ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
The project ended suddenly, but not before it and others like it had made publishing
history with the excellent series of state guides and other books and pamphlets
of regional or local interest, often of substantial value to later researchers.
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By Jack Conroy and Arna Bontemps
When Jack Conroy and I first began to compare notes on Negro Migrations within the United States, our desks were about twenty feet apart. We were both employed as editorial supervisors on the Illinois Writers Project of the WPA. Not far away, at a similar desk, was a serious young supervisor who never wasted much time but whom I thought I saw making eyes at a slender young typist in the secretarial pool. He was Nelson Algren. Across the big room, in an area assigned to the radio unit, one occasionally saw the energetic and personable young figures of Studs Terkel and Lou Gilbert, both clearly marked for bigger future roles in television and movies, respectively.
Katherine Dunham, Richard Wright, Frank Yerby, Stuart Engstrand, and George V. Martin had worked at these same desks just weeks or months earlier, and some of them returned occasionally to see how things were going. Meanwhile, their successors continued to fill the files with gleanings from old Illinois newspapers and other library sources. After Conroy and I got steamed up about Negro migrations, we began to pay even closer attention. We discovered, for example, that Katherine Dunham, who had been working for a doctoral degree in anthropology at the University of Chicago, had directed her writers to collect information about the groups that later became widely known as Black Muslims. We came across an inspired days work by a writer who had done nothing but list the names of storefront churches on one street in the southside ghetto. And what names they were!
The project ended suddenly, but not before it and others like it had made publishing history with the excellent series of state guides and other books and pamphlets of regional or local interest, often of substantial value to later researchers. Peripheral benefits, sometimes too intangible to be measured by linage or pagination, were often noted, and the opportunity for development afforded the likes of Wright and Yerby and Algren was matched by the rivitalization of old timers like the poet Fenton Johnson who had been hit even harder by the depression. While Johnson’s WPA Poems did not get published as a collection, they obviously did him a lot of good.
When the Project came to an end, a publisher who had heard about our interest in the migration story encouraged us to develop it. We went to work, and They Seek a City was published in 1945. One thing about the impulse we had tried to trace was apparent at first. Another became apparent later. We soon realized that we were dealing with currents that were still running vigorously and that we could not tell when or where they would crest. To that extent our book was premature. But the disasters ahead in Watts and Chicago and Harlem which were later to focus intense light on this fantastic population shift, with all its dislocations, could not have been foreseen. Nor could they have been understood prior to the events of the fifties and sixties, disclosing the depth and intensity of the Negro American’s drive toward freedom. Needless to say, twenty years of change and unforeseen developments have made it necessary to recast most of the original chapters of the book and to add a number of new ones.
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Robert E Fleming. James Weldon Johnson and Arna Wendell Bontemps: A reference guide. G. K. Hall, 1978
Kirkland C. Jones. Man from Louisiana; A Biography of Arna Wendell Bontemps.. Greenwood Press, 1992.
Sterling Brown “Arna Bontemps: Co-worker, Comrade.” Black World 22:11 (September 1973): 92-98.
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Jack Conroy (1899-1990) wrote the influential novel, The Disinherited, which sold only 2,700 copies at the time of publication. Yet Conroy was regarded as one of the great proletarian writers of the 1930s, and is still remembered as such because his radical politics never softened with time. He authored or contributed to numerous books, including fiction, children’s fiction, poetry, essay, and sociology. He edited several publications including Rebel Port, 1931-1932, Anvil, 1933-1937 and New Anvil 1939-41.
He was an associate editor of Nelson’s Encyclopedia and Universal World Encyclopedia from 1943-1947. In 1935 he received the Guggenheim fellowship for creative writing. Conroy also reviewed for several major newspapers and taught creative writing at a few colleges.
Other Books by Jack Conroy
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Arna Wendell Bontemps (1902-1973) — born in Alexandria, Louisiana, the son of Creole parents — was one of the more prolific writers of the Harlem Renaissance. He was the author of over 25 books of poetry, history, biography, fiction and anthologies. Bontemps was a major figure of the Harlem Renaissance. Bontemps served as head librarian at Fisk University from 1969 to 1972. He was also curator of the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection of Negro Arts and Letters at Yale University. In 1923, Bontemps received his B.A. from Pacific Union College in Angwin. In 1924, his poetry appeared in Crisis magazine, the NACCP periodical edited by Dr. W.E.B. DuBois.
In 1926 Golgotha Is a Mountain won the Alexander Pushkin Award and in 1927 Nocturne at Bethesda achieved first honors in the Crisis poetry contest. Personals, a collection of poetry was published in 1963.
Bontemps then turned to prose. In the decade of the thirties, he wrote three acclaimed novels God Sends Sunday (1931); Black Thunder (1936); and Drums at Dusk (1939). Frustrated in his ability to reach his own generation Bontemps to literature for children and young graders. In 1937 he published the Sad-Faced Boy; and others for young audience included We Have Tomorrow (1945) Slappy Hopper (1946) and Story of the Negro (1948).
Bontemps was involved in the publication of at least three anthologies: Golden Slippers: An Anthology of Negro Poetry for Young Readers (1941); with Langston Hughes, The Poetry of the Negro, 1746-1949 (1949); and Bontemps, American Negro Poetry (1963 & 1974 rev.). Bontemps was gracious enough to include Christian’s poems in all his anthologies.
Bontemps’ beautiful short story “A Summer Tragedy” is found often in anthologies. It is indeed a treat. His poems “A Black Man Thinks of Reaping,” “Southern Mansion,” and “Nocturne at Bethesda” are often anthologized. But such poems as “My Heart Has Known Its Winter” and “Day Breakers” are also found in anthologies.
Early in his career Bontemps had wanted to get a Ph.D. in English but with his marriage in 1926 and the coming of six children he had to work. He taught for awhile at an Alabama junior college. With the coming of the Depression he worked for the Illinois WPA and supervised and assisted in the writing of a history of the Negro in Illinois. In 1943 he completed a degree in library science and served as librarian at Fisk University and developed an archive of African American cultural materials that is a major resource for study in this field.
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For July 1st through August 31st 2011
#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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Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as “the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field ‘cut their teeth’.”
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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 Arna Bontemps
A story of love, violence, and race set at the outbreak of the Haitian Revolution in 1791, African American writer Arna Bontemps’s Drums at Dusk immerses readers in the opulent and brutal–yet also very fragile–society of France’s richest colony, Saint Domingue.
First published in 1939, this novel explores the complex web of tensions connecting wealthy plantation owners, poor whites, free people of color, and the slaves who stunned the colony and the globe by uniting in a carefully planned uprising.
The novel’s hero, Diron Desautels, a white Creole born in Saint Domingue who belongs to the French antislavery group Société des Amis des Noirs, attempts to spread his message of “liberty, equality, fraternity” in a world fraught with conflict.
Imaginatively inhabiting a wide spectrum of Haitian voices, including those of white indentured servants, female slaves, and Toussaint L’Ouverture, who later emerged as the revolution’s best-known hero, Bontemps’s work reflects not only the intricacies of Haitian society on the eve of the revolution, but also a black artist’s vision of Haiti in the twentieth century, during the U.S. Marines’ occupation and at the brink of war in Europe. A new introduction by Michael P. Bibler and Jessica Adams reveals how Drums at Dusk–even seventy years after its original publication–contributes to contemporary studies of the American South as part of the larger plantation region of the Caribbean, and inspires a reevaluation of assumptions about revolution, race, and nationalism.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 1 May 2009