Saturday, July 2, 2016

April Reign as literary artist?


She's best known as the creator of the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, a much-needed term that initially focused attention on the overwhelming whiteness of 2015 Oscar nominees. Biographical sketches usually refer to her as a lawyer, activist, and editor. Yet, what if we think of April Reign as a kind of literary artist?

In my African American literature course this fall, we'll talk, as always, about the various things that black people do with language. In the past, we've discussed poets like Gwendolyn Brooks and Amiri Baraka, novelists like Toni Morrison and Colson Whitehead, and short stories by Zora Neale Hurston and Edward P. Jones, and so forth.

We discuss how writers frame ideas and sometimes use their compositions to highlight challenges confronting black people. By that criteria, wouldn't Reign's creation qualify? She uses language to frame a problem -- the absence of people of color -- and it's a problem that addresses barriers experienced by black people.

The phrasing of Reign's hashtag also channels black vernacular language patterns, in particular the strategic absence of the "to be" verb. Reign went "OscarsSoWhite," not "OscarsAreSoWhite."

Students will likely note that Reign's hashtag is decidedly short in relation to all the other conventional literary works we'll cover. True. What stands out to me, though, is the reach and impact of Reign's creation. Few, if any, poems we'll cover, for instance, have had the influence of #OscarsSoWhite. For that reason and others, I'm looking forward to including April Reign's "work" on the syllabus in my African American literature course this fall.  

African American Literary Studies
African American Literature @ SIUE

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