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for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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We also lived near a big tobacco factory and watched the people come and go with

their shift changes. Women always had their hair tied up with a head scarf . . . and that seemed

 to be how you always knew where they worked.



A Season's Griot Poems

By Beverly Fields Burnette


Old Men in a Country Store

They sit idly, eyes moving slowly,

hands waving flies, mosquitoes, gnats

with a motion that barely ruffles air.


Their haunches squat on drink crates,

or weathered cylinders that once held oil,

or some other important staple.

They sit and hatch vacant mounds of time,

like the "eggs" that roosters lay.


They wait, recognizing familiar sounds

of trucks that pass, or the hearty laughter

and the hawks and spit from throats clearing airways

of saliva and tobacco juice.


Some arrive with the regular tick-tock

of dusty clocks on general store walls~

some saunter in with fish in ice boxes

freshly caught in hideaway ponds this morning;

caught before bass barely opened eyes

for breakfast.


They are the comedians-gossipers,

news-anchors-neighborhood-watches of the rural road.

Their slow drawl words are familiar script,

their daily acts are anthems,

their arrivals and departures,~

a ballet folklorico in overalls.

First published in: BMa: The Sonia Sanchez Literary Review—Emerging Voices, Southern Themes ;  Vol. 5, No. 1~ Fall, 1999. Drexel University: Philadelphia, Pa.

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Witnesses on the Corner of Gay and Grace: 1952
                                              (A prose poem)

While the silver-haired businessman was out of the office, and when his black suited and tied son had no wood nor coal yard customers, he left his desk, hurried beyond the stacks of wood and mounds of black coal, closed the gate, glanced both ways as he crossed Grace St. He unlocked his black sedan, parked on the street, just below our bedroom window. He looked around watchfully, yet never knew my sister and I peered from behind our curtain. He hoisted a clear bottle from the floor, adjusted his short body below the steering wheel, lay backward across the seat, and guzzled long and swallowed hard from his bottle. After another gulp, he sat up, replaced the top, wiped his lips with the back of his hand and leapt quickly from his car, crossed the street, re-entered his business, as two little black girls squealed to Mama that we’d just caught him drinking outta that bottle~ again.

First published in Pembroke Magazine, Issue #39 /


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GROWING UP SOUTH!—Memories of My Childhood

In the sunny summer south, my sister and I would get up early, have cereal, sausage, eggs and toast for breakfast, then head to our back yard for a busy day.

If she and I became bored, we’d try to get back in the house a dozen times. Our stern aunt, Flossie who was a strict no nonsense retired school teacher would become  weary of the slamming doors and would yell at us to keep that screen door closed to keep the flies out. 

Sometimes when it was hot, we’d go outside, flood the back yard with the water hose and made a yard full of mud pies. Or we’d bury an unfortunate caterpillar in an empty match box that we had retrieved from the kitchen on one of our trips indoors. We gave it a proper burial and sang songs we’d learned in church on Sunday morning. 

Early most mornings I would watch my mother walk around a long curve as far as I could see her. Watched her until she turned that corner goin to the Falls….walked steadily around what I called “the crooked lane” and vanished for the rest of the day inside a huge brick walled yard to care for someone else's children and the duties she was expected to do at the home of a wealthy banker and his wife. 

By afternoon, Gail and I had gotten dirty and then we’d retreat to the front porch  which was shaded by a large chinaberry tree. We’d relax in the family’s favorite hammock which was hung on hooks between two posts . We’d squeal with joy at the ride. One day while in that hammock having fun, we got the scare of our lives. Mr. High, a large tall man with a huge face and belly who lived around the corner came up behind that tree and said BOO! Before we even looked to see who or what it was, our little legs hit the porch running and screaming. We sailed almost without touching the floor and ran in the house for safety. Mr. High felt so bad about scaring us that badly  that he knocked on the door and told our aunt that he didn’t mean to scare  those little “gulls”. It was such a comical scene to him until he nor we ever forgot it.

We also lived near a big tobacco factory and watched the people come and go with their shift changes. Women always had their hair tied up with a head scarf.…and that seemed to be how you always knew where they worked.

Since we lived on the corner of Gay and Grace streets, we saw most people who came into our street. Almost all day long, someone was always taking somebody some food. Every time they passed by, they seemed to have a dinner plate wrapped up with a dish towel. I later learned that this was probably boot leg liquor being transported all day long. They never bothered us, but sometimes they’d be walking kind of funny. 

By 4 or 5 pm, my aunt would give us our bath and put our clean clothes on so we’d look and smell nice when our mother came home. Then we’d wait on the porch ‘til we saw her coming. For me this was the most joyous time of day~ when Mama’s work day ended. She often came home carrying goodies she’d baked that day, and we'd  look forward to seeing her warm smile and hearing the stories of her day.

Beverly Fields Burnette is a storyteller (current President of the N.C. Association of Black Storytellers), a poet and school social worker. Her programs/performances consist of fun, creative ways of combining cultural insights with storytelling/folktales, and original and historical poetry for children and/or general audiences. She has led character education, self-esteem and drug prevention programs for churches and schools. Ms. Burnette enjoys teaching and telling folktales in the guise of Harlem Renaissance folklorist/anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston. Ms. Burnette is published in several national poetry anthologies. In 2001 and 2003 she wrote poems for the National Public Radio/PRI program "A Season's Griot" and in 2003 read her own poem on this program. She often collaborates/performs with other storytellers, drummers/musicians and poets.

posted 19 December 2008

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



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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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The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance

Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperity—and What We Can Do About It

By Les Leopold

How could the best and brightest (and most highly paid) in finance crash the global economy and then get us to bail them out as well? What caused this mess in the first place? Housing? Greed? Dumb politicians? What can Main Street do about it? In The Looting of America, Leopold debunks the prevailing media myths that blame low-income home buyers who got in over their heads, people who ran up too much credit-card debt, and government interference with free markets. Instead, readers will discover how Wall Street undermined itself and the rest of the economy by playing and losing at a highly lucrative and dangerous game of fantasy finance. He also asks some tough questions:  Why did Americans let the gap between workers' wages and executive compensation grow so large? Why did we fail to realize that the excess money in those executives' pockets was fueling casino-style investment schemes? Why did we buy the notion that too-good-to-be-true financial products that no one could even understand would somehow form the backbone of America's new, postindustrial economy? How do we make sure we never give our wages away to gamblers again? And what can we do to get our money back? In this page-turning narrative (no background in finance required) Leopold tells the story of how we fell victim to Wall Street's exotic financial products. Readers learn how even school districts were taken in by "innovative" products like collateralized debt obligations, better known as CDOs, and how they sucked trillions of dollars from the global economy when they failed. They'll also learn what average Americans can do to ensure that fantasy finance never rules our economy again. The Economy

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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

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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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