ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
we discussed craft, in Harlem, there was no such concentration upon what is now termed
the Black experience as one encounters it today, not even between Wright and myself.
I was concerned, but I felt it to be something one worked out for oneself.
Influences of Twenties and Thirties
Existentialism and Negro Renaissance
By Ralph Ellison
One could say that during the Forties we were still being influenced by the attitudes and values of the Twenties and Thirties, and by perspectives introduced to our specific community of writers by Stalinists and the Trotskyist Left. There was also the influence of the WPA, which provided a number of us with our first opportunity for becoming writers. It also provided others who were already working at the craft with an opportunity to earn a living. And there was also present a current of intellectual influence derived from existentialism. I became aware of Kierkegaard and Unamuno a good while before existentialism became a literary movement. I picked it up through the writings of André Malraux, who was depicting existential concepts long before Sartre and Camus made them fashionable. I became interested after reading Mans Hope, in which Unamuno appears as a character. In 1937, I was present at a party where Malraux was raising funds for the Spanish Loyalists, and shortly afterwards, Richard Wright and I were reading and discussing Unamunos The Tragic Sense of Life.
Such ideas were new to me and very exciting in that they made me aware of existential elements in the spirituals and the blues. At the time, I was trying to make connections between my own background and the world of ideas, connections that I hadnt had no problem in seeing connections between European and Afro-American music, so why not between my segregated condition and the world of ideas? So, I was groping. Marx and Freud were the dominant intellectual forces during that period, and I had become aware of Freud even before finishing high school. Marx, I encountered at Tuskegeebut how did you put the two together? I didnt know, so I read, I talked, I asked questions and I listened. Such ideas concerned me as I turned from music to literature.
Now for the main ideological and intellectual forces operating within the small group in which I found myself: There was the psychological in the form of Freudianism, the political in the form of Marxism, and in Malrauxs fiction and criticism, which questioned the assertions of both, there were the concepts of existentialism. With these there was the living presence of Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Countee Cullen, Sterling Brown and Alain Locke. Now I dont mean that these figures were influences in any simple-minded way, but that their examples were part of the glamour of Harlem and thus important to your sense of opportunity. And, although you had a vague but different set of tunes tinkling in your head and sought other solutions and perhaps a more complex form in which to work, you respected them and their achievements. You respected them even after you discovered that some of them like, say, McKay, were inarticulate when it came to discussing technique. In fact, Wright was far more articulate in that area than either Hughes or McKay.
But, there was another factor which I found most important. The writers Ive just mentioned related to Harlem and to the waning influence of the Negro Renaissance, but there was a wider world of culture to be found in New York, and I made my closest contacts with it on the Writers Project. There you were thrown in contact not only with black and white writers of your own age grouping, but with a number who had already achieved broad reputations. McKay was one of these, but most were white.
Then there was the old League of American Writers whose programs made it possible for me to meet important writers who had nothing to do with the WPA. My friendship with Wright gave me entrée to a number of such people, and they came to form, for me at least, a scattered but most meaningful intellectual community. Within it, the craft of fiction was passionately discussed. The philosophical and political implications of artistic styles were given endless attention. Myth, ritual and revolution got slammed around. On the project, I hung out with a few fellows of my own general age and the same subjects were discussed. Incidentally, most of them were Jewish, but this was before we realized what Hitler was really up to, so little time was spent discussing race or religion.
Instead, we discussed craft, in Harlem, there was no such concentration upon what is now termed the Black experience as one encounters it today, not even between Wright and myself. I was concerned, but I felt it to be something one worked out for oneself. I was living that experience, so what I wanted was to be able to make my own intellectual sense of it. Nor was there any question in my own mind about who I was or where I came from. Its my face, its in the neighborhoods where I grew up, its in the Afro-Methodist Episcopal Church into which I was baptized, it was in the ex-slaves I knew as a child. Im out of slaves on both sides of my family.
That was history, and I couldnt undo it; my question was how did one bridge the gap intellectually (or at least imaginatively), between what one felt about Negro life, between what one felt about our people, and what was said about usthat is, the stereotyped identity imposed upon us by society. Yes, and what was there being written in areas lying beyond the confines of our neighborhoods that could be used in the task of adequately defining our humanity? How did one get American Negro life, that great, bursting, expressive capacity for life, into writing? Where did one discover ideas and techniques with which one could free ones mind and achieve something of ones possibilities?
In those days, interestingly enough, I knew a couple of the writers whove attacked me from time to time in Black World. They had little talent as writers but were then part of the communist apparatus and given to preaching internationalism, really meaning Russianism. Today theyre preaching Blackness in the same inept accents. Around the Communists they acted like whipping dogs that were so glad to be associated with whites that they accepted anything they were told and parroted any absurd interpretation of Negro experience that was handed down from above.
Today, barking behind what they consider to be the protective big gate of Black World, they perform like Supercargo in Invisible Man, barking and snarling at me in order to keep other possible dissenters in line. Years ago, after hearing me state some unorthodox opinions, one of them shook his head and stated, Ellison, you say you want to be a novelist, but youll never make it, thinking like that. No, I wont give his name; Im interested in the pattern, not the individual. These two have lived in New York for years, but they still retain their Calvinist compulsion to control the acts and imagination of others that you find in certain Black, down-home communities. They consider themselves the Black mans white man and will do almost anything to prevent other Afro-Americans from testing their individual possibilities.
Perhaps its because they sense that the assertion of the independent imagination is a gesture toward freedom, and freedom is dangerous; freedom frightens them, so wanting to have it both ways, they growl like tigers in their blessedly segregated journals and then move among whites flinching as though they expect a blow. Every once in a while, I bump into one of these gents on the streets of Harlem, and after bad-mouthing me in Black Worldwhich he knows I disdain to readhe approaches me with his tail wagging and grinning like a jackass eating briars. Its so obscene that its damn near charming.
And yet, such people have been around for a long time. Years ago, the playwright Carlton Moss told me of attending a party during which my ambition to become a writer was discussed. At the time, I had been writing for two or three years, nevertheless, they decided right then and there that I was wasting my time. Since they couldnt imagine themselves being successful writers, I had to be a fool for trying.
Source: The Essential Ellison (Interview)Ishmael Reed, Quincy Troupe, Steve Cannon. Ishmael Reeds and Al Youngs YBird Copyright © 1977, 1978 YBird Magazine
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Mockingbirds at Jerusalem (poetry Manuscript)
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#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
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#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
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By Leonard Harris and Charles Molesworth
Alain L. Locke (1886-1954), in his famous 1925 anthology The New Negro, declared that the pulse of the Negro world has begun to beat in Harlem. Often called the father of the Harlem Renaissance, Locke had his finger directly on that pulse, promoting, influencing, and sparring with such figures as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Jacob Lawrence, Richmond Barthé, William Grant Still, Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois, Ralph Bunche, and John Dewey. The long-awaited first biography of this extraordinarily gifted philosopher and writer, Alain L. Locke narrates the untold story of his profound impact on twentieth-century Americas cultural and intellectual life. Leonard Harris and Charles Molesworth trace this story through Lockes Philadelphia upbringing, his undergraduate years at Harvardwhere William James helped spark his influential engagement with pragmatismand his tenure as the first African American Rhodes Scholar.
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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 H. W. Brands
In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar’s astonishing rise to become the world’s principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar’s changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America’s economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan’s bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt’s handling of the bank panic of 1933.
Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar’s dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today. He concludes with a sobering dissection of the 2008 world financial debacle, which exposed the power–and the enormous risks–of the dollar’s worldwide reign. The Economy
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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post 3 May 2009