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No one will seriously dispute that, on occasions, critics have been generous

to Negro writers, for variety of reasons, but there is no evidence that generosity

has been the rule. Indeed, why should it be assumed that literary critics are

more sympathetic to blacks than are other white people?

 

 

Towards a Black Aesthetic

By Hoyt W. Fuller

 

The black revolt is as palpable in letters as it is in the streets, and if it has not yet made its impact upon the Literary Establishment, then the nature of the revolt itself is the reason. For the break between the revolutionary black writers and the “literary mainstream” is, perhaps of necessity, cleaner and more decisive than the noisier and more dramatic break between the black militants and traditional political and institutional structures. Just as black intellectuals have rejected the NAACP,1 on the one hand, and the two major political parties, on the other, and gone off in search of new and more effective means and methods of seizing power, so revolutionary black writers have turned their backs on the old “certainties” and struck out in new, if uncharted, directions. They have begun the journey toward a black aesthetic.

The road to that place—if it exists at all—cannot, by definition, lead through the literary mainstreams. Which is to say that few critics will look upon the new movement with sympathy, even if a number of publishers might be daring enough to publish the works which its adherents produce. The movement will be reviled as “racism-in-reverse,” and its writers labeled “racists,” opprobrious terms which are flung lightly at black people now that the piper is being paid for all the long years of rejection and abuse which black people have experienced at the hands of white people—with few voices raised in objection.

Is this too harsh and sweeping a generalization? White people might think so; black people will not; which is a way of stating the problem and the prospect before us. Black people are being called “violent” these days, as if violence is a new invention out of the ghetto. But violence against the black minority is in-built in the established American society. There is no need for the white majority to take to the streets to clobber the blacks, although there certainly is enough of that; brutalization is inherent in all the customs and practices which bestow privileges on the whites and relegate the blacks to the status of pariahs.

These are old and well-worn truths which hardly need repeating. What is new is the reaction to them. Rapidly now, black people are turning onto that uncertain road, and they are doing so with the approval of all kinds of fellow-travellers who ordinarily are considered “safe” for the other side. In the fall 1967 issue of the Journal of the National Medical Association (all-black), for example, Dr. Charles A. De Leon of Cleveland, Ohio, explained why the new turn is necessary: “If young Negroes are to avoid the unnecessary burden of self-hatred (via identification with the aggressor) they will have to develop a keen faculty for identifying, fractionating out, and rejecting the absurdities of the conscious as well as the unconscious white racism in American society from what is worthwhile in it.”

Conscious and unconscious white racism is everywhere, infecting all the vital areas of national life. But the revolutionary black writer, like the new breed of militant activist, has decided that white racism will no longer exercise its insidious control over his work. If the tag of “racist” is one the white critic will hang on him in dismissing him, then he is more than willing to bear that. He is not going to separate literature from life.

But just how widespread is white racism—conscious and unconscious—in the realm of letters? In a review of Gwendolyn Brooks’s2 Selected Poems in the old New York Herald Tribune Book Week back in October 1963, poet Louis Simpson began by writing that the Chicago poet’s book of poems “contains some lively pictures of Negro life,” an ambiguous enough opener which did not necessarily suggest a literary putdown. But Mr. Simpson’s next sentence dispelled all ambiguity. “I am not sure it is possible for a Negro to write well without making us aware he is a Negro,” he wrote. “On the other hand, if being a Negro is the only subject, the writing is not important.”

All the history of American race relations is contained in that appraisal, despite its disingenuousness. It is civilized, urbane, gentle and elegant; and it is arrogant, condescending, presumptuous and racist. To most white readers, no doubt, Mr. Simpson’s words, if not his assessment, seemed eminently sensible; but it is all but impossible to imagine a black reader not reacting to the words with unalloyed fury.

Both black and white readers are likely to go to the core of Mr. Simpson’s statement, which is: “if being a Negro is the only subject, the writing is not important.” The white reader will, in all probability, find that clear and acceptable enough; indeed, he is used to hearing it. “Certainly,” the argument might proceed, “to be important, writing must have universal values, universal implications; it cannot deal exclusively with Negro problems.” The plain but unstated assumption being, of course, that there are no “universal values” and no “universal implications” in Negro life.

Mr. Simpson is a greatly respected American poet, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, as is Miss Brooks, and it will be considered the depth of irresponsibility to accuse him of the viciousness of racism. He is probably the gentlest and most compassionate of men. Miss Brooks, who met Mr. Simpson at the University of California not many months after the review was published, reported that the gentleman was most kind and courteous to her. There is no reason to doubt it. The essential point here is not presence of overt hostility; it is the absence of clarity of vision. The glass through which black life is viewed by white Americans is, inescapably (it is a matter of extent), befogged by the hot breath of history. True “objectivity” where race is concerned is as rare as a necklace of Hope diamonds.3

In October 1967, a young man named Jonathan Kozol published a book called Death at an Early Age, which is an account of his experiences as a teacher in a predominantly Negro elementary school in Boston. Mr. Kozol broke with convention in his approach to teaching and incurred the displeasure of a great many people,. Including the vigilant policeman father of one of his few white pupils. The issue around which the young teacher’s opponents seemed to rally was his use of a Langston Hughes poem in his classroom. Now the late Langston Hughes was a favorite target of some of the more aggressive right-wing pressure groups during his lifetime, but it remained for an official of the Boston School Committee to come to the heart of the argument against the poet. Explaining the opposition to the poem used by Mr. Kozol, the school official said that “no poem by an Negro author can be considered permissible if it involves suffering.”

There is a direct connecting line between the school official’s rejection of Negro poetry which deals with suffering and Mr. Simpson’s facile dismissal of writing about Negroes “only.” Negro life, which is characterized by suffering imposed by the maintenance of white privilege in America, must be denied validity and banished beyond the pale. The facts of Negro life accuse white people. In order to look at Negro life unflinchingly, the white viewer either must relegate it to the real of the subhuman, thereby justifying an attitude of indifference, or else the white viewer must confront the imputation of guilt against him. And no man who considers himself humane wishes to admit complicity in crimes against the human spirit.

There is a myth abroad in American literary criticism that Negro writing has been favored by a “double standard” which judges it less stringently. The opposite is true. No one will seriously dispute that, on occasions, critics have been generous to Negro writers, for variety of reasons, but there is no evidence that generosity has been the rule. Indeed, why should it be assumed that literary critics are more sympathetic to blacks than are other white people? During any year, hundreds of mediocre volumes of prose and poetry by white writers are published, little noted, and forgotten. At the same time, the few creative works by black writers are seized and dissected and, if not deemed of the “highest” literary quality, condemned as still more examples of the failure of black writers to scale the rare heights of literature. And the condemnation is especially strong for those black works which have not screened their themes of suffering, redemption and triumph behind frail façades of obscurity and conscious “universality.”

Central to the problem of the irreconcilable conflict between the black writer and the white critic is the failure of recognition of a fundamental and obvious truth of American life—that the two races are residents of two separate and naturally antagonistic worlds. No manner of well-meaning rhetoric about “one country” and “one people,” and even about the two races’ long joint-occupancy of this troubled land, can obliterate the high, thick dividing walls which hate and history have erected—and maintain—between them. The breaking down of those barriers might be a goal, worthy or unworthy (depending on viewpoint), but the reality remains. The world of the black outsider, however much it approximates and parallels and imitates the world of the white insider, by its very nature is inheritor and generator of values and viewpoints which threaten the insiders. The outsiders’ world, feeding on its own sources, fecundates and vibrates, stamping its progeny with its very special ethos, its insuperably logical bias.

The black writer, like the black artist generally, has wasted much time and talent denying a propensity every rule of human dignity demands that he posses, seeking an identity that can only do violence to his sense of self. Black Americans are, for all practical purposes, colonized in their native land, and it can be argued that those who would submit to subjection without struggle deserve to be enslaved. It is one thing to accept the guiding principles on which the American republic ostensibly was founded; it is quite another thing to accept the prevailing practices which violate those principles.

The rebellion in the streets is the black ghetto’s response to the vast distance between the nation’s principles and its practices. But that rebellion has roots which are deeper than most white people know; it is many-veined, and its blood has been pulsating to the very heart of black life. Across this country, young black men and women have been infected with a fever of affirmation. They are saying, “We are black and beautiful,” and the ghetto is reacting with a liberating shock of realization which transcends mere chauvinism. They are rediscovering their heritage and their history, seeing it with newly focused eyes, struck with the wonder of that strength which has enabled them to endure and, in spirit, to defeat the power of prolonged and calculated oppression. After centuries of being told, in a million different ways, that they were not beautiful, and that whiteness of skin, straightness of hair, and aquilineness of features constituted the only measures of beauty, black people have revolted. The trend has not yet reached the point of avalanche, but the future can be clearly seen in the growing number of black people who are snapping off the shackles of imitation and are wearing their skin, their hair, and their features “natural” and with pride. In a poem called “Nittygritty,” which is dedicated to poet LeRoi Jones,4 Joseph Bevans Bush put the new credo this way:

… We all gonna come from behind those

Wigs and start to stop using those

Standards of beauty which can never

Be a frame for our reference; wash

That excess grease out of our hair,

Come out of that bleach bag and get

Into something meaningful to us as

Nonwhite people—Black people …

If the poem lacks the resonances of William Shakespeare, that is intentional. The “great bard of Avon” has only limited relevance to the revolutionary spirit raging in the ghetto. Which is not say that the black revolutionaries reject the “universal” statements inherent in Shakespeare’s works; what they do reject, however, is the literary assumption that the style and language and the concerns of Shakespeare establish the appropriate limits and “frame of reference” for black poetry and people. This is above and beyond the doctrine of revolution to which so many of the brighter black intellectuals are committed, that philosophy articulated by the late Frantz Fanon5 which holds that, in the time of revolutionary struggle, the traditional Western liberal ideals are not merely irrelevant but they must be assiduously opposed. The young writers of the black ghetto have set out in search of a black aesthetic, a system of isolating and evaluating the artistic works of black people which reflect the special character and imperatives of black experience.

That was the meaning and intent of poet-playwright LeRoi Jones’ aborted Black Arts Theater in Harlem in 1965, and it is the generative ideas behind such later groups and institutions as Spirit House in Newark, the Black House in San Francisco, the New School of Afro-American Thought in Washington, D.C., the Institute for Black Studies in Los Angeles, Forum ’66 in Detroit, and the Organization of Black American Culture in Chicago. It is a serious quest, and the black writers themselves are well aware of the possibility that what they seek is, after all, beyond codifying. They are fully aware of the dual nature of their heritage, and of the subtleties and complexities; but they are even more aware of the terrible reality of their outsideness, of their political and economic powerlessness, and of the desperate racial need for unity. And they have been convinced, over and again, by the irrefutable facts of history and by the cold intransigence of the privileged white majority that the road to solidarity and strength leads inevitably through reclamation and indoctrination of black art and culture.

In Chicago, the Organization of Black American Culture6 has moved boldly toward a definition of a black aesthetic. In the writers’ workshop sponsored by the group, the writers are deliberately striving to invest their work with the distinctive styles and rhythms and colors of the ghetto, with those peculiar qualities which, for example, characterize the music of a John Coltrane or a Charlie Parker or a Ray Charles.7 Aiming toward the publication of an anthology which will manifest this aesthetic, they have established criteria by which they measure their own work and eliminate from consideration those poems, short stories, plays, essays and sketches which do not adequately reflect the black experience. What the sponsors of the workshop most hope for in this delicate and dangerous experiment is the emergence of new black critics who will be able to articulate and expound the new aesthetic and eventually set in motion the long overdue assault against the restrictive assumptions of the white critics.

It is not that the writers of OBAC have nothing to start with. That there exists already a mystique of blackness even some white critics will agree. In the November 1967 issue of Esquire magazine, for instance, George Frazier, a white writer who is not in the least sympathetic with the likes of LeRoi Jones, nevertheless did a commendable job of identifying elements of the black mystique. Discussing “the Negro’s immense style, a style so seductive that it’s little wonder that black men are, as Shakespeare put it in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, ‘pearls in beauteous ladies’ eyes,’ ” Mr. Frazier singled out the following examples:

The formal daytime attire (black sack coats and striped trousers) the Modern Jazz Quartet wore when appearing in concert; the lazy amble with which Jimmy Brown used to return to the huddle; the delight the late “Big Daddy’ Lipscomb took in making sideline tackles in full view of the crow and the way, after crushing a ball carrier to the ground, he would chivalrously assist him to his feet; the constant cool of ‘Satchel’ Paige; the chic of Bobby Short; the incomparable grace of John Bubbles—things like that are style and they have nothing whatsoever to do with ability (although the ability, God wot, is there, too). It is not that there are no white men with style, for there is Fred Astaire, for one, and Cary Grant, for another, but that there are so very, very few of them. Even in the dock, the black man has an air about him—Adam Clayton Powell, so blithe, so self-possessed, so casual, as contrasted with Tom Dodd, sanctimonious, whining, an absolute disgrace. What it is that made Miles Davis and Cassius Clay, Sugar Ray Robinson and Archie Moore and Ralph Ellison and Sammy Davis, Jr. seem so special was their style.…

And then, of course, there is our speech.

For what nuances, what plays of light and shade, what little sharpnesses our speech has are almost all of them, out of the black world—the talk of Negro musicians and whores and hoodlums and whatnot. ‘Cool’ and all the other words in common currency came out of the mouths of Negroes.

‘We love you madly,’ said Duke Ellington, and now the phrase is almost a cliché. But it is a quality of the Negro’s style—that he is forever creative, forever more stylish. There was a night when, as I stood with Duke Ellington outside the Hickory House, I looked up at the sky and said, ‘I hope it’s a good day tomorrow. I want to wake up early.’

‘Any day I wake up,’ said Ellington, ‘is a good day.’

And that was style.

Well, yes.…

Black critics have the responsibility of approaching the works of black writers assuming these qualities to be present, and with the knowledge that white readers—and white critics—cannot be expected to recognize and to empathize with the subtleties and significance of black style and technique. They have the responsibility of rebutting the white critics and of putting things in the proper perspective. Within the past few years, for example, Chicago’s white critics have given the backs of their hands to worthy works by black playwrights, part of their criticism directly attributable to their ignorance of the intricacies of black style and black life. Oscar Brown, Jr.’s rocking soulful Kicks and Company was panned for many of the wrong reasons; and Douglas Turner Ward’s two plays, Day of Absence and Happy Ending, were tolerated as labored and a bit tasteless. Both Brown and Ward had dealt satirically with race relations, and there were not many black people in the audiences who found themselves in agreement with the critics. It is the way things are—but not the way things will continue to be if the OBAC writers and those similarly concerned elsewhere in America have anything to say about it.

(1968)

Endnotes

1. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, founded in New York in 1909 to empower and enfranchise African Americans.

2. African American author, poet, and lecturer (b. 1917).

3. Largest known blue diamond (112 karats); found in India and now held at the Smithsonian.

4. Amiri Baraka: poet, educator, editor, political activist, and award-winning playwright (b. 1934).

5. Martinican psychiatrist and author of several important critiques of racism and colonialism (1925–1961).

6. A nonprofit writers’ workshop in Chicago founded by Fuller.

7. African American jazz musicians.

*   *   *   *   *

Hoyt W. Fuller

1923–1981

Called by Addison Gayle Jr. “the voice of young black writers across the country who dared to differ … with … the mainstream of American literature,” Hoyt Fuller was a forceful critic of Western standards, practices, and awards in the arts and cultural practices of the United States. Born in Detroit, Fuller graduated from Wayne State University, where he majored in literature and journalism. Relentless in his pursuit of inequities of representation and reward where black America was concerned, Fuller sought to convince all black writers and cultural workers to formulate new African-inspired values and models of creativity.

When Fuller assumed editorship of the journal Negro Digest, the little magazine was devoted to collecting stories and news releases on black social, political, and athletic activities across the country. In 1970, after a few years as editor, Fuller changed the name of the journal to Black World. This name change reflected the editor’s commitment to making his own work and that of the journal an arm of the new Black Aesthetic. Fuller himself wrote reviews and scathing denunciation of what he considered egregious Western cultural erasures of black art and achievements. He published poems, essays, short stories, and forums by the new workers in the Black Arts and black power movements. Such writers as John A. Williams, Mari Evans, Etheridge Knight, Carolyn Fowler, Carolyn Rodgers, and Alice Walker found their bylines in Black World.

When Black World was threatened with discontinuation by Johnson Publishing Company, masses of black people assembled in the street outside the company’s Chicago office and burned copies of Ebony, its glossy black bourgeoisie magazine. But as pressures from the police and U.S. counterintelligence forces mounted, Johnson’s hand against Black World was strengthened; the magazine went out of circulation in the mid-1970s.

However, Fuller, joined by a committed group of black activists, founded a successor journal named First World. Volunteering time, money, and professional skills, the First World collective often found itself sleeping on the floor of Fuller’s Atlanta home and planning revolution over the only mean they could afford—pizza. The Atlanta home became an African mecca in the midst of a reactionary storm blowing across the land.

Black colleges and universities in Atlanta—always bastions of learning and respectability—refused to hire Fuller to teach. So he journeyed to Ithaca, New York, to teach at Cornell University. Much of his salary was plied into the work of First World.

In the book Journey to Africa, Fuller wrote cogently about one of the most significant times of his life. The autobiographical work anticipates the efforts of Alex Haley’s Roots by several years. Fuller’s account consists of three essays that outline the work of Pan-Africanism. Commencing with the observation that being “American” has often entailed a search for roots in Europe; Fuller describes how as a very young man he sought out African origins. In this quest, he joined such earlier Pan-Africanists as George Padmore and W. E. B. Du Bois.

Journey to Africa was released by Third World Press of Chicago, one of the new publishing venues of the Black Arts movement. An inspired editor and enthusiastic supporter of the Black Arts, Fuller served as an elder statesman for such cultural organizations as the Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC) in Chicago. He was also a key organizer for various Pan-African festivals and celebrations both in the United States and Africa. An indefatigable proponent for the emergence of a new African people in the Americas, he was found dead of a heart attack on an Atlanta street in 1981.

In his obituary for Fuller, historian Robert Harris proclaimed, “He challenged us to document and to preserve Afro-Americans culture, the bedrock of our experience in this country and informed at its source by Africa.

Note: The author of this bio-sketch is unknown.

*   *   *   *   *

Hoyt William Fuller Collection [1940-1981 (32 linear feet)]—Atlanta University Center/Robert W. Woodruff Library—Archives and Special Collections—Atlanta, Georgia—contains correspondence, manuscripts, publications, photographs, and memorabilia spanning his career until his death in 1981. His correspondence, both personal and professional, is copious and includes letters sent to and received from family, friends and literary associates. The manuscripts in the collection consist mainly of his published short stories, poetry, essays and lectures, including those written under the pen name "Bari Barrows." Finding Aid

 

Ellison on Hoyt W. Fuller, Negro Digest, and Black World

Ishmael Reed: You once wrote for Black World, is that correct?

Ralph Ellison: No, for the old Negro Digest; or more precisely, they reprinted a short story which appeared first in the New Masses. The Negro Digest was founded by Alan Morrison and George Norford, then with the coming of World War II, it was taken over by the founder of Johnson Publication. Black World is actually a metamorphosis of the Negro Digest.

IR: What would you say was the source of the conflict between you and the present editor of Black World?

RE: That’s a mystery to me, but the conflict is one-sided. I don’t know the man, and you can look high and low, but you won’t find an attack nor even an ironic comment coming from me. I suppose his motive is ideological.

IR: But, at the same time he’s lashed out at you, hasn’t he?

RE: Oh, yes, over and over again. He’s made me a sort of scapegoat. I don’t know why, but perhaps it’s simply because I’ve been around longer. And yet, there are older writers than myself who are still active. It could have something to do with my reputation; if so, I guess, it’s a matter of negative flattery.

IR: George Schuyler has been around, but they don’t even mention him. As you say, the conflict is ideological. What would you consider Fuller’s ideology to be?

RE: I suppose it’s some sort of Black nationalism—I almost said “Black racism”—but, whatever it is, it seems to have given him an Ellison phobia. All I know is that I’ve never replied to his attacks. My attitude toward this complex Negro American situation leads me to feel that there’s so little to be gained from our fighting with one another that there’s so little to gain from our fighting with one another that I can afford to ignore such attacks. I learned long before I became a writer that there were Blacks who preferred to put you down rather than try to understand your point of view. Either you agreed with them, or you were the enemy. Black ideologists complain that white people are always giving us hell, but, in truth, we get our first hell from one another.

We suffer chronically from Booker T. Washington’s “crabs-in-a-basket” syndrome: let one crab try to climb out, and others try to yank him back. But, perhaps this is inevitable. After all, we grow up in our segregated communities and have our initial contacts and contentions with our own people. So our initial conflicts are with those near at hand. But then there is the factor of race as it operates in the broader society. Following the Reconstruction, Southern Blacks in many localities were allowed to kill one another without too much fear of punishment, so people who didn’t dare lift a hand against a white man would give other Blacks hell. I guess we’re observing that tendency being acted out by today’s Black ideologists. They seem to hate Negroes worse than white racists.

But as I see it, we are part of the larger American society and thus subject to the same pressures and responsibilities that must be confronted by other writers. Sure, we can cling intellectually to the relative safety of what is now termed the “ghetto,” where it appears that there are no consequences to flow from our attacks upon one another, but I see this as but another form of the obscenity we have in the vicious crimes Blacks commit against other Blacks. There are bigger and more important targets for intellectual assault out there in the broader society.

Given the complexity of American society and the difficulties of art, I have always felt that it was more important for to learn how to write than to be a H.N.I.C.*—which seems to be the goal of certain Black critics. Instead, you keep trying to maser those ideas, those perspectives—wherever they arise—that will make the most sense out of your experience. Black ignorance has little to contribute to the achievement of freedom.

Source: The Essential Ellison (Interview)—Ishmael Reed, Quincy Troupe, Steve Cannon. Ishmael Reed’s and Al Young’s Y’Bird • Copyright © 1977, 1978 Y’Bird Magazine

*   *   *   *   *

A Memory of Roots

 By Hoyt W. Fuller

It might be encouraging—as well as ironic—to advocates of Negro History as a subject in school curricula to know that children in another part of the world will know our past. That this other part of the world is Africa is all the more fitting. In the Cameroun, for example, children will study the works of Negro writers from Phillis Wheatley to James Baldwin. And, in doing so, they will be able to recreate in their own minds the whole sweeping, bitter, violent saga of men and women from the shores of Africa enriching other continents with their blood and sweat and spirit. In the Cameroun, the production of suitable textbooks to serve this purpose will be a part of the task of Thomas L. Melone, professor of letters at the normal high school of the Federal University of the Cameroun. Mr. Melone, who is fluent in German and English—as well as in French and a variety of African dialects—is currently touring the Americas in search of material for his project. In the United States, he made the Grand Tour, traveling from New York City westward and southward, meeting en route contemporary writers and visiting historical landmarks associated with writers of the past. Later in the year, he will fly off to Brazil, that other American country stamped so indelibly with the genius of Africa. Mr. Melone’s travels will take him to the Caribbean, of course, and to the northern rim of South America. One imagines his journey to be endlessly fascinating and significant—characterized by discoveries and recognitions with touch and move the soul. And, finally, there is the practical achievement of having traced the children of Africa across the seas and found their descendants retaining still, in their art and literature, the memory of their roots.

Source: Negro Digest • March 1964 • Vol. XIII • No. 5

*   *   *   *   *

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

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

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

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

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

*   *   *   *   *

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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Ancient, Ancient: Short Fiction

By Kiini Ibura Salaam

Ancient, Ancient collects the short fiction by Kiini Ibura Salaam, of which acclaimed author and critic Nalo Hopkinson writes, ''Salaam treats words like the seductive weapons they are. She wields them to weave fierce, gorgeous stories that stroke your sensibilities, challenge your preconceptions, and leave you breathless with their beauty.'' Indeed, Ms. Salaam's stories are so permeated with sensuality that in her introduction to Ancient, Ancient, Nisi Shawl, author of the award-winning Filter House, writes, ''Sexuality-cum-sensuality is the experiential link between mind and matter, the vivid and eternal refutation of the alleged dichotomy between them. This understanding is the foundation of my 2004 pronouncement on the burgeoning sexuality implicit in sf's Afro-diasporization. It is the core of many African-based philosophies. And it is the throbbing, glistening heart of Kiini's body of work. This book is alive. Be not afraid.''

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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  www.ekeretallie.com  

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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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Natives of My Person

By George Lamming

Natives of My Person focuses on slave traders of the sixteenth century. The novel reconstructs the voyage of the ship Reconnaissance, which is led by a character known as the Commandant. To atone for his past cruelties and barbarism, the Commandant plans to establish a Utopian society on the island of San Cristobal. The enterprise fails for many reasons: fighting amongst the crew, loss of interest, greed, and an inability to erase the past. The novel argues that an ideal society cannot be built by those who have committed moral atrocities and unnecessary bloodshed in their past. . . . Although Natives of My Person has a historical setting and deals with the voyage of the Reconnaissance, a vessel ostensibly engaged in the slave trade, a specific historical phenomenon, it is only partly accurate to describe it as a work of historical realism. Its realist component is not to be found in its fidelity to period costume, living conditions, or similar revealing detail. Instead of the veneer of verisimilitude that such usages provide, the novel locates its realism in the way in which it elaborately recapitulates an outlook.

George Lamming: Contemporary Criticism

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Season of Adventure

By George Lamming

First published in 1960, Season of Adventure details the story of Fola, a light-skinned middle-class girl who has been tipped out of her easy hammock of social privilege into the complex political and cultural world of her recently independent homeland, the Caribbean island of San Cristobal. After attending a ceremony of the souls to raise the dead, she is carried off by the unrelenting accompaniment of steel drums onto a mysterious journey in search of her past and of her identity. Gradually, she is caught in the crossfire of a struggle between people who have "pawned their future to possessions" and those "condemned by lack of learning to a deeper truth." The music of the drums sounds throughout the novel, "loud as gospel to a believer's ears," and at the end stands alone as witness to the tradition which is slowly being destroyed in the name of European values. Whether through literary production or public pronouncements, George Lamming has explored the phenomena of colonialism and imperialism and their impact on the psyche of Caribbean people.

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Alexander Crummell: A Study of Civilization and Discontent

By Wilson J. Moses

This remarkable biography, based on much new information, examines the life and times of one of the most prominent African-American intellectuals of the nineteenth century. Born in New York in 1819, Alexander Crummell was educated at Queen's College, Cambridge, after being denied admission to Yale University and the Episcopal Seminary on purely racial grounds. In 1853, steeped in the classical tradition and modern political theory, he went to the Republic of Liberia as an Episcopal missionary, but was forced to flee to Sierra Leone in 1872, having barely survived republican Africa's first coup. He accepted a pastorate in Washington, D.C., and in 1897 founded the American Negro Academy, where the influence of his ideology was felt by W.E.B. Du Bois and future progenitors of the Garvey Movement. A pivotal nineteenth-century thinker, Crummell is essential to any understanding of twentieth-century black nationalism.

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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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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

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

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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

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posted 1 May 2009

 

 

 

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