Sunday, September 25, 2016

Kalamu ya Salaam, Eugene B. Redmond, and special collections

In some respects, Kalamu ya Salaam's The Magic of Juju (2016) extends the work of Eugene B. Redmond's Drumvices: The Mission of Afro-American Poetry (1976). Redmond's closing chapter began treating the then contemporary poetry of the 1970s. Salaam makes the history of 1960s and 1970s poetry and artistic production the central focus of his book and details the major players, publications, critics, theories, and so forth.

To produce their books, both Redmond and Salaam drew on wonderful special collections containing hundreds of primary black arts publications. For his book, Salaam called on Redmond to submit images from his collection. The Magic of Juju includes more than 150 images of people, magazine and journal covers, and volumes of poetry.

The images give a sense of the materiality of Black Arts literature. The items also provide a glimpse of Redmond's extensive special collection.   

Kalamu Ya Salaam's introduction to the Black Arts era

Kalamu Ya Salaam's introduction to the Black Arts era

I first read chapters from Kalamu Ya Salaam's The Magic of Juju: An Appreciation of the Black Arts Movement (Third World Press, 2016) over 15 years ago. So let's be clear: Salaam was well ahead of the expanding growth of black arts scholarship that occurred over the last 10 years. In fact, many of us who produced books during that time period were drawing on lessons from Salaam.

Salaam had shared the unpublished manuscript with me years ago when I was a graduate student, after I sent him an email and asked if could I check it out. At the time he barely knew me, but I guess he took me at my word when I said I was doing work on the Black Arts Movement. Further, my undergraduate mentor, Jerry W. Ward, Jr., and Salaam are good friends, so perhaps that's why he freely sent along the manuscript.  Or, more simply, he's just generous like that.

I first heard about  Salaam's manuscript from scholar James Smethurst, who I had met at a conference early in my graduate career. Smethurst had generously passed along chapters of his then in-progress manuscript, which would later become The Black Arts Movement: Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s (2005). At one point in our exchanges, Smethurst referenced an important unpublished manuscript on the Black Arts Movement, and encouraged me to email the author, Salaam.

I benefited from The Magic of Juju then, and I'm benefiting by re-reading it now. This book offers a distinct and unusual perspective on the Black Arts era, as Salaaam writes from the position of "participant and critic" of the flourishing of arts that emerged during the 1960s and 1970s.

In the preface, dated 1997 and revised in 1999, Salaam notes that the "goal for this book is to give readers an accurate introduction to the history and significance of the Black Arts Movement." Although the official publication date says 2016, we understand his book as an early introduction and contribution to the contemporary scholarly discourse on black arts.

The Black Arts Era  

Friday, September 23, 2016

On the matter of Diversity, Pt. 1

On September 21, at Lovejoy Library, we hosted our first Public Thinking Event of the semester.  We concentrated on issues related to diversity. In particular, we took a look at "diversity statements" from various universities and responded to the ones that we thought were most effective.

Fall 2016 Programming 

Bro Yao in the mix

I was pleased to read Bro Yao's book Inheritance and add him to the mix of various other volumes I've spent time reading, re-reading, and thinking about over the years. For now, I was thinking about how his poems corresponded to works by various black men poets I've studied.

Volumes by Gary Copeland Lilley, Tony Medina, Adrian Matejka, Christopher Gilbert, Kevin Young, James Cherry, and others came to mind as I thought about links to Yao's work. In particular, I was considering how Young's first book Most Way Home, with its attentiveness to family, reminded me of some of what I've been reading in Inheritance.

The attention to experiences of black men, including their vulnerabilities, leads me to draw parallels between Yao's book and writings by Lilley, Medina, and Matejka.

But then too, there's the matter of that conversational voice I was picking up on in Yao's volume, where he's observing and taking lessons from every day experiences. Had I heard anything like that recently? After some thought, my mind went back to Christopher Gilbert. I say "back" because his work was in fact published posthumously. 

Yao and Gilbert prompt us to consider the wonder of everyday moments. They make close observation an art form. It's a subtle approach and familiar across different groups of poetry. Still, what Yao and Gilbert do ends up standing out in comparison to some of our louder modes of black expressive culture.

Moving forward, I'm looking forward to giving thought to the individual qualities that distinguish Yao's work and the aspects of his work that correspond to the broader mix of poets.

Bro Yao's Inheritance 
Yao Glover on Bookstores and Such, Pt. 1
Talking poetry with Tony Bolden, Yao Glover & William J. Harris in 2015  

Bro Yao's Inheritance

Now I can add Bro Yao's Inheritance to the collection.

A busy teaching schedule this semester has slowed my poetry blogging routine. Yet, I'm still managing to check out a couple of new books and return to some old ones.

Over the last week or so, I've been carrying Inheritance (Willow Books, 2016) by Bro Yao ( Hoke Glover III). It's a book I'm enjoying, especially in the in between moments of my busier days.

Many of the poems are conversational in the sense that I can almost imagine Yao speaking them during an exchange. Speaking them in a poetic way of course. They are also conversational in the sense that ideas or themes from different poems begin to blend together in my mind. Memory. Reflections on a father and mother. Music. Nature.

In "buttoning my shirt," he recalls, as a child perhaps, watching his father standing in front of the mirror in the morning preparing for work. Shaving. Tying his tie. And more: while studying his father adjust into a serious facial expression while looking into the mirror, the son begins to "learn how to stare down the day." In "i thought my mama was god," he reflects on how "the songs she sang made the house vibrate, not moans, but something soft and terrible, with power and resonance."

Those reflections on a father and mother persist throughout the volume, and we learn that the lessons they passed along or their everyday routines, which were extraordinary feats in the eyes their child, became his inheritance. Taken together, Yao's poems in Inheritance present this wonderful catalogue of precious intangible items passed along from family and his environment.

There's also all this proverbial wisdom and these hard truths that permeate the book. In "a tale," a young girl is told that "the country is an empire without blood." However, she knows better: "there's red in the flag and mud on its boots."  In "the liar," he points out that he cannot tell the truth because "it is a face of ten thousand expressions."

Those lines and others spoke to me as I encountered them between classes or after the drive home and now before heading in to work.  

Bro Yao in the mix
Yao Glover on Bookstores and Such, Pt. 1
Talking poetry with Tony Bolden, Yao Glover & William J. Harris in 2015   

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Haley Reading Group: The Health Effects of a World Without Darkness

[Best American Science and Nature Writing (2015)]

Brittany Tuggle

Rebecca Boyle’s article “The Health Effects of a World Without Darkness,” reprinted in The Best American Science and Nature Writing, highlights the various problematic implications of living in an industrialized world wherein entire lives are constantly bathed in light. Boyle illuminates America (and other developed countries particularly) with provoking thought about our dependence on lights, much to our detriment, in stark contrast to the ways in which developing countries rely more on darkness. Ultimately, the article speaks to an important issue of what the world at large is facing as we continue to interrupt our biological patterns with light.

Boyle’s discussion of the health effects of light was especially enlightening. At one point, Boyle notes that “light is the major factor in [cases of] depression, obesity, and cancer” (52). This point indicates the serious dangers intertwined with the pleasures of living in light.

After reading Boyle’s article, what was one point concerning the dangers of artificial light that compelled you? Why was that point or passage notable to you? Please provide a page number citation.

Fall 2016 Haley Reading Group: Best American Science and Nature Writing (2015)

This semester for our Haley Reading Group, we'll cover The Best American Science and Nature Writing (2015) edited by Rebecca Skloot.

In the past, we covered books related to history, educational challenges, mass incarceration, race and racism, the art of choosing, and being wrong. We've also covered volumes of poetry.  

What's been missing? Coverage on science and nature writing, among other topics. A focus on science and nature writing now seems especially fitting since so many of our participants major in STEM fields.

Reading schedule:
September 21: Rebecca Boyle’s “The Health Effects of a World Without Darkness" (43 – 54)
September 28: Atul Gawande's "No Risky Chances" (65 – 71)
October 5: Brooke Jarvis’s “The Deepest Dig” (124 – 133)
October 12: Jourdan Imani Keith’s “At Risk” (149 – 150); “Desegregating Wilderness” (151 -153)
October 19: Reflections
October 26: Elizabeth Kolbert’s “The Big Kill” (163 – 178)
November 2: Amy Maxmen’s “Digging Through the World’s Oldest Graveyard” (179 – 190)
November 9: Sarah Schweitzer’s “Chasing Bayla” (225 – 243)
November 16: Kim Todd’s “Curious” (273 – 281)
November 30: Barry Yeoman’s “From Billions to None” (297 – 305)
November 30: Sarah Schweitzer’s “Chasing Bayla” (225 – 243)
December 7: Reflections

Haley Reading Groups

Monday, September 19, 2016

“I own my own masters”: An exhibit on slavery references in rap music

For the second year, I hosted, “'I own my own masters': An exhibit on slavery references in rap music" -- a visual and audio project based on mentions of slavery and struggles for liberation in rap music. The exhibit is based on an article that Jeremiah Carter and I co-wrote and published last year. Our article identifies and explains “slavery references” in rap music.

On  September 13, I organized the exhibit for students in a few of my classes. The exhibit took place in the EBR Learning Center.

Fall 2016 Programming 
Notebook on the EBR Collection & EBR Learning Center