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.