I thought I would be a poet and playwright. Those were the two forms I really enjoyed. I made my living as a journalist, of course, but I thought that I would just stick with those and I would become better and better and better. But in ’68 … I was at a dinner — now this is name-dropping, but these were the people — James Baldwin had taken me over to see Jules Feiffer and Jules’ then-wife, Judy Feiffer, and we talked all night, and I really had to work very hard to get a word in because they’re all great raconteurs.
The next day, Judy Feiffer called a man who is still my editor at Random House and said, “If you can get her to write an autobiography, I think you’d have something.” He phoned me a number of times, Robert Loomis, and I said, “No, I’m not interested,” until he said to me, “Well, Ms. Angelou, I guess it’s just as well that you don’t attempt this book because to write autobiography as literature is almost impossible.” So I thought, “Oh, well, in that case, I better try.” Well, I found that’s the form I love. I love autobiography. … It challenges me to try and speak through the first-person singular and mean the third-person plural.
— NPR, 1986
By Andrea Plaid Check out this really righteous video from two-time National Grand Slam Poetry…
by Joseph Lamour
Recently, we came across a great spoken word piece while perusing Angry Asian Man, and we think it deserves a listen. By Rachel Rostad, “A Letter to JK Rowling from Cho Chang” is not only a critique of the first love interest for Harry Potter, but of problematic representations of Asian women in books, cinema, and media as a whole.
If you’ve watched by now (which you should, it’s a pretty awesome four minutes) you could imagine that this stirring piece, well, stirred a lot of people. Since this viral video’s posting on YouTube it’s started an ongoing discussion- not only of representation of people of color in media, but PoC representation in her piece as well.
For Rostad’s video response to the comments on her poem, continue under the cut.
By Andrea Plaid
Since it’s National Poetry Month, let’s talk about one of my favorite poets: Suheir Hammad.
Of course, Hammad speaks quite a few women of color’s truth with her classic piece, “Not Your Erotic, Not Your Exotic”:
Inside the bowels of the Washington Convention Center, where President Obama and his wife would soon dance in front of a well-heeled crowd of supporters, Rosemary Weaver was holding court over a boxed sandwich-and-cookie lunch.
Forget the pundits and the critics who say the magic is missing from Obama’s second inaugural after a tough four-year slog. Don’t try telling that to this exuberant volunteer with an infectious laugh.
“Girl, it ain’t no less exciting,” Weaver tells me as table mates egg her on. “It was important enough for me to come out of my house when it’s cold.”
Suddenly the Maryland publicist stopped joking and collected her thoughts. “You want me to go deep?” she asked. “Our forefathers died for us to be here.”
By Andrea Plaid
Considering how you all responded to the excerpt last week, you’re still digging our past Crush Of The Week Scot Nakagawa, especially what he said about voting and the maintenance of white privilege, which just happened to coincide with the R’s and National Black Programming Consortium’s buzzy efforts around the documentary about the 2008 vote in Ghana, An African Election:
I grew up in the 1960s and 70s, back when that La Choy commercial was considered about as offensive as selling water softener as an “ancient Chinese secret.” That was a much more naive time for whites. That naivete was rooted in the unquestioned dominance of whiteness. In fact, so dominant were whites that American was synonymous with Caucasian.
But the racial equity movements of my childhood would soon shatter that naivete, pulling whites into a struggle to maintain their cultural dominance that made the contours and vulnerabilities of whiteness visible to whites, perhaps for the first time. Until then, being the assumed racial and cultural norm of America was fundamental to white identity and to the ethos of American exceptionalism.
But when white cultural advantage was challenged, white folk mobilized. KKK membership grew, White Citizens Councils formed, and the Republican Party stepped in to provide a political vehicle for white backlash that is still in effect today.
And now, as the racial demographics of the U.S. and the world turn to the increasing numerical advantage of non-whites, the backlash movement that peaked in the 1990s is resurgent. Membership in racist Patriot groups and vigilante border patrols is on the rise, and Tea Parties and groups like True the Vote are wreaking havoc on our political process. And they’re not nearly done yet. The global scale of white conservative ambitions can be measured by the body count in what increasingly appears to be a permanent war against the so-called Muslim world, the popular support for which is founded in Islamophobia.
It is in this context that the current voter suppression efforts we are seeing around the country should be understood. Overcoming these efforts in this election cycle is only one among many battles. Unless we see that battle as connected to the battles for immigration rights, religious freedom, racial equity and gender equity, reproductive and sexual freedom, and the battle to curtail the ambitions driving the expansion of American empire, we are missing the dynamics of the larger war and may soon find much more than voting rights among its casualties.”
By Guest Contributor Kristina K. Robinson
In the few years preceding my acceptance into a Master of Fine Arts program in Creative Writing, I had been a Katrina refugee, had a baby, grieved the death of his father and more. I had a thick skin and a lot to say. I couldn’t think of a better time to dedicate myself to my writing. I felt prepared to be critiqued. I was self-aware and detached from taking criticism of my work personally. I had done this as an undergraduate; it was all constructive; I was ready.
A friend of mine from college, already waist-deep in an MFA program in New York, warned me …
“I was fine, till the day this guy said my work was didactic and particularly concerned with victimhood. I cried afterwards. They are going to get you,” she said.
We laughed and I waited for my turn.
It came. A rare poem of mine that features dialect, received the royal treatment from a professor. She decided to take command of the workshop by asking if anyone would like to discuss the dialect. I was aware of the consequences of writing a poem filled with dialect for a majority-white audience. I was prepared for all the most critical things I thought I would hear.
I was ready to listen to people debate whether or not it is acceptable to write something that is hard for white people to understand. I was ready to hear that a person who spoke that way wasn’t someone they imagined would have high-brow ideas or spend time meditating the on the meaning of life. I was even prepared to hear someone say that dialect didn’t belong in poetry.
I was not prepared to hear this:
“I’m going to go out on a limb,” the professor began, “and say that I found the dialect phony, and therefore I didn’t believe the rest of the poem. The dialect isn’t even consistent, sometimes this speaker says gon’, sometimes she says gonna’…didn’t buy it.”