Thursday, April 19, 2018

Notes on "Beyond Poet Voice"

Last year, I heard a fascinating presentation by scholar Marit J. MacArthur, where she discussed some ongoing work that she's doing utilizing digital tools to analyze sounds and speech patterns of American poets. I wrote about some of her research and findings, and how that connects with my own work. MacArthur and her colleagues Georgia Zellou and Lee M. Miller just recently published an article, "Beyond Poet Voice: Sampling the (Non-) Performance Styles of 100 American Poets" for the Journal of Cultural Analytics. I am particularly intrigued with their treatment of black women poets.

Overall, the article explains how MacArthur, Zellou, and Miller took an empirical look at the performance or reading styles of poets. They base their research on a sample of recorded poems by 100 poets. They examine differences between groups of poets, and they seek to quantify what is known as Poet Voice through the use of digital tools. For someone like me, who's been spending way too much time thinking about the implications of how poets sound and present their work, the work that these scholars are doing is really important.

And not just the examination of sounds with poetry. I also appreciate that they use a relatively large sample-size (in the realm of poetry studies at least) to address their concerns. At one point, they note that humanities scholars "are adept at generating broadly persuasive insights from a few choice examples." Literary scholars have done less, though, to look at datasets of 50 and 100 writers at a time to produce various insights.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Haley Reading Groups: reflections

[The Best American Science and Nature Writing (2016)]

Over the last few months, we read and commented on:
• January 24 Amanda Gefter's "The man who tried to redeem the world with logic
• January 31 Apoorva Mandavilli’s “The Lost Girls
• February 14 Charles C. Mann’s “Solar, Eclipsed
• February 28 Rinku Patel’s “Bugged
• March 21 Gaurav Raj Telhan's “Begin Cutting"
• April 4 Katie Worth’s “Telescope Wars

What article most challenged your thinking? That is, which article, among those we read, prompted you to most re-think preconceived ideas or stretch your mind in new ways? How so?

Haley Reading Group: reflections

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

Over the last few months, we read and commented on:
• Sheri Fink’s “Life, death, and grim routine fill the day at a Liberian Ebola Clinic
• Eli Kintisch's “Into the Maelstrom
• Sam Kean’s “Phineas Gage, Neuroscience’s Most Famous Patient
• Jourdan Imani Keith’s “At Risk" & “Desegregating Wilderness
• Dennis Overbye’s “A Pioneer as Elusive as His Particle
• Michael Specter’s “Partial Recall
What article most challenged your thinking? That is, which article, among those we read, prompted you to most re-think preconceived ideas or stretch your mind in new ways? How so?

Monday, April 16, 2018

Duos of poets -- Evie Shockley & Patricia Smith, Tracy K. Smith & Kevin Young -- in the news

This morning, Times ran a dual review of new volumes of poetry by Tracy K. Smith and Kevin Young. It's not everyday that the Times runs reviews of work by African American poets, so I was especially intrigued that here was a review featuring, not one but two.

Ok, next up, the Pulitzer Prize winners were announced today. Patricia Smith's Incendiary Art and Evie Shockley's semiautomatic were finalists in the poetry category. What a moment! Two black women as finalists for a Pulitzer Prize in poetry. I don't think there have ever been two black finalists in the poetry category before, and here we have two black women. Big congratulations to them both.

Tyehimba Jess wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry
Margaret Walker almost won the Pulitzer in 1943
Does the Pulitzer award for poetry favor "younger" black poets?
The Coverage of Tracy K. Smith's Pulitzer-Prize Win

A data project on Amiri Baraka and Sonia Sanchez

By Rae'Jean Spears

In my presentation at the College Language Association (CLA) conference, I interrogated the idea of the "widely anthologized poet." The presentation was based on a dataset on two poets, Amiri Baraka and Sonia Sanchez, that I have been working on with Professor Howard Rambsy. The presentation contends that literary scholars can illuminate studies of major writers like Baraka and Sanchez by utilizing data management software to track a wide array of publishing information – beyond conventional bibliographies.

By using quantitative data in this capacity, I offer that literary scholars are able to further conversations on how writers are published differently across the overall American literary canon. To support my position, I drew from our dataset of approximately 60 anthologies published between 1960 and 2016.

Those anthologies collectively printed Baraka’s poems 252 times. More than 50 of his poems, however, appear only once. Three of Baraka’s poems “Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note,” “A Poem for Black Hearts,” and “Black Art” appeared in more than 10 anthologies. In these same 60 anthologies, Sanchez only appears in 35. Sanchez’s poems appear 108 times, less than half of 252 times that Baraka's poems appeared. Sanchez’s poem “poem at thirty” was her most frequently reprinted.

Including quantitative data, rather than solely qualitative observations, challenges scholars to expand our thinking of our respective research projects. Doing a dataset of both Sanchez and Baraka provided me with a more holistic view of how their contributions to the canon have been received. In doing this project, I often wondered, are Baraka and Sanchez major figures in poetry outside of African American literary spaces?

My analyses leads to the conclusion that scholars can advance the study of Baraka, Sanchez, and black writers in general by incorporating approaches that seek to account for how little of a writer’s overall work is published, the trends surrounding what is published, and how editors play a significant role in the literary portrayal of black writers.

Data Mining the Norton Anthology of African American Literature

By Jade Harrison

On Friday, April 6, 2018, at the College Language Association (CLA) conference, I presented my paper “The Black Anthology Project” on a digital humanities panel. In September 2017, I started working on the Black Anthology Project directed by Professor Kenton Rambsy. The goal of the project is to create a digital record concerning the contents of 100 anthologies, published over several decades.

In my presentation, I provided a handout to audience members where I charted some of my findings from my analyses of the three editions of the Norton Anthology of African American Literature (1997, 2003, 2014). These preliminary findings compared the appearances of men and women authors in the editions.

In figure 1.2, I’ve noted that “The Harlem Renaissance” and “The Black Arts Movement” contain relatively fewer literary works written by women authors than men. Works such as “Lady, Lady” by Anne Spencer, “My Little Dreams “ by Georgia Douglass Johnson, and 4 four chapters of Nella Larson’s Quicksand are removed after the first edition.

Similarly, in the Black Arts Movement section (Figure 1.3), the number of entries by men writers rises consistently across the three editions from 37 entries to 56 entries. The number of anthologized works by women authors rises from 11 entries in the first edition to 38 entries in the second to fall again to 37 entries in the third edition. Works such as “Railroad Bill, A Conjure Man,” and “Chattanooga” by Ishmael Reed are added after the first edition.

While the “Harlem Renaissance” and “Black Arts Movement” sections saw a disproportional representation of entries by men to women writers, the contemporary period saw a disproportional representation of women to men. The “Contemporary Period,” is the largest section of anthologized literary works across the three editions.

According to Figure 1.4, in each edition, anthologized works by women authors significantly outnumber the works included by men authors. Between 1997 and 2014, the number of works anthologized by women writers remains significantly higher than works anthologized by men. Entries by men writers decrease in “Contemporary Period” from 52 entries in the first edition, to 31 entries in the second edition, to 29 entries in the latest edition.

What does this analysis suggest? A larger number of black women writers have received widespread critical attention over the last four decades than in previous eras. Toni Morrison and Alice Walker won Pulitzer Prizes for fiction. Rita Dove, Natasha Trethewey, and Tracy K. Smith won prizes for poetry. Morrison won the Nobel. Octavia Butler gained considerable attention for science fiction.

The gender argument, alone, doesn't explain why these women got in and other women did not. My findings indicate the need for more research regarding the types of texts by black women writers that editors include.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

A notebook of entries by Rae'Jean Spears

Rae'Jean Spears is a graduate student in the department of English at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. She pursued her undergraduate studies at Tougaloo College.

• April 16: A data project on Amiri Baraka and Sonia Sanchez
• April 11: Haley Reading Group: Michael Specter’s “Partial Recall”
• March 28: Haley Reading Group: Dennis Overbye’s “A Pioneer as Elusive as His Particle”
• March 21: Haley Reading Group: Gaurav Raj Telhan's “Begin Cutting"
• February 28: Haley Reading Group: Rinku Patel's "Bugged"
• February 21: Haley Reading Group: "Phineas Gage, Neuroscience’s Most Famous Patient"
• February 7: Haley Reading Group: :Into the Maelstrom
• January 31: East St. Louis DH Club Week #3 Reflection
• January 24: East St. Louis DH Club Week #2 Reflection
January 24: Haley Reading Group: "Life, Death, and Grim Routine Fill the Day at a Liberian Ebola Clinic"
January 24: Haley Reading Group: "The Man Who Tried to Redeem the World with Logic"
• January 17: East St. Louis DH Club Week #1 Reflection

• December 6: East St. Louis DH Club Week #12 reflection
• November 29: East St. Louis DH Club Week #11 reflection
• November 15: East St. Louis DH Club Week #10 reflection
• November 4: East St. Louis DH Club Midterm reflection
• October 25: East St. Louis DH Club Week #7 reflection
• October 18: East St. Louis DH Club Week #6 reflection
• October 11: East St. Louis DH Club Week #5 reflection
• October 4: East St. Louis DH Club Week #4 reflection
• September 27: East St. Louis DH Club Week #3 reflection
• Setpebmer 20: East St. Louis DH Club Week #2 reflection
• September 11: East St. Louis DH Club Week #1 reflection

Black women scholars, digital humanities, and the College Language Association convention, 2018
Rae’Jean Spears: Notes on the first semester
Rae'Jean Spears: the critical facilitator and conversationalist
Black women, self-portraits, and selfies

An Extended Notebook on the works of writers & artists

Friday, April 13, 2018

Lost Southern Voices: Mapping Edward P. Jones’s D.C.

By Kenton Rambsy

On March 23 and 24, I participated in the Lost Southern Voices Festival hosted by Georgia State Perimeter College in Atlanta, Georgia. The event was organized by my graduate school cohort member and friend, Jennifer Colatosti along with her colleagues Pearl McHaney and Andy Rogers.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution described the literary festival as “a two-day celebration of lost and under-appreciated Southern writers” where “invited writers and scholars discuss favorite authors whose works no longer receive the attention and reading they deserve.”

In my presentation, I chose to highlight an overlooked geographic location rather than a forgotten or “lost” writer. I focused on Edward Jones’s representations of African Americans “up south” in the nation’s capital—Washington, D.C.

Despite the long history and dense population of African Americans living in or near the nation’s capital, the predominately black quadrants of Washington D.C., have a relatively small presence in the scholarship on African American literature. Jones, however, utilizes these locations and populates them with African American characters not by happenstance. Instead, he embeds his story with subtle societal traits to make the correlation between race and location more apparent.

In my presentation, I previewed a heat map from an upcoming digital publication. In 2017, I taught a graduate course, “Lost in the City,” that covered Jones’s two collections of short fiction. In the class, my students and I collaborated on a dataset that tracked all of the locations and streets mentioned in Jones’s work. One of the students in the course, Ahmed Foggie, used ArcGIS to transform our data into an interactive map.

The heat map below highlights the areas in D.C. that Jones refers to most often in his short stories. By clicking on an individual story to the left, you are able to see all of the locations mentioned in that story. The brighter the color indicates that more action took place in that particular location(s).

Jones’s constant references to street names, cultural figures, and landmarks draws on historical and social memories of D.C. for each character. These memories reveal how a select geographic location has the ability to conjure a range of emotions and thus become significant to the overall plot of each story. A map like this is particularly useful given the changing landscape of D.C. over the past two decades.