W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk and Contemporary Racial Discourse
Sometime ago I was in a hotel lobby in Washington, D.C. talking with a friend from another university. The occasion that brought both of us, and eighty-two other scholars to the nation's capital, was the annual competition for the Ford Foundation Dissertation and Post-Doctoral Minority Fellowships Program, hosted by the National Research Council. After two days of intense review sessions of proposals from qualified minorities, we had fulfilled our responsibilities, and were taking a moment to reflect on the many fine proposals that deserved funding, but which--due to limited moneys--would only receive "honorable mention." While in the midst of this conversation, a middle-aged white male approached my friend and me and asked if either of us was the bellman. We were both taken back at this man's query, since although both of us are African American males, neither physically looked the part of a bellman. In fact, my friend had been teasing me about my dapper style of clothing, complete with a 100% virgin wool Kango hat and matching topcoat, accented by Stacey Adams shoes, an expensive suit, French-cuffed white shirt and tie. I, in turn, had been "signifying" on his more than casual style of dress, for he had chosen to "dress down" after the sessions by donning the garb of the hip-hop generation, with a baseball cap, Air Jordan tennis shoes, jeans, casual shirt, and a trendy athletic warm-up jacket. We responded to this man's query by telling him that not only was neither of us the bellman, but the tradition of the bellman requires him to establish difference between himself and others by wearing a particular uniform, which neither of us wore. As the man walked away, we continued to comment that not only did we not look like bellmen, but each of us carried a briefcase, usually a signifier of professional status.
Now that I have achieved distance from this event, I think there was more to this man's question than one might first suspect. While he was certainly trying to locate the bellman so that he could get some help in signaling a cab and carrying his luggage, his inability to differentiate between myself, my friend, and the bellman--three African American males--may reflect his unwillingness to allow my friend and me the privilege of sharing the public space usually reserved for white males, except in the subservient role of bellman. Even though both of us hold faculty rank at our respective institutions, and were in Washington, D.C. at the invitation of the National Research Council--which is usually perceived as a sign of a national scholarly reputation--this man's question collapsed the difference between us as black intellectuals, and the bellman as a service worker, into a homogenized black other, the black subject.
This confrontation was even more problematic since we were aware that this man meant us no harm--he simply wanted to locate the bellman. But his representation of a bellman was nonspecific. For him the bellman was a social construct that represented the black subject, the African American male, regardless of class, social status, or physical appearance. When he looked at us, the man actually saw a bellman, a formless black body. W.E.B. Du Bois, writing in Dusk of Dawn, recalls a similar experience while attending college at Harvard. Even though Du Bois embraced the small black student body at Harvard and attempted to forget as far as was possible that outer, whiter world, he found that "naturally it could not be entirely forgotten, so that now and then I plunged into it, joined its currents and rose or fell with it. The joining was sometimes a matter of social contact. I escorted colored girls, and as pretty ones as I could find, to the vesper exercises and the class day and commencement social functions. Naturally we attracted attention and sometimes the shadow of insult as when in one case a lady seemed determined to mistake me for a waiter." 1 Perhaps Ralph Ellison expressed our conundrum best in the prologue to Invisible Man, "I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination--indeed, everything and anything except me."2
This sensation of being "bumped against" by "people of poor vision" expresses the dilemma of self representation for African Americans. The culture of dominance that initially produced slavery, and later, a racial hierarchy, constructed Black people as a race of bodies valued only for its market value as a commodified physical subject. These tropes of the body substantially influenced the ability of African Americans to represent themselves from the point of view of their own culture that sought to assert the primacy of the totality of subjecthood. It restricted their representation to tropes that corresponded with the dominant hegemony. These fragmented tropes both fixed within the cultural texts of the Western world, and divided the Black subject into two separate selves: Mind and body. Racist discourse emphasized the representation of African Americans as material bodies, and delimited the mind as a signifier of Black identity.
This mind/body binary is grounded in Christianity, since it evolves, first, from the Apostle Paul's assertion that Christians must mortify the flesh in order to achieve spiritual purity, and later, refined by St. Augustine who, in his Confessions, argues that the body is sinful and must be negated in order to reach spiritual communion with God. This body/spirit binary gives rise to the body/mind one here, since the European Enlightenment, heavily influenced by Christianity, held that the intellect was, in fact, the ability to deny the body, resist its natural carnal nature, and impose the order of human agency on an object that resists such restrictions. Conversely, the balance of mind and body indicated the inability to control the body as material subject; it was perceived as a sign of intellectual weaknesses, cultural backwardness, and savagery. W.E.B. Du Bois, utilizing doublevoiced discourse that signifies on the submerged mind/body binary in nineteenth century American life, expresses the dilemma of self representation for African Americans in his seminal text, The Souls of Black Folk, when he writes, "Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil?"3
The common thread that runs through my experience of being "bumped against" by the man's question, and Du Bois's mention of the "unasked question" by those of the "other world," is the inability of African Americans to represent themselves from the perspective of their own cultural traditions, or in other words, in other than mind/body binaries. Surely Du Bois was aware that this was not a new problem. In 1841, the abolitionist movement published The New England Anti-Slavery Almanac for 1841, a "how to" book which directed abolitionist editors of slave narratives to "speak for the slave," and "write for the slave," since "they [the slaves] can't take care of themselves."4 This perspective toward slaves as subjects and abolitionist narrators as their authenticating narrative voice both belies the implicit goal of 18th century slave narratives--to justify slavery--and expresses a hegemonic relationship between the silenced slave and empowered narrator. It begins, within American cultural texts, a tradition which is a trope against the self representation of the African American personality. The inability of African Americans to represent themselves publicly, however, can be traced back as early as the late eighteenth century, with the controversy surrounding the authenticity of Phyllis Wheatley's poems, and throughout the nineteenth century in its emphasis on the minstrel tradition as an authentic representation of Black life. Indeed, Eric Lott, in Love and Theft,5 demonstrates admirably both the construction of "blackness" through the minstrels and the tendency of white working class males to insist that the white minstrels accurately represented African Americans. The performance language created for minstrel characters, dialect, was in fact a way of representing the belief of many whites that African Americans were less intelligent, barely human, and incapable of grasping even the most basic concepts of the English language. Later in the nineteenth century, the Plantation Era attempted to justify slavery through revising tropes of the mind/body binary in which black subjects were represented as black bodies deprived of minds, rational intellects, which actually enjoyed their experience of slavery.
While this cultural assault on the African American personality rendered impotent their attempts to represent themselves from the point of view of their own cultural traditions, political legislation insured that they would not gain control of their own social narratives by insisting that the African American was a fractured, incomplete, inauthentic person, less valuable than his/her white counterparts, and suitable only to be hewers of wood and drawers of water. The underpinnings of both processes were centered in the beliefs, first, that African Americans were not citizens, but property, and thus enjoyed only the advantages guaranteed to them which governed property rights, and second, that if African Americans were to exist as free men and women, they could not share the same social, political and economic space as whites, but instead had to be relegated to that space ascribed to them by those who had initially constructed "blackness" to represent the racialized other.
In The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois attempts to represent what he calls "the world within the veil," the spiritual world of African Americans by articulating, from the perspective of African Americans, an identity that is fixed rather than permeable. His often quoted statement on "double-consciousness," expresses, for Du Bois, the otherness that lies at the core of black identity. Although Du Bois's statement has been criticized for its over-simplistic nature, in that it is primarily a male construct that fails to acknowledge class and gender, this double identity is central to twentieth-century racial discourse, since he also attempts to fix racial identity through the construct of doubleness. Du Bois deconstructs the trope of bodies, derived from the mind/body binary, by fixing black identity in the mind/spirit binary and privileging the spirit. Du Bois locates the problem of self representation in the African American's struggle to merge his "two-ness." Though physically distant from the actual existence of black people, Du Bois finds that in the south, he first locates what Donald Gibson calls their "bodies," their social essence. In a sense, Du Bois locates the "Black essence" through what Paul Gilroy calls "routes," not "roots."6 That is to say, he finds that geographical routes, the black south, allows him to represent African Americans accurately.
Although his body of writings is large, the place of The Souls of Black Folk is central in the discourse on race, since, in this text, Du Bois identifies a number of cultural markers of racial difference: The African American as a social problem; the problem of the twentieth century is the color line; the African American is born with a veil and gifted with second-sight into this American world; the African American has a double-consciousness, black and American. He constructs his prophetic critique of racial difference through what he calls the unasked question that represents African Americans as a problematic group within America. In an attempt to establish black people as authentic personalities, Du Bois breaks with the stereotypes of nineteenth-century racial discourse that represented African Americans as a race of physical bodies without minds or spirits; he privileges the black soul in his poetic, albeit analytic narrative in which he articulates what it is like to live within what he calls the veil, or black world. His treatment of racial difference, or a tale twice told, has become, over nearly the last hundred years, the most often quoted statements on the subject by any twentieth-century intellectual.
1 W.E.B. Du Bois, Dusk of Dawn: An
Essay Toward an Autobiography of a Race
Concept. 1940 (New Brunswick: Transaction, 1984), p. 35.
2 Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man. 1952 (New York: Vintage, 1982), p. 7.
3 W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk. 1903 (New York: Penguin, 1989), pp. 3-4.
4 Author Anonymous. The New England Anti-Slavery Almanac for 1841 (Boston: 1841).
5 See Eric Lott, Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (New York: Oxford UP, 1993).
6 Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness ( New York: Oxford UP, 1993).
Chester J. Fontenot, Jr.,
From the President: All But The Shout!
Shout! Lately, this word has resounded in my head, as we attempt to put the finishing touch on Looking Back With Pleasure II: A Celebration (AALCS 2000). I have found myself saying out loud: its all over but the shout! Perhaps this conclusion (or secret desire) was initially triggered by a current television commercial that uses a popular disco song: You Know You Make Me Want to Shout, for its theme; or perhaps it was set in motion by the inspiration I felt while driving to work a few weeks ago, listening to WLLB, Salt Lake Citys only black gospel station, and hearing a gospel favorite encouraging: Dont wait till the battle is over; you can shout now.
Certainly, the sermon I recently heard had something to do with it. Reaching the climax of his thesis on the importance of giving, but finding absent the expected Sunday morning Amen Corner--apparently his congregation did not agree that it is more blessed to give than to receive--the exuberant, spirit filled pastor chided in his raspy voice: somebody ought to be shouting by now!, signifying big time on his dormant audience.
To be sure, reflecting on AALCS 2000 and the stellar list of confirmed participants, including Dr. Maya Angelou whose autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is an American classic, must have also set these thoughts in motion. In describing the small church she attended in Stamps, Arkansas, Angelou recalls the wonderfully spontaneous exchange between spirit-filled Sister Monroe, who was not in regular attendance but certainly made her presence known whenever she attended by shouting the loudest, punctuating the air with: I said preach it, and her pastor, Reverend Taylor, who had to run for his life whenever Sister Monroe got going.1
Clearly, the shouting I have been reflecting on surpasses an activity one associates with a loud pep rally, where screaming cheerleaders and flag waving students attempt to whip fans into a frenzy. Nor is it merely the emotional release one desires to emit at the end of a long, stress-filled day when s/he is caught in rush hour traffic or, as the director of a major project, s/he discovers that the promised contribution from a major donor is not forthcoming, or an important participant has called to cancel (though I can not totally exclude these).
I am thinking about shouting as a spiritual signifier which, like witnessing, testifying, rapping and signifying, is a meaningful, even fundamental, trope in African American culture-not just the Black Church. In a way, this trope lies at the heartbeat of Looking Back With Pleasure II: A Celebration!
In fact, like the theme of AALCS 2000, this trope, as I envision it, is associated with the rites of rejuvenation and renewal Equiano recalls in his eighteenth century autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, The African, Written by Himself (1789). Equiano explains that members of his traditional village, Essaka,compute the year from the day on which the sun crosses the line, and, on its setting that evening, there is a great shout throughout the land . . . .The people at the same time make a gent noise with rattles . . . and hold up their hands to heaven for a blessing.2
In one of the first efforts made by an African American to give serious, scholarly attention to this ritual in the Black church, Zora Neale Hurston identified shouting as a residue of African culture. According to her,
There can be little doubt that shouting is a survival of the African possession by the gods. In Africa it is sacred to the priesthood or acolytes; in America it has become generalized. The implication is the same, however. It is a sign of special favor from the spirit that it chooses to drive out the individual consciousness temporarily and use the body for its expression.3
Hurston explains that although it is absolutely individualistic, shouting is a community thing.4
Like the spiritual, regenerative and celebratory ritual Equiano and Hurston describe, Looking Back With Pleasure II: A Celebration will indeed be a community thing. It is a richly signifying moment when AALCS members, local participants in month long activities, and conference attendees position themselves for a metaphoric general shout. It is indeed a rite of renewal and rejuvenation. Consider its significance in this way: We are meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah (a place where, I am often told by friends and colleagues, there are no Black people), at a site called the Little America Hotel, to record, confirm and celebrate a century of African American contributions in art, dance, film, literature and music. In doing so at the beginning of a new century and millennium, we will indeed be loudly echoing Equiano-not only in Utah and America, but the entire world: African Americans still look back with pleasure, despite our historical struggles during the twentieth century. In fact, we remain among Americas most significant cultural contributors.
The critical word is still. With it, Equiano defiantly (though with a somewhat veiled voice) announces that, no matter the adversities or variety of fortunes he experienced as a slave, he was nevertheless able- in fact, he had chosen to view only that which was positive: to look back with pleasure. To a world that, in many ways, had attempted to erase(his word) who and what he was, Equiano was loudly declaring: NOT POSSIBLE! Still signifies Equianos indomitable spirit; though assailed, he remains, if I may borrow from Mari Evans, impervious and indestructible.
Equianos bold stance is representative of the total African American Experience. It is a source of inspiration for AALCS 2000. Like Dr. DuBois, who we are also celebrating during the conference, Equiano asks us to listen to the spiritual strivings in the souls of black folk. When we do, the sounds we hear are coming from those of us who are convinced we dont have to wait for the battle to be over. We can shout now!
1 Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (New York: Bantam Books, 1970), pp. 32-37.
2 Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, The African, Written by Himself. Edited Vincent Carretta (New York: Penquin Books 1995), pp. 40-41.
3 Zora Neale. Shouting, in Nancy Cunard, ed. The Negro: An Anthology (New York: F Ungar Publishing CO, 1970), p. 34.
4 Hurston 34.
Wilfred D. Samuels
University of Utah
Wilfred D. Samuels University of Utah
PHOTOGRAPHY ON THE COLOR LINE
At the turn of the twentieth century, W. E. B. Du Bois compiled a series of photographs for the "American Negro" exhibit at the 1900 Paris Exposition. The images to be presented in conjunction with the African American Literature and Culture Society conference, "Looking Back With Pleasure II: A Celebration," constitute a small but representative portion of the 362 photographs Du Bois organized into albums, entitled "Types of American Negroes," "Georgia, U.S.A." and "Negro Life in Georgia, U.S.A." Du Bois's work for the American Negro exhibit was extensive and much praised, and in the Spring of 1900, Paris Exposition judges awarded him a gold medal for his role as "collaborator" and "compiler" of materials for the exhibit. The albums are now held in the collections of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
In 1900, Du Bois proclaimed that the problem of the twentieth century is "the problem of the color line," by which he meant the problems of racial discrimination, imperialism, and segregation. At the time, Du Bois was a professor of sociology at Atlanta University, committed to combating racism with empirical evidence of the economic, social, and cultural conditions of African Americans. He believed that a clear revelation of the facts of African American life and culture would challenge the claims of biological race scientists influential at the time, which proposed that African Americans were inherently inferior to Anglo-Americans. Such theories informed strident racial oppression at the turn of the century, ideologically reinforcing disfranchisement, the institutionalization of segregation made legal by the 1896 Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson, and a radical increase in the racialized crime of lynching.
In this context, Du Bois's "American Negro" photographs might be taken as evidence of African American striving and achievement at the turn of the century. These photographs of affluent young African American men and women challenge the scientific "evidence" and popular racist caricatures of the day that ridiculed and sought to diminish African American social and economic success. Further, the images challenge the very terms of turn-of-the-century scientific racial classification. The wide range of hair styles and skin tones represented in the photographs demonstrate that the so-called "Negro type" was in fact a diverse group of distinct individuals. The one public statement Du Bois made concerning these photographs was that visitors to the American Negro exhibit would find "several volumes of photographs of typical Negro faces, which hardly square with conventional American ideas." Indeed, Du Bois's "American Negro" photographs challenge turn-of-the-century misrepresentations, offering images of African Americans that contest the authority of the "color line.
Shawn Michelle Smith Washington State University
Notables . . .
E. Ethelbert Miller Publishes Memoir
In his memoir, Fathering Words: The Making of An African American Writer (St. Martin's Press), poet, scholar, artist, activist and archivist, E. Ethelbert Miller, questions what constitutes a good father and a good husband. To understand his own father's "unwavering familial commitment," Miller recounts his South Bronx childhood and revisits some of the most significant times in his life. Publishers Weekly calls it "a superb document of the Black Arts Movement of the 1970s and the current African-American literary scene."
Wallace Thurman: Utahs Native Son
During the Harlem Renaissance Wallace Thurman had an impressive influence on such contemporaries as Langston Hughes, Dorothy West, and Bruce Nugent. That his influence has lasted, at least indirectly, and is evidenced in the works of James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Marlon Riggs, and E. Lynn Harris. In his brief life, Thurman experimented with many genres in hopes of finding a niche that would propel him to be a great "American writer.
His Life Thurman's nine year hegira in Harlem was preceded by a middle-class, provincial life which began with his birth in Salt Lake City, Utah, on August 6, 1902, where his parents (Oscar and Beulah Thurman) and grandparents, Western pioneers, had settled. Apparently, his parents' marriage ended early, for he described in a 1929 letter his poignant first meeting with his father. The family's gypsy-like existence, which took them from Boise, Idaho, to Chicago, Illinois, to Omaha, Nebraska, and back to Salt Lake City, resulted in Thurman attending school in a succession of Midwestern cities, while continually combating illnesses.
In Salt Lake City, Thurman not only managed to complete high school, in 1918, but also he spent two years as a pre-medical student at the University of Utah. His formal education was once again interrupted by illness, this time by a nervous breakdown, which he once intimated was a possible family trait. Thurman's frequent and debilitating bouts with illness may have contributed to his early interest in writing. Since his long periods of recuperation precluded his participation in conventional boyhood physical activity, he compensated by reading widely such authors as Harold Bell Wright, Zane Grey, and Marie Corelli, resisting developing an interest in the works most frequently assigned by his high school teachers, except Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities.
During the next three years, 1922-25, Thurman decided to dedicate his life to writing. He moved to Los Angeles, worked as a postal clerk and, simultaneously for two years, studied at the University of Southern California. Through coincidence, Thurman and Arna Bontemps, another renaissance literary artist, worked for several months as night clerks for the same post office. He would later call this his "poetry writing period." Although from all accounts his poetry output was prodigious, today only a handful of his poems remain, and his reputation as a literary artist rests in his fiction, essays, and dramas.
His Career In Los Angeles, Thurman experienced his first and most "successful" venture as a literary magazine editor, serving six months as publisher and editor of his own magazine, Outlet, which grew out of his unsuccessful efforts to establish a West Coast-based "New Negro" movement. In addition, Thurman also wrote a column entitled "Inklings" for a black Los Angeles newspaper. Abandoning his efforts to establish a "New Negro" movement in Los Angeles, Thurman traveled to Harlem in 1925, during the heightened black literary activity and, as he told a friend, he began "to live."
In Harlem, the Thurman best known to scholars began to emerge. In a relatively short time, he was introduced to the Harlem scene where he created a reputation for himself because of his "bohemian lifestyle"-his penchant for parties and alcohol. Although he became popular in Harlem social circles, he was also known for the biting, satiric thrusts in his essays aimed at his contemporaries, the renaissance movement, and America's provincialism. Although he was only considered a minor literary figure, Thurman was lauded as a satirist. His fame lay in his influence on and support for younger and talented writers of the era, and with his realistic portrayals of the "lower classes" of black American society.
Thurman rejected the idea that the Harlem Renaissance was a substantial literary movement, claiming that the 1920s produced no outstanding writers and that those who were famous exploited, and allowed themselves to be patronized by whites. He claimed, as did a number of authors of the decade, that white critics judged black works by lower standards than they judged white efforts. Thurman maintained that black writers were held back from making any great contribution to the canon of Negro literature by their race-consciousness and decadent lifestyles.
In an unpublished essay, "The Nephews of Uncle Remus," Thurman discusses his reservations about the Harlem Renaissance. The movement's faddish aspect struck a negative chord in him. Consequently, he warned that the black writer must avoid faddish trends, as well as victimization by unsound criticism, if s/he "is to make any appreciable contribution to American literature." If the black author wishes to be considered "a sincere artist trying to do dignified work rather than as a highly trained dog doing tricks, dances in a public square," (298) Thurman maintained, he must approach his work seriously. Adhering to his own recommendation, he wrote about and provided social commentaries on issues germane to "Negro writing."
In New York, he worked as a reporter and editor at The Looking Glass, and became managing editor of the Messenger, where his editorial expertise earned him notoriety. He published works by Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston. He left in the autumn of 1926 to join the staff of a white-owned periodical, World Tomorrow. In summer 1926, Thurman, along with Hughes, edited Fire!!. Hurston, Gwendolyn Bennett, and Aaron Douglas were members of the editorial board, which intended to have Fire!! "satisfy pagan thirst for beauty unadorned," as they noted in the foreword of the first issue.
The first issue of Fire!! featured short stories by Thurman, Hurston, and Bennett; poetry by Hughes, Cullen, and Bontemps; a play by Hurston, illustrations by Douglas, and the first part of a novel by Nugent. Fire!! folded after one issue; it was criticized by some blacks who thought it irreverent. Two years later, Thurman published Harlem: A Forum of Negro Life, a more moderate, broadly focused magazine, also devoted to displaying works by younger writers. But Harlem, too, failed after its premier issue.
Written in collaboration with Jourdan Rapp, Thurman's first play, "Harlem: A Melodrama of Negro Life," opened on Broadway, February 20, 1929, at the Apollo Theater, bringing Thurman immediate success. "Harlem" centers on the Williams family, who relocated in New York City to escape economic difficulties at the time of the "great migration" of Southerners to the North during the first two decades of the twentieth century. But instead of finding the city a "promised land," they encounter many of the problems that often plagued the families of the migration: unemployment and tensions between generations heightened by difficulties in adjusting to city life.
Despite mixed reviews, "Harlem" played for an impressive ninety-three performances in what was considered a poor theater season and was taken on tour to the West Coast, the Midwest, and Canada. In 1930, Thurman again collaborated with Rapp (who was white) on a three-act play, "Jeremiah, the Magnificent," based on black nationalist Marcus Garvey's "back to Africa" movement. Thurman's unproduced and unpublished plays include "Singing the Blues (1931) and "Savage Rhythm"(1932).
Thurman's best known work is his first novel, The Blacker the Berry (1929). Taken from the folk saying "the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice," the title is ironic, for the novel was an attack on prejudice within the race. Emma Lou, the protagonist, is a dark-skinned girl from Boise who is looked down upon by her fairer family members and friends. When she attends the University of Southern California in Los Angeles she again is scorned; she travels to Harlem, believing she will not be snubbed because of her dark color.
However, like the Williams in "Harlem" and Thurman in his own life, Emma Lou is disillusioned by the city. She becomes unhappy with her work, her love affairs, and the pronounced discrimination she experiences in the nightclubs, where lighter-skinned females starred in extravagant productions while darker- skinned performers were forced to sing offstage. She uses hair straighteners and skin -bleachers, and takes on the appearance and attitudes of the fairer-skinned people that degrade her and, ironically, snubs darker men, who she considers inferior. She dates light-skinned Alva, who is cruel and verbally abusive, buy when she accidentally views him in a homosexual embrace, Emma Lou awakens to her life of contradiction and hypocrisy.
Although critics praised Thurman for devoting a novel to the plight of a dark-skinned heroine, they criticized him for being too objective: Thurman, they argued, had failed to judge critically the world in which Emma Lou lived. They also criticized Thurman for trying to do too much with The Blacker the Berry, accusing him of crafting a choppy, and occasionally incoherent, narrative by touching on too many themes.
Also set in Harlem, Thurman's second novel, Infants of the spring (1932), revolves around Raymond Taylor, a young black author who is trying to write a weighty novel in a decadent, race-oriented atmosphere. Taylor resides in a boardinghouse, nicknamed "Niggerati Manor," with a number of young blacks who pretend to be aspiring authors. Thurman makes these pretenders the major victims of his satire, suggesting that they have destroyed their creativity by leading decadent lives.
Critics considered Infants of the spring one of the first books written expressly for black audiences and not white critics, and contended that Thurman based his characters on well-known figures of the Harlem Renaissance, including Hughes, Locke, Hurston, Cullen, Nugent, and Douglas. As they did with The Blacker the Berry, reviewers objected to Thurman's examining too many issues. Unlike his first novel, which was considered too objective, critics thought Infants was too overly subjective and Thurman overly argumentative.
Yet critics praised Thurman for his frank discussion of black society. Martha Gruening wrote in the Saturday Review: "No other Negro writer has so unflinchingly told the truth about color snobbery within the color line, the ins and outs of 'passing' and other vagaries of prejudice. [Infants of the Spring's] quota of truth is just that which Negro writers, under the stress of propaganda and counter propaganda, have generally and quite understandably omitted from their picture."
Thurman's third novel, The Interne (1934), was a collaboration with Abraham L. Furman, whom he had met while working at Macaulay's Publishing Company. The novel portrays medical life at an urban hospital as seen through the eyes of a young white doctor, Carl Armstrong. In his first three months at the hospital, during which he witnesses staff members' corrupt behavior and comes in contact with bureaucratic red tape, Armstrong's ideals are shattered. Although he participates in the prevailing vices, he soon realizes his own loss of ethics and saves himself by taking his practice to the country.
Critics could not agree whether Thurman's accounts of medical wrongdoing were based in fact; many claimed that the novel had no semblance of reality, while others stressed that incidents were actual, if unusual. Wallace Thurman died December 21, 1934, at the age of thirty-two.
Lawrence T. Potter, Jr. Western Michigan University
SHERLEY ANNE WILLIAMS, 1944-1999
Dessa/Dessa Rose . . .
thru spokes of life
you spoke to life . . .
. . . patron saints & peers . . .
You became Bakersfield's Some One Angel Chile,
a virtuoso of our variegated vernaculars,
bearing fruit & cotton & rainbow/ed points
of view . . . scintillating syntax
earning the title genius . . .
Neo-bluesbird flying to Fresno State . . . giving
Birth to Brightness at Howard & Brown U's . . .
to son/John Malcolm in The Peacock Poems . . .
going mind-to-mind-w/literati at San Diego . . .
joining Maya, Momaday & Third World Writers
& Thinkers in Sacramento . . . Palomar . . . bluespoeting
ancestrails w/root-rich bards re NYC's Poetry
Society of America . . . palavering w/Nascimento
at Black Writers Conference/
Medgar Evers College/Brooklyn . . . sprouting tomes
apropos Robert Hayden in Ann Arbor . . . becoming
one w/drumvoices like Amari-Rita-Jabari at James
Madison U's Furious Flowering of African American
Poetry . . . anchoring Haki & Gwen's Chicago
Conference [where you strolled to the podium
scrolling your powerbook to introduce
purple Alice] . . . last glimpsing/your tired smile/
in May of '96/as you sat beside Jerome
Rothenberg/on a park bench/next to a
Quonset hut/on the campus of UC La Jolla
. . . your memory moored in shadows . . .
those last calls sayin "I want those photos
of me and Alice."
Dessa/Sister Dessa . . . Sherley/Sister Sherley.
Born again ancestor. Spoke life thru spokes of life.
Workswomanship/Funkabopapoetic syntax . .
giving birth to genius
Reprinted with permission of Eugene B. Redmond from The MultiCultural Review, December 1999.
Novelist and Poet Mel Donalson
Dr. Melvin B. Donalson is definite about his role as a scholar, poet, director, dramatist, and novelist: He is a social commentator who, through writing, comments on or gives validity to the person being victimized. Art is not separate from politics, he maintains.
Donalson holds a B.A. degree from Bates College, a M.A. from the University of Iowa, and a Ph.D. from Brown University. His areas of specialty are African American Studies, Film Studies, and Creative Writing. His work has appeared in Pegasus, The Poet, African American Review, Obsidian and Emergences. His powerful essay on fathers and sons: Family Rites, appeared in Code: The Style and Culture Magazine for Men of Color (1999).
His first novel, The River Woman, was published in 1988, and his pioneering Cornerstones: An Anthology of African American Literature was published by St. Martins Press in 1996. He is currently completing Above the Line: Black Directors of Hollywood Feature Films for the University of Texas Press.
Dr. Melvin Donalson, who is coordinator of the film section of AALCS 2000, is this years guest writer. He will read from his work during the AALCS reception on Friday evening, May 22, 2000.
Poetry In Review
Giscome Road. C. S. Giscombe. Normal, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 1998
Two Sections from Practical Geography. Boca Raton, FL: Diaresis Chapbooks, 1999
American poetry, like its history, is a miscegenated text, though readers of our literary criticism are seldom made aware of this fact. "Miscegenation's / the longest nuance, the longest-lasting open secret," writes C. S. Giscombe in "The Northernmost Road," a section of Giscome Road now opened to general traffic thanks to the efforts of Dalkey Archive Press. Dalkey Archive is, of course, best known to readers as a publisher of innovative fictions, having to date only published two poets. That one of them is Giscombe is testament to his exceptionally inventive writing and to Dalkey's acuity. Giscombe first came to widespread attention with his Ithaca House book, Postcards, the same year that Ithaca House brought out William J. Harris's In My Own Dark Way (now there's a harmonic convergence for you). It took a long wait for Giscombe's second major work to appear, At Large, in 1989, but this gap is a matter of publishing exigencies; the poet was hard at work, with poems appearing in many journals and anthologies, and some of the work accomplished during those years now appears at last in the chapbook, Two Sections from Practical Geography. The year 1994 saw the publication, also by Dalkey, of Here, and Giscombe seems at last to have found his way toward a more public availability, which is something for which any literate public should be grateful.
Like Kamau Brathwaite's Arrivants, the populations of Giscombe's books are people who have driven themselves to the edge of the knowable world. "Having wanted to drive out to the edge, right out / to the mutest edge out there," they follow roads of their own devising, trailing out variants of their picaresque identities behind them to puzzle the descendants in their riverine settlements. "You never know what name the periphery's going to start with," we read, interestingly enough, at the end of Giscome Road. Sometimes starting from the periphery is the best way to discover what's central to your self. C. S. Giscombe here engages a poetic investigation of the travels of one John Robert Giscome, "negro miner," pioneer, "native of Jamaica West India," like old British Columbia's Governor Douglas, also a man "of color," a "West Indian of racially mixed parentage." With the evolution of DNA testing, America is having at last to get used to public evidence of what it has always known of itself. As the Thomas Jefferson Society is finally having to acknowledge, "you never know how the blood's going to appear, where / it's going to come up in the current." And making his investigatory portage, Giscombe comes to that farthest point at which one can still be an African American before crossing the line into some other part of the diaspora: "here the name of furthest African arrival in the north, this name / for such a place as this." And how are we to practice this geography? How are we to read the passage of "Giscome" into place name and find in it relation to the family of the unsounded "b," that same "b" in the poet's "Giscombe" that my typing fingers keep reinserting within the title of his book, where it seems not quite to belong? How do we belong to our past, how do we belong to our names, and why do we long to know how inflection curves into reflection? Giscombe's book circles around just the sort of question that announces itself in response to an answer already heard. We only say "you never know how" something will happen just when it has happened in some most particular way. "Sentences find you, style finds you on the road out."
This is what Ron Silliman was getting at when he called Giscombe's "a poetics that is literally projective." Not only has Giscombe learned the lessons of Baraka and Olson, that we only know the poem when it is there, underhand, as we follow its tributaries and dead-ends into the wilderness that we are, but he has brilliantly extended an American tradition of epic projection past the demarcations left for us in Williams's Paterson, Hughes's Ask Your Mama, Rukeyser's U.S. 1, Olson's Maximus and Baraka's Whys to the very lip of continental shelf from which we can only imagine how we have "contrived to be /distance itself closing /in on a single place /to stop."
"I survived 1977," we read in Practical Geography, "anticipation? of something? better?" It's a poem wherein "postcard fields end /at the backs /of filling stations." It's not that the poetics of 1977's Postcards have come to an end in the open field of the later works, but rather that, as is always the case of the postcard, you never know how it may be read by anyone other than the addressee; you never know where that open letter will find its delivery. Blackness, like America, never rests at its borders. Poetry, for Giscombe, is the most practical of geographies, a place where we learn, like Baldwin, of another country, "a next country /its border naturally a river /& endless /or so the dream had it being." You truly never know how to cross that river, until you come to it.
Aldon Lynn Nielsen Loyola Marymount University
Book In Review:
Two Cities.John Edgar Wideman Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998 "What's Love Got to Do With It?"
John Edgar Wideman has closely identified himself and his family with the issues of the ghetto. In Brothers and Keepers (1984), he explores why he escaped the ghetto into professional success while his brother, Robby, fell prey to crime. His writing has established the "Two Cities" of his title as two poles in his life: at first, the trap he escaped leaving Pittsburgh, and the opportunity he maximized at the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia) seemed to form his identity. But as he "woodshedded" to develop the African American Studies Department at Penn, Wideman recognized himself as the son of his extended family in the Homewood section of Pittsburgh. Thus each city provides value and venom to his world-view. In the final analysis, he can't turn his back on the ghetto, nor, he insists, should we.
In his latest novel, Two Cities, Wideman has indeed told a love story, as announced by the subtitle, but it's a blues performance in subject, form, and world-view. The novel provides three 'blues people': Kassima who has lost both her sons to neighborhood shootings and her imprisoned husband to AIDS; Robert Jones about whom we know little beyond his love for Kassima and hoops; and Mallory , an old disabled vet, boarding with Kassima, walking around the city carrying his bag with camera, negatives, pictures, and unsent letters to the Swiss artist Giacometti. These objects compose the heritage Mallory trusts to Kassima and Robert to honor. As each character tells his story, the performance dramatizes a stoic and existential world-view, and challenges us through her improvisation to join in, creating the community which can challenge the violence of the ghetto.
When readers enter Widemans Two Cities, hope caught up in the love of the couple, fear in the violence surrounding them, they must conclude that love has everything to do with it. As Kassima reports: "They say the pictures floated down like snow beside the coffin . . They say I started shouting again when the pictures falling. Look what you've done to him. Look what you done to yourselves. Look. Look" (238). Unlike the city in the biblical Lamentations, this is not the final charge of responsibility for the problems of the black community. Don't destroy us and yourselves, her stance argues. Don't be victims of the racist view of black boys as mistakes. Change the picture. Sing the song of yourself. A true blues, Wideman's novel celebrates its protagonists' artistry as they rise above their sufferings. And as audience we share their victory.
Karen F. Jahn Assumption College
More Than Two Centuries of Literary Criticism
African American Literary Criticism, 1777- 2000. Hazel Arnett Ervin. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1999. 543 pages.
In African American Literary Criticism, 1777- 2000, Hazel Arnett Ervin captures the variety, vigor, depth, and breadth of the provocative, inspiring, sometimes contentious, but never dull-250 plus years of critical dialogue about African American literature and culture. This practical, probing, and imaginative Reader demonstrates its authors thorough knowledge of her subject. In her introduction, a useful contribution to the field of African American literary criticism in its own right, Ervin describes the eclectic sources that shaped her study: History, culture, literary theory, philosophy, aesthetics, and linguistics inform the context of this Reader, and its composition reflects a continuity of historical aesthetic legacies from West African civilizations (Yoruba, Mande, Dohomean, Kongo, and Ejagham) that have been-and are to be-passed on(2). She also deserves commendation for reaching out to a varied audience. In my introductions to the manifestoes, credos, prefaces, introductions, critical essays, interviews, letters, and journal entries, I have tried to keep before readers (students, teachers, critics, creative writers, and others) those questions difficult to answer (the whats, hows, and whys) not only about African American literary texts, writers and audiences but also about organizing principles or production, aesthetics, epistemology, communications, and theoretical methodology within the African American literary and critical traditions. 20)
Many of the well chosen selections will be familiar to serious students of African American literature and culture. She includes, for example, Langston Hughes classic statement asserting young African American artistsintention to embrace artistic freedom, The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain (1926); contributions to the debate about art and propaganda by W.E.B. Du Bois, Alain Locke, and Ann Petry; Richard Wrights Blueprint for Negro Writing (1937); and an excerpt from James Baldwins 1949 response to Richard Wrights Native Son Everybodys Protest Novel.
These early twentieth century authors are joined by a host of well-known writers and critics who made significant contributions to the last half of the twentieth century, among them Ralph Ellison, Stephen E. Henderson, Alice Walker, Barbara Smith, Sherley Anne Williams, Toni Morrison, William L. Andrews, bell hooks, Jerry Ward, Jr., Henry Louis Gates, Jr., John Edgar Wideman, Trudier Harris, and Farah Jasmine Griffin. Ervin takes an innovative approach to eighteenth and nineteenth century literary criticism. In this section she includes poems by Phillis Wheatley, a letter by Ignatius Sancho, journal entries by Charlotte Forten Grimke and Charles Chesnutt, as well as a brief sketch of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. Though some readers might wish for more selections from these two centuries, the examples, Ervin has chosen expand the readers understanding of literary criticism- and suggest the possibility for future forays into the critical terrain she has so ably explored.
Ervin has divided the text into four chronological and philosophical sections: 1773-1894: Nurture Vs Nature; 1895-1954: Art or Propaganda; 1955 to 1975: Cultural Autonomy and Understanding the Art of Black Poetry, Drama, Fiction, and Criticism; and 1976 to 2000: Aesthetics Values, Reconstructions of Blackness and Boundaries, and Postmodernism. This last section offers a particularly thorough perspective on African American cultural expression during the last twenty-five years of the twentieth century. The topics covered are African American feminist criticism, linguistics, contemporary African American Gay literature, and Yoruba trickster tales.
Ervin also provides a cross-referenced Table of Contents arranged according to the following critical approaches: Black Poetics, Culture-Based Studies, Intertextual Historiography; Gender-Based Studies Linguistics, Semiotics and Structuralism, Mythological/Archetypal, Psychoanalytic , Rhetoric and Reader Responses, Post-colonialism, Slave Narrative/Autobiography, Novel, Short Story, Poetry, Drama, Contemporary Literature, Film, The Detective Novel, Science Fiction, Jazz, Rap, and Hip-Hop. The headnotes at the beginning of each of the selections encourage the reader to connect individual selections to others devoted to similar issues in African American literary criticisms. In addition, each piece ends with a bibliography of suggested readings. And the thirty-six page chronology of texts and events significant to the African American literary tradition, beginning with the 1773 publication of Benjamin Rushs An Address to the Inhabitants of the British Settlement in American Upon Slave-Keeping, and ending with the upcoming conference, Looking Back With Pleasure : A Celebration, sponsored by the African American Literature and Culture Society, to be held in Salt Lake City, October 25-29, 2000, while by no means all-inclusive, provides a final flourish to this highly informative reference guide.
Those of us who frequently find ourselves rummaging through files, searching through anthologies, and racing to the library to find just the right approach to a given work, literary theory, or philosophical movement related to African American literary and cultural studies will want to thank Hazel Arnett-Ervin for this well-organized, thoughtfully concerned reader.
Candace LaPrade Longwood College Recent Publications from AALCS Members
Demirturk, E. Lale "Mapping
the Terrain of Whiteness: Richard Wright's Savage Holiday." MELUS 24.1
Haynes, Rosetta R. Voice, Body and Collaboration: Constructions of Authority in The History of Mary Prince. The Literary Griot 11.1 (1999): 18-32
Jahn, Karen. Review of Soul Kiss, by Shay Youngblood. MELUS 24.2(1999): 189-91. Lester, Neal. Understanding Zora Neal Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Students Casebook To Issues, Sources and Historical Documents. Wesport: Greenwood, 1999.
---."'If You're Happy to be Nappy, Clap Your Hands!': A Review of bell hooks' Happy to be Nappy."QBR: The Black Book Review November/December 1999:20-22.
---."Roots That Go Beyond Big Hair and a Bad Hair Day: Nappy Hair Pieces." Children's Literature in Education 30 (1999): 171-183.
---."Nappy Hair: A Review of bell hooks' Happy to be Nappy." Children's Folklore Review 22 (1999): 45-55.
---."'Put your hands on your hips/ And let your backbone slip': Dance as Feminist Text and Womanist Context in Zora Neale Hurston's 'Isis.'" Womanist Theory and Research 2 (1999):30-36.
---."'Filled with the Holy Ghost': Sexual Dimension and Dimensions of Sexuality in the Theater of Ntozake Shange. Paintbrush: A Journal of Poetry and Translation 23 (1996): 31-51. Rpt. in Black Women Playwrights: Visions on the American Stage. Ed. Carol P. Marsh-Lockett. New York: Garland, 1999: 193-211.
Lester, Neal, and Maureen Daly Goggin. "'EXTRA! EXTRA! Read all about it!': Constructions of Heterosexual Black Male Identities in the Personals." Social Identities 5 (1999): 441-468.
McWilliams. Dean. Ed. Chesnutt, Charles W. The Quarry. Edited and with introduction and notes. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1999.
---.Paul Marchand F.M.C. Edited and with introduction and notes. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1999.
Rice, Alan, and Martin Crawford. Liberating Sojourn: Frederick Douglass and Transatlantic Reform. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1999.
Selzer, Linda. "Reading the Painterly Text: Clarence Major's 'The Slave Trade: View from the Middle Passage.' The African American Review 33.2 (1999): 209-229.
---."Race and Domesticity in The Color Purple." The African American Review 29 (1995): 67-82. Rpt. In Modern Critical Interpretations Alice Walker's The Color Purple." Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea H House, 1999:139-155.
Smith, Virginia Whatley. Review of Blacks in Eden: The African American Novel's First Century, by J. Lee Greene. Mississippi Quarterly (Spring 1999):355
Stephens, Judith. "African American Women Playwrights of the Harlem Renaissance and the New Negro Movement." The Cambridge Companion to A American Women Playwrights. Ed. Brenda Murphy. New York: Cambridge U P, 1 1999: 98-117.
---."'And Yet They Paused' and 'A Bill to be Passed': Newly Recovered Lynching Dramas by Georgia Douglas Johnson." The African American Review 33.3(1999): 519-522.
---."Racial Violence and Representation: Performance Strategies in Lynching Dramas of the 1920s." The African American Review 33.4 (1999): 655- 671.
Woodard, Loretta. "Ida B. Wells-Barnett." African-American Authors,1745-1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Ed. Emmanuel S. Nelson. E s Wetport: Greenwood, 2000. 455-462.
---."Marita Golden." Contemporary African-American Novelists: A Bio- Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Ed. Emmanuel S. Nelson. Westport: Greenwood, 1999. 177-184.
---."Lillie Wyman." Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 202: Nineteenth Century American Fiction Writers. Ed. Kent P. Lungquist. Detroit: Gale, 1999: 307-311.
Non Fiction Bambara, Toni Cade. Deep
Sightings and Rescue Missions: Fiction, Essays, and Conversations. Ed. Toni
Morrison. New York: Vintage, 1999. Barras, Johnetta R. Whatever Happened to
Daddy's Little Girl: The Impact of Fatherlessness
on Black Women. New York: Oneworld, 2000.
De Wilde Laurent. Monk. New York: Marlowe, 1998.
Diedrich, Maria., et. al., eds. Mapping African America: History, Narrative
r Formation,and the Production of Knowledge. New Jersey. Transaction, 1999.
Dyson, Michael E. I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King,
Jr. New York: Free Press, 2000.
Ervin, Hazel A. African American Literary Criticism, 1773 to 2000. New
Jersey: Twayne, 1999.
Favor, Martin J. Authentic Blackness: The Folk in the New Negro
Renaissance. Durham: Duke UP, 1999.
Fields, Darrell W. Architecture in Black. New Jersey: Transaction, 1999.
Halpern, Daniel, ed. The Art of the Story: An International Anthology of
Contemporary Short Stories. New York: Viking, 2000.
Harris, Whitney G., and Gwendolyn Duhon, eds. The African-American Male
Perspective of Barriers to Success. New York: Mellen, 1999.
Harris, William, ed. The Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader. New York:
Thunder's Mouth, 1999.
Holland, Sharon P. Raising the Dead: Readings of Death and (Black)
Subjectivity. Durham: Duke UP, 2000.
hooks, bell. All About Love. New Visions New York: Morrow, 2000.
Jordan, June. Soldier: A Poet's Childhood. New York: Basic, 2000.
Lupton, Mary Jane. Maya Angelou. A Critical Companion. Westport:
McClinton, Calvin A. The Work of Vinnette Carroll, An African-American
Theatre Artist. New York: Mellen, 2000.
McKee, Patricia. Producing American Races Henry James, William Faulkner,
Toni Morrison. Durham: Duke UP, 1999.
Meisenhelder, Susan E. Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick: Race
and Gender in the Works of Zora Neale Hurston. Tuscaloosa: U of A P, 1999.
Miller, E. Ethelbert. Fathering Words: The Making of An African American
Writer. New York: St. Martin's, 2000.
Nelson, Jill, ed. Police Brutality: An Anthology. New York: Norton,2000.
Nicholls, David G. Conjuring the Folk: Forms of Modernity in African
America. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2000.
Nielsen, Aldon Lynn, ed. Reading Race in American Poetry: "An Area of Act."
Champaign, IL: U of Illinois P, 2000.
Nunez, Elizabeth. Beyond the Limbo Silence. New York: Seal, 1998.
Pennington, Dorothy L. African -American Women Quitting the Workplace. New
York: Mellen, 1999.
Qun, Wang. An In-depth Study of the Major Plays of African-American
Playwright August Wilson: Vernacularizing the Blues on Stage. New York:
Reed, Ishmael, Reed. The Reed Reader. New York: Basic, 2000.
Royster, Jacqueline J. Traces of a Stream: Literacy and Social Change
Among African American Women. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1999.
Sievers, Stefanie. Liberating Narratives: Black Female Voices in African
American Women Writers Novels of Slavery. New Jersey: Transaction,
Smethurst, James Edward. The New Red Negro: The Literary Left and African-
American Poetry, 1930-1946. New York Oxford UP, 1999.
Tally, Justine. Paradise Reconsidered: Toni Morrisons Stories and Truths.
New Jersey: Transaction, 1999.
Tunde, Adeleke, Ed. Booker T.Washington: Interpretative Essays. New York:
Van Sertima, Ivan. Early America Revisited. New Jersey: Transaction, 1999.
Wardlow, Gayle D. Chasin' That Devil Music: Searching for the Blues. New
York: Miller Freeman, 1998.
Willis, Deborah. Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers,
1840 to the Present. New York: Norton, 2000.
Witt, Doris. Black Hunger: Food and the Politics of U.S. Identity. New
York: Oxford U P, 1999.
Brand, Dionne. In Another Place. New York: Grove, 2000.
Cooper, J. California. The Wake of the Wind. New York: Doubleday, 1998.
Jones, Leroi/Amiri Baraka, et al. The Fiction of Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka.
Illinois: Chicago Review Press, 2000.
Logue, Antonia. Shadow-Box. New York: Grove, 1999.
Clifton, Lucille. Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000. New
York: BOA Editions, 2000.
Henderson, David. Neo-California. New York: North Atlantic, 1998.
Featuring . . .
Lynda Koolish: Photographer
The Weather of Change/and Clear Light: Photographs of African American Writers by Lynda Koolish is one of the highlights of Looking Back With Pleasure II: A Celebration. It will be mounted in both the Marriott Library of the University Utah and at the Salt Lake Public Library Main Branch. AALCS member Dr. Lynda Koolish, who teaches African American literature at San Diego State University, also has spent the past thirty years working as a professional photographer. Her photographs have been published by the New York Public Library, Cornell University Press, Yale University Press, and W. W. Norton & Company. The University of Mississippi Press will publish her book on African American writers in 2001. Her work has been in numerous exhibitions, including one at the Cork Gallery in the Lincoln Center of Performing Arts in New York City.
According to Dr. Koolish: My photographs are a celebration of the passion, ethical and creative genius of the writers whose work I care about. My work is intentional, deliberate, passionately subjective. I try to listen with my eyes, pay profound attention to the self that someone else is revealing to me. There is a kind of Zen spareness in my portraits, the plainest possible background, natural light only, no gimmicks, no distractions, rarely even a visible context. As an artist, a photographer paints with light. How the subject looks psychologically and visually is determined by how the light falls, the way shadows form, creating and reflecting a sense of inner luminescence. I try to photograph at the moment of spontaneous convergence what is visually exciting and what moves me emotionally. Sometimes, the photograph, like a poem, becomes a window filled with light.
Looking Back With Pleasure II: A Celebration Exhibits The Art of Faith Ringgold - University of Utah Museum of Fine Arts; Sept. 5 - Oct. 31, 2000
The Alvin Ailey II (Repertory Ensemble) - Kingsbury Hall, U of U; Oct. 26 and 27, 2000
Twentieth Century African American Writers - Photographic Exhibition by Lynda Koolish; Salt Lake City Library, Downtown Branch, Sept. 16 - Oct. 31, 2000
Dark Hallowed Ground - Photographic Documentary of African American Burial Sites; Utah Historical Society, Sept. 16 - Oct. 31, 2000
Film Festival, Tower Theatre; 876 East 900 South, Oct. 12 - 14, 2000
Wallace Thurman, Calvary Baptist Church; 502 East, 700 South; week-long program, Oct. 16 - 22, 2000
Photography on the Color Line - City & County Building, Sept. 15 - Oct. 3, 2000 Between the Lines: Image and Text by Contemporary African American Artists. Salt Lake Art Center, 20 S. West Temple. Works by Beverly Buchanan, Howardena Pindell, Clarissa Sligh, and Deborah Willis. October 21, 2000-January 7, 2001.
Join these invited and confirmed scholars, writers, and many other guests
Imamu Amiri Baraka
Alma Jean Billingslea-Brown
Mary Kemp Davis
Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
J. Lee Greene
Tracie Church Guzzio
Titus Brooks Heagins
James L. Hill
Pat Liggins Hill
Karla F. Holloway
E. Ethelbert Miller
Ralph E. Rodriguez
Shawn Mitchell Smith
James E. Walton
John E. Wideman
Loretta Gilchrist Woodard
Kalamu ya Salaam