ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Art for Life: My Story, My Song

By Kalamu ya Salaam



Books by Kalamu ya Salaam


The Magic of JuJu: An Appreciation of the Black Arts Movement  /   360: A Revolution of Black Poets

Everywhere Is Someplace Else: A Literary Anthology  /  From A Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans Poets

Our Music Is No Accident   /  What Is Life: Reclaiming the Black Blues Self

My Story My Song (CD)


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two: what Langston did (contd.)

Baraka Innovative Stylings

After Baldwin came Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka. Baraka I dug because of his iconoclastic and boldly innovative stylings. He is always at his best breaking ground, making you go “damn” at the way he has hooked something up with the sarcastic aloofness of a hard bop hipster. Clearly, as the quantity and quality of his earliest work demonstrates, Baraka worked hard at being off the cuff. Like a great jazz musician, he had sheded (i.e. “woodshed,” jazz parlance for practice and serious study) heavy so that whenever the time came to blow, he was able to blow with confidence and make his work sound effortless. Baraka also projected a cocky air of being ahead of the curve, always in the know, always the first one to arrive on the set wondering what took the rest of us so long to arrive. That appealed to the machismo in my adolescent male psyche.

            But what most appealed to me is that Jones too was struggling in the White world, struggling to define and claim his persona as a Black man. Additionally, Jones was deep into the music, especially jazz and blues. Through Jones I also started to experience poetry as self revelation.

            Jones’ own personal life experiences, conundrums, confusions, dreams and aspirations were at the center of his poetry. On the stylistic surface, Jones’ poetry was nothing like Hughes, but yet, underneath it, there was a deep blues, a blues for the lost Black man, the man unsure of what being himself meant, the “dead lecturer”. That title of Jones second book of poetry said it all.

            A lot of Jones I didn’t understand, couldn’t understand, and even if I had understood would never have really related to, but what attracted me, I think, to Jones before he became Baraka, as well as attracted me to Baldwin, was the way they confronted the White world and also confronted their complicity and love of that world; the way they articulated and embraced with critical consciousness their love of White literature which directly correlated with my own less ambivalent, but not totally uncontradictory feelings about what I was learning in school. Much of what they spoke about resonated in my experience.

            Anyone who has not experienced it will find it nearly impossible to understand the schizophrenia that mainstream education engenders in working class black people, right down to the root of rejecting one’s mother, which is the embodiment of rejecting one’s culture. This is why Black studies was so immediately latched onto by students and so instantly rejected by the petit bourgeois oriented colored professors, and why afro-centricism is often strongest in predominately White institutions of higher education. At no other time in one’s life will the intellectual challenge to and intellectual oppression of Black people be as clear as when you are a Black student in a predominately White school precisely because in higher education there are few, if any, status quo revered Black intellectual authority figures — and almost all of them are either conservative or seemingly apolitical.

            On the other hand, there was no way for a sane person to reject learning, to reject intelligence. I wanted to embrace my people, embrace myself and the world I grew up in, but there was a conflict between the two. The wannabes stumbling and fleeing toward the status quo invariably would put down the blues folk, put down their ignorance, their uncouthness, their illiteracy, their blues essence. In what is easily perceived as a rejection of intellectual values, rather than a rejection of self abnegating intellectualism, blues people seemed to be so short sighted, so self destructive and so incorrigible.

            Hughes did not speak to this conflict as cogently nor as consistently as Baldwin and Jones/Baraka did. There is a detachment in Hughes writing that maintains the privacy of the witness even as Hughes focuses almost exclusively on his people. Baldwin and Baraka, on the other hand, even with Whites intimately involved in their lives, focus much more on the contradictions of being a Black man in White America as a personal rather than an observed experience.

            Hughes’ reticence about his personal life was an alienating factor for me. Hughes had written two autobiographies, and, by the early sixties, neither Baldwin nor Baraka had written autobiographies, yet readers knew more about each of their personal lives than about Hughes’ personal life. This is a line of demarcation. In later years I would develop my theory about the use of the “personal” but at that time I simply did the most expedient thing: I loved both approaches, the detachment of Hughes and the personal involvement of Baldwin/Baraka.

            Baldwin and Baraka wrote in a modern intellectual style and that appealed to me. Yet, neither Baldwin nor Baraka had that element of blues based, holisticness that was the most marvelous quality of Langston Hughes, a writer so huge that his collected works define literature. Prose, fiction, poetry, drama, journalism, criticism, editing, it’s all there, plus Hughes presented his work to the whole world, work which focused almost exclusively on Black people. Hughes was a “simple” Black writer who went around the world.

            To an adolescent eighth grader in 1959/60 just waking up to literature Hughes was both a blessing and a foundation. After Hughes nothing was too deep to tackle. Hughes gave me a sense of self confidence as a budding Black writer. Before I realized that there was such a thing as a literary ghetto, I was already literally looking at the whole world.   <— Baldwin Technically Awesome   At Carleton College—>

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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The Persistence of the Color Line

Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency

By Randall Kennedy

Among the best things about The Persistence of the Color Line is watching Mr. Kennedy hash through the positions about Mr. Obama staked out by black commentators on the left and right, from Stanley Crouch and Cornel West to Juan Williams and Tavis Smiley. He can be pointed. Noting the way Mr. Smiley consistently “voiced skepticism regarding whether blacks should back Obama” . . .

The finest chapter in The Persistence of the Color Line is so resonant, and so personal, it could nearly be the basis for a book of its own. That chapter is titled “Reverend Wright and My Father: Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism.”  Recalling some of the criticisms of America’s past made by Mr. Obama’s former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with feeling about his own father, who put each of his three of his children through Princeton but who “never forgave American society for its racist mistreatment of him and those whom he most loved.”  His father distrusted the police, who had frequently called him “boy,” and rejected patriotism. Mr. Kennedy’s father “relished Muhammad Ali’s quip that the Vietcong had never called him ‘nigger.’ ” The author places his father, and Mr. Wright, in sympathetic historical light.

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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

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


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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

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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 May 2009




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