ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
When I first started delving into issues of gender and sexuality I, like
many people, was clueless and ill-informed, my consciousness had been
shaped by being an American, by spending my early years in the Baptist
church, by public school, and by the norms of the status quo
Books by Kalamu ya Salaam
My Story My Song (CD)
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Interview with Award Winning Neo-Griot
Kalamu ya Salaam
Malcolm, My Son
Rudy: I have just finished reading Malcolm My Son. At first, my impression was that it was a parody. And then after the first two or three exchanges of dialogue I thought it was Shakespearean. How did you come to write such a play? You completed it sometime in the early 1990s?
Kalamu: Oh, I really dont remember exactly when I wrote it. Its just some outside jazz kind of stuff. Take the form and stretch. I have always experimented with theatre. I wrote straight stuff, but I also always wrote some out shit. We performed that play once. The brother who played Malcolm literally could not stop crying backstage after the performance. He had that much of himself invested in that piece.
Im not sure what you mean by Shakespearean. I was just enjoying language with that one. Thats why its written in verse. I think that was the second or third verse play that I have written. I know the language has some of that Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, two tenors, wild-ass soloing in it. The play is full, not just of musical references, but also structured using musical motifs. But, I think my playwrighting days are over. Im much more interested in dealing with video. Its going to take me another three or four years to really develop my chops in that arena. Well see. Im good now, but Ive got a lot to learn in terms of producing video.
Rudy: I have read a few of your poems in which you deal with the question of gender oppression, the repression of women in a male-dominated society. My immediate impression was that you were a bit soft and sentimental when it came to women and women issues. That there was not enough of a critical edge. Malcolm My Son, in a manner, demolished that illusion. I see now that part of your approach as a writer is to get inside your subject, like an actor. Is that the case? That is, part of your poetic aesthetic, if we can call it that, is to show the complexity of life?
Kalamu: Well, you know, there are a couple of issues. First of all, few people have seen the range of what I do. In terms of women-oriented work, you have not seen or read the script “Memories.” I dont know if you are aware of my book, Our Women Keep Our Skies From Falling, the collection of essays I did in the early-eighties whose subtitle was “Six Essays in Support of the Struggle to Smash Sexism.” Then there is a bunch of fiction, much of which has yet to be published. Also, by the time people see some of this stuff, I have already moved on to other stuff. So there is just the situation that much of what I have to say is not widely published.
But, the other, and more important problem is that I am not proposing a specific political line, so therefore there is no preordained point of view or conclusion I have to suggest overtly or covertly. Sometimes I am interested in what some people call deviant shit. sometimes I want to explore the typical, the normal. Who knows. as one of my characters says: what day is this? what am I feeling? To answer specifically about the complexity issue. My goal is to reveal and critique the lives we live, have lived and aspire to live. Some of our stuff is complex and some of it is straightforward and simple. Ditto, my creative work.
Rudy: In Malcolm My Son, how did you come up with the technique of cuts? Whats the idea behind that. It is as if the play never gets started, or as if it is continually restarting itself. Is that symbolic of something, something youre saying about the world we live in?
Kalamu: Symbolic? No, its quite literal. Well just keep doing this shit, over and over, until we get it right.
Rudy: Do you view poetry as a weapon for social change? Would you agree with Karengas view that art that does not contribute to revolutionary change is invalid? Do you consider your writings “inherently or overtly political?”
Kalamu: I consider all writing “inherently” political, although not all writing is overtly political. As for my own writing, much of it is overtly political but not all of it. By overtly political I mean consciously advocating social change or offering social critique.
One important point of clarification: Karenga did not say “art” as a general category was invalid if it wasnt political. In that particular essay Karenga was specifically talking about the category of revolutionary art. He understood that not all art aspired to be revolutionary, just as not all politically active people aspire to revolutionary change. I believe that over the years there has been a major misconception that we in BAM were trying to say that all art had to be a certain way. When actually we (or at least in this particular case, Karenga and those who shared Karengas outlook, which I did and do), we were clear in that we were addressing the question: what is the nature of revolutionary art.
Today we live in an era when nearly all art has taken or been forced to take a commercial direction. This direction means that we start from the premise that everything is, or ought to be, for sale. Thus, folk have a hard time conceiving of work that does not have a commercial purpose or is not of commercial use. But, I believe, the revolutionary artist has other ideas and approaches.
My commitment to revolutionary work is no less today than it was during the seventies. But my focus today is not solely on political specifics. Today I also focus on creating alternatives to economic capitalism, alternatives to commercial use value. And I usually dont argue this point intellectually, rather I exemplify an alternative through the work I do and through how I use my artwork and offer my artwork to our community.
This question of the nature of revolutionary art is a very, very important question and also a very multifaceted question. Additionally, as I have learned from Black women writers, the nature and quality of interpersonal relationships should be a profound and critical part of our creative work as writers.
Not only does much of my post-BAM work investigate interpersonal relationships, but because I investigate the interpersonal, diversity is inevitable. I came to my positions on gender and sexuality through political struggle, but now dealing with and exploring the nature of gender and sexuality within our community informs and shapes my politics. This struggle, like all struggles, is dialectical.
When I first started delving into issues of gender and sexuality I, like many people, was clueless and ill-informed, my consciousness had been shaped by being an American, by spending my early years in the Baptist church, by public school, and by the norms of the status quo. I was fortunate to be born during interesting times, so that as I hit my high school years, the civil rights movement jumped off in full force.
I graduated from high school in 1964, a major year for civil rights activity. I spent beaucoup (that means plenty in New Orleans vernacular) days and months involved in picketing, sitting-in, voter registration canvassing, etc. I received the active support of my parents. As a young adult I was active in the Black Power movement. As a result of my Civil Rights work, I read James Baldwin.
In fact, I got kicked off the high school paper for writing a very enthusiastic review of Baldwins play “Blues For Mr. Charlie.” I had a lot of respect for Baldwin as a writer, and for Baldwin as a crusader for and witness on behalf of Black people. I could not and would not dismiss Baldwin because he was a homosexual.
Rather than simply ignore that or reluctantly tolerate the fact that he was homosexual, I ended up investigating the whole issue and over a period of years and after much struggle and study around those issues, I arrived at what I would consider a reasonably progressive, although others might call it “radical,” position on the question of homosexuality.
You know, the more you open your eyes, the more you see. So once I dug Baldwin and tried to understand where he was coming from, then I began to see homosexuality throughout our community. Also, by then I was into the blues aesthetic (see my essay on that in What Is Life?), and homosexuality was generally accepted as part of life in those circles.
Moreover, I had personal and close friends and comrades who were gay or who were bisexual. I remember a brother who was editing our movement newspaper during my year of student rebellion at Southern University in New Orleans. He was in the movement heart and soul. He was a comrade. I had to stand by him, with him, defend him from homophobia and heterosexism whether that homophobia and heterosexism came from others or whether it came from my own pre-revolutionary consciousness.
I was committed to struggle, and that commitment necessarily included struggle with my own biases, prejudices and weaknesses. I did not just wake up one morning and write Malcolm My Son because I didnt have anything else to do. I wrote it because it reflected my own attempts to understand the breadth, depth and nature of Black humanity. And ditto for my participation in the struggle to smash sexism and develop women.
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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 Noam Chomsky
In this urgent new book, Noam Chomsky surveys the dangers and prospects of our early twenty-first century. Exploring challenges such as the growing gap between North and South, American exceptionalism (including under President Barack Obama), the fiascos of Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S.-Israeli assault on Gaza, and the recent financial bailouts, he also sees hope for the future and a way to move forwardin the democratic wave in Latin America and in the global solidarity movements that suggest “real progress toward freedom and justice.” Hopes and Prospects is essential reading for anyone who is concerned about the primary challenges still facing the human race. “This is a classic Chomsky work: a bonfire of myths and lies, sophistries and delusions. Noam Chomsky is an enduring inspiration all over the worldto millions, I suspectfor the simple reason that he is a truth-teller on an epic scale. I salute him.” John Pilger
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Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America.
This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as “the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field ‘cut their teeth’.”
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By Peter Edelman
If the nations gross national incomeover $14 trillionwere 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 millionclimbing to over $11 million when all forms of compensation are accounted forwhile 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 todays economy has stultified wage growth for half of Americas workerswith even worse results at the bottom and for people of colorwhile 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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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 lovethe 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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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 Obamas 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 FDRs and just as transformative. It prevented an imminent depression, while jump-starting Obamas 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. Its 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 Deals unemployment insurance system. Its 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 worlds largest wind farm, a new U.S. battery industry, a new high-speed rail network, the worlds highest-speed Internet network. Its main legacy, like the New Deals, will be change.
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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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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 16 July 2012