Wednesday, May 30, 2007

C.L.R. James studies at the ALA

I've been organizing panels on C.L.R. James at the American Literature Association for more than fifteen years now. Since there are so few literature people active in the C.L.R. James Society, these panels have been an important vehicle for keeping James's intellectual legacy active in the wider discussions of cultural studies, political philosophy, history and literature. Many of the authors of important works on James, including Cedric Robinson, Anthony Bogues and Frank Rosengarten, have appeared on these panels over recent years.

This year's panel in Boston featured talks by Gene Jarrett, Cynthia Young and me. Gene, who is moving shortly from the University of Maryland to Boston University, spoke on the subject of James's writings on popular novelist Frank Yerby. Gene's paper was an outgrowth of the work he did on Yerby for his recent book DEANS AND TRUANTS: RACE AND REALISM IN AFRICAN AMERICAN LITERATURE. Cynthia Young, currently on the faculty of Boston College, spoke on Black Britain and James's thoughts on race in the British context. Cynthia published a new book last year, too, SOUL POWER: CULTURE, RADICALISM AND THE MAKING OF A U.S. THIRD WORLD LEFT.

For my part, I departed form my usual critical modes and presented a series of video clips. As we approach the twentieth anniversary of James's death, it struck me that most of the newer scholars of James's work, scholars who are producing exciting new studies that have moved us well past the initial round of critical overviews, have never seen James or heard his voice. The clips I brought with me to Boston were meant to give an indication of the available film of James.

I was only able to locate one American video recording, though I am sure there must be more out there. As part of its Weekend College project, Wayne State University televised a series of discussions over its educational channel in the mid-1970s. One series of three brodacsts featured James in interviews with Gloria House, a Detroit area educator and activist. Around the same time, James was part of a documentary on cricket that aired over BBC. In fact, if it were not for BBC4, most of the video of James we have would not exist. But there were some other independent tapings. There is an excellent 1982 film titled TALKING HISTORY that brought James together with E.P Thompsom for a wide-ranging discussion. Another film of the era gives us James in casual conversation with dub poets Mikey Smith and Linton Kwesi Johnson. One of my favorites among the BBC broadcasts is an in-depth interview Stuart Hall conducted with James. Near the end of his life, James taped a series of BBC LECTURES, which include typically provocative discussions between James and his audience. In one of these, on the topic of American politics, one of the questioners was a young Cedric Robinson, around the time he was writing his classic text BLACK MARXISM. Selwyn Cudjoe taped an interview with James which he makes available through his CALLALOUX publishing venture. A wonderful memorial to James, including segments from several of those earlier films and broadcasts, aired on BBC4 shortly after his death in 1988. The tribute includes commentary from Tariq Ali, Paul Buhle, Robin Blackburn and others.

The photo above comes to us once again from Howard Rambsy, who also gave a paper on the first day of the ALA.

Sunday, May 27, 2007


Tonight I'm in a hotel in Boston, at the conclusion of this year's meeting of the American Literature Society.


Among this year's highlights was the reception honoring poet Marilyn Nelson, this year's winner of the Stephen Henderson Award from the African American Literature and Culture Society.
More about that in a future post.

I also had my annual reunion with my friends in the field of childerne's literature, who graciously appointed me a fellow traveler despite the fact that I have no children and have never read any children's literature. (Unless you want to count THE CHILDREN'S HOUR.)

Meta Jones phones home -- watch for her forthcoming book on jazz and poetry, THE MUSE IS MUSIC.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Cecil Giscombe - Party Hat


The first blog for this academic year was a post from a party hosted by poet Cecil Giscombe, so it seemed only fitting that I close out the year with a few snapshots from the party we had in Cecil's honor as he makes ready to head out to Berkeley (stopping at Naropa along the way). The sun was out, Paul Youngquist and company not only played up to their usual high standard but brought a fine vocalist with them, everybody stayed late, the hat had a great time. It was a good day.

The hand of Jeff Nealon at work.

Are you absolutely sure this goes to a C minor seventh here?

Life just won't be the same around here . . .

Saturday, May 12, 2007

CLA 2007 - Miami

This blog first appeared April 8, 2006. I was writing from a hotel room in Birmingham, Alabama, where I was speaking at the annual meeting of the College Language Association. It seemed only fitting that I should mark the blogoversary by posting photos from this year's CLA meeting, which took place in Miami. Last year's post from the CLA started off with a photo of Detroit poet Naomi Long Madgett, publisher of Lotus Press. This year, as it happens, Naomi won the CLA BOOK AWARD for her memoirs, so I begin again with a photo of her, this time inserting myself next to the award winner for good luck.

In addition to the grand banquet and awards ceremony, highlights this year in Miami included the luncheon sponsored by the Langston Hughes Society with a moving address by Amiri Baraka. The CLA luncheon featured a reading and talk by Duke University's Professor Karla Holloway, who had made an arrangement with her publishers for each of us at the luncheon to get a copy of her book BOOK MARKS. My copy landed in my mailbox today.

As always, the conference gave me a chance to reunite with old friends and colleagues too numerous to mention. Dolan Hubbard, who is a past president of the CLA, was one of the first people I ever met at an academic conference, back when both of us were beginning Assistant Professors. Poet Adam David Miller, who has been such a great help to me in my research on post World War II poetry, was there to read from his work again. And if you've been with this blog from the beginning, you'll see from these pictures that all those good friends and great scholars I named last year were back again for another round of intellectual exchange and fellowship.

And there was dancing!