Monday, December 29, 2014

Reading 2015: Part I


[by Jerry W. Ward, Jr.]

Having abandoned the bad faith of making New Year’s Resolutions, I am determined in 2015 to pursue three priorities:

CHINA

CULTURAL WORK IN NEW ORLEANS

RESEARCH, THINKING, AND WRITING


Monday, December 22, 2014

On a Novel by Caryl Phillips


[by Jerry Ward, Jr.]

Toni Morrison’s Beloved deftly exposes the psychology of enslavement in North America, but it is Dessa Rose by Sherley Anne Williams that succeeds best in exposing the narratological features of a female slave’s “story,” namely the verbal strategies she uses to impede the extent to which her story (herstory versus history) can be stolen. Caryl Phillips, however, ought to be valued as much as Williams and Morrison from the angle of post-colonial witnessing. In his novel Cambridge, he “films” the tragic irony of the metanarrative of the enslaver and the enslaved, bringing to fiction what Hegel brought to philosophy.





Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Reading List: 3 More Staff Recommendations for Winter Reading

Lawrence Public Library's Christmas (book) tree.


Last Wednesday, the HBW Blog Editor Meredith Wiggins shared her list of five recent black-authored books to check out over the winter break.

Today, HBW Communications Director and Office Manager Crystal Bradshaw shares three additional recommendations to spend some time with while the temperatures drop.

Below the cut, check out Crystal's choices, including two historical novels and a poem.





Monday, December 15, 2014

Farewell to Dean of KU Libraries Lorraine Haricombe

On Friday, December 12, HBW founder Maryemma Graham and current staff members met with Dean of Libraries Lorraine Haricombe on her final day at KU. 

HBW presented Dean Haricombe with a commemorative plaque in appreciation of her support of HBW programming like Black Literary Suites. 

HBW staff members present KU Dean of Libraries Lorraine Haricombe with a plaque in appreciation of her support.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Reading List: 5 Books for the Winter Break

This will always be the dream.
[by Meredith Wiggins]

The Fall 2014 semester is drawing to a close and winter break is rapidly coming upon us, which means it's almost the time of year when we here at HBW get to to indulge in more pleasure-reading than is always possible in the thick of the school year.

Back in 2012, Goyland Williams posted about some black-authored books he planned to read over the break. Over the next few days, HBW staff members will be posting their own recommendations for some winter reading.

For today's post, I chose to focus on recent "popular" works by black writers, including a young adult novel, a poetic memoir, a book of photography, and two collections of essays that I can't wait to read during some down time.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Considering and Reconsidering Black Studies: A Dialogue Between Jerry Ward and Abdul Alkalimat


In July, we shared a post by Jerry Ward on the main HBW website regarding Introduction to Afro-American Studies: A People's College Primer (1973) and African American Studies 2013: A National Web-Based Survey (2013). This post has since invited a response from Abdul Alkalimat, primary author of both documents. The HBW Blog would like to share this dialogue and open it up for further commentary from the authors and from readers of the HBW Blog.

Below the cut: Jerry Ward's "Black Studies Reconsidered" and Abdul Alkalimat's response, "Reconsidering Jerry Ward on Black Studies."




Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Continuing Ferguson's Literary History

[by Meredith Wiggins]

After the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014, staff and contributors of Avidly put together a list of texts that they called "Ferguson's Literary History" - books, essays, and poems that offer context for the continuing climate of racism and racial violence in the United States.

The list received renewed attention in the wake of last week's grand jury decision not to indict Wilson for killing Michael Brown. The article made the rounds again on social media, encouraging readers to seek out the works of thinkers like Ida B. Wells, Martin Delany, and William Wells Brown. Here, I suggest two additional titles for the list.

Monday, December 1, 2014

African-American Studies in China: The 2nd International Symposium on Ethnic Literature

[by Deaweh Benson]

I was shocked as I sat among a room of Chinese students intently reading, listening to, and discussing lectures on African-American Studies. I was given the outstanding opportunity to attend the 2nd International Symposium on Ethnic Literature, hosted at Central China Normal University of Wuhan. In just two days, my ideas about how the Chinese perceived African-Americans were dramatically reconstructed.






Thursday, November 27, 2014

Black Men Must Be Bionic

[by Kevin L. Reeves]


 Editor's Note: Warning: This piece contains a link to a video of an officer shooting an unarmed black man.
   
In any situation, if a white police officer is moved to kill me, he knows he could do so with impunity. He knows this. He’s known it for many years. His socialization in these United States taught him the ways of race relations at an early age. With them, it’s an implicit understanding. He knows if we are engaged in any kind of non-lethal struggle, or if I dared to react in a way that is displeasing to him, he’d be free to take my life without consequence from the law. My innocence doesn’t matter. He understands that, for me, being unarmed doesn’t matter. Standing over my blood-soaked and bullet-riddled body, he’d be justified in his actions. After all, I was black and I was bionic.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Flashback, Fast Forward: Michael Brown as America's Brute Negro*

[by Maryemma Graham]

Initial thoughts . . . Like many people, I have been hard pressed to make sense of the senseless, to believe the unbelievable. Darren Wilson shot again and again and ultimately killed unarmed college-bound Michael Brown. Wilson, due to the opinion of the Ferguson grand jury, will not face criminal charges. There was no probable cause to indict Wilson, they concluded.

The facts are simple, the case complex, it appears. Or is it? More importantly, why was I expecting something different—this time? We’ve seen it all before: violence seems to have no boundaries where, in this case and in far too many others, our black youth are concerned.  They, and we, are targets, their/our lives don’t matter; we are expendable.



Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Reflections on #Ferguson: Baldwin's "The American Dream and the American Negro"

Today, in the wake of the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for killing unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, the HBW Blog turns, as so many have done, to the words of the prophet James Baldwin: 

"It comes as a great shock to discover that the country which is your birthplace...has not, in its whole system of reality, evolved any place for you. The disaffection and the gap between people, only on the basis of their skins, begins there and accelerates throughout your whole lifetime."

These words, taken from Baldwin's "The American Dream and the American Negro," were delivered in a 1965 debate with William F. Buckley. A clip of Baldwin's speech is embedded below.



Monday, November 24, 2014

Of Nature, Nation, and the Ethnic Body

[by Jerry W. Ward, Jr.]


Editor's Note: The Project HBW Blog mostly traffics in shorter pieces, but from time to time we like to present our readers with a longer piece, as well, in a feature we call Taking the Long View.  For this installment, we feature the poetry and critical reflection of Dr. Jerry W. Ward.
 
To echo a famous twentieth-century statement, the mind should prompt the mouth to say A BODY IS A BODY IS A BODY, aware that the voiced words refer to and locate an indivisible subject and object. Or perhaps the utterance dislocates the invisible to bring into view, into perspective, a something in the world that the world is determined to impale with the idea that the “something” is ethnic and different and to be talked about. If the something that is so embodied speaks, especially in terms of accepting its ethnicity, the something that is a human being may be contemplating its relationship to nature and to its properties and privileges as a constituent of a nation. 


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Celebrating Toni Cade Bambara at 75

[by Meredith Wiggins]

African American letters lost one of its brightest lights in 1995 when Black feminist author, filmmaker and activist Toni Cade Bambara passed away at the age of 56 after being diagnosed with colon cancer.  

This November, to mark the 75th anniversary of Bambara's birth year, The Feminist Wire is currently hosting a two-week online forum celebrating the life, work, and continuing influence of a woman who said that writers and artists had a duty "to make revolution irresistible."


Monday, November 17, 2014

HBW Emerging Scholars: Edwidge Danticat and the Collective Self

[by Caroline Porter]

Editor's Note: The HBW Blog is introducing a new blog series, Emerging Scholars, that offers graduate student scholars the chance to post pieces that speak to their own critical interests in more depth than a usual blog post.  Caroline Porter, currently pursuing her M.A. in Literature at KU, inaugurates the series with a post on HBW favorite Edwidge Danticat.

Edwidge Danticat is a Haitian-American writer well known for her fiction, including her award-winning books Breath, Eyes, Memory, The Dew Breaker, and Krik? Krak! However, 2007's Brother, I’m Dying tells her own story, or so it seems. Though the book has been labeled “autobiography,” Danticat concentrates primarily on the lives of her family members rather than on her own.



Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Celebrating Ernest J. Gaines, 50 Years On

[by Meredith Wiggins]

2014 is an exciting year for readers and scholars interested in the work of Ernest J. Gaines.

It's the 50th anniversary of the award-winning author's first novel, Catherine Carmier, which set the stage for the Gaines's later, better-known fiction, including 1971's The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, 1983's A Gathering of Old Men, and 1993's Pulitzer Prize-nominated A Lesson Before Dying.

Alongside Catherine Carmier's 50th anniversary, the Ernest J. Gaines Center, housed at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, has announced the creation of the Ernest J. Gaines Society, "a literary society to promote research and scholarship on the work of Ernest J. Gaines."  

Monday, November 10, 2014

"Of Maids and Ladies": Dr. Ayesha Hardison on Living Jane Crow

[by Creighton N. Brown and Simone Savannah]

On Thursday, October 30, 2014, Langston Hughes Visiting Professor Ayesha Hardison examined the oppressive situation faced by women of color after the Civil War and through the Jim Crow Era in a talk entitled “Of Maids and Ladies: The Ethics of Living Jane Crow” at The University of Kansas.

Working from the decline of the mammy in postbellum America to the rise of the domestic worker during the 1940s and 1950s, Hardison explored the ways that black women writers attempted to critique their condition and reimagine black femininity in juxtaposition with oppression by white women and black men’s gender privilege. Hardison explored this double bind faced by black women through Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940), Ann Petry’s The Street (1946), and cartoonist Jackie Ormes’s newspaper serials Candy and Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

From the HBW Archives: The Works of John A. Williams, Novelist and Journalist

[by Meredith Wiggins]

Last year, HBW inaugurated the GEMS Project, an initiative designed to bring renewed critical interest to older, living African American authors who have received less scholarly attention in recent years than their works should merit. 

The subject of HBW's current GEMS Project is journalist and novelist John A. Williams.  We're collaborating with Williams's family to produce a tribute video that will feature biographical information, popular and lesser-known images of the writer, and a reflection about Williams's work from Ishmael Reed.

Today's blog post will preview HBW's forthcoming GEMS project by highlighting some of Williams's works held in the HBW archives.

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Good Influence: Writers on the Authors and Texts that Influenced Them

[by Meredith Wiggins]

The pleasures of Shay Youngblood's Black Girl in Paris (2000) are many and vast, but one of the most prominent is the chance to follow along as main character Eden, a would-be writer, attempts to grapple with the literary legacy of James Baldwin, whose writing inspired her to move to Paris.  The novel is rich with references to Baldwin and his body of work; he even appears briefly as a character, wordlessly blessing Eden's efforts as a writer.

It's clear that Baldwin's writing means as much to Youngblood as to her protagonist.  Her choice of setting, her invocation of queer themes, her Baldwin-esque ruminations on art, sex, race, and home--all speak to a deep love that requires textual engagement to be fully explored.

Reading this novel got me interested in compiling a list of some other authors' major influences. 



Wednesday, October 29, 2014

LGBT History Month: Giovanni's Room, by James Baldwin

[by Meredith Wiggins]

In honor of LGBT History Month, the HBW Blog is featuring posts on foundational queer texts by African American authors.  Today, we discuss James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room (1956).
 
After the triumphant publication of his first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, in 1953, James Baldwin found himself facing a new dilemma in his still-young life as a writer.  "I realized that I was being corraled [sic] into another trap," he would later say. "[N]ow I was a writer, a Negro writer, and I was expected to write diminishing versions of Go Tell It on the Mountain forever.  Which I refused to do."

His need to break free of the authorial constraints placed on him led Baldwin to write a very different follow-up novel.  Where Go Tell It was semi-autobiographical, set in Harlem, and dealt directly with issues facing the African American community, Giovanni's Room (1956) featured an all-white cast of characters and was set largely in Paris.

Most importantly, it was also explicitly about a love affair between two men.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Teaching Black Writing in Wuhan


[by Jerry W. Ward, Jr.] 

Teaching graduate students in the School of Foreign Languages at Central China Normal University is rewarding. They are less jaded and more receptive than their American peers, more conscious that a university education is a privilege rather than an entitlement dispensed by a secular god. Lacking familiarity with our democratic hypocrisies and noteworthy disdain for humanistic inquiry, most Chinese students bring innocence to the study of foreign literatures. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

HBW Open House and Jayhawk Sneak Peek Weekend

[by Meredith Wiggins]


On October 16 and 17, six prospective graduate students from across the United States visited KU as part of the second annual Jayhawk Sneak Peek Weekend, an initiative dedicated to increasing graduate student diversity in the English Department through recruiting students from traditionally under-enrolled populations.

Excited to play a part in this important weekend, HBW elected to hold our official Open House while the prospective students were in town.  Partnering with the Sneak Peek Committee to provide a brunch for visitors, we opened our office doors to the KU campus in the hopes of sharing our work with a wider audience. 


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Afro-Latin@ Scholars and Writers: Junot Díaz

Today, as National Hispanic Heritage Month draws to a close, the HBW Blog finishes out its series on Afro-Latin@ writers and scholars with a short consideration of Junot Díaz.

In a 2011 interview with Fox News Latino, Dominican-American novelist, essayist, and short-story writer Junot Díaz spoke candidly about how, as an immigrant growing up in New Jersey, his Afro-Latino racial and ethnic heritage left him feeling doubly alienated in U.S. American culture.

"I was neither black enough for the black kids or Dominican enough for the Dominican kids," Díaz said. "I didn’t have a safe category."

The difficulty of searching for--much less finding--a safe category or stable identity is one of the central concerns of Díaz's highly acclaimed, genre-spanning work.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

LGBT History Month: Ann Allen Shockley's Loving Her, 40 Years Later

[by Meredith Wiggins]

In honor of LGBT History Month, the HBW Blog will be featuring a series of posts on foundational queer texts by African American authors. First up: Ann Allen Shockley's Loving Her (1974).

From Nella Larsen's Passing (1929) to Toni Morrison's Sula (1973), the history of African American literature is rich with work that covertly addresses themes of lesbian desire.  These readings are now so commonly accepted that Sula, for instance, is often spoken of flatly as a "lesbian novel," even though its lesbian content is almost entirely subtextual. 

The first African American novel to deal explicitly with lesbianism was Ann Allen Shockley's Loving Her, published in 1974, just one year after Morrison's groundbreaking novel.  Although neither as artistically nor popularly successful as Sula (or Passing, for that matter), Loving Her is a tremendously important contribution to the history of African American fiction.

Monday, October 6, 2014

2014 Furious Flower Conference: Seeding the Future of African American Poetry

[by Simone Savannah]

There are no words—no poems--to adequately describe the experience of the Furious Flower conference.  To be there was an honor.  To hear poets read and scholars discuss was an immersion into the past and the future of African American poetry.

We were treated to Rita Dove two-stepping down a Soul Train line; we stood next to Nikki Giovanni and heard Sonia Sanchez sing and cry.  Frank X. Walker danced to "Skin Tight" by the Ohio Players.  Ishmael Reed read work that made us laugh, and jessica Care moore's son brought us to our feet when he read an original poem.

We felt special to be that close to poetry and to participate in what many have called Joanne Gabbin's ‘’divine vision."



Wednesday, October 1, 2014

From the HBW Archives: Richard Wright's Native Son (1940), On the Page and On the Screen

[By Meredith Wiggins]

Here at the HBW offices, we're working through the much-needed process of taking a complete re-inventory of our large collections of novels, plays, books of poetry, pamphlets, critical works, and other assorted African American cultural productions.

It's a fairly massive undertaking, but it's led to some fantastic (re-)discoveries--especially for me, since I'm still fairly new to staff and haven't had much of a chance to really dig into the HBW archives yet and see what all we have.  Over the coming weeks and months, as we take on the inventory project, we'll be sharing some of our holdings with you through the blog.

First up, to mark the beginning of American Archives Month: an early edition of Richard Wright's Native Son (1940).


Monday, September 29, 2014

Afro-Latin@ Writers and Scholars: Piri Thomas


[by Meredith Wiggins]

In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 - October 15), the HBW Blog will be featuring short weekly posts on Afro-Latin@ writers and scholars.  Today, we feature Nuyorican writer and poet Piri Thomas.

In a 1998 interview with In Motion Magazine, Piri Thomas said that he was inspired to begin writing when, as a child, he noticed that "The stories on the radio were about Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy, and Terry and the Pirates, but there was never one story about Pancho, or Maria, or Jose."

His own name reflected that tension.  Born Juan Pedro Tomas, his name was soon anglicized to John Peter Thomas--a change he didn't care for, opting to go by Piri, his mother's nickname for him.  That sense of racial and cultural isolation haunted the late Thomas (1928-2011), a poet, novelist, and memoir-writer born to a Puerto Rican mother and Cuban father in the Spanish Harlem section of New York City.  Issues of racial, ethnic, and national identity permeate Thomas's works, including,  most famously, his 1967 memoir Down These Mean Streets.  


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

In Memoriam: J. California Cooper

[by Meredith Wiggins]

African American author and playwright J. California Cooper passed away on Saturday, September 20, 2014, in her home of Seattle, Washington.  She was 82 years old.

"I was telling stories before I could write," Cooper once said.  "I like to tell stories, and I like to talk to things.  If you've read fairy tales, you know that everything can talk, from trees to chairs to tables to brooms.  So I grew up thinking that, and I turned it into stories."  

Cooper had already experienced quite a bit of success as a dramatist, even winning the 1978 Black Playwright Award, when Alice Walker attended a performance of one of Cooper's plays and suggested she switch to fiction, instead.

"'[Walker's] advice to my mother was you should write short stories or novels because it was easier to get paid,'" said Paris Williams, Cooper's daughter, in an interview published September 23.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Afro-Latin@ Writers and Scholars: Edwidge Danticat

[by Creighton N. Brown]

Editor's Note: In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 - October 15), the HBW Blog will be featuring short weekly posts on Afro-Latin@ writers and scholars.  Today, guest blogger Creighton N. Brown highlights Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat.

A few months ago, Americas Quarterly published “The Dominican Republic and Haiti: A Shared View from the Diaspora,” a conversation between Junot Díaz and Edwidge Danticat in which the two writers respond to the groundbreaking ruling by the Dominican Constitutional Court that revoked the citizenship of Haitian labors living and working in the Dominican Republic. The discussion between Díaz and Danticat examines the tensions, trauma, and entangled histories of the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Of particular interest in their dialogue are the issues of race, class, gender, and borders. These are not unfamiliar themes in the work of both Díaz and Danticat.



Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sexual Assault in 3 Important Works by African American Women

[by Meredith Wiggins]

The historical realities of slavery in the United States created social conditions in which whites viewed Black bodies--particularly Black women's bodies--as sexually available.  As a result, African Americans have been subjected to sexual violence, both threatened and realized, at increased rates throughout U.S. history.

African American writers have dealt with this reality in a number of ways.  In order to combat the stereotype of the sexually promiscuous and "loose" Black woman, many writers elided African American women's sexuality entirely from their texts, instead embracing behaviors and attitudes toward sex similar to those of the white middle class, whose ideas about sexual morality were rooted in Victorian notions of ideal gender behavior.  Doing so, however, often meant having to downplay or ignore the very real impact that sexual assault had on the lives of far too many Black women and men. 

Narratives about the pain of sexual violence on African Americans, especially African American women, have since become more common, allowing both writers and readers space to negotiate their understandings of rape and sexual assault in the context of a society that often sought to represent the victims of this violence as always willing and therefore "unrapeable."

In recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Week here at the University of Kansas, this post will highlight a few works that deal with the physical, emotional, and mental effects of sexual violence on African Americans.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Afro-Latin@ Writers and Scholars: Arturo Alfonso Schomburg

[by Meredith Wiggins]

In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 - October 15), the HBW Blog will be featuring short weekly posts on Afro-Latin@ writers and scholars.  We begin our series with Arturo Alfonso Schomburg.

When Arturo Alfonso Schomburg was a young boy attending school in Puerto Rico, one of his teachers told him and his classmates that people of African descent had no history or accomplishments worth celebrating, no heroes worthy of the name--in short, that there was nothing noteworthy in their past or present.

Schomburg always remembered that teacher's words. Born in 1874 to a freeborn Black midwife and a mestizo merchant of German ancestry, the Afroborinqueño (or Black Puerto Rican) Schomburg used the outrage he felt that day to fuel a life devoted to honoring the history, culture and accomplishments of Black people, including fellow Afro-Latin@s. 


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Fight Media Hegemony with a Trickster's Critique: Ishmael Reed's Faction about O.J. and Media Lynching

[by Yuqing Lin]

Editor's Note: The Project HBW Blog mostly traffics in shorter pieces, but from time to time we like to present our readers with a longer piece, as well, in a feature we call Taking the Long View.  For this installment, we feature scholar Yuqing Lin's insightful, challenging review of Ishmael Reed's recent novel Juice! Thanks to HBW Lead Blogger Dr. Jerry W. Ward, Jr., for passing along this piece of scholarship.

Ishmael Reed’s new novel Juice! (2011) focuses on the American media and, dissecting their exploitation of the O.J. Simpson criminal trial, its manipulation of public consciousness. By tracking years of news and commentaries in media, Reed shows the segregated media’s sick obsession with O. J. and the black male image, and uncovers the hypocrisy of “post-race” racial politics. Under his scrutiny, the reader finds that with the social climate turning right and more conservative, media discourse is becoming more totalitarian under corporate operation. Reed dissolves the traditional novel plot and juxtaposes reality and imagination by using news clips, cartoons, scientific documents, and court transcripts. The novel includes both human and animal characters connecting Reed’s work to thousands of years of North American storytelling. Reed’s grandmother on his father’s side was a Cherokee Indian. He constructs a narrative space to question the segregated media’s bias and racism.


Monday, September 8, 2014

Jamaica Kincaid, the American Book Awards, and the Limits of Autobiography

[By Meredith Wiggins]


On August 14, the 19 honorees for the 2014 American Book Awards were announced.  Among them was Jamaica Kincaid, the Antiguan-American semi-autobiographical novelist and essayist recognized for See Now Then (2013), her first novel since 2002's Mr. Potter.

The American Book Awards recognize "excellence in American literature without restriction or bias with regard to race, sex, creed, cultural origin, size of press or ad budget, or even genre."  Now in their 35th year, the ABAs have no set categories, no nominees, not even a standard number of awards; instead, Ishmael Reed's Before Columbus Foundation allows the "natural process" of diversity to occur, recognizing the multiculturalism that the BCF sees as the inherent definition of American literature.  


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

HBW and the Blog: A Note from the New Editor

[By Meredith Wiggins]

In 2011, Kenton Rambsy created the HBW Blog with the aim of "extend[ing] the efforts of HBW by identifying and highlighting topics related to African American and America literature."  He particularly wanted to draw attention to "black literary history, contemporary developments in the production of black writing, digital humanities, and literary scholarship that pertains to African American writers."

Around this time last year, Goyland Williams announced that he had taken over as editor-in-chief of the HBW Blog.  He shepherded the blog through HBW's thirtieth anniversary, spearheading the "Looking Back" Video Series that highlighted the contributions of current and former HBW contributors, like HBW founder Dr. Maryemma Graham, lead HBW Blogger Jerry W. Ward, Jr., Eugene Redmond, and Michael Eric Dyson.

With Goyland and Kenton both moving on to pursue other opportunities in their academic careers, I have been given the opportunity to assume the mantle of editor-in-chief by taking responsibility for the day-to-day running of the blog.  I'm also taking on the role of Project Digital Initiative Coordinator, helping to continue and expand HBW's digital presence through social media and the digital humanities.

Who am I? 


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

#HandsUpWalkOut

On Monday, August 25, students, faculty and staff from KU took part in a #HandsUpWalkOut Demonstration in honor of Michael Brown.  Megan Kaminski, assistant professor in the English department, organized the event.  Kaminski read an excerpt from Audre Lorde's poem "For Each of You," published in Lorde's collection From a Land Where Other People Live (1973).


For Each of You

Be who you are and will be
learn to cherish
that boisterous Black Angel that drives you
up one day and down another
protecting the place where your power rises
running like hot blood
from the same source
as your pain.

When you are hungry
learn to eat
whatever sustains you
until morning
but do not be misled by details
simply because you live them.

Do not let your head deny
your hands
any memory of what passes through them
nor your eyes
nor your heart
everything can be used
except what is wasteful
(you will need
to remember this when you are accused of destruction.)
Even when they are dangerous
examine the heart of those machines you hate
before you discard them
and never mourn the lack of their power
lest you be condemned
to relive them.
If you do not learn to hate
you will never be lonely
enough
to love easily
nor will you always be brave
although it does not grow any easier

Do not pretend to convenient beliefs
even when they are righteous
you will never be able to defend your city
while shouting.

Remember our sun
is not the most noteworthy star
only the nearest.

Respect whatever pain you bring back
from your dreaming
but do not look for new gods
in the sea
nor in any part of a rainbow
Each time you love
love as deeply
as if it were
forever
only nothing is
eternal.

Speak proudly to your children
where ever you may find them
tell them
you are the offspring of slaves
and your mother was
a princess
in darkness.

The University Daily Kansan covered the #HandsUpWalkOut demonstration in the Tuesday, August 26's paper. That article can be found here.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Ferguson, Missouri

From the notebook of a visitor to Earth

Dreams of harmony and peace or absurd visions of the end of time are legitimate constructions of human imagination. If you are dealing with pure cinema, they are effective. Such spectacles appear to confirm the implacable universality of violence, the murky origins of terrorism, and the marriage of reason with insanity. They are primary features of life on planet Earth. Women and men may satisfy their fantasies by imposing gender and by speaking of amoral Nature in their own images. They are free to tamper with Nature in efforts to make a more living-friendly "world," and they may succeed for brief periods of time. Ultimately, they fail. They manufacture abstract and material "worlds" that are mercurial, that speak back to them of their cosmic insignificance in visual and audible languages which negate interpretations.

All that is happening in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 is merely a rerun of tribally-motivated antiquities. A frantic male of one tribe, believing himself to be authorized by the Holy Bible, the United States Constitution, and the codified laws of Charles Darwin, murders a male of a different tribe. People who identify themselves with the dead male react naturally. They are shocked. They grieve. They enact counter-violence, the only procedure that is paradoxically understood and misunderstood in a nanosecond by the American body politic. Violence is very obedient to folkloric injunctions to increase and multiply. And American  as well foreign mass media take special delight in the production of misinformation about how violence procreates. In the historical tragedy entitled the United States of America, the George Zimmermans and Darren Wilsons are proclaimed to be  the stars of the show, the militants who keep democracy safe for those who are wealthy enough to buy it.  The Michael Browns and Trayvon Martins and the thousands of unarmed dead who were the targets of tragedy are treated as  footnotes in the smallest print on the playbill. In the sacred narratives of universal violence, this is proclaimed to be natural. According to such logic, the American Nightmare that has decentered the American Dream; the death-bound mission of Europe; the family squabbles between Palestinians and Israelis and the diabolic plots in the Arab/Isamic winter of the Middle East; the progress of environmental destruction in Asia; rampant neocolonialism and unique ethnic hatreds on the continent of Africa; outbreaks of such health threats as Ebola and yearly variations of influenza; the refusal to acknowledge the humanity of indigenous peoples in Australia and yhe actuality of global climate change-----according to such logic, all is quite normal on Earth.

Unfortunately, this superb logic is not a part of the education of Americans. The majority of them dwell in the darkness of believing that a meek savior will serve peace and harmony at the  Finality Feast of Thanksgiving. Our transparent wisdom obligates us to tolerate their eternal ignorance but to act otherwise.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

August 16, 2014

Re-printed here.

Monday, July 7, 2014

And again Dr. Margaret Walker’s Birthday….July 7 2014




i sing  Birthday praises to
Dr. Mama Diva-Poet Margaret Walker

who spoke so they might hear in
the miasmic air of Mississippi who
wrote so we could get clear on
who we are from Alabama to New Haven.
i want to sing of her like she did of
Kissie Lee, and claim her as my literary
auntie - grandmomma and i don't think she
would mind  but ain't got the quality time right
now except to say

Dr. Margaret Walker sung me from
wannabe to done; took us all into
visions of splendor and love she 
" kissed the sky" and
formed our Universe.  Ashay.


- doris davenport 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Afro-Nordic Update by Anthony Grooms

[By Anthony Grooms]

As I continue to explore Black American writers in Scandinavia, some delightful and interesting surprises have been revealed.  Here is a short report.  Recently, with funding from Kennesaw State University, I travelled in Sweden for two weeks in May 2014.  My research focused on the American deserter community of the 1970s as I continued to study materials to support my novel, “Burn the House,” about an African American deserter and his struggle with identity and adjustment to Swedish life.  Most of my time was spent reading in the archives of the Labor Movements Library,  which has two collections of deserter materials, but there was also time to meet with Afro-Swedes and talk about literary matters.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Larry Brown/His South and Mine

[By Jerry W. Ward, Jr.]

Should America become adult enough to read Southern literature, become wise enough to call out Southern mythology for the honeycomb of prevarication that it is, and become intelligent enough to take the blood pressure of the real thing in a Southern story ----- should that improbability occur, America will value Larry Brown more than it currently does. It will value the exercise of dealing with his South, my South, and our South.

Larry Brown is a natural part of my Mississippi mindscape, that perplexing geography which has more talent per square inch than most of the United States has per square mile.  Exaggeration has a purpose.

BCALA Announces the 2014 Literary Awards Winners


BCALA Announces the 2014 Literary Awards Winners



The Black Caucus of the American Library Association, Inc. (BCALA) announces the winners of the 2014 BCALA Literary Awards during the Midwinter Meeting of the American Library Association in Philadelphia, PA. The awards recognize excellence in adult fiction and nonfiction by African American authors published in 2013, including an award for Best Poetry and a citation for Outstanding Contribution to Publishing. The recipients will receive the awards during the 2014 Annual Conference of the American Library Association in Las Vegas, NV.

Monday, June 9, 2014

#MayaAngelou: From Gravity Comes the Grief

[By Jerry Ward via bknation.org]
 
There is a language in silence you must use in communing with the living, the dying, and the dead. Time ordains that you deal with the gravity and brevity of manifest being. Humility demands that you accept legacies from word spirits with grace and respect. Time appropriates words from Amiri Baraka’s 1987 eulogy for James Baldwin, forcing out of your mouth “the intelligence of our transcendence” and forbidding you to traffic with bad faith in “retelling old lies or making up new ones, or shaping yet another black life to fit the great white stomach which yet rules and tries to digest the world.” Time and Baraka ignore your reluctance to speak and the dread in your saying the world is not white but pale brown pink. You have no choice but to close your eyes, open your mind, and let your fingers play respect for Marguerite Annie Johnson (April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014). Baraka smiles at you wisely and says “I know your parents reared you to stay more in the tradition than that!”

Returning to Narrative

Hidden neatly in the hyperbole of Thomas Sayers Ellis’ “All Their Stanzas Look Alike” (The Maverick Room. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2005. 114-115.) is a truth of sorts. There is a boring “sameness” in a substantial amount of contemporary “canonized” American poetry.  Perhaps the alleged excellence of how MFA programs teach the making of poetry is partially to blame. MFA is an acronym for an unprintable phrase.  In my scandalizing opinion, MFA programs promote craft as technical excellence and ego-interiority, minimizing the option of craft to speak with engaged boldness of the painful messiness of life and world affairs.  To be sure, aesthetics can evoke bright moments of pleasure or eargasms, even a bit of knowledge.  But the best poetry uses aesthetic properties to intensify the pragmatic, the always present need to deal with how people manufacture horrors for themselves and others. Jazz counts as some of our best poetry, and certainly John Coltrane, Sun Ra, and Cecil Taylor and other jazz people direct our minds to the “sound” science and physics of existing. Metaphysics for real. How refreshing it is to read John Coltrane and Black America’s Quest for Freedom: Spirituality and the Music (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010) edited by Leonard L. Brown.  Abstain for a time from the sameness of poetry and look for practical and critical stimulation in the differentness of fictional and non-fictional narrative. Find alternative spaces where furious flowers bloom. We do not need to construct and deconstruct a bogus war between poetry and non-poetry, because in certain remarkable instances it is poetry and poetic equations that cut a pathway to narrative. Consider the importance of how poets Brenda Marie Osbey and Honoreé Fanonne Jeffers excavate histories, of how Rudolph Lewis employs the poetics of orality to craft fiction.

A Book for Your Library: Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems

[By Simone Savannah]

Don’t you just love that feeling of buying or receiving a book? Oh, that feeling of wanting to get home to cuddle up with it and a cup of roasted dandelion tea? Okay, just me? Last week, my professor gave me a copy of Zora Neal Hurston: A Life in Letters, and I knew that I had to pass on the favor. So, I am sharing a title in the hopes that you’ll run to your nearest bookstore or library, then home with it and a cup of tea.

A Book for Your Library 

Beacon Press published Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems on April 1, 2014. It includes an introduction by poet, Nikky Finney who examines Baldwin “as poet” and reveals the significance and power of his poems.

James Baldwin, as poet, was incessantly paying attention and always leaning into the din and hum around him, making his poems from his notes of what was found there…James Baldwin, as poet, was forever licking the tip of his pencil, preparing for more calculations, more inventory, moving, counting each letter being made inside the abacus of the poem.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Comprehensive Bibliography on the works of Maya Angelou


[Compiled by Shayn Guillemette]



Below, browse a comprehensive bibliography of works by poet Maya Angelou.

Poet and Author Maya Angelou Dies at Age 86 (Via ABC News)

By Lesley Messer--May 28, 2014


Famed poet and author Maya Angelou died this morning in North Carolina. She was 86.
"She'd been very frail and had heart problems, but she was going strong, finishing a new book," Angelou's agent Helen Brann told ABC News. "I spoke to her yesterday. She was fine, as she always was. Her spirit was indomitable."

Angelou recently canceled an appearance at the 2014 MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon, where she will be honored. Major League Baseball cited "health reasons" Friday in saying the 86-year-old won't make it to the May 30 event in Houston before the annual Civil Rights Game, the Associated Press reported last Friday.

"Her family is extremely grateful that her ascension was not belabored by a loss of acuity or comprehension. She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace. The family is extremely appreciative of the time we had with her and we know that she is looking down upon us with love," Angelou's son Guy Johnson said in a statement.

Born Marguerite Annie Johnson in St. Louis, Angelou worked a number of jobs before publishing her first book, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," which focused on her own life, in 1969.

Nominated for a National Book Award, the tome skyrocketed Angelou to national fame -- especially given the controversial nature of several sections, which dealt with child molestation, racism, and sexuality.

"I thought that it was a mild book. There's no profanity," Angelou told AP. "It speaks about surviving, and it really doesn't make ogres of many people. I was shocked to find there were people who really wanted it banned, and I still believe people who are against the book have never read the book."

After the success of her first book, Angelous wrote the screenplay and score for the 1972 film, "Georgia, Georgia," becoming the first African-American woman to author a screenplay that was filmed. It was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

She would go on to write more than 30 published works, including five more memoirs and many books of poetry.

Beloved by stars, Angelou was a mentor to Oprah Winfrey and favorite of many presidents. She spoke at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton and was awarded the Presidential Medal of the Arts in 2000. In 2011, President Barack Obama honored her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Last November, ABC News spoke with Angelou, who lived in in Winston-Salem because of her longtime teaching job at Wake Forest University.


"I'm learning that I have patience and that patience is a great gift," she said. "I know that people only do what they know to do. Not what they say they know, not what they think they should know. ... People do only what they know how to do, so I have patience. I pray that people will have patience with themselves and learn more."

Friday, May 2, 2014

Henry Dumas: Visible Man/Invisible Art

[By: Jerry W. Ward, Jr]


Leak, Jeffrey B. Visible man: The Life of Henry Dumas. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2014. 

He was brilliant. He was troubled. He was dead at the age of 34. Like many males of his class and generation, he was a death-bound-subject, a player in the game regulated by the racial contract of the United States of America. "While he certainly should be understood in the context of the cultural and political movements of the 1960's --Black Arts, Black Power, and Civil Rights---," according to the in-house promotional statement from the University of Georgia Press," his writing, and ultimately his life, were filled with ambiguities and contradictions" (University of Georgia Press Spring/Summer 2014 catalogue, 6). The 1960's, a transformative decade in our history, was also pregnant with other movements not begat by black Americans, and that fact is unavoidable in constructing a biography of Henry Dumas (1934-1968).

In "Confessions of a Burned-Out Biographer" (The Seductions of Biography. Ed. Mary Rhiel and David Suchoff. New York: Routledge, 1996), Phyllis Rose reminds us that "the school of literary biography, whether or not the subject is a literary figure, tends to see all facts as artifacts and to see context and argument as co-partners of fact" (131). The public, Rose claims, prefers "objective biography" to the artistry of literary biography. Jeffrey B. Leak seems to have embraced the alleged preferences of the public sphere in writing Visible Man: The Life of Henry Dumas. 

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Notes on Richard Rodriguez and Autobiography

[By: Jerry W. Ward, Jr.]
 
Rodriguez, Richard. Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography.  New York: Viking, 2013. 


 As a writerly act of defiance and discovery, Rodriguez published Hunger of Memory: The Education of  Richard Rodriguez in 1982. In the contexts of stereotyped machismo and socially imagined American desire, the book was a triumph of ethnic spirit. It exploited the seductiveness of American literary history. The main title was a slantwise echo of Richard Wright's American Hunger; his subtitle, an appropriation of The Education of Henry Adams. It reiterated the indeterminate properties of autobiography as a genre as well as the articulation of ethnicity. One could read the book as a post-modern signifying on Booker T. Washington's Up From Slavery, if one deemed autobiographies to be success stories. An uncommon reader might contrast Hunger of Memory with Eudora Welty's One Writer's Beginnings (1984) to ponder gender, ethnic and class differences in American Writing. One imagines Rodriguez took a tip from Wright in meditating on alienation, especially in distancing himself from the assumptions of Mexican American Catholic decorum and from parents who were "always mindful of the line separating public from private life." Rodriguez wanted a consumed cake to remain intact.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Malcolm X Materials Digitized

[By: Dr. Amy E. Earhart]

I would like to bring to your attention a newly published small edition, "Alex Haley's 'The Malcolm D. I Knew' and Notecards from The Autobiography of Malcolm X." Published in the peer review journal Scholarly Editing, the edition includes an unknown 29 page typed manuscript of an essay that Haley used when he was writing The Autobiography. The materials are transcribed, annotated and include high quality images that I hope will be of use to scholars. The essay and notecards provide insight into the complicated relationship between Haley and Malcolm X. For example, scholars including the late Manning Marable, have wondered why the OAAU (The Organization of Afro-American Unity) has received little attention in The Autobiography. The notes reveal that Haley did discuss the OAAU with X, adding notes to the cards for inclusion in the volume. At some point later, then, the decision to exclude the OAAU occurred, suggesting that Haley may have bowed to pressure from the publisher. Further, Haley recounts a previously undocumented interaction between X and a white couple in "The Malcolm X. I Knew" which reinforces a particular shaping of X by Haley. 

We also learn that while there is only one documented case of Malcolm X supporting labor unions-- a 1962 hospital worker strike--one note indicates that X thought unions had the potential to create change. The notes also reference passages in The Autobiography. For example, Haley recounts one interview session during which X "was gesturing with his passport in his hand; he saw that I was trying to read its perforated number and suddenly he thrust the passport toward me, his neck flushed reddish: 'Get the number straight, but it won't be anything the white devil doesn't already know. He issued me the passport'" (21). The passport number is recorded in Haley's hand on notecard 37. As scholars examine the digitized texts it is likely that new discoveries will come to light.

Friday, April 25, 2014

National Poetry Month

[By: Simone Savannah]


Did you know that April is National Poetry Month? Black History Month in February and Women's History Month in March inspired the Academy of American Poets to dedicate April to celebrating and increasing the awareness of poetry in the United States. President Clinton stated, "National Poetry Month offers us a welcome opportunity to celebrate not only the unsurpassed body of literature produced by our poets in the past, but also the vitality and diversity of voices reflected in the works of today's American poetry" (April 1, 1996 Proclamation). The Academy of American poets has honored Black American poets and their contributions to literature in a number of ways. For example, in 2001, the Academy of American Poets asked the public to vote on their favorite American poet to be put on a U.S. postage stamp. In 2002, the U.S. Postal Service unveiled a stamp with the image poet, playwright, and novelist, Langston Hughes. 

To honor poetry/poets, many of my poet-friends and I are hard at work writing a poem each day in April! With the help of prompts (and my new obsession with short poems), I have managed to stay on track with "30 for 30." In fact, I've submitted  one of my poems to a poetry workshop and received some great feedback from my colleagues. In addition to keeping me on track with writing, "30 for 30" encourages me to ready poetry written by poets who I have not read before. It also inspires me to continue to share history regarding how Black poets are both read and honored. For example, a stamp honoring Paul Laurence Dunbar was issued on May 1, 1975, 26 years before the Academy of American Poets evidenced concern for so honoring Black American poets. 

So, how are you honoring poets and poetry this month? It may be too late to join us in scrambling to write villanelles at midnight this month, so consider writing a poem each month to honor poets. 

Allen Polite: A Poet You Might Consider Reading

Allen Polite was born in New Jersey in 1932. His poetry was first published in 1958 in Yugen. His writings also appear in Sixes and Sevens, An Anthology of New Poetry (1962) and in Langston Hughes' New Negro Poets, U.S.A. (1964). An early association with LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka)  led him to serve his apprenticeship as a beat poet before he became identified with the Black Arts Movement. 

After his service in the U.S. Army in Korea and Japan, Polite moved permanently to Europe, settling in Stockholm in 1963. There he was part of a collective of artists, musicians and poets that included the late Harvey Cropper, another black expatriate. Allen Polite died of cancer in 1993. His papers are housed at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. 

Polite left hundreds of poems, paintings, and drawings that he had planned to publish later in his career. His wife, Helene Polite privately published three volumes of the work he left behind, Poems  (1996), The Rice and Fiol of the Turd Rake (1996), a rhapsodic play for three voices', and Looka Here, Now! (1997). She has also assisted HBW in reissuing two of his volumes 

In 2012, HBW organized a panel at the College Language Association, where novelist Tony M. Grooms presented a paper on Polite's work. Additionally, Polite's poetry was included in discussion of poetry of the 1960's during the 2013 NEH summer institute,"Don't Deny My Voice." 

About Simone

Simone Savannah is currently a PhD student in Creative Writing at the University of Kansas. Her interests include Black Female Autobiographical Writers/ Artists, Black Poetry, and 20th Century Black Literature.






Friday, April 11, 2014

Disney and Diversity Part II: What We Owe to Oprah

[By: Dr. Maryemma Graham]

 What are we to do with Disneyfication? It's here to stay. I may be succumbing to the mass media hype, but I am no longer ashamed to admit that I have hope in Oprah. 

Admittedly, Oprah caught my attention when she reassessed the impact of her book club and brought it back after a one-year hiatus in 2002. As a teacher of literature, I continued to be pleasantly surprised by her selections. While publishers maintain the separation between "literary" and "popular" fiction, which traditional English departments have reinforced over the years, Oprah ignored the distinction. Instead, she let us know that she was a reader, and her selections followed the reader's ecumenical taste and logic. Thus, forgotten classics appeared alongside contemporary works that she "discovered," turning them into overnight sensations. 

The "Oprah's Book Club" gold seal became a marker of association and status; it symbolized a brand. Oprah had learned from Disney. She became a household name as she built an empire.

Much has been said about the Oprah effect, and we have to thank her for encouraging America to read across the color line, turning her faithful followers into passionate readers. Her reach was broad, intentionally diverse, her appeal always personal. The year she discontinued the club, the reason she gave resonated with all of us in the academy. She couldn't keep up with reading itself and stay on top of everything that was coming out. Alas, Oprah was like us: she was human.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Studying Black Yin

[By: Bro. Yao (Hoke S. Glover III) and Dr. Valerie Prince]

Blackness as we know it today cannot escape the white vs. black/ good vs. bad/ righteousness vs. evil dichotomy that upholds the idea of white supremacy. The snare is even more labyrinthine for language and intellectual brokers who confront the colonial history  of the language we write and speak as an obstacle in communication. What "black" means is not simply what we intend; rather, the idea has a legacy which establishes a trajectory that leads us to dead-ends or pathways that are not our desired course. Though we have tried to change the definition of black within the English language, the task may be impossible. In effect, the connotations inherent in the language cannot be overcome by systematic rebuttals and an exertion of will.

Instead, if we are to articulate notions of blackness that are not trapped in the good vs. bad dichotomy we must move outside of English to find an alternative system of codifying our experiences. Consider as an alternative the paradigm of "black" and "white" found in the Yin and Yang symbol. The connection between polarities implied by the diagram is worthy of he Black writer's study. The Yin and Yang symbol is a circle comprised of black and white in equal measure, separated by a complex border, with a smaller circle of each within the heart of the other. Here, the binary opposites are inextricably linked and swirling around each other in balance

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Disney and Diversity in the 21st Century: Part 1

[By: Dr. Maryemma Graham]

Diversity has become a vexed issue in the 21st century.  Once it was a priority in our corporate and education sectors, with accountability for its implementation built in. Today, it has become that carefully crafted phrase one sees on websites, usually so watered down we pay scarce attention. Even when we were not guided by a principle but by underlying marketing needs, diversity forced us to have many honest, if difficult dialogues.  Now it seems that only members of  “diverse populations” talk about or show concern for diversity.   And we know what that means.  In the last three years, I have been to too many strategy sessions —even at my own university—with the absence of any discussion of diversity.  It seems to bother no one. If we ask questions about it, we are strangely inappropriate. If answers come, they serve to redirect the conversation. So we are often silent or vow to show our protest with our future absence.

If diversity is everybody’s concern, where did it go? When did we start letting the university, our administrators, our CEO’s off the hook?  Was it only the intimidating presence of affirmative action legislation that “made” people do the right thing? Now that the pressure is off, it’s back to business as usual.  While the concept is still with us, there’s no power behind it.

Can we blame social media for this shift, the place where everybody has a voice?  After all, nobody is legally denied access anymore. The catchword “equal” is everywhere; we all expect jobs to say “equal opportunity employer.” Surely this suggests that a major goal of the civil rights movement has been accomplished.
But there’s a downside to the social media. To paraphrase Malcolm Gladwell here, the voices that seem to be the loudest are not those that offer constructive or balanced critique in good faith. Gladwell is correct: those who want to sway public opinion, present a biased point of view, and show disregard for facts, may have more to gain by social media than those who are more fact-driven. Social media can make us feel connected to each other, at the same time it can divide, exclude, and distort the truth.  Our heavy reliance on it confuses us.  We think we see what is not there; we think we know more than we do. We connect with like-minded people, and we assume this to be “most” people. We are, all of us, living in a world of illusions.

No one was better at creating illusions than Walt Disney.  He had the unique ability to appropriate and collapse centuries of historical knowledge from ancient and modern cultures.  He helped to turn entertainment and marketing into the institutions that are the fabric of our lives today.  As he turned his own dreams into reality, creating newly imagined identities for us all to share, he ushered in an era that diminishes the need for any real knowledge while simultaneously clouding our vision of diversity. While Disney is not wholly responsible for the illusions of wealth accumulation that are pervasive, disneyfication is synonymous with the post modernization of America and the world.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Black Poetry Bears Witness

[By: Dr. Shauna Morgan Kirlew]


The students in my "Literature as History" freshman writing seminar recently read and analyzed Audre Lorde's "Power". The story of a young black boy gunned down in the streets resonated powerfully with the students, even though none of them had heard of Clifford Glover, whose life inspired Lorde's poem. They found the subject matter so relevant to their 21st-century reality that it opened the door to further analysis of the metaphors and imagery in the text.

"I am trapped on a desert of raw gunshot wounds" begins the second stanza. One student noted that the desert, and the "whiteness/of the desert" represented the United States social and political landscape where there is no justice for murdered black children. I was struck by the sense of powerlessness that emerged from, what seemed to be, a new cognizance of their vulnerability to violence and injustice. However, it was the long, sustained history of brutality against black children that troubled them. The reality that their society resembled that of their parents and grandparents in its disregard for their bodies and lives left them feeling defeated. 

I offered a short list of additional poets and titles that bear witness to this history of white brutalization of black children, including work from Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lucille Clifton, Wanda Coleman, Nikki Giovanni, Jerry Ward, Sonia Sanchez, and Frank X Walker. Shortly after, issue ten of Pluck! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture arrived, and this deeply moving tribute to Trayvon Martin, which opens with "Autopsy" by Patricia Smith, was received with immediacy as a literary and historical marker.

One student, noting Smith's signifying and references to slavery, suggested that the poem also functioned as an autopsy of the white-washed history of white violence and the criminal justice system that would have society believe that "Black boys fold their bodies around bullets."

Black poetry paints and writes our stories-- records our histories and reveals truths. This art, even when it turns around stories of loss and brutality, is the evidence of black life in America. With good cause, and with brilliant clarity, it continues to resonate between and within generations of our people.