Friday, January 8, 2010

Black Men and Vantage Points

(A. Henderson recording; Black Studies Writing NYC)

Back in Philadelphia in late December, I got the chance to catch up with one of my former professors, William Harris. We were going on and on at one point about interesting things that we had read over the last year or so in The New York Times concerning literature, politics, sports, entertainment news, etc. But about 10 minutes in, we came to a surprising recognition about an important difference.

"Hold on," he said, "you only read the Times online?"

"Hold up," I responded, "you only read the print version?"

What a trip, hunh, that we both enjoy this one newspaper but through these different modes and vantage points?

I've been thinking for quite some time now about the different modes of thinking, vantage points, reading interesting, and artistic compositions of the black men I've encounter in classrooms (as a student and teacher), at the barbershop, at conferences, on message boards, on  blogs, or where-ever.

Over the next year, it's my plan to write more and more about what I've been witnessing and learning based on my conversations about reading and artistic composition with black men.

In a 1983 unpublished essay, literary scholar Jerry W. Ward, Jr. wrote that we “need a sociology of African-American literature to account for changes in mode of production (writing and publishing) and in reading patterns (why do Black readers read what they read when they read?)”

For my purposes, I’ll consider and write about reading and composition patterns among black men (why do we read what we read when we read and why do we produce what we do when we are in composition mode?)

Professor William Harris reads and writes poetry; Eugene B. Redmond composes poems and takes thousands of photographs. My former student and current black studies contributor Dometi Pongo raps; our contributor Al Henderson produces videos.
A colleague, C. Liegh McInnis from Mississippi produces a literary magazine. The 30 or so first-year young black men from the Interactive Reading Group cover a wide range of issues.

For now, I’ll label the series “notebook on knowledge transmission," with the understanding that the label could change when and if I arrive at a more fitting title. But even a lengthier header, say, of "a sociology on reading and compositions patterns" is perhaps inadequate. The conversations I’ve been having about reading and compositions so far touched on far-flung discussions of politics, rap and jazz, sports, poetry, graphic novels, and…whatever else.

And perhaps the conversations about reading and composition have also always been conversations about thinking, growth, exploration, and reflection. 

We’ll see.

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