ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Yes, NOMMO is a workshop for Black writers. At least 75%
of our writers are female, and the majority are in late twenties
to mid-thirties. Our youngest member is Sukari Ua, she is
a 16-year-old high school student
Books by Kalamu ya Salaam
My Story My Song (CD)
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Interview with Award Winning Neo-Griot
Kalamu ya Salaam
NOMMO Literary Society
Rudy: Kalamu, I’d like to begin our talk with a discussion of your work with the NOMMO Literary Society. How do you keep the Society together? How do you keep the poets coming, working seriously on their writing skills?
Kalamu: I dont. Folk either want to come and do so or they dont. What I do is be very consistent. Except when I am out of town, every Tuesday I am there. I have a magnificent library of both books and music as a reference to help writers develop. I also assist in pointing people toward publishing opportunities.
Rudy: In your direction of NOMMO, what approach do you use? I mean how do you get a young writer to reconsider their topics or techniques? Do you sometimes shoot from the hip and say thats crap, thats not fully baked, or say go back to the woodshed with that one?
Kalamu: My approach is to offer a wide array of examples and influences. As to how effective I am, I think some of the members can answer that far more accurately than I can. There is no formal membership. Folks come and go. Its wide open.
Our three-part format is 1. collective study, 2. announcements (which we call housekeeping), and 3. reading of original work and receiving of feedback. Generally, I am responsible for selecting what will be the subject of the collective study. Whatever it is, we take turns reading aloud and then discuss what we have read. This way we ensure a minimum common level of information.
The pieces range from formal studies of writing to creative work to essays about various topics. Less than 25% of what we study is specifically black-oriented. Announcements usually take only a few minutes. Reading original work and receiving feedback varies based on what folk bring to the table. In general, we are brutal with ourselves in giving criticism to regular members and very, very considerate of new members. We generally have more prose writers than poets per se. I think that is because NOMMO emphasizes “writing” rather than “reciting.” Performance is seldom the focus of any of what we do. As a result, the young poets who pass by from time to time dont usually stay for any extended time.
As for telling folk what to do, or what to write, or how to write, I freely give comments, but I am not the only one and I am careful to make sure that the comments of others are valued. Plus, our associate workshop director, Paulette Richards, is a Ph.D. who teaches English and creative writing at Loyola University. Other dynamics of our workshop are covered in an introduction I have done for the next collection of workshop writings, “Speak the Truth to the People.”
Rudy: Is your work with the Society related to your teaching radio production and digital video to high school students? Do you find recruits for the Society among these students?
Kalamu: So far, there has been no overlap between the students I teach at the high school level and the NOMMO workshop. I have been teaching in the “students at the center” program for four years now. It is a learning process for me, a major learning process. Learning to teach what I know. Teaching has forced me to conceptualize and organize my information so that I can share it. I do very little recruiting for NOMMO.
Actually, I am not trying to increase the size of the workshop. We have a steady, core group of five to six writers and that seems to work well in terms of development. And from year to year there is always a turnover. Some folk moving on, new folk joining. Oh, one other thing. There are a couple of folk I mentor long distance via the internet, telephone and occasional in-person get togethers. Those are exceptions. And I certainly dont want to take on any more. But that is another aspect of what I do.
Rudy: I still do not have a clear picture of the writers who are members of NOMMO. I assume they are all black. When you took me to a poetry set one night in New Orleans, I assumed some of those young people were in your group. Were they? How would you characterize those who are in NOMMO? Who are some of the writers who are now in NOMMO, who have passed through NOMMO?
Kalamu: If I remember correctly, only one of the writers you heard that night was a NOMMO member. Yes, NOMMO is a workshop for Black writers. At least 75% of our writers are female, and the majority are in late twenties to mid-thirties. Our youngest member is Sukari Ua, she is a 16-year-old high school student. I am currently the oldest at 55. We have a couple of folk in their early 40s. Some of our writers are self-taught, as I am, and others are formally trained.
We dont have any writers who have made a big splash nationally, although a number of our writers are included in recent anthologies such as Role Call, Step Into A World, the Def Poetry Jam anthology, and E. Ethelbert Millers new anthology Beyond the Frontier, as well as Afaa Weavers new anthology about African American families (due out in August 2002) [These Hands I Know]. Freddi Evans, one of our older members, both in terms of age and in terms of how long she has been in the workshop, recently published a childrens book [A Bus of Our Own] that won a major award. We plan to publish a second book by Freddi, the History of Congo Square.
Rudy: NOMMO is more than just a group of people. You have a place, a building in the middle of the community that is emblematic of a poetic, writing activity that goes on. Can NOMMO be duplicated in other cities? Does it need someone like Kalamu ya Salaam to make it work, long-lived? Do you think NOMMO will exist beyond you? Has NOMMO been duplicated in other cities?
Kalamu: Can NOMMO be duplicated as a writing workshop in general, yes; in particular the way we do it, probably not. Yes, our approach needs someone to take the responsibility of setting up a literary liberated zone, collecting and maintaining a library of books and music, and having the patience to work at the same project for five or ten years without getting tired. I have not even considered trying to duplicate NOMMO in another place. On the other hand, I hope that we can serve as an example to others and, in fact, be surpassed by what other folk are doing.
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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 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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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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By Randall Kennedy
Among the best things about The Persistence of the Color Line is watching Mr. Kennedy hash through the positions about Mr. Obama staked out by black commentators on the left and right, from Stanley Crouch and Cornel West to Juan Williams and Tavis Smiley. He can be pointed. Noting the way Mr. Smiley consistently voiced skepticism regarding whether blacks should back Obama . . .
The finest chapter in The Persistence of the Color Line is so resonant, and so personal, it could nearly be the basis for a book of its own. That chapter is titled Reverend Wright and My Father: Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism. Recalling some of the criticisms of Americas past made by Mr. Obamas former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with feeling about his own father, who put each of his three of his children through Princeton but who never forgave American society for its racist mistreatment of him and those whom he most loved.
His father distrusted the police, who had frequently called him boy, and rejected patriotism. Mr. Kennedys father relished Muhammad Alis quip that the Vietcong had never called him nigger. The author places his father, and Mr. Wright, in sympathetic historical light.
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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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Propaganda and the New Face of American Politics
By Andras Szanto
Propaganda. Manipulation. Spin. Control. It has ever been thusor has it? On the eve of the 60th anniversary of George Orwell’s classic essay on propaganda (
), writers have been invited to explore what Orwell didn’tor couldn’tknow. Their responses, framed in pithy, focused essays, range far and wide: from the effect of television and computing, to the vast expansion of knowledge about how our brains respond to symbolic messages, to the merger of journalism and entertainment, to lessons learned during and after a half-century of totalitarianism. Together, they paint a portrait of a political culture in which propaganda and mind control are alive and well (albeit in forms and places that would have surprised Orwell). The pieces in this anthology sound alarm bells about the manipulation and misinformation in today’s politics, and offer guideposts for a journalism attuned to Orwellian tendencies in the 21st century.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 16 July 2012