Afaa Michael Weaver at Pratt Library

Afaa Michael Weaver at Pratt Library


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Weaver does not look like the stereotypical poet on this recent weekday

in his Simmons College office. He wears a trim blue blazer, a blue shirt, and

a mild tie. No campus casual for Weaver: He dresses this way every day . . .



Books by Afaa Michael Weaver

Water Song (1985)  /  Multitudes (2000)  / Sandy Point (2000)  /  The Ten Lights of God (2000) / some days it’s a slow walk to evening

These Hands I Know  / The Plum Flower Dance  / Multitudes  / Timber and Prayer  / Stations in a Dream  / The Ten Lights of God

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Afaa Michael Weaver was born on Baltimore’s eastside and graduated high school during the turbulent Spring of 1968.  Marking the fortieth anniversary of that personal milestone, as well as a chaotic chapter in the city’s history, Weaver returns to Baltimore to read at CityLit Festival from The Plum Flower Dance at 2:00.

Weaver wrote and published poetry on the side while working factory jobs at Procter & Gamble and Bethlehem Steel. He founded 7th Son Press and published the journal Blind Alleys, which featured Andrei Codrescu, Frank Marshall Davis, and Lucille Clifton among others. As a freelancer, he has written for the Baltimore Sun, the Boston Globe, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Chicago  Tribune, and the Baltimore Afro-American.  He began his teaching career as an  adjunct in 1987, teaching at New York University, the City University of New York, Seton Hall Law School, and Essex County College. In 1990, he began at Rutgers Camden and received tenure with distinction there as an early candidate. In 1998, Weaver joined the English Department at Simmons College, where he founded the Zora Neale Hurston Literary Center. City Lit Project.

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Important links: afaamweaver  / My Father’s Geography  / Concord Poetry

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A poet forged in heartbreak—He has just published The Plum Flower Dance, a collection of his work from 1985 to 2005. He is featured on the cover of this month’s Poets & Writers magazine. Boston University recently asked him to donate his papers to the university’s Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center. (Weaver said yes.) Heady stuff – absolutely none of which Weaver, now 56, takes for granted. He spent too many years working in the warehouses and steel mills of Baltimore, scribbling lines of poetry during coffee breaks. “In the warehouse, it was thousands of boxes circling around—every day the same thing,” he recalls. “You felt like you were being pounded into anonymity. Holding on to the poetry was a way of keeping myself alive.”

It still is, though Weaver does not look like the stereotypical poet on this recent weekday in his Simmons College office. He wears a trim blue blazer, a blue shirt, and a mild tie. No campus casual for Weaver: He dresses this way every day, as if heeding Flaubert’s advice to “Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” . . .

Weaver’s precocity was such that he skipped eighth grade and enrolled early at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, known for its rigorous curriculum and such alumni as H.L. Mencken and Dashiell Hammett. When he asked his mother for permission to try out for the football team at Poly, her refusal was couched in terms that spelled out the high hopes she had for him: “You might hurt your head, and that’s the most valuable thing you have.”

He knew that. Young Michael Weaver’s mind was so hungry for knowledge that, whatever the subject, his interest in it “exceeded the hours in the day,” says Weaver, adding: “I still feel that way now.” When he was asked to do a research project, he chose for his subject the complex architectural designs of Frank Lloyd Wright. But the careful architecture of Weaver’s own life was soon to develop cracks and fissures.

He enrolled at the University of Maryland in 1968. College Park was as far from Baltimore as he was willing to venture, and even that turned out to be too far. “I had never been totally in a white environment,” he says. “My insecurities just overwhelmed me, and after two years I came home.” In 1970, his girlfriend got pregnant, so they married. He was 19. Eager to prove himself in some way in the wider world, he joined the Army Reserves. . .

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Chinese name “Wei Yafeng,” derived from “Wei” for flourishing or blossoming, and “Yafeng,” the title of a section of poems from the Book of Songs, the oldest anthology of Chinese poetry.

Since Water Song, Weaver has published eight more collections of poetry, including Multitudes, Sandy Point, and The Ten Lights of God, all of which appeared in 2000. His full length play Rosa was produced in 1993 at Venture Theater in Philadelphia under a small-Equity contract. His short fiction appears in Gloria Naylor’s Children of the Night and in Maria Gillan’s Identity Lessons.

Weaver has been a Pew fellow in poetry and taught in National Taiwan University and Taipei National University of the Arts in Taiwan as a Fulbright Scholar. At Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts, he is the Alumnae Professor of English and director of the Zora Neale Hurston Literary Center. In addition, he is Chairman of the Simmons International Chinese Poetry Conference. Poets

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List of published books Water Song. Callaloo Press/University of Virginia, 1985 some days it’s a slow walk to evening. Paradigm Press, 1989. My Father’s Geography.  University of Pittsburgh Press, 1992.

Gathering Voices: An Anthology of Baltimore Poets, 1986 Stations in a Dream.  Dolphin Moon Press, 1993. Timber and Prayer, University of Pittsburgh, 1995. Talisman.  Tia Chucha Press/Northwestern University, 1998.

These Hands I Know: African-American Writers on Family, 2002 The Ten Lights of God.  Bucknell University Press, 2000. Sandy Point. The Press of Appletree Alley, 2000. Multitudes. Sarabande Books, 2000.Professional Theater Productions:Rosa. Venture Theater, Philadelphia, 1993. Small Equity production.Elvira and the Lost Prince.  ETA Theater, Chicago, 1993. PDI Award.

Source: Afaamweaver

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Afaa Michael Weaver Speaks


In 1974 I published my first poem in a student publication at the University of Maryland, College Park, and in 1975, I gave my first poetry reading, again at the University of Maryland.   In the late 1970’s I began to publish more regularly in small journals.  The manuscript of my first book, Water Song, was a finalist in the 1983 Walt Whitman Award competition, and in 1985 it was published in the Callaloo series at the University of Virginia.  Since that first book, I have published nine others, and an eleventh collection, a translation into Arabic is now in press


In 1980 I launched my career as a free lancer for the Baltimore Sunpapers by writing op-eds.  As the years went by I also wrote feature stories, book reviews, and travel stories.  I also wrote for the Baltimore City Paper, the Baltimore Afro-American, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Boston Globe, and the Chicago Tribune


In 1980 I founded 7th Son Press and the literary journal Blind Alleys.  The journal was active for five years, and 7th Son was a partner in the publication of an anthology of Baltimore poets entitled Gathering Voices along with Tropos press and Dolphin-Moon press.  In 1996, I took over Obsidian III at North Carolina State University and headed that journal until December, 2001, when I resigned in order to pursue my Fulbright in Taiwan.


As a student in the graduate writing program at Brown, my focus was in playwriting and theater.  I had two playwriting instructors, the late George Houston Bass and Paula Vogel.  Vogel was my thesis advisor, and Bass was my mentor.  My graduate thesis was a full length play, Rosa, which became my first professional production in 1993 at Philadelphia’s Venture Theater in a small Equity production.  Later that same year I won the PDI Award from ETA Creative Arts Foundation in Chicago for another play, Elvira and the Lost Prince.  I have written approximately twenty plays.  Most recently, I have accepted an invitation to join a joint theater project between the University of Louisville and theater organizations in China, the objective of which is to write a play inspired by the history of Chinese and African Americans in Mississippi in the nineteenth century.

Short Fiction

My short fiction is included in Gloria Naylor’s anthology Children of the Night and Maria Gillan’s anthology Identity Lessons.


My college-level teaching career began when I graduated from Brown.  At the time of my graduation I was already an adjunct Assistant Professor at Essex County College in Newark, New Jersey, and I worked as an adjunct there and in New York at NYU and CUNY campuses until I received a tenure track appointment in the English department at Rutgers Camden, where I received tenure with distinction in 1995 as an early candidate.

In the spring of 1997 I served as poet in residence at the Stadler Center for poetry at Bucknell University, and that fall I accepted a position as visiting professor in the English department at Simmons College.  In the spring semester of 1998 I accepted an endowed chair at Simmons as Alumnae Professor of English, which is my current position.

The Zora Neale Hurston Literary Center

As part of my appointment at Simmons I was asked to build a literary center within the college.  In its ten year history, the Zora Neale Hurston Center was essentially a programming unit that hosted readings by poets and writers over the years, beginning with Alicia Ostriker and including poets such as Cynthia Hogue, Natasha Trethaway, Marilyn Chin, and many more.  In 2004 the center hosted a gathering of Chinese poets, scholars, and translators, and in 2008, there was a second gathering.  A chronology of my work in China and Taiwan follows this narrative.

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A Chronological History

My Creative and Scholarly Work in China and Taiwan

Afaa Michael Weaver



2002    The Fulbright Experience in Taiwan

I spent the spring semester of 2002 teaching in Taiwan as a Fulbright scholar at National Taiwan University (NTU)  in Taipei, and Taipei National University of the Arts (TNUA) in Kuandu.  It was during this time that I received my Chinese name from Dr. Chinghsi Perng, who was chair of the theater department at NTU. 

At the end of the semester I made my first trip to Beijing, China, as a tourist for a one week vacation.

2002    The Beginning of My Formal Studies of Mandarin

When I returned to my teaching duties at Simmons in the fall semester following my time in Taiwan, I began studying Mandarin formally at Simmons by using the faculty audit.  I completed the two year program, first with Zhigang Liu, and then with Alister Inglis, both of whom teach at Simmons as full time faculty.  My textbooks were from Beijing and were written in the new, simplified style.  I began my studies on all three levels, speaking, reading, and writing.

2003    World Congress of Poets in Taipei

My participation in this gathering of poets in Taiwan was my introduction to the community of Chinese poets there, and it was from this point that I began to formulate ideas for convening a conference of Chinese poets and specialists in the field in Boston.

2004    The Simmons International Chinese Poetry Conference

When I convened this conference in October, 2004, I discovered it was the first such gathering of specialists in the field with working poets from China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong ever held outside of China or Taiwan.  Major poets, including Wang Xiaoni, a matriarch in the contemporary scene, Yu Jian, one of the most well known poets in China today, Zang Di, a Beijing University professor and leading poet attended.  Moreover, two of the grand old men of Chinese poetry, Zheng Chouyu and Yu Kwangchung, attended.  My co-director was Dr. Michelle Yeh, and we were joined by Gorin Malmqvist, the Swedish Academy specialist in contemporary Chinese literature and Dr. Christopher Lupke of Washington State University, among many others.

2004- 2005      The Taipei Language Institute (TLI)

After the conference described above, I moved to Taiwan for the remainder of my sabbatical year for the purpose of studying Mandarin intensely.  I enrolled in the Taipei Language Institute, one of the larger private schools in the country that also has branches in China, and I completed the first part of the intermediate level of the curriculum.  I continued on all three levels while switching to the traditional style of writing.  I completed a comprehensive test with a score of A- for speaking and reading, and B+ for writing.  These records are available at the Gotlieb Center at Boston University.

2005    Beijing University Lecture

During a tour of Mainland China in April, I gave a lecture on the dual process of studying Chinese and writing poems in Chinese, which is to say language acquisition and creativity.  While in Beijing the Chinese Writers’ Association awarded me its gold friendship medal.

2005    Teaching Taijiquan in Taiwan

After returning to Taiwan in April, I moved into the He Nan Buddhist monastery and temple in Hualien, Taiwan, to teach Taijiquan to the nuns and monks and to write.

2007    Teaching at Fu Jen Catholic University in Taiwan

In the summer of 2007, I moved to Taiwan for two months to teach a graduate seminar in African American literature at Fu Jen Catholic University and to return to the Taipei Language Institute to continue my language studies in the next section of the intermediate level, on all three levels, speaking, reading, and writing.

2008    The Simmons International Chinese Poetry Festival

On October 3rd to 5th of that year I convened another international gathering of Chinese poets from abroad and specialists in the field, but this time I also invited American poets, many of them from the Boston area.  The idea of a festival was to emphasize more of a celebratory atmosphere and organization, as the theme was of a festival as a long workshop on translation with readings in Chinese and English.  Photographs were taken by a professional, Mr. Don West.

2009    Lecturing and Studying in Taiwan and China

In May, 2009, I moved to Taipei, Taiwan, to spend two months lecturing in Taiwan and China and studying in Taiwan.  I gave the keynote address at the annual literary conference at Asia University and then traveled to Beijing to give lectures on contemporary American poetry at Beijing Normal University, Foreign Studies University, and Capital Normal University.  In Shenyang City I gave an interview for an internet news source.  Back in Taiwan I spent five weeks of daily language study at TLI.


In late spring 2009, I began the construction of a website devoted to the translation of poems primarily back and forth between Chinese and English but extending to any interested poets from other languages.  The site is being constructed by Wu Design.  The site will be launched in December 2009/January 2010.

            NOTE: I have written and published original poems in Chinese, most notably in an anthology edited by Sandra Meek entitled Deep Travel.  My translations have appeared in Drunken Boat.

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Poetic Form: The Bop—A recent invention, the Bop was created by Afaa Michael Weaver during a summer retreat of the African American poetry organization, Cave Canem. Not unlike the Shakespearean sonnet in trajectory, the Bop is a form of poetic argument consisting of three stanzas, each stanza followed by a repeated line, or refrain, and each undertaking a different purpose in the overall argument of the poem.

The first stanza (six lines long) states the problem, and the second stanza (eight lines long) explores or expands upon the problem. If there is a resolution to the problem, the third stanza (six lines long) finds it. If a substantive resolution cannot be made, then this final stanza documents the attempt and failure to succeed.

Although it is a young form, the Bop already exists in variations. In addition to the three-stanza Bop, some have added a six-line fourth stanza, still ending on the refrain. Poets

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Bop Haunting

                      By Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon In the evening she comes, her same unsatisfied self, with the hard, smug look of salvation. Mama, stop bothering me. When we argue, she says what you’re saying is not scriptural. You need to get back in your Bible. In one dream, I slap her. I’m tired of her mouth. I hate to see the evening Sun go down Yesterday, I dreamed a vampire held my wrist, dared me to wake to her, corporeal, stolid. Mama, was that you? I refused to touch her body in the casket. At the gravesite I refused everything but dry-eyed silence, her picture in my hand. I hate to see the evening Sun go down This is what I get for conjuring— Mama, after me all night, fussing about the holy ghost when what I need is sleep. But last night I lay dreamless. I didn’t sleep sound. I hate to see the evening Sun go down

Source: JSTheater

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Bop Form requirements:

1. select a refrain from a line of Black music

2. 3 stanzas (6 lines, 8 lines, 6 lines)

3. 1 stanza— statement of a problem


    2nd stanza—expand upon problem/explain


    3rd. stanza—resolve problem or share why it can’t be resolved

    *end with refrain

Note from poet Mary Weems

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About the Bop

In 1997, during a summer retreat of the African American poetry organization, Cave Canem, Afaa created this poetic form, the Bop, as an exercise for his workshop students, among whom were the late Vincent Woodard, Honoree Fanonne Jeffers, and Terrance Hayes. Inspired by Langston Hughes’ blues poems and the triadic structure of the Pindaric ode, Weaver established the original form of the Bop is a poetic argument consisting of three stanzas, each stanza followed by a repeated line, or refrain, and each undertaking a different purpose in the overall argument of the poem. In Afaa’s original form, the first stanza (six lines long) states the problem, the second stanza (eight lines long) explores or expands upon the problem, and he third stanza (six lines long) attempts a resolution. If a substantive resolution cannot be made, then this final stanza documents the attempt and failure to succeed. The refrain forms the final stanza.

As Afaa stated in revealing the form to his workshop students that the refrain was to be a line from a song, hence the direct reference to the traditions of African American musical expression.  The use of such lines has to be observant of copyright restrictions where applicable.  Afaa’s poem “Rambling” (The Plum Flower Dance) is a precise example of the Bop’s original form.  The Bop was created with the hope that it would facilitate the full range of subject matter from the personal to the political and that it would, as a poetic form, be an open system, hence the lack of requirement for a specific meter and the offering of the form to poets of all races and ethnicities.  Honoree Fanonne Jeffers was the first of Afaa’s students to publish a Bop. Evie Shockley and a few other poets have added to the form, so the Bop already exists in variations. In addition to the three-stanza Bop, some have added a six-line fourth stanza, still ending on the refrain. Others have created the double Bop, making the poem twice as long. 

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Some other poets who utilize the form include:

Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon in “Bop: Haunting” and “Spring Bop: New York, 1999” in Black Swan and in “Bop: The North Star” in ]Open Interval[,

“Bop: To Know You Is to Love You” in Honoree Fanonne Jeffers’ The Gospel of Barbecue,

Evie Shockley’s “double bop for ntozake shange” and “the last temptation: a 21st century bop odyssey” in a half-red sea,

“Green: A Bop” in Tug by G.E. Patterson,

Tara Betts with “Bowery” and “Escape of Choice” in Arc & Hue,

John Murillo’s Bop poem in Up Jump the Boogie,

Tonya Hegamin, Amanda Johnston, Teri Ellen Cross, Alan King, Randall Horton and others.


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Afaa Michael Weaver at Pratt Library—Saturday, April 19, 2008, 2:00p.m.—Deputy Mayor Salima Siler Marriott, Pratt Library Executive Director Dr. Carla Hayden, and CityLit Project Executive Director Gregg Wilhelm join the poet at 10:30 to declare April 19 “Afaa Michael Weaver Day.”  Programs take place throughout the library.  A complete schedule of times and locations is available at City Lit Project.

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We had a wonderful evening tribute to Lucille Clifton at the Main Pratt Library here in Baltimore last night. I had promised myself I wouldn’t get weepy at the podium, and I wiped a few tears before I got up there. But when I got to podium and looked out at the full audience of 220 people, it was a total hallelujah feeling without tears. I was so happy to be able to talk about how “important” Lucille was to me when I was doing my apprenticeship as a poet, writing while in the factory all those years. I read a letter I wrote to Lucille just for last night, addressing her in the Spirit World, and I took the time to tell Nikki how important her work was to me when I was younger. Nikki Giovanni and I were the last two readers, and everyone gave such beautiful tributes. Joanne Gabbin was there, as well as Lynda Koolish, whose photos are the gallery display upstairs. Tonight we have a dedication for a photo exhibit for Lucille at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum on my side of town, East Baltimore. It’s all such “a beautiful thing”…:-) Nikki Giovanni and I are collectees together at Boston University’s Gotlieb Archival Center, where our papers are kept.—Afaa Michael Weaver, 15 June 2012

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books



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#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

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#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

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#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

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#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

*   *   *   *   *

Life on Mars

By Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith, author of Life on Mars has been selected as the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In its review of the book, Publishers Weekly noted the collection’s “lyric brilliance” and “political impulses [that] never falter.” A New York Times review stated, “Smith is quick to suggest that the important thing is not to discover whether or not we’re alone in the universe; it’s to accept—or at least endure—the universe’s mystery. . . . Religion, science, art: we turn to them for answers, but the questions persist, especially in times of grief. Smith’s pairing of the philosophically minded poems in the book’s first section with the long elegy for her father in the second is brilliant.” Life on Mars follows Smith’s 2007 collection, Duende, which won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, the only award for poetry in the United States given to support a poet’s second book, and the first Essence Literary Award for poetry, which recognizes the literary achievements of African Americans.

The Body’s Question (2003) was her first published collection. Smith said Life on Mars, published by small Minnesota press Graywolf, was inspired in part by her father, who was an engineer on the Hubble space telescope and died in 2008.

*   *   *   *   *

Super Rich: A Guide to Having it All

By Russell Simmons

Russell Simmons knows firsthand that wealth is rooted in much more than the stock  market. True wealth has more to do with what’s in your heart than what’s in your wallet. Using this knowledge, Simmons became one of America’s shrewdest entrepreneurs, achieving a level of success that most investors only dream about. No matter how much material gain he accumulated, he never stopped lending a hand to those less fortunate. In Super Rich, Simmons uses his rare blend of spiritual savvy and street-smart wisdom to offer a new definition of wealth-and share timeless principles for developing an unshakable sense of self that can weather any financial storm. As Simmons says, “Happy can make you money, but money can’t make you happy.”

*   *   *   *   *

The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits.

Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

*   *   *   *   *

Karma’s Footsteps

By Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie

Somebody has to tell the truth sometime, whatever that truth may be. In this, her début full collection, Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie offers up a body of work that bears its scars proudly, firm in the knowledge that each is evidence of a wound survived. These are songs of life in all its violent difficulty and beauty; songs of fury, songs of love. ‘Karma’s Footsteps’ brims with things that must be said and turns the volume up, loud, giving silence its last rites. “Ekere Tallie’s new work ‘Karma’s Footsteps’ is as fierce with fight songs as it is with love songs. Searing with truths from the modern day world she is unafraid of the twelve foot waves that such honesties always manifest. A poet who “refuses to tiptoe” she enters and exits the page sometimes with short concise imagery, sometimes in the arms of delicate memoir. Her words pull the forgotten among us back into the lightning of our eyes.—Nikky Finney /  Ekere Tallie Table

Her Voice   / Mother Nature: Thoughts on Nourishing Your Body, Mind, and Spirit During Pregnancy and Beyond  

*   *   *   *   *

Ancient, Ancient: Short Fiction

By Kiini Ibura Salaam

Ancient, Ancient collects the short fiction by Kiini Ibura Salaam, of which acclaimed author and critic Nalo Hopkinson writes, ”Salaam treats words like the seductive weapons they are. She wields them to weave fierce, gorgeous stories that stroke your sensibilities, challenge your preconceptions, and leave you breathless with their beauty.” Indeed, Ms. Salaam’s stories are so permeated with sensuality that in her introduction to

Ancient, Ancient

, Nisi Shawl, author of the award-winning Filter House, writes, ”Sexuality-cum-sensuality is the experiential link between mind and matter, the vivid and eternal refutation of the alleged dichotomy between them. This understanding is the foundation of my 2004 pronouncement on the burgeoning sexuality implicit in sf’s Afro-diasporization. It is the core of many African-based philosophies. And it is the throbbing, glistening heart of Kiini’s body of work. This book is alive. Be not afraid.”

*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

*   *   *   *   *

The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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posted 16 April 2008




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