Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Visualizing Time and Labor in “the Big 7” Project

By Kenton Rambsy

At the 2019 MLA Convention in Chicago, I presented my findings from a year long data collection project. Working with Peace Williamson, I transformed "The Black Short Story Dataset," into a one-page interactive chart that visualizes the most frequently republished black short stories from 1925 - 2017. The visualization highlights the seven most frequently anthologized short story writers or "The Big 7."

What the "The Big 7 Visualization" doesn’t show, though, is the hours of labor that went into producing a short and concise document. There is a tendency to downplay human contributions to digital projects. There is very little discussion about how much time it takes to engage in DH research. This project made one aspect of DH painstakingly clear: digital projects are labor intensive.

This particular project took a total of 305 hours. A total of four people performed an assortment of tasks that contributed to its completion. Kukhyoung Kim, a graduate research assistant at UTA’s library of research data services transformed my hourly logs of this project into a visualization.

This graph offers a visual interpretation concerning the labor associated with creating “The Big 7 Visualization.” Anthology transcriptions accounted for the majority of the labor associated with this project. More than just transcribing tables of contents, we created a spreadsheet of specific information related to the authors and publication histories of the stories and anthologies.

If I had been working by myself, the time to transcribe the anthologies and perform other tasks would have taken much longer. I was fortunate to receive funding from UTA’s College of Liberal Arts iLASR grant to complete this project. Without funding, I would not have been able to hire graduate research assistants or use funds for a number of direct and indirect costs to complete this project. Ultimately, funding contributed greatly to my ability to complete a project of this sort in a year’s time.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Juan Ferreyra's masterful artwork on Killmonger

I've been reading Bryan Hill's miniseries Killmonger and in addition to enjoying the writing, I've been really impressed with the artwork by Juan Ferreyra. In nearly every issue, Ferreyra presents at least one, two-page set of images that dramatize the action of the narrative through the use of several different, interconnected panels. The most riveting one at this point appears in issue #3, but Hill and Ferreyra offered previous images like these to get us to this point.

[Related: Reading Bryan Hill in 2018]

From Killmonger #1

In issue #1, a scene shows Killmonger assuming the role of sniper and prepares to shoot his nemesis Klaw from afar. At the last minute, Killmonger is interrupted by a character Knight, who disarms him just before he can take an accurate shot. The sequence of actions are presented in 11 different panels, a few overlaying others providing us with close-ups of specific moves.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Black Short Story Dataset—A List of 101 Anthologies

By Kenton Rambsy

I recently published my dataset of 101 anthologies to the Texas Data Repository. The “Black Short Story Dataset” includes anthologies that contain short fiction by black writers. The following list presents the literary collections, by year, included in the dataset.

• 1925: The New Negro edited by Alain LeRoy Locke

• 1931: Readings from Negro Authors edited by Otelia Cromwell; Lorenzo Dow Turner; Eva Beatrice Dykes

• 1941: The Negro Caravan: Writings by American Negroes edited by Sterling Allen Brown; Arthur P Davis;Ulysses G Lee

• 1950: American Literatureby Negro Authors edited by Herman Dreer
• 1958: The Best American Short Stories 1958 edited by Martha Foley, David Burnett

• 1966: American Negro Short Stories (Black American Short Stories) edited by John Henrick Clarke
• 1967: The Best Short Stories by Black Writers 1899-1967 edited by Langston Hughes; Gloria Naylor
• 1968: Black Voices: An Anthology of African-American Literature edited by Abraham Chapman;
• 1968: Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing edited by Larry Neal, Amiri Baraka
• 1968: Dark Symphony: Negro Literature in America edited by James A Emanuel
• 1969: Black American Literature: Fiction edited by Darwin T Turner
• 1969: American Literature: Tradition & Innovation, Vol. 3 edited by Harrison T Meserole; Walter Sutton; Brom Weber

Categorizing Anthology Types in “The Black Short Story Dataset”

By Kenton Rambsy

The “Black Anthology Dataset” represents my efforts to collect anthologies that include short fiction by black writers. Even though all the anthologies contain short stories by black writers, the dataset contains various types of literary collections. To distinguish between the various contexts that black short stories circulate, I created various categories to assign to the different anthology types. My dataset includes 9 kinds of anthologies:

[Related: click here to see The Black Short Story Dataset—A List of 101 Anthologies]

Comprehensive African American Anthologies chart the entire field of African American literature from “the beginnings” to present day and include poetry, novel excepts, essays, play, and short stories.

Comprehensive American collections include writers from multiple racial and ethnic backgrounds, though most of the writers have historically been white.

Short Story Black Collections are exclusively devoted to short stories by black writers.

Short Story General Collections contain short stories by a variety of writers.

Special Topics Harlem Renaissance Collections specialize on the Harlem Renaissance era.

Special Topics Black Women Writers Collections focus only on black women’s writing and include anthologies such as The Black Woman: An Anthology (1970), The Sleeper Wakes: Harlem Renaissance Stories by Women (1993), and Revolutionary Tales: African American Women's Short Stories, From the First Story to the Present (1995).

Special Topics Black Literature Collections contain writings by black writers focusing on distinct genres or on special topics such as mystery, sci-fi, black identity with anthologies such as A Native Son Reader (1970), The Opportunity Reader (1999), and Gumbo: a celebration of African American writing (2002).

Special topics Women Writers Collections are devoted to works by women from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. Women Working: An Anthology of Stories and Poems and The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women (1985) are included in this category.

Special Topics General Collections are multiple genre collections that contain both American and international writers. The Riverside Anthology of Literature (1996) and Literature Across Cultures (1998) are included in this category.

These various categories of anthologies assist us in managing the large number of available collections. The categories also address some of the general aims of the books. Editors of Harlem Renaissance collections highlight prominent and lesser-known works by writers of that particular era. Black Women’s collections advance the idea that writings by black women constitute distinct frames or kinds of writing, and sometimes even include works that do not appear in comprehensive black or American collections. Ultimately, recognition of anthology categories means acknowledging distinct types of collections similar to how we identify types of literature – poetry, novels, essays, short stories, etc.

Visualizing the Big 7 – Data Driven Humanities
Discovering the Big 7: Black short story writers and publishing history
The Big 7 Tableau Public Visualization
African American Short Fiction & Data Driven Humanities (MLA)
A Dataset on Black Short Stories

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Lovalerie King in context

I wanted to share just a few short blog entries about my good friend, Lovalerie King, who passed away on December 22, 2018. I was mostly writing some reflections to share with her family. They knew her as a daughter, sister, mom, aunt, cousin, and so forth. I knew her as a colleague, exemplary scholar of African American literary studies, and most important, as a good friend.

Given her quiet and humble ways, I doubt she ever fully articulated to her family how important she was in our field and to so many people. That's what motivates me to offer a little context.

Starting at Penn State: Lovalerie King

Penn State colleagues Iyun Osagie and Lovalerie King

Lovalerie arrived at Pennsylvania State University in the fall of 2003, just as I was departing after securing a job at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. There was no major buzz about Lovalerie's arrival. Truth be told, I think people underestimated her. They didn't know how productive she'd be or all she'd accomplish.

I was fortunate to meet her as I was just starting out as a junior professor. She generously gave me advice and guidance on a wide range of issues that I was too naive or unaware to know I needed. Whatever the case, my abilities to gain broad views of African American literary studies as a profession and the places of black people in English departments were directly linked to my friendship with Lovalerie.  

She had paid close attention to shifts and developments in the field. She knew who was where. She knew the books, literary artists, and scholars one should prioritize while trying to navigate one's scholarly and professional life. And she had thoughts on what a black person out here should be thinking about while trying to make moves.

Early on, she pointed out to me that those mostly white departments at schools like Penn State rarely hired people like her - an older black woman who doesn't fit a certain, narrow definition of an important African American scholar, one with an impressive publishing record or one with indications of having a promising career. She persisted though,  and did exceptionally well.

She was a professor, yes. A scholar, yes. But above all of that, Lovalerie was, as we say, good people.

Her reputation as good people is what makes losing her so painful. A day after she passed away, scholar Dana Williams sent out a message saying, "We love you and will miss you, Val." I've read and spoken Dana's words aloud so many times at this point. So many of us loved Lovalerie and now miss her deeply.

Part 2: "'I'm a student of Trudier': Lovalerie King & that generation of exemplary black women lit. scholars

Lovalerie King in context
A Notebook on Lovalerie King

"'I'm a student of Trudier Harris': Lovalerie King & that generation of exemplary black women lit. scholars

Lovalerie King and Briana Whiteside, both students of Trudier Harris
One of the major, most productive scholars in the field of African American literary studies is Trudier Harris. In addition to publishing numerous articles and several books, she directed dissertations of an incredible number of students.

One of those students, of course, was Lovalerie. I was always fascinated by how she'd invoke Harris's teachings. It was usually after someone was surprised at Lovalerie pulling off some large-scale project. She'd retell a story to me, and she'd often conclude the stories the same way: "They don't understand that I'm a student of Trudier."

For Lovalerie, being a student of Trudier Harris meant being invested in thorough, high quality works by black folks. It meant she was supposed to acquire and continuously expand knowledge in various areas. It meant carrying one's self as a thoughtful sister-scholar.

It also meant keeping Harris's expectations in mind and imagining conversations with her about major decisions. "I knew what Trudier would say if I didn't," Lovalerie would tell me when I asked about one of her latest accomplishments.

When I first met Lovalerie in 2003, she told me that she wanted to eventually produce a large-scale project on a generation of black women literature scholars. Barbara Christian. Eleanor Traylor. Cheryl A. Wall. Maryemma Graham. Karla F. C. Holloway. Trudier Harris, and several others. She thought that these scholars had collectively done groundbreaking work during the 1980s and 1990s, and had not been adequately acknowledged for their contributions.

That generation of black women scholars was an inspiration to Lovalerie. They were a source of her strength. Her strength also came from her own long journeys.

Part 3: "I used to pick cotton": Lovalerie King and perspective

Lovalerie King in context
A Notebook on Lovalerie King

"I used to pick cotton": Lovalerie King and perspective

"I used to pick cotton," Lovalerie King once told me. I had been asking her how she maintains and keeps perspective in a field, profession, and job where she was constantly receiving slights. She was noting that in some ways her identity and experiences aligned her with a large number of black women scholars. So she was able to draw on the many lessons they had shared.

At the same time, she informed me, her route to and through the academy did not align with many of the black women in her age group and at universities in general. She had decided to pursue a career in the academy much later than almost all of her colleagues.

Many aspiring professors to college after high school. Well, Lovalerie was initially working to support her younger siblings and then her children and later still her ailing mother. So she first completed her undergrad degree after she retired from decades of work. She pointed those things out to me not as a way of showing she was exceptional. Instead, she wanted me to get a sense of where she was coming from, and why she carried herself as she did, sometimes at a distance.

Her timeline, therefore, was different from many of ours. That may have also explained why she was motivated to be so productive.

Part 4: Lovalerie King's incredible scholarly productivity

Lovalerie King in context
A Notebook on Lovalerie King