ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



The truly civilized mind is a product of recurring darkness. It

can not flourish where the dirt  is not as saturated with bitter

toxins like the soil of post-Katrina New Orleans. 



 Books by Jerry W. Ward  Jr.

Trouble the Water (1997) / Black Southern Voices (1992) / The Richard Wright Encyclopedia (2008)  / The Katrina Papers

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The Katrina Papers

Reckoning with Displacement


By Jerry W. Ward, Jr.


December 6, 2005: Reckoning with Displacement

People are possessed by hope, sensing at once its promise and its futility. One hopes to resolves economic difficulties by winning several million dollars. The probability that one can warp from poverty to wealth overnight is farfetched , a transparent fantasy. One might hope that tribesmen, dusted by Islam, would honor the Words of Allah and not murder , in the name of honor, women they believe have been violated . It is unlikely such virtue can unsettle the male-defined tribal mind. One does not discard root and branch an idea that has been growing since the invention of antiquity. In the fervent mind of the tribesmen, the hymen must be either intact or totipotent.

When such brave Muslim women as Serap Cileli (We’re Your Daughters, Not Your Honor) and Necla Kelek (The Foreign Bride) expose mortal sins, we may hope the lesson is not lost on Euroamerian wife-abusers. Hope on. The words of those who dissent, who transgress the pseudo-sacred, receive scant attention. Their words are hangnails to be clipped and discarded. Nevertheless, in our brave new world of electronic possibilities, hope refuses to die. It is brash and determined and survival-oriented. It lives.

One might hope that ordinary civilians would not become the collateral damage of warfare, knowing even in the moment of hoping that the God of War is blind and thirsty, incapable of discriminating the blood of the innocent from the wine of the guilty. Hope is absurd.

Strangely, it is within the hopeless confines of the absurd that one hopes to find meaning in exile, in the diaspora occasioned by Hurricane Katrina.

From the vantage of a writer, the lack of a good library, or the pain of not having one’s dearly loved books at hand, is a bittersweet blessing. The writer in exile recalls that other writers have sometimes volunteered to exile themselves in artist and writer colonies. This places exile in arguable perspective. The disadvantages of forced exile, you can freely lie to yourself, are sweeter and yield higher dividends. Matthew Arnold thought sweetness and light were primal ingredients of the civilized mind. He was dead wrong. The truly civilized mind is a product of recurring darkness. It can not flourish where the dirt is not as saturated with bitter toxins like the soil of post-Katrina New Orleans. Examine the fabulous textures of writers exiled from the Crescent City for evidence. Or explore the weavings of writers who have returned to the Big Easy to create in the moldy stench, in an “exile” from the normal.

The writer in exile becomes a rabbit. She or he navigates the briar patch of memory. The rabbit does not forget convoluted paths, the tracks of reading and witnessing that have become matters of instinct. The rabbit remembers the lettuce of the King James Bible and munches on the carrots of expanding canons. Emersonian self-reliance increases tenfold and enables the rabbit to explore geographies of imagination. There critical foxes do not run you down and snap your neck. There you are immune to the intimidation of the book, to its power to batter you with exactness. You hop blissfully over alien terrain. The rabbit remembers what is most worth remembering.

Exile forces the writer to live outside the box, to be remote from textual or referential certitude. The writer has hope that odd combinations in a new context do work.

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End of the Year Letter

Vicksburg, Mississippi

December 11, 2005

Dear Friends,

This year has been one of serious decisions. Natural disasters have made us aware of things we might wish had remained hidden and dormant. We had to choose what is so important about our being in this world that we shall elect to have it govern the remainder of our lives. The fact of breathing, at least for me, is now an existential phenomenon. It is necessary to segregate what is actual from what is merely real. As the year ends in holiday moods of sound, benign insanity, and color, I think 2005 has much improved our visions of the world.

Hope stands nude in its brilliant absurdity. Charity is water that evaporates rapidly. Faith is a mosquito that sings celestial hymns in the ear. Love has not changed its character; it exercises its enormous powers with impunity. Stupidity has exhibited itself to be the denial that slavery, genocide, colonialism and imperialism; self-hatred and ethnic-hate; fascism and sexism; class struggles, diseases, and racism; capitalist tyranny and pseudo-socialism in the guise of globalization, and plain old evil retard human efforts to be civilized and dignified. The idea of virtue can not be conceived without a disturbing reference to permanent conflicts among human beings. Like the figures on a famous urn, the princes of peace are involved in an eternal battle with the gods of war. The much overrated inventions named goodness, truth, and beauty are toys for children. It is not a bad thing if some of us opt to become children again. 2005 made the whole planet very adult.

Do not be surprised to find that 2005 altered some facets of my personality, that 2005 has handed me a surplus of issues to carry into 2006. I refuse to burden you with a catalog of post-Katrina complaints. It is sufficient that you know I did experience some moments of joy during 2005. The unexpected and reaffirming kindness of friends and strangers prevented my walking through the mirror of death into the unknowable. I will return to New Orleans in January to resume my work at Dillard University and my research projects. I will continue to share excerpts from THE KATRINA PAPERS, a journal of my visions and epiphanies, with you. Meanwhile, I wish that you and your families will have abundant happiness and peace during the holiday season and thereafter. And finally I want to say thanks for being there when I needed you most.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

4311 Commons Circle

Vicksburg, MS 39180

(601) 883-9926

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What We Need to Revisit this [2010] Katrina Anniversary

The Katrina Papers: A Journal of Trauma and RecoveryBy Dr. Jerry Ward, Jr.Published by UNO Press (2007) / ISBN: 0972814337 / 233 pgs, paperbackCover Art: Herbert Kearney

This journal begins on Sept. 2, 2005 and ends August 29, 2006 containing a year of the author’s struggles, defeats, and triumphs in the face of the destruction of his city and home. In a larger and more poignant sense, Dr. Ward tackles the destruction of one’s faith in the face of disaster, a faith beyond the borders of religious ideals, it’s a simple faith in the way that the world should work, in the way that the day should hold its shape. There are so many beautiful insights, so many heartbreaking truths laid bare on the page. The journal is a gumbo, a composite of the professor in his academic world, a man breaking bread with his friend, an African American responding to the coded speak of those who hold forth in the recovery of New Orleans.

Dr. Ward pours it all in: the suffocating days exiled in the shelter, the catalogue of things lost to water, the anger, the depression, the weight of trying to move forward into the next actual entry in the journal’s progression. In there as well lies the keen eye poised on literature and what it teaches us; Dr. Ward shares peer reviews, colleague emails, letters of recommendations and advice to young teachers. His schedule to appear and speak, to grant interviews and to be present civically in this tumultuous year is admirable and exhausting. There is a return again and again to the body, its need to slow down, and the mind, which cannot sit still long enough to let the sorrow seep in.

Dr. Ward tends to his “post-Katrina” heart in the journal, aware of the tenuous thread anchoring him to the city and to the life he can lead within its recovery. He responds with the poet’s declaration: “I elect . . . to exploit language and my own emotions” (38). This will be difficult to read if you were here, if you too have a post-Katrina heart. You will feel it in your skin, be it color or non colored, the prickly anxiety and fear that shadowed that first year back.

You will be forced to recall the smells of your moldy possessions, the loss of your home, the sounds of the empty streets, the joy of each returning business and neighbor, the frustration of insurance contacts and FEMA paperwork, the endless lines, and the falling asleep truly not knowing what the next day would bring. You will be taking a strange boat like the one on the cover, “all mothers are boats,” is its name, and you will be rowing toward an island where we keep these things tucked away for they never truly leave us.

The mother in this case is your city, your survival; she weeps for you even as she turns her back. “The perpetual wonderment of tragedy is that we do not tire of looking into its fractured surface to see ourselves as we really are” (150).

Source: Solid Quarter

posted 13 December 2005 

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books



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#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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The Katrina Papers

By Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

The Katrina Papers  provides space not only for the traumatic events but also for ruminations on authors such as Richard Wright and theorists like Deleuze and Guattarri. The result is a complex though thoroughly accessible book. The struggle with form—the search for a medium proper to the complex social, personal, and political ramifications of an event unprecedented in this scholar’s life and in American social history—lies at the very heart of The Katrina Papers . It depicts an enigmatic and multi-stranded world view which takes the local as its nexus for understanding the global.  It resists the temptation to simplify or clarify when simplification and clarification are not possible. Ward’s narrative is, at times, very direct, but he always refuses to simplify the complex emotional and spiritual volatility of the process and the historical moment that he is witnessing. The end result is an honesty that is both pedagogical and inspiring.—Hank Lazer

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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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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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A Wreath for Emmett Till

By Marilyn Nelson; Illustrated by Philippe Lardy

This memorial to the lynched teen is in the Homeric tradition of poet-as-historian. It is a heroic crown of sonnets in Petrarchan rhyme scheme and, as such, is quite formal not only in form but in language. There are 15 poems in the cycle, the last line of one being the first line of the next, and each of the first lines makes up the entirety of the 15th. This chosen formality brings distance and reflection to readers, but also calls attention to the horrifically ugly events. The language is highly figurative in one sonnet, cruelly graphic in the next. The illustrations echo the representative nature of the poetry, using images from nature and taking advantage of the emotional quality of color.

There is an introduction by the author, a page about Emmett Till, and literary and poetical footnotes to the sonnets. The artist also gives detailed reasoning behind his choices. This underpinning information makes this a full experience, eminently teachable from several aspects, including historical and literary—School Library Journal

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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 12 July 2012 




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