Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The EBR Digital Collections & new directions in recovery work

Scholars of African American literature spend considerable time focusing on "recovery work" or on ways to promote writers who have been largely overlooked. We make conference presentations, publish articles, and occasionally produce full-length books in order to bring attention to neglected figures. Yet, since a tremendous amount of time and resources are required to make an author "major" and "well-known," our efforts usually have limited success.

What if we re-thought some of our approaches?

The digital exhibits and collections that Lovejoy Library has produced related to the Eugene B. Redmond (EBR) Collection offer some useful possibilities. Taken together, the series of easily accessible and searchable materials based on Redmond's photographs, editorial work, and chronicling activities are an important breakthrough on the preservation and presentation of a writer's literary and extra-literary productions. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Cultural Signifiers in Cornrows and Cornfields

African American cultural signifiers constitute distinguishing features of black artistic expression. Cultural signifiers are those people, places, activities, and things that writers and other artists present that link or refer to a broader system or discourse community. The uses of multiple cultural signifiers  assist in making a work recognizably African American.

Part of the resonance of Celeste Doaks's  volume Cornrows and Cornfields relates to her use of a wide range of African American cultural signifiers throughout the volume. What follows is an alphabetized list of just 30 signifiers with page numbers from her book.

A Love Supreme (53)
A.M.E. Church (34)
Bronzeville (22)
Cornrows (cover, 15)
Diana (68) 
Don Cornelius (22-23)

Friday, July 3, 2015

Celeste Doaks's Father-Daughter poems

In Cornrows and Cornfields, Celeste Doaks contributes to a long-running and important creative domain by producing a series of poems about the loving and sometimes tense relationship between a black father and daughter. Doaks's poems remind us why such relationships are so vital.

[Related: The value of 'Cornrows and Cornfields']

Taken together, Doaks's series of father-daughter poems offer a variety of perspectives. In "Boy First, A Doaks Girl, or Daddy Say," Doaks takes on the first-person persona of father who must now deal with having a daughter instead of a son: "Now my mind was all set on Eric or Anthony or Raymond / and I get a girl. I mean, how many basketball games can you play with a girl?" And later, he acknowledges that his child "got my blood in her but hopefully she don't turn out to be a smoker like me. Or a drinker."

In additional poems, Doaks provides childhood reflections on sharing moments with her dad. In "Father-Daughter Time," she describes the regular practice of helping her father wash his car. The seemingly minor details of cleaning the car "got special attention, / the way I wished my announcements of another 'A' would elicit a grin. But instead this [washing the car] was our father-daughter time."

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Summer Reading

This fall, we'll continue our bi-annual reading groups with SIUE students. We'll have about 125 participants, and I'll coordinate three different groups. 

Last month, I read an advance reader edition of Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me, and over the coming weeks, my graduate student Jeremiah Carter and I will reading Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America (2003) Charisse Jones and Kumea Shorter-Gooden and The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery (2014).

My colleagues Joycelyn Moody, from University of Texas at San Antonio, and Elizabeth Cali, from SIUE, suggested Shifting and The Rise, respectively, when I circulated a call asking for book recommendations.

I'm looking forward to working with Jeremiah to think through questions and small exhibits based on the books, which we'll in turn explore with students in the fall.

Reading Groups

A select chronology of the EBR Collection

1976: Eugene B. Redmond publishes Drumvoices: The Mission of Afro-American Poetry, A Critical History

1976: Redmond is named Poet Laureate of East St. Louis

1986: Redmond co-founds EBR Writers Club and begins to dramatically increase photographic chronicling.

1990: Redmond begins as professor at SIUE.

1991: Redmond edits/publishes magazine Literati Internationale.

1992: Redmond edits/publishes first issue of Drumvoices Revue.

2003: Eugene B. Redmond and I begin organizing select photographs for exhibit.

2003: I suggest to that we begin referring to his materials as the "EBR Collection."

EBR Digital Exhibits & Collections

Here's a look at the digital exhibits and collections hosted by Lovejoy Library concerning the Eugene B. Redmond (EBR) Collection.

Drumvoices Revue -- The digital collection contains the complete run (16 volumes) of Redmond's cultural arts magazine.

EBR African American Cultural Life -- This searchable digital collection contains photographs, posters, and pamphlets selected from the EBR Collection.

The Eugene B. Redmond Interviews -- A series of extended video interviews, including interview transcriptions, with Redmond concerning his experiences as a scholar, writer, teacher, and cultural organizer.

Path to "Visible Glory": The Million Man March in the Redmond Collection -- This exhibit showcases materials from Redmond's chronicle of the October 1995, Million Man March as well as documentation on the production of Visible Glory: The Million Man March, a special issue of Drumvoices organized by Redmond, Sherman Fowler, and Marcus Atkins.

A Notebook on Lovejoy Library's EBR Digital Collection
Eugene B. Redmond

Select list of debut collections by African American poets, 2000 - 2015

While reading Celeste Doaks's debut poetry collection over the last couple of days, I thought about and looked through my collection of first volumes by poets. I decided to organize a list, showing just one debut for each year between 2000 - 2015.

2000: Domestic Work by Natasha Trethewey
2001: Rise by A. Van Jordan
2002: Black Swan Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon
2003: The Body's Question by Tracy K. Smith
2004: Armor and Flesh by Mendi Lewis Obadike
2005: Leadbelly by Tyehimba Jess
2006: Blue-Tail Fly by Vievee Francis
2007: TBA
2008: Please by Jericho Brown 
2009: Arc & Hue by Tara Betts
2010: Shahid Reads His Own Palm by Reginald Betts
2011: Negro League Baseball by Harmony Holiday
2012: me and Nina by Monica Hand
2013: Moon, Kamilah Aisha. She Has a Name
2014: Prelude to Bruise by Saeed Jones
2015: Cornrows and Cornfields by Celeste Doaks

Note: I don't think I have a "debut" collection from a poet from 2007.

The value of 'Cornrows and Cornfields' by Celeste Doaks
Celeste Doaks's Father-Daughter poems
Cultural Signifiers in Cornrows and Cornfields  

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The value of 'Cornrows and Cornfields' by Celeste Doaks

Many, not all, but many of the volumes of poetry I've enjoyed over the last several years have featured memorable main "characters." Such is the case with Celeste Doaks's Cornrows and Cornfields (2015), a collection of poems powered by the experiences of a black girl. Given my own studies of "bad men" in poetry as well as the prevalence of poetry about a range of historical subjects and figures, this debut volume by Doaks constitutes an important intervention and continuation.

Cornrows and Cornfields is, among other things, a poetic repository of ideas, amusements, frustrations, interests, and cultural figures represented by a poet recalling aspects of her childhood. The poems showcase a black girl navigating her environment and cataloging useful lessons.     

In the opening poem, "Cornrows," the poet remembers longing for "Black Barbies and Strawberry Shortcake dolls at Christmas." In another poem, she recalls her mother speaking up for her child, telling the teacher "But she's not stupid." In yet another poem, she pays tribute to Don Cornelius of Soul Train, and in one poem, she reflects on the moment she was prompted, by a teacher, to read one of her stories in front of her 6th grade classmates.

There are individual poems from the perspective of a mother and then a father reflecting on the marvel of a newborn black girl. The persona of the father stands out because he apparently wanted a boy, and is thus inclined to express his anxieties about raising a girl. The poem foreshadows the ongoing, sometimes tense relationship between father and daughter chronicled throughout the volume.

 Cornrows and Cornfields is a solid book. I'm thankful to now have it added it to my larger collection, and more important, I'm glad to integrate these poems by Celeste Doaks into my mental catalog of poetry. This debut volume is valuable for what it tells us about black girls, a poet remembering her childhood, the relationship between a father and daughter, African American cultural experiences, and more.

Celeste Doaks's Father-Daughter poems
Select list of debut collections by African American poets, 2000 - 2015
Cultural Signifiers in Cornrows and Cornfields