Monday, October 20, 2014

Gina Washington, Leadership, Inspiration & Collegiate Black Women

Tuesday, October 7,Gina Washington, director of the SIUE/East St. Louis Charter High School, met with 22 first-year students (all black women) from SIUE. Washington discussed leadership and the rewards of pursuing a career as an educator.

Washington responded to a range of questions and spent considerable time talking with the students. She recalled her journeys from college student to bank teller to teacher to principal to director of the charter school. She also shared her experiences working with her staff, serving the needs of students, interacting with parents, and attending meetings with officials in East St. Louis and SIUE administrators (all those commitments often in a single day).

Washington is hip and energetic, students noted. She gave them a view of a high school educator that was not as common. In fact, her visit prompted some of the young women to begin considering fields of education for potential career options.  

A series of touching moments occurred after the talk. One by one, students approached Washington to ask her questions and seek advice about their own journeys. Washington gave the young women undivided attention and responded to their many queries.

First-year student Kali Pray speaks with Gina Washington.

Lauryn Fox. a first-year student, had three words to describe Washington: "Lovely. Intelligent. Inspiring." She went on to say, "I love seeing a strong black woman make it."

Nicola Paulette, a third-year student  who graduated from the Charter High School, noted what it meant to have Washington in her life. Paulette said that she was really inspired "seeing a black woman with an education who is using it for a good purpose." And because Washington "talks to me as if I could be in her position," said Paulette, she has begun envisioning herself working in the field of education.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Replacing "Slaves" with "Enslaved"

By Jeremiah Carter

Last weekend, I went to Cincinnati, OH, with a large group of SIUE students to visit the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. As if it weren’t enough to see where the Ohio R. separated Ohio (a free state—by only one vote) and Kentucky (a slave state), the Freedom Center offered a useful new way for me to discuss black people living in America prior to Emancipation. One of the museum guides, Christopher Miller, prompted me to use "enslaved" instead of simply "slave" when discussing people who lived in bondage.

While the spelling and syntactic differences in the words are subtle, their difference in implications are important. When we think of "slaves," most of us think of those with no will of their own; we probably imagine beaten laborers and individuals treated in some cases worse than animals—the visualizations are endless. However if we were to reconsider these individuals as “enslaved;" we acknowledge that slavery is an unnatural condition imposed on individuals.

By replacing “slave” with “enslaved” we subvert 19th century propaganda that advanced the idea that black people were naturally subservient, animalistic, and predestined to be tamed and to serve (some of which continues to be filtered into popular culture today). “Slave” also implies no past, future, hope of escape, or any other possible reality for enslaved individuals. “Enslaved,” by contrast, suggests that these were people who had pasts, futures, and the abilities to live autonomously, had the condition of slavery not be forced upon them.

No, we’re not playing the blame game—not yet anyway--, but isn’t it more accurate to suggest that these people were forced into an unnatural condition instead of identifying them as only objects?

Most Viewed African American Poems on Lit Genius

Lit Genius tracks views of raps and poems, so I was curious about the African American poems that were mostly widely viewed. After looking over nearly 100 poems, I came up with a list of 10 of the most widely viewed poems by African American poets on the site as of this morning. I provide the number of views, poem title, and poet:

• 72,147 - "Harlem" - Langston Hughes
• 19,025 - "Ego-Tripping" - Nikki Giovanni
• 18, 467 - "We Real Cool" - Gwendolyn Brooks
• 17,795 - "Those Winter Sundays" - Robert Hayden
• 16,214 - "Still I Rise" - Maya Angelou
• 11,897 - "Mother to Son" - Langston Hughes
• 11,728 - "I, Too, Sing America" - Langston Hughes
• 10,686 - We Wear the Mask" - Paul Laurence Dunbar
• 10,684 - "Song for a Dark Girl" - Langston Hughes
• 9,502 - "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" - Langston Hughes

What stood out to me first was the presence of Hughes on the list. He's one of our all-time most popular poets, so perhaps there's no surprise that he would appear so frequently. But, his poem "Harlem," which includes the famous question "what happens to a dream deferred," is far more viewed than all the other top poems.

"The Negro Speaks of Rivers" and "I, Too" are in fact anthologized with more frequency than "Harlem." 
Hughes's "Song for a Dark Girl" is not anthologized that much in comparison to the other pieces. Yet, it has received over 10,000 views.   

I was intrigued that Nikki Giovanni's "Ego-Tripping" has gained so many views. The poem is not anthologized that much, but it is widely known in African American communities, in part because performers at church programs and pageants recite the poem, passing it along from generation to generation. Giovanni is the only living poet in that top 10. Aside from Dunbar, all the other poets were born during the 20th century.

Like Giovanni's poem, Angelou's "Still I Rise" is not widely anthologized but remains popular in part because of its widespread performance by generations of readers. For decades, editors have republished Brooks's "We Real Cool," Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays," and Dunbar's "We Wear the Mask," anticipating their  popularity on Lit. Genius.

Notebook on Lit. Genius

Notebook on Lit. Genius

I initially entitled this notebook "on Rap Genius;" but my interests began to quickly expand to Lit. Genius interests. 

• October 18: Most Viewed African American Poems on Lit Genius
• September 5: Genius employees as problem solvers

• September 16: Becoming a Rap Genius (Literature course for Spring 2014)
• September 12: Frederick Douglass and Rap Genius
• July 18: When my Rap Genius activities become less fun, though purposeful
• July 15: An Ex-Slave's Letter Arrives on Rap Genius 
• June 26: Sister-scientist astronomers remix that classic Wu on Rap Genius 
• June 25: Analyzing the poetry/lyrics of high school students on Rap Genius 
• June 25: From RapGenius to Science Genius
• May 22: How to read poetry like a Rap Genius
• May 20: From RapGenius to Cultural Historian to Marketing Analyzer?
• May 9: From OHHLA to Rap Genius
• April 16: Jay-Z & Zora Neale Hurston on swag: Rap Genius notes by Kenton Rambsy
• April 15: RapGenius and Digital Humanities at CLA
• April 5: Becoming a Verified Artist on Rap Genius
• April 4: Vince Manuel on the Rap Genius Experience: An Interview
• April 3: Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes & Rap Genius 
• April 3: Follow-up on the 7 Ways Rap Genius encourages participants by Kenton Rambsy
• April 2: 7 Ways that RapGenius Assists Digital African American Literary Scholarship by Kenton Rambsy

• December 20: Rap Genius and access to black poetry by Kenton Rambsy
• December 19: Rap Genius as a space for sharing expertise by Simone Savannah
• December 17: A Malcolm X project on Rap Genius, Pt. 1
• December 17: What if African American poetry enthusiasts were like rap geniuses?
• December 17: Utilizing the Poetry Foundation and Rap Genius  
• December 17: Reading Rap Genius: An Introduction

Assorted Notebooks  

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Sonnet Sequences vs. Poetry Anthology Patterns

Nikky Finney's Head Off & Split: Poems (2011) includes a sequence of 19 sonnets. 
For decades now, anthologies have served, or supposedly served, as a record for activity among poets. Editors collect and publish apparent representative works of leading poets. Langston Hughes's "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," Gwendolyn Brooks's "We Real Cool," and Robert Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays" are a few examples.

A common feature of many signature or canonical poems is that they are relatively short. There are exceptions, of course. Hayden's "Middle Passage" and to some degree Margret Walker's "For My People" are notably longer than many frequently re-printed poems.

A. Van Jordan’s The Cineaste (2013) includes a crown of 44 sonnets.

I wonder, though, what will happen years and decades from now when and if anthologists seek to capture the activity among contemporary poets, that is, the activity of poets during the first decade of the 21st century. I am especially curious because so many poets have produced extended projects that exceed the short poem pattern of anthologies. In particular, how will editors represent sonnet sequences?

Over the last 10 years in particular, several African American poets have produced extended sonnet sequences. Tyehimba Jess, Marilyn Nelson, Vievee Francis, Natasha Trethewey, Elizabeth Alexander, Allison Joseph, John Murillo, Nikky Finney, Patricia Smith, and A. Van Jordan have all produced interlinked sonnets. Their works collectively represent an important trend in African American poetry.

Natasha Trethewey's Native Guard (2007) includes a crown of 10 sonnets. 
Will anthologies include entire sonnet sequences, or will only excerpts appear with notations that inform readers that the individual poems are parts of larger series? Editors will likely have to make difficult choices since space for individual poets in anthologies have historically been limited. It has been more common to see a long poem like Hayden's "Middle Passage" as opposed to a sequence of interrelated poems like a crown of sonnets. 

Anthologies, as it turns out, circulate in ways that volumes of poetry sometimes do not. Students in literature courses, for instance, are more likely to encounter poems in anthologies than individual volumes of poetry. Select works in anthologies often lead curious or interested students to seek out those individual volumes. So the question of how future anthologies will represent poems and poets is important. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Big Smoke: "'A Struggle between a Demon and a Gritty Dwarf”

[The Big Smoke reading group]  

In “A Struggle between a Demon and a Gritty Dwarf,” Matejka’s Johnson recalls his fight with Stanley Ketchel, a Polish middleweight boxer. Johnson toys with the lesser fighter, but, after being distracted, is caught with a hook that almost causes him to fall.

When he stood and resumed fighting, Johnson "hit / Ketchel so hard we both fell down." Johnson had knocked Ketchel's front teeth out, and the hit was so powerful that Johnson was fearful that he may have killed his opponent, which would have been especially troubling for the almost all-white audience.

How did you respond to the poem? Why?

The Big Smoke: "Equality"

[The Big Smoke reading group

“Equality” is the first poem that we cover in this third section of poems, “Knee on the Canvas”, in The Big Smoke. As the title of the section suggests, Adrian Matejka paints a Jack Johnson that is more vulnerable than than in the previous sections.

In “Equality,” Jack Johnson is car racing against Polish boxer Stanley Ketchel. Throughout the volume, we hear mention of Johnson and his cars, one of the luxuries he was fond of indulging.
The poem reveals Johnson’s sometimes dangerous competitive spirit.

But what about you: what stood out to you about the poem? Why?

Additional panels for Bodies Matter exhibit

As part of our exhibit "Bodies Matter: Black women on body type, appearance, and invisibility," a few contributors provided additional reflections on the topic. 

"It’s black hair!"

When the discussion of hair and hair maintenance is entered into between a white woman and a black woman there are sometimes looks of confusion or maybe even disgust. Once I walked into a classroom with my hair that I had curled the night before because it simply would have been too much to accomplish the morning of. From my white peers I was met with "Oh Gosh how'd you get your hair like that" and "That's so cute on you."

Finally, one woman asked, "When did you do that?"

When I responded "last night," I was met with a confused face. One of my white woman peers then said “Eww that's gross!" I politely explained to her that no, it's not gross. It’s black hair! We simply have different ways of maintaining our beauty.

There’s no one way to look

The perception of beauty constantly changes over the years, whether the world thinks beauty means being thin, curvy, or in one of this generation’s favorite words, THICK. For black women what is portrayed as beautiful for some and ratchet for others is the concept that you need to have a big butt, slim waste, and big breasts. The same figure can be perceived as beautiful to some, and ugly to others. I think more people need to realize that they are unique, and we come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. There’s no one way to look.

Difference and stigmas

It saddens me that people had such negative stigmas towards black woman, such as “she’s chubby not thick;” “you’re cute for a dark skin girl;” “her hair nappy.” In a time where diversity is widely publicized, we still have people who are closed minded to people who are “different.” Whatever the case, it’s like my mother says, “it’s not what people call you but what you answer to.”