Tag Archives: literature

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The ‘N’ Word Through The Ages: The ‘Madness’ Of HP Lovecraft

By Guest Contributor Phenderson Djeli Clark, cross-posted from Media Diversified UK

When, long ago, the gods created Earth
In Jove’s fair image Man was shaped at birth.
The beasts for lesser parts were next designed;
Yet were they too remote from humankind.
To fill the gap, and join the rest to Man,
Th’Olympian host conceiv’d a clever plan.
A beast they wrought, in semi-human figure,
Filled it with vice, and called the thing a N*gger.

– H.P. Lovecraft, On the Creation of N*ggers (1912)

Author H.P. Lovecraft

I had come to believe that by now the racism of H.P. Lovecraft, the celebrated author of horror and fantasy, was a settled matter — like declaring Wrath of Khan the best film in the Star Trek franchise. Arguing against such a thing should be absurd. I certainly thought so after the matter was thrust into the spotlight in December 2011, when author Nnedi Okorafor won the esteemed World Fantasy Award — whose statuette is none other than H.P. Lovecraft’s disembodied head. Okorafor had been unaware of the depths of Lovecraft’s “issues,” until a friend sent her his 1912 poem,On the Creation of N*ggers, where blacks are fashioned by the gods as “a beast … in semi-human figure.”

This was no one-off, some “misspeak” by the author. Lovecraft’s racial biases ran deep and strong, as evidenced by his stories–from exotic locales with tropic natives lacerating themselves before mad gods in acts of “negro fetishism” (Call of Cthulhu), to descriptions of a black man as “gorilla-like” and one of the world’s “many ugly things” (Herbert West — Re-animator). This was no abstract part of Lovecraft’s creative process, where he was trying to imbue his work with some hint of realism. Rather, these were expressions of his foremost thoughts, a key part of his personal beliefs, most notably his virulent xenophobia towards an increasingly diverse American society emerging outside of his Anglo-Saxon New England.
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CHIMAMANDA ADICHIE AND SINGLE STORIES [Throwback Thursdays]

[Originally posted on October 28, 2009]

By Deputy Editor Thea Lim

A writer friend of mine working on a novel about his Indian experience has lamented to me about a particular response he keeps getting to his work in progress. His non-Asian peers tell him that he can’t write his particular story, because it’s already been told by say, Rohinton Mistry, or Arundhati Roy.

I also get hopping mad when I hear about this. What about the 5 gazillion stories of middle class white family struggle that dominate libraries and schools across this country?

Centers of power who feel political pressure to include the Other in their ranks rarely make room for more than one Other. TV shows like 30 Rock and the Daily Show don’t have room for more than one or two black characters (and they are all men.) Once a publishing press has released one book by a Latin@, they won’t release another one – they’ve already done the Latin thing. And often this kind of dynamic sets up vicious competition between members of marginalised groups vying for the single position allotted to their entire demographic – and people who should be allies become opponents.

Because of all this, I love this talk by novelist Chimamanda Adichie. Adichie talks about the real consequences of only allowing one voice to represent thousands, and makes a very beautiful argument on how the single story impoverishes our lives.

Book Review: Buck by M.K. Asante

By Guest Contributor Erica “RivaFlowz” Buddington, reposted from RivaFlowz.com
My mother walked into my dorm room, my sophomore year, with an armful of books. I snickered at her trying to pull all the goodies she’d brought from New York to Virginia, into the small space that already exuded bibliophile. My mother always picked the same stuff up for me: compiled quotes from prominent and life-changing authors, love stories, and anything Toni Morrison. I’d begun to assess the texts and I gave them the typical nod, when one jumped out at me. It was an orange and black cover, unique amongst the rest and it boasted the title “It’s Bigger Than Hip-Hop.” My mom smiled at my piqued interest.
“I saw that one in the clearance aisle and I know you’re big on the history of it, so I thought you’d like it.” I smiled back at her, but didn’t show too much excitement. I was at the age where I wanted to show my mother that nothing she did could thrill me and I was an independent woman who encountered excitement on her own accord. I was a silly girl.
The book sat on my shelf, next to the other books I’d purchased on hip-hop. M.K. Asante, I thought? Who is that? It sat on my shelf for several weeks, unread, until I knocked it over, in a hurry, to grab my book bag. My OCD prodded me to put it back in formation, but instead I decided to throw it into my bag, knowing that finals week would spawn gaps of boredom, because I was all studied up.
I opened Asante’s It’s Bigger Than Hip-Hop for the first time, while waiting for my SUV to be repaired. I sat in the waiting room annoyed that the “small fix” had taken three hours more than they’d estimated. However, my patience, usually worn thin easily, was in tact. I was knee deep in a text that spoke to me and analyzed a culture and genre in a way that only lyricism allowed me to.
They can call M.K. what they’d like: a memoirist, filmmaker, historian and more. However, M.K. is and will always be a poet. His last work and his new memoir Buck is lyricism at its finest, in its purest and rawest form.
Buck is  M.K.’s memoir; it takes place growing up in Philly, a symphony with strums of two parents with different ideologies, the camaraderie and heartbreak of brotherhood, and the loss of friendship and love.
Two authors masterfully tell the story; M.K. uses entries from his mother’s journal and his own voice to relay the struggle of his youth. Through Carole, his mother, and M.K.’s words we’re transported to the anarchy of a teenager whose sorrow is exerted through “grown-man” antics and the mimicry of the lyricists he was so fond of.
M.K. pulls us through the memories of his teen-hood with stories that any inner-city kid could relate to and others that can only clench our hearts, in understanding. His tête-à-tête, interview-script style, reminiscent of the one with Hip-Hop in his last work, with his parents is reminiscent of the tales our parents relay to us when we haven’t been on our best behavior. A brotherly bond is unraveled in the symbolism and foreshadowing of nun chucks and brass knuckles, emcees, and older sibling philosophy. A bit of innocence and morality of a fledgling is sustained through a first love that only wants the best for a young M.K. and the refusal to indulge in all detriments of his vices.
This bit of goodness is what keeps M.K. alive. Along his path we encounter kings, queens, and prophecies that save M.K.’s life little by little, consciously and unconsciously. There is an alternative school teacher who shows him the power of the pen. There is a moment under a city bridge where M.K.’s life is saved by the remnants of his fallen loved one. There is the trip to the south, where a family member, who could pick up the angst of his aura, spouts a comparison of wolves and hunger, which will stick to every decision you make from the day after reading it.
M.K. finds his way to a thriving and traveling conscience that is the definition of transformation: a literary cacophony that can only be given justice, by being read.
Buck reads like urban fiction with conscious and purpose. It is the voice of every young black man, in America, who cries out for the world around him to notice. It’s the eyes of all the young men who sit inside of my classroom and wonder what’s next.
A few years ago I met Asante, after he spoke at the Schomburg. After the reading and the signing of our books, a few of my friends and I were given the opportunity to have lunch with him. Asante spoiled us with synopses of what he was working on and conversation that could have only been cultivated by a man who’d devoured the world hungrily. I stood in awe at our comrade, who was only 27 at the time, and I wondered how someone so young could’ve gained so much, so quickly.
Now I am certain that I know.
In New York City, we have a tendency to tell our children to relax. Often caught “getting buck” in the streets, we are prompted to quiet their notions of propelling their anger to all the wrong places.
But I’ve got this great idea…
Put M.K.’s new book in the hands of those boys who haven’t found the right way to declare their rage. Let their fingers flip through the pages that will turn to mirrors, as some of them recognize themselves within M.K.’s words. Let those words seep in and contextualize that hurt. Let them learn, line by line. Let’s give the next generation a completely different way to “get buck.”
Erica “RivaFlowz” Buddington is a teacher and professional writer living in New York City. You can follow her on Twitter @rivaflowz.

My Family: Providing Children’s Books For The LGBT Market

By Guest Contributor Monica Roberts; originally posted at Transgriot
Monica and Cheril Bey-Clarke

Monica and Cheril Bey-Clarke

When married power couple and business partners Monica and Cheril Bey-Clarke were seeking to become licensed foster parents in New Jersey, they were frustrated by the lack of materials and books available for the children of GLBT parents.The couple featured in a recent “Most Powerful Lesbians” issue of CurveMagazine.decided to step in and fill the void of books and materials for kids of all ages and backgrounds.   They sought by doing so to give the children of same-sex parents a sense of normalcy.  Their goal was also to promote the celebration of our differences, the importance of family values and reinforce the morality being taught in the home.It didn’t hurt that Cheril has been an award winning author, novelist and playwright in the LGBT community for over ten years and Monica has over a decade of experience formulating, creating strategies for and implementing business concepts.

In 2010 they founded My Family! a retail arm of Dodi Press LLC, to provide those books and materials and positive experiences for LGBT parents for generations to come.   The company went international in 2011 and has a website you can purchase their diverse multicultural line of books and products

When Leonard Lost His Spots

As I perused the site and its gender identity section I noted that Cheryl Kilodavis’ My Princess Boy is one of the books for sale on their website in addition to others from a wide array of authors that cover the various aspects of the LGBT community and the issues that would impact the children of same-sex, bi, and trans parents.

One of them was a trans-themed book by writer Monique Costa entitled “When Leonard Lost His Spots.”

So for you parents in the LGBT community looking for some quality books and items for your kids and wanting to circulate your TBLG dollars in the community, may wish to surf by the My Family! website and see what they have to offer.

Racist Things Steampunks Are Not Immune To: Looking For Other People’s Hurt To Be Offended By

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Image Credit: Zyllan Fotografia.

 

By Guest Contributor Jha; originally published as part of the series “Racist Things Steampunks Are Not Immune To” at Silver Goggles

So, this morning I woke up to two emails about the exact same thing: Some nonsense-filled thread talking about “how to not offend people” when it comes to multicultural steampunk. And a cursory glance through the emails proved to me once more how impossible it is to talk to white people who don’t want to change their minds about what offensiveness is and what not to do.

While I am certainly pleased that there are people who are aware of the racial implications of what they do–even in some fuzzy way that they can’t articulate–I am also aware that there are a ton of people, shall I say, “looking for offense,” or rather, the chance to be aghast by some perceived limitation of their actions and options. There are white fans of steampunk who will set up strawman arguments about how fans of color actively look for offense (e.g. racism and appropriation), so much so that other poor folks are walking on eggshells every time they move.

“I can’t wear a pith helmet,” they will whine, “because then it would be colonialist and thus offensive!”

“I can’t wear a kimono,” another set will whine, “because then it would offend Asian people!”

“I can’t incorporate gypsy styles,” some more will whine, “because then I’d be accused of appropriation!”

Can we even consider the absurdity of these statements?

Reverse Oppression: A Fad That Needs To End

By Guest Contributors Paul and Renee of Fangs for the Fantasy; originally published at Feministe

It’s not a new idea–we’ve certainly seen it raising its ugly head in media repeatedly, but it’s become popular again–the “flipped prejudice” fiction. Victoria Foyt’s racist Save The Pearls did it for race and we now have the homophobic versions: a Kickstarter for the book Out by Laura Preble and the film Love Is All You Need. I hate linking to them but they need to be seen. They both have the same premise: an all gay world that persecutes the straight minority.

So that’s more appropriating the issues we live with: our history, our suffering, and then shitting on it all by making us the perpetrators of the violations committed against us. How can they not see how offensive this is? How can they not see how offensive taking the severe bigotry thrown at us every day and throughout history–bigotry that has cost us so much and then making our oppressors the victims and us the attackers–is? This is appropriative. This is offensive. It’s disrespectful–and it’s outright bigoted.
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Quoted: Hisaye Yamamoto, Short-Story Author, Dies

From LA Times:

Often compared to such short-story masters as Katherine Mansfield, Flannery O’Connor and Grace Paley, Yamamoto concentrated her imagination on the issei and nisei, the first- and second-generation Japanese Americans who were targets of the public hysteria unleashed after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Yamamoto was 20 when the attack sent the United States into war and her family into a Poston, Ariz., internment camp. Her most celebrated stories, such as “Seventeen Syllables” and “The Legend of Miss Sasagawara,” reflect the preoccupations and tensions of the Japanese immigrants and offspring who survived that era. Among her most powerful characters are women who struggle to nurture their romantic or creative selves despite the constraints of gender, racism and tradition.

….

Yamamoto was born in Redondo Beach on Aug. 23, 1921. The daughter of immigrant strawberry farmers from Kumamoto, Japan, she was a voracious reader and published her first story when she was 14. At Compton College, where she earned an associate of arts degree, she studied French, Spanish, German and Latin. She wrote stories for Japanese American newspapers using the pseudonym “Napoleon.”

During World War II, she wrote for the Poston camp newspaper, which published her serialized mystery “Death Rides the Rail to Poston.” She briefly left the camp to work in Springfield, Mass., but returned when her 19-year-old brother died while fighting with the U.S. Army‘s 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Italy.

After the war ended in 1945, she returned to Los Angeles and became a reporter and columnist for the Los Angeles Tribune, an African American weekly. Her experiences there deepened her awareness of racism to a point of nearly unbearable anguish. She wrote a story about the intimidation of a black family named Short by white neighbors in segregated Fontana. She attempted to hew to journalistic standards of impartiality, cautiously describing the threats against the family as “alleged” or “claims.”

After her story ran, the Shorts were killed in an apparent arson fire. Yamamoto castigated herself for failing to convey the urgency of their situation.

“I should have been an evangelist at Seventh and Broadway, shouting out the name of the Short family and their predicament in Fontana,” she wrote decades later in a 1985 essay called “A Fire in Fontana.” Instead, she pronounced her effort to communicate as pathetic as “the bit of saliva which occasionally trickled” from the corner of a feeble man’s mouth.

She left the newspaper and rode trains and buses across the country. “Something was unsettling my innards,” she wrote of her dawning multiethnic consciousness. “I continued to look like the Nisei I was, with my height remaining at slightly over four feet ten, my hair straight, my vision myopic. Yet I know that this event transpired within me; sometimes I see it as my inward self being burnt black in a certain fire.”

She drew from this well in the burst of writing that followed. Her breakthrough came with the 1948 publication in Partisan Review of “The High-Heeled Shoes, a Memoir,” a shockingly contemporary story about sexual harassment. She weaved intercultural conflicts and bonds into “Seventeen Syllables” (1949), in which a nisei girl’s blooming romance with a Mexican American classmate offers an achingly innocent counterpoint to her issei mother’s arranged marriage. “Wilshire Bus” (1950) explores a Japanese American woman’s silence during a white man’s racist harangue against a Chinese couple on the bus they are riding.

 

Image credit: goodreads.com

To Be Young, Gifted, and Mixed? Jean Toomer’s Cane and Questions of Identity

by Latoya Peterson

Cane book cover

Who exactly is Jean Toomer?

Scholars, academics, and American literature buffs know him as the author of Cane, one of the landmark works to emerge from the Harlem Renaissance.

And yet, Toomer’s legacy is a bit more complicated than just his work. Back in the 1920s, in spite of segregation, Toomer articulated a vision of multiracial identity that was rejected by the norms of the time. Splitting time between exclusively white and exclusively black environments, Toomer decided that he was neither – he considered himself an American, a mixture of several different races and nationalities. However, he grew increasingly frustrated with the restrictions placed upon him due to his identification with black literature – in later life, he allegedly denied having any “colored blood.” As a result of this, Toomer’s legacy and the meaning of Cane has been left open for wide open for interpretation – and a new release of Cane has done just that, with scholars Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Rudolph P. Byrd, asserting that Toomer wasn’t pioneering a new identity – he was trying to pass for white. Continue reading