Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Toni Morrison: A Full Circle in Motion

[by Jerry W. Ward, Jr.]

Abraham Lincoln’s surmising that Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin begat the War Between the States is a folkloric salute to the power of language and imagination. Stowe used a lot of sugar to advance the cause of abolition.

Superior to Stowe and members of her liberal tribe, Toni Morrison has avoided traffic in sugar or kindred flavorings. She is a realist. The proof is in the astringent quality of her fiction and nonfiction. From the thick descriptions that lend heft to The Bluest Eye (1970) to the control of perspectives which justify the deceptive “thinness” of God Help the Child (2015), Morrison has challenged her fellow citizens to deconstruct historical process and its consequences. Morrison’s being true unto herself has been no balm from Gilead for the most sensitive, hypocritical, self-deluded nerves of the American body politic. She has earned respect, but not love, for exposing systemic ailments that are beyond cure.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Bonus ICYMI: The We-Totally-Missed-It Edition

HBW introduced its #ICYMI posts a while back to give our readers a chance to catch up on some of the most interesting stories in black writing each week. But the internet is vast, and like anyone else, sometimes we miss out on great content. So today, instead of a regular post, we've got a round-up of stories we missed the first time around. Enjoy!

- NPR's Code Switch blog interviewed James McGrath Morris about his new book Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, First Lady of the Black Press, about pioneering African American journalist Ethel Payne.

- Val James, the first black U.S.-born player in the National Hockey League, wrote about the tremendous racism he faced in his 13-year career in his new autobiography Black Ice: The Val James Story.

- New Yorker theatre critic Hilton Als pays tribute to the art and politics of actor and activist Paul Robeson.

- Ayana Mathis and Pankaj Mishra discussed now-infamous James Baldwin's characterization of Native Son as a "protest novel."

- Marlon James, recent winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for fiction, shared his story of the challenges of growing up gay in Jamaica and finding himself in Minnesota.

- HBW's own Jerry Ward isn't the only person loving Empire. Book Riot offered up some suggestions about what to read while we count the days until season 2.

- Obie Award-winning playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins discussed his "obligation" to confront race and history in an interview with All Things Considered.

- The New York Times talked with author Paul Beatty, who just published the novel The Sellout, about looking for humor in writing about race.  A lot of race discussion, Beatty said, is "either too down-homey or too earnest or too something.  Too a lot of things."

- And finally, here's the full transcript of President Obama's speech from Selma, Alabama, on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.

Friday, April 24, 2015

ICYMI: This Week in Black Writing (4/17 - 4/23)

- Jerry Ward reviewed Earle V. Bryant's Byline Richard Wright, which collects pieces from Wright's journalism career.

- HBW visited #CLA2015, and we've got the recap (with pictures).

 - Kara Walker reviewed God Help the Child, Toni Morrison's newest novel. Walker celebrates "Morrison's obvious joy in language" but writes that the novel "left [her] hungering for warmth."
- Michael Eric Dyson published a controversial take on Cornel West in the New Republic.  (Colorlines posted a survey of responses to the piece here and links to West's response here.) 

- Karen Grigsby Brown used the verbal sparring between Dyson and West as the jumping-off point for "A History of Beef Between Black Artists, Writers, and Intellectuals."

- Last year, Morgan Jenkins asked Junot Diaz for advice about how to survive as a black writer in a "blindingly white MFA program," and he responded with a thoughtful and empathetic message. In "To Junot Diaz," Jenkins wrote about what's happened since.

- Playwright Katori Hall talked about creating plays by and for black women in the Washington Post.

- After leaked e-mails revealed that Ben Affleck pressured producers to remove an slave-owning ancestor from his segment on Find Your Roots, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. announced that he'll be writing about the full story in his forthcoming book.  (Gene Demby, lead blogger for NPR's Code Switch, talked about the story on Morning Edition, and Affleck offered up his take here.)

- In a 44-page document, the family of Michael Brown filed a lawsuit against the city of Ferguson.

- Traci Currie of the Phoenix Rising Collective wrote about interviewing--or trying to interview--Jamaican lesbian poet Staceyann Chin and what it taught her about the "life-changing interviews [that] occur during the silent moments."

- In the greatest news ever to be great, 7-year-old Natalie McGriff (and her mother Angie Nixon) created a comic book about a young girl who gets magic powers from her Afro puffs, The Adventures of Moxie Girl, and won over $16,000 to publish it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Conference Report: College Language Association Convention, 2015

[by Meredith Wiggins]

The 2015 College Language Association Conference for 2015 was held April 8-11, 2015, in Dallas, Texas, with the theme of "Expanding Frontiers: Freedom, Resistance, and Transnational Identities in Languages and Literatures."

CLA is always a challenging and welcoming community of scholars of African American literature and culture. This year, however, was especially exciting, as 2015 marked the 75th annual meeting of CLA's conference.

As has become tradition, representatives from HBW and from KU were out in full force - tabling, giving presentations, and generally having a great time!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Subversive Journalism: A Review of Earle V. Bryant's BYLINE RICHARD WRIGHT: ARTICLES FROM THE DAILY WORKER AND NEW MASSES (2015)

[by Jerry W. Ward, Jr.]

Such recent dedicated scholarship as Mary Helen Washington’s The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s and William J. Maxwell’s F.B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature serve as a warrant for thinking of contemporary literary and cultural studies as components of a mega-surveillance machine. Readers and critics cooperate, often unwittingly, with publishing conglomerates and official agencies of detection in panoptical activities that exceed the scrutiny imagined by Michel Foucault in Discipline and Punish or by Edward Said in Culture and Imperialism.  Technological progress encourages us to abandon dreams of a liberated future and to accept dystopia as self-evidently “normal.”

For Richard Wright scholars, the forthcoming 2016 publication of Indonesian Notebook: A Sourcebook on Richard Wright, Modern Indonesia, and the Bandung Conference, by Brian Russell Roberts and Keith Foulcher, will create an opportunity for more speculation about the function of journalism in Wright’s imagination, as well as raising devastating questions about how the journalism of Ida B. Wells and Ishmael Reed assist us in understanding what was and is African American literature. We do need to explore Black print cultures more thoroughly in relation to the production of Black literatures.  In this sense, Earle V. Bryant’s long-awaited Byline Richard Wright: Articles from The Daily Worker and New Masses has a significant mediating function.

Friday, April 17, 2015

ICYMI: The Last 3 Weeks in Black Writing (3/27 - 4/16)

- Jerry Ward, Jr. wrote about seeing Richard Wright's haiku in performance at Xavier University of Louisiana.

- Jackson State University's Margaret Walker Center is sponsoring a year of Walker-centric programming, This is My Century: 100 Years of Margaret Walker, 1915-2015.

-  C. Liegh McInnis contributed to our Margaret Walker coverage with a consideration of Walker's famous poem "For My People" as the fulfillment of her literary manifesto.

- KU English Ph.D. student Creighton N. Brown recapped Dr. Giselle Anatol's recent talk about her new book, Things That Fly in the Night.

- We also recapped the Langston Hughes Center's screening of Selma and its KU scholars' panel discussion about the film.  (You can watch director Ava DuVernay's keynote from the South by Southwest Film festival here.)

- Brian Russell Roberts and Keith Foulcher announce the publication of Indonesian Notebook: A Sourcebook on Richard Wright, Modern Indonesia, and the Bandung Conference, forthcoming from Duke University Press in spring 2016.  Indonesian Notebook contains a newly discovered Indonesian lecture by Richard Wright, "The Artist and His Problems."  (Read an excerpt of the project published in PMLA here.)

- Novelist Marlon James won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for fiction for his novel A Brief History of Seven KillingsThe Anisfield-Wolf awards are "for literature that confronts racism and examines diversity."

- With the publication of God Help the Child just a few days away, Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah profiled Toni Morrison for the New York Times.  Read that article here, then listen to Morrison read an excerpt from her new novel here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Langston Hughes Center Present: SELMA Panel Discussion

[by Meredith Wiggins]

KU's Langston Hughes Center sponsored a screening of recent Best Picture nominee Selma followed by a panel discussion about the film and its resonances to current-day issues on Wednesday, March 25.  More than 200 students, faculty, and community members attended the screening in Wescoe Hall.

Selma depicts the 1965 civil rights marches from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital of Montgomery, and Dr. Shawn Alexander, an associate professor in the Department of African and African-American Studies and director of the LHC, noted that he picked March 25 for the screening because that was the date when marchers actually arrived in Montgomery.

After the screening, a panelist of three scholars from KU--independent filmmaker and professor of film and media studies Kevin Willmott, assistant professor of American studies Elizabeth Esch, and African and African American studies graduate student Melissa Foree--responded to the film and engaged audience questions about the continued relevance of civil rights work today.

Monday, April 13, 2015

"For My People" as the Fulfillment of Margaret Walker Alexander's Literary Manifesto

[by C. Liegh McInnis]

Before I can discuss how “For My People” speaks to people today, I must begin by discussing the manner in which Dr. Alexander began her writing career by providing her readers with a literary manifesto, which shows that Dr. Alexander understood poetry to be an engagement of critical thinking through which societal ills can be resolved through creative approaches.  With “I Want to Write,” Margaret Walker Alexander provides her literary manifesto that she wants to produce well-crafted poetry that shows African people how beautiful they are, which will encourage or inspire them to continue the struggle against white supremacy and toward the fulfillment of their humanity and citizenship.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Of Folklore, Feminism, and Fire: An Afternoon with KU Associate Professor of English Giselle Anatol

[by Creighton Nicholas Brown]

University of Kansas Professor of English Giselle Anatol spoke about and read from her newly published book, Things That Fly in the Night: Female Vampires in Literature of the Circum-Caribbean and African Diaspora to a packed audience at the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas on Thursday, April 2.

Reflecting on the genesis of her project, Anatol said,  “When I was a child, my mother, aunts and uncles, and grandmother regaled me with stories of the soucouyant, a demonic figure from Trinidadian folk culture.” During the day the soucouyant appeared as an old woman, but when night fell, she “peeled off her skin, transformed into a ball of fire, and flew from house to house, where she sucked the blood of her unsuspecting neighbors.” The soucouyant is also known as Ole-Higue or Loogaroo in other Caribbean cultures.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Margaret Walker Centennial Celebration

Image via Jackson State University's Margaret Walker Center.

2015 marks the 100th anniversary of Margaret Walker's birth. To celebrate the life of this remarkable author, Jackson State University's Margaret Walker Center is sponsoring This is My Century: 100 Years of Margaret Walker, 1915-2015, a year of programming devoted to Walker's work.
HBW invites its readers to submit blog posts and/or longer essays about topics related to Dr. Walker and her work.  We'll begin featuring these posts as early as next week, when we share Walker scholar C. Liegh McInnis's insightful reading of "For My People," recently delivered at the Oxford Conference for the Book.

For information about how to submit pieces for consideration on the HBW Blog, please contact