Open letter to the KU Community

Posted Posted in HBW

On behalf of the Project on the History of Black Writing (3114 Wescoe), let me welcome newcomers and returning students to KU for the 2017-2018 school year.  You know by now we at KU are in the midst of heated debates, but you should also know that this is the reality of academia.

That said, I would like to commend those students for their brave outspokenness at the recent meeting to discuss concerns about concealed carry.  The expiration of the three-year exemption and the subsequent passing of the gun law was not what we had hoped for, but it is our reality for now.  I repeat – FOR NOW.  Rest assured that we will continue to fight against what we believe to be an irresponsible, if not dangerous legislation, just as we will fight to keep everyone safe.  You will see HBW’s posted signs that ask those who are carrying concealed weapons not to enter.  We at HBW are no strangers to controversy and remain committed to seeing that everyone has a voice and feels welcomed.

The threat of violence that the presence of guns easily invites affects all of us deeply, no matter what side you are on. We know that too many of you may be approaching your first week of classes with great fear and trepidation.  It is my hope that there are no “test” situations or pranks that derail your considerable efforts to be the best teachers and students that you can be. And we pray that you will confront no active or accidental shooter incidents now or ever.

What I can promise you is my colleagues and I will continue to fight for the repeal of this law.  We also know that we must also work with our administration not only to increase awareness and understanding, but also to be proactive in our joint efforts to ensure a safe teaching/learning environment for everyone. Yes, we won’t stop, we can’t stop, and we believe we will prevail.

“We know struggle and are not easily intimidated.”

HBW turns 35 this year. We haven’t lasted this long without experiencing momentous changes, some of them we have had the pleasure of leading. We have had some success in transforming for whom higher education exists and what it can and must do. Because we spend much of our time as a research unit challenging traditional views about what we study and value as current and future scholars, teachers and artists, we know struggle and are not easily intimidated.  Consider us your partners as you begin or continue this phase of your lives in higher education in preparation for your futures.

KU has many traditions, and we like to think that one of them is facing the challenges of each generation. Indeed, we demonstrated that recently with the very large turnout at the newly established Multicultural Student Government “We Out Here” welcome event on Saturday, August 19. A willingness to embrace these new traditions can make us stronger as a community who seeks to meet the needs of all of its students.

A new year has begun. It may well be one when administrators become learners, and students  become our teachers. And that may be a very good thing.

Please feel free to drop by our HBW offices, Monday – Thursday between 10am-4pm. We look forward to seeing you throughout the year in a range of sponsored events. If you need a place to meet where you do feel safe, let me know. And I mean that seriously.


Maryemma Graham
University Distinguished Professor
Department of English
Founder/Director, Project on the History of Black Writing


Critical Reception of African-American Women Writers in Mainland China

Posted Posted in Guest Blogger, HBW


[By: Lili Wang]

With widespread interest in Western literature in the early 1980s, Chinese literary scholars began to actively engage American writers, giving rise to a boom in the translation of American literature. This boom also generated a reciprocal relationship between African-American women writers and China. The introduction of African-American women writers and the translation of their works soon became a central component of Chinese literary criticism, resulting in a significant body of work, both books and articles. Currently, literary criticism on African-American women writers represents a major branch of American literature studies in mainland China.

If the number of articles published in Chinese journals gives any indication, the critical reception of African-American women writers in China is intensely focused on Toni Morrison. A recent search in the Chinese Academic Journals database (CAJ), a comprehensive collection of academic articles published in China, reported 2052 articles on Morrison in contrast to 134 articles on Zora Neale Hurston, 130 articles on Maya Angelou, 118 articles on Alice Walker; and few to none on other African-American women writers. Likewise, more than twenty books on Morrison’s works have appeared, 3 about Alice Walker’s womanism, and only one has been published on Hurston’s folklore. A similar search from the National Library of China shows no books published on Angelou or other women writers by Chinese scholars. Each of Morrison’s novels has been translated into Chinese, including her latest: God Help the Child (2015). It is understandable that compared with Morrison, other African-American women writers have received less attention and perhaps are even less known in China. Only a few novels written by other writers have been translated into Chinese, such as Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), The Color Purple (1982), By the Light of My Father’s Smile (1998) and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969). This suggests that Chinese critics can and should extend their research scope by approaching more African-American women writers, using the introduction of Toni Morrison and her works to China as a gateway. Until that expansion occurs, Chinese scholarship on African-American women writers will remain limited

One of the first studies of Morrison appeared in the leading Chinese journal Dushu in November, 1981. In this article, Dingshan Dong briefly introduced Morrison’s three novels Sula (1973), Tar Baby (1981) and Song of Solomon (1977). In the decade following, a few more articles introduced her other novels, giving special attention to her literary themes. This focus persisted even as other African-American women writers such as Zora Neale Huston and Alice Walker were introduced to Chinese readers. The period between the early 1980s and early 1990s is considered the first stage of African-American women writers’ literary criticism characterized by brief biographical introductions of and considerations of their major works with some translation of excerpts into Chinese. Chinese scholars typically showed an appraisal of these works in the prefaces and forewords that accompanied their translations; this early period proceeded without the practice of bibliographic citations typical of traditional American literary scholarship. 

Chinese criticism of African-American women writers underwent a shift in 1994 after Toni Morrison won the Nobel Prize. Chinese scholars who tended to focus on the relationship between an author’s biography and the literary themes in the works shifted in focus into two trends, both Morrison-centric: one offered more information about Morrison with the goal of increasing the Chinese readership, and the other explored her unique writing style, her critical ideas, her cultural background and the intersection of these elements. The energy in these new approaches and resulting trends represented a second stage in the critical reception of Morrison scholarship in China.

The publication of Gender, Race and Culture: A Study of Toni Morrison’s Novels (1999, 2004) written by Shouren Wang and Xinyun Wu, respectively marked a milestone in the development of Chinese literary criticism. Wang and Wu, leading scholars of Morrison studies in China, established a new way of interpreting her novels characterized by a close reading with reference to specific theoretical perspectives. In addition to the more popular feminist criticism, Chinese scholars began to apply cultural criticism, post-colonialism, deconstruction, post-modernism, psychoanalysis, trauma theory, narrative theory and other approaches to reading Morrison’s fiction. Interest in comparative studies of Morrison in relation to her contemporaries like Walker and to her predecessors like Hurston and Faulkner became more visible. These insightful studies on Morrison show that Chinese scholars have promoted Toni Morrison and to a lesser extent other African-American women writers in China. Morrison’s acclaim in China reflects a prominence that may soon be transferred to future studies of other African American women writers.

There are challenges to transferring interest and expanding the critical reception of other African-American women writers in China. First, Morrison’s fiction is over discussed, necessarily leading to repetitive approaches and theoretical perspectives. Second, and most obviously, too much attention on Morrison results in the neglect of other African-American women writers, most of whom have yet to be introduced to readers. Finally, the limitation in overall criticism on contemporary writers makes it especially hard for Chinese scholars to do this work or find it appealing. However, simple solutions exist to address these challenges. Literary critics should continue to publish books and articles about African-American women writers, introducing diverse, fresh, and unique perspectives and theoretical approaches. More African American women writers need to be translated and introduced to Chinese readers, the result of which helps to create a demand for a broader range of literary criticism. These quite obvious steps can begin to establish a more consistent, inclusive, and systematic study of African-American women writers in mainland China.


Lili Wang is an associate professor in Foreign Languages Department at Harbin Engineering University, China and a visiting scholar in English at the University of Kansas who focuses on African-American women literature.

Summer 2017 Reading List: Black Girlhood, A Selected List of Recent Books

Posted Posted in HBW

Compiled by Kathleen E. Bethel, African American Studies Librarian & Liaison for Gender & Sexuality Studies – Northwestern University Libraries*


Abraham, Nana. For Black Girls: The Shaping of a Young Woman. Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2016.

Adewole, Candice A. The Black Girl’s Guide to Being Blissfully Feminine. [s.l.]: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.

Boylorn, Robin M. Sweetwater: Black Women and Narratives of Resilience. New York: Peter Lang, [2017].

Chatelain, Marcia. South Side Girls: Growing up in the Great Migration. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015.

Collins, Catherine Fisher. Black Girls and Adolescents: Facing the Challenges. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2015.

Conner, Jerusha O, and Sonia M. Rosen. Contemporary Youth Activism: Advancing Social Justice in the United States. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2016.

Cooper, Brittney C, Susana M. Morris, and Robin M. Boylorn. The Crunk Feminist Collection. New York: Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 2017.

Cox, Aimee Meredith. Shapeshifters: Black Girls and the Choreography of Citizenship. Durham, NC: Duke Unversity Press, 2015.

Crenshaw, Kimberlé, Priscilla Ocen, and Jyoti Nanda. Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced, and Underprotected. New York: Columbia University Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies; African American Policy Forum, 2015. <>

Davis, Mo’Ne. Remember My Name: My Story, from First Pitch to Game Changer. New York: Harper, 2016.

Evans-Winters, Venus E. Black Feminism in Education: Black Women Speak Back, Up, and Out. New York: Peter Lang, 2015.

Fordham, Signithia. Downed by Friendly Fire: Black Girls, White Girls, and Suburban Schooling. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, 2016.

Habila, Helon. The Chibok Girls: The Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamic Militancy in Nigeria. New York: Columbia Global Reports, 2016.

Jefferson, Margo. Negroland: A Memoir. New York: Pantheon, 2015.

Kunjufu, Jawanza. Educating Black Girls. Chicago, IL: African American Images, 2015.

Kunjufu, Jawanza. Raising Black Girls. Chicago, IL: African American Images, 2015.

Lamb, Sharon, Tangela Roberts, and Aleksandra Plocha. Girls of Color, Sexuality, and Sex Education. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2016.

Maddox, Lucy. The Parker Sisters: A Border Kidnapping. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2016.

Mason, C. Nicole. Born Bright: A Young Girl’s Journey from Nothing to Something in America. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2016.

Morris, Monique W. Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools. New York: New Press, 2016.

Rae, Issa. The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. New York: 37 Ink/Atria, 2015.

Richardson, Sylvia, and Gwen Richardson. You Are Wonderfully Made: 12 Life-Changing Principles for Teen Girls to Embrace. Houston, TX: Cushcity Communications, 2015.

Simmons, LaKisha M. Crescent City Girls: The Lives of Young Black Women in Segregated New Orleans. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, 2015.

Smith, Tracy K. Ordinary Light: A Memoir. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.

Williams, Bethany H. The Color of Grace: How One Woman’s Brokenness Brought Healing and Hope to Child Survivors of War. New York: Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2015.

Woodson, Jacqueline. Brown Girl Dreaming. New York: Puffin Books, 2016.

Wright, Nazera Sadiq. Black Girlhood in the Nineteenth Century. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2016.


*Compiled in honor of Dr. Darlene Clark Hine, the dean of African American women’s history, on the occasion of her retirement from Northwestern University; and, in praise of the Global History of Black Girlhood Conference, University of Virginia, March 17-18, 2017.  – KEBethel


Currently serving on the Council, the governing body of the American Library Association, Ms. Kathleen E. Bethel is active with the African American Studies Librarianship Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries, the Black Caucus of ALA, and involved in library leadership, diversity, recruitment, and research activities. Ms. Bethel also serves on the Board for the Project on the History of Black Writing.

Summer 2017 Reading List: African American Fiction

Posted Posted in HBW

Selected by Kathleen E. Bethel, African American Studies Librarian – Northwestern University Libraries


Alers, Rochelle. The Inheritance. New York: Dafina Books, 2017.

Benjamin, J M. Memoirs of an Accidental Hustler. Farmingdale, NY: Urban Books, 2017.

Billingsley, ReShonda and Victoria C. Murray. A Blessing & a Curse. NY: Gallery Bks, 2017.

Brown, Tracy. Boss. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2017.

Childress, Alice, Roxane Gay, and Trudier Harris. Like One of the Family: Conversations from a Domestic’s Life. Boston: Beacon Press, 2017.

Clovis, Donna. Six Doors Down: A Journey Through Synchronicity. Bloomington, IN: Balboa Press, 2017.

Cole, Alyssa. An Extraordinary Union. New York: Kensington Books, 2017.

Coleman, JaQuavis. The Streets Have No King. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2017.

Collins, Kathleen, and Elizabeth Alexander. Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?: Stories. London: Granta, 2017.

Diamond, De’nesha. Conspiracy. New York: Dafina Books, 2017.

Delany, Martin R, and Jerome J. McGann. Blake Or, the Huts of America: A Corrected Edition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017.

Dickey, Eric Jerome. Finding Gideon. New York: Dutton, 2017.

Ellis, Shelly. Lust & Loyalty: A Chesterton Scandal Novel. NY: Dafina Books, 2017.

Golden, Marita. The Wide Circumference of Love: A Novel. NY: Arcade Publishing, 2017.

Greenidge, Kaitlyn. We Love You, Charlie Freeman: A Novel. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2017.

Hampton, Brenda. Black President: The World Will Never Be the Same. Farmingdale, NY: Urban Books, 2017.

Hernandez, Treasure. Return to Flint. Farmingdale, NY: Urban Books, 2017.

Jackson, Brenda. Forged in Desire. Don Mills, Ontario, Canada: HQN Books, 2017.

Jackson, K M. To Me I Wed. New York: Dafina Books, 2017.

Jenkins, Beverly. Breathless. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2017.

Johnson, Sadeqa. And Then There Was Me: A Novel of Friendship, Secrets and Lies. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2017.

Joseph, Fabiola. Niya: Rainbow Dreams. Farmingdale, NY: Urban Renaissance, 2017.

McKay, Claude, Jean-Christophe Cloutier, and Brent H. Edwards. Amiable with Big Teeth: A Novel of the Love Affair between the Communists and the Poor Black Sheep of Harlem. New York: Penguin Books, 2017.

McMillan, Terry. I Almost Forgot About You: A Novel. NY: Broadway Books, 2017.

Monroe, Mary. Never Trust a Stranger. New York: Kensington Pub. Corp., 2017.

Moore, Edward K. The Supremes Sing the Happy Heartache Blues: A Novel. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2017.

Murray, Victoria Christopher. Lust. New York: Touchstone, 2017.

Pope, Jamie. Hope Blooms. New York: Dafina Books, 2017.

Purnell, Brontez. Since I Laid My Burden Down. New York: Feminist Press, 2017.

Rax, Cydney. Revenge of the Mistress. New York: Dafina Books, 2017.

Roby, Kimberla Lawson. Copycat. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2017.

Ryan, Reese. Playing with Desire. Ontario, Canada: Harleqin Kimani, 2017.

Swinson, Kiki. The Mark. New York: Kensington Pub. Corp., 2017.

Turner, Nikki. The Banks Sisters 3. Famingdale, NY: Urban Books, 2017.

Warren, Tiffany L. Her Secret Life. New York: Dafina Books, 2017.

Watts, Stephanie Powell. No One Is Coming to save Us: A Novel. NY: Ecco, 2017.

Weber, Carl. Man on the Run. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2017.

Whitfield, Shereé. Wives, Fiancees, and Side-Chicks of Hotlanta. NY: Dafina Books, 2017.


Currently serving on the Council, the governing body of the American Library Association, Ms. Kathleen E. Bethel is active with the African American Studies Librarianship Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries, the Black Caucus of ALA, and involved in library leadership, diversity, recruitment, and research activities. Ms. Bethel also serves on the Board for the Project on the History of Black Writing.

Preface to Reading Frederick Douglass (for whom it indeed concerns)

Posted Posted in HBW
Go thou, and like an executioner
Cut off the heads of too fast growing sprays,
That look too lofty in our commonwealth:
All must be even in our government.
Richard II. III.iv. 33-36
In a chapter on Shakespeare’s Richard II, James Boyd White proposed “that every claim of authority we can make, on any subject and in any language, should be regarded as marked by a kind of structural tentativeness, for every claim implies its counter within its language and every language implies a host of others answering it” ( Acts of Hope: Creating Authority in Literature, Law and Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994: 77).  If there is validity in this positioning of claim and language, it is obvious that our speaking, our struggles to transform the actual into the materiality of American English sounds, is a defense mechanism (either a learned motion or an instinctive reflex) to conquer abject insanity.  White’s statement may reduce fear of political language, but it intensifies dread of devastating political action.  Should we commend White for arming our minds to deal with the disconnection of language and action since January 20, 2017?
Courtesy of
White’s civility and Donald Trump’s barbarity arrive at an identical point of structural tentativeness as we make choices about what we can tolerate in a democracy and what (not who I hasten to note) we should murder therein. Our priority is to defend ourselves and  to murder systems not human beings.
Neither the aesthetic enlightenment of Richard II nor the rhetorical insight of Acts of Hope is sufficient, because we are condemned by common sense and existential necessity (if we do want to survive) to deal brutally with the New Fascism which has replaced the Old Jim Crow and the debatable efficacy of an American Dream.
Should we not master the structural tentativeness of Frederic Douglass’s oration, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?: An Address Delivered in Rochester, New York, on 5 July 1852,” and treat it as more than ritual remembering or historical ceremony?  Contemporary slaves are rainbow—- indigenous, African, Hispanic, Caucasian, Hebraic,  of Islamic ancestry, Asian, and diversely gendered.  These slaves constitute the total population of the United States of America.  Should our bodies follow our minds through the portals of Douglass’s language and fight in the toxic combat zones engineered each day by the Tribe of Trump?  The answer is in your brain.  Do you believe that “all must be even in our government”? 

Jerry W. Ward, Jr. is Professor Emeritus of English at Dillard University, Honorary Professor at Central China Normal University, and HBW Board Member (Emeritus).