Kalamu ya Salaam's information blog








The Strange and

Ironic Fates of

Jefferson’s Daughters

Martha Jefferson was Virginia elite.
Her half-sister Harriet, though
seven-eighths white, was deemed
a slave at birth. No one could have
predicted their fates.



Martha Jefferson was born in 1772, just as Monticello was rising above her, promising a life surrounded by beauty, luxury, and pampering. For the first ten years of her existence this promise held, but in 1782 Martha’s mother died, leaving a father incapacitated by grief, but still a father in pursuit of his daughter’s future happiness. He set out a stringent regimen of study which included reading, writing, literature, languages, music, art, and dance.

Two years later, Martha and her father traveled to France, joined later by Martha’s younger sister and her enslaved maid, Sally Hemings. In France Martha boarded at a convent school and received a formal education few other American women of the day would acquire in their lifetimes. At her father’s Paris residence, she received another kind of education, conversing with world leaders and learning, among other things, that there are countries where slavery was illegal. “I wish with all my soul that the poor Negroes were all freed,” she wrote her father from school. She listened eagerly as her father and his secretary, William Short, talked of plans to set up their slaves as free tenant farmers when they returned to Virginia. But the 17-year-old Martha listened eagerly to William Short for another reason—she had fallen in love and her father had taken note; he abruptly took Martha, her sister, and Sally Hemings—who was pregnant with Thomas Jefferson’s child—back to Virginia.

There the realities of the Virginia way of life and her father’s new preoccupations with Monticello, politics, and dare she imagine it—Sally—convinced Martha it was time to claim a life for herself.  After three short months at home, with her father’s whole-hearted blessing, Martha married her distant cousin, Thomas Randolph, a man determined to make his way in Virginia “without dependency” on the institution of slavery.

Over the next two dozen years Martha gave birth to 12 children and came to realize that despite her stellar education, her motherless youth had left her unprepared for the roles of wife and mother. She watched her husband acquire and lose three farms and many slaves before he descended into madness. She spent her days longing for the closeness she’d once shared with her father, their private conversations, and his very public dinner table—the only forums in which she’d ever made use of her educational brilliance.

Thomas Jefferson died in 1826, having run Monticello into such debt that it and most of its slaves were sold soon afterward. Martha Jefferson Randolph’s husband died in 1828, owning nothing of any value but the books given him by his father-in-law. Martha, now homeless and nearly penniless, spent the rest of her life living with one child or another until she died at her son’s home in 1836, within view of the crumbling Monticello. 

Harriet Hemings was born in 1801, just as her father assumed the mantel of president of the United States. She was a third-generation biracial slave, which made her seven-eighths white, but because her mother was Sally Hemings, Harriet was born into slavery. Sally, however, had dared to strike a bargain with Jefferson in Paris: She would give up her French freedom and return with Jefferson to Virginia if he would promise to free their children when they reached the age of 21.

It would appear that Jefferson took this promise to heart and planned for it as best he knew how. Harriet’s brothers were taught a trade and became skilled craftsmen. Harriet was trained in such domestic skills as might prove useful to any wife and mother. She did no regular slave labor except the kind of textile work that might prove useful later in life. When she turned 21, Jefferson gave her money and transportation to join her older brother, who had left for Washington a few months earlier to prepare them a place.  Both brother and sister being light-skinned and auburn-haired, they were able to cast off their past and slip into the white world without a trace.

In 1873 Harriet’s younger brother Madison, freed along with his brother Eston in Jefferson’s will, told a newspaper reporter, “Harriet married a white man in good standing in Washington City, whose name I could give, but will not, for prudential reasons. She raised a family of children, and as far as I know they were never suspected of being tainted with African blood . . . I have not heard from her for ten years, and do not know whether she is dead or alive.”


Sally Cabot Gunning lives in Brewster, Massachusetts, with her husband, Tom. A lifelong resident of New England, she is active in the local historical society and creates tours that showcase the 300-year history of her village. She is the author of the “Satucket Novels”: The Widow’s War, Bound, The Rebellion of Jane Clarke, and Benjamin Franklin’s Bastard and Monticello, A Daughter and Her Father, published by William Morrow on September 6. 











By Gloria Rolando


“Eyes of the Rainbow” deals with the life of Assata Shakur, the Black Panther and Black Liberation Army leader who escaped from prison and was given political asylum in Cuba, where she has lived for close to 30 years. In it we visit with Assata Shakur in Havana and she tells us about her history and her life in Cuba. 

“Like most poor people in the United States, I have no voice. The Black press and the progressive media, as well as Black civil rights organizations, have historically played an essential role in the struggle for social justice. We should continue and expand that tradition. We should create media outlets that help to educate our people and our children, and not annihilate their minds. I am only one woman. I own no TV stations or radio stations or newspapers. But I believe that people need to be educated as to what is going on and to understand the connection between the news media and the instruments of repression in America. All I have are my voice, my spirit and the will to tell the truth. But I sincerely ask those of you in the Black media, those of you in the progressive media and those of you who believe in truth and freedom to publish my story.”
—Assata Shakur








Sep 16, 2016

Sep 16, 2016







A revealing and unsettling journey to the heart of America’s deadly love affair with the gun

In the 18 years since Zed Nelson’s seminal photography book Gun Nation was published, 500,000 Americans have been killed by firearms in the US. Half a million people dead and many more injured, Nelson returns to the people he met, re-photographs them, and asks why America is a nation still with an insatiable appetite for firearms.

Gun Nation explores the paradox of why America’s most potent symbol of freedom is also one of its greatest killers.

Director: Zed Nelson
Producer: Zed Nelson
Editor: Noah Payne Frank

Commissioned by The Guardian and Bertha Foundation for the Guardian Bertha documentary partnership

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Laura Hanifin / Hachette / Zachary Bickel / The Atlantic

Laura Hanifin / Hachette / Zachary Bickel / The Atlantic

N.K. Jemisin

and the

Politics of Prose

A conversation with the recent
Hugo Award-winner about science fiction,
race, gender, power, and Trumpism

Last week, the World Science Fiction society named N.K.
Jemisin the first black writer to win the Hugo Award for
Best Novel, perhaps the highest honor for science-fiction
and fantasy novels. Her winning work, The Fifth Season,
has also been nominated for the Nebula Award and World
Fantasy Award, and it joins Jemisin’s collection of feted
novels in the speculative fiction super-genre. Even among
the titans of black science-fiction and fantasy writers,
including the greats Octavia Butler and Samuel Delany,
Jemisin’s achievement is singular in the 60-plus years
of the Hugos.
The Fifth Season is a stunning piece of speculative-fiction
work, and it accomplishes the one thing that is so difficult
in a field dominated by tropes: innovation, in spades. A
rich tale of earth-moving superhumans set in a dystopian
world of regular disasters, The Fifth Season manages to
incorporate the deep internal cosmologies, mythologies,
and complex magic systems that genre readers have come
to expect, in a framework that also asks thoroughly modern
questions about oppression, race, gender, class, and
sexuality. Its characters are a slate of people of different
colors and motivations who don’t often appear in a field
still dominated by white men and their protagonist avatars.
The Fifth Season’s sequel, 2016’s The Obelisk Gate,
continues its dive into magic, science, and the depths
of humanity.

Just a year ago, the idea of a novel as deliberately outside
the science-fiction norm as The Fifth Season winning the
Hugo Award seemed unlikely. In 2013, a small group of
science-fiction writers and commentators launched the
“Sad Puppies” and “Rabid Puppies” campaigns to exploit
the Hugo nomination system and place dozens of books
and stories of their own choosing up for awards. Those
campaigns arose as a reaction to perceived “politicization”
of the genre—often code for it becoming more diverse and
exploring more themes of social justice, race, and gender
—and became a space for some science-fiction and fantasy
communities to rail against “heavy handed message fic.”
Led by people like the “alt-right” commentator Vox Day,
the movements reached fever pitch in the 2015 Hugo
Award cycle, and Jemisin herself was often caught up in
the intense arguments about the future of the genre.
I spoke to Jemisin about her works, politics, the sad puppies
controversy, and about race and gender representation in
science-fiction and fantasy the day before The Fifth Season
won the Hugo Award. Our conversation has been edited for
length and clarity.

N.K. Jemisin: It is, and this is the first time that I’ve ever
done one continuous story all the way through three books.
Trilogies are relatively easy when each story is a self-
contained piece, which I’ve done for all of my previous
books. I have a lot of new respect for authors who do like
giant unending trilogies just because this is hard. It’s a lot
harder than I thought it was. But I’m enjoying it so far. It’s
a solid challenge. I like solid challenges. I had some
moments when I was writing the first book where I was
just sort of, “I don’t know if I can do this.” Fortunately I
have friends who are like, “What’s wrong with you? Snap
out of it!” And I moved on and I got it done and I’m very
glad with the reception. I’m shocked by the reception, but
I’m glad for it.

Newkirk: You’re shocked by the reception? This
seems like something that is tailor-made to be a
hit right now.
Jemisin: Ehh. You may have seen some of the stuff that’s
been happening in the genre in terms of pushback,
reactionary movements and so forth. Basically, the
science-fiction microcosmic version of what’s been
happening on the large-scale political level and what’s
been happening in other fields like with Gamergate in
gaming. It’s the same sort of reactionary pushback that
is generally by a relatively small number of very loud
people. They’re loud enough that they’re able to
convince you that the world really isn’t as progressive
as you think it is, and that the world really does just
want old-school 1950s golden-age-era stalwart white
guys in space suits traveling in very phallic-looking
spaceships to planets with green women and … they
kind of convince you that that’s really all that will sell.
Told in the most plain didactic language you can
imagine and with no literary tricks whatever because
the readership just doesn’t want that.

Newkirk: For you, are those people something that bothers you as you build a profile? Are people louder now that The Fifth Season is getting so much love?

Jemisin: They may be, but I’m not hearing them as much.
I seem to have passed some kind of threshold, and maybe
it’s something as simple as I now have so many positive
messages coming at me that the negatives are sort of
drowned out. As a side note, the so-called boogeyman of
science-fiction, the white supremacist asshat who started
the Rabid Puppies, Vox Day, apparently posted something
about me a few days ago and I just didn’t care. There was
a whole to-do between me and him a few years back where
he ended up getting booted out of SWFA [Science Fiction
and Fantasy Writers of America] because of some stuff he
said about me, and I just didn’t care. It was a watershed
moment at that point but now it’s just sort of, “Oh, it’s him
again. He must be needing to get some new readers or
trying to raise his profile again. Or something.” I didn’t
look at it. No one bothered to read it and dissect it and
send me anything about it. No one cared.
I think that’s
sort of indicative of what’s happening. To some degree,
as I move outside of the exclusive genre audience, the
exclusive genre issues don’t bother me as much. Maybe
that’s just speculation. I’m reaching a point where I’m
still hearing some of it, but it’s just not as loud, or
maybe it’s just focusing on different points. I don’t
know. It’s still there. It’ll be there. I think that the
Hugo ceremony at this upcoming WorldCon is going
to be another not-as-seminal moment as last year
when the Puppies tried a takeover that was somewhat
more successful at the nominating stage and where
they got smacked down roundly at the actual voting
stage with no award after no award. I don’t think
that’s going to happen this year, and I don’t think it
matters as much. But who knows? I’ll guess we’ll
see. If I win I’ll be happy. If I don’t win, I’ll be happy.
I’ll continue to write.
Newkirk: I talked a lot with Ken Liu last year
a lot when it happened [his translation of
Cixin Liu’s The Three Body Problem won the
2015 Hugo Award for Best Novel], and he
said all that stuff sort of loses its power over
time, because it’s reactionary. It’s something
where the facts and your audience numbers
don’t really lie.

Jemisin: Reactionary movements can’t sustain themselves
unless they find something new to catch and burn on.
And when they keep using the same tactics over and over
again, I don’t know that that’s sustainable. Or they’ll
burn themselves out when they reach the point of, I guess,
Donald Trumpism, for lack of a better description. They
reach some point where it’s no longer a reactionary
movement, some demagogue tries to take the lead and
make it all about them. And at that point it becomes clear
that it’s just some kind of petty narcissistic thing, and I
think that’s what kills it. But we’ll see, both at the Hugos
level and in the polls in November.

Newkirk: There are some very strong allegories in
both books and they also play alongside an actual
effort to build in racial critiques in a fantasy world.
It’s weird to me how uncommon that is in a lot of
people’s perspectives about science-fiction and
fantasy. How do you pull that off?


Jemisin: I write what feels real. I write things that are informed both by my own experience and by actual history. And I’m not drawing solely upon my own racial experiences. There’s some stuff that’s going to happen in the third book that’s sort of hinting at the Holocaust. You can see hints of stuff that happened with the Khmer Rouge at varying points in the story. You see the ways in which oppression perpetuates itself, one group of people teaches every other group of people how to do truly horrible things. I was drawing in that case on King Leopold of Belgium’s horrible treatment of people in the Congo—chopping off hands for example—and how in the Rwandan Civil War they chopped off lots of hands. Well, they learned it from the Europeans.

I read a lot of history for fun. I spent my high school years just
like pretty other kid in America. Sort of half-asleep through
history, memorizing facts so that I could spit them back and
take the AP exam, and that was not fun. But then later on, as I
got older and I actually started reading this stuff from different
perspectives and started considering different research
methods, and as I started to realize just how much I’d learned
in school was just bullshit, then it became a lot more
interesting to me. So as I read about the different sets of
people who have been oppressed and the different systemic
oppressions that have existed throughout history, you start
to see the patterns in them. Obviously I’m drawing on my
own African American experience, but I’m drawing on a lot
of other stuff too.

Newkirk: The point you make about the cycle of
oppression is really driven home in The Fifth Season.
Jemisin: Well, again I just tried to do what seemed realistic
to me within the boundaries of science-fiction and fantasy.
They really are supposed to be about people. It’s fiction. It’s
not a textbook, yet for decades, for reasons that I don’t fully
understand, there was this weird aversion to good sociology
and focusing on good characterization and people acting like
real people. It was all supposed to be about the science. And
so you would go into forums, and you would see dozens of
people nitpicking the hell out of the physics. “The equipment
doesn’t work this way!” Just engineering discussions out the
wazoo, but no one pointing out, “You know, your characters
are completely unrealistic. People don’t act this way. People
don’t talk this way. What is this?” I just feel like that doesn’t
make sense. Social sciences are sciences too, and that
aversion to respecting the fiction part of science-fiction; to
exploring the people as well as the gadgets and the science
never made sense to me. And that aversion is why it isn’t
common to see these kinds of explorations of what people
are really like and how people really dominate each other,
and how power works.

Because, among other things in a lot of cases, the people who
were writing these stories were people who didn’t have a good
understanding of their own power: their own privilege within
a system, and a kyriarchical system, and not understanding
that as mostly straight white men with a smattering of other
groups who are writing this genre for years. A lot of them
bought into the American ideal of rugged individualism of,
“Go forth intrepid person with their gun,” and they would go
forth and do brave things and that would bring them power.
No recognition of the power they already had. And I think it
does take an outsider to a degree to come in and look around
and read the stuff that’s key in the genre and be like, whoa
something is really missing here.
But I don’t think that I was
the first outsider to do so by any stretch. Most of the writers
of color who have come into the genre have come and looked
around and had that moment. Of course, Octavia Butler
being the first and foremost who came in and looked at the
alien colonization story and said, “Oh, hey it’s a lot like what
happened to [black people]! Why don’t we just make all that
stuff explicit? Instead of rape, why don’t we include aliens
trying to assimilate our genes?” And it does take people who
understand systems of power, who understand the
complexities of how people interact with each other to
depict that.




June 16, 2016

June 16, 2016





Paleo butternut squash soup is a healthy meal that can be enjoyed year round. Even the kids love it! This hearty dish will warm your soul on a cold evening, bringing together your favorite fall spices. It’s also a great choice for summer and tastes just as good cold as it does warm.

With just a few essential ingredients, this delicious soup recipe takes minutes to prepare. Creamy and smooth, it will delight your taste buds and fill your belly. On top of that, it’s paleo friendly and dairy free. Since it has no gluten, it’s perfect for those with wheat allergy.

Butternut squash, its main ingredient, delivers an ample dose of protein, fiber, and antioxidants. It’s also a good source of phytonutrients, which fight cancer and free radical damage. Low in fat and sugar, this fruit supports cardiovascular health and restores your electrolyte balance. Due to its high potassium content, it prevents muscle cramps and speeds up recovery. It’s the perfect addition to a healthy meal.

My paleo butternut squash soup contains onions and garlic, which boost immunity and protect you from colds and flu. I also add coconut oil for a healthy dose of essential fats. This ingredient makes the soup creamier and thicker. Cumin gives it a beautiful yellow color and wards off diseases. This spice promotes healing and restores your body’s natural balance. You may also use avocado for a thicker consistency and extra flavor. This fruit is one of the best natural sources of omega-3s.

So, here is my favorite paleo butternut squash soup recipe for lunch:

Butternut Squash Soup
for a Healthy Paleo Lunch
Prep time:  
Cook time:  
Total time:  
Serves: 10
  • 1 butternut squash, cut into small pieces
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil, melted
  • ¼ cup almond milk
  • 1 tbsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  1. Chop the ingredients
  2. Heat the coconut oil on a large stock pot
  3. Sauté the onion, squash, and garlic
  4. Add almond milk and stir well; use a hand blender if needed.
  5. Puree until smooth
  6. Add seasonings, salt, and pepper.
  7. Serve warm or cold. Enjoy!
The butternut squash can be roasted before adding to it to mix.
Sometimes I add roasted squash seeds or chopped pecans. For
sweetness, add cinnamon and honey. If you want your soup
spicy, use bacon, sausages, or chicken broth. Garnish with fresh
or dried parsley. This butternut squash recipe is highly
customizable, and can be made sweet or spicy.


Heavy2Healthy is set up to help and share the story of Paleo during pregnancy. And helping others with their own Paleo journey. You can find out more about us here and connect with us on Twitter,  Facebookand  Pinterest.







Submit to Palaver

All submissions should be submitted via Palaver’s Submittable account. Follow the “Learn More” links below depending on your type of submission: creative/multimedia v. academic. No submissions should be e-mailed.  If you have questions, please contact us here.

  • Creative Submissions

    Palaver is extremely interested in exploring interdisciplinarity, not only in content, but also in form. We accept poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, visual art, multimedia submissions, and multimedia-text hybrids.

    Please submit only one story or creative essay. Due to the volume of submissions Palaver receives, please limit your prose to thirty pages. 

    You may submit up to five poems, all in one document, please. 

    We allow up to ten file uploads of visual art/multimedia.

    No multiple submissions. Please wait until you have heard back from the first submission before submitting a second time. 

    No self-identifying information should be present in the body of your work, due to our blind review process. Only fill out identifying information on the form provided by Submittable. If your submission includes your name in the content and cannot be removed (e.g. the credits of a video), don’t sweat it. 

    Palaver does not accept previously published work, be it print or online.

    Simultaneous submissions are encouraged. If the submission is accepted elsewhere, please notify us immediately and withdraw it from Palaver

    If a portion of your submission is accepted elsewhere–for example: a poem from a collection, or a portion from a longer work of prose–please notify us at  

    Submissions to Palaver are open year round. Palaver publishes on a bi-annual basis, in December and May. Palaver usually notifies submitters of our decision within three to five months.

    Questions can be addressed to

    Learn More »

  • Academic Submissions

    Written academic submissions should be typed, double-spaced, and follow MLA guidelines. Due to the volume of submissions Palaver receives, we ask that academic pieces run no longer than twenty-five pages. The file name should only include the title of your submission. No self-identifying information should be present in the body of your work, due to our blind review process. Palaver does not accept previously published work, be it print or online. 

    Simultaneous submissions are encouraged. If the work is accepted elsewhere, please notify us immediately and withdraw your submission to Palaver. 

No multiple submissions. Please wait until you have heard back from the first submission before submitting a second time.

    Submissions to Palaver are open year round. Palaver publishes on a bi-annual basis, in December and May. Palaver usually notifies submitters of our decision within three to five months.

    If your submission is accepted elsewhere, please withdraw your submission and notify Palaver of its publication elsewhere when noting the reason for withdrawal.  

    Questions can be addressed to


    As a publication sponsored by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington Graduate Liberal Studies program, Palaver is subject to the provisions of the Code of Federal Regulations Title 45, Part 46 Protection of Human Subjects, Subparts A, B, C and D (PDF) and falls under the oversight of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington Institutional Review Board. A Human subject is defined as a living individual, about whom an investigator (whether professional or student) conducting research obtains: 1) data through intervention or interaction with the individual, or 2) identifiable private information. If the editorial staff believes an author may have used data obtained through research on human subjects in a manner covered by the federal statutes, further inquiries may be instituted through the Institutional Review Board according to its policies and procedures.    


    Learn More »









rialto logo mono




The Rialto invites you to enter our first ever pamphlet competition, with the chance of getting published in our award-winning pamphlet series.

1st prize: publication of the winning pamphlet + launch reading + up to £200 travel expenses

Poets on the shortlist of 10 will each get a paragraph of feedback. The winner and 3 others will have a poem published in The Rialto. All shortlisted poets will have a poem published on our website.

Deadline: Wednesday 30 November 2016 

Judge: Hannah Lowe



Hannah’s poems celebrate London’s multicultural past and explore the lives of her Chinese-Jamaican father and other family members.  Her first poetry collection Chick (Bloodaxe, 2013) won the Michael Murphy Memorial Award for Best First Collection and was short-listed for the Forward, Aldeburgh and Seamus Heaney Best First Collection Prizes.  In September 2014, she was named as one of 20 Next Generation poets.  She has also published three chapbooks, her first being The Hitcher (Rialto 2011).  A family memoir Long Time, No See was published by Periscope in  July 2015 and featured as Radio 4’s Book of the Week.  Her second collection, Chan, was published by Bloodaxe in June 2016.



Please send us 18-24 pages of poems. Poems should be typed in single spacing on one side of A4 paper and in a font size of 12. Start each poem on a new page.  Maximum 40 lines per page.  If you include a poem sequence in which the poems are 14 lines long or less then you may put two on a page.

All poems must be your original work.  They may have been published in magazines (paper or online) and anthologies but not in a pamphlet or collection. Poems must be in the English language or any of its dialects.  They must be for adults and must not be translations of someone else’s work.

Your pamphlet must have a title which should appear on each page.  Please do a front page with the pamphlet title and list of contents.  Entries must be anonymous.  Please don’t put your name or contact details on any of the pages.  And don’t give us any other information (eg magazine credits).

If submitting by post: please send us two copies of your front page.  Both copies should show the pamphlet title and a contents list.  One copy only should also contain your contact details: name, address, email, phone number.
If submitting through Submittable: please put the title of your pamphlet in the title box; do not include your name.  In the contact details box list your name, address, email, phone number.  The document you upload may be a Pdf; Word .doc or .docx; or .Odt
Anyone may enter unless they advise or work for The Rialto.

Simultaneous submissions are allowed but please let us know straight away if your pamphlet has been accepted elsewhere.  The fee is not refundable. No changes can be made once you have submitted the pamphlet. We won’t return your pamphlet so please keep a copy.


The deadline is midnight UK time on Wednesday 30 November.  Postal entries postmarked on that date will be accepted.  Submittable users: we recommend you enter well before the deadline to avoid any technical problems arising from a last-minute rush. You can enter using Submittable here.

Entry costs £22, or £16 if you are a Rialto subscriber.  Non-subscribers may pay the subscribers’ rate if they take out a subscription when they enter.   (£24, or £19 concessionary rate, for 3 issues plus the current issue free.) Payment must be in pounds sterling.

If entering by post send your poems to: The Rialto (Pamphlet Competition), PO Box 309, Aylsham, NR11 6LN, England.  Enclose a cheque made out to The Rialto.  Please make sure you’ve put enough stamps on the letter.

Online entries open on 1 August. Use Submittable here  You will be given the option to pay either by credit card or by Paypal.  If entering from outside the UK it’s probably easier to enter online; Paypal will convert your fee to pounds sterling.  But if you wish to enter by post from abroad you may do so provided you are able to include a cheque in pounds sterling.  You may enter as many pamphlets as you like.








My Body, My Words (#MyBodyMyWords) is an exciting new project featuring writers of varying age, gender, and identification, who have come together to reclaim what it means to be beautiful. 

You can either submit to our longform submissions or a #MyBodyMyWords in 140 characters for publishing on social.

Submissions close October 1st.

The Scope:

Our goal with this anthology is to contribute in a thoughtful way to the ongoing body image/body identity conversation by gathering a chorus of strong voices and asking them to tell the story of their bodies.

We hope to bring this project and this anthology to social media and to educators, so that we may reach those people in every corner of the globe who are suffering in silence, who feel alone in their struggle for identity, who feel betrayed by their body, those who desperately need to redefine “beautiful.”

After you submit, contribute to the social conversation using the hashtag #MyBodyMyWords and we’ll share/RT you: After you submit, share our publishing call via Twitter at @MyBodyMyWords

Now, let the writing begin.

The Prompt:

I have loved my body, feared my body, hated my body, and have changed my body. My body has been lusted after, scorned, chastised, punished, and revered. My body is innately female. Moving with the tides, softening against the rocks of an ever-changing coastline. My body is woman. But, my body has never had a say in the matter.

If your body could talk, what would it say? What does it want? What voice would you assign the vessel in which you love and breathe?

**We are looking for stories/personal essays about your relationship to your body between 500-1000 words. Whether that be a story about the shape and size of your body, an illness that has claimed your body, an act of violence committed to your body, or the greatest love your body has ever known. We are looking for stories of sexuality and identity. Who are you without your body? Does the shape of the vessel determine its contents? We are looking for stories of love and lust, or waiting and weight-ing. Who has loved your body? Have you?**

These guidelines are general, we know. We want to see where you go with this theme. Interpret this prompt as widely as you’d like. We can’t wait to see what you come up with!

Amye Archer & Loren Kleinman, Editors

Ends on August 31, 2017






September 22, 2016

September 22, 2016





Common and

Stevie Wonder

Put Black Pain on Display

in ‘Black America Again’






As America’s black communities mourn more lives taken at the hands of police this week, Common and Stevie Wonder have released a protest song with a video that spotlights their pain. “Black America Again” is the title track to Common’s next album and its video opens with the disturbing footage of Alton Sterling’s murder. From there, it zeroes in on the trauma that stirs in black people who repeatedly have to bear witness to these killings in videos that are almost impossible to avoid. Using the footage certainly makes a point, but with that aftershock in mind, you have to wonder if it really was worth including.


After viewing footage of Alton Sterling’s death for the first time, Roxane Gay wrote, “I watched even though it was voyeuristic, and in doing so I made myself complicit in the spectacle of black death.” But she continued: “It is horrifying, and even though I feel so resigned, so hopeless, so out of words in the face of such brutal injustice, I take some small comfort in still being able to be horrified and brought to tears.” Using Sterling’s murder to promote a song feels exploitative, but there’s also value in not allowing anyone to hide from it.

Just this week brought a new video of a black person’s death, and that’s Common’s point: This “cycle of despair” doesn’t end just because we stop watching or no one’s there to film it. Perhaps the only way to rewrite the Black American story, as Stevie Wonder sings of his hope, is to keep bearing witness to both black death and, just as importantly, the ways it affects those black lives still breathing.




SEP 22, 2016

SEP 22, 2016



Fans know that when a new Beyoncé, Kanye or Diplo track drops, it will likely contain a musical sample — an instrumental or vocal nugget from a song of yesteryear. That nugget will be rearranged, looped or otherwise given new context. Drake’s “Hotline Bling,” for example, didn’t just introduce us to an unusual dance style; its sped-up sampling of an 1972 R&B hit reintroduced the world to Timmy Thomas and the distinctive beat of “Why Can’t We Live Together.”

There’s one song that’s been sampled far more than any other, according to one measure. The website, whose audience obsessively tracks what’s sampled, says that a 1960s track called “Amen, Brother” by The Winstons is the most-sampled track in history, and it’s not particularly close. By its count, more than 2,000 songs have sampled a particular drum beat from “Amen, Brother” that’s now known as the Amen Break. As you play the clip below, you can hear the The Winstons’ drummer, G.C. Coleman, play the kick drums, snare drums and cymbals in a funky four-bar pattern.

But what is it about a 47-year-old, six-second drum solo from a relatively unknown soul band that’s given it musical immortality? The answer involves the invention of two new musical genres, a new piece of technology and a power blackout.

1 Amen, Brother The Winstons 1969 2,239
2 Change the Beat (Female Version) Beside 1982 1,853
3 Think (About It) Lyn Collins 1972 1,588
4 Funky Drummer James Brown 1970 1,302
5 La Di Da Di Doug E. Fresh 1985 794
6 Funky President (People It’s Bad) James Brown 1974 736
7 Bring the Noise Public Enemy 1987 686
8 Synthetic Substitution Melvin Bliss 1973 658
9 Impeach the President The Honey Drippers 1973 650
10 Here We Go (Live at the Funhouse) Run-DMC 1985 635
Most sampled tracks


Every day, fanatical music lovers identify hundreds of samples from songs old and new and add them wiki-style to the database of Chris Read, the head of content there, vets each new entry with his team of moderators before it makes it onto the site.1 Over the last eight years, more than 400,000 songs featuring more than 225,000 samples have been cleared. Until last year, the Amen Break was running neck and neck for the most sampled spot with a vocal sample from Fab 5 Freddy and Beside’s “Change the Beat,” which features a distorted version of someone saying the phrase, “Ahhh, this stuff is really fresh.” But as the WhoSampled database has expanded out of its hip-hop roots to cover other genres over the last few years, the Amen Break has taken the clear lead due to its versatility. Artists who have used the break include early hip-hop acts such as N.W.A., electronic music pioneers The Prodigy, the heavy metal band Slipknot, Janet Jackson — even David Bowie.

According to early hip-hop producer Louis “BreakBeat Lou” Flores, DJ legend Afrika Bambaataa was the one who first broke out the “Amen Break.” It was in the late-1970s, and DJ culture had just gotten a fingerhold in New York City. The first MCs — impresarios such as Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and Bambaataa himself — had started spinning their favorite tracks at clubs and parties, inspiring their young followers with a treasure trove of danceable beats. These MCs were already highly competitive with one another; they hoarded their favorite albums and masked the identity of their favorite tracks (much easier to do in the pre-Shazam days).

That competition was taken to another level after the NYC blackout of 1977. The oft-told story goes that widespread looting of electronic shops led to a proliferation of otherwise prohibitively expensive turntables and other audio equipment into poorer neighborhoods in the Bronx and Brooklyn; as a result, the number of DJs multiplied overnight.

MCs looking for an edge had to dig even deeper into the archives of rock, funk and Motown records that supplied their beats. Flores, who MC’d with Bambaataa, said that Bambaataa had found the track “Amen, Brother” on the B-side of a once-popular 1969 soul record by The Winstons, and kept it in his secret stash. (Attempts to reach Bambaataa, who has recently been accused of having committed sexual abuse in the 1980s, through his lawyer were unsuccessful.) The whole song was eminently danceable, but the party really got going during that six-second drum break a minute and a half into the track. Flores said Bambaataa would slow the break down — going from a 45 rpm to 33⅓ rpm — and play it again and again as B-Boys (or “break boys”) tore it up on the dance floor.

In 1981, Flores, just 15 years old at the time, and his business partner, Lenny Roberts, decided to show off the diversity of early hip-hop influences by collecting their favorite songs into one record, and in doing so revealed Bambaataa’s secret. In addition to “Do the Funky Penguin” by Rufus Thomas and “Mary, Mary” by The Monkees, their record “Ultimate Breaks & Beats” included “Amen, Brother” — with the slowed-down version of the Amen Break.

Flores said that at first “Ultimate Breaks & Beats” sold modestly — mainly to club DJs — but in 1984 a new recording technology called a sampler made it possible to layer music samples throughout songs. A sampler was basically a fancy tape recorder that allowed anyone to record a sound and play it again and again at different pitches at the touch of a button. All of a sudden, musicians of all stripes started hunting down their favorite breaks, and “Ultimate Breaks and Beats” became a hot seller once again. By 1986, there was enough demand to re-release the album, the first in a series of 25 volumes of “Ultimate Breaks & Beats” that Flores would produce.

Electronic/dance 1,984
Hip-hop/R&B 127
Rock/pop 57
Soundtrack 44
Other 20
Number of songs that sample ‘Amen, Brother’ by genre

The soundtrack category largely contains songs from video game soundtracks.


By the early 1990s, the Amen Break wasn’t just being used by acts such as Rob Base and Heavy D, it had become one of the foundational beats of an entirely new electronic dance music genre: jungle. Jungle artists often sped up the break, sliced it up into individual drum hits, rearranged it, and played it for minutes at a time while layering techno, reggae and a melting pot of other sounds on top of it. Because the Amen Break is a short, drums-only breakbeat, it sounds good at all sorts of speeds and with all sorts of alterations, making it easy to loop and quite adaptable to all sorts of genres. “You can whack basically any sample, loop, synth or bassline over it, and it’ll sound ‘good,’” said Yoël Bego by email. Bego creates all sorts of electronic dance music under the DJ name Coco Bryce and used the break in his new track “Massiv.” Even after Jungle’s popularity started to ebb before 2000, the Amen Break kept the beat.


But there are lots of drums-only, easily alterable breakbeats out there that could work; what makes the Amen special? A lot of artists seem to think that there’s something special about the drumming itself; Flores calls them “big dirty drums.”

“Amen has a kind of swing — a lot of character,” said Read, an accomplished DJ and producer himself. “There’s a lot going on between the kicks and snares.”

“There aren’t many recordings that are so distorted but still sound so good,” adds Boris English, a Jungle DJ who goes by the stagename Borai and has used the Amen Break in tracks including Never As Good and The Seeker. “If you try and re-record the break played exactly the same by another drummer it never sounds as good.”

G.C. Coleman, The Winstons’ drummer who actually played the original Amen Break, never made any money from its popularity; he died homeless in 2006. His bandmate in The Winstons, front man Richard Spencer, also did not benefit from the widespread use of his band’s music. But in 2015, a couple of British DJs launch a GoFundMe drive asking people who have benefited from the Amen Break to give back. Two versions of the drive have now netted Spencer almost $33,000.

Once you’ve got the distinctive beat of the Amen Break in your head, you can hear it in all sorts of places: it’s cropped up in the “Futurama” theme song, on the title screen of “The Powerpuff Girls,” on “SimCity 4,” even in Jeep ads. While some of its latent popularity is likely due to nostalgia — or perhaps even a result of an industrywide in-joke a la the Wilhelm scream — Read thinks that it’s now simply become a standard go-to in many studios. “A lot of producers use it without having known they used it,” he said.

David Goldenberg writes a column about extremes for FiveThirtyEight.