ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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But it is not the big things that amaze me. It’s the little things. The preference for grits and rice

rather than oatmeal and potatoes. The taste in our mouths have been shaped by our experiences,

especially when we were young. Or whether we have ever smelled a rose in full bloom in a garden



Books by Kalamu ya Salaam


The Magic of JuJu: An Appreciation of the Black Arts Movement  /   360: 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 past predicts the future

                           (for narvalee)

                                            By Kalamu ya Salaam


when you get closer to yr relatives

you will be surprised


at how black they are,

they feel


the fit and familiarity of their emotions in the twilight

how much of your pain they understand

with a knowing smile, and how much of their pain

you never knew, thus you frown

embarrassed by your ignorance

and turn to yester-world

altared on the mantle piece:


ancestral photographs, amazingly graceful figures

whose dominant features are boldly ironic eyes

which seemingly float effortlessly just above the surface

of the cream colored paper, inscriptions in unfading black ink

on the reverse "me & shane, dec. 1934"


a small, soft purple, velvet box enshrining a plain gold ring

a slip of torn paper from another era unthrown-away

seven quickly scribbled numerals, the abracadabra key

to a birth, a midnight move to another town, or even

a pledge cut short by accidental death, "oh, it's just a number,"

the slow, quiet response to your investigation


so you pick up a pencil gilded with the name of a 1947 religious

convention attended and delicately place it down beside

an 87-year-old hand mirror (you resist the impulse

to look at your reflection, afraid that you might see

unfulfilled family aspirations), this mirror is atop

a piece of lace, pressed, folded, ancient matriarchal adornment


you will be surprised to learn,

as the years go on, everything

your people say sounds like something

from your life story, something

you wondered about sitting in the car

the other day in the hospital parking lot before the visit,

before the treatment


especially if you are intelligent

paid more than $10 an hour

carry credit cards rather than cash

and climb aboard a flying machine more than three times a year


you will be surprised that although you live in some other city

there is a spot with your familial name

blind embossed and hand engraved in the heart-home

of people you seldom see, surprised

that much of your life had already been accurately predicted

by an aunt who knew you before you were born, i.e.


when your mother

and father were courting, staying out later than curfew

and clutching dreams tightly in the naked embrace

of yr conception

Source:  WordUp

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the past predicts the future: forty-some years

Music Criticism by By Kalamu ya Salaam

The message was freedom. For me, as a Polish who was living in Communist country jazz was synonym of Western culture, of freedom, of this different style of life.—Tomasz Stanko

I’ve found a couple of important intersections. It’s only forty-some years later. No matter how much future we have left, what we are is always our past.

No one escapes everything they have been. Your experiences not only shape you, but also, to a degree hard to see when it’s happening, your past partially determines what you will recognize in your future, what you can and can not understand, see, feel, be. Yes, what you are doing right now has seminal relevance tomorrow.

Encased in the box of immediacy, the strength of our senses binding us, every thought we think, every emotion emoted or suppressed, everything of the moment, shapes the person who faces the future and to a far larger degree than we can imagine, how we consume our past and how aware we are of what it is we have consumed, all of that helps determine just how we be whatever we become.

But it is not the big things that amaze me. It’s the little things. The preference for grits and rice rather than oatmeal and potatoes. The taste in our mouths have been shaped by our experiences, especially when we were young. Or whether we have ever smelled a rose in full bloom in a garden—not at a florist, but in that stretch of earth tended to by a grandmother. The big pink flowers, bees hovering around them, petals the texture of satin, and sharp thorns.

 Smelling those roses, if we have never then that will make it difficult to catch certain of the brief whiffs of beauty tomorrow may offer. Or something like that. You get the idea.

Intersection #1: the music for Polaski’s film Knife in The Water (and for Rosemary’s Baby) was composed by Krzysztof Komeda, a Polish pianist and composer who died at 38 but who in his short career became the father of modern jazz in Poland. Tomasz Stanko studied under and became a member of Komeda’s band. Stanko also played on the Rosemary’s Baby soundtrack.

Stanko has recorded a tribute album, Litania—Music Of Krzysztof Komeda. In the late fifties and very early sixties these guys were literally throwing their art into the teeth of government and bourgeois repression. As English writer and photographer Val Wilmer said about jazz, which she dedicated her life to documenting, jazz was “as serious as your life.” 

Intersection #2: Sometimes you have to listen to a lot in order to get to the little things that deeply strike you. And you have to do your homework. Have to know a little about what you are listening to. (You know context is my thing.)

Before Mtume [Kalamu's son and music commentator] brought up his name, I was already aware of Stanko. Had given a cursory listen. Had a Stanko album on the hard drive. It was OK, but, you know, I never considered that there might be something there of real relevance for me.

In preparing to respond to Mtume I went deeper.

Now Tomasz Stanko’s new album, Lontano (2006), is an absolute favorite. In the jukebox I have added three tracks from Lontano: “Kattorna” (written by Komeda), “Tale” and “Lontano II" (both composed by Stanko). “Tale” is an old composition revived for this recording.

One day I looked again and saw what I had missed hearing on initial contact.

Don’t be like me. Stop now. And smell the roses.

Source: Breath of Life 

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Black Music in America—ca. mid-1970s

This tremendous educational documentary from the mid-1970's examines the priceless contributions of African-Americans to musical heritage, so closely tied to their unique history in the United States. From Africa upon slave ships captive immigrants brought with them melodies, cadences and rhythms that inarguably gave rise to music considered 'modern' today. 

Beginning with the genius Louis Armstrong's triumphant return to Ghana in the late 1950's, we trace the evolution of music from West Africa to the Virginia colonies of the early 1600's. Over the next 400 years, as this distinct root of American culture takes hold, incredible clips of filmed performances by Mahalia Jackson, Josephine Baker, Bessie Smith, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, and Duke Ellington illustrate the black experience.

Contemporary musicians such as Nina Simone, BB King, Cannonball Adderly (w/ Joe Zawinal - Mercy, Mercy, Mercy), and Sly & the Family Stone, along with a funky-ass filmed number from an as-yet-undocumented-on-the-internet off-Broadway production called "The Me Nobody Knew" punctuate the memory of the past, the spontaneity of the moment and determination for the future. 

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Guarding the Flame of Life

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Men We Love, Men We Hate
SAC writings from Douglass, McDonogh 35, and McMain high schools in New Orleans.

An anthology on the topic of men and relationships with men

Ways of Laughing
An Anthology of Young Black Voices
Photographed & Edited by
Kalamu ya Salaam

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Track List
1.  Congo Square (9:01)
2.  My Story, My Song (20:50)
3.  Danny Banjo (4:32)
4.  Miles Davis (10:26)
5.  Hard News For Hip Harry (5:03)
6.  Unfinished Blues (4:13)
7.  Rainbows Come After The Rain (2:21)/Negroidal Noise (15:53)
8.  Intro (3:59)
9.  The Whole History (3:14)
10.  Negroidal Noise (5:39)
11.  Waving At Ra (1:40)
12.  Landing (1:21)
13.  Good Luck (:04)

posted 2 June 2010

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



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#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

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#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
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#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Civilization: The West and the Rest

By Niall Ferguson

The rise to global predominance of Western civilization is the single most important historical phenomenon of the past five hundred years. All over the world, an astonishing proportion of people now work for Western-style companies, study at Western-style universities, vote for Western-style governments, take Western medicines, wear Western clothes, and even work Western hours. Yet six hundred years ago the petty kingdoms of Western Europe seemed unlikely to achieve much more than perpetual internecine warfare. It was Ming China or Ottoman Turkey that had the look of world civilizations. How did the West overtake its Eastern rivals? And has the zenith of Western power now passed? In Civilization: The West and the Rest, bestselling author Niall Ferguson argues that, beginning in the fifteenth century, the West developed six powerful new concepts that the Rest lacked: competition, science, the rule of law, consumerism, modern medicine, and the work ethic. These were the "killer applications" that allowed the West to leap ahead of the Rest, opening global trade routes, exploiting newly discovered scientific laws, evolving a system of representative government, more than doubling life expectancy, unleashing the Industrial Revolution, and embracing a dynamic work ethic. Civilization shows just how fewer than a dozen Western empires came to control more than half of humanity and four fifths of the world economy.

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—WashingtonPost

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What This Cruel War Was Over

Soldiers Slavery and the Civil War

By Chandra Manning

For this impressively researched Civil War social history, Georgetown assistant history professor Manning visited more than two dozen states to comb though archives and libraries for primary source material, mostly diaries and letters of men who fought on both sides in the Civil War, along with more than 100 regimental newspapers. The result is an engagingly written, convincingly argued social history with a point—that those who did the fighting in the Union and Confederate armies "plainly identified slavery as the root of the Civil War." Manning backs up her contention with hundreds of first-person testimonies written at the time, rather than often-unreliable after-the-fact memoirs. While most Civil War narratives lean heavily on officers, Easterners and men who fought in Virginia, Manning casts a much broader net. She includes immigrants, African-Americans and western fighters, in order, she says, "to approximate cross sections of the actual Union and Confederate ranks." Based on the author's dissertation, the book is free of academese and appeals to a general audience, though Manning's harsh condemnation of white Southerners' feelings about slavery and her unstinting praise of Union soldiers' "commitment to emancipation" take a step beyond scholarly objectivity.—Publishers Weekly

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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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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


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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

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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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update 27 March 2012




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