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John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism is the second of Gilyard's books focusing on the Killens phenomenon. His earlier book, Liberation Memories: The Rhetoric and Poetics of John Oliver Killens, is a detailed study of Killens' novels, through which, taken together, we see one whole continuum of historically-rooted fiction

 

 

Books by John Oliver Killens

 

 Youngblood  /  And Then We Heard the Thunder  /  The Cotillion  /  The Great Black Russian

 

A Man-Aint-Nothin But A Man Adventures of John Henry  /  Slaves  / Sippi A Novel Black-SouthernVoices: An Anthology 

 

Great-Gittin-Up-Morning: A Biography of Denmark Vesey  / Black Man's Burden

 

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Books by Keith Gilyard

Voices of the Self: A Study of Language Competence (1991) Poemographics (2001)

 

Let's Flip the Script: An African American Discourse on Language, Literature, and Learning (1996)

 

Spirit & Flame: An Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry (1997) / Race, Rhetoric, and Composition (1999)

 

Liberation Memories: The Rhetoric and Poetics of John Oliver Killens  / True to the Language Game

 

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A Book Party for

John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism

By Keith Gilyard

 

A book party for Keith Gilyard's John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism  (University of Georgia Press), takes place on Thursday, April 29, 2010, at the Skylight Gallery (Restoration Plaza, 1368 Fulton Street, between New York and Brooklyn Avenues), in Brooklyn. The event begins at 5 p.m., and is jointly sponsored by Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, Center for Art & Culture, and Prof. Carole Gregory's "Modes of Analysis" class at the College of New Rochelle, School of New Resources; the program includes discussion with the author along with a panel of former friends and students of the late novelist.

In this first major biography of Mr. Killens, Prof. Gilyard examines the life and times of the man who was perhaps the premier African American writer-activist, with a literary career that spans from the mid-1940s to the late 1980s. An influential novelist, essayist, screenwriter, and teacher, John O. Killens, along with John Henrik Clarke, Rosa Guy and others, co-founded the Harlem Writers Guild, through which workshop no less than 100 books, screenplays and staged dramas were produced during his tenure as Chair (1951-1965). 

Among the Guild's other prominent alumni were Sarah E. Wright, Ossie Davis, Alice Childress, Maya Angelou, Piri Thomas, Lonnie Elder III, Irving Burgie, Loften MItchell, Louise Meriwether, Charles Russell, Sylvester Leaks, et al. Other writers he befriended and mentored outside of the Guild include  Haki Madhubuti, Askia Toure, Nikki Giovanni, Ntozake Shange, Doris Jean Austin, BJ Ashanti, Richard Perry, Elizabeth Nunez-Harrell, Nicholasa Mohr, Thulani Davis, Brenda Connor-Bey, Brenda Wilkerson, Arthur Flowers, Terry McMillan, among many others. 

Prof. Gilyard, however, extends his focus into the social parameters of Killens’ times and literary achievements—from the Old Left to the Black Arts Movement and beyond. Figuring prominently in this biography are the many prominent African American political and cultural workers connected to the author from the 1930s to the 1980s—W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, Alphaeus Hunton, Margaret Walker, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Malcolm X, Nina Simone, Gwendolyn Brooks, Woodie King, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Harry Belafonte, Chinua Achebe, Keorapetse William Kgositsile, George Lamming, and Gil Noble – like so.

Though several of his works,  Youngblood (1954), And Then We Heard the Thunder (1964), Black Man's Burden (1967), The Cotillion (1972), have been translated into well over a dozen languages, Killens, like Dr. Du Bois, has remained among the least studied of American writers.

John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism  is the second of Gilyard's books focusing on the Killens phenomenon. His earlier book,  Liberation Memories: The Rhetoric and Poetics of John Oliver Killens, is a detailed study of Killens' novels, through which, taken together, we see one whole continuum of historically-rooted fiction (from the 1690s to the 1980s)—and from a Black point of view. A literature professor at Pennsylvania State University, Keith Gilyard has fashioned a narrative that allows readers to more fully take note of the complexities of Killens' evolution—from a human rights and union activist to a novelist/dramatist/screen writer and mentor to no less than three generations of African American writers and activists.

The event is free and open to the public. Copies of the book will be available and refreshments served. Take the 'A' or 'C' train to the Nostrand Avenue station.

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Reviews

I congratulate Keith Gilyard for bringing to life, in the pages of this absorbing book, a figure of genuine importance who certainly deserves a full-scale biography.—Arnold Rampersad, author of Ralph Ellison: A Biography

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John Oliver Killens is a genius of the South, and Keith Gilyard has honored this youngblood, civil rights and union activist, novelist, dramatist, and screenwriter in a superb biography. Gilyard’s engaging written voice draws us into a dramatic and important life, and his deep commitment to the highest standards of research inspires our trust and admiration. John Oliver Killens ably documents and brings to life the yearnings and accomplishments of a major figure in our national literature.—Rudolph P. Byrd, Goodrich C. White Professor of American Studies, Emory University

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John Oliver Killens’ politically charged novels And Then We Heard the Thunder and The Cotillion; or One Good Bull Is Half the Herd, were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. His works of fiction and nonfiction, the most famous of which is his novel Youngblood, have been translated into more than a dozen languages. An influential novelist, essayist, screenwriter, and teacher, he was the founding chair of the Harlem Writers Guild and mentored a generation of black writers at Fisk, Howard, Columbia, and elsewhere. Killens is recognized as the spiritual father of the Black Arts Movement. In this first major biography of Killens, Keith Gilyard examines the life and career of the man who was perhaps the premier African American writer-activist from the 1950s to the 1980s.

Gilyard extends his focus to the broad boundaries of Killens’ times and literary achievement—from the Old Left to the Black Arts Movement and beyond. Figuring prominently in these pages are the many important African American artists and political figures connected to the author from the 1930s to the 1980s—W. E. B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, Alphaeus Hunton, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Harry Belafonte, and Maya Angelou, among others.—Publisher, University of Georgia Press.

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Keith Gilyard -- born and raised in New York City -- earned graduate degrees from Columbia University and NYU. Following stints at several campuses, including Medgar Evers College-CUNY and Syracuse University, he is Professor of English at the Pennsylvania State University, University Park. Gilyard has long been active in professional, cultural, and community organization, and he has lectured widely on language, literature, and education. He also has read his poetry at numerous venues. 

Author of numerous publications, his books include Voices of the Self: A Study of Language Competence (1991), Let's Flip the Script: An African American Discourse on Language, Literature, and Learning (1996) Poemographics (2001), and Liberation Memories: The Rhetoric and Poetics of John Oliver Killens (2003).

In addition, he edited Spirit & Flame: An Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry (1997) and Race, Rhetoric, and Composition (1999).

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John Oliver Killens Criticism
 

Hey Y'all,

For the summer issue of Black Magnolias we will publish an essay by a professor from Poland, “John Oliver Killens’ Youngblood as a Novel of Commitment.”  After receiving word of our accepting her essay for publication, she wrote:  “Thank you so much. I am really happy to contribute to the work of people who value struggle. In my ‘academic’ realm, my approach to literature is often referred to as not academic and essentialist.”

Below is my response to her.  I hope it gives her and others food for thought.  Take care. C. Liegh McInnis

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Professor Lobodziec:

As you would imagine, my colleagues and I hear the same critique.  When I hear it, I remind the so called academicians that to be an intellectual means to use one’s mental capabilities for the good of humanity.  Thus, if we understand the etymology of the term, “intellectual,” it was coined by a French government official over his anger that some French college professors decided to protest what they viewed as the unjust imprisonment of some foreign workers.  The official called the professors “les intellectuals,” which was inferred to mean that the smart do-gooders should remain in their ivory tower and refrain from engaging in the discourse about or crafting of government (real life) policy.  

Thus, to be an intellectual is to be one who works to make society better.  Of course, this contradicts or conflicts with the term academic or academician, which means, mostly, for the sake of itself or with the importance on the form or theory rather than on the use of the form or theory to impact people’s lives.  Therefore, the people who worked for AIG and helped to cause America’s current financial crisis are pirates, not intellectuals, regardless of the number of degrees they have.

Ultimately, the problem with academia—of which I am apart—is that it views itself as self contained and self-perpetuating where its ideas should be valued for the sake of themselves or for how much money those ideas can earn a company rather than how those ideas shape, reshape, and improve mankind.  For my freshman composition literature course, my students’ midterm topic is how their major/profession is beneficial to society. 

What I have found over the past ten years is that most of them have only considered how their future jobs will benefit them, individually.  As a part of the books and articles they must cite, they must interview a major professor or someone working in the field.  Close to forty percent of the time, the students tell me that their professors or the professionals that they interviewed admit that they never really considered how their work is beneficial to society for anything other than constructing a marketing campaign to earn money. 

So, the academic class is a very isolated group that has been privy to live detached from the masses because they are so well-paid and, often, admired for their lofty ideas.  However, when these ideas cease to connect with the needs of the masses, these ideas become self-gratifying “spectacle,” producing people with large vocabularies who make small contributions to the improvement of humanity. 

As a poet and fiction writer, I enjoy reading and writing because I enjoy the engagement of terms and terminology.  However, my love for a well-crafted image, symbol, ironic moment, or plot twist is also driven by how well those devices help me to understand myself, society, and life better, which includes if not being tantamount to learning how to provide equality to all people. 

Take care and thank you for using your work to continue the discourse on how humanity can improve.C. Liegh McInnis

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Dear C. Liegh,
 
This is good news, and your response to Professor Lobodziec is timely.  Despite Keith Gilyard's having written two books on Killens, Killens' novels and essays are not widely discussed in colleges and universities.  You will not find any sample of his work in either Call & Response: The Riverside Anthology of the African American Literary Tradition or The Norton Anthology of African American Literature.  Addison Gayle informed us that "to read Killens' first novel is to be in touch with history yet to come, to feel, intuitively in 1954 that the time of chaos and turbulence is near." 

It might be the case that some of our colleagues outside the United States are more "transparent" about who has shaped our tradition than are scholars in HWCUs who must dance pavanes to achieve tenure. It would be "essentialist" for them to be in touch with history. Perhaps Professor Lobodziec's essay will help us to distinguish novels of commitment from novels of betrayal. Best wishes, Jerry

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John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism

By Keith Gilyard

“I congratulate Keith Gilyard for bringing to life, in the pages of this absorbing book, a figure of genuine importance who certainly deserves a full-scale biography.”—Arnold Rampersad, author of Ralph Ellison: A Biography

John Oliver Killens is a genius of the South, and Keith Gilyard has honored this youngblood, civil rights and union activist, novelist, dramatist, and screenwriter in a superb biography. Gilyard’s engaging written voice draws us into a dramatic and important life, and his deep commitment to the highest standards of research inspires our trust and admiration. John Oliver Killens ably documents and brings to life the yearnings and accomplishments of a major figure in our national literature.—Rudolph P. Byrd, Goodrich C. White Professor of American Studies, Emory University

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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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 Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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posted 14 April 2010

 

 

 

Home    John Oliver Killens Table

Related files: Memories Reviews   Interview with Keith Gilyard   Killens "Literary Heroes"       Lest We Forget Killens (by Rivera)   Killens, Fort Bliss, & Korea  (Kalamu)  Coal, Charcoal, and Chocolate Comedy  (Keenan Norris)