Figures of History: Louise Meriweather

Posted Posted in GEMS, HBW, Uncategorized

[ By Ashely Simmons ]

Since the beginning of her career, Louise Meriwether demonstrated that writers have a responsibility to something outside of themselves and their writing. Meriwether made it her personal mission to write about the Black experience both as she saw it growing up and also as a way to remind American people of the impact Black people have had on the history of this country. As she celebrates her 98th birthday, HBW would like to spotlight Louise Meriwether and her contributions both to Black writing and to the struggle for change.

Meriwether is quoted saying “To be denied the knowledge of the accomplishments of your race is to instill in a people a lack of self-worth and a sense of shame and guilt. We have to understand that guilt is self-inflicted. Since we inflicted it upon ourselves, we can remove it. We can stand the truth. It is the half-truths, the lies, distortions, stereotypes, and caricatures which bring us pain, but we do not have to accept them as our reality. And so, I began to write, to dig out the truth about my people and expose that truth to the light” and write she did.

Members of The Sisterhood in 1977. The Sisterhood was made up of prominent Black women writers. Pictured here (front, left-right): Nana Maynard, Ntozake Shange, Louise Meriwether (back row left-right) Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor, Alice Walker, Audrey Edwards, Toni Morrison and June Jordan. PC: SUNU Journal

After the success of her first novel, Daddy was a Number Runner, Meriwether turned her focus to rectifying the omission of Black contributions in American history. In an essay titled, “Remembrances from the Civil War,” Meriwether recalls her childhood growing up in New York as the only Black girl in her class. Meriwether recalls feelings of shame and guilt around her Blackness coming as a result in part to her being the only Black person (let alone student) in the classrooms she attended. This issue of being the only Black person in the room followed her to college at NYU. There, she recalls a time when one of her professors misrepresented enslaved people as docile and lucky to be civilized in the U.S. Meriwether remembers that this misrepresentation of enslaved people left her feeling embarrassed. Because of the stories her father told her about the people in her family who escaped slavery, she knew there was little truth to this characterization. Meriwether attributes these experiences to her desire to write about Black Americans and their impact on American history.

Meriwether wrote “After publication of my first novel…I turned my attention to black history for the kindergarten set, recognizing that the deliberate omission of Blacks from American history has been damaging to the children of both races. It reinforces in one a feeling of inferiority and in the other the myth of superiority”.

Because of her experiences and her personal convictions, Meriwether’s first audience was young readers, for whom she published a series of books spotlighting important Black figures in American history. One of these children’s books, The Freedom Ship of Robert Smalls, eventually culminated into the novel Fragments of the Ark, a story about Peter Mango, an enslaved man who leads a group of enslaved people and commandeers to a Confederate boat to escape. Meriwether’s writing career spans almost 5 decades. In addition to her novels and children’s literature, she has written various short stories and poems and has accomplished many firsts, including writing for Essence’s first issue in 1970 and becoming the first Black story editor in Hollywood.

Meriwether’s writing is the product of her continued activism. As a self-proclaimed peacenik, over the years Meriwether has worked with other prominent artists and writers to form groups that not only acted as community for Black artists at the time, but also as an epicenter for her activism. In 1967, while living in Los Angeles,

Meriwether joined the Watts Writers Guild, a writer’s group established in the aftermath of the Watts riots of 1965. It was during her time here that Daddy Was a Number Runner was first published as an excerpt in a special edition of The Antioch Review. By 1968, in alignment with her philosophy of accurate portrayals of historical Black figures in American history, Meriwether chaired the Black Anti-Defamation Association (BADA) to prevent the production of a film based on William Styron’s book The Confessions of Nat Turner. BADA insisted that the book portrayed Nat Turner, famous slave revolt leader, in a historically inaccurate and unflattering light. Their protests led to Twentieth Century Fox eventually dropping the project. In addition to her mission to ensure that accurate portrayals of Black historical figures are included in the American history canon, Meriwether also openly disdained the negative impact of globalization, particularly on writers in the African diaspora and the Global South. In 1997, Meriwether was a founding member of the International Organization of Women Writers of Africa Yari Yari Conference. At the conference, Meriwether argued that as media conglomerates continue to buy up smaller publishing houses and censor what is produced, it is up to writers to be vigilant in finding new methods to broadcast their messages. Her activism persevered through to the 21st century. In 2002, at the age of 79, she and 600 other activists were arrested for protesting the International Monetary Fund. Meriwether continues her activism as a member of the Granny Peace Brigade, an organization that opposes war and the violence of racism and poverty.

Louise Meriwether and current members of the Harlem Writers Guild

On page 22 of Impact of New Technologies and Globalization on Literature Publishing and Distribution in the African Diaspora, Meriwether said, “As writers who care about the deplorable state of the world… we need to be aware of all of the ramifications of globalization so that we can be the truth-sayers, taking the message to the people”

Through the decades, Louise Meriwether has remained true to her personal mission of Black writing as a means of organizing and protesting. She remains an inspiration to writers and activists alike and her life is a blueprint for how artists can produce art with purpose.

 

Works Cited

Meriwether, Louise. “Remembrances from the Civil War.” Black Renaissance/Renaissance Noire, vol. 3, no. 3, 2001, pp. 181-184.

Meriwether Louise. “Impact of New Technologies and Globalization on Literature Publishing and Distribution in the African Diaspora.” Black Scholar, vol. 38, no. 2-3, 2008, pp. 21-23.

Greene, Brenda M. “Louise Meriwether: A Life of Writing and Activism.”

Cornillon Koppleman, Susan. The Other Woman: Stories of Two Women and a Man. Feminist Press, 1984.

 

Ashley Simmons is a PhD student in literature. Her primary interests are speculative fiction, African American literature of the 20th century and transgressive fiction.  In addition to her studies, Ashley has a background in media education and civic engagement. After graduation, she will pursue a non-academic track that combines her interests in literature with media production and civic engagement.

Book Review: “All the Songs We Sing: Celebrating 25 years of the Carolina African American Writers’ Collective”

Posted Posted in Uncategorized

[ By Simone Savannah ]

“All the Songs We Sing” celebrates the 25th anniversary of The Carolina African American Writers’ Collective, which began in 1995 as a group where aspiring Black authors could come to have their work peer reviewed. The history of writer’s collectives stems back decades, starting most notably with the South Side Writer’s Group, which was founded by Richard Wright in 1936 and was made up of writers such as Arna Bontemps and Margaret Walker. The South Side Writers Group helped Wright publish the “Blueprint for Negro Literature” an essay in which Wright wrote about the role of African American writers in the collective consciousness of African Americans. For decades, writer’s collectives have created a space for Black writers to share their work, build their skills, and create a community which has helped in the publication of countless Black literary works.

All the Songs We Sing celebrates the Collective’s 25th anniversary. Lenard D. Moore, the founder, desired to create a Black writing movement that focused on cultivating craft and voice. He had taken a poetry workshop where he and other Black students had to constantly explain cultural and historical references in their poems. The goal of The Carolina African American Writers’ Collective “was not to make our story palatable to those who didn’t understand it. It was simply to tell it, the way that was uniquely our voice.” 

The poems explore Black womanhood and girlhood, place and nature, history and memory, pain and abuse. They are written in free verse, sonnets, and haikus. Poems such as Moore’s “Interrogation of Harriet Tubman.” where he writes about the complicated choice to escape slavery, reach back in time and speak to ancestors. Fearing leaving children behind to be “snatched and sold,” the speaker asks Tubman difficult questions:

“Will I ever see them again?”

“What am I going to eat?”

“Can you tell me what’s waiting for us/in the thicker?”

Poems like “When I Consider the Open Casket” by Kim Arrington and “Because of Emmett Till” by Diane Judge route readers through a racist American history, and rebirth Emmett, a Black child who was hunted and murdered by white men in Mississippi. The poems are deliberate in retelling history as well as meditating about the personal. In “A Few Years In,” readers get a glimpse into a reflective moment about love and closeness: 

“When I squeeze too tight

she never pushes back

like she needs room”

The fiction and creative nonfiction featured in the anthology also showcase the writers’ abilities to write across genres as they pull readers into their political and social realities. The stories explore loss and grief, choices surrounding motherhood, and food and community.

Lenard D. Moore
PC: Salisbury Post

The weaving of the historical and the personal emphasizes the complexity of the writers and the purpose of the Collective to craft poems that speak to their experiences as Black people in the Carolinas and beyond. As Jaki Shelton Green writes in the foreword, the anthology demonstrates “the urgency of protecting the agency of Black voices that reflect our people, politics, social conditions, and subject matter that should be a catalyst for engagement. The poetry, fiction, and nonfiction assist in constructing a “diverse and energetic” literary landscape where the writers magnify experiences through various devices, including metaphor, orality, and vernacular – the songs of these writers come together as a beautiful and complex ensemble. Readers encounter an array of language and experience bridging memoirs, essays, and poems that push them to think consciously and critically. 

In the afterword, Lauri Scheyer reflects on All The Songs We Sing as a “re-collection and re-assessment” of a literary family. She writes, “these writers have sprung forward from and are influenced by this shared and hallowed soil” (192). This collection is undoubtedly a reunion of talented Black writers that honors their craft and contributions to American Literature.

The anthology features poetry, fiction, and nonfiction by Kim Arrington, Dr. L. Teresa Church, Camille T. Dungy, Fred Joiner, Angela Belcher Epps, Bridgette A. Lacy, Sheila Smith McKoy, Carole Boston Weatherford, Evie Shockley, Crystal Simone Smith, L. Lamar Wilson, and Gideon Young.

 

More Writer’s Collectives

The DRC at their home base in Cambridge, MA. PC: Poets & Writers

Harlem Writers Guild

The Harlem Writers Guild is the oldest continuously operating Black writer’s guild in the world. It was established in 1950 as a forum where African American writers could develop their craft and continues to be a place of community for Black writers.

The Dark Room Collective 

The Dark Room Collective was founded in Boston in 1988 and was led by Thomas Sayers Ellis and Sharan Strange. It was originally a reading series but became a community of established and emerging African American poets and writers.

Group portrait of the EBR Writers Club in 1997.
PC: Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

Eugene B. Redmond Writers Club

The Eugene B. Redmond (EBR) Writers Club was founded in East St. Louis in 1986. The club has coordinated a workshop for writers for over thirty years now. Members of the club have collaborated on a variety of arts programming, including poetry performances, teaching sessions, an annual Kwanzaa event. The EBR Club also co-produced the arts journal Drumvoices Revue.

 

 

Simone Savannah graduated with her Ph.D. in English-Creative Writing at the University of Kansas in 2017. Simone received her BA in English-Creative Writing and MEd in Cultural Studies from Ohio University. Her research interests include African American Literature & Poetry, Black Feminism/Womanism, and Black Female Sexuality. She recently published a book of poetry titled Uses of My Body.

Book Review: Uses of My Body

Posted Posted in Uncategorized

[ By Lauren K. Alleyne ]

Simone Savannah, 2017 graduate of KU and HBW alumnus, has recently published her poetry collection, “Uses of My Body”. The book deals with the intimacy of Black womanhood and emphasizes Black women’s experience of erasure, sexual and racial violence, as well as pleasure and healing. Lauren K. Alleyne, Assistant Director of the Furious Flower Poetry Center, has written a review of Savannah’s book.

Uses of My Body by Simone Savannah is a collection that leaps fully into one of poetry’s most delicious devices: the oxymoron. The poems manage to be simultaneously loud and quiet, open and guarded, raw and technically savvy. They are offered to us by a speaker both brash and vulnerable, honest and slippery, dangerous and imperiled. And what better vehicle to enact these dual tenors than the body? Presented in the text as both a site of power and powerlessness, the body in the hands of this poet is wrought in all its complexity; it is instrument and music, vessel and river, fortress and breach, machine and mystery. The word “uses” in the title simultaneously implies the speaker’s agented deployment of the body’s power and its potential to be co-opted and used by others.

The first thing most readers would notice is the language of the poems. In terms of diction, most of the poems utilize graphic and overtly sexual word choices to anti-romantically describe love, relationships, and the bodies of the beloved and the lover. In “Preclude,” the speaker boasts of toying with “the man I’ve been sleeping with,” revealing “I tell him I like him when I like his shit.” Rather than the poetic declaration of love, it is an anti-poetic declaration of desire:

I say shit like baby,

let me slurp down that big ass dick.

But, sometimes I just spit on the tip

on some cute ass shit (11)

Here, the poem gets down to the nitty-gritty of the body in a way that poems rarely dare. The viscousness of “shit,” “slurp,” and “spit” present the body at its most animal, internal, and visceral; “big ass dick” locates this relationship firmly in the realm of unapologetic carnal desire. If one is shocked by this, it is because such frank expressions of desire are not generally allowed from women in our society. Such open discourses of desire force women into the defensive “I begin: I am not a jezebel” (32). But this is a poet who isn’t interested in asking for permission to inhabit herself, and who is, in fact, open about the use of poetry as a site of reclamation: “I read poems to remake the self. / I write poems to remake the self.” (32) Moreover, poems like “Preclude” flip the script, since usually the female body is used as a projective site for male desire; “like want for having,” almost mirrors the lines in “Preclude”:

I wonder now, if hunger is                  why men send me

   strange messages

about how they want to spit in my throat,

or call me baby or sweetheart and ask me

to say what I want

to do with their dicks and my tongue—  (13-14)

The mirrored articulations of desire in conjunction with the turn in agency here point to the fact that when the female body is an object rather than an agent, the same actions and impulses read differently. The body houses these opposing possibilities and Savannah’s language points to this clearly.

Tonally, the poems’ speaker is brash and forthright—no holds barred in a way that animates the oxymoron at work throughout. The poems feel sharp and deflective, the grit and edge of the language and voice almost off-putting at times, yet their honesty creates a sense of intimacy in which the speaker’s revelations feel like entrusted confidences—a tension that undergirds the entire collection. Overall, the shock factor of the language is balanced by the tenderness that lies just below it. The assemblage of swear words and body parts called by their most vulgar names camouflages a deep sense of loss, hurt, fear and loneliness. The speaker of these poems is one who feels as deeply as she derides, is as wounded as she is provocative. The poem “Deliberate,” marries these tensions beautifully. In one section, “Fuck” becomes an anaphoric precedent to a list of hurts and disappointments:

Fuck the woman who spread my nudes

across the internet then wanted me back.

She can’t have me back.

Fuck the street that broke my mother

because I grew up there too…

 

And     the man who left me

in Kansas loving him:

I cried and I cried until he had a baby on me (56)

Just beyond the anger and dismissal of the repeated profanity, is the clear anguish of betrayal, loss, and heartbreak. The poem builds itself around the common denominator of embodiment: the poem’s spheres of feeling are enacted by and through the body as it is tossed between the intimacy of “nudes” and the public eye of the “internet,” the birthed child (the speaker) whose own body housed (and we know, later unhouses) “a baby,” and the streets and state that participate in the physical and emotional breaking of the speaker and her mother. Throughout the collection, grief for her aborted baby, her lost relationship(s), and the death of her mother are undertows that constantly threaten to drown the reader  and that grief is tightly tethered to the body.

At the same time, the speaker exhibits clear knowledge that the body is also her key to resistance, survival and possibility—“I want a chance at my own body” (15). It is a long and tumultuous road to acceptance, but the final poem, “Ritual No. 30” arrives at a moment of reconciliation:

today I showered and prayed over

my body for the first time in a long time

I told my godmother it is time, I want to be my own best

thing—how do I begin?

The oxymoronic tension of the collection eases here as the conflict that has raged throughout ebbs and the speaker understands that those tensions have to be engaged in non-destructive ways, and, rather than answers, she arrives at questions:

…how do I be angry

how do I come back to myself

or what I’ve always wanted?

Bold and vulnerable, political and personal, theoretical and actual, the dualities enacted by the poems in Uses of My Body create an unforgettable journey that invites readers to look and look again. I, certainly, am convinced to follow the collection’s closing advice to

learn to become political about my yearning

erotic about my healing (62)

 

Other works by Savannah

Like Kansas (2018)

HBW Blogs

Black Poetry: Now and in the Future (2019)

Women’s History Month (2016)

“Of Maids and Ladies”: Dr. Ayesha Hardison on Living Jane Crow (2014)

2014 Furious Flower Conference: Seeding the Future of American Poetry (2014)

A Book for Your Library: Jimmy Blues and other poems (2014)

National Poetry Month (2014)

 

Lauren K. Alleyne is an Associate Professor of English at James Madison University, Assistant Director of the Furious Flower Poetry Center and Editor-in-Chief of The Fight & The Fiddle. She hails from the twin island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. Her fiction, poetry and non-fiction have been widely published in journals and anthologies, including The Atlantic, Ms. Muse, Women’s Studies Quarterly, Interviewing the Caribbean, Crab Orchard Review, among many others. She is author of Difficult Fruit (Peepal Tree Press, 2014) and Honeyfish (New Issues (US) & Peepal Tree (UK), 2019).

In Memoriam: Antonio Sanchez-Day

Posted Posted in Obituaries, Uncategorized

[ By Dr. Brian Daldorph ]

Antonio Sanchez-Day (July 21, 1974 – March 5, 2021)

Anthony Sanchez-Day was born on 21 July, 1974, in Topeka, Kansas, and died 5 March, 2021, at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City.  He had a number of serious health issues.  He graduated from Grand River Academy in Ashtabula, Ohio, and attended Haskell University in Lawrence, Kansas.  He was a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation.  He is buried at the Dance Ground Cemetery on the Potawatomi Reservation in Mayetta, Kansas.  He leaves behind a son, Ontario, and a daughter, Ana.

For forty-six years, Antonio Sanchez-Day took on life.

At the end of “Taking on Life,” the title poem of his first book, he wrote about his friend who had just “walked on”:

Until next time, my friend, when our paths

hopefully cross on that Red road . . . I’ll picture

you at the Sundance, attached to that tree

pierced through the chest with bone, blowing

your whistle to the sky, taking on life.

Even though he was often vastly outnumbered by enemies on the outside and by demons on the inside, Antonio took on life.  He fought against racism as a boy as one of the few minority students at his high school; fought against family troubles; fought as a street soldier for his gang which was for him the “family” he’d always wanted.

Sanchez-Day at the HBW Mass Incarceration Symposium in 2019
PC: HBW Archives

Then he had to fight to simply survive in “The System” as he called it, thirteen years of incarceration in which he often felt himself to be confined in the “basement of the basement,” as he’d tell us.

I met Antonio in 2013 when he was finishing up his prison time, determined to turn his life around. His only weapon against all the enemies lined up against him was his pen, and Antonio wrote brilliantly.  How many times did I sit in a classroom with him and experience the response to one of his poems: awed silence then one brave soul speaking up: That’s how it is, man, you got that, and everyone in the room nodding, saying, Yeah, you got that.

Antonio wrote about the hard times of his life, but he wrote about the joys of life too, the pleasure of simply walking down Massachusetts Street in Lawrence, Kansas, in good weather, running into friends, greeting a friendly dog or two!

Back to my future
Seems I stay two steps ahead of death
yet three steps behind in life
trying to catch up
without getting caught up
righteous intentions
through an insidious agenda
rollin’ dice on the devil’s playground
shooting to win
blindly playin’ to lose
every step I take is only one slip away
from falling
back to my future

Antonio Sanchez-Day, “Taking on Life”

Ronda Miller, poet and former president of the Kansas Authors Club, described meeting Antonio for the first time: “I noticed his humble nature, twinkling eyes, and his kind smile.  He seemed at his happiest when he was presenting his poetry.  He always went out of his way to assist others, even when he wasn’t feeling well.  I never heard him complain.  He was a gifted man in numerous ways.”

 

Poet Antonio Sanchez-Day (left) and his editor/publisher Dr. Daldorph. PC: Rick Hellman

Journalist Katherine Dinsdale wrote articles about this remarkable poet for Lawrence magazine. She thought of him as “a brave miner, courageously following his pickaxe of a pen into unexcavated darkness.  What he uncovered would send weaker men running for the hills.  But he sought out and shared for too short a time a holy vein of pure gold.”

KU graduate student Ayah Wakkad, who joined the jail writing class as co-instructor, wrote: “Antonio left us too soon!  My only condolence is that his impressive collection of poetry, Taking on Life, will immortalize him as a gifted Native American poet and storyteller, who challenged his past, present and future.  Antonio left us too soon, but the effects of his words remain.”

Retired business journalist and writer Mike Hartnett, who’d worked closely with Antonio in the writing class at Douglas County Jail, wrote about him:

When Antonio was serving his second prison sentence, he decided to turn his life around.  He joined a writing group at the jail and found his true calling and passion.  This all lead to the publication of his first book, Taking on Life, and his work on the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and his work as co-leader of the Douglas County Jail men’s writing class.

One week in the jail writing class, Sherry Gill, Douglas County Jail Programs Director, wrote the following tribute to Antonio, a poem included in Antonio’s first book, Taking on Life:

What a life you have lived.  Your words are beautiful/and they are smooth as pure silk./You have seen such darkness and tribulation.

Through your writings we have/been given a chance to see/inside you.  Your words have such/meaning to me, I feel them.

I admire your cultural histories/and enjoy reading your stories./Your heritage is rife with/solemn spirituality.

As a fellow outcast, my heart is/sad to hear of your body’s troubles./Your mind is clear but your body/is not following suit./Thinking of you, my friend, wishing you well/on your journey.

 

Dr. Brian Daldorph teaches creative writing at the University of Kansas and Douglas County Jail.  He has taught in England, France, Japan, Senegal and Zambia.  His most recent books are: Kansas Poems (Meadowlark P, 2021), Words Is a Powerful Thing: Twenty Years of Teaching Creative Writing at Douglas County Jail (Kansas UP, 2021).

 

Black American Sign Language (BASL)

Posted Posted in HBW, Uncategorized

[ By Kai Hansen ]

Hello everyone, and happy Deaf History Month! 

You might be surprised to know that sign language, like spoken language, has dialects, accents, and regional differences, not to mention that there are multiple different languages beneath the umbrella of sign language. American Sign Language (ASL) is a different language than Chinese Sign Language (CSL) which is a different language than Spanish Sign Language (LSE) and so on. You may have heard of Black English, but did you know that Black American Sign Language (BASL) also exists?

The Southern School for the Colored Deaf and Blind. PC: Gallaudet University

Early American Sign Language, influenced by French Sign Language, was originally taught at schools for the Deaf, however, in the 1870s and 80s, white schools for the Deaf became more focused on oralism, which emphasizes speaking and lip-reading rather than signing. People didn’t care about Black Deaf kids enough to teach oralism, so Black Deaf schools continued to teach sign language and many sign language instructors moved to Black Deaf Schools. Consequently, modern BASL is more closely aligned than ASL to early American Sign Language. BASL evolved into its own language, and by the time schools were desegregated, Black Deaf students often struggled to communicate with their white teachers and peers. From that point on, ASL was used in the classroom, but BASL’s usage was continued among family and friends. 

Dr. McCaskill at Gallaudet University.
PC: Gallaudet University

Since ASL was taught in schools from that point onward, it is now considered the standard, and just as Black hearing people code-switch between standard English and Black English to fit in in the classroom or among white people, BASL users frequently code-switch between BASL and ASL. Chair of the newly created department Black Deaf Studies at Gallaudet University and co-author of the book Black ASL, Dr. Carolyn McCaskill was one of the first Black students to attend Alabama School for the Deaf. She is quoted saying “So when I was with white people, I would sign that way. And then when I was with Black Deaf people, I would communicate it differently.” 

So how is BASL different from ASL? People who use BASL tend to use more facial expressions and use more space with their signing. BASL users also tend to use two hands for signs where ASL users would use one. Additionally, BASL places signs on the forehead more often than ASL, which tends to place signs on the body. While BASL and ASL are very closely related, some signs are completely different. Over time BASL has incorporated terms that are common in Black English. When asked about BASL, Dr. McCaskill responded “[BASL] felt so free to me. It felt good to just communicate. You know, that was who I was. That was my culture. That was my identity.” 

Nakia Smith (Sign name: Charmay) who teaches BASL on TikTok. PC: The New York Times

Research on BASL is a long way behind research in ASL; however, with the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, BASL is now gaining more recognition.  It is estimated that 50% of Black Deaf people in the United States use BASL. This was made possible by BASL being preserved intergenerationally through Black Deaf families and also the Black Deaf community. Black Deaf signers are now taking to social media to teach and preserve this important part of Black Deaf culture and identity. 

This article is a factual summary of BASL and its history written by a white hearing person. If you are interested in learning more about BASL and the culture surrounding it, check out the videos below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiLltM1tJ9M

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7ooYqdEdUY

https://youtu.be/3HDm3kx3rhY

 

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.

 

Poetry Month Reading Recommendations

Posted Posted in Uncategorized

[ By Brendan Williams-Childs ]

April is National Poetry Month. The sun is out, the temperature is finally above freezing, there are even some flowers in bloom. Spring is finally here! And what better way to appreciate the warming days than by finding your favorite sunspot and reading some poetry? 

Not sure where to start with poetry? Looking to expand your poetry palate? Or just aware that Amanda Gorman’s incredible inauguration poem, “The Hill We Climb”, is now available as a book but too new for the KU Library to have yet and excited to read some more Black poetry? 

Here’s a short recommendation guide: 

If you want to read The Modern Classics, try:

  • Audre Lorde – Audre Lorde was a Civil Rights and Gay Liberation icon whose activism and writing were deeply intertwined. Just like her activism, her bibliography is expansive and varied. Start with: The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde
  • Langston Hughes – Novelist, children’s book author, playwright, essayist, poet, and Lawrence, KS hometown celebrity, Langston Hughes’s keenly observational work endures. Start with: A New Song
  • Maya Angelou – Maya Angelou may be one of the most widely read and quoted Black poets in America. At the time of her passing in 2014, she had published seven autobiographical novels and seven books of poetry. You may know “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” but there’s even more to discover. Start with: I Shall Not Be Moved
  • June Jordan – Like her contemporaries, June Jordan was a prolific artist and activist. Her bibliography includes over 27 books! In 1991, she founded Poetry For The People – a center that engages the Bay Area community in creating poetry and social change. Start with: Naming Our Destiny: New and Selected Poems

If you’re looking for Contemporary Social Activist Poets, try:

  • Alexis Pauline Gumbs – Dramaturge, activist, and self described Queer Black Troublemaker and Black Feminist Love Evangelist, Alexis Pauline Gumbs combines prose, poetry, and theory into new worlds. Start with: Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity 
  • Morgan Parker – Morgan Parker is an NEA-award winning essayist and novelist, as well as a prolific and celebrated poet. As part of Poets With Attitude, she uses her poetry as a platform to uplift other poets of color. Start with: There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé
  • Jericho Brown – Winner of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, Jericho Brown is one of the most famous and accomplished poets of today. He is also a longtime educator, helping students find their own voices in poetry. Start with: The New Testament
  • Claudia Rankine – Jamaica-born Claudia Rankine has worked in nonfiction, stage play, and, of course, poetry, all to great success. When Rankine won the 2016 MacArthur Grant she created The Racial Imaginary Institute – an interdisciplinary journal and art’s space that engages the topic of race. Start with: Citizen: An American Lyric

If you’re looking for national leaders in poetry, try The Poet Laureates: 

  • Gwendolyn Brooks – Gwendolyn Brooks is the first Black writer to receive the Pulitzer Prize in 1950, the first Black woman inducted into the American Association of Arts and Letters, the Poet Laureate of the United States from 1985-86, and the Poet Laureate of Illinois from 1986 until her death in 2000. She was also from Topeka, Kansas, just a short drive from KU. Start with: Annie Allen
  • Rita Dove – In 1993, Rita Dove became the youngest writer to be named Poet Laureate. She used her position to bring the writing of African diaspora writers to the forefront of US poetry and emphasized the role poetry can play in engaging public imagination. Start with: American Smooth
  • Natasha Tretheway – Poet Laureate from 2012-14, Natasha Tretheway’s poetry blends free verse with traditional formalist style. Her work investigates public memory, especially about the Civil War, and won her the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in poetry. Start with: Native Guard  (Listen to a conversation with Tretheway, part of HBW’s 2013 “Don’t Deny My Voice” poetry institute)
  • Tracy K. Smith – Tracy K. Smith, a recent Poet Laureate (2017-19), has cited the influence of previous Laureates on her work, especially Rita Dove, as well as her time in the storied Black poetry group Dark Room Collective. But Smith’s rhythmic poetry is ultimately all her own. Start with: Duende

 

Of course, the scope of Black poetry is much wider than our recommendations here! The Project on the History of Black Writing hosted two NEH Summer Institutes focused on poetry, Don’t Deny My Voice (2013) and Black Poetry After the Black Arts Movement (2015).  The Furious Flower Poetry Center, our partner in both those NEH Institutes and the nation’s first academic center for Black poetry, serves creative writers, literary and cultural scholars, and poetry lovers everywhere.  If you’re feeling like you want to take a deep, thoughtful dive into Black poetry, you can discover more by clicking on the links.

Have a favorite poem by a Black author? Share it with us and your friends on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook (@ProjectHBW)! We can’t wait to read with you. 

 

Brendan Williams-Childs is from Laramie, Wyoming, and is a graduate student pursuing his Master of Fine Arts in Fiction. His future plans are either to continue working in academic research to support projects HBW’s Black Book Interactive Project (BBIP), or to enter publishing. As a Graduate Research Assistant with HBW and the HathiTrust Research Center, Brendan continues BBIP efforts by helping HathiTrust identify gaps in their collection. 

Book Review: ‘The College Diaries: How a Budding Black Feminist Found Her Voice’

Posted Posted in Guest Blogger, HBW, Uncategorized

[ By Shawna Shipley-Gates ]

Announcing the publication of The College Diaries by DeAsia Paige, former HBW Social Media Coordinator (2018-2020). Her memoir follows her journey through a predominantly white institution as she explores the intersection of race, gender and culture. This blog is an in-depth review of Paige’s book provided by Shawna Shipley-Gates.

The College Diaries (2020)

 

DeAsia Paige              PC: HBW archives

DeAsia Paige, HBW alum and author of The College Diaries: How a Budding Black Feminist Found Her Voice, has boldly produced an intimate yet informative debut memoir. Her message clearly emphasizes that “there’s beautiful power in Black women choosing to liberate themselves from the choices already created for them” [33]. Using herself as an example, the author reveals her evolving freedom while challenging her religious beliefs exploring her sexual liberation, and ultimately experiencing the necessary healing from traumatic life events. Besides the utilization of relevant timelines and Black feminist scholarship, The College Diaries centers the strong relationship between the author and Black musical artists to discuss her personal experiences with sexual assault, abortion, and mental health.

Divided into six parts, the book covers three important years in Paige’s life from Summer 2016 to Fall 2019. Framing the period between the murder of Alton Sterling by Baton Rouge police on July 5, 2016 and the fatal robbery of Brooklyn rapper Pop Smoke on February 19, 2020, Paige brilliantly references pertinent events in Black culture to provide context for her readers. For example, she reflects on the police-related death of Philando Castile on July 6, 2016 as it dampened her excitement to start college the following fall. Paige even recalls the fifty-two percent of white women who voted for Trump in November 2016 and her own questioning of Hillary Clinton’s ostensible white feminist agenda to exemplify her initial interest in Black feminist scholarship.

Women’s March 2017     PC: Mario      Tama/Getty Images

The influence of Black feminists and Black radical women are undeniably evident in the depictions of her growing political activism and unapologetic sex life. While attending the Women’s March 2017, the author gains inspiration from Angela Davis, Audre Lorde, bell hooks, and Assata Shakur, to add her voice to those who aim to dismantle what hooks famously calls “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.” According to Paige, Black feminism introduced her to concepts of sex positivity and pleasure politics through the kind of sex education that embraces views the Black women’s sexual liberation as a conscious revolutionary act against hypersexuality tropes and  conventional religious norms including marriage, virginity, and monogamy.

Along with Black feminist scholarship, The College Diaries focuses on the therapeutic impact of Black musical artists on the author’s emotional well-being throughout her undergraduate years. Due to her deep connection to black church music as a member of the choir since childhood, Paige shows readers music as  her love language, so much so that “[if] we can’t sing along to Lauryn Hill’s ‘Ex-Factor,’ mimic Nicki Minaj’s delivery in every lyric of her verse on ‘Monster,’ or trade our favorite J-Dilla-produced songs, then I’m not sure if we can really be friends” [62]. In Summer 2016, Rihanna’s eighth album “ANTI”her first project with complete creative control—motivated Paige to consider college the perfect opportunity to take control of her own life. Solange’s “A Seat at the Table” is the Spring 2017 soundtrack when the author is struggling at a predominantly white institution and desperately in need of Black female empowerment.

Brandy’s album “Never Say Never” (1998)

Paige’s deep connection to music also serves as healing from her devastating experiences with sexual assault, abortion, and mental health challenges. Following her July 7, 2018 sexual assault, Brandy’s album “Never Say Never” offers lyrical solace while Frank Ocean’s “Blonde” encourages the author to be vulnerable and honest about her feelings. She vividly replays the painful events that led up to her abortion beginning Saturday, October 26, 2019 – her 21st birthday. Relying on her gospel musical roots, the author listens “to nothing but Tasha Cobbs and Kirk Franklin just to escape the fact that I was pregnant. I desperately needed to hear something from a higher power… I needed to feel a divine connection” [95]. While depression is a major focus, the author also identifies her prioritization of men’s feelings to seek happiness as another mental health issue.  During a summer of therapy, routine gym workouts, and a dream internship at VICE in 2019, Megan Thee Stallion’s lyrics reassure her that she may not have a man in her life but she “simply didn’t need a nigga” [55].

Unabashedly raw, the memoir is a welcome recommended for everyone but especially for Black women who have struggled not only with college but also with unhealthy societal labels, misogynoir, religious beliefs, sexual violence, unplanned pregnancy, and/or mental health concerns. The College Diaries successfully normalizes sexual and reproductive health-related conversations among Black women. At the same time, it dismantles monolithically harmful stereotypes, destigmatizes mental health in Black communities, and highlights the severe lack of culturally tailored mental health services and supportive social networks within our educational institutions. Perhaps the book’s strongest appeal is the critical role it can play in helping other budding Black feminists find their voices.

 

Shawna Shipley-Gates is a graduate student in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Her research interest highlights the cultural literacy of black women’s sexual health behaviors and how those cultural experiences can be translated into effective yet sex-positive education; healthcare and wellness practices; and policy and advocacy work. She is also the owner of Cupcake Noire, which is a sex-positive brand for black cis, trans and non-binary womxn.