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).