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And the morning that our mother was killedmy brothers had to live with this.

But he was waiting at the bus stop, and his father came and got him and took

his key and let himself into our apartment. And my brother recalls the last

thing my mother said to him, which was: Why did you let him in? 



Books by Natasha Trethewey


Native Guards: Poems / Beyond Katrina / Domestic Work  / Bellocq's Ophelia: Poems  / Best New Poets 2007


*   *   *   *   *

Terry Gross Interviews Natasha Trethewey

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet on Katrina’s Aftermath


As we approach the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey has been thinking of the hurricane's aftermath on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where she spent much of her childhood, and where her - part of her family still lives.

And she's been thinking of the hurricane's aftermath on her family. Her brother spent a year in prison. Her grandmother sheltered from the storm in a public school and was never able to return home. Her house was unlivable after Katrina, and she was too frail, disoriented, and undernourished after the storm to continue living alone.

Natasha Trethewey moved her grandmother to a nursing home near her when she was teaching at Duke University, and then to Atlanta, where Trethewey is a professor at Emory University.

Trethewey won the Pulitzer Prize for her book Native Guard. Many of the poems were about growing up biracial in Mississippi and Georgia. Her mother was African-American, her father is white. When they divorced, Trethewey lived with her mother and, eventually, a stepfather and her younger brother Joe. After her mother and stepfather divorced, her stepfather murdered her mother.

Trethewey's new book is called Beyond Katrina: A Mediation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

*   *   *   *   *

Terry Interviews Natasha

Terry Gross: Natasha Trethewey, welcome back to FRESH AIR. After your grandmother died in her 90s, you brought her back to her hometown, Gulfport, Mississippi, and had her buried at her church. How long after Katrina was this?

Natasha Trethewey: This was in 2008, three years after Katrina.

Terry Gross: What state was the church in?

Natasha Trethewey: The church was still in the process of rebuilding. They weren't using the sanctuary at the time. And so her service had to take place in a small auxiliary building where they often served food, a very low-ceilinged room that was filled up with whatever they were able to salvage from the main sanctuary, so a few pews, some folding chairs. I think they even had a kind of small pulpit to use for the minister.

But the windows all around the sanctuary, the high windows, were still blown out and some boarded up. And so if you were to have driven by it, you would not have though that anythingany services were ever taking place in this building. 

Terry Gross: How did it feel to bring your grandmother back to a place that was still in such a place ofsuch a state of chaos and disrepair?

Natasha Trethewey: It made me feel like Katrina wasn't over, that for the people there and the people connected to those people, it was still going on, that recovery was taking such a long time. And there was something sort of sad and homely about having to have her final home-going service in that little room rather than in the beautiful sanctuary for which she had sewn the draperies of the baptismal font, the same place that my mother was memorialized.

Terry Gross: And to bring her body to a place that had been partially destroyed.

Natasha Trethewey: Right.

Terry Gross: You know, it's death and destruction in one ceremony.

Natasha Trethewey: Mm-hmm. And even the stranger feeling of not getting to get her back there even whole. I know it sounds odd, but my grandmother had an amputation right before her death. And so she went back without her leg.

Terry Gross: Did she have diabetes?

Natasha Trethewey: She didn't, which is the strange thing. She didn't have diabetes at all. She just gotshe had really poor circulation, perhaps from having sat as a drapery seamstress all that time. And she got a wound on her ankle that wouldn't heal, which is kind of like what it feels like on the coast right now. 

Terry Gross: So when you brought your grandma back to Gulfport, Mississippi, her hometown, where you had lived, as well, it was it just seems like the intersection of so many things that had gone wrong in your family's life since the stormyou know, your grandmother had to die away from her home. The church that she was buried in, in her hometown, was still partially destroyed. And your brother had recently been in prison, and he was allowed out to come view his grandmother, but that was it. He wasn't really allowed to speak with you or your husband or his child or his girlfriend. 

So I'd like to talk a little bit about what happened to your brother and how Katrina changed his life.

In the year leading up to Katrina, he'd started to repair rental properties that your great uncle used to own. What were these properties?

Natasha Trethewey: They were several little lots that held shotgun houses, really small shacks that were so tiny that, often, the bathtub was in the kitchen. But they were the kinds of homes that low-income people on the coast could afford.

They rented right up until the storm for about $230 to $250 a month, and we'd had tenants there who'd been there for perhaps 30 years.

Terry Gross: And then your brother ended up working on them, repairing them. What was his relationship to these homes?

Natasha Trethewey: Well, in the months leading up to the storm, my brother finally began to take over this family business. We'd been hoping for years that he would. My grandmother was getting too old to be able to handle the business of managing these properties and hiring out people to do repairs and collecting rent. So my brother began to do this.

And when he started doing it, he began to really fix them up, you know, fix the roof and add new appliances and carpet and windows. So he was doing that kind of work, and the tenants were really happy that he was fixing up these places that had fallen into disrepair over the last few years.

So this is what he was doing, right up until the hurricane, and he invested a great deal of his savings into being able to fix them up.

Terry Gross: And he was in the position of soon being able to see some profits from that.

Natasha Trethewey: That's right. He had all but one of them, I think, rented.

Terry Gross: So what happened after Katrina? Were the homes destroyed?

Natasha Trethewey: They were damaged so badly that the tenants couldn't stay in them. The buildings were really sort of falling down around them. And so they had to leave.

And the buildings, at that point, were torn down by the city because they were blighted. And if you can't afford at the moment to fix them up, then the city will just tear them down and bill you for it.

Terry Gross: How much do they bill you for tearing down a house?

Natasha Trethewey: A few thousand dollars.

Terry Gross: So instead of making him money, now your brother was really in debt, because he was billed for all the homes that had to be torn down as a result of Katrina.

Natasha Trethewey: That's right. And then, of course, having to pay the taxes, then, on the vacant land, just to try to hold on, at least, to the land.

Terry Gross: Okay. So tell us the story of how he was imprisoned.

Natasha Trethewey: Well, I think that it was in a moment of profound despair that my brother, when contacted by someone he'd known a long time and asked to deliver a large amount of cocaine, agreed.

He did it. He made, he told me, about $4,000. And so when the person asked him to do it, he did it again. So he must have done it a couple of times before someone set him up. I think someone who was perhaps trying to make a deal for himself told the police about Joe, and they were waiting for him.

Terry Gross: Yeah.

Natasha Trethewey: And he was caught with four ounces of cocaine on him.

Terry Gross: And when was this?

Natasha Trethewey: Well, it happened in the spring of 2007, though he didn't tell me about it then. He didn't tell me about it because that was the moment that happy things were going on in my life, and he didn't want to ruin that.

Terry Gross: By happy things, I'm guessing you mean that's when you won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

Natasha Trethewey: That's right. So at the same time that I was winning the prize, he was being arrested.

Terry Gross: So how did you find out?

Natasha Trethewey: He didn't tell me until a year later, when he was about to go to trial, and his lawyer told him that if he didn't call me and ask me to come down there and to speak on his behalf, that he might be in jail a very long time.

Terry Gross: Did you speak at his trial?

Natasha Trethewey: I did.

Terry Gross: What did you say? (Soundbite of laughter)

Natasha Trethewey: Well, I tried to explain to the judge something about his history. One of the main things I wanted her to know was how good a kid he is, but how tragic his life had been and how different his life was from mine.

You know, I was older when we lost our mother, and I still had my own father. But it was father, my stepfather, who killed our mother. So, at once he lost both of his parents, and he was an 11-year-old boy when it happened.

And the morning that our mother was killedmy brothers had to live with this. But he was waiting at the bus stop, and his father came and got him and took his key and let himself into our apartment. And my brother recalls the last thing my mother said to him, which was: Why did you let him in? 

And Joe tried to tell her that wasn't the case, but because of that, I think he's carried that burden of guilt. And then when he went to live with my grandmother, a woman who loved him dearly but could not look at him without seeing the face of the man who killed her daughter, and so it made their relationship very strained. But that's the house he had to grow up in when he lost his parents.

Terry Gross: We talked about this on your previous visit to FRESH AIR because you'd written a book of poems about your mother's murder, and your stepfather had abused your mother, and then I think it was right after you got out of high school that he murdered her. He shot her twice, in the head and in the neck.

Natasha Trethewey: Yes.

Terry Gross: So I guess you . . .

Natasha Trethewey: My brother was there to see that.

Terry Gross: He actually witnessed it.

Natasha Trethewey: Yes.

Terry Gross: And then felt guilty because your fatheryour stepfather had taken your brother's key to get into the house because his your stepfather tried to kill your mother once before. So she didn't [let] him anywhere near her. They were divorced. 

Natasha Trethewey: That's right.

Terry Gross: So, yeah, it's so interesting to think about how your family history and your brother's family history compare. I mean, your parents, when you were born, it was an interracial marriage: your mother African-American, your father white. Your father wasis a poet and professor. Your mother, at the time, was a social worker.

Natasha Trethewey: Yes.

Terry Gross: And I don't know what your stepfather did for a living.

Natasha Trethewey: He was a Vietnam veteran, and he went to technical college, and so had a business as a repairman, air conditioning and cooling systems. And he also worked as a maintenance man for a facility for kids who were in trouble.

Terry Gross: Oh. So, you know, your brother grew up in a home where his mother was abused. By the time she was abused, you were a little older, and you'd already had some stability in your life. I guess he really never knew what that kind of stability was like and what a safe home was like. 

Natasha Trethewey: Well, actually, the funny thing about it isand he tries to address some of this in the letters that he wrote to me. Up until the moment that my mother had to run away with him to get out of the house, he thought he had a perfect life. He thought he had two parents who loved him and, you know, a house in the suburbs, and he didn't want for anything. 

He'd only had a glimpse of the way that his father could be angry or volatile, just a very small glimpse. And he didn't really know that the abuse was taking place.

Terry Gross: Did you?

Natasha Trethewey: I did. You know, being older, I guess I was more aware, and I could see what was going on. And I'd wake up in the middle of the night when he would stay asleep and hear what was going on.

Terry Gross: And you protected your brother from that knowledge.

Natasha Trethewey:: Yes.

Terry Gross: How much older are you?

Natasha Trethewey: I'm seven years older.

Terry Gross: That's a lot . . . When your brother was in prison, he wrote a poem.

Natasha Trethewey: Yes, he did . . .

Terry Gross: . . . which you reprint in the book. And I'd like you to read that poem.

Natasha Trethewey: I'd be happy to. The poem is called "Cycle."

(Reading) I am named after my father. He's named after his. No disrespect to my grandfather resting. I pronounce my name Joel(ph) instead of Joel. I am nothing like him. Although I am in prison, I'm not him.

Terry Gross: I like that poem. I like that, you know, I am not him. And I think you must have been surprised that he wrote a poem. I was surprised. I don't know him, but I mean, you're the professional poet. Were you surprised that he wrote a poem in prison?

Natasha Trethewey: I was very surprised. He actually wrote a couple. That's the only one that I print in the book, but he was writing letters and meditations and poems when he was in prison. That one was particularly moving to me because it had never occurred to me, and when I was thinking about my own grief and the burden of this history that we share, that he was carrying the added burden of being named the same name as the man who murdered our mother.

Terry Gross: You wrote a poem about your brother leaving prison. It's called "Benediction." I'd like you to read that for us.

Natasha Trethewey: Yes, I'd be happy to.

(Reading) "Benediction." I thought that when I saw my brother walking through the gates of the prison, he would look like a man entering his life, and he did. He carried a small bag, holding it away from his body, as if he would not touch it, or that it weighed almost nothing.

The clothes he wore seemed to belong to someone else, like hand-me-downs given a child who will one day grow into them. Behind him at the fence, the inmates were waving, someone saying all right now. And then my brother was walking toward us, a few awkward steps at first, until he got it, how to hold up the too-big pants with one hand, and in the other, carry everything else he had.

Terry Gross: Was there anything that helped your brother get through his time in prison?

Natasha Trethewey: Well, the thing that really helped him get through was that he had a kind of faith in justice. I mean, my brother's not a religious person, really, either, but he could have faith in human beings to do the just thing.

He also told me that he got through by writing, knowing that he was contributing to this project, that his words would matter, and his story.

Terry Gross: To what project, your book?

Natasha Trethewey: That's right.

Terry Gross: Is that why he wrote?

Natasha Trethewey: I told him that I was working on the book, and that I needed to know as much about his experience as I could. And so he started writing some things that he thought would be useful for me, but then, because he was doing that, he started writing these other things, as well, like poetry, that he did not think would have anything to do with what I was writing.

And he didn't know that nor did I, at the time, that I would use anything directly written by him. So once he got into the habit of trying to write things to me about his past or what he remembered of our family from when he was growing up, he also, on the other hand, started writing poems and doing things for himself that helped to get him through. And, of course, they became things that I do use in the book.

Terry Gross: So it's nice that this book was kind of a collaborative project with your brother, even though you were physically separated.

Natasha Trethewey: Yeah. That's right.

Terry Gross: Is he still writing?

Natasha Trethewey: He is still writing. He was given a lovely journal from a good friend of mine as a get-out-of-prison gift, and so since then, he's been writing his thoughts in it. And I'm trying to encourage him to, you know, maybe let some of us see what he's writing. But he hasn't done that yet. (Soundbite of laughter)

Terry Gross: Okay. What is he doing now?

Natasha Trethewey: He is looking for work, seeing his parole officer, taking classes at the community college toward his GED. It's been hard for him to find work. You know, he's got to check the box that says he was a convicted felon.

Terry Gross: . . . During the first year that you were a Pulitzer Prize winner and you were getting, you know, more attention than you were used to, once you found out about your brother's incarceration did you try to like, keep that quiet while being interviewed? Did you try not to call attention to it?

Natasha Trethewey: Well, I did. I worried very much about whether or not people would judge my brother for that. And even when I started writing this book, or writing at least the finishing, the second half when everything changed, when I found out that he was going to prison, I had a hard time writing it because I felt that I needed to explain to someone, to this imaginary reader, the entire storyfrom the moment he was bornso that people would empathize with him. And so that really kept me from being able to write for a long time. 

I don't worry about that as much now. I think that there are so many people who have difficult stories like this in families, and that people are not simply waiting to sit in judgment, but instead are open to tryingunderstand how people feel despair and pushed to make difficult decisions that may not be the best ones.

Terry Gross: So what convinced you to tell his story in your book?

Natasha Trethewey: Well, it took so long for me to be able to see that telling his story would be useful, not only to give voice to his own experience, but actually, as a way of allowing his story to speak for the countless people whose stories aren't being told. My fear was that he would be judged and that people would simply think well, you know, this is a drug dealer, this is just who this guy is. And I even said, I said this to my agent and I said this to my editor, and finally, one of them said to me, you're trying to convince people who can't be convinced. And then the people who are going to think he's just a drug dealer aren't going to be changed by anything you have to say, nor are they going to read the book. (Soundbite of laughter)

That's what they told me. And once I felt a little freer, that I didn't have to explain over and over again what a good guy he is and that he hadn't had this happen and this happen and this happen he never would've done this. But it was really difficult. I even think he worried about it. And I think he's so happy and so relieved now that it's not a secret, that the story is out, that people already know before they ever meet him, so that he doesn't have to try to, you know, skirt around any details of his life or what hewhen people ask him what do you do or, you know, that kind of thing. 

Terry Gross: . . . I'm just thinking that at the same time you won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2007, your brother was arrested for carrying cocainecarrying it for somebody else, but carrying it. And it's a kind of thing where like it's so parallel that you wouldn't write that in a story because it would seem contrived.

Natasha Trethewey: Right.

Terry Gross: I just wonder what you make of the simultaneity or near simultaneity of that, and what it has to say about your lives.

Natasha Trethewey: Well, oddly enough, before I knew about that, I kept thinking about another bit of simultaneity, and that was that ten days shy of my mother's 41st birthday she was murdered. And ten days shy of my 41st birthday I won the Pulitzer. So I was very mindful of that strange coincidence that, you know, in this point in both of our lives this is I what we've come to. So a year later, when I found out that my brother had gotten arrested, it was in many ways, another ripple or echo of this family story.

I mean, you know, people think of prison as social death. So whereas my mother was literally dead, my brother was about to enter into a kind of social death at the exact moment that I was having a resurrection of sorts. And I am the kind of person that's always sort of putting these things together and attaching meaning and extracting things from them, so this was so huge in my mind because, you know, my name is Natasha, which means, you know, it's the diminutive in Russian of Natalia, which mean Christmas child but it's also the diminutive of Anastasia, from the Greek, which means resurrection. And so there I was seeing myself as the resurrection child and, you know, my mother and my brother, quite the opposite of that.

You're right when you say, you know, if you were to write it, it would seem too contrived and yet, indeed, it seems to have been a pattern already in my life.

Terry Gross: So does it make you guilty that you got the Pulitzer at exactly the time in your life that your mother was murdered and you got the Pulitzer at the same time your brother was arrested? Do you feel like it's just, you know, unfair that like, I'm not even sure . . .

Natasha Trethewey: Yeah.

 Terry Gross: Yeah.

Natasha Trethewey: I think I do feel a good measure of guilt. I've carried with me a lot of survivor's guilt, I think, and the coincidence of what happened to me before my 41st birthday and mother's 41st birthday really highlights that for me. And with my brother, I think I, I definitely feel that. It seems so unfair to me that you could come from the same household and yet have such dramatically different lives.

Terry Gross: But you didn't quite come from the same household.

Natasha Trethewey: No, it's true. We didn't. I knowthat's right. I guess I feel guilty that I couldn't protect [him] from it. When she died, you know, because I was seven years older than him, my brother began to look to me as a kind of a surrogate mother. I was the one that he clung to in that way. And yet, I couldn't mother him or protect him in the way in which I could have. And when he was in prison, I think that was really so difficult and yet, you know, I'm always looking back at the failures. And for me, one of my failures during that time, was the kind of responses that I gave to him. 

I mean my brother was writing to me. He would call and, you know, I would never miss a phone call. I'd do everything I canI could to be there for a phone call, if he needed anything I would send it. You know, along with his girlfriend Aisha, I worked tirelessly calling and emailing the commissioner of prisons in the state of Mississippi and other people in the office, you know, to get my brother released and to have him moved to the facility we wanted him to be in so that he could be close to family. All that kind of leg work, you know, I was willing to do. But what I never once did was write him a letter. And so . . .

Terry Gross: That seems so odd. I mean you're a writer.

Natasha Trethewey: I know.

Terry Gross: He started writing when he was in prison. Why didn't you write him?

Natasha Trethewey: Terry, I do not know. And once it hit me, it felt like the worst betrayal ever. And one of the first things I did when he was out was to sit him down and apologize for it. And he, you know, not once when he was there did he, you know, ask me to. And I know now that it probably hurt him deeply and I don't know why it didn't occur to me. It didn't occur to me at all.

Terry Gross: . . . You grew up fearing hurricanes. You were three when Hurricane Camille hit the Gulf Coast and that was a very destructive hurricane, though not as destructive as Katrina. What are your memories as a three-year-old of Camille?

Natasha Trethewey: What I remember and I think I remember this, you know, sometimes we have memories that are given to us because the stories have been told so often in families. But it seems so vivid to me the storm hitting us and rain pouring in through the roof and my mother and father and grandmother and uncle running from room to room trying to catch as much water as possible with pots and the hurricane lamps lit. My mother and grandmother, sort of terrified and praying out loud as it rained through the hallways. And then I remember just sort of seeing the house the next day and the destruction at the church that was across the street.

Terry Gross: You know, you describe in your book what it was like as a child every year to see, to turn on the TV and see footage of Hurricane Camille and how frightening it was to you. And it made me think about all the children growing up now in the Gulf, who for the last five years, you know, first they witness Katrina and then every year they watch it again on television.

Natasha Trethewey: Mm-hmm.

Terry Gross: And how disturbing that must be to relive it every year.

Natasha Trethewey: Yeah. You know, it's as if that what is supposed to keep you safe is this imagery that you have to look at again and again. And what I've been wondering is, if the children of Katrina will respond differently to the threat of natural disaster than those of us who were the children of Camille. I mean so many people who managed to ride out Camille and with their homes, for the most part, intact, had a kind of fearlessness when Katrina was bearing down. You know, my grandmother was one of them, thinking that Camille was the worst thing that could've happened to us, so why be afraid of this hurricane that's coming? And yet, it was worse.

Terry Gross: You know, in your book, Beyond Katrina, you write that, you know, your grandmother was a God-fearing woman and when Hurricane Camille destroyed the church across the street but only partially destroyed your grandmother's home, she took that as a message - what was the message from God that she interpreted?

Natasha Trethewey: Well, she felt that she had been spared and having been spared, had a greater call to duty. And so began to do as much as she could for the church. For example, making the draperies, these huge red velvet draperies for the baptismal font. She also allowed the church to park its bus in her driveway. The church didn't have its own driveway. She became even more devoted because she thought she had been spared.

Terry Gross: Is that the church she was buried in?

Natasha Trethewey: Yes.

Terry Gross: You describe yourself as not a religious person. But do you ever wish that you could have religion like your grandmother did and therefore, find some kind of holy meaning in the most horrible things that have happened?

Natasha Trethewey: I think, you know, she had such a faith and I understood it as a great comfort to her. And there are times that I think that I wish I had such a comfort.

I remember when she was being remembered at her service, the preacher looking directly at me and saying, grieve not as others grieve. He was sermonizing about how the faithful don't have the same kind of grief, because they know that there is something else. And so I felt indicted as he looked at me and said grieve not as others grieve, as if he was pointing to me and saying, I know that you are not the faithful and because of that you have a different kind of grief, the wrong kind.

Terry Gross: And were you changed by that at all?

Natasha Trethewey: Oh, I was angry.

Terry Gross: Angry at him for making you feel that way when you were grieving.

Natasha Trethewey: Yes. I . . .

Terry Gross: As if there were a wrong kind of grief.

Natasha Trethewey: I think I wanted remembrance of her and I wanted comfort. I mean, I think funeral services are for the living in some ways. They are to remember the dead, but in the face of the living, beloved. And so I didn't feel comforted.

Terry Gross: Not to make things too pat, but I think by writing poetry you're kind of extracting meaning from things.

Natasha Trethewey: Oh, I think so. I mean . . . (Soundbite of laughter)

Natasha Trethewey: . . . there's a poem in which I even talk about something that's a kind of faith. I think poetry is always a kind of faith. It is the kind that I have. It is what can offer solace, meaning, but also makes sense of even this liturgical language in a secular way that allows me to understand these events.

Terry Gross: Natasha Trethewey, I really wish the best to you and to your brother. And thank you very much for speaking to us and for reading some of your poetry.

Natasha Trethewey: Thank you, Terry. It was good to talk to you.

Terry Gross: Natasha Trethewey's new book of prose and poetry is called Beyond Katrina: A Mediation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. You can hear her read another poem and you can read an excerpt of her book on our website,

Source: NPR

*   *   *   *   *

Elegy for the Native Guards

Now that the salt of their blood
Stiffens the saltier oblivion of the sea . . —Allen Tate

We leave Gulfport at noon; gulls overhead
trailing the boat—streamers, noisy fanfare—
all the way to Ship Island. What we see
first is the fort, its roof of grass a lee—
half reminder of the men who served there—
a weathered monument to some of the dead.

Inside we follow the ranger, hurried
though we are to get to the beach. He tells
of graves lost in the Gulf, the island split
in half when Hurricane Camille hit,
shows us casemates, cannons, the store that sells
souvenirs, tokens of history long buried.

The Daughters of the Confederacy
has placed a plaque here, at the fort's entrance—
each Confederate soldier's name raised hard
in bronze; no names carved for the Native Guards—
2nd regiment, Union men, black phalanx.
What is monument to their legacy?

All the grave markers, all the crude headstones—
water—lost. Now fish dart among their bones,
and we listen for what the waves intone.
Only the fort remains, near forty feet high
round, unfinished, half-open to the sky,
the elements—wind, rain—God's deliberate eye.

Source: Southern Spaces

*   *   *   *   *

Theories of Time and Space

You can get there from here, though
there’s no going home.

Everywhere you go will be somewhere
you’ve never been. Try this:

head south on Mississippi 49, one—
by-one mile markers ticking off

another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion—dead end

at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
rigging of shrimp boats are loose stitches

in a sky threatening rain. Cross over
the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand

dumped on the mangrove swamp—buried
terrain of the past. Bring only

what you must carry—tome of memory,
its random blank pages. On the dock

where you board the boat for Ship Island,
someone will take your picture:

the photograph—who you were—
will be waiting when you return.

Source: Southern Spaces

*   *   *   *   *


Today the ants are busy

beside my front steps, weaving

in and out of the hill they're building.

I watch them emerge and—

like everything I've forgotten—disappear

into the subterranean, a world

made by displacement. In the cemetery

last June, I circled, lost—

weeds and grass grown up all around—

the landscape blurred and waving.

At my mother's grave, ants streamed in

and out like arteries, a tiny hill rising

above her untended plot. Bit by bit,

red dirt piled up, spread

like a rash on the grass; I watched a long time

the ants' determined work,

how they brought up soil

of which she will be part,

and piled it before me. Believe me when I say

I've tried not to begrudge them

their industry, this reminder of what

I haven't done. Even now,

the mound is a blister on my heart,

a red and humming swarm.

Source: PBS

*   *   *   *   *

In Verse: Congregation, Witness

In Verse is a multi-media project that combines poetry, photography and audio footage to create "documentary poems" for radio, the web, print and iPhone. This installment of features Pulitzer Prize winning poet Natasha Trethewey, photographer Joshua Cogan and producer Lu Olkowski as they cover the ongoing recovery on the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.

In Verse comes to you from Public Radio Makers Quest 2.0, an initiative of AIR, the Association of Independents in Radio, Incorporated. This project is made possible with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. In Verse is also generously supported by Virginia Quarterly Review. Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen is the broadcast partner for In Verse. In Verse was created by Ted Genoways and Lu Olkowski.Vimeo

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Watch a video of Natasha Trethewey's reading at Emory University on May 8, 2007 in honor of her Pulitzer Prize.

Poet Natasha Trethewey was born in Gulfport, Mississippi. Her first poetry collection, Domestic Work (Graywolf Press, 2000), won the inaugural 1999 Cave Canem poetry prize (selected by Rita Dove), a 2001 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Book Prize, and the 2001 Lillian Smith Award for Poetry. Her second collection, Bellocq's Ophelia (Graywolf, 2002), received the 2003 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Book Prize, was a finalist for both the Academy of American Poets' James Laughlin and Lenore Marshall prizes, and was named a 2003 Notable Book by the American Library Association. Her work has appeared in several volumes of Best American Poetry, and in journals such as Agni, American Poetry Review, Callaloo, Gettysburg Review, Kenyon Review, New England Review, and The Southern Review, among others. She has a B.A. in English from the University of Georgia, an M.A. in English and Creative Writing from Hollins University, and an M.F.A in poetry from the University of Massachusetts. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Bunting Fellowship Program of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

She has taught at Auburn University, the University of North CarolinaChapel Hill, and Duke University where she was the 2005-2006 Lehman Brady Joint Chair Professor of Documentary and American Studies. She was a 2009-2010 James Weldon Johnson Fellow in African American Studies at Yale University's Beinecke Rare Books & Manuscript Library.

Her most recent collection is Native Guard (Houghton Mifflin 2006), for which she won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.

Her book of creative non-fiction, Beyond Katrina: A Mediation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, is forthcoming from the University of Georgia Press (September 2010), and her new collection of poetry, Thrall, is forthcoming from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in Fall 2012.

She is the recipient of the 2008 Mississippi Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts for Poetry and was also named the 2008 Georgia Woman of the Year. She will be inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame in Spring 2011.

Source: Creative Writing

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Beyond Katrina

A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast

By Natasha Trethewey

Beyond Katrina is poet Natasha Trethewey’s very personal profile of the Mississippi Gulf Coast and of the people there whose lives were forever changed by hurricane Katrina.

Trethewey spent her childhood in Gulfport, where much of her mother’s extended family, including her younger brother, still lives. As she worked to understand the devastation that followed the hurricane, Trethewey found inspiration in Robert Penn Warren’s book Segregation: The Inner Conflict in the South, in which he spoke with southerners about race in the wake of the Brown decision, capturing an event of wide impact from multiple points of view. Weaving her own memories with the experiences of family, friends, and neighbors, Trethewey traces the erosion of local culture and the rising economic dependence on tourism and casinos.

She chronicles decades of wetland development that exacerbated the destruction and portrays a Gulf Coast whose citizens—particularly African Americans—were on the margins of American life well before the storm hit. Most poignantly, Trethewey illustrates the destruction of the hurricane through the story of her brother’s efforts to recover what he lost and his subsequent incarceration.

Renowned for writing about the idea of home, Trethewey’s attempt to understand and document the damage to Gulfport started as a series of lectures at the University of Virginia that were subsequently published as essays in the Virginia Quarterly Review. For Beyond Katrina, Trethewey has expanded this work into a narrative that incorporates personal letters, poems, and photographs, offering a moving meditation on the love she holds for her childhood home.

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Domestic Work

By Natasha Trethewey

With poems based on photographs of African-Americans at work in the pre-civil rights era 20th-century America (not included), Trethewey's fine first collection functions as near-social documentary. In tableaux like "These Photographs" and "Signs, Oakvale, Mississippi, 1941," Trethewey evenly takes up the difficult task of preserving, and sometimes speculating upon, the people and conditions of the mostly Southern, mostly black working class. The sonnets, triplets and flush-left free verse she employs give the work an understated distance, and Trethewey's relatively spare language allows the characters, from factory and dock workers to homemakers, to take on fluid, present-tense movement: "Her lips tighten speaking/ of quitting time when/ the colored women filed out slowly/ to have their purses checked,/ the insides laid open and exposed/ by the boss's hand" ("Drapery Factory, Gulfport, Mississippi, 1956").

When Trethewey, a member of the Dark Room Collective (a group of young African-American writers including Thomas Sayers Ellis, Kevin Young and Janice Lowe), turns midway through the book to matters of family and autobiography, the book loses some momentum. But when the speaker comments on the actions of others, as in "At the Station," the poems correspondingly deepen: "Come back. She won't. Each/ glowing light dims/ the farther it moves from reach,// the train pulling clean/ out of the station. The woman sits/ facing where she's been.// She's chosen her place with care/ each window another eye, another/ way of seeing what's back there." Trethewey's work follows in the wake of history and memory, tracing their combined effect on her speaker and subjects, and working to recover and preserve vitally local histories.

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Bellocq's Ophelia: Poems

By Natasha Trethewey

Following up her debut, Domestic Work (2000), which included a number of historical monologues, Tretheway's short sophomore effort is a quiet collection of poems in the persona of a "very white-skinned black woman mulatto, quadroon, or octoroon," a prostitute in New Orleans just before WWI. The Bellocq of the title is E.J., the Toulouse-Lautrec-like photographer whose Storyville prostitute portraits, brought out from oblivion by Lee Friedlander, inspired Louis Malle's 1978 film Pretty Baby and now this sequence. A stanza that begins "There are indeed all sorts of men who visit here" predictably yet elegantly ends "And then there are those, of course, whose desires I cannot commit to paper." Yet this is not generally a sentimentalized account of a conventional subject.

Much more like Bellocq's artless, sympathetic and gorgeous portraits are lines like these, describing the "girls":

"They like best, as I do, the regular meals, warm from the cooks in our own kitchen, the clean indoor toilet and hot-water bath." While the trend of the first-person historical novel (think Wittgenstein's Nephew as much as Corelli's Mandolin) has passed, the best poems here fulfill the genre's mandate to spice up the period piece with intellectual frisson; Tretheway goes two-for-two by successfully taking on the poetically dubious task of working from art and making it signify anew. . . . Despite the book's brevity, expect review attention, as well as short items in glossies profiling Tretheway with the requisite provocative Bellocq reproductions. National Poetry Month reviewers wanting to take stock of recent poetry by African-American women might place this book alongside Harryette Mullen's Sleeping with the Dictionary . . .  and Elizabeth Alexander's Antebellum Dream Book.—Publishers Weekly

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Native Guard

By Natasha Trethewey

The frontispiece of Natasha Trethewey's Native Guard informs me she was born in Gulfport, Miss., that her mother was black and her father white. Reasonable deduction (assuming the "I" of the poems is the poet) tells me that, in her formative years, issues pertaining to her biracial heritage were exacerbated by Mississippi's legacy of oppression—its dark, buried history. In a region struggling to confront its past, how was a young poet supposed to learn to accept who she was? Trethewey's personal dilemma must have been awkward, full of tangled emotions and memorable embarrassments. It's the kind of background that has humbled many people into silence. And yet, for the purposes of literature, aren't these kinds of growing pains priceless? We should probably envy this poet's peculiar destiny.

Not only has Trethewey chosen speech rather than silence, she has chosen to express herself in verse. Given her material, she could easily write essays or a memoir. But she has a genuine gift for verse forms, and the depth of her engagement in language marks her as a true poet.

In Native Guard, Trethewey traces the buried history of the South to the point where her personal narrative begins. "In 1965, my parents broke two laws of Mississippi;/ they went to Ohio to marry, returned to Mississippi," begins a ghazal (a poem in two-line stanzas linked by a rhyme scheme) titled "Miscegenation." "My Mother Dreams of Another Country" jumps ahead to Trethewey's birth year and depicts her mother's distress: "This is 1966—she is married to a white man— / and there are more names for what grows inside her./ It is enough to worry about words like mongrel/ and the infertility of mules and mulattoes." 

The title poem is a 10-sonnet sequence in which the last line of each sonnet becomes a variant of the subsequent sonnet's opening line, creating a lovely, wreathlike effect. The graceful form conceals a gritty subject. "Native Guard" is a first-person narrative of an unnamed ex-slave who has joined the Union army to serve in an all-black regiment. The lines have a stately, chiming perfection. The circular form mirrors the bizarre circularity of circumstance that finds the narrator—once a slave—now guarding Confederates who have been captured and imprisoned inside the Union fort at Ship Island, Miss. The narrator compares his life in bondage to his life as a military officer, guarding the fallen rebels:

I now use ink to keep record, a closed book, not the lure of memory—flawed, changeful—that dulls the lash for the master, sharpens it for the slave. For the slave, having a master sharpens the bend into work, the way the sergeant moves us now to perfect battalion drill, dress parade.

Trethewey doesn't try to reproduce the way this character would actually speak. Whereas many poets would have spiced his monologue with dialect, she doesn't. Though a former slave, he is literate; he writes letters for his fellow soldiers. "I listen, put down in ink what I know/ they labor to say between silences." Trethewey gives her narrator a literary voice—the voice of a 19th-century writer practiced in the diction and oratory of his time, of Frederick Douglass's masterful autobiographies, a voice that echoes the rhythms of great Western poetry.

Trethewey has a gift for squeezing the contradictions of the South into very tightly controlled lines. A certain staid, formal approach is both her strength and the only possible grounds I have to criticize her poetry. Native Guard is a small book, containing mostly short poems, a few of which read like exercises. When poets find their voices, form and content intermesh seamlessly. One can still see Trethewey's technique and feel the influence of poetry workshops. One feels a bit let down when a poem sets up an interesting emotional crisis, then resolves it almost too quickly. One feels at times as though her poems are succinct for the sake of making them work, rather than fulfilling either the poet's memory of her experience or the reader's heightened expectations.

Trethewey's style is reserved, even cautious, though her subjects are emotionally charged, even violent. This creates an interesting dichotomy, especially in poems such as "Pastoral" with its touchy image of Trethewey confronting the great white Southern poets—Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren and others—while in blackface. Though this is her third book, Trethewey is still perfecting her voice and may have only scratched the surface of her remarkable talent.—Darryl Lorenzo Wellington, The Washington Post

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Charley Patton (1891-1934)

Grandfather of Rock 'n' Roll

Charlie Patton born Mississippi, April 1891 was an experienced performer of songs before he was twenty years old and was first recorded (Thankfully) in 1929. His influence is everywhere and was arguably the first of the greats. An influence on Son House, Tommy Johnson, Bukka White and without doubt Howlin' Wolf. We have to thank archivists, the likes of Harry Smith, that we can hear these inimitable songs today.

Some people tell me, oversea blues ain't bad

It must not been the oversea blues I had

Everyday seem like murder here

(My god, I'm no sheriff)

I'm going to leave tomorrow,

I know you don't bid my care

I ain't going down no dirt road by myself

If I don't carry my rider, going to carry someone else

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I'm going away to where I'm known

I'm worried now but I won't be worried long

My rider got somethin' she try to keep it hid

Lord, I got somethin' find that somethin' with

I feel like chopping, chips flying everywhere

I've been to the Nation, lord, but I couldn't stay there

Charlie Patton was the first great Delta bluesman; from him flowed nearly all the elements that would comprise the region's blues style. Patton had a coarse, earthy voice that reflected hard times and hard living. His guitar style—percussive and raw—matched his vocal delivery. He often played slide guitar and gave that style a position of prominence in Delta blues.

Patton's songs were filled with lyrics that dealt with issues like social mobility (pony Blues), imprisonment (“High Sheriff Blues”), nature (“High Water Blues”), and morality (“Oh Death”) that went far beyond traditional male-female relationship themes. Patton defined the life of a bluesman. He drank and smoked excessively. He reportedly had a total of eight wives. He was jailed at least once. He traveled extensively, never staying in one place for too long.

Charley Patton was "the" delta blues man of course, his playing was raw and expressive, a distinctive style, rather dissident to the other blues players of the time. A monument! The Dockery farm was the sawmill and cotton plantation where Charley and his family lived from 1900 onwards.

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Charley PattonSpoonful Blues (A song about cocaine, 1929)

Spoonful Blues

(spoken: I'm about to go to jail about this spoonful)
In all a spoon', 'bout that spoon'
The women goin' crazy, every day in their life 'bout a . . .
It's all I want, in this creation is a . . .
I go home (spoken: wanna fight!) 'bout a . . .
Doctor's dyin' (way in Hot Springs !)
just 'bout a . . .
These women goin' crazy every day in their life 'bout a . . .
Would you kill a man dead? (spoken: yes, I will!) just 'bout a . . .
Oh babe, I'm a fool about my . . .
(spoken: Don't take me long!) to get my . . .
Hey baby, you know I need my . . .
It's mens on Parchman (done lifetime) just 'bout a...
Hey baby, (spoken: you know I ain't long) 'bout my. . .
It's all I want (spoken: honey, in this creation) is a . . .
I go to bed, get up and wanna fight 'bout a . . .
(spoken: Look-y here, baby, would you slap me? Yes I will!) just 'bout a...
Hey baby,
(spoken: you know I'm a fool a-)
'bout my . . .

Would you kill a man?
(spoken: Yes I would, you know I'd kill him)
just 'bout a . . .
Most every man (spoken: that you see is)
fool 'bout his . . .
(spoken: You know baby, I need)
that ol' . . .Hey baby,
(spoken: I wanna hit the judge 'bout a)
'bout a . . .
(spoken: Baby, you gonna quit me? Yeah honey!)
just 'bout a . . .
It's all I want, baby, this creation is a...
(spoken: look-y here, baby, I'm leavin' town!)
just 'bout a . . .
Hey baby, (spoken: you know I need)
that ol' . . .
(spoken: Don't make me mad, baby!)
'cause I want my . . . Hey baby, I'm a fool 'bout that...
(spoken: Look-y here, honey!)
I need that . . .
Most every man leaves without a...
Sundays' mean (spoken: I know they are)
'bout a . . .

Hey baby, (spoken: I'm sneakin' around here)
and ain't got me no . . .
Oh, that spoon', hey baby, you know I need my . . .

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Charlie Patton—Shake it and Break it  / Charlie Patton—Revenue Man Blues' (1934)

Charlie PattonGoing To Move To Alabama (1929) / Charlie Patton and Bertha Lee—Yellow Bee (1934)

Charlie PattonPoor Me (1934) / Charlie PattonI'm Goin' Home

Charlie Patton—Some These Days I'll Be Gone (1929) / Charlie Patton—When Your Way Gets Dark (1929)

Charlie Patton—You're Gonna Need Somebody When You Come to Die (1929)

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The Slave Ship

By Marcus Rediker

Guarding the Flame of Life / Strange Fruit Lynching Report

John Henrik Clarke—A Great and Mighty Walk

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mixed race-isims in the Caribbean—Mariel Brown

Indi Groove, which carries the amusing descriptive subtitle “It’s BBC meets MTV under the coconut trees,” presents the interview “mixed race-isims in the Caribbean_MARIEL Brown.” Calling it “a must see for all the ‘Curly Heads’, ‘Reds’ and “Douglas,’” the video focuses on Trinidadian director Mariel Brown’s observations on being of mixed race and a woman in her profession, specifically in the Caribbean. She speaks about how perceptions of her identity shifts according to the standpoints of her interlocutors and how, at times, this indeterminacy may be painful.

Mariel Brown is the director of the creative and production company Savant, and has been working in television and print since 1997.  She is the managing editor of the art books “Meiling: Fashion Designer” and “Barbara Jardine: Goldsmith.”  She has produced video features for TV6 and the WITCO Sports Foundation Awards, and her features and news reports have been broadcast on CNN and CARIBSCOPE.  Mariel is the creator and producer of “Sancoche” and “Makin’ Mas”—television series “designed with Caribbean content for a Caribbean audience.”  She is director of two documentary feature films: The Insatiable Season (2007)—which was awarded the Audience Choice Award for Best Documentary at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival—and The Solitary Alchemist (2009).

Filmed in England, Scotland, and Trinidad with an all-Trinidadian crew, The Solitary Alchemist is “a moving and intimate portrait of a life in art.” The film documents the life and work of artist Barbara Jardine, affectionately known as Barbie, delving into the artist’s intimate and professional life. The documentary also explores the transformative power of art as a way to get through pain.

The Insatiable Season: Making Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago traces the evolution of one of Brian MacFarlane’s mas bands from beginning to end. The Caribbean Review of Books describes it as “a film that, simply and appropriately, finds joy in the mundane romance of putting a mas together, from the conceptualising of the band to the construction of the costumes . . . and yes, in the end, to wining down to the ground come Carnival Tuesday. . . This is a highly enjoyable film, not least for the bits of candour it is so adroitly able to capture.”

Source: IndiGroove

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

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

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

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#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
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Life on Mars

By Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith, author of Life on Mars has been selected as the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In its review of the book, Publishers Weekly noted the collection's "lyric brilliance" and "political impulses [that] never falter." A New York Times review stated, "Smith is quick to suggest that the important thing is not to discover whether or not we're alone in the universe; it's to accept—or at least endure—the universe's mystery. . . . Religion, science, art: we turn to them for answers, but the questions persist, especially in times of grief. Smith's pairing of the philosophically minded poems in the book’s first section with the long elegy for her father in the second is brilliant." Life on Mars follows Smith's 2007 collection, Duende, which won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, the only award for poetry in the United States given to support a poet's second book, and the first Essence Literary Award for poetry, which recognizes the literary achievements of African Americans.

The Body’s Question (2003) was her first published collection. Smith said Life on Mars, published by small Minnesota press Graywolf, was inspired in part by her father, who was an engineer on the Hubble space telescope and died in 2008.

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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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Hopes and Prospects

By Noam Chomsky

In this urgent new book, Noam Chomsky surveys the dangers and prospects of our early twenty-first century. Exploring challenges such as the growing gap between North and South, American exceptionalism (including under President Barack Obama), the fiascos of Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S.-Israeli assault on Gaza, and the recent financial bailouts, he also sees hope for the future and a way to move forward—in the democratic wave in Latin America and in the global solidarity movements that suggest "real progress toward freedom and justice."

Hopes and Prospects is essential reading for anyone who is concerned about the primary challenges still facing the human race. "This is a classic Chomsky work: a bonfire of myths and lies, sophistries and delusions. Noam Chomsky is an enduring inspiration all over the world—to millions, I suspect—for the simple reason that he is a truth-teller on an epic scale. I salute him." —John Pilger

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Karma’s Footsteps

By Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie

Somebody has to tell the truth sometime, whatever that truth may be. In this, her début full collection, Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie offers up a body of work that bears its scars proudly, firm in the knowledge that each is evidence of a wound survived. These are songs of life in all its violent difficulty and beauty; songs of fury, songs of love. 'Karma's Footsteps' brims with things that must be said and turns the volume up, loud, giving silence its last rites. "Ekere Tallie's new work 'Karma's Footsteps' is as fierce with fight songs as it is with love songs. Searing with truths from the modern day world she is unafraid of the twelve foot waves that such honesties always manifest. A poet who "refuses to tiptoe" she enters and exits the page sometimes with short concise imagery, sometimes in the arms of delicate memoir. Her words pull the forgotten among us back into the lightning of our eyes.—Nikky Finney /  Ekere Tallie Table

Her Voice   / Mother Nature: Thoughts on Nourishing Your Body, Mind, and Spirit During Pregnancy and Beyond  

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Outlandish Blues

By Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

Jeffers derives her form and jaunty, deal-with-it attitude from the blues, an American tradition that beats back despair with wit, élan, and grace. Artfully distilled, Jeffers' musical and forthright lyrics cut to the chase in their depictions of self-destructive love, treacherous family life, and sexual passion turned oppressive or violent. She calls on her mentors, soulful musicians such as Dinah Washington, James Brown, John Coltrane, and Aretha Franklin, for guidance, then, sustained by their voices, segues into vivid imaginings of the inner lives of biblical figures such as Sarah, Hagar, and Lot's wife; a man about to be lynched; and a former slave bravely attending college. And whether she's singing the "battered blues" or critiquing Hollywood's depiction of slavery, Jeffers is questioning the nature and presence of God.— Booklist

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Red Clay Suite

By Honorée Fanonne Jeffers


In her third book of poems, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers expresses her familiarity with the actual and imaginary spaces that the American South occupies in our cultural lexicon. Her two earlier books of poetry, The Gospel of Barbecue and Outlandish Blues, use the blues poetic to explore notions of history and trauma.  Now, in Red Clay Suite, Jeffers approaches the southern landscape as utopia and dystopia—a crossroads of race, gender, and blood. These poems signal the ending movement of her crossroads blues and complete the last four “bars” of a blues song, resting on the final, and essential, note of resolution and reconciliation.

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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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posted 26 August 2010




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