Friday, December 30, 2011

Reading Black & Radically: A Brief Reflection

David Walker's Appeal
I recently came across a post "Radical Black Reading, 2011" on the Public Archive site. I was tremendously flattered to have my book The Black Arts Enterprise mentioned. Even more, I was pleased to have my work noted alongside other works, including Alondra Nelson's Body and Soul and Evie Shockley's Renegade Poetics: Black Aesthetics and Formal Innovation in African American Poetry.

Public Archive provides extensive information on black diaspora, so beyond those U.S.-based books, that radical black reading list included mentions of and a link to "a list of notable books on Haiti or by writers of Haitian descent published since January 2010." The two lists "Radical Black Reading, 2011" and "Reading Haiti" contained writers I was familiar with and many that I was not. The authors, works, and presses identified by Public Archive had me thinking more and more on the idea of reading black and radically as well as the practice of pursuing radical black readings.

The idea of "reading radically" can have multiple connotations these days, referring to contents (i.e. certain strands of books about militant figures and consciousness-building topics), approaches (i.e. a Marxist, feminist, or critical race theory ways of reading), or formats (i.e. on a blog, twitter, in a book, an e-reader, by a particular press). Back in the day, I associated reading radically with the idea of immersing myself in books about "black consciousness." That mode of reading, now that I think back on it, was associated with different real and virtual communities of readers--readers who were for the most part not associated with my formal classroom learning activities.

There was an informal study group in my hometown, for example, that suggested that every up and coming street scholar needed to be familiar with Frederick Douglass's Narrative, David Walker's Appeal, Carter G. Woodson's The Mis-education of the Negro, and various other writers. Later, when I was in undergrad, it was on to Malcolm, DuBois, Wright, Fanon, and others. I also discovered a host of black feminist writers, including bell hooks, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, and Patricia Hill Collins. 

bell hooks's Talking Back
The black feminist readings were radical at the time too because of how those works constantly challenged the regular black readings I had come across. At the same time, the works by DuBois, Wright, Malcolm, and others were a departure from the typical (white) curriculum, and collectively, they offered useful critiques of Eurocentricism.    

Now that I'm reflecting, I'm realizing there was yet another realm of "black radical reading" that caught my attention. Poetry. When I was in undergrad, I was far more consumed by the sounds and performances of spoken word poetry and cyphas than I was with "literary" and book-based poetry. Beyond the actual poetry, what was most important was that the readings facilitated interactions with all kinds of ideas, artists, and conscious folks.

I didn't fully appreciate how "radical" or at least alternative the poetry readings and cyphas were back then until I started attending regular poetry readings in graduate school. I also wasn't fully aware of the degrees to which I benefited from book and author suggestions offered by people in all those informal reading groups.

The "Radical Black Reading, 2011" post from Public Archive gave me a discomforting feeling that I still hadn't read black and radically enough. That discomforting feeling was familiar, useful, and welcomed. So of course, I jotted down some titles and started reading.  

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