HBW Reading Recommendations

Posted Posted in HBW, Uncategorized

[By: Kai Hansen]

Hello everyone, and happy New Year! I hope you’re all well and have had a good holiday season.

There’s a certain chill in the air that seems to make the world around us slow down a bit, which makes this the perfect time of year to relax and curl up with a good book. Whether you’re a college student searching for something to occupy your time over break, or just someone looking to enter another world to escape the cold for a while, we have some fantastic Black-authored books recommended by the staff here at HBW that are sure to be a great start to the new year. 

Graphic credit: Kai Hansen

Children of Blood and Bone by Toni Adeyemi, recommended by Victoria Garcia Unzueta:

This fantasy novel tells the story of Zélie Adebola as she tries to rise up against the monarchy, bring magic back to the land, and most of all, control her own powers. 

When asked why she recommended this book, Victoria responded: “This is a wonderful fantasy book that offers both a new world and a new way to see our current one. The variety of perspectives allows you to see all sides of the story and gain a better depth to the story.” 

 

Daddy was a Number Runner

Daddy Was a Number Runner by Louise Meriwether, recommended by Dr. Maryemma Graham:

Daddy Was a Number Runner follows a year in the life of 12-year-old Francie Coffin living in Depression-era Harlem as she faces racism, poverty, and violence. 

Dr. Graham said “The book offers a multifaced view of black life during the Depression and brings a more holistic view of people. Black victimhood is a major focus in our culture, but it often leaves us without an understanding of survival and agency. This means that we must continue to fight against the repressive conditions and systematic racism, but also respect the way people ‘make a way out of no way.’”

Bonus from Dr. Graham: “We can honor [Louise Meriwether] by reading all of her work, especially Fragments of the Ark (1994) and Shadow Dancing (2000), two other books of hers that are among my favorites.”

 

Lakewood by Megan Giddings, recommended by Brendan Williams-Childs

Lakewood is the story of a girl named Lena Johnson who gets involved in a high-paying medical experiment to pay off her family’s debt but discovers that the experimentation being done could be devastating for the test subjects.

Brendan describes this book as “a disturbing and especially timely novel about human experimentation in medicine.”

Bonus from Brendan: “(I) also just read some essays from Baldwin’s The Devil Finds Work – a classic memoir/criticism hybrid, and an especially good pairing with the latest BLS roundtable.”

 

Salvage the Bones

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward, recommended by Jade Harrison:

Salvage the Bones follows a Black family in Mississippi as they prepare for and deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

When asked about this book Jade said “I read this novel during the COVID-19 quarantine April 2020, and ever since then it has become one of my favorite novels. I really love Ward’s use of language in this novel and how the narrative’s plot unravels in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina.”

Bonus from Jade: Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur “I was introduced to Shakur’s autobiography in my Civil Rights/Black Power Movement literature course I took this semester. I love how Assata serves as a coming of age narrative for a Black female revolutionary icon. Also, the language Shakur uses throughout the narrative is reminiscent of the BAM (Black Arts Movement) aesthetic.”

 

The Sun is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon, recommended by Andi Kerbs: 

The Sun is Also A Star tells the story of Daniel and Natasha-two teenagers who end up crossing paths in New York City and falling in love over the course of a day.

When asked why they recommended this book, Andi responded, “I enjoy this book because not only is it a cheesy romance (I’m a sucker for a cheesy romance) it’s diverse. Seeing different kinds of people represented in YA fiction is so important and this book does that perfectly.”

Bonus from Andi: “She (Nicola Yoon) also wrote Everything, Everything which is an equally great book and both are movies now!”

 

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, recommended by Sarah Arbuthnot:

Their Eyes Were Watching God tells the story of Janie Crawford and her personal growth as she moves through three different marriages. 

When asked about this work, Sarah responded “I’m currently reading Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God in preparation for our upcoming NEH Summer Institute (learn more here!) that will examine much of Hurston’s work. While the dialect has taken some getting used to, I’m very much enjoying the novel and looking forward to the rich discussions to come.”

 

Finally, my recommendation is We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo. 

We Need New Names follows the early life of a girl named Darling, the first half of the book focusing on her life in Zimbabwe and the second half following her move to The United States. 

I first read this novel in a freshman English class and was amazed by just how much Bulawayo works into this book. By telling the story of Darling both in Zimbabwe and in the U.S., Bulawayo is able to compare the two and provide commentary on Zimbabwean culture, American culture, and immigrant identity.

As a bonus for those interested in queer history and identity, I would like to reccomend Black On Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity by C. Riley Snorton. This book dives into queer history and discusses the intersections between what it means to be Black and what it means to be trans.

I hope you like our selections and that you’re able to find something that fits your interests. 

Happy reading!

 

 

Kai Hansen is a sophomore at the University of Kansas, double majoring in English & Biology with a minor in Dance. A member of the University Honors Program with plans to become an English professor, Kai is actively engaged in the study of  Black and queer literature.

In Memoriam: Naomi Long Madgett

Posted Posted in GEMS, HBW, Obituaries, Uncategorized

[ By: Morgan McComb ]

“If I can help somebody as I pass along”: Remembering the Life and Work of Naomi Long Madgett

Naomi Long Madgett reads from the lectern during the Phillis Wheatley Festival at Jackson State University in 1973. Photo courtesy of Roy Lewis.

On November 4, 2020, we lost Detroit Poet Laureate, Lotus Press founder, and lifelong educator, Naomi Long Madgett. With a career that spanned over five decades, Madgett’s work was dynamic and unencumbered by critical expectations—especially critical expectations of Black writers. She published her first volume of poetry, Songs to a Phantom Nightingale (1941), when she was just seventeen years old, and she published at least one volume of poetry in every decade (minus the 1960s) until her last collection, Connected Islands, was published in 2004. Early in her career, Madgett was mentored by both Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes, and their exchanges over what it means to be a Black writer—made famous in Hughes’s seminal essay “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” (1926)—was a crucial debate that inflected Madgett’s development of her own poetry. Madgett was also a founding member of the Boone House group of poets in Detroit in the 1960s that included fellow poets Margaret Danner, Dudley Randall, and Oliver LaGrone. As an educator both in the Detroit Public School system as well as at Eastern Michigan University, Madgett was a pioneer in the creation of the first African American literature course for the Detroit Public School system and even wrote her own creative writing textbook, A Student’s Guide to Creative Writing (1980). Her concern with overly-restrictive expectations for Black writers is an imperative that she not only addressed in her own work but was also the impetus behind her creation of Lotus Press in 1972 (now merged with Dudley Randall’s Broadside Press) after she was unable to find a publisher for her fourth collection of poetry, Pink Ladies in the Afternoon. In 2001, Madgett was named the Detroit Poet Laureate, and in 2012 she was awarded the Kresge Eminent Artist Award, the highest artistic honor in the state of Michigan.

Morgan McComb visits Naomi Long Madgett at her house to discuss her life’s work.

In July 2017, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Madgett at her home in Detroit, Michigan. Our early correspondence through e-mail distinguished her as a committed protector and historian of her own work and the work of those she mentored. Her encyclopedic memory of her career was both impressive and necessary for, almost 70 years after her first publication, the published critical engagement with her work remains slim, though it should be noted that her poems—notably the poem “Midway”—are in many anthologies including Dudley Randall’s foundational The Black Poets (1971). (During our interview, she told me that “Midway,” her most anthologized poem, is, interestingly enough, the least favorite of her poems.) During the course of our afternoon together, for almost six hours, she told me stories like holding on to some parking change Gwendolyn Brooks gave her for years after they first met; later in their lives, Brooks and Madgett became close friends, as evidenced by the extensive written correspondence between them, currently in Madgett’s archives at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. A constant refrain in the interview was her career-long battle against what others told her she should write as a Black poet. In her autobiography Pilgrim Journey (2006) she writes that she struggled to find an audience for her “quiet, reflective poetry that dealt with race in more subtle ways” against the backdrop of explicitly political artistic movements such as the Black Arts Movement (313). Her favorite hymn, “If I Can Help Somebody” by Mahalia Jackson, epitomizes her imperative as a publisher and editor. For despite her own work lacking an enthusiastic reception, Madgett devoted her career as an editor at Lotus Press to providing a space for other Black writers to find a publishing haven, especially when they, just as she, had been turned away by other publishers.

Naomi Long Madgett Photo credit: Unknown

Because Madgett’s work is prolific both in quantity and thematic scope, it is more difficult to characterize. Yet the difficulty we encounter is what makes her distinctive poetic perspective all the more important to document. Madgett eschews strict dictums for poetry because, as she told me in our interview, “the core principle [of the poem] is always the same, and yet the reader brings something of his or her own experience into the poem so that it means something different [to everyone].” Madgett’s poetry makes space to explore the expansiveness of artistic identity in flux. Constant evolution: this is Madgett’s imperative as a poet, an editor, an educator, and a human being.

And so I hope, in the midst of a political moment where we are striving to recognize the essential, foundational, and revolutionary contributions of Black women, we can commit ourselves to an engagement with and love of Madgett’s poetry, in her absence, that she undoubtedly has always deserved.

 

More on Naomi Long Madgett

An HBW GEM

An Interview with Naomi Long Madgett

Women’s History Month: Naomi Long Madgett

 

Morgan McComb is an English PhD student at the University of Mississippi whose research focuses on understudied Black women poets and Black Feminist Theory. She earned her masters from the University of Kansas where her thesis focused on the work of Naomi Long Madgett. She is currently working on a dissertation that focuses on the legacy of the work of Phillis Wheatley in Black women’s poetry and print culture.

The Making of the 9th Annual BLS; Black Writing in Reel Time

Posted Posted in Events, Film, Uncategorized

[By: Kai Hansen, BLS Co-Chair 2020] 

As HBW’s 9th annual Black Literary Suite is coming to an end, I find myself reflecting on HBW’s team and all the hard work that has gone into this event. In order to highlight our amazing staff members, and give you all a better idea of what all goes into BLS, I interviewed the team responsible for the 2020 Black Literary Suite. 

BLS Team 2020 Graphic credit: Kai Hansen

The following answers are from Victoria Garcia Unzueta, Alejandro Rangel-Lopez, Mona Ahmed, and Christopher Peace.

What was your role in the creation of BLS?

V: My primary role in the creation of BLS was conducting research and creating the write-ups for the films chosen. I researched both the novels and their corresponding films, as well as researched audience reaction and scholarly reviews of both pieces of work. 

A: My role in this year’s BLS was researching and writing some of the write-ups for the novels and their accompanying films; everything from biographical information to box office information. 

M: I created the interactive map and timeline in addition to researching my assigned books and films.

C: For this year’s BLS, I’ve worked with Kai with directing this public program and creating a podcast that explains the importance of this event. I’ve communicated closely with the panelists and moderator in preparation for November 11th’s panel. I’ve also edited some elements of the interactive map. 

Their Eyes Were Watching God Photo credit: Goodreads

For those to whom it applies, which works did you research for the panels?

V: I researched The Hate U Give, 12 Years a Slave, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Learning Tree, and Native Son.

A: I researched The Sport of the Gods, Foxes of Harrow, and The Landlord.

M:  I researched The Homesteader,  Go Tell it on the Mountain, Beloved, and Waiting to Exhale.

How did you decide what works should be included in the panels?

M: Vincent Omni, Hamza Rehman, and I went through BBIP’s [Black Book Interactive Project] excel sheet and highlighted books that were found in HBW’s novel collection. We then tried to pick a variety of books from different genres and time periods.

Mona, this is the first year that the panels will be on an interactive map. Can you tell us a bit about that?

M: Ironically, I came up with the idea to have a virtual exhibit before Covid-19 happened. My intention was to create a virtual exhibit that could complement our annual physical exhibit. I wanted to create an exhibit that could reach HBW’s community outside of KU.  I also wanted everyone to be able to engage in the research we created in an innovative way. 

Chris, what are you most excited about for this year’s BLS? What will be different because this year’s BLS is online?

BLS 2020 panel discussion Photo credit: HBW

C: I can’t wait for the panel discussion. I’m excited to be in the presence of such great filmmakers and media studies academics. The graphic design is appealing, and I’m looking forward to seeing how all of our work culminates together. I hope for more of the general public to attend the discussion panel and to view the interactive map and timeline on HBW’s website. Since the program is virtual, more people can access the event without leaving the comfort of their homes. Our BLS has highlighted digital interaction in this year’s exhibit to ensure the optimal online experience. 

Finally, do you have a favorite book/film from this year’s BLS? Can you tell us a bit about it and why it’s your favorite?

12 Years a Slave (2013) Photo credits: Wikipedia

V: My favorite novel/film from this year is 12 Years a Slave, which is the autobiographical novel of Solomon Northup, a free man who was captured and thrown into slavery as an adult. It’s my favorite primarily because it’s a true story and I think that adds a layer of depth to it and I enjoyed learning about Northup’s life. It’s raw and real and does a great job of portraying the horrors of slavery. Steve McQueen’s film is equally as raw and profound, though it has its flaws. The casting of the film is great and featured some incredible performances such as Chiwetel Ejiofor in the role of Solomon Northup and Michael Fassbender as Epps. 

A: My favorite novel/film to work on was The Sport of the Gods by Paul Laurence Dunbar. It was incredibly fascinating to learn about one of the most-widely recognized Black authors and his background as well as how it influenced his writing. Aside from that, the research needed to find information about the 1921 film adaptation was arduous and difficult; however, it was rewarding and I found out a lot about Reol Productions which produced films solely based on bringing the works of Black authors to the silver screen. 

Waiting to Exhale (1995) Photo credit: Wikipedia

M: My favorite is Waiting to Exhale. There is so much to love about the book and film. My favorite scene is when Bernadine puts all her husband’s belongings in his car and sets the car on fire. After she finds out he is divorcing her to be with his mistress. 

C: Their Eyes are Watching God of course by Zora Neale Hurston. The novel was published in 1937; the film adaptation, directed by Darnell Martin, was released in March 2005  –I watched the Hallie Berry movie a long time ago, but I do remember enjoying it. In Hurston’s narrative, the protagonist Janie Crawford, a middle-aged black woman returns to the town of Eatonville, Florida, one of the first self-governing black communities. The book starts off with her recounting to her friend Pheoby what has happened since she left. Janie recounts her three marriages, first to Logan, a pragmatic and unromantic man who treats her like a pack mule, who she leaves to be with Jody, the mayor of Eatonville. She and Jody are married for two decades when Janie finally exposes his ways, and shortly after he dies. Then Janie meets Tea Cake, the first man she truly falls in love with. They have a life together in the Everglades until the untimely end of their relationship following a terrible hurricane. Through these stories, Janie is able to find herself and finally be at peace with who she is. These themes of migration and movement are highlighted in our BLS exhibit as we explore the film adaptation of various Black writing. 

This year’s Black Literary Suite has been a culmination of our entire HBW team coming together to create something special. With the unexpected obstacle of the Covid-19 pandemic, our team had to act quickly and efficiently to come up with ways to host BLS in a safe environment. Together with the help of everyone, we were able to pull of this year’s event, which we hope has been a success.

 

Kai Hansen is a sophomore at the University of Kansas, double majoring in English & Biology with a minor in Dance. A member of the University Honors Program with plans to become an English professor, Kai is actively engaged in the study of  Black and queer literature.

NABJ/NAHJ Virtual Convention

Posted Posted in Conferences, HBW, Uncategorized

[By: Victoria Garcia Unzueta]

Earlier this August, HBW gave me the opportunity to attend the National Association of Black Journalists/National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NABJ/NAHJ) Joint Convention in Washington, DC. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, my plans were shifted around and I ended up becoming part of history by attending the first-ever virtual NABJ/NAHJ Joint Convention.

NABJ/NAHJ 2020 Convention Lobby
Photo credit: V. Garcia

Partnered for the first time, NAHJ and NABJ came together to host a week full of information, networking, and community. Though Covid-19 has affected our daily lives in many ways, it didn’t stop both organizations from hosting an event which helped bring together countless journalists of color. Not only that, but they also crafted panels and presentations designed to help journalists through these unprecedented times. With sessions exploring topics from how to cover Covid-19 within our communities to mental health and self-care, this convention helped build a guiding tool for journalists to use as we navigate our new reality. There were also panels addressing the social unrest our country has faced and how we as journalists can cover them while staying true to our identities and the people around us, which was extremely valuable and helped address some of the concerns that come from being both a person of color and a journalist.

NAHJ panel
Photo credit: V. Garcia

As a relatively new Hispanic journalist, being part of NAHJ has helped me immensely. Being able to attend so many panels that featured Hispanic women allowed me to see a level of representation I’d never seen before and helped reaffirm my belief that I belong in this industry. Seeing some of the journalists I’ve admired for years, such as Lester Holt and Jose Diaz-Balart, was the icing on the cake. I was able to see people who looked like me doing the work I want to do and it gave me a sense of hope and reassurance for the future.

NAHJ morning.
Photo credit: V. Garcia

Apart from all the great learning and work building I did, I also had a lot of fun attending the convention. The first night I attended the Convention Kick-Off presentation sponsored by Disney, which featured a live DJ, special Disney presentations, and panels with the creators of Soul. I then spent the week live tweeting the event, which proved to be a great way to network in such unusual times. With a simple Tweet about my traditional Mexican breakfast one morning, I made friends with another NAHJ member and bonded with many others who shared a similar connection. Though it felt silly, putting myself out there and staying true to my identity helped me find a community and make connections that I would not have otherwise made. Concluding the week was bittersweet, as I was grateful for the experience but sad to see it end. To wrap up the convention NAHJ hosted the “Gran Baile”, a virtual reimagination of the big dance party to close off the convention. A live DJ provided music and NAHJ provided a platform  which gave us a chance to end the convention as a community, enjoying good music and even better company.

Victoria Garcia Unzueta at NAHJ/NABJ 2020
Photo credit: V. Garcia

In the end, being able to attend this convention helped me grow as not only a journalist but as a person as well. I built connections, made memories, and prepared myself for a future in a growing industry. Though there’s still work left to do I am thankful to be part of something bigger than myself and I’m grateful to help add #MoreLatinosInNews.

 

 

 

 


 

Victoria Garcia Unzueta is a freshman here at the University of Kansas. Victoria is majoring in journalism with an emphasis in strategic communications.  Victoria is originally from Dodge City, Kansas where she was editor in chief of her high school’s newspaper and yearbook. For Victoria, these experiences helped shape her passion for journalism and community advancement and helped her to find HBW, where she hopes to continue the important work being done.

 

 

Afro-Latinae Reading List

Posted Posted in Uncategorized

[By: Kai Hansen]

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, HBW has compiled a reading list for the occasion. From memoirs to graphic novels, here are 10 fantastic books by Afro-Latinae authors you should read this month:

 

A Message From Rosa – An African Diaspora Novel in Short Stories by Quince Duncan

A Message From Rosa consists of a series of short stories describing historical moments for people of African descent. From enslaved African women on a slave boat, to Afro-Mexican troops standing against Spanish colonialists, to Afro-German women resisting Nazi rule, Duncan’s novel takes the reader on a journey through the lives of people who lived centuries apart and showcases the connections they all share.

Book collage
Credit: HBW

 

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

The Poet X is a young adult novel following the life of fifteen-year-old Xiomara. Using the moniker “X”, Xiomara writes poetry to understand the world around her. Acevedo’s novel uses the life of a young girl to explore themes such as cultural identity, family, and religion, in this coming-of-age novel.

 

Our Lady of the Night by Mayra Santos-Febres

Our Lady of the Night follows the life of Isabel “La Negra” Luberza, a Black Puerto Rican woman, who, after being born into poverty and abandoned by her mother, becomes one of Puerto Rico’s most feared businesswomen and “madam” of her brothel. Based on a true story, this novel explores themes of class disparities, female sexuality, and power.

 

I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina

I Am Alfonso Jones is a graphic novel focusing on Alfonso Jones, a teenager excited to play Hamlet in his school’s production of the play who never gets the chance. As Alfonso is going to buy his first suit, he is shot and killed by a police officer. The story follows Alfonso’s journey through the afterlife as well as his family’s fight for justice, examining topics such as police brutality, coping with death, and what it means to be Afro-Latino.

 

Book collage
Credit: HBW

The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao follows the life of a Dominican-American nerd from New Jersey named Oscar de León. Oscar dreams of becoming the next great fantasy author and finding love, but fears that the fukú curse, which has haunted his family for generations, will stop him. This book utilizes magical realism to portray themes of identity, sexuality, and oppression.

 

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

Shadowshaper is a young-adult fantasy novel following Sierra Santiago, an Afro-Boricua teenager from Brooklyn, as she discovers the Shadowshapers, a supernatural order who connect with spirits via paintings, music, and stories. This fast-paced adventure explores themes of family, religion, and racism.

 

Mama’s Girl by Veronica Chambers

Mama’s Girl is a memoir told from the perspective of a young Chambers as she reflects on her relationship with her mother  -a Panamanian immigrant trying to raise her children on a secretary’s salary- and her desire to be the perfect child. An honest reflection on childhood, this book explores themes such as family, pain, and forgiveness.

 

Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas

Book collage
Credit: HBW

Down These Mean Streets is a memoir about growing up in Spanish Harlem and what that meant to Thomas. With discussion of what it means to be Puerto Rican in the United States and dark-skinned in a family that ignores its African heritage, Thomas tells the story of his early life in poverty, and his connection to drugs, street gangs, and crime, confronting themes such as racial identity, poverty, and drug use.

 

On Friday Night by Luz Argentina Chiriboga

On Friday Night is about a young girl named Susana who receives a bouquet of flowers each Friday night from a secret admirer, who is eventually revealed to be her white neighbor. The book follows Susana as she forms an understanding of herself as a Black woman living in a racist society and explores themes such as race, class, exploitation, injustice, and prejudice.

 

Song of the Water Saints by Nelly Rosario

Song of the Water Saints follows the women in a Dominican family through three generations. Traveling through the dreams and struggles of each generation, this novel explores themes such as freedom, responsibility, and family.

 

Happy reading and happy Hispanic Heritage Month from everyone at HBW!

 


 

Kai Hansen is a sophomore at the University of Kansas, double majoring in English & Biology with a minor in Dance. A member of the University Honors Program with plans to become an English professor, Kai is actively engaged in the study of  Black and queer literature.

 

Richard Wright’s legacy and remembering George Floyd – Part 3 (Final)

Posted Posted in Uncategorized
In August 2020,  members of the Richard Wright family wrote statements regarding the social unrest our country has faced and shared them in the “Richard Wright News Bulletin.” In honor of Richard Wright’s 112th birthday on September 4, 2020, HBW begins a three-part series as an inter-generational family tribute to Wright’s legacy.

Part III

Maxime Desirat.
Photo Credit: Maxime Desirat

For all those who are willing to go beyond a mere black square or a BLM hashtag and wish to explore or better understand what it is like to live with a black skin in a white world, I can only invite them to read the books written by my great grandfather, Richard Wright : “Black Boy”, “Native Son”, “White Man, Listen” — to name only the best known titles. He is one of the first African American authors to have lifted the veil on the living conditions of black people in the U.S.  His books offer a historical perspective on today’s Black Lives Matter movement. His writings contain the literary and historical soil enabling an understanding of the roots of the claims being made so articulately these past few weeks. Born in 1908 in the state of Mississippi to the son and daughter of slaves, he was able to transcend his hatred of white people to move, over the course of his life, towards a discourse based on tolerance albeit never giving up his activism to promote a social knowledge and recognition of the significance of the black experience in the 20th century. We can only conclude that the goals he set for himself are still being struggled for. Those of you who have seen the film “American History X” will remember that it is one of Richard Wright’s books that the High School Head, Mr. Sweeney, teaches in his literature class in order to give his students the opportunity to discover the other side of the coin of U.S. history : the narrative of the ethnic minorities. An initiative which causes one of the students’ father to become enraged and his son to become a notorious Neo-Nazi skinhead.

Being “white” myself, I have never been directly confronted with what a black man can experience in such a society. However, being Wright’s great grandson, the subject was always present in my family and in the education I was given. Although I did not understand everything immediately, the reading of his works at a very young age enabled me to immerse myself very early in a ramification of themes and concerns whose complexity I may still not completely fathom. I am not accustomed to finding words to say these things for I have never really been an activist, but the murder of George Floyd has turned the subject into a challenging reality and I am seizing the time to speak up about it. Keeping this heritage to myself would be self-centered, it seems to me. Meanwhile, if these issues interest you, you will easily find my great grandfather’s writings in any library.
Maxime Desirat,  June 6, 2020

Maxime Desirat, MA in Geography, Geographical Information Systems Analyst, great grandson of Richard Wright.

Selected Works by Richard Wright:  

Graphic: HBW

Richard Wright’s legacy and remembering George Floyd – Part 2

Posted Posted in Guest Blogger, Uncategorized
In August 2020,  members of the Richard Wright family wrote statements regarding the social unrest our country has faced and shared them in the “Richard Wright News Bulletin.” In honor of Richard Wright’s 112th birthday on September 4, 2020, HBW begins a three-part series as an inter-generational family tribute to Wright’s legacy.

Part II

I am grateful to George Floyd for reminding me of an important truth.
We do not understand the full meaning of our lives as we are living them.
This truth can serve as a powerful antidote to the frustrations and self-recriminations punctuating life-long struggles that yield a sense, more often than not, of slow progress.

Malcolm Wright Photo credit: Malcolm Wright

A tipping point is something that is built up to, and it is not given to us to understand how important our contributions are to the building of that edifice. Visionaries have some insight into this process, but most of us just do the work and operate on a core of faith that the immediate and local benefits of our actions are meaningful enough, and that the sum total of all of our efforts drives something bigger: a larger wheel of progress. Maybe. We hope. These efforts of communities across the nation, decade after decade, are a key ingredient to why the push for change, sparked by Mr. Floyd’s death, is sustaining itself month after month. Our culture of struggle is the foundation for why we have not stopped. Why we know this moment cannot be squandered. Many of us could be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed with just keeping the bills paid, keeping our families fed. After the first weeks of marching, networking, conceiving of next steps, maybe we are entitled to consider the work done, and the demands of maintaining day-to-day, more pressing? But we’ve been taught by the giants that raised us up, that we must do more than just survive as individuals. Others among us with more fortunate circumstances might have decided by now that they can return to their hobbies, their private passions, their sports, fashion and Playstations, instead of continuing to push. But that same culture of struggle continues to speak to us all. What it whispers is: ‘Now. The time is now’. We may not have known in our daily lives what our efforts would amount to, but in this special window of opportunity, there is a great increase in focus and clarity: all of our cumulative actions are now visible, right in front of us, in the waves of diverse human beings come together for a purpose many of us believed, in our darker hours, most other Americans did not care about. In these waves of protesting Americans of all skin colors, I see the efforts of my mother, and the efforts of my grandparents, the efforts of their peers, and all their ancestors: the slaves, the Indigenous people, the abolitionists and anyone who ever fought for freedom and equality.

Julia & Malcolm Wright. Photo credit: C.B. Claiborne

These efforts are now visible in our waves of protesters, but also in the opposition, which is now manifesting daily in the form of unabashed Neo-Nazis and Klan ranting, marching, frothing at the mouth, spewing
their hatred compulsively in front of cameras across the nation. And in the form of daily police abuse that instead of being chastened by our efforts, is redoubling, also compulsively, in an effort to endure and remain the unspoken norm. The restraint of law enforcement in the face of heavily armed bigots storming the Michigan Capitol, yelling un-masked in their faces and threatening to lynch their governor. Gretchen Whitmer, is in stark contrast to the often vicious approach law enforcement has taken toward peaceful protesters and journalists. What once we alone saw, is now difficult to ignore for the entire nation. Most importantly, our efforts are now visible in the proximity of the goal itself. We are being heard, and a majority of ears are on our side. From our uncertain horizon, we woke up into a world with a national conversation, legislative action and the beginning of a palpable shift in how some police departments, school districts, businesses, branches of the military, and local government address race relations, policing and the Justice system. This moment of clarity is something some generations never get to experience: all they have, from the moment they understand that they must struggle until the moment they struggle their last, is the daily, slow march towards a hopeful but uncertain horizon: a notion that there must be a better way, a better era, a better world, a better version of us. Our present moment is precious. A gift created by our own efforts, and the efforts of countless before us. And created by George Floyd. Beyond the pain of knowing so visually, so audibly, how he left the earth, there is the pain of knowing that he did not know of this gift. He did not know that the confluence of all our efforts, a pandemic, a fascist leader, an election year, and his own death, would lead to these sustained moments of clarity. I’d like to think that had he known, the effect would have been deeply salutary for him. The moment is indeed now. We probably will not get another such moment within our lifetimes. And other global challenges await us with an urgency that signifies there may never be another such moment – at least not for our civilization. The unity we seek as remedy to the broken policing and Justice systems, is the same unity we desperately need in order to confront existential threats posed by a changing climate, massive non-human species extinctions, environmental degradation and a global slip away from democracy and international cooperation, towards isolationism and autocracy.

George Floyd Mural by Xavier Martinez, Lawrence, KS.  Photo credit: Mona Ahmed

Minorities and the poor suffer first, and suffer most from all of these wider-world problems. In the quieter moments of the night, when I cannot sleep for all of what is going on, I suspect it is not only our destiny to seize this moment for ourselves, but also to progress it to another moment of wider change, for all of life on earth. My way of thanking Mr Floyd, thanking all of you who read this, and all of us who throughout our earthly timeline have fought struggles small and large for balance in this world, is to sustain this moment in my mind, and in my heart. Like a meditation, should I lose it for a while, I simply return to it, and give it power again. Thank you to all of you who do the same.
Malcolm Wright
July 31, 2020

Malcolm Wright is a filmmaker, writer, conservationist, and grand son of Richard Wright.

 

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