Kalamu ya Salaam's information blog


photo by Alex Lear

photo by Alex Lear





a bunch of us were astral traveling, pulsating on the flow of a wicked elvinesque polyrhythmic 6/8 groove. although our physical eyes had disappeared from our faces, we still had wry eyebrows arched like quarter moons or miniature ram’s horns. every molecule of our thirsty skin was a sensitive ear drinking in the vibes. at each stroke of sweat-slicked drumstick on skins, our wings moved in syncopated grace. shimmering cymbal vibrations illuminated the night so green bright we could feel the trembling emerald through the soles of our feet. deep red pulsing bass sounds throbbed from our left brain lobes, lifting us and shooting us quickly across the eons. we moved swiftly as comets, quiet as singing starlight. 


as we neared the motherwomb, firefly angels came out to escort us to the inner sanctum. with eager anticipation i smelled a banquet of hip, growling, intense quarter notes when we entered the compound. a hand carved, coconut shell bowl brimming with hot melodies radiating a tantalizing aroma sat steaming at each place setting, heralding our arrival. whenever i rode this deeply into the music, i would never want to return back to places of broken notes and no natural drums.


on my way here i heard nidia who was in a prison in el salvador. she had been shot, captured. her tormentors were torturing her with continuous questions, sleep deprivation, psychological cruelty, and assassination attempts against her family. she sang songs to stay strong. singing in prison, i dug that.  


once we made touchdown, we kissed the sweetearth (which tasted like three parts blackstrap molasses and one part chalky starch with a dash of sharply tart orange rind) and smeared red clay in our hair. then lay in the sun for a few days listening to duke ellington every morning before bathing. i was glad to see otis redding flashing his huge carefree smiles and splashing around in the blue lagoon. finally after hugging the baobab tree (the oldest existing life force) for twenty-four hours we were ready to glide inside and hang with the children again. whenever one returned from planet earth, we had to take a lot of precautions. you never know what kinds of human logic you might be infected with. since i had spent most of my last assignment checking out far flung galaxies, on my first examination i was able to dance through the scanner with nary a miscue. my soul was cool.


i only had ten centuries to recuperate before returning to active rotation so i was eager to eat. the house was a buzz with vibrations. a hefty-thighed cook came in and tongue kissed each of us seated at the mahogony table, male and female, young and old, whatever. that took about six centuries. she was moving on cp time and when i tasted her kiss i understood why. 


up close her skin was deeper than a sunken slave ship and glowed with the glitter of golddust pressed across her brow and on the sides of her face just above her cheekline. she wore a plum-sized chunk of orangish-yellow amber as a pendant held in place by a chain braided from the mane of a four hundred pound lion. her head was divided into sixteen sectors each with a ball of threaded hair tied in nubian knots, each knot exactly the same size as the spherical amber perfectly poised in the hollow of her throat. i was so stunned by the beauty force of her haunting entrance, i had to chant to calm myself.


“drink deeply the water from an ancient well.” was all she said as she spun in slow circles. tiny bells dangled between the top of the curvaceous protrudence of her posterior and the bottom of the concavity of the arch in the small of her back where it met her waist and flared outward to the expanse of her sturdy hips. suspended from a cord she wore around her waist, the hand carved, solid gold bells gave off a tiny but distinctive jingle which rose and fell with each step. 


emanating a bluegreen aura of contentment, she didn’t look like she had ever, in any of her many lifetimes, done anything compromising such as vote for a capitalist (of whatever color) or succumb to the expediency of accepting any system of domination. she didn’t say a word, instead she hummed without disrupting the smiling fullness of her lips. she wasn’t ashame of her big feet as she stepped flatfootedly around the table, a slender gold ring on the big toe of each foot.


her almond shaped, kola nut colored eyes sauntered up to each of our individualities, sight read our diverse memories and swam in the sea of whatever sorrows we had experienced. she silently drank all our bitter tears and became pregnant with our hopes. she looked like she had never ever worn clothes and instead had spent her whole life moving about in the glorious garment of a nudity so natural she seemed like a miracle you had to prepare yourself to witness as she innocently and righteously strode through the sun, moon and star light. 


when she neared me she effortlessly slinked into a crouched, garden tending posture and, with sharp thrusting arm movements, choreographed an improvised welcome dance (how else, except by improvisation, could her movements mirror everything i was thinking?). placing my ear to her distended stomach, i guessed six months. she arched her back. a ring shout undulated out of her womb. i got so excited i had to sit on my wings to keep still. 


when she stood up to her full six foot height with her lithe arms akimbo, i coudn’t help responding. i got an erection when she placed her hand on the top of my head. she laughed at my arousal. 


“drink your soup, silly” she teased me and then laughed again, while gently tracing her fingers across my face, down the side of my neck and swiftly brushing my upper torso, briefly petting the hummingbird rapidity of my chest muscle twitches. and then the program began. 


a few years after monk danced in, coltrane said the blessing in his characteristic slow solemn tone. you know how coltrane talks. as usual, he didn’t eat much. but we were filled with wonder anyway. then bob chrisman from the black scholar gave a short speech on one becomes two when the raindrop splits. everybody danced in appreciation of his insights. 


when we resumed our places, the child next to me reflected aloud, “always remember you are a starchild. you will become any reality that you get with unless you influence that reality to become you. we have no power but osmosis and vibrations. as long as you don’t forget your essence, it’s alright to live inside something else.” the child hugged me while extrapolating chrisman’s message.


a voice on the intercom was calling for volunteers to help move the mountain. even though i wasn’t through with my soup and still had a couple of centuries left, i rose immediately. i had drunk enough to imagine going up against the people who couldn’t clap on two and four. “earth is very dangerous” the voice intoned. “the humans have the power to induce both amnesia and psychic dislocation.” 


the child smiled at me and sang “i’ll wait for you where human eyes have never seen.” we only had time to sing 7,685 choruses because i had to hurry to earth. our spirits there were up against some mighty powerful forces and the ngoma badly needed reinforcements. but i took a couple of months to thank the chef for sitting me next to the child.


“no thanx needed. i simply gave back to you what you gave to me.” then in a divine gesture she lovingly touched each of my four sacred drums: head, heart, gut and groin. cupping them warmly in both her hands, she slow kissed an eternal rhythm into each. before i could say anything she was gone, humming the child’s song “…where human eyes have never seen, i’ll wait for you. i’ll wait for you.”


i got to earth shortly after 1947 started. people were still making music then. back in 1999 machines manufactured music. real singing was against the law. 


walking down the street one day i saw what i assumed was a soul sister. she was humming a simple song. i sensed she was possibly one of us. she looked like a chef except with chemically altered hair on her mind instead of black puffs of natural nubianity. i spoke anyway. she walked right through me.


i turned around to see where she had gone. but she was gone. i looked up and i was on the bandstand. i was billie holiday. every pain i ever felt  was sobbing out of my throat. i looked at my black and blue face. the fist splotches from where my man had hit me. 


“I’d rather 

for my man 

to hit me, 



            for him 


to jump 


and quit me.” i sang through the pain of a broken jaw. 


“have you ever loved somebody who didn’t know how to love you?” i asked the audience. in what must have been some kind of american ritual, everyone held up small, round hand mirrors and intently peered into their looking glass. the music stopped momentarily as if i had stumbled into a bucket of moonlit blood. my left leg started trembling. every word felt like it was ripped from my throat with pieces of my flesh hanging off each note. i almost fainted from the pain, but i couldn’t stop singing because whenever i paused, even if only for a moment, the thought of suicide pressed me to the canvas. and you know i couldn’t lay there waiting for the eight count, knocked out like some chump. i was stronger than these earthlings. i had to get up and keep on singing, but to keep on making music took so much energy. i was almost exhausted. and when i stopped the pain was deafening. exhausting to sing. painful to stop. this was a far heavier experience than i had foreseen.


i kept singing but i also felt myself growing weaker. drained. “i say have you ever given your love to a rascal that didn’t give a damn about you?” this was insane. when would i be able to stop? there was so much money being exchanged that i was having a hard time breathing. i could feel my soul growing dimmer, the pain beginning to creep through even while i was singing. so this is what the angels meant by “hell is being silenced by commerce.” legal tender was choking me.


for a moment i felt human, but luckily the band started playing again. some lame colored cat had crawled up on the stage and was thawing out frozen conservatory school cliches. made my bunions groan. but i guess when you’re human you got to go through a lot of trial and error. especially when you’re young in earth years. the whole time i was on that scene i felt sorry for the children. most of them had never seen their parents make love.


humans spend a lot of their early years playing all kinds of games to prepare themselves to play all kinds of games when they grow up. the childrearing atmosphere was so dense the only thing little people could do was lie awake naked under the covers and play with themselves but only whenever the adults weren’t watching cause if those poor kids got caught touching each other, they were beaten. can you imagine that? 


damn, i thought smelly horn wasn’t ever going to stop, prez had to pull his coat, “hey shorty, don’t take so long to say so little.”


as soon as the cat paused, i jumped in “have you ever loved somebody…” yes, i had volunteered, but i had no idea making music on earth would be this taxing.


when our set ended, i stumbled from the stand totally disoriented. by now i almost needed to constantly make music in order to twirl my gyroscope and keep it spinning. after the set, i found it very difficult to act like a human and sit still while talking to the customers. i kept wanting to hover and hum. but i went through the changes, even did an interview.


“the only way out is to go through it all” i found myself saying to an english reporter who was looking at me with insane eyes. 


he did his best to sing. “you’ve been hurt by white people in america and i want to let you know that there are white people who love and respect you.” i could hear his eyes as clear as sid catlett’s drum. i appreciated his attempts but those were some stiff-assed paradiddles he was beating. the youngster was still in his teens and offered me a handkerchief to wipe the pain off my face. i waved it away, that little bandana wouldn’t even dry up so much as one teardrop of my sadness. at that moment what i really needed was a lift cause the scene was a drag. 


“the only way to go through it all is to go through it all. yaknow. survive it and sing about it.” i said holding the side of my head in the cup of my hand and speaking with my eyes half closed and focused on nothing in particular.


“why sing about it?” he said eager as a pig snouting around for truffles (even though he wasn’t french, i could see he had sex on his mind).


“cause if you keep the pain within you’ll explode.” he reached for his wallet about to offer me money. for sure he was a hopeless case. once i dug he didn’t understand creativity, i switched to sociology. “millions of people been molested as children.” he had been there, done that. he was starting to catch my drift. “men been beating on women. you know i was a slave. that means i was violated. that means i was broke down. that means i would lay there and take it. in and out. lay there. still. i have heard reports that i was a prostitute. but i never sold myself just for money, i lay down because there was no room to stand up. in and out. in and out. til finally, they ejaculated. and finished. for the moment, for the night… til… whenever.” i looked up and his mind was on the other side of the room; i had lost him again.


poor child doesn’t have a clue. that’s why he’s looking all pitiful at me. i couldn’t find a way to unfold the whole to him. i wanted to say more but their language couldn’t make the changes. he will probably write a treatise on the downtrodden negro in tomorrow’s paper. 


sho-nuff, next day–quote:


So-and-so is an incredibly gifted Black American animal. People were actually crying in the audience when she howled “No Body’s Bizness” in the voice of a neutered dog. This reporter is a registered theorist on why White people are fascinated by listening to the sounds of their victims’ pathetic crying. I had the rare opportunity to interview the jazzy chick.  Although she was not very familiar with the basic principles of grammar, I managed to get a few words from her illiterateness once she took some dope which I had been advised to offer her.

I asked her what harmonic system she employed? My publisher had authorized me to offer her music lessons. I quote her answer verbatim.

“I sing because, like the Funky Butt Brass Band used to holler, you got to open up the window and let the bad air out.”

That was it. When I turned off my voice stealing machine, she said “I got a lot of s–t in me. If I don’t get it out, I’ll die.”

If she doesn’t die first, there will be a concert tonight. Cheeri-O. 




i couldn’t wait to get back to the motherwomb… 


But, just as I was about to fly, I woke up. I was cuddled next to Nia’s nakedness, her back to me, my arm embracing her breasts, and my leg thrown up in touch with the arc of her thighs.


I stared into the deep acorn brown of her braided hair. I couldn’t see anything in the unlighted room except the contours of the coiled beautiful darkness of her braids. After a few seconds the sweet familar scent of the hair oil she used began lulling me back to sleep.


Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough sleep time left to continue my flight dreams. And I spent the rest of the day trying to decide… no, not decide, but remember. I spent the rest of the day trying to remember whether I was a human who dreamed he was something else or was indeed something else doing a temporary duty assignment here on planet earth.


 —kalamu ya salaam




afro blue


We had so much fun at our recent photo shoot that we decided to turn it into a home video for our TOB debut single, “I Feel Good.” To purchase this song, visit…. And be sure to check out our Facebook page to learn about making your own “feel-good” video at

Find out more about Traces of Blue (formerly Afro Blue of NBC’s “The Sing-Off”) at

Special thanks to David Johnson for this photo shoot and Marty Gasper for mixing/editing the song.








africa in words

Call For Papers: RAL Journal

(Deadline 15 March 2015) 

RAL Special Issue on Interrogating the “Post-Nation” in
African Literary Writing: Globalities and Localities

Guest Editor: Madhu Krishnan

What is Africa? Where is Africa written and in whose image is Africa constructed? These questions have become commonplace refrains in discussions surrounding African literary writing, appearing on the pages of scholarly journals, at large-scale celebrations of African writing around the globe, and through often-vitriolic debates held in cyberspace. Despite, or indeed because of, the global expansion of anglophone African literature over the last ten years, the tensions that mediate the fraught relationship between aesthetic and political representation in the dissemination of this body of work remain as acute as ever.

At the center of the debates and conflicts that mark the continued emergence of African literatures in a global literary market has been the role of the nation and the author’s position within it. Helon Habila, in a Guardian review of NoViolet Bulawayo’s Booker prize-nominated We Need New Names, for instance, castigates the appearance of what he calls an “aesthetic of suffering” in African literature, an aesthetics which, he argues, evokes “pity and fear, but not in a real tragic sense, more in a CNN, Western-media-coverage-of-Africa, poverty-porn sense,” pandering to an authorized global image of Africa. Instead, Habila calls for writers of African literatures to strive toward what he terms a post-nationalist aesthetic as “the best potential [for African writing] to liberate itself from the often predictable, almost obligatory obsession of the African writer with the nation and with national politics.”

While not unwarranted as a commentary on the voyeuristic aesthetics that have enveloped much contemporary African fiction published in North America and Europe, Habila’s comments have not been without rebuttal. Brian Bwesigye, writing on the influential African arts blog This Is Africa, for instance, accuses Habila of imposing his own “single story” (c.f. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s now-famous TED talk) on the continent through an insistence on what Ghanaian writer Taiye Selasi has dubbed “Afropolitianism”, a sense of simultaneously situated and diffuse cosmopolitanism particular to Africa. Indeed, Bwesigye highlights the importance, for writers from the continent, of engaging with the social and political issues most pressing to their respective localities, no matter how bleak, a view seemingly supported by the emergence of locally based and nationally rooted independent publishers across Africa.

Taking Habila’s comments and the responses they have engendered as its premise, this special issue invites papers that explore the following questions:

  • What does it mean to suggest that African writing today is “post-nationalist?”
  • Is post-nationalist the same as post-national?
  • How does the ethnonation interact with the notion of post-nationalist African writing?
  • Under the imperatives of transnational capital, what forms of “post-nationalism” are available to the African writer?
  • Has the label “African writer” outgrown its utility?
  • What sorts of localities and globalities are being constructed in writing from the African continent?
  • Can we make distinctions between “local” and “global” African literatures?
  • Is the notion of the post-national inherently incompatible with a literary vision bounded within the nation?
  • How do language, location, and aesthetic forms contribute to the vision of the (post)-nation in African literature today?

Proposals are welcomed for papers within the field of literature, but also film, music, and the visual arts. Comparative and cross-geographical approaches are particularly welcomed, as are papers that take a critical view toward the construction of the “global” and the “local.”

All finished manuscripts are expected to conform to the standard RAL guidelines published in every issue of the journal. Abstracts of no more than 500 words are due by March 15, 2015 and notification of selection will be made by April 30, 2015. Final papers are due November 2015 and will be subject to peer review. The guest editor encourages potential contributors to establish early contact via email to (Madhu Krishnan).

Click here for further information on the Research in African Literatures Journal









caribbean commons

The Performance of


The Performance of Pan-Africanism: from Colonial Exhibitions to Black and African Cultural Festivals

20-22 October, 2016
Winthrop-King Institute for Contemporary French and Francophone Studies
Florida State University

CFP deadline: Submit proposals electronically here by 1 February 2016.

Call for Papers:

In April 1966, thousands of artists, musicians, performers and writers from across Africa and its diaspora gathered in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, to take part in the First World Festival of Black and African Culture (Premier Festival Mondial des arts nègres). The festival constituted a highly symbolic moment both in the era of decolonization and the push for civil rights for African Americans in the United States. In essence, the festival sought to perform an emerging pan-African culture, to give concrete cultural expression to the ties that would bind the African ‘homeland’ to black people in the diaspora. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Dakar ’66, this conference seeks to examine the festival and its multiple legacies, in order to help us better to understand both the utopianism of the 1960s and the ‘festivalization’ of Africa that has occurred in recent decades. The conference is also interested in exploring the role of colonial exhibitions and world’s fairs in establishing a set of representational frameworks that would later be contested but also sometimes (unwittingly) adopted by black/African groups in the aftermath of the Second World War.

The Dakar festival was the first, and one of the most significant, attempts to perform and translate African culture in the era of decolonization, forging in the space of the festivalscape a rich, multifaceted, ephemeral, unstable but highly charged sense of a shared Pan-African culture. The conference is interested in exploring whether cultural Pan-Africanism as posited in postcolonial festivals acted as a complete rejection of the representations of blackness in colonial exhibitions or whether it sometimes in fact continued such tropes, and if so, how?

The festival was organized in the middle of a period extending from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s during which a wide range of cultural, sporting and political organizations were created, and major events were held, all of which were informed by Pan-Africanist ideals. In terms of festivals alone, the 1966 Dakar event was followed by hugely ambitious Pan-African cultural festivals in Algiers (Algeria) in 1969 and in Lagos (Nigeria) in 1977. From an early twenty-first century perspective, the Pan-African ethos of the period appears strikingly utopian. Nonetheless, the Pan-African ideal has endured, in particular in the domain of culture. Indeed, it might be argued that it was the series of cultural festivals organized in the aftermath of decolonization that marked the most meaningful articulations of Pan-Africanism. As was argued above, these festivals witnessed the ‘performance’ of a Pan-African culture, and they facilitated concrete encounters between Africans and members of the diaspora that forged a new and profound sense of cultural affiliation. For instance, in his autobiography, Music is my Mistress (1973), the great US jazz musician Duke Ellington wrote of his performance in Dakar in 1966: ‘the cats in the bleachers really dig it. […] It is acceptance of the highest level and it gives us a once-in-a-lifetime feeling of having broken through to our brothers’.

If Pan-African cultural festivals of the 1960s and 1970s were marked by a profound utopianism, over the past five decades, we have witnessed a growing festivalization of culture across the world from which Africa has not been exempt. There are now literally thousands of festivals held across the continent each year and, in such a context, it is important to assess whether any of the idealism of the past has survived. In 2010, a Third World Festival of Black and African Arts and Culture (widely known as FESMAN) was held in Dakar. For Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade, organizing FESMAN was a process of looking to the future but also of renewing with an idealistic, utopian Pan-Africanist past, which was primarily articulated through evocations of the 1966 Dakar festival, indicating that processes of recuperation, nostalgia and amnesia play a major role when we engage today with landmark but ephemeral cultural events from the past.

Potential topics for papers might include:

  • The role of colonial exhibitions/world fairs in establishing parameters for the representation and performance of black/African culture.
  • The role of earlier events—e.g. the 1956 (Paris) and 1959 (Rome) African Writers’ Congresses, the Makerere Writers’ conference in 1962, the First International Congress of African Art and Culture (ICAC) organized by Frank McEwen et al in Salisbury in 1962—in paving the way for the 1966 festival and those that followed.
  • Case studies drawn from any of the 4 major pan-African festivals of the 1960s-70s: The First World Festival of Black and African Culture 1966; The Algiers Pan-African Cultural Festival 1969; The black music festival held in conjunction with the Rumble in the Jungle (Kinshasa, 1974); The Second World Festival of Black and African Culture (Lagos, 1977).
  • The relationship between cultural festivals and the major Pan-African political gatherings of the twentieth century (e.g. the various Pan-African congresses, the creation of the Organisation for African Unity)
  • Competing visions of Africa: e.g. the attacks on Negritude in Algiers; tensions between Nigerians and Senegalese before the Lagos festival regarding the inclusion of North Africa.
  • (Pan-)African cultural festivals outside of Africa.
  • How is the Caribbean history of cultural festivals like Carifesta related to and articulated with similar events in continental Africa?
  • Does the Caribbean phenomenon of carnival function as an articulation of pan-Africanism?
  • Recuperation, nostalgia, amnesia
  • Does festivalization necessarily connote the commodification of culture?
  • How do festivals articulate the relationship between “High” and “Popular” culture?
  • Cultural pan-Africanism and Political Pan-Africanism
  • The performance of identity
  • Diasporic engagements with African culture in these festivals
  • Print and other media representations of the festivals

Keynote speakers: Andrew Apter (UCLA), Cheryl Finley (Cornell University), Souleymane Bachir Diagne (Columbia University)

Co-organizers: Tsitsi Jaji (University of Pennsylvania), Martin Munro (FSU), David Murphy (University of Stirling)

Proposals for panels and papers may be submitted on the conference web page:

Deadline for proposals: 1 February 2016.

For further information, please contact








fire ink



OCT. 8-11, 2015

2015 Call for Proposals

Fire & Ink, Incorporated is devoted to increasing the understanding, visibility and awareness of works of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and same gender loving writers of African descent and heritage. As part of our mission, Fire & Ink sponsors a writers’ conference and we invite proposals for workshops and panel discussions from our communities’ writers, teachers, thinkers and critics.


Fire & Ink IV: Witness will begin on Thursday, October 8th, 2015 and conclude on Sunday, National Coming Out Day, October 11th, 2015.

Fire & Ink IV: Witness will convene hundreds of LGBTQ and SGL writers of African descent whose work spans the genres, including: fiction, nonfiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, screenwriting, journalism, blogging, playwriting, multimedia arts and performance arts. Attendees will include writers, scholars, editors, publishers, curators, performers, students, teachers, thinkers, media professionals, readers and art lovers.

Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have. —James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

Fire & Ink IV: Witness will address the urgent question of what it means to bear witness as LGBTQ and SGL writers of African descent and heritage in the 21st century. Merriam-Webster offers these definitions of “witness”: One that gives evidence. One who is present at an event and can say that it happened. One who testifies in a cause. An attestation of fact. One who has personal knowledge of something. Public affirmation by word or example of usually religious faith or conviction. Thus we invite Black LGBTQ and SGL writers and artists to assay their own definitions of witness. How do we testify in this time of rapid local, national and global transformation (sometimes two steps forward, sometimes two steps back) around issues of race, gender, class, sexual orientation and expression, social justice and the culture of fear? How do we bear physical or psychic witness to and for characters and events we develop from our imaginations, the day’s headlines or the zeitgeist? What responsibility do writers have to be political, activist, broadly accessible or relevant? As writers, how do we leverage advancing technology to both gather and create evidence as well as disseminate art in a changing (perhaps shrinking/perhaps expanding) marketplace? Fire & Ink IV: Witness will raise numerous questions about the individual considered in light of the community, the social versus the political, the physical versus the digital and the established compared to the emergent.

Fire & Ink IV: Witness aims to:

  •   Assemble and empower a body of writers dedicated to their craft and to nurturing, developing, expanding and exploiting arenas of creative expression, artistic marketplaces and literary and cultural trends.
  •   Foster innovation and more closely bind our literary community.
  •   Teach, inspire and encourage each other while creating lasting alliances.
  •   Discuss the position and importance of black LGBTQ and SGL literature, culture and artistic expression in the context of national and world events, literature and art.
  •   Develop and implement strategies to encourage universities, libraries, mainstream and independent bookstores and other venues to integrate more LGBTQ and SGL literature and artwork created by writers of African descent within and outside of traditional curricula and offerings.
  •   Plan and share opportunities for professional and artistic growth.If you’re interested in being part of the conversation at Fire & Ink IV: Witness, submit an abstract not exceeding 1,000 words by February 15, 2015 to let us know what you’re thinking and ensure priority consideration. Abstracts should be e-mailed to

    Please include the following in your Abstract Proposal:

  •   Title of the Workshop, Panel or Plenary Session
  •   Organizer
    o (including proposed participants)
  •   Abstract (1000 words maximum)
  •   Abstract Deadline: February 15, 2015.
  •   Full Proposal Deadline: April 15, 2015.Possible subjects for workshops, panels and plenary sessions fall into three categories:

1. How-to workshops

Examples: memoir writing, the craft of poetry, screenwriting, song writing, the elements of short fiction, honing your YA fiction, chapbook production, starting a book club, finding voice, organizing readings. “Beginning” through “Advanced” workshops sought.

2. Publishing, publicity and marketing

Examples: manuscript review and the submissions process, electronic publication, blogging, print-on-demand, website development, book marketing, securing an agent, finding a publisher.

3. This historical moment—looking back, now and forward

Examples: Bearing Witness in “Post-Racial” America; Whither the Fear of AIDS; YA Fiction in the Age of Marriage Equality; Literature and Activism; The Transition Memoir; On the Disappearance of Books—For Whom Do We Write; New Writers/New Voices: What’s New Under the Sun; From Stage to Page and Back; Teaching Black LGBTQ and SGL Poetics and Literature; Gender/queering Genre; Writing Through Disease and the Spectre of Dying; The Literature of Iconoclasm and the Rupture of Taboo.

Please note that these are only examples; feel free to submit completely different ideas for workshops, panels and plenary sessions.

For Full Proposals:

Please title your workshop, panel or plenary and include a brief bio for each presenter, along with a one- paragraph description that includes the following information: what questions are you exploring, why is this conversation timely and necessary, how will the workshop, panel or plenary further the goals of Fire & Ink IV: Witness; how are you uniquely qualified to lead your proposed workshop, panel or plenary and any special audiovisual or technical requests for your presentation. (NOTE: Presenters should bring their own laptops.) If proposing a workshop, specify workshop duration; panel session length is 1.5 to 2 hours.

  •   Include full contact information for applicant.
  •   Abstract Deadline: February 15, 2015.
  •   Full Proposal Deadline: April 15, 2015.
  •   E-mail proposals to, with subject heading “RFP: Witness.”
  •   We will acknowledge receipt of your proposal within 48 hours.
  •   Each applicant is limited to three proposals.
    We will notify applicants about proposal acceptance by May 15, 2015. Travel and hotel may be covered byFire & Ink, Inc.
    For more information about Fire & Ink, Inc., visit










US media coverage

of Michelle Obama’s

Saudi Arabia trip

isn’t just wrong

— it’s racist





New Saudi King Salman, at right, with Michelle Obama at a ceremony in Saudi Arabia / SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty

New Saudi King Salman, at right, with Michelle Obama at a ceremony in Saudi Arabia / SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty

As soon as President Obama and Michelle Obama arrived in Saudi Arabia this week for the funeral of Saudi King Abdullah, it was inevitable that there would be a nonsense media controversy of some kind over the visit, and it didn’t take long. There is a growing tempest of coverage over Michelle Obama’s decision to not wear a veil to the funeral.

Here’s the story, as you will encounter it throughout the American media: Saudi Arabia is an ultra-conservative country where Saudi women have second-class status, which includes mandatory veiling while in public (this is true). Michelle, by not wearing a veil at this high-profile diplomatic event, was either taking a principled stand on behalf on women’s rights, or she was openly defying the dictatorial Saudi monarchs, or she was insulting a close American ally. Whatever her intention, it caused an uproar throughout Saudi Arabia, and it probably infuriated her hosts.

But those narratives are all false, on specific factual grounds as well as broader conceptual grounds. Declarations that she made a “bold political statement” don’t just exist in a bizarrely fact-free environment, they perpetuate American misconceptions about Saudi Arabia and the Arab world that are fundamentally racist, rooted in the idea that Arabs are such inherently backward cavemen that even top government leaders would be somehow shocked to see an unveiled woman.

Since no one else seems interested in presenting them (the truth doesn’t matter when it comes to covering Saudi Arabia, for some reason), here are some actual facts about this story and what they mean:

  1. American officials in Saudi Arabia typically do not wear headscarves, including at formal government functions. Michelle was following normal protocol.
  2. Former first ladies Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton did not wear headscarves on similar official visits to Saudi Arabia. Neither did former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
  3. Saudi Arabia is officially ultra-conservative, but it is also heavily integrated into the global economy; unveiled Western women are extremely common in elite government circles like this one. Unveiled female Western leaders are common sights on Saudi media.
  4. I feel very confident that no one at the funeral blinked at seeing Michelle Obama unveiled. Saudi royals are comfortable with the West and with Western customs; many spend long parts of the year in Europe and a number were educated in American boarding schools or colleges. They are accustomed to seeing unveiled women, and to working and interacting with powerful women.
  5. Despite reports of a Saudi social media backlash against the first lady for going unveiled, tweets complaining about her appearance appear to have been quite limited. As the Wall Street Journal’s Ahmed Al Omran put it, “Saudi has millions of Twitter users. When a few hundred of them talk about something, that’s not a backlash. It’s hardly a flicker.”
  6. It is true that there is a powerful ultra-conservative clerical establishment in Saudi Arabia, and that ultra-conservatism has a real constituency there. But it is easy to overstate the popularity of this movement and its causes. In any case, people are aware that Western women don’t wear veils.
  7. The American media’s assumption that Saudis are all cavemen whose faces would melt on seeing an unveiled woman is not just overly simplistic, but is rooted in racist assumptions about Arabs and Muslims as inherently and universally backwards. Unsurprisingly, many in the US have seized on this to perpetuate Islamophobic fearmongering about Muslims, such as when US Senator Ted Cruz tweeted, “Kudos to @FLOTUS for standing up for women & refusing to wear Sharia-mandated head-scarf in Saudi Arabia.” 
  8. Further, the glee with which the American media praises any supposed defiance of Arab or Muslim social norms should be unnerving. In this story, as with past stories such as the American praise of Emirati fighter pilot Maryam al-Mansouri, even stories ostensibly about empowering Arab women end up emphasizing the degree to which that empowerment matters because it humiliates Arab men, in this case Saudi monarchs. 
  9. Consider how this story would have gone if Michelle Obama had worn a veil. As Nidal Diaz, an Ottawa-based analyst, pointed out on the Facebook wall of a Middle East-based journalist who had posted about the controversy, the first lady “was in fact standing in front of the world, and any analysis should take this into consideration.” Diaz continued:

In this light, the First Lady’s choice to very visibly not make any attempt to cover her hair was, for all thing considered, the safest and least bravest option. The unfortunate truth is that this had little to do with her making a stand for a woman’s right to not wear a veil and/or the Saudi government’s institutionalized sexism but more to do with attempting to avoid further perpetuating the American Right’s obsession for stigmatizing Obama and family as Muslims, and, approaching an election year, to prevent the Democrat administration from appearing to submit to the way of life of the vilified Saudis/Wahhabis. Beyond that, I highly doubt that whatever vitriol she got on Saudi social media and blogosphere would have even compared to the backlash she would have gotten had she been pictured wearing a veil at Abdullah’s funeral.

In other words, an American first lady went to a Muslim country and followed completely normal protocol by going unveiled. There was very little reaction within that country, and no reaction among her hosts. The American media completely freaked out, got a number of basic facts wildly wrong, and did so all in a way that insulted that country and its citizens by perpetuating racist stereotypes. Meanwhile, the first lady’s decision was probably a simple effort to follow protocol, and if anything else influenced her it was likely fear of American extremists who hate Muslims and see any sign of disrespect to Muslim cultural norms as laudable.

The Saudi government is indeed a despotic dictatorship and horrific human rights abuser — it has beheaded three people in the week since the king died — particularly when it comes to women. It is unfortunate and ironic that, in an attempt to highlight this problem, much of the American media has instead only perpetuated the different but very real American problem of Islamophobic and anti-Arab stereotyping.











super selected

JANUARY 20, 2015




‘The Prep School

Negro’ Tackles


and Assimilation.




Though I was only a prep school negro for one school calendar year, my senior year of high school, the film directed by Andre Robert Lee still resonated. Being a young black girl that came from humble beginnings the issues of assimilation and code-switching were especially relevant. In the film, Lee sets out on a journey to make sense of his experiences while attending one of the most elite private schools in the country. While doing so Lee discovers much more about familial love as he reflects back on the past.

Check out the trailer below, and watch the entire film here..


new yorker

JANUARY 29, 2015





The Aftermath of

Police Shootings






Lucy, the mother of Jose Luis Lebron, at her son’s funeral. Lebron was shot in Bushwick, in January, 1990, by an N.Y.P.D. officer who thought that the fourteen-year-old had a gun.

Lucy, the mother of Jose Luis Lebron, at her son’s funeral. Lebron was shot in Bushwick, in January, 1990, by an N.Y.P.D. officer who thought that the fourteen-year-old had a gun.

Thousands of people march down Fifth Avenue to protest the 2006 shooting of Sean Bell by N.Y.P.D. officers.

Thousands of people march down Fifth Avenue to protest the 2006 shooting of Sean Bell by N.Y.P.D. officers.

A memorial event in Brooklyn’s Tilden Park for Shantel Davis and Kimani Grey, who were shot in East Flatbush in two separate incidents—in 2012 and in 2013, respectively.

A memorial event in Brooklyn’s Tilden Park for Shantel Davis and Kimani Grey, who were shot in East Flatbush in two separate incidents—in 2012 and in 2013, respectively.

The parents of Ramarley Graham, an eighteen-year-old unarmed teen-ager who was shot by an N.Y.P.D. officer in 2012.

The parents of Ramarley Graham, an eighteen-year-old unarmed teen-ager who was shot by an N.Y.P.D. officer in 2012.

The twentieth annual day of remembrance for Nicholas Heyward, Jr., a thirteen-year-old who was playing cops and robbers with a toy gun when he was shot to death by an N.Y.P.D. housing officer in 1994.

The twentieth annual day of remembrance for Nicholas Heyward, Jr., a thirteen-year-old who was playing cops and robbers with a toy gun when he was shot to death by an N.Y.P.D. housing officer in 1994.

Nicholas Heyward, Sr., stands in the lobby of the Louis Pink Houses, where, two days earlier, on November 20, 2014, the unarmed Akai Gurley was killed by a police officer in an unlit stairwell.

Nicholas Heyward, Sr., stands in the lobby of the Louis Pink Houses, where, two days earlier, on November 20, 2014, the unarmed Akai Gurley was killed by a police officer in an unlit stairwell.

A memorial marking the site where Eric Garner died after being placed in a chokehold by an N.Y.P.D. officer in July, 2014.

A memorial marking the site where Eric Garner died after being placed in a chokehold by an N.Y.P.D. officer in July, 2014.

January 31st will mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the death of Jose Luis Lebron, a fourteen year old who was fatally shot by a police officer in Bushwick in 1990. The award-winning photographer Nina Berman had only just begun her career when she decided to cover the story. “His was the first funeral I ever attended, and it was very emotional,” Berman told me. “The impact of his death was so visible in the faces of the people who attended.”

In the two and a half decades since, Berman has covered the aftermath of numerous other fatal police shootings in New York City, including those of Anthony Baez, Sean Bell, Ramarley Graham, Akai Gurley, Eric Garner, and Nicholas Heyward, Jr. (whose father, Nicholas Heyward, Sr., was the subject of a recent Talk of the Town piece). She told me that documenting how families and communities cope with these events has become a sort of necessity for her. “Family members—mothers, fathers—whose children may have been killed ten, twenty, fifty years ago show up to these events . . . and feel this compulsion to explain that what’s going on is wrong and that justice has not been served,” Berman said. “I feel a responsibility to do whatever I can, to make this experience known.”

Nina Berman’s work is currently on view in the “Respond” exhibit at Smack Mellon.






atlanta black star

December 2, 2014


The Greenwood neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, housed one of the most successful Black economies in American history. The area is, now, commonly referred to as “The Black Wall Street.” Most of the businesses and homes were burned down in the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921.

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Money Stayed Inside the Community

The dollar circulated 36 to 100 times in this tight-knit community, according to A single dollar might have stayed in Tulsa for almost a year before leaving the Black community. Comparatively in modern times, a dollar can circulate in Asian communities for a month, Jewish communities for 20 days and white communities for 17, but it leaves the modern-day Black community in six hours, according to reports from the NAACP.

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People in Tulsa Were Leading in Luxury Possessions

In a time when the entire state of Oklahoma had only two airports, six Black families owned their own planes. The average income for a Black family was well over what minimum wage is today. Dr. Simon Berry, who owned the bus system in Tulsa, recalls that in 1910 his average income was around $500 a day, according to reports from


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The Body Count of the Tulsa Race Riot

When the community was burned down in the Tulsa Race Riot, over 800 people were admitted to surrounding hospitals, an estimated 10,000 were left homeless, 35 city blocks housing 1,256 residences were destroyed, and 600 successful businesses were lost, including 21 restaurants, 30 grocery stores, two movie theaters and a hospital. The Ku Klux Klan-led riot lasted for over 16 hours.

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Desegregation Killed the Resurgence of Black Wall Street

In the initial years after the riot, surviving residents began to rebuild the once-vibrant city. It thrived again until the desegregation of the 1950s and ’60s began to entice the Black people of the time to live elsewhere, causing Black Wall Street to never again be what it once was.



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What Happened to the Bodies of Those Who Died After the Riot?

No one knows exactly how many bodies were buried after the riot burned down the city.

“Many of the survivors mentioned bodies were stacked like cord wood,” says Richard Warner of the Tulsa Historical Society.

The Tulsa Race Riot Commission conducted archeological digs to test the soil for unmarked graves around the area. The test revealed that hundreds of bodies had been buried outside of the cemetery.

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The Creation of Black Wall Street Was Intentional

In 1906, O.W. Gurley, a wealthy African-American from Arkansas, moved to Tulsa and purchased over 40 acres of land that he made sure was only sold to other African-Americans. Gurley also used the area to give refuge to African-Americans running from the harsh oppression of Mississippi.