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.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Where are the Girls? : 5 Novels That Focus on Black Girls

[By Goyland Williams]

In my last post, I mentioned Toni Morrison’s motivation and sense of urgency for writing The Bluest Eye as stemming from her concern that far too many novels failed to acknowledge and fully develop young black girls as central characters. An exploration of African American novels that place attention on young black girls, such as Pecola Breedlove, present readers with both similar and dissimilar literary representations of the pressures that mold and shape black girls. Moreover, readers have the opportunity to consider how childhood representations and coming of age tales of young black girls coincide with the literary images of black women. It is at this critical site where African American children and young adults can find themselves in their reading, as they engage in that essential goal of adolescence –formulation of self, an identity.

Below, I have compiled a list of five novels that focus on black girls and their development.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye: Black Girls as Central Figures

 [By Goyland Williams]
The same year The Bluest Eye (1970) was published, the Black Power Movement and other black struggles for liberation of the 1960s had influenced black literature significantly. Central to those movements’ message was the emphasis of loving and valuing blackness. Because of this, Toni Morrison describes in a interview why The Bluest Eye having “a little hurt black girl at the center of this story” instead of the stereotypical strong black woman is substantial, and even, groundbreaking in a landscape known for its essentialist representations.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Playing in the Sunlight: Colors of Imagination, or Toni Morrison Revisited

Having made proposals about the continual and continuous Africanist presence in the American literary imagination, Toni Morrison positions herself to be questioned about the invisible presence of an other, neither black nor white, which does or should haunt the American use of language.  Should the case be otherwise, it would have to be claimed that the truly invisible other has  been so thoroughly erased in historical consciousness and printed text as to be of minuscule importance.  Morrison’s translation of her 1990 Massey lectures as Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination raises serious questions about the “inadequacy and the force of the imaginative act,” particularly when that phrase is juxtaposed with the amazing utterance “How compelling is the study of those writers who take responsibility for all of the values they bring to their art” (xiii).  One of Morrison’s most valuable points in the book concerns the debatable validity of certain constructions of knowledge. It is an invitation to ask about her own constructions, in light of her disclaimer that she does not bring to the critical project “even principally the tools of a literary critic.”  Do the tools of the literary artist suffice?  And in this instance, might we think (with a tinge of perversity) that failure would be more valuable than success in helping us to understand Morrison as novelist/critic?

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Race for Theory: Black Women’s Literary Contributions

[By Kenton Rambsy]

Barbara Christian’s 1988 essay, “The Race for Theory” calls for black women’s writing to be included, to a greater extent, in critical discourse. Christian explains, “For me, literary criticism is promotion as well as understanding, a response to the writer to whom there is often no response, to folk who need the writing as much as they need anything. I know, from literary history, that writing disappears unless there is a response to it.”

She continues, “Because I write about writers who are now writing, I hope to ensure that their tradition has continuity and survives.” Christian’s attention to black women’s writing helped to advance black feminist concerns through literary scholarship and pays homage to writers such as Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, and Paule Marshall.

Over the next two weeks, the HBW Blog will focus on black women writers and their artistic representations of family, community, and sexuality. Posts will focus on a Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, a list of novels that focus on black girl protagonists, Lucille Clifton’s memoir, Zora Neale Hurston, and Sonia Sanchez.

Taken together, our blog entries respond to and extend Christian’s call for more commentary on black women’s writing. Although scholarship on African American women’s writing has flourished over the last two decades, there has been less consistent, coordinated work on black women’s writing produced on blogs and promoted on social media sites. Thus, our efforts seek to illuminate black women’s literary art while utilizing new technologies.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Uncommon Intellect of the Amistad Rebels: Kevin Young’s Ardency

 [By Howard Rambsy II]

Kevin Young’s Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels about the famous slave ship revolt and aftermath is a powerful work—a strong volume of poetry and historical document. Among other attributes, Ardency raises awareness about the intellectual capabilities of the Mendi people of Sierra Leone.

People with some knowledge about the Amistad and the subsequent case are likely familiar with the story of the leader Cinque who possessed a strong presence of mind. But Young’s book goes further than many popular accounts by detailing the efforts of the larger cast of rebels and their struggles for freedom.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Other Side of the Ship: Charles Johnson's Middle Passage

[By Alysha Griffin]

In 1997, the film Amistad was released. The film retold the story of the 1839 ship rebellion in which freshly captured slaves took over the ship and the ensuing legal battle in the United States. Despite historical inaccuracies and harsh critiques of the film’s representations of black men, I credit the film for providing an accessible image of the Middle Passage. This image forces audiences to revisit the often forgotten spot in our memories.

I revisit the film with images of Charles Johnson’s novel Middle Passage fresh in mind. Though published in 1990, the images in Johnson’s novel provide an interesting alternative to images in the film by addressing slavery through humor. Middle Passage is infused with rich language, intense with imagery, and packed with provocative wit.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Coverage Of...Daniel Rasmussen’s—American Uprising

[Compiled By Kenton Rambsy]

Daniel Rasmussen’s—American Uprising: The Untold Story of America's Largest Slave Revolt is the riveting and long-neglected story of this elaborate plot, the rebel army's dramatic march on the city, and its shocking conclusion. No North American slave uprising—not Gabriel Prosser's, not Denmark Vesey's, not Nat Turner's—has rivaled the scale of this rebellion either in terms of the number of the slaves involved or the number who were killed. More than one hundred slaves were slaughtered by federal troops and French planters, who then sought to write the event out of history and prevent the spread of the slaves' revolutionary philosophy. With the Haitian revolution a recent memory and the War of 1812 looming on the horizon, the revolt had epic consequences for America.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

What If Phillis Wheatley Was a Black Nerd?

This semester, I’m working with a group of students concerning the topic “black nerds.” Although we are primarily focusing on literary representations of bookish, sometimes socially awkward, and isolated figures from 20th century and 21st century narratives, my mind keeps drifting back to some of the early black nerds—long before that phrase and even those terms “black” and “nerd” were as popular. 

Along those lines, I couldn’t help thinking about the sister Phillis Wheatley. Was she an early version of a black nerd? She was highly intelligent. Bookish. Hard to say if she was socially awkward, but she was inevitably distant or isolated from black folks and white folks for various reasons.