Friday, December 18, 2015

ICYMI: The Last Week in Black Writing and Culture (12/11-12/18)

Editor's note: This will be our last post of 2015. The blog posts will continue the second week into the new year. We hope you enjoy this post, and we hope you all have a wonderful holiday season!

The Root sat down with Kevin Powell, author of recent memoir Kevin Powell: A Boy's Journey into Manhood. While a prolific writer with twelve books to his name, Powell spoke on his other great love: activism.

John Stauffer spoke with NPR's Michel Martin about his new book, Picturing Fredrick Douglass. In his book, he discusses why Douglass thought that photography was so important to ending racism and achieving civil rights, because "the camera will not lie."

The New York Times reviewed Robert Norrell's book, Alex Haley: And The Books that Changed a Nation. This is the first autobiography of Haley, who died in 1992. Haley is known for writing The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965), in collaboration with Malcolm X, and Roots: The Saga of a Family (1976).

The Huffington Post compiled a list of "The Most Important Writing from People of Color in 2015." The list consists of articles published throughout the year, with topics ranging from mass incarceration to poetry to popular culture.

As we prepare for the holiday season, we thought you would enjoy three Christmas poems of Langston Hughes.

Happy Holidays - we will see you in 2016!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Louis Edwards's Second Novel

If you like writing that is selective about which second-line parade it will join, you will like the work of Louis Edwards, a native of Lake Charles who probably lives in New Orleans.  If you have not seen or talked to a person for several years in the Crescent City, you do best to be cautious about identifying that person’s place of residence.  Let it suffice that Louis Edwards lived quietly, at one time or another, in this den of creative temptations without falling into literal or figurative disgrace.  That is an achievement.

Edwards’s first novel Ten Seconds (1991) got better critical praise than many efforts by emerging writers, because he used conceptual imagination and artistry to ensure his story would not be handcuffed by stereotypes. Carl Schoettler’s review in the August 14, 1991 issue of The Baltimore Sun was fair and sensitive to Edwards’s writing an aesthetically challenging novel about a quite ordinary man.  Like William Melvin Kelley’s Dunfords Travels Everywheres (1970) and Clarence Major’s Reflex and Bone Structure (1975), Ten Seconds was a fine piece of linguistic invention, indebted to James Joyce but not overwhelmed by the Irish acrobatics.  If Bernard W. Bell, who wrote with keen insights about Kelley and who devoted an entire book to Major, had chosen to comment on Edwards’s postmodernism in The Contemporary African American Novel: Its Folk Roots and Modern LiteraryBranches (2004), I suspect Edwards would be more frequently discussed in scholarly circles.  Perhaps people who talk about Ronald Sukenick and Richard Brautigan also talk about Edwards.  If that is the case, his readership is highly specialized.

Common readers, especially those who live in New Orleans, might embrace his second novel N: A Romantic Mystery (1997).  It is rich with street names, place names, food habits, class attitudes ---the cataloging we know well from Arthur Pfister’s My Name is New Orleans: 40 Years of Poetry and Other Jazz.  You can’t be more New Orleans-centric than Edwards, who in a single paragraph on page 13 mentions Norbert Davidson, Kalamu ya Salaam, James Borders, Brenda Marie Osbey, Tom Dent, Quo Vadis Gex, Keith Woods, Beverly McKenna and the Calliope Project; a writer who has his main character go to Community Book Center to purchase a copy of Jean Toomer’s Cane from Jennifer (page 131) is stone cold New Orleans. Something very special will register for readers who lived in the old New Orleans from 1960 to 2005.  The wealth of referentiality might mean little to readers who only know post-Katrina New Orleans, the new city where organic charm has now been commodified for the tourist industry. What will register for all readers, however, is the murder of a young black male.  Such murder, unfortunately, is obscenely “normal” in New Orleans.  That Edwards chose to use devices from film noir and hard-boiled detective fiction gives what could have been a run-of-the-mill urban novel an intriguing difference.  If any real life reporter tried to do what Aimée DuBois does about the crime, she would be cooling in a morgue.  The magic in N: A Romantic Mystery is the skill Edwards uses in creating fiction that is historical but not sociological.  It is no accident that he dedicated the novel to “Charles Bourgeois and Albert Murray ---les gourous” or that most of the chapter titles are French: double entendre, les femmes fatales, la descente, objet d’art, le petit déjeuner, Tante Aimée, le fou, chez Strip, le cinema, la nature morte, Doppelgänger (a German slip), l’entracte, le livre, la vie en rose, sang-froid, chef d’oeuvre, la niece, les morts ne parlent pas, le pasteur, un coup de telephone, la resurrection de l’amour, vive la difference, la letter d’or, and dénouement (this final chapter rounds off the sections LES PROLOGUES, ACTE I: Mise en Scène, L’ENTRACTE, ACTE II: À la Recherche du Temps Perdu).  Edwards’s second novel is sufficiently Louisiana African/American French to distinguish itself from the genre of street literature.  It is not ti negre; it is simply Black.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.      

Friday, December 11, 2015

ICYMI: The Last Week in Black Writing and Culture (12/4-12/11)

bell hooks was interviewed by George Yancy of the New York Times. hooks spoke on issues of feminism, spirituality, her work, and love.

The holiday season is upon us! This means you've probably begun constructing your holiday reading list, right? If not, see what books Michael Dirda of The New York Post suggests for this holiday season.

The New York Times reviewed Robin Coste Lewis's newest book of poetry, Voyage of the Sable Venus. Lewis won the 2015 National Book Award in poetry.

Poet Reginald Dwayne Betts talks with NPR about Reagan and his "lost generation" in his latest book of poetry, Bastards of the Reagan Era.

Creator of ABC's "Black-ish" spoke with NPR about using universal storylines to approach race.

Mary Karr, author of the best selling memoir The Liars Club, spoke about why one shouldn't trust their memory. The Washington Post also reviewed Karr's latest book, The Art of Memoir.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Drawing Terrance Hayes - Book Review

Hayes, Terrance.  How To Be Drawn.  New York: Penguin, 2015.

You could be drawn to the work of Terrance Hayes by way of Elizabeth Alexander's advanced praise for How To Be Drawn, a statement that draws you to such words as dust, urgency, necessity, by any means necessary (the latter cluster evoking an injunction from Malcolm X); in addition, you could be drawn by noticing poems by Terrance Hayes are anthologized in Angles of Ascent as instances of "Second Wave, Post-1960s" but not in What I Say or The BreakBeat Poets, and the notice is a signal either that you are curious about where the cipher (a good Arabic zero) or that you do have non-trivial questions about inclusion/exclusion and probabilities/possibilities; it is better that you could be drawn by accessing to find "notes, reference, and inspiration for the poems" in How To Be Drawn.  Maximize your options.

Truth could tell itself by revealing that you are drawn initially by none of the above.  You were drawn to the poems of Terrance Hayes by sustained interest in the innovative poetics of Asili Ya Nadhiri as manifested in his "tonal drawings."  The required proof is located at

The device of ekphrasis may be one motivating link between the poems of Nadhiri and Hayes, because that device draws attention to how American poetry is a process which defies consensus. It motivates a few readers to think beyond the belief that "poetry" exists independent of a historicized reading and to ask whether poetry is actually or really necessary.  Answers vary according to your choice of adverb ---really or actually.  A poem lacks a fixed definition of its identity.  It does have descriptions.  Thus, an imagined conversation between Hayes and Nadhiri is rewarding, because it begins to cast light on why some readers actually fear poetry while other readers so love poetry that they argue for the validity of any and every form that a poem can assume.  The Republic of American Letters is becoming the Democracy of Writing in a slow hurry.

Truth also tells on itself when you access Terrance Hayes's website to acquire the information needed for intelligent reading of the academic poems in How To Be Drawn.  Hayes provides a most welcomed, common sense definition of what an academic poem is.  When he answers the question "If you could be any tree, what would you be and why?" with a rich accident: "I'm trying to think of something clever here?  I like the word magnolia.  I like the smell of pinewood. I like the flowers of dogwoods.  I'd be an apple tree."  The accident, for which Hayes is not responsible, is conjuring the relevance in the context of the question of Michael S. Harper's  remarkable Photographs: Negatives: History As Apple Tree (San Francisco: Scarab Press, 1972).  The last five lines in Section 9 of Harper's long poem are:

let it become my skeleton,
become my own myth:
my arm the historical branch,
my name the bruised fruit,
black human photograph: apple tree  (n.p.)

Hayes made a good choice, as good as the choices he made of which poems to include in How To Be Drawn, which remarks to make in the Spring 2015 "Anything But Invisible"  audio interview with Studio 360, and which forms to give "Black Confederate Ghost Story," "How to Draw an Invisible Man," "Portrait of Etheridge Knight in the Style of a Crime Report," and "Reconstructed Reconstruction"----poems I would recommend that my Chinese colleagues would teach in their American and African American literature courses.  No.  Those are my favorite poems.  Good pedagogy requires that all the poems in How To Be Drawn should be taught, so that poems can themselves teach us something.

Navigating among works by Hayes and Nadhiri and all the poets who are in the most recent anthologies brings a jolt of recognition to people who have taught literature for several decades.  Close reading and re-reading of texts are still worthwhile procedures as we transform dead print/drawings into vibrant literary events.  But close reading now depends greatly, though not exclusively,  on the use of the Internet, digital tools, and audio-visual information.  New ways of "reading" give some credibility to the notion that a poem in the canon is not innately superior to a poem which is not so archived or museumed.  Inclusion or exclusion seems to be a result of a poet's having the "right" connections or a dynamite agent, having more than demitasse spoon of genuine talent, and having the blessings of fortune in an over-crowded market.  You are indeed drawn in to be lessoned by the closing lines of Hayes's poem "Ars Poetica For The Ones Like Us"------

Do not depend on speech to be felt.
Remember too that the eyes are not flesh,
That crisis is irritated by the absence of witness,

That Orpheus, in time, became nothing
But a lying-ass song
Sung for the woman he failed. (96)

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.
June 30, 2015

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Black Poetry after the Black Arts Movement Presents: A Webinar with Nathaniel Mackey

Please join Project HBW for our last webinar of the semester as we talk with Nathaniel Mackey. All students, faculty, and members of the community are welcome to join the conversation!

This webinar will take place on
Wednesday, December 9th, 2015
2:00 PM EST / 1:00 PM CST / 12:00 PM MST / 11:00 AM PST

It will be moderated by J. Peter Moore, NEH Summer Scholar.

Click here to learn more about the NEH funded webinar series. 

Friday, December 4, 2015

ICYMI: The Last Week in Black Writing and Culture (11/27-12/4)

Charlesia McKinney, a graduate student at the University of Kansas, wrote on being a black woman who is both a student and teacher. Her post responds to the racial incidents that have persisted across college campuses.

December 1, 2015 marked 60 years since Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.

We're all heard it, i'm sure - the "#AllLivesMatter" rebuttal in response to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Joshua Adams of the Huffington Post discusses how this knee-jerk response undermines the real issue of abuse on the black body.

Dreda Say Mitchell challenges 2015 Man Booker Prize winner Marlon James's notion that black authors are pressured by publishers to write for white audiences.

Actress Cicely Tyson, at 90 years of age, is still flourishing in her acting career. Tyson is to receive the 38th annual Kennedy Center Award for the performing arts on December 6th. Tyson will be in the company of greats and other award winners such as Rita Moreno, Carole King, and George Lucas.

Jennifer Hudson will play Shug in a Broadway revival of Alice Walker's novel The Color Purple. The production is set to premiere at Bernard B. Jacob's theatre in New York City on December 10th.

The New York Times's latest video, "A Conversation with a Black Woman on Race," continues an effort to promote dialogue on topics pertaining to race. The video is one is a series titled, "Conversation on Race." Click here to read other experiences that are part of the "Race in America: Your Stories" series.

Please join the Project on the History of Black Writing in our last webinar of the semester as we have a conversation with Nathaniel Mackey. The webinar will take place on Wednesday, December 9th at 1:00 p.m. central standard time. Click here to register, and click here to learn more about the webinar series.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Part II: A Graduate Student's Take on Diversity at the University of Kansas

Editor's note: Last week, Dion Simmons responded to the town hall meeting on diversity and inclusion at the University of Kansas. Click here to read Dion's take on the meeting. This week, Charlesia McKinney speaks on being both a student and teacher at KU. 

There is something infectious about courage; when we see others embody it, we want it too and recent events, beginning at the University of Missouri, have helped many campuses step out in courage. I don't have to be at Mizzou to understand their frustration and desire for a safe space because I know what it means to be a black woman on a predominantly white college campus. I've been in predominantly white schools since the third grade and racism isn't just this "thing" happening "over there" - it's here at the University of Kansas, and also at my alma mater, Kansas State University.  In fact, it’s rather difficult to think of spaces where racism has not found me.

In the previous HBW post, Dion Simmons perfectly recaptured the atmosphere of the town hall meeting. It was overwhelming and disheartening to hear of the unceasing racist incidents that have occurred and continue to occur at our university. The town hall meeting pushed me to reflect on the demands at the intersection of being a woman of color and graduate teaching assistant.

As a teacher and student, I am constantly trying to find balance between both identities. I am familiar with racist encounters as a student, but prior to this semester I didn’t extensively consider how racism would affect me as a teacher. Although it’s my priority to create a safe, anti-racist classroom, when that environment is violated I’ve discovered, in addition to focusing on my own discomfort, I must also focus on the discomfort of my students of color. Recently, there was an uncomfortable, racist scenario in my classroom. Immediately after class, a student of color came to me to share her anger and frustration concerning the incident. Of course there are more details in regards to this situation but I want to focus on the student who courageously shared her discomfort with me because that moment helped me grow as a student and a teacher.  I realized how important it is to share, as a student, the hurt, frustration, and discomfort we feel because, in this situation, I could not have addressed the issue, as a teacher, if she had not brought it to my attention.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Black Poetry After the Black Arts Movement Presents: Webinars with Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie and Sonia Sanchez

Please join Project HBW TOMORROW as we have a conversation with Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie in our 6th webinar of the semester! On Thursday, December 3rd Project HBW will talk with Sonia Sanchez.

Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie is the author of two books of poetry, Dear Continuum: Letters to a Poet Crafting Liberation and Karma’s Footsteps, and is also the Poetry Editor of African Voices, a literary magazine. Her work focuses on women, race, ancestry, violence and the healing power of art, has been published in North American Review, WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly, Black Renaissance Noire, VIDA, Crab Orchard Review, BOMB, Paris/Atlantic,and Listen Up!, and has been the subject of a short film, I Leave My Colors Everywhere. She was a runner-up in the 2014 Missouri Review Soundbooth audio poetry contest and is the recipient of a Queens Council of the Arts grant for her research on herbalists of the African Diaspora. Her work “Strut,” a collaboration with her husband, photographer Dominique Sindayiganza, deals with body-image, self-acceptance, and the role of capitalism in women’s issues about their appearances. She has taught at the City University of New York, York College and Medgar Evers College.

Tuesday, December 1st, 2015
2:00 PM EST / 1:00 PM CST / 12:00 PM MST / 11:00 AM PST
This webinar will be moderated by Tara Betts, NEH Summer Scholar.

A central figure in the Black Arts Movement, Sonia Sanchez has authored sixteen books of poetry and plays, including Morning Haiku; Shake Loose My Skin: New and Selected Poems; Does Your House Have Lions?; I’ve Been a Woman: New and Selected Poems; A Blues Book for Blue Black Magical Women; Love Poems; We a BaddDDD People; and Homecoming. She received an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation for Homegirls and Handgrenades. Other awards and honors include the Robert Creeley Award, the Frost Medal, the Community Service Award from the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, the Lucretia Mott Award, the Outstanding Arts Award from the Pennsylvania Coalition of 100 Black Women, the Peace and Freedom Award from Women International League for Peace and Freedom, the Pennsylvania Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Humanities, a National Endowment for the Arts Award, and a Pew Fellowship in the Arts. Sanchez has read and lectured in the United States and around the world. She was the first Presidential Fellow at Temple University, where she began teaching in 1977, and held the Laura Carnell Chair in English there until her retirement in 1999.

Thursday, December 3rd, 2015

2:00 PM EST / 1:00 PM CST / 12:00 PM MST / 11:00 AM PST

This webinar will be moderated by Professor Evie Shockley.

Friday, November 27, 2015

ICYMI: The Last Week in Black Writing and Culture (11/20-11/27)

KU graduate student Dion Simmons provided HBW with his take on the recent town hall meeting.  Stay tuned for Charlesia McKinney's take on race relations in the university next week!

Ta-Nehisi Coates, 2015 National Book Award winner for non-fiction, sat down with NPR to discuss issues of race and his writing process.

A half-century after its publication, Earnest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast has hit the French best seller list following the recent Paris attacks.

Rich Benjamin, author of Searching for Whitopia, talked about his 27,000 mile, 2 year journey through the fastest growing (and whitest) "utopias" in America, or what he calls "Whitopias."

The Washington Post named the ten best books of 2015.

The New York Times also released its list of 100 notable books of 2015.

Join Project HBW for a webinar with Sonia Sanchez on December 3rd. Click here to register and click here to find out more about the webinar series.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A Graduate Student's Take on the University of Kansas's Town Hall Meeting on Diversity

Editor's note: Last week, Maryemma Graham wrote a piece, "The Huck Finn Syndrome," addressing the racial injustices across college campuses. The week prior, KU held a town hall meeting to talk through the racial problems that have persisted at the University of Kansas. KU's very own Dion Simmons was not only in attendance, but spoke out against and questioned these racial problems in front of the thousands of students, faculty, administrators, and concerned citizens in attendance. Dion Simmons and Charlesia McKinney have both agreed to provide us with their takes on the town hall meeting. McKinney also spoke out at the meeting and expressed concern not only as a student but a teacher. This two-part series will start with Dion Simmons's take on the town hall meeting; next week, Charlesia McKinney will speak about racial dynamics at KU. 

If the town hall meeting held at KU on November 11th were to be summed up into one word, I would choose the word “Enlightening.” The tension of not knowing what to expect loomed over the Kansas Union as hundreds of people funneled in, mostly silent and pensive. Greetings were even different. When asked how they were, many people responded with “we will see,” or something similar to that response. People entered carrying pain, frustration, anger, and outrage, and, for once, displayed these emotions outwardly and unapologetically. Students, undergraduate and graduate alike, along with faculty, staff, administration, members of the community, as well as members of the state government filled the auditorium, both seated, in standing room, and in the overflow room across the hall.

The University of Kansas chancellor, Bernadette Gray-Little, stood at the front and opened the meeting by saying that she would offer a brief statement and then would open the floor for questions and comments. Her brief statement included a concise summation of KU’s current multicultural, inclusion, and diversification efforts followed by the admission that “it is not enough.” She then asked that the audience offer as many solutions as possible. From the very first comments, the rhetoric and purpose of the conversation on “diversity” (as opposed to “anti-black racism”) was repeatedly challenged. Students then began to open and bare the pains they have felt at the hand of KU’s students, faculty, and administration. Tears were shed, voices were shaky, and the emotions carried into the room began to flow freely through the auditorium. Faculty laid bare their frustrations with their colleagues and their lack of commitment to the social environment created and the cultural knowledge given to KU’s students. The motives of the audience were even called into question by a few commenters who phrased themselves as justifiably “ANGRY!”

Friday, November 20, 2015

ICYMI: The Last Week in Black Writing (11/13-11/20)

Maryemma Graham wrote a piece addressing the racial tensions across college campuses - "The Huck Finn Syndrome."

The 66th Annual National Book Awards were announced in New York City this week. The winners included Adam Johnson in fiction, Ta-Nehisi Coates in nonfiction, Robin Coste Lewis in poetry, and Neal Shusterman in young people's literature.

Nicki Minaj recited Maya Angelou's poem "Still I Rise" at Shining a Light: A Concert for Progress on Race in America, a benefit concert geared to raise money to bring awareness to racial inequality in America.

Sara Crutcher wrote a children's book highlighting the importance of adopting black children. Crutcher was an adopted child who went on to have a successful career as an advertising executive. Her book, Heart Picked: Elizabeth’s Adoption Tale, calls attention to the racial disparity of black children in foster homes and seeks to educate children and parents on the adoption process.

Artist Leroy Campbell captures Gullah and Geechee culture in his new coffee table book, My Authentic Self.

"Has American Slavery Been Cut out of American Classrooms?" Your Black World discusses contemporary education and its treatment of the black past.

The Washington Post compiled a list of major book news for 2015. See what you missed!

See Malcolm X ask, "Who are you?"

In case you missed our fourth webinar of the semester with Jericho Brown, click here to see the video of the talk! Be sure to join us on December 1st for our webinar with Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie. Register for that webinar here. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Huck Finn Syndrome

On Saturday, November 7, I left the United States for a brief teaching stint in China. I left the U.S. in the midst of a raging controversy at nearby MIZZOU, one of the most recent universities to remind us of how little progress we have made in the war against racism in this country.

University of Missouri graduate student Jonathan Butler put his life on the line by beginning a hunger strike to draw attention to an inept and callous administration, pledging to continue until both the president and chancellor of MIZZOU resigned. Jonathans actions made me proud, and the MIZZOU football team made me even more proud. But I knew not to gloat too long, since eruptions continue to occur as a matter of routine.

When I heard about the negative incident at MIZZOU, frankly, I was filled with dreadthe same kind of dread Richard Wright describes in The Outsider. I left the U.S. with a heavy heart, knowing how important it was for me as an engaged scholar and activist to lend my support and voice whenever injustice raises its ugly head.  Like many of my colleagues, I cannot forget how I got to this part of the academy, and why excellence brings with it social, moral and ethical responsibilities.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Black Poetry after the Black Arts Movement Presents: Webinars with Jericho Brown and jessica Care moore

Please join Project HBW this week for our fourth and fifth webinars of the semester! Tune in as we talk with Jericho Brown and jessica Care moore.

The webinar with Jericho Brown will be moderated by NEH Summer Scholar Claire Schwartz and will take place on
Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

3:00 PM EST / 2:00 PM CST / 1:00 PM MST / 12:00 PM PST

The webinar with jessica Care moore will be moderated by NEH Summer Scholar Derik Smith and will take place on 
Thursday, November 19th, 2015
5:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM CST / 3:00 PM MST / 2:00 PM PST

Click here for a comprehensive list of past and future webinars, and to see videos of the talks. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

ICYMI: The Last Week in Black Writing and Culture (11/6-11/13)

Almost 60 years after the Mongomery bus boycott of 1955, public buses in Montgomery, Alabama continue to be a discriminatory space.

Allen Toussaint, legendary pianist from New Orleans, passed away this week at the age of 77.

Sofia Quintero gave praise to Walter Dean Myers for teaching her how to write for marginalized groups in her books, or, in her words, "how to stop writing white."

Barnes and Noble highlighted the twentieth anniversary of the death of Nigerian writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. Saro-Wiwa was an outspoken critic of what he saw as internal corruption in the government which was taking advantage of the oil-rich Niger delta. The three suggested books, The Looting Machine, The Bright Continent, and Americanah, address this corruption.

Professor Emerita Barbara Herrnstein Smith asked, "What was 'close reading'"? Smith examines the role of close reading in Anglo literature over the course of the past century compared with its current role in the discourses of the digital humanities.
The National Book Award finalists in young people's literature were released this week!

See our recap of Johanna Drucker's talk on the status of the digital humanities

The webinar series continues this week with Jericho Brown and jessica Care moore. Click here for more information on the webinars! In case you missed this week's webinar with Nikky Finney, click here for a video of the conversation.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Project on the History of Black Writing Presents: A Webinar with Nikky Finney

Please join Project HBW as we talk with poet Nikky Finney on Wednesday, November 11th in our third webinar of the semester!

Nikky Finney has published poetry, fiction and an anthology. Her books include The World is Round (2003), Heartwood (1997), Rice (1995), On Wings Made of Gauze (1985), and the edited collection, The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South (2007). In 2011, her fourth book of poetry, Head Off & Split, won the National Book Award. In 2013, Northwestern University Press published hardback editions of three of Finney’s books in a special limited box set, titled Sweet Box of Words. A founding member of the Affrilachian Poets, she is also on the faculty of Cave Canem. Additional awards include a PEN America Open Book Award and the Benjamin Franklin Award for Poetry. After a long tenure at the University of Kentucky, where she was the Provost’s Distinguished Service Professor of English, she returned to her native South Carolina to become The John H. Bennett, Jr. Chair in Southern Letters and Literature. A child of activists, Finney came of age during the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Arts Movement and had an early career as a photographer.

On September 6, 2012, Finney visited the University of Kansas and gave a talk, "Making Poetry in Our Anthropocene Age." We are happy to welcome Finney back, if only through a digital medium. 

The webinar will take place on
Wednesday, November 11th, 2015
3:00 PM EST / 2:00 PM CST / 1:00 PM MST / 12:00 PM PST

It will be moderated by Monifa Love Assante, NEH Summer Scholar.


This webinar is one in a series put on by the Project on the History of Black Writing and sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Upcoming webinars will include Jericho Brown, jessica Care moore, Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie, Sonia Sanchez, and Nathaniel Mackey. Click here for a comprehensive list of writers and dates. If you weren't able to attend past webinars and would like to see what you missed, click here to listen to our talk with Kwame Dawes and here to listen in as we talk with Sharan Strange.

Members of the general public and students of all levels are invited to join us!

Friday, November 6, 2015

ICYMI: The Last Week in Black Writing and Culture (10/30-11/6)

Meredith Wiggins wrote a review of HBW staff member Crystal Bradshaw's new book, Eliza: A Generational Journey

Journalist Nina Martyris wrote about the rise in big candy and its racist past. Martyris argued that because of rations during WWI, many soldiers returned with a sweet tooth. Similarly, prohibition led to a substitution of once vice (alcohol) for another (candy). Like most other facets of society, racial lines were created in the advertisement and distribution of candy, creating what historian April Merleaux calls the "Jim Crow candy hierarchy."

Earnest Owens of the Huffington Post critiqued Spike Lee's latest movie Chiraq, arguing that he "should have done the right thing." Owens took issue with the inaccuracy in which Lee portrayed race and sex in the film. In Lee's most famous film, Do the Right Thing, Owens argues that Lee didn't ignore the impact that racism has on black bodies as he did in Chiraq.

Last month, filmmaker Quentin Tarintino made headlines by becoming a recognizable face in the protest against police brutality. Police unions such as the LAPD have called for a boycott of Tarintino's film after he called cops "murderers." He clarified that not all cops are murderers - "I have to call the murdered the murdered, and I have to call the murderers the murderers!"

The University of Virginia is hosting a forum on engaging race, entitled "Black Girls Matter."

Clinton Yates of The Guardian wrote about how racial profiling hasn't gone away, it has only gone digital.

Please tune in to HBW's third webinar featuring Nikky Finney on Wednesday, November 11 at 2 p.m. Follow this link to register!  Click here for information on the webinars and to see others coming up.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

“Comin’ onta Kansas”: Place in Crystal Bradshaw’s Eliza: A Generational Journey

                                              Photo Credit: Will Cunningham

Crystal reading from the Eliza manuscript in June 2015
[by Meredith Wiggins]

In African American writing, the South often exists as a place of both danger and beauty, the North as a place of both alienation and promise. One body of African American literature that explores the dynamics of place is that concerning African Americans’ movement west to Kansas, Oklahoma and Colorado as part of the Exoduster Movement of the 1870s. This migration—the first large-scale migration of African Americans after the Civil War—occurred as a result of growing racist violence in the post-Reconstruction South. Following historian and author Nell Irvin Painter’s lead, Bradshaw changes the dominant South/North paradigm in black literature. Painter is the author of Exodusters: Black Migration to Kansas after Reconstruction (1977), the first full-length scholarly study of the Exoduster movement. In literature, the most famous Exoduster novel is undoubtedly Toni Morrison’s Paradise (1997), but there are other excellent takes on the topic, as well, such as Gabriel’s Story (2001), by David Anthony Durham.

To these, we can now add another: Eliza: A Generational Journey, a beautifully written short novel by HBW staff member and novelist Crystal Bradshaw.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A Recap of Johanna Drucker's "Digital Humanities: A Status Report With Questions"

On Thursday, October 29th, Johanna Drucker, the Breslauer Professor of Bibliographical Studies at UCLA, gave a provocative presentation, "Digital Humanities: A Status Report With Questions." The large, diverse crowd, including majors ranging from English to computer science, along with faculty and staff from an assortment of CLAS fields, not only demonstrates the breadth of DH but also the success of collaborative ventures like this one, sponsored by the Hall Center for the Humanities, EGARC, and the Institute for Digital Research in the Humanities.

In her presentation, Drucker provided a detailed outline of the rise of DH, from its early origins to its current state. Put simply, this evolution includes a shift from using automated systems to reproduce content to using automation to think critically and produce content. Despite the advances in DH, Drucker argued that it has "not changed the way we think." It has increased our capacity to do our work, but, according to Drucker, the kinds of foundational changes in our understanding of language that have been identified with deconstruction, post-colonialism, and queer theory, for example, we do not see with DH. This is not to devalue the importance of making the cultural record accessible and expanding our work with cultural artifacts.

However, the increased accessibility of the cultural record must be approached with caution. Image visualization, for examples, cannot be taken as definitive, because the processing of the data stream is so highly dependent on the inputs that may not be substantial or accurate enough to produce a faithful representation of the topic. This geospatial turn, highly popular within DH studies today, offers numerous examples of a practice that Drucker finds suspect: mass generalizations based on limited data available. Orbis does exactly this. The data does have value, however, if viewed as a set of social interactions, serving as a point of departure for research. We must see "Data," Drucker argued, "as a cultural construct."

Perhaps Dr. Drucker's largest and most compelling claim is that the Digital Humanities is not, nor should it be, a field in its own right. To treat DH as a field would distance ourselves from the subject matter and focus more on the associated methodologies, undermining its epistemological function. This is equivalent to making typewriting its own field. DH, like typewriting, is a tool that should be used across various disciplines. In this way, DH offers the best opportunity for being absorbed by these various disciplines and for bringing true interdisciplinarity to our work. These kinds of healthy suspicions give us all good reason to pause in our uncritical acceptance of DH.

[by Matthew Broussard]

Friday, October 30, 2015

ICYMI: The Last Week in Black Writing and Culture (10/23-10/30)

Last semester we posted an interview highlighting HBW's very own Crystal Bradshaw. After much anticipation, Crystal's memoir, Eliza: A Generational Journey, was recently released. Be on the lookout for a review of Crystal's book early next week!

Poet Gregory Pardlo asks, "What is it that is making me invisible?" Pardlo won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his book Digest, and yet consistently interacts with people who have never heard of him or his work. Pardlo speculates that the lack of diversity in the publishing industry has created "blind spots" that allows writers of color such as himself to remain in the margins.

In NPR's All Things Considered, Toni-Tipton Martin explores the impact that African American women have had on American Cuisine through her new book The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks. Martin attempts to break the "code" or stereotype that African American women only cooked obscure and inconsequential food. Instead, she argues much of the food that African American women chefs cooked have become staples of the American diet, despite the ongoing stereotype of "black food."

D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation was a big hit with white audiences, but its "racial distortions of the Civil War and Reconstruction-era United States" offended many African Americans. In response, Emmett J. Scott began filming his own movie, The Birth of a Race, to contest Griffith's film and offer a more accurate representation of African Americans in history. Unfortunately, filming came to a halt half way through and the footage was thrown away. Scott's prospectus still exists and remains the only print evidence of the movie's existence.

The e-book vs. print battle - which book is winning? While there was an initial mass hysteria by print book publishers when e-books were released, recent data shows the battle is beginning to level. But, there's more...

"Black Women Matter, a Poem," by Raven Davidson. Davidson is a graduate student at Illinois State University. Her poem speaks to her experience as a queer black woman.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Project on the History of Black Writing Presents: A Webinar with Sharan Strange

Please join the University of Kansas' Project on the History of Black Writing and the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute "Black Poetry after the Black Arts Movement" as we present our first 2015 webinar with poet Sharan Strange.

Sharan Strange

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015
3:00 PM EDT / 2:00 PM CDT / 1:00 PM MDT / 12:00 PM PDT

This webinar is part of a series of live, online discussions with a prominent group of intergenerational award winning poets to be held Fall 2015. The general public and students of all levels are invited to attend.

Please share this invitation widely with your colleagues and students. The webinar is FREE and all are invited to attend.

After registering, you'll be automatically emailed a link to join the webinar live on Wednesday, October 28th.


Robert Warrior and Indigenous Intellectual Health: A Recap

On Tuesday, October 20th, the University of Kansas welcomed Robert Warrior as he spoke on his latest research at the Hall Center for the Humanities. Dr. Stephanie Fitzgerald, professor of Native American literature at KU, had the honor of introducing Dr. Warrior. The presentation, titled “Reading for Indigenous Intellectual Health: Some Methodological Considerations,” drew a large crowd from the University of Kansas community, students and faculty alike. Intellectual Health is a term that embodies, but is not limited to, language revitalization, strengthening of community, and a healing knowledge (taking root both in body and in mind).

Friday, October 23, 2015

ICYMI: The Last Week in Black Writing and Culture (10/16-10/23)

Kevin Powell, author of recent memoir The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy's Journey into Manhood, offered an excerpt from his book to the Huffington Post. If you haven't had a chance to read the book, you can read an excerpt from chapter two here.

B.B. King, Mahalia Jackson, Dalla Reese, Sam "Lightnin" Hopkins. What do all of these names have in common? Reminisce in the past with Benny Joseph's photographs which capture the essence of Rhythm and Blues throughout the 1950's, 1960's, 1970's.

A voice from the past, watch James Baldwin speak on the race problem in 1968, a problem that continues to persist today.

Echoes from the Birmingham Church Bombing linger as St. Louis area churches continue to subjected to arson.

Poet Zaji's book When We Were One is a must read according to USA Today. Writing in the genre of speculative fiction, the book "honors women and their relationships, and it honors men and their connection to women, while taking readers on a tour through memories of days gone. It is a journey that uncovers the soul of women and the spiritual miles they have trodden." Learn more about the author and her newest book here.

HBW welcomed its newest addition, Portia Owusu, with a brief interview and spotlight piece in The Project on the Future of Black Writing. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Project on the Future of Black Writing: Portia Owusu

Editor's Note: HBW consistently seeks out new and upcoming scholars that contribute to the canon of black literature. We feel that this new generation of scholars is crucial to both adding to and critiquing existing scholarship. HBW presents The Project on the Future of Black Writing. 

Portia Owusu first came to KU as an exchange student in 2006, where she first encountered the work of HBW. She enjoyed the experience and work with Dr. Graham so much, she decided to return a long nine years later. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Portia and learn more about her background and her studies.

Me: Portia, tell me about yourself.

Portia: I would describe myself as British-Ghanaian because I was born in Ghana but grew up in London, England. In hindsight, I would describe my upbringing as a privilege that has positively impacted my academic and personal interests because living in London, which is multicultural city (owing to the fact that it was once centre of the British Empire), I was immersed in the British culture whilst at the same time interacting with people from all over the world. This, in addition to the Akan culture I was exposed to at home, developed my interest in histories and literatures from different geographical spaces.

Me: You are here writing the dissertation for your PhD, correct? Tell me about your academic past. What are some of your current interests and projects?

Portia: I have a BA (Honours) in English and American Literature from the University of Kent; MA in Postcolonial Literatures from the University of York and currently, I am pursuing a PhD in West African and African-American literature (looking at slavery and the politics of history and memory in both bodies of literature) at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). I am currently in the dissertation phase of my PhD and the chapter I am working on now is examining the uses of memory in Amiri Baraka's The Slave Ship.

The Project on the History of Black Writing frames itself in both a domestic and international presence, and many of our projects deal not only with African American literature but black people across the world. Portia's contributions to Project HBW help us to continue to expand and solidify the project's international influence.

[By Matthew Broussard]

Friday, October 16, 2015

Calling All Writers: Project HBW Wants You!

The Project on the History of Black Writing is always looking for innovative works to post to our blog. We publish critical works, book reviews, creative pieces, and many other works relevant to black writing and culture. Please review older and archived posts to get an idea of what we typically post. If you would like to contribute to the HBW blog, send your work to Submitted works should be between 4-6 paragraphs in length, and HBW reserves the right to edit works before they go live.

We look forward to hearing from you! Please spread the word if you know of anyone who would make a good contributor!

ICYMI: The Last Week in Black Writing and Culture (10/9-10-16)

Author Marlon James became the first Jamaican born writer to win the Man Booker prize. Marlon's book, A Brief History of Seven Killings, is an epic retelling of the 1976 assassination attempt on Bob Marley. Listen to James's interview with NPR here.

The complete list of finalists were released for this years National Book Award.

Bill Johnson II of the Huffington Post's Black Voices thinks that you should read these 9 books if you are a black male.

Recently released book of poetry, The Emperor of Water Clocks by Yusef Komunyakaa, speaks on matters of Ferguson, Obama, and war.

Author Ishmael Reed released his newest book Black Hollywood Unchained this week which examines portrayals of blacks in film. Reed released The Complete Muhammad Ali earlier this summer, a biography of one of the greatest boxers to live.

Henry Louis Gates was a guest speaker in the Medgar Wiley Evers Lecture Series. Gates spoke on genealogy and genetics in America. Read his interview with Jackson Free Press in which he discussed "Black America's Promises and Perils."

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Situation Report from a Culture of Reading: Part 2

Editor's note: two weeks ago we posted Situation Report from a Culture of Reading: Part 1. Below is part 2 of the post. 

To the slave, revolution is an imperative, a love-inspired, conscious act of desperation. It’s aggressive. It isn’t “cool” or cautious. It’s bold, audacious, violent, an expression of icy, disdainful hatred! It can hardly be any other way without raising a fundamental contradiction.

George Jackson, Blood in My Eye (1972)

Serendipity allows you to happen upon humorous insights.  Ralph Ellison was one of the most elegant prose writers of the twentieth-century. You find aesthetic pleasure in his writing as well as less than obvious evidence of self-contradiction. From time to time, Ellison was out to brunch. In his essay “Stephen Crane and the Mainstream of American Fiction” (1960), Ellison justly praised Crane for looking “steadily at the wholeness of American life” and for discovering “far-reaching symbolic equivalents for its unceasing state of civil war.”

Friday, October 9, 2015

ICYMI: The Week in Black Writing and Culture (10/2-10/9)

Dr. Jerry W. Ward Jr. reviewed author Kevin Powell's newest book, The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy's Journey into Manhood.

Last week was Banned Books Week. See HBW's recap here.

At the New Yorker festival, Toni Morrison spoke out on topics ranging from her writing to race relations, both past and present.

Maya Angelou's art collection sold for 1.3 million dollars at auction. Anglou, civil rights activist and author of the best selling novel I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, died last year at the age of 86.

The Root revisited The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

In NPR's segment CodeSwitch, author D. Watkins spoke about his newest book. The Beast Side: Living and Dying While Black in America details Watkins's experience growing up in the drug infested area of East Balimore during the crack era.

Janelle Harris wrote a letter for Beautiful Project's #dearblackgirl campaign. The campaign encouraged readers to write letters to young black girls as a way to encourage a love of one's self.

Jarrett Carter of HBCU Digest discussed the controversial issue of affirmative action. Will eradicating affirmative action help renew an interest in HBCUs?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Reading Kevin Powell's Education

Powell, Kevin. The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy's Journey into Manhood. New York: Atria Books, 2015

Autobiography is one of the more intriguing mixed genres of American writing. Elizabeth Bruss' Autobiographical Acts: The Changing Situation of a Literary Genre (1976) may lead us to believe that the "rules" governing autobiography are stricter than those which pertain to drama, poetry, and fiction; awareness that generic "rules" are based on abstractions from histories of reading, however, invite us to amend them in our acts of interpretation, in the acts we commit in order to grasp the meaning of texts. We are willing to break them. We allow the writer of autobiography great latitude in arranging language and rhetorical devices in her or his effort to bear witness to "a truth, " because we associate the truth of what happened with the individual's confessional, psychological ego-investments. Adjustments, exaggerations, forgetting and remembering, and selective displacements are in motion as part of the shared authority of the writer and the reader. Our own egos and needs are implicated in judgments about what is true or false. So too are our ideas about collective features of life histories. What social and cultural conditions are the powerful motives in the act of writing? What counts most in our reading and interpretation of autobiography, perhaps, is the sense that the narrator as well as the persona who stands in for a Self are reliable. We demand, in most cases, assurances that the autobiography is more than an absurd, commercial gimmick or a game of linguistic wilding. If the assurances fail, we are not devastated. We all understand how American citizens "play" one another. These considerations allow us to have a rich transaction with The Education of Kevin Powell

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Banned Books Week Recap (September 27-October 3)

In case you missed it, last week (September 27-October 3) was Banned Books Week. Put on by the American Library Association, Banned Books Week highlights books frequently challenged and banned by schools, libraries, and the media. This exhibition serves as a great opportunity to analyze the books in question, encourage discussion, and question the harm of censorship. What makes a book banned? A book can be challenged or banned for something as simple as vulgar language, being deemed unsuitable for the intended age group, reinforcing stereotypes, depictions of homosexuality, and a multitude of other reasons.

Jacqueline Woodson, author of Brown Girl Dreaming, recently made the banned books list. In the Washington Post article "It's Banned Books Week again. Can we stop yelling at each other about it?" Woodson speaks out about using the week as an opportunity to promote "greater dialogue, less shouting." The Young People's Poet Laureate questions what good comes from sheltering children from what is deemed inappropriate content. Admittedly, she has pulled books from her own children's shelves, but acknowledges that many times the child is of age to handle the material and yet, out of fear, the parent is the one who isn't ready.

Friday, October 2, 2015

ICYMI: The Last Week in Black Writing and Culture (9/25-10/2)

In NPR's Code Switch segment, Beenish Ahmen highlighted the life and work of writer Henry Dumas. I, admittedly, haven't read many of Dumas's works, but he will now be added to my list of authors to read!

Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of Between the World and Mehas been named a finalist for the National Book Awards. His book is a letter to his son addressing racism and police violence, a topic Coates has frequently written on.

Keep an eye out for Kevin Powell's new book The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy's Journey into Manhood. Powell's memoir attempts to grapple with the racism and poverty he experienced as a boy and his subsequent transition into manhood.

The New York Times reviewed Michael Javen Fortner's book Black Silent MajorityFortner argues that the origins of the war on drugs had "less to do with white resistance to racial equality and more to do with the black silent majority's confrontation with the 'reign of criminal terror'."

Photographer and MacArthur Genius Grant Award winner LaToya Ruby Frazier was interviewed by NPR. In her latest collection, Frazier chose to photograph her hometown of Braddock, PA to pay tribute to the African American history and contributions to the steel industry on which the town was built.

In light of historical bias against minority writers when it comes to inclusion in anthologies, the Asian American Writer's Workshop has created a pen name generator, producing white-coded names, to help writers with ethnic names compete on an equal level with their white counterparts. Thoughts?

Monday, September 28, 2015

Situation Report from a Culture of Reading: Part I

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York;
And all the clouds that low’r’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.

- Richard III

Unlike Richard, contemporary readers need not be “subtle, false and treacherous” unto themselves and the worlds they inhabit. They need not pretend those worlds are either peaceful or private spaces, immune to terrors made with alacrity by other, literate human beings. The hyperbole of Reginald Martin’s title Everybody Knows What Time It Is becomes a truism in the process of daily reading, especially if what you are reading is not a political document, an analysis of skills, prowess, and trash talk in one sport or another, a scientific treatise, or an essay informed by valid evidence. That is to say, if you are reading what proclaims itself to be “literature,” you are counting privileged nanoseconds of duration. People who read “writing” count plain minutes of time. I value writing more than literature because writing is a more accurate representation (gesture) of how historical consciousness marks off trails. Writing that empowers is often excluded from lists of bestsellers. So be it.

The writing that is important for my culture of reading does not fit into any single canon because it follows the Drinking Gourd and quits the merely fashionable, post-whatever plantations of the Western academy and looks for sanctuary elsewhere.

Friday, September 25, 2015

ICYMI: The last Week in Black Writing (9/18-9/25)

HBW celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month. See 26 stories that have shaped the Latino community this month, compiled by CNN.

Author Ta-Nehisi Coates is set to write Marvel's Black Panther comic book. Women and non-whites have been severely underrepresented in comics, but Black Panther will make history as the first black superhero to headline a Marvel film. Who is Black Panther? Click here to read more.

Barnes and Noble Review revisited the life of B.B. King in their Daybook series. BB King was born this week 89 years ago in "the most southern place on earth."

The Washington Post highlighted a book by Damon Tweedy, Black Man in a White Coat. Tweedy's memoir grapples with the graphic nature of racism in the medical community, both from colleagues and from patients.

NPR highlighted an interview of Stanley Nelson by Fresh Air's Terry Gross. Nelson wrote and directed the new film, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution. Nelson states, "What they were really doing was policing the police."

Angela Flournoy, Barnes and Noble's pick for its Discover New Great Writers award, sat down with Tayari Jones, author of 3 novels, to discuss Flournoy's new novel The Turner House