Monday, March 30, 2015

Performance: Richard Wright in 2015

[by Jerry W. Ward, Jr.]

Despite my having “performed” Richard Wright with a modicum of success some years ago in a Chautauqua series sponsored by the Mississippi Humanities Council, I know virtually nothing about performance theory as an “interdisciplinary area of study and critical method,” as it is discussed in the recent book Black Performance Theory (2014), edited by Thomas F. DeFrantz and Anita Gonzalez. For me, performing Wright was a matter of absorbing what I could of his personality and changing states of mind from his writings, listening to his recorded voice, and praying that on some spiritual level Wright would channel my imagination. I am not an actor, so I just gathered courage and, one magical night, I did become Richard Wright. At least, that was what several people in the audience told me.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Poetry and History: An Evening with U.S. Poet Laureate (2012-2014) Natasha Trethewey

[by Meredith Wiggins]

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey spoke and read poems about art, family, and race as part of the Hall Center for the Humanities 2014-2015 Humanities Lecture Series on Tuesday, March 3.

All her poetry begins with a question she wants to answer, Trethewey said. In the case of 2012's Thrall, her most recent collection, the primary question was how Enlightenment thinking has shaped the current language of race, including the language that her father, a white poet, used to describe his biracial daughter.

Trethewey conceived of Thrall as a conversation with her father. They used to give readings together, she said, where her father would sometimes read a poem titled "Her Swing," which described his biracial daughter as "a crossbreed"--something, she added, "that it is not possible for a person to be."

Trethewey always felt unsettled by the poem, which she said made her feel like the Venus Hottentot, body on display for an audience's eyes. Her father loved her and encouraged her to a be a poet, she said, but he also dreaded it "because he knew I would set the story straight."

Monday, March 23, 2015

“Characteristics of Negro Expression”: Kenton Rambsy on the Importance of Digital Humanities in the Study of African American Short Stories

[by Stefanie Torres and Jennifer Colatosi]

On February 11, 2015, Hall Center Research Fellow and KU English Ph.D. candidate Kenton Rambsy presented on notable outcomes of his dissertation research in his interdisciplinary graduate research workshop, “Characteristics of Negro Expression: Digital Humanities and African American Short Stories,” at the University of Kansas.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Upcoming Event: "Incidents in the LIfe of a Genre," by Maryemma Graham

Open to all: 
Incidents in the Life of a Genre: Autobiography and Self-Invention

an inaugural lecture presented by
Maryemma Graham 
University Distinguished Professor
Department of English
  Monday, March 23, 2015
Lecture: 5:30 p.m., Bruckmiller Room, Adams Alumni Center 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Genius and DAEMONIC GENIUS: Crafting a Biography of Richard Wright

[by Jerry W. Ward, Jr.]

Crafting a biography of Richard Wright places special demands on a biographer.  Wright was a genius, a man who embodied profound intelligence and creative vision, but Mississippi in the early twentieth century wasn’t the place for nurturing his kind of genius. 

Gertrude Stein seems to have appreciated the irony that blooms when a native daughter and a native son share the status of exile.  There was something surpassing mere hyperbole when, after reading Black Boy, Stein wrote to Wright:  “Dear Richard, It is obvious that you and I are the only two geniuses of this era.”  Stein’s words constitute a sophisticated joke because genius manifests itself in many forms that cannot be reduced to comedy (Stein’s maximum playfulness) or tragedy (Wright’s maximum seriousness).  Margaret Walker, the native daughter who did not choose exile, anatomized the facets of genius  in how she wrote about the dreams she and Wright dared to come true.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Poet Notes #1

[by Hoke Glover]

The world of poetry is like many of those integrated worlds that exist in America. There a careful balance is kept between the minority percentages and the hidden rules that govern the overall image of the enterprise. It is a neighborhood of sorts. If the amount of Blacks involved reaches 40 percent, there is a tipping point of sorts and some whites leave as they feel uncomfortable, and suddenly it becomes a Black neighborhood.

I am not sure the above scenario has ever occurred in the world of poetry.

Friday, March 6, 2015

ICYMI: The Last Two Weeks in Black Writing (2/20 - 3/5)

- KU Ph.D. student Amanda M. Sladek considers Toussaint L'Ouverture and the problematic "slave narrative" genre for the HBW Emerging Scholars series.

- Jerry W. Ward, Jr. remembered his former classmate Anne Moody, author of the memoir Coming of Age in Mississippi.

- HBW recapped the kick-off of the Black Literary Suite: Black Writers with a Kansas Connection.

- Thabiti Lewis considered Sam Greenlee's novel The Spook Who Sat by the Door in the context of the urban revolts of the 1960s and today.

- Inspired by Joel Christian Gill's #28daysarenotenough, Book Riot's Derek Attig gave suggestions for Black History Books for the Whole Year.

- Poet and memoirist Maya Angelou is to be honored with a U.S. Post Office "forever" stamp.

- Ilyasah Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X and co-author of the new young adult novel X, wonders what her father would have to say about today's activists.

- Not strictly "writing," but too wonderful not to include: Derrick Clifton talks about the "Because of Them We Can" ad campaign that dresses black children up as their inspirations.

- KU Associate Professor of English Giselle Anatol discussed her new book, The Things That Fly in the Night: Female Vampires in Literature of the Circum-Caribbean and African Diaspora, with KU News.

- Tickets are still available for the final three performances of KU Theatre's production of A Raisin in the Sun on March 6-8.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Sam Greenlee's THE SPOOK WHO SAT BY THE DOOR, Urban Revolts of the 1960s, and Beyond

[by Thabiti Lewis]

50 years ago, in 1965, the Voting Rights Act was signed. This also happens to be the year that Watts went up flames.

The Watts uprising in California left 1000 people injured and 34 people dead, and it led to more than 3900 arrests because of years of police brutality. In 2014, in cities across the United States--from Ferguson and St. Louis to Chicago and New York--there was unrest as people organized to protest police brutality and a justice system that repeatedly refused to indict police officers that killed unarmed black men (black women, too, have not been immune to murder at the hands of police).

Sam Greenlee’s 1969 novel The Spook Who Sat By the Door captured the spirit of the many revolts in the 1960s, leveling a harsh critique of America’s failure to deliver on its democratic ideals and promises to black folk. The revolt in Chicago that explodes at the end of Greenlee’s novel and catches fire in cities across America mirrored the racial disturbances in major cities in 1964, 1965, and 1967, and the uprisings in more than 100 cities across the country when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968.  It also mirrors Ferguson, Missouri, after Michael Brown was murdered. The Spook is a unique novel because it is more than a response to the contradictions of American democracy. It is calculated art, void of blindness or naiveté, offering an effective example of discourse of black protest for the future.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Black Literary Suite Kick-Off: Black Writers with a Kansas Connection

[by Meredith Wiggins]

On Wednesday, February 25, from 3 - 4:30 p.m., HBW and the KU Libraries co-hosted Black Literary Suites: Black Writers with a Kansas Connection.

The kick-off event featured a poster display, a self-guided audio tour, a display of relevant books from HBW's collections, and a preview of HBW's video tribute to John A. Williams.


Over the course of the 90-minute event, dozens of students, faculty, staff, and community members gathered to learn more about the history of black writers like Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Frank Marshall Davis, and Langston Hughes in the Sunflower State.

The BLS poster display will remain up in Watson Library's fourth-floor Hallway Gallery through most of March, so if you haven't gotten a chance to visit yet, there's still time! 

Many thanks to all those who attended the event - and especially to the KU Libraries for their generous support of HBW's programming!