Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Transnationalism, Women, Texts, and Bodies

My dissertation project involves comparing experiences of international policies on women in two locations: Senegal, West Africa, and Germany.  

Now that it's Women's History Month, I want to take some time to investigate the underlying assumptions about the relationships between women across the globe. In January and February, I conducted fieldwork to interview people involved in women's advocacy in Senegal and Germany. The point of my work is to investigate how international policies (texts) are inscribed onto women's bodies in different spaces. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Women's History Month

Happy Women’s History Women’s History! It is an honor to be a woman, and to write about the experiences of women, and to have connected with so many amazing women. My first time celebrating Women’s History Month was with my Global Feminisms class at Ohio University in 2011. The Ohio University Women’s Center, under the direction of Susanne Dietzel, developed several events and programs to celebrate the lives and accomplishments of women all over the world. At the main event, we sang, danced, and created art together. The sign I painted reads “CREATE” and still stands on my bookshelf. Along with many other accomplished scholars and artists, I had the opportunity to present original research as well as read poetry, which I dedicated to my sisters and my mother. This year, I will be attending the events hosted by the Emily Taylor Center for Women and Gender Equity at the University of Kansas. Click here for the list of programming:

I have dedicated my life and my graduate studies in Literature and Creative Writing to exploring and writing about the lives of women. My very first poem was about growing up with my mother, and since her death, I have continued to explore her relationship to her body and her body’s relationship to the world. My scholarship and art examines the ways in which racist, sexists ideologies affect black women specifically. And I am interested in researching the ways in which women writers of color take up discussion of gender, race, and class in their novels, essays, and poems. So, in honor of this Women’s History Month, I want to share a few titles from my current list of women writers of color that I read last year or am reading and/or reviewing this year:

Friday, March 25, 2016

ICYMI: The Last Week in Black Writing and Culture (3/19-3/25)

On Thursday, March 24th, Make it Funky V: Reflections on Kendrick Lamar was held at Lawrence Arts Center, sponsored by the department of African and African American Studies at KU. The purpose of The Make it Funky series is to explore connections between popular music and black writers. Sequoia Maner of the University of Texas at Austin was the keynote speaker and spoke on the influence of Kendrick Lamar's music on African American culture. Stay tuned for our recap!

In honor of Women's History Month, check out this list of poems celebrating women's history and women's rights compiled by the Poetry Foundation!

Watch the powerful poem "History Reconsidered" by Clint Smith III. Smith's poem seeks to revise history by offering the true story.

Ta-Nehisi Coates spoke out on the backlash behind the casting of Zoe Saldana to play Nina Simone in an upcoming film. The light-skinned Saldana was darkened to play Nina, conjuring minstrel imagery. Coates acknowledged Nina had what were dubbed "flaws," the nappy hair and big lips, and yet she was able to overcome these "flaws" to become the goddess she was. To acknowledge this pain, Coates said, "would mean giving an opportunity to someone who's actively experienced the kind of pain that plagued Simone."

Wiley Hall III of the New York Times reviewed The Family Tree by Karen Branan. Branan's novel explores a family secret, a hanging that the narrator's grandmother witnessed as a child. She then spends the rest of the novel attempting to piece together the family's history of secrets. Wall states, the dialogue of this story sounds "all too familiar: blacks insisting, in effect, that 'Negro lives matter' and whites responding, 'Whatever can you mean?'"

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Lifting As We Climb Revisited: The Clubwomen of the Kansas State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs

On June 14, 1916, Mrs. Charles W. French of Newton, Kansas, rose from her seat during the 16th Annual Session of the Kansas State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs in Parsons, Kansas, to denounce the Jim Crow laws in the host city.  Mrs. French stated that “[the women], regardless of color be admitted to theatres, and that some step be taken to investigate the reason they could not attend the five and 10 cent theatres.”  The women, who had descended on the small southeastern city of Parsons from all over the state, were repeatedly turned away from local theaters during their time in the town. 

After some discussion, which one can only imagine was boisterous, the women approved a motion to appoint a committee to contact the county attorney.  Henrietta Harper served as president of the State Federation at that time, and was an undeniable force in the struggle for racial justice in a state with a storied history of “Free”-dom.  She selected the most steadfast and unwavering women to serve on the exploratory committee.  The women penned a critical reprimand citing the Kansas laws of 1874, stating that owners of “places of amusement” cannot refuse admittance to people based on race.

Make it Funky V: Reflections on Kendrick Lamar

On March 24, "Make it Funky" will return for the fifth year. The purpose of the event is to explore connections between popular music and black writers. The keynote Speaker for this year, Sequoia Maner of the University of Texas at Austin, will talk about the impact of Kendrick Lamar's radicalism on African American culture. 

The program is sponsored by KU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Department of African and African American Studies. The event will take place at Lawrence Arts Center from 7-9 P. M. The first "Make it Funky" in May 2010 covered the development of African American music from before the civil war to the present. Subsequent "Make it Funky" events have explored the two sides of funk: theory and practice (M.I.F. 2), and analyzed the poetics of hip-hop with Adam Bradley, author of The Anthology of Rap (M.I.F. 3).

Monday, March 21, 2016

Autobiography and Angles of Remembering

During the October 28, 2015 PHBW webinar, it was refreshing to hear the poet Sharon Strange mention that art bears witness. She gave voice to one angle of remembering. Contemporary memory has a very brief half-life. We need to hear what is obvious again and again.

It is fashionable of late to applaud writers who made careers of always bearing witness to something in their writings. We may downplay the fact that giving testimony in a society that seems to despise morality, especially any ethics associated with politics and art, requires more than ordinary strength. It is easier to pander to the mob and to act out the role of the court jester in the face of grave, compelling issues. Either for votes, instant fame, shock value, or money, witnesses entertain the crowd.

Thus, Strange's comments brought us down to earth without the explicit preaching we find in John Gardner's On Moral Fiction (1977) or William F. Lynch's Christ and Apollo: The Dimensions of the Literary Imagination (1960) and by accident prepared us for a reading of

Friday, March 18, 2016

ICYMI: The Last Week in Black Writing and Culture (3/11-3/18)

Kevin Powell asked, "Will racism ever end, will I ever stop being a nigger?" Kevin Powell is author of the recent memoir, The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy's Journey into Manhood (2015).

This year marks the centennial of the birth of John Oliver Killens - "To honor this literary champion, the Center for Black Literature, The Harlem Writers Guild, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture will celebrate Killens’s legacy. John Oliver Killens at 100 is a pre-conference event to the 13th National Black Writers Conference, and the program will include a reflection on Killens’s life, a discussion on the significance of his works, and dramatic presentations with special guests Malaika Adero, Arthur Flowers, Woodie King Jr., Bernice McFadden, Diane Richards, and Ted Wilson among others who align themselves with Killens’s politics and purpose."

Colson Whitehead, author of John Henry Days (2001), will attend the Library of Congress National Book Festival to discuss his anticipated new novel, The Underground Railroad. 

Author Paul Beatty's novel The Sellout and Margo Jefferson's memoir Negroland were two notable winners at the National Book Critics Circle Award on Thursday: "Beatty’s crackling satire involves modern-day segregation, slavery and a host of racial stereotypes upended. Jefferson's memoir, meanwhile, offers candid and often ironic commentary of her upbringing in an affluent African American family in Chicago during the 1950s and ’60s." Beatty is author of prior novels The White Boy Shuffle (2001) and Slumberland (2008), both of which are satirical commentaries of race in America.

The New York Times reviewed Kaitlyn Greenidge’s debut novel, We Love You, Charlie Freeman, about a black family who agrees to move from a predominately black city to an upscale white city and live in a mansion. The catch? They must be part of a social experiment that involves living with a chimpanzee.

Next month is National Poetry Month! Check out the Washington Post's recommendation for the best poetry books for March.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Return to Africa

Editor's note: This piece is one of a series of posts that celebrate Women's History. Stay tuned for more as we celebrate Women's History Month.

Stretches of open land unroll beneath me, my face pressed against the glass in excitement. I don’t want to miss anything, my brown eyes flicking across everything in sight.
The dry, brown land.
The coconut trees.
The ocean.
A stewardess asks me if I want water in French.
My eyes reluctantly look away, my head motioning no.
She smiles and pushes her cart down the aisle.
When I peer out the window again, I see that I have left press marks of my face.
But I don’t care.
I’m here.
I’m finally in Africa.

My journey to Rabat, Morocco in January was the second time I have ever traveled out of the United States. It was also my first time going somewhere where I did not speak any of the languages. I felt some linguistic frustration when repeatedly approached in French and Arabic, natives mistaking me for Moroccan or French. I felt like a child, the words fumbling like marbles around my tongue, spilling out of my mouth in heavy sounds.

Costa Rica, my first international experience, had been the same. I was a Tica, walking invisibly among others, blending in perfectly. But Costa Rica had also been different. I was able to speak the language. The culture and food were familiar.

In Morocco, I blended in…that is until I spoke. I tried speaking French until one of my Moroccan friends laughed at me (I have a Spanish accent whenever I try). Rather than appear annoyed, I set my French aside for listening and reading and began working on polishing up on my Arabic.

Much to my surprise, I found the language (a hybrid of French and Arabic) to be easier than French. I quickly grasped the words: "La" (no), "Ahh" (yes), "Shookaran" (thank you), "Saafi" (deal/clear), "Salaam" (hello), "Afakee" (please), "Kinbrick" (sit down/pressure), "Habibtee" (my loved one), "Malki" (what’s wrong?), "La bus" (I’m fine), "Fea Zood" (There is food/Is there food?).

My journey to Morocco was truly amazing. Since I first saw The Lion King as a child, I always dreamed of one day traveling to Africa. The chance finally came as a participant in Elevating Women’s Voices conference hosted by KU’s Kansas Women’s Leadership Institute (KWLI), and I was overwhelmed with excitement. The conference was spectacular with a gorgeous view of the ocean and city from the Terminus Grand Hotel. In addition, the price of goods compared to the U.S. dollars is extremely cheap. Ten dirhams are about the equivalent of one U.S. dollar. Imagine my shock when I purchased a pizza and soda all for under four dollars!

Rabat is also diverse in the sense that there are people of all colors walking the city. I had the chance to travel to Casablanca, but Rabat is much better in my opinion.

The trip was more than just a conference and travel experience. It was filled with symbolism. It was a way of traveling back through time to my original ancestors' land. I kept a copy of my novel, Eliza: A Generational Journey, with me everywhere I went, carrying my x5 great grandmother back to the land of our ancestors.

[by Crystal Bradshaw]

Crystal Bradshaw is a junior at the University of Kansas majoring in English. She is the recent author of Eliza: A Generational Journey, a novel that is based on the life of her great (x5) grandmother's move to Kansas as part of the Exoduster movement of the 1870s.

A special thank you to Ayah Wakkad for assistance with the Arabic translations in the post.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Writers and Politicians

Among the Presidents who have occupied the White House since my birth, President Barack Obama is one of the most literate. Historians who write about the American presidency after 2017 will be obligated to note that Obama tried to "write an honest account of a particular province" of his life in Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (1995; New York: Three Rivers Press, 2004), and that he called for a new kind of politics in The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming The American Dream (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2006). As they condemn or commend his policies and speeches, the wisest historians will not ignore that fact that he invited Elizabeth Alexander to bless his 2009 inauguration with a woman's vision. Nor will they simply mention in passing that Richard Blanco gave some credibility to Obama's virtue of tolerance in the 2013 inaugural poem. The most scholarly historians will dwell for more than a nanosecond on Tara T. Green's conclusion in A Fatherless Child: Autobiographical Perspectives of African American Men (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2009) that "Obama, then, shows the possibilities of escaping the pressures of social pitfalls as much as he proves the importance of black communities in the late twentieth century providing homes for those wandering black sons in need of understanding, healing and love" (132). All of the historians will direct attention to Obama's September 14, 2015 conversation with Marilynne Robinson.

Monday, March 14, 2016

History 2216

In light of election season, Dr. Jerry W. Ward, Jr. speaks about getting serious about our nation's problems in 2016.

"A Tribune Editorial: Let's Get Serious" (The New Orleans Tribune 32.1, January 2016, p. 4) urges us to use 2016 as "a chance to regroup, refocus and demand more of all our leaders -- and ourselves. We ought to be tired of making do, giving up, settling for less or selling out to serve selfish desires." It would be a godsend if Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond exercise is imprimatur and declared that the editorial must be required reading at all Masses during February 2016. The editorial might also help us to decide whether a cross named Ted, a woman named Clinton, a card named Trump, or Sanders of the River will be the next President of the United States. Let's get very serious.

This is a year of terrible struggle and mercy. We should avoid, as much as possible, walking forking paths in a digital world. We do need to notice that families matter. We should ask why social scientists and mass media write endlessly about the African American family, but seldom explore the enormous complexities of Jewish, Islamic, Caucasian, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, and Catholic families. Those families matter and give shape to demographic shifts. And we may understand little about unemployment in our nation unless we understand American families, unlevel playing fields, and the serious questions regarding global economies raised by Jeffry A. Frieden in Global Capitalism: Its Fall and Rise in the Twentieth Century (2006).

Friday, March 11, 2016

ICYMI: The Last Week in Black Writing and Culture (3/5-3/10)

Yesterday, the KU student senate voted and approved funding for a separate, multicultural student government.

Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me named the KU Common Book for the 2016-17 school year. The book won the 2015 National Book Award for non-fiction.

In honor of Women's History Month, and International Women's Day earlier this week, read Book Riot's 115 reading recommendations for books by women.

Poetry Foundation has created a list of poems written by women in Honor of Women's History Month.

Ta-Nehisi Coates named a finalist for the best work of criticism in one of the National Books Critics Circle's annual prizes.

Swann Auction Galleries is selling a collection of rare photos and documents dating from colonialism in Africa through the civil rights era. 

This week, Amazon announced the location of its second physical bookstore. The online retail giant now seeks to make a name for itself in the physical retail market. Not surprisingly, many physical book chains are upset, fearing a loss of business due to the giant's move. Amazon's move attempts to capitalize on the stabilization of the physical book market following its initial decline after the introduction of e-books.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Project HBW's Black Literary Suite Exhibit to Remain up through the end of March

If you missed the kickoff reception for Project HBW's Black Literary Suite, there is still time to view the exhibit. The exhibit will remain up in the 4th floor hallway gallery of Watson Library through the end of March. This year's exhibit, Sports Figures with a Kansas Connection, highlights the writings of well-known and lesser-known sports figures with a Kansas connection.

Email or call 785-864-2561 for assistance. 

To trump or not to trump

Many people would sleep better at night if Donald Trump were a cartoon character in an Aaron McGruder film. To paraphrase Ralph Ellison, Trump isn’t one of our ectoplasms; he is a human being of substance, of flesh, bone, and liquids --- and he might even be said to possess a mind. He is blond, loud, and militant in giving American flavor to a wonderful Middle English document, Ayenbite of Inwit (1340), a perfect mirror for the white-faced conscience. Trump is an embarrassing gift to contemporary politics. He is the voice that asks: Why did I happen , and how does your outrage and your silence give substance to my shadow?

Whether they are well-educated or poorly-educated, obscenely wealthy or abjectly poor, American citizens follow instinct, custom, perverse desires, and common sense as they gaze upon and listen to the sound bites of the Donald. No politician in recent memory has been quite as inspiring as he is. Thanks to him, many people have taken to purchasing weapons and ammunition and to rereading such classic texts as Democracy in America, Candide, Mein Kaumpf, and the discredited Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Fascism is back in fashion, along with Leo Strauss, Karl Rove, Machiavelli, Henry Kissinger and the romantic realism of Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum (Ayn Rand). And no one worries overmuch that, according to intelligence from the Southern Poverty Law Center, we have 892 active hate groups and 998 antigovernment groups in the United States. It would not do for the world to think the greatest country on the planet came up short in manufacturing terrorism. The great fear is that one who says Ave Trump rather than Heil Trump is politically incorrect. Or is it the other way around? It is difficult to say.

Like Facebook, Trump is a universal friend. He has a surplus of fury and sound. He signifies ad infinitum on the dread and impotence of the proverbial average American voter. Should the American democratic experiment come to an abrupt halt in November -----and I dare you to say it can't happen, we have the option of chewing bullets and drinking James Warren "Jim" Jones Kool Aid in our self-fashioned temples. But that's not our only option.

Before resorting to bloodshed and cheap drinks, or Arkansas barbeque with Vermont syrup, free will and our nation's frayed racial contract do allow us remember that the love of power and money is the only God that many billionaires opt to worship. And those billionaires clone their imaginations without a scintilla of guilt. We can still recall that a trump is a playing card elevated above its normal rank in trick-taking games and that a trump, by virtue of metaphor, can be a person, a weapon, or the starting of a chain of events.

It is meaningful to reconsider how Michael Polanyi answered his rhetorical question --Are we to subscribe then to a theory of knowledge which allows the shaping of knowledge to depend on such ephemeral and parochial impulses? ---in The Study of Man (1958). The impulses Polanyi had in mind were moral and civic responsibilities, the shading of those responsibilities "into political obligations, and how these in their turn form part of the established institutional framework, or else are merely the expression of political partisanship" (42). Polanyi's answer was quintessentially British:

Surely, a judgment determined by the outcome of a struggle for power and profit cannot be accepted as authentic; as some point the acceptance of moral responsibility for the shaping of our knowledge of man will inevitably turn into an acceptance of bias, prejudice and corruption. Personal knowledge, as established by a responsible decision of the knower, degenerates here into a mere caricature of itself (42-43).

Why, we must ask, did it take us fifty-eight years to register the shock of recognition? Are American voters retarded black holes? The answer pivots on whether you decide totrump or not to trump.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr. March 3, 2016

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Black Literary Suite Recap!

On Thursday, February 18th, The Project on the History of Black Writing hosted its annual Black Literary Suite. The theme for this year was Sports Figures with a Kansas Connection.  

The event was co-sponsored by the KU Library and KU Athletics. The kickoff reception, held in Watson 455, attracted dozens of students and faculty alike. Attendees were treated to special guests Ernie Shelby, Marlene Mawson, and Leonard Monroe who spoke about their experiences at KU. Kevin Powell was also a special guest at the event. Powell spoke at KU about civil rights and his most recent book, The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy's Journey into Manhood, the day before. 
Left to right, top to bottom: Maryemma Graham, Marlene
Mawson, Kevin Powell, Leonard Monroe, and Ernie Shelby.

The exhibit was a self-guided audio tour with posters. Attendees had the option of scanning the QR code on the posters and listening to the audio on their mobile devices, listening to the audio on provided MP3 players, or following a link to the online exhibit. 

The exhibit will remain up on the 4th floor of Watson Library through the end of March, so there is still time to view it if you missed the kickoff reception! The exhibit is also available online through KU's Scholarworks, where you can view the posters and listen to the corresponding audio.

One of the goals of Project HBW is to highlight authors and texts that have been largely neglected by the public. While athletes are frequently admired for their abilities on the playing field, the writings of athletes tell another, less often heard story.

Many thanks to our co-sponsors, and to all who came out and supported Project HBW, the KU Library, and KU Athletics!

Friday, March 4, 2016

ICYMI: The Last Week in Black Writing and Culture (2/28-3/4)

This month is Women's History Month, so this month our blog will showcase a series of posts related to women's history. If you don't already know, read about how March became Women's History Month. 

This week, author Toni Morrison was awarded the 2016 PEN/Saul Bellow award for achievement in American fiction.

Novelist Zadie Smith has announced the release of her newest novel titled Swing Time, about two brown girls who dream of becoming dancers. Her first novel Teeth won the Whitbread First Novel Award, the Guardian First Book Award, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction, and the Commonwealth Writers’ First Book Award. This will be Smith's fifth novel. On March 31st, New York University will host Zadie Smith for a conversation on her life in publishing.

In her newest book, The Book of Memory, Zimbabwean author Petina Gappah writes about a woman in prison who has been sentenced to death who is recounting her life story from memory. "Memory has albinism," Gappah says. "I wanted to say something about race without really saying anything about race."

Despite some opposition, a bill was passed to name a post office in Winston-Salem, North Carolina after author and civil rights activist Maya Angelou.

Ta-Nehisi Coates will speak at Howard University on Charter Day, the day in which the historically black university was founded. Coates attended Howard in the mid 1990's and credits the school with training him intellectually.