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James Baldwin and

Chinua Achebe’s

Forgotten Conversation

About Beauty, Morality,

and the Political Power

of Art

“Those who tell you ‘Do not put too much politics
in your art’ are not being honest. If you look
very carefully you will see that they are the same
people who are quite happy with the situation
as it is… What they are saying is don’t upset
the system.”



James Baldwin and Chinua Achebe’s Forgotten Conversation About Beauty, Morality, and the Political Power of Art

“Art,” Jeanette Winterson told an interviewer, “can make a difference because it pulls people up short. It says, don’t accept things for their face value; you don’t have to go along with any of this; you can think for yourself.”

On April 9, 1980, exactly a decade after his legendary conversation with Margaret Mead, James Baldwin(August 2, 1924–December 1, 1987) sat down with Chinua Achebe (November 16, 1930–March 21, 2013) for a dialogue about beauty, morality, and the political duties of art and the artist — a dialogue that continues to pull us up short with its sobering wisdom. Later included in the 1989 anthology Conversations with James Baldwin (public library), this meeting of titanic minds touches on a great many of our own cultural challenges and friction points, and radiates timeless, timely insight into how we might begin to stop accepting a deeply flawed status quo at face value.


Achebe begins by defining an aesthetic as “those qualities of excellence which culture discerns from its works of art” and argues that our standards for this excellence are mutable — constantly changing, in a dynamic interaction with our social, cultural, and political needs:

Aesthetic cannot be fixed, immutable. It has to change as the occasion demands because in our understanding, art is made by man* for man, and, therefore, according to the needs of man, his qualities of excellence. What he looks for in art will also change… We are not simply receivers of aesthetics … we are makers of aesthetics.

Art, Achebe argues, arises out of its social context and must always be in dialogue with that social element:

Art has a social purpose [and] art belongs to the people. It’s not something that is hanging out there that has no connection with the needs of man. And art is unashamedly, unembarrassingly, if there is such a word, social. It is political; it is economic. The total life of man is reflected in his art.

In a sentiment evocative of what Adrienne Rich has called “the long, erotic, unended wrestling” of art and politics, Achebe considers those who chastise artists for making their art political. All art is inherently political, he notes, but what such critics consider the artist’s objectionable “politics” is simply opposition to theirpolitics and their comfortable alignment with the status quo:

Those who tell you “Do not put too much politics in your art” are not being honest. If you look very carefully you will see that they are the same people who are quite happy with the situation as it is.

And what they are saying is not don’t introduce politics. What they are saying is don’t upset the system. They are just as political as any of us. It’s only that they are on the other side.

Most art, Achebe argues, arises out of the status quo because — and perhaps this is a version of civilizational confirmation bias, with undertones of the backfire effect— we like to be affirmed in our values:

If you look at our aesthetics you will find … that art is in the service of man. Art was not created to dominate and destroy man. Art is made by man for his own comfort.

He turns to African art — particularly the tradition of his own heritage, the Ibo people — to illustrate the central concern of all art:

Our art is based on morality. Perhaps this sounds old-fashioned to you, but it is not to us. The earth goddess among the Ibo people is the goddess of morality. An abomination is called an abomination against the arts. So you see in our aesthetic you cannot run away from morality. Morality is basic to the nature of art.

Using, as he tended to, the word “poet” in the larger sense of any artist, any person of poetic orientation, Baldwin responds by affirming this core moral function of art and enlarges its human dimension:

When Chinua talks about aesthetic, beneath that world sleeps — think of it — the word morality. And beneath that word we are confronted with the way we treat each other. That is the key to any morality.

Invariably, this question of how we treat each other turns to race relations. But then, as if to illustrate the urgency of Baldwin’s point, the conversation is interrupted by a voice that had somehow hijacked the auditorium speaker system. The hostile male voice comes pouring out of Baldwin’s own microphone: “You gonna have to cut it out Mr. Baldwin. We can’t stand for this kind of going on.” At this point, a riled but composed Baldwin speaks authoritatively into the microphone before a shocked audience:

Mr. Baldwin is nevertheless going to finish his statement. And I will tell you now, whoever you are, that if you assassinate me in the next two minutes, I’m telling you this: it no longer matters what you think. The doctrine of white supremacy on which the Western world is based has had its hour — has had its day! It’s over!

As the audience enthusiastically applauds Baldwin, the moderator — a Sri Lankan-American professor of Ethnic Studies named Ernest Champion — rises and makes the perfect remark to restore order:

It is quite obvious that we are in the eye of the hurricane. But having this dialogue is quite important so all of us in this room will take it seriously.

With this, the anonymous antagonist vanishes just as he had appeared and the conversation continues, returning to the central duty of art. Achebe observes:

An artist is committed to art which is committed to people.

Baldwin nods in agreement:

The poet is produced by the people because the people need him.

Echoing his earlier thoughts on how the artist’s struggle for integrity illuminates the human struggle, he adds:

I know the price an artist pays… I know the price a man pays. And I am here to try to say something which perhaps only a poet can attempt to say… We are trying to make you see something. And maybe this moment we can only try to make you see it. But there ain’t no money in it.

In answering an audience question, Achebe builds on what that “something” is:

There is something we [black artists] are committed to of fundamental importance, something everybody should be committed to. We are committed to the process of changing our position in the world… We have followed your way and it seems there is a little problem at this point. And so we are offering a new aesthetic. There is nothing wrong with that… Picasso did that. In 1904 he saw that Western art had run out of breath so he went to the Congo — the despised Congo — and brought out a new art… He borrowed something which saved his art. And we are telling you what we think will save your art. We think we are right, but even if we are wrong it doesn’t matter. It couldn’t be worse than it is now.

Considering the implications of the latter statement, Baldwin makes an observation of chilling resonance today:

We are in trouble. But there are two ways to be in trouble. One of them is to know you’re in trouble. If you know you’re in trouble you may be able to figure out the road.

This country is in trouble. Everybody is in trouble — not only the people who apparently know they are in trouble, not only the people who know they are not white. The white people in this country … think they are white: because “white is a state of mind.” I’m quoting my friend Malcolm X … white is a moral choice… I can write if you can live. And you can live if I can write.

Responding to another audience question about the notion that “there can be no great art without great prejudice,” using Joseph Conrad as an example, Achebe echoes his central conviction about the role of the artist and readjusts the moral compass of art:

Great art flourishes on problems or anguish or prejudice. But the role of the writer must be very clear. The writer must not be on the side of oppression. In other words there must be no confusion. I write about prejudice; I write about wickedness; I write about murder; I write about rape: but I must not be caught on the side of murder or rape. It is as simple as that.

Quoting the Ibo proverb that “where something stands, something else will stand beside it,” Achebe argues that great art is built on pluralism and comes from the artist’s ability to embrace — to borrow Walt Whitman’s wonderful phrase — her or his multitudes:

Single-mindedness … leads to totalitarianism of all kinds, to fanaticism of all kinds. And I can’t help the feeling that somehow at the base, art and fanaticism are not loggerheads.


Wherever something is, something else also is. And I think it is important that whatever the regimes are saying — that the artist keeps himself ready to enter the other plea. Perhaps it’s not tidy — perhaps we are contradicting ourselves. But one of your poets has said, “Do I contradict myself? Very well.”

Conversations with James Baldwin abounds with abiding wisdom on art and life from one of the fiercest minds of the past century and a number of his venerated peers. Complement it with Baldwin on the creative process, freedom and how we imprison ourselves, his advice to aspiring writers, and his forgotten conversation with Nikki Giovanni about what it means to be truly empowered, then revisit Achebe on the writer’s responsibility to the world.

* 1980 was still well within the era in which every writer, every artist, every human being was, as Ursula K. Le Guin noted in her timelessly brilliant commentary on gendered language, “a man.”



26 June, 2014



Stoop stories

My black friends call it Murderland.
My white friends call it Charm City,
a town of trendy cafés. I just call it home.


D Watkins in Baltimore. Photo by Stacey Watkins


So I’m posted up, sharing a sandwich and a cigarette with a friend in one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in America, and my phone buzzes. On the other end is one of my old professors asking me to tell one of my wild childhood stories at the Stoop Storytelling Series, at Center Stage in downtown Baltimore.

A stoop show, I thought: kind of like what I do on the corner in my own neighbourhood every day. I’m always surrounded by stoops, Baltimore stoops made of cracked and chipped marble steps where all we do is tell street stories: who’s getting money, who’s going to jail, who murdered who, whose album is hot, who is that girl, who’s driving what, and who’s coming home from jail.

This would be easy, the same thing, but in someone else’s neighbourhood. I agreed to it like I agreed to the last 15 opportunities that fell in my lap. I’d recently written ‘Too Poor for Pop Culture’, an essay that went viral and made me semi-relevant on the internet and the man to know on the local scene. I’d learnt that exposure and platform are key, so I looked forward to the event.

The day of the show rolled round and I was backstage with my fellow cast members and storytellers. These guys were Easter-sharp, with starched button-ups and wingtips; the women matched them in pumps and flashy adult versions of their prom dresses.

Obviously, I missed the dress code memo because I walked in wearing a black hoodie and some black Air Jordans. But no one really cared about my outfit: they greeted me with gifts, praise and love when I arrived backstage.

One of the organisers hit me with some drink tickets so I could get a little buzz before the show. I grabbed them and blasted into the lobby to redeem. That’s when I realised. This is one of those events.

By ‘those events’ I mean a segregated Baltimore show that blacks don’t even know about. I walked through a universe of white faces wondering, how is this even possible? How could we be in the middle of Baltimore, a predominantly black city where African Americans make up more than 60 per cent of the population, at a sold-out event, with no black people – except for me and the friends I brought?

I swallowed my drink and grabbed another for the stage. The hostess gave me an amazing intro and welcomed me to the mic. I walked up and said: ‘This ain’t the stoop I’m used to. There’s no pit bulls, red cups or blue flashing lights, but I’ll make it work!’ I paused, took a look at the crowd and honestly felt like I wasn’t in Baltimore.

My black friends call it Baldamore, Harm City or Bodymore Murderland. My white friends call it Balti-mo, Charm City or Smalltimore while falling in love with the quaint pubs, trendy cafés and distinctive little shops. I just call it home.

We all love Baltimore, Maryland. It’s one of those places that people never leave – literally. I know people, blacks and whites, who have been residents for 30-plus years and haven’t even been as north as Philly or as south as DC.

Baltimore is one of the few major metropolitan cities with a small-town feel. The town was founded in 1729 and named after the Englishman Cecilius Calvert, better known as Lord Baltimore. In the years that followed, Germans and Scots settled the cheap land, which was too poor for tobacco farming but good enough for wheat. Proximity to water helped Baltimore flourish, with a thriving ship market at Fell’s Point, now a hip waterfront area.

Is Baltimore a place split on ideologies because it’s too south to be north and too north to be south?

Eventually, Baltimore took off in a major way, and as industry grew so did the need for slaves. By 1810 Baltimore had 4,672 slaves, mostly hired out by cash-strapped owners from upper Maryland. In the heyday of the antebellum South, before the Civil War, some of those Baltimore slaves made enough money on the side to buy their own freedom and eventually the freedom of their family and friends.

Maryland sided with the Union during the Civil War by not declaring secession, even though it was a slave state – though some people in southern Maryland joined the Confederates anyway to keep their slaves and their tobacco farms. Some Confederate supporters attacked Union soldiers, causing 12 deaths and the Baltimore riot of 1861. After that, the Union Army had to step in and occupy Baltimore until 1865.

Is this how the two Baltimores began? As a place split on ideologies because it’s too south to be north and too north to be south – was this the start?

It is now 149 years later and nothing has changed. I went to all-black schools, lived in an all-black neighbourhood, and had almost no interactions with whites other than teachers and housing police until college, where I got my first introduction to the other Baltimore.

D Watkins

My SAT scores and grades were exceptional for an east Baltimore kid. This gained me acceptance into schools I probably wouldn’t have been admitted to if I weren’t a ghetto kid. Thirsty for a new experience, I wanted to go to an out-of-state college. But my plans were derailed when, months before my high-school graduation in 2000, my brother Bip and my close friend DI were murdered. I became severely depressed and rejected the idea of school.

Most of my family and friends came around in effort to get me back on track. My best friend Dre hit my crib everyday.

I met Dre way back in the nineties. His mom sucked dick for crack until she became too hideous to touch. Then she caught AIDS and died.

Dre’s my age. He had so many holes in his shoes that his feet were bruised. I started giving him clothes that I didn’t want, and he stayed with us most nights. We became brothers.

At 13, Dre started hustling drugs for Bip and never looked back. He loved his job. Dre was organised, he recruited, and he outworked everyone else on the corner. Like a little Bip, Dre beat the sun to work every morning: 4am every day in the blistering cold, with fist full of loose vials. His workload tripled after Bip passed, but he called everyday.

‘D, how you holdin’ up, shorty?’ said Dre.

‘I don’t even know. Man, I been in this house for weeks,’ I replied.

‘Naw, nigga, get out. Get a cut, nigga, go do some shit! Least you still alive!’

‘You right,’ I said as I sat on the edge of my bed. ‘Wet floor’ signs were needed for my tears.

‘What the fuck, Yo, you cry everyday?’ Dre said.

‘Naw, well no, shit. I dunno.’

‘Yo anyway, I’m gonna murder dat nigga that popped Bip. Ricky Black, bitch ass. So go live, nigga, get some new clothes, pussy or sumthin’.’

I’m not a killer. Or am I? I am capable of hate, and I am a direct product of this culture of retaliation

I picked my head up for the first time in days. I didn’t know my brother even had static with Ricky Black. They played ball together a week before Bip died. But it didn’t matter if Dre killed Ricky, or I did, because someone would eventually.

Murder made Dre smile theatrically; he leapt from his seat. ‘Nigga, I keep the ratchet on me,’ he said, lifting his sweatshirt to show me the gun gleaming on his waist.

I told him he was crazy, but I didn’t care. I wouldn’t commit that murder – I’m not a killer. Or am I? I am capable of hate, and I am a direct product of this culture of retaliation – a culture that won’t let me sleep, eat or rest until I know that Bip’s killer is dead.

‘Be careful,’ I said.

‘You should think about school, D,’ said Dre on his way out the door. ‘Bip would like that.’

He was right. My brother always wanted me to attend college: I owed Bip that.

I decided to stay in state to be close to family, so I attended Loyola University, a local school on the edge of the city.

I always thought college would be like that TV show, A Different World. Dimed-out Whitney Gilberts and Denise Huxtables hanging by my dorm – young, pure and making a difference. I’d be in Jordans and Jordan jerseys or Cosby sweaters like Ron Johnson and Dwayne Wayne, getting As and living that black intellectual life on a beautiful campus. No row homes, hood-rats, housing police or gunshots: just pizza, good girls and opportunity. I could even graduate and be ‘The Dude Who Saves the Hood!’

I’d clearly say: ‘Excuse me, where is the book store?’ And they’d look back with a twisted face, like: ‘I don’t understand you’

A plethora of white and Asian faces smirked at me as I walked across campus the first day. This was a different world, but not the world I was looking for.

There were some other black dudes there, but they weren’t black like me. They spoke proper English, wore pastel-coloured sweaters, Dockers chinos and boat shoes, carried credit cards, chased Ugg-booted white girls, played sports other than basketball and talked about Degrassiwhat the fuck is Degrassi?

I wore six braids straight back like the basketball player Allen Iverson, real Gucci sweat suits, and a $15,000 mixture of mine and Bip’s old jewellery. The other students looked at me like I was an alien. I’d walk up on a student and clearly say: ‘Excuse me, where is the book store?’ And they’d look back with a twisted face, like: ‘I don’t understand you. What are you saying?’ And I had this dance with multiple students every day until I mastered my ‘Carlton from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ voice.

I related to no one, so I talked my friend Nick, who dropped out of middle school, into hanging around campus with me.

‘Yo D, if any of these people act dumb, even the da principal, tell me. Swear to God, I’ll fuck ’em up for you, Yo.’

‘Colleges have deans, Nick, not principals, but I guarantee I won’t have any problems here.’

I laughed as we sat in Nick’s Camry. His face was stone. I cracked the door, split a blunt down the centre with my ring finger and dumped its guts on the sidewalk. We’d sit a block away from the school and burn two Ls of dro mixed with hash, and then it was school time.

Clean and high, I’d float through Loyola. Some of the students were racist – not to my face – and it seemed like my professors made sure I knew I was the only black person from low-income housing on their planet. My philosophy teacher was the worst. One time he asked: ‘What sport did you play to get into here?’ I fantasised about having Nick pistol-whip him, but he was only a pedestrian on my road to bigger goals.

I tried to adjust to the campus culture by attending basketball games and buying a grey Loyola hoodie; I bought Nick a black one. Together we sat, emotionless, through home games – underwhelmed by the basic style of play and unaffected by the school spirit that shook the gym. Loyola students got excited over made free throws and baseline jump shots. Hood dudes like us needed thrills – rim-breaking dunks, spin moves, shit talking, finger pointing and ankle-breaking crossovers.

Eventually, I met some cool white boys to smoke weed with. Tyler stuck out the most. He was a freshman like me but already had a hold on the campus. Girls giggled when he spoke, and most of the other freshmen lived and died for his approval. Initially we met in the athletics centre. I was shooting jumpers and Nick was rebounding for me. Tyler walked up and said: ‘Nice shot. You guys gamble?’

‘Shoot his head off, D! Shoot his head off, D!’ chanted Nick. Tyler and I went $5 a shot for an hour or so and I think he beat me out of $200 or $300. I paid him and he gave me $100 back.

We’d walk in and the mood would change. They’d call us bro and brotha, and give us too many handshakes

‘What’s this for?’ I said, rejecting the money. He explained that he had gambled with black guys before and he noticed that the winners always give the losers a little something back. Then he said: ‘Besides, you guys smell like Jamaicans! Can I get some of that?’ The three of us walked back to Nick’s Camry and smoked some joints. Tyler thought the bud was decent; Nick and I always had it so we exchanged numbers and ended up building a relationship.

Sometimes we smoked and talked shit to girls together, or beat the shit out of the squares that hung around in the athletics centre at basketball. Tyler even took me to his crib in Bolton Hill, with beautiful brownstones that ranged from $300K well into the millions.

I really liked Tyler but most of his friends were hard to take. They’d invite me and Nick to campus parties. We’d walk in and the mood would change. They’d reference Dr King and then Dr Dre, and call us bro and brotha, and give us too many handshakes. They tried to imitate us so we felt more comfortable, but it just felt condescending. The good part is that we never got into any fights and the N-word never slipped out. These parties got old to us really quick so we stopped going.

Doing homework and adjusting to this new world helped me deal with my losses a little, but I still had sleepless nights where I sat in the park until the sun woke me, wondering why I was alive and my brother wasn’t, why couldn’t Nick study and be a student too, why was I losing so many friends, and why I never got a chance to tell these people what they meant to me.

By mid-semester, I was sick of school. The work wasn’t hard, but it was boring as that show M*A*S*H, and trying to assimilate had become exhausting.

What would my brother say if he saw me hanging around this campus with Zack Morris and AC Slater, laughing at jokes I hated, listening to stories that bored me, going to wack basketball games, slowly conforming – being a good negro. Referencing Degrassi!

I showed him how our operation worked and who played what roles, how we changed shifts, different ways we incentivised hard work, and our methods for staying out of prison

So I said fuck it and stopped going. I had some money put up. Roughly $50,000 left behind in my brother’s stash. I took that along with some cocaine he left in his safe and dived right into the family business as a full-time crack, heroin and coke dealer.

Tyler hit me on the phone a month or so after I stopped showing up and said: ‘D, what the fuck, man? You’re just not going to come back?’

He needed some weed so I invited him down to my neighbourhood. After living in Bolton Hill all his life, my Baltimore blew his mind. He knew some black guys but had never really kicked in a housing project.

Tyler leaned against the gate and saw a bunch of Baptist churches, dirty little Korean stores with 30 teenage dope-dealers clogging the doors and the corner. Singing-and-dancing-and-dying dope fiends wandering around and bumping into each other like Thriller. Thirty-year-old pregnant grandmas. Dudes in Nikes waving automatic weapons. Unsupervised children, some barefoot and trying not to step on glass like we in a third-world country. And us: me and my crew.

I showed him how our operation worked and who played what roles, how we changed shifts, different ways we incentivised hard work, and our methods for staying out of prison. He was infatuated to say the least.

Shortly after, Tyler discovered a void in the raw coke market throughout the Loyola and Johns Hopkins/Charles Village area, and he wanted to join our operation. I set him up with coke and we never looked back. Tyler moved more coke in a week than most of my street people could move in a month. He built a huge clientele consisting of everyone from students to professors. We were all making crazy money and that’s how I really discovered the other Baltimore.

Black Baltimore is all about Grey Goose vodka, Hennessey cognac, crack sales, making money and running to the outskirts of the city, playing basketball, paying $40 to get into parties with $15 drinks, cookouts, corner stores, being harassed by cops, pit bulls, dirt bikes, church, diabetes, and staying in black areas.

White Baltimore, which in most cases is only two miles away from these black areas, is all about Ketel One or Stoli vodka, Jack Daniel’s whiskey and Coke, sniffing coke, labradors, eating outside, free entrance into clubs where you buy one drink and get another free, barbecues, free-range chickens, playing Frisbee, jogging, being loved by cops, and staying in white areas.

For years, Tyler and I worked the whitest areas in the city – Fell’s Point, Canton and Federal Hill. I even stacked enough cash to move out of the hood into a Bolton Hill brownstone similar to the one Tyler’s parents owned. When I told the homeboys where I lived, they thought it was more than 100 miles away, but it was only five miles from where I hung every day.

Living in Bolton Hill taught me a lot about our city and the role that segregation plays. I liked to bring 10 or 15 of my boys from my old neighbourhood up to my place to show them a little experiment that I figured out. I’d wait to around midnight and take a large, full trash bag out to the front of my house, cut it open and dump its contents all over the street. Then we’d smoke, drink, club, or whatever, but by 2 or 3am, all of the trash would be gone. The city would come through and pick up everything, leaving the front of my house squeaky clean.

I was sick of funerals, wasting days on corners, wondering when the cops would finally bag me or when it would be my turn to die

Then I’d do the same thing with a bag of trash in the black neighbourhood closest to Bolton Hill called Marble Hill. And the trash would sit. It would sit for days, unless residents cleaned it up. Marble Hill was known for being more dangerous, but Bolton Hill had more cops patrolling, in addition to better-kept parks and first priority when it came to snow removal.

During those years I lived in Bolton Hill, I also hung with Nick on a corner in the hood. Different sets of crews would come and go: some died off and went to prison but Nick maintained until 2004, when he asked me to put $60K of my own money with $100K of his and another guy’s cash into this big deal that could get us 10 bricks of cocaine and set us straight for life. I couldn’t afford it and I didn’t want to do it. I was thinking enough was enough around the time he was thinking expansion. I was sick of funerals, wasting days on corners and wondering when the cops would finally bag me or when it would be my turn to die.

I kept selling the little bit of drugs I had tucked away while Nick raised his money through an old-school approach. He hit every block from east to west, shaking down dealers, jamming his gun down throats, and emptying the pockets of anyone selling anything. I heard he even hung a kid named Tevin out of a window for $300: any and every thing to raise that money.

We have a saying in east Baltimore that goes: ‘Stick-up kids don’t last long’– and it’s right. Some guys from one of the many crews Nick robbed caught up with him and blew his brains out on Ashland Avenue, steps away from his grandma’s house. I got the news while visiting family in LA, and that was the beginning of the end for me.

Eventually, I lost contact with Tyler, lost the house in Bolton Hill, and ended up back in the hood where I started out. I decided to go back to school in hopes of finding a job and getting a better life.

This time, I attended the University of Baltimore, which is a semi-mixed school. UB ended up being a better fit for me than Loyola. It wasn’t A Different World, they had few black professors, and the white students at UB knew nothing about the Baltimore I’m from. But it was a mix of working people who wanted to better themselves through education, and I connected with them because of all the game I learnt from Tyler.

We are all gunning for the same things, but taking different roads and using different languages along the way

UB is a commuter school in the heart of midtown, and you’d be surprised to see such a small number of black students and professors at a school in the middle of Baltimore. But it’s true, the segregation continues. It’s evident in every classroom – the blacks sit with blacks, and the whites sit with whites. We’d work together on class assignments and presentations, and then, when we would go celebrate, the whites would go to their bar and we would go celebrate at ours.

My experience at Johns Hopkins, where I finished my Masters of Science in Education, felt more extreme. I walked through the hallway on my first day in 2010 and a woman looked me up and down, stopped me and said: ‘Excuse me, sir. Someone threw up in the women’s bathroom. Can you handle that? Thank you.’

I knew what she thought. I’m a black man at a white school, meaning I’m a janitor. I looked her in the eyes and said: ‘I believe in humanity,’ before walking away. The rest of my experience at Hopkins was just like that, but I must admit being there helped me master what I already thought I knew about the other side of Baltimore.

Simple communication, which I perfected at Hopkins, was the key. Underneath it all, I found, the privileged whites and Asians at Hopkins were the same as the black dudes in my neighbourhood. We all wanted love, success, purpose and opportunity. We are all gunning for the same things, but taking different roads and using different languages along the way. Learning how to communicate with people so far removed from my reality made me smarter, and now I’m an expert. I can communicate in the roughest housing projects because of my origin, and in the whitest neighbourhood because of my college experience and my time with Tyler selling good coke, and now I’m doing an event like the Stoop.

The crowd at the Stoop Storytelling Session must have been drunk: they laughed at everything I said to the point where I’m considering a career as a stand-up. ‘Oh yeah, and black people! There are no black people on this stoop! I’m not sure if you guys noticed or not!’ It was the last joke I gave before I dove into a story about me at 12 being robbed at gunpoint for my dirt bike.

My family didn’t panic or call the cops – they strapped up with guns, found the dudes and retrieved my bike. And even though we illegally took back my stolen bike, the overarching theme of family looking out for family connected us all. The audience at the Stoop got my perspective and had a unique chance to be invited to my side of Baltimore. It was all relatable, and the two Baltimores felt like one – but only for that night. Because after the show, I travelled back to my Baltimore and they returned to theirs.

Names and some locations have been changed.




Wednesday, November 15, 2017



Black incomes outpace

the national average

in 124 majority-black

cities: So where’s

the investment?



by Andre M. Perry




When we think of wealth, prosperity and opportunity, black families don’t come to mind. We’ve all consumed a historical narrative that black people, and by extension their communities, are deficits. The manifestation of deficit thinking can be found in notions that small black municipalities need to be annexed or merged with larger less black cities in order to prosper. Developers, business owners, and other stakeholders subsequently don’t invest in cities that would otherwise grow.

Simply put, building upon assets in majority-black cities is an approach that we have yet to significantly try. There are valuable assets in black communities that developers, economists, and urbanists genuinely don’t consider. What I intend to detail here, in my continued series on why majority-black cities matter, is the vital idea that there needs to be a better understanding of assets in majority-black cities that warrant investments.

Diversity, affordability and the presence of a solid middle-class factor in where families and companies consider establishing residences. A thriving black middle-class, a pool of potential workers, and quality educational institutions help form a foundation for population and economic growth.

We’ve all consumed a historical narrative that black people, and by extension their communities, are deficits

Economic prosperity and opportunity for growth exist in many small cities that happen to be majority-black. Some of these cities have elements that should draw families considering new places to live and business owners looking to relocate or set up shop. High incomes are proxies for decent job opportunities, good schools, and safe living environments.

A national map of majority-black cities, ranked by median household incomes of black families, shows that 124 communities outpace the national median household income for all races ($53,889), according to data from the 2015 American Community Survey. Black families are especially thriving in various city/suburbs in the state of Maryland, which hosts more than half of the top 124 majority-black cities in a ranking prepared by the Brookings Metro program.

All majority-black places with black median incomes higher than the national average have populations under 100,000 people; the largest being Waldorf, Md. (pop. 71,399) with a median income of $81,592. The smallest place on the list, Highland Beach, Md. (pop. 110) has the highest median black household income at $158,750.

Map: Majority-black cities with median black household income above national median for all races ($53,889)

All majority-black places with black median
incomes higher than the national average
have populations under 100,000 people

It’s worth noting here that using median income as a proxy for financial status is a very imperfect practice. Measuring the middle of an income distribution – median income – of a particular city often masks the earning and labor disparities of particular groups that are not employed by the dominant industries in a market. That’s especially the case for black families when popular publications put out various lists for the wealthiest places to live. Not everyone benefits from a thriving economy. That’s why colleagues of mine within the Brookings Metro program encourage more robust measures of economic health that include growth, inclusion and prosperity. In addition, there can be large sampling errors – especially among smaller places – when applying median household income. Still, median household income is a convenient and widely used measure that relays associated features of the labor market.

Wealthy black inner- and outer-ring suburbs find themselves alongside their low-income counterparts in the same current that would have large cities becoming larger, subsuming smaller cities that would otherwise die on the vine.

“Merger with the central city is an option more physically contiguous inner-ring suburbs should consider,” writes Aaron Renn, a researcher at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. Journalist Eduardo Porter, commenting on small cities’ struggles to adapt to economic shifts, writes, “As technology continues to make inroads into the economy … it bodes ill for the future of such areas.”

Ostensibly, many wealthy black cities with people benefiting from booming economies don’t fit the description of the post-industrial town that hasn’t adapted well to economic change. Instead, they are trying to figure out how to make their small city work like a large one.



In the chart below, we grouped the more than 1,200 majority-black cities by percentile median black household income (where data were available), and compared them to the nationwide median household income across all races. Additionally, we color-coded the presence of cities containing one or more historically black college or university (HBCU). About half the nation’s HBCU’s reside in majority-black cities.

The presence of an HBCU stands out in the upper half of the income distribution of all black cities, but clearly is not enough to push incomes above national averages. However, a case can certainly be made that HBCUs are competitive assets, especially for small- and medium-sized black cities. However, the systemic devaluing of HBCUs limits their growth as well as the cities that host them. This month, a federal judge ruled in favor of Maryland’s HBCUs in their claim that as a group of colleges they’ve been underfunded. Given the higher levels of prosperity in Maryland, the ruling gives the state yet another opportunity to build up HBCUs and black cities.

metro_20171114_median incomes black cities Andre Perry new

Small cities’ presumed inabilities to adapt put many of their futures in doubt. But consider the potential of towns that host or are adjacent to HBCUs. Even though HBCUs make up just 3 percent of colleges and universities in the U.S., they produce 27 percent of African-American students with bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields, according to the U.S. Department of Education. HBCUs can be a significant support in a multipronged economic and workforce development strategy for city sustainability and growth.

Even though HBCUs make up just 3 percent of colleges and universities in the U.S., they produce 27 percent of African-American students with bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields

We commonly think of HBCUs as great places to get a higher education degree. New and existing research examines the benefits that attending an HBCU has on individuals as well as their impacts on regional economies. But researchers tend not to look at HBCUs as anchors for urbanism and business placement. Initial findings of this study on majority-black cities suggest we should also consider proximity to HBCUs as locations where individuals can raise families and build businesses.

One motivation behind this series of reports of black cities is the need to disseminate information on the economic health of majority-black cities as a cohort. When not making comparisons to predominately white cities, we can begin to see variability and opportunity.

Findings from this stage of analysis suggest that there are current places and institutions, many of which are commonly overlooked, that should be a more integral part of future investment strategies.



Andre M. Perry is David M. Rubenstein Fellow – Metropolitan Policy Program 








Sunday Nov 12, 2017








attribution: Getty Images

Isabella “Belle” Baumfree was born a slave in upstate New York in 1797. The daughter of slaves, she spoke only Dutch while being raised on an estate in a Dutch settlement. Baumfree was sold, along with a flock of sheep, for $105 when she was 9 years old. She learned English the hard way: her new owners only spoke English, and beat her repeatedly for her failure to comply with the instructions she could not possibly have understood. Eventually she became the property of John Dumont, of New Palz, New York.

New York was one of the first states to abolish slavery, with the legislative process beginning in 1799 and achieving full implementation on July 4, 1827.

Dumont had promised Isabella freedom a year before the state emancipation, “if she would do well and be faithful.” However, he reneged on his promise, claiming a hand injury had made her less productive. She was infuriated, having understood fairness and duty as a hallmark of the master-slave relationship. She continued working until she felt she had done enough to satisfy her sense of obligation to him — spinning 100 pounds of wool — then escaped before dawn with her infant daughter, Sophia. She later said:  

“I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked off, believing that to be all right.”

Later, while working for Isaac and Maria Van Wagenen, who paid Dumont $20 for her last year of servitude and then freed her, she learned that Dumont had illegally sold her 5-year-old son, Peter, to a man in Alabama. With help from the local Quakers and the support off the Van Wagenens, she sued Dumont in court and won. Her son was returned to her from Alabama. It was the first time that a black woman won a court case against a white man. 

She changed the world.

In 1843, answering a religious calling to go out and preach her faith, Isabelle Baumfree took the name of Sojourner Truth and spent years fighting for her beliefs and speaking widely in favor of the abolition of slavery, prison reform, pacifism, and women’s rights. She was a powerful advocate on their behalf.

In 1851, at the Ohio Woman’s Rights Convention, Sojourner Truth gave one of her most well-known speeches, often referred to as “Ain’t I a Woman?”: 

“I want to say a few words about this matter. I am a woman’s rights. I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man. I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed, and can any man do more than that? I have heard much about the sexes being equal. I can carry as much as any man, and can eat as much too, if I can get it. I am as strong as any man that is now. As for intellect, all I can say is, if a woman have a pint, and a man a quart — why can’t she have her little pint full? You need not be afraid to give us our rights for fear we will take too much, — for we can’t take more than our pint’ll hold. The poor men seems to be all in confusion, and don’t know what to do. Why children, if you have woman’s rights, give it to her and you will feel better. You will have your own rights, and they won’t be so much trouble. I can’t read, but I can hear. I have heard the bible and have learned that Eve caused man to sin. Well, if woman upset the world, do give her a chance to set it right side up again. The Lady has spoken about Jesus, how he never spurned woman from him, and she was right. When Lazarus died, Mary and Martha came to him with faith and love and besought him to raise their brother. And Jesus wept and Lazarus came forth. And how came Jesus into the world? Through God who created him and the woman who bore him. Man, where was your part? But the women are coming up blessed be God and a few of the men are coming up with them. But man is in a tight place, the poor slave is on him, woman is coming on him, he is surely between a hawk and a buzzard.”

More than 100 years later, Candace (Candy) Lightner was a divorced mother of three, living with her children in Fair Oaks, California. On May 3, 1980, while walking to a church carnival, her daughter Cari was hit by a drunk driver who left her to die.

She was struck with such force that she was knocked out of shoes and thrown 125 feet. Cari died not long after the accident.

The driver that hit Cari never stopped, and it was later learned that he had been drunk at the time of the accident. This wasn’t his first drunk driving accident. He had been arrested a short time earlier for another incident related to drunk driving. After police officers told her that the driver likely would receive little punishment for killing Cari, Lightner became enraged. She decided to channel her anger and grief into fighting drunk driving. “Death caused by drunk drivers is the only socially acceptable form of homicide,” she later told Peoplemagazine.

She changed the world.

Within months, Lightner was lobbying politicians in Washington and had camped out at Gov. Jerry Brown’s Sacramento office until he was willing to see her. Joining with Cindy Lamb, whose daughter was paralyzed by another drunk, they formed Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.

Through MADD, Lightner helped get new anti-drunk driving legislation passed in individual states and nationally. One of the group’s most significant accomplishments from this time was the national law that raised the legal drinking age to 21.

But more importantly than the laws she changed, she also changed the very atmosphere of this nation. Jokes about drinking and driving were no longer as funny. Designated drivers became a thing, and were often served free non-alcoholic drinks at bars. Two-martini lunches became a relic of a different age. It was no longer socially acceptable to drink and drive. All because Cindy Lightner became enraged.

On January 21, 2017, the historic Women’s March occurred in cities all over the country, with a particularly large one held on the Washington Mall. Attendance at that protest over the election results exceeded attendance at the inauguration itself, which was held the day before. Women were not happy about the election of a small-handed pussy-grabber as commander in chief.

In Atlantic County, New Jersey, sitting Republican county legislator John Carman …

… posted a meme on the day of the Women’s March that featured a woman in a kitchen and the message, “Will the women’s protest be over in time for them to cook dinner?”
“Just asking?” he wrote alongside the meme.

While he may have found humor in mocking the millions of women who were demanding the respect one unquestionably grants to anyone who possesses a penis, most of us failed to appreciate his post. One woman in particular, Ashley Bennett, a constituent of Carman, found his remarks offensive. The 32-year old political neophyteand psychiatric emergency screener who worked at Cape Regional Hospital decided to do something with her anger.

“I was angry about [the Facebook meme], because elected officials shouldn’t be on social media mocking and belittling people who are expressing their concerns about their community and the nation,” Bennett said in October.

On Tuesday night she won his seat on the Atlantic County Board of Freeholders.

She is changing the world.

Bob Marshall, a member of Virginia’s House of Delegates, has not only earned his self-proclaimed title of Virginia’s “chief homophobe,” but he has been needlessly and intentionally cruel.

Marshall is notorious for introducing anti-LGBTQ legislation. After Congress repealed the federal ban on gays in the military, Marshall proposed a measure to ban openly gay people from serving in the Virginia National Guard. “It’s a distraction … and I’m worried about this guy who’s got eyes on me,” Marshall said. He also derailed the appointment of a judge solely because he was gay, and served as the primary sponsor of Virginia’s successful constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. In 2015, he proposed a radical bill that would legalize anti-LGBTQ segregation in hotels, restaurants, businesses, schools, government agencies, and hospitals. And in 2016, he put forth a measure that would bar transgender students from using the school bathroom that aligns with their gender identity, and requiring principals to out gender-nonconforming students to their parents.

On Tuesday, Danica Roem, a 33-year-old Democratic transgender woman, won the seat that the 73-year-old Marshall had held since 1992. Marshall’s attacks on the LGBTQ community inspired the journalist from Northern Virginia to run against him in what became a contest of light versus dark. His sister, the actress Paula Marshall Nucci, posted on Facebook Tuesday night:

That was my brother who lost his seat in the House of Delegates race in Va. He wouldn’t debate her. He wouldn’t call her “her” or “she.” Maybe if he weren’t so judgmental and homophobic, he could have lost with dignity. I’m not happy my brother lost his job, but all I can say is, karma brother.

Danica Roem’s response to Marshall’s attacks on her character and sexual identity was as classy as her response to the question about Bob Marshall that was posed after she defeated him: 

This may be one of the best political ads of all time:

She is changing the world.

According to an investigative report in the Washington Post last Thursday, Leigh Corfman was only 14 years old when she claims she was sexually molested by Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for Jeff Session’s Alabama Senate seat. (Moore is running against Democrat Doug Jones in the Dec. 12 special election.)

At the time in 1979 Moore was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney who Corfman and her mother met at the county courthouse where he worked in Etowah County, Alabama. He watched over her while her mother went into the courtroom for a custody hearing. Flattered at his interest, Corfman gave Moore her phone number and began a brief relationship with him that ended up on the floor of his home with him in “tight white” underwear asking her to fondle him.

“I wasn’t ready for that — I had never put my hand on a man’s penis, much less an erect one,” Corfman says.

After talking to her friends, Corfman says, she began to feel that she had done something wrong and kept it a secret for years.

“I felt responsible,” she says. “I felt like I had done something bad. And it kind of set the course for me doing other things that were bad.”

She says that her teenage life became increasingly reckless with drinking, drugs, boyfriends, and a suicide attempt when she was 16.

She never reported the incident to the police, or her mother, although she did tell a couple of close friends at the time who verified her version to the Washington Post, which published the story on Thursday.

Over the years, her shame turned to anger.

There were times, Corfman says, she thought about confronting Moore. At one point during the late 1990s, she says, she became so angry that she drove to the parking lot outside Moore’s office at the county courthouse in Gadsden. She sat there for a while, she says, rehearsing what she might say to him.

“ ‘Remember me?’ ” she imagined herself saying.

Until now, her own behavior (which includes multiple marriages and financial issues) and the impact it would have on her children and family caused her to refrain from speaking about that chapter of her life. And while it was only in response to the Washington Post’s investigation that she finally told her story, it may change the outcome of next month’s election.

And that may change the world.

Society does not like angry women—especially angry black women (ask Sojourner Truth or Michelle Obama). They don’t like us angry women because they know we can change the world. And they also know that women have every right to be angry.

Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump both felt free to use their power to sexually assault women. They derived pleasure from the exercise of control that it represented. And they knew that there would be no consequences. After all, there never had been, and “when you are a star they let you do it. You can do anything.”

Much of our anger is based in our powerlessness. The fact is that Weinstein, Trump, Spacey, and all the other predators have carried on for years without anyone standing up to them. It took a long time for our shame, at our lack of power to protect ourselves from them, to turn to anger. It is an anger that still simmers under the surface in the hearts of women, and some men, all over the country. It is an anger that can change the world. 

We have to nurture that anger. We have to change the shame to determination: determination to enter politics and shake up our political system on local, state, and national levels. Determination to reclaim our bodily autonomy. “My body, my choice” needs to be more than a slogan—it has to be a way of life. No man or state, should be able to dictate the purposes to which our bodies are put. Nor should any man believe for half a second that he has the right to touch any part of our bodies without our consent. 

Gaining power in our politics will help lessen the anger, but until Donald Trump is driven from office by the women he assaulted, my anger will remain. Every time I see his face on a television set, or in a newspaper photo, I can’t help but be pulled back to the time I was 19 and faced with an employer who felt exactly the same way about my body that Donald Trump appears to feel about the bodies of women he meets. There is something very wrong with a society that rejects a well-qualified public servant who happens to be a woman in favor of an international laughingstock of limited intellectual ability and knowledge who just happens to pee standing up. People voted for him after the news of his sexual predations was made public. 

That is wrong. And it makes me very angry. Let’s hope that somewhere out there is another woman whose shame is even now turning to anger. And whose anger will give her the strength to come forward with the evidence needed to challenge the monster who sits in the Oval Office pretending to be president. 

She could change the world.








Thursday 16 November 2017




‘Silence is betrayal’:

the jazz musicians

putting the political

into their playing

From Martin Luther King to Hendrix, and
New Orleans to Bengal, jazz musicians are
examining history, power, politics and
even identity in radical and vital music

Afrobeats and aqueous ambience … Jaimeo Brown, among the London jazz festival lineup. Photograph: Andy Sheppard/Redferns via Getty Images

Martin Luther King’s baritone voice booms over the PA. “A time comes when silence is betrayal,” he hollers, in an extract from a 1967 speech. His words “silence is betrayal” are looped and repeated until they become a political mantra. We’re at a London jazz festival gig in Shoreditch, and three US musicians – drummer Jaimeo Brown, alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw and guitarist Chris Sholar – are improvising in front of a cinema screen, accompanying sepia-tinted images of Africa (deserts, elephants, mosques, temples), ancient field recordings of chaingang hollers, recreations of slave songs and prescient pronouncements from King. Amid this multimedia barrage, Brown’s trio make music that mixes Afrobeat rhythms, primeval blues riffs and a kind of aqueous, ambient jazz associated with Miles Davis’s In a Silent Way.

Brown’s trio certainly aren’t reacting to today’s febrile political climate with silence. Their response is pugnacious, emotionally affecting and very beautiful. But the politics here are ambiguous. These aren’t straightforward protest songs or civil rights anthems but complex compositions that incite debate on slavery and incarceration, migration and displacement, culture and identity – yet do so without the band members using words themselves. It’s the kind of aesthetic “sonic politics” that you hear constantly in various forms at this year’s London jazz festival.

Jazz is freighted with historic significance; its every note seems a conscious reference to something that has been played before. Some of the most interesting music at this year’s festival uses such referencing to weave political tales, make unlikely connections, or interrogate our notions of identity.

Consciously drawing from jazz’s rich history … Christian Scott at the Electric Ballroom, Camden, on Wednesday. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian


For many British artists performing at the festival, jazz is a vehicle to explore their own cultural identities. On Friday at Kings Place, the trumpeter Yazz Ahmed will deftly integrate Arabic maqam modes, invoking her Bahraini ancestry, into her fiery hard bop playing. On Monday, the pianist Zoe Rahman played a solo set at Pizza Express that wove Bengali folksongs into the kind of chord voicings associated with Herbie Hancock. On Wednesday the east London singer Zara McFarlane played from her album Arise, using themes derived from her research into her Jamaican heritage and the island’s myriad African-derived rhythmic forms.

Unlike their American counterparts, these British artists tend not to preach from the pulpit. McFarlane’s woozy dub-jazz song Stoke the Fire has taken on a chilling significance in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy (“They stack us tall / and watch us burn / when will they learn / we all fall down”), but generally the politics in her music is implicit, personal rather than doctrinal.

‘They stack us tall’ … Zara McFarlane. Photograph: Peter Van Breukelen/Redferns via Getty Images

The double bass player and singer Miles Mosley, who played Islington Assembly Hall on Sunday, has the air of the rabble rouser. Fronting his West Coast Get Down – the “Wu-Tang Clan of jazz” – Mosley wears a black beret and gladiatorial combat fatigues, which give him the air of a Black Panther. “I got my shield / I got my sword / forged from Egyptian gold,” he howls on standout song Abraham. “I’m feared / I haven’t cried in years / […] mediocrities everywhere / but not here!” But again, Mosley’s politics are more musical and aesthetic than they are prescriptive, a jazz interpretation of the militant soul and black rock of the 60s and 70s. Abraham, for example, follows a lengthy jazz meditation on Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Chile, where Mosely uses a barrage of FX pedals to transform his bowed double bass into a howling guitar.


Referencing soul and black rock of the 60s and 70s … Miles Mosley Photograph: Todd Mazer

Perhaps the most fully realised political vision at the festival comes from Christian Scott. Like Wynton Marsalis, he’s a trumpeter from New Orleans who consciously draws on jazz’s rich history. But, in contrast to Marsalis, the history he utilises doesn’t stop in the early 1960s: instead, it incorporates 70s jazz rock, M-Base-inspired funk and echoes of contemporary Dirty South hip-hop while making connections between them. At his sold-out show at Camden’s Electric Ballroom there was everything from the fierce, Red Clay-style soul jazz of West of the West to a swaggering version of Bobby Timmons’s Moanin’; from invocations of antique Louisiana marching bands to tracks such as The Walk, where drummer Corey Fonville triggers Roland 808 samples to recreate the thudding, syncopated sub-bass sounds of New Orleans trap.

Before a valedictory jazz waltz called The Last Chieftain, Scott tells a story about how his grandfather – a chief of Native American and African American ancestry – would empty his family’s house of food and take it to feed the destitute of New Orleans. For Scott, this sacred act was a lesson in the importance of responsibility for everyone that moved beyond tribal identity politics. “There’s no point in saying Black Lives Matter if you’re not going to give a shit about the gay community,” he says. “In all these cases, silence is betrayal.” It’s an ideological manifestation of the open-minded “sonic politics” that seems to define jazz today.






Influx opens submissions

exclusively to women of colour


Independent publisher Influx Press is to open its submissions exclusively to women of colour in a bid to expand the range of voices and scope of work it publishes.

Spearheaded by assistant editor, Sanya Semakula, Influx is searching for both agented and unagented women writers from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds to send in their work throughout November. For novels, the press is seeking works ranging from 30,000 words to 80,000 words, and for short story collections a minimum of 25,000 words in total.

According to the press, it publishes “experimental, playful work, sometimes political and often set in specific geographic location, or from sites of resistance that remain under explored in mainstream literature”, and is looking for work that fits within this description.

The publisher said it “commends proactive initiatives to reflect diversity and representation in publishing and although independent and small publishing houses are often at the forefront of pushing for changes, there is still much to be done”. By targeting its call for submissions, Influx Press is “acknowledging and specifically addressing our own list, something that is possible for smaller publishers to do more quickly than the larger ones”, it said.

Semakula said she is looking for “great writing that will have something particular to say about the world we live in right now”, and added that she was “excited to be given the opportunity to hunt for the next big writer on Influx’s list.”

Kit Caless, co-founder of Influx Press, added: “We are always searching for new writers but making sure you have authors from a range of backgrounds requires extra proactivity. We are really thrilled that Sanya is leading on this submissions window. We look forward to seeing what comes in, and what she chooses to publish.”

Writers and agents should send manuscripts, with full synopsis, to with the title line: ‘Submission Window 2017’, between 1st and 30th of November.

Influx Press is the publisher of titles including Eley William’s Attrib and Other Stories, Jeffrey Boakye’s Hold Tight: Black Masculinity, Millennials and the Meaning of Grime, Darran Anderson’s Imaginary Cities and Chimene Suleyman’s Outside Looking On. The press recently launched a Kickstarter campaign in a bid to grow its business, backed by industry figures including Nikesh Shukla and Max Porter.











Ends on January 5, 2018

$28.00 USD

The Frost Place, a nonprofit center for poetry and the arts at Robert Frost’s old homestead in Franconia, NH, in partnership with Bull City Press, invites submissions to The Sixth Annual Frost Place Chapbook Competition Sponsored by Bull City Press.

The winner’s chapbook will be published by Bull City Press in Summer 2018.  The winner will receive 10 complimentary copies (from a print run of 300), and a $250 prize.  The winner will also receive a full scholarship to attend the Poetry Seminar at The Frost Place, August 2018, including room and board (valued at approximately $1,550), and will give a featured reading from the chapbook at the Seminar. 

Additionally, the chapbook fellow will have the option to spend one week living and writing in The Frost Place House-Museum in September 2018 (peak fall foliage season in the White Mountains) at a time agreed upon by the fellow and the Frost Place.

The 5th Annual Frost Place Chapbook Competition’s Final Judge is Sandra Lim.

Submission Period: October 1, 2017 – January 5, 2018.

Submissions Fee: $28.00.

Submissions are only accepted online through the online submission manager.

Look for the link to our submission manager, as well as information about summer programs at The Frost Place, on the home page of The Frost Place website:


The Frost Place Chapbook Competition Sponsored by Bull City Press is open to any poet writing in English.  Simultaneous submissions are permissible, but entrants are asked to notify the competition administrators through the competition website immediately if a manuscript becomes committed elsewhere. 

Please do not submit to this competition if you are close enough to the final judge, Sandra Lim, that her integrity, or the integrity of Bull City Press and The Frost Place, would be called into question should you be selected as the winner. You may query us if you have questions regarding this matter. Please query by email to


Entries must be submitted between October 1, 2017 and January 5, 2018.  All entries must be submitted to our online submissions manager.  Entries submitted by e-mail, fax, or US mail are not permitted and will be disqualified.  Submission with identification on the manuscript will be disqualified.

Entries must be accompanied by a $28.00 entry fee.  Entrants may submit multiple manuscripts, but must pay a $28.00 entry fee for each manuscript submitted.

Do not include your name on any of the pages of the manuscript file. The first page of the manuscript should include the title of the collection only.

Manuscripts should have a page count (poems only, not including title page, table of contents, acknowledgements, or other items) of 20 to 25 pages.

Manuscripts should be submitted in PDF or Microsoft Word (.doc & .docx) format only.  Manuscripts submitted in another file format are not permitted and will be disqualified. Manuscript revisions are not permitted during the competition. 

The author’s name should not appear on the manuscript.  


Each manuscript is delivered to two preliminary readers as a blind submission. That is, it is stripped of identifying material. Only the manuscript, inclusive of any text notes, is sent to the readers and, if chosen as a finalist, then sent on to the final judge. Preliminary readers are asked to notify the press if the work in a submitted manuscript is familiar to them, in which case it will be reassigned as a blind submission to another reader.

Our preliminary readers for the competition are selected by Bull City Press and The Frost Place, and are poets who have received a graduate degree in creative writing or literature. Our readers look for beautifully-crafted work, manuscripts that have a cohesive shape and feel like complete chapbooks.  They look to present a wide range of excellent work to the final judge.

In the event that the final judge chooses no manuscript for publication, all competition fees will be returned.

Final notification of the competition winner and competition finalists will be provided by e-mail to all competition entrants in March 2018.








CFP: African Street Literatures

(abstracts deadline 15 Dec, 2017)


pages_street lits
This is an open call for papers for a special issue of
English Studies in Africa that will focus on African street
literature. By this, the editors mean literature that emerges
and is shaped by the specific factors determining everyday
life in sub-Saharan Africa’s megacities, that is to say,
literature that largely exists beyond the reach of the
infrastructures of global literature and the academic
establishment in the global north. Such scholarship about
African literature is largely focused on the African novel, a
genre and form that enjoys global circulation but which is
less relevant in Africa itself where new and emergent
forms of literary expression dominate cultural circuits and
flows. A key premise behind this special issue is that these
emergent forms, as cultural archives of everyday life in the
African city, call for a literary mapping and analysis that
they have not yet received. This is important since the
intensification of social, political, economic, health and
environmental precariousness, alongside uneven spurts
of economic growth, rapid urbanisation, unprecedented
access to technology and global connectivity, and a
correlated surge in cultural and aesthetic expression,
make African cities concentrated locations of vulnerable
modernity. The African city and its writing are therefore
vital sites to investigate the relationship between literary
form and modernity at its most pressured and
We invite submission of abstracts for
papers focusing on:
– formal developments in new African writing or
performance poetry/drama;
– the reception and publishing of digital literature in
and from Africa;
– alternative print forms (pamphlets, chap books and
other ephemera);
– multi-modal literatures and/or literary adaptations; and,
– methodological questions concerning interpretation and
selection of these ephemeral materials.

We invite scholars to send abstracts of no more than 300 words
to and
by no later than 15 December 2017.