Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Eve L. Ewing, poetry, comic books, and infinite possibility

One of my favorite moments from Eve L. Ewing's Electric Arches (2017) is the introduction. There, she's reflecting about how she used her imagination as a child. "As I rode my bike, I would narrate, in my head, all of my adventures," she writes. "In my head I was shooting arrows, exploring dungeons, solving mysteries."

She noted that she did all this imagining within her one neighborhood block, which "became the backdrop of infinite possibility."

I was thinking on those infinite possibilities while reading Ewing's debut on Ironheart. The move from poetry to comics is a big leap. Then again, the idea of imagining in far out ways might not be that big a leap when thinking about aspects of what Ewing's doing.

Too, we've had a few other templates for writers moving from one genre to comics. Remember, Ta-Nehisi Coates was reporting and blogging, and now he's writing Black Panther and Captain America. There's also Evan Narcisse, who was well known for writing about popular culture, including comics and comics news, and then he did a limited series run Rise of the Black Panther. Victor LaValle and Nnedi Okorafor have written novels, and also comic books. There are others.

So Ewing is linked to those figures in various ways. She's also breaking new ground by exploring a character we've only seen in small doses. Brian Michael Bendis created Riri Williams in 2016, so not that long ago. Now Ewing will have considerable room to decide who Riri/Ironheart is. She'll also have more room to explore more infinite possibility.

Riri Williams, Ironheart, Eve Ewing, and Maya Angelou

Friday, December 7, 2018

The diverse creative team assignment


Earlier this semester, I talked to the students in my comic book course about the outstanding work that editor Joseph Illidge did by pulling together several diverse teams of creators. He was a senior editor at Lion Forge, and he's currently the Executive Editor at Valiant Comics.

Inspired by Illidge's editorial work, I developed an assignment for students where I prompted them to envision themselves in positions to decide on the composition of comic book teams. The results of the assignment have been really impressive.

Here are the instructions that I gave students.
A diverse core team
“What if I told you that we’re putting together a team?”

For this assignment, assume you were tasked with the responsibility like Joseph Illidge of putting together a really diverse core team for a comic book. What comic book would you choose to produce and why?

Based on the people we’ve covered this semester, who would be the writer, the artist, the colorist, and the letterer? Who would be the cover artist and colorist for issue #1 cover artist and colorist? (Note: you can’t assemble a team that already exists). Explain your reasoning for the selections for the comic book you chose and state what makes the team notably diverse.

Diversity, Culture, and Comics

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Haley Reading Group: reflections

[The Best American Science and Nature Writing (2017)]

This semester, we read and commented on:
• Michelle Nijhuis’s “The Parks of Tomorrow”
• Robert Draper’s “The Battle for Virunga”
• Emily Temple Wood’s “It’s Time These Ancient Women Scientists Get Their Dues”
• Kathryn Joyce’s “Out Here, No One Can Hear You Scream”
• David Epstein’s “The DIY Scientist, the Olympian, and the Mutated Gene”
• Chris Jones “The Woman Who Might Find Us Another Earth”
What article most intrigued you? Why or how so?

Haley Reading Group: reflections

[The Best American Science and Nature Writing (2015)]

This semester, we read and commented on:

• Elizabeth Kolbert’s “The Big Kill” (163 – 178)
• Amy Maxmen’s “Digging Through the World’s Oldest Graveyard” (179 – 190)
• Rebecca Boyle’s “The Health Effects of a World Without Darkness" (43 – 54)
• Kim Todd’s “Curious” (273 – 281)
• Sarah Schweitzer’s “Chasing Bayla” (225 – 243)
• Barry Yeoman’s “From Billions to None” (297 – 305)

What article most intrigued you? Why or how so?

Monday, December 3, 2018

Black writers covered in the New York Times in 2018

What black writers were mentioned most frequently in The New York Times in 2018? And what does the coverage signal about the kinds of black writers who receive the most coverage?

I've bee studying black writer and keyword mentions for years now, and some recent discussions about whether The Times was showing favoritism for one group over others had me curious about the coverage of a large number of writers in a single year. I constructed a list of 104 black writers and tabulated mentions of each of them between January 1 and December 2, 2018. [Click here for more notes on my methods.]

Here's a list of the most frequently mentioned 20 black writers from my list of 104. The numbers of mentions are in parentheses.
• Michelle Obama (200)
• Toni Morrison (62)
• Ta-Nehisi Coates (57)
• Roxane Gay (54)
• Zadie Smith (43)
• Terrance Hayes (40)
• Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (34)
• Lynn Nottage (33)
• Rita Dove (26)
• Claudia Rankine (26)
• Phoebe Robinson (26)
• Colson Whitehead (25)
• Jacqueline Woodson (25)
• Michelle Alexander (23)
• Branden Jacobs-Jenkins (22)
• Jesmyn Ward (22)
• Tracy K. Smith (21)
• Tayari Jones (20)
• Alice Walker (19)
• George C. Wolfe (19)
A few things surprised me about these initial findings. For one, I assumed there was more gender parity. Yet only 5 black men writers appear in the top 20 mentions. Second, while I figured that Morrison, Coates, and Gay would receive some of the most mentions, I had not considered the same about Zadie Smith and the playwrights Nottage and Jacob-Jenkins.

When I looked over my entire list, I noticed that the prevalence of black women born outside of the U.S. or who are second generation. Adichie. Tomi Adeyemi. Ngozi Anyanwu. Esi Edugyan. Jamaica Kincaid. Edwidge Danticat. There are not as many widely cited black male writers born outside of the U.S. quoted in the Times.

Ok. What about poets? Dove appears frequently, but 19 of those 26 mentions are based on her position as a poetry editor for the Times. She selects and briefly introduces a poem nearly every week or so. Hayes was the editor before her, which explains why his name has so many appearances as well.

I identified instances when the 104 black writers were the featured subject of a news story or profile.

Here are the top 10 black writers included as the subjects in feature articles: Michelle Obama (20); Tracy K. Smith (8); Tayari Jones (5); Esi Edugyan (5); Ta-Nehisi Coates (4); Lynn Nottage (4); Phoebe Robinson (4); Jacqueline Woodson (4); Ngozi Anyanwu (4); Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (4).

So among poets, Tracy K. Smith is the big story. This year, she received far more feature coverage than any of the other poets, and she was featured more than all the other writers, notwithstanding Michelle Obama. Smith is the U.S. Poet Laureate, which explains some of the attention she received, and she also released a book this year. I'm going to look a little closer, as I think living in New York City or any area with a major newspaper carries weight.

There's certainly more to say about these findings. So more soon.

 Black Playwrights in The New York Times in 2018

104 black writers covered in the NY Times in 2018

What follows is a list of 104 black writers who were mentioned in The Times last week. They are poets, novelists, essayists, playwrights, scholars, and memoirists. I was interested in the occurrence of mentions in a major newspaper.

Ayobami Adebayo
Tomi Adeyemi
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
Michelle Alexander
Elizabeth Alexander
Jeffery Renard Allen
Ngozi Anyanwu
Paul Beatty
Reginald Dwayne Betts
James Brinkley
Jericho Brown
Marcus Burke
Zinzi Clemmons
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Edwidge Danticat
Nathan Alan Davis
Rita Dove
Jackie Sibblies Drury
Cornelius Eady

Black Playwrights in The New York Times in 2018

It's fascinating how just a little nudge can assist in expanding our views. Some relatively brief but useful exchanges the other day with the scholar and playwright Lisa B. Thompson on social media prompted me to broaden my search and definition of "black writers" in a project that I was developing. I added playwrights to the mix.

That adjustment made it possible for me to include and see many important figures who somehow typically elude my lists. I tend to focus on novelists and poets, but what happens when I include playwrights?

I've been aware of the playwright Lynn Nottage for quite some time, but I would not have guessed that she was one of the most frequently mentioned black writers in The Times in 2018. She is. She was mentioned 33 times, making her one of the top 8 frequently mentioned people in my list of 104 black writers discussed in the newspaper this year.

While she's the most frequently mentioned black playwright, she's not alone. On November 1, the Times ran a piece "Seven Flames Kindled by the Focused Fire of Ntozake Shange" and focused on Nottage, Dominique Morisseau, Anna Deavere Smith, Aleshea Harris, Jackie Sibblies Drury, Ngozi Anyanwu, and Suzan-Lori Parks. It's rare to see the works and careers of 7 different black writers, of any genre, discussed in a single article in a major newspaper. 

All of seven of those writers were mentioned at least 14 times throughout the year in the newspaper, and they were the feature in at least 2 stories. Nottage and Anyanwu were featured in 4 articles. In addition to those seven playwrights, the Times mentioned George C. Wolfe and Branden Jacob-Jenkins fairly regularly as well in 2018.

So glad I had his chance conversation with Lisa B. Thompson, and she gave me the idea of taking a close look, this time with an eye toward black writers who are playwrights as well. 

• Black writers covered in The New York Times in 2018

Notes on methods for black writers covered in Times in 2018 project

My project on 104 black writers contains a relatively small number of people who identify as "black writers." Click here to see a list of the 104 writers. I only included living writers.

I included all of the black writers mentioned in the Times article, "Black Male Writers of Our Time." I was mindful about including figures who are not always included in lists of writers, most notably playwrights. I narrowed my search to January 1 - December 2, 2018.

Black writers covered in The New York Times in 2018
Black men writers and The New York Times