Posted on Posted in HBW, Jerry W. Ward

[By: Jerry W. Ward Jr.]

It might be argued that Langston Hughes’s Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971) can make readers more attentive to combinations of words and music and to the issues of response and interpretation broached in Stephen Henderson’s Understanding the New Black Poetry: Black Speech and Black Music as Poetic References (New York: William Morrow, 1973). More recent critical discussions of musical and verbal aspects of African American poetry extend the thinking Henderson initiated, but they do not displace the centrality of his formations in the development of theoretical discourses.  We have yet to sufficiently critique his insights about how  “mascon” (a massive concentration of Black experiential energy) informed African science and currently informs “the meaning of Black speech, Black song, and Black Poetry” (44).  Henderson’s considerations of origins play nicely against the laughing barrel, signifying humor of Hughes’s liner note entitled “Jazztet Muted”:

Because grandma lost her apron with all the answers in her pocket (perhaps consumed by fire) certain grand- and great-grandsons play music burning like dry ice against the ear.  Forcing cries of succor from its own unheard completion  — not resolved by Charlie Parker  —  can we look to monk or Monk?  Or let it rest with Eric Dolphy? (92)

For Hughes’s blues-jazz composition, Dolphy, Monk, Ornette Coleman, Dizzy, Duke, Ella, Miss Nina, Carmen, and Hawkins revolve in the orbit of Charlie Yardbird Parker, but John Coltrane (1926-1967) remains unnamed (not called for or evoked) “in the quarter of the Negroes/where black shadows move like shadows”(77); the absence of Coltrane may be a cultural comment rather than an oversight.  The tacit comment, of course, signals the limits in Hughes’s imagination of the space that consciousness of theoretical science should occupy.  When Hughes wrote Ask Your Mama, a brilliant example of what jazz poetry can be, Coltrane had yet to be embraced by many black music aficionados with a love supreme; a handful of Coltrane’s fellow musicians might have overtly appreciated his sustained interest in physics, although good musicians intuit physics in their improvising.


The Decarceration of Black America: Notes to a Native Son

Posted on Posted in HBW, Jerry W. Ward


[By: Jerry W. Ward, Jr.]

A Preface

Q: Should one give critical attention to a stylistically and rhetorically flawed book by a self-proclaimed left-wing Conservative?

A: Yes.

Q:  Why?

A:  If the book tries to examine reasons for “mass incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” from a black Republican or independently conservative  point of view, it merits attention rather than self-righteous silence.  The book’s failure to meet the intellectual  standards established in The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life (New York: Atria Books, 2008), edited by Kevin Powell, and Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow ( New York: The New Press, 2010) is instructive.  A negative touchstone has value.  Dealing with that touchstone by way of constructive criticism can be a habit of the heart.

Q:  Are you guilty of special pleading because the author of the book is African American?

A: Yes, very definitely.  Attention to an imperfect example of black socio-cultural analysis as black writing is consonant with the broad aims of the Project on the History of Black Writing (HBW). The project is catholic.

Q:  Do you dare to skate on the thin ice of what you believe to be honest?  Would you give equal attention to a flawed book by a Caucasian, a Chinese American, or a Mohawk?

A:  Yes.  I inhale and exhale the miasma of American dilemmas and nightmares without fear.  My motives, however,  for criticizing a book by a non-Black thinker would be remote from criticizing Daryl Hubbard’s The Decarceration of Black America: Systemic Analyses and Strategic Plans for Our Future (Jackson, TN: Black Consciousness Series, 2017).  ISBN   2370000399625.


Reading the dystopia wherein you live (revisited)

Posted on Posted in HBW, Jerry W. Ward

[By: Jerry W. Ward, Jr.]

Since January 20, 2017, it is quite fashionable to talk about Donald J. Trump under the influence of reading dystopian or apocalyptic fictions.  There is the possibility that what fifty years ago was accepted as “the news” is now a blatant form of social fiction.  Broadcast from every ideological angle, what seems to be the news is replete with alternative facts and unacknowledged projections of imagination. There is a thin line between description of actuality and its reception in various media.  And many readers hop across the line without benefit of thought.  Reading is simply automatic, a reflex action.

A few of us who stay out of touch with reality believe genre distinctions matter, and we attempt to discriminate such dystopian novels as Ishmael Reed’s The Free-Lance Pallbearers and George Orwell’s Animal Farm from tomorrow’s news that happened yesterday.  Our reading is a mission impossible.  We are the news.  That is to say, we inhabit the dystopia we’d like to claim is external to us.

The problem seems to defy resolution.  We can, however, take pragmatic measures to minimize its paralyzing effects.  We can segregate dystopian fictions from descriptive treatises by using traditional conventions of reading.  The treatise purports to be objective and explanatory.  The fiction is a subjective guide  for analysis and interpretation. We gain a bit of comfort from thinking we know the critical difference between fiction and nonfiction.  Perhaps we do not, for we are characters in a “great” novel entitled  Acirema the Great.

Acirema the Great opens with cheers of victory on 11/9.  One disgruntled character mumbles that for the first time since Thomas Jefferson, a real President, died in 1826 and walked into American mythology —the comfort zone occupied by every President until 2016, voters are being asked to make sense of a fake President who has tweeted himself out of mythology into actuality.  Does the signifying monkey speak his mind about pravda?  The nameless character opens John Gardner’s On Moral Fiction (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2009) and reads the chapters on moral fiction and moral criticism.


The Joy of Refusing

Posted on Posted in HBW, Jerry W. Ward

[By: Jerry W. Ward Jr.]

From a pre-future vantage, one can discover the joy of refusing. Refusing or resisting is neither an innate virtue nor a vice, despite the fact that one must ultimately account for the moral properties of one’s actions . Refusing is an opportunity to live with the alternatives that might better identify one’s historicity. Consider the outcomes of refusing to read such commercially promoted books as:

Gyasi, Yaa. Homegoing. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.
Unigwe, Chika. On Black Sisters Street. New York: Random House, 2009.
Parker, Nate, ed. The Birth of a Nation: Nat Turner and the Making of a Movement. New York: Atria, 2016.

One profits from viewing displacement at some distance. For example, Gyasi was born in Ghana and raised in Huntsville, Alabama, a place that is not free to forget its association with segregation and slavery; Unigwe was born in Nigeria and now lives in Belgium, a place condemned to remember the obscene crimes it committed in Africa; Parker, who was born in Norfolk, Virginia, complies an official movie tie-in for his cinematic effort to manufacture ironies by partial deconstruction of D. W. Griffin’s 1915 film The Birth of a Nation, an iconic visual monument to American racism, and of William Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner, a literary tribute to the making of “whiteness.” Refusing to engage the two novels and the film allows one to “buy” time for evaluation at some distance from the dubious race to be au courant. Chosen ignorance is not bliss but a Trump-like signal of independence. It marks one’s being partially immune to the gestures of the herd or the culture-consuming mob.



There is fine sport in sampling the first and the closing sentences of the novels:
Gyasi: “The night Effia Otcher was born into the musky heat of Fanteland, a fire raged through the woods just outside her father’s compound (3)….Marjorie splashed him suddenly, laughing loudly before swimming away, toward the shore” (300). [the conditions of historical accidents]


Unigwe: “The world was exactly as it should be (3)….Sisi’s soul bounced down the stairs and began its journey into another world”(254). [the condition of sex workers]


Parker’s book invites sampling longer passages.

“How many of you know who Nat Turner is?” I wasn’t the only one staring blankly at my African-American Studies professor. I’d overheard the name once or twice in my childhood, but without context –the where, the why, and the what of his story —his name had no resonance. (3)

The story of Nat Turner, and stories of the struggles and triumphs of other enslaved African people, are only one small portion of the total Pan-African experience. But as they relate to the current state of affairs —these stories are powerfully salient tools in community healing and restoration. Nat Turner knew that Black lives mattered in the 1800s. The story of his dedication and sacrifice for his people can empower us to make that a reality today. (176) [the conditions of memory]

If the three works have validity in one’s determining the contested nature of “Truth,” there are advantages in the joy of refusing to read them before 2026 when enslavement has a new face.

Remembering Buchi Emecheta

Posted on Posted in HBW, Shelia Bonner

[By Shelia Bonner]

Florence Onyebuchi “Buchi” Emecheta was born July 21, 1944 in Lagos, Nigeria, to Igbo parents, Jeremy and Alice Nwabudinke. Her childhood was spent in Ibusa, the birthplace of her parents. In the 1950s she met her future husband Sylvester Onwordi. Between 1960 through 1966, the young couple bore five kids, two boys and three girls. Emecheta and her husband raised their family in London.

Their rocky marriage served to be the topic of several of Emecheta’s novels. Her 1974 Second Class Citizen details the conflicts of that marriage through the protagonist Adah. Other works by the Nigerian writer are In the Ditch (1972), The Bride Price (1976), The Slave Girl (1977), The Joys of Motherhood (1979), and Destination Biafra (1982). Emecheta also wrote several children’s books, most notably Nowhere to Play (1980). She is also known for A Kind of Marriage, a play aired by the BBC in 1976.

The esteemed writer was often invited to teach in American institutions of higher education. These invitations led her to Pennsylvania State, Rutgers, UCLA, and Yale. She served as a resident fellow of English at the University of Calabar in Nigeria. Several awards and honors were bestowed on Emecheta during her lifetime. She won the New Statesman Jock Campbell Award in 1978. In 1983, Granta named her “Best of the Young British Novelists”. Buchi Emecheta, in 2005, received the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE). The OBE, established by King George IV in 1917, is a prestigious honor bestowed to those whose works are great contributions to charitable and welfare organizations, public services, as well as to those who have made remarkable contributions to the arts and sciences.

Buchi Emecheta, who often identified as a womanist, made notable contributions to the literary and academic world before suffering from health complications from a 2010 stroke. She died January 25, 2017, in London at the age of 72. As scholars Hamid Farahmandian and Ehsaninia Shima once wrote: “Buchi Emecheta as one of the most debatable writers from Nigeria, did the best endeavors to demonstrate the culture and traditions of the Nigeria in the form of a tragedy novel to the world, she has been very ambitious and hopeful to see great changes in the attitudes of the African people about woman and her role in the family”(195). She serves to be the inspiration for younger writers such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Later this year, a memorial event will be held for Buchi Emecheta in London to celebrate her life and work.


Busby, Margaret. “Buchi Emecheta Obituary”. The Guardian, 3 February 2017, 

Farahmandian, Hamid and Ehsaninia Shima. “Dynamics of Tradition and Modernity in Bride Price by Buchi Emecheta.” International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature, v. 1, n. 4, p. 191-196, sep. 2012.