Tuesday, November 22, 2016

America, who are we, and what are we going to tell the children?

Reposted from our friend Kevin Powell, originally posted over at Medium.

The answer is blowin’ in the wind.
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind

Well it’s like cranes in the sky
Sometimes I don’t wanna feel those metal clouds
Yeah, it’s like cranes in the sky
Sometimes I don’t wanna feel those metal clouds

MY SINGLE MOTHER RAISED ME TO VOTE and she raised me to think for myself. It makes sense, given where my mother and my entire family are from, the rural and impoverished Low Country of South Carolina, a mere 30 minutes across the mammoth Savannah River into Georgia. My mother was birthed by Jim Crow America — Whites-only signs here, Coloreds-only signs there, domestic terrorism against her and people who looked like her as real as the blood that knifed through their sugar-and-salt veins. And there was an understanding that White people, no matter what their class background, had power and privilege, and Black people, no matter what their class background, had nothing but themselves. It is not like my mother and I discussed the Civil Rights Movement or American history when I was growing up. We did not. We barely could afford food, there were no books save the Bible, and my mother never marched or rallied or outwardly protested anything. Indeed, there was both a fear and hatred of Whites, a fear and a hatred that intruded frequently, like the choking, I-can’t-breathe smoke from a deadly fire in our Jersey City ghetto. My mother did not quite know what to make of White Americans, and that bewilderment was transferred to me the way we teach children our cultural traditions. It was a defense pose, I know now, to protect ourselves from everlasting insult and injury. What my mother did do was share and repeat the tales about what she and her three sisters and brother and father and mother endured in their America — the brutality and violence of their poverty, and the disrespect and meanness of the Low Country White folks, including the ones who hired her and her sisters, from the time they were little girls, to be the help, in their homes, at their stores, and on their land picking cotton. She lived, she survived, and her education was interrupted before she got to high school. But what my mother did have was a resolve not to allow anything to defeat or destroy her. When I hear folks talk about the amazing strength of women, in America, on this planet, historically, the person I think of is my mother, the first leader, the first teacher, and the first feminist I ever met, regardless if she readily knows or associates with that word. We survived the policies of presidents like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and homes dominated by rats and roaches; we survived thieves and hustlers who could’ve climbed our fire escapes and busted through our kitchen windows or robbed us on the streets outside; we survived violence and neglect, and shady public schools and corrupt landlords; we survived heroin and crack epidemics that ripped apart other lives, and we survived my mother’s minimum-wage jobs and cuts to whatever little public assistance she could secure. It is astonishing to me, as the adult I am today, to think of how I sometimes earn for one speech more money than my mother made in any given year of supporting me from birth until I graduated from high school. We did not complain, we did not care, in actuality, who the president of the United States was, my mother and I, because we did what we had to do to maintain, and win. A win for us was my mother having a job. A win for us was the government cheese and other free food given to poor people in our time of need. A win for us was my getting excellent grades in school and believing my mother, when she said so, that an education was my one chance for a life better than hers. A win for us was our next dilapidated apartment building having fewer rats and fewer roaches and more consistent heat and hot water than the previous dwelling. A win for us was my mother never allowing any man to pimp her for food and shelter and sex. A win for us was my not getting murdered or imprisoned or addicted to drugs. Was it extremely hard and complex and tragic and depressing and hopeless? Oh yes. Did we want to give up? Oh yes. I remember well those days when my mother would both pray to God and acidly curse my father’s name for being a no-good man who had abandoned us completely. I remember well the days when my mother said to me, point blank, whenever I got into trouble at school or with the police, “I don’t think you gonna make it.” And I remember well the days when my mother announced, without pause, that she wished she had given me up for adoption, because her life would have been easier alone. This is the America I know, an America that soaked and hand-washed my mother’s soul with racism and sexism and classism before she had had a chance at a whole life for herself. There was no therapy. There was no social media or online petitions with which to vent. There were no healing circles or women’s groups or yoga classes or any of that. My mother had to suck it up, go it alone with child at her hip, have blind faith in a God she could neither see nor touch, and have a vision for my life since there was none for hers. I rarely saw my mother cry or show any emotion beyond raw anger, and I was the target of that raw anger on many occasions; this was my mother’s limited emotional vocabulary, her reality, and she had to keep going, based on what she knew, because the only other option was dying a slow death. Thus, she had to save her life, and she had to save my life, with tough love, with a rage vomited from an American dream not available for people like her. Perhaps this is why my mother drilled into me to vote, why she always used her voice for better housing for us, for a better school for me, why she would write, in the best use of the English language her eighth-grade education had afforded her, letters to politicians and other local leaders seeking help, an answer, anything. Somewhere inside her troubled mind my mother knew she, we, deserved better, that there had to be a better America, and a better world out there —

Monday, November 21, 2016

"A Tribute To Gwen..."

Reposted from our friends Julieanna Richardson and The HistoryMakers: The Nation's Largest African American Video Oral History Collection

I write with a heavy heart due to the passing of Gwen Ifill. Yesterday, I attended her moving memorial service in Washington, D.C. 
This is a tremendous loss for The HistoryMakers, as Gwen was the host of our An Evening With...Celebrity PBS-TV series and fundraiser. She was also our friend and ardent supporter. We owe our visibility and growth within the PBS family, and our acceptance to PBS viewers, to Gwen. In all respects, Gwen Ifill was our North Star. Her loss shook our very core. 
Our affiliation with Gwen began in 2005, when she helped launch us in the Washington, D.C. area with An Evening With Diahann Carroll. In fact, Diahann Carroll had been watching Gwen for years on TV and insisted that Gwen, and only Gwen, do her interview.  But she was not alone. Quincy JonesEartha KittSmokey RobinsonValerie SimpsonBerry GordyUrsula BurnsVernon Jordan and others would follow. In fact, we led our requests telling them that Gwen Ifill was our interviewer. After all, this was our signature fundraiser. 
Gwen expertly interviewed Quincy Jones on Thursday, September 27, 2007 at George Washington University's Jack Morton Auditorium. She and Quincy took the house down, aided by Herbie HancockJames IngramDallas AustinBobby McFerrinBeBe Winans, and Lesley Gore. Viewers got to see another, more fun loving side of Gwen. After all, she loved music. It was Gwen who hosted what would be Eartha Kitt's last performance and interview, on Saturday, September 20, 2008, at Northwestern University's Thorne Auditorium. Eartha Kitt passed away just a few months later on Christmas Day, when the song she made legendary was "Santa Baby!"
Gwen and Valerie Simpson had the audience crying and singing along just a month after Nick Ashford's passing in An Evening With Valerie Simpson in Honor Nick AshfordRay Chew and George Faison played critical roles. It was Gwen who would welcome the iconic Motown Founder Berry Gordy in an unforgettable evening, aided by Clarence AvantRay ChewSuzanne de PasseCharles Randolph WrightJanelle MonaeKEMValerie SimpsonValisia LeKaeBrandon Victor DixonJanie Bradford and the Motown family. It was Gwen who would take us into New York City with An Evening With Ursula Burns, and then again with An Evening With Vernon Jordan - still our largest fundraiser to date. 
Our productions were often complicated. Bad rehearsals and great performances have ruled the day. She would come in with her signature smile and ask if everything was OK. Often it was not, but she would make it so. Everyone talks about Gwen's smile. Of course, she had a great one. But it was her soul, her spirit, her strength of character that shined through. Genuine is who she is and always will be. 

Then, on the momentous occasion of the Library of Congress becoming the permanent repository of The HistoryMakers Collection, we turned the tables on her, with her friend and fellow journalist Michele Norris interviewing her in An Evening With Gwen Ifill. In recent days, many have thanked us for this interview. Gwen's last interview for us was with Sheila Johnson in 2015. She was to have interviewed Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder for us in An Evening With Eric Holder on October 15, 2016, but her health would not permit.
In our archives, we have a 4 hour life oral history interview of Gwen. Below are her answers to our beginning People Magazine-ish questions:
RICHARDSON: What is your favorite food?
GWEN IFILL:  Gravy (laughs).  You can put gravy on anything. It's great. 
RICHARDSON:  Favorite color?
RICHARDSON:  Favorite time of year?
GWEN IFILL:  I love the spring.
RICHARDSON:  Favorite place to vacation?
GWEN IFILL:  Anywhere in the Caribbean.
We always end the interview with a legacy question.  Here is Gwen's response: 
"I don't think much about legacy because I guess I'm not there yet.  I would like for another generation of young black women to look at me and say, "Oh, I can do that." I would like for young black men to look at me and say, "Oh, I can do that."  I would like for young white girls to look at me and say, "Oh, I can do that,"...Not because they're color blind, but because color is just part of the thing that informs them about who I am.  I want people to understand that journalism is not just about being a personality.  It's not about opinion.  It's about informing in a way that enhances.  And so much of what passes for journalism does not enhance our experience. If you are asking the right questions, listening for the right answers and maintaining a constant high level of curiosity, it will always lead you to the next question. Then, you can be an excellent journalist, a chronicler of our times.  And the thing about journalism is it leaves a record.  And the record becomes your legacy.  So if I can do that with honor, and I can do that with respect, and I can leave a generation of young people who say, "I can do that too". That's a perfectly fine legacy for me. 
How prescient these words by someone who was an excellent journalist, a chronicler of our times and who left an unparalleled record
For all of you who have supported us over the years, served on our production crew, been in our audiences or watched her on TV - you know that she lived her legacy.  
I would always introduce Gwen for our An Evening With... programs. It was a tradition that both of us cherished. I remember her soft and firm hold of my hand...our embrace, right before she would step into the light of the stage for yet another interview.  She was the face of our organization. Last Monday, she stepped into the light forever
See you on the other side!
We love you Gwen Ifill. 
May you forever rest in peace. 

-Julieanna L. Richardson
Founder & Executive Director

Friday, November 18, 2016

KU Contingent at the Opening Night of RACHEL

RACHEL by Angelina Grimke
Directed by KU’s

Angelina Grimke’s anti-lynching play RACHEL is one of the first plays written by an African American woman to be produced for the stage. It tells the story of Rachel Loving, a hopeful young woman coming of age who imagines a life helping others and raising a family. Rachel’s life is never the same after she discovers the devastating effects of racism on the children she cares for and the truth about the deaths of her late father and brother. Directed by Dr. Hodges Persley, Associate Professor in the Department of Theatre, members of the HBW extended family supported and attended opening night. Some thoughts:

An incredibly intense performance of Angelina Weld Grimke's 1916 play RACHEL. 100 years later, it speaks powerfully to the ideals of #blacklivesmatter. Very timely. Kudos to director Nicole Hodges Persley. - Giselle Anatol

A powerful contemplation of black motherhood and the various kinds of violence enacted on black children. - Ayesha Hardison

RACHEL is little known yet timeless classic. Its “disappearance” is a telling reminder of how long we have been race and gender work and how great the resistance continues to be. Thanks to the NAACP for producing it in 1916 and to Nicole Hodges Persley for returning it to us in 2016. - Maryemma Graham

Catch RACHEL directed by Dr. Nicole Hodges Persley at the KC MeltingPot Theatre (located at the Just Off Broadway Theatre 3051 Penn Valley Drive. Kansas City, MO 64108).

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Trump Election: When Black and White Bleed Red (Part I)

The Project on the History of Black Writing is committed to academic excellence and social responsibility. We welcome and encourage informed analysis and commentary.

[By: C. Liegh McInnis]

I vote for two simple reasons.  One, like many Afro-Mississippians, my father was arrested in the 1960s for registering to vote. When there was no more room in the jails, they were held at the state fairgrounds. Two, moments like Trump's election give me more ammunition to force us to reconsider Black Nationalism. 

Let me say at the outset what I believe we learned from and what was affirmed by the election.  Based on the white response to Donald Trump’s call to White Nationalism, the votes of white women and minorities, and the ongoing debate over whether an African-American community exists, the 2016 Presidential election indicates that everyone has a collective plan for self-preservation except African Americans.  As such, the issues that plague African Americans, including poorly funded education, poverty, and self-inflicted and state-sanctioned violence, will only be exacerbated by a Presidency, Senate, and House that are all painted in flaming, if not Confederate, red.

It seems acceptable for whites to promote White Nationalism while African Americans are demonized for promoting Black Nationalism.  “Make America Great Again” is really a clarion call for what we now refer to as the "alt right," especially those who identify as Christian, who seek to reclaim a country that’s been taken from them by the . . . should we say. . . colored folks and gays.  They are the 70%, those whites without a college education who voted for Trump. 

Unfortunately for Hillary Clinton, at the heart of this "white-lash," as Van Jones called it, was the failure of NAFTA, which enabled greedy business owners to move their companies from America to Mexico, taking thousands of jobs with them.  NAFTA didn’t make any sense to me in 1994, and it still doesn’t.  Of course, then President Bill Clinton’s reasoning was that eliminating the tariffs between Mexico and Canada would create lower prices in American stores.  It is inconceivable to me that no one in the room raised the question, “Yes, but, if all the jobs leave, how will anyone be able to afford to pay the lower prices?” 

An America where a majority of the citizens could earn a living wage without having to attend college is no more.   Forty years ago, people—mostly white but some blacks—could cross a high school graduation stage and secure a factory job that paid them enough to support their families.  To be sure, a vast majority of whites without college degrees suffered at the hands of NAFTA as did a good number of African Americans.  But African Americans, for the most part, seem to realize that it was people like Trump who took advantage of NAFTA. Would it have made sense then to reward Trump with the U. S. Presidency since he lead the parade of jobs leaving the country?  Anyone wondering why so many people supported Bernie Sanders would want to look to NAFTA as a prime reason.  Though I did not vote for Sanders, I believe he was right that neither Trump nor Clinton would/could do much about the loss of jobs in America: both candidates are tied to Wall Street/the corporate regime.  It is almost impossible for one to destroy the thing to which one is tied without destroying oneself. 

At the core of this white-lash were working class whites in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.  Also called the “Reagan Democrats,” this white majority, angered by the dramatic societal  shifts they believe have disadvantaged them, vote as a solid bloc in an effort to reclaim the country they believe they have lost.  Thus, White Nationalism is literally the trump card to be played, though most Blacks cower at the thought of Black Nationalism.  Maybe more of us should read—not just listen to—The Last Poet’s “Niggers Are Scared of Revolution.” The white majority sees no fear. Didn’t someone say, “Give me liberty or give me death?”  Must white liberty always be earned on the back of black death? 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Book Review – The Storied South: Voices of Writers and Artists, William Ferris

[By Jerry Ward, Jr.]

Ferris, William. The Storied South: Voices of Writers and Artists. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013.  $ 35.00  ISBN  978-1-4696-0754-2

Fred Hobson suggested in Tell About the South: The Southern Rage to Explain (1983) that Southerners have, or may be possessed by, a compulsion to explain, to apologize for, to defend, or to celebrate the history of a region which non-Southerners "have long been fascinated with…as spectacle, as land of extremes in the most innocent part of America in one respect and the guiltiest in another…."(9).  Hobson's speculation cuts both ways.  While many Southerners do have a gift for drawling in ways that fascinate, a significant number of them can be as taciturn as stereotyped New Englanders.  Hobson's hyperbole confirmed the very oddity he intended to place in an objective perspective regarding habits.  He exercised due diligence in borrowing his main title from William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! (1936) as he explored selected works by people who were neither novelists nor scholars.  He also used predictable Southern diligence in excluding black writers  (notably Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison) on the grounds that "it would be impossible to do them justice" (13) in the scope of his study.  Thus, Hobson self-fashioned himself as a quintessential Southern apologist.

Thirty-three years later, it is instructive to contrast Tell About the South with William Ferris's The Storied South: Voices of Writers and Artists (2013), which incorporates self-fashioning with minimal apology.  Ferris acknowledges that Hobson and many other of his University of North Carolina colleagues gave him encouragement in every step of writing this book, a worthy companion to his earlier Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues (2009).  One might argue that Hobson's work was a prelude to Ferris's explaining increasingly complex functions of narrative in the South.  Less an overt apologist than Hobson, Ferris tells us about his own "intellectual and artistic growth through friendships with" seven writers, five scholars, two musicians, three photographers, and nine painters.  Ferris relies primarily on interviews to create a species of oral history.  The absence of question and answer markers, however, foregrounds shared authority in the making of historical explanation.  By exercising his autobiographical voice in prefaces for the stories the writers and artists tell, Ferris demonstrates that subjective artistry can enliven scholarship which focuses on difference in a region of the United States.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Inspiring Productivity of C. Liegh McInnis

HBW Board Member and blog contributor, Howard Rambsy, describes his initial encounters with C. Liegh McInnis who exemplifies the "art of possible." Jump over to the Cultural Front blog to read more about "The Inspiring Productivity of C. Liegh McInnis" and his creations over the years.

Image courtesy of Mississippi Public Broadcasting

Interested in more C. Liegh McInnis?

Monday, November 7, 2016

ICYMI: The Last Week in Black Writing and Culture (11/1 - 11/6)

Mychal Denzel Smith, author of Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man's Education (2016), is back with a “Black Boy Literary Survival Kit.” Smith recounts an early mentoring experience and how Black literature continues to shape the “experience one has with racism in America.” Emphasizing the importance of Black women and male writers, Smith challenges us to continue questioning and redefining the literary cannon.

Jason Reynolds has won the Kirkus Prize for young readers' literature with his latest release As Brave as You (2016). Here’s the Kirkus Review.

We can’t get enough of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and apparently neither can anyone else. Described as the “best, most difficult problem” to have, the NMAAHC is experiencing “dwell time” of up to six hours, when the average in most museums is 45 minutes to two hours. If you’re lucky enough to get in, make sure you clear your schedule for the day and wear comfortable shoes.

Little Atoms sat down with author Paul Beatty for a new interview right before he won the 2016 Man Booker Prize.

The New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books list is out. Carole Boston Weatherford for Freedom in Congo Square (2016), Jabari Asim for Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis (2016), and The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes (2016), written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh are recognized.

Friday, November 4, 2016

ICYMI: October 2016 in Black Writing and Culture

Barry Jenkins' critically acclaimed new film Moonlight was released on the 21st. Based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, Jenkins takes viewers on an intimate look into the life of a young Black male growing up in Miami and unraveling his identity and sexuality. Moonlight is generating Oscar buzz and garnering praise from film and cultural critics alike. Checkout ongoing coverage from NPR here and here, Essence and the New York Times. Here's the trailer. 

Ava DuVernay, director of Selma and Oprah's newest BFF, recently released 13th, a Netflix original documentary that explores race in the American criminal justice system. Powerful and infuriating, 13th is a must-see.

Brit Bennet's debut novel The Mothers, released earlier this month, takes readers on a complex tale of womanhood, friendship, and heartbreak. Bennet is already garnering recognition from writers like Jacqueline Woodson and Angela Flournoy, with a few comparisons to Ta-Nehisi Coates. Years in the making, Bennett wrote The Mothers while completing degrees at Stanford and Michigan. She is definitely one to watch. Ben East and Alexandra Alter review the new novel. 

We're still hype over Luke Cage, the first "woke Black superhero show," and hope you are too! Here's a Luke Cage syllabus.

Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest- A True Story of the Jim Crow South is a new book covering the lives of Willie and George Muse, African-American albino brothers kidnapped as children and forced to be sideshow acts in the circus. Beth Macy spent over two decades gathering stories about the brothers, the fight their mother launched to stop their exploitation, and their lives post-Jim Crow. Here's the NYT review.

Everyone's favorite "awkward" Black girl Issa Rae is back with a major HBO deal and a new series Insecure

Directors Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack recently premiered Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise. Running just under two hours, this documentary takes a long look at the incredible life of Maya Angelou, exploring her youth, relationships, and most importantly, her works. You will surely enjoy the many celebrity features throughout the documentary, but Hercules and Whack's in-depth exploration of Angelou's friendships with figures like Malcolm X and James Baldwin are an added bonus.

Faith Ringgold turned 86! She recently sat down with NPR to read from her award-winning 1991 children’s book Tar Beach.

The 2016 National Book Award Finalists have been announced.

Librarian Jamillah Gabriel is launching a Black literature subscription service. Each month subscribers will receive a specially curated box that includes a new book and other items relevant to Black culture. We'll post more information about the launch date when it becomes available.

Painter Kerry James Marshall is being celebrated at the Met Breuer—an extension of the renowned Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, with his newest exhibit Mastry. From the exhibition overview: encompassing nearly 80 works—including 72 paintings—that span the artist's remarkable 35-year career, Mastry reveals Marshall's practice to be one that synthesizes a wide range of pictorial traditions to counter stereotypical representations of black people in society and reassert the place of the black figure within the canon of Western painting.

In Memoriam: Thomas Mikal Ford
#RIPTommy #Martin