ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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she is a poet, who knows that poetry is music, and music is “the first place Black and White /

came together like unwritten notes / in a jazz composition.” In these poems Mary Weems

both challenges and embraces America in all its turbulence and beauty.



Books by Mary E. Weems

Public Education and the Imagination-Intellect: I Speak from the Wound in My Mouth  / Tampon Class

An Unmistakable Shade of Red & The Obama Chronicles

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ChickenBones Best Poetry Book of 2008

An Unmistakable Shade of Red . . . is the bomb. I found so many moments, so many moods, so many insights. Yours is the voice of compassion, of elegant rage.  It is country but urban-wise.Lamont B. Steptoe

Yes, this writer is a woman, who knows that “every mouth’s its own love language, / lust’s first cousin.” And yes, she is a black woman, for whom the eyes of Barack Obama “are so deep brown / I see blue in them, / ocean water, / bones rising, / right fists raised.” And yes, like the rest of us, she’s getting older, “hair graying in places / I shouldn’t have hair.” But beyond all divisions, she is a poet, who knows that poetry is music, and music is “the first place Black and White / came together like unwritten notes / in a jazz composition.” In these poems Mary Weems both challenges and embraces America in all its turbulence and beauty. We should be grateful.—George Bilgere, author of Haywire

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Mary Weems on YouTube

reading from her new book

An Unmistakable Shade of Red & The Obama Chronicles

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Don’t Walk


Crosswalks don’t have word-signs

anymore—something about illiteracy

and more and more people who come

here unable to read or speak English

like most of us who’ve been

here too long.


If you don’t understand “Don’t Walk”

you’ll understand this:

a red hand appears,

flashes three times

freezes in mid air just before

cars whiz by like flies

after a cow in the country.


When it’s time to leave the curb,

a naked white man makes the hand

disappear, like Indians in America—

appears to walk fast like time,

lets everyone know

who’s in charge.


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             Tuesday, June 3, 2008


                            By Mary E. Weems


Looka here! Say it Loud, I’m Black

and I’m proud, no  matter hard you try

you can’t stop me now. James Brown

DJs in Heaven, his splits deeper, his

scream love talk, all around him the party’s

up there—Phyllis Wheatley Boogaloos

with DuBois, King prays for the brotha, Malcolm

smiles and writes, 3 of the Temps, Marvin, and Miles Davis

tune up for a midnight concert.


On earth America wakes up early. In one-hour Champagne

and Rose sell out in the hood, rural towns,

the burbs where signs on doors mark places

Obama’s the guest who’s coming to dinner.

All bookies pay off, for once smiling

as money leaves their pockets faster

than the winners can say Barack Hussein

Obama. There’s dancing in the streets,

loud laughing, children dream of being

old enough to vote.


Shouts hesitate for a moment in throats open

with pride. We who’ve lived long enough to lose

heroes, continue constant prayer. It’s not

hate we’re afraid of, it’s what hate can do

to a moment.


The world is in the world watching. Colors

create one outfit to wear in November.

In his speech, all of his words add up.

He speaks of energy, transformation, and

uplift as if all we have to do is wish and work

and the American Dream will finally come true.

Mary E. Weems, Ph.D.--the eldest daughter of four, the mama of one daughter, Michelle E. Weems, and the blessed-to-be-with-him-wife/partner of James Amie-- is an accomplished poet, playwright, author, editor, performer, motivational speaker, and imagination-intellect theorist. Weems--proud to have been raised by her mama, and to be from a poor, working-class background, Mary started writing poems when she was thirteen to learn to love herself--has been widely published in journals, anthologies, and several books including Public Education and the Imagination-Intellect: I Speak from the Wound in My Mouth (Lang, 2003), developed from her dissertation which argues for imagination-intellectual development as the primary goal of public education. She won the Wick Chapbook Award for her collection in 1996, and in 1997 her play Another Way to Dance won the Chilcote award for The Most Innovative Play by an Ohio Playwright. Her most recent chapbook Tampon Class (Pavement Saw Press, 2005) is in its second printing. Mary Weems currently teaches in the English and Education departments at John Carroll University, and works as a language-artist-scholar in k-12 classrooms, university settings and other venues through her business Bringing Words to Life. Contact Professor Weems,, for readings and more information.

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A Poet and a Poetry to Reckon With

A Review by Rudolph Lewis

ChickenBones Best Poetry Book of 2008

Mary E. Weems. An Unmistakable Shade of Red and the Obama Chronicles. Huron: Ohio: Bottom Dog Press, 2008.

Writing poetry, Mary E. Weems pares down sociology to the social, to ancestors beginning with the stories of grandma and granny, to mama saying everything changes nothing, and daddy face down in the mud, to the self, a hole within a hole. Ideology is peeled down to the personal, to a tangerine attitude that engages the struggle to find meaning and play in the midst of absence and loss. An Unmistakable Shade of Red and the Obama Chronicles is a poetic tour de force, an act against erasure or again in the words of E. Ethelbert Miller, a “spiritual text” that outs deceptions and applauds change that moves us to higher ground.

Weems brings into focus scenes of our lives we “don’t need an expert to identify,” not only the abuse and rape of women and children, but also the ordinary and the great. There’s “a sistah” who waits tables with a “broken mouth smile.” There’s God in an unemployment line, where “patience drops on a counter/like a rock.” The problem of illiteracy within our communities is noted in which “crosswalks don’t have word signs.” There’s the shock of the beautiful and successful Phyllis Hyman (1949-1995). “In between songs she talks of life . . . several days later she ended a life I would have sworn was just beginning.”

History and the a-historical rather than erased are presented in delightful wordplay, especially in the use of Eugene Redmond’s poetic form, the Kwansaba. As in “Brother Wright . . . argues with God for forty cloud acres” and June Jordan dumps “word bombs . . . on all the ways the world needs to collect / rain change” and James Brown “writes freedom on wings” with “funk cologne.” In Weems’ poetry, the struggle for justice and hope is relentless. In “Young men with no legs,” a “black man walks time / each day another chance at chance.”

Weems’ technique in writing poetry is what most appeals. Nothing is superfluous. She strips down not just for precision but also for pleasing riffs and rhythms. When I read her poems I am encouraged to go back and take a second look at my own poems that tend to mean more with less. The starkness of her poems, the absence of watery sentimentalism in word choices, is filled with pleasing surprises and little shocks of imaginativeness. Weems’ An Unmistakable Shade of Red and the Obama Chronicles teaches as well inspires; a book of poems that will provoke many, many readings.

Weems’ approach to poetry gains its most focus in the latter third of the book, the “Obama Chronicles,” when she hones in on the earth shaking impact and possibility of a “real” black president. This section gathers up all the devices used in the preceding section of the book. For she creates these poems out of memories and experiences of family and community, out of play and that which gives black life its distinctiveness. There’s the daughter who “grew up with Black history/in the house like another family/member.” There’s Martin, Malcolm, and Moms Mabley, in heaven, listening to “debates in barber and beauty shops.”

Overall, it’s the sideways look that Professor Weems takes toward life that really intrigues. The last line of her poem “Nomination,” brings that in view. She says, “It’s not/hate we’re afraid of, its what hate can do/to a moment.”

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
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#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


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#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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Super Rich: A Guide to Having it All

By Russell Simmons

Russell Simmons knows firsthand that wealth is rooted in much more than the stock  market. True wealth has more to do with what's in your heart than what's in your wallet. Using this knowledge, Simmons became one of America's shrewdest entrepreneurs, achieving a level of success that most investors only dream about. No matter how much material gain he accumulated, he never stopped lending a hand to those less fortunate. In Super Rich, Simmons uses his rare blend of spiritual savvy and street-smart wisdom to offer a new definition of wealth-and share timeless principles for developing an unshakable sense of self that can weather any financial storm. As Simmons says, "Happy can make you money, but money can't make you happy."

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don't know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

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

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

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

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

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


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

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

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

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

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posted 10 September 2008




Home   Mary E. Weems Table

Related files: Say it Loud: Poems about James Brown   On Almost Meeting Alice Walker  Nomination