Archives for posts with tag: African American authors

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Silver Birch Press is pleased to announce the April 2014 release of BULL: The Journey of a Freedom Icon, a 106-page collection of poems by James B. Golden — the Poet Laureate of Salinas, California.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:  My father’s recollections are the basis for BULL: The Journey of a Freedom Icon. While flawed, my father is a representation of what I’ve always considered the great Black American Man, the old school cat, the Bull. He falls in line with the icons that were raised during one of the most horrific periods in America for people of color. In many ways, writing this book has been a cleansing of my own soul. I feel more connected to my father than ever, and he’s someone I’d want to be connected to forever. As I experienced on the discovery of Rita Dove’s Thomas and Beulah, the stories of our elders heal our souls. My soul is healing.

PRAISE FOR BULL BY JAMES B. GOLDEN: 

Bull swaggers blues & rams through Klan days & lynch nights & he meditates & rumbles on Presley & Memphis, he stops visits, breathes family, chows catfish, gets hauled off to prison, alcohol afternoons & contraband inmate pruno drink. He is strong & lyrical, and most of all, Bull gores the veils & static stiffs of history. Bull is hungry most of all, to come back where he started, where he is, unafraid of pain, for he has suffered, he is suffering and because of that his virtue is courage, harmony, love, yes Bull is doused with the blues of love, where racism, segregation, slavery, are part of the double-dutch, hip hop scrim where Bull rises and transcends. A power-poetry here — a liberation heart-fire collection by our Salinas Poet Laureate, James P. Golden — no other like it.” JUAN FELIPE HERRERA, Poet Laureate of California

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: James B. Golden was born and raised in Salinas, California, and received his M.P.A. and B.A. in English and Pan-African Studies Arts & Literature from California State University, Northridge. He has edited Kapu-Sens Literary Journal and the Hip Hop Think Tank Journal. He is the author of The Inside of an Orange, Sweet Potato Pie Underneath The Sun’s Broiler, and 2012 NAACP Image Award Winner Afro Clouds & Nappy Rain. He currently lives in Los Angeles, where he is a freelance music journalist. His articles have appeared in such periodicals as Vibe, The Root, Clutch Magazine, Jazz Times, and Los Angeles Our Weekly. Golden is the inaugural Poet Laureate of Salinas, California. Visit him at jamesbgolden.net.

BULL: The Journey of a Freedom Icon, poems by James B. Golden, is available at Amazon.com.

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BUTTER
by Elizabeth Alexander

My mother loves butter more than I do,
more than anyone. She pulls chunks off
the stick and eats it plain, explaining
cream spun around into butter! Growing up
we ate turkey cutlets sauteed in lemon
and butter, butter and cheese on green noodles,
butter melting in small pools in the hearts
of Yorkshire puddings, butter better
than gravy staining white rice yellow,
butter glazing corn in slipping squares,
butter the lava in white volcanoes
of hominy grits, butter softening
in a white bowl to be creamed with white
sugar, butter disappearing into
whipped sweet potatoes, with pineapple,
butter melted and curdy to pour
over pancakes, butter licked off the plate
with warm Alaga syrup. When I picture
the good old days I am grinning greasy
with my brother, having watched the tiger
chase his tail and turn to butter. We are
Mumbo and Jumbo’s children despite
historical revision, despite
our parent’s efforts, glowing from the inside
out, one hundred megawatts of butter.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elizabeth Alexander was born in Harlem, New York, but grew up in Washington, DC, the daughter of former United States Secretary of the Army and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission chairman, Clifford Alexander Jr. She holds degrees from Yale, Boston University, and the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned her PhD. Currently the chair of African American Studies at Yale, Alexander is a founding member of Cave Canem, an organization dedicated to promoting African American poets and poetry. Her accomplishments within academia include a Quantrelle Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching from the University of Chicago and fellowships from the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard and the Alphonse Fletcher Foundation. Alexander’s books include American Sublime (2005), shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize, and recipient of the 2005 Jackson Poetry Prize. When Barack Obama asked her to compose and read a poem for his Presidential inauguration, her poem, “Praise Song for the Day,” became a bestseller after Graywolf Press published it as a chapbook.

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a song in the front yard
by Gwendolyn Brooks

I’ve stayed in the front yard all my life.
I want a peek at the back
Where it’s rough and untended and hungry weed grows.
A girl gets sick of a rose.

I want to go in the back yard now
And maybe down the alley,
To where the charity children play.
I want a good time today.

They do some wonderful things.
They have some wonderful fun.
My mother sneers, but I say it’s fine
How they don’t have to go in at quarter to nine.
My mother, she tells me that Johnnie Mae
Will grow up to be a bad woman.
That George’ll be taken to Jail soon or late
(On account of last winter he sold our back gate).

But I say it’s fine. Honest, I do.
And I’d like to be a bad woman, too,
And wear the brave stockings of night-black lace
And strut down the streets with paint on my face.

SOURCE:  “a song in the front yard” appears in Selected Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks, available at Amazon.com.

IMAGE: “My Little Butterfly” by Bob Salo. Prints available at fineartamerica.com.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gwendolyn Brooks (June 7, 1917 – December 3, 2000) was an American poet. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1950 and was appointed Poet Laureate of Illinois in 1968 and Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1985.

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THE EMPTY DANCE SHOES
by Cornelius Eady

My friends,
As it has been proven in the laboratory,
An empty pair of dance shoes
Will sit on the floor like a wart
Until it is given a reason to move.

Those of us who study inertia
(Those of us covered with wild hair and sleep)
Can state this without fear:
The energy in a pair of shoes at rest
Is about the same as that of a clown

Knocked flat by a sandbag.
This you can tell your friends with certainty:
A clown, flat on his back,
Is a lot like an empty pair of
dancing shoes.

An empty pair of dancing shoes
Is also a lot like a leaf
Pressed in a book.
And now you know a simple truth:
A leaf pressed in, say, The Colossus
by Sylvia Plath,
Is no different from an empty pair of dance shoes

Even if those shoes are in the middle of the Stardust Ballroom
With all the lights on, and hot music shakes the windows
up and down the block.
This is the secret of inertia:
The shoes run on their own sense of the world.
They are in sympathy with the rock the kid skips
over the lake
After it settles to the mud.
Not with the ripples,
But with the rock.

A practical and personal application of inertia
Can be found in the question:
Whose Turn Is It
To Take Out The Garbage?
An empty pair of dance shoes
Is a lot like the answer to this question,
As well as book-length poems
Set in the Midwest.

To sum up:
An empty pair of dance shoes
Is a lot like the sand the 98-pound weakling
brushes from his cheeks
As the bully tows away his girlfriend.
Later,

When he spies the coupon at the back of the comic book,
He is about to act upon a different set of scientific principles.
He is ready to dance.

SOURCE: “The Empty Dance Shoes” appears in Cornelius Eady’s collection Victims of the Latest Dance Craze (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1997), available at Amazon.com.

IMAGE: “Dance” by John Crothers. Prints available at fineartamerica.com.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Poet and cofounder of Cave Canem, Cornelius Eady has published more than half a dozen volumes of poetry, among them Victims of the Latest Dance Craze (1985), winner of the Lamont Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets; The Gathering of My Name (1991), nominated for a Pulitzer Prize; and Brutal Imagination (2001), a National Book Award finalist. Hardheaded Weather: New and Selected Poems appeared in 2008.

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SUBWAY RUSH HOUR
by Langston Hughes

Mingled
breath and smell
so close
mingled
black and white
so near
no room for fear. 

 PHOTO: “New York subway, 1969” by Ralph Crane, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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SEARS LIFE (Excerpt)
by Wanda Coleman 

it makes me nervous to go into a store
because i never know if i’m going to
come out. have you noticed how much
they look like prisons these days? no display
windows anymore. all that cold soulless
lighting-as atmospheric as county jail-
and all that ground-breaking status-quo
shattering rock ‘n roll reduced to neuron
pablum and piped in over the escalators.
breaks my rebel heart. and i especially 
hate the aroma of fresh-nuked popcorn
rushing my nose, throwing my stomach off
balance. eyes follow me everywhere i go like
i’m a neon sign that shouts shoplifter.
and so many snide counter rats want to
service me, it almost makes me feel rich 
and royal. that’s why i rarely bother to
browse. i go straight to the department of
the object of conjecture, make my decision
quick, throw down the cash and split…

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Born in 1946, Wanda Coleman grew up in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. She is the author of Bathwater Wine (Black Sparrow Press, 1998), winner of the 1999 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. A former medical secretary, magazine editor, journalist and scriptwriter, Coleman has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation for her poetry. Her other books of poetry include Mercurochrome: New Poems (2001), Native in a Strange Land: Trials & Tremors (1996), Hand Dance (1993), African Sleeping Sickness (1990),  A War of Eyes & Other Stories (1988); Heavy Daughter Blues: Poems & Stories 1968-1986 (1988), and Imagoes (1983). She has also written Mambo Hips & Make Believe: A Novel (Black Sparrow Press, 1999) and Jazz and Twelve O’Clock Tales: New Stories (2008). Coleman is known as the “unofficial poet laureate of Los Angeles.” (Source: poets.org)

Photo: Wanda Coleman, circa 1970s

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June 27, 2013 marks the 141st anniversary of the birth of Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906), a poet, novelist, and playwright—and the first African American writer to gain national prominence. Born in Dayton, Ohio, the son of ex-slaves, Dunbar lived only to age thirty-three, but in his short life created a large body of work—writing short stories, novels, librettos, plays, songs, essays, and poetry. Maya Angelou took the title of her book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings after a line from Dunbar’s poem “Sympathy.”

The just-released Silver Birch Press SUMMER ANTHOLOGY features three summer-themed poems by Paul Laurence Dunbar. Find the book at Amazon.com.

IN SUMMER
by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Oh, summer has clothed the earth
In a cloak from the loom of the sun!
And a mantle, too, of the skies’ soft blue,
And a belt where the rivers run.
And now for the kiss of the wind,
And the touch of the air’s soft hands,
With the rest from strife and the heat of life,
With the freedom of lakes and lands.
I envy the farmer’s boy
Who sings as he follows the plow;
While the shining green of the young blades lean
To the breezes that cool his brow.
He sings to the dewy morn,
No thought of another’s ear;
But the song he sings is a chant for kings
And the whole wide world to hear.
He sings of the joys of life,
Of the pleasures of work and rest,
From an o’erfull heart, without aim or art;
’Tis a song of the merriest.
O ye who toil in the town,
And ye who moil in the mart,
Hear the artless song, and your faith made strong
Shall renew your joy of heart.
Oh, poor were the worth of the world
If never a song were heard —
If the sting of grief had no relief,
And never a heart were stirred.
So, long as the streams run down,
And as long as the robins trill,
Let us taunt old Care with a merry air,
And sing in the face of ill.

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POETRY
By Nikki Giovanni

poetry is motion graceful
as a fawn
gentle as a teardrop
strong like the eye
finding peace in a crowded room
we poets tend to think
our words are golden
though emotion speaks too
loudly to be defined
by silence
sometimes after midnight or just before
the dawn
we sit typewriter in hand
pulling loneliness around us
forgetting our lovers or children
who are sleeping
ignoring the weary wariness
of our own logic
to compsoe a poem
no one understands it
it never says “love me” for poets are
beyond love
it never says “accept me” for poems seek not
acceptance but controversy
it only says “i am” and therefore
i concede that you are too
 
a poem is pure energy

horizontally contained 

between the mind 

of the poet and the ear of the reader

if it does not sing discard the ear 

for poetry is song

if it does not delight discard

the heart for poetry is joy 

if it does not inform then close 

off the brain for it is dead

if it cannot heed the insistent message

that life is precious
 

which is all we poets 

wrapped in our loneliness
 
are trying to say

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Yolande Cornelia “Nikki” Giovanni, Jr.,(born June 7, 1943) is an American writer, commentator, activist, and educator. She is currently a distinguished professor of English at Virginia Tech.

PHOTO: Nikki Giovanni, 1980.

…and a happy June 7th birthday to Nikki Giovanni.

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a song in the front yard
By Gwendolyn Brooks

I’ve stayed in the front yard all my life.
I want a peek at the back
Where it’s rough and untended and hungry weed grows.   
A girl gets sick of a rose.

I want to go in the back yard now   
And maybe down the alley,
To where the charity children play.   
I want a good time today.

They do some wonderful things.
They have some wonderful fun.
My mother sneers, but I say it’s fine
How they don’t have to go in at quarter to nine.   
My mother, she tells me that Johnnie Mae   
Will grow up to be a bad woman.
That George’ll be taken to Jail soon or late
(On account of last winter he sold our back gate).

But I say it’s fine. Honest, I do.
And I’d like to be a bad woman, too,
And wear the brave stockings of night-black lace   
And strut down the streets with paint on my face.

… “a song in the front yard” appears in Selected Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks, available at Amazon.com.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gwendolyn Brooks (June 7, 1917 – December 3, 2000) was an American poet. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1950 and was appointed Poet Laureate of Illinois in 1968 and Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1985.

Photo: Gwendolyn Brooks, 1950s.

…and a happy June 7th birthday to Gwendolyn Brooks!

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“I know some things when I start. I know, let’s say, that the play is going to be a 1970s or a 1930s play, and it’s going to be about a piano, but that’s it. I slowly discover who the characters are as I go along.” AUGUST WILSON (1945-2005)

For writers who make it up as they go along (and I plead guilty), August Wilson‘s comment about his working method makes us feel…well, okay about not knowing where we’re going when we start.

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Born on April 27, 1945, Wilson grew up poor in Pittsburgh, dropped out of high school at 16, and educated himself at the Carnegie Library while working a series of menial jobs. In 1965, at age 20, he purchased a used typewriter for 10 dollars and started to compose poetry. A few years later, in 1968, he cofounded the Black Horizon Theatre and began to write and produce plays — starting with Recycling. Wilson went on to author many plays — including the Pulitzer Prize winning Fences (1987) and The Piano Lesson (1990). One of the all-time great American playwrights — with a career that spanned nearly 40 years — Wilson’s work continues to inspire and promote discussion. He passed away at age 60 in 2005, and has been the recipient of many posthumous tributes — including a theater in the New York City Broadway Theater District named in his honor.