Remembering Amiri Baraka

POETIC: as in, poesis: as in, revealing (and what is revealed); as in, revelation: as in, prophetic—not of ‘truth’ as tradition, but ‘truth’ as disclosedness.

Technically: The poetic as the bearing of witness {that which the English have called, ‘the hue and the cry’, semantically apropos to BLACK DADA}; is the speaking of what is: is a telling—the sort of which reveals, discloses that which it speaks about; and speaks about that which it disclose: the poetic: to speak is to disclose: the poetic is what is: and, being what is, speaks itself {metaphysical, organizing (immanent) principle}; the poetic can only speak that it itself already is.

Specifically: Poetics: as in, specification; as in, the typification of what is known: of ‘word’: poetics—what is known of ‘world’ as what is said of world: that is, ‘word’ captured ‘world’. Poetics reveals ‘world’ as shared venture, as ‘word’, as ‘language’: Poetics implies ethno: as in ethno-poesis; as in, ethno-poetics.

Sylvia Wynter (secondary citation): “…At root ‘Ethnopoetics’ has to do with the essentially ‘local’ incidence of ‘poesis’ or acts of ‘making’…So ethnopoetics is rooted in ‘self-poetics,’ ‘our kind’ of poetics, which by inevitable extension of poesis becomes that activity which has gradually become conscious of itself…What does any local band of people living together do in their poetry? Answer: They say themselves.” In saying themselves they are the living engagement with the world: what that means is precisely this: it is the way in which and through which we experience space and time; the poetic {like the Dadaist, like the Surrealists, from which Baraka’s BLACK DADA emerges, NIHILISMUS} temporalizes ‘time’ in space-matter, bending it towards the manner in which we experience it (and vice versa): the poetic, rather than the quickening of prose, semantic nullification {of the post-modern, -structuralist}, or aphoristic fracturing, speaks itself, speaks its people, speaks its world and sculpts the substance of life into {from} its use-concepts: and, the world shows up, anew.

Poetics, then, is the speaking of a people: that is, of “the operation performed on the language of thought”, specific and general; they are the making of a people and the making of their world:

Interviewer: Let’s talk about the movement {Civil Rights Movement}; it’s been such a part of your life. Some critics would say that it affected your poetry in such a way that the quality was effected…

A.B.: See, the point is this. Like Mao Tse Tung says: “where do ideas come from? Do they drop from the sky?” No, they don’t drop from the sky. Ideas come from the social life. And as your social life changes—your day to day material existence changes—so the focus on what you want to speak about; what becomes important to you changes. So that if you lead some kind of, you know, closed effete circle of…literatures who have no real interest in…the human rights movement to transform society, then they’re going to think that your topics, your themes, your focus changes, that somehow your poetry is diminished; but, quite the contrary, I think this: I think most black people wouldn’t know me if it wasn’t for my own participation—and my wife certainly says this: “they wouldn’t know you if wasn’t in the struggle to transform reality, the struggle for democracy, the struggle for socialism they wouldn’t know you”. And, its true because people are concerned with what changes their lives, with what moves them…(Amiri Baraka, “On his poetry and breaking rules. HoCoPoLitSo. Howard County Poetry and Literature Society: The Writing Life)

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Thank You, Maya Angelou

Excerpt from “A Brave and Startling Truth”

…When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
And without crippling fear

When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonders of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.

– Maya Angelou

You will be missed…

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Kendrick Lamar and the Autoethnographic Story


“good kid, m.A.A.d city: Kendrick Lamar’s Autoethnographic Narrative”

Kendrick Lamar, in characterizing good kid, m.A.A.d city as a “short story”, announces, in his second studio album, a public declaration: we, the listening audience, are not hearing another hip-hop album, another autobiography, but something else, we are hearing a mixture of social, cultural and the personal in what will be termed the “autoethnographic”. That is, in addition to a personal declaration, Kendrick offers us a new way to think about hip-hop as a whole, not simply as a capitalistic enterprise, nor merely as a “black news” channel, but as a distinct method for collecting data and understanding the experiences and existence of black people that can be used to understand not only urban Americans, but non-normative persons of color the world over. Along with Kendrick Lamar’s album, I will be analyzing Richard Wright’s Black Boy and his Native Son character, “Bigger Thomas” as textural transcript, which can be mined for methodological purposes. Lamar’s text, along with Wright’s “Black Boy” and Bigger Thomas, can be read beyond the(ir) individual’s narrative, but rather for its [their] collective, auto-ethnographic narrative. Utilizing autoethnographic method, this essay brings together epistemological, ontological, and ethical concerns within sociology of knowledge and phenomenology, operating as both a way of understanding reality and an expression of reality.

Full article in link below:


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What She’s Reading: The Book of Night Women


I’ll admit, this book has been sitting on my shelf since 2011.  But after writing last week’s post, “Magical Realism in Afro-literature”, I was finally motivated to dust it off and crack the binding.  What better time to pour myself into James’ haunting yet ethereal slave narrative than a month in which we celebrate magical realism and its contribution to the literary world?

Set in Jamaica, The Book of Night Women is a rare mixture of beautiful, lyrical prose and engaging narrative.  It isn’t often that I am captivated by a novel within the first few pages (or first few chapters) but The Book of Night Women had me hooked after this powerful first paragraph:

“People think blood red, but blood don’t got no colour.  Not when blood wash the floor she lying on as she scream for that son of a bitch to come, the lone baby of 1785. Not when the baby wash in crimson and squealing like it just depart heaven to come to hell, another place of red.  Not when the midwife know that the mother shed too much blood, and she who don’t reach fourteen birthday yet speak curse ‘pon the chile and the papa, and then drop down dead like old horse.  Not when blood spurt from the skin, or spring from the axe, the cat-o-nine, the whip, the cane and the blackjack and every day in slave life is a day that colour red.  It soon come to pass when red no different from white or blue or nothing.  Two black legs spread wide and a mother mouth screaming.  A weak womb done kill one life to birth another.  A black baby wiggling in blood on the floor with skin darker than midnight but the greenest eyes anybody ever done see.  I goin’ call her Lilith.  You can call her what they call her.”

Admittedly, the quote above is a bit lengthy but WOW!  I can almost hear the author’s cadence as I read and feel the character’s energy seeping from the page.  It’s no secret that I believe a strong opening is an indication of a great novel.  My theory has so far proven true with this text.  I initially planned to read only the first few paragraphs but 50 pages later, I was completely immersed in the world Marlon James created.

Needless to say, I’m pleasantly surprised with the author’s talent thus far.  I love the feeling of unexpectedly falling in love with a book . . .

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Magical Realism in Afro-Literature

The death of Gabriel Garcia Marquez marks the passing of yet another literary giant.  His presence will be missed but his words are guaranteed to live on through his work.  In addition to his most well-known novels Love In The Time of Cholera and 100 Years of Solitude, Marquez left a legacy that is synonymous with the literary genre “magical realism” by effortlessly infusing reality with fantasy.

Magical realism incorporates enchanting or other-world elements into otherwise commonplace stories.  Marquez mastered this art and solidified his presence as one of the greats within the genre.  However, he was not the first to utilize this technique.  Magical elements have historically played a role in African and African-Diaspora literature and story telling.  A quick web-search will reveal countless books, articles and academic papers on the subject.  It’s late, so I’ll spare you the history and instead provide a list of my five favorite novels that feature magical realism.

Add your favorites in the comments below.

Image5) Mama Day by Gloria Naylor

A story, depicting the mysterious Miranda “Mama” Day and her niece Ophelia, that takes place in a fictional island off the coast of Georgia.  It’s reminiscent of a Shakespearean novel and depicts the tragedy and sacrifice between lovers.

Image4) Kindred by Octavia Butler

This bewitching tale follows Dana Franklin as she involuntarily travels through time in an attempt to preserve her lineage and ensure her own survival.  It’s a fast-paced historical novel that secures Butler’s role as the mother of modern science fiction and magical realism.

Image3) The Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong’o

The Wizard of the Crow is as entertaining as it is politically astute.  The story surrounds citizens within a fictional African country ruled by an aging dictator.  In this novel I’m not sure which concepts are more absurd – the magical occurrences or the real  current events from which the story is based . . .

Image2) Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved is the story of an escaped slave who is haunted by her past.  Not only is it an epic historical fiction novel, Morrison expertly guides the reader in and out of each character’s psychosis until the line between magic and reality is practically invisible.  Don’t let the (horrible) film adaptation deter you from exploring this novel; this isn’t just about slavery just as it isn’t simply a ghost story.

Image1) The Famished Road by Ben Okri

What is it about the country of Nigeria that produces game-changing authors and pioneers in literature?  Not only is The Famished Road laced with realistic-feeling magical elements, Okri’s writing style is purely enchanting.  The first few chapters of the book are so beautifully written that the novel is spell-binding.  Ben Okri writes like no author I have ever encountered. He’s brilliant, no question, but I’m now convinced there’s wizardry involved!



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Stories of Reconciliation: The Genocide in Rwanda (20 Years Later)

April marks 20 year’s since the Rwandan Genocide in which an estimated 1 million Rwandans (mostly Tsutsi) were murdered in a four month period.  In remembrance of this atrocity, the New York Times released an article “Portraits of Reconciliation”, containing photos and stories of perpetrators and victims who are attempting to regain peace, forgive, and be forgiven.  The photos and stories are haunting but a powerful example of the strength and resilience of which human beings are capable.  This is a must read:

Also check out this compelling short film entitled “Let The Devil Sleep” by Alan Whelan, Eoghan Rice and Elena Hermosa that documents four haunting stories of reconciliation 

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“Philosophical Meditations on Richard Wright” now available in paperback!


Congrats are due to one of our Afro-Librarians!!!!  Dr James B Haile’s Philosophical Mediations on Richard Wright will soon be available in paperback!

The text has been described as “thought-provoking” and “elegant” and esteemed as a compilation of of essays that are integral to the analysis of Wright’s body of work. Haile is not only re-imagining the canon but is creating a new methodology for examining Afro-American literature.  It’s no surprise that, in addition to being used in universities around the country, this text is also read by readers varying from scholars to afro-literature lovers and hobbyists.

I recently read through this compilation and was inspired to re-read Wright’s work in its entirety.  So if you are also interested in digging deeper and gaining a unique perspective on classic Afro-American and American literature, purchase your copy here:

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What She’s Reading: “Dzino – Memories of a Freedom Fighter” and “The Long Song”


Wilfred Mhanda, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in Harare last year, pens a detailed and intriguing account of the the guerrilla war in Rhodesia, Zimbabwe’s subsequent independence, the rise of the ZANU party, and the rise President Mugabe.  This is a must-read narrative containing first hand accounts of political rivalries and perhaps the most in-depth account of President Mugabe’s rise within the ZANU-PF party.


I tagged this one as “Afro-European Lit” because Andrea Levy is perhaps one of the most well-known Afro-authors and pioneers in the United Kingdom.  However, this is an Afro-Caribbean epic about slavery and the struggle for abolition in Jamaica.  Following a young slave woman named July, The Long Song weaves in and out of history telling a story that is at times engaging and suspenseful but at other times painfully slow moving. Honestly, I’m still trying to decide whether I will read her entire body of work this year as planned as I am not completely blown away this far.  Stay tuned . . .

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Traveling While Black


I’m leaving on the next plane/I don’t know when I’ll be back again…

–Yasiin Bey, “Travellin’ Man’

We are headed to France for the week. For me it will be a working vacation; for her, it will be a working vacation, but of a different sort. While I will be attending a philosophy conference, she will be teleworking from abroad. This trip, and its working significance for both of us has me reflecting back on a conversation we had once about the idea of writing a travel guide, “traveling while black.”

This idea came about after we discussed our separate experiences abroad and juxtaposed that with discussions we have had with our peers.  The great joy many white Americans take in traveling, generally, and especially traveling ‘home’ to the European continent is often not met with the same fervor of excitement for black Americans. And, when it is, the joy is an imagined space of ‘seeing the world’, a joy (that is) met, frequently, with the reality of an ambiguous ambivalence that only the term ‘history’ can begin to describe. This is the ‘history’ that often the notion of ‘travel’ and the meaning of ‘traveling’ is understood alongside that of being received abroad, not solely as American, but as an American of a special sort. There is often a state of indecision as to how you might be traveling; the often invisibility within the hyper-visibility of tourism; and, then, the experience of historical discontinuity of what it means to be black and traveling, freely amongst the world. James Baldwin once noted in his essay, “Stranger in the Village” such an ambiguous ambivalence of the meaning of history and ‘traveling while black’. He wrote, “the cathedral of Chartes says something to them which it cannot say to me.”

I hope to discover something new during this trip  but I, at the same time, discover that I am discovered in this world.  I take solace, however, in that I will not be alone; and that I will be ‘traveling’ with someone who is also discovering the world anew and also ‘traveling while black’.


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Five Must-Read African American Authors (Who Aren’t Toni Morrison)

As an avid reader and the creator of this book blog, I am often asked to provide reading recommendations. I won’t lie to you, I live for those moments. There is nothing I love more than to impose my reading agenda share my thoughts and bookish favorites with beloved readers, family, and friends.

Each time I’m asked this question, particularly in regard to African-American authors, I start by listing the pre-requisites – Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Albert Murray, Zora Neal Hurston, and others of the Afro-literary canon. But I always make it a point to throw in new or lesser known authors and titles.

In this post, I eliminated many of the above-mentioned canonical works by excluding non-living Afro-American authors. I also removed (living) author Toni Morrison because, although she’s brilliant and worthy of high praise, there lots of other talented and noteworthy authors on the afro-literary scene.

The authors listed below are making a huge impact on the contemporary Afro-literary genre and on literary fiction in general. They are bold, creative, imaginative, ambitious and simply brilliant. These are the authors whose work I recommend you get acquainted with, if you haven’t already, and those whose careers you should definitely should follow.

Without further ado, I present my list of the five authors you must read if interested in contemporary Afro-American literary fiction:

Colson Whitehead
In 1999, Whitehead wrote a brilliant piece of speculative fiction entitled “The Intuitionist”. The novel mixes afro-futurism with issues of morality, race and politics. Hailed as an innovative and poetic debut novel, Whitehead’s allegory has already been compared to such classics as “The Bluest Eye” (okay, one Morrison reference . . . sue me!) and “Invisible Man”. As if this weren’t reason enough to read his work, his second novel, John Henry Days, an epic American narrative, was a Pulitzer And National Book Critics Award finalist. Yeah, he’s kind of a big deal . . .

Edward P Jones
Award winning short story author, Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, and self proclaimed hermit, Edward P Jones has all the makings of a literary genius. In 2009 The Washington Post published a rare interview with Jones in which the journalist was surprised to learn that the author had yet to type a single word of the book he has been “writing” for the last ten years. Jones revealed that he constructs his novels in his head – entirely, punctuation included – and, once finished, sits at a computer, types the finished version and sends it directly to his publisher. For that reason alone, you should read his epic novel “The Known World”.

James Mcbride
There is a natural harmony between literature and music. Cadence, lyric, and tone are descriptive of both melody and prose. Perhaps this is why McBride’s novels are written so beautifully – he is both an author and jazz musician. He received the National Book Award for “The Good Lord Bird”, a hypnotizing novel about a slave living in Kansas territory who befriends abolitionist John Brown. But prior to receiving this award (and catapulting to fame), McBride wrote noteworthy literary gems such as “The Color of Water”, “The Song Yet Sung”, and the novel adapted to film “Miracle at St. Anna”.

Jessmyn Ward
National Book Award winner for Salvage the Bones, a novel about a Mississippi town ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, Ward weaves one heck of a tale. I believe that a strong opening line is an indication of good fiction and “Salvage the Bones” begins with: “China’s turned on herself. If I didn’t know, I would think she was trying to eat her paws”. Ward also wrote the next book on my TBR list, the widely acclaimed memoir, “The Men We Reaped”. It’s a haunting account of black male pathos and southern family histories that is accessible to readers both within and outside of the ivory tower.

MK Asante
Born in Zimbabwe to American parents, Philadelphia raised Mk Asante is a highly respected professor, filmmaker as well as a critically acclaimed author. “Buck: A Memoir” is currently being adapted into a screenplay by Asante himself. Uber-talented and ambitious, Asante has received high praise from the likes of Poet Laureate Maya Angelou. The novel is unique in language, immersing the reader in the visceral and verbally assaulting world of “Killadelphia”. Asante will entertain you and, if you aren’t careful, he may also teach you something about urban America.


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