Friday, May 27, 2016

ICYMI: The Last Week in Black Writing and Culture (5/21-5/27)

"On the first novel published by a Black Caribbean Writer in England" - Minty Alley by Cyril Lionel Robert James. The novel was among the first to focus on social class, realism, and race in Caribbean literature.

Ta-Nehisi Coates's new comic book Black Panther has become one of the best selling comics of the year. Coates's comic reinvents the Marvel character The Black Panther, who appeared as the first mainstream black superhero in 1966.

Jamaican writer Nicole Dennis-Benn discussed her debut novel Here Comes the Sunabout a young woman who is coming to terms with her sexuality and dealing with the effects of tourism on her village. In an interview with The New York Times, she stated, "I wanted readers to see the other side of paradise; I wanted them to see the real people behind the fantasy life advertised in commercials. Next time a reader visits any place — be it Jamaica or Thailand or India — perhaps now they might be more inclined to venture outside the gates of the resort."

Michael Henry Adams of the New York Times spoke about the effects of gentrification in Harlem in "The End of Black Harlem."

A new TV series of Roots aims to further "confront, discuss and try to understand our complicated racial history." The series, based on Alex Haley's 1976 novel, seeks to retell the history of slavery, improving upon "overdrawn" and "oversimplified" elements in the original 1977 TV series.

Singer Candice Hoyes, on her debut album On a Turquoise Cloud, confronts the complex history of jazz in the United States and how race, identity, and womanhood intersect.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Medgar Evers International Writer's Conference, Report 2 of 2

Creating Dangerously: 

Confronting the Cracks in Oppression that Creators in the African Diasporas Shine Through

I was not sure what to expect as I entered the auditorium for the fourth time Saturday for the panel, Creating Dangerously: Courage and Resistance in the literature of Black Writers: A Conversation. The conversation was moderated by Victoria Chevalier and featured novelist and short story writer, Edwidge Danticat, and scholar and author, Charles Johnson as panelist. Many of the previous conversations seemed to be coming from a far away place mentally, chronologically, and generationally. Many panelists were reflecting on a time that I was still soaking inspiration from to create a new artistic space in the present, making it difficult to connect my experience as an artist in 2016. I was eager to see how the past was interacting with the present to create an exciting artistic future. Where did I fit in, the 22-year-old poet in the broader conversation of Black art and expression?

Although I do not feel the conference directly addressed my question, this panel did solidify that it’s possible that just by being a black woman, poet, and writer, I am connecting to the past in the inherent politicization of my narrative. Charles Johnson said it best, “Nothing is more radical than addressing the nature of the self: Who am I?” I found that this question rattled the institution of art. When a black woman asks herself who she is and puts it to paper, she is creating a disruption and breaking through an intellectual incarceration that is White Supremacy, as it expresses itself in the literature world. The next question: How do we “murder” and “chip away” White Supremacy in our artistic process and the world. My first thought: despair. How could we possibly answer this question? Danitcat said it plain, “We arm ourselves with all the knowledge and skill and still the problem exists.” My second thought: I am probably among the bravest artistic minds in this moment. When writing my poem about body image or womanhood or unapologetic sensuality, was I unknowingly sharpening the machete of literary warfare? Forcing my narrative in the conversation? If not, what is keeping me from taking Johnson’s suggestions in not policing my imagination? Needlessly to say, it was a lot to consider. 

The conversation was not only a war cry for unapologetically searching ourselves and our work, but also a type of theoretical reflection, for in order to create we must first listen. Yes, we must listen to even them. Johnson called it epistemological listening and together Danticat and Johnson addressed the theory of "other." I began to question my own ideologies around active listening. In the past, the only time that I employed active listening was in my poetry workshops with young students in middle school I was teaching at. It never once occurred to me that I needed to listen to the "other." Why? What could they say that was going to help me? According to the panelist, many things! Active listening to the other, whoever the other may be, opens us up to further define and inform who we are as artists. Was I active listening to the “other”? Why not? What could I learn by epistemologically listening to other communities and people? It was clear, everyone in the audience had a lot to consider. Mr. Johnson asked a crucial question: “Why write? When writing is at its best, we come out of the story not as clean as when we went in.”

As theoretical as the conversation was, the questions that were posed were very tangible from the panelists’ perspective as well as the Q&A that came after. The conversation began to steer towards White Supremacy in general and its timely death. Could it ever die? Could we kill it? Was it killing itself? The community in the room could agree that White Supremacy, no matter its vitals, needed to go. However, one gentleman asked the question that seemed to stop the room in its tracks and put a crucial crack in a space where we all thought we were on the same page: If we were willing to destroy white supremacy, were we able to destroy all oppressive systems? Down to the lights that were on in the auditorium killing the atmosphere? The panelist looked at each other and lightly chuckled nervously before agreeing and advocating for the erasure of oppression everywhere. I could feel that some of the passion left the room in advocating down to the smallest detail. IT is in these spaces, the light laugh and agreement, that I think it truly gets complicated. As we write our narratives into oppressive spaces, are we making room for other oppressed narratives to speak? Are we using our platform to make room for other oppressed voices, even if it makes us uncomfortable? Most of us want to say yes, but I have a feeling that, as in anything in the creative process, it is never that easy.

During any other panel conversation that left me with more questions than answers, I would be perturbed. However, this panel not only left me with crucial and necessary questions but also the courage to find the answers… by any means necessary.

[by Tayllor Johnson]

Since discovering her passion for spoken word at 15 years old, Tayllor hasn't stopped writing, performing, or teaching. Working with Get Lit, a non-profit literacy advocacy group, and representing Los Angeles in Brave New Voices 2010 taught her the healing and empowering force that was inevitable through spoken word. She hopes to grow and reach new heights in her performance and writing, always keeping in mind her mission to find new ways spoken word can empower the voiceless, soothe the wounded, and disturb the status quo to set all of us on a path to freedom.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Music/Painting/Poetry: Outroducing Expectations

William F. Gross--composer
Larry D. Lean---visual artist
Lenard D. Moore --poet, vocalist

The Satire Project: a collaboration of art, music, and poetry (book + DVD). Mount Olive, North Carolina: University of Mount Olive, 2016. ISBN 978-0-692-68026-1. $15.00

Gross, Lean, and Moore based their satiric project on two primary beliefs: (1) combining painting, poetry, and music can produce "a work that would be more imaginative than any of the single disciplines could create alone" and (2) Aristotle was correct in proposing "the whole would be greater than the sum of its parts." If one likes the sonic work of the avant garde chamber music ensemble Imani Winds or The Cosmic Quintet (Kidd Jordan, Douglas Ewart, Alvin Fielder, Chris Severin, and Luther Gray), the poetry of Bob Kaufman (check out his magnificent poem "The Ancient Rain") and Safia Elhillo (check out "a suite for ol' dirty" in The BreakBeat Poets), and paintings of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paul Klee, Miles Davis, and Pavel Tchelitchew, it is probable that one will like The Satire Project. It does not disappoint in its outroducing of expectations.

Gross, Lean, and Moore assume that satire can direct "attention to shortcomings in our society." In the 21st century, however, satire directs far greater attention to the yearnings of artists than to violations of or failures to live up to American social values . Ask Spike Lee who struggled to give us redemptive satire in "Bamboozled" and guilt-inducing satire in "Chi Raq." The success of satire depends on some consensus regarding desirable values and behaviors. In some dim past there may have been such nominal consensus in our body politic, but in the present we can only agree that we do not agree. The success of The Satire Project isn't located in moving us to make things better (whatever "better" might entail) but in moving us closer to aesthetic recognitions. And the most important recognition is that time does more to outroduce expectations than to introduce them.

Moving forth and back between Lean's paintings and Moore's ekphrastic poems in the book constitutes a special exercise in visual rhetoric, but the more rewarding aesthetic pleasure comes from negotiating the atonal offerings of Gross, the graffiti acrylic paintings of Lean, and vocal performances of Moore on the DVD. Inspired no doubt by Gross's unpredictable soundings, Moore transforms his print texts into minutes of ear-jazz, and, in many instances, Moore "sounds" better off the page than he does on it because he liberates the words. The outroducing of expectations in The Satire Project as book and DVD is a fine investment of American time.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr. 

 April 23, 2016

Friday, May 20, 2016

ICYMI: The Last Week in Black Writing and Culture (5/14-5/20)

Levelle Porter, assistant professor at CUNY, wrote on the politics of Audre Lorde: "It is not our differences that divide us, it is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences."

Jim Marshall, creator of the "Hope" image of president Obama, highlighted new subjects in a new exhibit called "American Civics." Among the new subjects is Fannie Lee Chaney, whose son was killed by the Klu Klux Klan while registering black Americans to vote in the south.

While HBCU's are commonly known for their education of African American students, they also celebrate the diversity of the diaspora and blackness.

Author D. Watkins spoke about growing up around crack in his east Baltimore neighborhood, addressed in his newest book The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir. Despite the system that set him up for failure, Watkins went on to Baltimore University to earn a bachelor's, John Hopkins University for a Master's in education, and then Baltimore University for an MFA. For Watkins, college and education was his escape from drugs.

Poet Tayllor Johnson wrote a recap on the Medgar Evers International Writer's Conference. Stay tuned for part 2 of the conference recap.

Medgar Evers International Writer's Conference, Report 1 of 2

Provocateurs: The Symbiotic Relationship Between Photographers and Writers exhibit:

Looking into Your Future, Past, Present

Tayllor Johnson: Creative and Administrative Assistant to
Kevin Powell and BK Nation

Walking onto Medgar Evers College campus as a recent college grad was enough nostalgia for one night, but I kept going toward the library where the security pointed without stopping to remember my own college days. I walked past the familiar chatter of finals, friends, term papers, research fatigue, electric excitement, thesis preparation, and that finite moment. College. It had almost been a year and in some way I felt miles beyond my diploma and at the same time just on the other side of it. I walked downstairs to the opening ceremony of the National Black Writers Conference and the Provocateurs: The Symbiotic Relationship Between Photographers and Writers exhibit.

As a writer and poet, I felt at home with the title alone. Ever since poetry found me, it was never a secret the narratives that were whispered from museum walls, art galleries, and photo exhibitions. So to explore this idea in one space was overwhelmingly inspirational. The Brooklyn-based photographers along with the words of authors created a portrait of black art that reached what, now I know, is my limited perspective on the art contributed from the African diaspora. The writers along with the photographers captured a myriad of voices and moments, both public and surprisingly personal. Ruddy Roye’s photo, Legacy, of a young black man with his hands up in the middle of an expansive cotton field speaks volumes to where we are, where we come from, and where we are today. Yet, one of my favorite photos was from Thomas Sayers Ellis’ collection of a woman beaming with a full smile on a chair with her legs crossed, a can of Steel Reserve, and a cigarette in one hand. I remember another young person gazing at the pictures and saying, “We all have an Aunt Wendy.” She was so right. We all had the aunt who never minded how her dress fell because being a lady meant so much more than that; whose weapon was laughter and whose smile was constant despite the pain. Walking into that exhibit was like walking into a room of a thousand voices: the photographers, the poets, the writers, the individuals in the photos, the faculty, and finally the inner voice of the artist who gets to hear and witness it all.

I truly felt like a “young” artist in a classroom when the ceremony was closing. While walking amongst the faculty and reading the bios in the program for the conference and exhibit, I couldn’t help but feel, like I’m sure how all young artist feel, "how can I get here? How did these artists get here? How do I join this conversation as an artist of color?" The answer, I believed, was in the panels and discussions in the conference. A cloud of pride hovered over the exhibit as I went up the stairs to exit, for the narratives that were being featured on the wall were not just anybody’s, they were our stories, our people, testament to the limitlessness of time, space, geography, and the beauty of our people and our artist of color. The pieces paid homage to the history, evolution, and diversity in art created by the black diaspora in writing and photography, as a conversation. A conversation that was going to continue at the National Black Writers Conference, and I was looking forward to adding to the history.

[By Tayllor Johnson]

Since discovering her passion for spoken word at 15 years old, Tayllor hasn't stopped writing, performing, or teaching. Working with Get Lit, a non-profit literacy advocacy group, and representing Los Angeles in Brave New Voices 2010 taught her the healing and empowering force that was inevitable through spoken word. She hopes to grow and reach new heights in her performance and writing, always keeping in mind her mission to find new ways spoken word can empower the voiceless, soothe the wounded, and disturb the status quo to set all of us on a path to freedom.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Callaloo #1 to #7


This year I will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Callaloo, based on the fact that the date on the first issue was December 1976. On the other hand, Charles H. Rowell's "Editor's Note" in Issue #2 (February , 1978) indicates "CALLALOO first appeared in January, 1977...."(3). For the sake of scholarly exactness, one should accord greater credibility to Rowell's assertion and not begin the anniversary celebration until January 2017. If I prematurely celebrate, I prematurely celebrate. Until the latter part of 2015, I only had Issue #1 through Issue #4 in my library. Hurricane Katrina destroyed my extensive collection of Callaloo, Hoo-Doo, OBSIDIAN, African American Review and its earlier iterations, and the cassette-magazine Black Box. Thanks to the generosity of the New Orleans novelist Michael A. Zell and Crescent City Books, I acquired Callaloo #5, #6, and #7. My celebration is informed by a sense of urgency spiced with paranoia. In addition, my rejoicing is accompanied by a need to create a bit of what people have taken to calling "back-story," which I assume is information that hitherto has not been made public.

Founded in 1974 by Alvin Aubert , OBSIDIAN like Nkombo, which was established by Tom Dent and Kalamu ya Salaam in December 1968, stood in a prototypical relationship to Callaloo, not in format but in being marked by a multi-layered Black South aesthetic. At one time or another, Dent, Aubert, Rowell, and I talked frequently about the distribution of creative expressions. We were friends in a sense that is difficult to communicate in 2016. We were not "friends" in the dubious way the social network of Facebook juggles the word. It is more accurate to say we were comrades, our personalities and understanding of literary and cultural work having been forged on the anvil of segregation in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

All of us were products of the gendered geographies of race, region, and literature so eloquently discussed by Thadious Davis in Southscapes (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), and we believed African American literature and art were not artifacts designed for museums and archives. For us, cultural expressions were processes and products for serving the aesthetic (perceptional) needs of people who may or may not have possessed academic yearnings or have given allegiance, in the words of George Kent, to "traditional high ground humanism." Read Kent's remarks in Blackness and the Adventure of Western Culture (Chicago: Third World Press, 1972).
 Our universalism was concrete not abstract. It was that spirit which led Rowell, Dent, and me to conceptualize Callaloo during our Southern Black Cultural Alliance debates in Birmingham in the summer of 1975. Some weeks ago, Kalamu ya Salaam asked me to explain why after Callaloo moved from Southern University (Baton Rouge) to the University of Kentucky, Dent and I were rusticated and had insignificant roles in the subsequent growth of Callaloo after 1979. An explanation can be made by remembering clashes of value and noting a few changes Rowell orchestrated in the first seven issues of Callaloo.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.
April 15, 2016

Friday, May 13, 2016

ICYMI: The Last Week in Black Writing and Culture (5/6-5/13)

As the academic semester comes to an end, Project HBW gives many thanks to all of our contributors and followers. Please continue spreading the word about Project HBW. If you would like to contribute to the blog, you can find the guidelines here.

Michael S. Harper passed away earlier this week. Harper was the first poet laureate of Rhode Island and was known for the incorporation of jazz elements into his poetry. Find HBW's tribute to Michael S. Harper here.

Jaswinder Bolinda wrote about the expression of race through poetry and the poetics of Donald Trump.

Kyla Marshell of the Poetry Foundation interviewed Tyehimba Jess on his newest book Olio (2016)"In an intricate assemblage of history, fiction, and poetic form," Marshell writes "Jess brings to life Scott Joplin, Blind Tom, the McKoy twins, Sissieretta Jones, and others, black musicians of the 19th century who were legends of their time yet never recorded."

In her poem "PWI Ten Commandments," Kwyn Townsend Riley speaks about the difficulties that black women face at predominately white institutions.

Elizabeth Lund of The Washington Post revisits the work of Rita Dove in her newest book, Collected Poems: 1974-2004and reminds us why Rita Dove has been one of the greatest and most influential literary figures in the US. Dove's collection will be available through Amazon beginning May 17th.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Awards, Legibility, and Contemporary African American Poets

In the age of social media, National Poetry Month spawns a proliferation of catalogs to the effect of this sample: “30 Poets You Should Be Reading.” Recent years have seen these lists become more diverse and reflective of the range of incredible contemporary American poets. (This collaboration between poets and designers from The Washington Post does relatively well at this.) And the array of race- and gender-centered controversies swirling in the poetry world throughout the past twelve months has resulted in special attention this year to ensuring that this month-long celebration be attentive to those who remain marginalized in American poetry.

Thus it is unsurprising to see black female poet Claudia Rankine’s name on just about every one of these lists of recommendations this year, in light of how enormously her 2014 text Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press) exploded in success throughout and after the 2015 literary awards season. Citizen, which now has at least 200,000 copies in print—no small feat for any contemporary poet, let alone one who has not yet received a Pulitzer—won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry, the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry, and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, among other honors, and it reached the #15 spot on the New York Times bestseller list in the “Paperback Nonfiction” category. That the work merits such laud and has usefully invigorated many poetic conversations. (See the excellent Los Angeles Review of Books two-part symposium on the book earlier this year here and here.)

In Memory of Michael S. Harper (1938-2016)

Michael S. Harper was born in Brooklyn, New York on March 13, 1938. He attended what is now California State University, earning a Bachelor's degree, and then went on to earn a Master's of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa. 

Harper was the first poet laureate of Rhode Island, from 1988-1993, and has received fellowships from both the National Endowment of the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. Much of Harper's poetry deals with elements of jazz, cultural referent, and history.

Harper had a long career at Brown University, teaching courses in literature and poetry from 1970-2013. Throughout his career, Harper published more than 10 books of poetry, and served as an editor for many others. Most recently, his book Use Trouble (2009) plays with the romance between music and poetry while constructing a tribute to his family. His debut collection of poetry, Dear John, Dear Coltrane (1970), which incorporates the experience of jazz, was nominated for the National Book Award. 

Michael Harper passed away on May 7th, 2016 at his home in Rhode Island.

Edgar Tidwell of the University of Kansas has written a lovely tribute to the great Michael S. Harper:

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Who's Afraid of George Walker

Who’s Afraid of George Walker?

George “Nash” Walker (1872-1911) was born in the aftermath of The Civil War in Lawrence, Kansas, the launching point of John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia in the fall of 1859 and site of Quantril’s Raid in the summer of 1863. The post-Civil War demographics and abolitionist politics of the region empowered Walker in historically unprecedented ways and compelled him to transcend the limited expectations of Black people in the United States. He left Lawrence in 1893 with a medicine show and met Bert A. Williams (1874-1922) in San Francisco, California later that year. Soon after forming a partnership that would last seventeen years, the two were hired to appear as Africans in what was essentially a human zoo as part of the Midwinter Exposition in San Francisco until the “Real” Africans arrived from Dahomey.

In meeting the Dahomeans, George Walker and Bert Williams experienced majesty, sovereignty and beauty from an African point of view, one that did not acknowledge White exceptionalism or superiority. This inspired them to, in the words of Paul Lawrence Dunbar, “wear the mask,” and embrace the moniker of, "The Two Real Coons." In place of the luxury of preference, this choice was designed to draw in crowds and utilize the liminality of the dramatic stage to subversively exploit the contextual difference between the satire of their brand of comedy and the mockery of the minstrel tradition. Under the cloak of entertainment, this philosophy provided space to erode White exceptionalism that was/is a feedback loop of ignorance informed by the arrogance of unearned privilege. When people paid to see minstrel-style cooning, they surely got it and much more. The “more” was George’s understandably problematic, yet unprecedented insistence that audiences receive curated, Black entertainment that was full of universal examples of the human condition told from a uniquely Afro-American perspective.

Monday, May 2, 2016


The MLA Handbook, Eighth Edition (2016), bids us to consider the probability of having a single "set of guidelines, which writers can apply to any type of source" (Handbook, rear cover). This new edition may be less intimidating than the Seventh or the Sixth, and it may minimize anxiety about scrupulous documentation in the age of the digital. Nevertheless, we should not put older editions of the Handbook out to pasture, because the new one seems more a supplement than a replacement. It lacks the solid advice about research and writing we found in Chapter 1 of the Seventh, and not all of us want to visit The MLA Style Center, the open access online companion. Neither in documentation nor in the vast range of scholarship is it prudent to drift with the wind.

Indonesian Notebook: A Sourcebook on Richard Wright and the Bandung Conference (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016), edited by Brian Russell Roberts and Keith Foulcher, is a good omen that scholars who refuse to get lost in the brothels and mazes of theory-whipping can be productive long-distance runners. Roberts and Foulcher have used impeccable literary historical scholarship in producing a book that maps new territory for studies of Richard Wright's life, works, and prophetic acumen. Indonesian Notebook is exceptionally valuable for anyone, including political scientists and historians, who is interested in what world literature created during the Cold War period actually challenges us to interpret.

When we truly revisit Wright's The Color Curtain: A Report on the Bandung Conference (1956), armed with the generous amount of contextualizing matter that Roberts and Foulcher translated from the Indonesian, we are stimulated to ask just what did Wright see and hear at the conference and during his conversations with Indonesian intellectuals. What inspired Wright to quite accurately speculate that the world of 1955 was a crucible for multiple forms of terrorism rooted in religion? And what did Wright reveal in his lecture "The Artist and His Problems" (published as "Seniman dan Masalaahnja" in Indonesia Raya on May 22, 1955) that might have informed his decisions about what essays to include in White Man, Listen! (1957)? The winding path of scholarship may take us to Ethan Michaeli's The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) to discover why John Sengstacke assigned Ethel Payne to cover Bandung for the Chicago Defender and to James McGrath Morris's Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press (New York: Amistad, 2015) for a choice bit of information about how the U.S. government used CIA funds to enable Payne and Wright to attend an Asian-African conference. I shall soon write at greater length about Indonesian Notebook which, as Amritjit Singh aptly remarks, "reminds us that the quest for equality must confront the stubborn local socio-economic realities throughout the globe" (Indonesian Notebook, rear cover blurb), because I do want to confront the stubborn actualities of political designs and literary meanings. Fortunately, there is no single set of guidelines for that task.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr. 
April 14, 201