Saturday, February 23, 2019

Graywolf Press, Black Writers, and Book History

Alright, so if we started writing a contemporary history of black book based on small to mid-size publishers, we'd certainly want to acknowledge Graywolf Press. Over the last several years in particular, they have been one of the major forces in the production of books, especially poetry, by African American writers. Elizabeth Alexander, Tracy K. Smith, Kevin Young, Danez Smith, and many more have all published with Graywolf.

Many of the largest presses in the country publish a relatively small number of poets each year. They are more likely to invest in novels and nonfiction. We have a few African American presses, but they perhaps not enough to sustain the many African American poets out there.

Graywolf, therefore, has stepped in and filled a void. Their catalog includes much more than African American books, and they are hardly the only press to publish works by black writers. Still, their reach and influence has been hard to deny.

The willingness of Graywolf editors to publish hybrid and experimental works has also been important. Most notably, they published Claudia Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric (2014). Is it a book of poems? Poetic essays? Both? Something else? Whatever it might be, Citizen generated more attention than any other book that has been categorized as poetry. Graywolf notes that more than 250,000 copies of the book are print.

The success and widespread visibility of Citizen has no doubt brought Graywolf Press to the attention of an even larger number of African American poets. Rankine's book and the rise of Danez Smith, among others, has made the press a desired location for even poets who are publishing with different presses.

There's much more to say about the significance of Graywolf to Black Book History during the 21st century. For now, here's an impartial list of works by black writers that they've published.

2000: Domestic Work by Natasha Trethewey
2000: Pastoral by Carl Phillips
2001: Antebellum Dream Book by Elizabeth Alexander
2002: Bellocq's Ophelia by Natasha Trethewey
2002: From the Devotion by Carl Phillips
2002: Cortege by Carl Phillips
2003: The Body's Question Tracy K. Smith
2004: Coin of the Realm: Essays on the Art and Life of Poetry by Carl Phillips
2004: Don't Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
2004: The Venus Hottentot (reprint) by Elizabeth Alexander
2005: American Sublime by Elizabeth Alexander
2005: The Maverick Room by Thoma Sayers Ellis
2006: Recyclopedia: Trimmings, S*PeRM**K*T, and Muse and Drudge by Harryette Mullen
2006: Lions Don't Eat Us by Constance Quarterman Bridges
2009: Praise Song for the Day by Elizabeth Alexander
2010: Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems (hardcover) by Elizabeth Alexander
2010: Skin Inc.: Identity Repair Poems (hardcover) by Thomas Sayers Ellis
2010: Missing You, Metropolis by Gary Jackson
2011: Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith
2012: The Grey Album by Kevin Young
2012: Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems (paperback) by Elizabeth Alexander
2013: Skin Inc.: Identity Repair Poems (paperback) by Thomas Sayers Ellis
2013: Urban Tumbleweed: Notes from a Tanka Diary by Harryette Mullen
2013: Scratching the Ghost by Dexter L. Booth
2014: Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
2014: The Art of Daring: Risk, Restlessness, Imagination by Carl Phillips
2015: Turning into Dwelling by Christopher Gilbert
2016: Bestiary by Donika Kelly
2017: Don't Call Us Dead by Danez Smith
2017: Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists...Fake News (hardcover) by Kevin Young
2018: Wade in the Water (hardcover) by Tracy K. Smith
2018: A Lucky Man (short stories, hardcover) by Jamel Brinkley
2018: Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists...Fake News (paperback) by Kevin Young
2018: This Mournable Body: A Novel by Tsitsi Dangarembga

Forthcoming in 2019:
2019: The White Card: A Play by Claudia Rankine
2019: Wade in the Water (paperback) by Tracy K. Smith
2019: A Lucky Man (short stories, paperback) by Jamel Brinkley
2019: Heed the Hollow: Poems by Malcolm Tariq

Black Book History, February 2019
Graywolf Press and African American Poetry
The Graywolf Press black poetry mix & Christopher Gilbert
Graywolf brings Christopher Gilbert to a new generation of readers
Select Graywolf Press Books by Black Writers, 2000 - 2013
Black Poetry published by Graywolf Press

Friday, February 22, 2019

Taking on Killmonger: Bryan Hill & Juan Ferreyra

Back in February 2018, I was thinking about Killmonger. I had seen Black Panther, and I was moved by Michael B. Jordan's performance as T'Challa's nemesis. I had been doing research on the creative power of bad men in creative works, and the significance of Killmonger advanced some of my ideas.

Well, here we are a year later, and Killmonger is on my mind again. Really, I've been thinking on the figure for the last few months, as I'm following writer Bryan Hill and artist Juan Ferreyra as they've been producing a series for Marvel on the Black Panther villain.

It's a mini-series that will only contain 5 issues. They're up to #4 so far. In just a small number of works, they've produced outstanding work.

I first discovered Hill with his work on the mini-series Michael Cray, which was a spin-off from the larger story-line with The Wild Storm. I thought the work was solid, and so I took note when Marvel announced that there would be Killmonger series.

The Black Panther film led to another spin-off with Nnedi Okorafor and Leonardo Romero on Shuri. There are some other previous related works with The Rise of the Black Panther by Evan Narcisse and Paul Renaud as well as World of Wakanda and Black Panther & the Crew. So all of those add to expanding the Black Panther universe.

Killmonger takes us in a different direction, though, for a couple of reasons. For one, we're getting an in-depth story on a villain, a black villain. That's not something we get everyday.

It's common to have Joker and Lex Luthor backstories. It's not difficult to come across extended work on Magneto and Doctor Doom. But an extended past for a black villain? Nah, folks have mostly passed on that.   

This Killmonger story is also unique as far as current Black Panther series go because of the New York setting. It's not been unusual to see T'Challa in New York. He was there in Black Panther & the Crew, and in some past iterations of Black Panther. But in issues #1 - #3, Hill and Ferreyra really made use of the setting in the city.

I in fact think that the city setting gave the story an energy that it would not have had by having the story set somewhere else, including Wakanda. Ta-Nehisi Coates has done really important work, giving us a fuller sense of the geography of the fictive African nation. Yet, as I've learned following Killmonger, New York City, as a setting and place in our imaginations, creates all kinds of possibilities for comic book writers and artists.

A fight scene takes place on top of a parking deck

For one, it's easier to have appearances from various other superheroes and villains. In one issue, Bullseye appears out of nowhere and causes havoc. His appearance would've seemed less plausible in other environments.

The city environment also makes multiple viewing angles possible for artists. Hill and Ferreyra really maximize some of those possibilities too. There's a sense early on in the series when a group of mercenaries jump through a window in apartment where Killmonger is staying. The tight confines and the familiarity of the city room give the scene power.

I wasn't fully aware of Ferreyra's work prior to Killmonger. I had glimpsed his artwork here and there, but it was this series that led me to sit up and really pay attention. What he's doing with double spreads and just with the drawing and coloring in general has been moving.

Over on Twitter, Ferreyra regularly presents drafts and completed versions of his drawings on different titles. He produces wondrous work. It's been a delight just looking over his many creations.

On Killmonger, we have Hill and Ferreyra bringing their talents together. The results that we witness with each book are a combination of skilled creators converging on this common

The other day as I was drafting notes for this post, I noticed a comment from Hill on Twitter. He noted that "confrontational work makes my escapism better. Sometimes, I have to get dirty." He was referring to American Carnage, but to the extent that Killmonger is confrontational as well, I think the character necessitates Hill getting dirty.

One place where the work gets confrontational is in Killmonger's building anger. There are close-ups in #4, where Killmonger has been betrayed and hit in the face. He's preparing to respond, and we see his gritting, blood-stained teeth and face. It's an audacious image. The kind of image that recalls some of the close-ups of the Joker, but here, we're seeing an enraged black man.

Hill and Ferreyra are doing amazing work here. They're breaking new ground on the representation of a black villain and a black man in comics. It's been fascinating watching this work unfold. 

A notebook on comic books
Juan Ferreyra, double-page spreads, and brain power
Juan Ferreyra's masterful artwork on Killmonger

Jay-Z and Black Book History

The hardcover and paperback editions of Decoded

It's not often that we can discuss rappers in the context of Black Book History. Then again, when we consider the extensive body of publications focused on hip hop, it makes sense. In addition to people writing about Jay-Z, he's also the author (with dream hampton) of a book, Decoded (2010, 2011).

During his book tour for the book, Jay-Z made a point of constantly advancing the idea that rap is poetry. His comments and visibility were vital to elevating the conversation about the links between the art forms.

Decoded is a book about Jay-Z's upbringing and experiences as a rapper. He discusses discovering rap and becoming enamored by the art. He reflects on his time on the streets of New York City, and he offers observations on rap music.

The book is visually stimulating. It includes a range of colorful photographs. Some words are presented in enlarged fonts. The diversity of images makes the book a joy to read.

Decoded is additionally distinct because it showcases Jay-Z's annotations of his own lyrics. The release of the work showcasing rap lyric annotations coincides with the rise of the popular annotation site Rap Genius, which launched in 2009.

On the one hand, Jay-Z's book corresponds to a variety of contemporary African American literary works by writers such as Ta-Nehisi Coates and Colson Whitehead. At the same time, Jay-Z's memoir connects to a long line of African American autobiographies, including Frederick Douglass's Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845), Richard Wright's Black Boy (1945), and The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965), to name just a few.

It's not a stretch to imagine assigning Jay-Z's work in a class on African American literature. There are perhaps some linkages between his thoughts on black culture and those raised by figures like Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston, among others.

Whatever the case, when and if we're writing a contemporary history of Black Book History, then we should consider a significant work like Jay-Z's Decoded.

Black Book History, February 2019
A Notebook on Jay-Z
A notebook on rap music, hip hop

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Amiri Baraka and Black Book History

Amiri Baraka was constantly producing works it seems. This month, I've been highlighting Black Book History, and so here I wanted to provide a partial list of some of Baraka's books to give just a sense of his incredible output.

1961: Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note
1963: Blues People
1964: The Dead Lecturer: Poems
1964: Dutchman 
1964: The Slave
1965: Home: Social Essays
1965: The System of Dante's Hell
1966: A Black Mass
1967: The Baptism and The Toilet
1967: Tales

1967: Black Music
1968: Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing (co-edited with Larry Neal)
1969: Four Black Revolutionary Plays
1969: Black Magic
1970: It's Nation Time
1971: Raise Race Rays Raze: Essays Since 1965
1975: Hard Facts

1983: Confirmation: An Anthology of African American Women (edited with Amina Baraka)
1983: The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones
1984: Daggers and Javelins
1991: The LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader (edited by William J. Harris)
1995: Transbluesency: The Selected Poems of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones (edited by Paul Vangelisti)
1995: Wise, Why's Y's
1996: Funk Lore: New Poems
1996: Eulogies
2000: The Fiction of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka
2003: Somebody Blew Up America & Other Poems
2004: Un Poco Low Coup

2006: Tales of the Out & the Gone
2011: Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music
2012: Razor: Revolutionary Art for Cultural Revolution
2013: Amiri Baraka and Edward Dorn: The Collected Letters (edited by Claudia Moreno Pisano)
2015: S O S: Poems 1961-2013 (edited by Paul Vangelisti)

Black Book History, February 2019
A Notebook on the work of Amiri Baraka

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Alondra Nelson, Afrofuturism, and Black Book History

The story's been told many times, and still not quite enough. During the late 1990s, a graduate student named Alondra Nelson organized and facilitated a discussion group about black diasporic engagements with technology and science fiction. She brought together all these people from across the country and on the other side of the Atlantic to discus Octavia Butler, the mechanics of black music production, and all manner of technological developments. Nelson established a frame for the discussions: Afrofuturism.

Since the late 1990s and early 2000s, the concept of Afrufuturism has really taken off. Black Panther is Afrofuturist. Janelle Monae is Afrofuturist. All that visual art is Afrofuturist. And 20 years ago, we had some other ways of talking about  AfroFuturism -- those of us from Nelson's list would say "AF" for short. For some of us, AF involved the development of critical frameworks for thinking and talking about the intersections of black history/culture and technology or speculative fiction.

These days, the conversations about AF have largely resided in the arts. However, we do have some threads that developed in other areas as well. In this regard, consider Nelson's Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination (2011) and The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome (2016). She doesn't talk in a direct way about Afrofuturism, not like how we speak of it in the arts, but it's nonetheless subtly there.

Her works thoroughly describe and illuminate the convergence of black folks and technological processes. The centrality of Alondra Nelson and those two publications to Afrofuturist thought are thus what makes me cite them in my ongoing considerations of Black Book History.

Black Book History, February 2019

Haley Reading group: The Intuitionist, 69 – 105

[The Intuitionist (1999)]

We've been pushing forward in Colson Whitehead's The Intutionist.

Since the first time I read the novel, I've been fascinated by this scene where two enforcers kidnap a reporter and begin breaking his fingers (74-77). On the one hand, the scene is painful as you consider this guy going through the torture. At the same time, the way Whitehead writes about the scene makes it kind of humorous, or at least like something out of a comic book or television show.

I think the contrasting responses and the style of writing of the scene make it so memorable to me. But what do you think about that scene? What stands out to you about it? Take some time to review that section (74 - 77), and let us know what you think.

Haley Reading Group: “Linux for Lettuce”

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

Lisa M. Hamilton follows the story of Jim Meyers, a broccoli plant breeder and college professor, as he struggles to fight off patents for plant breeding. Hamilton states that although plant breeding was regarded as a collaborative effort, the increase in patents “discourage sharing” and are stifling (74).

Hamilton exposes the impact patents will have on plant breeders and farmers. This article focuses on the collaborative effort of farmers to discourage all patents and maintain group-sharing practices.

What did you find most useful about the article, and why?

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Allison Joseph and Black Book History

I've followed Allison Joseph's work for years. I'm usually commenting on her individual poems, but it's worth noting that she's been quite productive producing volumes of poetry. She's published at least 18 books.

She's been plugging away, steadily publishing collections. I've enjoyed the poems individually, and it's been something to think about her work in total. Maybe someday, a publisher and editor will gather all of her many poems and put them together in a single, large volume. We can hope.

When I think of the many interrelated volumes in my personal collection, I often consider the books by Joseph. Her works also contribute to my varied thoughts about Black Book History.

Black Book History, February 2019
A notebook on Allison Joseph