Books by Kalamu ya
The Magic of JuJu: An Appreciation of the Black Arts
A Revolution of Black Poets
Everywhere Is Someplace Else: A Literary Anthology
From A Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans Poets
Our Music Is No Accident /
What Is Life: Reclaiming the Black Blues Self
My Story My Song (CD)
* * * *
ya Salaam in Baltimore
at Enoch Pratt Central Library
kalamu in baltimore (24 November 2005)
4 November, Baltimore The next night I’m in Baltimore at the
Enoch Pratt Free Library. The program kicks off with music by
the Lionel Lyles Quartet, a young, swinging modern jazz group
who played 70s classics like Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,”
Freddie Hubbard’s “Little Sunflower,” and a gorgeous “In
A Sentimental Mood” a la Duke & Trane, the piano solo was
really killing on that one. The band opened the program and
played in between the poetry sets. Jerome Harris, one of the
behind-the-scenes organizers, formally opened the program
reading off a list of libraries wiped out by Katrina. He ended
with the sobering note that all but 19 out of over 200 New
Orleans public library employees were laid off. The purpose of
this program is to raise funds to support public libraries
affected by Katrina.
There were three sets of three poets reading representing a
broad range of the Baltimore literary scene. I liked much of
what I heard, the three who most delighted my ear were native
New Orleanian, Lena Ampadu, space priestess Olu Butterfly Woods,
and Ellis Marsalis, III.
Lena’s poem was a nostalgic treading of New Orleans streets,
some famous (such as Desire Street—immortalized by Tennessee
Williams—A Streetcar Named Desire—and other streets well
known to New Orleanians. Although Lana does not now live in New
Orleans, she wrote as one who has walked the streets and
conversed with the folk.
Olu writes and recites out of the Bob Kaufman bag, full of deep
cultural references in a semi-surrealistic style that is often
simultaneously hilarious and profound. At one point, as she
raised the question of maybe not being from here, I hollered out
a Sun Ra quote: suppose we came not from Africa, but “to”
Africa? A willowy, sprite of a black woman smile, when her deep,
dark locks get wet, they must account for maybe a quarter of her
body weight, she is nevertheless, a heavy hitter and definitely
someone to watch.
Ellis is into documentary photography. His debut book, Da
Block, is a combination of photographs, poetry and creative
non-fiction. The photographs were taken in his immediate
neighborhood. He read from his book. It was his elegy for New
Orleans that really touched me; heartfelt, contradictory,
frankly full of love as well as colored by admissions of
failings, a self-challenge of sorts. A damn good piece.
People like to give extensive introductions, citing my
accomplishments over the years; I prefer folk just say Kalamu ya
Salaam. But I’ve come to realize and accept that folk respect
my work and want to let those who don’t know me know what it
is they have missed. Even so I get impatient. Part of it is I be
hyped up ready to do my thing, especially when it’s mainly a
reading. Plus, in this case, there was a good sound system,
someone was videoing the proceedings, and a full house.
I started off with “Who Let The Dogs Out,” wailing away on
my Muddy Waters inspired air guitar, had my best preacher voice
amped up to ten. The audience was a mix of all kinds of folk,
the commonality being—well, really there wasn’t much of a
commonality other than a love of literature, even though it was
clear that there were a myriad of literary preferences. From
jump street, I could feel the audience was with me and as I bent
imaginary strings, and bellowed about brimstone and floodwaters,
the intensity started high and just went plain old out of
By midpoint, the joint was rocking, even though we were in a large
open space on the main floor of the library, up in there started
feeling something like a juke joint (or at least a small
neighborhood Baptist church). By the time I finished the first
piece, the audience was up on their feet, giving me a standing
ovation. It was almost embarrassing. I was just getting started.
There is a bond when artist and audience click, an ecstatic
synergetic back and forth quite unlike any other experience,
comparable to sex, or drugs, or excelling at sports and other
physical activity, but at the same time different from that
because this is an intimacy of strangers, one feeding
off/getting off on the other. The more accomplished the artist,
the longer and deeper the experience can be. This night I made
the dogs howl.
Earlier, one of the readers had said something about jazz being
born in the brothels of Storyville New Orleans as if brass band
played in those venues. Weren’t nothing but piano players up
in those parlors, certainly no Buddy Bolden, Bunk Johnson,
Freddie Keppard, King Oliver or Louis Armstrong. Naw the music
was actually made up in the streets and parks of old New
Orleans, and only a small sliver of it displayed in Storyville.
The mythic story of brothel birth was undoubtedly because of
Jelly Roll Morton, the fabled pianist and sometimes pimp who
boasted off having started jazz,. I, of course, respond
vigorously to the assertion that jazz is a bastard music. Jazz
is a communal music that too often was commodified and used for
I have a long multi-part piece I’ve written called “Jazz
101” that attempts to spell out the beginnings of jazz and
respond to its total manifestation and not just focus on one
small part of its early existence. I pulled out the section on
Jelly Roll Morton and read that—which I could easily do
because I read from my mac i-book. I’m sure some folk find it
amusing and/or a bit odd that I would be whooping and hollering
while reading from a computer, but hey, that’s kalamu doing
The reason I use a computer is two-fold. One, because I write on
a computer. I almost never use paper and pen. And it’s been
that way for a long, long time. Going back to the 8th grade when
I first got into creative writing, I preferred to use a machine
rather than to write manually. I was a typing fiend. My mother
had sent me to touch typing classes with one of her teacher
friends. This was the summer before 7th grade. I am forever
grateful for that gift she gave me.
From typewriter to computer was but one small step—and now with
the 12-inch laptop, I am not only mobile but I also carry a ton
of work with me at all times. Which is the second reason I read
from a laptop—I am able to respond to specific situations by
calling up more work that it is practical to carry in terms of
books and papers. Plus, with a computer I can get to each piece
in a flash.
I remember after one reading, someone asked me how could I read
like that from a computer? How could I switch the pages that
fast, move the cursor, go from screen to screen? I smiled.
It’s really easy once you figure it out.
For me the computer is a machine I use to make my art, a machine
I am adept at using. A machine I practice on and get better and
better at. Some say, machines are cold, impersonal. They don’t
have a natural feel. Etc. etc. A drum kit is a machine with its
levers, screws, bolts. The kit works because it is a machine
that the drummer controls.
A saxophone is a machine—try playing one when the keys are
broken, and the saxophone is cold metal to boot, warmed only by
the breath of the player. No one thinks of those machines as
un-natural, yet they are. And I suppose my computer is sort of
like a synthesizer. Trane played sax. Pops played trumpet.
Kalamu plays computer. They are all just machines that the
artist uses to articulate thoughts and feelings.
After the Jellyroll piece, I read a new poem “I don’t want
to live anywhere they are killing me” and it was very, very
well received. That was only my second time reading the long,
four-part exploration about what does home mean. It is so
different from the other pieces. I don’t use any obvious music
with it—I say “obvious” because there is a lot of music in
its structure and in the way I craft the lines and use the
images but it’s what I call deep structure.
It’s not about how it sounds as much as it is about how it
is put together. So far, it is becoming a favorite to read and
audiences respond in a very positive way to it, perhaps because
it touches them, nudging introspection rather than harangues
them pushing toward action, and in that way it is unexpected
when addressing an issue like how our people were treated in
Katrina’s aftermath. Rudy Lewis, the publisher of Chicken
Bones, liked it the best of everything I did that night.
I closed with “System of Thot,” which is a sound piece and
cannot be written down on paper. It’s indebtedness to the
music is obvious from the get go, especially Trane and Pharoah
Sanders. I have re-fashioned the lyrics to make it a Katrina
piece. When I perform it, it is usually the last thing that I
do, as it requires a great deal of energy to do effectively and
an emotional commitment that will cause one to cry when I get
into it full out. I be almost delirious, in a good sense, when I
finish. usually unable to say anything more other than pause for
a minute or so, to catch my breath. On that night in Baltimore,
"System" was good, not quite as good as in Madison,
Wisconsin, but very, very good. But on the other hand, this
reading overall was the best one so far on the tour. Fortunately
it was recorded. Maybe some of it will be released. We'll see.
Afterwards, I fielded a few questions and then sat at a desk to
sign copies of A Revolution of Black Poets, an anthology I
co-edited with Kwame Alexander, who had donated copies to the
library to support the event.
Rudy, Reggie Harris, and Herbert Rogers, accompanied me the
short walk to my hotel. They had beers and coffee while I ate a
crab cake sandwich and a glass of orange juice. we talked for
about an hour. it was an enjoyable encounter, and then back to
the room, where I prepared the next day’s e-drum. I had to be
up at 5a.m. to catch a flight to Dallas for a presentation at
the Third Eye conference.
* * *
To Kalamu: I've received your new poem
"I don’t want to live anywhere where they are killing
me." Of course, I will not publish it. Nevertheless, it is
the most moving and touching piece (prose and poetry) I
have read that deals with the tragedy of New Orleans.
Last evening, with your
"performance," we experienced something quite
extraordinary so much so that I tossed and turned through the
night—my sleep filled with all kinds of thoughts and images of
New Orleans. I got up early, couldn’t rest. Actually, like all
who were there, I am not able to find words to describe what we
experienced. There is nothing to which it can be compared. My
mind cannot get around it.
The only way that it can be analyzed is to
see it again. You know, it's like asking someone who has
returned from church and asking several people how was the
sermon and none can tell you anything. Maybe a few snippets,
here and there, they can only say, "you should have been
there." Of course we recall the shocking portrait of the
duplicity of Mayor Nagin. What we experienced was some
force of nature, or the cosmos, which seems quite appropriate
for the horrors people of New Orleans experienced, that we
endured in the safety of our homes, high and dry.
I hope Pratt has the performance on tape. But
I do not expect that even that can replicate what we experienced
in our body, mind, and soul—what you did there on the stage.
There was such immediacy, surprises, shocking news— we
experiencing all over again, what we saw in film, on TV, in
photos, the empathy we all endured with those who had been left
behind, but, of course, in an all new light.
And then there was your music, your blues,
imaginary guitar-playing (the sounds), the imaginary horn
playing (the sounds), the reverberations from the speakers, the
sounds—it was Robert Johnson, Coltrane, Rashaan, Pharoah—
all in tune, the whole range and scale of sounds from the
tiniest to the grandest—the honks, wails, screams.
Interspersed with appropriate humor. In moments, we went from
laughter, to the deepest drama, and tears.
My body has yet to recover its balance, its
own composure. I'm not sure there will ever be any turning back
to how things used to be, again. Of course, we will all go on
living. But our lives will never be quite the same, again. We
were all seized by whatever spirit it was that possessed you. It
was a sacred drama that cannot be captured in one setting, or
even in memory, or reflection. Even you, I suspect, cannot
replicate what occurred in that grand hall at Pratt. But, of
course, we will give it a try.
We want a copy of the film, or recording
tape of the performance. It is difficult to believe that all
what you did was on paper (the computer screen). We are
curious how it was all accomplished.
Is there anything from your presentation that can be
* * * *
Hurricane Relief Program: Hi All—I just wanted
to thank all of you for a wonderful evening last night. I thought that Kalamu was exceptional—the sort of
poet that we need to hear and have in our society. For
some of the more moderate in the audience he was a
stretch--Rosemary fended some comments about his
"interpretation" of events.
MSP&LS thought he was GREAT! In
fact I woke today thinking about what he said.
This is not to ignore the quality of the rest of the poets and
the Lionel Lyles group. What a wonderful event—providing
not only hurricane relief, but reaching out and including the
artistic community in a most positive way.—Barbara M.
Simon, President, Maryland State Poetry
& Literary Society
* * * *
To Reggie: Again, I wish to applaud you for the program
you pulled together for Hurricane Relief. It was quite
excellent: the array of poets and the diversity of the audience.
Though most of the poets live in Baltimore and its environs, I
had not heard them speak, though I might have heard of them. So
that in itself was special. I regret I was not able to introduce
myself to all of them. The music too was quite
excellent. Of course, it is sad that it took the destruction of
New Orleans for this kind of thing to come into being.
In some sense you know in the larger sense
this session was about the importance and necessity of having a
social consciousness about giving our minds and souls over to
disasters occurring right under our noses. Our art (our
poetry-making) has to encompass more than just the personal, but
all the persons of our world and the misery and suffering under
which they endure. As you probably understand, most of the
cities in which we live are disasters waiting to happen because
of callous neglect. I suppose you have read the papers for the
last few days about what is happening in Paris and what is now
happening in Argentina. Young people have had it up to their
chins and they are fighting back.
Of course, your featuring Kalamu made the event
exceedingly special. He is a veteran of struggle. A master of
drama and the arts. I cannot imagine anyone who could have
pulled it altogether—the other poets and speakers—to have
made it indeed an exceptional event that none of us will forget.
Thanks for sending me the piece by Barbara M. Simon. If you get
other feedback, please send me copies. I'd like to add them to
you have captured the significance and the terrible beauty and
terror in Kalamu's performance. It was truly a
mind-altering, life-changing experience, communicated through
music, images, and movements, but I, too, could only remember
pieces of that "sacred drama": beneath the
water, the Atlantic crossing, cries of pain, images of home,
blues wails, the first kiss, people on roof tops, train
whistles, jazz riffs, field hollers, thinks/stinks, stomps, and
Miriam: Yes, I walked Kalamu back to the Tremont on
St. Paul near Saratoga, after he finished signing books. Reggie,
the librarian who organized the event, and Herbert joined
us. We talked about his performance. Kalamu wanted feedback. Of
course, we had only superlatives. We could not be specific. We
like everybody were bowled over. It was nothing that we
could have anticipated or expected. There was nothing we could
say worthwhile as a critique.
He asked which one I liked. It was clear that
one of the pieces was a poem. And I suppose it was that piece
that convinced us all that we were dealing with a master poet,
not just a talented, satirical dramatist, that what we had
before us was an extraordinarily talented, and sensitive poet.
It was clear to all of us that he was reading a poem. Still we
did not know what that was that came before and after. He
had that computer there. We could not know whether he was
reading it or whether he was making all of that as he went.
Nobody knew what he was up to; maybe he was some being possessed
or something. A god that people felt a bit uncomfortable with,
even approaching. Floyd, I believe, did not even go up to him to
shake his hand or say anything to him.
We went to the restaurant. Kalamu wanted to
treat all of us to dinner. We declined. I had a beer, and so did
Reggie; Herbert had a coffee, I believe. Kalamu ordered crab
soup and crab cake and a ginger ale. We talked about this and
that. Kalamu's daughter did not show up. At the restaurant, he
buzzed her. She went to the wrong library, she explained. Kalamu
said she was in Hopkins masters program; maybe it was
We talked about Hopkins' rule here in
Baltimore and Floyd's work for Hopkins and whether he had
influence to invite Kalamu to Hopkins. We talked about how
conservative students were at Hopkins and the difficulties his
daughter had with a racist professor and her request for another
examiner. She accused the one she had of racism. She got another
and passed. And Herbert mentioned your study at Hopkins and how
extraordinary you were, even with four children and a husband at
Our discussion went on and on from one topic
to the next. It was almost 11 pm and I knew that it was time to
split because Kalamu had to be in Dallas and he had a 7am plane
and I knew he would have to leave about five. But he was not
anxious. Finally, we got out of the restaurant and I expected we
would walk him to the elevator and leave him there. But he
invited us to his room. It was more like an apartment, maybe it
was the 34th floor, an extraordinary view if you like heights.
It made me a bit dizzy. He had a huge bed and an extraordinary
headboard shaped like a fan. Kalamu noted that the furniture was
real wood. It was quite luxurious. And I said that he deserved
to be treated like a king.
In the living room, he sat down and we took a
seat. And we began to talk politics. I asked him about his
remarks about Nagin and whether New Orleans and its officials,
whether it was a success or failure, the tragedy that happened.
It seems he was not just doing art, or exaggeration. He seems
convinced that it was not all just a matter of negligence. And I
reminded Herbert how wrong he had been in his defense of Nagin
and our decades mistake of a "black united front" and
our avoidance of public criticism of black politicians. And how
much better Ibo journalists are in dealing with black corruption
and malfeasance and that we had much to learn from them.
It was getting late and we bid him goodbye.
He still had to post e-drum and I was tired. Each of us embraced
him and walked out the door. We had a long walk back to
Herbert's car. I asked Reggie did he think there were those
there who were offended by the things that Kalamu said. Reggie
said it didn’t matter. And I told him that was a good answer.
So there you are. And I don’t think any of us
have quite got a grip on things. I’m pleased you decided not
to take off today. These kinds of things need to be talked
about, or madness indeed may ensue.—Rudy
* * * *
Miriam: Rudy, you have written the final chapter in
the narrative of an incredible night, and how I wish that I
could have been there to participate in the discussion and to
hear Kalamu elaborate on his experiences, insights, and
conclusions. The man is a phenomenon, a rare and precious
jewel to be treasured. I don't know him very well and have
seen him only a couple of times. He was a friend of
Roseann's (my sister-in-sin collaborator on Erotique Noire),
so she invited him to contribute some poems to our collection.
Then, I remember how upset he was, when he
heard of Roseann's death--a year after she'd passed--and called
me in tears. When Acklyn chaired the Af Am Dept. at UMBC,
he invited Kalamu to give a couple of poetry readings, and, as I
remember, he also attended one of Acklyn's "Wild
Women" productions; in fact, I have photos of him
with other friends.
I worry about Kalamu—the pace he's keeping,
the intensity of his work, the energy that that type of
performance demands, and the hazards of life on the road.
He's lost so much weight since I last saw him, but clearly he's
about survival and dissemination of knowledge--like a prophet
and a biblical scholar.
You were privileged to share, with Herbert
and Reggie, the afterglow with Kalamu, and it's too bad that
there's no tape or video recording to preserve that interchange.
It's wonderful, though, that you've captured something of the
experience—Kalamu's performance and the evening's refrain--in
these two narratives.
To Miriam: I asked Reggie to find out
whether the taped performance will be available to the public.
Pratt is so strange with all of its rules and restrictions. They
are not very good in promoting themselves to the populace. They
do better with the rich and well-off. In any event it would be
nice to have a cd of the program. I'm sure there are many who
desire it. The fellow with the little girl on the first row
stopped Kalamu as he was leaving the library, shook his hand,
and asked about the taped performance. . . .
I got a note from
Floyd on this performance. He too was "stunned" and his
"cynicism" was a bit drenched with a new reality. So
you see we are not all fully lost, maybe, just a bit wayward.—
From Floyd: Dear Brother Kalamu,
Still stunned by your magnificent performance at Baltimore's
Pratt Library on Friday evening, I remain nearly
speechless. I want to say THANK YOU a million times a
million. I, like many others outside of Louisiana and
Mississippi, thought I had at least an elementary grasp of the
Katrina disaster. And as I listened to brothers and
sisters talk about the possibility of conspiracy, I thought that
historic and ongoing impoverishment easily justified their
However, your poetic and powerful
tale/song/message/lecture forced on me a deeper reality, and a
deeper consciousness, regarding Black suffering in New
Orleans and governmental indifference to it. To argue that
perhaps the horrendous outcomes—as Black people were
displaced and left starving—represented official desires was
shocking, even to my old and cynical mind.
Yet, the failure of local, state,
and national leadership to heed previous warnings about
disastrous hurricanes, and the failure to respond in the face of
Katrina, viciously punctuates the clarity of your argument.
Moreover, as in other urban areas of America's managerial
society, the trends, developments, and future challenges facing
New Orleans may mean the racial and class transformation of that
Thank you again for gracing Baltimore with
your presence. It was such an honor for me finally to see
you in the flesh.—Sincerely,
W. Hayes, III
(posted 8 November 2005)
* * * * *
movie maker, educator, producer
Pratt Free Library, Central Branch (Main Hall)
November 4, 2005, 6-9 pm
A CONFEDERACY OF WRITERS AND MUSICIANS
Friday November 4, 2005 / 6-9 pm
Enoch Pratt Free Library, Central Branch (Main
400 Cathedral Street / Baltimore MD
21201 / 410-396-5430
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita destroyed 100
school libraries and 25 public libraries along the Gulf Coast.
Many academic libraries were also severely damaged. Join us for
an evening celebration of the literary and musical heritage of
New Orleans in support of the The American Library Association's
Hurricane Library Relief fund to help them rebuild.
Readings by New Orleans writer and activist
KALAMU YA SALAAM and local poets and writers, plus jazz and
KALAMU YA SALAAM is a professional
editor/writer, movie maker, educator, producer, and arts
administrator. He is the founder and director of the Neo-Griot
Workshop, a New Orleans-based black writers workshop and
co-director of Students at the Center, a writing program in the
New Orleans public schools. His books include 'From a Bend in
the River: 100 New Orleans Poets' and '360 degrees: A Revolution
of Black Poets.' Mr Salaam has traveled the world as a
journalist, activist and arts producer. He evacuated from his
home in New Orleans and is living temporarily in Nashville.
Local poets and writers invited to appear
Madison Smartt Bell, Reginald Harris,
Clarinida Harriss, bassey ikpi, Rosemary Klein, t.p. Luce (Ellis
Marsallis III), Olu Butterfly(Woods), Michael Salcman, and WYPR
radio jazz show host Andy Bienstock. Music by the Lionel Lyles
Admission is free. Donations to the Hurricane
Relief Fund of the American Library Association (https://secure.ga3.org/03/alakatrina)
Presented in Partnership with CityLit
Project, Maryland State Poetry and Literary Society, Poetry for
the People Baltimore, and Pozativ Change.
Enoch Pratt Free Library / www.epfl.net
* * *
going to Chicago (21 oct.)
it's friday morning, 21 oct., getting ready
to get up out of burlington, vermont headed for the gwen brooks
conference in chicago. a few words about vermont. i've been here
a couple of times before to breadloaf, down in middlebury. being
a jazz fan, i, of course, wanted to experience "moonlight
in vermont" (ray charles has a killer version of that
song). after i got that experience, the first time, there was
nothing further i was looking forward to in terms of visiting
vermont—and even that was not any particular thrill.
but, i'm back on the road, pulling together the where withall i
need to survive and the resources needed to do "listen to
the people." folk often assume, for one reason or another,
that we have some sponsors, some grants, some access to
resources. not so. although it looks like we may receive some
foundation support for listen to the people, right now
the only support is the money i raise from speaking engagements
and the generous donations from friends who supported me in the
immediate weeks after katrina. we are doing this because we
believe in our work and because people believe in us.
folk up here in burlington, just as folk elsewhere, have warmly
received us. and were it not for the general outpouring of
genuine concern from the american populace as a whole, this
whole ordeal would most likely have bordered on the unbearable.
i understand that the concern expressed by
americans grows out of a mix of issues and complexes and that
shame and guilt or significant parts of the mix. but this is the
first time in my memory that the american people in general have
evidenced a willingness and an effort to rise above the raw
racism that has so painfully colored the history of this
i do not mean to suggest that we have turned the corner
completely. i am clear. structural racism is not only
entrenched, but capitalism, especially global capitalism, is
about to vampire everyone regardless of color, but will
especially feast on the necks of those who are both poor and
colored. i know that the reptiles (to call them republicans is
not calling these cold-bloodied predators by their rightful
name) in office in washington are absolutely bent on profit for
a few at the expense of the global environment and the
well-being of all but a very few. this exploitative tendency is
especially apparent in terms of what happened to new orleans,
katrina and its aftermath.
we live in an age of contradictions, and although it is
difficult sometimes to make adjustments in one's thinking,
difficult to distinguish between the genuine concern expressed
by ordinary americans and the fake-ass crocodile tears of bush
and company, difficult to negoitiate the humane support
proffered by ordinary citizens and the bullshit maze of
hurricane relief meted out by the government that is a mixture
of needed hard cash and resources and bizarre requirements and
repercussions to access desperately need cash and resources...
after a while, your brain gets tired,
frustrated, and you just numbly move through the day and
fitfully sleep through the night, tired of saying "thank
you" for one gift of relief or another, tired of needing
that relief. just tired of it all... and that's when it becomes
difficult to analyze what's going on, difficult to make rational
decisions. just plain difficult.
so here in burlington, major, willi, and will have been gracious
hosts. the weather has been cool but not yet cold, even had some
sunshine on one of the days. the university of vermont campus
here is huge. the downtown area is quaint and attractive. major
has sussed out some of the best restaurants including a place
that specialized in vermont cheeses and herbally seasoned
cuisine artfully done. accompany the cheese plate was a handful
of re-hydronated dried apricots—they were delightfully juicy.
i dig apricots and was especially intrigued by these plump,
soft, tasty fellows. when i inquired about them, i was told they
had been marinated in a mixture that included cloves. delicious.
we are settled into a sheraton hotel near the airport that is
less than three minutes from the campus, and i had a spinach
salad here the other night with a balsamic vinegar dressing that
was one of the best salads i have had anywhere. surprising to me
there is an abundance of fresh vegetables, fruit and quality
choices of seafood here. surprising because i didn't expect
fresh spinach, plump apricots, fresh squeezed juices in a city
one hour's drive from the canadian border. i just assumed this
far north fresh vegetables would be a rarity, or fresh anything
for that matter. i had this prejudiced view of the cold north,
even though i have been north many a time before. even been to
burlington before. but i had never really seen burlington.
at diner the final night, major brought us to a little chinese
restaurant that offered a tasty spread. while we were spinning
the lazy susan and sampling the various dishes—
including a catfish with black bean
curd—one of the professors wittily pointed out that the
socialism of burlington has made the capitalism of burlington
and it seems to be the case. the infrastructure is well tended.
everything works. there doesn't seem to be any major structural
poverty as poverty exists in most major american cities—but of
course there are no large numbers of black folk here either. i'm
clear this is bourgoise paradise—and i don't mean that in any
condescending way. i mean that this is what money buys in
america, and it's nice, really a sweet life. i wonder about the
countryside. i wonder at what price is the niceness of
i want to come back here in the summer and poke around a bit and
get a really good look rather than a fleeting impression. the
gigs went fine. i spoke to one of major's afro-american
literature classes (one black student out of about twenty or so)
on the first day and on the second afternoon did a talk and
reading at one of the museums on campus.
also went up to middlebury for a meeting. jim randals, the
co-director and one of the founders of students at the center
(the high school writing program i have been working with for
the last eight years) joined ashley and i and we drove up for a
meeting to talk with middlebury staff and administration about
possible linkages with and support of sac from middlebury
college. one of the leaders of the breadloaf english program
joined us. again, there was all sorts of offers of support,
working out the logistics will be a bit difficult because the
infrastructure just doesn't exist in new orleans right now. but
we'll see what happens.
so now, it's on to chicago for the last stop on this particular
leg of touring.
i am both encouraged and a bit down. encouraged by how well the
work is going. a bit down because all the news i'm getting from
home is bleak. it messes with your head to be doing so well and
faring so poorly all at the same time. to be so well received
away from home and so uncertain about home.
someone asked during one of the q&a
sessions, how has katrina affected your work? i responded i'm
doing essentially the same work i was doing before katrina.
other than an occasional short essay that is specifically about
katrina, most of my writing has been the same, except there are
some things that i have not been able to finish because of time
or some projects that are more difficult to do because my books
and records are back in new orleans, but really we are
essentially doing the same work we were doing before katrina.
yet, i am beginning to face the creeping suspicion that i am
fooling myself. that i am delaying the inevitable. i am avoiding
facing the void head on. things are not the same. and they will
never be the same. new orleans will never again be what it was.
new orleans will be something different. probably something i
don't want to live with—for me that is a very scary reality.
sooner or later, i'm going to have to face it head on... for
now, i am on the road. i am collecting oral histories. i am
keeping very, very busy... but, sooner or later...
a luta continua,
* * *
on the road—back from chi—on to boston (oct. 26)
i was on the tail end of a week and half on the road, arrived
into chi friday evening. i blinked. thought i got off at the
wrong airport. i was in what was supposed to be laid-back midway
airport, the shit looked like o'hara on a friday night. outside
at the taxi stand, the line was over thirty folk deep and never
did get no shorter while i was there waiting on the shuttle to
the hotel. by the time i got to the hotel, it was time to chill
out. flying all day can wear you out, especially with ups and
downs, changing planes, and so forth, and so on...
noon the next day, i'm heading to the conference and someone
shouts out my name. turns out the conference shuttle is a
stretch limo--inside the pennsylvania contingent hails me.
lamont steptoe is there, he just won the american book award for
his new book of poetry. there is a sister whom i had not met
before sitting in the front of the "cargo area" (i'm
being funny—but the inside of that thing was bigger than some
new york apartments i've been in—won't call no names). and
relaxed next to the back door is keith gilyard, poet, critic,
editor of note. we ride over glad to see each other—although,
i'm sure, given katrina, they were just glad to see that i was
alive and well.
i had missed the london folk at the conference. sam larose, who
operates a listserv similar to e-drum, was on his way out as i
was coming in.
we ate a quick bite and i was up. gave a brief two part
presentation and then read a short story and recited a poem.
part one was about new orleans/katrina. part two was about my
use of an african aesthetic in terms of my writing and what i
mean when i call myself a neo-griot: i explain how i do the
griot thing of dealing with the history of the community in
which i'm grounded and also some social commentary/social
critique. the "neo" thing refers to our use of digital
technology, and not simply because it's fast or trendy, but
because it allows us to better express our culture when one can
see and hear it, as well as intellectually understand it. i
pointed out how without technology it was impossible to mass
transmit our culture. e.g. there is no way to "write"
out black music on a manuscript page and someone
"read" it and get an understanding of what black music
sounds like. thus the advent of recording technology made
possible the mass dissemination of black music. etc. etc.
quarysh ali lansana, who is one of the main organizers of the
gwen brooks conference in terms of hands-on nuts and bolts
putting stuff together, had asked me to read a speculative
fiction piece because that was the focus this year with octavia
butler as the featured writer. then i did a poem, "a system
of thot," which has new lyrics making it into a katrina
piece. i use a music structure and late period john coltrane as
the sound reference. afterwards, haki was moved to note that the
first piece i did was obviously written on the page (i read from
the computer, by the way), but that the second piece could not
be written down and as a former trumpet player he appreciated
after my thing, there was a panel appreciating octavia butler
and looking at the question of speculative fiction. sam greenlee
was on that panel and was doing his brer rabbit with a
switchblade thing that sam does so well, talking about how all
fiction is speculative, and that it's dumb to call something
speculative fiction... etc.
later, sandra govan did a conversation with octavia butler that
was very good. and the question and answer session was also
good. saturday evening after the meal there was a music
performance and then octavia butler gave a short keynote
address, which was basically an expansion on some of the themes
she touched on in her earlier conversation.
before octavia did her keynote address, the wife of carlos
santana made an impromtu appearance and read a short excerpt
from her memoir. she talked about being more than the wife of
carlos and her need to establish her own identity. and here old
dumb me is, not able to remember the sister's first name!
crazy-ass thomas sayers ellis was in the house. i like that
young man, although i fear he will shortly be committed to some
institution that requires you to sit with your coat on backwards
and eat with plastic utensils. when i was up in burlington,
thomas had emailed major a new poem, "race change
operation," talking about how it didn't work in his case.
it was deadly hilarious. he's in cleveland. hmmm, i wonder,
could he be one of richard pryor's unknown children? naw, he's
from dc, a gogo drummer gone academic. but then again... hell,
it was funny. be on the look out for it.
thomas invites me to hang out with them afterwards in the hotel
bar, i tell him naw, i got to go jump online. saturday nights at
midnight we swtich over the weekly postings for breath of life
and that generally takes a minimum of an hour and a half to do
a couple of quick observations about the 15th gwen brooks
conference. this was the smallest audience i have seen for the
conference and yet it was a very strong audience, maybe 125 or
so folk, almost all of whom were writers, or at least aspiring
i have noticed over the last five or ten years that more and
more people want to write and believe, rightly or wrongly, that
they can be writers, but they want it instantly, without going
through any kind of extended period of training or learning. and
here, let me share a bias, four years of college and a two year
mfa program is not an adequate apprenticeship to be a heavy duty
why you say that kalamu? i say that because college is dangerous
if it only makes you believe that you know what you're doing,
especially for black writers. most mfa programs do not ground
you in the literature of your people, so you come out with the
assumption that you have been educated and yet you know next to
nothing about black culture in any in-depth way. so yes, we have
more literate, college-educated people than ever before, but as
far as knowing anything about black culture, or specifically
about black literature, well in general that would be a
"huh??" who is warren cuney? or willard motley, or
what else did richard wright write besides native son and black
boy? can you name three pre-harlem renaissance black female
writers? like that.
but see what a college education does is make someone believe
that they know a little something about whatever is important to
know and if they don't know nothing about something than that
something must not be too important to know about. you know what
anyway, the gwen brooks conference is shortly going to have to
deal with what ought to be the nature of these writing
conferences. what should happen at them to benefit the attendees
and to raise up black literature. the question is will the
conference sponsors have the time and resources to work these
questions out or will the cost of putting on the conference
eventually overwhelm the sponsors.
on an intellectual level, i would love to see some substantive
discussions about writing as an artform, not simply how one
writer or another writes, but what are the theories at work,
what are dominant modes of discourse and why are they dominant.
what is included, what is left out, and why.
sunday i was out of there, headed back to brentwood, the
"beautiful" suburb (can a suburb be truly beautiful?)
of nashville. wednesday, i'm about to climb back on a plane and
head for an extended stay at m.i.t. in boston where i will do a
thursday, 27 oct to 2 nov, i'm at m.i.t.
on thursday 3 nov, i'm at clemson for a symposium on public
education in new orleans, organized by students at the center,
the writing program i co-direct with jim randals.
friday, 4 nov, i'm at the pratt library in baltimore maryland.
saturday, 5 nov, i'm at the third eye conference in dallas,
sunday, 6 nov, i head back to brentwood for a brief breather
before the next leg, which will be even longer... but more on
that in a minute.
as always, would love to meet folk on the road. keep on pushing,
a luta continua,
posted 21 October 2005--27 October 2005
* * *
* * *
Hopes and Prospects
By Noam Chomsky
In this urgent new book, Noam Chomsky
surveys the dangers and prospects of our
early twenty-first century. Exploring
challenges such as the growing gap
between North and South, American
exceptionalism (including under
President Barack Obama), the fiascos of
Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S.-Israeli
assault on Gaza, and the recent
financial bailouts, he also sees hope
for the future and a way to move
forward—in the democratic wave in Latin
America and in the global solidarity
movements that suggest "real progress
toward freedom and justice." Hopes and
Prospects is essential reading for
anyone who is concerned about the
primary challenges still facing the
human race. "This is a classic Chomsky
work: a bonfire of myths and lies,
sophistries and delusions. Noam Chomsky
is an enduring inspiration all over the
world—to millions, I suspect—for the
simple reason that he is a truth-teller
on an epic scale. I salute him." —John
In dissecting the rhetoric and logic of
American empire and class domination, at
home and abroad, Chomsky continues a
longstanding and crucial work of
elucidation and activism . . .the
writing remains unswervingly rational
and principled throughout, and lends
bracing impetus to the real alternatives
* * * *
Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a
collection of fourteen essays by scholars and
creative writers from Africa and the Americas.
Called one of two significant critical works on
Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late
1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of
Carter G. Woodson and
Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as
well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations
were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early
essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish
medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an
historical context for understanding 20th-century
creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone
writers, such as Cuban
Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist,
Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the
significance of Negritude in Latin America. This
collaborative text set the tone for later
conferences in which writers and scholars worked
together to promote, disseminate, and critique the
literature of Spanish-speaking people of African
descent. . . .
Cited by a
literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the
field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which
most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."
* * * * *
The White Masters
of the World
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
* * *
Negro Digest / Black World
Browse all issues
* * *
Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /
George Jackson /
* * * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding
* * * * *
* * * *
(Books, DVDs, Music, and more)
update 13 January 2012