Wednesday, May 25, 2016

E. Ethelbert Miller - The Aldon Nielsen Project #19 - Looking Into The Measuring Cup. The role of the critic.

Q: Is the critic of African American poetry an endangered species?

It is the best of times; it is the worst of times.

I’ve always been leery around the species analogy, feared it might be specious, worried a bit about its potential connotations.

Critics of African American poetry, who are often themselves poets, certainly do not hold the same socio-cultural position today that they held at the height of the Black Arts Movement. I saw Stephen Henderson’s photograph in a copy of Black World I bought from a drug store news rack well before I’d ever met Henderson in person. In those days, Ron Welburn and Nikki Giovanni would get into it in the letters column over a review of Robert Boles’s novel Curling, and thousands of readers outside the academy could feel part of the conversation. Today it would be a miracle if I saw any poetry critic’s photograph in a magazine on a drug store news rack (unless one of us committed a spectacular, and extra-aesthetic crime), but then, there are precious few news rack magazines that would feature literary criticism today, in part because there are very few magazines, very few news stands. Book review sections have dwindled, replaced, if at all, by webbery. We go online for most such things today, or to academic journals, which generally do not feature photographs. What non-academic journals call criticism is in many instances just blurby reviewing. There’s a fair amount of that to be had now as then. (“Blank’s new book stands as an extraordinary meditation on time, a luminous, seductive new collection.  Every new collection is at once a deepening and a revelation. You enter the world of this spellbinding book through one of its many dreamlike portals; Few poets deliver more pure pleasure. His erudite comic poems are backloaded with heartache and longing, and they function, emotionally, like improvised explosive devices. He captures a sense of our culture in a way unlike any other contemporary poet. To say that the powerful poems in this book are unique, and layered with both psychological and spiritual dimensions, would be an understatement.” – YES, that’s pretty much what passes for criticism in most of our lit journals, and what wins the criticism award from the National Book Critics’ Circle.)

But the Black Arts era was exceptional in so many ways. Go back to the time when Saunders Redding was one of three Black professors on the entire George Washington University campus (and he wasn’t in the English Department) and, to return momentarily to the species analogy, you see what a rare bird the critic of African American poetry was as the Black Arts took off. Before that . . .?  I’ve written of the strange conversation that transpired at the end of the Gwendolyn Brooks / LeRoi Jones panel at the Asilomar conference, one of the earliest critical conferences on Black literature. As disheartening as the interventions of Robert Bone and Kenneth Rexroth were on that occasion, at least there was a discussion, with Rexroth’s after word appearing in the popular press. Black poets addressed the situation by taking on the critic’s role themselves. And just as Baraka had earlier seen the need to create new venues for new poetry, Black poet/critics of the era created new journals, theaters, conferences, etc.

Some of those still exist, and new ones arise from time to time. Hoodoo Review was there for a time; Nocturnes (Re) View of the Literary Arts appeared; and Nathaniel Mackey’s Hambone defies the averages by continuing over decades. Alvin Aubert’s Obsidian is now living its fourth incarnation, and looks better than ever.

The challenges come and go and change, as do the poets and the critics. When I began my work, the number of critical books that had been published that dealt solely with African American poetry was small enough that one person (myself among them) could read all of them. And while poetry has been increasingly marginalized in the American academy (the number of jobs advertised for scholars specifically in poetry, let alone Black poetry, is so tiny that the vast majority of poetry scholars in universities today were hired under some other rubric – My own jobs have been in ethnic literature and American literature), there has been a rush of high quality criticism that is well on the way to establishing a new ground for the study of Black verse. A short list of valuable publications (leaving out many relevant and exciting texts) would include Meta Jones’s The Muse is Music, Keith Leonard’s Fettered Genius, Anthony Reed’s Freedom Time, Jean Philippe Marcoux’s Jazz Griots, Evie Shockley’s Renegade Poetics, T.J. Anderson’s Notes to Make the Sound Come Right, Tony Bolden’s Afro Blue, Fred Moten’s In the Break, Howard Rambsy’s The Black Arts Enterprise . . . the list could be so much longer.

But to get back to the question, what is endangered is the institutional support for Black literature and its critique.  “When America catches a cold, Black America gets pneumonia.” That’s what the old folks said when I was young. When academia is under attack, literature is in deep trouble. When literature is in deep trouble, the study of “minority” literatures, even after three decades of critical scholarship demonstrating their centrality to any adequate understanding o f American culture, becomes increasingly precarious. All ethnic studies are constantly under attack. Near the beginning of my life’s work, Harvard’s Black Studies was nearly erased. Then they decided to reverse course and made some spectacular hires. But everywhere you look, ethnic studies departments are under pressures to make programmatic cuts, to conjoin with other fields, to absent themselves.  Three decades of “political correctness” discourse in the media and in politics has made Black Studies its main target. Senior faculty at my own university have been known to advise white graduate students not to study Black literature.

Add to that the sorry job of recruiting young Black graduate students and faculty and you see where the dangers lie. The number of African American PhDs in any branch of American literature has held fairly steady, and at a ridiculously small number, for decades now.  If students can’t see themselves as being able to live decently while practicing as critics, they will not commit themselves to the years of necessary study. If they are not actively encouraged by their own teachers, they will not see teaching and writing as a viable route in their own lives. If the graduate programs of America do not increase the number of Black graduate students, historically White universities and colleges can continue to get away with the excuse that there is a “small number of highly qualified Black candidates” as their reason for seemingly being unable to recruit any.

So we live in a time when the theory and practice of Black literature criticism is flowering and producing powerful arguments and great discoveries (just look at the discoveries of poems by Wheatley and Hammon, the rediscovery of Frances Harper’s first poetry collection, etc.), but support for such work is dwindling and institutions are steadily subjecting the field to a campaign of “benign neglect.”

And despite appearances, we don’t have much of an “outside” for the criticism of Black poetry. With the disappearance of newspaper book sections and the steady shrinking of magazine coverage of literature, we might look to the internet for solace. There is a proliferation of blogs devoted to literary subjects, and larger online journals, like the Los Angeles Review of Books, often give space to Black poetry, but there is, none-the-less, an overall shrinkage in the public sphere for poetry critique which no amount of online blurbing can replace. (This at a time when there are more practicing poets than ever before.)

It is hard for me to be sanguine about the public space for criticism in our time. I take great heart in the powerful work I see every day coming from younger writers and scholars, but I worry about their prospects. We have proven over and over again that Black poetry criticism can survive even the greatest of precarity, that so long as one person somewhere can create an online zine open to the more serious philosophy of poetics, this thing will never die, any more than Black poetry will ever die.

So no, the Black poetry critic is not an endangered species, but, to quote an old song, they’re getting so god damned hungry they could hide behind a straw.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


on merv griffin way the jaws of life pulled
me from a wreck of bunting and epaulets
miles from the motorcade, entangled in
a middle passing between the meekness
of the first martyr & palm fronds but nowhere
near a reflecting pool . . .

FROM inaugural poem -- 21 Jan. 2013, pulversised goldenrod,
   spit & glue, 1 x 4 pine, vanilla flip

AKA figure 54

goldenrod makes me sneeze -- but I've been there -- was there -- I walked those streets following the JFK martyrdom

on the other hand, I don't recall ever being on Merv Griffin Way, which leads up to the old Beverly Hilton, which Mr. Griffin once owned -- That's the same Merv who once did bidness wid one Donald Trump, the two of them ego wrestling towards Atlantic City --  but this isn't about my autobiography, or even everybody's -- 

Robert Lowell wrote his Notebook as a series of unrhymed sonnets -- this ain't that, I'm glad to report -- but Ken Taylor has brilliantly sequenced these boxy sort-of-sonnets, little boxes suggesting lives to be lived, having been lived, occasionally livid -- the epigraph invokes the Creeley of Pieces:

My plan is
These little boxes
Make sequences

The next little box in Creeley's sequence reads:

Lift me 
from such I
makes such declaration.

I keep hearing Jackie Wilson singing "My love keeps lifting me higher." 

Only recently did I come to know Ken Taylor as photographer. The cover of this amazing book is one of his works, titled there may be harmonicas.  That got my attention. Still, I had not known what a melainotype was -- now I do -- 

                                          catching how meridian
mississippi didn't need the 3-day blood test
wait alabama did. grasping a stripling grip
remove: cotton mill town fluster of my dad.

roll the viscera rushes: baptist bringing up:
some motel room on any side of the state

Meridian, too, was a place of martyrdom. Andrew Goodman, James Cheney and Michael Schwerner were driving the miles from Longdale back to Meridian, by way of the quicker night time route via Philadelphia,  when they were blood tested, totally immersed, left in the rushes. When you look at their photos now, they seem ancient tintypes in little boxes.

But this is before, and after: "inciting incident / 1956, blood, skipping rocks, Melainotype / in the oral trad."

Taylor's new book is by turns scalding and exhilarating. It is the proverbial formal tour de force.

Available now from Pressed Wafer Press. (

Sunday, May 01, 2016


This weekend is the tenth annual "All Gaucho Reunion" at U.C. Santa Barbara. (Can't help thinking of a certain Steely Dan song every time I hear that.) Yesterday I attended the "Women Champions of Diversity" award ceremony, where, along with Kim Equinoa and Meredith Merchant, one Professor Anna Everett was honored for her work as a scholar and her many services to the university. The event was hosted by the Diversity Committee of the UCSB Alumni Association.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

E. Ethelbert Miller - The Aldon Nielsen Project # 18 - MAPPING THE OUTER LIMITS

Q:  In WHAT I SAY one finds the poets presented in alphabetical order. I felt your book didn't explain what the various writers had in common. Why didn't you arrange the book around issues of theme and structure?  I'm a substitute high school or college teacher and the class is studying the poetry of Julie Ezelle Patton. Where do I begin?  If she defines herself as a conceptual artist what boundaries is she crossing when it comes to poetry?

In the end, the decision to arrange the contents of both What I Say and Every Goodbye Ain’t Gone alphabetically by poets’ last names was a choice rooted in a desire to leave readers free to pursue their own mappings through the era (roughly 1948 to now) that the two anthologies carved out. We could easily have gone many other routes, and even toyed with the idea of a random positioning. (At least I toyed with that idea; not sure today that I ever shared the thought with my co-editor, Lauri Ramey.)

Some quick background: for many years, readers of my book Black Chant had been encouraging me to publish an anthology of the poetry that I had discussed in that volume, a volume dedicated to exploring a territory within African American poetry that had gotten somewhat sidelined in the decades after the Black Arts Movement. One of the many striking things about the Black Power and revolutionary years of, say, 1965-1975, was that so many writers, and especially poets, had been at the forefront of the movements, But even in the years leading up to the Black Arts period, many of the African American poetry anthologies had been truly eclectic in scope, attempting to represent the broad aesthetic range of Black verse in America. You can find prose poems in anthologies as early as the 1920s, for instance. At the high water mark of 60s/70s anthologizing, this phenomenon was if anything yet more pronounced. It was in anthologies that I first read the works of such poets as Russell Atkins, Tom Weatherly, Elouise Loftin, Jay Wright, June Jordan and so on and on. With the waning of the Revolutionary 60s/70s, there was an observable decrease in the mainstream publishing of Black poetry anthologies, though many smaller presses kept up the pace. As the 80s came along, the strengthening multicultural reform movements in universities again spurred commercial publishers’ interest in supplying a growing market for classroom texts and the general market. But a funny thing happened; many of the new anthologies struck me as being considerably narrower in their aesthetic choices than had books I’d read in my youth such as Baraka and Neal’s Black Fire. Among the many things I set out to do in writing Black Chant was to historicize the intellectual fashions that had led to the marginalization of poetry in general and more aesthetically radical poetry in particular. Many among my small audience of readers wanted to have a collection they could use in their own work and teaching that was more nearly representative of African American poetry that was as radical in the writing itself as it was in its thematics. (Think Baraka! Think Lorenzo Thomas.) So there was no surprise in the urgings I was hearing towards an editorial project.

But there were material concerns. Chief among them was the fact that for so many of those years I was teaching a 4/4 load and had no access to research funds or research assistants. (There was also the fact I’d already observed that it was probably wiser to wait till I was tenured to take on a time-consuming editing task that, for all its obvious value to readers and to scholarship, would count for little in a tenure case.)

These were among the factors I was outlining to Lauri Ramey the day she first phoned me from Hampton University to chat, and suggested the need for such an anthology. Her immediate response was, “I’ll help you.”

So that’s how we got to the project in the first place, a story I have been telling at panels and readings in support of our second volume, What I Say. We have been as clear as we could be throughout the project that we are aware that others could easily chart a different course through the same history. Some times this was not by our own choice. (It still pains me that there is nothing from Jay Wright or Julia Fields in our first collection, but they each, for different reasons, didn’t care to be anthologized further at the moment. Similarly, I keep thinking that if I had delayed finalizing What I Say just a few months longer [it had already been years, mostly due to my commuting life mode] we could have included Tonya Foster, LaTasha Diggs and others.) Many will look at the word “innovative” in our subtitles and immediately think of poets they would have added under that rubric. If anything, my response is to hope that they will. We need more such books. One place to look for an alternate reading of things is the dossier of radical poets prepared for the journal boundary 2 by Dawn Lundy Martin just last year.

In the end, the alphabetical organization was our way of encouraging readers to come to their own conclusions about lineages and affiliations. This doesn’t always turn out as I would have it. In our short preface to What I Say we mention the fact that a few of the poets in that book had friendships with various of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets. I’ve observed in the few months since the book appeared that some people introducing our work at conferences and readings have a tendency to highlight that fact, somewhat obscuring our book’s evidence of the many routes that different poets took to the experimental modes visible and audible in their works. In the many decades since Grove Press published Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry anthology, many critics have argued with the implementation of his geographical groupings of the poets therein.  One Amazon reviewer of Ron Silliman’s collection In the American Tree reacted to that book’s organization, writing “I think in my copy I crossed out the words West and East in the book and wrote above them ‘Us’ and ‘Them.’” On the other hand, chronological arrangements (most often organizing by the poets’ dates of birth) struck me as entirely too likely in this case to present a false picture of a ceratin “progress.” Thematic arrangements can often be productive, but generally this is true when the anthology itself is built around a particular set of subject matters, rather than, as in our case, built around the desire to assert an important continuing history of experiment. I don’t know that I have seen many anthologies built around particular structures, unless we’re thinking of things like sonnet collections, or haiku anthologies. Part of the point of our books is to underscore the continuous generation of new forms. And yes, as editors we could have produced a much longer explanatory introduction, but I have an aversion to repeating arguments that I have made in print already, an aversion that comes from having had so many editors over the years encourage me to say again what I have already said, when what I want to say is something else. (Those who have not yet seen What I Say can look forward to its wonderful introductory essay on the subject of anthologizing by poet C.S. Giscombe.) And I know it’s something of an evasion to advise people who want to know what all these poets have in common to go read Black Chant and Integral Music, and the many essays I’ve published since . . . 

But here’s the nutshell, already burst, the contents escaping in all directions.

The poets presented in these two anthologies have in common their participation in the ongoing aesthetic rupture that shows up in poetry with Modernism.  Now, experience teaches me that some will read that and rush to the same sort of mistake as those who overemphasize the role of White experimentalists (or even White mentalists) in these developments.

Here’s the thing, as we say nowadays, relatable, in fact.  I follow C.L.R. James and W.E.B. DuBois in making the argument that the peoples of the African diaspora were not just subjects of Modernism, not simply inspiration for so many of Modernism’s breakthroughs, but were demonstrably producers of Modernism, even, as DuBois and James teach us, the very condition of possibility for the emergence of Modernity as a historical fact.

So, yes, we can read Amiri Baraka telling us of his early readings in Joyce, Eliot, Beckett, cummings, Yeats etc.  But what sort of readers would we be if we overlooked the equal importance in his evolution of Langston Hughes, of James Weldon Johnson (author, in my view, of the first Modernist novel by an African American author), and of all those preachers he heard in his parents’ church? We’d be, sad to say, the kind of readers who have written so many essays overlooking just that lineage.

What the poets in our anthologies have in common, then, is Williams (William Carlos), Hughes, Olson, Johnson, Moore, Césaire, Lorca, Senghor, and let’s not forget the poetics of Armstrong, Ellington, Williams (Mary Lou), Monk,  Coltrane, Ayler . . . 

These poets are not the only ones who have read, listened to and been influenced by this lineage, but for these poets these predecessor artists are not just subject matter and inspiration.  Williams revised the adage about art being nature’s mirror by urging us to see what the poet does as not copying nature, but doing what nature does, bringing new things into being. Césaire represented his people, but his poetry was no simple act of representation. 

Terms like “MFA” poetry are clearly an unsatisfactory shorthand. We could substitute terms like “mainstream poetry,” “AWP poetry,” “official verse culture.” Back at the time of Allen’s New American Poetry it was common to divide the poets into the academic and its anti-, but those were terms describing styles of writing, not the professional locus of the poets themselves, or even their level of scholarly learning. Any of these terms must be written under erasure. For example, both mainstream MFA programs around the country and the AWP itself are clearly more welcoming of the more radical poetries now than they were in earlier years. (For so much of the 80s and 90s, the AWP newsletter seemed to be on a campaign against poststructuralism AND cultural Studies AND surrealism and its rapidly proliferating offspring.) At this past AWP conference in Los Angeles, there was a panel celebrating Rae Armantrout, Harryette Mullen gave a reading, and there was even a What I Say panel. A few poet/editors have tried to float terms such as “hybrid verse” or “post-avant” to signal this greater mainstream receptiveness – But all you have to do is look at the way postmodern visual art is now enshrined in major museums and then look to the rewards structure of the American poetry community (the MacArthurs are a good place to see this) to recognize that when it comes to America’s poetry culture, there is very much still a mainstream, with its describable and preferred poetics.

And I think this is demonstrated, too, by the fact that so many years had passed since we’d last seen anthologies that did the work of these two books. Ken Burns did the neat trick in his Jazz series of pairing onscreen diminutions of the achievements of Ornette Coleman with a CD series that sold Ornette Coleman. Similarly, while nobody, I trust, would think of publishing something that announced itself as an encompassing anthology of contemporary African American verse without including the work of Baraka, they mostly don’t include Russell Atkins or Julie Patton.

As to teaching Patton, our anthology is a good starting point, as you might not run into her work too many other places. But even our book has its drawbacks.  Patton’s long poetic tribute to Baraka should have been in color. We simply had no money for publishing color plates. What we did publish affords an opportunity for students to confront not only the oral tradition in Black verse, but also the unpronounceable in Black verse. Beyond giving students a reason to think carefully about the relationships between the soundings of poetry and the visual forms in which it appears, Patton also calls for us to rethink our understandings of performance. Mention “performance poetry” in most contexts and everybody will think of slams and open mic nights. But how often does a Julie Patton appear at an open mic among all the emoters taking their cues from people who took their cues from Def Poetry Jam? What has happened is that too many take nothing more than the attitude and delivery mode from what they’ve seen of the Black Arts, and don’t go to school with the revolution in verse that accompanied the political revolution. There will soon be an example of Julie Patton in performance online, drawn from the publication reading for What I Say that took place at Cal State LA’s new downtown campus during AWP. The audience never knows what Patton is going to do when she approaches a microphone, not even audiences that have been to her gallery shows or have seen her with a band. On the night of the reading in LA, she began by making a few opening comments; next thing we knew she was singing a complex (unheard of?) improvisation that made music from the names of other poets in the book, addressed individuals sitting in the audience, even incorporated a bit of the epic piece by her that’s in the anthology. Performances like that demand that we attend to this as an art form that belongs in the ranks with our greatest page poets. Given the long history we have with being able to speak intelligently about Sonia Sanchez’s improvisations, Jayne Cortez’s superrealism, Ntozake Shange’s choreo-poems, Sun Ra’s chants, can it really be that difficult to comprehend a multimedia poet of the stature of Patton? At the same time, should not Patton’s work cause some disturbance in the field of poetic conceptualism as it is currently constituted?  In the last year there has been a raging controversy surrounding racism and the works of Kenneth Goldsmith and Vanessa Place, leading lights in what is presently termed conceptual poetry, and yet that terming has a bad case of presentism. The debates have gone on as though no Black artists had ever been involved in conceptualism – No Adrienne Piper, let alone Mendi and Keith Obadike, and certainly no Julie Patton. Patton’s work not only interrupts standard conversations around the boundaries of verse, it reconceives the conceptual itself.,

But the bottom line for What I Say is, as it was for Every Goodbye Ain’t Gone, found in the work itself. It is often said that “experimental poetry” teaches you to read it as you read. These two anthologies are open to myriad openings of pathways through the territories, and each pathway reveals another turning in the question of what these poets have in common, and what we have in common with them, a certain way, as Giscombe has it, of complicating the yakety yak.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

BLEED THROUGH - Michael Davidson's New & Selcted Poems

 I had occasion just recently, responding to an essay by Steph Burt,  to write of the centrality of Whitehead's process philosophy to mid-century New American Poetry, which of course entails its importance to all that has come after. Olson, in his "A Later Note on Letter #15," had written:

"& Descartes was the value

until Whitehead, who cleared out the gunk
by getting the universe in (as against man alone

& that concept of history"

It was Process and Reality that had made the turning. "We diverge from Descartes by holding that what he has described as primary attributes of physical bodies, are really the forms of internal relationships between actual occasions." This was from lectures Whitehead had given in 1927-28, but it was to become part of the very vocabulary of the poetics coming to be known as the postmodern. You can find passages in Olson, Baraka and Creeley taking up this very phrasing.

and there was a later post, visible on the last page of Michael Davidson's The Mutabilities:

The sequence is up in the air,
I'm outside or inside
in each case
it's the truth
but who tells it
is up to the code . . .

That was the first of Michael Davidson's works to catch my attention. That cover collage by Jess included letters barely discernible, almost a bleed through, informing the very close reader that the book included "the foul papers" -- what was there not to love -- One odd thing about that Sand Dollar Press book, released in 1976: the collage was printed on a sleeve, which when removed revealed an identical collage in a different color, on which the title of "The Foul Papers" was more legible. So it was a sort of bleed through after all, and that effect is eerily present again, four decades on, on the cover of Davidson's New and Selected. 

After a first meeting, at which I said something so stupid I always prayed Davidson didn't recognize that we had met before when we met again, we became friends, and I have been able to document several of his great readings and lectures for postings on Penn Sound. (Go take a look!)

Somehow the new book came out without my noticing -- Back in the day when I lived in large metropolises, and those metropolises had book stores, I would routinely find things like The Mutabilities and Bleed Through in my wanderings through the shelved cities. But I've found it now, and it is a find. From Coffee House Press.

And now, on Pennsylvania primary day, as I cast my vote against Cruz control, I take comfort in "The Canadians":

                            I want
to occupy what
has not been bought, the space
where the earth meets the earth.

Saturday, April 23, 2016


 "Almost everybody, you
know, is dead."

These many years later I still recall the force of those words against my eyes as I stood in a used book store staring at a page of Keith Waldrop's so wonderfully titled book The Garden of Effort.

That was my origin story, and those carefully placed commas simultaneously alluded to the sound of the lines as spoken, and kept them from meaning what they might if unpunctuated.

Decades later I found myself lingering over a line in Claudia Rankine's Don't Let Me Be Lonely: "Is everyone you know alive?" 

It was that reading in The Garden that sent me East of Eden to find the rest of Waldrop. What I came to first was his first, A Windmill Near Calvary.

By then I knew, too, of Rosmarie Waldrop, and it was at a reading of hers that I met Keith. Rosmarie was part of an Emily Dickinson program at the Folger Shakespeare Library.  I lived within walking distance of the Folger in those days, and made sure to be there. Keith, it turned out, was taking a train from Providence to meet Rosmarie, and was himself ambling over from Union Station, and we were introduced at the reception.

I would have gone on reading both poets whether I'd met them or not, but I have enjoyed their hospitality in Rhode Island ("Rogue Island" was what the Puritans in Massachusetts called it) and was able to return the favor at least once.
In 1990, Lost Roads published Keith's The Opposite of Letting the Mind Wander: Selected Poems and a Few Songs, and I've taught that book in classes a few times. 

This is the real
morning, and
not the other. There
is no special value in
your fear. To "avoid
unlucky words" is to
"keep a religious

That was selected from A Ceremony Somewhere Else. As the titles hint, Waldrop's concerns have stayed the course even as his poems have tightened and tautened. No slackness with age --

And now we have this new, beautiful and generous Selected, running from that first Windmill and Windfall Losses (lots of wind power in here) through 2013's Also a Fountain:

"A relativity of the taut string."

Monday, April 18, 2016

WHAT I SAY in D.C. - Anderson, Deas and McMorris

A gorgeous D.C. Sunday afternoon, cherry blossoms on the trees and poetry in Adams Morgan -- 
The good folk at D.C. Arts Center on 18th Street, Meg Ronan and Tony Mancus, with an assist from Rod Smith, hosted three of the contributors to the What I Say anthology: T.J. Anderson III, Pia Deas and Mark McMorris. Watch for a recording of this amazing reading.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Hanes Symposium 2016 - Black Genius

Genius finds both extremes,
        The bottom and the top;
And 'twixt the two he never seems
         To find a place to stop.

But high or low his lot,
         Genius is genius still,
And whether man heed at first or not,
         He must at last and will.

--Albery Allson Whitman  1890

I'm just back from Winston Salem State University in North Carolina, where I spoke in the 2016 Hanes Symposium organized by Dean Corey Walker around the topic of Black Genius. From the outset, we were considering the term in its broadest senses, keeping in mind the meaning as a spirit attendant upon a place, and as an inclination or penchant. A large part of our discussions had to do with questions of how to produce and preserve environments conducive to creativity and achievement. Just walking across campus with Dr. Walker underscored what we had been considering. Seeing him greeting and encouraging students we met along the way reminded me of what a university administrator and scholar should be about.

The morning kicked off with a presentation by Claudrena Harold, from UVa, followed by Howard University's Greg Carr and a wide ranging conversation with Dean Walker.

Following a break for lunch, Steven Thrasher, of The Guardian and NYU, and I gave talks. That's how Albery Whitman found his way into the mix. Dean Walker then rejoined us at the front for more discussion, all of which was being live streamed.

The Hanes Lecture was the capstone event of the day, with dear friend Farah Jasmine Griffin speaking. I first got to know Griffin during my long ago Loyola Marymount days when she was at Penn. The lecture was held in the campus art museum, where a powerful show of works by graduating students was on the walls.

Then it was off to a rollicking dinner with our gracious hosts where the food was fine and the dinner disputation even better than the dessert.