Howard Rambsy II remembers inspired moments that are buried in the ninth circle of my mind.
"Toward a Sociology of African American Readers & Their Relationships to Poetry"
On February 18, 1983, literary scholar Jerry W. Ward, Jr., delivered an essay
"Retreat into Possibility: A Literary View of the Eighties" at a program at
Tougaloo College in Mississippi. At one point, Ward mentions "the transformation
of literature of the Black Aesthetic into literature concerned with black
aesthetics" and then informs his audience that
"We do need a sociology of African-American literature to account for changes in
mode of production (writing and publishing) and in reading patterns (why do
Black readers read what they read when they read?) Unless we begin to ask and
seek answers to so-called extraliterary questions, we shall fail to see that
Black literature is an integral part of our culture not a superstructure of the
In a future post, I'll return to Ward's keen observation about Black Aesthetic
to black aesthetics, but for now, I want to concentrate on the issue of a
sociology of African American readers and reading habits. Among other things,
addressing issues concerning why African American readers what they read when
they read would assist us in understanding the connections and disconnections
between some readers and contemporary poetry.
I was recently highlighting the point that potential and inexperienced African
American poetry readers need more advocates. They need knowledgeable guides and
positive gateway experiences. They need support systems similar to the ones that
have greatly expanded for leading and award-winning writers over the last 20
In January 1988, 48 black writers and critics performed a powerful and highly
visible display of African American advocacy when they made a passionate and
militant collective assertion that Toni Morrison should receive more accolades.
Morrison, no doubt, benefited greatly from their support. How might potential
African American poetry readers and readers of various genres and modes of
writing benefit from more advocacy on their behalf?
As a better way of addressing that question, we might take up Ward's call for
greater attention to African American reading patterns. Note that such a
position differs from the deficit model of considering black illiteracy.
Instead, a productive focus on strengths and active habits (why folks read what
they read when they do) might get us moving.
• Why potential poetry readers need advocates
• How 48 Black Writers and Critics Greatly Assisted Toni Morrison
• Toward a sociology of conversations about creativity & intellectualism among
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