Thursday, May 28, 2009


well . . . literal minded in Boston, I'd thought I'd stumbled into a place that worshiped jazz; turns out they just used jazz in their worship . . . but still . . . 

That made a fine backdrop to the meeting of the ALA.

Each year at the conference, the African American Literature and Culture Society presents the Stephen Henderson Award for contributions to the literary arts.  This year's award went to Elizabeth Alexander, who had read at an ALA panel in San Diego many years ago alongside Sherley Anne Williams, with a critical response from Marcellus Blount.  Elizabeth read at the Obama Inauguration back in January and we had the bilingual edition of her poem on hand for the eager readers of the ALA.  Back in 1986, Elizabeth was a winner of the Larry Neal Award.  The first Larry Neal winner for poetry, in 1983, was one A.L. Nielsen.  It was a distinct pleasure to share a podium with her on this occasion.

Among the new features at this year's conference, new author societies devoted to the works of Paul Laurence Dunbar and Pauline Hopkins.

An exciting development this year for those of us in poetry studies in addition to a Dunbar Society, the appearance of a new society that takes as its object of study the work of the New York School of poets.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


More than two decades after The Music, the last major collection of Amiri Baraka's writings on jazz, comes Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music, from the University of California Press.  Taking its place on the shelf alongside Blues People and Black Music, this volume brings us Baraka's reflections, reviews and concert experiences from the late eighties to the late now.  In any such collection there is bound to be some repetition, and that is true here, but the book will introduce you to musicians you probably haven't heard before  (I had somehow missed Rodney Kendrick till reading of him in these pages), give you a new perspective on artists who have come to prominence more recently (Vijay Iyer) and offer surprising takes on music you thought you knew (check out Baraka's musings on the late music of Miles Davis).  And it is always rewarding to witness the evolution of Baraka's thoughts on these subjects.

The book also features a treasury of photographs, such as this cover illustration that shows Baraka at the front steps of the Black Arts Repertory Theater School in 1965. If you look closely, you'll see that the fellow at the top of the stairs wearing a white cap is Sun Ra.  

For all you bibliographers, here's an interesting twist.  Unlike so many of his books from the late 60s to just a few years ago, neither the cover nor the copyright page of this book makes any reference to Baraka's earlier name.  Where The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka splits his life around that act of renaming, this book is simply presented to us as written by Amiri Baraka.  (Though I note that he remains "Imamu" in the LOC catalogue data on the copyright page.)

Order the book here or pick up a copy at your local independent book store.  I got mine at Bridge Street Books in D.C. -- 

Monday, May 04, 2009


Another good colleague is on his way out of State College.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     One of the people I've been happiest to know since coming to Penn State is Paul Youngquist.  Long-time followers of this blog will remember seeing him playing with his jazz band in earlier scenes from around town.  Paul is a tremendous scholar and critic.  His essay on Amiri Baraka and Science Fiction in the special issue of African American Review dedicated to Baraka's work is a model of insight and instigation.  His two powerful books on Blake and on monstrosities (do I repeat myself?) are significant contributions to studies in Romanticism.  A few years ago Paul co-taught a graduate seminar on Free Jazz with Billy Joe Harris, which culminated in a performance of the reunited New York Art Quartet.  And his guitar playing was something I will miss almost as much as I'll miss talking to him every day around here.

Paul is off to another of my old stomping grounds, Boulder, Colorado, where he will join the English Department at U of Colorado, being a Romanticist under the Flat Irons, dropping by Naropa, enjoying the expanded opportunities for jazz that he will find in the Boulder/Denver region.