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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

No More Water/Nommo

No More Water/Nommo

When a new generation addresses an old topic, the best it should expect from its elders is respect for the effort.  No more.  No less.  The new generation should anticipate, however, that elders might ask titanium questions that actually have no answers.

Did the new generation get the story right?  For whom are they really writing?  So what?

Having fulfilled the responsibility of asking questions, the elders may return to the bliss of silence.  They know when peace must be still.

Even the blind can see what the American publishing industry is up to at present.  True to what it has become, it is playing the race card for profit and gambling with writers and a diminishing cultural literacy.  Read the titles.  What spirits are being conjured?

Henry Adams/ The Education of Kevin Powell by Kevin Powell.

Harriet Tubman/ The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Richard Wright/ Between the World and Me by Ta'Nehisi Coates

James Baldwin/The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race, edited by Jesmyn Ward ( New York: Scribner, 2016).

Fair enough.  And the beat goes on.  But is it necessary to hang neo-Cold War Iron Curtains, Bamboo Curtains, and Oil Curtains between humanity and the regressive progress of capitalism?  Is the work of Nature, terrorism and global warming insufficient?  Must  the Church,  Synagogue, Temple, Mosque, and Shrine chant a niggardly "Amen"?  Who the hell is to say?

In her introduction for The Fire This Time, Jesmyn Ward believes it is necessary to have a book "that would gather new voices in one place, in a lasting, physical form, and provide a forum for those writers to dissent, to call to account, to witness, to reckon"(8).  Kevin Powell and Ras Baraka had a similar belief and did a similar thing for their generation in editing In the Tradition: An Anthology of Young Black Writers in 1992.  And then Powell took the Word to a newer, higher level by editing Step Into A World: A Global Anthology of the New Black Literature in 2000.  In her contribution "Cracking the Code" (89-95) for The Fire This Time, Ward imagines she has "ancestors from Sierra Leone and Britain, from France and the Choctaw settlement on the Mississippi bayou, from Spain and Ghana…."

Should Ward's editor at Simon and Schuster have advised that a generation speaking about race has to be a bit more transparently international? Would such a suggestion have been an act of treason within the American publishing industry?

For me, the provisional answers come most clearly from the essays "White Rage" (83-88) by Carol Anderson and "The Condition of Black Life Is One of Mourning" (145-155) by Claudia Rankine. The American publishing industry has mastered the game of capitalism and knows how to sniff out profits.  I know why a caged bird is entitled  to sing about an eternal problem named "race", and so too did James Baldwin in 1963 when he quoted the wisdom of an enslaved song.  I respect the effort  of the new generation despite the fact that the effort  is not lasting, that it cannot burn systemic horrors into oblivion.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                            September 28, 2016

Friday, September 23, 2016

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Learning from Ai Xiaoming

Learning from Ai Xiaoming

Ai Xiaoming, a documentary filmmaker, literary scholar, and cultural activist is a brave private intellectual.  Her work illuminates, especially for Americans who take their freedoms and entitlements as givens, the enormous sacrifice involved in proving that life matters.  As she wrote at the end of her May 9 blog "Thinking of My Friends in Prison "  (posted on China Digital Times, September 14, 2016 ---

"Just as the memorial service clichés go:  Convert your grief into power; say everything you need to say; keep on walking the road you must travel.  Just like the pictures of bodies on Mount Everest I reposted a couple of days ago, these are all road signs, dead bodies along the path to the Everest summit.  Just like this, we must trudge on without hesitating, and let those who will come after us come looking for our green boots."

 Check Wikipedia for information on "green boots" and think of pictures of bodies on American streets as objective correlatives for all the dead bodies global media invite us to gaze upon.

After reading Ian Johnson's interview with Ai Xiaoming  --"The People in Retreat" (NYR Daily, 8 September 2016) and watching a segment of Ai's 2006 film The Epic of the Central Plains,  I feel obligated to revise what I had planned to say to colleagues and students in Nanjing later this year about four early films by Spike Lee.  The baseball bat of actuality bashed my mind.  It is obvious that Ian Johnson has constructed and disseminated a choice bit of American propaganda.  It is sobering that he has drawn attention to what Ai says about life issues not being "a purely academic pursuit," about why The Vagina Monologues is significantly alien to her experiences, and about why it is naïve to believe in the goodness of human nature (without deploying a freight train of situational qualifications).  The interview shimmers with irony.  If Johnson's interview is designed to shame China for being a repressive totalitarian society, it succeeds in shaming the United States of America for being a nation of self-deluded hypocrites.  Point one finger at the Other and realize that three fingers are pointing at oneself.

The Age of Trump/Clinton has fully eclipsed the Age of Obama.  Americans who can still think critically do know that what happened in Germany in the 1930s and in China in the 1990s can happen in the USA in 2017.  Americans who do not know as much shall be shocked awake on November 8.  It is prudent to not be taken in by patriotic disinformation.  We have much to learn from Ai Xiaoming and other global citizens who reaffirm the importance of Claude McKay's poem "If We Must Die." Eschew stupidity. Arm your mind so as to minimize the probability of your being a pair of green boots in a detention camp.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.            September 14, 2016

Monday, September 12, 2016

BAM Conference

BAM 9.8-11.2016

Knowing that the Black Arts Movement was a logical moment in the ongoing evolving of African-generated arts is a matter of common sense rather than one of academic acrobatics.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

This knowledge of what it means to be Black in America is an inner introspection that is never the same for any two people.

Kim McMillon, organizer of the Dillard University-Harvard Hutchins Center  Black Arts Movement International Conference, New Orleans, September 9-11, 2016

After more than two years of work, it came to fruition.  It was simply Dr. Kim McMillon's vision of the necessity to celebrate, contemplate, define and redefine, tell tales and speak truth about the Black Arts/Black Aesthetic Movement to whomever would listen.  It occurred in a city that Tom Dent famously declared with his uncanny wit and wisdom to be a weird place.  Like other twenty-first century conferences, it was characterized by plenitude  --  the too much to be said in three days.  Its special flavor was one of Southern influences.  It was one of those endless conversations citizens of the United States of America need to delay the inevitable tragedy of ritual murder and ritual suicide and ritual terrorism.  The conversation is about how the past occupies the space where the future has always been.

Personal Notes

September 8 ---Kim McMillon, Quo Vadis Gex Breaux, and I are special guests on a WBOK-AM community notebook program.  We talk about the origin and purpose of the conference.  We extend an invitation to the people of New Orleans, especially the young citizens, to participate in a moment of learning and teaching, a moment of genuine public education.

September 9, 6:00 p.m. ---In the atrium of the Professional Schools Building at Dillard University, Big Chief Clarence A. Dalcour of the Creole Osceolas, opens the conference with the chanting of "Indian Red."

Haki Madhubuti, founder of Third World Press, opens one conceptual space with his keynote address "A focus on people from the Midwest who have been left out of the Black Arts Movement: Gwendolyn Brooks, Dudley Randall, Margaret Burroughs and Hoyt W. Fuller."  Burroughs was born in St. Rose, Louisiana, and Fuller was born in Atlanta, Georgia.  They were Southern influences on the evolution of BAM thought and activity in Chicago.  For Burroughs, the importance of legacy was to be remembered for positive contributions to one's community, and her legacy is DuSable Museum.  Fuller, who died in the city of his birth (the eternal return of things), left the legacy of his editing Negro Digest/Black World and founding First World, his thinking about the concept of the Black Aesthetic, and his nurturing of OBAC (Organization of Black American Culture). Note other Southern influences.  Sterling D. Plumpp was born in Clinton, Mississippi and Angela Jackson was born in Greenville, Mississippi, and both of them were Madhubuti's comrades in OBAC.  Many people know Chicago as the UpSouth home of the Mississippi Delta blues.  Under the banner of BAM, Chicago can be reconsidered as the place where the Southern writers Richard Wright and Margaret Walker had some influence on a so-called Chicago Renaissance.  We must challenge the accuracy of naming any cultural expressions by people of African ancestry a "renaissance."  Madhubuti's keynote reminds me that the Southern historian Julius Eric Thompson wrote Dudley Randall, Broadside Press, and the Black Arts Movement in Detroit, 1960-1995 (McFarland 1999) and was himself a BAM poet.  When Madhubuti made references to John Oliver Killens  (born in Georgia), the famed Fisk University conference of 1967 that had some impact on the thinking of Gwendolyn Brooks, and the work that he did with Killens at Howard University, I am reminded that Stephen Henderson (born in Key West, Florida) founded the Institute for the Arts and the Humanities at Howard after making noteworthy contributions to the Institute of the Black World in Atlanta.  Killens did his major work in New York, but he never forgot the crucial importance of the Black South voice.  The South is everywhere in the unfinished history of BAM.  It is an open secret that Washington, D.C., the scene of IAH's noteworthy BAM-related conferences, is a very Southern city in America's democratic experimenting.  Madhubuti opened floodgates.

September 10, 9:00 a.m. PSB 115 ----I shared the stage with Askia M. Toure (born in Raleigh, North Carolina) to give a joint keynote address.  Toure spoke eloquently about Umbra, the importance of BAM journals, and the importance of reading  the pamphlet "Freedom Manifesto: A Draft Manifesto to Rebuild the Black Liberation Movement "(August 2016), "the work of veterans of five decades of struggle and young activists in the current struggles."  Toure directed thought to the continuity and cultural, political, and social necessity of the Black Arts Movement rather than to  the academic delusion that BAM dissolved either in 1974 or 1975.  I tried to make these points in my keynote remarks:

  • If we admit that "history" is at once a process and a narrative of process, we recognize that (a) the cultural expressions of enslaved African peoples in the USA culminated in a burst of energy now called the Harlem Renaissance; (b) the Harlem Renaissance with all its achievements and flaws (see Harold Cruse, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual) focused on one site of development (there were many sites of activity beyond New York) and served as prelude/preface for BAM (c. 1960-1975), the special assertion of what W. E. B. DuBois outlined in The Gift of Black Folk (1924); (c) BAM was a forecast of NOW (acronym for "no single name or single wholeness), the dispersed and decentered sense of freedom, the belief in an abstraction that does not exist.
  • BAM is a logical configuration, a matter of time and space, of change and continuity, of caste, class and commerce in human capital.
  • This conference is one and only one effort to use common sense to recognize the necessity of conversations about the ACTUAL and the REAL, the perpetual motions of history, the dao of being.
  • At the center of this particular conversation, at the core of this conference,  is the spirit/memory of Tom Dent (1932-1998) and what he said about the imperatives of history.
  • In his magnum opus Southern Journey (1997), Dent noted that in his youth dream roads were "fueled by books, movies, and legends" which "led to a nonracial world" of solace.  Dent came to believe that this dream world does not exist.
  • Smashing the icons of dream worlds, as Dent did in his play Ritual Murder, was and is the work of BAM, the work of exposing what is obscene in the American Nightmare and figuring out how to defeat those icons.  With all its contradictions, BAM had to do with cognition, with a consciousness of aesthetic gestures in life  (not inside the abstract limits of philosophy of art and its limits of good, beauty, truth.
  • As editor of the Maroon Tiger at Morehouse College, Dent criticized his generation for apathy and nonchalance, for not fighting to get out of confusion (November 15, 1951).  As Dent told me in a 1986 interview, our job is working toward "critical and widening vision."  Yes, that is the work of this 2016 conference.

September 10, 10:00 a.m.  PSB 115----Black Studies Roundtable, moderated by Jerry Varnado

Panelists: James Smethurst, Jimmy Garrett, Ishmael Reed, Eugene B. Redmond, Quincy Troupe,

Kalamu ya Salaam, Askia Toure, Jerry Ward

My opinion about where Black Studies should be located is sufficiently "incorrect" to anger colleagues who, truth be told, have done remarkable work on the plantations of American higher education.  Given all the uncertainty about progress in local communities, our surplus of tragedies small and large, we need robust PRACTICE outside the Academy and inside community sites regarding culture (i.e., values and lifestyles, especially as they are affected and infected by commerce in the USA).  We need to give dedicated, constant attention to social institutions (i.e., roles and collective forms of social interaction), namely

  • the police and criminal injustice
  • legal systems and persons who say they are responsible for order and law
  • the prisons in the USA
  • educational institutions at all levels
  • hospitals and health care delivery; Medicare, Medicaid, and HMOs
  • sports and popular entertainment, film
  • Mass media, publications, the news as deliberate infotainment and misinformation
  • social networks as emerging technologies of mind-control
  • labor

I ask for Black Studies to be efforts of local discovery by trial and error of pragmatic local solutions.  I am Vietnam veteran pissed-off when the roundtable minimizes the long history of forms of black study in HBCUs, and I stand and say as much loudly.

September 10, 11:30 a.m. PSB 200 ---Paper Panel 4 "Icons of the Black Arts Movement"

Presenters --Lasana Kazembe, John Zheng, Eshe Mercer-James, Reginald Martin

I am humbled by Martin's paper "Takin' It to the Bridge: The Legacies of Ishmael Reed and Jerry Ward," but energized to continue my version of bridge-building between the USA and the Peoples Republic of China.

LUNCH --1:00 p.m. with Eugene B. Redmond and discussion of program planning for October 2016 in East St. Louis

September 10, 3:00 p.m. , Cook 204---Southern Writers Roundtable

Moderator: Jerry Ward

Panelists: Quo Vadis Gex Breaux, Chakula Cha Jua, Mona Lisa Saloy, Kalamu ya Salaam; C. Liegh McInnis added late during the session

To begin --three quotations, all from Black Southern Voices, to which I request that panelists respond

1. "The black Southern literary voice is a most important voice.  As the South goes, so goes the nation, with all due respect to the rock-bound coast of Maine and all the Hampshires.  It is the voice of hard truth and reality." ---John Oliver Killens, "Introduction,"  page 3

2. "When murder occurs for no apparent reason, but happens all the time, as in our race on a Saturday night, it is ritual murder." ---Tom Dent, Ritual Murder, page 324

3.  yes, i see hard times

     a ' coming

     and i see blk folks


     we are still

     our own best resources

     and i rejoice

Nayo (Barbara Watkins), "Hard Times A' Coming," page 283

Comment ( my paraphrase) by Avotcja, a poet, playwright, multi-percussionist, photographer and teacher: The writer's job is to know many stories from all people.

September 11, 11:00 a.m. ---Videotape interview on the conference; Arnold Bourgeois, interviewer

September 11, 11:00 a.m., PSB 115 ---"Young People's Town Hall Meeting"

I arrive late but catch the drift of the discussion led by four young people.  I am dismayed that elders not young people constitute the bulk of the audience, because I had hope we might have ended with a significant exercise in intergenerational listening to the young, to hearing their voices.  What the four young people did say, however, was amazingly sobering: Young people may be reluctant to reach out to elders, because young people resent being disrespected.  When the discussion turned to a lack of interest in African American literature and culture among many students at Dillard University, I went into Jerry Ward the teacher mode.  As a person who retired from teaching at Dillard, I noted that what was obviously absent from the conversation was a primal question: WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF EDUCATION IN THE USA?  That question has not been adequately addressed, particularly in light of our endless evolving of African-derived cultural expressions.  It has not been addressed in terms of what global capitalism is designed to do with human beings.

I returned home from the conference with gratitude to Kim McMillon and Mona Lisa Saloy and all the people who made the event happen. I returned home to consider where I entered on September 8 with a renewed sense that Southern influences prevail:

Knowing that the Black Arts Movement was a logical moment in the ongoing evolving of African-generated arts is a matter of common sense rather than one of academic acrobatics.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.            September 12, 2016

Saturday, September 3, 2016



             Finally. Kalamu ya Salaam's The Magic of Juju: An Appreciation of the Black Arts Movement  (Chicago: Third World Press, 2016), is in print, twenty years after Salaam wrote "The Magic of Juju: An Appreciation of the Sixties Black Arts Movement," an essay of 73 pages.  Finally, we have a work that can serve as a textbook in secondary and college classrooms as well as a reference book for adjusting parameters of investigation.  Despite the unquestionable merits of  Tony Bolden's Afro-Blue: Improvisations in African American Poetry and Culture (2004), James Edward Smethurst's The Black Arts Movement: Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s (2005), New Thoughts on the Black Arts Movement (2006) edited by Lisa Gail Collins and Margo Natalie Crawford, The Black Arts Enterprise and the Production of African American Poetry (2014) by Howard Rambsy II, and SOS --Calling All Black People: A Black Arts Movement Reader (2014) edited by John H. Bracey Jr., Sonia Sanchez, and James Smethurst, there remains the unquestionable necessity of revisiting the Black Arts Movement (c. 1960-1975) with the blueprint for appreciation provided by The Magic of Juju.  Appreciation provokes inquiry that is consonant with the kaleidoscopic uncertainties of the 21st century.

            An appreciation can simultaneously  be a critique, a judgment, and  a recognition. The Magic of Juju is a quite valuable appreciation, especially when one considers Salaam's authority and his prolific efforts to promote critical thinking about life and cultures. In What Is Life?: Reclaiming the Black Blues Self (Chicago: Third World Press, 1994), Salaam wrote of himself: "Simply put, I'm an African American man trying hard to live up to my fullest potential --  to do my best to contribute to the empowerment of my people and the betterment and beautification of the whole world  -- in my own space and time" (ii).  This book is an installment of his living up to his chosen mission and of assessing a historical process that was (and still is) strategic, aesthetic, and political.  As a thinker who is secure and brilliant, Salaam has no need to endlessly announce that he is a public intellectual in search of media attention.  He is free to reject that peculiar  academic posture.  For that reason and many others, he is one of my most valued friends, one with whom I find the production of ideas for pre-future social benefits to be essential.  His 1993 argument in "African American Cultural Empowerment: A Struggle to Identify and Institutionalize Ourselves as a People," which Julius E. Thompson referenced in Dudley Randall, Broadside Press, and the Black Arts Movement in Detroit, 1960-1995 (McFarland 1999) retains its pre-future validity as a cognitive option that is magnified in The Magic of Juju.

            Thus, this brief comment is objectively subjective, very comfortable with irony and paradox.  I offer a moral/ethical challenge to college and university  scholars and teachers who may devalue common sense in a race to "interrogate" the Black Arts Movement.  I invite them to prove that they are people who possess integrity (a rare virtue in the 21st century) by using The Magic of Juju as a required  textbook in the courses they teach, particularly in courses devoted to American and African American literatures.  In the substantial amount of critical scholarship focused on literature and cultures, excessive attention has been given to "the body" and its representations and performances. Salaam's book will enable teachers and students   to reclaim the fact that they have minds as well as bodies and to use those priceless minds as instruments for critical thinking ( a rare exercise in the post-whatever conditions that afflict the American body politic). In short, his book is an opportunity to return to asking drylongso questions and engaging the vernacular motions of a cultural movement that is not yet dead. That is the opportunity a few people in my generation will grab, but it is not the opportunity Salaam champions. "The Magic of Juju," he informed Margo Crawford, "is not about returning to the sixties and seventies.  The Magic of Juju is my contribution to the contemporary generation who must and, I believe, who will make their own decisions in dealing with their own realities and in attempting to make real their own visions.  In that regard, The Magic of Juju is an attempt to provide information and evidence for this current generation to make sense of their history, present and future" (306).

            After reading the first manuscript of "The Magic of Juju" essay, I wrote to Salaam on 14 April 1996:

After hearing from a young scholar at CLA that Ray Durem's poem "A decoration for the President" splintered Umbra, I am more deeply convinced the critics need your essay on BAM. If you have time for dark laughter, check out Gates on Albert Murray in the April 8, 1996 issue of New Yorker.  Gates thinks there was a "so-called Black Arts Movement."

  • p. 3 --For Wright, black power had to be actualized in "the militarization of African life" in order to "project the African immediately into the twentieth century."  The Black Panthers, then, moved closest to such a realization.
  • p. 5  Br. Dubois > Dr. DuBois?
  • p. 7 New Afrikan > New Afrika
  • p. 8  I agree with your conclusion re: commercialization and commodification of post-modern literary culture.  Radicalization has been reduced to aesthetic/critical gestures, insuring to some extent than an abyss between intellectual contests and material political struggles remains.  Nevertheless, BAM's elders and heir continue to radicalize at some distance from the centers of post-whateverness.
  • pp. 9-12 --questions on items #1 and #6 ----The dichotomy between the religious and the secular was blurred, I think.  Perhaps black religiosity was displaced by black spirituality. In your remarks in #6 on technology you may want to mention in passing how media assisted in a new sound (ing) as you do in your poetry essay. [[ I was referring to unpublished book-length "The Sound (ing) of Black Poetry: A Study Guide to the Theory and History of Black Poetry" ]] You are on target with emphasis on the performative. Critics who would "freeze" BAMS into manageable form have to be warned that the historic performances were not determined by academic formulations.
  • pp. 18-19 --check print merge error; you repeat with a variation the paragraph about On Guard For Freedom
  • p. 21 --Black Arts Repertory  > Black Arts Repertory
  • pp. 28-32 --refer readers to your essay on Sound(ing) and to buttress your point about Baraka, Giovanni, Sanchez, and Madhubuti as the defining voices, you need to name in some way what you think the parameters of execution, performance, and theme/content were, i.e. do a verbal drawing of the paradigm.
  • pp. 32-34 ---among the conferences that BAM ideas directly or sidewise were the Black Studies Conferences at Jackson State in 1972 (?) ---where I recall Henderson outline much of his music/speech theory and Sonia Sanchez had a most interesting exchange about Black English with Nick Aaron Ford -- and the Black Studies Conferences that Richard Long sponsored at Atlanta University (1969?-1973/75?)
  • p. 34 --You may need to check with E. Ethelbert Miller about where (physically) Henderson's extensive videotapes from the conferences and IAH are.
  • It is nice that BAM participants did not have to wait for Foucault and other Frenchmen to tell them what power was; as French as they got was Lumumba, Fanon, and their own brand of negritude.
  • Black Fire (1968) needs to be credited as one of the major collection to include BAM theory along with Addison Gayle's Black Expressions.  Anyone who was serious trying to theorize in the 1970s had to deal with these texts.  I suggest mentioning the seminal importance of Black Fire in both the theory and anthology sections.
  • p. 56 --virulently sexism  > virulently sexist
  • BAM's legacy ---very good closure for this piece
  • a kind of afterthought:  where do you put Bob Kaufman and Ted Joans with regard to BAM?  And when I think of style, the portion of BAM you did not deal with is the visual arts and the reformation of black images and affirmation of color-sense.  So you should refer readers to your interview with John Scott.

run document through sell-check; there are typos I did not note

            After 1996,  Salaam incorporated a few of my suggestions and rejected those that did not dovetail with his vision.  He expanded the scope of the essay; he  refined and deepened his thinking about what deserved  recognition and critique. The main body of the book was completed in 1999, and it is now enhanced by Salaam's preface, a study guide developed by Jiton Davidson, photographs, documents, and historical archives compiled by Eugene B. Redmond, and "The Wave of Black Aesthetics: The Deep Rivers of the Black Arts Movement: A Dialogue between Kalamu Ya Salaam and Margo Natalie Crawford."  The Magic of Juju is a textual beacon for a future of thought and action.

            It is reassuring to know The Magic of Juju will make its début at the BAM Conference at Dillard University, September 9-11, 2016, and provide a Black South/New Orleans catalyst for newer directions.  It is pleasant to imagine that participants who have agendas that scamper on tangents will be given an opportunity to realign their thinking by reading and listening to Kalamu ya Salaam.  Better yet, I imagine the book will collaborate with other documents that argue for holding fast to sanity and producing ethical art and criticism  in the chaotic Age of Trump/Clinton.  The realities of now are mimetic of those pre-1960 realities that warranted the birth of the Black Arts Movement.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.     September 3, 2016