Monday, March 30, 2015

A senior African American poetry scholar as blogger: The Case of Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

As I've been thinking on the value of blogging about black poetry, I took a look at blog entries by Jerry W. Ward, Jr. -- a senior scholar in the field of African American literary studies. Among other areas of focus, Ward is a Richard Wright scholar and  specialist on poetry, especially African American poetry.  There's no small coincidence, by the way, that I'm a Wright scholar and poetry scholar, for Professor Ward was my undergraduate professor and a long-term adviser.

In 2011, shortly after my younger brother Kenton started a blog for the The Project on the History of Black Writing (HBW) at the University of Kansas, he invited Professor Ward to submit blog entries. Between March 16, 2011, and March 30, 2015, Professor Ward published approximately 100 blog entries on a really wide range of authors, including Gil Scott-Heron, Natasha Trethewey, Rowan Phillips, Richard Wright, Houston Baker, Edwidge Danticat, Alvin Aubert, and Anne Moody. He has also covered an equally diverse array of subject matter.

I can think of several benefits of Professor Ward's blogging activity, some of which I'll elaborate on in later entries for this series on the value of blogging. For now though, I want to note one: Ward's blogging activity reminded me how little I was reading from writers that I assumed to know really well.

I somehow had not fully comprehended how prolific Ward was until I began following his blog entries. Ward's conventional publication record suggests that he has written regularly over the years. However, when you combine that with what he does as a blogger, it becomes evident that he is extraordinarily active as a writer.

Not long after he began blogging for HBW, Ward would regularly send short "entries" to groups of us via email. He was in effect configuring the blogging genre in the body of email messages.

In biographical sketches, scholars are usually categorized by what they've published. Accordingly, Ward's publications incline us to view him as a Wright scholar, a poetry scholar, a scholar of Southern literature. That view is confirmed by his blog entries, but then we end up seeing much more. We learn that Ward and other scholars might have interests that go well beyond the materials that they have in (conventional) print.  

The value of blogging about African American Poetry 
Poetry blogging is more productive and smarter than you think
One way blogging has shifted my engagements with poetry
Blogging about African American Poetry & The Habit Loop 

A Notebook on the Blog Entries of Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

My undergrad professor Jerry W. Ward, Jr., has been producing blog entries over at the History of Black Writing (HBW) site since spring of 2011. Ward is one of the relatively few senior African American literary scholars in the field who regularly produces blog entries. He has been a crucial contributor for HBW's site, and at the same time, the site has served as a key platform for his writings.   

Soon, I'll offer a few thoughts on Ward's entries in the context of my larger discussion about the value of blogging about African American poetry and literature in general.   

• March 30: Performance: Richard Wright in 2015 
• March 11: Genius and DAEMONIC GENIUS: Crafting a Biography of Richard Wright 
• February 25: Remembering Anne Moody (Sept. 15, 1940 - Feb. 5, 2015) 
• February 16: Shakespeare: His Blackwashing 
• February 2: Richard Wright's BLACK BOY and Seven Decades of Wisdom 
• January 28: Trojan Flags for Cultural Study
• January 21: Black Writing and Blues Allegory
• January 5: Black Writing: A New Orleans Example

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Black poetry and socioeconomic divides

In a 2013 review in Poetry magazine, Amiri Baraka offered serious critiques of Charles Rowell's anthology Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry. Among other observations, Baraka noted that Rita Dove "spells out her separation from the Black Arts Movement very honestly, in revealing class terms."

Baraka presents a quotation from Dove to  illuminate his point. Dove had written, " I realized that the blighted urban world inhabited by the poems of the Black Arts Movement was not mine. I had grown up in Ohio    ...    I enjoyed the gamut of middle class experience, in a comfy house with picket fences and rose bushes on a tree-lined street in West Akron."

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The value of blogging about African American Poetry

What's the value of blogging about African American poetry? I've been asking myself that question lately.

Just yesterday, for instance, the question came back to me as I listened to some of my colleagues discussing a meeting where more faculty in decision-making roles were critiquing blogs as modes of displaying academic rigor. I think I understand some of their critique.

It is, in fact, easier to publish an individual blog entry than it is to publish an individual scholarly article in a refereed journal. The scholarly article will likely have far more footnotes and will have gone through more revisions than the blog entry. Accordingly, the scholarly articles "count" for more than many other kinds of publishing in tenure and promotion cases at universities.

It's been this way for decades.  It all makes sense to me. I understand why some faculty members would sneer at blogging and view the practice as lightweight, if not pointless, exercises. But I wonder how many of those folks blog about aspects of their fields?   

After more than 4 years of active blogging about African American poetry and African American Studies, I am inclined to view blogging as a notable complement and divergence from scholarly publishing. I have not fully pinpointed the distinct value or worth of all this blogging, but I know that it matters for my own thinking and writing in ways that my "scholarly" publishing does not.  

Blogging about poetry has also allowed me to engage live and expanded audiences in ways that were new and useful to me. I became far more prolific in sharing my thoughts on poems and poets as a result of my blogging activity. I was also inclined to read more and look out for increasing numbers of poets and volumes.

Moving forward, I'm going to produce a few short pieces here thinking through the value of blogging. I don't want to be defensive either; just because some faculty hold disdain for blogging is not my main motivation. Instead, blogging has somehow become a major part of my scholarly and leisure activity. So I might as well do some reflection on what it means, what it's worth.

Poetry blogging is more productive and smarter than you think
One way blogging has shifted my engagements with poetry
Blogging about African American Poetry & The Habit Loop 

Heroic Adventures and the SIUE/East St. Louis Charter School

Several students I work with in an after-school program at the SIUE/East St. Louis Charter High School received a cool treat this past Thursday. I was aware that some of them enjoy comic books, and I mentioned that observation in passing to the folks at Heroic Adventures -- a comic book store in Edwardsville, Illinois.  I've being a customer at the store since 2012.

Drew Rose, a manager at the store, gave me a dozen or so free comic books to give to the Charter School students. Needless to say, the students were really pleased to receive the various titles. When I placed the books on a table, a group of them crowded around, discussed the materials, and began making selections.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House photo exhibit

On March 24, we hosted an exhibit based on our preservation project. As part of our work with SIUE's Institute for Urban Research, a small group of us are digitizing and documenting hundreds of images associated with the Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House – a social services organization based in East St. Louis. The organization was founded during the early 1900s and has now operated for over 100 years.

Among other features, the photographs document the diverse and shifting demographics of people who worked for and received services from the Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House. Our exhibit presented students with a glimpse by showing 30 or so images.

Saba Fatima on race, knowledge & language

Philosophy professor Saba Fatima has been an important, consistent contributor to the conversations and activities associated with social justice and #BlackLivesMatter at SIUE over the last several months.  She has provided organizational assistance, participated in gatherings and a silent march, and offered useful perspectives in countless discussions with students, staff, and faculty.  

On March 24, at Lovejoy Library, Fatima continued her contributions by giving a talk "Understanding Race Lingo: Racial Experiences in America." She discussed useful terminology for making sense of social and historical occurrences linked to race as well as casual and institutional racism.

"We need language," said Fatima early in her presentation, "to even begin noticing things differently."  In many respects, Fatima was equipping us with vocabularies to describe aspects of what we have been witnessing and even overlooking. Whereas  vocabulary lessons often include difficult words that might appear on standardized tests, Fatima presented words and phrases the daily exams, so to speak, of thinking through race and racial disparities.  

Some of the terms and concepts she discussed included: double consciousness, politics of respectability, epistemic ignorance, Black Rage/Righteous Anger, Black Lives Matter, implicit bias, shooter bias, and privilege  (i.e. "check your privilege").

Fatima gave definitions and examples of the terms, and she also discussed how court rulings had solidified the concepts by furthering racial basis and disparity. Throughout the presentation, audience members raised questions and provided contributing observations.

Fatima noted that people too often and erroneously concentrate on the notion of "personal responsibility." What might be more effective, she pointed out, was if we addressed the question: "What is our responsibility as citizens?" and "What is our epistemic responsibility in knowing about the injustices?" 

Saba Fatima's talk was the result of a scholar versed in ideas associated with critical race theory. At the same time, she was facilitating a discussion and exercise in critical language awareness.  

Danice Brown and #BlackLivesMatter
Silent March at SIUE 

On Being Wrong, Chapter 8: The Allure of Certainty

[Being Wrong]

"We cannot imagine, or do not care, that our own certainty, when seen from outside, must look just as unbecoming and ill-grounded as the certainty we abhor in others" (164). --Kathryn Schulz

Of course, in a book about wrongness, we knew we were certain to eventually get to a chapter about certainty, right? I mean, so much of being wrong links to what Kathryn Schulz refers to as "the allure of certainty." At one point, Schulz juxtaposes certainty with imagination and empathy (164). She later notes that our attraction to certainty is best understood as an aversion to uncertainty" (170).

What observation or finding from chapter 8 did you view as most useful or memorable? Why?