ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
The black church has come to understand its critical space in the rituals
of the dead. Funerals have been its everyday business, and the black
church brought ceremony and extended ritual to this experience. Its
passion has been, from my perspective, the ways and means of catharsis;
and is responsible in great measure for the sustained resilience and
strength of these vulnerable communities.
Other Books by Karla FC Holloway
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A Memorial by Karla FC Holloway
Scholar’s Research on Black Death and Dying
Foreshadows a Personal Tragedy
Press Release — Duke University Press October 2002
Durham, NC — They say that death is the great equalizer, but most in the African American community would agree otherwise. Black families are much more likely than white ones to experience the untimely and/or violent death of a loved one. As Toni Morrison wrote in Beloved, “not a house in the country ain’t packed to the rafters with some dead Negro’s grief.”
For Karla FC Holloway, to research and write a history about black death and mourning seemed natural: the story needed to be written, and Holloway, who has always had funeral directors in her family, was a natural to write it. When Holloway embarked on the project more than a decade ago, she had no idea that before its completion, she too would be mourning the premature death of a family member.
Holloway’s book, published this year by Duke University Press, is Passed on: African American Mourning Stories — A Memorial. To research the book, she attended funeral directors’ conferences
and interviewed physicians, ministers, casket makers, and grieving relatives. She visited and photographed the grave sites of prominent black Americans including Richard Wright, Louis Armstrong, Arthur Ashe, Thurgood Marshall, and many more.
Holloway, an English professor and dean of Duke University, reports that whenever she wrote the phrase “black death,” her word-processing program would underscore it with a squiggly green line, suggesting that something was wrong with the phrase or the spelling. “there is indeed something very wrong with it,” Holloway writes, “and this is my point.”
“Our people haven’t had the luxury of thinking we’d die after a good long life,” she says. And they are therefore more likely to plan for their funerals, including the clothes they will wear, the music that will be performed, and the types of cars that will transport the body and the mourners. in one particularly haunting passage, she describes funeral instructions prepared by children and teenagers.
In 1999, Holloway was forced to live the story she was telling. Age age 22, her adopted son Bem was shot while trying to escape from prison. the notifying phone call came to Holloway from the prison chaplain; the next call was from a local television news station. While Holloway and her husband spent hours trying to learn the details, the muted television continually broadcast scenes from his death scene.
She and her husband were too traumatized to make what is known in the funeral industry as “the first call”–the call to a mortician, notifying him of a death in the family. But they soon found themselves conducting the business of the bereaved: calling a pastor, notifying family and friends, arranging for their son’s body to come home.
Throughout the book, Holloway traces a number of practices that are specific to black death and dying” burial associations created by black morticians so that their often-poor clientele could go out in style; the dramatic, almost performance-like nature of black funerals, the bringing of young children to view the body as a piece of cautionary instruction.
All of these practices, Holloway argues, are related to the black way of death, a color-coded pattern that encompasses slavery, lynchings, gang violence, suicides, and targeted medical neglect. Black death means that African American mothers are more likely to hear about their child’s death from reporters than from a doctor or family member.
Although the persistent theme of premature, violent death, Holloway writes, “invaded my serenity . . . well before my son’s life took its final, tragic turn,” she had no idea she would endure the story of black death ad dying that she was researching. She decided to include Bem’s story in her book because “I couldn’t write it without him.” She says, I do not tell his story for judgment or absolution. i tell it because it has the characteristic of an ‘incident report’ that is, finally, community property.’
Telling Bem’s story in print has put Holloway in the position of being an expert–both professionally and personally–on black death and dying and on grief and mourning in general, a subject she discussed movingly during National Public Radio’s September 11 anniversary coverage. She says, “I have come to feel that telling his story is a way for me to publicly claim him as my beloved child. That experience of the book is one I had not anticipated, but one I cherish.”
Contact: Lisa M. Dellwo, Publicist / 919-687-3639 / email@example.com
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Karla Holloway is the William Rand Kenan, Jr. Professor of English and Dean of the Humanities and Social Sciences at Duke University. Her research and teaching interests focus on literary and cultural studies, twentieth century African and African-American literature and linguistics and the association between literature and linguistics. She is the author of four books, most recently Codes of Conduct: Race, Ethics, and the Color of Our Character and has recently completed her fifth book, Passed on: African American Mourning Stories — A Memorial. This project is a cultural and historic look at bereavement, death, dying, and burial in twentieth century African America. firstname.lastname@example.org
Karla FC Holloway is a distinguished scholar, writer, and public figure. She began researching African American death and dying over a decade ago. During the course of her research she attended funeral directors’ conventions, interviewed ministers, casket makers, and grieving relatives, and visited the gravesites of dozens of prominent African Americans. While she was writing Passed On, she experienced the deaths of her son and her mother in 2000, both of which touch the narrative in moving and personal ways.
She was Director of Duke’s African American Studies Program from 1995 to 1999. She has taught at Duke since 1992 and has also taught at North Carolina State University, Western Michigan University, and Old Dominion University. She has received numerous rewards for her teaching and research.
Holloway has appeared on PBS and NPR and has written for various publications, including Emerge and Belles Lettres. She is also the author of Mooring and Metaphors: Culture and Gender in Black Women’s Literature. She is currently speaking around the country to audiences ranging from doctors to ministers to writers on death and dying, end-of-life and palliative care, and the African American experience.
Passed on: African American Mourning Stories — A Memorial.. Duke University Press $24.95
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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
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#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
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#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber
#18 – Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare
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#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
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#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
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#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit by RM Johnson
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#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
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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.
Civil rights lawyer Geneva Crenshaw, the heroine of Bell’s And We Are Not Saved (1987), is back in some of these ominous allegories, which speak from the depths of anger and despair. Bell now teaches at New York University Law School.Publishers Weekly
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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 Bart D. Ehrman
The evocative title tells it all and hints at the tone of sensationalism that pervades this book. Those familiar with the earlier work of Ehrman, a distinguished professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and author of more than 20 books including Misquoting Jesus, will not be surprised at the content of this one. Written in a manner accessible to nonspecialists, Ehrman argues that many books of the New Testament are not simply written by people other than the ones to whom they are attributed, but that they are deliberate forgeries. The word itself connotes scandal and crime, and it appears on nearly every page. Indeed, this book takes on an idea widely accepted by biblical scholars: that writing in someone else’s name was common practice and perfectly okay in ancient times. Ehrman argues that it was not even then considered acceptablehence, a forgery.
While many readers may wish for more evidence of the charge, Ehrman’s introduction to the arguments and debates among different religious communities during the first few centuries and among the early Christians themselves, though not the book’s main point, is especially valuable.Publishers Weekly / Forged Bart Ehrmans New Salvo (
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of a Growing Religion in America
By Miguel A. De La Torre
This book by Miguel De la Torre offers a fascinating guide to the history, beliefs, rituals, and culture of Santeria — a religious tradition that, despite persecution, suppression, and its own secretive nature, has close to a million adherents in the United States alone. Santeria is a religion with Afro-Cuban roots, rising out of the cultural clash between the Yoruba people of West Africa and the Spanish Catholics who brought them to the Americas as slaves. As a faith of the marginalized and persecuted, it gave oppressed men and women strength and the will to survive. With the exile of thousands of Cubans in the wake of Castro’s revolution in 1959, Santeria came to the United States, where it is gradually coming to be recognized as a legitimate faith tradition.
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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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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 14 July 2012