ChickenBones: A Journal

for  Literary & Artistic African-American  Themes

   

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Coleman, long a front-line voice in the battle against America's seemingly endless supply of institutionalized

racism, sets her sights on store owners, academicians, and the brands of social hypocrisy particular to her home city:

"the intellectuals are walking/ around with Boy Scout knives/ buried in their brains/ while over three hundred

corpses a year/ are found rotting in Griffith Park."

 

 

 

Books by Wanda Coleman

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The Wondrous Wanda Coleman

Poems  & Stories She Writes

 

Bubble Eyes Declares War

this is the side I am forever on

arms were taken up at Avalon & Manchester

on a school ground two score & five years ago

i am still fighting the absent horde

of fairer-skinned mockers

who would not play with me because i was too dark

who stole my revengeful reports to God

& passed them around

& my writings caused so much disruption &

hurt so many mean little feelings that the

white teacher man had to intercede

to quell the violence, to dab away the angry tear

remove the fists from hard-pressed head

then when, skirts flying, they had returned

to 4-square and double dutch

he took me aside privately, stared at me

with those great wide gray eyes

then laughed, said i had quite a gift

to keep such papers at home or face

the principal & suspension & that some day,

if I had the conviction & the courage

i'd give something great back to my people

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I Ain't Yo Earthmama (2)

pardon me, but you're standing on my stomach

those aren't grapefruit you're squeezing

and certainly not papayas

and niggahplease don't you dare speak of coconuts

if you must insist that this is a gold rush,

there are planes hourly for South Africa & the Yukon

there's nothing beneath this sternum but

blood vessels rib bone & a significant muscular organ

which gives off no feelings unless malfunctioning

and when

you get tired of syphoning off my sweetwater

and pillaging my salt lakes maybe we might discuss

conservation and recycling

until then

i suggest adventure be omitted from the equation

this ain't the jungle, jim

so quit stickin' your tarzan in my jane

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Cold Water Canyon

the splash of bone cold reality

over me/sweet sun & shimmer

as B.B. King ear-fucks Lucile/blues my medulla oblongata

everything depends on me and everything is breaking

my butt. i take that sidewinding high

drive the honeysuckle aorta/make my way

down mountainside/a lovely exotic twist

curve after curve of brick red earth & lush green green

toward the tortured sky of home

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Holding the Sidewalk Down

                                                         after Shurli

it is an american universal peculiar to certain black men

who hang out on street corners no matter where

making signal to one another

some mysterious juju/communication

worshipping the passing of a life

that excludes them

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Jill

I spotted her on her way into the liquor store as I got into my car. I called, "Jill!" She hunched her shoulders, turned slowly, then came over. It had been twenty-odd years. She recognized me but not my name. I was a sucker for the sob in those tired, drab-olive eyes. The years had rode her hard. She'd been the prettiest gal in our colored junior high -- spun gold hair, gold skin and go-light green eyes -- that beautiful mix of cree indian and black made all the boys swoon. I wanted to yakkitty-yak old home week, but was in a rush. I insisted on her phone number and address. As she wrote hastily, she explained her life as two daughters and two failed marriages. I was busy bleeding sentiment and thought nothing of it when she hot me up for forty cents more on the price of a half pint. I gave her a dollar and waved. When i got home that night, I entertained the romance of bopping by her crib with a short dog and jawing over the world. I got out the note she'd written and looked at it closely. The feeling had not been mutual.

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Reviews

Coleman's poems are an act of liberation, meant to be experienced as something almost physical, like a punch or a whipping . . . She wants her language to express anger, to incite anger, and to shake all those who read it out of their complacency.—The Nation

The poems and prose of Coleman's sixth book,
Hand Dance , show a wry political awareness ("inside this poor person is a rich one / struggling to come out"), a streetwise knowledge of what it means to be black in urban American ("in the world I come from / violence is a language and a bullet / sudden insight"), as well as a heady sensuality. Black Sparrow Press

 

Coleman is best known for her "warrior voice." [But her] voice too can weep elegiac, summoning memories of childhood's neighborhoods her South L.A.'s wild-frond palms, the smog-smear of pre-ecology consciousness. Her voice hits notes as desperate as Billie Holiday's tours of sorrow's more desolate stretches. But it can also land a wily punch line as solid as that of a stand-up comic.—Lynell George, Los Angeles Times

Coleman is not just wickedly wise, she is transcendent.—The Washington Post

 

Review of  Mecurochrome

"I am an outlaw, they assert./ there's a ten-digit number stamped on my frontal lobe." This sprawling eleventh collection of poems from the Los Angeles-based Coleman finds her zig-zagging between continuations of series begun in American Sonnets and the 1999 Lenore Marshall Prize-winning Bathwater Wine, and grief-stricken ruminations written out of her son's early death from cancer.

Coleman, long a front-line voice in the battle against America's seemingly endless supply of institutionalized racism, sets her sights on store owners, academicians, and the brands of social hypocrisy particular to her home city: "the intellectuals are walking/ around with Boy Scout knives/ buried in their brains/ while over three hundred corpses a year/ are found rotting in Griffith Park."

The six sections of the book are sharply set off via subject matter, with the dream-shaped, long-form meditations on consciousness in "A Kingdom of Clouds" and the smoldering race-based critiques in "Metaphysically Niggerish" especially strong. An eighty-one page section of imitations and transliterations of poets from Ammons to Zukofsky (using Mark Strand's anthology The Contemporary American Poets as a source) serves as a different kind of departure point, as Coleman creates dialogs with mostly White poets through a close study and recasting of their own lines: "The academy of the future has closed doors. / It is unwilling books banned, curtains drawn." (after John Ashbery) The book's length at times dilutes the poetry's overall power, perhaps a by-product of Black Sparrow's insistence on long manuscripts from its authors, but this is a minor complaint.

In her mid-fifties, with a formidable collection of work already behind her, Coleman's emotional depth and battered, unwavering search for private and public levels of justice continues to expand. (Aug.) Forecast: Coleman has long published her novels (including Mambo Hips and Make Believe) short stories and many poetry collections with Santa Barbara-based Black Sparrow. This book will be well reviewed in the small-press community, and should generate larger-press interest in a selected or collected.—Publishers Weekly

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Wanda Coleman's Critique of Maya Angelou

and her book  A Song Flung Up to Heaven, Stirs Up a Storm

 

After four months of controversy, Los Angeles-based poet Wanda Coleman, recipient of the 1999 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the American Academy of Poets and a National Book Award finalist last year, wryly concedes that she's received more attention for one book review than for anything else she's ever written. One bad review, that is, of Maya Angelou's latest book, A Song Flung Up to Heaven, the third volume of an autobiography by "the Inaugural Poet."

In an April 14 book review in the Los Angeles Times, Coleman concluded, "Unfortunately, the Maya Angelou of A Song Flung Up to Heaven seems small and inauthentic, without ideas, wisdom or vision. Something is being flung up to heaven all right, but it isn't a song." She accused Angelou of writing a book full of "empty phrases and sweeping generalities . . . dead metaphors ("sobbing embrace," "my heart fell in my chest") and clumsy similes ("like the sound of buffaloes running into each other at rutting times"). The book has gotten some other poor reviews, but it seems that Coleman caused trouble by accusing Angelou of hustling the public, selling a skimpy book in large type and large hype at a high price, containing rehashed material and what may be exaggerated claims for a high-minded, race-conscious past.

But a writer like Coleman, whose works have titles that include Mad Dog Black Lady, Bathwater Wine, and Berserk on Hollywood Blvd., can't be all bad. The daughter of a ring-damaged boxer and a domestic who worked for movie stars in Los Angeles, Coleman is a tough, combative writer who has been described by poet Marilyn Hacker as someone who "displays a verbal virtuosity and stylistic range that explodes/expands the merely linear, the simply narrative, the straightforwardly lyric, into a verbal mandala whose colors and textures spin off the page." When Coleman says Angelou's prose is loaded with inept metaphors, she knows what she's talking about. Published by a small (now defunct) independent publisher, Black Sparrow Press, and a star of the poetry slam circuit, Coleman is someone who might be called an outlaw critic, and very much the opposite of the public Angelou, a high priestess of pomp and serenity.

The reassuring textures and nurturing tones that rise in Angelou's voice rankle Coleman, representing a facade that she equates with the author's success. "Maya has obviously made her choice. If you come and you make even the racists feel comfortable and you aren't asking for any fundamental [social] change, you're going to get a fat check," she told the Voice.

Coleman's review of A Song was so scathing that her editor at the L.A. Times Book Review told her that the paper had received a lot of letters, running pro and con, and she was disinvited to a book signing at Eso Won Books, the leading African American bookstore in Los Angeles. This shocked Coleman, and according to Eso Won co-owner James Fugate, many locals. Indignant readers across the country went listserv-crazy defending either Coleman or Eso Won.

"When the bookstore thing came down," said Coleman, "I said, 'That's too cold,' because Eso Won is a major center for black writers here." Randy Ross of the International Black Writers Association (IBWA) was organizing the Eso Won event to celebrate an anthology that includes Coleman called Griots Beneath the Baobab: Tales From Los Angeles. Coleman said, "I suggested he ought to go to the media. I contacted the PEN Center West, and Tim Rutten at the L.A. Times picked up on it, then the Los Angeles Sentinel." She wrote an account of the events in Ishmael Reed's Konch magazine, and the episode got on radio and TV, too. . . .

Coleman said, "I don't think it's negative to have a dialogue, as long as it's reasoned out. I also think when a game is being run, that it should be pointed out. We have a long history of running to each other's defense but there are some things that are indefensible." . . .

One reason for the controversy is simply that the review was in the L.A. Times, and to be seen mainly by whites. Black publications rarely print tough reviews, and those who write them in mainstream publications will hear from everyone involved. But most black publications are sensitive to the fact that black readers are famously thin-skinned, and so they rarely give any occasion to be deluged with e-mail. . . .

Coleman has a similar beef with those academics who are reluctant to examine the craft of writers like Angelou. "I've been called into classrooms to say 'amen' to her as a poet," she said. "I hate having to come in and disillusion a classroom full of youth, and say, 'This is not poetry, or at least it isn't good poetry.' You're called in during Black History month, not to illuminate anything but really to say 'amen' to whatever is going on at the moment. Instead of archetypes, we're getting new stereotypes."

Source: Thulani Davis Slam Queen vs. Inaugural Poet. VillageVoice.com / September 4 - September 10, 2002

*   *   *   *   *

Wanda Coleman was born and raised in a Los Angeles slum known as Watts famed for its August 1965 Rebellion. Following this ethnic insurrection she joined a teenpost and a number of organizations set up to channel the "riotous" energies of young Black Americans into constructive modes. A struggling welfare mother, she was determined to become a writer in spite of horrific odds. A brash, abrasive frank young woman, her few sponsorships were frequently aborted by her naiveté, her stubbornness or socio-economic contingencies. Yet, a writer she must be or "die in the effort."

Initially venturing into experimental theatre and dance, she backed into scriptwriting when a teleplay scored her a nomination for the NAACP Image Awards and she became the eighth minority member of the Writers' Guild of America, West. Later there would be an Emmy, but her romance with legendary Hollywood went the legendary way of disappointment.

Subsequent stabs at success bled literary fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and Guggenheim Foundation in poetry. She is presently employed as a medical secretary/transcriber and co-hosts "The Poetry Connexion," an interview program with Austin Strauss for Southern California's Pacifica station.

Wanda Coleman is the author of Mad Dog Black Lady (Black Sparrow, 1979), Imagoes (Black Sparrow, 1983) and Heavy Daughter Blues: Poems & Stories 1968-1986. A War of Eyes & Other Stories is her fourth book, though first collection of fiction.

Source: Heavy Daughter Blues: Poems & Stories 1968-1986.     

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Maya Angelou: The Art of Fiction No. 119 (Fall 1990)

Interviewed by George Plimpton

 

Maya Angelou: The language of all the interpretations, the translations, of the Judaic Bible and the Christian Bible, is musical, just wonderful. I read the Bible to myself; I’ll take any translation, any edition, and read it aloud, just to hear the language, hear the rhythm, and remind myself how beautiful English is. Though I do manage to mumble around in about seven or eight languages, English remains the most beautiful of languages. It will do anything.

George Plimpton: Do you read it to get inspired to pick up your own pen?

Maya Angelou: For melody. For content also. I’m working at trying to be a Christian and that’s serious business. It’s like trying to be a good Jew, a good Muslim, a good Buddhist, a good Shintoist, a good Zoroastrian, a good friend, a good lover, a good mother, a good buddy—it’s serious business. It’s not something where you think, Oh, I’ve got it done. I did it all day, hotdiggety. The truth is, all day long you try to do it, try to be it, and then in the evening if you’re honest and have a little courage you look at yourself and say, Hmm. I only blew it eighty-six times. Not bad. I’m trying to be a Christian and the Bible helps me to remind myself what I’m about. . . .

*   *   *   *   *

Maya Angelou

I'm fine as wine in the summertime

 

"My connection was with Hillary Clinton," she says. "I had watched her when she was the first lady of Arkansas. I thought this white girl would come to Arkansas and play croquet on the lawn and throw tea parties. And she was just the opposite. She worked on public health and education… even prisons. When her husband ran for the presidency and she said she was not going to bake cookies, I thought, 'I'm going to watch her for a while.'

"I told her then: 'If you ever run for anything, I've got your back. I'd never heard of Senator Obama. So when she said she was running for president I said, 'I've got your back.' "

When it became clear that Hillary could not win, some Democratic party grandees asked her to try to persuade Hillary to step down. "I told them, 'I'm backing her. I'll step down when she steps down.' When she stepped down, I went over to President Obama."

She concedes that she never thought America would put a black man in the White House in her lifetime. "In 100 years' time or maybe 50," she says. "But not now, no. I did not believe it could happen now."

With hindsight, how does she think it came about? "The terrorist action of 9/11 gave birth to President Obama's entry to the White House," she suggests. "Not directly but indirectly." She launches into a lyrical riff on Obama's campaign slogan, "Yes we can" which explains that that feeling of boundless possibility encompasses the best and worst of what the country has to offer.

"Yes I can. I can do whatever I want to do. I can do both the best and worst I can imagine. I can own human beings. I can have slaves. Yes I can. I can be the best human being ever. I can defeat slavery and segregation. Yes I can. I can be so cruel I can tax people out of their homes. Yes I can. I can have the greatest charities in the world. Yes I can."

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AALBC.com's 25 Best Selling Books


 

Fiction

#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 Eroticanoir.com 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

Non-fiction

#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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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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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.

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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

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

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