Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Trojan Flags for Cultural Study

[by Jerry W. Ward, Jr.]

When policemen turn their backs to a mayor at the funeral of a police officer slain in the line of duty, is this symbolic act to be “read” as a sign of anger, disrespect, and resentment? Is it the equivalent of a jazz musician’s turning his back to an audience as he produces exquisite sounds? Is this positioning of the body in uniform, an embodiment of law and order, subject to decoding? The gesture is broadcast in the public sphere of television. Is it to be interpreted as a warning that American social dynamics are minimizing prospects for civic communication? Is ours a society wherein anything is everything? Is the turning of the back actually a turning back to a pre-history?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Black Poetry after the Black Arts Movement

[by Meredith Wiggins]

Some of the biggest names in African American poetry will converge on KU this summer when the Project on the History of Black Writing hosts a two-week institute on the subject of Black Poetry after the Black Arts Movement.

And HBW hopes that you'll be a part of it.

Sponsored by a $156,000 grant from the National Endowment on the Humanities, the residential institute will be held July 19 through August 1. The NEH Summer Scholars, a group of 25 college and university teachers selected to take part, will join more than two dozen scholars to study how Black poetry both reflects and impacts social change.

For more information about the institute and about how to apply, follow the jump!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Black Writing and Blues Allegory

[by Jerry W. Ward, Jr.]

American politics will popularize exegesis in 2015, and so too might the publication of Toni Morrison’s eleventh novel, God Help the Child.

Scheduled for release in April by Alfred A. Knopf, the novel rebroadcasts the title of a song written in 1939 by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog, Jr., “God Bless the Child,” and recorded for the Okeh label in May 1941. The wheels of ideological state apparatus turn so rapidly that several commentators have confused the two titles as they assure us that Morrison’s novel is an instant classic. The pre-publication “leak” from Knopf contains a tantalizing summary of plot and characters. It encourages Morrison scholars and other critical readers to sharpen their tools and to engage the novel by way of allegorical readings.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Martin Luther King 2015: A Different Kind of Eulogy

[by Maryemma Graham]

When Sojourner Truth took the podium at the Women’s Rights convention in Akron, Ohio, 1851, she became in an instant the quintessential symbol of triple jeopardy: she was a former slave, she was black and she was a woman. She made women and the anti-slavery community uncomfortable because she refused to keep the issues of slavery and women’s rights separate. Exposing her breasts to punctuate her womanhood, she left an indelible imprint on history. The words “Ain’t I a woman?” remain that continuous reminder that building a more equitable society is our ongoing work.  Truth was relentless and fearless, traits that are hard to come by.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: Remembering and Forgetting on January 19

January 19, 2015 will be an ordinary day. It will not be, as a person from Maine might say, a “wicked good” day. It will be twenty-four hours occupying a square on a calendar, another SNAFU day in the United States of America. Nothing that is mind-shattering, body-alarming or soul-fracking will occur that did not already happen.

There will be no mail delivery, of course, because January 19 is a federal holiday. Babies will be born. People young and old will die. Fire will burn. The Earth will revolve as it orbits the sun. Air will move clouds. Water will flow or freeze. Prayers will be prayed; curses will be cursed; terrorism will terrorize; songs will be sung. Somewhere it will rain. Perhaps a few Americans will notice that peace and love are items that can’t be sold or bought. Otherwise, everything will be business as usual.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Missive on the Professional: An Open Letter to Howard Rambsy II

Editor's Note: On Monday, we posted Howard Rambsy II's letter, "Is African American Literature Really American Literature?", in which Rambsy argued that, in the eyes of higher education hiring committees, African American literature doesn't really count as American literature.  Today, HBW Lead Blogger Jerry W. Ward, Jr. responds.

Dear Howard,

Your email of December 24, 2014, “Is African American Literature Really American Literature?”, raises an excellent question, and your missive warrants the response of an epistle.

Monday, January 12, 2015

A Missive on the Professional: Is African American Literature Really American Literature?

Editor's Note: As the HBW Blog returns in 2015, we are excited to share a dialogue between Howard Rambsy II and Jerry W. Ward, Jr., about the current perception of the status of African American literature "within" American literature.  Today, Howard Rambsy II's take.

I realized that the semester passed without me sending out a missive on the professional. So here goes, beginning with a question: Is African American literature really American literature?

I hear many of my senior colleagues in the field of African American literary studies make that point: that African American lit is American lit. I understand what they mean. And I agree. Well, I agree in theory, which is to say that my opinion shifts when I look at the job market.

Here’s why.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Black Writing: A New Orleans Example

Image via Google.
 [by Jerry W. Ward, Jr.]

Seldom is the interrelated difference of black writing and black literature a topic of conversation or a point of sustained discussion in undergraduate and graduate courses. Black writing in the United States of America includes the sounds and visual combinations (graphology) that represent the contours and nuances of African American thought. Black literature is the body of work squeezed from black writing, filtered and otherwise processed by scholarship and criticism, poured into anthologies, and offered up to Culture as a consecrated wine. Black writing is free from the rituals and niceties of wine-tasting. It is just the robust wine that it is.

In everyday life, black writing is more widely read than black literature. It might be argued that writing has greater practical value than literature. It tends to be reader-friendly. It rarely offers obtuse apologies for being didactic. There is, of course, much back-and-forth slippage between literature and writing. For the sake of cultivating literacy, this phenomenon of instability is a good thing.

One instance of black writing for a local scene that can appeal to a global audience is Keith Weldon Medley's Black Life in Old New Orleans (2014).