Archivist Margaret Jerrido has transcribed hundreds of ads placed by former slaves searching for their relatives from historical copies of The Christian Recorder in the late 1800s. / BRIANNA SPAUSE / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Ten years have gone by since his mother, Hannah Cole, last saw him. The pain of his disappearance, the mystery of his whereabouts, and the aching question of whether he is alive or dead have driven her to take out an advertisement in the Christian Recorder, seeking an answer.
“This is the only child I have,” it reads, “and I desire to find him much.”
The date is June 23, 1865, and Cole is on a quest that would consume former slaves such as herself for decades after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, leaving a trail of heartbreak and hope in newspaper classified columns. Mothers search for children sold away. Husbands long for wives torn from them years before. Sons and daughters hope for any clue about a lost parent whom they would “most gratefully receive.”
Under the headline “Information Wanted,” the ads appeared in African American publications around the nation as newly freed slaves established their lives and tried to reunite with loved ones. A potential treasure trove for genealogists and others researching family histories, they have been tucked away on microfilm in church basements and scattered across dozens of obscure library archives.
Now, a project by Villanova University and Mother Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia will make the classified ads easily accessible. The goal of “Last Seen: Finding Family After Slavery” is an online database of these snapshots from history, which hold names of former slaves, owners, traders, plantation locations, and relatives gone missing. So far, project researchers have uploaded and transcribed 1,000 ads published in six newspapers from 1863 to 1902: the South Carolina Leader in Charleston, the Colored Citizen in Cincinnati, the Free Man’s Press in Galveston, the Black Republican in New Orleans, the Colored Tennessean in Nashville, and the Christian Recorder, the official organ of the African Methodist Episcopal Church denomination published at Mother Bethel.
Thousands more ads are coming. They are peopled by residents of every state, Canada, and the West Indies. Some of their searches stretched to Europe and South America.
“I’m just so awed” by the ads, said Margaret Jerrido, the Mother Bethel archivist who has helped with transcription. “You can find out that someone was owned by so-and-so and sold by so-and- so, and this is new information that I don’t think anybody knows about.”
Some ads had scant details, some had line after line of them. Some were devoid of emotion, others brimmed with it. Some offered monetary rewards, some just a family’s gratitude in return for information.
Until the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery was adopted in December 1865, “people didn’t know if the freedom they attained was secure,” said Judith Giesberg, the project’s leader and the director of Villanova’s graduate program in history. Consequently, they often used terse language in their ads and code words such as “taken from me” instead of “sold away,” evoking their lingering fear and “the incredible silences that speak to people disappearing,” she said.
The Christian Recorder ads often were placed by clients’ pastors, who visited its office at Sixth and Pine Streets and paid $1.50 for a onetime ad, or $4 for one that would run an entire year in the biweekly. The ad purchase usually included a subscription to the paper, which is now published only online.
For researcher Maggie Strolle, 23, a graduate student in history, reading the ads was like watching relatives of a kidnapping victim plead for news, not knowing “if their family member is alive or passed on.”
Many waited into a new century. In an ad published April 17, 1902, in the Christian Recorder, 39-year-old Mary Delaney made a request tinged with grief that time had not salved. “Information wanted of my people,” it read. “My mother was sold from me when I could but crawl. She belonged to Jim Finley in Dade Co., Mo. … I never saw any of my people.”
Ben and Flora East offered a reward for news of daughter Polly and son George in an ad in the Colored Tennessean on Oct. 7, 1865. “We will give $100 each for them to any person who will assist them, or either of them, to get to Nashville, or get word to us of their whereabouts, if they are alive,” it read.
Strolle found only one piece of good news among the ads she read. Robert Buckner, of Logansport, Ind., located his son. “I found Reuben Buckner in Chilicothe, Ohio,” it said. But he had yet to locate his three remaining children, Mary, George, and Robert.
Giesberg started collecting copies of the ads several years ago, after noticing them while working on other projects and realizing they would be a boon to family researchers. To create the digital archive, she began collaborating with Jerrido, the Mother Bethel archivist, and seeking grants. The two women will offer a workshop on researching the data at 1 p.m. March 9 at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, at 13th and Locust Streets.
In an informal analysis, Giesberg found that nearly 75 percent of the ads gathered so far were from mothers looking for children, siblings for siblings, and children for parents. Fathers searching for children made up about 7.7 percent; wives looking for husbands, 5 percent; husbands looking for wives, 5.6 percent.
About 66 percent of the families were separated because of slavery; 13 percent suggested escape; and 13 percent were the result of Army enlistment.
Giesberg plans to continue the research at least through the summer and expects to transcribe larger archives such as Chicago Defender, the Pittsburgh Courier, and the Philadelphia Tribune. The project is in need of additional funding and volunteer transcribers to help digitize the ads. Giesberg hopes to include a mechanism where contributors can upload their own ads.
Researcher Chris Byrd, 24, who has been uploading and transcribing ads since September, described them as an expression of power by former slaves who until Emancipation had little.
“The latest one I’ve read is 1902,” Byrd said. “So, 40 to 50 years after [Emancipation], people were still trying to find some kind of restitution, exert some control over what had happened to them, and get back what was taken from them.”
Talking with filmmaker Haile Gerima inevitably brings to mind James Baldwin’s idea that “the price one pays for pursuing any calling is an intimate knowledge of its ugly side.”
To be sure, the renowned Ethiopian-born filmmaker and pioneer of the LA Rebellion film movement has been widely celebrated throughout his four-decade-long career, most notably for his 1993 film Sankofa. But his success has also meant an ever-increasing exposure to the challenges and flaws of the film industry, especially as he’s chosen to consistently work outside the studio system.
Fortunately for us, he was willing to share his insights with S&A, from his past and current projects to his perspective on the current state of black cinema. It was a bubbling conversation filled with “my sister’s” and wise revelations, and perhaps most striking was the passion he continues to carry for telling the stories of black people, and his readiness to offer a guide map to those who wish to do the same.
In his company, you can’t help but be schooled.
S&A: Tell me about your journey with your latest film Teza, from creating it to releasing it theatrically, to recently coming to home video in the U.S.
HG: This is a film I started writing when I was a student at UCLA, about an African student going to school and longing for home, and dealing with some uniquely silent racist situations. So it’s really about the generation I belonged to and our intellectual displacement – leaving your home for knowledge, but then [being] unable to return or suspended in the air for political and social and cultural reasons.
It’s very difficult to do such a film in America, so I went and proposed it to some German co-producers that I’ve worked with in the past and we decided to stage the story in Germany. It took at least another eight or nine years to find the actual money to do the film, and we shot it in Germany and Ethiopia. And the film was out in 2008 in Venice. It was received very well and continued to have good reception, and we did the theatrical distribution in 2009, but now we just released the DVD in the U.S.
S&A: What has the response to the film been like as you’ve traveled with it over the past few years?
HG: The press did receive the film very nicely. But distribution is the problem, because when we self-distribute it is very costly. You have to have a very strong cash flow for a film to really stay in theaters. You have to have the advertising capacity to sustain and follow the kind of press coverage we got. So basically after Sankofa, I only just introduce [films] in the theater before I get them out on DVD because it’s too costly. It undermines your future plans for other films.
S&A: Tell me more about the financing process. Do you feel there are more funding opportunities for independent filmmakers overseas?
HG: I think once you have films in certain festivals you begin to have name recognition, and there are possibilities. Especially for independent filmmakers, it’s always good to try the international market because it doesn’t have the same kind of baggage. It’s not always expected of filmmakers to do stereotyped stories. But one has to be willing to travel to festivals and hook up with people, engage people intellectually about your passion and the kinds of films that interest you, and sooner or later you find people that have the same affinity that you have.
S&A: How do you maintain your independence as a filmmaker? What’s the model, if there is one?
HG: You have to be very passionate about it and be willing to put everything you’ve got towards the project. That to me is very important. And it may not be part of the fad, being the clichéd kind of film that’s going to be successful. But there are filmmakers like me in different parts of the world that have a story they want to tell, and it’s a story that comes out of a certain historical reality within their own life. Then you get committed all the way and however long it takes, stay very committed. Even now, I’m organizing documentary films, and whenever scriptwriting gets too tedious I go to my editing room and start to edit the documentary, even if I don’t have the full funding yet. So you have to keep yourself busy, you have to like the subject matter. If you do it for other causes, other reasons, it doesn’t hold you for a long time. There’s no other way but struggling, forging ahead to do the film.
S&A: As an independent, do you ever look at the other side and feel any urge to go there? Do you feel the industry has changed at all, to make you consider it?
HG: To me the industry has always said that the lovers and haters and principal characters will always be white in Hollywood, and black people will always be appendages of those kinds of dramas, or they will be comedic outlets. It will never change. And for me it is not only wanting to tell your story, but to also tell it your way that’s part of the struggle. I am not interested only in telling a story, but I want to tell it my way. I don’t want my accent, my temperament, my narrative style to be compromised to fit into a mold of the Hollywood type.
I also think not many young people are willing to pay the price of telling their own story. A lot of young black people in America, and even in Africa and Brazil, would say to you that they are telling their story, but most of the films are like application forms with the formulaic ideas of Hollywood. For any movement to emerge, it has to be innovatively independent from the mainstream cinema, and I don’t see that much. Most young people make films to be accepted, to be discovered, when in fact that was the last idea with the group I went to film school with. To be discovered was not our intention. Our intention was to tell our story our way, and make our own mistakes and learn from film to film. These days, I don’t see a visible independent movement that is by content and form.
S&A: If not a movement, are there any specific filmmakers that you find are doing interesting work?
HG: Well you know, they start and they disappear, and the reason is because they don’t enter into joint relationships. Most, especially the young filmmakers, do not see strength in communal or collective existence. They just think they’re going to conquer the world as individuals. There is no world like that. In cinema it’s always, even in Hollywood, a collective surge. A group of filmmakers enter and take over power. And so individual efforts do exist, which I’ve seen left and right, but they do not understand the collective, the communal, the importance of working together. And when you don’t work together you can’t emerge as a force. It becomes what some call a “lonely struggle” and individual self-destruction.
What I’m seeing is, one comes and establishes a name in Sundance or somewhere, which is not much for me because you have to go into the second tier of the struggle. It’s in the second level something is tested, if it’s consistent stylistically, artistically, ideologically, culturally speaking. In the second film is when it begins to mushroom. This system knows how to cherry pick black people. It’s like affirmative action – once a year, one is recognized. But what has to occur is self-emergence so if they ignore you, you don’t have to disappear. There has to be consistent emergence of two or three films – narratively, stylistically, consistently demonstrating you are here to go on. And on that kind of basis, I’m not seeing much. I’m just waiting to see.
S&A: How can filmmakers achieve the kind of stamina, or staying power, that you mention?
HG: They need to be clearly aware of the way the system works and then too, do not care whether they’re disgraced or praised. They can’t take that seriously. When they’re praised they should know there are many black filmmakers that are not recognized. When my film went to the Venice Film Festival and won the best script writing, the jury [prize], it didn’t go to my head. I know how many black filmmakers that I am operating with whose name will never be mentioned. But I’m part of them in that silent existence. So when the system does not recognize me I’m not devastated. And I’m not sure this is what we’re seeing now. Most young people now are very vulnerable as to what the American film aficionados are going to say. They care too much about a system that has no room for them. It’s really a serious issue for me, because to me it’s, how do I survive beyond a film that was disgraced or praised?
S&A: While you were at UCLA you were part of the influential LA Rebellion film movement. Tell me about the long-term impact that group has had.
HG: It really taught me how to do everything. We taught each other. We worked on each other’s films. More than the school, I would say I learned a lot from that group about filmmaking. People like Charles Burnett and Larry Clark, they had a big impact on my own work. It was also the idea of independence. I think that spirit is very difficult for a lot of people, to take the journey my kind of filmmaking takes. Going away from the mainstream industry and believing in something and then making it a reality over time, that kind of difficult journey – it is that background that I had with my fellow filmmakers at school that has kept me going, that whole idea that we don’t have to wait for somebody to tell our story, we can do it ourselves. We have to tell our own story or we’ll continue to complain about how a movie is done. So that spirit is what has helped me through all these years.
S&A: You’ve made over 10 films since then. Do you still have the same fire for the art and business of filmmaking that you did when you started?
HG: In terms of my own independent film work, I’m more inspired than ever. But the film business is another discussion. I continue to hold the view that I had when I was a student, the choice I made as an independent filmmaker to find money internationally and continue to make my own films – the films of my selection, my choosing – even if it takes me longer. When I did Sankofa, waiting nine years to find the money did affect me. Now I do not know when the money will come, but I continue to work on the script and make documentaries while I wait for feature films that I’ve been planning to produce. So the style, it remains the same.
S&A: What do you make of the current state of black cinema, and/or the black artist today?
HG: Well I think the problem now is the black art is completely undermined by the black bourgeoisie. The black middle class here or in Africa or Brazil or the Caribbean is really nurtured by white supremacy, and their whole cultural taste is of an occupied mentality. Things that undermine the history of black people’s struggle is rampant and unchallenged. Even on the political spectrum, you can get away with exploiting black people and nobody takes you to task. And the black art is affected by that. There is the silent African American art that will surge, but now it’s underneath, it’s covered by the benign art work, the fake hip-hop fashion show that parades. It’s a very loud, colorful charade that has undermined the struggling aspects of black culture, and in terms of translating the daily reality of black people, it’s toothless.
So for me, I think [art] exists in a cave. I am in a cave. I have my own editing place, but I’m not powerful enough to amass the resources to keep doing movies every two or three years. Had there been a black power I would’ve made 10 Sankofas by now. And so it’s a very difficult testing time, but it doesn’t mean it’s not brewing. That’s the deceptive part. There is silent brewing of a black expression that explodes every 15 or 20 years. Inevitably there will be something coming up, because black people are not empowered. Many are unemployed. Especially at a time when there is a black President, they don’t even have a right to complain because it could shift the political situation towards a very hostile power structure. It’s like having a Black God and he can’t do nothing for you. And you’ve always waited for Black God and he finally came to earth, but he doesn’t want to offend the majority power structure. It’s a very strange time.
S&A: Regarding the lack of black presence or power in the film industry, what’s the solution to that, in your view?
HG: I think the solution is the realization of each other’s need, meaning if you’re into film you need to create producers, you need to create distributors. You can’t just be filmmakers. If any young person is going to do better than us old goats, it’s by creating a communal coexistence with the legal part and the business part of black intelligentsia. I want to see black kids now in filmmaking come to me with the survival kit, and go to Hollywood even, anywhere. Don’t go just as a filmmaker, but have your lawyer, have your business, and go enter into any place in the world as a business person without being a token. It’s not new – black people in the 1930s and 1940s had their own theaters, had their own distribution. But I think since integration the idea of one’s own economic infrastructure just dissipated.
What is needed now is to be inclusive, to go and enter into a relationship with anybody nationally or internationally, but as a business with self-preservation, and not to go dissolve and die working for somebody else. To me, entertainment is really the new plantation. It’s the new sugar, the new cotton, that black people work for somebody else to be richer than them. So I’m saying listen, I think you should build your own infrastructure and enter into business with anybody. That would be new to see in black America.
S&A: Thinking about the struggles of black people, it brings to mind your film Bush Mama, which looks at poverty, unemployment, the criminal justice system. What do you make of the fact that a film like that, made almost 40 years ago, is still so relevant in terms of the issues it tackles?
HG: That’s why I say to believe in the story. To this day when I watch Bush Mama, I’m in tears. Not because of my talent, it’s the talent of the community; but those things were real to me when I was a student. I see all my films as a staircase of emotional evolution. They have my dreams, my nightmares, my wishes, my fantasies, my rage, and so they’re never obsolete. I just came back from Africa [screening] my film with an audience, and it’s as current as anything, but I didn’t plan it. I was responding to the time as a black man and how I felt excluded by the system that was prevailing. And many people feel that now. And so to me, it goes back into not doing movies for anybody else. Say this is a story I want to tell before I pass from this earth, and the film becomes relevant, however imperfect technically it is.
S&A: Tell me about what you’re working on now.
HG: For the past 20 years I’ve been filming Ethiopian patriots who fought during the Italian War, when Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in 1935. I have begun to assemble most of the interviews, and look for funding to do more shooting. Although most of the people have passed, there’s documentary footage in Europe and in Russia that I need to get hold of. I need to also go to the battlefield and shoot certain reenactments. So I’m now preparing to go back to Italy to do more fundraising.
And the other one is called The Maroons. It’s a documentary film that I’ve been working on for the past 10 years. It’s about African-Americans who were not part of the Underground Railroad, but who were actually dubbed as Maroons, meaning runaway Africans, from the first day of slavery in South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Louisiana, Florida, all the way to Oklahoma and Mexico. So this is an untold history, because it’s really about black people who ran away on their own, didn’t wait to be freed, which I think is very important to tell because most of the time the history is told that somebody freed black people. And it’s kind of negative, because it paralyzes the capacity of young people of all races to not be told the virtue of all human beings – that is, resisting and fighting back. Nobody just gives in to slavery. So I have over 100 hours of interviews with scholars and descendants who are doing reenactments of their ancestors in Texas and Florida and North Carolina.
S&A: Most audiences know you best for your 1993 film Sankofa, which also deals with African resistance to slavery.
HG: The true story of your question is that black people need to tell their history. Very few films are made by black people about slavery. That itself is a crime because slavery is a very important historical event that has held our people hostage. Forget white people’s role in it. In the end what’s important is black people remain and live with the scars and psychological issues. It’s our task to find whatever budget we have to make movies, because the more we make movies, the more we release our people from the psychologically incarcerating historical legacy. It’s nobody else’s business but to ours to do it. The more we do it, the more we heal ourselves. The more somebody does it for us, the more it becomes as cumbersome as Lincoln freeing a black person. Because if you never did anything for your own freedom, you’re not worth a human being in my view.
So it would be like honoring racist people to go into their agenda when they feel like doing a film on slavery. I just say, you can do anything you want – you have the money, you have the banks, you have everything. You can make a movie about my mother. I have no right to my own mother’s story. But with everything I have, I’m going to make a film and show you who my mother is to me. So I really do not care what the white world is doing. I care about black people building the monument on slavery, so the artist overcomes something deeper and the people, collectively through the artist, overcome.
S&A: It’s a tall order, it seems, what we’re trying to achieve with black indie film. When you think of how to define success as a filmmaker, what does that look like for you?
HG: Success is really when you create a space, a piece of art, and people come in and say, that’s my story – when they claim it, which happens to me a lot. When Sankofa came out it was an imperfect film, but a lot of black people came and hugged me and cried, and some even said that’s my story. In fact, we used to be evicted from theater to theater, and there was this one old lady in Harlem who used to call people and tell them the next place where it was showing. When I first met her in the theater she walked towards me with a cane just sobbing. And she says, “Don’t think you made this with your power. There’s more to the story going through you.”And she just kissed me and I knew what she was saying, that I was a vessel to things that meant a lot to her.
I may not have a claim of how distributed I am all over the world, but what comes to me are all the black people who hugged me after doing Sankofa. That to me was the biggest capital I ever received, and it’s emotional, it’s very visceral. It makes you forget the hardest journey it took to get the film out. So when a film is claimed by people, to me is a success.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Many thanks to Haile Gerima for speaking with Shadow & Act.
Find Teza, and the other films in Gerima’s catalogue here.
Earlier this month in Davos, addressing gender equality and women’s empowerment, the head of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, spoke about gender equality and women’s empowerment. She focused on the need to strengthen alliances for “economic empowerment”, which seems to be the only type of empowerment we speak about nowadays.
Of course, it is important to empower women economically, but there is an equal, if not more pressing need to discuss women’s psychological empowerment because without it, other forms of empowerment cannot be enjoyed anyway. This becomes especially clear when we look at the western world, where women have comparatively achieved economic empowerment, but still feel disempowered in significant areas of their lives.
In that vein, I thought I would list seven psychological traits that empowered women have. In a patriarchal society like ours, some can be especially difficult to achieve but these types of traits (as the list could go on) bring great worth and purpose a woman’s life.
1. An empowered woman’s biggest asset is not a pretty smile, her cooking skills, the ring on her finger, her wardrobe or how many likes she has on social media. An empowered woman’s best asset is her mind. It does not necessarily matter what type of things intrigue her, whether it’s art, science, sports, farming or setting the Guinness record in underwater dancing, but an empowered woman invests in insights and experiences that expand her mind and bring self-knowledge because she knows that the surest way to oppress a woman is to control her mind.
2. An empowered woman has a loving relationship with her body because she knows that her body is her vessel. She embraces her body no matter what shape it is. She is especially grateful if she is blessed with good health. She honours her body because without it she would not be able to perform tasks that are of meaning to her. She feeds it with the most delicious, nutritious and healthy food that she is able to and she does some form of exercise, so that her body can sustain her number one asset, which is her mind.
3. An empowered woman knows that when it comes to her sexuality, it is not within the remit of her parents, her husband, her priest, her imam or her friends to dictate what she should or shouldn’t like. How, where, when, why and with who she has sex with reflects her informed choice and her consensual preferences.
4. An empowered woman does not simplify what is complicated, or complicate what is simple, to paraphrase Arundhati Roy. She knows that things can be seen from many angles and that everything has an opposite. There is a light and a dark, a feminine and a masculine, and a positive and a negative side to everything. She can therefore also embrace her own dualities. She can be strong “and” vulnerable. She can be gentle “and” harsh. She can be defensive “and” trusting. She does not have to explain herself to anyone. However, she strives for equilibrium, and over time she decreasingly sways exaggeratedly from one personality trait to another.
5. An empowered woman loves herself deeply. The same way that she is able to love someone else and admire their character, she is also able to love her own character; not with an inflated ego, but with the same illuminating admiration, excitement and tenderness.
6. An empowered woman is disobedient. In a society where patriarchal oppression is the norm, it is pretty much impossible for a woman to play by the rules and be empowered. To live with integrity, an empowered woman will inevitably challenge traditions around her and consequently be considered troublesome. I’m not saying that you should be disrespectful, violent or anything like that. However, you should – graciously but determinedly – refuse to behave in ways that grate against your own wishes in order to please others.
7. An empowered woman has goals to which she remains unflinchingly committed. However, she does not put all her eggs in one basket. There is no such thing as a dead-end in the empowered woman’s vocabulary. If things do not work out the way she planned, she does not get stuck, she is open to new possibilities.—
Buchi Emecheta was the writer who started my love affair
with African literature. She opened up my world when I
visited my local library in Hackney and I saw a hardback
book with a black person on the cover. The book was called Destination Biafra . I had no idea where Biafra was and I
couldn’t pronounce the author’s name, but it looked like a
book about Africa – I read the blurb at the back, it was – and
I was African and I thought that I had better know a bit
more about it. Read more….
A memorial event on 9 March for Buchi Emecheta
at the CLR James Library in Dalston was the first
of many that will be held in her name during the
next 12 months.
L to R: Ade Solanke (playwright), Sylvester Onwordi (Buchi Emecheta’s eldest son), Roseanne (Muatta Books), Ngozi (storyteller and drummer)
Organised by Andrea and Roseanne, the intimate gathering
of friends, family and locals, those who knew of her work
and adored her and others who just wanted to know more.
The group included a young woman who worked at the
library and who came from Ibusa, the same village as Buchi.
Andrea announced that this would be the first of many
gatherings for Mama Buchi, that there would be a series of
events to ‘Big Up Buchi’ in order to encourage the resurgence
to read her work, particularly for young people inside and
outside school. To find out more about the ongoing
workshops, book readings and gatherings that are being
planning, contact Andrea on: firstname.lastname@example.org
Saturday 25 March, 1pm
Sylvester Onwordi and Margaret Busby, Buchi Emecheta’s
publisher will give individual tributes and then there will
be a panel discussion with female Nigerian writers
including, Chika Unigwe, Sefi Atta, Molara Wood and
Sarah Ladipo Manyika. Plus audience contributions on
Buchi Emecheta’s life and work.
Venue : Terra Kulture, Tiamiyu Savage Street, Victoria
Join our tribute to the late pioneering British African author
Buchi Emecheta, featuring her son, Sylvester Onwordi, her
publisher Margaret Busby, and prominent British-Nigerian
writers, plus readings of selected extracts from her work.
Chaired by Ade Solanke.(Writer/Producer, Spora Stories)
Part of the Greenwich Book Festival 2017.
Queen Anne Court, Council Room, University of Greenwich,
Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich SE10 9LS
African Literature Assoc. at Yale University, New Haven
Thursday 15th June 3:45-5pm
A Tribute Event “Remembering Buchi Emecheta at ALA 2017”
at the Conference in Yale in June has been granted by the
ALA Executive and the Conference Organising Committee.
Tributes from highly esteemed African women academics will
be paying respects and libation for Buchi Emecheta through
stories, poems and readings
Chair: Ayebia Clarke
Celebrating Buchi Emecheta’s Place and Contribution in
With papers presented by Dr. G. Oty Agbajoh-Laoye,
Dr. Helen Chukwuma, and Dr. Mark di Giacomo,
Sylvester Onwordi and Dr Modhumita Roy
Buchi Emecheta was to have been our special guest of
honour at the first SABLE Litfest in The Gambia in
2007 but she was too unwell to travel. We honour
Buchi at a celebration of her life with readings,
memories, poetry, music and film.
Eds:Louisa Uchum Egbunike and Kadija Sesay
Louisa Uchum Egbunike is a lecturer in English at
Manchester Metropolitan University. She completed
her PhD at SOAS, University of London, where she
has also lectured in Contemporary African Literature.
Louisa is one of the founders and conveners of the
Annual International Igbo Conference at SOAS.
The feature documentary “How Sweet the Sound: The Blind Boys of Alabama” tells the story of the Legendary gospel quartet The Blind Boys of Alabama, the award-winning gospel group that met at a state-run, segregated vocational institute for the blind in the 1930s, and have toured continuously, amassing five Grammy Awards and universal acclaim.
They soared through the golden era of gospel in the 1950s, experienced difficult times when rock ’n’ roll took over, and would eventually enjoy a resurgence. Now, as the group enters its seventh decade, they are as artistically vital as ever, collaborating with musicians like Peter Gabriel, Ben Harper, and others.
Directed by Leslie McCleave, and shot over a 10-year period, the film features the surviving group members recounting their unlikely success story, as we see a rare, remarkable view of life on the road and in the studio with a group of renowned performers.
The film is currently touring the film festival circuit, most recently screening as one of dozens of documentaries, features and shorts related to disabilities in the annual ReelAbilities Film Festival which takes place in NYC. Members of the Blind Boys were on hand fora Q&A that followed.
For upcoming screening dates, visit the film’s website here.
Check out a trailer for “How Sweet the Sound: The Blind Boys of Alabama below.”
In 1884, a group of thirteen European policymakers met to negotiate standards for the “effective occupation” of Africa. At the time of this now-infamous Berlin Conference, about 10 percent of Africa was under European control. By 1914 Europe “controlled” 90 percent of the continent.
In 1987, a little over one hundred years after Berlin, a group of technologists from fifteen European countries met on the island of Madeira, and in a highly fractious and politicized meeting set standards to divide time and radio spectrum, narrowly agreeing on the technical specification of the GSM mobiletelephone system. At the time less than 1 percent of Africa was covered by phones. By 2014 mobile “penetration” in sub-Saharan Africa was around 80 percent.
Africa was never mentioned in the Madeira meeting. Indeed the UK representative described the spread of GSM to people globally, including those who “live in the poorest countries on the planet,” as an “unintended consequence.” Yet, mobiles have been described as “the new talking drums” (de Bruijn), and a “communication lifeline” (Pew Research Center) that will “pave way for huge opportunities” (Financial Times).
Phones have swept through the African continent in the last decade, followed by WhatsApp, fiber, and mobile payment systems. As recently as 2000 Manuel Castells could call Africa “the black hole of the information society,” but now the World Bank speaks of the “African digital renaissance,” citing a proliferation of tech hubs and locally produced apps. The “Africa Rising” narrative focuses on the peaks of a complex terrain with many remarkable innovations and translations, while at the same time access is almost wholly owned by Mark Zuckerberg and a handful of telcos. In the valleys one government falsely tells its activist citizens that it has cracked WhatsApp’s encryption, while another restricts the use of Skype, and around the continent mobile operators extract the most rent possible from their poorest customers, creating new forms of poverty.
International funders preach development through entrepreneurship, teach tech innovation based on Silicon Valley models, and support mobile application development for “strengthening social inclusion.” Inclusion, though, also meansimbrication into a global financial information system that is better known for its shocks than its comforts, with new forms of micro-lending and mobile cash allowing neoliberal financialization of those at the “bottom of the pyramid” and in the most rural areas.
The conference brings scholars, technologists, and cultural producers together on the island of Madeira: a European territory off the coast of Africa, a historical site of mutual entanglement between the Atlantic continents, and a point of departure for European expansion. Here we’ll strategize ways to revisit, reframe, and recode the future of technology on and for the continent. What can African theorists, technologists, and cultural producers do to generate alternatives to the influx of neocolonial narratives of tech entrepreneurship? Taking as a given that Africa is “a variegated site of innovation” (Mavhunga), what are key epistemologies and ways of being which are endemic in Africa that should be offered to the world through new systems and processes? Technology is politics by other means (Latour), even if its agency is generally dissimulated. How, then, might we consider anew progressive social and political goals and their conjoining with cultures of technical creativity already embedded in Africa’s diverse contexts of life? How might new strategic narratives nurture and promote a vision of the continent as a crucible for radical new socio-technical paradigms? How can an African information economy avoid the dynamics of the resource curse, where connectivity is extractive andexercised upon African citizens rather than by and through them? What can Western technologists do differently, and what are the spaces for collaboration? This conference aims to reinvestigate these relationships and engender dialog between African and Western audiences and participants, who should leave Madeira equipped with new strategies and new collaborative partnerships.
Keynote Speaker Achille Mbembe
We are accepting papers, creative works, and technologies that explore or demonstrate alternative socio-technical strategies. Contributions should be grounded in analysis and move toward synthesis: We hope to paint the “art of the [radical] possible” and generate new threads and pathways for the development of fresh technologies. We hope that this focus on the possible near future will differentiate this event from many generative but more phantasmal Afro-futurist speculations. Creative works and technologies eligible for consideration may include, but are not limited to: software, technical systems (“low” or “hi”), images, objects, demos, film/video, poetry, performances, interventions, illustration, and more. Works will be selected by jury for an exhibition in Funchal, the capital city of Madeira, at the galleries of the Colégio dos Jesuitas, a re-purposed 16th century Jesuit compound.
Example themes include:
• Alternative globalist or transnational technologies • African technical epistemologies • Activist or political new media • Re-coding remittances • Technologies of migration and diaspora • Technology and race • Decolonizing ICT4D, Tech4D, and M4D • Postcolonial computing • Markets, math, and statistics of domination • Histories of Africa and global production • Non-western (or syncretic) applied science • Anti-extractive technical and financial systems • Artist’s critical interventions into technology and technical practice
For detailed submission guidelines and more information, please see theconference website or send questions to Cátia Jardim at email@example.com.
Following the success of We Are Flowers, the Nigeria-based creative collective called 14 is planning a new edition. Like the debut edition, the new issue, set for publication in August, explores various aspects of LGBTQ life. The theme for this year’s anthology is Sex!
See below for more details on how to submit your work.
The August (Sex) Issue
The theme for this year’s August anthology is ‘Sex’. The editors at 14 are looking for poems, short stories, creative nonfiction/memoir pieces, tweets and art works that are artistically homoerotic in nature or explore issues of sex and the politics of the body. Just to clarify: Queer Bodies.
Everybody is welcome to the party, regardless of sexual orientation or nationality. However, our focus is Nigeria, which means that we will be publishing more works by LGBTQ Nigerians. Please bear with us.
All submissions should be made as Word documents and should contain a brief author’s bio. (With the exception of My Life In Tweets.) Because we are receiving works for both our August 2017 and January 2018 anthologies, documents should be named thus: Issue, Genre, Title of work, Author’s name. For example: August/Sex_Poetry_Labyrinths_and_others_Christoper_Okigbo.
Please include a brief bio on the last page of your submission.
Submissions should be made to The 14 Team at firstname.lastname@example.org
Poetry: We accept up to three poems from a single person. All poems by one person must be in one Word document, with each poem properly titled and acknowledged.
Fiction: We are accepting very little fiction. Fiction can be in the form of flash fiction or short story. Short stories must not be more than 3,000 words.
Creative non-fiction/memoir/essay etc: We want non-fiction pieces written in language that resembles that of fiction. Which means that we do not accept pieces that read like newspaper reporting or sermons. Non-fiction pieces can range from 1000 to 3,500 words, although we’ve published more, depending on the strength of the prose.
Art / Photography: An artist/photographer is free to send up to 3 art works or photographs. For the August anthology, we would love pieces that are connected, even though this is not compulsory. Artworks/photographs should be titled and accompanied by short notes on the pieces.
My Life in Tweets: For the August (Sex) anthology, tweet @naijaqueerart using the hashtag #QueerSexNaija. For the January (Unthemed) anthology, tweet @naijaqueerart using #IAmQueer, but not until August 1.
Deadline: The deadline for the August (Sex) anthology is June 15 2017. For the January anthology, the deadline is November 15 2017.
We encourage you to submit so as to contribute to the all-important conversation about acceptance and sexual equality.
Fall Lines – a literary convergence is a literary journal presented by The Jasper Project in partnership with Muddy Ford Press, Richland Library, & One Columbia for Arts and History.
Fall Lines will accept submissions of previously unpublished poetry, essays, short fiction, and flash fiction from January 15, 2017 through March 31, 2017. While the editors of Fall Lines hope to attract the work of writers and poets from the Carolinas and the Southeastern US, acceptance of work is not dependent upon residence.
Publication in Fall Lines will be determined by a panel of judges and accepted authors (ONLY) will be notified by May 30, 2017, with a publication date in July 2017. Two $250 cash prizes, sponsored by the Richland Library Friends, will be awarded: The Saluda River Prize for Poetry and the Broad River Prize for Prose.
Each entry must be submitted as a single independent entry.
Submit each individual poetry submission, along with its own cover sheet, to FallLines@JasperProject.org with the word POETRY in the subject line.
Submit each individual prose submission, along with its own cover sheet, to FallLines@JasperProject.org with the word PROSE in the subject line.
Cover sheets MUST include your name, the name of the one individual entry you are submitting with that cover sheet, email address, and USPO address. There is no fee to enter, but submissions that fail to follow the above instructions will be disqualified without review.
Please limit short fiction to 2000 words or less; flash fiction to 350 – 500 words per submission; essays to 1200 words; and poetry to three pages (Times New Roman 12 pt.) Please submit no more than a total of 5 entries.
Publication in Fall Lines is determined by a panel of judges, with a publication date in summer 2016. Accepted authors will receive two copies of the journal. Two $250 cash prizes, sponsored by the Richland Library Friends, will be awarded: The Saluda River Prize for Poetry and The Broad River Prize for Prose.
The Columbia Fall Line is a natural junction, along which the Congaree River falls and rapids form, running parallel to the east coast of the country between the resilient rocks of the Appalachians and the softer, more gentle coastal plain.
Valerie June’s new album, The Order Of Time, came out Jan. 27, 2017. Danny Clinch/Courtesy of the artist
History moves through all of our voices, in inflection, tone and vocabulary. Some people call this collective language “the spirit”; to others, it’s “the voice of the people.” Valerie June just calls it song: the ongoing record of human sorrow and delight that she shapes into tunes and verses that may start small, but open up to the centuries.
On her new album, The Order Of Time, June places these missives she “receives” within new settings. The country and blues inflections of her 2014 breakthrough album, Pushin’ Against A Stone, are still present, but more subtle, blending with jazz and ambient elements that help the songs become more conversational and more expansive.
Sharing “Astral Plane,” the first track from The Order Of Time, June engaged in an email conversation about how these sometimes old songs found new life in the recording process, what happened when she tried to write for Massive Attack, and how Norah Jones and her collaborator, keyboardist Pete Remm, helped make The Order of Time the beautiful channel it is. (Jones contributed her culinary skills, for one thing!)
Ann Powers: You have always had an eclectic sound that goes beyond most conceptions of “roots” music, but this new album really shows you exploring atmospherics and a different approach to production. How have your sound and your approach to songwriting evolved in the time since you released Pushin’ Against A Stone?
Valerie June: I honestly could not really tell you much about a change. I can say that many of the songs on this new record are what I’d call ‘old songs.’ They are songs that I had written at least 10 years prior to Pushin’ Against a Stone. Sometimes it takes songs awhile to find their family/kindred recording connection. Kinda like finding a soul mate, I guess… Other times that family is found with great ease. It just depends.
“Astral Plane” is calmly philosophical, in a way that associates with all of your music. You’re at ease with notions of the spiritual and incorporate the language of that realm easily and gracefully into your work. This reminds me of the work of writers like Alice Walker and bell hooks. How have you developed your ideas about these more esoteric themes? What is their place in contemporary songwriting, in your opinion?
Wow! Alice Walker is a definite great when it comes to writers, so thanks for those words! “Astral Plane” is one of those songs that I received and still find myself walking into the meaning of…
Often what a song represents the first time I hear it and what it means years later are two very separate lanes of life. Time can do that to you. I think “Astral Plane” is one of those songs that will ever be revealing itself to me.
What I can tell you is that Massive Attack sent a track for me to write to a year ago or so. I love Massive Attack, so I gave it a go! Like many songs I’ve written, I was cooking in the kitchen. I had the track on loop in my headphones trying to hear voices around it. Finally, I turned the track off to focus on the cooking. That’s when I heard the voice and started to sing what I heard. The chorus came first … “Dancing on the astral plane, in holy water cleansing rain, floating through the stratosphere, blind but yeah you see so clear.” It took me out of myself. Most songs I receive that do that I want to hold on for myself, but I tried to fit that one to the track. I did an awful recording job on the demo that I sent to them. That’s usual for me. Recording is not a strong point for me!
Needless to say, as I hit the send button, I was feeling regretful thinking I should have kept it for myself. I was a little happy when I received a quick and sweet note back saying it would not work for their latest project. With just a few sniffles in a tissue for my ego, I fell asleep and awoke with the song on repeat in my mind. That led me to sit in the living room with my guitar and try to create music for it. That’s when I knew it was for me to sing. All songs received aren’t for the writer to sing, but most of the time, they will let you know how they’d like to be realized in the world. There sitting with my acoustic guitar, I knew it was for me.
Like many of the songs on The Order Of Time, this one beautifully incorporates several different musical elements — keyboards, pedal steel, horns — yet it never feels overblown. How do you achieve that delicate balance when your musical arrangements get bigger?
As I mentioned above, I am not strong in the recording department, but I feel fortunate that great producers come into my life and help me through! The producer on “Astral Plane” [and throughout The Order of Time] is Matt Marinelli. His sensibility with sound and decision to surround me with musicians that play many genres and often work with strong female singers helped the song have those textures without feeling overblown.
Valerie June, The Order Of Time
Other songs on The Order of Time still show your gospel roots, and in fact you even got some of your relatives to sing with you on those songs. Family plays a big role in the way you conduct your career. What’s the importance of this family element within your art-making process?
The importance of family is huge because we are a singing family. That’s why I love The Staple Singers so much! Because my family doesn’t really play instruments as a main item, but we all use our voices as instruments. It was always fun to get a song started around the house and find a sister to start humming along, then hear a brother catch you on the chorus, and maybe my mother would walk in and hit a backing vocal … that was it right there! That was all you really needed to get through the day!
You’re touring with Norah Jones this fall, and she also sings background on a few songs on your new album. Tell me about your collaboration with her, and what you find interesting and personally influential in her music.
Norah is a great part of the making of this record! First of all, she was kind enough to lend Pete Remm and his masterful B3 and keys to play on almost every song! He brought some magic! Then, they gave us the key to their place to let us go over and record some of my vocals while they were on the road, to help us keep cost down and be in a comfortable environment! Then, she came up to Guilford Sound in Vermont with us over Thanksgiving while we were making the record. Let me just say, the woman can throw it down in the kitchen! We came out of the studio on Thanksgiving Day to a full-on spread made for kings and queens. She’d almost give Gran a neck-and-neck competition on her amazing yeast rolls that I grew up eating. Lastly, when we did need backing vocals, she and Mazz Swift were the perfect match to make it happen! They are my sisters. I feel like my life so far has been filled with meeting some of Earth’s kindest souls. Everly Forwardly!