Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Writing about a poetic trilogy of bad men

The opening chapter of my book Bad Men: Creative Touchstones of Black Writers concentrates on three volumes of poetry--To Repel Ghosts (2001) by Kevin Young, Leadbelly (2005) by Tyehimba Jess, and The Big Smoke (2013) by Adrian Matejka. The books, respectively, focus on visual artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, musician Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter, and boxer Jack Johnson.

 I view those volumes as a poetic trilogy of bad men. Those three historical figures inspired those poets to produce really remarkable works. All three books demonstrate the possibilities of poets exploring issues such as racism and black male identity in verse.

My first book and my early years of research and teaching focused on African American poetry. That led me to open this book on the subject. Plus, I noticed that large numbers of black poets utilized bad men as artistic muses. 

I'm excited to extend the critical discourse on Young, Jess, Matejka, and contemporary black poetry in general. We've had so much work produced by poets in the 21st century, and we've struggled to keep up with scholarly examinations of their output. So this chapter on a poetic trilogy of bad men seeks to expand the conversation.

You can order Bad Men from the University of Virginia Press. Starting April 1, you can receive a 30% discount using the promo code: 10BAD30.

A notebook on Bad Men: Creative Touchstones of Black Writers

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Bad Men & Creativity

A month from now, my book Bad Men: Creative Touchstones of Black Writers, will be released by the University of Virginia Press. The book, summarized here, focuses on the results of so many different writers being drawn to "bad men" and black boys as artistic muses.

Early on, I began thinking about my subject in the context of creativity research -- a field where researchers think about a wide range of issues concerning idea generation, productivity, approaches to composition, and so forth. Whereas as literary scholars concentrate on artistic works, we don't always cover our subjects in the way that creativity researchers do. Thus, I began combining creativity studies and African American literary studies. 

Taking this approach gave me opportunities to consider works by several different writers, including Ta-Nehisi Coates, Elizabeth Alexander, Paul Beatty, Tyehimba Jess, and Evie Shockley, in new and exciting ways. I was also inspired to think about varied modes of composition -- poems, rap lyrics, comic strips, a novel, news articles, and blog entries.

You can order Bad Men from the University of Virginia Press. Starting April 1, you can receive a 30% discount using the promo code: 10BAD30.

A notebook on Bad Men: Creative Touchstones of Black Writers

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Coverage of Jay Electronica's A Written Testimony, featuring Jay-Z

Jay Electronica's long-awaited debut album A Written Testimony -- featuring Jay-Z -- was released on Friday, March 13. I've enjoyed my first couple of listens. Jay Elec offering the knowledge and Jay-Z coming in too in top form. Good stuff.

Jay Elec first came on the scene in 2007, and he gained widespread attention in 2009 with the release of his song "Exhibit C." Folks were waiting since then for an album.

I've been following the coverage of A Written Testimony, checking out what folks have been saying and how they're assessing the album.

Here's a roundup of some of the pieces I've read so far:

• March 19: The Curious Case Of Jay Electronica - Jesse Fairfax - Vibe
• March 18: Jay Electronica Remains Prophetic Even If His Debut Doesn’t - Micah Peters - The Ringer
• March 18: Jay Electronica’s ‘A Written Testimony’ - Andrew Barker - Variety
• March 18: JAY-Z’s Evolution Continues on ‘A Written Testimony’ - Frazier Tharpe - Complex
• March 18: Why Jay Electronica's Debut Album Is So Significant - MTV News Need to Know (Dometi Pongo) - Twitter
• March 17: Jay Electronica A Written - Sheldon Pearce - Pitchfork
• March 17: Jay Electronica's Debut Album Isn't What You Might Have Expected - Paull Thompson - GQ
• March 17: Why Are Y’all Arguing About Jay-Z Washing Jay Electronica? - Charles Holmes - Rolling Stone
• March 17: Jay Electronica’s ‘A Written Testimony’ dropped like a comet -  Jesse Childs - Revolt.TV
• March 17: A Timeline From 'Act I' To Jay Electronica's New Album - Kevin L. Clark - Vibe
• March 17: 9 Thoughts About Jay Electronica and His Debut album - Panama Jackson - The Root
• March 17: Jay Electronica – ‘A Written Testimony’ review - Dhruva Balram - NME
• March 17: A Decade Later, Jay Electronica's 'A Written Testimony' Is Right on Time - Eric Diep - Billboard
• March 17: Jay Electronica and Joe Budden Trade Shots Over A Written Testimony - FNR TIGG -Complex
• March 16: US hip hop star releases new album with track list entirely in Arabic - Arab News
• March 16: JAY-Z responds to claims he sold out with NFL deal - Ny Magee - The Grio
• March 15: Jay Electronica and Pete Rosenberg are Sparring Over a Controversial Line - ZO - Okayplayer
• March 15: A Written Testimony Struggles...But Delivers Glimpses Of Greatness - D. L. Chandler - HipHopWired
• March 15: Jay Electronica's A Written Testimony is a righteous step forward - Marcus J. Moore - EW
• March 15: Joe Budden Believes Jay Z Bodied Jay Electronica on album - Dominiq R. - HotNews HipHop
• March 15: Choke No Joke Responds To Jay Z's "A Written Testimony" Bars - Dominiq R. - HotNews HipHop
• March 14: Jay Electronica’s album is proof hip-hop loves a comeback - Keith Murphy - The Undefeated
• March 14: Jay Electronica – A Written Testimony Review - istandard
• March 14: Badu, Diddy, others co-sign Jay Electronica's album - Rosario Harper - SOHH
• March 14: I’m here listening to this Jay Elec Jay Z album - Talib Kweli Greene - Twitter
• March 14: And his grandmother & her reaction - Jay-Z Daily - Twitter
• March 14: Beyonce Is The Owner Of The Pool Depicted...on Album - Wongo Okon - Uproxx
• March 13: This the album rap genius was actually made for - Chance the Rapper - Twitter
• March 13: [FIRST IMPRESSIONS] Jay Electronica - A Written Testimony - weoutheeyah - Reddit
• March 13: [FIRST IMPRESSIONS] Jay Electronica - A Written Testimony - kiakili - Reddit
• March 13: [FIRST IMPRESSIONS] Jay Electronica - A Written Testimony - multiple - Reddit
• March 13: Jay Electronica's Debut Album... Arrives After An 11-Year Wait - Lars Gotrich - NPR
• March 13: Jay Z and Jay Electronica after the final mastering studio session - K.O. - Twitter
• March 13: Jay Electronica’s Album Is Real, and ...Here - Brendan Klinkenberg - Rolling Stone
• March 13: Jay Electronica Completes His Cipher with ‘A Written Testimony - Zachary Schwartz - DJBooth
• March 13: Premature Evaluation: Jay Electronica A Written Testimony - Tom Breihan - Stereogum 
• March 13: Production Credits for A Written Testimony - Navjosh - HipHopNMore
• March 13: Jay Electronica & Jay Z on Writen Testimony - Chris - Twitter
• March 13: Jay Electronica's Debut Album Actually Happened - Tonja Renée Stidhum - The Root
• March 13: Eight Takeaways From...'A Written Testimony' - Andre Gee - Okayplayer
• March 13: Beyoncé took a photograph of her pool, then they made it the cover. - AintNoJigga - Twitter
• March 13: "My saint's SHANGO" - Jay-Z Daily - Twitter
• March 13: I think it's [Backstabbers] is also in reference to this meme - Produce Justice - Twitter
• March 13: JayZ is really a [GOAT] He’s the king of Entendres !!!!! - Ave - Twitter
• March 13: Hov sat in that studio. .. Gave us 5% Carter - AintNoJigga - Twitter
• March 13: Remember when Jay told us "Nobody's ever been this good for this long." - DragonflyJonez - Twitter
• March 13: Your Guide to the Extended Mythology of Jay Elec, Rap’s Great Mystery - Paul Thompson - Vulture
• March 13: 5 Emo Jay-Z Lyrics From Jay Electronica’s A Written Testimony - Zoe Haylock - Vulture
• March 13: #AWrittenTestimony - Jay Electronica - Twitter
• March 13: Easy contender for Bar of the Decade - Wash Ya Hands - Twitter
• March 13: Jay Electronica’s (And Jay-Z’s) Long-Awaited Album in 20 Tweets - Bruce C. T. Wright - NewsOne
• March 13: 10 Big Takeaways From ‘A Written Testimony’ - E. Skelton, S. Setaro, J. McKinney - Complex
• March 13: A Written Testimony credits - Tidal
• March 12: Jay Electronica on 2009..: "Trying to find the meaning of life in a Corona" - Atri - Twitter
• March 12: A Written Testimony - Tidal - Twitter
• March 12: #AWrittenTestimony - Jay-Z Daily - Twitter
• February 6: A Written Testimony - Jay Electronica - Twitter
• February 6: Releasing in 40 days - Jay Electronica - Twitter
• February 6: Recorded over 40 days and 40 nights, starting from Dec 26 - Jay Electronica - Twitter
• February 6: “...my debut album featuring Hov man this is highway robbery” - Jay Electronica - Twitter
• February 6: Album done - Jay Electronica - Twitter

A notebook on Jay-Z
The Coverage of Authors, Books & Special Topics

A Multigenerational Story: Sarah Broom’s The Yellow House

By Lakenzie Walls

When you are the babiest in a family with eleven older points of view, eleven disparate rallying cries, eleven demanding and pay-attention-to-me voices— all variations of the communal story— developing your own becomes a matter of survival. — The Yellow House by Sarah Broom

Sarah Broom’s debut memoir, The Yellow House, explores a larger narrative extending beyond the famous French Quarter and into the once swamplands of New Orleans East. The center of Broom’s novel is a Yellow House, which became home to a blended family of twelve children.

Broom is seemingly redrawing the map her life as she reclaims her past through writing. She retells her story in four parts, which begins with The World Before Me and ends with Investigations. For years Broom quietly drifted through spaces like Texas, New York, Burundi, and back to New Orleans to investigate her past and share the story of the yellow house.

Broom’s writing transports readers to a time before and after the floods that devastated the region. She traces her family roots through interviews with family members that take her back to a time before she was born. The exchanges with relatives and jotting down quick notes as she traveled throughout the city serve as therapy for Broom, who looks for answers about a place that shaped her life.

Some memories of the yellow house are painful, and so Broom’s eldest brother Simon advises against her writing because “by writing this all down here, I will disrupt, unravel, and tear down everything the Broom family has ever built.” When Simon asks again about her project, Broom responds vaguely and says she’s writing about “architecture and belonging and space.” Broom illustrates the power of written confessions as she reclaims her home.

After reading The Yellow House, I began thinking about how contemporary black women writers present their journeys through different spaces. This led me to also think about the survival strategies they use while moving in and out of these spaces. Broom’s approach seems to be rooted in oral tradition because she is creating a narrative about a place developing from stories passed on by word of mouth.

As I research more contemporary black women memoirists, I will document more survival strategies that black women use while moving through different spaces. Broom’s The Yellow House is an expansive work that tells a multigenerational story filled with love, pain, and resistance.

Lakenzie Walls is a graduate student in English at SIUE and a contributing writer for the Cultural Front.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

On “Girlfriend’s Train” & Writing Like a Black Woman That’s Never Been Hit Before

By Christiana McClain

I cope with writer’s block by reading poetry. I had this book of black poems, and Finney’s poem was inside. The epigraph of the poem is “You write like a black woman that’s never been hit before.”

I was shook! (For those of y’all who don’t know what that means, I’m saying that I was stunned. I never knew that “writing like a black woman that’s never been hit before” was a way to write. I never considered what it might mean for black women writers to approach a piece of literature that doesn’t undo them.)

So, I read the poem and considered what it did for that woman, and I want all my work to do that for black women. I want my work to be a space that provides moments of tenderness and love and joy for black women.

Now I know this sounds like a very cute manifesto, but literature cannot happen without conflict. I told Finney when I met her that I’m forever trying to write like I’ve never been hit before, but that doesn’t mean all my stories will lack conflict or trauma.

It means that I am reflective and intentional about my black women characters and the unintended consequences of them being on the page.

So, what does it look like to write like I never been hit before? Well I created a checklist of seven things for me to be mindful of when I write:
o Being intentional about the trauma my characters experience
o Creating more moments of self-pleasure & intimacy that include sex
o Ensuring my characters have other women friends
o Characters stepping into vulnerability
o Continuing descriptions of nature
o Making room for joy that isn’t temporary
o Being honest about reasons why I exclude or include myself

Christiana McClain is a graduate of Spelman College and an MFA in creative writing at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. She is a contributing writer for Cultural Front.

A notebook on Nikky Finney for Spring 2020

Christiana McClain Commentary

Christiana McClain is a graduate student in the MFA program at Southern Illinois University Edwarsdsville. She is a contributing writer for the Cultural Front.

• March 5: On “Girlfriend’s Train” & Writing Like a Black Woman That’s Never Been Hit Before
• February 29: Reflections on my Independent Study with Nikky Finney
• February 19: "Shaker: Wilma Rudolph Appears While Riding the Althea Gibson Highway Home"
• February 8: "Shark Bite" from The World Is Round
• February 2: Nikky Finney’s “Cotton Tea” from Rice 
• January 28: The Ghost of Black Women in Nikky Finney’s Poetry

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

The practice of Black female friendship: Speedship at SIUE

Lakenzie Walls

Here’s something most college students know and experience: In college, you can go weeks engaging in conversation with the person next to you in class without knowing their name. And beyond that, many black girls and women are discouraged from forming bonds with other black girls and women because, as the saying goes, “Not everyone is your friend.”

For Black History Month, I collaborated with two black women grad students in the English department for an event promoting black female friendships. We came up with the name “SpeedShip.” The name is inspired by SpeedDating events, which encourage people to meet and get to know each other.

On the day of the event, we decorated the conference room of the library with Valentine’s Day decorations and provided finger food. We wanted to create a relaxing atmosphere so students would feel comfortable sharing information about themselves. Everything from the soulful R&B playing in the background to the location of the event in the conference room on the third floor of the library was deliberately chosen. Speedship was our first planned event as a team, and we wanted everything to go smoothly.
What is the best compliment you’ve ever received?What movie can you watch over and over again?
These are a few questions we typed on small pieces of paper and spread across the tables as each person exchanged information with another. Each pair had four minutes to ask each other questions before moving along to someone new. I made sure to walk around the room and help facilitate conversations and jump in with information about myself. After time ran out, we quickly debriefed the group of 14 young women and explained our reasoning for planning SpeedShip.

Ideally, we want to plan more SpeedShips and eventually create a space for young black women on campus to come and talk with each other. Ironically, one student asked if we could create a space for them like “a black girl talk.” For now, we plan on continuing SpeedShip and reaching more young black women on campus.

Lakenzie Walls is a graduate student in English at SIUE and a contributing writer for the Cultural Front.

Haley Reading Group: “Wealthier People Produce More Carbon Pollution"

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

In “Wealthier People Produce More Carbon Pollution-Even the 'Green' Ones,” David Roberts highlights the presence of wealthy people in considerations of climate change and carbon emissions. He makes it clear that although wealthy people often describe themselves as ‘Green’ or ‘environmentally friendly,’ their carbon footprints do not match their good intentions.

Scientists discovered that “the variables that most predict carbon footprint are “per capita living space, energy used for household appliances, meat consumption, car use, and vacation travel” (135). Roberts argues that the energy used to produce to the lifestyles of wealthier people are far greater than their relatively small attempts at recycling and buying organic produce.

What reactions did you have to the article? Why?