ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Show the slightest sign of intelligence and youve had it. Especially if youre a Negro.
Pratt and Gurney are pretty bright souls. But every time you see them they are
pulling shit detail while the white cats lie in their bunks enjoying life.
Books by Julius Lester
Tales of Uncle Remus: The Adventures of Brer Rabbit (2006) / Autobiography of God: A Novel (2005) / Let’s Talk About Race (2005)
* * * * *
A Black Vietnam Soldier Speaks
The Letters of David Parks
Introduction by Julius Lester
Intro to an Intro
Below are the wartime thoughts of David Parks, a Black man, who served in Vietnam. They are taken from Young and Black in America published in 1970 by Random House. This book contains essays by among others Malcolm X, Daisy Bates, Richard Wright and Harry Edwards. It is my intention, God willing, to place all these essays on our website. This, of course, will take some time. But, in light of the current military conflict with Iraqi, I thought that the essay by Brother Parks should be presented first. Amin Sharif
* * * * *
The Introduction by Julius Lester to David Parks’ Letters
In every war in which America has engaged, blacks have been willing soldiers. During the Revolutionary War, blacks fought at Bunker Hill, Yorktown, and every other famous battle site. Blacks crossed the Delaware with Washington and when Paul Revere rode through the streets yelling The British are coming! he woke up black Minutemen as well as white.
Blacks fought and died in the War of 1812. They fought with Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans, and Jackson afterwards maintained that the city would have been lost except for black troops. They fought in the Civil War, and after that war there were black cavalry regiments who fought Indians in the West. Black soldiers ran up San Juan Hill ahead of Theodore Roosevelts Rough Riders in the Spanish American War and were highly praised by him afterwards. World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the War in Vietnam all saw the participation in great numbers of black soldiers, who–almost without exception–fought well, fought hard, and fought long.
Yet blacks have always participated in Americas wars with mixed feelings. At home they were discriminated against. To many it seemed contradictory that they should fight and risk their lives to insure the freedom of a country that allowed them no freedom. But they also thought if they proved themselves willing to defend such a country, it would be more difficult to discriminate against blacks. How could America refuse to extend all the rights and privileges of citizenship to a people who fought for the country?
With the war in Vietnam, the thinking of many young black men changed. David Parks was one of them. The son of a distinguished black writer-photographer-composer, Gordon Parks, David grew up differently from most blacks. His father was famous and affluent. David knew no poverty and hardly any discrimination. When he was drafted at the age of twenty-one, he went without the slightest hesitation. He was aware that there were many blacks calling the war in Vietnam a white mans war. He knew that blacks had been shot down in the streets of American cities by policemen and National Guardsmen during the urban rebellions. But went, because he was an American and believed in America.
His two-year tour of duty in Vietnam changed the way David looked at himself and America. On the battlefields of Vietnam, fighting alongside white soldiers, he learned about racism and discrimination. It was everywhere, even in the very fact of the war itself!
David kept a diary of his Army life. When he was discharged from the service in 1967, at the suggestion of his father he used the diary as the basis for a short, intense book. G.I. Diary was published the following year. In the selection reprinted here, David describes the treatment he and other black soldiers suffered at the hands of white soldiers and officers and his reactions to it. It seems ironic that it was while he was fighting for the alleged freedom of the South Vietnamese that he learned just how little freedom he himself had.
* * * * *
Davids Diary Letters
January 31, 1967
The FOs* job is one of the hairiest in a mortar platoon. Hes on more patrols because an FO is required to be with the patrolling squads at all times, and there are only three FOs to cover sixteen squads. The odds are against him. Sgt. Paulson hand-picks men for the job. So far hes fingered only Negroes and Puerto Ricans for this job. I think hes trying to tell us something. I do known he gives me a sour look every times he sees me at the FDC** controls. Every time he comes around I get the feeling that I should have been born white. Its a bitch. If only the Souls*** and Puerto Ricans could tell the world what really happens to them in this mans army. We do receive more than our share of the shit.
*Forward ObserverMany Black Vietnam soldiers said that the term stood for Fucked Over.Amin Sharif
** Fire Direction Control
*** Souls -reference to Soul Brothers!
* * * * *
February 2, 1967
The biggest laugh Ive had lately was when I was on radio watch the other night and Paulson thought hes sneak up on the radio tent and catch me napping. I heard a grunt and thud and looked out to see Paulson spread-eagled on the ground. I knew just what he was up to and burst out laughing. I really cracked up. Paulson was so ticked off all he did was get up and walk away. Paulson really is an ass. Hes always telling me that Negroes are lazy and wont help themselves, etc. I tell him hes full of shit and end up filling sandbags.
Whitey is the same throughout this whole damn organization. Somehow I though it would be different this time. Especially over here, where survival is the thing. But that seems to cut no ice with Mister Pale. All souls in the platoon are beginning to gripe, but not enough as far as Im concerned. Lt. Alden, the platoon leader, usually calls us Negroes you people. Zerman, a Jewish cat from New York is hip to what is happening, but hes got his own problems. Sgt. Golas changes with the weather. Sometimes hes human. At other times he treats Souls like dirt. What the hell. Maybe its the pressure.
Ten more months of this crap. These guys bug me more than Charlie. Im learning one hell of a lesson in here. Whiteys a good teacher.
The handwriting is definitely on the wall. Paulson says Im not figuring the FDC data fast enough. Getting my walking boots ready.
* * * * *
February 9, 1967
Just got kicked out of my beautiful FDC job. The good Sgt. Paulson strikes again. He gave me the news with a smile. I am now Forward Observer Parks, attached to the First Platoon command track. On mission our platoon has to dismount and go after Charlie on foot. And Im carrying that fucking telephone with the antenna, which makes a beautiful target. Its a sergeants job, but Paulsons not going to promote me. The bastard.
* * * * *
May 25, 1967
Rain has brought everything to a standstill, and Bravo is under about ten feet of water. Sometimes I would prefer action to sitting around listening to these officers beat their gums. Its either how many battles theyve won or how many broads theyve laid. At times they act like children the way they demand attention. And youd better jump if you dont want your ass out on the firing line. The only way to keep cool with them is to lie quiet. Show the slightest sign of intelligence and youve had it. Especially if youre a Negro. Pratt and Gurney are pretty bright souls. But every time you see them they are pulling shit detail while the white cats lie in their bunks enjoying life. A couple of white guys got so ashamed that they came to the old man today and complained about Pratt and Gurney getting all the shit. I hope it does some good, but I doubt it.
Sgt. Paulson is detail boss. Capt. Thomas is a good officer and most of the time he treats me OK, probably because I am his RTO ( Radio Telephone Operator). But sometimes he forgets himself. I made the mistake of showing him a clipping Deedee sent about Martin Luther Kings denouncing the war. Who the hell does he think he is? Just because he got a Noble Prize he thinks he can run the fucking world. He went on, ripping King apart. I said I thought King was a man who believed in justice for all people. Then I shut my big mouth. I wasnt in the mood for a night patrol.
* * * * *
Wow! Got a letter from Ken Gillman today. Liz told him Ive been accepted at RIT. Hope its true.
Why doesnt pop write?
For the past ten days we have been operating in the Tan An area, just south of Saigon. We got two kills the other day that will be hard to forget. The choppers spotted them as they were trying to get away and their gunner riddled them. We finished them off with the 50s. It was just bloody raw meat mixed with mud. Not a very pretty picture. Passmores the other RTO, got sick and let go on the old mans boots. He still isnt used to it after six months. I didnt get sick. But I didnt want ant steak dinner after that either.
* * * * *
June 8, 1967
Well its true. Ive been accepted. Got letters from RIT and Pops this afternoon. This should push me up eighty days earlier. Cant wait. Damned tired of living in dirt, taking orders and being called names by my superiors. Paulson insults Negro soldiers just for kicks, Im sure. Pratt hates his guts. I going to mistake that son-of a-bitch for Charlie one of these days, baby, he said, after pulling night patrol for the third straight night.
Ive got 250 missions under my belt and over 25 major operations. Thats good enough for a full tour already. But the scuttlebutt is that were headed for the DMZ. Hope not. Could be true. Weve killed a lot of VC around the Delta region. We have a good fighting record. Some of the villagers have come to think of us as murderers of civilians. Thats one of the main tragedies of the war, so many innocent people getting hurt or killed. Some of the guys have indulged in some raping too. They even brag about it.
Jones a Negro guy who joined us recently, killed a civilian the other day, and in front of his three kids. Wed taken the civilian into custody because he didnt have an identification card.* We put him in a hut together with his wife and kids, while we waited for the local police to come and identify him. The man tried to get out of the hut a couple of times, but each time Jones ordered him back. Jones and I chewed the fat for a while, then I went outside and sat against the wall of the hut for a nap. Suddenly, an M-16 went off, so close I thought Id been hit. I rushed back to see Jones standing over the guy, who was trying to get to his feet. Blood was pumping out of his back like a fountain. Jones stood there sweating and shaking. He said the guy ran for the door and he had to shoot. The kids were crying and holding on to one another, and his wife was kneeling over him, kind of moaning. A medic came and tried to save the guy, but he was gone. I could tell by the way the medic shook his head from side to side. A little later the local police arrived and said that the man was clean–he wasnt a VC. Too bad they didnt arrive a little earlier.
That night the wife complained to the Vietnamese authorities, because the next morning an MP came out to investigate. The CO told Jones not to worry, that he was doing his job.
I still dont know what made that gut try to get out of the hut. The awful thing is that if we had tied him up as we should have he wouldnt have tried to escape, and then he wouldnt have gotten shot. The only reason we didnt tie him up was because his family was there and we thought it would make them feel bad. I cant stop thinking about the kids. Theyll hate us for the rest of their lives. And who can blame them?
* All Vietnamese civilians carry an identification card issued by the Government of the Republic of Vietnam.
* * * * *
July 24, 1967
A strange change has come over the CO. Hes suddenly begun to think of himself as a great killer of men, brags about and laughs about the Charlies hes killed. Ive always respected him more than most of the other officers, and when hes under pressure I try to help him. Sometimes hes buddy-buddy, but other times he treats me like a flunky. A couple of weeks ago we were sitting around in a rice paddy waiting for orders and the old man decided to get in some practice with his .45. He had me sloshing around in the mud setting up C-ration cans as targets for half an hour, like a pin boy. And the other day he dropped his rifle in the muck and asked me to pick it up. I knew he was expecting me to clean it off, but I just handed it to him and walked off. He was really pissed. Passmores his boy for that kind of thing. I think he ended up cleaning the rifle, too. Ive been through too much shit to take any from Thomas at this point.
Just received the operation order for tomorrows mission. It will be a three-day mission, and my twenty-third airmobile lift. The monsoons are still with us. I miss our tracks.
* * * * *
August 1, 1967
On Operation Lansing to clear Highway 4 from the Delta to the capitol.
Charlie woke up at 2 A.M., a couple of mornings ago and we been catching hell ever since. We were to go out on operation against him in a few hours, but he caught us off guard. He throw rocket and mortar fire at us and everything else he had in his arsenal. We scrambled around in the darkness grabbing things we needed to survive and kill with. We finally got onto our tracks and were moving out of base camp when I suddenly realized that this was my last operation. I thought about Harris, Gurney, and all the other short-timers. And I began praying Id make it. I kept praying as we headed for the battle zone where the VC had fired from. And I kept counting the operations and missions I had been on over and over, trying like hell to keep my cool.
We had already called the choppers in when the landing zone unit called saying we were being hit. Thomas gave the word, and we dismounted and moved over to help them. Then bullets started coming from every direction, even from friendly positions. We crawled as we fired, to keep out of the way of our own support. And I was awful thankful for all that crawling they put us through back at Riley. By now the landing zone was in bad trouble and Thomas took us on a short cut through the swamp. Muck was waist deep, but we kept on firing as we went.
Then suddenly I was stuck, sinking in. Each time I tried pulling out I went in deeper. The other guys were leaving me behind, going ahead blasting into the wood line. It was useless for me to yell for help. No one could have heard me in the noise. The VC was still pouring it into us. Suddenly I felt tired, so tired I wasnt scared any more. I suppose I was giving up. Short-time had caught up with me. Then someone came splashing past. It was that bastard Paulson. Now he looked like an angel as he extended his rifle, butt first, and hauled me out of that hole. We both kept of moving forward.
By dawn we had the VC surrounded, but they wouldnt give up. There are over two thousand of them in the area and they fought all day. They tired to break through by pounding Charlie Company that evening. A Med Evac chopper had been shot down in the Charlie Company area and ten guys died trying to secure it. The VC knew that this was the weak spot to try and get through, but artillery wouldnt let them. We listened to the artillery rounds pounding the VC escape route all last night.
Charlie broke through at one point but couldnt escape. Were still on his tail. But he knows this country well, and there are plenty of places for him to hide. Right now things have quieted down. The armys set up showers in a little town nearby and guys have gone, I on radio watch in the track.
* * * * *
September 9, 1967
I take off for home day after tomorrow. Yowie!
Just got back from Bravo. The guys were out on the wood line patrolling, so I didnt see them. Several guys got it while I was on R[est] and R[ecreation]. Dont know exactly who they are. Did see Passmore, who is being transferred to headquarters company. I never like that guy, but when he walked me to the chopper that was taking me out, I couldnt help but feel some kinship with him. Weve been through a lot together. I wished him the best and meant it. He said he hoped hed see me on the other side and didnt mean it. I could do without that anyway.
The chopper ride back to Zulu is probably the last one I take in Nam. Looking down over the rice paddies I knew so well made me wonder if I had a right to be there. When I came into the army I had no questions, but I am leaving with some. Back in basic they told us over and over again that these people needed help, that they were poor and dont know how to solve their own problems, that we promised them our help, and that we couldnt go back on them. Well, there were times when it seemed to me we were doing them more harm than good.
I never felt that I was fighting for any particular cause. I fought to stay alive, and killed to keep from being killed. Now that its all over there is a funny feeling running through my stomach, when I think of what could have happened to me. When youre in the middle of fighting you become strong and do things you didnt think possible. You only think about it afterwards. Its hard for me to believe Im all here and in one piece. Somebody up there is with me after all.
* * * * *
September 13, 1967
Homeward bound. Went across on the thirteenth and going home on the thirteenth. Must be my lucky number. The white guy who sold me my ticket at the airport gave me some really dirty looks. He pitched my ticket at me like I was dirt. There is nothing like the army to make you conscious of such things. The ticket seller reminded me of how some white officers treated me. Well, Im a Negro and Im back home where color makes the difference. I was feeling good on the plane from Namsville. Thought Id left all my problems behind. Hell, the new ones will just have to wait. Im going to enjoy myself for a few days–just knowing Charlie wont be around to wake me up in the morning.
Source: Young and Black in America (Random House, 1970)
Julius Lester, once a forceful advocate of the black militant movement, is the author of Look Out Whitey! Black Power’s Goin’ get Your Mama; To Be A Slave; Revolutionary Notes; Black Folktales; Search for the New Land; The Seventh Son; The Thought and Writings of W.E.B. DuBois; Long Journey Home: Stories from Black History; Two Love Stories; The Knee High Man and Other Tales, and Who I Am.
To Be A Slave (1968) was the 1968 Newberry Medal runner-up. His writings have appeared in The Village Voice, The Guardian, The Movement, Broadsides, Liberator, and Sing Out. In addition, Lester has records for Vanguard Records. His reviews appeared frequently in the pages of the New York Times. His biography, All Is Well, was published in 1970. Strange New Feeling (1982) is a compilation of stories of newly freed slaves.
GI Diary (1982) by David Parks GI Diary follows a black GI’s struggle with American racism, both at home and abroad, during the Vietnam War. David Parks gives the reader a running account of the life in the Vietnam War over a two-year period, portraying the fear and insanity, the insensitivity and brutality.
posted 9 November 2007
* * * * *
#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 Eroticanoir.com 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
* * * * *
By Julius Lester
This powerful and engaging historical novel is told in dialogue and through monologues. It also moves around in time, from the period when the story takes place to “interludes,” in which the various characters look back on these events years later. It begins with a factual eventthe largest slave auction in United States history that took place in 1859 on Pierce Butler’s plantation in Georgia. The book introduces Butler, his abolitionist ex-wife Fanny Kemble, their two daughters, the auctioneer, and a number of slaves sold to pay off Butler’s gambling debts. Emma, a fictional house slave, is the centerpiece of the novel. She cares for the master’s daughters and has been promised that she will never be sold. On the last day of the auction, Butler impulsively sells her to a woman from Kentucky. There she marries, runs away, and eventually gains her freedom in Canada. Lester has done an admirable job of portraying the simmering anger and aching sadness that the slaves must have felt. Each character is well drawn and believable. Both blacks and whites liberally use the word “nigger,” which will be jarring to modern-day students.
The text itself is easy to read and flows nicely. Different typefaces distinguish the characters’ monologues, their dialogues with one another, and their memories. Still, middle school readers may have some difficulty following the plot until they get used to the unusual format. Altogether this novel does a superb job of showing the inhumanity of slavery. It begs to be read aloud, and it could be used in sections to produce some stunning reader’s theatre.School Library Journal
* * * * *
By Wole Soyinka
Aké: The Years of Childhood is a memoir of stunning beauty, humor, and perception
a lyrical account of one boy’s attempt to grasp the often irrational and hypocritical world of adults that equally repels and seduces him. Soyinka elevates brief anecdotes into history lessons, conversations into morality plays, memories into awakenings. Various cultures, religions, and languages mingled freely in the Aké of his youth, fostering endless contradictions and personalized hybrids, particularly when it comes to religion. Christian teachings, the wisdom of the ogboni, or ruling elders, and the power of ancestral spirits
who alternately terrify and inspire him
all carried equal metaphysical weight. Surrounded by such a collage, he notes that “God had a habit of either not answering one’s prayers at all, or answering them in a way that was not straightforward.” In writing from a child’s perspective, Soyinka expresses youthful idealism and unfiltered honesty while escaping the adult snares of cynicism and intolerance. His stinging indictment of colonialism takes on added power owing to the elegance of his attack.
* * * * *
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
* * * * *
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
, 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.”
* * * * *
A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family thats 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 Katrinas inexorable winds is the voice of Wards 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 familys raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brothers blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt. Her fathers hands are like gravel, while her own hand slides through his grip like a wet fish, and a handsome boys 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 isnt usually just metaphor for metaphors sake.
She conveys something fundamental about Eschs 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, whats salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.
* * * * *
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 incarcerationbut her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.Publishers Weekly
* * * * *
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 acceptor at least endurethe 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 books 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 Bodys 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.
* * * * *
From The World and Africa, 1965
* * * * *
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
online through PayPal
* * * * *
Browse all issues
* * * * *
* * * * *
* * * * *
* * * * *
update 30 July 2012