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Sunday, October 30, 2016

Sunday, October 30, 2016





If you haven’t seen Kehinde Wiley’s work, prepare to be amazed. The
LA-native, NY-based artist creates striking pieces in classical styles,
but with modern black people at the center of the work. His pieces
are moving and employ bright colors and an attention to detail that
truly brings them to life.

Photo: Kehinde Wiley, Sancta Maria, Mater Dei

Photo: Kehinde Wiley, Sancta Maria, Mater Dei

He takes inspiration for the poses in the pieces from the Old Masters of art, and this exhibit in particular pays homage to religious iconography. Although he’s an award-winning, highly-praised artist, his latest exhibit is monumental. It consists of paintings and six stained glass windows. Check some of it out below. 

Photo: Kehinde Wiley, Mary, Comforter of the Afflicted II

Photo: Kehinde Wiley, Mary, Comforter of the Afflicted II




Photo: Kehinde Wiley, The Virgin and Child, Enthroned

Photo: Kehinde Wiley, The Virgin and Child, Enthroned




Kehinde WileyPhoto: Kehinde Wiley, Mary Comforter, of the Afflicted

Kehinde WileyPhoto: Kehinde Wiley, Mary Comforter, of the Afflicted




Photo: Kehinde Wiley, Madonna and Child

Photo: Kehinde Wiley, Madonna and Child

Wiley’s work is on display from Oct. 20, 2016 — Jan. 16, 2017 at Le Petit Palais in Paris. 













Call for Submissions

| An Anthology of Nigerian Queer Art



A group of writers and artists called “14” are curating an anthology celebrating LGBT life and community in Nigeria. We strongly encourage you to send in your work. On January 13, 2017, the anthology will be available for download right here on Brittle Paper.

Here are the details from the editors:

On January 13 2014 the administration of Goodluck Jonathan passed the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act. Under the law, LGBT Nigerians have suffered persecution and harassment. 

A group of Nigerian artists have chosen this date to celebrate the resilient spirit of the LGBT community, in writing and visual arts. The aim is to reclaim that date for ourselves, as we did with the word Queer. 

We are therefore calling on other Queer artists to join in this celebration by sending non-fiction, poetry, art commentary, art and photography, etc to

We also welcome works from non-LGBT artists, so long as they are LGBT-themed. The anthology will be published on Africa’s foremost literary website, Brittle Paper, on January 13 2017. It will also feature an introduction by a notable Nigerian writer.



All submissions should be made to our email: as a Word (PDF for art) attachment. The documents should contain the artist’s name and bio (more information on this under IDENTITY PROTECTION).

Poetry: The poet can submit a maximum of two poems of not more than forty lines each. Poems should be in a single Word document.

Non-fiction: Non-fiction should not be more than 3000 words and can be in the form of memoir or general commentary on LGBT life. More important is that the writing should be in the genre of creative non-fiction. A writer is allowed only one piece in this genre.

Art Commentary: Writer can submit only one art commentary of not more than 3000 words. The commentary must be on a work that is homoerotic in nature or has at its centre an expression of the LGBT experience.

Art & Photography: Artists can submit up to five drawings, paintings or pictures that are thematically and aesthetically related. These should be submitted as a PDF document, with a brief note (not more than 200 words) on the works.

My Life In Tweets: Tweet @naijaqueerart using the hashtag #IAmQueer. We are looking for tweets by LGBT and non-LGBT Nigerians at home and in the diaspora that can capture creatively and concisely an LGBT-related experience of love, sex, discrimination, friendship, etc. You can tweet as much as you can, and in connected threads.

Deadline for Submission: 8 December 2016 (12.00 pm GMT ).


We are sensitive to the climate in Nigeria and know that most of our artists would like to protect their privacy. As a result, we encourage artists to create pseudonyms under which to feature their works. Bios, also, can contain non-specific points. Since this is an anthology celebrating queer art and resilience in Nigeria, artists are free to include their sexual or gender orientation in their bio.


Ainehi Edoro
 holds a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor.









Non-fiction Project

– Deadline for submissions: 8 January, 2017

Octavia Estelle Butler was born on 22 June, 1947, and died in 2006. In celebration of what would have been her 70th birthday in 2017, and in recognition of Butler’s enormous influence on speculative fiction, and African-American literature more generally, Twelfth Planet Press is publishing a selection of letters and essays written by science fiction and fantasy’s writers, editors, critics and fans.

We are looking for letters addressed to Butler, which should be between 1000 and 1500 words. We are paying 5cpw up to $USD75 for letters, to be paid on publication. We are looking for World First Publication Rights in English, and exclusivity for the first twelve months of publication.

The deadline for submissions is 8 January, 2017. Twelfth Planet Press plans to publish the volume in time for Butler’s birthday on the 22nd of June 2017. To submit, or if you have any queries, please send your submission to – and if you need guidance on what type of letter we’re looking for, please see our previous work, Letters to Tiptree.

The editors are Alexandra Pierce, editor of the award-winning Letters to Tiptree and co-host of the Hugo Award-winning podcast Galactic Suburbia, and Amin Chehelnabi, who was a 2011 Aurealis Award Judge and an alumnus of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop at UC San Diego in 2014. He was also a recipient of the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship Award, and in 2016 paneled for the Shaping Change Conference at UCSD, with regard to this Scholarship and what Butler and her work meant to him.








2017 Commonwealth Short Story Prize


The 2017 Commonwealth Short Story Prize is now open for entries. 

Entries close 1st November 2016.

The Prize is awarded for the best piece of unpublished short fiction (2,000–5,000 words) in English written by a citizen of a Commonwealth country. All stories submitted must be unpublished, but both unpublished and published writers are eligible to apply. The competition is free to enter.

The international judging panel comprises one judge from each of the five regions – Africa, Asia, Canada and Europe, the Caribbean and the Pacific. Please note that while the entries will be judged regionally, all judges will read and deliberate on entries from all regions. Regional winners receive £2,500 and the overall winner receives £5,000.

Short stories translated into English from all other languages are eligible. We also accept entries in the original Bengali, Kiswahili, Portuguese and Samoan.

Please read the entry and eligibility guidelines, downloadable from the entry page, before submitting your story via the online entry form, available here:  Submit an entry








—A Sweaty Piecea


Oh Nothin, Just a lil “Mixtape Soup” for the Sacral. 
Dim them lights
The Energy Kitchen has the purrrfect medicine for any Melancholy.

Vibe Recipe: 
Sea People, Wata Spirits, Dolphins, Fairies, Nagas, Holistic Ho’s, Oshun, Yemoja, Pomba Gira, Gratitude, & 2 shakes of Glitter.

Serving Suggestions: 
Best Served during moonlit hours. Nekkid prance, cuddling, SACRED unions are recommended…into the sunrise.

Watery Zodiac: Scorpio,Pisces,Cancers(& ofcourse ARIES)
Chakra: All 13 uh em 
Crystal Vibration: Red Jasper, Hematite, Rose Quartz, Clear Quartz

@Jetia_Deity on Ig 
@JetiaDeity on yt








photo by Alex Lear

photo by Alex Lear





I met myself coming around the corner one day, and I almost didn’t recognize me.


We so seldom see ourselves as we actually are. Even in a mirror we often see what we hope to be or what we fear we are, exaggerating both flaws and beauty. But when we see ourselves in the faces of others, then we really see.


Would you know yourself if you saw yourself the way others see you?


Of course, when we are young—or at least when I was first moving beyond my teen years—it never occurred to me that the past had anything deep to do with me personally. My father was from the country. I was from the city. I didn’t really see how his life was shaping my life. One African proverb says you can’t truly judge the man until the man has reared a child. So when can you truly judge the child?


Somehow, in the way most of us in America have been acculturated, I thought of myself as distinct from my parents. I did not consciously know their ideas about life except by inference in terms of what they encouraged and/or discouraged in me, and therefore I was blissfully unaware that much of my own ideas were shaped and influenced, if not outright determined, by the ideas my parents held.


When my mother was battling Hodgkin’s disease, she would have her three sons take turns driving her across the city to the hospital that was located in the next parish to the west of New Orleans. During these long drives for chemotherapy treatment she would talk to each of us, not about anything in particular, but many years later I realized she was consciously spending her last days conversing with her sons.


I’ll never forget how well she knew us, how after hurricane Betsy hit my mother had written a long letter to her youngest sister, my aunt Narvalee who was by then living out in California, a single mother with one child, my first cousin Frieda. My mother was a college graduate and a third grade school teacher. I knew she could write, but she opened her letter saying if she could write like Paul in the bible or like me, Lil Val. Wow, my mother admires me as a writer.


That was in 1965 three years before I joined the Free Southern Theatre and became a professional writer. By 1973 she was dead. If she saw me now, would she still admire me; would I remind her of the young man she loved; or would I be so strangely changed that she would know who I was but not know the me who came to be over the intervening years between now and when she last saw me back in the early seventies? I wish I could see me the way she would see me if she looked at me today, she who knew me before I knew me.


Have you ever had a long talk with someone who knew you well but had not seen you in over ten years? Say, you’re having a quick drink with Gilbert after seeing him at Walgreen’s; he was purchasing a prescription for diabetes medication and you were getting a refill of blood pressure medicine. Gilbert was your best friend from elementary school with whom you used to share lunch. You and Gilbert had even planned and literally started to run away together just for the romanticized adventure of two adolescents exploring the world away from the dictates of parents.


Or maybe you are hugging Eric and laughing with your arm still around his shoulder and he is playfully punching you in the chest the way y’all used to do while playing sandlot football games on the crisp autumns of weekends decades ago, and Eric would laugh at something you said and retort, “boy, you still talking all that shit.”


Or maybe it was Woodrow you encountered.  He was coming out of Picadilly’s, and you were going in planning to meet your wife for dinner. Woodrow was someone you used to laugh with pulling pranks in high school and now, even though he walks with a cane and has only half a head of hair, Woodrow gains your admiration as he tells you about the business venture he’s started. His enthusiasm is contagious as he describes all the wonderful skills and information he’s learning. His eyes are animated as he leans into you, one hand familiarly resting on your right shoulder as he describes the joys of getting into a whole new area and keeping up with thirty-year-old guys who are not even half his age.


Or you see Sandra in some office hallway, she who could outrun a cheetah back in eighth grade. She is still slim and vivacious. She greets you not only with a girlish giggle and bubbly “hello” but waves a well-manicured hand at you while balancing a cup of steaming coffee in her other hand; she’s married and has a beautiful diamond ring that literally shoots off a flashing rainbow of refracted lights as she waves good-bye. Seeing her brisk walk and the swing of her lithe hips makes you self-conscious about all the weight you’ve gained.


I temporarily quieten some of my concerns about who really knows me by insisting people who have not seen me in years can not really know me. The two questions—who knows me and do I know me the way other people know me—take turns as the focus of my mind.  Then I wonder how much of me today is the old me that friends knew decades ago.


The old folks say it’s easy to change your mind but hard to change your ways. Is the way I am today more or less the way I was way back when, and if so where did that constant part of me come from? Was I born the way I am, or are all of us shaped by our interactions with and responses to our nurturing environment?  Over a life time do we remain essentially the same or is it possible to fundamentally transform ourselves?


The things we think about can surprise us. Where did that come from, we ask ourselves while looking around to see if anybody saw us thinking these crazy ideas.


I remember riding a subway in Manhattan. I hallucinated for a minute and thought I saw my mother and father at a train stop, standing close to each other. My old man handsome, with a dimpled smile and a seriousness dripping from his eyes, his dark head held high; my short mother looking up, her eyes shining. He had one hand lightly on her waist, and she was leaning into him, two hands caressing his chest. I had never seen my mother touching my father like that, never thought of them as head-over-heels infatuated with each other. But there they were.


Suddenly I started wondering about what momma and daddy were thinking and feeling, how it was to be young and black in the late forties. How did fighting in two wars affect him: once in the pacific and later in Korea?  Before she died, my mother’s younger sister told me why we used to alternate going by the Robinson’s on Mardi Gras one year and the Robinson’s coming by us the next. Frank Robinson and my father were best friends, and daddy asked Mr. Robinson to look out for mama while daddy was in the war. I wonder now how it was to be a pregnant woman with two small children and her man returning to war after surviving World War II.


I can’t believe how dumb I was to ignore them. How could I be so uninterested in the roots of myself. Even though in my early manhood years I served in Korea on a missile base located on a remote mountaintop, I never really discussed Korea with my father. Like most youth, I was too self absorbed to want to learn anything about my origins or any of me that wasn’t actually embodied in my physical person.


When I was still in elementary school I gave a Frederick Douglass speech and won a prize in a church contest, and later in junior high school, playing Crispus Attucks, I jumped out of a closet—well, actually from behind a curtain—hoisting a sword fashioned from a coat hangar, proclaiming “I’m a proud black man who is willing to fight and die for my freedom.”


I liked that kind of black history but ignored my father’s fight to be hired as a laboratory technician at the Veterans Administration Hospital. He wrote letters all the way to Washington. DC, kept arguing his rights and finally a directive came down to hire him. They did, but they wouldn’t promote him even though he was the best lab tech they had, so good that he was the one training the college interns, some of whom were hired after his training and even promoted because they had a degree while he languished in lower grade positions because he had no sheepskin. I never heard him complain about mistreatment—was I deaf or did he just silently suffer, nobly carrying on despite slights heaped on him?


Now that I’m old as history, now that my teenage years are on page five hundred-and-something in the American history book, the textbook someone had thrown on the floor, in the corner of our classroom; now that what I went through does not seem relevant to what teenagers today are going through; now I want to know my father’s history, I want to embrace my mother’s hardships.


There they were again and again, at each train stop. That must have been me my mother was carrying in two arms, gently bouncing up and down. I had on a funny, green knit hat swallowing my big head. I am the elder of their three sons.  Should I get off and at least walk close to them, hear what they are saying to each other?  Look, my mother is talking to me.  What was she saying? Before I can muster the courage to stand up and go eavesdrop on my parents, the train pulls off. I am strangely more anxious about how I bungled the chance to get to know my parents when they were standing at the last stop than I am curious about what I will see at the next stop.


But the next stop is my stop. I get up and wait at the door as the train jerks to a stop. The door abruptly opens.  People pour in and out of the train simultaneously. As I push through the throng, I look up and down the platform. They are not there. My parents are gone, or more likely, never were here. I feel alone, making my way in the world.


I promise I will never forget my parents as young lovers. I was so fortunate that they were my fate—Inola and Big Val. My mother, a school teacher who never forced me to do homework and who did not even try to dissuade me from taking an F in high school one trimester because I didn’t want to do an assignment a teacher forced on me. My father forcing us to grow food in the city and pick up all the trash on our block to keep it clean but who never once tried to discourage us from picking up the gun in the sixties—that was my brother on the cover of Time magazine brandishing a shotgun during the take over at Cornell University. Big Val and Inola always encouraged us to fight, and they never made us conform to anything.


It is obvious to me now, but I have not always recognized this truth: I can not fully know myself if I don’t intimately know my past, intimately know the forces that shaped and influenced me, the people who gave birth to me, and especially the culture and era within which I lived. My head was spinning as my mental fingers tapped the codes of past experiences into the calculator of my consciousness. I was literally engrossed in my own world.


So there I was coming around the corner thinking all these thoughts, totally unaware that I was about to really peep who I was; suddenly I see someone I grew up with. That person looks old as they hug me, greet me, and playfully say, heyyyy man, long time no see. They enfold me in a long, warm embrace, holding the me they remember. I am struggling to remember their name.


In that moment I see both their obvious joy and also see how much they have changed, how they have aged. I wonder what they are doing, what is their life like, what part of the city they live in, what kind of work they do, all the personal profile sort of information. That’s when I had this weird desire; I wanted to be able to fully embrace myself and know myself the way this old friend thinks they know me, and I was really curious to know myself from the perspective that my parents knew me.


I wanted to know all of me, and that’s the moment when I had a news flash: now that your life is almost over, who are you really?


Am I only who I think I am or am I really the complex summation of all that I have also been in relation to others and in response to the world within which I have lived.


As I walked to my car I had a funny thought: my mind is not me. My mind may in fact be the biggest impediment to me getting to know me. Maybe my mind is the least reliable map of who I have been, a distorting lens when it comes to recognizing the self.


All personal intentions aside, all individual desires sublimated, all intellectual self-reflections and second guesses ignored, is it possible for any of us to truly know ourselves without the help and input of others who know us? Is it possible to move beyond letting our minds judge who we are? Would it be too overwhelming to consider letting the world we live in judge who we are? Can we shed the shackles of our own mind and be both free and fortunate to see ourselves the way others see us? And if that portrait was actually presented to us, would we recognize ourselves? 


—kalamu ya salaam








OCTOBER 24, 2016

OCTOBER 24, 2016





Making The

American Syllabus:

Hashtag Syllabi In

Historical Perspective


OCTOBER 24, 2016

OCTOBER 24, 2016

Hashtag syllabi such as #FergusonSyllabus and #CharlestonSyllabus assemble critical intellectual resources and promote collective study both within and outside of the academy during this moment of heightened racial tension. The intellectual intervention of these resource lists, primarily initiated by African American scholar-activists, is necessitated by the systemic deficiency of racially inclusive content in America’s public school and university curricula. This effort to identify racially-centered intellectual resources in 2014 is an extension of self-education practices that African Americans have pursued for more than a century.

The desire for collective literary study among African Americans increased in the last decade of the nineteenth century in response to intensified racial hostility, discrimination, and outright anti-black violence following Reconstruction. Activist members in literary societies such as the American Negro Academy, the Bethel Historical and Literary Society and the Woman’s Era Club conscientiously read black texts and engaged in literary production to counter the onslaught racist images and characterizations that defined black identity in the white imagination.

The Women’s Twentieth Century Club, circa 1910 (Credit: Hannah Gray Home Collection, Greater New Haven African American Historical Society)

The Women’s Twentieth Century Club, circa 1910 (Credit: Hannah Gray Home Collection, Greater New Haven African American Historical Society)

While membership in literary societies varied from single-gender to mixed gatherings of men and women, my focus here emanates from insights I made while studying the reading selections of the Women’s Twentieth Century Club, a black women’s club founded in New Haven in 1900, as part of a larger project I began in 2013 examining African American self-education practices.1

As I identified books, speeches and other materials the New Haven women read to examine race, gender, and political issues of their day, comparisons came immediately into focus for me: the new hashtag syllabi were produced under social conditions and for purposes similar to those shaping the New Haven club’s reading list.

During the last decade of the nineteenth century, white southerners, resentful of the social and material gains African Americans made, unleashed Jim Crow discrimination and violence and terror against black people. Black women’s clubs played a significant role in stimulating political consciousness and literary production among its members during this devastating period of racial discrimination and social oppression known as the nadir.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett

Ida B. Wells-Barnett

In protest of these conditions, intellectual activism within the Black women’s club movement was launched through public addresses, newspaper columns, articles and books produced by educated and elite black women such as anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Boston newspaper publisher and socialite Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, and the Oberlin educated Mary Church Terrell and Anna Julia Cooper, among many others. In 1892, Cooper expressed her view that black women’s progress was integral to the progress of the entire black race, asserting, “only the black woman can say, when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood…then and there the whole Negro race enters with me.”

Terrell, Ruffin, Fannie Barrier Williams, and other women of elite status and often of mixed racial background, joined with white women’s organizations in charitable causes and suffrage efforts. Nonetheless, they were not immune to the sting of white women’s racism. Terrell, highly educated and wealthy, urged unity across class lines, saying black women “fortunate enough to have education…must go into our communities and improve them. Above all, we must organize ourselves as Negro women.” Working as speakers, writers, educators and advocates, these pioneer women defended the black woman and in the process produced a body of work that remains central to race and gender analysis today.

The present moment, characterized by acute social disparities between blacks and whites in income, health and rates of incarceration of black citizens, has exacerbated racial strife. The killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson in August 2014 awakened America to a pitch of racial bigotry flung so far beyond quality of life issues as to question the basic right of black people to exist.

Embracing the social media hashtag, contemporary African American scholars demonstrate a shared impulse with their nineteenth century predecessors to employ intellectual activism to uplift the race under dire social conditions. Marcia ChatelainChad WilliamsKidada WilliamsKeisha N. Blain and others express similar goals: to arm educators and parents with resources to discuss current social conflicts, to provide historical contexts for racial terrorism and for academic activism, and to empower people in and outside of the classroom to take informed action however they may choose. Seeking to read strategically in order to gain historical context for the oppression and racial violence levied against black people, they also share goals with the Women’s Twentieth Century Club in New Haven.

Significantly, the New Haven club and contemporary activists read
similar or even the same sources. The Twentieth Century Club read
their contemporary, Ida Wells-Barnett, whose accounting of
lynchings in Red Record (1895), is included in the Charleston
. Club members read Charles Chesnutt’s The Marrow of
, a resource appearing on the #BaltimoreSyllabus. Each
hashtag syllabus noted here identifies resources discussing racial
injustice on the local level. The New Haven club also read local
and statewide historical profiles of racial injustice. They read about
the racial violence white mobs visited upon Prudence Crandall, a
white Canterbury teacher, who dared to teach “little misses of
color,” and a profile of the Amistad captives, who were held in New
Haven and educated for a time before legal victory allowed them to
return to Sierre Leone.

In other cases, the messages of nineteenth century women
echo broadly in social expressions of race and gender
 voiced today. In 1895, when a white Missouri
journalist called black
 women prostitutes and liars, an
outraged Josephine Ruffin issued a
 national call for black
women to “confer together” in Boston—
essentially to get into
formation to defend their honor. The gathering
 resulted in
the first national federation of African American women.

Ruffin’s sentiment resurfaced in February of this year during
 Superbowl half-time show in Beyonce’s unabashed
performance of
 “Formation”: “Okay, ladies, now let’s get
in formation, cause I slay /
 Prove to me you got some
coordination, cause I slay.”


This theme of collective black women’s social activism was on
display again in April when black women activists in Chicago
donned “Formation” costume and shut down traffic to protest
the multi-million dollar NFL draft taking place in their city
while public schools were facing severe cuts.




In the mid-nineteenth century, writer and suffragist Frances Harper inaugurated the period of women’s activism in her speech declaring “the woman’s era.” In 2013, community organizers Alicia Garza, Patrice Cullors, and Opal Tometi declared that “black lives matter.” As Harper’s “woman’s era” supported women’s activism in the nineteenth century, “black lives matter,” as Garza defines it, serves as “an ideological and political intervention,” specifically in the present moment, to oppose the systematic killing of black lives in the 21st century. In August, leaders in the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) presented a list demands for social reform that include community control of public school curricula.

This issue was also raised during a Northeastern convention hosted by the Women’s Twentieth Century Club in August 1903. Mrs. M. C. Simpson, noting the curricula discussion at the National Education Association convention in July, said to the grand body of women assembled in New Haven, “we should conceive some feasible plan to suggest to the Government of these United States a curriculum whereby they could chastise their own lawless children (better known as lynchers)….”2. Simpson’s remarks deftly tie the unchecked racial violence by white racists, “better known as lynchers,” to a U.S. public education curriculum that lacked an honest examination of America’s racial history, not only for the benefit of African Americans but also for white Americans.

In another consideration of curriculum, the Twentieth Century Club read Gertrude B. Mossell’s magnum opus, The Work of the Afro-American Woman (1894) in which Mossell implicitly endorses a black studies curriculum, saying, “the race has built up a literature of its own that must be studied by the future historian of the life of the American nation.” Mossell’s analysis speaks to the self-affirming capacity of literature, the power of education to aid self-reflection, and to liberate the Afro-American from a diminished vision of himself. At the end of a chapter, she includes a resource list of more than 50 historical and contemporary recommended black texts for study.

In their practice of studying black texts, the New Haven women educated themselves about the reality of America’s racial history through the prism of both race and gender. They drew upon the black literature that Mossell suggested “must be studied by the future historian” in order to understand the history of the United States. In so doing, the New Haven women affirmed that their intellectual lives mattered.

Scholar-activists who have initiated #FergusonSyllabus, #CharlestonSyllabus, #BaltimoreSyllabus, and similar intellectual efforts are among the historians who Mossell envisioned would teach America about its complex racial heritage. Hashtag syllabi represent the “feasible plan” Simpson called for more than a century ago to teach all Americans about the nation’s racial history–as we strive to make a more perfect narrative of our union.

Lisa A. Monroe is an independent researcher in New Haven, CT. Her research interests include curriculum studies and community-based education practices; history of education and African American intellectual history; canon-formation; rhetoric and composition studies. She holds an M.L.A. degree from The Johns Hopkins University. She is a senior administrative assistant in the African American Studies Department at Yale University. Follow her on Twitter @nowrisebooks.

  1. See Minutes of Women’s Twentieth Century Club, James Weldon Johnson Collection in the Yale Collection of American Literature Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University 
  2. See Mrs. Simpson: “Response to the Address of Welcome to the Northeastern Federation,” New Haven, Conn. The Colored American Magazine. August 6, 1903 (October 1903): 707-08 




26 October 2016

26 October 2016





Turned down 18 times.

Then Paul Beatty won

the Booker …

Publisher after publisher reckoned
Paul Beatty’s satire The Sellout was too hot
to handle. Was it the segregation? The
slavery? Or just that he wrung so much
humour out of it? He’s having the last laugh
now. The Man Booker winner tells all.


Paul Beatty may be the first American to win the Man Booker prize, after a rule change three years ago that made authors of any nationality eligible for the £50,000 award, so long as they were writing in English and published in the UK. But he very nearly wasn’t published in Britain at all. Beatty calls his fourth novel “a hard sell” for UK publishers. His rumbustious, lyrically poetic novel was turned down, his agent confirms, by no fewer than 18 publishers. And then, finally, a small independent called Oneworld – founded by a husband-and-wife team in 1986 – took it up. The company is celebrating the unusual achievement of a second consecutive Man Booker win, because it also published Marlon James’s A History of Seven Killings.

“It’s weird for me,” says Beatty, who is 54. The morning after the night before, the New York-based, Los Angeles-born writer is slightly dazed, somewhat short of sleep and good-naturedly overcoming his reluctance to talk about his work. “I think it’s a good book. I was like, ‘Why? What’s all that about?’ I would be uncomfortable guessing [why I couldn’t get a publishing deal]. I would hurt myself. It would be like, ‘Really? Still?’ I guess they thought the book wouldn’t sell.” He won’t be drawn, but the implication is that he suspects publishers may have found the material too harsh, too unconventional, too unfamiliar – and, conceivably, beneath all that, in some undefinable way too black. It is certainly a book in which one gasps frequently – amid deeply uncomfortable laughter and, at times, tears. Nothing is sacred in The Sellout, in which the book’s narrator (surname Me) decides to reinstate segregated schools and reluctantly takes on a slave in his home district of Dickens, Los Angeles. All things, no matter how piously regarded, up to and including the US civil rights movement, are there to be punctured by Beatty’s fierce and fizzing wit.

“I get hurt when I meet editors who tell me about books they really liked but couldn’t publish. I don’t know what that means,” he says. “Sometimes I romanticise – I go back even to the Harlem renaissance, when people would say, ‘This book isn’t going to sell but I believe in you.’ I think there’s still some of that in publishing. I hope there’s still some of that.”

He quotes, admiringly, the New York novelist Colson Whitehead, who, asked in a TV interview what he was writing, answered: “I am just trying to give myself space to fail.” Beatty says: “I was so envious when he said that. Damn, that was smart. He was giving himself the chance to change. To not meet what someone else wants him to do.” Certainly Beatty is utterly uninterested in meeting the expectations of the publishing industry: you feel he is always nudging the boundaries of what it is possible (or permissible). The poetry of the sentences, too, bounces with a vigour born of rigorous self-scrutiny. He teaches creative writing at Columbia University, and in his work with his students he draws, he says, on his early experience studying psychology in Boston. One skill he picked up was how to “listen to yourself listen. Not listen to yourself thinking, or listen to yourself speaking, but to listen to yourself listening. To think about what gets in and what doesn’t: what you missed, how you heard it.” It’s a way, he says, of reading one’s own work critically. “Beyond that, it helps me interpret the world.” In class, he doesn’t like students to talk about other works. “It doesn’t do anyone any favours to compare them to Gabriel García Márquez … I tell them, ‘Try to be unique.’”

Beatty at the Booker ceremony. Photograph: Hannah Mckay/EPA

Beatty at the Booker ceremony. Photograph: Hannah Mckay/EPA

Discomfort – for the reader, and, one suspects, for the writer – runs through The Sellout. The novel starts with the image of an uncomfortable chair in which the narrator is sitting as he awaits trial in the supreme court. Beatty, just now, as we speak, looks uncomfortable in his own chair. “That’s where I start the whole time – I am rarely comfortable. It’s a little sad but true.” He is inclined also to reject the comfort of generic labels. The book is described, often, as a satire – which can be a way of disguising, he says, “how sad the book is, or the sense of futility in it”. He just about accepts it is a novel, though he laughs at the way, especially in the US, books often have the label A NOVEL written beneath the title. “I learned early on that you can do anything on the page. It’s a novel, but there’s a bunch of other crap in there. There’s some poetry in it – some poems I stole from myself. And places where I take time out and carve out a little essay to get some stuff off my chest. I think of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities – that book popped into my head while I was writing.”

We discuss Lionel Shriver’s recent speech on cultural appropriation – not a phrase Beatty is comfortable using – in which she asserted the author’s right to take stories from everyone, everywhere. She argued that the current climate of offence easily taken, safe spaces sought and identities fiercely guarded was in danger of meaning that “the kind of fiction we are ‘allowed’ to write is in danger of becoming so hedged, so circumscribed, so tippy-toe, that we’d indeed be better off not writing the anodyne drivel to begin with”. Beatty’s response is: “I agree – you can write what you want.” But what concerned him about Shriver’s speech was that “all the examples she cites are white writers appropriating other cultures. And it’s not just a top-down thing. It goes in other directions. That’s the thing that I find really hurtful about her perspective: the notion of who’s allowed to take what from whom.”

He recalls a reading he gave once, at which he was asked about “the influence thing”. He talked of his love of Russian and Japanese literature. (His mother, a nurse, was a great fan of Asian culture.) The questioner said: “‘That’s weird for an African-American writer to be influenced by Japanese literature. I would think that you’re opposites.’ I just went, ‘Er, next.’ Afterwards, I was not upset, but I was like, ‘Man, how do you think of people being culturally opposite? What does that even mean?’” He mentions a class he once took with beat poet Gregory Corso. A fellow student read her work, and Corso responded: “Where’s your universality?” he laughs bleakly at the so-called universality of white male experience. “I remember realising that his purview was so myopic. He thought that whatever he said was applicable to everyone.”

Beatty admires artists like Kurt Vonnegut and Kenji Mizoguchi and talks about the moment of being “thunderstruck” by something. Influence, he says, is not about wanting to be like someone, but that “they charged something in you”. “I like people who just don’t care: who kind of go pedal to the metal. My mom always teased me that I liked films where nothing is going on. Sword-fight movies without any sword fighting. When nothing is going on, something is always going on. I like awkward silence.”








OCTOBER 25, 2016

OCTOBER 25, 2016








When Lil Wayne entered Rikers Island on a gun-possession charge, in March of 2010, his career had already begun its descent. His prolific genius had seemingly been wrung dry, replaced by perplexing impulses to make rock music and shroud his voice in heavy Auto-Tune. When he was released from jail, eight months later, sober and on probation, he continued this dodgy streak, offering occasional flashes of vitality but never quite regaining the force of the breakneck mixtape era that culminated with “Tha Carter III.” The unravelling of Lil Wayne’s career made it tempting to pin on him theories about the nature of creative genius: Was he a prodigy who burned up his talent early? Could he only achieve brilliance while on drugs? Once he began to slide into fallen-hero status, he had little chance of reversing course.

But this year has offered a surprising rebuttal to those assumptions about the rapper: “Gone ’Til November,” a new collection of diary entries that Lil Wayne wrote, sober, during his imprisonment. The journal shows that Lil Wayne’s mind during this period was alive, in all of its oddball glory, even if his music didn’t reflect it. Aside from a handful of verses—on collaborations with Drake, 2 Chainz, and others—this book is the greatest thing he has put into the world since his rap career peaked, in the late two-thousands.

Wayne claims that he didn’t originally write his prison diary with an audience in mind. “I was just doing something to pass time in there,” he explains in an author’s note. “It became something to look forward to every night, which is very difficult to do when you’re locked up.” Perhaps because he considered the journal less a creative endeavor than an exercise in self-preservation, his entries are deeply mundane, chronicling his limited range of daily activities behind bars: wake-up times, phone calls and visits, the countless burritos made using tortilla wraps and chips from the prison commissary. He offers a daily barometer of his mood, which swings between elation, frustration, and despair, and records each night’s pre-bedtime rituals—some combination of listening to ESPN, saying prayers, doing pushups, writing letters, drinking tea—and signs off with “Another one.” He frequently laments the deep boredom of prison life. “This is the kind of shit that has become worth writing about: eating Oreos and drinking grape Kool-Aid. Damn!” he writes. Not exactly fodder for a juicy memoir.

And yet the dullness of this raw material only makes the energy of Lil Wayne’s prose, and the force of his personality on the page, all the more remarkable. He has always been able to look at the world slightly askance and emerge with a screwball observation, a cleverly roundabout jeer, or a loopy pop-culture reference. Removed from the distraction and stimulation of normal life, these talents are amplified, and Lil Wayne’s ability to amuse himself in the face of crushing tedium becomes transfixing. One night, the light in his cell begins to flicker, an effect he likens to being at the club. He starts to play music, and from there on he often references “going to the club” as a nightly activity. Some mornings he’s tired and chalks it up to his late night at the club. “Woke up and went crazy with the weights today,” he writes of one workout. “I got my 50 cent on. Well, I’m probably about 35 cent, but if I stand next to 50, we almost make a dollar.” At one point, Lil Wayne describes the TV shows that play in the common room. “ ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ was on TV,” he writes. “It made me think, who the fuck don’t want to be a millionaire?”

Like his densest verses, each of the hundred and fifty-nine pages of “Gone ’Til November” contains nuggets of delight, but the book is not always unserious. In one section, Lil Wayne writes that he feels close to suicide, and on another day he describes learning that his girlfriend slept with Drake years ago, and is so distressed that he can hardly leave his cell for several days. Lil Wayne also uses his journal to explore the challenges of navigating the line between celebrity treatment and normalcy in prison. At one point, he’s thrown into solitary confinement after being caught with an MP3 player, and the guards explain to him that giving him special privileges “would’ve been their ass.” But when he arrives in solitary confinement he finds that he’s treated more humanely there than he was in his regular cell. He writes of striving to establish friendly relationships with the other inmates on his floor and shows them generosity by offering them provisions from his outsized commissary. But “Gone ’Til November” is less about life at Rikers than about life inside of Lil Wayne’s head. In one passage that delightfully captures the antic twists and turns in his thinking, he ruminates on a letter he has received from a church, urging him to start rapping in God’s name:

If I was rapping for the Lord, I’d probably be the coldest nigga on the planet. I was looking at it like everything that I do already gets followed, so if I fucked around and did that, I would literally change the world. It would be way bigger than having a million motherfuckas walking around with tattoos every-damn-where with dreadlocks or saying shit like “bling-bling.” I would truly have the power of having pop culture turn to God. I would have straight killers in church every Sunday.

Man, I really got lost in those thoughts listening to Lauryn Hill and dozed off. That’s when God spoke to me in my sleep and told me to stop tripping. That’s not my calling . . . yet, that is, ’cause if it was, those types of thoughts would be popping in my head instead of “I will merk you,” “I will shine on you,” and “I’m going to fuck that bitch.” It was a cool thought though . . . but it was just a thought.

Even at the peak of his successes in music, Lil Wayne never displayed the gifts that most artists need in order to achieve icon status. He has never been much of a sonic innovator in the vein of Kanye West, nor has he ever developed a true signature sound. As prolific and beloved as he has always been, he has never had a knack for making pop hits the way his protégé Drake does. His output has always been unwieldy and somewhat rudderless. He has excelled in large part because his brain is simply the most fun to explore, his booming personality and harebrained swagger the most dazzling. His prison diary is, above all, a testament to the irrepressibility of his charisma—his is a force that can never go dormant, even when it’s not plainly on display.

Having long since finished his sentence, Lil Wayne these days is facing a different kind of imprisonment: a war with Birdman, his longtime mentor, label head, and de-facto father figure. The dispute has resulted in alleged drive-by shootings, lawsuits over royalties, fractured allegiances, and the eternal delay of Lil Wayne’s latest album, “Tha Carter V.” But this period has also produced some of the liveliest rapping Lil Wayne has produced since his pre-Rikers era, including a pair of piercing guest verses written for new albums by Chance the Rapper and Solange Knowles. “Hold up, I get too choked up when I think of old stuff,” he rapped on Chance’s “No Problem,” telling his fans that, even if he might be hung up on the past, he would charge forward nonetheless.