Books by Kalamu ya
The Magic of JuJu: An Appreciation of the Black Arts Movement
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)
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the Hat Don't Fit,
How Come We're
of Women Writing
hat don't fit how come we're wearing it is not a question but a
statement. When African American men question the contemporary
writings of African American women, they are not really
questioning aesthetics, politics, form, structure, or content.
What is really evidenced is a pained reaction: a statement of
hurt, perhaps envy, and certainly an automatic defense of the
walling wounded, male ego.
when the sisters turn up the heat, we brothers retreat into sullen
silence, pull the wool over our eyes, wrap our ears in mufflers,
and don huge fur caps which totally cover our heads (even in
summer). We do all of this allegedly to "protect"
ourselves from the bad weather. But what bad weather? Do we really
need to be protected from the writings of African American women?
Many men do not even want to deal with the writings of
contemporary African American women m general, and writers like
Shange, Walker, Lorde, Morrison specifically.
swingers stumbling on the rhythms of bebop, like a self-proclaimed
alto saxophonist who has just figured out Bird's (Charlie
Parker's) "Donna Lee" being confronted with the white
plastic, smoldering bent notes of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely
Woman," like anyone comfortably bound in tradition then
confronted with a future which is difficult to fathom, we blame
the drummer when we cannot catch the rhythm. The reality is that
we just do not understand what our sisters are writing nor why.
Moreover, we really do not want to go through the changes of
learning how to read this music. "Besides," we think to
ourselves, "what is there to gain from understanding a
difficult woman when we can find easy ones?" For us
"easy" means a feminine voice that is content to be a
period at the end of our sentences rather than a troublesome
question mark challenging us.
Through Blowing All the Things Men Are
how hip bop was, there was still much more music left to be made.
Music not only new but also different. Like Trane, tired of
playing "All the Things You Are" over and over again
with only minute melodic variations, many sisters have abandoned
the old song forms and are sounding out new song forms.
"Favorite Things" no longer sounds like anything we
new music hit, a lot of the establishment could not hear it.
"Antijazz" is what they called Dolphy and Trane. An
immensely important artifact like "Meditations" was
rated "no stars" in Downbeat by a critic with
lead in his ears. Likewise, brothers close their minds to sisters'
songs, complaining about the noise and crying about how bad the
sisters write about us.
example, somebody always brings up Ntozake Shange's image of the
brother dropping the baby out the window. Dudes be enraged, saying
Shange is a menace to men, a divisive force in the Black community
who pits the women against the men. These same brothers rarely
utter one word against Wright's Native Son. They do not
mention how Bigger took a big brick and bashed Bessie's brains out
'cause she--Black and female and in his arms when he got mad--had
nerve enough to love him. Cats do not mention Trueblood in Invisible
Man, unashameded of his acts of incest. Don't mention the male
character in Baraka's play Madheart, the character who
slaps the Black woman and beats her to the stage floor as part of
her "revolutionary" instruction. I mean, what have women
looked like in much of what we have written?
writings of women are easily understandable as a counterweight to
the imbalance of past literature. But actually, these new songs
are more than the past, much more than simply reactions to the
traditional AABA popular song form ("A" being male,
"B" being female). When Ornette cut "The Shape of
Things to Come," he wasn't trying to rewrite history. Rather,
he was shaping the future. Ditto what the sisters are doing. The
past is gone. Regardless of how many of us may want to hold on to
out-moded ideas, since the sisters blew through with their new
songs, things will never be the same. Never. And thank goodness!
both dishonest and untrue to say that the "negative
male" characters presented by sisters are atypical or
men have been socialized to demonstrate and condone anti-female
behaviors and attitudes. Through its persuasive and pervasive
media network, the men who run this society constantly reinforce a
negative an/or subordinate view of women. With or without
knowledge of the social forces at work, every man who is not
actively struggling against sexism is either active promoting or
passively supporting sexism just by accepting the status quo.
man in modern American has been a position of privilege and
dominance vis-a-vis women. This is the case regardless of the
feelings and actions of individual women and men that may vary
from the norm of female/male relationships. It is this hard fact
of life, this business as usual, that is rightly being criticized.
Bigger and all similar-acting brothers are indefensibly
wrong in their social relationships with women.
if some of us are not Bigger-like in our social relationships, why
should we feel any heat about the negative portraits of Bigger-ish
behavior? To assert that most men are not like Bigger avoids
confronting the reality of day-to-day life: most men have the
potential to be Bigger-like, and this society traditionally
encourages such behavior.
close study, it is clear that women's male characters are written
far more realistically than men's female characters. Undoubtedly,
it is only our male blindness, defensiveness, and possibly
chauvinistic self-interest that prevents us from understanding and
accepting the figurative and literal validity of male characters
portrayed in the contemporary works of African American female
cap don't fit' then why are we wearing it? Why are we insisting
that there is something so wrong with conscious and critical women
writing true-to-life stories about how men routinely treat women
in our culture?
African American literature of the 60s, it was common to find the
image of women as "mirrors" of "their men."
Now that the mirror talks and says what she sees, all of a sudden
we are pronouncing the image distorted and contending that the
mirror is blemished. Have we men ever considered that perhaps the
blemish lies not in the mirror, but in the subject, in the male?
not to say that the works of women are perfect in both execution
and content. There is much to criticize, but the fact that African
American men have colluded with the sexist status quo remains
true. Generally, we men materially and psychologically have
advanced ourselves via male domination of women. Women who point
out and criticize this central truth can hardly be accused of
hating men and promoting divisiveness. There is nothing wrong with
criticizing one's conditions.
are not ready to take the cap off; even though some of us are
willing to chivalrously "tip" our caps to those women
whom we recognize as "ladies." Fortunately, women are
through smiling at the emperor's old cap.
Like Toni C.
Said, "Nobody Asked You to Like It"
us men are slick. Inside of certain relationships we remove our
caps; but otherwise, we hold our caps in our laps and reserve the
right to put them on whenever we feel like doing so. We only
condemn certain "female" writers, the ones we consider
"too out" (i.e., mainly any woman who is not publicly
heterosexual and preferably in a relationship with a Black man).
We become liberals on the issue of sexism. We oppose raw sexism
but remain unwilling to deal with the subtler but nonetheless
destructive aspects of our own chauvinistic behavior.
But it is
not enough for us men to move pass a vagina fixation. It is not
enough to exorcise the "dog" in us. We must also move
past a breast fixation. Too many of us want every woman to be our
personal nurturer, offering us her breast We want women to coddle
and pet us like cute puppies.
is up. Rape is up. Pornography is up. Wife-beating and other forms
of battering are on the rise. With this reality of the world
facing African American women, why should any man expect women to
write pleasing portraits of us? Besides which, how would any
rational woman define a "pleasing" male?
we men want to see it or not, this world is terribly violent
toward women--forty-eight hours a day. Did you see that
flick? Did you see how the women were presented? You cannot go to
the movies today without seeing a woman shot, raped, fucked-over,
or socked in the jaw with a fast-swinging male's fist breaking her
lip to the accompanying applause of an audience that
emotionally agrees with artistic-misogyny. In A Boy and His Dog,
a woman was actually eaten (for survival's sake of course), and
that film was set in the year 2000-plus. According to Hollywood,
20 or so years from now, men and dogs will be casually
life through the eyes of a woman and you will see an arsenal of
weapons arrayed against you and potential violence from every male
you meet. A daughter moving through puberty cannot even trust her
father as she steps out the bathtub; she better keep the door
locked. Better believe it; momma's top incisor tooth ain't loose
'cause she bit on a bone while eating a steak.
it ain't violence, it's sex. Raw. Unrealistic. Heavy breathing
from the radio, bump and grind on the television, and triple Xs (XXX)
outselling everything on cable.
life as a woman. Then write it like you see it, like you feel it,
like it is. Guess how it will come out.
final analysis, women writers would not be accurately dealing with
their condition if unreconstructed (men who refuse to admit their
sexist socialization and are actively anti-feminist in their modes
of behavior) males "liked" and applauded the bulk of
contemporary writings by women. Just as we did not expect racist
Whites to like the Black Arts movement, no one should expect male
chauvinists to like anti-sexist writing, even when it is authored
by a male, but especially when authored by a female. Most African
American women writing today have long ago come to that
conclusion. Both the validity of their work and their own will and
ability to continue working is in no way dependent on men liking
or approving of women's literature.
But Is It Jazz?
it does not really matter what most of us think. Like the
Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians playing to
an audience of eight in some hall on Chicago's southside, or
Coltrane ascending with Pharaoh even as die-h hard fans walked out
'cause they couldn't dig it' the hard fact is that our sisters are
going to keep writing.
to a popular belief, men do not own writing. We men cannot stop
women from writing, nor can we dictate content or censor them
without becoming Black male fascists. The very act of wielding our
censorial whips and chains suffocates our own humanness in a box
inaccurately marked "mankind"--a box that inexorably
becomes an auction block and trading station, from which men
speculate on the commodities of women's lives, loves, and dreams.
We cannot close the mouths of women without first closing our
hearts, minds, and spirits. To stop women, we must first stop
ourselves from being human. No human being loves oppression. Brave
humans fight for freedom. And any person worthy of being called a
man would fan the flames of women's struggle to liberate
themselves from the tyranny of male chauvinism.
say certain women writers/editors "have to be stopped,"
all we're doing is repeating the drawing-room conversation of
plantation owners whom we serve and, unfortunately, too often
imitate. The bourgeois--those who possess the major productive
forces in this society--always fear any new phenomenon that they
do not own or control. In many cases we reject the writings of
women not just because we don't like the content, but also because
we can't control it. Besides, like a slave rebellion on a nearby
farm, this thing could get out of hand and exert a bad influence
on our women. Harriet Tubman's coming!
anything, we ought to encourage sister writers. Let's water this
new literature, herald its coming, and look forward to a wider
variety of vegetables and fruit. Let's look forward to a far
nicer, spicier, and yes, healthier meal than the bogus bread,
blood, meat, sugar, and salt diet that most of us imbibe and chase
down with alcoholic drinks.
new music was really music. Alvin Ayler and Archie Shepp are Great
Black Music, Aflican Diasporan aural creators using our ear canals
to clear our heads. They could blow the standards but chose to set
new standards. Our music and our lives are better because they
blew what they knew to be real, regardless of what the experts had
our lives are better because Toni Cade Bambara,
Mari Evans, Jayne Cortez, Alexis DeVeaux, Alice Walker,
Maya_Angelou, Ntozake Shange, and others are working literature
into new areas. Their human geographics not only describe us, but
also, and more importantly, women's writings decisively contribute
to the voicing of our collective reality. Their voices
specifically include previously omitted parts of our history,
present, and future. Rather than describing to others/aliens what
we are like, African American women are voicing the Black
experience, and dialoguing with the folk-field folk, that is,
those brave enough to run for it ("it" being hard
freedom in the hills).
fifth Howard University Writer’s Conference, I spoke about what
I believe is the wonderful development of women writers. Part of
what I said bears reiteration:
is my perception and my belief that much of the most
creative and politically-important work happening in
current Black literature is being authored by women. It
may seem that there are more women being published.
Overall, the work of talented Black women is more
interesting, confronts our conditions in more creative
ways, asks more questions, proposes more alternatives to
the status quo than do the works of men.
my opinion, Alice Walker's The Color Purple, Toni
Bambara's The Salt Eaters, Alexis DeVeaux's book on
Billie Holiday, and a number of other examples of fiction
by Black females are much imore inventive than recent
published fiction by Black male writers.
do I believe this? First, because more of our talented
male writers have been, shall we say,
in status quo positions by colleges, corporations,
foundations, and government agencies. More men have
received grants, fellowships, and the like. For many Black
men, it is no longer in our interest to sink the ship of
state because many of us have been granted a berth aboard
the U.S.S. Status quo. Sure, our security aboard ship is
shaky, but the point is that we are there, not in the
is a generalization, but I think it is a generalization
that corresponds in many important ways to our current
reality vis-a-vis our creative writings.
context of Black literature, women and those who are sensitive to
women are offering critiques of society that stretch beyond class
and race, and this stretching is both healthy and necessary.
Female authors are making these important creative strides because
they are reacting both to our people's oppression and exploitation
in general and to their own particular oppression and exploitation
as women. In other words, they are fulfilling their historic
mission as articulated by Franz Fanon.
We Got to Move
writers are not aliens, nor should their presence be surprising.
Women writers are truly our colleagues, and we ought to be their
comrades. We ought to share struggle and space with them. To do
this, we must leave the estates of our male mansions. We must
leave the familiar but alien colonial capitals and journey into
the bush of ourselves.
course, the bush is no easy place to go, especially for of us who
have grwn accustomed to the creature comforts of the big
cities. The bush can be dangerous, and, at times,
unmerciful. Yet, the bush is also liberating. The bush is the
internal terrain for which we alone are responsible.
It is the hearts and imaginations of our people; the now deformed
and malnourished center of our existence, which requires not only
discovery but also therapy in order to restore whole communities.
into the bush requires sacrifice; you cannot ride in
air-conditioned splendor. Why go after ephemeral and uncertain
freedom in the hills when there are certain comforts to be had
beneath the reign of our historic oppressors? The answer is
simple: our future is in the bush; the plantation will not
survive. We have no choice. Either save ourselves or perish with
this is what sisters are saying. What do they gain by remaining
the wives, bitches, and whores of men's dreams? Look at the
reality: many of our sisters are living alone with their children
anyway. The social landscape is not improving. That is why more
and more of them are running for the hills, running for their
lives. And we should be on the road with them, fleeing an
oppressive past, escaping to an arduous but liberated future.
sisters are not hiding from us, unless, of course, we hold a chain
in our hand and are scouts and slave-catchers for the old regime.
Our sisters are not begging, requesting, pleading, nor even any
longer willing to cross the burning sand and softly present their
case at our feet like peasants petitioning a governor. From here
on out, if we are to talk, it will be as equals. Dialogue with
Black women can only take place when and if we decide that we are
willing to leave the big house and live in the hills. Jamaican
Maroon leader, Nanny, catches British bullets in her teeth. No way
is she going to listen to the bullshit of some assimilatto
who refers to himself and the establishment as "we."
are not waiting for us. They gone. And that's one of the reasons
why much of their literature is so interesting.
What Is Life: Reclaiming the Black Blues Self
Kalamu ya Salaam has traveled extensively as a
journalist, activist and arts producer: Ghana, Tanzania and
Zanzibar, Barbados, Brazil, Cuba, Guadaloupe, Haiti, Jamaica,
Martinique, Nicaragua, St. Lucia, Suriname, Trinidad & Tobago,
Korea, Japan, The People's Republic Of China, England, France and
Contact Information: Kalamu ya Salaam/
Orleans, LA 70152-2723
Phone: (504) 581-2963 /Fax: (504) 581-5446/ email: email@example.com
* * *
Baker and the Black Freedom Movement
By Barbara Ransby
the most important African American leaders
of the twentieth century and perhaps the
most influential woman in the civil rights
movement, Ella Baker (1903-1986) was an
activist whose remarkable career spanned
fifty years and touched thousands of lives.
A gifted grassroots organizer, Baker shunned
the spotlight in favor of vital
behind-the-scenes work that helped power the
black freedom struggle. She was a national
officer and key figure in the National
Association for the Advancement of Colored
People, one of the founders of the Southern
Christian Leadership Conference, and a prime
mover in the creation of the Student
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
Baker made a place for herself in
predominantly male political circles that included W. E.
B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, and Martin Luther King
Jr., all the while maintaining relationships with a
vibrant group of women, students, and activists both
black and white.
In this deeply researched
biography, Barbara Ransby chronicles Baker's
long and rich political career as an
organizer, an intellectual, and a teacher,
from her early experiences in depression-era
Harlem to the civil rights movement of the
1950s and 1960s. Ransby shows Baker to be a
complex figure whose radical, democratic
worldview, commitment to empowering the
black poor, and emphasis on group-centered,
grassroots leadership set her apart from
most of her political contemporaries. Beyond
documenting an extraordinary life, the book
paints a vivid picture of the African
American fight for justice and its
intersections with other progressive
struggles worldwide across the twentieth
* * *
Who Was Ella
Baker—Ella Baker began her involvement with the
NAACP in 1940. She worked as a field secretary and
then served as director of branches from 1943 until
1946. Inspired by the historic bus boycott in
Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, Baker co-founded the
organization In Friendship to raise money to fight
against Jim Crow Laws in the deep South. In 1957,
Baker moved to Atlanta to help organize Martin
Luther King's new organization, the Southern
Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). She also ran
a voter registration campaign called the Crusade for
February 1, 1960, a group of black
college students from North Carolina A&T
University refused to leave a
Woolworth's lunch counter in Greensboro,
North Carolina where they had been
denied service. Baker left the SCLC
after the Greensboro sit-ins. She wanted
to assist the new student activists
because she viewed
young, emerging activists as a resource
and an asset to the movement. Miss
Baker organized a meeting at Shaw
University for the student leaders of
the sit-ins in April 1960. From that
meeting, the Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was born.
Adopting the Gandhian theory of
nonviolent direct action, SNCC members
joined with activists from the Congress
of Racial Equality (CORE) to organize in
the 1961 Freedom Rides. In 1964 SNCC
helped create Freedom Summer, an effort
to focus national attention on
Mississippi's racism and to register
black voters. . . .
Baker's guidance and encouragement, SNCC became one
of the foremost advocates for human rights in the
country. Ella Baker once said, "This may only be a
dream of mine, but I think it can be made real." Her
dream big is a cornerstone of our philosophy.
Her influence was reflected in the nickname she
acquired: "Fundi," a Swahili word meaning a person
who teaches a craft to the
next generation. Baker continued to be a
respected and influential leader in the fight for
human and civil rights until her death on December
13, 1986, her 83rd birthday.—EllaBakerCenter
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* * *
The Black Arts Movement
Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s
James Edward Smethurst
Emerging from a matrix of Old Left, black nationalist,
and bohemian ideologies and institutions, African
American artists and intellectuals in the 1960s
coalesced to form the Black Arts Movement, the cultural
wing of the Black Power Movement. In this comprehensive
analysis, James Smethurst examines the formation of the
Black Arts Movement and demonstrates how it deeply
influenced the production and reception of literature
and art in the United States through its negotiations of
the ideological climate of the Cold War, decolonization,
and the civil rights movement.
regional approach, Smethurst examines local expressions
of the nascent Black Arts Movement, a movement
distinctive in its geographical reach and diversity,
while always keeping the frame of the larger movement in
view. The Black Arts Movement, he argues, fundamentally
changed American attitudes about the relationship
between popular culture and "high" art and dramatically
transformed the landscape of public funding for the
University of North Carolina Press
* * *
Visions of a Liberated Future
Black Arts Movement Writings
"What we have been
trying to arrive at is some kind of
synthesis of the writer's function as an
oppressed individual and a creative
artist," states Neal (1937-1981), a
writer, editor, educator and activist
prominent in the Black Arts movement of
the 1960s and '70s. Articulate, highly
charged essays about the black
experience examine the views of his
predecessors--musicians and political
theorists as well as
writers--continually weighing artistic
achievement against political efficacy.
While the essays do not exclude any
readers, Neal's drama, poetry and
fiction are more limited in their form
of address, more explicitly directed to
the oppressed. The poems are
particularly intense in their protest:
"How many of them / . . . have been made
to /prostitute their blood / to the
merchants of war." Rhythmic and adopting
the repetitive structure of music, they
capture the "blues in our mothers'
voices / which warned us / blues people
bursting out." Commentaries by Neal's
peers, Amiri Baraka, Stanley Crouch,
Charles Fuller and Jayne Cortez,
introduce the various sections.—Publishers
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The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
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Ancient African Nations
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The 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
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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
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5 March 2012