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April 15, 2015



Has the magic gone out

of Africa’s largest

film festival?


By Kenneth Harrow


I enjoyed attending this year’s Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (Festival panafricain du cinéma et de la télévision de Ouagadougou or FESPACO) in Burkina Faso. Ouaga is a laid-back city with decent places to eat and nice people on every corner. There is little of the stress found in other big cities with their hectic downtowns and glittering nightlife. Ouaga is spread out, very hot, and dusty—the Harmattan blows its desert winds mixed with the exhaust of innumerable mobylettes on the street, making breathing a challenge. When I was not watching movies, I walked and walked. Foolishly, I did not wear a face mask. I could feel the roughness in my lungs after a few days, but the sun was glorious, especially for one coming from the freezing wastelands of Michigan.

I spent most of my days and nights during the festival watching the films and also took in a good number of shorts and documentaries, films outside of the competition. At first I was terribly disappointed with the quality of what I saw at the festival, but the films gradually improved, and I began to alter my negative perceptions. Ironically, for a festival that gave itself the slogan “The Year of the Digital,” the program contained few examples of the new world that digital has brought to filmmaking. The Nigerian film Render to Caesar (Desmond Ovbiagele) was the only standout in this area. 


Regardless of their quality, most of the films were throwbacks to older styles of filmmaking and, much as I hate to frame it this way, were clearly in the mold of la francophonie. The common traits of this cinema, that has emerged over the years, include an emphasis on custom or culture as something that could be called “traditional”: ritual, dance, formal rhetorical pronouncements, a celebration of hierarchical relations, of elders, of village life etc. There are pieces of this here and there, and they are set off by the presentation of and anxieties over modernism. These appear, at times, by evoking corruption in city life, in political figures, in the failure of figures of authority to maintain their integrity—a general decline in the sense of past values associated with patriarchy or of the primacy of family. At times, francophone films celebrated the rise of women or the strength of women in resisting male authority or male abuse; at times the women are victims. But the sense of a programmatic cinema prevails. In addition, the incompatibility of European modernism with fundamental African values is represented frequently, with the underlying values of “home” ultimately seen as prevailing, or if not, then as having been betrayed. 

Ultimately, these are parts of a much larger picture in which many filmmakers generated visions of Africa, at times critical, at times in praise, but generally susceptible to some notion of “authentic.” Alongside this Africa there appeared an alienating Europe, at times framed in neocolonial terms, at times as a cold and coldhearted site of exile. What developed as auteurism in Africa dominated until the rise of Nollywood, whose influence was minimal here. As much as I appreciate the work of Andrée Davanture (the master editor at Atria), the days of Finye and Zan Boko have long since passed, and a number of the films I saw seemed stuck in the past: values important to be celebrated in the past; techniques of representation, of rhetorical delivery, and of the need to present a pedagogical lesson to the audience; and often the uneasy emphasis on an older nationalist models underlying the Europe-Africa binary that seems out of touch with all that a digital age implies, including especially the nature of transnational or global cultural “flows” that have given rise to greater forms of popular, often “genre” films. The worst in that respect was Dani Kouyate and Olivier Delahaye’s Soleils, a horribly cliché-ridden piece about a young woman out of touch with her past, guided by a griot who introduced her to her history, beginning with Hegel!

In the end there were two films that were excellent and deserving of the highest awards, but they didn’t receive anything of significance. Haiti Bride by Yao Ramesar was perhaps my favorite, although Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu has grown on me so much (after a second viewing) that I’d have to put it up there with Haiti Bride.

Timbuktu represents Sissako at his height in creating a world of beauty and historical drama, evoking the poignant sense of loss attached to a nomadic Touareg couple, their tent perched precariously on the sandy hill, overlooking the river. In contrast, in the city of Timbuktu we come to the violent intrusion of Islamist invaders. The latter were never demonized, and yet were ultimately damned by their insensitivity to what would make life, and especially life in Africa, worthwhile. They crush the possibilities of love, and even the poignancy in the loss of love, along with the music and the incandescent, if not transcendental possibilities, that could be seen in the contours of the lives of those in Timbuktu. The invaders bear the blindness of an ideological movement, one that crushes an adulterous couple, shuts off the music, shuts down women in the public sphere, and tarnishes justice with guns. The echoes of Bamako are felt in the quiet indignation we experience during these scenes, as well as in the celebration of what makes life worth living. The extraordinary cinematography embraces the beauty of the Sahelian landscape within which it is set. Much of this evoked La vie sur terre and Heremakono—in short, some of the best cinema produced in the past twenty years. And it takes little to guess at the shortsightedness that might have guided the jury’s failure to recognize the film for its great qualities: Sissako’s refusal to demonize the “terrorists,” his refusal to condemn the Touareg, and his choice of the principal couple as Touaregs living in a tent, closest to the desert, thus incurring the disfavor of those who would paint this depiction as a French stereotype. Finally, he accepted Mauretanian support in making the film. We’ve seen these reproaches repeatedly on the web: he didn’t make the film about Mauretanian slavery or Touareg racism, but rather about Islamists with a human face. In his failure to win meaningful awards comes the visible failure of FESPACO to recognize the film that by any measure deserved the highest award.

Apart from Timbuktu, the second truly brilliant film was Haiti Bride by Yao Ramesar. Briefly, we see a couple whose families fled Haiti after the fall of Aristide. The couple returns to marry, but the earthquake of 2010 occurs on the same day. The male protagonist becomes a lost soul, his memory gone; his wife disappointed, quits the land. Three years later, as he has come under the sway of a local artist, they come back together and return again to Haiti to marry. The trace of the past leads us to follow them, recalling the trauma and its nachtrâglichkeit—the camerawork functioning as an act of recovering, remembering. The dialogue repeats itself, like trauma. Images echo those of Haitian style painting, now rendered almost surrealistic rather than primitivistic, akin to a long sequence of time running back. The film was the only truly avant-garde work of cinema in the festival—beautifully shot à la Haitienne, a daring, imaginative, and wonderful film. It received no awards, but never mind. We have the name of Yao Ramesar to retain.

There was a second tier of fairly good films, which did include the winning film Fièvres (Hicham Ayouch), along with C’est eux les chiens(Hicham Lasri). A notch below them and still good—but not excellent—was the Ethiopian film Price of Love (Hailay Hermon) and Dyana Gaye’s Des Etoiles. Somewhere around that range was L’Oeil du cyclone (Salif Traore) and Run (Philippe Lacôte). So I shouldn’t complain; that is eight films in the competition that went from good to excellent. The downhill went really far down: Sekou Traore’s Môrybayassa was almost as incoherently bad as the really bad Rapt à Bamako (Cheick Oumar Sissoko).

The films that weren’t trying to make political or cultural points and entered into the spirit of genre film did much better, though they were still limited in their achievements. A good enough genre cop film, a “digital” film in style, was the Nigerian Render to Caesar; and another genre film, closer to the sentimental dramatic family tale of incest and corruption, à la Djo Tunda Wa Munga’s Viva Riva, was Amog Lemra’s Entre le marteau et l’èclume, a Congolese film.

The Golden Etalon went to Fièvres, directed by the Algerian Hicham Ayouch. In the film, Benjamin is a child at war against the world. He has known violence and social alienation at home. One day his mother goes to prison and Benjamin soon learns he has a father. He goes to live with him in a cité in the Parisian suburbs. His father, who is something of a failure, still lives with his parents. Benjamin is the figure of an uncontrollable bad boy adolescent. He smokes, despite his grandfather’s efforts to have him stop, curses, is bald, insults his grandparents, making them seem helpless, and creates misery all around him. When the grandfather tries to stop him, he threatens to burn the Qur’an. Violence doesn’t stop him. His father seems helpless, broken himself. We learn that his father has already had a mentally disabled son in an asylum (perhaps explaining why he doesn’t want Benjamin in the hands of authorities). The film reworks our conventional framing of banlieue cinema, and merits recognition, especially for Benjamin’s strong performance—the artist as a young man, in Beur clothing.

The second place winner, Fadhma n’Soumer (Belkacem Hadjadj) was almost unbearably pontificating: an Algerian costume history of 1850s, depicting the Algerian resistance to the French in Kabylia.

The third place winner was L’oeil du cyclone. The gender politics in the film were intriguing and new, though its other political content less so. The central character of the film is Hitler Mussolini, a crazed “terrorist” prisoner. A lawyer is sought to defend him. The political drama that unfolds—complete with “terrorists,” child soldiers, a corrupt regime—culminates with a ridiculous final intertext absurdly claiming that no efforts are being made to reintegrate child soldiers back into society. Maybe Traore should go watch Ezra. However, the gender politics were amazing. The “woman-man” lawyer who defends Hitler Mussolini presents a new possibility for rereading gender orientation, in terms of male representation and the lawyer’s image and powerful invasion of male space. The lawyer’s counterpart is a transgender red haired inmate, a castrated “man-woman” who violently and flamboyantly troubles the heterosexual norm. I am using the term homme-femme here to evoke the Senegalese figure of the goor-jigeen, the male entertainers who dressed as women in St. Louis, and who evoked the laughter, pleasure, or unease of the population before the image of those not comfortably identifiable as man or woman. 

In this film, the figure of the woman lawyer is masculinized, in appearance and action, and so i’ve inverted the term to femme-homme, woman-man. This plays off against the strong masculinist image of the “terrorist” warrior. The uber-masculine “terrorist” Hitler Mussolini can only fall back on yesterday’s version of sexuality as he learns his lawyer has never been conquered by a man: “you mean you are a virgin?” As is the case, over and over in the majority of films in the festival, we see here a version of patriarchy that is falling, with nothing left to sustain heterosexual difference without the father’s name. Here the figure of the father is definitively undermined when it is discovered he is buying diamonds from the very rebels who raped his wife and chased the family away from their village (thus causing the daughter to grows up to be a femme-homme, a strong lawyer). Eventually this avocat femme-homme tames the savage child-soldier Hitler Mussolini and civilizes him.

There are flashbacks both for her and him: the traumas in the past return with the trial in the present. As the principal lawyer in the case of the terrorist, she uncovers her father’s betrayal of her family and the society. Immensely wealthy, he has changed from being a victim to a collaborator with both diamond smuggling terrorists and corrupt government offices, along with the business elite. The leader of the corrupt government ultimately falls, the judge and lawyer redeem justice and prevail. The film wins third prize. Really? It has its worthy aspects, but third prize? Over Timbuktu? No way! A joke.

I liked the Ethiopian Price of Love (Haile Hermon), but found the ending a disappointment, where instead of rebelling against the church abba, the taximan suffers at the hand of fate and fails to complete his love for the prostitute. The shots in Addis were striking; the working through of the central character, a reformed dissolute young man, was effective, and the love story very affecting. Power in the hands of evil men; the church father to counter it… Well, the men struggle, from one film to another, without every seeming to establish a male figure who remains admirable and strong.

I particularly liked fat Gladys in Run. The plot verged on the surreal with her amazing portrayal of the fat circus lady who can outeat anyone else. But she is Anglophone, and the confrontation with Cote D’Ivoire’s xenophobia made for a strong issue that generally worked well.

Morybayassa was basically a split narrative, with the first part, very much like Viva Riva, about the evil pimp (the same actor played the bald gangster in Viva Riva) and the desperate prostitute who meets Mr. Right, a U.N. specialist. The film shifts to France, where the prostitute turns into a mother seeking to win back her daughter. Mostly unconvincing in its plot, the film offered a somewhat more interesting portrayal of French racial politics, with the high school kids and the white stepparents who adopt the prostitute’s abandoned daughter in Africa, taking her back to Europe where she can never fit in. Essentializing tropes of Africanness, of blood ties, doom the film.

Render to Caesar brought up New Nollywood, a gangster film, with Lagos as its backdrop, and a plot straining to make the police procedural work in the climate of massive corruption. And it mostly did work, standing out from every other film as something in line with the new efforts at digital filmmaking in Africa.


Entre le marteau et l’enclume was a decent genre film, from the Congo, where the descent into corruption and vice ends up with the stepfather raping his stepdaughter and giving her HIV-AIDS. It was a “B-movie,” never pretending to be more, and doing a good job in creating melodrama and “real-life” Congo characters.

This was so many miles from the pretentiousness of Soleils, a film that just had to give us the truth—again and again—about all the historical burdens Europe inflicted on Africa, tediously, tendentiously, and pompously. It was sad to find the griot once more turned into the teacher, censé savoir. But in a sense it encapsulated a kind of subtextual motif that seemed to undergird the festival itself, and that was encapsulated in the role of the French (L’Institut Français). 

The three films I missed, Cellule 512Printemps Tunis, and Four Corners, were well received by my friends.

In sum, I felt this festival was a throwback to yesterday; and that the judges who awarded the Etalons were out of touch with where African film has been going. It was a bit sad to see that while North African cinema was generally good, or passable, many of the sub-Saharan Francophone films were looking backward, not forward. If Timbuktu saved the day, in that regard, the judges never noticed it. If the genre films I mentioned did not really merit the Etalon awards, they were still more in touch with the possibilities of film today than the failed films that were struggling to make the point that rape is a bad thing, that corruption should end, that nepotism is evil, that one’s heritage is what young people need to know and appreciate, etc. What was really good about C’est eux les chiens, was precisely its refusal to preach; and if the winning film, Fièvres, seemed to want to celebrate the artist as marginal outsider (again!), it still did a credible job of it.

Ultimately my negative judgment must fall not so much on the judges as on those who curated the festival. The magic has gone out of the bright word FESPACO, which once stood for the exhilarating lights of FinyeMuna MotoSaraouniaPièces d’identité, and with its embrace of a certain ineffable beauty, En attendant le bonheur. Among the dozens of shorts were many that could only be called amateurish, with a few bright gems. Among those off competition were some conventional documentaries, like Coupé (Aneké Ossita), Miners Shot Down (Desai Rehad)—which was quite well done, actually, and the super conventional Victorieux ou morts (Mario Delatour).

Every projection began with the ads and thanks, presented in gigantic letters, to the Institut Français that seemed to be the only significant sponsor. The projection of Soleils was under the stars in the large amphitheater at the Institut Français, which was packed to the gills. I found it sad to remember back to the wonderful figure of Sotigui Kouyate, the griot in Keita, and the magnificent griot, again, in Les Noms n’habitent nulle part. He was, indeed, the father of Dani Kouyaté whose effort to pay tribute to him failed to avoid the pitfalls of autheticité tropes and originary politics. Framed within the vision of a French Africa, a Francophone Africa, it presented everything I would want to deny as representing African cinema. I remembered positively Andrée Davanture and Sotigui Kouyate, but I felt trapped by the clichés of the film.

The worn-out carpet of the festival came across in the films presented. The experience of Ouaga, its marché, and its street life was still great. But maybe the day of FESPACO is passing, and Durban, Zanzibar, the African International Film Festival, the Abuja Film Festival, and with them the Africa Movie Academy Awards are now going to take the baton. 

The digital has moved its home.


Kenneth Harrow is Distinguished Professor of English at Michigan State University. He is the author of Thresholds of Change in African Literature (Heinemann, 1994), Less Than One and Double: A Feminist Reading of African Women’s Writing (Heinemann, 2002), and Postcolonial African Cinema: From Political Engagement to Postmodernism (Indiana U P, 2007).  His latest work, Trash! A Study of African Cinema Viewed from Below, was be published by Indiana University Press in 2013. He has edited numerous collections on such topics as Islam and African literature (including Faces of Islam in African Literature,1991), African cinema (including African Cinema: Postcolonial and Feminist Readings, 1999), and women in African literature and cinema.  He has published more than 50 articles and a dozen chapters. He has organized numerous conferences dealing with African literature and cinema. He served as President of the African Literature Association, and was honored with their first Distinguished Member Award. He has also been honored with the Distinguished Faculty Award at Michigan State University. In 2011 he was awarded the Distinguished Africanist Award at the Toyina Falola Annual Conference, University of Texas.







ancestral land

Descendants of slaves:

Ancestral land

United Nations – The United Nations has declared an International Decade for Persons of African Descent. Launched in January, the decade focuses on protecting the rights of people of African heritage, recognizing their contributions and preserving their rich cultural heritage. This also includes the descendants of slaves – the Gullah Geechee people – who live in South Carolina and Georgia in the United States.

UN in Action, Episode #1474










March 23, 2015




Voting Does Not

Make a Difference


(Photo by Carl van Vechten)

(Photo by Carl van Vechten)

By W.E.B. Du Bois


This article is part of The Nation‘s 150th Anniversary Special Issue. Download a free PDF of the issue, with articles by James Baldwin, Barbara Ehrenreich, Toni Morrison, Howard Zinn and many more, here.

Excerpted from the October 20, 1956 Issue


I shall not go to the polls. I believe that democracy has so far disappeared in the United States that no “two evils” exist. There is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I can do or say. There is no third party. On the ballot in a few states, a “Socialist” Party will appear. Few will hear its appeal because it will have almost no opportunity to take part in the campaign and explain its platform. If a voter organizes or advocates a real third-party movement, he may be accused of seeking to overthrow this government by “force and violence.” Anything he advocates by way of significant reform will be called “Communist” and will of necessity be Communist in the sense that it must advocate such things as government ownership of the means of production; government in business; the limitation of private profit; social medicine, government housing and federal aid to education; the total abolition of race bias; and the welfare state. These things are on every Communist program; these things are the aim of socialism. Any American who advocates them today, no matter how sincerely, stands in danger of losing his job, surrendering his social status and perhaps landing in jail.

The present Administration is carrying on the greatest preparation for war in the history of mankind. [The Democratic challenger] promises to maintain or increase this effort. The weight of our taxation is unbearable and rests mainly and deliberately on the poor. This Administration is dominated and directed by wealth and for the accumulation of wealth. It runs smoothly like a well-organized industry because industry runs it for the benefit of industry. Corporate wealth profits as never before. We turn over the national resources to private profit and have few funds left for education, health or housing. Our crime, especially juvenile crime, is increasing. Its increase is perfectly logical; for a generation we have been teaching our youth to kill, destroy, steal and rape in war; what can we expect in peace? It costs three times his salary to elect a Senator and many millions to elect a President. This money comes from the very corporations which today are the government. This in a real democracy would be enough to turn the party responsible out of power. Yet this we cannot do.

I will be no party to it and that will make little difference. You will bravely march to the polls, and that also will make no difference. Democracy is dead in the United States. Yet there is still nothing to replace real democracy. Drop the chains, then, that bind our brains. Drive the money-changers from the seats of the Cabinet and the halls of Congress. Call back some faint spirit of Jefferson and Lincoln, and when again we can hold a fair election on real issues, let’s vote, and not till then. Is this impossible? Then democracy in America is impossible.

W.E.B. Du Bois (1868–1963), a founder of the NAACP and editor of its magazine, The Crisis, wrote letters, reviews and essays for The Nation over a span of more than fifty years. He died in Ghana the day before the August 1963 March on Washington. 




photo by Alex Lear

photo by Alex Lear






>>No writer is an island.<< No writer creates alone. Even those who withdraw from human contact — the Salingers and O’Toole’s of literature — are actually shaped by their social development, or more precisely, in the cases just cited, by their social deficiencies. No matter how technically brilliant such writers may be, unless under-girded by social exchange and observations thereon, their writing will not stand the ultimate test of greatness: is the work relevant across time and across cultures?


In order to achieve both linear (across generations) and lateral (across cultures) greatness, writers must be both immersed in a specific era/culture and conscious of that era’s relationship to other eras and other cultures. It is not enough to report on or even analyze the news of the day. The ultimate meanings of human existence transcend the specifics of any given moment.


In practice achieving greatness means moving beyond topicality, requires that we insightfully deal with how and why humans are shaped by social and environmental forces, and deal with how we respond to our specific shaping processes.


>>As writers, our goal is the expert use of words<< to convey ideas and information, emotions and experiences, dreams and visions. On the one hand we must study, and study hard, the development of our craft, but, on the other hand, we must never forget that craft without content is meaningless. Beyond the craft/content argument is the more important question of writing for whom? Who is our audience? Are we connected to others?


An audience is the single greatest determinant of the shape and relevance of one’s craft. How is this so? This is so because as writers our whole craft is based on communication and, quiet as it is too often kept, communication requires an audience.


Some of us insist that we write to please no one but ourselves. But does that mean we write for an audience of one? No, it does not. When we write only with ourselves in mind, we are implicitly trying to communicate with the social elements that shaped our being. Indeed, who does not want to be understood by their parents, their children, their siblings and peers? Besides, if we were writing literally only for ourselves as an audience of one, we would have no need to share our writing, no need to publish or recite our writings.


In the contemporary United States, “audience” has been collapsed into the concept of consumers, people who literally buy whatever is marketed. That is ultimately a very cynical approach to determining who is one’s audience. To write for and about a specific audience does not necessarily mean writing to sell to that audience. What it does mean is using the culture of the intended audience as the starting point (and hopefully an ending point) for our work.


Writing well in English presupposes that we deal with the history of English-language literature, a significant part of which includes use as a tool in the historic process of colonizing people of color. As able a craftsperson as Ralph Ellison was, craft is not what distinguishes “Invisible Man.” Rather, Ellison’s insightful handling of an investigation of the anti-humanist effects of exploitation and oppression on those who are victimized by a dominant and dominating society is the significance of that novel.


Ellison, understands at a depth few others have so thoroughly presented in the novel format, that both those who fight against their subjugation and those who are not even conscious of their condition are twisted by social forces. However, Ellison’s novel is not merely a political screed because Ellison is more concerned with the range of human responses to social conditions than he is with advocating a specific social order. Moreover, far more than many books that on the surface seem to be more political, Ellison’s novel is grounded in the cultural mores, the folklore, of mid-20th century African American life. Invisible Man can not be fully appreciated without an appreciation of Black culture.


A horrible truth is that too many of us are unprepared to write significant literature because we have no real appreciation of our audience as fellow human beings, as cultural creatures. We know neither history nor contemporary conditions. We talk about “keeping it real” but have no factual knowledge of reality. Thus, we glibly bandy generalizations, utter hip clichés as though they were timeless wisdom, and inevitably offer instant snapshots of the social facade as though they were in-depth investigations of the structure and nature of our social reality — in short, we lie and fantasize.


Moreover, unless we consciously deal with our conditions, we end up replicating our oppression in our literature. When we are poor we write admiringly of being rich — when we get some money, we write guiltily about poverty. What is this madness? This is the psychology of the oppressed captivated by their own oppression.


If this analysis sounds extreme, run the litmus test of examining works of popular literature and see if this is not the case. Look at the rap videos, notice the lifestyles portrayed. Look at the movies. At some point, we need to be aware that videos, movies, televisions, all of those media employ scripts — these scripts are our popular literature. The absence and/or low level of craft in popular literature, both in publishing and in electronic, broadcast and video mediums, points to one of our real problems — many of the people who are scripting for the media, can’t or don’t write well.


Moreover, I understand that the majority of scriptwriters for Black-oriented projects are not Black writers, however, the lack of Black writers in the dominant and dominating mainstream media underscores rather than invalidates my premise. A major part of our problem has nothing to do with craft and everything to do with consciousness — our consciousness and the consciousness of our fellow humans in the United States of America.


Our daily lives are shaped by our social conditions and the consciousness that emerges from those conditions. A significant percentage of writers who are craft conscious are also writers who are psychologically alienated from their own culture. Indeed, for the person of color, the act of acquiring education and expertise typically is also an act of alienation. It is unfortunately generally true that mainstream training in craft is simultaneously a directive to distance one’s self from the culture and consciousness of our Black communities. Explicitly, to become professional means to emulate the other and eschew the Black self, the working class self, and, for women, to an even greater degree than many may realize, becoming a professional also means eschewing the self-actualized female self.


Thus, it is no surprise that once we become professionals, we insist on the right to be seen as autonomous and self-defined individuals who desire to live beyond the restrictions of race, class and/or gender. Indeed, we are often proud as peacocks strutting around glorying in our individuality — look at the beauty of my butt feathers! We disdain groups, assert that organizations stifle our creativity. Meanwhile, people who are organized control the production and distribution of our creative work.


The status quo system loves those of us who think we can make it as individuals precisely because individuals are dependent on the status quo for life support. When you don’t have a community of friends and comrades, you end up going to your enemy for supper and shelter, both literally and metaphorically.


>>The challenge for conscious and self-identified writers is both external and internal.<< External to the individual, we must build community by working with and achieving an understanding of the people with whom we identify. Internally there is the individual quest to develop a craft that reflects and projects our individual feelings and ideas about ourselves as well as about the world we live in. This struggle for social and artistic development is not an abstract concern. In practical terms such development requires that we who identify ourselves as Black writers:


1. Study Black music and Black history.


Music because Black music is our mother tongue — the language through which the deepest and most honest emotions of our people have been expressed in the rawest and most “unmediated” manner. More than in any other sphere of social activity, African Americans have determined our own musical expressions and have communicated with the world through that form of expression.


History because if you don’t know yourself you will inevitably end up betraying yourself.


Is it possible to write without a working knowledge of Black music and history? Of course it is. Is it possible to produce great literature without such knowledge? Probably not, and certainly none that would be considered Black literature. Ultimately, all literature is a product of culture, whether that culture is one’s indigenous culture or an adopted culture.


2. Study the craft of writing.


One certainly would not claim to be a carpenter without learning how to build, nor a farmer and be unable to raise crops. Moreover, we also need to tackle the development of our own approaches and the development of a theoretical foundation.


During the Black Arts Movement, this process was called the Black aesthetic — the development of an aesthetic is still needed. Craft is the concrete manifestation of philosophical aesthetics. If we don’t consciously shape our own aesthetics, our craft will invariably and often in a contradictory and conflicted manner reflect someone else’s aesthetic, generally the aesthetics of the dominant social order.


3. Join with like-minded colleagues.


We should join writers associations, guilds, organizations, both formal and informal. Workshops are important in one’s formative years. As one develops, peer associations become extremely helpful both in terms of career development and in terms of craft development. We literally find out what’s going on by being in touch with others. We become inspired and get ideas from interacting with others.


The internet is a major source of community activity for young writers today. There are on-line workshops, resource web sites, informational web sites and specifically, a number of Black oriented literary web sites. A young writer who is not on-line is literally “out of it” — outside of the ebb and flow of ideas and information. With the advent of public access through libraries, arts organizations, schools, and relatively inexpensive commercial services, there is no excuse for not being on-line.


>>Writing is not just the words on the page.<< Writing is documentation of social praxis. There is both an art and a science to writing, a feeling and a thought.


Not only is no writer an island, it is up to each one of us to develop as social creatures (i.e. men and women) and as professionals. For our ancestors, for our selves, for our children and those yet unborn, let us as writers come together and create a literature that is as persistent and profound as our people who outlived centuries of chattel slavery, segregation and degradation, and who stand now on the verge of creating a new definition of what it means to be a free, proud and productive people.


—kalamu ya salaam










Afropop 25Years

March 26, 2015







Afropop’s occasional series on African music made in America continues with a focus on three remarkable women. Marie Daulne, founder of the genre-bending vocal group Zap Mama, collaborates with New York Afrobeat band Antibalas, and we hear them live in concert. Madagascar-born Razia introduces her new tri-continental CD, Akory. And Somi tells her story from her days as a Midwestern girl with African ancestry, to her musical career in New York, to her adventurous 18-month stay in Lagos, Nigeria, and her new album, The Lagos Music Salon.  These stories and more in a music-packed hour of Afro-femininity!





super selected

APRIL 13, 2015




Your Monday

Morning Mix.

Ibeyi. Azealia Banks.

Georgia Anne


Alabama Shakes.

And More.

morning mix 13 april



This week’s selection ranges from moving live performances to spit fire rap lyricists.

Little Simz- “Is This Freedom?”

On the three-minute track, the rapper spits about perspective, asking repetitively, “what does it mean to be free?”

SassyBlack – “Stay Up With Me (Love Yourself) &”Any Thang You Want”

Dropping mixtape Me and Mine (Cute Chicks) back in February; now gifting us with two spanking new tracks.


Drea Smith- “Helen Keller”

Formerly rocking with PYYRAMID, it seems Drea Smith has transitioned into a solo career. Check out her latest.

Sa-Roc – “Fire Squad” (Remix)

The Atlanta lyricist hops on J.Cole’s track.

Denai Moore – “Never Gone” (Live)

London based artist, Denai Moore, giving us this simple yet moving live rendition of “Never Gone.”

Georgia Anne Muldrow – “Ankles”

A pleasurable blend of soul-funk sounds.

Rat Habitat- “Daddy Issues”

Check out Brooklyn electronic-soul duo Rat Habitat latest.


Sam Dew- “Damn Sue EP”

Sam Dew, a Chicago born, New York based singer-songwriter is finally stepping out on his own. The artist who has worked with the likes of Mary J. Blige, Estelle and Rihanna has served up an array of r & b melodies ranging in themes from earnest wanting to a destined love on “Air.”

Michael Uzowuru – “Without You” ft. Anderson Paak

A very cool, 80’s-style track from the creative producer and musician.

Jesse Boykins III – “I Can’t Stay” (AbJo Remix)

An intense, soulful remix.

Azealia Banks – “Heavy Metal and Reflective” – Live from Coachella

The often controversial artist is in her element with this killer live performance.

Alabama Shakes – “Future People” – Live from Coachella

Lead singer Brittany Howard laid down some serious vocals during this live performance.

Ibeyi – “Eleggua” (DJ Don Cuco Remix)

The French-Cuban sibling duo led their unique sound to a great remix that pays homage to their Latin roots.


About musingandrea

Andrea resides in Atlanta, Georgia. She’s a lover of her very Jamaican family, music, cinema, different cultures, travel, basketball, and down to earth folk. She’s especially passionate about equality in the LGBTQ community particularly as it relates to people of the African Diaspora. Contact Andrea here:


















river styx

River Styx 2015

International Poetry Contest

$1500 First Prize
2015 Judge: Andrew Hudgins
Submissions open January 1, 2015

  • Send up to three poems, no more than 14 pages. Please include all poems in a single document.
  • Entry fee: $10 or $20. $20 entry fee includes a one-year subscription (3 issues). $10 entry fee includes a copy of the issue in which the winning poems will appear.
  • Include name and address on the cover letter only.
  • All poems will be considered for publication.
  • Previously published poems, including those that have appeared on websites, blogs, and personal home pages, are not eligible.
  • Though submissions are anonymous, judges will remove from consideration any entries they recognize as having been written by writers with whom they have worked or studied.
  • 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners and honorable mentions will be published in the fall issue.
  • Contest results will be announced in October 

Enter by mail or online via Submittable. To enter by mail, include an S.A.S.E. for notification of contest results and a check payable to River Styx Magazine. Entries must be received by May 31. Mail entries to:

River Styx International Poetry Contest
3139A South Grand Boulevard, Suite 203
St. Louis, MO 63118













minerva rising

Issue 9: Light

Reading Period: 03/01/15 – 05/01/15

“There are two ways of spreading light; to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” –Edith Wharton

Submission Guidelines

Minerva Rising is a tri-annual literary magazine that publishes original essays, interviews, short stories, short shorts, memoirs, poetry, photography and artwork. All work should address the theme of the current issue. Please no journalistic features, academic works or opinion pieces. We are open to just about any topic so surprise us. We offer a contributor’s copy and a small stipend for accepted submissions. We purchase first publication rights. All other rights revert to the author upon publication. Simultaneous submissions are allowed as long as you inform us as soon as possible if the work is accepted elsewhere. We will rarely run anything longer than seven thousand words; there’s no minimum word length. We do not need a query letter except perhaps with interviews.

There is a $15 reading fee* for each work submitted. We try to respond within three months. You will not receive feedback on your work; only whether or not it was accepted for publication.

  • Submissions should be typed and double-spaced. Poems may be single-spaced and you may submit up to three poems for a single reading fee.
  • Photos should be submitted as a JPG and no more than 2MB. You may submit up to three photos for a single reading fee. If your submission is selected we will contact you to obtain a high-resolution image.
  • We only accept electronic submissions. Please, do not mail or fax submissions. Submissions received in this manner will not be acknowledged or considered.
  • Be sure that you remove all identifying information, such as your name, address, phone number, and e-mail address, from your submitted work.

Thank you for joining the Minerva Rising conversation.

*Reading fees assist in paying the writers and artists we publish and the women-based charities Minerva Rising supports. If you would like to submit, but are unable to meet our reading fee please contact us











Call for Submissions:

NGC Bocas Lit Fest calls for

students’ work inspired by

Caribbean literature

bocas lit fes

NGC Bocas Lit Fest is calling for submissions of students’ work inspired by Caribbean literature for an upcoming exhibition. The deadline for submissions is April 22, 2015.

The exhibition will display original, creative work by young people aged 12 – 18 inspired by their readings of the 2014 Burt Award for Caribbean Literature winning books. We are also accepting submissions inspired by other excellent works of Caribbean Literature.

Students/young adults can submit any of the following: Cartoon Strips, Artwork, Book/ story illustrations, Character images, Creative writing, Book Reviews, Song lyrics, and more: anything that illustrates how you have been encouraged and excited by the Caribbean authors that you’ve been reading.

Pieces for the exhibition should be submitted to by 22 April 2015 with the subject line “student exhibition submission”. Photos or scans of artwork should be sent by email. Written submissions should be no more than 1,000 words.

Entries must be accompanied by a short email with a brief biographical note listing the student’s name, age, school, the title of his or her piece and the title and author of the literature that inspired the piece.

There will be prizes for the top exhibition submission(s), including free tickets to VERSES Bocas Poetry Slam Finals, the finale event of the NGC Bocas Lit Fest on 3 May at the Globe Theatre, and personalised, signed copies of Burt Award winning books.

Call (868) 222-7099 or email for more information.










super selected

APRIL 15, 2015



Watch This.

Toddler Recites

Countee Cullen’s

‘Hey, Black Child.’

Nails It.


Three-year-old Pe’Tehn Raighn-Kem is a star in the making!
Watch as she confidently recites “Hey Black Child” by the
Harlem Renaissance Countee Cullen.

Hey, Black Child
Hey Black Child
Do you know who you are
Who you really are
Do you know you can be
What you want to be
If you try to be
What you can beHey Black Child
Do you know where you are going
Where you’re really going
Do you know you can learn
What you want to learn
If you try to learn
What you can learnHey Black Child
Do you know you are strong
I mean really strong
Do you know you can do
What you want to do
If you try to do
What you can doHey Black Child
Be what you can be
Learn what you must learn
Do what you can do
And tomorrow your nation
Will be what you what it to be