version–the novel, the movie, and the musical—has fairly developed wiki entries, making The Color Purple one of the more fully developed and diversely covered works on Wikipedia out of the 100 novels in our study.

Similarly, other novels have extensively developed Wikipedia pages lending a wide variety of information about an author’s work and its influence across broad cultural categories.  Other novels such as Native Son (1940) by Richard Wright, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman (1971) by Ernest Gaines, and Dhalgren (1975) by Samuel Delany also have extensively developed Wikipedia pages.   

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Character Traits of Novel Protagonists

[By Kenton Rambsy]

A cursory look at the 100 novels in our study reveal that 55% of the protagonists are women; 45% of the novels are narrated from first person point of view, and 56% of the protagonists reside in northern cities. Large numbers of male protagonists make treks to northern cities such as characters in James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912), Langston Hughes Not Without Laughter (1930), Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952), and James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953)

The majority of novels from our collection of 100 novels published over the last 20 years have female protagonists. Only 12% of the novels, that is 12, published since 1990 have male protagonists.

Monday, November 28, 2011

100 Black Novels by Decade, 1850-2010

[Compiled By Kenton Rambsy]

The following list presents novels in our “100 Novels Project” organized by decade. These 100 novels constitute a relatively small number of HBW’s larger collection of more than 1,000 books.  

The Heroic Slave-A Novella (1852) Frederick Douglass               
Clotel: or, the President’s Daughter (1853) William Wells Brown         
Blake; Or, The Huts of America (1859) Martin R. Delany

A Charleston Love Story of Hortense Vancross (1899) Theophilus Gould Steward
Imperium in Imperio (1899) Sutton E. Griggs       

Notable Findings Concerning 100 Black Novels

[By Kenton Rambsy]

Over the next two weeks, I am providing a series of blog entries that highlight notable findings concerning 100 novels from our collection. The entries seek to provide information on some of the preliminary findings of our research concerning a large number of African American novels published between 1850 and 2010.

We highlight, for example, common qualities of protagonists and settings, the significance of Wikipedia, the importance of author awards and fellowships, and dates of publication. Ideally, our research and writing sheds new light on the holdings of the HBW novel collection and more broadly on African American publishing and literary history.

November 28: 100 Black Novels by Decade, 1850-2010
November 29: Character Traits of Novel Protagonists
November 30: The Color Purple and Wikipedia
December 1: The Evolution of Novel Covers
December 2: The Growing Importance of Authors Awarded Fellowships
December 5: 49 African American Novels on Wikipedia
December 6:The Growing Importance of Formal Education
December 7: The prominence NYC, Chicago, and California
December 8: The Significance of Novel Time Period

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Coverage of…Jesmyn Ward—National Book Award for Fiction

[Compiled By Kenton Rambsy]

Celebrating and honoring novelist Jesmyn Ward on receiving the National Book Award for Fiction, the Project on the History of Black Writing has compiled articles and videos featuring Ward.

Professor Jerry Ward on Nikky Finney's Heartwood

[By Prof. Jerry Ward]

When an excellent writer wins a prize, many readers rush to buy the book that won the prize. On the other hand, readers who are immunized against the herd instinct may take another option. They may take an older work by the prize winner off their bookshelves and read something they’d always meant to read but had not yet got around to reading.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Jesmyn Ward: 2011 National Book Award for Fiction Recipient

[By Dr. Maryemma Graham]

Jesmyn Ward was born in 1977 in DeLisle, Mississippi. Ward, a Hurricane Katrina survivor, is a southern writer, admitting to a love-hate relationship with the region she calls home. Her mother’s white employer helped to provide for her education. Racial bullying was part of her childhood experience; at one point, students threatened to lynch her.

Speaking about her second novel, Salvage the Bones, Ward told CNN: “There are three things that I draw from my life that are included in this book. One is that the book is set on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, in a small, rural black community, which is the kind of community I come from. Two, the characters experienced Hurricane Katrina. I was home for Hurricane Katrina, so I had some of my experience to draw from. It was like firsthand research. But the characters’ experience in the storm is totally different from mine. And the third thing is actually the dogfighting. When I was younger, I actually witnessed some dogfights. The other things the characters experienced throughout the book [are] purely fictional.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Song: The Invisible Character in “Song of Solomon”

[By Cindy Lyles]

An instrumental or vocal musical track typically lingers in the background as the opening credits or initial scene of a film unfolds. Music, however, is less anticipated in the opening vignette of a novel, but Toni Morrison proves that song has a place in Song of Solomon far beyond the title. At the beginning of this novel, music serves a similar purpose that it does in film to establish and maintain the emotional mood of a scene for the audience. Yet, unlike in film, music in the opening of Song of Solomon is recognized by characters and consequently highly influential, therefore making it a character in its own respect.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Coverage of…Nikky Finney—National Book Award for Poetry

[Compiled By Kenton Rambsy]
Celebrating and honoring poet Nikky Finney on receiving the National Book Award for Poetry, the Project on the History of Black Writing has compiled articles and videos featuring Finney.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Nikky Finney: 2011 National Book Award for Poetry Recipient

The Project on the History of Black Writing celebrates poet Nikky Finney on receiving the National Book Award for her 2011 collection of poetry Head Off & Split (2011).

Below, we have offered a synopsis of her latest collection of poetry (via her website), compiled a short bibliography of Finney’s work, provided a link to her acceptance speech.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Zora Neale Hurston and Metaphors of Black Womanhood in Their Eyes Were Watching God

[By Danielle Hall]

In Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), Zora Neale Hurston’s female protagonist Janie Crawford symbolizes both female empowerment and autonomy. By situating the life of character Janie Crawford as the focus of her novel, Hurston challenges perceived notions of gender in a style that provides an entrée into the communal and personal dimensions of black womanhood.

I have considered what Darlene Clark Hine describes as a “culture of dissemblance,” which is a set of behaviors and attitudes among African American women that “create the appearance of openness and disclosure” as a means of protecting “their inner lives and selves from their oppressors.” Hine also points out that this is “not a recent phenomenon,” but a recurring theme in “black women’s writing (Hine, 380).”

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Suffering And Redemption in Four African-American novels

[By Goyland Williams]

In a previous post, I discussed the presence of suffering as a dominant theme in African-American novels. Given the long and brutal history of black people, it is no surprise that literary renderings attempt to capture the historical and harsh treatment of a striving people. In this post, I will highlight a few novels that capture the diverse ways in which suffering is depicted.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Paraphernalia Of Suffering: Reflections On Beloved and Their Eyes Were Watching God

[By Goyland Williams]

James Cone’s most recent book The Cross And The Lynching Tree, have provided space for me to think about the role and importance of literary depictions of suffering in African-American life. The theme of suffering, however loud or subtle, has its place in African American literature. From slave narratives to Sonia Sanchez’s poetry, literary representations of black existential concerns have been crucial both intellectually and culturally in connecting past forms of trauma with present conditions of black life.

Although several literary forms have documented the historical and present mistreatment of blacks, I will focus on African-American novels. How might these novels be useful for considering and connecting the complex and yet varied experiences of a people wrestling with what Nathanael West called the “Paraphernalia of Suffering”- social alienation, degradation, and powerlessness to alter one’s circumstances.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Break It Down: Their Eyes Were Watching God

“Break It Down” is a new HBW Literary Blog initiative that strives to offer critical interpretations of song lyrics, excerpts from novels, and poems.

This week, Blog Contributor Alysha Griffin has analyzed an excerpt from Their Eyes Were Watching God, a novel written by Zora Neale Hurston.

*Hold cursor over underlined text to display comments

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Barefoot and Laughin’: Black Women’s Humor and Male-Female Relationships

[By Alysha Griffin]

The absence of black women as academic subjects in studies on humor does not mean that black women have sat cross-legged and silently watched while others slung of verbal insults. On the contrary, black women have developed their own brand of humor that undoubtedly fits into the larger tradition of African American humor. But, what exactly makes this brand unique is a question that must be posed with the study of black women’s humor in the same way that African American humor must be interrogated. By examining a select few works of novels by African American women in our collection, we hope to expose trends in novels that may be used to characterize black women’s humor.

There appear to be many trends throughout comedic works by women in African American humor. However, one glaring theme within the genre is the use of humor to address, expose, and/or cope with conflict within male-female relationships. Humor appears to be a way that black women resist patriarchal ideologies and systems of oppression like intimate violence and subjugation in the domestic sphere. This implies that humor is a medium through which women may address some of their most immediate concerns thereby upholding the feminist principle that the private is, indeed, political.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Protest and Organized Resistance in 5 Black Novels

[By Kenton Rambsy]

Representations of organized resistance efforts have appeared in noted works by black writers for over 100 years. Similar to organizers for Occupy Wall Street, some black novelists have sought to present large numbers of people protesting unfair or unjust practices. As previously mentioned, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man offers one take one a figure becoming involved in protest movements. The following 5 novels also depict organized struggle.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Occupy Wall Street and Ralph Ellison: African American Novels and Organized Resistance

[By Kenton Rambsy]

Although many commentators have noted that protests related to Occupy Wall Street have not included large numbers of black people, it is worth noting that historically speaking social protests do have a strong presence in African American literature. Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952), not unlike the sentiments of OWS, seems to capture the growing frustration and discontent of American citizens with the great disparities between the rich and the poor.

Monday, November 7, 2011

100 Novels Project Revisted

[By Kenton Rambsy]

Although research on African American literature has flourished over the last three decades, there have been almost no quantitative studies on black novels. For instance, of the wide ranging body of novels published prior to the Harlem Renaissance, how many remain in print? What geographic region produces the greatest number of major novelists? Among one hundred select major black novels, how many were reviewed in the New York Times?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Break It Down: Strange Fruit

“Break It Down” is a new HBW Literary Blog initiative that strives to offer critical interpretations of song lyrics, excerpts from novels, and poems.

This week, Blog Contributor Goyland Williams has analyzed Strange Fruit, a song written by Abel Meeropol and performed by jazz singer Billie Holiday.

*Hold cursor over underlined text to display comments

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Theorizing Black Music, Theorizing Black Poetry

[By Goyland Williams]

Last semester, I had the privilege of taking a course entitled Theorizing Black Music, Theorizing Black Poetry. My curiosity was sparked throughout the course as significant connections were made between themes in blues lyrics and those in African-American poetry. Given the long history of the black oral tradition, the African-American musical tradition has merely been an extension of that narrative and has impacted the writing of many African-Americans.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

It Was All A Dream: Liner Notes and 1990s Hip Hop Print and Media Culture

[By Danielle Hall]

“It was all a dream I used to read Word Up! magazine …” – opening line from “Juicy” by Notorious B.I.G.

In the digital age of itunes, mixtapes, and social media, the demand for going to stores to purchase music and/or music magazines is diminishing. Back in May, I was conversing with a professor about music artists and the necessity of liner notes. In the past, liner notes and music magazines have often served as the intermediary between artist and audience, but today we risk losing those elements of musical and literary history and knowledge of artist-intellectual productions.

It is not my intention to romanticize the 1990s or to suggest that current music artists lack any mode of creativity. My perspective simply evolves from the notion that sometimes technology can be a drawback or hinder our understandings of music, artistry, and lyricism as critical tenets of literary and intellectual history, culture, and scholarship.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Contemporary Toasts By Black Women in Music

[By Alysha Griffin]

The space for women to enter into Hip Hop is a small one. However, once through, female singers and emcees have held their own against the objectifying and misogynistic nature of Hip Hop culture. Although few have entered on the Hip Hop stage, many have established their lyrical dominance and street credibility. For this, HBW salutes contemporary, female “toast masters.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Toasts, Black Women, and Hip Hop

[By Alysha Griffin]

The canon of African American literature overflows with stories of Stagolees, Shines, and Signifying Monkeys. These antiheroic figures in African American culture created the paradigm for the poetic form known as the toast. Derived from black folklore, toasts are narratives in which a character overcomes a sequence of events. In doing so, they illustrate their extraordinary physical and lyrical abilities. Usually told by male personas, they function to attest to one’s street credibility and physical abilities.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Exploring the Tight Bond between Music and Poetry

[By Cindy Lyles]

Whether found in Amiri Baraka mimicking piano chords in “In Walked Bud” or in quoting the 1970s Hit “Be Thankful for What You’ve Got (Diamond in the Back)” like Allison Joseph does in “Thirty Lines about the Fro,” music has a home in poetry. Melodic tunes tend to set the mood and evoke just the right feeling the poet needs to convey a story. The previous two examples and so many more exemplify this idea, but just as music enhances poetry, so too does the artistry of poetry add to music. Such is the case with rapper Kanye West’s “Never Let Me Down.”

Monday, October 24, 2011

Musical Influences on Black Writing

[By Kenton Rambsy]

Music serves as a backdrop for black writing and informs character interactions, novel settings, reader responses to novels, short stories, and poetry. For instance, consider James Weldon Johnson’s the Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man and how issues of black identity were related to ragtime.

In his novel, music takes center stage as the events unfold throughout the novel and the story’s protagonist comes to a greater awareness of his identity. The unnamed narrator is a child musical prodigy that excels in his piano playing abilities.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Report of Black Literary Suite: New York Edition

[By Kenton Rambsy]

On, Thursday, October 6, 2011, The Project on the History of Black Writing (HBW) presented showing of selections from the “100 Novels” project in the Memorial Union, Governor’s Room. Black Literary Suite: New York Edition was the third public exhibit sponsored by the HBW. This is a walk-through, multimedia exhibit, allowed visitors to use MP3 players to listen to commentaries and view displays related to the period.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Call to War: The Cancer Journals

Phillis h. Rambsy is an attorney and educator. In addition to her work in the fields of law and education, Phillis also studies, writes, and speaks about theological issues as well as issues concerning health and wellness. Phillis is powerfully committed to encouraging individuals to attain lives that are spiritually, physically, and mentally healthy.

Kevine Reeves--s.m.i.l.e.

HBW Guest Blogger Kevin Reeves, in his blog post, reminds our readers of the importance of young writers having models. Reeves writes, “Young writers need models. Early in my apprenticeship my predecessors fed me greatly.”

With his debut novel, s.m.i.l.e., Reeves seeks to “add to America’s cross-cultural storytelling tradition, which was fortified by those who inspired me, those storytellers in literature and in Hip Hop.”

Colson Whitehead, zombies, and afrofuturism

[By Howard Rambsy II]

Colson Whitehead’s previous novel The Intuitionist and John Henry Days lent themselves to afrofuturist examinations. In particular, the novels covered issues about the intersections between race and mechanical technologies.

Zone One corresponds to afrofuturism, but rather than mechanical technologies, Whitehead's "zombie" novel might be categorized as speculative fiction. The book reveals Whitehead delving into a popular genre that has nonetheless been rarely explored by major black authors of "literary" or "serious" fiction.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Top 10 list for Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist

[By Howard Rambsy II]

Every year that I've assigned Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist, folks in the classes who have some initial difficulties with the book want to know what made me choose it. For some reason, I typically stumble through answers. Over the years, I’ve developed a list to that addresses their questions. I think. Perhaps. Maybe.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Coverage of.... Zone One By Colson Whitehead

[Compiled by Howard Rambsy II]

Here’s a sketch of the coverage of Zone One by Colson Whitehead. The pre-publication attention that the work has received has been remarkable.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Colson Whitehead & the Upper Floors

[By Howard Rambsy II]

“Literary reputations may not always rise and fall as predictably as elevators,” noted Gary Krist toward the end of a February 7, 1999 review of The Intuitionist. “But if there's any justice in the world of fiction, Colson Whitehead's should be heading toward the upper floors.”

Perhaps there’s some justice, because Whitehead has risen to those upper floors. It’s necessary of course to qualify with “some” justice, because for every novelist that has ascended those upper floors, many stayed put on the ground levels or mid-levels despite their talents. A large number of novelists—African American and otherwise—could attest to how unjust the world of fiction can be.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Colson Whitehead, Zone One, and Publishing History

[By Howard Rambsy II]

Next Tuesday, October 18, will mark the release of Colson Whitehead’s novel Zone One. His previous four novels and one work of creative non-fiction, The Colossus of New York have helped make him one of our leading literary figures. Whitehead has distinguished himself as a really inventive writer, and with this upcoming “zombie” novel, he seems to further stretch the boundaries of the kinds of topics that a prominent African American novelist might address.

As far as novels by African American writers go, Zone One has received an extraordinary amount of pre-publication buzz. Harper’s, GQ, Esquire, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, Vogue, and Publishers Weekly are some of the publications that have already provided coverage and thus publicity for Whitehead’s book.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Afrofuturism & the Expression-Scriber; or why Amiri Baraka thinks a typewriter is corny

[By Howard Rambsy, II]

Some years ago when I began participating in Alondra Nelson’s “afrofuturism” online forum and as I worked to gain a clearer understanding of AF as a framework, I started looking out for works that I had previously overlooked or under-studied concerning technological ideas and speculative narratives.  No doubt one of my greatest finds or re-discoveries was Amiri Baraka’s essay “Technology & Ethos,” which appeared in Amistad 2 (1971) edited by Charles F. Harris and John A. Williams.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Katherine Dunham’s Use of Technology and Dance

[By Danielle Hall]

Some of what I have found most fascinating while researching Katherine Dunham as an intellectual involve examining the ways in which she used technology (film and musical recording devices) and her dance technique to advance the knowledge and studies of black people and Diasporan cultures throughout the world.

Dance, then, functioned as a form of “Diaspora literacy” (as coined by VèVè Clark) for Dunham in that she communicated ideas about black identity and self-determination to her audience world-wide. Thus, her work within and beyond black communities, covering many artistic forms of expression such as music, dance, drama, film, theatre, and writing, demonstrates many different modes of black creativity and expression in America.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Break It Down: Ask Your Mama--Excerpt from “Horn of Plenty”

“Break It Down” is an HBW Literary Blog initiative that strives to offer critical interpretations of song lyrics, excerpts from novels, and poems.

This week, Blog Contributor Alysha Griffin has analyzed an excerpt from Langston Hughes's Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz. She continues her conversation from yesterday as she looks at an excerpt from "Horn of Plenty."

Monday, October 3, 2011

Ask Your Mama: Langston Hughes and Afrofuturism

[By Alysha Griffin]

My best friends and I used to be fond of playing the dozens—particularly, exchanging “yo’ mama” jokes. Too young to realize how problematic this was from a historical angle, we realized that this was probably something we should avoid only when the battles ended with a fist fight and/or punishment from someone’s angry mother- my best friends were also my first cousins. Needless to say, one of Langston Hughes’s works that I most appreciate is his book length poem, Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz  (AYM)(1961).

Thursday, September 29, 2011

6 Afrofuturistic Albums and Novels

[By Goyland Williams]

In a yesterday's post, I discussed the concept Afrofuturism and the connections between black music and literature. While Parliament-Funkadelic’s Mothership Connection and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man were the first two works that jumped out at me as Afrofuturistic, my continued interest in the subject has lead me to seek out other texts and works of art that fall into this category.  

Archandroid—Janelle Monae (2010): In a album of utter beauty, rap, disco, rock, and folk, Janelle Monae takes us on a journey of ideas. Monae explores elements of science fiction and Afrofuturism as she follows a concept and the archandroid through a journey of freedom and escape. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Souls of Black Folk: Afrofuturism and Freedom Dreams

[By Goyland Williams]

The history of black people has been a history of movement—real and imagined. Who can hear “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” or Parliament’s “The Mothership Connection” and not hear these travel/escape narratives—afrofuturistic representations of freedom? 

While the term Afro-futurism can be formally traced back to the publication of Mark Dery’s 1994 edited collection Flame Wars:The Discourse of Cyberculture, its message is not limited to the 90’s. As a larger and broader aesthetic, black people have long articulated black futures and freedom dreams in the midst of black experiences as a mode of survival.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

On Digital Scholarship...Blogging and other Technologies

Scholars in all disciplines may acknowledge that change, both as a concept and as a practice, is inevitable.  Many of them welcome the dazzling promises of emerging technologies, for they are convinced that the creation and transmission of knowledge in a future must be digital.  Digital technology enthralls. The kind of change it promotes can have a profound, irreversible impact on methods of research, on our choices of what is valuable and what is trivial, and on our understanding of how “revolutionary “ paradigms and epistemes function in disciplines and in interdisciplinary work.  Such change can be overwhelming.  It encourages older, traditional scholars to be cautious and skeptical.  To be blunt, a few of us honestly want to know what is at present only a matter of speculation in cognitive sciences: the consequences of long-term exposure to electronic forms on the brain.  Will it be the case half a century from now that man’s higher order cognitive operations have been so altered that independent critical thinking will be minimal?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Digital Humanities: Blogging About Black Culture

[By Kenton Rambsy]

In his 2010 remix to his hit song “Power,” Kanye West tells his listeners “Now we all ain’t gon’ be American Idols /But you can least grab a camera, shoot a viral /Huh? Take the power in your own hands.” Kanye’s emphasis of taking the “power” into your own hands speaks to the ways that the use of new technologies during the contemporary era provides users with opportunities to participate in cultural and artistic production.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Remembering Stormy Weather: Katherine Dunham and Agency

[By Danielle Hall]

On a rainy day like today, I am reminded of my first introduction to early African American cinema history, and specifically to Katherine Dunham. In July of 2002, my father called my attention to a movie on the TCM channel and it was Stormy Weather (1943).

I had grown up watching a variety of film classics with my dad and was familiar with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and Shirley Temple. I only knew of Lena Horne and Cab Calloway from Sesame Street and other TV shows, but an all-black cast film was a new phenomenon to me. So throughout my undergraduate studies, I researched performers and collected a variety of rare all-black films, some from Hollywood, but mostly independent productions.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I Say: Speaking Agency in Sonia Sanchez’s “Song No. 2”

[By Cindy Lyles]

The idea of agency encompasses one’s ability to enact power, to choose, and to navigate psychological and literal borders. In Sonia Sanchez’s poetry, this concept is prevalent, especially in the vivid imagery of mobility. Readers see various speakers in her different poems traveling from one place to another. In her poem “Song No. 2,” the poet uses distinct speech acts a form of agency. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Mischief of Memory and Making the Self: Thoughts on Lucille Clifton’s Conceptual Construct of Memory in Generations

DaMaris B. Hill is a doctoral candidate in the English-Creative Writing Program at the University of Kansas.  She is a member of the National Writing Project and graduate of Morgan State University with a MA degree in English.  Her story “On the Other Side of Heaven – 1957” won the 2003 Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Award for Short Fiction. Her writing is published with or is forthcoming in the following literary spaces: Blue Island Review, Shadowbox, Tongues of the Ocean: Words and Writing from the Islands, Kweli Journal, Telling Our Stories, Sleet Magazine, Reverie, Bermuda Anthology of Poetry, Warpland, Mourning Katrina: A Poetic Response to Tragedy, Women in Judaism and The Sable Quill.

In Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, Sethe states, “Some things go. Pass on. Some things just stay…What I remember is a picture floating around out there outside my head.  I mean even if I don’t think it, even if I die, the picture of what I did, or knew, or saw is still out there. Right in the place where it happened” (P. 43). Recent studies in (re)memory, oral histories, and uncovering lost literatures have demonstrated that linear narratives and singular testimonies are problematic.  Often, singular narratives are an insufficient means of conveying the past.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Break It Down: Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye

[By Goyland Williams]

“Break It Down” is an HBW Literary Blog initiative that strives to offer critical interpretations of song lyrics, excerpts from novels, and poems.

This week, Blog Contributor Goyland Williams has analyzed an excerpt from Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye.