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

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Serious Commitments of Jerry W. Ward, Jr. & William J. Harris

[by Howard Rambsy]

Dr. Rambsy is an associate professor of English
at Southern Illinois University - Edwardsville 
By the time I met my undergraduate professor Jerry W. Ward, Jr. in the mid 1990s, he had been studying Richard Wright for about 30 years. And when I met my graduate school professor William J. Harris in 1999, he had been studying Amiri Baraka for nearly 40 years. Today in 2015, in other words, Professor Ward and Professor Harris have been studying Wright and Baraka for more than 50 years.

Those are some serious commitments.

Friday, September 18, 2015

ICYMI: The Last Week In Black Writing and Culture

HBW honored poet Samuel Allen, who passed away in June. Allen’s memorial celebration is scheduled for October 10th.

On September 15th, the nation mourned the 52nd anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing.

Northwestern University professor Aldon Morris’s new book highlights W.E.B. Du Bois’s contributions to the field of sociology.

“Where are all the black cooks?” Toni Tipton-Martin examines the history of black cooking in an excerpt from her essay, “The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks.”

Cierra Lockett talks appropriation and the complexity of reclaiming African culture by African Americans.

Poet Aja Monet recites her poem, “The First Time,” about the first time she hated a cop, highlighting the looming tension between  minorities and law enforcement. Monet’s poem was recited at the 2015 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational in Richmond, Virginia.

Aleichia Williams talks identity and her “race crisis” in “Too Latina To Be Black, Too Black to Be Latina.”

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Memorial Celebration Scheduled to Honor Poet Samuel Allen (aka Paul Vesey)

Project HBW has received news of a memorial celebration to honor poet Samuel Allen, who passed away on June 27, 2015. See official press release at bottom or click the link above.

Samuel Allen was born in Columbus, Ohio in 1917. He attended Fisk University where he studied with James Weldon Johnson. Allen went on to study law at Harvard, and had an extensive law career that followed, serving as Deputy Assistant District Attorney in New York City, a civilian attorney with the armed forces in Europe, working his own private practice, and then later working as a law professor at Texas Southern University.

Samuel Allen would often write under the pen name Paul Vesey in order to keep his law career and writing career separate. Allen underwent a career shift in 1968 to dedicate more time to his writing and study of literature. He was named the Avalon Professor of Humanities at the Tuskegee Institute later that year, and in 1971 he became a professor of English at Boston University.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Yi-Fen Chou Affair

If Sherman Alexie had remembered good advice from Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince when he was deliberating about what to include in The Best American Poetry 2015, there would be no discussion in American poetry circles of the Yi-Fen Chou Affair.  Alexie would have used a universal truth, one that is useful in political practice and literary negotiations and especially powerful in dealing with the regressive conditions of life in the United States in 2015.  In Section XV of The Prince, Machiavelli proclaimed that "any man who tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number who are not good.  Hence a prince who wants to keep his authority must learn how not to be good, and use that knowledge, or refrain from using it, as necessity requires."  If Alexie had applied this advice, Kwame Dawes would not have castigated Yi-Fen Chou (a.k.a. Michael Derrick Hudson) in a Prairie Schooner blog for using "identity theft" in order to get the poem "The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve"published.  As matters stand, Hudson can smirk as many of his peers burn with anger and blame Alexie, and by association Dawes, for exposing how aesthetic judgments are ultimately political ones.

Friday, September 11, 2015

ICYMI: The Last Few Weeks in Black Writing

The world morns on the 14th anniversary of 9/11.

KU’s very own Danny Cain wrote a piece on the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Spike Lee, writer and director of the 1989 film “Do the Right Thing,” will be presented with an honorary Oscar by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Lori Tharps reviewed Tamara Harris’s book The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America, in which Harris attempts to break the stereotype of the broken black woman.

Last month, Barnes and Noble revisited Edwidge Dantacat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their Discover Great New Writers Program.

William H. Grier, psychologist and co-author of the 1968 book Black Rage, passed away on September 3. Through case studies, the book offered an examination of how the legacy of slavery continued to cause societal unrest in the United States.

Gethsemane Herron performed the moving story “All Black Everything,” a powerful narrative that illustrates the fetishization of the black female body.

The world celebrated the 25th anniversary of "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air."

Wednesday, September 9, 2015


Thanks to the troublesome "magic" of instant communication which informs us about what happened prior to its spatial and temporal manifestations, we might welcome the rest and recuperation that a centennial can offer. Yet, remembering and reassessing what happened one hundred years ago can only  make going from the new frying pan to an old skillet a paradoxical exercise in hopeful despair.

Consider this year's Margaret Walker Centennial, the shuttling between the strengthening message of "For My People" and the agony-laden news of "Jackson State, May 15, 1970." Implacable, absurdly hungry Death triumphs over the godless trinity of class, race, and gender in the twenty-first century. Rereading Walker is to suffer knowing our young are "Not rich with gold but priceless truths of life and death, of/ giving self and sharing love for this is all there is." Lives of all colors matter, with or without hash tags, dog tags, car tags or tags period. Margaret Walker was one of many poet/bridges between the oral traditions of the enslaved Africans and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and the multi-ethnic break beat voices of 2015.  All, including refugees straight out of Syria, Palestine and Iraq, are compelled to voice and revoice Walker's closing stanza from "Jackson State...":

Friday, September 4, 2015

This week in ICYMI: Project HBW Remembers Katrina 10 Years Later

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated the gulf coast, displacing hundreds of thousands of people in the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. New Orleans, a city with an average elevation 6 feet below sea level, was at a particular risk of flooding. By the time the storm subsided, Katrina had claimed almost 2,000 lives.

Project HBW is honored to present to you guest blogger Danny Caine, who gives us a glimpse of the literature that arose from Katrina's destructive path:

Two of the first books I read about Katrina and its aftermath are Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun and Josh Neufeld’s A.D.: New Orleans after the Deluge. Both bring to gritty light the struggles and grief of the chaos in Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath, and I think both are fine pieces of journalism. In addition, both are compulsively readable, feeling more like novels than the well-reported journalistic nonfiction they are.