Wednesday, August 8, 2018

NEH Summer Institute: Frederick Douglass and Literary Crossroads

Good news: the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) awarded me a grant to direct a one-week institute for twenty-five school teachers on Frederick Douglass and African American literary studies. The institute will take place in July 2019.

We'll spend a week discussing scholarship and teaching practices related to Frederick Douglass's Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, select chapters from Douglass’s My Bondage and My Freedom, African American Book History, and visual culture studies.

My colleagues Jill Anderson, Tisha Brooks, Elizabeth Cali, and Jessica DeSpain will lead sessions. In addition, we'll have lectures by visiting professors: Joycelyn Moody, Barbara McCaskill, and Courtney Thorsson. The Institute will receive support from the Interdisciplinary Research and Informatics Scholarship Center and Educational Outreach at SIUE.

I've been thinking and writing about Douglass for years now, so I'm really excited about the opportunity to work on this project that will include school teachers from across the nation.

More soon.

Friday, August 3, 2018

52 black women poets, 104 poems: Audio recordings

Continuing my studies of black women poets reading their works aloud, here's a roundup of 100 poems.

[Related: Listening to 100 black women poets reading 200 poems]

What follows are 52 different poets, their birth year, and a link to them reading one their poems:

• Elizabeth Alexander - "Praise Song for the Day" and "One Week Later in the Strange"
• Maya Angelou - "Phenomenal Woman" and "Still I Rise"
• Tara Betts - "Switch" and  "Erasure"
• Gwendolyn Brooks - "Song in the Front Yard" and "We Real Cool"
• Mahogany L. Browne - "Black Girl Magic" and "Redbone Shames the Devil"
• Tiana Clark - "The Ayes Have It" and "Magic"
• Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon - "Migration" and "Shark Poem"
• Lucille Clifton - "Homage to My Hips" and "won't you celebrate with me"
• Wanda Coleman  - "Wanda, Why Aren't You Dead?" and "My Car"
• Jayne Cortez - "Find Your Own Voice" and "How Long Has Trane Been Gone"

• Kai Davis - "F*ck I Look Like" and "Aint I a Woman"
• LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs - "the originator" and "damn righ it's betta than yours"
• Rita Dove - "American Smooth" and "Reunion 2005"
• Camille T. Dungy - "Frequently Asked Questions: No. 5" and "Characteristics of Life"
• Eve L. Ewing  - "Arrival Day" and "April 5, 1968"
• Sarah Webster Fabio - "Sweet Song" and "Together / To The Tune Of Coltrane's 'Equinox'"
• Nikky Finney - "Left" and "Girlfriend's Train"
• Nikki Giovanni - "Ego-Tripping" and "Nikki Rosa"
• Rachel Eliza Griffiths - "The Dead Will Lead You" and "Verguenza"
• Amanda Gorman - "In this place: An American Lyric" and "Neighborhood Anthem"
• Monica A. Hand - "Black people sure can keep secrets" and "The Need to be touched speaks"
• francine j. harris - "Red is the Mess" and "suicide note #10: wet condoms"

• Harmony Holiday - "Adultery" and "What Jimmy Taught Me"
• Tonya Ingram - "Thirteen" and "Unsolicited Advice (after Jeanann Verlee)"
• Amanda Johnston - "Facing Us" and "We Named You Mercy"
• June Jordan - "Poem about My Rights" and "A Poem about Intelligence for My Brothers and Sisters"
• Allison Joseph - "Voice" and "Greeting Cards"  
• Robin Coste Lewis - "Self-Portrait as the Bootblack in Daguerre’s Boulevard du Temple" and "Reason"
• Audre Lorde - "1984" and "Echoes"
• Emi Mahmoud - "Mama" and "How to Translate a Joke"
• Jasmine Nicole Mans - "Footnotes for Kanye" and "You Gone Get This Work"
• Dawn Lundy Martin - "Mo[dern Frame]" and "If your book was a house, what does the foer look like?"

• Airea D. Matthews - "Wisdom" and "Prelude"
• Aja Monet - "What I've Learned" and "Is that all you got"
• jessica Care moore - "Black Statue of Liberty" and "You May Not Know My Detroit"
• Tracie Morris - "Project Princess" and "What the sister brother…"
• Thylias Moss - "All Is Not Lost When Dreams Are" and "Sunrise Comes to Second Avenue"
• Harryette Mullen - "Present Tense" and "We are Not Responsible"
• Porsha O. - "Angry Black Woman" and "Capitalism"
• Morgan Parker - "All They Want is My Money My Pussy My Blood" and "The History of Black People"
• Claudia Rankine - "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Part 2" and excerpt from "Citizen"
• Treasure Redmond - "Preachers" and "Bound"

• Sonia Sanchez - "Poem at Thirty" and "Poem at Thirty"
• Warsan Shire - "For Women Who Are Difficult to Love" and "Ugly"
• Evie Shockley - "question marks" and "question marks"
• Patricia Smith - "Skinhead" and "shoulda been called jimi savannah"
• Tracy K. Smith - "One Man at a Time" and "I will tell you the truth about this, I will tell you all about it"
• Ebony Stewart - "Happy Father's Day" and "Eve"
• Natasha Trethewey - "Monument" and "Incident"
• Alice Walker - "I Will Keep Broken Things" and "You Confide in Me"
• Margaret Walker - "For My People" and "Molly Means"
• Jamila Woods - "Pigeon Man" and "Thirst Behavior"

A notebook on the sound of black women poets

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Poetry, high school students, and Nikki Giovanni's Power Pose

Nikki Giovanni striking her classic power pose

In addition to covering issues concerning the content and sound of poetry with a group of high school students for two weeks, we also talked about power posing. After the initial rise of Amy Cuddy's popular TED Talk concerning the extent to which "Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are," there have been extensive debates concerning the validity of whether posing powerfully can make people feel powerful.

The students and I had been talking about strengthening our reading voices, and I also wanted them to consider their body language. At the start of our sessions, we would go through some exercises where we considered various poses. We did a hands on hips pose (known as the Wonder Woman or Super man pose). We did poses while sitting where we placed our hands behind our head.

Oh, and we also did a pose that I referred to as the "Nikki Giovanni power pose." On various occasions and then in many photographs, I've noticed Giovanni extend her arms wide open while tilting her head upward. It's a power pose. She obviously didn't invent this stance, but since we were discussing African American poetry, I liked adding her name to the mix. Too, in my coverage of poets, I've encountered many instances of Giovanni assuming versions of this particular power pose.

Later, while taking a look at poets reading their works, the students and I had more discussions about reading and body language. We noticed that poets reading from memory seemed to have far more ways of non-verbally communicating ideas with their bodies than poets who read from the page, which is not to say that poets who read from the page did not have ways of conveying ideas through body language as well.

In fact, Giovanni primarily reads from the page. But she's well-known for the bold and provocative talking that she does before, between, and after reading individual poems. And somewhere in the course of her readings, she makes time for wonderful power poses.

Poems by younger poets for younger students
Black poetry, high school students, and audio recordings
Language arts activities with high school students

Blogging about Poetry in July 2018

[Related content: Blogging about Poetry]

• July 25: Amiri Baraka's three most anthologized poems
• July 25: Remixing Amiri Baraka's RhythmBlues
• July 19: Poems by younger poets for younger students
• July 15: Black poetry, high school students, and audio recordings
• July 1: Blogging about poetry in June 2018

Friday, July 27, 2018

Black movie heroes read Ta-Nehisi Coates

A few years back when Ta-Nehisi Coates's book Between the World and Me was released, I tracked the coverage in various online publications. Recently though, I've seen the book cited in cinematic representations.

First, near the beginning of season 2 of Luke Cage on Netflix, we see the protagonist reading a copy of Coates's book. Through season one, Luke Cage was shown reading or possessing various books. So now Coates has entered the realm.

And now, just recently, I went to see The Equalizer 2, starring Denzel Washington. The film opens with Robert McCall (played by Washington) riding a train in Turkey and reading a book -- Coates's Between the World and Me. Later in the film while assisting a young black man become more educated, Mr. McCall gives the young man a copy of Coates's book to read.

In Luke Cage and The Equalizer 2, Coates's book is used to signal the consciousness or studiousness of the two main characters. How do you convey through silent cues that your main character is an intelligent black man, the filmmakers may have asked? Well, let's show him reading Between the World and Me. 

A Notebook on the work of Ta-Nehisi Coates
Book History

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Amiri Baraka's three most anthologized poems

Yesterday, I was mentioning to poet and scholar William J. Harris that whenever I work with African American high school students, I include "RhythmBlues." In a way, that poem is securely within my personal canon of poems that I've presented to high school and college students over the last decade and a half. So of course activities using the poem came up the last two weeks when I worked with students from Cahokia and Madison, Illinois.

I have my chosen Baraka poems, but I'm no anthology editor. They've made different choices. When I took a preliminary look at Baraka's appearances in approximately 50 poetry anthologies published over the last 56 years, I noticed that "RhythmBlues" has not been reprinted. Instead, Baraka's three most anthologized poems are "Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note" (17 times), "A Poem for Black Hearts" (15 times), and "Black Art" (13 times).*

Those three poems were first published by 1966. They've now become Baraka's most anthologized poems. It's not uncommon for poets' early poems to become their most frequently anthologized. That's certainly the case with Langston Hughes's "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" and Margaret Walker's "For My People," to name just two prominent examples.

Still, since I've studied aspects of Baraka's career so closely, I notice the limits of how he's presented a little more. I wonder why none of his post-1966 poems stuck the ways those early three did. Why have anthologists not come to a consensus about any of Baraka's post-1970s poems like they did with those early three poems?

Beyond these issues, I've enjoyed tracing Baraka's appearances in anthologies over a long period of time. I'm intrigued that he, more than most any other poet I've encountered, is included in so many different contexts. I'm looking forward to looking through more anthologies and seeing the routes of his poems.

• A Notebook on Amiri Baraka

* I took a look at anthologies published between 1960 - 2016. A future project will take into consideration dozens more anthologies including his poems. Thanks to my graduate assistant Rae'Jean Spears for helping me assemble the collection and tabulate the poems.

Remixing Amiri Baraka's RhythmBlues

Last week while working with high school students from East St. Louis, Cahokia, and Madison, Illinois, we took some time to work on remixes of poems by Gwendolyn Brooks, Amiri Baraka, and Adrian Matejka. At this point, I shouldn't be surprised that the students were really fascinated by the closing of Baraka's poem "RhythmBlues":
Slaveboy, leroy, from Newark Hill
If capitalism dont kill me, racism will.
Over the years, high school students have been intrigued when I explain that Baraka was once named Leroy and then LeRoi. They are also curious about how capitalism can kill someone.

I presented the students with lines from Baraka's poem and added blanks in places. So I re-presented those above lines as:
____________, ______________ from ________________ Hill.
If __________________ dont kill me, ___________________ will.
And from there, I invited students to create their own ending.

One student wrote:
Funny girl, Tay, from Cahokia Hill.
If food dont kill me, starving will.  
Another wrote:
Otaku, KeKe, from Arkansas Hill.
If living dont kill me, boredom will.  
And another wrote:
Sleepy girl, D. R, from Centreville
If nuisance dont kill me, over-activity will.  

Language arts activities with high school students
Black poetry, high school students, and audio recordings

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Ta-Nehisi Coates pushes back from being "the" spokesperson

Yesterday's news that Ta-Nehisi Coates is leaving The Atlantic was surprising in some respects, given how he's been linked to that publication for nearly a decade now. The Atlantic provided Coates with a powerful platform and introduced him to new audiences. In a different yet important way, Coates brought The Atlantic audiences and attention that the publication would not have otherwise had.

Coates's decision to step away from The Atlantic in fact fits with a pattern where he resists being thrust up front as the main or only figure in a particular realm. What stands out to me is that Coates is somewhat rare among some black public intellectuals in that he wants less fame and celebrity as a cultural figure.

Can you imagine scholar X or scholar Y stepping away from the limelight the way Coates has done in some cases? Can you imagine a writer with hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter deciding to abandon social media -- at the height of her popularity on the platform?

I assume that Coates is happy to be materially wealthy and to have his work taken seriously. But, we get regular indications from him that he's been displeased with how his celebrity has gotten in the way of him being a writer, or at least the kind of writer he wants to be. "When I used to write, it was like I felt like I had more freedom to write as I felt," he informed Erik Wemple from the Washington Post. "I didn’t think I was representing anything more than my own feelings and thoughts."

He's learned that's not the case. One example he gave was attending a protest rally with plans to cover the event. However, when some journalists discovered Coates was in attendance, they began to cover him more than the protesters and rally.

Beyond those issues, Coates is pushing back, as he's done in the past, from becoming seen too much as "the" spokesperson. He's tried to resist that designation with respect to being viewed as the spokesperson for all things black, and now, he's doing it with The Atlantic -- not wanting to be seen as the face of the magazine.

A notebook on Ta-Nehisi Coates