Saturday, December 15, 2018

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Dana Williams does it again

Ask folks in the field of African American literary studies who's out there and down there with the actual people, not just researching and publishing, but really there with the folks. Ask around, and one of the names you'll hear, one of the names you should hear is Dana Williams. She's the chair of English at Howard University, but saying that somehow seems like an understatement.

I noticed in the announcement of NEH grant recipients yesterday that Dana Williams received an award as director of the project "Reviving the Bethel Literary and Historical Association in the Twenty-first Century." It's a collaborative project with Howard University and the National Cathedral of African Methodism to "reimagine the Bethel Literary Society and to digitize its holding."

Some years back, someone from NEH was saying folks at HBCUs hadn't really been applying enough for NEH grants. I think Williams heard that and felt some kind of way. Since 2013, she's been the director on 4 successful NEH grants.

Let me tell you, completing an NEH application and earning the award aren't easy. The tasks are even more challenging if your institution is under-resourced, a circumstance confronting many HBCUs. Whatever the case, Williams has been making moves.

Beyond her successes with grants, Williams has served as President of the College Language Association, and she's currently president of the Toni Morrison Society, among other duties. In addition to her writing and ideas on pedagogy, Williams has been particularly resourceful as a kind of critical cultural witness in the fields of African American literary and cultural studies. Listening to folks like Maryemma Graham, Eugene B. Redmond, Jerry W. Ward, Jr., and Williams has given me a really long and clearer view of what artists and scholars have been up to over the last several decades.

When I glanced through the NEH award recipients, I was like, "Well, Dana does it again."

Black women scholar-organizers and literary gatherings
Lovalerie King, Maryemma Graham, and the states of the field

A short checklist of black women singers represented in black poetry

My colleague Tiana Clark's volume of poetry has a poem focusing on Nina Simone. The piece had me thinking about the many poems focusing on black women musicians in black poetry. What follows is a partial list.

• Sterling Brown -- "Ma Rainey"

• Tiana Clark -- "The Rime of Nina Simone"

• Rita Dove -- "Canary"

• Paul Laurence Dunbar - "When Malindy Sings"

• T'Ai Freedom Ford -- "how to get over ['be born: black...']"

Tiana Clark and poetic lineages

Last month during her reading, Tiana Clark mentioned a few different poets who've positively influenced her work. She noted folks like Natasha Trethewey, Terrance Hayes, and Roger Reeves. We could stretch far back too, as she has some Phillis Wheatley poems. Poets & Writers recently ran a piece featuring 14 debut poets, including Clark, and she offers a long list of influences.

I started giving some thought to other poets who came to mind as I've read Clark's work. Of course, my sense of what we might call her poetic lineages is subjective and constrained by my own limited reading selections. Still....

Off the top, while reading Clark's I Can't Talk about the Trees Without the Blood, I thought of Evie Shockley. I was aware that both Shockley and Clark grew up in Nashville, so that was likely on my mind, you know, thinking of them as, among other things, southern writers. In addition, Shockley and Clark are into playing with forms and taking their words all across the page.

The references to childhood memories and other daily explorations had me thinking of Clark alongside folks like Allison Joseph, Kevin Young, Elizabeth Alexander, and Marilyn Nelson. Nina Simone is central in Clark's book, so I no doubt recalled the late Monica Hand's volume me and Nina (2012). And hey, if we're talking about poets inspired by Simone and other black women musicians, then we're talking about a long line of poets. Nikki Giovanni on Aretha Franklin. Sonia Sanchez and Rita Dove on Billie Holiday. (Click here for a list of poets writing on black women musicians).

There's no way to get a handle on all the links and lineages. Like Clark said when giving her account of influences, "the list goes on and on."

A notebook on Tiana Clark
A short checklist of black women singers represented in black poetry

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Digital Humanities Club: Week 9

We wrapped up our last session on Tuesday, December 11. We didn't use the computers. This time, we just spent a little time reflecting on the past semester and considered what we might do moving forward.

Nearly all of the students said that they were most interested in audio production as opposed to graphic design. I was somewhat surprised, since it was initially difficult to convince the group to move to audio as worked on graphic design.

But then, it probably makes sense that they enjoyed audio editing more, as they came to that activity with my knowledge and interest once we got there. That is, they were well-versed in listening to and picking out instrumentals that they like. Music was just something that they had been conversing with friends and family with in detailed ways for some time.

I'm looking forward to picking up the conversation with the group in 2019.

The East St. Louis Digital Humanities Club Fall 2018

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Eve L. Ewing, poetry, comic books, and infinite possibility

One of my favorite moments from Eve L. Ewing's Electric Arches (2017) is the introduction. There, she's reflecting about how she used her imagination as a child. "As I rode my bike, I would narrate, in my head, all of my adventures," she writes. "In my head I was shooting arrows, exploring dungeons, solving mysteries."

She noted that she did all this imagining within her one neighborhood block, which "became the backdrop of infinite possibility."

I was thinking on those infinite possibilities while reading Ewing's debut on Ironheart. The move from poetry to comics is a big leap. Then again, the idea of imagining in far out ways might not be that big a leap when thinking about aspects of what Ewing's doing.

Too, we've had a few other templates for writers moving from one genre to comics. Remember, Ta-Nehisi Coates was reporting and blogging, and now he's writing Black Panther and Captain America. There's also Evan Narcisse, who was well known for writing about popular culture, including comics and comics news, and then he did a limited series run Rise of the Black Panther. Victor LaValle and Nnedi Okorafor have written novels, and also comic books. There are others.

So Ewing is linked to those figures in various ways. She's also breaking new ground by exploring a character we've only seen in small doses. Brian Michael Bendis created Riri Williams in 2016, so not that long ago. Now Ewing will have considerable room to decide who Riri/Ironheart is. She'll also have more room to explore more infinite possibility.

Riri Williams, Ironheart, Eve Ewing, and Maya Angelou

Friday, December 7, 2018

The diverse creative team assignment


Earlier this semester, I talked to the students in my comic book course about the outstanding work that editor Joseph Illidge did by pulling together several diverse teams of creators. He was a senior editor at Lion Forge, and he's currently the Executive Editor at Valiant Comics.

Inspired by Illidge's editorial work, I developed an assignment for students where I prompted them to envision themselves in positions to decide on the composition of comic book teams. The results of the assignment have been really impressive.

Here are the instructions that I gave students.
A diverse core team
“What if I told you that we’re putting together a team?”

For this assignment, assume you were tasked with the responsibility like Joseph Illidge of putting together a really diverse core team for a comic book. What comic book would you choose to produce and why?

Based on the people we’ve covered this semester, who would be the writer, the artist, the colorist, and the letterer? Who would be the cover artist and colorist for issue #1 cover artist and colorist? (Note: you can’t assemble a team that already exists). Explain your reasoning for the selections for the comic book you chose and state what makes the team notably diverse.

Diversity, Culture, and Comics

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Haley Reading Group: reflections

[The Best American Science and Nature Writing (2017)]

This semester, we read and commented on:
• Michelle Nijhuis’s “The Parks of Tomorrow”
• Robert Draper’s “The Battle for Virunga”
• Emily Temple Wood’s “It’s Time These Ancient Women Scientists Get Their Dues”
• Kathryn Joyce’s “Out Here, No One Can Hear You Scream”
• David Epstein’s “The DIY Scientist, the Olympian, and the Mutated Gene”
• Chris Jones “The Woman Who Might Find Us Another Earth”
What article most intrigued you? Why or how so?