Friday, May 27, 2016

The greatest 25 years in African American women's writing?

Somewhere out there in presentations, I've said that the greatest 10 years in African American literary history occurred from 1965 - 1976 -- so great that it refused to fit within a conventional 10-year frame. Alright, so today, I'm going to say that the greatest 25 years in African American women's writing has to be 1969 - 1994, right?

Ok, maybe you disagree. But for now, I'm providing a 60-entry timeline just to see what we have here.

1969: Maya Angelou publishes autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
1969: Lucille Clifton publishes Good Times.
1969: Carolyn Rodgers publishes "Black Poetry--Where It's At" appears in Negro Digest.
1969: Sonia Sanchez publishes Homecoming.
1970: Toni Morrison published The Bluest Eye.
1970: Alice Walker publishes The Third Life of Grange Copeland.
1970: Nikki Giovanni publishes Black Feeling, Black Talk/ Black Judgement.
1970: Mari Evans publishes I am a Black Woman.
1970: Sonia Sanchez publishes We a Baddddd People.
1970: Toni Cade Bambara edits and publishes The Black Woman: An Anthology.
1971: Jayne Cortez publishes Festivals and Funerals.
1971: Nikki Giovanni releases album Truth Is On Its Way with the New York Community Choir.
1972: Toni Cade Bambara publishes Gorilla, My Love.
1972: Sherley Anne Williams publishes Giving Birth to Brightness: A Thematic Study in Neo-Black Literature.
1973: Toni Morrison publishes Sula.
1973: Nikki Giovanni publishes Ego-Tripping and Other Poems For Young People.
1974: Jayne Cortez releases album Celebrations & Solitudes: The Poetry of Jayne Cortez.
1974: Alice Walker publishes "In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: The Creativity of Black Women in the South."
1974: Angela Davis publishes Angela Davis: An Autobiography
1975: Gayl Jones publishes Corregidora.
1975: Ntozake Shange publishes for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf.

Gun violence, Black Lives Matter, and poetry

The other day, over on Facebook, the poet-scholar Yao Glover asked "how is gun violence in the street not the same as Black Lives Matter?"

Black Lives Matter (BLM) apparently has a somewhat clear focus, responding primarily to police violence against unarmed black people. Although police brutality obviously often involves deadly shootings, there are apparently many more moving parts associated with gun violence in the streets. Here in St. Louis and other cities across the country, you frequently hear about shootings involving:
• gang disputes
• drug disputes
• domestic disputes
• robberies
• self-defense
• stray bullets
• accidents (i.e. smallest fingers on the trigger)
Activists associated with BLM often have clearly defined opposition: problematic police officers, police departments, district attorneys, or mayors. The vigils for people who have been murdered or community marches addressing gun violence are somewhat general, with chants like "Stop the violence."  

BLM rightly and nobly highlights the justified fears black people have with police officers. The fears people have with gun violence definitely includes but is hardly limited to police. Here, people are fearful about getting by stray bullets, by rival gangs, by a violent boyfriend, in a carjacking, and so forth. Many of the young guys will tell you that they got guns to protect themselves against the other young guys with guns.      

Yao, along with poet-scholars Tony Bolden, William J. Harris, and I have been having a long-ranging conversation or series of conversations about African American poetry and how audiences shape production and reception. I know it's a big stretch to link discussions of poetry with gun violence and BLM, but it does occur to me that audiences matter in important ways in all the cases. Here in St. Louis, for instance, the BLM protests attracted media, out-of-towners, white and black audiences in ways that the results of local violence rarely do.

A notebook on gun violence 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

From Afrofuturism to Speculative Blackness

Years ago as a graduate student, I became a participant in the yahoo list serv group Afrofuturism (AF) coordinated by Alondra Nelson. That group and the interactions from the many participants greatly assisted in deepening and expanding my interests in the interactions of race, technology, and science or speculative fiction.

Reading André M. Carrington's Speculative Blackness: The Future of Race in Science Fiction (University of Minnesota Press, 2016) took me back and forward. His book had thinking about how much intellectual and cultural stimulation I gained by rolling with that AF group. I was thinking back on how that AF lens shaped my readings of Octavia Butler, Colson Whitehead, Toni Morrison, and others.

Carrington covers Storm, Uhura, Benjamin Sisko, and Carl Brandon -- all topics that took me back to AF. But he also delves into fan culture of SF, all the online fiction communities, and Milestone Media in ways that were pushing me forward in new directions.  

Speculative Blackness by AndrĂ© M. Carrington 

Comic books and moments of weirdness

A wonderful (weird to some?) moment in Chew where Tony Chu displays his cibopathic powers.

Received a good reminder about the value of embracing certain writing, even when it gets weird.

Last week in Oregon, I was talking comic books, among other a variety of other topics, with Courtney and Peter Thorsson. At one point I was talking about my sometimes frustration with the moment in a comic book series when things get weird or go too far out in strange directions.

Peter listened but graciously offered an alternative perspective. To make a long story short, he was reminding me that in some instances embracing moments of weirdness can coincide with a recognition that only some kinds of risks, storytelling, and visual presentations can take place in the space of comic books. In other words, what can comic books do that television shows, films, novels, rap music, and other modes cannot?

Good points. I'll keep it in mind, for sure. I'll want to get clearer too about what I'm reacting to when I label moments as weird and what others mean by that term.

And finally, prompted by those points, I began questioning whether I've done an adequate job introducing my students to enough moments of weirdness in the texts we cover in my African American literature courses. Not hardly. To the extent that my goals involve making them more aware of all kinds of wild creativity and artists moving beyond boundaries, I'll put some thought into pinpointing moments of weirdness in the works we cover.  

A Notebook on comic books

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Tony Medina and bystander blues

Given my recent discussion of searching for more poets and literary artists who deal with some of the immediate safety struggles in our communities, I'm looking forward to Tony Medina's next book. Over on Facebook, he mentioned a poem "One Guy Shot Another Guy" from his latest manuscript. It reads in part, "One guy shot another guy, and so he went and got a gun. He came back and shot at the guy that shot at him, but hit another guy instead."

The poem carries on about how conflict and gun violence escalates. But for now, the point about a guy shooting at one guy and yet hitting someone else instead is one too many of us in cities (St. Louis, Chicago, Milwaukee Baltimore, etc.) know all too well. In fact, just yesterday, I was mentioning an article from The Times about a shooting in Cincinnati. What happened? A couple of guys got into a fight, then went and got their guns, and bystanders got killed. 

Someone like Jaci Washington, whose brother was one of the innocent bystanders murdered at that Cincinnati gathering, will read the opening of Medina's poem and feel it. So will nearly all my students from Chicago. We'll note Medina touching on that gun violence bystander blues, and everyone will chime in with their own stories.

Remember that girl who was just sitting on her porch minding her own business? What about that older man who was working in his garden? What about that dude that just shot up into the crowd? That's the kind of talking that'll take place.

The bystander blues that Medina touches on would resonate with members of "Mothers of Murdered Children" and "Parents of Murdered Children," two groups whose chapters are active in Miami because of the large numbers of children who are killed there by stray bullets.

When it comes to the people's concerns and the poetry, Tony Medina, you gotta know, is always on the case. He's been based at Howard University in D.C. for years now. He's written extensively about police brutality, long before the Black Lives Movement. At the same time, he's also writing about the dangers and harm that takes place as tensions arise when, for instance, one guy "shot at the guy that shot at him, but hit another guy instead."

This bystander blues, as I'm calling it, is one subset of the larger topic of gun violence in various cities and communities. It took some poets more than a decade to catch up with Medina on police brutality. Let's hope it doesn't take that long for them to catch up with him addressing various other pressing issues as well.

A notebook on gun violence 
Tony Medina

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

When will poets & literary scholars deal with gun violence?

I live in St. Louis. For a while now, gun violence has been a problem. You know that from the news and from talking to people in the city. The majority of my African American students at SIUE are from Chicago, and they frequently talk to me about the dangers of gun violence in their cities.

One reason, among many, that the students sometimes sense a disconnect from the poets we cover in class concerns the absence of poems about the troubling conditions immediately affecting their neighborhoods. The students value that the poets write about history and celebrate aspects of black culture. But they also take note that the poets seem to rarely depict gangs, murder, gun violence , and a range of other problems.

It's not just poets. Literary scholars, for instance, hardly seemed concerned, at least in our published articles, with those issues that lead African Americans to feel unsafe in their neighborhoods. Will the rising murder rates in some cities, I wonder, lead prominent poets, novelists, and literary scholars to take up some of these issues a little more in their works? 

I suspect that spoken word poets and unpublished poets in struggling neighborhoods have been actively engaging these issues. Their works, however, rarely appear on course syllabi. It's perhaps also true that major publishers have shown less interest in publishing poets who address these issues.

Further, poets and literary scholars have relatively few models for adequately addressing contemporary concerns in struggling African American neighborhoods and communities. There are also socio-economic matters at work, whereby many leading poets reside outside the low-income neighborhoods that most affected by issues like crime, violence, mass incarceration, and so forth.

Despite all these things, I still wonder when and if poets and literary scholars will deal with issues like gun violence? What would it take and mean for writers to do more to address some of these topics, which occupy  substantial concerns for large numbers of African Americans?

A notebook on gun violence 

Grasping for metaphors & similes while dealing with gun violence

Over the last few months, I've been having various conversations about metaphors with people, so an instance in a recent Times article about gun violence caught my attention. At one point in the article, the reporters mention a man who was killed by stray bullets at a gathering. The man's sister, Jaci Washington, attempts to describe what the murder means for her and her family:
She grasps for metaphors to capture the family’s loss. “It’s like the world crashing in. It’s like a nuclear bomb went off on my couch,” she said. “It’s like someone hit ‘pause’ in my life. I just saw him, and I will never see him again.”
I really felt for her and the family's loss. I also sensed that she was searching for just the right comparison so that the reporter and, by extension, we the readers might adequately understand her and her family's tremendous pain.

While the reporters for the article state that Ms. Washington "grasps for metaphors," the examples cited are similes. Her brother's murder is like the world crashing in; like a nuclear bomb; like someone hitting pause on her life.

I've spent considerable time on this site focusing on what poets do with words and language. However, maybe literary scholars and poets should also do more to consider what survivors of gun violence and the families of victims are doing. Their struggles to get us to understand what their pain and devastation is like deserve our attention.    

A notebook on gun violence 
Similes and metaphors in the Darren Wilson testimony