Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Gil Scott-Heron and the Poetry, Rap (Dis)Connection

Gil Scott-Heron's work, especially "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" was one of the vital connections between poetry and rap, and at the same time a reason some upcoming artists pushed forward with rap and not poetry. His birth in 1949 meant he was a little too young to become a part of that core group of black arts poets who were primarily born during the 1930s.

Monday, May 30, 2011

150+ Years of Antislavery Poems by Black Poets

Well, Memorial Day, especially given its historical roots, seems like as good a day as any to think about aspects of the ongoing history of black poets writing about slavery and liberation. (The following, I'm sure, is only a partial list of works). 

In her 1854 volume Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, a free-born black woman from Baltimore, wrote in her poem “The Slave Mother” about witnessing the painful and horrifying separation of an enslaved mother and her child. Harper’s book also contained the antislavery poems “Bury Me in a Free Land” and "The Slave Auction."

Adam Banks, Black Studies, and Facebook

Adam Banks often rewires the typical purposes of facebook.
[This piece is one in a series I'm developing on black studies, social media, and technological devices.]

Try to think back to how facebook was described to you for the first time. It’s a social media site where people hang out posting their photos, providing status updates on what party they are attending, what restaurant they are having dinner, and then having “friends” press “like” for posts that they, well, like. That’s probably something you heard about facebook early on, right?

Not Adam Banks.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Gil Scott's Role in an Untelevised Revolution

With the passing of Gil Scott-Heron, we're certain to hear about his wonderful career as a poet and musician over the coming days, weeks...years. As we should.

But there's another story that relates to "Scotty," as his childhood friends in Jackson, Tennessee, where he was raised, used to call him.

On January 25, 1962, Gil Scott-Heron and 2 other students were sent by their guardians to Tigrett Junior High School, effectively desegregating the school, and later by extension the school system.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Note on NBA players saying "Pause"

[The following is an excerpt from my longer post on Black Men, Verbal Skills, and the NBA.]

Everyone knew that Kobe Bryant and then Joakim Noah were wrong when they were caught on camera saying the particular F-word gay slur. The NBA front office quickly and rightly fined those players for their statements.

But the NBA front office fails to catch, censure, and police the homophobic implications of players saying "Pause." For the uninitiated, the use of "Pause" apparently (sigh) emerged in black communities, likely among black men. When an inadvertent statement or comment or pun is made that could be perceived as "gay," a speaker would say "Pause. No Homo."

Black Men, Verbal Skills, and the NBA

Last night, in one of the post-game interviews, Chicago Bull Joakim Noah was asked about his thoughts concerning his team's loss to the Miami Heat.

Noah explained that
"They're Hollywood as hell, but they're still very good." The somewhat poetic phrasing "hollywood as hell" made me chuckle. I was also amused that the reporter was somewhat confused.

"What was this 'Hollywood as hell'?" one reporter asked.

"Yes, they are Hollywood," responded Noah.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

104 Volumes of African American Poetry, 2000-2011

I finally organized an initial bibliography of the 104 volumes of poetry by African American writers in our black studies collection. Since 2009, we have been organizing "browsing sessions," where we give students opportunities to peruse the volumes and offer comments about poems and poets that interest them. We also blog about the volumes here on our blog.

I am posting a list of the books organized by publication year below. By the way, when and if we get additional book funding and donations in the fall, we'll work to expand our collection. If you have suggestions for additions, feel free to let us know in the comments or via email.

Volumes of Poetry by Year, 2000-2011

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Big Publishers, ARCs, and the promotion of a Black Writer

On May 18, Jessica, a co-proprietor of Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn, New York and who also goes by the handle "booknerdnyc," tweeted: "Who's got two thumbs and an ARC of @colsonwhitehead's Zone One? This girl."

An ARC or Advance Reading Copy is distributed by publishers months before a book is released. The ARCs help build buzz for a book well before its official publication date.

Whitehead's Zone One is scheduled for publication on October 18. Leading up to that date, Doubleday Publishing -- a division of Random House, Inc. -- has already been working to make sure the novel is publicized in all the right places prior to its release.

Yesterday, May 24, at the Book Expo America (BEA) in New York City, Doubleday/Random House arranged for Whitehead and other authors who publish under their imprint to sign ARCs of their upcoming books. In a report on the day's events at BEA, Carolyn Kellogg wrote on the book blog for the Los Angeles Times that "There was a very big line for Colson Whitehead signing his upcoming book."

Large publishers can afford to market their authors and distribute ARCs, for instance, in ways that smaller publishing operations cannot. Although there's always popular lore about upcoming authors who sell their books out of the trunks of their cars, those writers who have publishers with the resources to distribute ARCs typically have an edge in the marketplace.

So I'm sympathetic to the struggles of novelists who have smaller publishers.

Admittedly though, I have enjoyed Whitehead's books over the years, and my interest in black publishing history make me drawn to the various processes by which his publisher markets and presents his works. I'll look forward to following the continuing developments related to the marketing and publication of Zone One.

Related content:
How Major Writers Become Legendary on Twitter: The Case of Colson Whitehead
The Early Buzz on Colson Whitehead's Newest NovelColson Whitehead Novel on Twitter

Monday, May 23, 2011

Teenage Black Girls, "Ego Tripping," and African American Literary History

Page from Nikki Giovanni's book Ego-Tripping and Other Poems; illustrations by George Ford

Teenage black girls don't receive nearly enough credit for the vital roles they have played in shaping or better yet sustaining aspects of African American literary and cultural history. If they did get their props, literary and cultural historians would be obligated to acknowledge young sisters for helping keep several important black poems on the minds of listeners over the decades.

[Related: Blogging about Black Verse--2011]

In particular, I'm thinking about Nikki Giovanni's poem "Ego Tripping."

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Poet Laureate (Always) at Work

Eugene B. Redmond addressing middle school students at Malcolm X celebration, May 2011
In 1976, officials in East St. Louis acknowledged Eugene B. Redmond as the Poet Laureate of the city. The move to honor Redmond in that way may have been one of the single best arts and humanities related decisions the city has made in its 150-year history.

Since accepting the laureateship, Redmond has been on an almost non-stop mission to celebrate black history and promote cultural arts in East St. Louis. Over the decades, he has organized events in the city featuring renowned poets such as Margaret Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks, Amiri Baraka, Haki Madhubuti, Jayne Cortez, Walter Mosley, Quincy Troupe, and many more.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, and Black Poetry Placement Power

I have visited more than 12 bookstores in 3 different states (Kentucky, Missouri, and New York) over the last week. The two African American poets whose books were at every one of the bookstores I visited were Langston Hughes and Nikki Giovanni.

[Related: Blogging about Black Verse--2011]

The presence of their books at those sites was based on the poets' popularity and also the placement power or capabilities of their publishers.

Four Contemporary Black Male Writers & Their Fathers

If you've followed my entries here for longer than a minute, you likely know about my interest in the writings of Colson Whitehead, Aaron McGruder, Kevin Young, and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

All 4 of them have been quite successful in their respective fields: Whitehead as novelist, McGruder as comic strip/cartoon creator, Young as poet, and Coates as journalist/blogger. The writers share several qualities, including their use of humor, their focus on black culture and ideas in their works, and their attention to African American history, etc.

All 4 also apparently had strong relationships with their fathers, which becomes clear in their writings.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Rewards of Memorizing Haiku

Even though haiku are short and thus fairly easy to memorize, I enjoy doing so because of the chance to assign distinct images in my mind to match words of the poems.

I recently came across a short piece by mya1974, a writer I follow on twitter, who contributes to a daily haiku project, haikudawg.

The Golden (Birth) Years of Rappers

If you were a Black male born in the late 1960s and early 1970s and you had remarkable poetic/verbal skills, it was perhaps better that you work on writing rap lyrics as opposed to writing poetry.

Ok, other things mattered, like being born in New York City. But beyond factors such as where you were born and the crew you ran with, there were some optimal birth years.

In a previous entry, I wrote about why being born during the 1930s mattered so much for success in black poetry. When thinking about the history of rap and some of its most influential figures, I couldn’t help but notice the group of guys born in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Rise & Fall of Signature Poems

In my upcoming book on the Black Arts Movement, I give some attention to black "signature poems," those pieces by African American poets that circulated widely and repeatedly and that helped define the nature of poets’ works and places in literary history. During the black arts era of the late 1960s and early 1970s, anthologies were one of the most important mediums for establishing poets' signature poems.

Between 1965 and 1976, more than 60 anthologies were published featuring African American poetry. The repeated publication of individual poems in the anthologies helped establish and extend the popularity of particular pieces.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

From Rapper to Poet to Hip Hop Head: The Sagas of Treasure Williams

DJ Needles and Treasure Williams Rocking the Party
Years ago when MC Hammer was a major force in the world of rap, he and his growing crew made a stop in Mississippi while on tour. A young aspiring emcee who would soon become known as as "One Effect" somehow managed to get backstage at Hammer's concert and got him to listen for just a few minutes.

With members of 3-5-7 standing on each side of him, Hammer sat and listened as One Effect and her partner who would become known as "One Cause" spit rhymes and hit coordinated dance moves--like all credible duos of the day. 

Whey they were done, Hammer was impressed. Really impressed. He signed the duo from Mississippi. That's how Treasure Williams got her rap deal.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Black Arts Enterprise--Promo

A glimpse of the Black Arts Enterprise, a work that concentrates on African American publishing history and the production of poetry during the black arts era of the 1960s and 1970s. Credits: Tristan Denyer and Al Henderson on the print design and video, respectively.

For an alternate take, go here: Black Arts Enterprise--Promo

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Value of Skeptical Poets: Notes on Dwayne Betts

Some recent tweets by poet Dwayne Betts have been reminding me about the history and value of what I'll call "skeptical poets," that is, poets who are skeptical about the perceived sanctity of poetry.

There's been quite a bit of commentary over the past week about Common's appearance at the White House poetry event. Some folks in poetry circles have expressed disdain that Common, a rapper, would be viewed a a poet. I imagine some poets are fearful or frustrated that thuggish rappers might disrupt the genteel nature of poetry and belle letters.

[Related content:  Blogging about Black Poetry--2011]

Betts ain't one of them poets.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Black Women Writers & The Marable/Malcolm Coverage

A quick glance at the coverage related to Manning Marable's Malcolm X book reveals, not surprisingly, that the vast majority of articles have been written by men. It's not surprising because thanks to quite a bit of useful quantitative data provided by groups such as VIDA and The OpED Project, we have a clearer sense of the large gender disparity in major newspapers and magazines.

Nonetheless, even though far more men have published articles on the Marable book, the number of black women who have contributed to the conversation are worth noting. By the standards of typical commentary concerning political figures in media outlets, the presence of black women writers addressing Marable/Malcolm is certainly above average--whatever that might mean. 

[Related: The Coverage of Manning Marable and Malcolm X]

Monday, May 9, 2011

Malcolm X and Black Studies

Malcolm X and the Manning Marable biography have been the big news this year in black studies. Marable and his Malcolm book, in fact, might be among the most centrally discussed topics in the field in a while.

Many key figures in or closely associated with black studies have chimed in, including Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Michael Eric Dyson, Julianne Malveaux, Cornel West, and others. A newer generation of fairly prominent scholars and commentators associated with African American Studies, including Farah Jasmine Griffin, Melissa Harris-Perry, Russell Rickford, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Imani Perry, Adam Bradley, and many more contributed reflections on Marable and reviews of the book on Malcolm.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Blogging about Black Poetry -- 2009 & 2008

A list of links to my writings about poets and poetry in 2009 and 2008.

[Related content: Blogging about Black Poetry -- 2011]
[Related content: Blogging about Black Poetry -- 2010]

2009 -- I increased my level of posting from 2008 with the following 7 entries.  

Relate-able Poetry
Nikki Giovanni's Bicycles
The Promise of Kevin Young
The Promise of Poetry
Adrian Matejka's Mixology
Poetry and Economy
Honoring the Ancestors

2008 -- I began blogging August 31, 2008. That year, I posted three entries--all short videos related to poetry.

Verse #3: In the Funk World
Verse #2: We Real Cool
Doing Things with Blk Poetry

Blogging about Black Poetry -- 2010

Here's a list of links focusing on my writings about poets, their works, and issues related to verse in general 2010.

[Related content: Blogging about Black Poetry -- 2011]
[Related content: Blogging about Black Poetry -- 2009, 2008]

Writings on Poets & Versifiers
Kevin Young's "easy on the eyes" approach
From Poet to Short Short Writer to Novelist...(Richard Wright)
Jay Elect & the Ghost of Christopher Wallace
Kevin Young's "Bereavement"
Treasure Williams & Sonic Possibilities

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Kevin Young & the Langston Hughes Connection

Since I expected a wait, I carried Kevin Young's Ardency with me to the barbershop yesterday. When it was my time at the chair, I sat my book down on the counter near my barber's material.

"What you reading Prof?" he asked.

"Poetry," I responded.

"Poetry..that book?" he followed.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Blogging about Black Verse -- 2011

Here's a list of links focusing on my writings about poets, rappers, their works, and issues related to verse in general this year.  

[Related content: Blogging about Black Poetry -- 2010]

Writings on Poets
Nikky Finney's George Bush Sonnet Sequence, Pt. 1 
Gil Scott-Heron and the Poetry, Rap (Dis)Connection
Gil Scott's Role in an Untelevised Revolution
A Poet Laureate (Always) at Work: Eugene B. Redmond
L. Hughes, N. Giovanni, & Black Poetry Placement Power 
Rapper-Poet-Hip Hop Head: The Sagas of Treasure Williams 
The Value of Skeptical Poets: Notes on Dwayne Betts
Kevin Young & The Langston Hughes Connection
The Enviable Persistence of Poet Allison Joseph
Evie Shockley and This Douglass Poetry Discourse
Tyehimba Jess & the Persona of a Blind Black Man 
Nikky Finney's Reading Style
Nikky Finney and her Audience
Nikky Finney, Nikki Giovanni, & the Black Poetry Best Seller List
Adrian Matejka--The Signed Mixology and For Show Mixology
Allison Joseph's Presence Among our 100 books
Kevin Young Representing Cinque
Treasure Williams and the Arkansippi Effect
Evie Shockley Addresses Thomas Jefferson
The Visual Experience of Evie Shockley’s the new black
Treasure Williams Channels Fannie Lou Hamer in STL
Kevin Young's Expansive Body of Work
Multi-threaded Comments on Kevin Young's Ardency
The Coverage of Kevin Young's Ardency
Treasure Williams on Fannie Lou Hamer on Facebook

10 Poems by Evie Shockley

I've been writing about Evie Shockley's volume the new black. I've provided links to some of her previously published works, which appear online.

Writer's Block from Titanic Operas

protect yourself from Titanic Operas

Cafe Tryst from Beltway Poetry Quarterly

The Enviable Persistence of Poet Allison Joseph

Poet Allison Joseph at SIUE, 2010
Beyond the books. Beyond the literary achievements. Beyond the incredible sequence of sonnets. Beyond all the other poems. Beyond the fact that she's most likely the only black woman director of an MFA Program who is also the editor of a literary magazine. Beyond all of that, you could still work hard and find the strength to not envy Allison Joseph.

But eventually, you'll make the mistake I made of stumbling onto her twitter page. You'll go in search of her poems or poetic statements, but what you'll find there is a runners log, the likes of which has never been seen or even created in African American literary history.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Michelle Obama's and Beyoncé Dance: A Summary

On Tuesday, May 3, Michelle Obama seriously represented at a middle school in Washington, D.C., with young people to the tune of Beyoncé’s music.

Beyoncé had recently teamed up with Michelle Obama, who has this “Let’s Move” campaign--which encourages young people to exercise and eat healthy. As part of her contribution to the campaign, Beyoncé switched or remixed the lyrics to her song "Get Me Bodied" and called it "Move Your Body," keeping much of the same beat.

Instead of highlighting her body, an encounter with a male suitor, and sexualized scenarios, the new “Move Your Body” version focuses on dance as a way of moving, exercising and thus staying in shape.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Coverage of Michelle Obama Dancing

Michelle Obama was photographed and filmed dancing with school children yesterday as part of her "Let's Move" campaign. The rarity of seeing a First Lady dancing was too much for folks to ignore. The videos of Obama dancing have gone viral and drawn quite a bit of coverage.

[Related: Michelle Obama's and Beyonce's Dance: A Summary]

Michelle Obama Moves her Body by Cynthia Gordy, The Root

How to dance like Michelle Obama: Copy the first lady's hip-hop moves - Do the Dougie by Patrick Kingsley, The Guardian

Michelle Obama Gets Students Moving, with a little help from Beyonce (photo series) Washington Post

From Popular Black Poets to Public Intellectuals

I was pleased to see Elizabeth Alexander’s keynote on ustream for the “Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women” Conference this past weekend. It’s not every day that we get to see a writer primarily known as a poet deliver a keynote at a major academic conference focusing on archival research.

The Alexander keynote reminded me of a shift in African American artistic and intellectual culture that I’ve been thinking about lately.

From the mid-1960s to the mid to late 1970s, black poets were viewed as more central figures in critical discourses related to African American cultural and political contexts. Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, Haki Madhubuti, and a few more poets were frequently called on as speakers and essayists.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Pre-future of black writing: some notations

“I am not post-modern. I am pre-future.” Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

Beyond the “death” or post-ness of Af-Am literary art, we might do well to think about new and ongoing developments.

How is twitter influencing the reception of Colson Whitehead’s upcoming novel? What can we make of poet Treasure Williams’s kwansabas on facebook focusing on Fannie Lou Hamer? What makes journalist and blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates such a powerful and visible facilitator of conversations about race, African American culture, and the Civil War? In what ways might Evie Shockley’s poem about Frederick Douglass and Barack Obama serve as a model for thinking about making links between historical figures—past and present?