Thursday, February 25, 2016


Evie Shockley and Carter Mathes pulled together a remarkable congress of thinkers and writers a couple weeks ago for a two day discussion exploring current and future directions in African American literary criticism. We met in the Plangere Writing Center at Rutgers University, the wind whipping the streets outside (about the coldest I've experienced in recent years) and driving us into the warmth of our conferring. Urban tumbleweeds we were, our spirits blown up mighty mighty.

I came eagerly looking forward to discussions with the people listed in the program; when I got there I found poets Tonya Foster, Ron Silliman and Erica Hunt in the house, and scholars Kathryne Gines, Cheryl Wall and Mary Helen Washington, along with so many others who had braved the weather to join together.

I was on the first panel, "The Nation and State in African American Literature," with Miriam Thaggert and Erica Edwards, Tasia Milton responding. My presentation was another installment from the work I've been doing this year on temporality, race and nation, As usual with me, I was operating from a floating home base in music and verse. I didn't get any panel selfies; maybe someone in the audience has a photo of us. But I did collect a good audio recording of the session.

Other sessions took up "Defining Blackness" and "Metacritical Directions." Brent Hayes Edwards offered a keynote with further meditations on the archive.

At the close, Mathes and Shockley, who had been writing constantly in those little notebooks of theirs, drew forth a set of discussion questions and, like the title says, future directions. Then it was off to dinner, where we continued our round table at one long, narrow table.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016


Made sure to be at the opening session at the University of Louisville for the poetry reading by Rodrigo Toscano, who read from Explosion Rocks Springfield.

Also made sure to get to the creative session that included Ken Taylor, part of that extraordinary North Carolina poetry posse. I had not heard him read more than a poem or two before and was glad of this chance to get a better sense of his range. If you don't know his work yet, be sure to get a copy of his collection Dog with Elizabethan Collar from Selva Oscura.

Johana Drucker, who I first knew so many years ago as a poet, presented the first critical keynote this year.

Following a series of text messages, Lauri Ramey and Cecil Giscombe found their way to the reception at the art center.

With the What I Say anthology finally out, Lauri and I are organizing a series of panels and readings to spotlight the incredible art represented by this gathering. At Louisville, our round table included Tyrone Williams, Pia Deas, C.S. Giscombe and Nathaniel Mackey. SRO from start to last.

The second creative keynote was Matt Johnson. A few years back, when Matt was a keynoter at one of our Penn State conferences, he arranged for all of us to get advance proof copies of Pym, one of the most generous acts I've ever seen from a visiting novelist. At Louisville he read from his new book Loving Day, which is being developed as a possible TV series for Showtime.

Speaking of generosity, the good folks behind the journal Lute & Drum sponsored a poetry reading for the second year in a row. This year's reading was an evening with Nathaniel Mackey reading from new work.

As a child of the era, I knew exactly what these signs mean. I had to pause by this one and think about how far we had come, about backsliding, about elections and their consequences.

The food trucks were a Saturday hit. Most of my fellow academics went for the Korean tacos, but I headed straight for the barbecue van, attracted by the wonderful perfume. I came away with a pulled pork sandwich.

This year saw the return of the tradition of a group poetry reading at Alan Golding's house. Watch Penn Sound for that, and for other recordings from this year at Louisville.