ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



   Contrary to popular wisdom, writing is not a solitary pursuit, for the inspiration

for writing, the fuel for our imagination is outside of each writer, is in fact the

world, is specifically the community within which the writer/fish swims.



Books by Kalamu ya Salaam


The Magic of JuJu: An Appreciation of the Black Arts Movement  /   360: A Revolution of Black Poets

Everywhere Is Someplace Else: A Literary Anthology  /  From A Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans Poets

Our Music Is No Accident   /  What Is Life: Reclaiming the Black Blues Self

My Story My Song (CD)


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kalamu at Clemson

On New Orleans Schools & Writers As Activists


3 November 2005, Clemson, irony of ironies. we’re at the Strom Thurmond Institute at Clemson University in Clemson, South Kak-ka-lack-key. We are Students at the Center, our New Orleans, high-school-based writing program now in exile, post-kartina. Three or four weeks back we met here for a SAC retreat, bringing together high school students, SAC graduates, staff and supporters for a meeting to kick-off our post Katrina program. We are no longer simply struggling to survive, we are re-grouping and deploying to carry on and fight back. How do you fight back against a hurricane? You don’t. You can’t. Decades of dealing with hurricanes in New Orleans has taught us there ain’t but two ways to deal with a hurricane: either hunker down until it blows over or run and get out the way. Some SAC folk decided to hunker down. Some decided to run. Jim and Greta hunkered down—they had good reasons (it’s a long story for another time). Kalamu ran (I’ve learned to pick my fights and from what I saw coming, I wasn’t up for tangling with Katrina). When the levees broke, Jim and Greta had to flee. We’re in the aftermath now that Katrina has left town. What we are fighting is what George Bush would/should call an axis of evil, i.e. 1. lying-every-time-their-lips-move politicians (from the local up to the national level), 2. vulture corporations circling to profit off misery, and 3. an old-line New Orleans establishment who are glad that poor black folks are gone. It’s a formidable opposition. Our focal point is public education. Today there are no public schools in New Orleans. New Orleans is the urban future. Which was the point of the symposium moderated by Staffas Broussard, a civil rights veteran and mathematics professor at the University of New Orleans who also is a key member of the New Orleans Algebra Project, a national educational effort founded by Bob Moses. The program opened with a wonderful alto sax solo by 13-year-old, New Orleans public school student Stephen Gladney.On the panel were:

Greta Gladney, founder and director of the Renaissance Project, a community development non-profit based in the Lower Ninth Ward;Charmaine Marchand, Louisiana State Legislator, District 99 (New Orleans, lower 9th ward and Bywater neighborhoods);Brenda Mitchell, President of United Teachers of New Orleans (American Federation of Teachers Local 527);  Jim Randels, founder and co-director of Students at the Center;  Kalamu ya Salaam, co-director of Students at the Center.Present in the audience were:

Reggie Lawson, head of Crescent City Peace Alliance (non-profit that works with schools, anti-violence, and housing in the schools and neighborhoods surrounding Douglass High School;Steve Bradberry, lead organizer for ACORN in New Orleans;Roger Dixon, teacher Charleston Public Schools;Debbie Barron, director for secondary school language arts in Greenville County Schools (also developed program modeled after Students at the Center at Mauldin High School in Greenville County);Romona Davis, director of Center for Professional Growth and Development (teacher center for New Orleans Public Schools funded by Health and Welfare Fund);Malcolm Suber, director of UrbanHeart, collective of 21st Century Community Learning Center sites in New Orleans;Betsy Uhrman, Open Society Institute (based in New York). * Plus, Dixie Gaswami, lead teacher with the Breadloaf School of English and with The Strom Thurmond Institute. The approximately 100+ audience members included Clemson students and staff as well as friends and supporters. The panel predictably spoke out forcefully in support of public education and expressed solidarity in terms of confronting the absence of public schools in post-Katrina New Orleans. What remains to be seen is whether this coalition will be strong enough to challenge the school board and the state. A suit is not enough of a challenge, I believe we need to construct real alternatives that force folk to take sides. SAC announced that one way or another, we were going to open a school that accepted all students. Again, it remains to be seen. Running a school is no joke. Many writers don’t understand the importance of being an activist, not just an intellectual supporter, but someone who actually works day to day on issues important to the communities we write about and often claim to speak for. Our commitment ought to be more than words we write. Our commitment ought to also be work we do. In doing actual work we learn who we are, who our people are, who our friends and allies are, and who our enemies are. We learn by experience.

We emotionally feel as well as intellectually understand, and in this process we gain insights, we observe human interactions and reactions, we are emotionally touched and thereby gain a wealth of material that will strengthen and enliven our creative work. This translation of reality into creative work is not a simple one to one correspondence. 

What is said in a meeting might end up as part of a conversation in a love story. The way someone walks down the hall, might become an image in a poem. The point is that the fodder for our creative fires, is the actual stuff of our communal life and is thereby not only more real, but also more heartfelt than if we sat around imagining settings, conversations, images, etc. Moreover, the creative me is part of the community. My body has many of the same needs for food, clothing, shelter, health care, loving relationships that other members of our community have. How each of us actualizes our existence as a human being, how we seek and find our human needs on both a material and social level, all of this is not just an individual concern—this seeking is indeed also representative of our community, even though many of us act as though being an artist is an individual and lonely pursuit. Contrary to popular wisdom, writing is not a solitary pursuit, for the inspiration for writing, the fuel for our imagination is outside of each writer, is in fact the world, is specifically the community within which the writer/fish swims. No matter how unique our individual experiences, for those of us who are writers, our work is strongest and most broadly accepted when we express ourselves in such a way that our audience immediately and deeply feels themselves as our subject matter.

To ignite passion in our audience we must strike them individually, they must feel and respond to our words—and thus learning to write is not merely a technical question, it is also a social question. No matter how unique the individual expression, every individual has a essence that is shared by others. The writer’s task is to identify essences and not simply to elevate uniqueness. Writers, you will write better if you rub shoulders with your community (who may or may not be your primary audience, but are certainly the base of your source material), if you get your hands dirty by participating in community struggles (understanding is not just intellectual, truly deep understanding is also experiential), for writing after all is simply a conceptualization, a description and identification of the world within which the writer lives or imagines, either way the major influences come not from inside the writer but rather from outside to the writer. 

The genius of writing is, of course, what one does with those influences, but nevertheless the influences are external. This is why I encourage writers to be active in the(ir) world(s).

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books



#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 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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It’s The Middle Class Stupid!

By James Carville and Stan Greenberg

It’s the Middle Class, Stupid! confirms what we have all suspected: Washington and Wall Street have really screwed things up for the average American. Work has been devalued. Education costs are out of sight. Effort and ambition have never been so scantily rewarded. Political guru James Carville and pollster extraordinaire Stan Greenberg argue that our political parties must admit their failures and the electorate must reclaim its voice, because taking on the wealthy and the privileged is not class warfare—it is a matter of survival. Told in the alternating voices of these two top political strategists, It’s the Middle Class, Stupid! provides eye-opening and provocative arguments on where our government—including the White House—has gone wrong, and what voters can do about it. 

Controversial and outspoken, authoritative and shrewd, It’s the Middle Class, Stupid! is destined to make waves during the 2012 presidential campaign, and will set the agenda for legislative battles and political dust-ups during the next administration.

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Aké: The Years of Childhood

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.

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Faces At The Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism

By Derrick Bell

In nine grim metaphorical sketches, Bell, the black former Harvard law professor who made headlines recently for his one-man protest against the school’s hiring policies, hammers home his controversial theme that white racism is a permanent, indestructible component of our society. Bell’s fantasies are often dire and apocalyptic: a new Atlantis rises from the ocean depths, sparking a mass emigration of blacks; white resistance to affirmative action softens following an explosion that kills Harvard’s president and all of the school’s black professors; intergalactic space invaders promise the U.S. President that they will clean up the environment and deliver tons of gold, but in exchange, the bartering aliens take all African Americans back to their planet. Other pieces deal with black-white romance, a taxi ride through Harlem and job discrimination.

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The New New Deal

The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era

By Michael Grunwald

Time senior correspondent Michael Grunwald tells the secret history of the stimulus bill, the purest distillation of Change We Can Believe In, a microcosm of Obama’s policy successes and political failures. Though it is reviled by the right and rejected by the left, it really is a new New Deal, larger than FDR’s and just as transformative. It prevented an imminent depression, while jump-starting Obama’s long-term agenda. The stimulus is pouring $90 billion into clean energy, reinventing the way America is powered and fueled; it includes unprecedented investments in renewables, efficiency, electric cars, a smarter grid, cleaner coal, and more. It’s carrying health care into the digital era. Its Race to the Top initiative may be the boldest education reform in U.S. history. It produced the biggest middle-class tax cuts in a generation, a broadband initiative reminiscent of rural electrification, and an overhaul of the New Deal’s unemployment insurance system. It’s revamping the way government addresses homelessness, fixes infrastructure, and spends money.

Grunwald reveals how Republicans have obscured these achievements through obstruction and distortion. The stimulus launched a genuine national comeback. It also saved millions of jobs, while creating legacies that could rival the Hoover Dam: the world’s largest wind farm, a new U.S. battery industry, a new high-speed rail network, the world’s highest-speed Internet network.  Its main legacy, like the New Deal’s, will be change.

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Pictures and Progress

Early Photography and the Making of African American Identity

Edited by Maurice O. Wallace and Shawn Michelle Smith

Pictures and Progress explores how, during the nineteenth century and the early twentieth, prominent African American intellectuals and activists understood photography’s power to shape perceptions about race and employed the new medium in their quest for social and political justice. They sought both to counter widely circulating racist imagery and to use self-representation as a means of empowerment. In this collection of essays, scholars from various disciplines consider figures including Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and W. E. B. Du Bois as important and innovative theorists and practitioners of photography. In addition, brief interpretive essays, or “snapshots,” highlight and analyze the work of four early African American photographers. Featuring more than seventy images, Pictures and Progress brings to light the wide-ranging practices of early African American photography, as well as the effects of photography on racialized thinking.

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Captain of the Planter: The Story of Robert Smalls

By Dorothy Sterling

Dorothy Sterling’s biography of Robert Smalls is Captain of the Planter: The Story of Robert Smalls (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1958). In most history books, the contributions of Negroes during the Civil War and Reconstructions are ignored. Robert Smalls was one of the heroes who is rarely mentioned. He was a Negro slave who stole a ship from the Confederates, served on it with the Union Army with distinction, and finally served several terms in Congress.

All this was accomplished against the handicaps first of slavery, then of the prejudice of the Union Army, and finally of the Jim Crow laws, which eventually conquered him. Besides its value in contradicting the history book insinuation that the Negro was incapable of political enterprise and that the South was right in imposing Jim Crow laws, Captain of the Planter is an exciting adventure story. Captain Smalls’ escape from slavery and his battle exploits make interesting reading, and the style is fast moving.—Barbara Dodds

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 16 July 2012




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Related files:  Kalamu at MIT   Kalamu in Baltimore  Kalamu at Clemson   Kalamu ya Salaam in Baltimore