Stimulus Bill to Support Artists and
Poems are just as important as
Cavanagh, James Early, Barbara Ehrenreich,
Marcus Raskin, Anas Shallal, and Melissa Tuckey
Stimulus: One Percent for the Imagination
OBAMA JOY! Alexander Returns to the
Elizabeth Alexander has been
selected by Obama to read a poem on the great day of
January 20th. This is an honor for a wonderful human
being. Lady Alexander is a gifted poet and critic. She
is a mentor to a new generation of African American
poets. I always felt her family was the First Family of
Washington D.C. Her mother and father are two gems.
* * *
Elizabeth Alexander, Ph.D., University of
Pennsylvania, 1992, is Professor of African American
Studies and effective July 1, 2009, Chair of the African
American Studies Department (on leave Spring 2009). She
is the author of four books of poems,
The Venus Hottentot (1990), Body of Life
Antebellum Dream Book (2001), and
American Sublime (2005), which was one of the
American Library Association’s 25 Notable Books of the
Year as well as one of three finalists for the Pulitzer
Prize. Her collection of essays on African American
literature, painting, and popular culture,
The Black Interior, was published in 2004. Her
verse play, "Diva Studies," was produced at the
Yale School of Drama in May 1996.
Alexander has taught at the University of Chicago, where
she won the Quantrell Award for Excellence in
Undergraduate Teaching, New York University’s Graduate
Creative Writing Program, and Smith College, where she
was Grace Hazard Conkling Poet-in-Residence, first
director of the Poetry Center at Smith College, and
member of the founding editorial collective for the
feminist journal Meridians. Professor Alexander is an
inaugural recipient of the Alphonse Fletcher, Sr.
Fellowship for work that “contributes to improving race
relations in American society and furthers the broad
social goals of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board
of Education decision of 1954.” She teaches courses on
African American poetry, drama, and 20th century
literature, as well as the survey introduction to
African American Studies. You can read a
selection of Alexander's poems on her web site.
* * *
The Black Interior
Alexander, the author of three indelible poetry
collections, including Antebellum Dream Book (2001), now
shares the aesthetic and intellectual wellspring from
which her poems arise in a fresh and penetrating inquiry
into African American creativity, or what she calls the
"black interior." An exhilaratingly precise and
mind-expanding essayist and critic, Alexander writes
with striking insight about the poetry of Langston
Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Michael Harper; the black
arts movement; the paintings of Romare Bearden and Kerry
James Marshall; and the films of Denzel Washington. In
each finely structured essay, she shrewdly assesses the
historical and social context within which black artists
work and how "public and communal pressures" to create
art that is of service to the black community
"dramatically affect the choices" black artists make.
Erudite, witty, and profound, Alexander also celebrates
the influence of Jet magazine and considers the terrible
fates and legacies of Emmett Till and Rodney King. This
original and electrifying collection greatly enriches
and extends understanding of African American culture
and its essential role in American culture as a whole.
—Donna Seaman, Booklist
"Elizabeth Alexander is one of the brightest stars in
our literary sky . . . a superb, invaluable commentator
on the American scene."—Arnold Rampersad
* * *
By Elizabeth Alexander
Sometimes I think about
Great-Uncle Paul who left Tuskeegee,
Alabama to become a forester in Oregon and
in so doing
became fundamentally white for the rest of
his life, except
when he travelled without his white wife to
visit his siblings —
now in New York, now in Harlem, USA — just
as straight-haired, as blue-eyed as Paul,
and black. Paul never told anyone
he was white, he just didn’t say that he was
black, and who could imagine,
an Oregon forester in 1930 as anything other
The siblings in Harlem each morning ensured
no one confused them for anything other than
what they were, black.
They were black! Brown-skinned spouses
Many others have told, and not told, this
When Paul came East alone he was as they
were, their brother.
The poet invents heroic
moments where the pale black ancestor stands
on behalf of the race. The poet imagines
in cool, sagey groves counting rings in
imagines pencil markings in a ledger book,
imagines a sidelong look from an ivory
spouse who is learning
her husband’s caesuras. She can see silent
but not what they signify, graphite markings
in a forester’s code.
Many others have told,
and not told, this tale.
The one time Great-Uncle Paul brought his
wife to New York
he asked his siblings not to bring their
and that is where the story ends: ivory
siblings who would not
see their brother without their tell-tale
What a strange thing is “race,” and family,
Here a poem tells a story, a story about
posted 26 December 2006
* * *
It is indeed
wondrous that Barack Obama's Inaugural Program has
Elizabeth Alexander, not only because
she is a much neglected excellent black poet (note some
of her poetry
books are either out of print or not well
available) but also because there has been neglect of poetry in
educational institutions and libraries and other public
spaces. So "Number Four" and "Number 11"
(see below in ISP letter) are
indeed of great necessity, especially to change the
cultural tenor of the nation. Poets and writers create
community and in these dire times a sense of community
is a necessity. Moreover, poets and writers create
capital from the ground up. Not only poets and
writers but also storytellers are necessary
with their emphasis on our
folk histories and their highlighting and updating our mythologies..
Arts Education; Educational
institutions, especially public school
systems in low-income and under served
communities, would hire artists and writers.
Funds would be made available for artist and
We should support library infrastructure and
provide writer and artist-in-residence
programs for our libraries, especially those
in low-income communities. Our nation's
libraries are public treasures and many have
been closed in recent years. Money is needed
to keep our libraries open and alive.
IPS letter below asks us to look back
to what was achieved in the 1930s
WPA. I became
familiar with The Federal Writers program through my
work with the Marcus Christian Papers
at the University of New Orleans Archives. I partially
retell that story in My
Archival Experience. That work included at study of
Marcus Christian (poems, letters, and diary notes),
including his relationship with
Brown who was head of the Negro Division of the
Federal Writer's program. The
did not only field
work in folklore, and wrote not only histories of blacks in
Louisiana, Illinois,Virginia, and in other states, but also
published Guide Books,
as that of Washington, DC, which along with the federal
highway programs, stimulated tourism in the United
States, and thus wealth.
I greatly encourage writers and
artists to send the
IPS letter below to Congressman John
* * *
Call for Special
ATTENTION ALL POETS AND
ARTISTS. PLEASE SUPPORT THIS DOCUMENT.
WRITE TO CONGRESSMAN
To: Congressman John Conyers (D-MI)
From: John Cavanagh, James Early, Barbara
E. Ethelbert Miller, Marcus Raskin, Anas
Shallal, and Melissa Tuckey
RE: Call for Special Program to support artists
and writers in Stimulus Bill
As you well recall, one of the most creative parts of
the New Deal were programs to help artists and writers.
Thousands were helped with relatively small outlays of
funds, and the nation’s artistic heritage was greatly
enhanced. The same argument should be made today.
We urge you to recommend that one percent of the
stimulus plan be spent on arts and culture ($6 billion
if the final package is $600 billion), building on the
Federal Art Project and the Federal Writers Project of
the New Deal. We offer eleven ideas on how the money
could be spent below. We also support ideas that link
different parts of the stimulus package; for example,
the new schools that will be built could be adorned with
new murals and sculptures.
Here is some background, followed by ideas on how the
funds could be spent.
The Works Progress Administration was created in
1935 with the purpose of bringing jobs to those who had
become unemployed or underemployed during the Great
Depression. Since artists and writers were also hit by
the economic hard times, two divisions of the WPA were
assigned the task of creating suitable jobs for such
people -- jobs that would not only take advantage of
these individuals' talents, but would also serve to
enrich America's cultural heritage and embellish public
spaces. The grouping of the largest of these programs is
collectively known as the Federal Project Number One.
Included in this collective were the
Federal Writers’ Project, the Historical Records
Survey, the Federal Theatre Project, the Federal Music
Project, and the Federal Art Project. All of these
programs were divisions of the Works Progress
Administration. Out of the approximately $4.8 billion
allocated to the Works Progress Administration, Congress
permitted $27 million to fund the Federal Project Number
The Federal Art Project, along with several other
WPA-backed programs, created well over 5,000 jobs for
American artists. These artists created over 2,500
murals, over 17,700 sculptures, 108,000 paintings, and
240,000 prints. The project's legacy still lives on,
since it supported artists like Jackson Pollock, Arshile
Gorky, and many other abstract expressionists whose work
helped shift the most dynamic center of the art world to
shift from its traditional location in Europe to where
it now resides, in the largest cities of the United
The Federal Writers' Project created over 6,600 jobs
for writers, editors, researchers, and many others who
exemplified a given level of literary expertise.
1935 by President Roosevelt, the Federal Writers'
Project (FWP) operated under journalist and theatrical
producer Henry Alsberg, and later
John D. Newsome, compiling local histories, oral
histories, ethnographies, children's books and other
These writers created over 1,200 books and pamphlets,
and they produced some of the first U.S. guides for
states, major cities, and roadways. In addition, the FWP
was responsible for recording folklore, oral histories,
and, most notably, the 2,300 plus first-person accounts
of slavery that now exist as a collection in the Library
of Congress. As with the Federal Art Project, the FWP's
contributions to American literature were both
significant and long-lasting, giving authors like Saul
Bellow, Zora Neale Hurston, John Steinbeck, Sterling
Brown, and many others the opportunity to continue their
work in a time of difficult economic circumstances.
Here are some of the ways the funds could be used:
1. NEA and NEH: Increase funding for the
NEH. Increase the
staff at both agencies. Maintain many of the new NEA
projects started by Dana Gioia, for example: The Big
Read and Operation Homecoming.
2. Archives: Support the preservation of literary
archives across the country. Many collections need to
interface with modern technology; staff needs to be
hired at various institutions. We don't want to lose our
3. A Secretary-level post for Culture/Arts:
We support the idea of Bill Ivey, former
NEA Chair under
Clinton, and head of the arts/culture Obama Transition
Team for a Secretary level post for Culture/Arts;
indeed, the United States and Germany are the only
wealthy nations without a Minister or Secretary of
Culture. Ivey’s initiative involves the refocus and
revitalization of the extant Committee on the Arts and
http://www.pcah.gov, which could be a better interim
and/or long-term mechanism for new arts and culture
4. Arts Education; Educational
institutions, especially public school systems in
low-income and under served communities, would hire
artists and writers. Funds would be made available for
artist and writer-in-residence positions.
5. Arts in Public Spaces: Support for the
arts in public places; especially parks, metro stations,
airports, etc. Every major city and community should
have access to concert series and readings in their
major parks, especially in times of economic hardship.
6. Workplace: Funds to bring poets and
writers into the workplace. Build literacy by enlivening
the reading public. Contemporary writers would bring
their work to the people. Readings could be held around
noon at workplaces.
7. Document history: Document U.S.
literary and cultural history on a city, state and
national level. This would be similar to the old WPA
program. Interview major writers and painters. It could
be done by doing a series of films.
8. American Artists Overseas: Money should
be set aside to send American artists overseas for 3-6
month periods, with an emphasis on countries where the
United States has been at odds. They would serve as
cultural ambassadors and give lectures and performances.
They would also collaborate with artists of the host
country to produce cultural events.
9. Fellowships/Scholarships awarded to
working/low income individuals who wish to enroll in
creative writing programs. Many older people wish to
return to school to pursue the arts but have no money
10. Black colleges: Money should be set aside to
develop creative writing programs at historical black
colleges. No creative writing program exists at any
black college. This would create teaching jobs for many
African American authors.
11. Libraries: We should support library
infrastructure and provide writer and
artist-in-residence programs for our libraries,
especially those in low-income communities. Our nation's
libraries are public treasures and many have been closed
in recent years. Money is needed to keep our libraries
open and alive.
Please share this information with other artists and
writers. This document was drafted by members of IPS
* * *
first inaugural poet, Robert Frost, recited
“The Gift Outright” for John F. Kennedy in
* * *
The poet and author Maya
Angelou wrote “On the Pulse of Morning” for
Mr. Clinton’s first inauguration, in 1993.
On the Pulse
A Rock, A
River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon.
The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.
But today, the Rock cries out to us,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.
I will give you no more hiding place down
You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.
Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.
The Rock cries out today, you may stand
But do not hide your face.
Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song,
Come rest here by my side.
Each of you a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.
Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.
Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,
Clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the stone were one.
Before cynicism was a bloody sear across
Brow and when you yet knew you still
The River sings and sings on.
There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.
So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.
Today, the first and last of every Tree
Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside
Plant yourself beside me, here beside the
Each of you, descendant of some passed
On traveller, has been paid for.
You, who gave me my first name, you
Pawnee, Apache and Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet, left me to the
Starving for gold.
You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the
Scot . . .
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought
Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream.
Here, root yourselves beside me.
I am the Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.
I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours—your
Passages have been paid.
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.
Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.
Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.
No less to Midas than the mendicant.
No less to you now than the mastodon
Here on the pulse of
this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes, into
Your brother's face, your country
And say simply
Inaugural Poem—20 January
* * *
of Poetry and Politics—[Robert] Frost was the first
poet to read at a presidential inauguration, and there
have been only two others in the almost five decades
Maya Angelou, at
Bill Clinton’s first inauguration in 1993, and
Miller Williams, at Mr. Clinton’s second, in 1997. (Some
would include, with an asterisk,
James Dickey, who composed a poem that he read at
Jimmy Carter’s inaugural gala but not at the
inauguration itself.) Now America is about to meet its
fourth inaugural poet, a 46-year-old
Yale professor named Elizabeth Alexander.
Thus far America’s
inaugural poems have been a mixed, motley bunch. Frost’s
“Dedication” was stiff and dutiful. (Another sample
rhyme: “Heroic deeds were done./Elizabeth the First and
England won.”) Ms. Angelou’s “On the Pulse of Morning”
was touchy-feely, multi-culti and crammed with
|So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African, the Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The Privileged, the Homeless, the Teacher.
Miller Williams seemed to get it
about right. His inaugural poem, “Of History and Hope,”
was dignified, with a weather-beaten resonance. It
|We have memorized America,
how it was born and who we have been and
In ceremonies and silence we say the words,
telling the stories, singing the old songs.
* * *
What the world will hear at Mr. Obama’s inauguration is
the work of a woman whose verse makes a sharply
different kind of music from that of any of the
inaugural poets who have preceded her. The
principal obsessions in her four books of verse — race
and history, love and family — are played out in poems
that can buzz with an electric and angular ellipticity,
as in “Emancipation,” printed here in its entirety:
oyster shell, drawstring pouch, dry bones.
Gris gris in the rafters.
Hoodoo in the sleeping nook.
Mojo in Linda Brent’s crawlspace.
Nineteenth century corncob cosmogram
set on the dirt floor, beneath the slant
left intact the afternoon
that someone came and told those slaves
At other times her voice is calm
and plain-spoken, as in this snippet from the poem
|When I see a black man smiling
like that, nodding and smiling
with both hands visible, mouthing
“Yes, Officer,” across the street,
I think of my father, who taught us
the words “cooperate,” “officer,”
to memorize badge numbers,
who has seen black men shot at
from behind in the warm months north.
* * * * *
She is going about
making a poem for Mr. Obama, she said, by casting an eye
back. “I have read the previous inaugural poems, as well
as many others,” she said. “The ones that appeal to me
have a sense of focus and a kind of gravitas, an ability
to appeal to larger issues without getting corny.” One
thing Ms. Alexander wants to do, she said, is speak
clearly but artfully. “I don’t want the poem to talk
down to some imagined audience,” she said. Among the
poets she has been reading for guidance are Virgil,
W. H. Auden,
Seamus Heaney and Gwendolyn Brooks. . . .
If there is
anything critics and readers get wrong about her poetry,
and that of her African-American contemporaries, it is
that they “focus on content but forget about form and
craft,” Ms. Alexander said. “And to a certain extent
that’s O.K. I’m happy if people find something of
interest contained in my poems. But they are not just
documentaries. It’s been a problem through the ages.
African-American poetry has been read sociologically.”
Ms. Alexander is
not overly nervous, she said, about performing her
inaugural poem. She enjoys reading her work. “By the
time you are reading a poem, the real work has been
done,” she said. “If I ever get nervous before getting
up to read, I look at the poem and say: ‘You’re done.
All I have to do is let you out.’ ”
The poetry world
will be listening intently. “After eight years of
mangled and manipulated language, and the palpable
effects of that in the real world, it seems like any
gesture toward clarity of expression and dignity of life
is welcome,” Christian Wiman, the editor of Poetry
magazine, said in an e-mail message.
“In a way, the poem
itself is not the point,” Mr. Wiman added. “I would
guess that a president-elect decides to have an
inaugural poem in the first place not in the hope of
commissioning some eternal work of art, but in order to
acknowledge that there is an intimate, inevitable
connection between a culture’s language and its
political life. That Obama wants to make such a gesture
seems to me a pure good — for poetry, yes, but also for
* * * *
The 5th Inning by E. Ethelbert Miller
The 5th Inning is poet and literary
activist E. Ethelbert Miller's second memoir. Coming after
Fathering Words: The Making of An
African American Writer
(published in 2000), this book finds Miller returning to
baseball, the game of his youth, in order to find the
metaphor that will provide the measurement of his life.
Almost 60, he ponders whether his life can now be entered
into the official record books as a success or failure.
The 5th Inning is one man's examination
of personal relationships, depression, love and loss. This
is a story of the individual alone on the pitching mound or
in the batters box. It's a box score filled with
remembrance. It's a combination of baseball and the blues.
To see a clip of Ethelbert reading
The 5th Inning click here:
* * *
* * *
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in
By Melissa V.
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.
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
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
* * *
Sex at the Margins
Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry
By Laura María Agustín
This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London
* * * * *
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
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
* * * * *
Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
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
George Jackson /
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
* * * * *
* * *
(Books, DVDs, Music, and more)
update 24 February 2012