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Friday, January 30, 2015

Poem 1.30.15

Poem 1.30.15

When the flesh is gone
& the breathing stopped to be
Hard as fried stone
YOU SAY
When flesh do be gone
& breathing a silt-clogged drain
Soft as demon butter
YOU SAY
YOU SAY
“I am the sound
That grows the Earth.”

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

January 30, 2015

Sunday, January 25, 2015

2015 Read-In

African American Read-In, 2015


This year, the National African American Read-In begins on Sunday, February 1, and ends on Saturday, February 28.
Access “2015 National African American Read-In” at http://www.ncte.org/aari/ for details.

This year marks the Margaret Walker Centennial.  Many of the readings during Black History Month, as well as the 2015 calendar year, should involve programs on Walker’s life and works.  For My People (1942), Jubilee (1966), and This Is My Century:  New and Collected Poems (1989) are at the top of the list for reading in February. From  March through December , one might find pockets of time for reading Richard Wright: Daemonic Genius (1988), How I Wrote Jubilee and Other Essays on Life and Literature (1990), On Being Female, Black and Free (1997), and A Poetic Equation: Conversations Between Nikki Giovanni and Margaret Walker (1974).  Anyone who wants to enjoy communion with Walker’s extraordinary intelligence should read “The Humanistic Tradition of Afro-American Literature.” American Libraries 1.9 (1970): 849-854.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of Black Boy and the 75th anniversary of Native Son.
Non-scholars and scholars alike have given critical attention to Wright’s masterpiece since 1945. They have applauded Black Boy; they have quarreled with it.  It has existed as a superb instance of black writing, of American literature, and of work that people from many nations have translated into their native languages.  It will continue throughout the twenty-first century to be a source for cautious hope as well as, to borrow wording from Wright’s novel The Outsider, “that baleful gift of the sense of dread.”
Black Boy is one of Richard Wright’s major gifts to time past, present, and future.  It is a gift to be treasured.  It is a gift for everyday use and equipment for living and for dealing with one’s trublems.

Black Boy is a powerful model of how to think about one’s location in historical time and complex environments and of how to write about one’s location with an honesty that is at once aesthetic and didactic.  Teachers of rhetoric and composition can use the text to help adolescent writers, in particular, to gain mastery of grammar, syntax, vocabulary, images, and figures of speech as they struggle with the problems of narrating their life histories.  All writers, of course, can learn valuable lessons about perspective from Richard Wright, just as visual artists can learn about excellence in drawing from Charles White and musicians can absorb how to use physics in the composition of sounds from John Coltrane.  All of us can learn from Richard Wright what Chinese sages have known for several thousand years ---the flow of dao and tian and yin and yang that gives positive meaning to our suffering beneath the stars.

Readers have given a substantial amount of critical attention to Native Son, a novel that is essential for understanding how American fiction of the 20th century so often embraced the primal ingredients of what escapes specific time and drives change in the United States of America.  Fifteen years prior to the publication of Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man (1955), Richard Wright was shining the light of disquietude upon a thankless world.  The world of 1940 did not listen carefully enough to what Wright was saying in Native Son.  Thus, thirteen years later he issued a second communiqué in the form of The Outsider.  Read in tandem, Native Son and The Outsider provide us with the strongest clues pure fiction can deliver about why our world seems to be swimming like a shark in butter-milk toward its Omega Point.  In the post-whatsoeverness of 2015, only an insignificant number of people will fail to hear Wright’s messages.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.
January 25, 2015



Saturday, January 24, 2015

reading for the government

Recommended Reading for the Government

Senators and Congresspeople should read or reread Sissela Bok’s Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life (1978).  If they must play the game, they are required to know how the rules are constructed.

The Supreme Court justices should read and reread A Theory of Justice, rev. ed. (1999) by John Rawls.


The White House should read The Limits of Scientific Reasoning (1984) by David Faust.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A NOTE ON TOURISM

For many centuries, tourism has been a source for cultural enlightenment.  In the twentieth-century it assumed a very positive form within the frameworks of “study abroad” programs sponsored by American colleges and universities. It should be debated, however, whether domestic tourism has the same luster. Our sense of American history can be much improved by tours of such cities as San Francisco, Natchez, Selma, San Antonio, Charleston, Atlanta, St. Louis, Boston, and Philadelphia. Much can be learned about the life and death of American cities by visits to Memphis, Detroit, and Newark. Some of us who are inhabitants of New Orleans do question whether tourists learn much about history and struggles, architecture and urban/urbane aesthetics, and how  wealth and poverty demarcate separate and unequal  celebrations of life and death ,or whether tourists merely pleasure themselves in twisted  Catholic excesses which are denied them in their Puritan hometowns. Those who have deep roots in New Orleans often have to ask if tourism is a financial blessing or a toxic curse.  Dispassionate analysis might convince us that it is nearly impossible to distinguish curses from blessings in the context of tourism.


Although Paige A. McGinley’s Staging the Blues: From Tent Shows to Tourism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014) gives no attention to the theatricality of the blues in New Orleans, the special notice the book gives to tourism as performance in Clarksdale, Mississippi is an eloquent reminder that in a music-based tourist economy, “it is the tourist who takes center stage, as he or she stands in for past and passed performers” (179).  To be sure, New Orleans possesses a richer, more complex history than Clarksdale, but our city is an ideal target for the distortions and abnormality that intensive tourism can produce.   Thus, McGinley’s impressive discussion of blues tourism can be a valuable guide for studies of jazz tourism, disaster tourism, and Carnival/Mardi Gras tourism in our city of Saints, sinners, rampant post-Katrina gentrification, and preoccupations with corruption, crime, and cuisine.  McGinley’s book reinforces my sense that the city I have come to love is a beautiful mess that encourages us to become tourists of our own existence.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   As New Orleans prepares for its tercentennial, one of its unique attractions becomes more visible.  It is the only urban area in the United States that manages to have 366 festivals in 365 days.  Our worship of celebration blackwashes our need to care overmuch about how social and economic problems reproduce themselves in our version of Paradise. We almost celebrate ourselves into oblivion.
Do not be surprised if New Orleans initiates Creole Roach Fest and Cajun Garbage Fest for 2017.  After all, the new New Orleans is in desperate need of tourist dollars.  It must not fail to convince people that it is one of the most exotic places on Earth. We must not disappoint the tourists.


Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                                            January 20, 2015

Saturday, January 17, 2015

poem 17 Jan 15

TRUTHING
(For Charlie R. Braxton after reading
“Kang Snake Blues: Paradise Lost”)

Anna Mae Vinocasa in a Clarksdale crib, her pink face
Battered by the news, the whites, and the blues,
Pink face battered by the hues of thorny dues,
Blood-spat a heap of clues ‘bout how it be the snakes,
The river and the snakes what put the Delta in low cotton,
Poverty the Delta in the lowest cotton of disbelief.
Let Anna Mae and her griefs not be forgotten
As we sit at wakes and sorrow song in space
Where Anna Mae Vinocasa ain’t got no place.


Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

January 17, 2015

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

January 19, 2015

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: Remembering and Forgetting 19 Jan 15

January 19, 2015 will be an ordinary day.  It will not be, as a person from Maine might say, a “wicked good” day.  It will be twenty-four hours occupying a square on a calendar, another SNAFU day in the United States of America. Nothing that is mind-shattering, body-alarming or soul-fracking will occur that did not already happen.  There will be no mail delivery, of course, because January 19 is a federal holiday.  Babies will be born. People young and old will die. Fire will burn. The Earth will revolve as it orbits the sun. Air will move clouds.  Water will flow or freeze. Prayers will be prayed; curses will be cursed; terrorism will terrorize; songs will be sung.  Somewhere it will rain. Perhaps a few Americans will notice that peace and love are items that can’t be sold or bought.  Otherwise, everything will be business as usual.
January 19, 2015 will be a day for remembering and forgetting.  A few of us will struggle to remember what the life and death of Martin Luther King, Jr. has to do with the contemporary issues of human rights which are dramatically negated by Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’Awati Wal-Jihad (Boko Haram) in northeast Nigeria.  International mass media would have us chant “Je suis Charlie Hebdo” to signify our support for universal entitlement to freedom of speech. The Internet bids us to dream that hope springs eternally, that hope and prayers to strange gods will ultimately deliver us from the burdens of inequality,  systemic racism, “authorized” abuses of law and order by the brave women and men who day by day put their lives in danger to uphold law and order, and the potency of Evil. Social networks want us to celebrate the heroism of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and to let such celebration overshadow the before and after of Ferguson as well as the magnificent sacrifices of thousands of undocumented people who died that we might taste Freedom.  Holidays, heroes and hero-worship are not innately bad, but they do encourage us to forget the essence of what is worth celebrating.  In the case of Dr. King, the film “Selma” provides an opportunity to remember what a federal holiday might seduce us to forget. Like David Walker, Sojourner Truth, Malcolm X and Fannie Lou Hamer, Dr. King was not an avatar of Moses who led the American people to the milk and honey of the Promised Land. Please remember not to forget the land was stolen from its indigenous inhabitants.  Scratch history as myth and look at realities.
“Selma” deserves every prize it will not get.  The cinematography is excellent. The acting is quite commendable.  The directing is beautifully understated.  As I watched the film, I thought of “Home of the Brave” (1949) and the joy I felt at the age of six of seeing a dignified Negro (the actor James Edwards) on the silver screen. “Selma” sent electric shocks of recognition through my mind.  Perhaps such electricity is one of the reasons there is a rush to whitewash the memory of Lyndon B. Johnson by criticizing “Selma” for historical inaccuracies.  “Selma” is a template for history as a process, a well-structured “text” for “reading” the past and the present.   It is not a documentary.  It sends me back to Bridge Across Jordan (1991) by Amelia Platts Boynton Robinson, the woman in whose home Dr. King set up SCLC’s headquarters on January 2, 1965. Back to Selma, Lord, Selma: Girlhood Memories of the Civil-Rights Days (1980) by Sheyann Webb and Rachel West Nelson, who, on March 21, 1965, received a victory hug from Dr. King.  This descent into the past in the library of American civil rights history is necessary to understand the present cultural, social, and economic nightmares that trouble our sleep.
January 19, 2015 will be an ordinary day, a federal holiday, a day for conversations predicated on two questions:  (1) Where did we go from there, from April 4, 1968? and (2) What to any legal or illegal American is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day?  Perhaps motivated forgetting, encoding failures, and interference proactive and retroactive will not preclude our talking to one another. Perhaps.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.
January 14, 2015 
     
BKNation Blog




Thursday, January 8, 2015

BLACK BOY AND SEVEN DECADES OF WISDOM

Black Boy and Seven Decades of Wisdom

Published by Harper and Brothers  in 1945 as Black Boy: A Record of Childhood and Youth and by the Library of America in 1991 as Black Boy (American Hunger), Richard Wright’s classic autobiography has been a monument to intelligence, discipline, the exercise of relatively free will, and admirable use of self-reliance for seventy years.  It has provided us with the racial wisdom that is most definitely needed in 2015 as we resist Cosmic Evil and conduct an endless quest for harmony in our lives.

Non-scholars and scholars alike have given critical attention to Wright’s masterpiece since 1945. They have applauded Black Boy; they have quarreled with it.  It has existed as a superb instance of black writing, of American literature, and of work that people from many nations have translated into their native languages.  It will continue throughout the twenty-first century to be a source for cautious hope as well as, to borrow wording from Wright’s novel The Outsider, “that baleful gift of the sense of dread.”
Black Boy is one of Richard Wright’s major gifts to time past, present, and future.  It is a gift to be treasured.  It is a gift for everyday use and equipment for living and for dealing with one’s trublems.

Black Boy is a powerful model of how to think about one’s location in historical time and complex environments and of how to write about one’s location with an honesty that is at once aesthetic and didactic.  Teachers of rhetoric and composition can use the text to help adolescent writers, in particular, to gain mastery of grammar, syntax, vocabulary, images, and figures of speech as they struggle with the problems of narrating their life histories.  All writers, of course, can learn valuable lessons about perspective from Richard Wright, just as visual artists can learn about excellence in drawing from Charles White and musicians can absorb how to use physics in the composition of sounds from John Coltrane.  All of us can learn from Richard Wright what Chinese sages have known for several thousand years ---the flow of dao and tian and yin and yang that gives positive meaning to our suffering beneath the stars.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                                                            January 8, 2015

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