ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Major’s voice ‘tags’ the changes that have taken place in
the African American community over the last several years.
In this book a young artist must learn to sketch
life if he is to understand how to live.
Books by Devorah Major
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a novel by devorah major
Brown Glass Windows is the story of the Evermans, an African-American family in the Filmore District of San Francisco and the tragic history of their son, Ranger, who returns scarred from his experiences in Vietnam and struggles with drug addiction. Ironically, when he finally conquers his drug habit, he is killed meaninglessly in a drive-by shooting. Rangers death causes the family, with its suppressed recriminations and accumulated resentments, to pass through the crisis and come out on the other side of grief stronger and more united.
Brown Glass Windows is a beautifully structured book employing techniques of magical realisma grittily realistic narrative framed by the spirit world. The novel is narrated by a spirit of a woman 200 years old, who watches over her elderly Black friend, Victoria. Victoria, a wonderfully eccentric character who paints herself white, striving to be invisible, plays an important role in the healing of the Everman family.
The novel is also a kind of elegy to the old Filmore District. As Ranger says, theyve redeveloped the neighborhood into a little doorway to hell, a comment that will resonate deeply with readers not only in San Francisco, but in Hartford, L.A. and other urban centers throughout the country, where people have lost their once closely-knit neighborhoods either through urban decay or gentrification, or both.Publisher (Curbstone Press)
Here is a novel for people who continue to walk in the light. Major’s voice ‘tags’ the changes that have taken place in the African American community over the last several years. In this book a young artist must learn to sketch life if he is to understand how to live. Brown Glass Windows is a book filled with many colors. The shadows of war and inner-city violence brings its own hue. devorah major writes the way Billie Holiday sings. There are blues behind those brown glass windows. Just ask the spirits that keep reminding us to listen.E. Ethelbert Miller, Director of the African American Resource Center, Howard University
Major has crafted a fine story that illuminates the hard jagged-edged hostility, sticky sweet love and powerful weightlessness of the dreams, wishes and regrets of family… I couldnt help but be moved. Brown Glass Windows is a damn good novel.Thumper, African American Literary Book Club
Not since Maya Angelous I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings or April Sinclairs Coffee Will Make You Black have I read such a fluid, relaxed interpretation of African-American community. Major has painted an exquisit picture of the truths weve all known, without intentionally exploiting the ugliness of their realities.San Francisco Weekly
This unusual urban tale from poet, essayist and novelist Major (An Open Weave) centers on an African-American family in San Francisco’s rapidly changing Fillmore District. Administering a heavy dose of magical realism, the narration alternates between the voice of a 300-year-old ghost of an African slave and a more traditional third-person viewpoint (although the two often seem to merge).
The extended Everman family includes Ranger, a Vietnam vet haunted by incidents during the war and plagued by drug addiction; his son, Jamal, known familiarly as Sketch for his artistic talents, which run deeper than the graffiti he tags on the streets; and Ranger’s pregnant sister, Dawa, who recalls the ever-shifting history of their neighborhood. When a random act of violence strikes, their fractured past must be addressed head-on. Young Jamal, in particular, finds a way to better understand his father’s place in the world, and thus gains a better sense of himself. Serving as a help line is eccentric neighbor Victoria, an old woman who paints herself white and communes with the spirit-narrator.
Some readers will resist the otherworldly narration and symbolism, which can feel disjointed and heavy-handed; others will be intrigued by the depth and history it lends to modern-day San Francisco, the realities of racial prejudice and, above all, the many-layered truths of families.Publishers Weekly
This is Major’s second novel after An Open Weave, which was awarded the Black Caucus of the American Library Association First Novelist Award. Major has also published two books of poetry and has just been named San Francisco’s poet laureate. Highly recommended for all libraries.Mary Margaret Benson, Library Journal
The walking wounded are at the heart of devorah major’s second novel. Although the story encompasses a large and colorful African American family, the focus is on Sketch, a young graffiti artist, and his Vietnam vet father, Ranger, one of “those who were killed in battle but did not die until years later.” The Everman family struggles to cope with Ranger’s drug problem and Sketch’s frustrated acting out.
Setting her tale in San Francisco’s Fillmore district, major employs conventional narrative, poetry, and magical realism–some scenes are narrated by a 300-year-old spirit–to touch on themes of war and violence, racism, and gentrification. Her prose is lyrical and vivid, her point-of-view sometimes flitting from character to character like the camera does in an Altman film.
If some dialogue is too expository, it’s a minor matter, as the author creates characters we understand and care about. As Sketch struggles toward manhood and reconciliation with his father, major builds the youth’s graffiti paintings into a powerful symbol of strength, remembrance, and healing.Keir Graff, BookList
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thoughts on freedom
By devorah major
to not want some say that is where freedom lies to be always in the moment some say that is where freedom lies there is no freedom some say some say our world is defined by one creator who has determined the rules and regulations that confine our fate and only inside those boundaries and under those laws can the skeleton of freedom be found some say freedom has no borders some say freedom has no form to be fully alive is freedom some say only in death lies freedom some say death is an eternal reward or punishment there is no freedom some say only a choice of good or evil freedom some say is the wind some say freedom is a dream only those who have never known freedom doubt its existence all others keep trying to know it again and again to not want some say that is where freedom lies to be always in the moment some say that is where freedom lies there is no freedom some say some say our world is defined by one creator who has determined the rules and regulations that confine our fate and only inside those boundaries and under those laws can the skeleton of freedom be found some say freedom has no borders some say freedom has no form to be fully alive is freedom some say only in death lies freedom some say death is an eternal reward or punishment there is no freedom some say only a choice of good or evil freedom some say is the wind some say freedom is a dream only those who have never known freedom doubt its existence all others keep trying to know it again and again
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For Mohammed Bouaz, the vegetable seller who set himself on fire
December 17, 2010 in the Tunisian city of SidiBouZid.
By devorah major
he wanted to sell his just harvested greens to earn money buy bread eat live and love with a humble but not humbled dignity because he could not find another way he made of himself a blazing fire the scent of his burning flesh braids through the winds of our days as more and more people gather on blocks and squares in cities across nations seas and continents women, no less than men join with children and elders veiled stand with loose haired schooled with peasant strident with quiet togetherface armored sentries horses and tanks guns and muzzles gassesand whips some are wounded others are killed but most stand climb and reach push forward Mohammeds flames reach beyond his cooled ashes each time the people continue to gather and raise our voices riskour lives to rage to rise together to have bread, freedom dignitySource: Pambazuka
devorah major is a poet, novelist, and essayist from San Francisco, where she works as an editor and arts administrator. Her first poetry publication, traveling women, a two-poet anthology with Opal Palmer Adisa, was published by Juke Box Press in 1989. Her work has been published in several anthologies and magazines, including The Single Mothers Companion, Practicing Angels, River Styx, Calalloo and Zyzzyva. Her book of poetry, street smarts, was published by Curbstone Press in 1996 and received a PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award. Her first novel, An Open Weave, was published by Seal Press and was awarded the First Novelist Award from the American Library Associations Black Caucus. Her novel An Open Weave (Seal Press, 1995) sold out (4000 copies). Brown Glass Windows is her second novel.The Bay Guardian called her fierce/love audio cassette (with Opal Palmer Adisa) “both passionate and powerful.”
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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
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#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
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Painter draws on early stories and official histories, biographical accounts and legends, well-known events and little known incidents. One person highlighted is Olaudah Equiano, one of the earliest of the African slaves to write his account. As one might expect, Painter’s pieces on Sojourner Truth and others of her generation are particularly good. Painter also draws on the official history of the quest for civil rights. She looks at famous court cases, like the Dred Scott decision, Plessy v. Ferguson (which made ‘separate but equal’ a legal standard), Brown v. Board of Education (which knocked down the same ‘separate but equal’ as being unworkable), and other political and legal events in the quest for civil rights, even those sometimes viewed as separate from the Civil Rights Movement proper, which is also highlighted in good detail.
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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 Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys 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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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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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
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By Cleveland Sellers with Robert Terrell
Among histories of the civil rights movement of the 1960s there are few personal narratives better than this one. Besides being an insider’s account of the rise and fall of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, it is an eyewitness report of the strategies and the conflicts in the crucial battle zones as the fight for racial justice raged across the South. This memoir by Cleveland Sellers, a SNCC volunteer, traces his zealous commitment to activism from the time of the sit-ins, demonstrations, and freedom rides in the early ’60s. In a narrative encompassing the Mississippi Freedom Summer (1964), the historic march in Selma, the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, and the murders of civil rights activists in Mississippi, he recounts the turbulent history of SNCC and tells the powerful story of his own no-return dedication to the cause of civil rights and social change.
The River of No Return is acclaimed as a book that is destined to become a standard text for those wishing to perceive the civil rights struggle from within the ranks of one of its key organizations and to note the divisive history of the movement as groups striving for common goals were embroiled in conflict and controversy.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 21 July 2012