Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Winning: Changing the Language of Breast Cancer

[By Phillis h. Rambsy]

In her recent blog post, Simone Savannah reminds us that instead of thinking of their bodies as “abnormal” women should “take charge of their health which also means embracing the differences in their bodies.”  Savannah points to the several poems that “give women the space to embrace their bodies.”  These poems allow women, particularly, Black women, to re-imagine the racist and sexist views of the Black female body.

Just as Savannah reminds us to be cognizant of the necessity of re-imagining the body, we should also be cognizant of re-imagining the language that is utilized to describe the lives of those who fight the opponent of breast cancer.  In revisiting a post from last year about Audre Lorde’s Cancer Journals, the vitality of Lorde in the face of breast cancer rival is striking.  Lorde’s language is one of a victor; one who is faced with a life-threatening disease but still chooses autonomy and victory rather than victimization and defeat.  Although, Lorde ultimately died as a result of breast cancer, she definitely was not defeated by the disease.  Lorde, through her narrative about her struggle with disease, proves that those diagnosed with breast cancer are not mere victims of the disease.  Above all, even in death, Lorde’s words remind us that those who have breast cancer, and even die from it, do not necessarily endure a losing battle.

Breast Cancer: Black Women's Bodies and Poetry

[By Simone Savannah]

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month was established in 1985 to encourage women to take charge of their breast health by getting mammograms. Mammography is used to screen breast abnormalities for both men and women. As I did my research on breast cancer, I was drawn to the word “abnormal” as it was very much present throughout each blog and medical site. What exactly is “abnormal,” and how do medicines, treatments, and surgeries correct abnormalities?

I’ve come across various blogs and journal articles that talk about how various body types are abnormal, especially if they belong to Black women.  Of course, there are articles on Sara Baartman, a Khoi (South African) woman who became a spectacle of white male sexual desire because of her voluptuous body. Featured in a London exhibit, she was subjected to poking and ordered to parade before a white audience that was fascinated by her “abnormal” buttocks.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Democratic Womanism by Alice Walker

[By Simone Savannah]

Alice Walker recently read her new poem, “Democratic Womanism” on Democracy Now! Used throughout her book, In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose, the “Womanism” is used to describe the perspectives and the experiences of women of color. Though the propaganda surrounding this election has been about women’s issues, including reproductive health and rights, and though candidates have attempted to share their own “feminist” values/beliefs, Walker crafts her poem as a call for a new (Womanist) order. As stated in her poem, she wants Democratic Womanism, “a way of life that honors the feminine; a way that acknowledges the theft of the wisdom female and dark Mother leadership might have provided our spaceship all along”.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Confrontation With Abuse for Black Women in Ntazoke Shange's “With No Immediate Cause” and Nikki Giovanni's “Woman”

[By Simone Savannah]

I have spent a number of years examining women’s issues, including the confrontation with sexism and racism for Black women in Literature and Creative Writing. Furthermore, since October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and because of the overwhelming conversations about recent attacks against Black women, I have chosen to dedicate this post to victims/survivors of domestic violence.

The conversations surrounding the abuse of brown and black girls have been particularly frustrating for me and a few of my colleagues. Examining the language used to justify domestic (and public) violence, it is possible that these conversations are unnerving to women (and men) who have suffered abuse and are working to dismantle patriarchal notions of masculinity and femininity that shape our responses to violence.

Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, and Bad Blood

[By Jerry Ward]

A (1):  To read Wright’s review, click here.

There you will find the in-house review by Hurston’s publisher and reviews by George Stevens, Lucille Thompson, Sheila Hibben, Otis Ferguson, Sterling Brown, and Alain Locke.  Wright was not the only male who did not praise Hurston’s novel in 1937.

A (2):  As one result of American cultural games, the bad blood has been so magnified that what is a sub-atomic particle looks like a Siberian tiger.  In literary circles, one game is played by driving a contrived wedge between selected African American iconic figures.  The divisive action is formulaic.  Select two people ---let us say, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., Terry McMillan and Toni Morrison, or Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois.  Extract diametrically opposed quotations from each either in or out of context.  Magnify and distort the differences.  Claim the differences are symbolic of some more or less permanent fault line in the collective consciousness of a people, symbolic of a wailing wall of hate between the two people selected.  You do not have to provide proof, nor exercise the civility of waiting for an answer.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Paul Laurence Dunbar and the Souls of White Folk

[By Jerry Ward]

One hundred and forty years after his birth, Paul Laurence Dunbar‘s presence in African American collective memory is as secure as any presence can be in a society that values forgetting. Finding

Dunbar, Paul Laurence. The Collected Novels of Paul Laurence Dunbar. Ed. Herbert Woodward Martin, Ronald Primeau and Gene Andrew Jarrett. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2009.

in a New Orleans public library inspires a spoonful of hope.  Readers who only know Dunbar as our historical poet laureate or his novel The Sport of the Gods (1902) and a few of his short stories have an opportunity to discover, as the editors note, that Dunbar’s first three novels --- The Uncalled (1898), The Love of Landry (1900), and The Fanatics (1901) –“together challenge the long-standing assumption that African American authors should cast only blacks as main characters and as messengers of racial justice” (vii).  Zora Neale Hurston’s Seraph on the Sewanee, William Gardner Smith’s Anger at Innocence, Willard Motley’s Knock on Any Door, Richard Wright’s Savage Holiday, and Ann Petry’sCountry Place do challenge the assumption, but so weird an assumption  warrants  our being reminded of Dunbar’s pride of place in challenging what is inane.

Reading Gayl Jones Corregidora: The Body Text

[By Goyland Williams]

The Corregidora women are haunted. The trauma is evident. Entrenched in a narrative marred by the legacy of slavery, oppression, and the ghost of the past, Gayl Jones explores what Susan Sontag calls “collective instruction” of traumatic narratives that are inscribed upon the flesh of the Corregidora women. Lines become blurred. The personal, familial, and collective remembrances of violent histories collide. In her novel, Jones creates a family legacy of remembering such trauma through passing down stories of terror and horror to future generations. In this moment, remembering and witnessing are kept to make visible both the scars and the blood.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Lesson Before Dying: Notes for Human Liberation

[By Goyland Williams]

Ernest Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying has been compared to the works of Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and even William Faulkner. Much like these writers, Gaines calls the reader to confront the entire bitter history of black people in the South and America as a whole. No doubt, Gaines writes this piece just as much for the white youth of this country as he does for the African-American youth of the rural south—a south germinated by race and slavery.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

An Ethic of Quiet: Beyond the Black Public Self

[By Goyland Williams]

It is 1968. Tommie Smith, John Carlos, and Peter Norman stand poised during the Olympic medal ceremony in Mexico City. Both Smith and Carlos’ heads are bowed-as if in deep prayer, their clinched fists are raised high, and their black bodies are on display for all the world to see. And while this public protest may be read as both intimate and resistant, it is the latter that is received as the dominant read of black culture. Beyond the boundaries of public expressiveness, the concept of quiet may also inform and articulate the depths of one’s humanity. So begins Kevin Quashie’s The Sovereignty of Quiet: Beyond Resistance in Black Culture.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Black Humanist Theology: Reading Toni Morrison

[By Goyland Williams]

My research interest in philosophy and literature- more specifically, Existentialism, has continuously led me to the works of Toni Morrison. And while Morrison’s works need no justification—philosophical or literary—they present an opportunity to consider how the history of oppression can afflict a group of people, both past and present. The Bluest Eye presents the most compelling response to the question Dubois raised nearly a century ago: “What Meaneth Black Suffering”?

Precisely, Morrison’s novel is a question of “theodicy”—understood as the question of God’s justice in the presence of human suffering. In her fictional world, God is not limited to the traditional Western notion of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Instead, the concept of God must compete with the existence of evil and narratives of suffering and affliction in the face of a faith tradition that preaches the omnipotence of a just God.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Learning from a Postracial Moment: Notes from The University of Bielefeld

[By Maryemma Graham]

Bielefeld University in the western part of Germany seemed an unlikely place to make a discovery.  Teaching for 30 years, facing a new group of students on a regular basis is common practice for me. As far as I was concerned, my trip to the University of Bielefeld for an intensive 4 day seminar “Gender and Memoir” entailed another set of prepared lectures, knowing that I was going to a meet interesting students whose comprehension of what I had to say would come by way of translation.  I had also prepared myself also to expect little of the nuance that comes when there is apparent cultural and/or ethnic reciprocity, even if the discussions are at a high level of sophistication.  What could really happen in such a short span of time, I thought to myself.

I was pleasantly surprised to find otherwise: fully engaged students, highly proficient speakers and readers of the literature I had proposed we read, and a entirely new set of questions and interpretations—as a result of the range of disciplines the students represented. We have something to learn from those who read literature with fresh new eyes, free from the predispositions that living in racialized America brings.

But this is not about those questions and interpretation, but about something else far more valuable that I learned.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Our Poets are Our Dangerous Friends

[By Jerry Ward]

Our poets do many beneficial things for our commonweal.  They teach in public schools, in colleges and universities, in alternative education programs, in community centers and churches and sites of ill-repute.  When they feel generous, they call our attention to the works of other poets, to the writings of novelists, essayists, hard and soft scientists, and dramatists.  When they feel bitter and small, they call attention only to their egos.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Black Studies and Digital Humanities: A Growing List of Online Resources

[Compiled by Kenton Rambsy & Goyland Williams]

I am interested in online mediums, blogs in particular, can be used as a space to think through ideas when preparing larger publications, getting immediate feedback, and simply giving larger audiences access to new ideas and information.  In terms of bridging the gap between “Digital Humanities” and “Black Studies,” developing an online presence is crucial. Online websites concerning black culture serve as points of entry for how wider audiences engage in scholarship about African American life and history.

Below, this list constitutes the growing “digital resources” by professors, public figures, collective groups, and institutions that can be used to discuss and study issues in Black Studies. Ranging from the personal blog of Professor Adam Banks and rhetorical matters to digital archives of HistoryMakers, the innovative means by which social networking and online mediums are used to create and shape conversations about black culture is noteworthy. 


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mixtapes, Digital Humanities, and Black Studies

[By Kenton Rambsy]

In terms of hip-hop culture, mixtapes have always been a crucial part of how rappers and other musical artists produced and circulated their works beyond official channels. Afrika Bambaataa and DJ Kool Herc, back in the day, and in more recent times Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, and Frank Ocean utilized mixtapes to get their works out to different publics.  

With the rise of social networking, mixtapes have played an even more crucial role in shaping the musical landscape by reconfiguring how fans get access to music, what type of musical trends become popular, and what artists we listen to the most. Overall, the digital age has altered the means of production and distribution in some respects.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What Literary Scholars Can Learn from Rap Genius

[By Kenton Rambsy]

Among many useful outlets out there on the web, Rap Genius serves as one important model of a collaborative, digital database comprised of an expansive body of works featuring an African American art form. Rap Genius is akin to Wikipedia. However, it’s for rap music.

The website explains the relationship between musical lyrics and social/historical content to provide explanations to rap music and R&B songs. To use the website, users simply have to search for a specific song, scroll their cursor over a particular line, and read the, often times, in-depth explanation of the content of a particular line, word, or verse of a rap song.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Access Stunts Digital Studies in Black Literature

[By Kenton Rambsy]

Last month, I attended THAT Camp (The Humanities and Technology Camp) hosted by the University of Kansas’s Institute for Digital Research in the Humanities. The three-day institute’s goal was geared towards equipping scholars/researchers with online resources to enhance how we study literature by building online databases, using text mining software, and the like.

Not surprising, I was only one of about 4 other black people in attendance at the conference. It was not a surprise because among emerging literary scholars, I often hear a version of the comment that “black scholars just aren’t that sold on the benefits of digital research.” While I think that view has some merit, I started to focus more on the structural issues that may even prevent younger scholars from becoming engaged in using new technologies to participate in knowledge production in black literary and cultural study.

Rowan Ricardo Phillips: The Revenge of Unfinished Modernism

[By Jerry W. Ward]

Rowan Ricardo Phillips’ The Ground (New York: Farrar Strauss Giroux, 2012) distinguishes itself from many of the first collections flooding the poetry market for at least two reasons:  1) Philips is remarkably modest in using his broad cultural literacy and his translator’s insights about the strengths and fragility of language qua language; 2) the ontology of The Ground is made special by the conditions of its materiality. The book has been published by one of the few remaining firms in the United States that possesses the aura of class.  The virtue of the book is attested by the right people: Lucie Brock-Broido, who theorized in 1995 that a poem is a thing that wounds; Henri Cole, the poetry editor of The New Republic; Evie Shockley, a poet and critic who happens to be a Cave Canem graduate fellow. The book jacket is a sepia photograph by Nuria Royo Planas, a powerful evocation of film noir to characterize the dark psychology of post-9/11 New York City.  It is obvious that grace and sophistication was involved in locating Phillips’ work in the territory of high-ground modernism.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Ishmael Reed and the American War of Words

[By Jerry W. Ward]

The October 3 presidential debate was a capital example of America’s war of words and visualized rhetoric.  The spectacle was ulotrichy.  Viewers are still at a loss to determine whether either debater said anything substantive regarding the economy, health care, the role of government, or a philosophy of governing.

Things would have been different and clearer had Ishmael Reed rather than James Charles Lehrer been the debate moderator.  Reed would not have stayed out of the flow.  He would have directed the debaters into the superdome of history.  Unlike Lehrer, Reed understands that a presidential debate is predicated on America’s social and racial contract and that one dividend of this contract is our nation’s contemporary nervous breakdown.

On Richard Rorty’s Shadow of Pragmatic Hope

[By Jerry W. Ward]

Kevin Young promotes the idea of the lost shadow book in The Grey Album.  “In some crucial ways,” according to Young, “the lost shadow book is the book that blackness writes every day.  The book that memory, time, accident, and the active forms of oppression prevent from being read”(14).  Young, of course, is lying like a first-class philosopher as he recycles the governing idea in Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo: Jes Grew must seek its text.

Sometimes the lost shadow is oral, as was the brilliant public conversation between Max Roach and John Scott at a Zora Neale Hurston Festival.  The conversation was not taped.  It can’t be heard.  It is a shadow of memory in the minds of those who were there, who listened in awe.  To be sure, those fragile shadows are hastened to oblivion by the brighter shadows of emerging technologies.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Natasha Trethewey and the Eyes of Historical/Poetic Consciousness

[By Jerry Ward]

In Thrall (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), an aptly titled collection, Trethewey makes a partial analysis of bondage.  Unlike their synonym “slavery,” thrall and bondage provoke images of the exotic, the gendered perversity we can easily confuse with “love,” and what is plainly erotic.  Trethewey is extending the work begun in her second collection Bellocq’s Ophelia and placing greater stress on ekphrasis, the literary commentary on the visual image as text.  The emphasis in Belocq’s Ophelia was on use of the persona and restoration of voice to the visual silence of invasive photography.  Thrall directs attention away from such intimacy and toward the more blatant uses in painting of visual classification, particularly in the casta paintings of Juan Rodríguez Juárez and other artists fascinated by the body, the racialized evidence of the social constructions of biology. Ekphrasis is not exactly rare in poetry, and in African American poetry its touchstone is Clarence Major’s masterpiece “The Slave Trade: View from the Middle Passage,” a redoubling painterly text which Linda Ferguson Selzer brilliantly explicated in African American Review.  One might gain much from reading Trethewey’s poems in tandem with rather than in gendered opposition to Major’s experiment with historical/poetic consciousness.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Third Annual Black Aesthetics as Politics: Call for Presentations

Black ExistentialismS: Situating Black Existential Philosophy
February 15, 2013

Submission Deadline: December 1, 2012
Send Submissions and Inquiries to

Celebrating the diversity of understandings, explanations, and explorations into the meaning of blackness within cultural, political, philosophical, and aesthetic life, Duquesne University in conjunction with the Black Aesthetics and Politics series invites participants from a wide range of disciplines and mediums to this year’s topic, Black ExistentialismS: Situating Black Existential Philosophy.

Ytasha Womack author of Post‐Black: How a Generation is
Redefining African American Identity
Jaamil Olawale Kosoko of The Philadiction Movement
Staycee Pearl of Staycee Pearl Dance Project

Monday, October 1, 2012

Encountering Richard Wright & Jerry Ward

[By Howard Rambsy II]

In July of 1996, shortly after completing my first year of undergrad at Tougaloo College in Mississippi, I was on a bus traveling from Paris to Dijon, France, where I would be taking summer courses. As I settled into the bus ride, I decided to look over reading material that I carried—the 1993 reissue of Richard Wright’s Black Boy. It turns out that Jerry W. Ward, Jr., whom I would take my first literature course with in the upcoming fall at Tougaloo, wrote the introduction for the edition of Wright’s book.

I had read Wright’s Native Son my senior of high school, and in some ways, I had been inspired to go to France because I had discovered, in the back of the reissue of Native Son, that Wright had traveled to France years and years ago. Later, as a grad student, I would retrace Wright’s steps again, this time to Ghana.