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Monday, July 30, 2012

Remembering : Warm-up for New Work

Remembering things that occurred 30 years ago is a good exercise for new thinking.  Suppose I remember E. Ethelbert Miller's ASCENSION reading series.

Ascension #73: The Big Reading (100 Poets) at DC Space on July 26, 1985 was a special moment in Ethelbert Miller¹s series. He had paired me with Alvin Aubert for Ascension #50 in 1980, and I was anxious to know how different it would be to read with 99 other poets. I was anxious too because I was on the road, doing site evaluations for the National Endowment for the Humanities, and had to drive from Mississippi to Washington--virtually non-stop--to participate. Would I have the energy to read? When I got to DC Space, Ethelbert informed me with his inimitable gentleness that my friend Lance Jeffers had died. Died? I had just talked with Lance the previous week in Atlanta. Died? My body registered what my mind refused. When I stood to read, my eyes watered and my throat constricted. I asked for a moment of silence in Lance¹s memory and dedicated my reading of ŒJazz to Jackson to John¹ to him. Afterwards, one reader said my poems was a cool Œwalking blues.¹ He was right. I now know what I could not know when I did Ascension #79 with Gregory Orfalea late in 1985: the Ascension Reading Series had enabled a perfection of grief as my spirit walked Lance Jeffers to heaven¹s gate in those hot wee hours of a July mourning.²
Jerry W. Ward, Jr.
I have to write an essay about Lance Jeffers' seldom-mentioned novel Witherspoon.  Earlier today, Rudolph Lewis, editor of ChickenBones, brought to my attention that Julius Lester had written a novel about a sale of slaves in Savannah, Georgia in 1859.  Although Lester is best known as a writer of young adult fictions, his novel should be "put in conversation" with The Known World, Dessa Rose, Jubilee, Flight to Canada, Beloved, Middle Passage and Black Thunder to create a more balanced perspective on how African American fiction writers have created stories as vehicles for memory of slavery's scarifications. I have to write an essay about Lance Jeffers and the status of morality in fiction as a preface to thinking about the larger topic of forgetting and remembering in African American cultures. I have to write about Eugene B. Redmond's Drumvoices, a pathfinding work in the study of African American poetry.

Part of the frame for the larger topic shall be shaped by memory of conversations I have had today with Richard Jones who has done much to prevent work by Arthenia Bates Millican from slippng into oblivion, and with C. Liegh McInnis, editor of Black Magnolias. McInnis reminded me of a likely analogy between unstable stock markets and the mismanagement of dignity among contemporary African Americans ---the phenomenon of ghetto fabulous failures.  Other portions of the frame shall emerge from my weekly conversations with Kalamu ya Salaam about what is right with the world.

In the context of real conversations, remembering is vital.  In the context of work done in solitude, remembering is essential.

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