ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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 I made my first trip to New Orleans, and then we divorced. I became a Buddhist,

for a while and then began private sessions with Wilson. He was like a father,

a dear friend. He got me to writing diaries, keeping journals, and scrapbooks.



African American Writers Meet Rudolph Lewis  The man behind ChickenBones   By Jane Musoke-Nteyafas   First published: April 18, 2006

For those with an interest and involvement in the writing and publishing industry, especially when it comes to black culture, his name would be familiar. Rudolph Lewis is one of the hardest working, dedicated and respected men in the online publishing world. Yet very little is known about his personal life. He is the editor and founder of ChickenBones: A Journal for Literary and Artistic African-American Themes ( ). This is an educational web site which explores black culture with the aims of uplifting and educating black people as well as non black people about black culture.Initiated in the fall of 2001, ChickenBones: A Journal has accumulated a faithful following of readers as well as a wide range of literary contributors from all over the world. In 2005, Chickenbones attracted about 5,000 visitors on a daily basis and is already exceeding 1 million visitors for the year 2006. This is a meteoric rise from 2003 when traffic included about 500,000 visitors. ChickenBones has produced and featured the works of several celebrated and new writers including Kalamu Ya Salaam, Amiri Baraka, Zora Neale Hurston, Askia Touré, Niyi Osundare, Latorial Faison, Lasana Sekou, Ras Baraka, DB Cox, Stacey Tolbert, Nicholas Berdyaev, Kiini Ibura Salaam, Kola Boof,Danyel Smith, Yambo Ouologuem, Claire Carew and Drisana Deborah Jack to mention a few. ChickenBones is in short, a national treasure.Behind all that work is Rudolph Lewis. Lewis is a prolific writer of the Black Arts Movement generation. He is the author of numerous essays, poems, interviews and articles for various journals. He has also done editorial jobs with positions such as the editor of I Am New Orleans & Other Poems by Marcus Bruce Christian. New Orleans: Xavier Review Press, 1999, Editorial Assistant Labor’s Heritage, Spring 1997. Contributing Editor The New Laurel Review, Spring/Fall 1984; Spring/Fall 1987 Editor (& Founder) CRICKET: Poems and Other Jazz. New Orleans, 1985.Literature has always been a part of his life. Lewis was also an English and Literature instructor at the following institutions: Coppin State College, University of New Orleans, Northeast Louisiana University, and the University of District of Columbia. He has in addition reviewed several books and performed interviews with notable writers such as Yusef Komunyakaa. Yet despite all this, he has never been interviewed in any literary magazine. So it was a great pleasure to be able to pay homage to this illustrious writer/poet/editor/publisher and instructor by interviewing him and getting his readers and supporters to know more about the amazing presence behind ChickenBones. He shared several things with me; among them, his love for New Orleans, the origins of ChickenBones, his relationship with several historic icons and his beautiful poetry on women.

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Jane: Many people know about the site but they may not be aware of the person behind the site. You are the publisher, owner and editor of ChickenBonesA Journal for Literary and Artistic African-American Themes. Please tell us more about yourself. Who is Rudolph Lewis?

Rudolph: I am uncertain, really. I feel as if I am still a work in progress. That I am still becoming. The outer me and the inner me I feel sometimes are two different persons. I still feel rather young. But young men have started calling me Baba and Pops. I’m egalitarian and I’m restless. I’ll be 58 on the 24th of August and I feel like I’m just hitting my stride intellectually. I’m fascinated by older women who are intellectuals. But I am attracted to young women, especially if they have a nice smile. Often too serious, I love women who can make me laugh.Jane: Let’s talk about Rudolph the writer. You write essays, poems, articles, editorials, stories, prose and you do interviews as well. You are in essence a true writer, mastering the different writing fields which are available. When did this writing streak start?

Rudolph: It was in 1968 as a student activist that I first took my writing talent seriously. Then I was writing pamphlets, propaganda. In a manner my writing helped me to defeat attempts to draft me for the Vietnam War. The military declared me mentally unstable. My personal writings began under Max Wilson, then a Haitian philosopher at Morgan State College. I was distraught in the early 70s, after my wife Evelyn and I separated. It was then I made my first trip to New Orleans, and then we divorced. I became a Buddhist, for a while and then began private sessions with Wilson. He was like a father, a dear friend. He got me to writing diaries, keeping journals and scrapbooks. In some sense ChickenBones grew out of this central experience. I still have a journal-scrapbook here at my desk. I just recently quoted from a 1976 newspaper article.Jane: Who were your influences when you started writing?

Rudolph: On a deep level I was influenced by oral literature. My grandmother who raised me in the Virginia countryside was the family historian. She was a great storyteller. I honour her with some of my family stories. Then there was the public speech of persons like Stokely Carmichael, Martin, and Malcolm. Their rhythms, their timing, their provocative language were so dynamic, quite a political contrast from my rural, religious upbringing. I came to formal literature late, after I started college, when I discovered Baldwin, Wright, Ellison, and Killens. That was probably in 1967. Then there was Negro Digest, later Black World. I still have old copies of that journal. Then there were the writers of the Black Arts Movement (BAM)-Baraka, Don L. Lee, Sonia, and Nikki Giovanni. But it was their orality, rather than what they were doing formally on the page. That I did not understand at all. It was more their political blackness than their literary art that really affected me. Some of their works by the 70s were on LPs: Nikki, The Last Poets, Baraka’s Black Mass, and more.

I Can’t Get Over You                                         By Rudolph Lewis  

Dancing, bare legs, flayed open I die in you nappy Rasta woman dreds like craggy running streams falling on soft shoulders I kiss your chocolate-bean thighs swinging unrobed ass, hot sighs & cries of sweet Jesus your almond African eyes pierce & pick my pluming dreams apart like trespassing fingers our wet lips weave brown islands streaking tongues waving quilt designs over a swelling belly We strip down aching flesh where I like to be, touching dark fists pounding hard I don’t want to stop what we do wounding raw, deep, shrinking 

Jane: Your black erotica poems are some of the best poems you’ve written Rudolph. A woman reads them and feels truly beautiful and appreciated. Are you romantic?

Rudolph: Most of that work is recent. I began writing poetry in New Orleans, then the most sensuous of American cities. The walk, the talk, the smile, the sadness of New Orleans women turned me on. I had a couple affairs there I’ve never fully gotten over. There was just something in the air-street music (the trombone, the tuba, the banjo), the blues, the dance. The whole scene was artistically inspiring. It broke down my protestant reserve. Then there were the poems of Marcus Bruce Christians-his love poems and blues. Kalamu ya Salaam has been the major erotica influence. I read a lot of his poems and stories. He broke the ice. Since ChickenBones there have been numerous female spoken word poets who have influenced me, especially a young sister name Po-It. She really turned me on. Before these readings, it was difficult to speak of sexual intimacy openly. They showed me what was possible without being vulgar or pornographic.Jane: You describe black women so beautifully. In a world where black beauty has ‘disappeared’ and expected to erase itself and it has become more ‘acceptable’ by becoming more Eurocentric, it is refreshing to read poems from our brother appreciating us just as we are. What is a beautiful black woman in your experience?

Rudolph: The beauty of black women, especially here in America, comes in so varied shapes, sizes, shades, and ages. I have loved them all. I have enjoyed them all. I loved especially my former wife, Evelyn. It took me a decade or more to get over that relationship. There is this sadness in the beauty of black women, maybe in me, that has coloured all my relationships with women and so, in some sense, I’ve partaken of that beauty too much. There has been too much intimacy, flowing through my fingers like water or smoke, so I have not had a successful, that is, a permanent relationship with just one black woman.Jane: You have a section called fourth world poems? What are fourth world poems?

Rudolph: They have to do with the struggle of blacks in the West, especially of black men in a white world. Since we stepped off the boat, white men – their wealth, their guns, their women – have come between the black man and his woman and his children. That continues. So it is the struggle to become fully whole, fully free in the West. This struggle has rendered me childless.Jane: It’s never too late though. Now let’s go to Rudolph the publisher and editor. What inspired the creation of ChickenBones?

Rudolph: While I was in library school (1994-1997) I was introduced to the internet and during this period or maybe a little later I also became aware of Kalamu’s e-drum. At UMCP (University of Maryland, College Park) I took courses that dealt with the new digital technologies. Since New Orleans (mid-80s) I have been carrying around boxes and boxes of materials, my writings and those of others, including a manuscript of the poems of Marcus Bruce Christian. I first used that manuscript to create a student web-site. So after I finished my library studies, I was anxious to set up a website. It took another four years. During that period, I accumulated more writings and more manuscripts and though I was getting poems, essays, a story, even a book published, I realized such publications had a short shelf life and a very limited distribution. So I talked a printer friend Kinya Kiongozi into helping me start a website. By that time he knew how to build computers. Then I was working part-time as a librarian at St. Mary’s Seminary & University and I got the needed software for $35. It was just a matter of finding a host and figuring out the software. In 2001 I went online with ChickenBones.Jane: How did you come up with the name ChickenBones?

Rudolph: I wanted a name that was not pretentious. Some name without “black” in it. I wanted a broad appeal. But I wanted it to have an ethnic grounding – of the people, by the people, for the people. Bones has its own special ring. There is a trail of them across the Atlantic. Those of our ancestors have been ploughed under by white farmers for their own nourishment and we have used them for divination. We poor folk have had to rely on the lowly chicken for our meals, even to sucking the marrow from the bones to survive. So it rang true for me, that is, ChickenBones, as one word. Because there was some snickering of minstrelsy, I added “A Journal” and a subtitle, to show that we were serious. Moreover, I felt confident because of the Alice in Wonderland story that one could make a word mean what one wanted it to mean, especially if one puts the required work into it. There’s no one snickering now.Jane: This site is dedicated to Nathaniel Turner (1800-1831). In fact the site is actually under the name although it is called ChickenBones. What’s your special connection to Nathaniel Turner?

Rudolph: I come from Nathaniel Turner country, which includes the southern Virginia counties of Sussex, Southampton, and Greensville. Turner was a 19th century prophet, his father a slave-owner and his mother a recently-arrived African captive. Scripturally-inspired, Turner the visionary led the most devastating and influential slave rebellion in American history. There was a recent documentary and a recent French novel of his life. A lot of print has been spilt over his deeds, his religious psychology, and his 1831 Confessions.

When I quit my job in 1999 at Enoch Pratt Free Public Library in Baltimore, I retreated to my family home in Virginia. I had studied Marcus Christian and New Orleans. Now it was time to study my people and the land in which I was raised. I wrote down Mama’s stories. I checked the local libraries and archives and began to meditate on the life of Turner. The white William Styron had written a popular novel on Turner in the late 60s which created a great controversy even into the mid-70s when I was working on my undergraduate degree at UMCP. I looked at the collected folk literature and the collected documents. I concluded that both blacks and whites had gotten the story wrong and that it was my duty to straighten out the historical record and present the true Nathaniel Turner. I had a mission.Jane: When you started out, did you know that ChickenBones would become this popular and not only attract the attention of African Americans but also continental Africans, Caribbeans and other groups?

Rudolph: No, my interests were narrow, comparatively. But I have embraced these marvelous developments. ChickenBones has taken on a life of its own. I am now merely a servant, a follower. I am always surprised by its influence, the people it reaches, the people who are drawn to it. In a real sense, lots of people helped to create ChickenBones, by their own work, not least among these are New Orleans people like Kalamu ya Salaam and Lee Meitzen Grue, who sent me huge amounts of their work without fear of copyright infringement.

One of the key aspects of ChickenBones, I believe, is its non-commercial stance, to provide a model of sacrifice. It was not created to sell anything but rather to inform, to create access to information not easily accessible, and to give away everything, to provide a platform for a great variety of writers and writings. But also to present black people as beautiful as they are.Jane: ChickenBones is the source of original intellectual work by some of the most important artists and theorists of the past 100 years including Yusef Komunyakaa, Kalamu Ya Salaam, and Askia Muhamed Touré. This was made possible by your singular labour. How were you able to attract all these writers?

Rudolph: ChickenBones is a journal in the true sense of the word. It is an accumulation of writings, experiences, reflections, intellectual work. My literary career really began in New Orleans. Everyone, initially, thought that ChickenBones was a New Orleans website. Maybe it had that hoodoo feel. My poetry writing began with Yusef Komunyakaa. He’s a great teacher, very inspiring. We were great buddies back in 1984, 1985. Very close. Through him I met and worked with a lot of writers and artists. We went through over a thousand poems of Marcus Bruce Christian at the archives of the University of New Orleans, where I was teaching essay writing and literature. That experience helped me to judge the value of a poem, of poetry. While in New Orleans I began a poetry journal Cricket: Poems & Other Jazz, which published poems by Kalamu, Yusef, Lee Meitzen Grue, Mona Lisa Saloy, Mackie Blanton, and others. The poet Gillian Conoley spent hours with me laying it out by hand. It lasted three issues. It made no money. I paid for it out of pocket. I sponsored a poetry contest. Made no money. With Yusef and cultural worker Ahmose Zu-Bolton we set up a cultural center in what had been a meat market. We built a stage, a bar. There was a juke box, a pool table. We exhibited children’s art. Had quilt displays. There was at least one jazz set. A lot of that too came out of pocket. That didn’t last long either. But we had a blast while it lasted. I met Tom Dent. It was all so wonderful.

Askia sought me out. He didn’t think I knew who he was. He thought that I didn’t appreciate his work or BAM. His criticisms for the failures of BAM and mine differed. So he thought I was a nut. And so after the interview, we stopped communicating. But I have kept reaching out to him. I’m not an ideologue. I’m not a worshipper of men.

Jane: ChickenBones is an encyclopaedia of sorts. It is a wealth of Black writings and I would even go as far as to call it a national treasure yet you have manned the site on your own. How were you able to back the site financially?

Rudolph: Out of pocket. A lot of time and energy. A few friends. I believed in ChickenBones. I made it a part of my life. The technology made me less dependent on the efforts and agreement of others for its success. It would fail only if I failed to do the necessary work and I have worked day and night at it.Jane: ChickenBones does not shy away from topics which are considered controversial. It’s not afraid to ruffle feathers. For example you profiled the very controversial Sudanese/Egyptian writer Kola Boof (A Chronology of the Life of Author Kola Boof) and you even dedicated a poem (A Hymn to Kola Boof) to her. What do you think of her writing style?

Rudolph: Like Kalamu, Kola Boof is one of the daring and successful pioneers of black cyberspace. Without the internet, there probably would not be the Kola Boof we know today. She has used text, photos, and video to promote her writings and her views. Like other African women, she has always fascinated me. They are in great contrast to American women set on a pedestal. I have never seen an African woman fawn and pretend to be soft and weak like American women.

African women are bold, willing to stand toe to toe with man or woman. And if they try to cross them, they will embarrass them or whip their asses. I like that. It reminds me of women in my own family. Kola probably has good cause for her anti-Arab views. I like her poems but most of all I like her daring, her baring her breasts without the least embarrassment, as a demonstrative means of embracing her own culture and defying both Islamic and Christian Puritanism. She’s a good poet, a dynamic writer. Kola is singular, unique. She has blazed a trail to be followed.

Jane: ChickenBones was visited by 1.5 million people last year, and this coming year you expect even more. What do you think has contributed to its success?

Rudolph: It is different – unique, dynamic, exploratory, out of the box, sacrificial, patient. It provides access to desired information. There’s simplicity in its layout and intentions. It’s headed up by someone who has little idea of what he’s doing, other than trying to do good. It’s huge and varied thus well-indexed by search engines. It’s black and that has its own attraction. It’s personal, an accumulation of experiences, down to earth.Jane: Can you tell us more about your involvement in the Black Arts Movement (BAM)?

Rudolph: In Baltimore, I was a part of the black consciousness movement, a staff member of Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). I met Stokely and Rap Brown. I worked closely with Bob Moore, the local director, and with Walter Lively, director of U-Join and Black Liberation Press. I met Amiri Baraka in 1968 when he brought his troupe to town to put on one of his plays at a local church. I rode with him across town to a house party. He probably does not remember that. I was 19, just a face and a body. But that period is a cherished memory. It laid the groundwork for everything else.

Later, the black consciousness movement and the civil rights movement inspired the organizing of black workers. I became a union organizer with Local 1199. We organized in 1969 5,000 workers, mostly black women, within six months. It was phenomenal. I then became a union representative, educating workers and defending their rights in the work place. I was 23, 24. This is where I met my wife. I stayed with 1199 as a union rep for two years and then resigned. Thereafter I worked a number of odd jobs – analyzed coal, drove a cab, cleaned floors and washed pots at a hospital. I did whatever was necessary to pay the bills.Jane: Were you involved with the Black Panther Party?

Rudolph: No. I knew a few of them, locally. I thought they were out of their gourds. I have never romanced the gun, though I grew up with hunters. They were ideologues. I have always been a skeptic. I have always asked questions, since I was a child. I admire Huey. He was a thinker. His

Revolutionary Suicide

is necessary reading. I never cared for Eldridge Cleaver. I believed him to be an intellectual thug, a dangerous opportunist.

Jane: How did you meet Kalamu Ya Salaam?

Rudolph: In New Orleans, as I recall. He then headed up the New Orleans Jazz Fest. That was 1984, 1985. It was a brief personal encounter. I was into Yusef Komunyakaa then. I know we were in contact then because I published some of his haikus in my Cricket. He was trying to write 100 haikus, using black music or intonation. It was ChickenBones and e-drum that really brought us together. He made me part of his e-drum list 21 January 1999 (I still have the email note) and later in 2002 he sent me a lot of his unpublished and published works. After that I did extended interviews with him. I learned a lot from his poems, his stories, his poetic autobiography, Art for Life: My Story, My Song. A great variety of these writings can be found on ChickenBones. I wouldn’t say we are personal friends. But I think we have a great mutual respect. On a couple of trips to New Orleans he showed me around town and showed me what he was doing. The last time was just before Katrina. He invited me to his house in Algiers, Louisiana and showed me the video work of his students and his own video work. I was greatly impressed. And then there was the New Orleans Flood. There was a lot of correspondence. I helped to arrange his coming to Baltimore. My God, the man is a great performer. On stage he’s a demi-god. We spent some time at his hotel after the performance, talking about his work and what was happening in New Orleans.Jane: What about Amiri Baraka…?

Rudolph: I admire Baraka greatly. I have his books on my shelf. He came to town recently and read at Coppin State. But I did not talk to him or shake his hand. I have followed his career, closely. We are not friends. We have been communicating recently through email. His are usually one-liners. His works, I think, are deserving of more attention. He’s a national treasure, not truly appreciated broadly for what he has contributed to the cultural and political life of America. Though not a devotee, I will probably be doing more study of the work that he has created for us, all of us.Jane: What do you think of today’s urban fiction African-American literature?

Rudolph: I know of its existence. I see more and more of it on library shelves. I’m impressed by the ingenuity and energy that has been put into its production. My impression is that much of it is low brow, easy reading, sexual and gangster oriented rather than political and literary. It provides probably interesting, entertaining snapshots of black urban life. My suspicion is that it lacks the insightful analysis that would raise it to true art. The only piece I have actually read is a local novel Child Support by Ralph E. Johnson. I learned a lot from the book about the child support system here in Baltimore and its devastating impact on black male-black female relationships and how it criminalizes black men. Though packed with useful info, the book falls short artistically. (A Review of Child Support)Jane: What about mainstream hip hop?

Rudolph: It’s phenomenal, international in impact. I like the rhythms, the moves, the intonations. Most of it I am unable to understand. I was listening to Nellie, recently. I like especially the post-Katrina rap by Legendary K.O. “George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People.” That showed me the potential impact that hip hop could have on raising consciousness, of changing America for the better. The hip hop industry is, however, geared toward success and commercialism. I’m afraid it will never rise above sheer entertainment, post-modern minstrelsy.Jane: Some people say that some Generation Xers have forgotten the struggles and sacrifices that our ancestors went through in order to give us the freedom that we enjoy. The efforts of people like Malcolm X, Du Bois, Nkrumah and Sekou Touré made seem to be taken for granted. What’s your take on that?

Rudolph: All the people you named are dead. They made their sacrifices and left us to carry our own crosses. We have all failed to pick up our cross. What the youth are about is only another version, a mirror image, of what most adults are about – lust, greed, adultery, a great host of sins. What is unique in the youth today is that they see the hypocrisy. But they are as spoiled and cynical as their parents. They don’t see any way out of our racial dilemma, our oppression. They have no faith in group work or group study. So they have opted for the individualistic arts of hustling, entertainment, and athletics to make their mark, to make their fortune. That choice has been devastating.

But there are exceptions. There’s a young brilliant cat here in Baltimore, Rodney Foxworth, Jr. He is a UMBC student. He’s brilliant, loves hip hop, and he’s a social activist and journalist. We have been cooperating and collaborating. His writings are on ChickenBones.Jane: ChickenBones is one of the few sites which covered true New Orleans stories, true accounts from the survivors. I sense a personal attachment you have with New Orleans. You created a special space called Literary New Orleans. You even have special New Orleans poems. Can you elaborate more on that?

Rudolph: I love New Orleans; at least, what was New Orleans. It changed my life like a woman you can never possess. It is the soul of America, and now the soul of America on trial. So goes New Orleans, so goes America. Because it has that significance I have devoted so much time and energy to it and its writers and its culture. I wish I could do more. The Literary New Orleans section was just another means of organizing material on the site in that we don’t have a search engine and it was a way of emphasizing certain writers.Jane: I hope you know that you will be leaving a powerful legacy behind. You are recording history. How are you going to make sure that this information is passed on to the next generations?

Rudolph: I have raised that issue with some of our supporters. I have spoken to Kalamu about it. I asked him the same question. He didn’t have a definitive answer. Neither do I really. Of course, one can institutionalize it. I recently gave the Library of Congress permission to add ChickenBones as one of its collected websites. The LOC will further diffuse access. So there is hope that our work will be preserved. But by nature institutions are static and conservative. ChickenBones is personal and dynamic. So if I die or something happens to me, ChickenBones will probably suffer the same fate. Individuals and the passions of people cannot be replicated. Where are the Kings and Malcolms, today? Where is Nkrumah, where is Du Bois? In liberation struggles, these are tragic dilemmas. Have no fear; there will always be those who will rise to carry the cross, who will carry the flag into battle.

Jane: So what’s next for Rudolph Lewis?

Rudolph: I got to find me a woman, who is willing to struggle with me, to push forward with me, to make ChickenBones all that it is fated to be. I have to find a place in which to work comfortably. I probably need to put some more of my writings in print. Of course, the sky is still the limit.Thanks for the interview.

First published: April 18, 2006 Source:

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Jane Musoke-Nteyafas, poet/author/artist and playwright, was born in Moscow, Russia and currently resides in Toronto, Canada.  She is the daughter of retired diplomats. By the time she was 19, she spoke French, English, Spanish, Danish, Luganda, some Russian and had lived in Russia, Uganda, France, Denmark, Cuba and Canada. She won the Miss Africanada beauty pageant 2000 in Toronto where she was also named ‘one of the new voices of Africa’ after reciting one of her poems. In 2004 she was published in T-Dot Griots-An Anthology of Toronto’s Black storytellers and in February 2005 her art piece Namyenya was featured as the poster piece for the Human Rights through Art-Black History Month Exhibit. 

She is the recipient of numerous awards for her poetry, art, and playwriting and is becoming a household name in Toronto circles. She is a columnist for Bahiyah Woman Magazine and is also a fellow for the Crossing Borders-British Council Writers Programme.

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books



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#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

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#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

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#18 – Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King

#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

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

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#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

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

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—


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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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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

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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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update  3 March 2012




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