ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



In New Orleans we have a song—”Do What You Wanna!” Diversity

first. This does not mean that we pretend there are no differences, or

that we do not argue for our point of view. Everybody knows

that Kalamu got opinions and is not afraid to speak his mind.



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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Books by Yusef Komunyakaa

I Apologize for the Eyes in My Head / Dien Cai Dau / Magic City / Neon Vernacular / Toys in a Field

Thieves of Paradise / Talking Dirty to the Gods  /  Pleasure Dome Jazz Poetry Anthology  /  The Second Set  /  Taboo: The Wishbone Trilogy

Blue Notes: Essays, Interviews, and Commentaries

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Interview with Award Winning Neo-Griot

Kalamu ya Salaam


Yusef Komunyakaa & What Is Life?


Rudy: Who are your favorite contemporary poets? Could you tell us a bit about Kysha Brown?

Kalamu: Favorite contemporary poets. Answering that is a recipe for misunderstanding. I have friends. There are also people I would dig if I knew their work. There is so much going on that I dig, If I say four, I’ve got to say ten more, and then that is a hopeless question for me to answer. I could answer about my influences because I have gone back and examined my work and my influences. But there is so much happening today. I can’t possibly do justice to that question. I read a lot. A lot. I hear a lot. Travel a lot. Attend conferences, slams, open mics, lectures, readings, book signings. etc. Everything. I’m always digging the scene.

Kysha Brown. I met her in 1993–if I remember correctly. She is a founding member of NOMMO Literary Society (September 1995). She is my business partner in Runagate Press.

Rudy: There’s the contemporary poet Yusef Komunyakaa, the Pulitzer Prize winner who can be likened to a kind of black Ezra Pound. His poems have become more and more abstruse so that one needs an encyclopedia to understand his allusions. He’s teaching, I believe, at Princeton now, where Cornell took his retreat.

Yusef and I used to be close acquaintances back in the mid-80s. I learned a lot about poetry from him, for which I am thankful. Of course, we had our disagreements. He has a more conservative view of the social world than I. He was a military man; I was a draft resister and part of the black consciousness and labor movements. Have you ever included him in any of your anthologies? Have you reviewed his work? If not, why not? What do you think is the relevance of his work?

Kalamu: He is included in a new anthology I am working on. Yes, I have reviewed his work. I am particularly fond of Dien Cai Dau, his book of poetry about his Viet Nam experiences. As for the relevance of his work, what difference does it make what I think? I think he ought to do what he wants to do—if folk find something useful in what he does, good, if not, let it pass.

My philosophical view is embracement. You don’t try to put somebody out the family just cause you don’t like them. You don’t exclude some people just cause their work is not to your taste. If you don’t dig it, leave it on the table and move on. Yes, there are positions that Yusef takes that I disagree with, but there are positions that Kalamu took in the past that I disagree with today.

This goes back to the dualism and competitiveness question we talked about earlier. I think it’s beautiful that our people can produce both a Yusef and a Kalamu. And I think they are obviously different and that there are many points of divergence between them. Again to go to the music, it’s like we have Errol Garner on one hand and John Lewis on the other. Two pianists: Garner self taught and Lewis formally trained. The strength of jazz is that they could be contemporaries and both be respected for what they do even though their approaches to the music are literally worlds apart and seemingly antagonistic.

Please remember, the acceptance of, indeed, the promotion of diversity is an African trait. In New Orleans we have a song—”Do What You Wanna!” Diversity first. This does not mean that we pretend there are no differences, or that we do not argue for our point of view. Everybody knows that Kalamu got opinions and is not afraid to speak his mind. You don’t have to read much of my work before you see some hard lines drawn, but those are my lines, what I believe. Other people don’t have to agree with me in order for me to dig them or for them to dig me.

If you have a specific position that Yusef takes that you want me to comment on, I will do that. But even when I might strongly disagree with his position, I still embrace him as my brother and salute him as fellow poet and, to be clear, this is not about Yusef per se. Embracement, diversity, those are my philosophical positions in general with everyone. Of course, this is not a blind embracement nor a valueless espousal of diversity. My embracement of my enemies is struggle. My acceptance of diversity does not mean giving way to evil, to that which is anti-life. I will speak out against whatever I consider wrong.

On a national level my first publication was in Negro Digest as a critic. I was reviewing books. Over the years I have have published literally hundreds of reviews of books, records, concerts, events published. I won the first Black World’s first Richard Wright award for literary criticism. My critical work spans over thirty years of publishing. I have come to this position about criticism: I will only review what I like or think is valuable, what I think adds something to our culture. The only exception to that rule is if I think something is dangerous are particularly harmful, I will attack it. Otherwise, it’s live and let live. And I will specifically refrain from dissing something, just because I don’t like it. Within a workshop setting, I will offer my comments on what I perceive as the strengths and weaknesses of a given work, but I will not do so in general.

Without a communal setting the critical comments are often perceived solely as an attack, and often do more harm than any good. Again, we are dealing with African approach. The stronger the communal base, the sharper the criticism can be without doing harm. A strong community enables healthy criticism. But when there is no community, than the criticism usually does not come from a position of trying to help develop whatever is being criticized but rather comes from the position of putting it down. So if you are not in a position to help develop and you don’t perceive a real need to stop or oppose something, than there is no reason to criticize it. From my perspective the purpose of criticism is either to improve that which is being criticized or to defend the community from attack.

Rudy: Do you think that black women writers, especially those who are prose writers, have a greater audience than black male writers? If that is indeed the case, what is the cause of such a phenomenon?

Kalamu: I wrote about the public perception of black women writers in What Is Life? two important essays in that regard “If the Hat Don’t Fit, How Come We Wearing It” and Impotence Need Not Be Permanent. I stand by those statements.

Rudy: I am not familiar with either one of these pieces. Where can they be found? That raises another essential question. So much that is vital is now out of publication? Hasn’t that affected your own influence? Libraries seem to be only interested in the latest. You can imagine some of the black titled that libraries are weeding from their catalogs. I have a book of James Van DerZee that our local library sold for fifty cents. How do we deal with this problem of the control of information?

Kalamu: It is not a problem of control of information. It’s a problem of self-determination. As long as we are content to let others define our culture, our lives, well. As for where those pieces are found, it just so happens they are in one of my few books still in print, the collection of essays published by Third World Press, What Is Life? In fact, I think my responses to a lot of the questions you raise are spelled out in some detail in What Is Life? Maybe forty or fifty years after I’m gone, that book will stand as a statement on the tail end of the 20th century.            

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*   *   *   *   *’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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So Rich, So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in America

By Peter Edelman

If the nation’s gross national income—over $14 trillion—were divided evenly across the entire U.S. population, every household could call itself middle class. Yet the income-level disparity in this country is now wider than at any point since the Great Depression. In 2010 the average salary for CEOs on the S&P 500 was over $1 million—climbing to over $11 million when all forms of compensation are accounted for—while the current median household income for African Americans is just over $32,000. How can some be so rich, while others are so poor? In this provocative book, Peter Edelman, a former top aide to Senator Robert F. Kennedy and a lifelong antipoverty advocate, offers an informed analysis of how this country can be so wealthy yet have a steadily growing number of unemployed and working poor. According to Edelman, we have taken important positive steps without which 25 to 30 million more people would be poor, but poverty fluctuates with the business cycle.

The structure of today’s economy has stultified wage growth for half of America’s workers—with even worse results at the bottom and for people of color—while bestowing billions on those at the top. So Rich, So Poor delves into what is happening to the people behind the statistics and takes a particular look at the continuing crisis of young people of color, whose possibility of a productive life too often is lost on their way to adulthood


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Allah, Liberty, and Love

The Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom

By Irshad Manji

In Allah, Liberty and Love, Irshad Manji paves a path for Muslims and non-Muslims to transcend the fears that stop so many of us from living with honest-to-God integrity: the fear of offending others in a multicultural world as well as the fear of questioning our own communities. Since publishing her international bestseller, The Trouble with Islam Today, Manji has moved from anger to aspiration. She shows how any of us can reconcile faith with freedom and thus discover the Allah of liberty and love—the universal God that loves us enough to give us choices and the capacity to make them. Among the most visible Muslim reformers of our era, Manji draws on her experience in the trenches to share stories that are deeply poignant, frequently funny and always revealing about these morally confused times.

What prevents young Muslims, even in the West, from expressing their need for religious reinterpretation? What scares non-Muslims about openly supporting liberal voices within Islam? How did we get into the mess of tolerating intolerable customs, such as honor killings, and how do we change that noxious status quo?

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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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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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