An Act of Faith

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[by Vincent Omni]

I last delivered a paper 20 years ago: an academic talk as an undergraduate fellow with the Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM). I discussed the contributions of Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston to the Harlem Renaissance. Since then, I’ve raised a family and worked in public education. The thought, then, of presenting at the College Language Association’s annual conference caused a bit of trepidation. I doubted my abilities, unaided by requisite practice, had improved with time. In fact, I suspected they were rusty, more than anything, and might cause me embarrassment. Still, I submitted an abstract about my humble (this adjective cannot be overstated) examination of Showtime’s infatuation with the south side of Chicago, and much to my surprise, was invited to present during the 78th annual CLA convention’s as part of the New Scholars Panel. The presentation went well, as did the talks I attended by several of my peers that week.

Langston Hughes

Poet Nikky Finney, though, proved the highlight of my CLA experience. The National Book Award winner spoke during a luncheon for the Langston Hughes Society (LHS), which meets in conjunction with CLA. I hadn’t purchased a ticket for the event, but LHS members let me listen to her speak. She read “Yella Gal,” a poem from a yet-to-be-released book, then moved on to her thesis for the afternoon, “The Herocity of Langston Hughes.” She spoke of heroes and mountains, of growing up “in a house where Black History Month was every day of the week,” and of becoming a poet. “Writing was an act of faith to Langston Hughes,” she said. “Writing was becoming an act of faith to me.”

Nikky Finney

Her words, this last quote in particular, reminded me of the summer I spent immersing myself in Hughes and Hurston. I poured over their autobiographies, novels, plays, and volumes of poetry. I scoured page after page of Simple stories and reread Their Eyes Were Watching God in search of just the right quotes for my essay. Like Finney, writing was becoming an act of faith for me then. Bittersweet emotion swelled up inside me as I sat there listening to her that afternoon: sadness for somehow having lost faith in the act of writing and gratitude for having found it once more. Later, after buying a book, Head Off & Split, and waiting in line for Finney to sign it, I thanked her for reminding me of my faith. “Come on home,” she said.



Vince Omni is a creative writing student in the MFA program and teaches first-year composition at the University of Kansas. He manages HBW’s fiction acquisitions and helps develops content for the Black Literary Suite and blog.

TONIGHT — Hanif Abdurraqib Reading: They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us

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[by: Morgan McComb]

Before you head to Hanif Abdurraqib’s reading tonight, check out this review of They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us and get your tickets here.

Sometimes you read books that make you think, and then sometimes you read books that make you feel; this one does both. Abdurraqib’s essays give you just enough of the personal, but once he draws you in, he sends you back to yourself, forcing you to look inward through subjects we write off as surface-level or, at the very least, irrelevant to the “bigger” issues. Macklemore beating out Kendrick Lamar for the Best Rap Album Grammy, the rise and fall of Fall Out Boy, why we should stop giving Migos so much flack for being from the suburbs, and the cultural implications of Allen Iverson vs. Michael Jordan—and that’s just to start. What Abdurraqib perhaps does best, though, is demonstrate how to use popular culture as a starting point—for change, reflection, therapy, or whatever we need it to be—in order to dig deeper. Abdurraqib’s focus isn’t just on evaluating and demonstrating the value of popular figures like Chance the Rapper. Abdurraqib’s emphasis on music is a gateway to a discussion about our nation’s biggest political and socioeconomic issues, like police brutality and the murder of Black Americans, the rise of white supremacy, and gentrification. This book will be something different to everyone, and it has an entrance point for everyone, too; and I can’t help but feel that that’s what good writing does. In this case, Abdurraqib’s writing is awe-inspiring while being at the same time totally accessible. In a time of deep political tension and disunion, a book like this feels prescient, present, and desperately needed.

Black Futures Month: Freedoms, Poetry, & Resistance

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[By: Anthony Boynton]

If no other moment during my time in Lawrence has shown me what freedom of expression and freedom of speech means, including how positionalities directly influence their manifestation, Dr. Eve L. Ewing’s recent visit to KU did so. On January. 30th, the Lawrence community gathered together in some amazing ways to share and celebrate poetry at “Mic Supremacy” which featured the award-winning Poet, Sociologist and Educator. Organized by community activist, poet, and KU alum Jameelah Jones, “Mic Supremacy” is a monthly POC-centered open mic night where people of the Lawrence community come to share poetry and prose at The Raven Book Store. On this special occasion (and the same night #45 gave a lie-filled State of the Union address) poetry was shared by members of the KU community, including faculty, staff, and undergraduate and graduate students who offered poems about joy, epistles of extreme emotion, and letters to loved ones. It was certainly an event where poets were given permission to be vulnerable and to create. Ewing gave a fantastic performance, reading several unpublished pieces including “Praise Song for Video Gamers,” a Psalm of adoration for old and new gamers and blerds alike.

The next day Ewing led a writing workshop on campus, followed by a lecture later that evening titled: “Poetry in Context” in which she detailed how her work advances the cultural heritage and historical tradition of African American poetry. This hybrid talk also included a reading of poems from her recently published collection Electric Arches which is a love ballad to Black girlhood, womanhood, dreams, and futures. One poem in particular she shared, “Arrival Day,” pays homage to Assata Shakur, who once said “Black revolutionaries don’t drop from the moon. We are created by our conditions.” Ewing’s poem responds to this quote through an origin story of activists as superhuman moonpeople and served as the perfect entry into Black History Month and Black Futures Month.

On the heels of Ewing’s visit, Lawrence also celebrated Langston Hughes’ 116th birthday with the “Langston Hughes Creative Writing Awards” honoring local writers. Rachel Atakpa, writer and undergraduate English major at KU, won for poetry and shared her piece “Psalm 73,” a revisioning of the biblical verse that left the room completely awe-inspired.

All of these events highlight some of the most filling moments for me as a budding writer in Lawrence. The sharing of poetry with people of color, who are generationally silenced from verse and speech, is a powerful experience especially when the premise is poetry is revolutionary. This type of freedom of expression becomes radical work in an era of alternative facts, “fake news,” government scandals, and shutdowns. It is even more radical when white nationalism shows up.


HBW Exclusive: Interview with Tayari Jones

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On Day 6 & 7 of our “Ode to #BlackExcellence” series we are celebrating the newest release from Tayari Jones An American Marriage. Oprah’s newest book club pick, An American Marriage masterfully intertwines love, suspense, and racial injustice through the story of Roy Hamilton and Celestial Davenport. KU Visiting Scholar and HBW Affiliate Lili Wong got a chance to speak with Jones about the new novel, as well as her upbringing and literary influences. Check out the interview below.






We are proud to celebrate Black History Month in conjunction with Black Futures Month at HBW. Each day we will feature works from our archives that celebrate the glory that is #BlackExcellence and the Black freedom movement.

Day 5: An Ode to #BlackExcellence

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African American Vernacular English constitutes a crucial element of Charles W. Chestnutt’s short fiction– a distinctive linguistic feature of his southern character. Light enough to “pass” as white, he never did so and always openly identified as African American. You can read more about his novels and short stories in our Black Literary Suite feature “Histories of African American Short Stories: a Digital Humanities Exhibit



There was a pensive look in Mr. Ryder’s eyes as he took the floor and adjusted his eyeglasses. He began by speaking of woman as the gift of heaven to man, and after some general observations on the relations of the sexes he said: ‘But perhaps the quality which most distinguishes woman is her fidelity and devotion to those she loves. History is full of examples, but has recorded none more striking than one which only today came under my notice.’” – Charles W. Chestnutt, “The Wife of His Youth”





We are proud to celebrate Black History Month in conjunction with Black Futures Month at HBW. Each day we will feature works from our archives that celebrate the glory that is #BlackExcellence and the Black freedom movement


Day 4: An Ode to #BlackExcellence

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Novelist and essayist Ernest Gaines weaves the powerful traditions of storytelling and oral history throughout his works. Accentuating Black life in the rural South, Gaines does not shy away from confronting the racial overtones of our collective history.


“Sometimes you got to hurt something to help something. Sometimes you have to plow under one thing in order for something else to grow.” – Ernest J. Gaines, A Gathering of Old Men 






We are proud to celebrate Black History Month in conjunction with Black Futures Month at HBW. Each day we will feature works from our archives that celebrate the glory that is #BlackExcellence and the Black freedom movement.

Day 3: An Ode to #BlackExcellence

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Margaret Walker published her only novel Jubilee in 1966. Based on the story of her great-grandmother, the novel ushered in the era of neo-slave narratives. Though she published twelve books during her lifetime, her major legacy is the Institute for the Study of History, Life and Culture of Black People which she founded in 1986, and was later renamed the Margaret Walker Center in her honor.


“Keeping hatred inside makes you git mean and evil inside. We supposen to love everybody like God loves us. And when you forgives you feels sorry for the one what hurt you, you returns love for hate, and good for evil. And that stretches your heart and makes you bigger inside with a bigger heart so’s you can love everybody when your heart is big enough. Your chest gets broad like this, and you can lick the world with a loving heart! Now when you hates you shrinks up inside and gets littler and you squeezes your heart tight and you stays so mad with peoples you feels sick all the time like you needs the doctor. Folks with a loving heart don’t never need no doctor.” – Margaret Walker, Jubilee



We are proud to celebrate Black History Month in conjunction with Black Futures Month at HBW. Each day we will feature works from our archives that celebrate the glory that is #BlackExcellence and the Black freedom movement.