Monday, March 25, 2013

Rap Genius and Black Literature

[By Kenton Rambsy]

Rap Genius is not just for rap fans. The website, made popular for its explanations of rap music, has now ventured into providing detailed explanations for literary texts. Using the same crowd-sourced annotation platform, Rap Genius allows for its users to break down literary texts and help clarify the importance of language usage, historical context, and thematic content in poems, speeches, essays, and novels.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Black Drama and the Alarm Clock

[By Jerry W. Ward]


In the early 1970s, people in what was then the Black Community took some interest in the April issues of Black World, a rich source of cultural information edited by Hoyt W. Fuller. Those issues were devoted to reporting and commentary on Black drama; they satisfied our desire to know what was happening in Black theater.  We had a broad sense of how Black playwrights and directors were dealing with themes and influencing inquiry about the state of Black America.  Two items in the April 1972 issue were typical.

Woodie King’s “A Question of Relevance,” pages 25-29, informed us that he did not see a coming together of educational theater and the Black Community “until they begin to understand each other” (25).  King ended his essay with an opinion about change. “The classics [of Black theater] will be captured on video as they are in books.  Educational institutions must  look for the new, the innovative.  I think the new and the innovative are in Black theater” (29).

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Race No More???

[By Maryemma Graham]

As the term post racial gains widespread acceptance, I am reminded of George Schuyler’s Black No More (1931) the uproariously funny satire about a black man who becomes white through a Black No More process invented by a one Dr. Junius Crookman.  The book is truly instructive.  As a cautionary tale, by showing how absurd, self-serving, and easily exploitable our constructions of race can be, Schuyler points to the difficulty of quick fixes that easily mask our ignorance of history and deny racism as our national shame. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Transformation of Black Fiction into Film

[By Jerry W. Ward]

Transformation of fiction into film necessitates deformations. Some transformations may enhance a flawed story, but they frequently cheapen the nuances of strong fiction. Viewers who have not read the source may logically think the film is excellent. Readers who move from the source to the film may have a quite different opinion, for they know that the probable intentions of the fiction writer have been murdered.

Such is the case with the television film of Richard Wright’s novella “Long Black Song.”  Sarah’s husband Silas is figuratively castrated by the film; his agency to extract a cuckold’s revenge is erased by magnifying his submissiveness to a white merchant and to his wife’s imperatives.  Wright’s intentions are spun 180 degrees. His purposeful depiction of Silas’s act of violence and resolve to die bravely for his beliefs are minimized for the comfort of genteel television viewers.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Black Literary Images (1)

[By Kenton Rambsy]

A key figure during the Harlem Renaissance and author of Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), Zora Neale Hurston’s interests in folklore and intra-racial conflicts served as the basis for the majority of her anthropological studies, short stories, and novels.

Usually, two images of Hurston are widely circulated (the top images at the top of the compilation). These images have the ability to leave lasting impressions on who Hurston was and, more importantly, what she looked like. The compilation above celebrates the lesser-known images of Hurston that may give people insight into the her diverse nature and interests. 

Houston A. Baker, Jr.’s Critical Memory

[By Jerry W. Ward, Jr.]

Houston Baker’s Critical Memory (University of Georgia Press, 2001) is a meditation on how, why and where his values are grounded.  A few students of African American intellectual history may genuinely admire Baker’s indebtedness to Richard Wright’s racial wisdom, his gratitude to his parents for modeling civic virtues in the pressure cooker of segregation, and his critique of race as “the ruling idea that conjures and pronounces sentences of guilt or innocence…on we who are black by choice…or due to inescapable circumstances” (10). Transcendentalists who fed on denial, thin air and mental narcotics will not admire, I suspect, Baker’s Old Testament forthrightness.  He is too much like Fred Daniels, the man who lived underground.  His truth-telling brings discomfort.  Despite potential threats of minority condemnation, Baker has written an eloquent testimony on the power of autobiographical examination.  Critical Memory is a thick description of historicity.