Ramcat Reads #6
Marshall, Nate. Wildhundreds. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015. Marshall, one of the co-editors of The BreakBeat Poets (2015) and winner of the 2014 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize, writes ultra-contemporary "love letters" for Chicago, thereby exposing the paradoxical limits of stereotypes, the "tertium quid of niggerdom" (16). One imagines that Marshall would agree with a character from Spike Lee's Bamboozled that niggers is a beautiful thing. His poetry is abrasive. One can read his poem "Ragtown prayer" (30-31) as a defiant response to the instructions James Weldon Johnson gave us about writing Negro poetry and as a deconstruction of the models of excellence to be found in the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks. Marshall truly speaks to his peers.
Rivlin, Gary. Katrina: After the Flood. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2015. Rivlin's interviews with those who stayed during Hurricane Katrina (2005) and those who returned invites us to measure the "new" New Orleans as a city of extremes, flash points, and blatant contradictions. Rivlin sketches how transparent urban pathology can be as well as how successfully it can conceal its sinister designs. His verbal snapshots of Alden McDonald, Mitch Landrieu, Pres Kabacoff, Jimmy Reiss, Ray Nagin, Oliver Thomas and Sally Ann Glassman are priceless.
Robinson, Marilynne. The Givenness of Things. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2015. One result of Robinson's conversation with President Obama ( see The New York Review of Books, November 5 and November 19, 2015) may be renewed interest in her brand of Calvinism and her startling audacity of piety. Robinson is forthright in saying that Christ "humbled himself and took the form of a slave. He humbled himself not in the fact of being human, but to show us the meaning of making slaves of human beings" (200). It is understandable that our embattled President might be charmed by such sentences in Robinson's essays as the following: "The Bible seldom praises God without naming among his attributes his continuous, sometimes, epochal, overturning of the existing order, especially of perceived righteousness, or of power and wealth. when society seems to have an intrinsic order, it is an unjust order. And the justice of God disrupts it" (199). It is tempting to imagine that Robinson and her President could be persuaded to embrace Toni Morrison's recommendation that Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me (New York: Spiegel and Grau, 2015) is "required reading."
Tipton-Martin, Toni. The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015. A survey of cookbooks from Robert Roberts's The House Servant's Directory (Boston: Munroe and Francis, 1827) to America I Am: Pass It Down Cookbook (New York: Smiley Book, 2011), edited by Jeff Henderson and Ramin Ganeshram. Tipton-Martin provides a glimpse of what is rarely discussed about the centrality of African American cuisine in American culture, and it is a special treat to read what she has to say about Bobby Seals's Barbequen with Bobby (Berkley: Ten Speed, 1988), to be reminded that Black Panthers knew what to do in the kitchen.
Vella, Christina. George Washington Carver: A Life. Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2015. Vella's documentation of Carver's discoveries and inventions is solid, but her strained interpretation of Carver's personality is a bit annoying.
White, Shane. Prince of Darkness: The Untold Story of Jeremiah G. Hamilton, Wall Street's First Black Millionaire. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2015. It is refreshing to read this biographical study of Hamilton, a man who used his remarkable intelligence to beat nineteenth-century New York financiers at the racial games they loved to play. It is instructive to consider how White, an Australian professor of history, exposes the architecture of writing history with the panache so often lacking among American historians who try to tell a black story.
Williams, Saul. US(a.). New York: Gallery Books, 2015. Readers who feel they must be hip about everything and nothing (in the existential sense of "nothingness") should hop through the pages of this mixture of poetry and fiction. Williams is brilliant in witnessing the contemporary game of daily life and giving us some of the best beat-broken writing on the planet. His aesthetic and performance of sensibility demonstrate that the practice of diaspora is a relentless taker of tolls.
Jerry W. Ward, Jr.
November 28, 2015