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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three. I choose to be a writer     

At Carleton College             

Well, I tell you for myself, I make a conscious attempt, I think I can truthfully say that in music I make or I have tried to make a conscious attempt to change what I’ve found, in music. In other words, I’ve tried to say, ‘Well, this I feel, could be better, in my opinion, so I will try to do this to make it better.’ This is what I feel that we feel in any situation that we find in our lives, when there’s something we think could be better, we must make an effort to try and make it better. So it’s the same socially, musically, politically, and in any department of our lives. –John William Coltrane                                                            

            I was slow to commit to writing. When I graduated from high school in 1964, photography was my first love and music my deepest passion.

            After graduation I went on an eleven year odyssey in and out of higher education which culminated in a business administration Associate Arts degree from Delgado Junior college in 1975.

            I have never liked college. I perceived college as an extension of high school from the pedagogical standpoint. Nevertheless, there is no denying the importance of many of the experiences I had in colleges.

            First, I was one of eleven “American Negroes” (eight of whom were first year students and two of whom were sophomores) at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota — the mythic site of one of Jesse James’ last and most disastrous attempt at bank robbery. Carleton was a great and expensive learning experience that I quickly rejected.

            Even though I left at the end of the second trimester, while there I had written a lot of poetry and a second novel which revolved around the experiences of a desperate group of young Blacks at a predominately White college.

            During this period I also developed a relationship with Esim Bozoklar, a young student from Turkey. She inspired me to write a series of numbered poems called, as best I can recall, “mavi gok” which was Turkish for “blue sky”.

            Overall, at that time, my poetic influences were: Hughes for content and e.e.cummings in visual presentation (the breaking of works into letters and the explosion of one word erupting from another word or interrupting the word flow). Although I’ve lost most of my work from this era, here are two poems which exemplify both my state of mind and some of the cummings influence.

no entrance

the vo

ice might

y voice

of Go

d visit

ed me la

st ni

te it sa

id “fuc

k you” &

so I tu

rned ov

er on m

y stomac

h that i

t might be


that He ne

eded it –

He was real

ly doing su

ch a go

od job al


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those good things there be that are

are more surely killers more deadly lethal

than any evil be

for sometimes even dreams become

poisonous & aspirations abortions of life

sometimes the very hope amputates

sometimes the better worsens

it is not the envisioning of dreams nor

the rise toward aspirations

only the survival midst this all

that can keep us

it sometimes matters not that you fail only

that you’ve survived it

somehow is the resurrection more cherished than the climb

to be the phoenix more surely is harder than ever the god to be

more straight more true

than any glory ever

              In addition to musicians such as drummer Art Blakey and Ravi Shankar, at Carleton I was able to see and meet a variety of influential people such as socialist Norman Thomas and members of the budding White left organization SDS. Also important for me was the opportunity to meet and talk with students from Africa and other foreign places. I became a radio programmer with my own jazz show on the college station. Carleton also exposed me to an enormous amount of foreign cinema. Although I never had any major desire to work in film, since Carleton I have been an avid cinema buff.             <—Baraka Innovative Stylings   Killens, Fort Bliss, & Korea—>

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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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