Saturday, April 17, 2021

Blogging: a missed opportunity for black poetry, African American literary studies

I still view blogging as an important missed opportunity in black poetry studies and African American literary studies. Just so we're clear, there are all kinds of things that folks in our field can be proud of. Full stop. I'm just noting right now, though, that the inability to develop a blogging community may have stagnated our overall growth and prevented us us from establishing and solidifying a variety of connections. 

For some reason, when blogging was enjoying tremendous popularity from the early to mid-2000s up to the early 2010s, relatively few scholars of African American literature became actively involved in this mode of writing and publishing. There are perhaps legit reasons why. For one, I suspect a substantial number of scholars are encouraged to devote their writing time publishing endeavors that lead to tenure and professional advancement.    

In addition, when it comes to approaches to presenting ideas, scholars tend to follow patterns set forth in their training, and few English graduate school programs were providing guidance on setting up and running blogs. If the successful literature professors you knew were not running blogs, then why would you? 

Finally, blogging requires some facility and comfort with technology, and so that could've been a barrier to many as well. I understand and respect all those reasons. 

I'm nonetheless inclined to view blogging as a missed opportunity because again, as a field in general, we did get the chance to gain some of the benefits that would've likely arose if we did have even a dozen or so even somewhat known figures produce blogs. A small network of bloggers writing about black poetry would've given us a chance to share ideas beyond the limited number of people who attend conferences or who read articles in scholarly journals. 

We would've been inclined to link to each other's blogs and thus establish some sense of community across space and time. We could've shared notes on poetry readings we attended, materials we came across in special collections and used bookstores, experiences we had in our classrooms. We would have been sharing writings that were interesting or important to us, though not the subject of our next article or book. 

Consider this: between 2010 and 2020, I produced more than 1,400 blog entries about African American poetry. I blogged quite a bit about folks like Evie Shockley, Allison Joseph, Tony Medina, Nikky Finney, and many others, and devoted extended attention to teaching, poems on YouTube, Book History, and contemporary poetry news items. But those topics were not comparatively represented in my published articles. If I was not a blogger, so many of my thoughts about black verse would've remained hidden from view. 

I used my site as a kind of repository of ideas. But it also served some practical purposes for organizing materials. Checklists. Timelines. Rounds and coverage on authors and special topics. Award-winning poets from 1987 - 2020.

Hey, the blog even gave me opportunities to think about audiences for my work well beyond the academy, something that would have been less likely to develop as it did if my only modes of writing had been scholarly writing for conferences, scholarly journals, and publications for academic presses. 

I viewed the history blog The Public Archive as an important model and mantra for me. That is, produce a public archive of thoughts and records concerning black poetry. What if there had been two dozen or even just ten black poetry-based Public Archive-like blogs out there? That is, what if I had multiple models instead of just a few? What if others had more models?  Again, a missed opportunity. 

If those hypothetical bloggers and I had been in touch, we would've had opportunities to build important senses of community. We could've assisted each other in filling in gaps. We could've highlighted our different reading lists and trained our eyes on common poems and books. 

It's good to identify missed opportunities like this one, because it gives us a framework for considering the kinds of plans we might make for the future...right now. 

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