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Sunday, July 27, 2014

On Black Magnolias: A Literary Journal

On Black Magnolias: A Literary Journal

To my knowledge, we have not had a critical survey of African American literary magazines since 1979, the year Abby Arthur Johnson and Ronald Maberry Johnson published the seminal Propaganda and Aesthetics: The Literary Politics of Afro-American Magazines in the Twentieth Century. Aesthetics, propaganda, and the rise, fall, and rebirth of magazines and human consciousness are vexed topics.  A few of us do want to know how magazines have functioned since the 1980s, and we might ask, for example, how Black Magnolias has influenced thinking since the turn of the century. Discovering an answer requires use of an array of research procedures.

One might argue Black Magnolias: A Literary Journal is an exemplar of Black South differentness. Is that differentness located in the style and content of what the editor chose to publish; in the expectations of the journal’s readers; in both? Evidence regarding such commerce in values is largely digital --- emails to and from the editor, a review on Newpages.com, comments on various blogsites. The relative absence of print documents demands skills in using printable documents, skills yet emerging within the nascent fields of digital humanities. The current state of African American literary sociology is less than helpful in trying to confirm one’s intuitions.

 Founded in 2001 by Monica Taylor-McInnis and C. Liegh McInnis, Black Magnolias has been a forum for writers who bring diverse cultural assumptions and rhetorical skills to the act and art of writing. Under the editorial guidance of C. Liegh McInnis, the journal has acquired regional, national and international recognition. While these facts may be more apparent than facts regarding “differentness,” interpretation is still limited to intelligent guessing. Comparison of Black Magnolias with similar journals is essential for obtaining what can count as knowledge. Much time is required to do the focused research and construct better explanations than are currently available in general discussions of literary politics.

It is a matter of raw common sense that writers published in Black Magnolias 1.1 (Winter 2001-2002) through 8.2 (Summer 2014) are indebted to C. Liegh McInnis for how he has placed them in the Zeitgeist of the 21st century. He has sacrificed much of his own career as a poet, fiction writer, and literary/cultural critic in order to serve a higher human good in the philosophical sense of “good.” He has quarreled endlessly with himself about the ethics of publishing, as he sought to balance his heavy teaching duties at Jackson State University with the equally heavy obligations of exercising integrity as an editor. Such uneasy waltzing is usually not accounted for in literary histories. It should  be acknowledged, however, in African American literary history if only to witness how faithfully as a writer McInnis has honored imperatives set forth by Margaret Walker in her essays regarding African American humanistic responsibilities.

The publication of Black Magnolias 8.2 is the turning point which provides an opportunity for acknowledgement. Both the journal and McInnis are entering an unspecified period of meaningful hibernation. I hasten to note that McInnis’s reasons for retreat into reflective solitude are more genuine and noble than those of the nameless narrator in Ellison’s Invisible Man. We might read or reread the 30 issues of Black Magnolias from 2001 to 2014 as a gesture of securing memory of what McInnis has contributed to the totality of African American literary enterprises, securing memory of his gifts to humanity. He has earned to right to renew himself in solitude.


Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                 July 27, 2014

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