ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
jullianne malveaux. our sister was smoking as only an intelligent sister can–
she was working the hand, pointing out what’s stupid and what’s hip
Books by Gwendolyn Brooks
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chicago report on
gwendolyn brooks writers conference
wednesday, 23 october to saturday, 26 october, 2002
By Kalamu ya Salaam
Part 2 of 2
the next day, someone asked my wife, nia, whether the miles davis piece was autobiographical because it was written in the first person. she said she didn’t know. i just smiled when nia told me about the question. it’s not. i use the first person a lot, even with female-voiced pieces, because american audiences are attuned to believe that there is something authentic about first person, more authentic than third person. even though there is a strain of sentimentality that favors dramas over documentaries in the movies, when it comes to what we believe to be real, many of us would swallow a slick piece presented in the first person to a raw third person piece, sort of like audiences are addicted to “reality” television shows, contrived shows which are actually designed and packaged to “appear” to be really happening.
afterwards there was an open mic competition. i passed on the offer to be one of the judges, i had been pushing hard for the last three or four days and i needed some rest. on the next day in the hallways someone told me that they thought the judges were biased and that the competition should have been judged by peers. in this person’s opinion, the two best poets didn’t place in the top three. this is not surprising. at a conference with a surfeit of english and literature ph.d’s and mfa’s, i would expect that the informal, slam-oriented open mic performances would be like asking boxing referees to judge a wrestling match. both events are one-on-one hand fighting, but there are significant differences.
on friday morning after the opening welcome, entrance of the elders and libation ceremony, the first panel was a fiction panel featuring tina mcelroy ansa, sandra jackson-opoku and michael simanga. i missed that one as i was in the lounge sharing videos and talking to a half full of writers, including nalo hopkinson, whom i had not seen since we appeared on a panel together at a science fiction
the first keynote address of the day was delivered by julianne malveaux. our sister was smoking as only an intelligent sister can–she was working the hand, pointing out what’s stupid and what’s hip, holding a palm out to some of the more egregious political travesties, raising her fist in defiance on key issues, but also waving at wonderfully funny moments–a career as a standup comedian awaits ms. malveaux–and every now and then giving an ironic flip of the wrist as she shares an inside joke or caustically cutting comment about some fool one step below contempt. i wonder is she is a distant cousin of dick gregory. for sure, she is dangerous. her address was easily a conference highlight.
a fiction workshop featuring sandra jackson-opoku and sam greenlee followed; for me it was back to the lounge. i wanted to get as much feedback as i could on the video work we have been doing. i did catch most of tina mcelroy ansa’s keynote address.
i like sister ansa. she is personable and warm, a great conversationalist who listens as well as she speaks, and someone totally dedicated to black culture. her address was both insightful and welcoming, she made you feel that.
the highlight of the day was the early evening fifth annual induction for the international literary hall of fame for writers of african descent. the 2002 inductees were: calvin hernton, june jordan, raymond r. patterson, melvin b. tolson, tina mcelroy ansa, dr. bertice berry, oscar brown, jr., dr. margaret t. g. burroughs, kassahun checole, ausbra ford, keith gilyard, ron milner, time reid, max rodriguez and john white.
gwendolyn brooks’ daughter, nora brooks blakely and her chocolate chip theatre company rendered dramatic introductions for each of the inductees.
the keynote for the induction ceremony was delivered by dr. bertice berry in a stirring oration that would have made any full gospel baptist bishop proud. sister dr. berry can sang, plus she is clear about where her heart is housed, and it’s not with people who wanted her to straightened her hair if she wanted to remain on following the ceremony there was a reception just outside the gwen brooks center’s offices on the second floor of the library. they spread out a buffet that was a cross between down home (they had some killing sweet potato pie) and hoity-toity (some items whose names i couldn’t pronounce even though they were clearly printed on name cards). but as good as the food was, the music was better. the chicago state jazz band was smoking hotter than grandma’s kitchen on thanksgiving morning.
i thought the brass were much stronger than the reeds and that the featured drummer’s time-keeping was a little suspect even though his soloing was superb, nonetheless, overall their enthusiasm and musical swagger made up for any minor technical deficiencies. they received a standing ovation–which was not easy in a context where food and libations, good conversation and noted personalities were.
saturday, the wrap-up day of the conference, started off with a poetry panel featuring keith gilyard, sterling plumpp and kevin young. i really dug this panel even though it was not actually about poetry. each poet more-or-less summed up their life as a poet, how they got interested, what their childhood was like, etc. and again, keith gilyard was the one who grabbed my collar and in a quiet, matter-of-fact way described how poetry saved his life. (right) Oscar Brown, Jr.
i won’t even attempt to summarize, suffice it to say this quiet and profound brother could easy have been dead, or incarcerated, or worse yet, a rank hustler and pimp of black culture, but instead he forged his life into a passionate commitment to beauty and the betterment of his people. plumpp’s triangular tale (mississippi/chicago/south africa) is also arresting, and kevin young’s midwest background offered another node of black cultural diversity. i liked everyone, but, and i don’t mind showing my biases, i still dug keith to the utmost.
the publishing panel was second, featuring: william e. cox of black issues book review and the chronicle of blacks in higher education; bakari kitwana who has served as the editor of the source magazine; max rodriguez of qbr-black books review and the harlem book festival; and novelist/entrepreneur omar tyree. with the exception of tyree’s revelation that he is doing some underground publishing, this was a panel that covered ground that has been covered time and time again. on the other hand, i’m sure for some of the folk, some of the background on black publishing woes, potentials and struggles was informative news.
the keynote speaker was speculative fiction writer and editor nalo hopkinson. nalo provided a priceless special moment during her presentation when she pulled down the top corner of her sweater to reveal an adinkra symbol tattooed on her left shoulder, the same symbol enlayed on the floor of the student center rotunda. her address was a combination of memoir and manifesto–she called out for a circling of the cognosti as she waved the banner of freakdom high, and yours truly was grinning and applauding our canadian-based, caribbean sister as the circle of black diversity was broadened to include a wider net of writing genres and personal lifestyles. plus, dig, nalo is a beautiful spirit, inquisitive as a precocious child and as serious as a visionary shaman. much respect, much respect.
the film panel with yvonne welbon , and tim reid and daphne maxwell reid, was the last panel of the day. held in the auditorium of the library, the program featured video excerpts from various projects that the reids are doing out of their film studio. daphne reid emphasized the business aspects and offered insight into the joys and pains of self-determination within the sphere of cinematic production. tim reid offered insights and guidelines for independent production within the general commercial film industry.
yvonne welbon, who is a professor and filmmaker, offered cogent nuggets often as brief addendums to the reids. i have had a chance to hear tim reid’s presentations about three or four times, and he is always insightful and to the point. reid speaks specifically to those who are interested in working as an independent on the periphery of the mainstream film industry. following the reids there was a reception in the rotunda that included a wonderful jazz ensemble led by composer/flutist nicole mitchell with her black earth ensemble. chicago is teeming with wonderful musicians, and is especially strong on blues and modern jazz. ms. mitchell’s music was nothing short of enchanting–she even had a female dancer featured on some numbers. nicole mitchell’s writing is in the charles mingus mode, and that in and of itself is an accomplishment. the accompanying musicians were excellent. a rhythm section of trap drums, acoustic bass and keyboards with a flute, saxophone (doubling on clarinet) and trombone front line produced a well received and varied set of inventive improvisations. although, the program proceeded without a break when the band concluded, i just had to cop a copy of their cd, so only caught part of haki’s introduction of lerone bennett, jr., who was the concluding keynote speaker.
lerone was lerone, which is to say witty and wise in the ways of both baptist oratory and historical research. he was also dapper and, despite his elderhood, sprightly in his presentation. and, of course, he was given an ovation from the appreciative.
and that concluded another year of the gwen brooks writers conference, a conference which i enjoy to the utmost and which i recommend everybody even faintly interested in black literature ought to attend at least once in the next two or three years. although i am sure the conference organizers would like to see larger audiences, nevertheless one of the major pluses of the gwen brooks conference is that it is small enough that everybody gets a chance to speak with each author. i know that i really enjoy the chance to kick back and swap tales, lies, insights and opinions with old comrades from back in the day, and get to know younger writers. this year i was particularly happy about the time i spent in the presence of sterling plumpp who is an absolute treasure. also had good talks with julianne malveaux, nalo hopkinson, kevin young, max rodriguez, sam greenlee and keith gilyard.
i urge folk to plan now to attend next year’s event–generally held the third or fourth week of october.
a luta continua,
End of part: See Chicago Report 1
A Street in Bronzeville (1945) Annie Allen (1949) Bronzeville Boys and Girls (1956) The Bean Eaters (1960) Selected Poems (1963) We Real Cool (1966) The Wall (1967) In the Mecca (1968) Family Pictures (1970) Riot (1970) Black Steel: Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali (1971) The World of Gwendolyn Brooks (1971) Aloneness (1971) Aurora (1972) Beckonings (1975) Black Love (1981) To Disembark (1981) The Near-Johannesburg Boy and Other Poems (1986) Blacks (1987) Winnie (1988)
Children Coming Home (1991)
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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 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
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By Natasha Trethewey
Beyond Katrina is poet Natasha Tretheweys very personal profile of the Mississippi Gulf Coast and of the people there whose lives were forever changed by hurricane Katrina. Trethewey spent her childhood in Gulfport, where much of her mothers extended family, including her younger brother, still lives. As she worked to understand the devastation that followed the hurricane, Trethewey found inspiration in Robert Penn Warrens book Segregation: The Inner Conflict in the South, in which he spoke with southerners about race in the wake of the Brown decision, capturing an event of wide impact from multiple points of view. Weaving her own memories with the experiences of family, friends, and neighbors, Trethewey traces the erosion of local culture and the rising economic dependence on tourism and casinos.
She chronicles decades of wetland development that exacerbated the destruction and portrays a Gulf Coast whose citizensparticularly African Americanswere on the margins of American life well before the storm hit. Most poignantly, Trethewey illustrates the destruction of the hurricane through the story of her brothers efforts to recover what he lost and his subsequent incarceration.
Renowned for writing about the idea of home, Tretheweys attempt to understand and document the damage to Gulfport started as a series of lectures at the University of Virginia that were subsequently published as essays in the Virginia Quarterly Review. For Beyond Katrina, Trethewey has expanded this work into a narrative that incorporates personal letters, poems, and photographs, offering a moving meditation on the love she holds for her childhood home.
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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 Robert Hass
The Apple Trees at Olema includes work from Robert Hass’s first five booksField Guide, Praise, Human Wishes, Sun Under Wood, and Time and Materialsas well as a substantial gathering of new poems, including a suite of elegies, a series of poems in the form of notebook musings on the nature of storytelling, a suite of summer lyrics, and two experiments in pure narrative that meditate on personal relations in a violent world and read like small, luminous novellas. From the beginning, his poems have seemed entirely his own: a complex hybrid of the lyric line, with an unwavering fidelity to human and nonhuman nature, and formal variety and surprise, and a syntax capable of thinking through difficult things in ways that are both perfectly ordinary and really unusual. Over the years, he has added to these qualities a range and a formal restlessness that seem to come from a skeptical turn of mind, an acute sense of the artifice of the poem and of the complexity of the world of lived experience that a poem tries to apprehend.
Hass’s work is grounded in the beauty of the physical world. His familiar landscapesSan Francisco, the northern California coast, the Sierra high countryare vividly alive in his work. His themes include art, the natural world, desire, family life, the life between lovers, the violence of history, and the power and inherent limitations of language. He is a poet who is trying to say, as fully as he can, what it is like to be alive in his place and time.
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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
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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.
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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.
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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.”
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 14 December 2011