By Kenton Rambsy
In June 2009, I met Maryemma Graham at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. I was a summer fellow at the Schomburg-Humanities summer institute, and she was one of more than a dozen renowned artists and scholars, including Nikkey Finney, Alondra Nelson, William Strickland, James Stewart, and Benjamin Talton, who came to present their research and interact with participants.
I found out that Professor Graham was the director of the Project on the History of Black Writing (HBW) at the University of Kansas. Founded in 1983 originally as a novel recovery project, HBW has evolved over the years to champion research and inclusion efforts in higher education by organizing over 10 NEH summer institutes on African American literature. Professor Graham recruited me to the graduate program at KU with the incentive of serving in an administrative role with HBW beginning in August 2010.
After a search of the web, I noticed that there were not many (if any) sites devoted primarily to conversations about African American novels. Since the HBW boasts a robust collection of well-known and lesser-known black novels, I decided to create a blog to showcase some of the holdings and the project’s general activities. I launched the site on Tuesday, February 22, 2011.
I served as editor of the site and enlisted the support of guest bloggers to build a core readership. Professors Frank Dobson, Gregory E. Rutledge, novelist Kevin Reeves, Jerry W. Ward, Jr., and then graduate school colleagues Crystal Boson, Jennifer M. Colatosti, Earl Brooks, and James Haile were some of the earliest guest contributors. Since the blog’s founding in 2011, the contributors and I published 562 entries on the site.
We were especially active on the blog in 2011 and 2012, producing a combined total of 253 posts. Since my departure as editor in the Fall of 2013, the blog has continued to flourish under the editorial leadership of Meredith Wiggins and Matthew Broussard. Approaching the fifth year anniversary, the HBW blog has become a key venue where professors, graduate students, and creative writers publish informative entries and resources devoted to the study of African American literature and history.
The blog contains some of my early work on a literary metadata collection known as the “100 Novels Project” -- a trend analyses of black literary texts that was later renamed the Black Book Interactive Project.