Wednesday, November 20, 2019

15 memoirs by black women, 2015 - 2019

Lakenzie Walls

2015: The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae
2015: Ordinary Light: A Memoir by Tracy K. Smith
2016: You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson
2017: We Are Never Meeting In Real Life by Samatha Irby
2017: Hunger: A Memoir by Roxane Gay
2017: The Mother of Black Hollywood A Memoir by Jenifer Lewis
2017: This Is Just My Face Try Not to Stare by Gabourey Sidibe
2017: Real American A Memoir by Julie Lythcott- Haims
2018: This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jerkins
2018: When They Call you A Terrorist, A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan- Cullors & Asha Bandele
2019: Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom
2019: The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom
2019: When You Learn The Alphabet by Kendra Allen
2019: The Pretty One: On Life, Pop Culture, Disability, and Other Reasons to Fall in Love With Me by Keah Brown
2019: Black Is The Body: Stories from My Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine by Emily Bernard

A checklist of book lists

Lakenzie Walls is a graduate student in the English, Language and Literature Program at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

Haley Reading Group: “Dr. Space Junk Unearths the Cultural Landscape of the Cosmos”

[The Best American Science and Nature Writing (2018)]

In “Dr. Space Junk Unearths the Cultural Landscape of the Cosmos,” Dovey focuses on the work of Alice Gorman, a space archeologist. According to Gorman, we should treat “space as a cultural landscape with richly layered scientific, political, and religious meanings, instead of an empty vacuum that anybody…can venture into with impunity” (142).

Dovey focuses on the lengths Gorman must take in order to study the materials left over from the space age. Since Gorman cannot do fieldwork in space, she must be creative in her attempts often studying left over debris in order to single out satellites to connect the “dots of our history in space in ways non-specialists can understand” (144).

What is one important way that you shifted, expanded, or at least reconsidered your views of space as a result of reading this article?

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

A Roundup of African American single-author studies

Pulling together lists of black autobiographies and biographies had me thinking about another fixture in African American literary studies--the single-author book-length study. These are works that analyze aspects of a writer's works.

So here's a roundup of titles. Certainly, what's presented here is just a small portion of what's been produced.

• 1970: Richard Wright: An Introduction to the Man and His Works by Russell Carl Brignano
• 1972: Claude McKay: The Black Poet at War by Addison Gayle
• 1972: The Emergence of Richard Wright: A Study in Literature and Society by Keneth Kinnamon
• 1973: From LeRoi Jones to Amiri Baraka: The Literary Works by Theodore R. Hudson
• 1974: Many-Colored Coat of Dreams: The Poetry of Countee Cullen by Houston A. Baker, Jr.
• 1976: The Art and Imagination of W.E.B. Du Bois by Arnold Rampersad
• 1985: The Poetry and Poetics of Amiri Baraka the Jazz Aesthetic by William J. Harris
• 1990: Voice of a Native Son: The Poetics of Richard Wright by Eugene E. Miller
• 1991: Richard Wright's Art of Tragedy by Joyce Ann Joyce
• 1994: The World of Richard Wright by Michel J. Fabre
• 1999: A Nation Within a Nation: Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) and Black Power Politics by Koomozi Woodard
• 1999: Understanding Gloria Naylor by Margaret Earley Whitt
• 1999: Understanding August Wilson By Mary L. Bogumil
• 2000: Quiet as it's Kept: Shame, Trauma, and Race in the Novels of Toni Morrison by J. Brooks Bouson
• 2000: Toni Morrison by Linden Peach
• 2000: The Identifying Fictions of Toni Morrison: Modernist Authenticity and Postmodern Blackness by John N. Duvall
• 2001: Amiri Baraka: The Politics and Art of a Black Intellectual by Jerry Watts
• 2002: Toni Morrison's “Beloved” and the Apotropaic Imagination by Kathleen Marks
• 2003: Liberation Memories: The Rhetoric and Poetics of John Oliver Killens by Keith Gilyard
• 2003: Toni Morrison: Playing with Difference by Lucille P. Fultz
• 2004: Understanding Charles Johnson by Gary Storhoff
• 2004: I ain't Sorry for Nothin' I done: August Wilson's Process of Playwriting by Joan Herrington
• 2004: Toni Morrison and Motherhood: A Politics of the Heart by Andrea O'Reilly
• 2005: The Death-Bound-Subject: Richard Wright's Archaeology of Death by Abdul R. JanMohamed
• 2006: Understanding Rita Dove by Pat Righelato
• 2007: Understanding Jamaica Kincaid by Justin D. Edwards
• 2007: Can’t I Love What I Criticize? the Masculine and Morrison by Susan Neal Mayberry
• 2007: Black Looks and Black Acts: The Language of Toni Morrison in The Bluest Eye and Beloved by Ritashona Simpson
• 2007: The Cambridge Companion to Toni Morrison by Justine Tally
• 2008: Toni Morrison and the Idea of Africa by La Vinia Delois Jennings
• 2008: Toni Morrison's Developing Class Consciousness by Doreatha Drummond Mbalia
• 2009: African Spiritual Traditions in the Novels of Toni Morrison by K. Zauditu-Selassie
• 2009: Claude McKay, Code Name Sasha: Queer Black Marxism and the Harlem Renaissance by Gary Edward Holcomb
• 2009: Charles Johnson in Context by Linda Furgerson Selzer
• 2010: Race, Trauma, and Home in the Novels of Toni Morrison by Evelyn Jaffe Schreiber
• 2011: Toni Morrison by Pelagia Goulimari
• 2013: Spectrality in the Novels of Toni Morrison by Melanie R. Anderson
• 2014: Toni Morrison's Fiction: Revised and Expanded Edition by Jan Furman
• 2014: James Baldwin and the Queer Imagination by Matt Brim
• 2014: Understanding Colson Whitehead by Derek C. Maus
• 2014: Richard Wright and Haiku by Yoshinobu Hakutani
• 2016: The Lives of Frederick Douglass by Robert S. Levine
• 2017: Love and Narrative Form in Toni Morrison’s Later Novels by Jean Wyatt
• 2017: Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Theology by M. Cooper Harriss
• 2018: Robert Hayden in Verse: New Histories of African American Poetry and the Black Arts Era by Derik Smith
• 2018: James Baldwin and the 1980s: Witnessing the Reagan Era by Joseph Vogel
• 2018: James Baldwin and the Heavenly City: Prophecy, Apocalypse, and Doubt by Christopher Z. Hobson
• 2019: Building the Black Arts Movement: Hoyt Fuller and the Cultural Politics of the 1960s by Jonathan Fenderson
• 2019: Understanding James Baldwin by Marc Dudley

A checklist of book lists

A Bibliography of Black Writer Biographies

Although this list, like so many of my lists, is ongoing, I first began working on it on October 1, 2004. That's when I attended a lecture at the University of Kansas by Jean Fagan Yellin discussing her biography of Harriet Jacobs. More importantly, the lecture was hosted by Maryemma Graham's Project on the History of Black Writing, an important source of my bibliographic projects. That lecture was also where I first met Joycelyn Moody, and among other topics, she and I began discussing biographies of black writers.

[Related: 50 Black Autobiographies and Memoirs, 1845 - 2019]

What follows is a list of some of the biographies that have come up in my discussions of African American literary studies.

• 1899: Frederick Douglass by Charles Chesnutt
• 1948: Frederick Douglass by Benjamin Quarles
• 1950: The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass by Philip S. Foner
• 1968: Richard Wright: A Biography by Constance Webb
• 1970: The Most Native of Sons: A Biography of Richard Wright by John A. Williams
• 1971: Oak and Ivy: A Biography of Paul Laurence Dunbar by Addison Gayle
• 1973: The Unfinished Quest of Richard Wright by Michel Fabre
• 1977: Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography by Robert Hemenway
• 1980: Slave and Citizen: The Life of Frederick Douglass by Nathan Irvin Huggins and Oscar Handlin
• 1980: Richard Wright: Ordeal of a Native Son by Addison Gayle
• 1984: Jean Toomer, Artist: A Study of His Literary Life and Work, 1894-1936 by Nellie Y. McKay
• 1984: From the Auroral Darkness: The Life and Poetry of Robert Hayden by John Hatcher
• 1986: The Life of Langston Hughes: Volume I: 1902-1941: I, Too, Sing America by Arnold Rampersad
• 1986: The Life of Langston Hughes: Volume II: 1941-1967: I Dream a World by Arnold Rampersad
• 1987: Claude McKay: Rebel Sojourner in the Harlem Renaissance by Wayne F. Cooper
• 1988: Richard Wright, Daemonic Genius: A Portrait of the Man by Margaret Walker
• 1990: A Life of Gwendolyn Brooks by George E. Kent
• 1991: Frederick Douglass by William McFeely
• 1991: Richard Wright's Art of Tragedy by Joyce Ann Joyce
• 1992: Claude McKay: A Black Poet's Struggle for Identity by Tyrone Tillery
• 1992: Nikki Giovanni by Virginia C. Fowler
• 1993: W. E. B. Du Bois, 1868-1919: Biography of a Race by David Levering Lewis
• 1994: James Baldwin: A Biography by David A. Leeming
• 1998: Dudley Randall, Broadside Press, and the Black Arts Movement in Detroit, 1960-1995 by Julius E. Thompson
• 2000: W.E.B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century 1919-1963 by David Levering Lewis
• 2000: Chester Himes: A Life by James Sallis
• 2001: Frantz Fanon: A Biography by David Macey
• 2001: Richard Wright: The Life and Times by Hazel Rowley
• 2002: Ralph Ellison: Emergence of Genius by Lawrence P. Jackson
• 2002: Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston by Valerie Boyd
• 2003: Harriet Jacobs: A Life by Jean Yellin
• 2004: Warrior Poet: A Biography of Audre Lorde by Alexis De Veaux
• 2004: Wrestling with the Muse: Dudley Randall and the Broadside Press by Melba Joyce Boyd
• 2004: Wild Blessings: The Poetry of Lucille Clifton by Hilary Holladay
• 2004: Alice Walker: A Life by Evelyn C. White
• 2006: Claude Mckay: The Literary Identity from Jamaica to Harlem And Beyond by Kotti Sree Ramesh and Kandula Nirupa Rani
• 2007: Ralph Ellison: A Biography by Arnold Rampersad
• 2008: Ida: A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching by Paula J. Giddings
• 2009: To Tell the Truth Freely: The Life of Ida B. Wells by Mia Bay
• 2010: John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard
• 2011: Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
• 2012: And Bid Him Sing: A Biography of Countée Cullen by Charles Molesworth
• 2013: Nikki Giovanni: A Literary Biography by Virginia C. Fowler
• 2014: Visible Man: The Life of Henry Dumas by Jeffrey B. Leak
• 2016: The Lives of Frederick Douglass by Robert S. Levine
• 2017: Chester B. Himes: A Biography by Lawrence P. Jackson
• 2017: A Surprised Queenhood in the New Black Sun: The Life & Legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks by Angela Jackson
• 2018: The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke by Jeffrey C. Stewart
• 2018: Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight
• 2018: Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry by Imani Perry

A checklist of book lists

Monday, November 18, 2019

Black boys, teachers, and creativity

Last week, I was talking with a class of first-year black men about ways that they felt their creativity was diminished in high school. We were discussing their experiences as black boys in high school, after covering this popular TED talk by Ken Robinson entitled "Do Schools Kill Creativity?"

At one point, the guys worked in small groups listing barriers to creativity. When we convened as a class and looked over the lists, we noticed a pattern. In many cases, students raised issues concerning their conflicts with teachers.

They noted that the teachers gave "strict instructions" and did not allow them to address a variety of topics. At one point, a student said that "we care about ideas," and apparently, they had not been allowed to explore enough of those ideas in their schools.

During the discussion, I wondered if some of their problems with teachers were problems of curriculums. Were the teachers simply following mandates and thus unable to attend to the explorations that the guys sought? To what extent was diminished creatively at their schools cumulative and structural?

All of this is obviously something I'll need to think about much more.

A Notebook on Collegiate Students

Sunday, November 17, 2019

The trouble with black poetry studies

The field of black poetry has had expansive growth over the last twenty years. Well, in some ways. Today, we have more poets, more volumes of poetry, more retreats, more MFAs and MFA program, more awards and fellowships. There just hasn't been notable growth in the scholarly realm.

Black poetry studies struggles. There are reviews of individual books, sure. There are interviews here and there, and an occasional profile. But take a look through scholarly journals -- African American Review, Callaloo, CLA Journal, MELUS, etc. --- and you'll see relatively little scholarship on contemporary black poetry during a moment when everywhere else the field is growing.

I think there are a lot of reasons why we've seen so little by way of criticism and extended commentary. For one, people aren't exposed to the study of contemporary African American poetry early on in, say, high school, and then in college. Too, with relatively few specialists in the field in any given place, there aren't many special classes on contemporary,  and not enough is being passed on to new generations of scholars and commentators who might focus on black poetry.

There has been tremendous financial investment in contemporary poets and poetry publications. The same can't be said of the investments in the development of black poetry scholars and writing about poetry. Of course, there's isn't enough investment in critical discourses in artistic realms well beyond contemporary black poetry.

Finally, there are many more artforms capturing people's attention these days. Folks in literature, for instance, are studying and writing about film, television shows, YouTube series, music, comic books, and so forth. Contemporary black poetry comes in low on this list of topics to write about.

Moving forward, I'll try to explore some of the issues in a little more depth with the hopes of seeing where there's room for improvements.

What if contemporary African American poetry had Black Arts-like scholarly support?
50 scholarly books on black poetry, 1997-2018
A partial list of Black Arts-related scholarship, 2004 - 2015

Saturday, November 16, 2019

50+ Black Autobiographies and Memoirs, 1845 - 2019

Here's a roundup of black autobiographies. This list contributes to my ongoing bibliographies. It's no doubt a partial list.

1845: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
1849: Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown by Henry Box Brown
1853: Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
1855: My Bondage and My Freedom by Frederick Douglass
1860: Running a thousand Miles for Freedom by William and Ellen Craft
1861: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs
1901: Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington
1940: The Big Sea by Langston Hughes
1942: Dust Tracks on a Road by Zora Neale Hurston
1945: Black Boy by Richard Wright

1965: The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley
1965: Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown
1968: Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody
1968: Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver
1969: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
1970: Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells by Ida B. Wells
1971: Gemini: An Extended Autobiographical Statement...on being a Black Poet by Nikki Giovanni
1973: Revolutionary Suicide by Huey P. Newton
1974: Angela Davis: An Autobiography by Angela Davis
1974: Gather Together in My Name by Maya Angelou

Friday, November 15, 2019

When You Can’t Dance, Pt 1

From "The Dance"

Lakenzie Walls

“You can dance? I don’t believe it.”
“I can’t even imagine you dancing.” — Issa Rae, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl

In Issa Rae's memoir The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, she revealed that she bragged in high school about her excellent dancing skills when she received an invitation to a friend's party. The response she received in return was just as amusing as her dancing ability.

The ability to dance well is the epitome of coolness and expected of black people. When Rae lied about her dancing skills, I understood why she would go to great lengths to create the illusion that she can dance.

There's a popular myth that says black people can naturally dance or stay on beat. Many people hold onto these cultural beliefs that black people have an innate dancing ability, so it becomes peculiar when you encounter a black girl with no rhythm and two left feet.

Dancing is essential to black culture because it's rich in tradition. For example, "footworkin" was a popular dance in Chicago in the early 2000s, and I never participated publicly in the dance because I didn't want to be embarrassed myself. When people started to footwork at parties, I would ease my way to the back of the crowd and watch from afar.

I never learned to properly footwork or dance, but I still get invited to parties and decide to have a good time and join in with my awkward moves. Sometimes I may worry if people are watching me move rhythmless across the dance floor, but I don't let it consume my thoughts, and I focus on the moment.

"Awkward Black Girls Really Do Exist"

Lakenzie Walls is a graduate student in the English, Language and Literature Program at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.