ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



 I’m not worried about people stealing my shit, nor am I worried about sharing stuff

before it’s finished. Far as I’m concerned the more feedback the better, besides

the goal is to communicate. I am not at all interested in trying to create

a masterpiece or trying to write the great American novel.



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)


*   *   *   *   *


Kalamu at MIT


Part 1 of 2

there are two very, very prestigious educational institutions in cambridge (across the river from boston), massachusetts: harvard and m.i.t. (masscachusetts institute of technology). one is elite with a large base of economical privilege and the other focuses is more of a meritocracy (regardless of the economic status of the student or the student’s parents), both have high admission standards. between the two of them, and not discounting other educational institutions in the area such as boston university, tufts and berkelee school of music, the boston metro area represents the pinnacle of american education on a per-square-mile basis. what we have here is a concentration of wealth, brains and talent, a concentration unmatched anywhere else in the world. it is not that there are no other important educational institutions, it is just that no where else do you have so many in such a small geographical area. so it was no surprise when i got a call on thursday, our first full day in residence, asking if paulette and i wanted to go hear melvin van peebles lecture and meet up with him. we took a cab to harvard from m.i.t. the traffic was maddening. our driver, it turns out, was a young black man from haiti. he knew the back streets and drove with authority but not with the reckless abandon so common to his new york city colleagues. soon as we stepped on campus, it was apparent to this negro’s naked eye that we were walking the stomping grounds of wealth and privilege. inside the ceilings were high, high enough so that you could have stacked three or four average-sized rooms atop each other. this was an intentionally impressive use of space. forty and fifty foot ceilings show you your little 12 to 15-foot rooms ain’t shit, and they show you that without saying a word. these folk are so secure that you don’t see no security guards scowling at you and pawing through your back pack. the assumption is you wouldn’t even be there period if you weren’t supposed to be on the premises. signage is sparse. no signs out front the buildings. if you don’t know where you’re going, you better ask somebody. we were going to a large room–uh, check that, a small room, it just looked large to somebody who had been working in an empoverished public school in new orleans. melvin was sitting quietly in the corner, his legs crossed, a goblet of water dangling in his right hand, a power-dressed, middle-aged white woman talking to him. not far away there was carroll parrot blue, a filmmaker friend of mine who had done an amazing multi-media book based on her childhood in houston. her book included an interactive dvd-room. while carroll and i were sharing a hug, ayedia, our host and a dean at m.i.t., didn’t hesitate as she scoped out the situation, after waiting for me to return from greeting carroll, ayedia walked right up to where van peebles was, politely interrupted the conversation, introduced herself and then introduced paulette and i, and followed up by telling mr. van peebles that we would probably have to leave before he finished because we had a prior engagement back at m.i.t. but she thought that he ought to meet paulette and kalamu. and then we sat down and talked for about five or six minutes. anywhere else we would not have been able to get close to melvin van peebles, but there is a sort of understanding in the old boys circles, if you are here than there is something to you. regardless of how you feel about networking, when you are in certain territories, the rules of those territories take precedence. after only the briefiest of smalltalk we are discussing editing in high def (don’t worry if you don’t know what it is, what it is is not as important as the fact that we had started off cordially–glad to meet you, shake, shake, so what are you up to, oh, i’m here for a residency at m.i.t., yeah, good, this is the last day of a three day series of lectures that i’m doing, etc. etc. blah, blah.). melvin van peebles started talking about the creative use of cinema technology and the absence of much creativity in general, and then on to wanting to edit in high def specifically and i responded that he could do it with the latest version of final cut pro. yeah, huh? yeah, for real. check it out. i will. and then it was time for brer soul to do his thing, which is exactly what my man proceeded to do. although we had to leave before he finished, it was obvious that the rabbit was luxurating in the briar patch on the rich man’s plantation. he started off with a long joke about a pig, a wheelbarrow and sex… you had to be there as my man sat with a wireless mike, in a chair befitting a duke, on a small raised platform, holding court in a mixture of folksy wit, philosophical inquiry and thinly disguised bullshit (or, as he said “ca-ca”) forcing the audience to guffaw one minute and go “hmmmmm” the next minute–i kept expected arsenio hall to show up ;->) like i said, we had to jet to get back to m.i.t. for a meeting with a group of m.i.t. students who were having a small session organized around the millions more march. the earnestness of the students leading the program stood at attention like junior f.o.i. (fruit of islam) in suit and tie. i was invited to say a few words and give my take on katrina—invariably i move the discussion away from “victimology” toward inquiring, given who they are, what are people doing where they are in terms of reflecting on the major questions of the environment and the nature of governance. we had lively discussion and before you know it, it was time to move on to the next program, which was a study break session, literally a gathering of students at 9pm in the game room of one of the dorms, which dorm game room was better equipped than some entire student unions i’ve been in. it was a great turn out with what seemed to be about 20 to 30 black students. there was a spread of chinese food and folk informally talked and ate for a little over a half hour and that was it. initially, i wondered what was going on. there was no speaker. no formal program. but then i realized this was a social event. a chance for students to relax in a non-threatening environment of comradarie and refuge, a respite, as it were, from the normal, day-to-day high pressure school environment. m.i.t. is a major research institution, and as such there are more grad students than under grads. moreover, with the emphasis on research there is a concomitant emphasis on academic excellence and practical application of knowledge and information. there is nothing easy about going through m.i.t. but there are safety nets, and this event was one such safety net. as i talk with more and more students and administrators, as well as community folk, i begin to understand the rough side of the m.i.t. mountain. the references to suicides and drug use that afflict a number of students as they try to cope with the pressure of high expectations and strenuous work loads. these are teenagers, many of them only a year or two removed from high school, although they are among the best students, someone pointed out that most of them were vals, sals, and in the upper five percent of their high school classes, still as more than one student reminded me, “i was at the top of my class, but i came from the worst high school in the state.” then there is the cost of attending m.i.t. i have not asked anyone directly how much the tuition is, but it is obviously not cheap. it’s a lot of pressure for a 18 or 19 year old to handle. friday, we had a late start. turns out this week is the weekend of the bayou bash. new orleans musicians are on campus. there was a secondline with the lil stooges brass band from new orleans. the impromtu parade started outside the student union, cross massachusetts ave, head straight through one of the large building (damn thing must have been at least a block long, no exaggeration), the band was rolling on through the stone hallways, people popping out from all over to check out the commotion, you know i was laughing, paulette video much of the procession. at one point, after stopping to seranade a bevy of arts funders (as in the elderly, rich who give out of their own pockets), from there the band went one way and we went another. my payless slip-ons were not going to serve through the winter, the rubber soles already had significant cracks in them and i had though it would be better to buy sturdy shoes in the north than back in nashville, so ayida took us to a spot outside of a new galleria, actually just across the street, an old store that obviously had been there for a long time, they had all kinds of heavy duty and attractive shoes. i had an i love black t-shirt on. the guy waiting on me joked about having some orange shoes when i asked if he had the brown shoes he was showing in black. and in case i missed it, he let me know that he was joking with me. we talked as he showed me shoes and make recommendations. one thing led to another, he found out we were from new orleans and then that i was a writer, and his eyes lit up, he had a children’s book he wrote. while we were checking out he showed me one of the pages. the book was built around the metaphore of a tree in which animals lived and three young children played and was told from the perspective of the tree. it was a touching little story. i looked at his poem. it was good. i suggested one or two lines that he could tighten up and, if i remember correctly, one switch of word order. he responded well, making a few notes and did not seem the least bit embarassed or offended that i was critiquing his poem. as i told him the main reason i was even taking the time to respond in some detail was because the poem was better than average. we left and went over to the galleria to best buy to purchase some mini-dv tapes, as we crossed the street it was clear to me that eventually big business was going to take out his little family-owned shoe shop. he was working class white and capitalism was going to wipe him out. inside the galleria they had three floors of shops. paulette eventually bought some small, colorful boots on sale (the price was ridiculous–let’s just say she got significant change back from a $20 bill). my man across the street, outside the galleria complex, would not be able to compete even though the quality of the shoes he was carrying was much, much higher than the particular discount store where paulette got her boots (the galleria also had ann taylor and other upscale botiques). i wonder how many working class folk are ready to move beyond ethnicity to deal with capitalism? friday night we spoke at a film class that ayida runs. we showed paulette’s video: a luta continua (we had some problems because we had to firewire connect her laptop to my laptop and run off her harddrive through my operating system–when i de-assed new orleans i didn’t take my stash of dvds nor any of the hard drives with movies on them, and paulette had not brought any dvds, so we were rigging it up. afterwards we showed the interview adrina kelly, which is the first of the listen to the people project. adrina graduated from public high school in new orleans, went to harvard and after graduation secured an editing job at mcgraw hill publishers. although she has visited frequently, she has not lived in new orleans in over seven years. her mix of anger, confusion, powerlessness and concern reflected the feeling of many of those in attendance. this class looked at film with an emphasis on content and social meaning/relevance… we started about 8pm, it was after 1:30am when we finally closed it down. i guess you could say it was very successful. at 10am on saturday morning we met with a program that m.i.t. students were doing with area high school students, mainly black but also including hispanic and asian youth. out of about 40 students there was one white student. we spend over two hours with them including some brief hands-on time using the video camera. it was a beautiful program. afterwards, we went out for a late lunch with my good friend marita rivero, who is a vice president of televison and radio programming at wgbh, one of the two major public television/radio stations in the country, the one in new york city is the other. the npr station in washington dc is not a local station. we went to “legal seafood.” it was good. the seafood was very fresh and tasty, but there use of herbs and spices was a bit on the mild side. while we were eating and talking, the light rain that had been fallling when we arrived turned to sho-nuff snow, huge, flakes, falling steadily. somebody commented on how beautiful it looked. i didn’t even smile. sunday we had a brunch. paulette, who had arrived to m.i.t. about ten hours before i had, had told ayida that i was a good cook and ayida in turn had asked me about fixing salmon cakes. i said sure, no problem. she asked what ingredients i needed and i had told her the ones i remembered off the top of my head, the essentials: canned salmon, smoked oysters in the tin, bread crumbs, green onions, onions, bread crumbs. when we arrived on sunday, i set in to preparing the cakes. you can bake them or fry them, i choose to bake them and we had two small pans, maybe about fifteen medium to large sized cakes. ayida asked could they be frozed. i quipped, she wasn’t going to have to freeze none cause there weren’t going to be any left. i was right. after the brunch we head out to the jamaica plains section of the city for the cultural cafe. they had a program in an old warehouse converted into an art gallery. tony vandameer and my old buddy, askia toure, were running the shop. it was great seeing askia. i have met tony before but don’t know him like i know askia. i spoke briefly first, then alexandria, a sister poet, followed by sandra, a union organizer. we had to leave as they were starting the question and answer period. the next appointment was with chocolate city, an all male, all black dorm. they had a small informal dinner from a nearby brazil eatery–it was meat heavy so i can only comment on the rice and a few beans picked out of a dish that had beef… no comment. chocolate city is an interesting concept. three floors in one section of a multi-section dormitory. but the key element is that the members of chocolate city are serious about their program. one of the administrators said that they doubted a racially-based dormitory could get off the ground today and that there was some resistance to chocolate city, but on the other hand, the chocolate city gpa was higher than the gpa’s in all of the other “houses” in the dorm complex, which included an asian house, a french house, etc. etc. that’s some serious studying and academic performance. the brothers are serious. and check this, at m.i.t. they got more brothers than sisters. by almost a margin of three to one. it’s educationally unbelievable. at almost every other college or university in this country sisters outnumber brothers, but here at the most prestigious science institution you got dudes doing the do. how is it that m.i.t. is so strange? who knows. i smell one of them expensive-ass statistical studies coming on. let it come. i’d like to know the answer to that one myself. from chocolate city we went to the bayou bash concert. when we arrived davell crawford was holding forth. his piano playing ranged from good to outright excellent. he did a moving rendition of randy newman’s “louisiana.” donald harrison was featured next, playing mostly in a fusion/smooth jazz format. started off with pockaway, a new orleans mardi gras indian number. followed with a smooth rendition of “wonderful world,” which most people associate with louis armstrong, and ended with “cissy strut.” this was not donald’s working band, so he was limited as far as what he could play. the drummer was a brass band drummer, which means that he mainly plays snare and that he ended up heavy on the backbeat with not much of the tricky syncopation that drummers like zigaboo bring to that “meters” tune. donald also featured an m.i.t. student, louis fouche who is from new orleans and plays alto sax, plus donald’s nephew, christian scott, who plays trumpet. louis played extremely well, as, of course, did donald. i really liked christian’s short solo. they were having a ball and it was infectious as most of the first two rows in the small auditorium were up and dancing. and yet, here’s the rub, as much as donald likes to play dance music, he also likes to play heavy jazz, and in this setting there was no room for him to dig deep. judging from the crowd’s warm enthusiasm, i was the only one sitting there wishing for a deeper hit of jazz. the program was more like a revue than a concert, with feature numbers for musician after musician. the high point for me was the interaction between marva wright, who is known as a blues singer, and davell on the piano. marva’s opening number was an original about being a blues singer that was more r&b than strict blues, and then she launched into sam cooke’s “a change is gonna come.” at first i thought they were going to go bluesy with it, but, no, they ended up in church. and marva started testifying and shouting, and talking about loosing everything in the flood and staying in maryland, and shouting, lost her rings and furs and stuff, and shouting and testifying, and davell was just giving the piano natural born fits, and everytime i thought they were going to end, the spirit jumped up a little higher, and they kept going, rolling and rolling, and pounding, and wailing, and moaning and shouting, and shouting, and it became clear enough to blind stevie wonder with its brighness that this was not a pre-aranged sing-it-by-the-numbers piece. this was an exorcism. there are moments when the spirit of the music takes on a life of its own. marva didn’t need no mike to be heard clearly all the way to the back of the auditorium. davell was rising up on his tip-toes as he dug in, pounding out tremendous tremoloes of cascading keyboard riffs. every time the drummer hit a backbeat hard, marva would rear back and holler out harder than that, her voice drowning out the drum. then she took to stalking the stage. tamping from one end to the other. waving her hand. this was crying but way past tears. this was angry crying, you be choked-up and harking out the syllables and the screams. sometimes, you just got to holler. this was one of those times. when the music finally subsided to little after tremors. marva had walked off the stage. the piano was still shaking. the japanese guitarist, june yama…(sp) who has been playing around new orleans for what seems like a good twenty or more years, well he was worrying them strings to death trying to find a dry spot to land on as he skipped from high note to high note, stomping in marva’s footsteps. after awhile, davell just jumped up and ran after marva. they both exited stage right. even though most of the musicians were backstage, stage left. i ran up there behind davell. just offstage in the wings. we huddled together. marva sitting on an old chair. davell and i hovering over her, encircling her with our arms like we was angels on special assignment. like i said this was past tears. there was anger and pissed-off all up inside the choked up sounds we were making. i don’t know what language we was speaking. i just kept wanting to say: it’s going to be alright. it’s going to be alright. it’s going to be alright. i don’t know what i actually said.  i call this katrina crying. your face be dry. but you crying. you be mad as hell. but you crying. you just feel so pitiful. and you crying. but don’t nary a tear fall. it’s a hard crying. we did that for about three or four minutes. and then we un-entwined, unraveled like do braids when you been in a fight. marva asked for some water. after ministering to her. davell and off stood off to the side talking about new orleans. talking about what they done to our town. not katrina. we could deal with katrina. no what the powers that be did and are continuing to do. how they taking advantage. the crowd was still cheering and screaming for more. the mc came over and asked marva would she do an encore. on the one hand she had only done two numbers. on the other hand that last number had been worth a whole night of work. it didn’t look like she had too much gas left in the tank, her breathing was labored, her eyes were glazed over. she was looking at me and didn’t even see me–i know she didn’t, cause she agreed to do “i will survive” as an encore. it was anti-climatic. she kind of coasted through it. and then when they were changing over for the next group after she had left the stage, she came from back stage headed out to sit in the audience, saw me from a distance of about fifteen feet and said, is that kalamu. i hollered, yeah. but it was not a happy moment. i had been embracing her and she had not… that’s how deep off into it she was after doing a chang is going to come. we talked for a little bit. and then she went to sit down and i went back stage to talk some more to davell. bo dollis, big chief of the wild magnolias, passed by. i know bo only from seeing him around. he don’t know me from nobody. bo know davell. they hugged briefly. bo smiled half of his brilliant smile. that’s all he had left of his smile. half of it. katrina took a heavy toll on him. as bo walked off, davell shook his head and said how he was watching bo. davell whispered out loud, he’s aging right before my eyes. i half turned to peep at bo. he didn’t look good standing near by the chair marva had been sitting in when she first came off. marva had looked worser than bo. i turned back to davell. he looked me dead in the eye. i don’t hink i’m going back, he quietly admitted. there ain’t nothing to go back to… and we talked on nothingness for a minute, talked on how the politicians and the business mens was treating us worse than a two-bit whore on bourbon street. back on stage rocking dopsie jr. was cutting up. the stooges brass band was getting ready to come on parading from the back of the auditorium. there was plenty, plenty music still to go. but at that point i was ready to retreat somewhere and try to close my eyes, try to close my mind, try not to think on it. in the auditorium peoples was dancing they ass off, or, for the most part, shaking they asses off–you ever notice how smart people have a lot of problems with kinetic coordination of their body movements to the rhythm of funky music? whatever. i was sinking into a foul mood and rather than making me happy, the music was making me mad and angry because it was reminding me of our home that is gone… they done fucked our mama and done run or shipped us children all over the goddamn place…Part 2 of 2monday we started another round of meetings. generally speaking, I hate meetings, not that I hate the participants or don’t want to meet people and discuss ideas; I really enjoy learning, crave new experiences and am pretty good at appreciating others, especially others who are significantly different from me. however, there is something artificial about a meeting, especially when one considers that at a meeting everyone is usually wearing their meeting face, has donned their meeting attire and attitudes. I prefer meeting people as they do what they do or at events where they demonstrate what they do. but, that’s my particular bias and I struggle to overcome that bias less I end up isolating myself from others. we were meeting with people who worded in areas I didn’t know existed at m.i.t., including subsets of urban planning and science writing, which as I reflect on it, makes sense that a technology institute would be into those areas, but I guess I most often associate m.i.t. with research and applied research, with the hard sciences, such as engineering, and related fields such as physics. boy, was I wrong. indeed, I was looking forward to these meetings because of our listen to the people project and the interface with the computer technology that I was sure existed at m.i.t. in the long run, I learned far more than I expected, especially about recent developments in terms of software and the internet, which is one of my areas of daily activity. plus, as I correctly suspected m.i.t. has mega-capacity in terms of computer power. one of listen to the people’s goals is to stream video interviews on the internet and I could be at no better place to discuss that objective. although these were only introductory meetings, it appears that they were bear fruit in the long run, when we do follow-ups. tuesday was my first day off in what seemed like forever. I spent most of the day doing email and finishing off a Katrina poem, which I had committed to do but which I really didn’t feel like doing. Decided to read it at my feature on Wednesday. Wednesday informal meetings and then the reading that evening. My man Everett Hoagland and his wife did a long drive from up state Massachusetts to attend. There were a dozen or so people at the reading, by far the least attended event of the whole mini-residency, even though it was the best advertised flyers on bulletin boards throughout the main building. Everett later emailed me, commenting on how appreciative he was that I read like it was an audience of thousands. I smiled when I read his words. It’s my jazz training. 20th century jazz musicians were used to performing to small audiences, often just a handful of the faithful in some club in could-be-anywhere usa. The musicians would do it to the max even if there was a minimum audience on hand. And I believe that. I really believe. If you’re going to do it, do it to the max or leave it alone. I ended up reading an except from a novel I had been working on pre-katrina: “walkin blues: a speculation and meditation on the life and legend of Robert Johnson.” Paulette asked me to read from the section that describes the 1927 flood. I also read the new Katrina poem and closed out with “system of thot.” Turns out the sister who introduced me, Helen Lee, who, if I understood correctly, heads up the writing program at m.i.t., also is the fiction editor for Callaloo magazine, one of three major literary journals that focus on African American literature—the other two are: African American Review and Obsidian III. Shortly after the event Helen emailed me asking to see the manuscript for possible excerpting in Callaloo. Unlike other writers I know, I’m not worried about people stealing my shit, nor am I worried about sharing stuff before it’s finished. Far as I’m concerned the more feedback the better, besides the goal is to communicate. I am not at all interested in trying to create a masterpiece or trying to write the great American novel. At the end of the reading, I had a laugh at Helen’s expense as I briefly held court declaiming my personal aversion to the novel as a form. Laughing the whole time, I said that I got into the Robert Johnson novel by accident. I really started off writing a short story about Robert Johnson in Louisiana. It starts out with Robert walking down the road, just left a woman’s house, 40,000 words later, my man had still not got to Louisiana. At that point I figured, well this is not going to be a short story. I guess it’s a novel. And then I mischievously did what I like to do with self-acknowledged novelists and defenders of that genre, I asked the magic question: what is a novel? Helen looked at her watch—she had to deal with a baby sitter and, as I knew when I asked the question, there was no simple or short answer. I laughed some more. So why, I cruelly twisted the knife, yall be doing something you don’t even know what it is you’re doing? I knew that she knew and I knew that she knew I knew that she knew, and I knew that the answer, like the form itself, was involved and complex and that there was no simple answer, and I knew that she knew I understood, but I was still cutting the fool and laughing. I said, I can define a short story. I can define poetry. Can you define a novel? And then I told her I was messing with her. We laughed together. Helen had done a real introduction for me, must have read some of the stuff she googled, even included an intelligent quote from something I had forgotten I had written. I liked the light in her eyes as she talked about writing. She was in love with writing. I liked that. But at the time I had no idea she had anything to do with Callaloo. Indeed, I was surprised that there was a writing program at m.i.t. and that a black woman would be all up in it. You see, you just can’t go on assumptions and impressions from a far. You got to study the reality before you speak on the reality. Sure you can give your impressions and beliefs but that’s not the same thing as understanding the reality. m.i.t. was a good residency. And my dear sister Ayida was the perfect host. Early the next morning we were out of there. I was flying down to Clemson for a symposium on public education in New Orleans and paulette was heading back to Atlanta.

A luta continua more in a minute

posted 15 November 2005

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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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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s 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 Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s 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 family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “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 isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake.

She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s 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, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—


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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

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 incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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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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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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update 16 July 2012




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