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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Wednesday, May 4, 2011