ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



The surface of the book is bright and clear, written as it is in the black idiom, with underpinnings

rich in emotional tones. Sitting Pretty covers one year in the life of the narrator. The book

opens with Sitting Pretty living in the Blue Jay Hotel in Palo Alto



Books by Al Young

Kinds of Blue  /  Drowning in the Sea of Love: Musical Memoirs  /  Coastal Nights and Inland Afternoons  /  Heaven

Mingus/Mingus: Two Memoirs  / Jazz Idiom  / Sitting Pretty  / Who Is Angelina? / Seduction by Light


Snakes / Blues Don’t Change / Geography of the Near Past  / The Song Turning Back Into Itself / Things Ain’t What They Used to Be


The Sound of Dreams Remembered  / Conjugal Visits 


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Al Young is the author of more than 22 books, including Jazz Idiom: Blueprints, Still and Frames (The Jazz Photography of Charles L. Robinson), Something About the Blues: An Unlikely Collection of Poetry, Coastal Nights and Inland Afternoons: Poems 2001-2006, The Sound of Dreams Remembered: Poems 1990-2000, and Heaven: Poems 1957-1990. Widely anthologized and translated, his work has carried him throughout the world (Europe, Asia, the Middle East, the whole of the United States), and earned him praise from Jane Hirshfield, Yusef Komunyakaa, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and the New York Times. A beloved teacher, Young has taught writing, literature and creativity at Stanford, the University of California at Santa Cruz, San José State University, and the University of Michigan. From 2005 through 2008 he served as poet laureate of California. The Sea, The Sky, And You, And I, a poetry & jazz CD came out this year from Bardo Digital.

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Al Young is the award-winning author of several screenplays and more than 15 books of poetry, non-fiction and fiction including the novel and the musical memoirs, Seduction by Light, and Drowning in the Sea of Love. He travels extensively, lecturing and reading from his work, which has been widely translated.

Al Young—born May 31, 1939 at Ocean Springs, Mississippi on the Gulf Coast near Biloxi—grew up in the rural South of villages and small towns, and in urban, industrial Detroit. From 1957-1960 he attended the University of Michigan, where he co-edited Generation, the campus literary magazine. In 1961 he emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area. Settling at first in Berkeley, he held a variety of colorful jobs (folksinger, lab aide, disk jockey, medical photographer, clerk typist, employment counselor) before graduating with honors from U.C. Berkeley with a degree in Spanish. His marriage in 1963 to technical writer and editor Arline Young was blessed with one child: their son Michael, born in 1971. From 1969-1976 he was Edward B. Jones Lecturer in Creative Writing at Stanford near Palo Alto, where he lived and worked for three decades. In the Y2K year 2000 he returned to Berkeley, where he continues to freelance.

Young has taught poetry, fiction writing and American literature at Stanford, U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Santa Cruz, U.C. Davis, Bowling Green State University, Foothill College, the Colorado College, Rice University, the University of Washington, the University of Michigan, the University of Arkansas, San José State University, where he was appointed the 2002 Lurie Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing, and Charles University in the Czech Republic under the auspices of the Prague Summer Programs. In the spring of 2003 he taught poetry at Davidson College (Davidson, NC), where he was McGee Professor in Writing. In the fall of 2003, as the first Coffey Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, he taught a poetry workshop. From 2003-2006 he served on the faculty of Cave Canem’s summer workshop retreats for African American poets. For more information, go to

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Coastal Nights and Inland Afternoons

 Poems 2001-2006: The Poetry of Al Young

By Al Young

Five years of short poetry from California’s Poet Laureate. Al Young’s poetry covers a wide range of subjects from a short euology to Rudolph Diesel (of diesel engine fame) to dawn at the Oakland airport when you’ve missed your plane, from the poor in San Francisco to the military in Washington. We are living in a time when not much poetry is being published. It is good to see that once in a while a publisher will take the risk to put out a book like this. We, and especially our children, need to be reminded that there is more to putting words together than the simple writing projects in school.

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By Al Young

The largess of this book (nearly 300 poems) matches the sensibility of the poetry that is devised with broad brushstrokes and unrestricted affection for the ordinary world. Young ( Seduction by Light ) is interested in everything from Li Po to Nijinsky, from the Rolling Stones to John Coltrane. The geographic reach of the collection stretches from Brooklyn to Paris, Los Angeles, Mississippi, Poland, Stockholm and Detroit. From the beginning, Young’s work was affected by the black experience and the first poems focus on “dilettante” militants, jazz musicians and important distinctions between black and white: “When white people speak of being uptight / theyrestet talking about dissolution & deflection / but when black people say uptight / they mean everything’s all right.”

This poetry is “uptight,” full of play, openness, a certain kind of ease. Young rejects blind anger, which segregates; his instruction to a friend is succinct: “Nor must you let the great haters / of our time / rattle in your heart.” The introduction presents a diverse list of poets who have influenced Young, including Mayakovsky, Lorca and LeRoi Jones. There is also some of the dreamy parody of Frank O’Hara at work here.—Publishers Weekly

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Mingus/Mingus: Two Memoirs

By Al Young and Janet Coleman

A double-barreled memoir from two writers who were befriended by Charles Mingus during the late 1950s. Both Coleman and Young revered the composer, who (in Coleman’s words) “viewed music as an elixir, an antidote to the poison, [and] a religious calling.” But they’re not too reverent to overlook Mingus’s eccentricities, which included hitting the streets of New York with a bow, a quiver, and a suitcase full of extra arrows. This is a funny, touching, and instructive book.— Review

Freelance writer Coleman and prolific author Young (Sitting Pretty , etc.), both devotees of Charles Mingus (1922-1979), here present an unconventional, nonchronological, anecdotal, impressionistic account of the personality and contributions of the great jazz bassist and composer. They met him in 1960 when they were students at the University of Michigan, and for the next 20 years, until Mingus died in Mexico, their lives and his were inextricably joined. Captivated by the violent musician–“the Marlon Brando and the Laurence Olivier of Jazz”–whose over-indulgence and self-destruction were balanced by a gentle generosity, Coleman and Young reveal a vibrant, wonderfully complex man who expanded traditional jazz forms, encouraged improvisation, established the first jazz musicians’ cooperative and was an impassioned, outspoken foe of racism.—Publishers Weekly

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Sitting Pretty

By Al Young

As Sit tells it, his life in and around San Francisco is based on a simple philosophy: “Play all the possibilities and stagger your bets.” Al Young deserves high marks for his novel that makes one think twice about success and failure in life.—Paul Obluda, The San Francisco Examiner Sitting Prettyis long-time poet and novelist Al Young’s novel from the mid-70s that has been reissued in 1986.

Spoken, for it seems more grounded in the oral than the written tradition, by Sidney J. Prettymon, a. k. a. Sitting Pretty, this novel set in the San Francisco Bay Area is rich in local color, authentic, and thoroughly enjoyable.

The surface of the book is bright and clear, written as it is in the black idiom, with underpinnings rich in emotional tones. Sitting Pretty covers one year in the life of the narrator. The book opens with Sitting Pretty living in the Blue Jay Hotel in Palo Alto, a place that caters to those down on their luck, such as Miz Duchess, a tough but lovable Cherokee woman who dines on Alpo; Willie G., who goes from working in the junk yard to fashionable security guard at a modem art museum back to the junk yard; Broadway, a flashy young man who ends up busted for cocaine; and the silent and intuitive Professor.

The exploits of these secondary characters pate, however, in comparison to those of the narrator, who fights the battle of the bottle, not always winning, but always fighting with humor; who goes to jail for unpaid parking tickets and gets bailed out by his lawyer son; who establishes contact with his wife after years of neglect only to discover that she has developed cancer; who is offered a job pitching T.V. and radio shows and becomes famous in the process; who has a tryst with the enigmatic Marguerite of exclusive Atherton, a black woman who passes for white; and who ends up hanging out at Jo Jo’s Let’s Get It On Club where he begins to cultivate an interest in JoJo, the proprietor as well as expose himself to some young, hip, radical black poetry.

The action keeps the book going along at a fast clip, but the value of Sitting Pretty is in the narrator’s “philosophizin.” His insights are grounded in the experience of black America, yet they are universal enough to make this a novel of wide appeal.—Independent Publisher

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Jazz Idiom: Blueprints, Stills, and Frames

The Jazz Photography of Charles L. Robinson

By Charles L. Robinson and Al Young and Charles Robinson

The jazz greats, as photographed on stage and behind the scenes Thirty-nine jazz luminaries are captured in this book, including Julian Cannonball Adderley, Louis Bellson, Ray Brown, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Johnny Hodges, Carmen McRae, Thelonious Monk, Nina Simone, and Anita O Day.

Poet Laureate of California Al Young riffs, scats, and bebops his way across the page, providing poetry, anecdotes, and insight into the players and the moments in question. Photographer Charles L. Robinson was a friend to many of the musicians photographed and, as a result, often caught them in moments of candor and intimacy. For a time, he was the official staff photographer of the Monterey Jazz Festival, and while the majority of the shots in this book are from the festival, a number of them are from Bay Area jazz venues. In Robinson s photographs, we see artists rehearsing before a set: Charlie Mingus, goateed and pensive, hunched over a Steinway, phrases dancing in his head. Or the legendary Earl Fatha Hines at the Monterey Jazz Festival, in the groove, the original cool cat in sunglasses (back before Ray Charles was even born) and famous for breaking the bass strings of a piano. We see Muddy Waters and Jimmy Rushing backstage, talking about some time back in the day. We see Milt Jackson and Dizzy Gillespie sharing a joke. When the last blue note of a performance is but a memory, and the smoke cascades up to the beams of a club at two in the morning, Robinson is there.—Publisher, Heyday Books

Charles L. Robinson, born in 1934 and raised in Baltimore, earned a B.A. in biological science as well an M.S. in vocational rehabilitation counseling from California State University, San Francisco. At the invitation of Ralph J. Gleason, Robinson became the staff photographer of the Monterey Jazz Festival for several years. He currently contributes his time to community work in the San Francisco Bay Area and lives in Berkeley with his wife, Sarah. Al Young is the author of more than twenty books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction and has taught writing and literature at Stanford University, UC Santa Cruz, and the University of Michigan. The recipient of Guggenheim, NEA, and Fulbright fellowships, he lives in Berkeley and is presently the Poet Laureate of California

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Who Is Angelina?

By Al Young

“Through Angelina, Young looks at a variety of problems facing young Black women today. . . . I don’t always agree with Young’s conclusions, but they are honest and they work.”—Janice C. Simpson, Essence “Urban blues, race, the need for roots and love these are commonplaces that Mr. Young renovates with a fresh aspect. His characters are invested with a pithy eloquence that makes the clashing of ideas a pure delight.”—Martin Levin, New York Times Book Review

Young, Black, University of California educated, and dangerously back in love, Angelina Green is forced to make choicesintimate, political, and spiritualas she struggles to bring coherence and direction to her zigzag, roller-coaster Berkeley life.—University of California Press

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Seduction by Light

By Al Young

Poet and jazz critic Young’s fifth novel resembles a Victorian picaresque in its loquaciousness and sense of adventure. Mamie Franklin, once a singer and actress, and now a domestic for a Beverly Hills family, describes, in her own humble and honest voice, the troubles that beset her around the time of the death of her lover Burley Cole. Burglars break into her house, Burley visits her as a ghost and she faints during a major earthquake. But with resilience and faith she survives. A bit of a mystic and philosopher, Mamie keeps her sometimes insightful and always endearing views of America, Hollywood, success and failure and a lot more flowing steadily. While not all the personalities here are as remarkable as Mamie, the novel succeeds on the strength of her wit and humor alone. Young does not flinch from taking her outrageous tale further into the world of the supernatural; however, the fictional Mamie’s connections to our real world are so tenacious, and Young so knowledgeable, that his book becomes a compendium of black-American culture as well.—Publishers Weekly In language as fresh, sassy, and homespun as Huckleberry Finn’s, former singer/actress Mamie Franklin recounts her last months’ adventures as part-time maid and full-time psychic in Santa Monica, California. With the guidance of Ben Franklin, the 18th-century wizard whose spirit first appeared to her as a child in Mississippi, Mamie tries to cope with the death of her companion, Burley Coles, and to reconcile her son Benjie with his fatherall the while falling in love with the gifted young Theo. Slipping easily between this and the nether worlds, the wise and witty Mamie radiates a rare, irreverent joy. A fifth novel for Young, also a poet and blues musician.—Charles C. Nash, Library Journal

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Here I thought I’d discovered an unknown writer—Ha! Turns out that Al Young is a poet, a novelist, a creative writing teacher, and a genuine intellectual (check out his website, which is easy to find). Snakes is Al Young’s first novel, featuring African Americans in Sixties Detroit who speak a colorful version of English and don’t have too much hope for the future. Drugs, music, and even a little bit of sex are included, as this is the story of a poor but honest lad who becomes a pretty good guitar player. Definitely a readable book, but it won’t change your life. It’s worth it, though, to learn about a man called Al Young.—James A. Shea

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Al Young: Lunch Poems

California Poet Laureate Al Young has created a profound and enduring body of work that represents our time. Young’s numerous publications in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and for the stage and screen explore the American, human condition through the lens of the individual voice. Tune in as he reads a selection of his poems before a live audience at UC Berkeley. (#11155)

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#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 – Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 – Don’t Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

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

#15 – Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

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

#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber

#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

#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

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

#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#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

#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

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

#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#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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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.”

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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

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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 /

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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posted 9 May 2010




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