Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Afro Europe writing emerging - Kadija Sesay and Araba Johnston Arthur

The recent reports on social uprising and rioting in Britain raised awareness about the social tension in the Black British community, or in many cases, made people aware that there is a Black British community,  at all.

Kadija Sesay, Publisher, Sable Lit Magazine
At the Harlem Book Fair in July, I had a brief conversation about the growing emergence of new Black British writing with Kadija Sesay, publisher of the literary magazine, SableLit, and a writer and activist. Kadija had just participated in a panel on Black British writing standing on its own merits. The panel included poet Dorothea Smartt (ShipShape). The writers discussed Black literary activity in England and elaborated on complexities of ethnic and mainly Caribbean national identities that inform the writing categorized under the umbrella of Black British writing in the "post-colonial" era.

Here is a link to a radio interview today that Kadija Sesay participated in on the program Africa Now with another guest, activist Araba Johnston Arthur; topics include the new brand of Black British writers who have emerged in the last four or five decades, following what is known as the post-colonial era (writers such as Kwinton Lesi Johnson and Caryl Philips).

Araba Johnston Arthur, a Black Austrian writer, talked about Black Austrian writers tending to write in the English language rather than in the German, and intentionally using the term, "Black," because the term carries with it the force of Black power and Black consciousness (associated with the Black power/ consciousness movement in the United States.) Araba implied that there is essentially no equivalent term in German that carries the context of "Black power." Literature has played a significant role in resistance and, she said, "[it] still does play a very important role in making our experience more visible in talking back in the form of art." Admittedly, I have read no Black Austrian writers (that I know of)--this interview has raised my consciousness of the existence of a Black Austrian community at all.

On Africa Now, Kadija spoke of the social unrest that exploded a few weeks ago in Britain. Acknowledging that social media played a role in instigating riots--and suggests that the authorship of some text messages she saw were questionable--perhaps fabricated to perpetuate the unrest. She is right about the critical importance of literacy among Black youth and the significance of the arts in developing young people's potential. Agree with her also that critical reviews of art is essential. SableLit is working with youth, sixteen and older, to help them to advance their literary talents and to get published. In this its tenth year, SableLit has been awarded government funds to expand its work.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sister Citizen

Just received in the mail my copy of Melissa Harris-Perry's Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America.  Can't wait to get to it. (I caught up with Harris-Perry at her publisher [Yale UP] in May.)

Sister Citizen by Melissa Harris-Perry
Skimming the table of contents, it's obvious that Harris-Perry takes a non-traditional approach to the topic of Black women's understanding of ourselves in relationship to American citizenship and politics. Preceding her chapters on myths, shame, disaster, strength, God and Michelle (FLOTUS, of course), are excerpts from Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God and Alice Walker's The Color Purple, as well as poems--"Praise Song for the Day" by Elizabeth Alexander and "The Bridge" by Kate Rushin--and a lyric, "No Mirrors in My Nana's House," by Ysaye Maria Barnwell (Sweet Honey in the Rock.)

Harris-Perry uses literary passages as an overarching frame to discuss negative stereotypes that undermine Black women as we navigate the all too real American social and political terrain. The myths she isolates are the "Mammy" (the Black woman devoted to white people's needs); the "Sapphire" image (the angry Black woman) and the "Jezebel" (the myth of the hyper-sexed Black woman.) That we are negotiating the impact of these myths while trying to be all we can be to our families, acting as if we don't need any help, is problematic. In fact, Harris-Perry calls out Black women on our self-sacrifice, letting us know the high price of trying to fulfill the myth of the "Strong Black Woman."

A blurb on the dust-jacket by Lester Spence (Johns Hopkins University/political science) says that Harris-Perry "does an excellent job of weaving literature, social science, and personal accounts to produce a powerful work on black women's politics. Brilliant."

I've been yearning for the voices of regular, ordinary Black women to reach the national stage on critical topics of American discourse--whether education, employment, our children and youth. Hope this book helps to break down walls to liberate more Black women to participate in the political struggle in America. Our voices are desperately needed at every level of political engagement. Organizing along common interests is the key.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Help: Truth, Fiction, and Authenticity

Welcome guest blogger, Susan Monroe. Susan is coordinator of School 29 Literacy Project, based in New Haven, CT.
Guest Blogger: Susan Monroe
Last week we learned that among the personal affects left by civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks is a six-page essay detailing an attempted rape by a white neighbor. Reportedly, Parks’ family refuted the essay as a “story,” but most, including me, have accepted the tale as plausible, factual.

Handwritten page of Rosa Parks' essay
After reading an excerpt, I was struck by the timeliness of a first person account of a black domestic. However horrific the content, I welcomed this authentic voice speaking from the past, and I accept it as an important artifact in the chronicle of oppression and sexual exploitation that is tied to race and class.

At the time the essay was written, Parks worked as a maid for a white family and like other women in that position was not only vulnerable to social and economic oppression but also to sexual aggression for the sake of survival. The previously unknown account illustrates how the shame of sexual exploitation can suppress self-expression in the form of outrage, dignity and agency, in sum, how shame can suppress retaliation. It seems fair to assume that Parks recorded the incident, held onto the essay, but felt too vulnerable to share it.  Writing out her experience may represent the only form of agency Parks felt was available to her without entrusting herself and the experience to public record. In response to learning about the essay, a friend announced to me,  “I believe Rosa Parks was a writer.”  She was.

Why am I posting this on Now Rise’s book blog? What does all of this have to do with books? Rosa Parks did not write an autobiography but took part in several “as told to” memoirs, most notably Rosa Parks: My Story, 1999, with Jim Haskins, but in just a few days a film based on Kathryn Stockett’s best selling novel, The Help (2009), will open in theaters. The book has been wildly popular but not without controversy.  I imagine the film will be, too. I have read The Help prompted by a desire to take part in the discussion surrounding it, and I eviscerated, er, uh, discussed it for it’s scandalously bad editing that robs Black southern dialect of any hint of poetry, music or suggestion of literacy of its speakers—dialect so badly written and imagined that a reader might not know whether to laugh or cry upon reading it (that is, if she can read it), dialect so badly written that it brings into questions the literacy of the writer, not that of the maids whose  speech patterns she attempts to imitate. Had Stockett or her editors ever read an artistic or poetic attempt at Black dialect?  And to whom is Aibileen speaking? We never know.
The Help

That aside (and that is a major pass), The Help has been chided for its lack of authenticity. In short, socially and politically conscious readers have noted that The Help is yet another book, film, etc., that places a white protagonist, power and privilege, at the center of and as the impetus for black political awakening and change. In this case, Stockett places Skeeter, a young white woman, as civil rights catalyst among a group of black maids in a fictional Mississippi town. In the world of The Help, the civil rights movement lurks murkily in the background although characters live in the midst of Medgar Evers’ bloody murder and the ever-emerging political power of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Somehow the maids that Skeeter engages are not impassioned by these happenings. While others are participating in sit-ins, being arrested and beaten, the maids in this community place their bets on an anonymously published book to bring about change.

With this scenario, Stockett unwittingly captures a complexity and paradox of race relations. The Help robs black women (black people) of their own social and political agency (a common device now practically a trope) while simultaneously servings as a testament to people who allow themselves to be exploited this way. The maids’ complicity in helping Skeeter is, in fact, the most authentic aspect of book. However, from a critical standpoint, I am most concerned with the notion of agency, especially in light of Rosa Parks’ found essay and from the standpoint of African American literary expression. I’ll leave the novel’s treatment of nascent modern feminism on the heels of the civil rights movement for another writer. 

What pains me is this. Aibileen, the maid whose voice begins the novel is a woman known for the power of her prayers, which she composes in a notebook. Aibileen (also the unacknowledged source for a housekeeping column Skeeter is hired to write for a local newspaper) takes the initiative to write out her narrative for her portion of Skeeter’s book. Oddly enough, given her propensity for writing, Aibileen has the most severely written dialogue in the novel. “Law,” she remarks again and again in Stockett’s crude rendering of black speech—that’s  “Lawd” or “Lord” for the rest of us. This treatment of Aibileen’s language is important since it potentially signals how the reader of The Help may perceive her writing. Skeeter says that she cleans up Aibileen’s writing, but does Aibileen write as badly as her speech has been rendered? If so, what are we to make of its value? Her intellect?

But what, you might ask, from the perspective of the novelist could be better than placing a pen in the hands of one of the maids? I would answer not giving that maid something authentic to say. Like Aibileen, Rosa Parks was a writer and recorder of authentic experiences, for instance, in her capacity as secretary to civil rights organizations. Her surviving essay about a near rape has entered and forever redirected the discourse surrounding black servitude by validating what many of have already known to be true. Given this reality, what would a maid in The Help's fictional Jacksonville, Mississippi write about? What would a personal narrative be?
By her own account, Kathryn Stockett had difficulty finding a publisher for The Help; she has said that at least 60 publishers rejected the novel and that those who eventually did publish the book knew nothing about Jim Crow law.
I just wish that if in the time it took to have her novel published Kathryn Stockett had made room for Aibileen to truly speak.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Harlem Book Fair 2011

I’m looking forward to the Harlem Book Fair tomorrow! I know the heat will be there, but will you?
I’m looking forward to a number of presentations, especially the panel on Dr. Manning Marable’s recently released biography, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention.
This afternoon I spoke briefly with Yohuru Williams, (author of Black Politics/White Power: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Black Panthers in New Haven) who is moderating the panel, entitled “Manning Marable’s Malcolm X: Living Black history in the 21st Century."  Among the panelists will be Zaheer Ali, the lead researcher for Dr. Marable’s biography.  
Of course, the most controversial portrayal of Malcolm X to emerge from the biography is the revelation (or speculation depending on your viewpoint) that Malcolm X engaged in homosexual relationships. Yohuru said that he’s been disappointed that reaction to the book potentially means that “an entire life’s work is wiped out” by some who feel betrayed by Dr. Manning. Yohuru said that he’s actually heard people refer to Dr. Manning as a “Judas” and a “traitor.”  That’s a shame when you look at the incredible scholarly contribution Dr. Manning made, he feels.
Yohuru said that he hopes that the audience takes away from the discussion a realization that it doesn’t “tarnish” a person to be a human being; afterall, we are all human. He said that we put so much pressure on others to be what we are not, and he hopes that people can take a person’s imperfections with a degree of strength so that, in Dr. Marable's case for instance, a writer's larger achievements are not diminished or discarded.
There are three other panelists who promise to bring to the discussion both sharp critical analysis and personal reflection on Malcolm X; they are: Herb Boyd (Civil Rights: Yesterday and Today); Peniel Joseph, (Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama), and poet and social activist, Sonia Sanchez.

See you there!

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Help hurts Black women say critics

In this year of 2011 that observes the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War—in which Black people were freed from physical bondage—there is another conflict of widening influence brewing in the land. The conflict can be understood in the mission of a grassroot movement started by colleague of mine that focuses on Black people’s “emotional emancipation” from what she calls “the lie of Black inferiority.” 

A similar movement to expose an inferred premise of Black inferiority surrounds the novel, The Help (2009), as well as its first time author Kathryn Stockett. The movie version of The Help features Black actresses Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer and opens nationwide in early August. Some critics of the book also view the forthcoming movie with skepticism.
The Help 
If you have strong views about The Hel--the book or movie--or issues related to it, you can voice your opinions in an all-day online forum, tomorrow, Saturday, July 16 at the hashtag, #100voicesrespondtothehelp.   
How did the novel come to be the center of this public examination when it was published to high praise?
For example, author Kathryn Stockett’s official website cites a starred review from Library Journal: 
A century after the Emancipation Proclamation, black maids raised white children and ran households but were paid poorly, often had to use separate toilets from the family…  . In Stockett's narrative, Miss Skeeter, a young white woman, is a naive, aspiring writer who wants to create a series of interviews with local black maids. ... Tension pervades the novel as its event are told by [Skeeter, and the two Black women Aibileene and Minnie.”]
and The Help received warm praise from the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
 "Powerful...[Stockett's] attention to historical detail, dialect and characterization create a beautiful portrait of a fragmenting world...This heartbreaking story is a stunning debut from a gifted talent."

Despite high praise and its bestselling status, The Help is obviously not without dissenters. They  challenge the novel’s authenticity, the credibility of the author’s research, and more broadly, the marginalization of the Black women by Hollywood.  
Two of the leading critics of The Help appearing in my Twitter timeline recently are Kwanda Scott, (whose Twitter user name is @AmethystNite); on Twitter, she identifies herself as “Black feminist intellectual aspiring to become a wife, mother, and PhD student… .”
The other consistent dissenting voice appearing on my Twitter page identifies herself, appropriately, by the user name @CriticofTheHelp. Her profile reads that she is an “avid reader & one who believes fight for equality is not over.”
@CriticofTheHelp began her intrepid critique of The Help in an open dialogue on about a year ago. She also voices her views at the Help and on her blog, On her blog, she declined an inquiry about revealing her name and asked to be called, “Onyx.”
Besides an apparent affinity for the names of gemstones, Kwanda Scott (@AmethystNite) and Onyx also share a penchant for using social media to voice their dissent about The Help. They connect with others, promote a critical analysis of issues in the novel and those related issues about how minorities are still marginalized in popular media. Tomorrow, Saturday, July 16, they will lead the all-day forum on Twitter inviting comments about The Help at the hashtag, #100voicesrespondtothehelp.   .
In an email to me, “Onyx” said the hope of Saturday’s forum is “to be the critical discussion on The Help that was never held.” The discussion, she said, will include “diverse voices” and people across various professions who have been invited to comment. The conversation will be larger in scope than just about the novel and address issues including “the perception of women and minorities in publishing and film.”
The evidence of how seriously they take the forum is the date they agreed on for the event; July 16 is the birthday of Ida B. Wells, the influential journalist and fiery anti-lynching advocate who campaigned for social justice in public forums and writings such as her investigation of lynching in the South, Red Record. “She’s our inspiration,” Kwanda said.
Using Ida B. Wells as an inspiration, Kwanda and Onyx are 21st century crusaders for justice waging a campaign decrying the distorted images of Black women and minorities that they feel are revived in The Help.
Relying on an old-school technology—the land line telephone—I asked Kwanda Scott this week what is the danger of a book like The Help?
Lack of Authenticity
After reading the first few pages of The Help, Kwanda said she felt that “it was so jarring.” The dialect lacked authenticity. As an example, she read from the first page of the book: "I done raised seventeen kids in my lifetime."  My grandmother did not speak like that, Kwanda said. 
“And I am a migration girl,” Kwanda said, noting the deep roots she has maintained with her family in Alabama and Tennessee, even though her grandmother moved her family from the South to Chicago years ago.  
“This [dialect] is not my auntie or my grandma,” Kwanda said. As I read I thought, “I am the only one who feels this way?”

The Author’s Credibility
Kwanda and others have concerns about the author’s credibility because of factual errors such as a reference in the novel that Mississippi Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers was bludgeoned to death; a character who refers to her color as blacker than a roach or distorted dialect.
“Stockett didn’t even care to do a good job at this,” Kwanda said, noting that Stockett admitted that she based some portrayals of the Black women on her family’s maid who has since passes away. However, Kwanda said that Stockett did not seek out the maid’s family in order to make her portrayal true to the departed women’s views of herself. Its been reported that the family of a Black woman whom Stockett used as a model for one of the novel’s characters is suing Stockett. Kwanda voiced concern that Stockett did not do due diligence in researching the novel. She feels the prevailing attitude is that “its “okay” when White people get it wrong when they talk about Black people.
These characters are not inspirational. If we want inspiration, Kwanda said, we can find other books about life in Mississippi. "Read Anne Moody’s memoir Coming of Age in Mississippi; let’s look at Fannie Lou Hamer and get some inspiration if we need inspiration," she said. 
Characters lack complexity
Another issue is complex characters. Kwanda said that Stockett could have grounded the story “in the nuances” of Black culture to capture the complexity of the women she portrayed. Instead, Kwanda balks at the depiction of one of the Black women, Aibileene, who is asked if she knew as a little girl growing up that she would be a maid. Aibileene, played by Viola Davis, answers, “Yes ma’am, I did.” 
Part of the risk with this kind of portrayal suggests “this is how it really was,” and the danger is that Black women can end up taking on these values as a guide to how to live their lives, Kwanda said. She identified this portrayal as a “mammification” of Black women, pointing to sources (The Mammy: A Century of Race, Gender, and Southern Memory by Kimberly Wallace-Sanders, for example) that explain how this phenomenon has operated in American society.

Indeed, I have to ask why we would accept this subservient domicile attitude celebrated in the fiction and movies by a class and race that benefits from our subservience? It’s a double price to pay. As a friend said to me today, “it’s bad enough when White folks do things at my expense, but then they get the profit from it, as well.”

These distorted perceptions could “enter the public consciousness and counteract [strong positive Black women such as First Lady] Michele Obama, Kwanda said.  

The portrayals smack of patronizing
“There is “an unconscious color-blind ideal” that is at play as well, Kwanda said. The ideal says that if [President] Barack Obama or Oprah made it, then every [Black person] can. “On the surface it sounds inspirational, like people are rooting for us, but only so far as we distance ourselves from other Blacks,” she said.
The persistent online dissent from Kwanda and Onyx hit a nerve. During the last few months, The Help’s producer Michael Barnathan has participated in an exchange with both women on Facebook and Twitter, admitting there were problems in the novel. “We addressed more then (sic) 1 of your concerns in the movie,” Barnathan wrote, “The screenwriter and the actors brought life and context to the movie that is unique and came from within.” Kwanda wondered if the contributions that Viola Davis and Octavia Spenser made to “correct” characterizations would earn them credit alongside screenwriter Kathryn Stockett.
Ultimately, Kwanda said the book is not critical, complex, and she feels that Stockett was given a pass by readers.
She wrote in an email to me, “Central to my issue with The Help is how some white authors retell and therefore reshape words, actions, and motivations of Black women.  Many still believe the symbol of Sojourner Truth told by racist. It is an eery connection and pattern repeating itself [with the reception to The Help."]

Monday, June 27, 2011

Novelist Tananarive Due on caring for her mother

Novelist Tananarive Due, (My Soul to Keep; The Between), offered a personal narrative on about this challenging season in her life which she faces with her sisters and father, taking care of her ailing mother, Patricia Stephens Due.  A pioneering civil rights activists, Patricia Due led what became the first "jail-in" of the student protest movement at FAMU.  Her battle against the institutionalized racism on campus prefigures her current battle with another formidable opponent, cancer. 
My sister and I are experiencing a similar season, caring for our mother who suffered a massive stroke in January of this year. In fact, many friends and colleagues these days tell us stories about the onset of their parents' sudden sickness. We talk about the terrible ailments that sadly have debilitated the strong men and women they were once. We only hint at how the sicknesses wreak havoc on us, though. How these ailments upset the memory of our parents' physical prowess, which is one way I have known my mother, as an imposing kinetic force from my childhood that looms large in my adult imagination. We only tiptoe to the edge of a discussion that would admit the upheaval of our  emotional geography, the instinctive mapping of the parent-child relationship that inverts when the child must care for the parents' at the most basic level of human need. The inversion of the parent-child relationship for me is an emotional shock. I don't know if that is because the inverted child-as-parent is a reversal of habitual order or a progression of the universal and natural order of our human experience. 
Wonder if anyone is currently writing about or reading about these experiences?

Behind Mom's dark glasses: A civil rights leader's biggest fight
By Tananarive Due, Special to CNN
June 25, 2011 2:51 a.m. EDT

(CNN) -- Days ago, I sat at my mother's bedside and helped her hold a copy of our 2003 memoir, "Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights."

The cover pictures her leading a protest march when she was 20 years old.

"That's you," I said, pointing out her face, determined and stoic behind dark sunglasses.
Tananarive Due, left, her father, mother and sisters-[Due Family]    

"I remember this," Mom said, and smiled.

These days, I do not take my mother's memory for granted.

My mother, Patricia Stephens Due, now 71, has thyroid cancer. Although thyroid cancer is considered highly treatable, by the time Mom's disease was diagnosed in the fall of 2009, the cancer had spread throughout her body, including her spine, which was fractured by the tumors. She was in bed for months.

In sickness, Mom possesses the same fighting spirit she's had since she defied Jim Crow to spend 49 days in a Florida jail in 1960 for a sit-in at a Woolworth lunch counter.

"I've been to jail; I can do this," she told me from her hospital bed last year.

She did rise like a phoenix to reclaim her life a piece at a time. A year later, this past February, she was able to drive from Tallahassee to Gainesville, about 150 miles, to be a featured speaker at the University of Florida with my father, civil rights attorney John Due, where she spoke passionately about civil rights for two hours.

. . .

Her voice -- a rich, textured contralto often compared to Maya Angelou's -- has inspired people far beyond her family.

At 15, she convinced high school classmates in Belle Glade, Florida, to sign a petition to try to fire their principal. When she was 19, she and her sister, Priscilla Stephens Kruize, organized a chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality on the campus of Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. Mom, Aunt Priscilla and three other students spent 49 days in jail rather than pay a fine -- the nation's first jail-in in the student sit-in movement.

She and the other jailed FAMU students received a telegram from the Rev. Martin Luther King applauding their stand. Baseball great Jackie Robinson published her letter from jail in his column in the New York Post and sent the students diaries to record their experiences.

The one thing Mom always wanted to do was tell the story, forever her generation's griot, so young people would understand that ordinary people could do extraordinary things.

This year, Florida Gov. Rick Scott sent Mom a letter on June 9 saying that her jail-in "was a significant moment in our country's history and your actions serve as an incredible inspiration still today."

Tallahassee Mayor John R. Marks III declared May 11 "Patricia Stephens Due Day" and visited her hospital bedside to personally read the proclamation, holding her hand. She listened silently with tears in her eyes.

"If we were treated like second-class citizens, it was like we were already dead," Mom often said, explaining her activism despite the dangers.

Read Tananarive Due's full article, "Behind Mom's dark glasses: A civil rights leader's biggest fight," @  

Monday, June 13, 2011

White Readers Meet Black Authors: Review of The New Jim Crow

Novelist and blogger Carleen Brice recently published Cheri Paris Edwards' review of the book, The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander's eye-opening book on the impact of America's prison industrial complex on poor Black and Brown populations in America. An excerpt of the post published on Brice's popular blog, White Readers Meet Black Authors, is published below. A link to the full review follows the post.

"If you're a regular visitor to this blog, you know I don't often cover nonfiction. Nothing against nonfiction (I've written some myself). Just trying to maintain some focus. However, occasionally a book grabs my attention. The New Press sent me a copy of The New Jim Crow, which is definitely worthy of any attention I can help bring to it. Before I could read this NAACP image award winner, I noticed novelist Cheri Paris Edwards mention on Facebook that she was planning to read it. Kismet. I offered her the copy the publisher sent me if she'd do a review. She kindly agreed. Below is [an excerpt of] her review."

Summary /Review of Michelle Alexander’s
The New Jim Crow-Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
by Cheri Paris Edwards

The New Jim Crow
by Michelle Alexander
Racial control revisited In “The New Jim Crow – Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” civil rights attorney and advocate Michelle Alexander presents a well-supported argument that America’s prison system has been used to control brown and black people in this country. She likens this control to the age of Jim Crow where laws enforcing this sort of race-based system of control were legal. Alexander’s argument begins with an absorbing introduction that includes these disturbing facts:
1. “In less than 30 years the US prison population exploded from around 300,000 to more than 2 million, with drug convictions accounting for the majority of the increase.”

2. “The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the heart of apartheid.”

3. “In Washington D.C., our nation’s capitol, it is estimated that three out of four young black men (and nearly all from the poorest neighborhoods) can expect to spend time in prison."

Read the full review @ White Readers Meet Black Authors

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Can E-Books move to the A-lists of university presses?

University presses may find e-sales growing in the most unexpected places...their backlists.

The E-Reader Effect
June 1, 2011   
For technology reputed to be the future of reading, e-books have had a hard go of it in higher education. Students have for years declined to purchase electronic versions of their textbooks, and instructors have largely refrained from assigning them except when they are given no choice.

University presses, in many cases, have been even less successful than textbook publishers in selling electronic versions of their books. A new survey by the Association of American University Presses suggests that as of last December, e-book sales or licenses accounted for less than 3 percent of total revenue for the overwhelming majority of university presses.
Meanwhile, 60 percent of respondents expressed “serious concern” about the viability of their current business models. In an era of flat or declining print sales, university presses might be discouraged by the fact that e-books, to which most sectors of publishing have pinned their hope for a rebound in an era of flat or declining print sales and scarce resources, have failed to gain traction.
But there is anecdotal evidence from some presses that e-book sales have jumped in the months since the association collected its data. Several presses contacted by Inside Higher Ed reported that their e-book sales have risen significantly in the first part of 2011. While e-books still account for a small proportion of total sales even in these cases, the presses see the uptick as an encouraging sign that there is a market for electronic versions of “serious nonfiction” works after all — and that market might finally be stirring.

Last year, as winter approached, the University of Kentucky Press found itself in a position similar to that of most of its peers at the time: Its e-books accounted for a negligible sliver of the press’s sales: 1.6 percent, according to John Hussey, the director of sales. But in February, e-book sales skyrocketed to 11.3 percent. (Hussey calls this “the Christmas boom,” speculating that a lot of people got Kindles and iPads as gifts.)

The boom tempered a bit between March and April, with e-book sales dipping to between 6 and 8 percent, month-to-month. But last month they jumped again, Hussey says; although May figures have not yet been finalized, e-book sales at Kentucky have crept back toward 11 percent.

Read the full article in Inside Higher Ed

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Toni Morrison's Desdemona

Did anyone see it in Brussels?

  May 26, 2011  [Posted May 28, 2011 -]

Toni Morrison
In response to Peter Sellar's 2009 production of Othello, Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison and singer/song-writer Rokia Traore collaborate to create an intimate and profound conversation between Desdomona and her African nurse, Babary, from beyond the grave. Expatica editor Erin Russell Thiessen reviews the project, calling it a timely revision of Shakespeare's text.
You may want to brush up on your Othello before watching this performance.  The piece is, in essence, a dialogue with Shakespeare's original play; and, although writer Toni Morrison would not call herself a feminist, the result of this dialogue is a feminist and African Amercian womanist revision of the play's characters and the norms set by the era in which they lived. Morrison's masterful tracing of sly, systemic modes of enslavement--of women, of Africans, of "others", "villains" and "angels" is carefully brought to the fore through a series of monologues delivered by Desdemona (played by Elizabeth Marvel) in the afterlife. 
It is a project worthy of Morrison.

And project is indeed the right word for the production. As Peter Sellars emphasizes in his introduction to the performance (he gives an opening talk each night), the piece is neither strictly theatre nor concert.  It is an ongoing project, a dialogue, and an exploration in which the audience are invited to take part. 

Desdemona's dramatic monologues are interspersed with and layered over by Rokia Traore's haunting and very African music.  Rokia Traore, through her music and finally through direct dialogue, plays Desdemona's childhood nurse, Barbary.  And while the character is only given brief mention in Shakespeare, relating how she dies of a broken heart singing an epic tale of love and loss, Morrison gives her equal staging--and equal voice--with Desdemona in this project.  

Read the full article @

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Howard University Press passes baton to Black Classic Press

Congratulations to Howard University Press and Black Classic Press for forging this historic transaction that preserves the legacy of a distinguished university press and extends the the reach of a venerable Black publisher.  

Black Classic Press Acquires Howard University Press backlist; Plans New Editions 
By Calvin Reid (Publishers Weekly)
May 24, 2011

After 39 years of distinguished scholarly publishing focused on African-American life and history around the world, the Howard University Press is closing its doors. The university has reached an agreement with Baltimore-based Black Classic Press, an African-American independent press and print-on-demand vendor, to acquire a selection of the press’s backlist of more than 175 scholarly titles with plans to reissue most of them in new editions under BCP’s new line of Howard University Classic Editions.
Black Classic Press
W. Paul Coates, president of Black Classic Press, is a former Howard University librarian and a former street book vendor who began his publishing career selling books on the streets in front of Cramton Auditorium on the Howard campus. “It’s humbling to have the opportunity to extend the awesome legacy of the books created by Howard University Press because, for decades, Howard was the ‘gold standard’ that advanced Black publishing beyond the realms of any other press,” Coates said.

Howard University provost and chief academic officer Dr. James H. Wyche, said the closing of the press is “related partly to the significant changes that have transformed the publishing business,” and said, “after nearly four decades of unparalleled service to the scholarly publishing field, we have made a difficult decision.” But he also said, “This is a win-win proposition for Howard, HUP, Black Classic, and the many scholars, faculty, and students around the world who have benefited from the insightful and much-needed scholarship published by Howard’s scholarly press over the years.”

In a phone interview with Coates he outlined big plans for Howard University Classic Editions and said he plans to “immediately incorporate the titles into Black Classic Press’s digital database.” BCP will acquire about 84 of HUP's 175 backlist titles. John Hopkins University Press will continue to distribute HUP Classic Editions and the press will begin rejacketing about 6 titles a month in preparation for uploading them into the Black Classic Press’s POD database for reprinting. BCP is short-run and print-on-demand publishing house that specializes in reprinting classic works of African-American literature and keeping them in print. Coates said he expected to upload “the best selling titles first. We’ll eliminate on-hand titles through sales and remaindering.”

Founded in 1972 under the director of Charles Harris, at the time a former editor at Random House, the Howard University Press published about 12 titles annually during its best years. Among the press’s best known and best selling titles are Walter Rodney’s 1981 How Europe Underdeveloped Africa; and Dr. Joseph Harris’s 1993 seminal work, Global Dimensions of the African Diaspora.

HUP Press also sponsored the HUP Book Publishing Institute, an annual summer workshop that specialized in training African Americans, other minorities and women for careers in magazine and book publishing. Coates plans to revive the work of the publishing institute through an intern program at Black Classic Press.

“There will be an opportunity for Howard University students to intern at BCP to provide experience in print and an increasingly digital world. Students can grow as we grow in this sector,” Coates said. Coates also intends to extend the HUP’s publishing legacy by continuing to publish scholarly works by Howard’s and other faculty, particularly in the field of black/African studies as well as works on Africa and on African diasporan life in Latin America, the Carribean and elsewhere. “The acquisition will strengthen the BCP list in those areas and make BCP visible to everyone as a place to submit manuscripts,” he said.

Noting a long association with Howard University that dates to the 1970s, Coates said his acquisition of the list is the culmination of a dream to become a publisher that began on the campus of Howard University when he used to go to Founder’s Library to warm up on cold days when he was a street book vendor. “My whole idea to be a publisher began at Founder’s Library,” he said, “that’s where the idea that I would develop a press and be a publisher began. This is a unique opportunity. HUP is the only black academic press to turn its titles over to an independent black publisher and we will work to maintain an important black legacy. “

See the article and comments at:

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Twitter v. Facebook from BookEnds Literary Agency

Here's an article from a literary agency director considering which social networking platform is better for writers, Facebook or Twitter.

I find that between my FB and Twitter pages, more writers -- and readers -- actively share on Twitter than on Facebook. I agree with some of the commenters who've said that Twitter is a great way to meet writers and introduce their work. FB is a good place to build on the relationships begun on Twitter.

What do you think?

BookEnds, LLC — A Literary Agency: Social Networking: Twitter v. Facebook: "As you know, I’ve been thinking a lot about social networking and how authors can best use it for promotion, and one of the things I have been dwelling on is Twitter v. Facebook and which is really the more powerful when it comes to building a readership because, let’s be honest, that’s our ultimate goal."

Monday, May 9, 2011

Melissa Harris Perry, Sister Citizen

Melissa Harris Perry  Photo Copyright: 2011/ L Monroe/Now Rise Books
Melissa Harris Perry is at Yale University Press, today, making preparations for her forthcoming book, Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America (Yale University Press.) More expressively, "For Colored Girls Who've Considered Politics When Being Strong Isn't Enough" is the sub-title at the bottom edge of the dust jacket that will speak to a lot of Black women, as we come to grips with the fact that we need each other to survive and thrive in this 21st century. If Black women have lost this truth, then Perry's book may serve as a catalyst for redemption and revival among Black women, and thus Black families, at this time when our community needs it most of all.
An excerpt from the YUP catalog explains that while Harris-Perry’s work is "[n]ot a traditional political science work concerned with office-seeking, voting or ideology, Sister Citizen instead explores how African American women understand themselves as citizens and what they expect from political organizing. Harris-Perry shows that the shared struggle to preserve an authentic self and secure recognition as a citizen links together black women in America, from the anonymous survivors of Hurricane Katrina to the current First Lady of the United States”  (

Sister Citizen (Yale University Press, Fall 2011)
I am eager to read Sister Citizen because, as a member of a mainstream Black women’s political group for some years, I've recognized a chasm between women who embrace our organized political group and the women we try to recruit who actually shun organized activism. Many of these women do not see their identities or their own personal interests as being relevant to a discussion of politics--whether the discussion is about the politics of our hair, bodies, color, education, money or relationships. 

This chasm is especially and heart-breakingly evident between generations. My political group seeks younger women to balance our venerable members who are veterans of the Civil Rights Movement. However,  so many Black girls today are too far removed from the revolutionary winds of social change of the Sixties and Seventies that uprooted racial stigmas and liberated my generation, and a few after mine, to absorb the mantra that we were "young gifted and Black."  That is a very different message for young girls (and boys for that matter) to absorb versus the historical mammy, or Sapphire myth, or the contemporary and offensive "ho," "b----" or other stereotypes  that are directed toward Black girls.

Whether Black women choose to join one of America's two mainstream political parties, or an alternative political group, what is most important is that we understand that organizing together and raising our voices is the way we will affirm our identity. Can we control our image with as much self-interest and tenacity as a corporation protects its brand? Bottom line, to effect positive change in the quality of our lives on any issue, personal or broadly social, is not only possible, it is our responsibility. 

It is the way that we take hold of the birthright to American citizenship and make it our own.     

If anyone gets an advanced copy of Melissa Harris Perry's book, please share your views with readers here.  Thanks!

Updated: May 15, 2011

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Pauli Murray (Returning Spring) Poetry - Black Poetry Post #18

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Friday, April 29, 2011

Pauli Murray (Returning Spring) Poetry - Black Poetry Post #18

Pauli Murray's poem, "Returning Spring," was highlighted in the Black poetry series for National Poetry Month 2010.
See a video featuring Rev. Pauli Murray from the TV series, "On the Road," hosted by Charles Kuralt, 1985

"I believe in reconciling the  descendants of all the slaves and the slave owners of the South.  And, by now, the genes have recirculated so, that I suspect if you put all of the people of the United States end to end according to true line blood relationship, we would all be in a long line,  all of us.
This is the fascinating thing about the South. Black, white and red are related by blood, and by culture, and by history, and by common suffering.
And so what I am saying is, ' Look, let's level with one another. Let's admit we are related, and let's get on with the business of healing these wounds--and we're not going to heal them till we face the truth.'"   
Pauli Murray, On the Road TV series, 1985

Song In A Weary Throat 
Born in Baltimore in 1910, and raised in Durham, North Carolina, Pauli Murray was a lawyer, civil rights activist, feminist and human rights advocate. She graduated from Hunter College in 1933 but was denied entrance to the University of North Carolina (UNC) in 1938, more than a decade before the campaign that successfully led Floyd McKissick to become the first African American admitted to UNC.  
Pauli Murray later graduated from Howard University Law School (1944), took her Masters of Law degree at the University of California, Berkeley, and earned a Doctor of Juridical Science degree at Yale University Law School, the first Afrrican American woman to do so.
Murray wrote various texts about race and equality: her noted poem on race is "Dark Testament," written about 1943, and her book, States' Laws on Race and Culture (1950) was praised by Thurgood Marshall as "the Bible for civil rights lawyers."
In 1977, Pauli Murray became the first African American woman to be ordained as an Episcopal priest. She died in 1985. In 1987 her autobiography, Song in a Weary Throat: An American Pilgrimage, was published posthumously. Series: 30 Ways of Looking at Black Poetry

Returning Spring by Pauli Murray

I’ll sink my roots far down
And drink from hidden rivers,
Renew my kinship with growing things—
The little ants will hold their congresses
Upon my arm, and cautious insects
Will make brief tours across my brows
And spiders spin webs from toe to toe.

The spears of sun will prick
No blade of grass to wakefulness
But I shall feel it tremble,
No further straw be laid upon a nest,
No twig but I shall see it quiver.

I’ll hear the symphonies within a stone,
Catch every murmur of the ground,
Travel the heavens with each vagrant cloud
And ark the golden islands in the sky.

“Returning Spring” by Pauli Murray in The Garden Thrives, edited by Clarence Major,
Pauli Murray, “Returning Spring” in Dark Testament, 1970.

   * Includes a video featuring Pauli Murray, from TV series "On the Road" host, Charles Kuralt, 1985

This post was updated on April 18, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Six Black publishers you should know and support

I know several publishers on this list who have been publishing for more than twenty-years; kudos to the Atlanta Post for highlighting these important pioneers. They are committed to providing Black people, particularly, with literature that informs us about our historical experience and inspires us about our potential and future. Check out their titles and support them. 

Wade Hudson (Just Us Books) and Paul Coates (Black Classic Press) (C 2008)

6 Black-Owned Book Publishers
MARCH 24, 2011 08:15 AM

You don’t have to look hard for predictions of the end of the publishing industry.   Frightening stuff if you’re a book lover, especially one for whom a book still means paper and a spine.   For now, however, presses continue to bring books to market.  Here are six African-American publishers who remain in the trade, committed to sharing high-quality literature and non-fiction to challenge and inform.

Haki Madhubuti entered the world of book peddling on a Chicago street corner.   At one dollar a pop he sold 600 copies of his poetry collection in a single day.   When a $400 literary award came through, he formalized the enterprise, purchasing a mimeograph machine, and with the aid of two friends, set up shop in his basement apartment.  The year was 1967 and it wasn’t long before Madhubuti, a lead figure in the Black Arts Movement, was distributing the work of his contemporaries — Gwendolyn Brooks, Sonia Sanchez and Amiri Baraka among them.  Scholarly works joined literary texts, the result of which is one of the most extensive rosters of progressive black thought in the world.

See the full lists at:

This post was updated on April 22, 2011with a photograph of two publishers featured in the article, Wade Hudson (Just Us Books) and Paul Coates (Black Classic Press).

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Richard Wright: Making the Wright Connection

If you've never read any work by Richard Wright, or if you are looking for a resource to indulge your appreciation of Wright, here is a website dedicated to all things Richard Wright: the Wright Connection.

Administered by the Project on the History of Black Writing at University of Kansas (Department of English), the Wright Connection website is an online community of teachers and scholars that discusses teaching strategies, theories and new books and material about Wright's work.

You might do well to explore it as a first step toward reading Black Boy (Wright's autobiographical narrative), Native Son (Wright's magnum opus novel), Uncle Tom's Children (short stories) or any other book or even haiku written by Richard Wright.

I was pleased last semester by how much some of my students were impressed with an excerpt of Black Boy (reprinted in an anthology) called "The Library."

The excerpt describes an episode of Wright's life in the segregated south, when Blacks were not allowed to use the public library. To get around the restriction, Wright convinces a white male co-worker to write a note to the librarian that says Wright is taking out books for the co-worker. That ruse is how Richard Wright gained access to literature by H.L. Mencken, and novelists such as Sherwood Anderson, Sinclair Lewis, Alexander Dumas and Theodore Dreiser, among many others, whose skill at employing distinct points of view in their narratives shaped his early imagination as a writer.

If you've read Richard Wright, what is your impression of his work? Which of his works impressed you the most?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

This guest post was published on the Book Expo Official BEA Librarian Blogger by CT State Librarian Linda Williams.  She is on point regarding American's deficient cultural literacy regarding African geography.  Her post begs the question about Americans' knowledge of U.S. geography.

The Importance of Understanding Geography and Cultural Differences
Friday, April 1, 2011

 As a librarian serving children’s and teen librarians in Connecticut, and a staunch believer in the power of stories to teach, entertain, and generally broaden perspectives, I often find myself compiling lists of books that I hope will be used to this end.
I also serve as a co-representative to the Collaborative Summer Library Program, a collaborative of 49 states which plans and administers a theme-based library summer reading program. This year’s program for children, “One World, Many Stories,” has a global/multicultural theme. A-hah! A perfect opportunity to bring forth geography based lists of books for children and teens.
I often hear that school kids are studying “Africa.” And they don’t mean the ~54 countries of Africa. Do Americans know that Africa is not a country? I’m not the only one disturbed by this. Nigerian blogger, Molara Wood, posts: “It baffles me, this stereotype of an indistinct Africa. An Africa whose separate entities are not worth recognising or getting to know.” With Egypt and Libya in the news, can we assume Americans even know where these countries are? Highly doubtful given the news that “after more than three years of combat and nearly 2,400 U.S. military deaths in Iraq, nearly two-thirds of Americans aged 18 to 24 still cannot find Iraq on a map.” Even high level politicians don’t even seem to recognize that Africa is not “a nation.” This begs the question: Is it important in an increasingly global and connected society, to understand geography and cultural differences?
If we think it is, how are we teaching African geography here in the United States? Notice I didn’t say “here in North America.” Do we stress the diversity of African countries and cultures and are children getting it?
There are well-meaning lists and instructions out on the internet (example), but I haven’t yet found another one, like the lists of Africa – Picture Books and Africa – Fiction, posted to our summer reading planning blog, that are subdivided by country.
What I learned in compiling these lists was that many African countries are not represented by name at all in children’s books. The majority of books set in the countries that are represented are historical (a few) or are about Americans working or vacationing in that country. Where are the books about life in modern day Togo? Or hey, with all that’s going on in Libya, do you think I could find you a story that takes place there? According to the excellent searchable Africa Access database, there’s one – set a century ago.
Herein lies my plea to publishers. Please publish more books set in present day African nations. Our kids need interesting stories about native people and cultures in the separate countries of the African continent.
If you don’t think it’s important, look at this map. And test your knowledge - how fast can you do this Africa puzzle?