ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes




It’s been the reality of New Orleans for years and years. The poverty

is crippling, the education system is abysmal, and yet the city lives on

revenue from people who come to participate in the culture made by

these poor people who are eking out a living god knows how. It’s painful.


 Kiini Ibura Salaam                                                                                                                      Jane Musoke-Nteyafas



Kiini Ibura Salaam Tells All from Mexico

By Jane Musoke-NteyafasToronto, Canada


Kiini Ibura Salaam, a New Orleans native, is a writer, painter, traveler, and all around human being extraordinaire. The daughter of poet and musician, Kalamu ya Salaam, Kiini has had her essays published in Colonize This, When Race Becomes Real, Roll Call, Men We Cherish, Utne Reader, Essence, and Ms. Magazine. Her article “Navigating to No,” featured in the March 2000 issue of Essence magazine, gain her literary recognition and caused a flurry of radio and television interviews.

Kiini has had her fiction published in Mojo: Conjure Stories, Black Silk, When Butterflies Kiss, Dark Matter, and Dark Eros. While traveling through five countries under a Thomas J. Watson fellowship, she published “Of Wings, Nectar, & Ancestors” in the Fertile Ground literary journal, after her graduation from Spelman College in 1994.

Kiini frequently leaves the country to devote time to her writing, and is currently in Oaxaca, Mexico crafting her novel, Fate. It was a pleasure to have her share her experiences with us from Mexico in an email interview. Kiini, whose writing style is phenomenal, heartfelt, and thought-provoking is on her way to becoming one of the most well known writers of the 21st Century. Her life experiences are fascinating, flamboyant and entertaining especially for someone as young as she is. She has lived in Fiji, Dominican Republic, Brazil, and Mexico to mention a few, and each of these exotic places has influenced her writing and artistic style, enriching it with multicultural tones and clever insight. Each day is an adventure for Kiini, and she is the type of person that people want to live vicariously through.

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Jane: Please tell us more about yourself. What was it like growing up in New Orleans?

Kiini: Hmmm, that’s a difficult question. I grew up in a very particular community in New Orleans. My parents, along with my aunts, uncles, and other adults in the community, started an organization called Ahidiana before I was born. They had a food-coop, a work-study group, through which they discussed issues of race and gender while studying works of various thinkers. They owned a printing press and a school, which all my siblings and me attended. We did all our socializing within that vegetarian community of people that was based on African-centered ideals. In my home we didn’t have a television, we didn’t go to the movies or listen to the radio, only albums from the large record collection my dad had which covered a wall and a half of our living room. There was a lot of New Orleans that I didn’t grow up with—the cuisine for example, except the seafood gumbo. We ate a lot of rice and beans even though we were vegetarians. So the classic touch points of being a New Orleanian as far as food was concerned, was something I missed.

Jane: Well, what about the famous New Orleans music and festivities did you experience any of that?

Kiini: On the other end of the spectrum, my father took us to hear jazz performances, especially to see Ellis Marsalis, Lady B.J., and Jermaine Bazzle at Snug Harbor. We always went out to see the Mardi Gras Indians, which was a central part of my cultural orientation growing up. I have a memory of seeing a big chief, I don’t know which, come out of his house fully dressed, except he didn’t have his headdress. He came out and stood under the balcony of his house and they lowered the headdress onto his head that was just how voluminous it was. The songs of the Mardi Gras Indians are still a part of me. We never danced with the second lines, so I can’t drop to the ground and ride the funk like a homebred New Orleanian, but the swirl of the activity is part of home to me.

I hung out in the French Quarter a lot when I was in high school and the constant surrounding of music was a central element along with the strength of family. My aunts, uncles, cousin, grandmother were all a central part of my early years growing up. I think growing up in a city that has seasons—Mardi Gras season, Jazz Fest time, summer festivals—definitely laid the foundation for me to have such a passionate connection with other countries such as Trinidad and Brazil where celebrations of life are the focus of society. I remember being in the middle of a roving street Samba band and the next month going home to New Orleans and being in the middle of a second line and thinking, wow, this is the exact same thing! The music, the horns, the smell of weed, the woman with the rollers in their hair and the dancing. It’s the same thing!

Jane: What were your emotions when you saw what Katrina did to your city?

Kiini: I’m currently in Oaxaca, Mexico working on a novel, so I’m very insulated from what is going on in New Orleans. I first heard it from my brother via email. I called them immediately; they were in a hotel in Birmingham. My brothers were joking about all the mistakes they almost made, the children, my nieces and nephews, were screaming and playing in the background. My sister was angry and shocked, and my mother didn’t want to talk. I didn’t have a number for my father, but he had made it to Houston with his wife, her daughter, and granddaughters. My grandmother was in a hotel with her sister, my aunts and uncles, a cousin, and more children. I spent 4 hours a day in the Internet café tracking down my family, reading the reports, and looking at the pictures.

Jane: That must have been a very stressful time for you, having to check on family members and not necessarily having all the resources at your fingertips.

 Kiini: It’s heartbreaking and astounding. It’s the kind of thing that is comparable to when a veil gets snatched off your eyes. I felt the same way with the Rodney King verdict. It was like, “Hey, I know you walk around thinking you’re equal to the powers that be, and we need you to feel that way, or else you’d revolt and make our lives pure hell . . . but you’re nothing, you’re not shit. We couldn’t give a damn whether you live or die.” That’s the reality of how poor people are regarded, especially poor black people. 

It’s been the reality of New Orleans for years and years. The poverty is crippling, the education system is abysmal, and yet the city lives on revenue from people who come to participate in the culture made by these poor people who are eking out a living god knows how. It’s painful. It’s been painful to go home over the years and see areas that look like they’re literally falling apart. The city is shutting down public housing and the housing projects just sitting there, boarded up, while a few units here and there are still occupied. Among all the wonderful things New Orleans is, it’s also a violent, desperate city.

Jane: Do you think that New Orleans will be rebuild? Do you think it will ever be the same?

Kiini: Yes, without question. Will it be the same? I don’t know. Honestly, in many ways I hope it’s not the same. I hope it’s better for all those people who were abandoned and left to die, but honestly I don’t think it will be. They were abandoned for a reason and they won’t be considered when the city is rebuilt. They will return home. I read somewhere that someone was asking if the people who were left behind were too poor to leave the city, how are they going to afford to return home. They’ll do it because New Orleans is in the blood. There are the kind of people who didn’t leave the city even after the National Guard tried to force them out. New Orleans is that kind of place; it’s home—for better or for worse. The things that are great are astoundingly wonderful and the things that are terrible are profoundly and woundingly terrible.

Jane: Your father is the known poet, writer and musician Kalamu ya Salaam. How does it feel to be his daughter? Do you feel any pressure to walk in your father’s shoes? What is your relation with him like?

Kiini: In many ways it feels great to be my father’s daughter and in other ways not so great. Like any other human relationship, our relationship is full of pluses and minuses. My father is an amazing role model. People admire his public work, but even before that what is admirable about him is the way he chooses to live his life. He’s made a lot of decisions that have privileged HIS work over the status quo. These choices have definitely been influential in the kind of life I am seeking to live.

My father basically worked to support us and when that was no longer necessary, he stopped doing traditional types of jobs and did the work that nurtured him. It certainly means financial difficulties—and we felt the impact of some of those decisions. I remember when he announced that after 40 he wasn’t working for anyone anymore and he started a public relations company at 40 with his partner Bill Rousselle. That changed the way we ate at home. We stopped shopping at Whole Foods, we all remember how we couldn’t get our favorite items anymore, and we had to go to the regular grocery store.

Jane: That must have been challenging.

Kiini: It was. Also, my father has always been on my side. That sounds simple, but it isn’t. I remember when I got to college and friends would tell me, “My dad wants me to be A, B, or C and he’s not going to support me if I don’t do what he wants me to.” My father would never do that. Neither of my parents has ever tried to influence what we were going to do with our lives. They put a lot of work into making us into responsible human beings who could make our own decisions and take care of us . . . after that, the decisions are ours. It’s our life—they raised us with that clear understanding from the beginning. I remember when I got pregnant, all my father wanted to know was if I was happy. Once he realized I was, the conversation was done and we could move on to other things. I have never felt any sting or backlash because I made a choice about my life that he thinks is wrong.

Jane: Your father was involved in many things. He was very active and is still active in the New Orleans artistic, musical, and literary scene. That must have kept him very busy and away from home a lot. How did that affect you as a child?

Kiini: One of the difficult aspects of being my father’s child is that he wasn’t really interested in raising children. He writes about it. He was always present in our lives, but he was out being an activist and an artist and a change maker. When he came home at night we briefed him on our days, he rubbed aching knees, discussed report cards and then he was off to do his thing. My mother was our daily caretaker. When they separated, I didn’t know if they had made a formal agreement that as long as we were living at home my mother would be primarily responsible for us, but when we went to college, he would take over. That’s when we really got to know each other and he began nurturing me into adulthood. But all of my siblings have had varying degrees of issues with his distance from us as children.

Despite those issues, he and I had a special bond (that’s ideal, I think, to have a special bond with each of your children). I was the president of his fan club. The legacy of my childhood with him is all mixed up. It is great on so many levels. Our closeness has waxed and waned over the years. He was my chief counsel from the time I began college until about five years ago when I became fully comfortable in my womanhood. But as a result of his emotional and physical distance (he was in the house, just very, very, busy), I had a lot to sort out about love, intimacy, closeness, and partnership as an adult woman. I think I’m just getting to the other side of some of those issues.

Jane: How has your father’s work as a writer and performer influenced you?

Kiini: The first time I ever saw my father perform was the summer before I started college. I was working an internship at the National Black Arts Festival, something he set up for me, and he had produced a Nation of Poets. It was a poetry reading with a number of poets who were also change-makers. I was astounded. He was something like a preacher man. I think his grandfather was a preacher and that was a direction he was supposed to be headed in until college (I could be wrong about that). I don’t know that his work, itself, has influenced me as much as his life has. Growing up surrounded by music and a plethora of artists coming through the house impacted my outlook. To this day, I feel more at home with artists, and the artist way of life is what I am constantly seeking to live.

My father is constantly pushing himself as an artist—but also as a person—to try new mediums and make new connections with communities. Despite the fact that he is a writer and has been committed to writing for the majority of his life, he transferred his weekly writing workshop from focusing on writing to focusing on video making because he believes video is the medium that will make the largest impact on society in the future. Anyone who wants to keep working mostly on writing is welcome to continue doing so, but he also encourages the members to make films and they all participate in making his film projects.

Jane: Your father was obviously a source of inspiration and support for many other people. I can detect a sense of pride in your description of him. What was his role as far as helping you with your writing?

Kiini: My father was my first editor and he has always encouraged me to grow in my work. I sent him the first piece I wrote and he suggested I send it out. He likes to remind me that it was published in a magazine he has been the editor of, The Black Collegian magazine. (I also have memories of being at the Black Collegian offices as they were putting together the magazine. Seeing the boards mocked up—they were still cutting and pasting then.) Since the beginning of my writing career, he saw everything I wrote and advised me where to send it. I stopped running things by him some years back, but he was also instrumental in me starting the KIS.list, which is my newsletter to my fans. As he knew that I was concerned with audience building, he thought I needed to communicate with the public directly through an e-newsletter rather than just a website. 

So while I may not have pulled my work from his work, his fingerprints are all over my work; from encouraging me to go public with it, to editing it, to sending me calls for publication, to suggesting ways for me to expand my audience. Also, because he raised me (and all my siblings) to be substantive people, and because his work is so honest and direct, I think he has influenced the substance of my work and the thrust of my gender-oriented essays, which intend to help change minds, perspectives, and social mores.

Jane: I guess one thing that we learn as we become adults is that our parents are not as perfect as we thought they were as kids. It can be a very painful revelation, but it also helps us to see them in a more human way and less like demi-gods. They are just trying hard to survive, bring us up in the best way possible and follow their dreams, just as we are. But it sounds like your father was very supportive of your career as a writer. That’s amazing to hear!

Kiini: Most definitely!

Jane: Did you ever get to meet any of the people that he interviewed? For example Julius Nyerere, former president of Tanzania or Luther Vandross?

Kiini: No, not to my knowledge. Perhaps when I was a baby. More than those people, I met the people who were his colleagues, people who were also involved in the black arts movement and wanted to make change in the world. People like Sonia Sanchez.

Jane: How has your mother influenced your life? What lessons have you learned from her?

Kiini: Big question, let’s see what I can pin it down to. Both my parents are both extremely dynamic people. Part of their life’s work is considering what African Americans need to be healthy, happy, and free. As a teacher, my mother spent a lot of time developing the pedagogy of how to raise intelligent children who are aware of their self worth and power and we are her children. She was the co-creator of the Ahidiana Work/Study Center, where my siblings, my cousins, and I were educated. She did at home with us. She covered so many bases as a parent and she raised five us—we are all now powerful, intelligent individuals with lives of our own. Four out of the five of us are raising dynamic, intelligent little people of our own. My mother’s not conventional and her entire life is an effort to live what she believes.

To be what she believes. I follow in her footsteps trying to do the same. I make choices based on what I believe, whatever my beliefs are in the world. That is a difficult and gratifying thing to do. My mother taught us all how to cook and wash our clothes and made us responsible for our own upkeep early on in life. There were five days of the week and five of us. Every night one of us was responsible for cooking dinner for the entire family. So my mother standardized things and we cooked in big amounts. No small pots of rice were cooked . . . we cooked 6 cups of rice at a time. We learned how to do everything around the house. My brothers can take care of themselves as well as the girls can. She worked hard to raise mature, responsible people, and all her work was geared toward making us independent; and I believe that it worked.

Jane: Your mother did all of you a huge favor; she taught you to be self-reliant human beings and to be prepared to live in any country. She sounds like a very amazing woman!

Kiini: Yes. My mother is also really inspirational. She’s been through two brain surgery operations, five births, and a hysterectomy; not to mention dental surgery. She got her college degree when I did and recently completed her Ph.D. She had a severe handicap, which was not being conversant with academic language. She confronted academia on her terms and enriched her department while learning a lot about pedagogy and curriculum development. She’s a live wire, always looking to enjoy life. She also likes to treat herself well, beautify herself and her environment, so she’s a role model in so many ways.

In addition, we always enjoy our time together; she is super supportive and always brings a positive perspective on difficult situations. She’s always pushing me to evolve more emotionally and to take the difficult, but healthy, position in conflicts. After I had my daughter, my friend in Brazil kept sending me invitations to go. I hesitated to accept the invitation, and my mother said, “You better go. It will be great for you and your daughter.” And it was! It was perfect! She doesn’t allow me to wallow in fear.

Jane: When were you first aware of the fact that you wanted to be a writer? When did you first begin writing?

 Kiini: I was always good in English in school. It was a natural fit for me, but for a while I thought I’d be a dancer. I trained as a dancer while in elementary school and in high school I went to the New Orleans Center for the Arts (NOCCA); an arts high school has turned out lots of musicians in the city. But I didn’t have the drive and dedication to be a dancer and I also lacked spark and emotiveness. When I got to college a classmate had a crazy experience. She was reading a book by Haki Madhabuti, and he was postulating some theories on white people. A white man in a business suit was reading over her shoulder, he didn’t like what he saw, so he knocked the book out her hand. I don’t remember exactly how the altercation escalated, but at one point he hit her.

All the passengers on the train were black and did nothing. Eventually she pushed him and he fell down. Then the MARTA police (this happened in Atlanta while I was a student at Spelman College) came, a black man, saw a black woman standing over a white man in anger and tried to make her leave the train. She refused and no one spoke up in her defense. They were mumbling among themselves, but no one broke out of their cowardice.

The situation kept running through my head over and over again and I just couldn’t make sense of it so I wrote a story about it and added a speculative fiction element where when the man hit her, the protagonist was transported to slavery time and she was being beat for knowing how to read. Her fellow enslaved Africans stood there watching, even though the overseer was the only white person present as far as the eye could see. This is the story my father encouraged me to publish. I got paid $100 and it was the beginning of my career as a writer.

Jane: So what did your parents say when they heard you wanted to go into writing?

Kiini: My parents didn’t say much of anything because it was organic. It wasn’t like one day I announced I was going to write. I just started doing it and it became more and more important to me. During my senior year my friends and I started a magazine, Red Clay Magazine, and that was an outlet for a lot of my nonfiction writing. It was just a part of my life and they welcomed it like anything else I was involved in.

Jane: How would you describe your writing style?

Kiini: Visceral. I try to put readers in the middle of an experience. Sensory, sensual, direct. It’s hard to define myself.

Jane: What are your influences?

Kiini: Life. Life influences me; the emotional journeys that we all traverse in life and manage to survive. How people grow, change, and survive is my overall theme. I’m fascinated with human transformation.

Jane: What made you choose the genre of erotica?

Kiini: It sort of chose me. Over time erotic elements and undertones emerged in my writing. When I first moved to New York, someone put me in touch with an erotic publisher. I sent her some of my stories; she felt it was too much story and not enough sex. I didn’t end up pulling back story, but I did add more sex. It made me think about why sex isn’t included/involved in “serious” literature more frequently. It’s definitely an important part of life. I’m very interested in sex and sexuality, but not in a vacuum. I’m less engaged by stories that are only about sex. The relationship between the people heightens the sexual tension and tells a story that gives the reader more to work with.

Jane: You have been to interesting exotic countries like Fiji, Mexico, Brazil and the Dominican Republic. What were your experiences living there as an African American woman?

Kiini: Oh my experiences in every country are different. I’ve written about the challenges I had in the Dominican Republic. They have a serious phobia about and hatred toward Africanness, despite the obvious manifestations of African in their cuisine, music, physical appearance and culture. Also there are some serious gender issues. So I wander in, all unaware, a black woman with natural hair and I was in for some serious shock and lots of verbal and sexual abuse that really destroyed some of my sense of self. I put myself back together over time, culminating with trips to Brazil where I felt much more validated despite that country’s deep race and gender issues. Each trip has been its own experience.

Jane: Have you ever been to Africa?

Kiini: No, I have not been to Africa.

Jane: Would you like to go there?

Kiini: I would like to go, but something has stopped me from making it a priority. I don’t know if it’s fear—I think I’m afraid it’s going to be overwhelming and I’m not going to know how to navigate it. I’m not sure where this fear is coming from. My parents both have traveled throughout Africa; my younger sister has been to every region of Africa and encourages me to go. I made plans to go to Tanzania and Cape Verde on two different occasions and still never made it for some reason. And now I have a young daughter. Logistically, it never seems to work out. Eventually, it will happen. I probably will go as someone’s guest at some point. I have a friend in Azania-South Africa that I have been meaning to visit for years. It will happen.

Jane: Would you say that your stories are aimed at any group of people in particular?

Kiini: No. I write what’s in my heart to write, and then I look for an audience.

Jane: What have you learnt so far through your journey as a writer?

Kiini: So much, too much, to cover here. One of the most important things that is equally relevant to life is the fact that the invisible issues that guide what we do, can deeply impact our success or failure. Issues with ego, fear, and self-perception can guide what a writer writes and doesn’t write. The thing that the muse may most want to bring through you, may embarrass you . . . you may think it’s too shallow, or too mainstream, or too deep, or too crazy and you may avoid it and try to write in your image rather than just express what is deep inside you. The more I write the more I lean on faith to find the way the through.

Jane: You have accomplished a great landmark in your career as a writer. Do you have any aspirations to write a novel?

Kiini: Yes, I spent many years trying to write a novel. After each completed draft (I wrote four drafts) I would send it to editors and agent. They gave me the best responses; specific paragraphs on what they liked about the work and what wasn’t didn’t work in the novel. I even got two enthusiastic phone calls, both from agencies. Ultimately what held me back with that novel was not being cognizant of the basics of novel writing—of plots, through line, structure. So I finally decided to enroll in an MFA program, I figured at the least I could teach creative writing and have a more humane work schedule . . . I really don’t want to teach, but I let that pretense get me into the program. Now that I’m in it, I am getting so much valuable information on novel writing. I’m getting immediate feedback on what’s not working and why, as well as what’s working and why. I’m in a two-year novel writing workshop and I intend to have a novel when I come out of the program. It has been a challenge learning the genre and I finally feel as if I have a sense of what I’m doing.

Jane: I notice that you are a natural haired woman. I read your article “Hair transgressions” and I identified very much with what you wrote about the perception of natural hair. For the sake of our readers, could you please elaborate briefly on that article and your experiences with natural hair?

Kiini: Well, it just talked about being someone who grew up with natural hair and how the world treated me as a result of not having a perm. From childhood I’ve experienced immense friction in the world because of my hair. It is bizarre that this simple difference in me can cause such uproar. It’s even more bizarre when you consider that I am simply wearing my hair the way God made it, I’m not altering myself in any way . . . yet this in and of itself is an affront to the world.

The western world is remarkably hostile to Africans and Africanness. Any reminder of it is seen as aberrant, curious, misguided, and just wrong. So as a child in the 70s and 80s I was teased a lot—no one in New Orleans (except other girls in my community) has natural hair. I was called all sorts of names; Kojack, Baldy, Grace Jones, baldhead bitch. When I got older, I faced snickers and laughter, or a well-meaning guy coming over to my boyfriend (not knowing we were together) saying he could never date someone with hair like mine.

Jane: That was definitely a horrible experience and I am glad that we are addressing it because people need to know how natural haired women feel when they are constantly vilified for wearing the African mane that the Creator blessed them with. That is one of the things that make us stand out as black people and it is one of our beautiful trademarks. Our hair is beautiful and versatile. I am willing to bet all my money that the same guy who made that rude remark had natural hair himself.

Kiini: He did. It definitely impacted my vision of myself as someone who was dateable. In college boys/young men were constantly making fun and screaming abusive things. When I had my hair shorn in college, an older woman sounded wounded and asked me “Why did you cut your hair, baby? Your hair is your glory.” Women would stop me (as well as my friends with short natural hair) and say that they wanted to go natural but they didn’t have the guts, they didn’t have the right face, they didn’t have the right head. In the Dominican Republic, I received a lot of sexual abuse and negation because of my hair.

I was touched in the street, ignored when I wanted someone to dance with, and not allowed entry in some clubs. Their hyper-rejection of Africanness and, consequently of Haitians (or vice versa) mixed with profound gender issues, made it okay for them to abuse me. In Jamaica, no one in the middle class seemed to have intimate knowledge of what locks were. Every time I went out, people wanted to touch my hair. In the grocery store I had to have multiple conversations with cashiers as to whether my hair was real and whether or not I was Rastafarian. Now I’m in Mexico where everyone is fascinated with my hair and with my daughter’s hair. They stare, and strangers reach out and touch my daughter’s head as she’s passing by. We’re seen as something remarkable just by being who we are.

Jane: What a contrast of reactions!

Kiini: Indeed!

Jane: Kiini, you are also a painter. What do you paint and where can we find your paintings?

Kiini: Well, it’s bizarre. I painted for exactly two years. It started in Bahia, Brazil where there was such a range of artistry that I felt comfortable trying my hand at something I had wanted to do all my life. I continued painting as I traveled back and forth and lived on people’s couches. Then for some reason I stopped. I deeply desire to return to painting. I loved the paintings I made and the act of painting was a mood-altering activity. It didn’t matter how I was feeling when I went into it, while I was painting I just reach a place of peace and total focus on what I’m doing. It’s very meditative. So my paintings are in friends and relatives’ houses all over the country. Perhaps one day I’ll put up a gallery on my website.

Jane: Most artists have to balance their craft with what the rest of the world calls ‘real work’ at the beginning. Are you only focusing on your writing and art or do you have another job on the side?

Kiini: I still have to keep a job. For years I was a freelancer with an order-by-mail book company. This was perfect for me because I could alternate times of work with times of travel. After I had my daughter and my company was sold, I felt insecure relying on the freelancing to support us, so I got a regular 9-to-5 as a grant writer. But when I enrolled in my MFA program, I realized I needed to focus on the writing. Working did allow me to cut the amount of loan money I was taking out in half, but I couldn’t give myself over to the work. So now I’m totally focused on the writing. I took the loan money and went down to Mexico. When I come out of the program I plan to get a fellowship and continue writing. If that doesn’t work out, there’s a possibility that I will have to return to the 9-to-5 insanity.

Jane: Who do you most admire in your profession at the moment?

Kiini: I’m not someone who fixates on people. I read a lot of stuff that impacts me that I’m wowed by, but I don’t record them in my conscious mind as someone to watch. I admire different writers/artist for different reasons. One may be mind-blowing creative; another may be daring with their subject matter. I may admire how another is making her way through the literary world. So there are many and I draw inspiration from as many sources as possible.

Jane: Who is your favorite writer?

Kiini: I don’t have one.

Jane: What music would we find in your CD player?

Kiini: I’m a bit of a monk. I don’t buy a lot. My money goes to food and to travel. I never buy music. It’s just not where I want to spend my funds. I love eating and traveling, those are my priorities. But this whole I-tunes thing has revolutionized my relationship to music. I downloaded all my CDs, all of which were gifts or giveaways, onto my Mac and now I listen to music while I’m writing and sometimes in the morning when getting my daughter ready for school. Who do I love? Stevie Wonder, Prince, Cassandra Wilson, Nina Simone, and a range of Brazilian artists are in constant rotation on my I-tunes. Zap Mama’s playing right now.

Jane: For your dream dinner party which five guests would you invite and why?

Kiini: My dream dinner party? Well, I’m in love with my friends, I really am and I’m currently down here in Oaxaca, so it would be beautiful to dine with them . . . but my dream dinner party. Well, the complicated thing too is that real people are so very different from their messages (artistic or political), so when you sit down with someone you admire it could be wonderful or it could be heart breaking. So maybe I should give you the archetypes; a world traveler who has a million fascinating stories from her/his travels and yet is a gracious listener so he or she doesn’t hog the conversation.

A successful artist who has managed to stay true to her/his artistic heart and has also made loads of money. That is to say someone who knows the values of her/his work yet continues to think of her/himself as an equal with other artists. Someone who works with people; could be an educator or a social anthropologist; who tries to get us to consider things we could do to make change in the world; a trained, spiritual person who is studying to reach new heights in their spiritual ascension and who is open with their spiritual process. A good friend who would enjoy the same company I would and with whom I could discuss everything that happened the next day.

Jane: Are you romantically involved?

Kiini: Not currently, though I am deeply in love with my little girl. We have quite a love affair going on.

Jane: This is a new question that I am asking because I believe in promoting self-esteem, especially among black women who see very little representation of themselves in the media. Magazines like Bahiyah Woman Magazine are working hard to change this and that excites me because it is a project that I have personally embarked on. What is your idea of beauty in a man or a woman?

Kiini: My idea of beauty in men and women isn’t all that different. I think a good heart is beautiful. Honesty; someone who knows they are human and are honest about their foibles and mistakes, is beautiful. Charisma; that something special that makes some one compelling; intelligence; uniqueness; people who walk to the step of their own drum. And fearlessness. Oh, and someone who cares about what happens to their neighbor and all the other people who occupy the planet with us.

Jane: Do you have any advice for those who wish to follow in your footsteps?

Kiini: Listen and do. Listen and do. Listen and do. I think we get lots of messages of the best direction for us, but we have to listen and not be afraid to follow our own instincts, no matter how crazy they are. And of course, you must do. Whatever you’re doing, it is writing, loving, and parenting. You have to do your work. Without judgment and with a minimum of ego, not getting caught up in how you’re going to be perceived. You have to do, do, do and keep doing. The doing evolves as you evolve. That’s what keeps life interesting, you change and there are new levels of honesty, faith, fearlessness required to carry on.

Jane: So what’s next for Kiini Ibura Salaam?

Kiini: Lots of money, freedom, and new opportunities from my novel—Fate, the first draft of which will be finished by January 2006. I’m ready to burst to the next level of my writing career, that means finding a way to write full time and to live comfortably on the revenues from my writing. That is the challenge I’m taking on now.

You can learn more about Kiini Ibura Salaam at

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Jane Musoke-Nteyafas, poet/author/artist and playwright, was born in Moscow, Russia and currently resides in Toronto, Canada.  She is the daughter of retired diplomats. By the time she was 19, she spoke French, English, Spanish, Danish, Luganda, some Russian and had lived in Russia, Uganda, France, Denmark, Cuba and Canada. She won the Miss Africanada beauty pageant 2000 in Toronto where she was also named ‘one of the new voices of Africa’ after reciting one of her poems. In 2004 she was published in T-Dot Griots-An Anthology of Toronto’s Black storytellers and in February 2005 her art piece Namyenya was featured as the poster piece for the Human Rights through Art-Black History Month Exhibit. She is the recipient of numerous awards for her poetry, art and playwriting and is becoming a household name in Toronto circles. Please visit her website at


posted 24 March 2006

  Kiini Ibura Salaam is a realistic woman.

She likes the feel of a warm bed, understands the necessity of food, so she works. At her day job, she corrects inconsequential errors while remembering mornings spent wrestling with words and sucking meaning from images. She frets, knowing her 9-to-5 threatens her fragile relationship with writing.

Yet she always manages to coax writing back into her graces. She begs writing’s absolution with essays published in Colonize This, When Race Becomes Real, Roll Call, Men We Cherish, Utne Reader, Essence, and Ms. Magazine. She prostrates herself obediently with fiction published in Mojo: Conjure Stories, Black Silk, When Butterflies Kiss, Dark Matter, and Dark Eros. She tithes her art form with the KIS.list, a monthly e-report on life as a writer. She produces as an altar, an online offering of words.

Writing, expansive and forgiving, responds with a flood of inspired embraces. Whether she be in her native New Orleans, her adopted Brooklyn or her beloved Bahia, the writer unabashedly bares herself to the caress of words. She writes with holy gratitude, forever in love with her craft.

posted 7 November 2007

*   *   *   *   *’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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Karma’s Footsteps

By Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie

Somebody has to tell the truth sometime, whatever that truth may be. In this, her début full collection, Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie offers up a body of work that bears its scars proudly, firm in the knowledge that each is evidence of a wound survived. These are songs of life in all its violent difficulty and beauty; songs of fury, songs of love. ‘Karma’s Footsteps’ brims with things that must be said and turns the volume up, loud, giving silence its last rites. “Ekere Tallie’s new work ‘Karma’s Footsteps’ is as fierce with fight songs as it is with love songs. Searing with truths from the modern day world she is unafraid of the twelve foot waves that such honesties always manifest. A poet who “refuses to tiptoe” she enters and exits the page sometimes with short concise imagery, sometimes in the arms of delicate memoir. Her words pull the forgotten among us back into the lightning of our eyes.—Nikky Finney /  Ekere Tallie Table

Her Voice   / Mother Nature: Thoughts on Nourishing Your Body, Mind, and Spirit During Pregnancy and Beyond  

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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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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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Ancient, Ancient: Short Fiction

By Kiini Ibura Salaam

Ancient, Ancient collects the short fiction by Kiini Ibura Salaam, of which acclaimed author and critic Nalo Hopkinson writes, ”Salaam treats words like the seductive weapons they are. She wields them to weave fierce, gorgeous stories that stroke your sensibilities, challenge your preconceptions, and leave you breathless with their beauty.” Indeed, Ms. Salaam’s stories are so permeated with sensuality that in her introduction to

Ancient, Ancient

, Nisi Shawl, author of the award-winning Filter House, writes, ”Sexuality-cum-sensuality is the experiential link between mind and matter, the vivid and eternal refutation of the alleged dichotomy between them. This understanding is the foundation of my 2004 pronouncement on the burgeoning sexuality implicit in sf’s Afro-diasporization. It is the core of many African-based philosophies. And it is the throbbing, glistening heart of Kiini’s body of work. This book is alive. Be not afraid.”

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Life on Mars

By Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith, author of Life on Mars has been selected as the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In its review of the book, Publishers Weekly noted the collection’s “lyric brilliance” and “political impulses [that] never falter.” A New York Times review stated, “Smith is quick to suggest that the important thing is not to discover whether or not we’re alone in the universe; it’s to accept—or at least endure—the universe’s mystery. . . . Religion, science, art: we turn to them for answers, but the questions persist, especially in times of grief. Smith’s pairing of the philosophically minded poems in the book’s first section with the long elegy for her father in the second is brilliant.” Life on Mars follows Smith’s 2007 collection, Duende, which won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, the only award for poetry in the United States given to support a poet’s second book, and the first Essence Literary Award for poetry, which recognizes the literary achievements of African Americans.

The Body’s Question (2003) was her first published collection. Smith said Life on Mars, published by small Minnesota press Graywolf, was inspired in part by her father, who was an engineer on the Hubble space telescope and died in 2008.

*   *   *   *   *

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

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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 3 March 2012




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