ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



I do e-drum alone. Spend approximately three hours a day

working on e-drum. Yes, I think e-drum is doing important work.

E-drum is an example of offering an alternative. E-drum is part

of my neo-griot duty to facilitate the development of our culture.



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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Interview with Award Winning Neo-Griot

Kalamu ya Salaam


Cultural & Political Work

Rudy: What do you think is the dominant black cultural ethos today. You, I understand, are more drawn toward a “community ethos.” Is this related to the neo-griot movement?

Kalamu: Commercialization and apolitical creolization are the dominant cultural ethos today. Neo-griot is, hopefully, an alternative.

Rudy: Could you further explain what you mean by the expression “apolitical creolization”?

Kalamu: Creole refers to a mixture. Our integration into the American society is a process of creolization. If we are apolitical about it, then we accept the status quo definitions of economics, politics and ethics. If we were to politicize the process of creolization, we would at the very least argue for and fight for specific modes of social organization, of economic systems, of political systems. But, at this point, all we argue for is a bigger piece of the pie. That is what I mean by apolitical creolization.

Rudy: You have championed the recognition and maintenance of a separate and vibrant black identity. And through the various groups you have founded and motivated, you have increased international awareness of oppression. Is all of this activity related or connected to other domestic movements that are struggling for social justice in the USA?

Kalamu: I’m not sure that I understand this question. but I do emphasize internationalism, more so than domestic identification.

Rudy: I am not sure what you mean by “internationalism.” Marxists and communists used to speak of internationalism. I know that you are neither. It doesn’t seem to me that one can be everything and in every place. Doesn’t one take care of home first? Might not we over identify with other places and other times, while forgetting that which is closer at hand?

Kalamu: Perhaps in the abstract. But to really care about another, especially others who don’t speak the same language, don’t wear the same skin, to really care about other people, you have to have a profound understanding of yourself as a person. I emphasize, as I say in one of my poems, being a citizen of the world. And you are right, “internationalism” is a loaded term, especially since I don’t care much for nationalism of any sort.

But let me answer both on a more complex and a more realistic level. Our comfort here in America is brought to us by the exploitation and oppression of others all over the planet. Indeed, there are not enough resources in the world to support two Americas. There’s barely enough to support one United States of America. Part of my self understanding came about as a result of seeing the world, interacting with other people in the world, understanding that my existence in New Orleans is directly tied to people in Africa, in China, in Haiti, and so forth.

I wear tennis shoes. I eat fruit year round. I use a cell phone. I use a computer. I drive an automobile. All of that is directly tied to a global economy that exploits the labor and resources of oppressed people. Sweet Honey In The Rock has this song, “Are My Hands Clean.” The song follows the trail of how a blouse that a woman buys is actually made, from cotton plant to retail store. And the song asks, we go into the store and buy this blouse, are our hands clean? By simply making a purchase, are we complicit in the exploitation that is woven into the warp and woof of the blouse’s fabric?

Rudy: You moderate e-drum, a listserv of over 1500 subscribers worldwide that focuses on the interests of Black writers and diverse supporters of our literature. Do you manage it alone? Are you satisfied with its progress?

Kalamu: I do e-drum alone. Spend approximately three hours a day working on e-drum. Yes, I think e-drum is doing important work. E-drum is an example of offering an alternative. E-drum is part of my neo-griot duty to facilitate the development of our culture putting the politics of community empowerment to the fore and offering an alternative to a capitalist orientation. This non-capitalist orientation is far from complete.

On the one hand, e-drum is free to anyone who wants to join. But on the other hand, I can not totally escape the clutches of capitalism. In order to offer the service free, I use a server that adds ads to the content. One alternative is to go with a private service, pay a yearly fee and not have ads attached. Another alternative is to build my own server. My long range plan is to move to a private service and ultimately be in a position to maintain my own server. However, right now, it is more efficient for me to do it the way I am as my financial resources are limited and my time even more limited.

Rudy: You are a professional editor/writer (playwright, poet, and critic), musician, organizer, filmmaker, producer, arts administrator, and radio host. You do extensive traveling and presentations in high schools, universities at home and abroad. How do you manage to have the time and energy for such a schedule of activities? What motivates you, drives you to give so much of your energy and time?

Kalamu: I manage because this is all that I do and because I have the firm support of my wife, my immediate family, and a far flung net of extended family, friends and colleagues. The approval and support of that community is a tremendous validation that enables me emotionally to continue regardless of the hardships and obstacles. I get emails from people worldwide letting me know how much e-drum means to them.

Two weeks ago, I walked into a small restaurant and bar in inner city New Orleans. I was there to buy a catfish plate. While waiting for my order, the brother sitting at the bar next to me called my name. We struck up a conversation. He remembers me from the seventies. He is a welder. He studies African cultures. Sema Swahili (speaks Swahili) to me. Drops a Hausa phrase on me. If you saw him, the last thing you would think is intellectual. His speech is not proper nor laced with big words, but he is an organic, working-class intellectual. He tells the waitress that I am a great writer, and encourages me to keep writing.

Affirmation like that is a major fuel for me, much more so than a positive review from a literary critic, because although I, like everybody, like to get positive reviews, there can be no greater positive review than a Black person walking up to you on the street or in a bar, or a church, or wherever, and telling you that your work is meaningful to them, howsoever they might give you praise. Because of my orientation, that brother in the bar means a lot to me. This work that I do is my life, my religion. Just like many of the jazz musicians I admire would say that jazz is their religion. Well writing (in the broad neo-griot concept of writing with text, sound and light) is my religion. And I am a devout disciple.


*   *   *   *   *’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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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 Persistence of the Color Line

Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency

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 America’s past made by Mr. Obama’s 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. Kennedy’s father “relished Muhammad Ali’s 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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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 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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ChickenBones Store







update  16 January 2012




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