Monday, August 22, 2016

An Af-Am lit. course: Recordings of black women reading poetry

The students in the class will receive flash drives containing all of the poems.  

The primary texts for one of my African American literature courses this semester will be audio recordings. The students in my class -- all first-year black women college students -- will cover over 60 poems by more than 25 black women poets. We'll listen to Elizabeth Alexander, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lucille Clifton, Nikki Giovanni, Tracie Morris, Harryette Mullen, Sonia Sanchez, Evie Shockley, and more.

We'll take note off what it means to experience the poetry audibly, not just on the page. We'll also take the time to distinguish differences between black women poets and black women poets.

List of audio recordings by black women poets and lyricists
Situating the bold & bodacious poetic voice of Mahogany L. Browne
Can the sounds of black women's poetic voices get a witness? 
African American Literature @ SIUE 

Additional Fall 2016 courses:
An African American lit. course: "Hip Hop & Black Consciousness"
An African American literature course on Ta-Nehisi Coates  

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

An African American lit. course: "Hip Hop & Black Consciousness"

[The course description for my ENG 343 course this semester.]

"My emancipation don't fit your equation.” —Lauryn Hill

“I'm like Che Guevara with bling on, I'm complex
I never claimed to have wings on
[Ninja], I get my ‘by any means’ on…” —Jay Z

Listen. You already know what this class is about: the ways hip hop folks infuse ideas associated with Malcolm X, struggles for liberation, and serious knowledge into the culture. You know the deal too: we’ll listen to, analyze, and discuss works by Nas, Lauryn, Jay Elect, Kendrick, B.I.G. K.R.I.T, Dre 3000, and obviously the “God” (Rakim). In the process of thinking about black consciousness in hip hop, we’ll seek to enhance our own consciousness. You down?


An African American literature course: Recordings of black women reading poetry (Fall 2016) 
An African American literature course on Ta-Nehisi Coates  (Fall 2016)
African American Literature @ SIUE 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

An African American literature course on Ta-Nehisi Coates

This semester, I'm teaching a course focusing on Ta-Nehisi Coates. The class will be comprised of first-year black men college students.  We'll take a look at a sampling of Coates's blog entries, his article "The Case for Reparations," his book Between the World and Me, and his first story arc for the Black Panther comic book. 

I've taught writings by Coates in the past, but this is the first time I'm devoting a full class to his works. In various classes some years ago, my students and I covered Coates's The Beautiful Struggle (2008). Every now and then in classes, I brought in some of his blog entries, and one of my classes covered Between the World and Me when it came out last year. 

This course will give me an opportunity to introduce a group of guys to an important black writer, and at the same time, we'll get to consider several related writers as well as a wide range of topics and different modes of creative communication like blogging and comic book writing.

I'll run entries here about what the course entails as well as some of my observations of what we're covering.

Ta-Nehisi Coates
An African American literature course: Recordings of black women reading poetry (Fall 2016)  
An African American lit. course: "Hip Hop & Black Consciousness" (Fall 2016)
African American Literature @ SIUE 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Sanford Greene's Black Panther variant covers

Artist Sanford Greene produced this run of variant covers for the first story arc of Black Panther written by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Several different artists did variant covers for Black Panther #1, but Greene was the only one to do a series for #1 - #4.

Greene caught my attention from the first one. He presents an African couple holding and adoring their child, perhaps a young T'Challa. The second cover image depicts a young man, shirtless and wearing a traditional loin cloth. He's backed by warriors with spears and a larger image of boy or young man charging toward battle.

The third cover image shows the young man from the second cover, slightly older, sharing a tender, intimate moment with a woman. Behind him is a large image of the Black Panther with his arms crossed looking forward. He's rocking a gold necklace with a panther emblem at the center, and two panthers rest in front of him.

Finally, the fourth cover image presents the scene of a protest or uprising, as people are shown shouting and carrying anti-Black Panther flags. In the background, we see what appears to be a toppling Black Panther statue; a version of that falling statue was depicted in Brian Stelfreeze's cover for Black Panther #2.

List of Black Panther variants and artists  
A Notebook on Black Panther

Reading, Viewing & Sharing Deborah Willis's books

I rarely get opportunities to meet the many writers whose works I've read and treasured over the years. So a few weeks ago at the Toni Morrison Society conference when I spotted Deborah Willis sitting toward the back of the room, I took advantage of the moment and introduced myself. I mainly tried -- inarticulately -- to communicate to her how much I've been moved by her wonderful picture books. I also let her know that I've selected her books as gifts for students over the years. 

Among others, Willis compiled and edited books like Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers 1840 to the Present (2000, 2002), Black: A Celebration of a Culture (2004, 2014), and Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present (2009).

I'm not sure when I first started thinking about African American picture books, but early on as an undergraduate, I was fortunate to come across Richard Wright's 12 Million Black Voices (1941). Later, I stumbled onto books like I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women who Changed America (1989) by Brian Lanker.

Yet, Willis opened up a really vast world for me. I've always taken note of African American photographs here and there, but she brought everything together in one place. She also highlighted the many photographers -- of various races and backgrounds -- who had trained their cameras on black folks. Her book-form curatorial work of photographs has given me so much visual delight over the years.

I turn to just about any page of Reflections in Black, Black: A Celebration of Culture, or Posing Beauty, and I'm met with some image that has my mind off and running. Look at Malcolm. Who's that in that image? Who are they? What were those folks doing? What other lives did that photographer chronicle? And on and on.        

I'm always discovering a new image or rediscovering one that caught my attention from previous readings of the book. Some of the images pop up in various other places as well. On the web. In a different book. In a magazine.

Deborah WIllis's Black: A Celebration included among texts I gifted to students last year.

Since I've enjoyed Willis's books so much over the years, I regularly include them in packages of gifts I pass along to students. I'm always pleased to know that I can assist with building their personal libraries by passing along one of Willis's works.
Photographs of Black Poets Matter: Victoria Smith and Of Poetry and Protest

Friday, August 12, 2016

Kevin Young as poet, editor, curator, and now Schomburg director

The announcement that Kevin Young would become the new director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture was both surprising and exciting news. His career had already been extraordinary -- the prolific publishing, the editorial projects, and the nonfiction, scholarly work. And now, we'll witness him taking off on another wonderful professional opportunity.

He's been at Emory University since 2005, where in addition to his duties as a creative writing and English professor, he's been curator of the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library. In that position, he's organized exhibits of materials in the collection, and he has also been instrumental assisting the library acquire private collections. Perhaps his work as curator primed him for seeking out or being recruited for this position at the Schomburg?

Given his worth ethic and resourcefulness as a poet, editor, scholar, and curator, we might have some indication of what he'll do in his role as director.    

Kevin Young

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Meta DuEwa Jones and the mix of black poetry scholarly work

If you're searching for useful scholarly writing on black poetry, you won't look too far before you'll find the work of Meta DuEwa Jones. Her book The Muse Is Music: Jazz Poetry from the Harlem Renaissance to Spoken Word (2012) extends and clarifies long-running conversations in the critical discourse about how integral music and voice are to the production of poetry over the course of the 20th century.

And perhaps, she takes us beyond the 20th century. "Ultimately, the history and experience of the transatlantic slave trade," she writes early on, "haunts and hallows the legacy of voice and voicing in black expressive culture." Meta takes us from Langston Hughes all the way through poets who style their works based on hip hop.  

The Muse is Music corresponds to a large body of writings, including books by Tony Bolden, Aldon Nielsen, Evie Shockley, and James Smethurst, to name a few. Her book, like those, also brings to mind Eugene B. Redmond's foundational work Drumvoices: The Mission of Afro-American Poetry (1976).

Meta, along with a range of different scholars, contributes to a distinct body of Black Arts-related scholarship produced over the last decade.  Black arts scholarship, of course, forms the basis of my own work and really my entry into critical writing on black poetry. 

Meta DuEwa Jones & Evie Shockley as guides

As I've noted before, many of the scholars have been generous with their time  and ideas with me over the years. Evie Shockley and Meta, for instance, provided me with all kinds of guidance at conferences and in their writings. I communicate regularly with scholars William J. Harris and Tony Bolden on Facebook, and Jerry W. Ward, Jr. through email. 

At the moment, I'm preparing for my fall courses, and was looking back on notes from Meta's The Music is Music. I was quickly reminded how linked her work is to these many mixes of conversations and scholarly writing on black poetry. 

African American Literary Studies

Meta DuEwa Jones & Evie Shockley as guides

I was at a workshop recently where senior scholars (somehow I was in that category) were asked to offer advice to a group of junior scholars in our field. At one point, I was telling some of the junior scholars how I've benefited by drawing on and learning from Meta DuEwa Jones and Evie Shockley. They're my peers, and they've also served as guides, unofficial mentors, and older sisters.

They're both poets, scholars, poet-scholars, and scholar-poets. Take your pick.

I've written quite a bit about Evie's poetry, but she and Meta have often imparted scholarly ideas as well. They've passed those ideas on to me at conferences and through their writings.

[Related: Meta DuEwa Jones and the mix of black poetry scholarly work]

Among various articles, Evie published Renegade Poetics: Black Aesthetics and Formal Innovation in African American Poetry (2011) and Meta published The Muse Is Music: Jazz Poetry from the Harlem Renaissance to Spoken Word (2012). Both books have been useful to my thinking on poetry over the years.

African American Literary Studies