Thursday, April 28, 2011

“Facing Death: The Fear of Death vs. the Death of Fear” - led by Abdul JanMohamed, Professor of English at the University of California (Berkeley)

Please join us for a Virtual Seminar - “Facing Death: The Fear of Death vs. the Death of Fear” - led by Abdul JanMohamed, Professor of English at the University of California (Berkeley) on Saturday, April 30 at 11:00 a.m. CST.

Abstract:  In my work on Native Son, and on Wright’s work in general, I have focused on the effects of the threat of death (lynching in Jim Crow society) as well as of the ensuing fear of death on the formation of individual psyche and subjectivity. And I have argued that all of Wright’s fiction is a systematic examination of the subject formed by the threat of death; it is an examination of how the threat/fear of death permeates every nook and cranny of the individual psyche. The virtual seminar, focusing in particular on Book Three of Native Son, will examine how Bigger Thomas faces his fear of death and finally overcomes it. Traditional literary criticism sees Book Three as the weakest part of Native Son; I will argue that it is the strongest and most powerful. My approach to this book and Wright’s work in general is based on the notion that the slave’s fear of death plays a crucial role in his/her enslavement and that conversely the overcoming of that fear can open the road to freedom.

It may be useful to keep in mind several statements by Wright, from Black Boy, regarding his view of lynching. By the age of eleven, he tells us, he “had already become as conditioned to [the] existence [of white racist society] as though I had been the victim of a thousand lynchings” (BB, 72). And when an older brother of a friend is lynched, the horror permeates the “deepest layers” of Wright’s consciousness and compels him “to give my entire imagination over to it, an act which blocked the spring of thought and feeling in me, creating a sense of distance between me and the world in which I lived” (BB, 165).
Two short readings for the seminar (can also be found here)

Please feel free to e-mail questions in advance for Professor JanMohamed to the Wright Connection (  

To attend the virtual seminar: 
2. Select “Enter as a Guest.” 
3.Type your name in the box. 
4. Click on “Enter Room.” 
5. The virtual seminar “room” will open at the start time of the seminar.  If you try to enter before then, you will see a message that reads:   

"The meeting has not yet started.  You will be able to access the meeting once the host arrives.  Please wait."

All participants will need a Flash-based web browser and an Internet connection to access the virtual seminar.  Please feel free to e-mail Keah Cunningham ( with any technical questions or issues.

Additional information at

Memory and Remembering in Black Writing

[By Crystal Boson]

It is a safe assertion to claim that literature serves as a medium for memory, both personal and cultural.  The narratives and the characters weave their tales, and pull the reader along with them through the jagged field of the past.  While remembering and the telling of stories is often a literary medium through which healing, reconciliation, and cultural bonding is forged, in some cases, memory serves as a curse that binds and ruins communities and individuals. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

African American Literature and Ecocriticism: Exploring Richard Wright

Dr. Gregory E. Rutledge, an assistant professor with a joint appointment in University of Nebraska-Lincoln 's English Dept. and Institute for Ethnic Studies. His publications (criticism, essays, fiction, poetry, and photography) have appeared or will have appear in Callaloo, African American Review, Amherst Review, Yonsei Law Journal (South Korea), Journal of College and University Law, Interventions, Wasafiri(United Kingdom), Black Magnolias, ANQ (Annotated Notes Quarterly), The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Modern Fiction Studies, The Omaha Star, Foundation, and in reference encyclopedias published by distinguished presses such as Oxford University Press.

Carl Anthony, in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, penned “African Americans and Environmental History: A Manifesto” (2006) in part because he realized the overwhelming tragedy confronting black Americans. Anthony’s inquiry led him to unearth a disturbing greening of the racial line that privileges American Indians, at the expense of the people of African descent, with the expected result:

I came across a very important book by Thomas Berry, called The Dream of the Earth. Berry proposed that, in order to get our bearings in terms of our current ecological crisis, we need a new story about who human beings are in relationship to the story of the earth . . . .  At the same time, I found I had an uneasy feeling about the book because it didn’t appear to include black people at all. There was wonderful talk of Native Americans – the ecumenical spirit, the struggle against patriarchy, etc., were reflected – but where were the black people? In fact, African Americans’ experiences were not included in any of the environmental literature I could get my hands on about people’s relationship to the land. Thoreau, David Brower . . . none of them reflected black people’s experience.

            “How could this be? What was I to do with this?” (86)

Though the racial history of the United States is at fault—the association of blacks with nature and primitivism and whites with modernity and technology helped establish among blacks an anti-nature ethos leading to the urbanization of black identity—the ecological crises is such that Anthony’s question, echoed by activists and policymakers, is as urgent as it is paradoxical: what are we to do with this?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Disrupting and Expanding the Notion of "Self-Taught"

[By Kenton Rambsy]

Over the past month, I have commented on the particular ways in which a number of authors provide us readers with useful information concerning their views of how African American men acquire and share knowledge. These fictional representations have led me to think about autobiographical examples, specifically the narratives of Frederick Douglass and Richard Wright and the overall tradition of education in African American literature and literacy as a tool for gaining higher degrees of social agency.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Literary Vantage Points: Multiple Perspectives of Toni Morrison

Literary Vantage Points is the HBW’s newest initiative geared towards engaging our audience members in conversations about African American literature. We are looking to make short video segments a regular feature on our blog in order to utilize the most effective digital mediums and spark dialogue among people interested in black artist production.

We have collected brief interviews from a number of professors to get their perspectives about various authors. In this particular feature, we asked three literary scholars—Professors Donna Akiba Sullivan Harper, Opal Moore, and Aldon Lynn Nielsen—to describe their initial impressions of author Toni Morrison and discuss the legacy of her work.

The goal of these interviews is to reveal the diverse nature of African American literature. These three scholars provide very different responses about how they became acquainted with Toni Morrison and the aesthetic value of her work. Please join us as we begin a new chapter of HBW history.

Video Editing: Howard Rambsy Sr.
Video Concept: Kenton Rambsy
Video Footage: Crystal Boson and Yuan Ding

Friday, April 22, 2011

“The Global Vision of Richard Wright” - led by Amritjit Singh, Langston Hughes Professor of English at Ohio University

Please join us for a Virtual Seminar - “The Global Vision of Richard Wright” - led by Amritjit Singh, Langston Hughes Professor of English at Ohio University on Saturday, April 23 at 10:00 a.m. CST.
Abstract: Our conversation would include among other things the following possible topics:  (a) the speaker’s own engagement with Wright’s writings since the 1970s;  (b) Wright’s non-fictional writings from the 1950s – such as Pagan Spain, White Man, Listen, Black Power and Color Curtain – and how these relatively neglected works by the novelist anticipate the cross-cultural, postcolonialist, and Black Atlantic perspectives that have emerged since the 1980s; (c) how Wright extends and expands the interrogation of high modernism by Harlem Renaissance writers such as Claude McKay, Langston Hughes,  Zora Neale Hurston and Wallace Thurman by injecting issues of social injustice and political freedom to create new iterations of modernism; (d) how Wright may be taught in the classroom in conjunction with other American and ethnic American writers.

Please feel free to e-mail questions in advance for Professor Singh to the Wright Connection ( 

To attend the virtual seminar:
 1) Go to 
2)Select “Enter as a Guest.” 
3)Type your name in the box. 
4)Click on “Enter Room.” 
5)The virtual seminar “room” will open at the start time of the seminar.  If you try to enter before then, you will see a message that reads:  The meeting has not yet started.  You will be able to access the meeting once the host arrives.  Please wait.

All participants will need a Flash-based web browser and an Internet connection to access the virtual seminar.  Please feel free to e-mail Keah Cunningham ( with any technical questions or issues.

Additional information at

Maryemma Graham
Sarah Arbuthnot

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Black Women and African American Literature

[By Crystal Boson]

We all know of the Black Matriarch.  She is the engine that drives many of the novels in HBW’s 100 Novels Project, and in the larger body of African American writing.  In literary works, she serves both the ghost of the past, conjured up to impart wisdom, and the tangible hand of the present, ever ready to guide, heal, and correct.  Over one third of the novels in our project focus on Black women; and each feminine body is bound in the language of story telling, memory holding, and legacy.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Significance of Early Support For Novelists: Richard Wright & Colson Whitehead

Howard Rambsy II is an associate professor of literature and the director of the Black Studies Program at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.


 There are some notable similarities between the early literary careers of novelists Richard Wright and Colson Whitehead. In particular, the early, substantial support and endorsements that they received for their first published novels were remarkable and helped established them as notable literary figures. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Education and Revolution: Reading the novels of Sutton E. Griggs and Toni Morrison

[By Kenton Rambsy]

Continuing our conversations of linking education to freedom Sutton E. Griggs’s Imperium in Imperio (1899) and Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon (1977). Griggs’s principle characters Bernard Belgrave and Belton Piedmont and Morrison’s secondary character Guitar Baines both illustrate how black people subvert educational practices as a means to produce alternative political societies in America.

The Coverage of... Manning Marable and Malcolm X

[An HBW collaboration with Howard Rambsy II via SIUE Black Studies]

The shocking passing of Manning Marable and the long-awaited publication of his biography Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention have prompted quite a bit of commentary.
Our work with the Project on the History of Black Writing prompted us to keep track of the coverage on Marable's death and the publication of his book on Malcolm.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Allow Me To Re-Introduce Myself

The Project on the History of Black Writing (HBW) is pleased to “reintroduce ourselves” to the online community as we celebrate the re-launch of our home website! Please visit our website here and help us celebrate our new website.

The former HBW website has been redesigned and expanded to highlight our online initiatives and to emphasize the many resources the project houses.As online archival database and professional development center, the HBW’s new design seeks to be more user-friendly and act as virtual connection to our broad ranging audiences.

**Note, our website has experienced some malfunctions in Google Chrome; therefore, it is better to use it in Internet Explorer, FireFox, or Safari


Music: Jay-Z “Public Service Announcement”
HBW Home Website Redesign—Lynne Lipsey
HBW Home Website Design Concept—Kenton Rambsy
Video—Howard Rambsy, Sr.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bringing Past Practices into the Present

[By Crystal Boson]

As the alliterative title suggests, many of the works in the 100 Novels Project deal with religious and cultural practices that are associated with the distant, slavery mired past, or a romanticized and distant homeland that the protagonists have roots in but may have never seen.  These practices fall under folk faiths and religion, land based practices of herb-lore and root-work, and ties to food and drink created in the “old ways”.  The novels that most easily embody these ideas are Nalo Hopkinson’s, The Salt Roads, Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sowers, Colson Whitehead’s The Intitutionist, and Gloria Naylor’s Momma Day.  While each of these works utilizes elements of folk faith and old cultural practices as mediums of liberation for the protagonists and fall under the genre of speculative fiction, there is something deeper at work within these texts.  The inclusion of these practices combined with present or future landscapes and the use of technology and science does double literary duty; not only does it ground the narrative in a racialized past, but the works insist upon a future where authentic black expression along the lines of faith, practice, and spirituality are viable.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Outfaulknering Faulkner: Ralph Ellison’s Juneteenth

Jennifer M. Colatosti is a PhD student in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Kansas. She holds an MA in the same from Ohio University. Her critical work often engages critical race theory to question the construction of American identities and her creative work explores the intertwined roles of family and place in the individual’s understanding of identity.

When I reencountered Faulkner as a graduate student, it was in a class that juxtaposed his work with that of 20th Century Black writers. Where I had previously admired him for the way The Sound and The Fury exposed the ugly side of a white Southern aristocratic family, I now came to him with a fuller understanding of the real history of the South, the unromanticized version of the South so rarely acknowledged by whites. I now knew much more about the history of race relations in the South. And so, Faulkner’s questioning of the race binary that pervades Southern thought became especially clear as I began to compare the implicit commentary on the social construction of race in his Light in August with Wright’s Black Boy.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Black Men and Informal Educational Networks

[By Kenton Rambsy]

Over the past two weeks, I have explored how issues related to literacy and access as central thematic concerns in books by African American writers. Here is a list of novels,  ranging from 1852-2006, mentioned so far:
Frederick Douglass’s Heroic Slave (1852)
Martin Delany’s Blake; or, the Huts of America (1862)
Sutton E. Griggs’s Imperium in Imperio (1899)
Ishmael Reed’s Flight to Canada (1976)
Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon (1977)
Charles Johnson’s Middle Passage (1990)
Paul Beatty’s The White Boy Shuffle (1996) 
Percival Everett’s Erasure (2001)
Colson Whitehead’s Apex Hides the Hurt (2006)

Wright Connection Virtual Seminar

To celebrate the re-launch of the Wright Connection, we encourage HBW followers to our Virtual Seminar on Saturday, April 16, 2011 at 10:00 a.m. CST, featuring Jennifer Wallach, Assistant Professor of History at the University of North Texas.

For more information on how to register free of charge, click here and follow instructions

When explaining his decision to write his autobiography,Black Boy, Richard Wright once remarked that he did so in part because he realized that he was a “very average Negro.” He hoped that his story would be read as representative of the experiences of others who lacked his access to the reading public. Due to his extraordinary talent and unprecedented success as an African-American novelist, his claim initially sounds like false modesty. However, it also manifests his sensitivity to the fact that he did not walk through history unaccompanied. This seminar will demonstrate how Richard Wright’s life can be used as an example for teaching many aspects of African-American history. Topics covered will include Reconstruction, the Great Migration, African-American life during the Great Depression, and various African-American cultural and political responses to racial oppression.

About Jennifer Wallach:
Dr. Wallach is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of North Texas. She is a respected scholar of African-American History and the author of the recent Wright biography, Richard Wright: From Black Boy to World Citizen. Other publications include articles related to African-American history and the book Closer to the Truth than Any Fact: Memoir, Memory, and Jim Crow. 

Making the Wright Connection Website Re-launch

The HBW is pleased to announce the re-launch of our Wright Connection website.  The Wright Connection is an online community of scholars and teachers of the works of Richard Wright (1908-1960), the author of such major works as Uncle Tom’s Children, Native Son, and Black Boy. The community grows out of a fifteen-month program funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities that explored Richard Wright and his influence on the American idiom. The program included a two-week summer institute held from July 11-24, 2010 at the University of Kansas, and subsequent virtual seminars that used technology to foster collaboration among participants.

The site serves as a clearinghouse for all information about Richard Wright. We welcome announcements of new books, articles, reviews, and conferences, as well as discussions of new pedagogical approaches to teaching Wright. We also serve as an archive of past work on Wright, including the complete print run of the Richard Wright Newsletter (1991-2006) and podcasts of lectures by some of the world’s foremost scholars of Wright.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Professor Jerry Ward Observes National Poetry Month


Phillis Wheatley, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral
Langston Hughes, Ask Your Mama: Twelve Moods for Jazz

Lucille Clifton, An Ordinary Woman
Mari Evans, I Am A Black Woman
Brenda Marie Osbey, Ceremony for Minneconjoux

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, The Gospel of Barbecue
Gwendolyn Brooks, Blacks

E. Ethelbert Miller, Season of Hunger/Cry of Rain
Alice Walker, Revolutionary Petunias

James Weldon Johnson, God’s Trombones
Alvin Aubert, Against the Blues
Eugene B. Redmond, Songs from an Afro/Phone

Bob Kaufman, The Ancient Rain: Poems 1956-1978
Ahmos Zu-Bolton, Ain’t No Spring Chicken
Lorenzo Thomas, Chances are Few
Amiri Barak, Somebody Blew Up America and Other Poems

Kalamu ya Salaam, Revolutionary Love
Margaret Walker, For My People
Robert Hayden, Words in the Morning Time
Yusef Komunyakaa,  Thieves of Paradise

Don L. Lee, We Walk the Way of the New World
Michael Harper, Nightmare Begins Responsibility
Ishmael Reed, Conjure: Selected Poems, 1963-1970

Elizabeth Alexander, The Venus Hottentot
Sterling A. Brown, Southern Road
Tom Dent, Blue Lights and River Songs

Sonia Sanchez, A Blues Book for Blue Black Magical Women
Sterling D. Plumpp, Blues: The Story Always Untold

Audre Lorde, Cables to Rage
Lance Jeffers, When I Know the Power of My Black Hand


                                                                                                         Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Black Writing and Hoodoo

[By Crystal Boson]

It is no rhetorical stretch to say that there has been a strong presence of religion in Black writing.  Internal genres spanning from uplift literature to contemporary fiction have deep ties with the church and its various attachments to worship.   However, Christianity is not the only faith system featured within the pages; there is also a strong presence of Hoodoo.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Synopsis and Notes on Rendered Invisible: Stories of Blacks and Whites, Love and Death, by Frank E. Dobson, Jr.

Frank E. Dobson, Jr., Ph.D. is director of the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center and Faculty Head of House of Gillette House at Vanderbilt University. He has published fiction and nonfiction on subjects in African American literature and culture and has been the recipient of a Ford Foundation Fellowship (1992), Hurston-Head Fiction Writer’s Award from Chicago State University (1996), and a Culture Works Creative Writing Award (1999). In addition to his work at Vanderbilt University, he also teaches at Fisk University.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Literary Traditions: Education and Political Activism

[By Kenton Rambsy]

I first encountered Frederick Douglass's The Heroic Slave during my sophomore year at Morehouse College in Atlanta. At the time, I had read his slave narrative and become thoroughly familiar with his pursuits of literacy despite great social, economic, and racial barriers. Reading his novella, though, gave me a chance to reconsider the links between literacy and emancipation from physical bondage.

The Heroic Slave sought to dispel ideas about slavery during the time of its publication. Douglass criticized Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published in 1852, because of the manner in which it portrayed African Americans as being passive and incapable of demanding their freedom from slavery. Robert S. Levine’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Frederick Douglass’ Paper: An Analysis of Reception” highlights Douglass’s concerns with Stowe’s work by suggesting that “Douglass believed that the most effective way to combat slavery was to champion political activism over moral suasion” (72 ).

Monday, April 4, 2011

Yo Soy Negro: Blackness in Peru (New World Diasporas) By Tanya Golash-Boza

Tanya Golash-Boza is a sociologist of race, ethnicity and immigration whose work explores racial and ethnic identities in the United States and Latin America as well as the racial disparities and human rights implications of U.S. immigration policy. As an Assistant Professor of Sociology and American Studies at the University of Kansas, she teaches courses on race, immigration and globalization.

Yo Soy Negro is the first book in English—in fact, the first book in any language in more than two decades—to address what it means to be black in Peru. Based on extensive ethnographic work in the country and informed by more than eighty interviews with Peruvians of African descent, this groundbreaking study explains how ideas of race, color, and mestizaje in Peru differ greatly from those held in other Latin American nations.

The conclusion that Tanya Maria Golash-Boza draws from her rigorous inquiry is that Peruvians of African descent give meaning to blackness without always referencing Africa, slavery, or black cultural forms. This represents a significant counterpoint to diaspora scholarship that points to the importance of slavery in defining blackness in Latin America as well as studies that place cultural and class differences at the center of racial discourses in the region.