*YOUNG, FINE, BROWN HUSTLE ALERT* Oct. 31st Deadlines!

jerichobrownWell, I’m back from my visit to Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts and reading from my Phillis Wheatley poetry book-in-progress, The Age of Phillis.

Plus, I ate three lobster rolls while I was up there, and I’m not ashamed in the least. I’m telling you, those New Englanders know how to cook them some seafood. They are not playing. Eating at least one lobster roll on a visit to New England is obligatory, like eating a three-piece wing snack (with roll and fries) if you travel to the West End of Atlanta.

It was pretty scary to read from this project, since these poems are mostly new and I am so used to reading from my last book, Red Clay Suite. Sometimes when I read the new poems, I think about Miss Phillis and all those other African people who were taken as slaves as children or teenagers and I get choked up. And then, I feel silly and I have to tell myself, “Honorée, you need to get yourself together.”

Anyway, I am back to the writing full-time, which means it’s back to the hustle, and the end of October deadlines. If you are a writer, then you know that October is the month for it all: prize announcements, prize deadlines, job announcements, and job application deadlines.

Here’s a great prize announcement: one of my poet-friends, Jericho Brown, just won the Mrs. Giles Whiting Award for his first book of poetry, Please. (That’s Jericho’s young, fine, brown self up at the top of the page.) He also won a huge chunk of cash, FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS. Don’t hate: I’ve read the book and it’s so good, it made me mad I didn’t write it. Here’s a link for you to buy it and read it and get mad, too.

If you are on the job market and a creative writer, you need to get a membership to the Associated Writing Programs–or AWP, for short. Some people have said that AWP actually stands for All White People, but it’s gotten a lot more diverse in recent years. I remember when I first started going to the AWP Conference back in 2001, I used to make sure I wouldn’t show up to the conference cocktail parties in a black and white outfit–I was scared somebody would hand me a plate of hors d’oeuvres to circulate around the room.

The AWP has come a long way. They even have more than two black people –and other than Rita Dove, too–as featured presenters each year at the conference. Now, if they could just stop scheduling all the “diverse”—you know, the gay, black/African American, Latino, Asian, etcetera—scholarly and reading panels on the SAME DAYS AT THE EXACT SAME TIMES (so that I have to walk out of one “diverse” panel before it’s done in order to enter another “diverse” panel when it’s halfway over), I could leave my AWP stankitude by the side of the road, once and for all.

If you are a creative writer and you are just now getting your AWP membership, you are on “CP Time” for real—regardless of your ethnicity. But, you know, better late than never; I know that frequently, I have to wait until the end of the month paycheck if there’s a membership fee. Here’s the link for the AWP membership page. You not only get the Job List with your membership, you get a bunch of other yummy things. I promise you, it is worth it, if you want to get your hustle on–and I know you do.

Here are a few other things for you to remember.

When you send in your job application letter, you need to print the letter on your college or university letterhead. Or, if you aren’t employed yet or you are no longer in school, print the letter out on very nice white paper with some cotton content and preferably, watermarked.

Also, do not use the phrase “references available on request” on your curriculum vita—a fancy name for resume—when you send it in with your letter. No one’s going to bother to request your references when you aren’t famous; your references’ names need to be on that vita already. If you don’t put the names there, that just looks arrogant, and your arrogance translates into your stupidity. I’m just saying.

And make sure that anybody you have asked to write you a letter of recommendation actually likes you and feels enthusiastic about you and your work. You don’t want a one-paragraph letter of recommendation for a job, or worse, one of those Ralph Ellison Invisible Man letters. You gotta read the book to figure out what I’m talking about. It’s not a good scenario, though.

You would be surprised at how many people out there will write a letter of recommendation for anything with a pulse, so you need to be careful about who you are choosing to speak on your behalf. You want a referee to indicate that you are special, not some fill-in-the-blank random person standing around on the corner, talking ’bout, “I’m gone write me some poems.”

Now, on to the October 31st prize deadlines. I know I’m giving these to you at the last minute, but for real, there are at least one hundred somebodies out there who love to wait until the eleventh hour. You know who you are: you feed off the adrenaline and the stress. It gives you such a sweet, funky rush, don’t it? Oh, I know, baby; I know.

Remember that because you are so close to the deadline, you need an official postmark on the envelope containing your contest materials. Don’t just drop your stuff off in the mailbox after hours and think that’s going to get it.

So, you need to either 1) stand in line at the post office and see–with your own eyeballs– the postal worker actually date-stamp your submission envelope, or 2) you need to use the 24-hour automated system that some post offices have in the lobby; that gives a date-stamp as well.

I’m sorry if I am insulting your intelligence, giving you these elementary instructions, but I am shocked how many people aren’t taught this. (That would be me, back in the day. It was just sad. I just don’t know how I made it through.) Look, I’m just trying to keep your feelings from getting hurt, ’cause I love you.

Alright, here’re some really juicy contests with October 31 deadlines.(Just click on the link to take you to the website). A couple of these might have November 1 deadlines, but you need to just get them in one day early, anyway, so please don’t be complaining that I mislead you:

American Poetry Review, Honickman First Book Prize

2010 Kore Press Short Fiction Award for Women

Dana Awards Literary Competition

Elixir Poetry Contest

Bread Loaf Writers Conference Bakeless Prizes

University of Arkansas Press Miller Williams Poetry Prize

The T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry

I’m traveling again tomorrow, driving this time, down to my beloved South. I can’t wait. It’s just been so long and for a GRITS Sister like me, when I stay away, I just go crazy. There’s a little Anthony Hamilton below for you to listen to, so you can understand how truly happy I am.

For now, Bon Weekend. That’s French, y’all.

No Purses, No Dresses, No Justice, No Peace

DSC01287Y’all might remember that a few days back, I gave you a link to a piece by a brother named Frank Leon Roberts, who broke the news about Morehouse College’s new dress code for the young black men who attend the school. I have to admit, my first thought about the dress code was, “It’s about time!”

Let me defend myself: I grew up when the Negroes wore belts around their pants and you couldn’t see their drawers. Also, Negroes did not holler at me (or other women) out of the windows of moving cars, “Ay! Ay Shorty!” Which, by the way, is a complete turn-on for me. If you want to get next to me, please buy me a gold necklace with a big old “Shorty” charm hanging on it.

To some folks, my issue with the sagging pants is viewed as classism. Ok, I’m guilty, but I’m not the kind of classist you think. I’m definitely not a member of the Talented Tenth, one of those figures out of the Dubois essay, that will only associate with those belonging to a particular class (which would be upper class).

What I am is a sister who only associates with people who possess class, meaning those people who possess home training.

For example, if your grandmama pinched you or even just gave you the side-eye when you were acting a fool in church—that’s home training or class. Teaching your kids to say “please” and “thank you”—also, home training or class. Pulling up your pants so I can’t see your [insert expletive adjective] drawers–well, you know the rest.

So naturally, I assumed the whole dress code was about belatedly trying to teach home training to the young men who attend Morehouse. And until I read the actual code, I was willing to let Freedom of Speech rights slide, because I attended Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University) back when the brothers at Morehouse carried brief cases. My two sisters and my mother are graduates of Spelman College, Morehouse’s sister school, and my father taught at Morehouse under the revered B.E. Mays. Morehouse Men once represented the pinnacle of respectable black manhood to me.

Then, when I read the code, I saw that the young men at Morehouse are prohibited from the “wearing of clothing associated with women’s garb (dresses, tops, tunics, purses, pumps, etc.) on the Morehouse campus or at College-sponsored events.” I sat there in front of the computer for almost fifteen minutes, sort of confused, until I got it. This was a prohibition against gay and transgendered students at the school, in other words, “male gender” students must now stop wearing “female gender” clothing, and start acting like “real men.” Read: they have to start acting like straight men.

Uh-oh. Y’all know how I feel about the disorder called The Black Homophobia, “TBH” for short. It’s just wrong. But before I start to rip into TBH at Morehouse College–and you know it’s coming– let’s deal first with the rest of the dress code.

Some, including Roberts, have argued that Dr. Robert Franklin, the president of Morehouse, is attempting to regulate on “ghetto style” with this dress code, prohibiting sagging pants and gold grills and such. Now, I have no doubt that there’s some Talented Tenth classism at work with the dress code. Morehouse is one of the birthplaces of the Black Bourgeoisie–or just “bourgie Negroes” for short.

But those sagging pants that everybody’s defending so vocally originally come from “jail style,” not “ghetto style.” This is another reason why Franklin and other older black folks have such a problem with them, aside from the whole I-can-see-your-drawers issue. Because to older black people, playing about being on the chain gang ain’t no joke, considering the devastation young black men used to and still do encounter at the hands of the criminal justice system.

My mother grew up in central Georgia during a time when they would trump up charges on a brother–usually for something you couldn’t put your finger on like “vagrancy”–and then send him to jail so they could use him as labor for white plantation bosses. They didn’t care if they worked you to death or not, because they’d just do the same thing to a new brother.

So, cut the old black folks–particularly those who live in or come from the Deep South– some slack about their Fear of a Sagging Planet.

And while I don’t think we should be criticizing the insides of these young men because of the way they look on their outsides, I do wish we could be realistic as well about the fact that, while you can pull up your pants and buy a belt–or not–if you weld gold onto your teeth, that’s a permanent situation right there. So you won’t be getting a job in anybody’s law firm or going to anyone’s medical school, and you won’t be able to pay off your student loans.

Now, that said, onto The Black Homophobia.

I would agree with Roberts that Morehouse College is trying to regulate on “gay style,” too, and that is what is what’s so disturbing about the dress code. Essentially, this dress code represents what’s called the “bait and switch.” It happens all the time, whether it’s in families or the community, or even a particular country, where the attack of something on the surface allows for the attack of something else, underneath. For example, remember that whole “Weapons of Mass Destruction” thing-y? That was a classic bait and switch.

In the case of the dress code, the “bait” is good home training or class. The “switch” is that good home training or class must come at the expense of black gay men’s acceptance into the community.

But perhaps Dr. Franklin feels that he needs to “start from the ground up” in building good black men. I agree completely.

Now let’s begin with some training about acceptance and tolerance of gay people in the black community, and black men who attend Morehouse College in particular. Because there are stories about young black men who tried to live, either privately or openly as gay men on that campus, and were so hounded that they dropped out or transferred, like Jafari Sinclaire Allen, a friend of the blogger Tayari Jones. Worse is the violence, which happened seven years ago, when a young man was beaten severely with a baseball bat at Morehouse because he was suspected of being gay.

Further, let’s teach our young black men how to reject the old, tired scripts for black masculinity. You know what I mean, the ways that older brothers teach younger brothers how to “act like real men.” These scripts deny black men the ability to talk with black women and with each each in a real way, or even, to simply show their feelings openly–except when it’s through violence.

How many times have you been in the grocery store, or at a picnic–anywhere–and heard a black father tell his five or six-year-old weeping son, “Stop all that. Men don’t cry”? But what’s even sadder, many times black mothers pass these same scripts along to their sons, too.

Now what I found surprising about the first Roberts essay, and now the second, is that he didn’t touch—I mean with a fingernail—the issue of sexual violence towards women that has been an ongoing problem at the school, and which is equally as concerning as TBH. Because we need to stop thinking that we can compartmentalize different forms of intolerance and violence. A hate crime toward a gay man and a rape of a woman are simply two branches of the same stunted, hateful tree.

In all fairness to Roberts, maybe he just hasn’t heard about the yearly sexual assaults that take place—allegedly—involving Morehouse College students (as perpetrators) and female students (as victims) from Spelman and other colleges in the Atlanta University Center.

That doesn’t mean sexual assault is not a problem at mainstream schools, but if Morehouse wants to set the tone for black manhood in our community, Dr. Franklin needs to begin a program aimed at eliminating sexual assault on the campus of The House, because when I was a student at Clark, I knew never to go over to Morehouse after dark without a herd of young women accompanying me. I’d been told by other young women (who had been told by other young women and so on) that if I left the herd and ventured alone to somebody’s room on Morehouse’s campus, the guy in that room might rape me. And then, he might go out in the hallway and issue a call-to-action to the guys on his floor. We heard stories about that all the time, back in the day.

(Snoop Dogg even made a song about gang rape: “It Ain’t No Fun If the Homies Can’t have None.” Talk about somebody not being raised with home training. That brother is Exhibit A.)

In order to help him with putting forth a new vision of Morehouse manhood, Dr. Franklin could hire some progressive brothers as professors and support staff at the school. There are more than a handful of these men—full of energy and imagination and humanity—who would love to work at the school. And he could bring in progressive speakers as well.

For people who want to say, speakers cost money, and professors cost money, and historically black colleges and universities are having a hard time financially right now–let me ask you, have you ever looked in the Chronicle of Higher Education and read about the huge amounts of money those administrators make at Morehouse College, as opposed to the pitiful salaries of the professors and support staff? You need to. It will blow your mind this time, and the next one, too.

And, on a for-real tip, have you ever been to homecoming at Morehouse? I’m not sure they spend more money on the coronation of a Queen of England than they spend on the coronation of Miss Maroon and White every year at Morehouse. We educated black folks love our pomp and circumstance and sparkled, color-themed formal balls, don’t we?

I could give Morehouse an entire roll call of good brothers and believe me, Dr. Franklin could find the money to pay them, if he really want to make it a priority. And, by the way, if you never met a black male womanist or feminist, just give me a holler, and I will pull your coat. Let’s start with my brother-friend, the literary scholar and poet, Herman Beavers.

Surely, if I thought a dress code would help to teach progressive scripts for black masculinity, I’d be all over it, freedom of speech notwithstanding. (I don’t care what you say, I can’t wait until the underwear show is over.)

But if we want to burn those scripts, and start writing new ones from scratch, the first thing we need to do is stop confusing the issue of fashion with deeper, underlying problems with our young men and our community at large.

The second thing is, let’s talk about what those scripts are.

The third thing–and listen very closely to what I’m saying–is that while we’re talking about the “classism” of the dress code, let’s not display classism in the way the conversation is taking place.

Let’s have this conversation about black masculine scripts–and how these scripts generate homophobia, and sexism, and rape and other forms of violence– in plain language so that not only the young men who attend Morehouse can understand the conversation, but also,the brothers hanging on the corner can understand as well, because it’s going to take all black men to work this thing out, not just the Talented Tenth.

But in addition to giving my own opinion on this issue and being honest about my criticisms of Roberts’s two essays, I’m repeating the praiseworthy points he made, because I think when you hear something wise by a brother (or sister), even if you don’t agree with everything said, still you need to pass the wisdom on–and on and on and on. And also, I’m passing it on because things are getting crucial up here in this community, and that is not an exaggeration. Please excuse my vernacular, but they done been crucial.

Just like back in slavery, when someone used to give a friend directions to the Underground Railroad, I’m telling you now: It’s late at night and we don’t have much time. Tie your fatback and cornbread up in a handkerchief–and let’s get to moving up the road.

Click On This Baby: Friday And Just Got Paid


I’m headed out of town on Sunday, October 25 for Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. On Monday, I’ll be giving a talk on my beloved Phillis Wheatley, and reading poems from my fourth book-in-progress, The Age of Phillis. I really hope some of y’all in the Northeast can come check me out. Click here for the information. The description of the event sounds really stuffy, but you know I’m gone try to keep it sassy.

I won’t have another blog essay for you until next week, so in the meantime, here’re some links:

Let’s start with the serious: Why have all these black women been killed in Rocky Mount, North Carolina and it has not been part of a national conversation? (You can guess, but I already know.) As my grandma used to say, it’s a scandal and a lowdown shame.

While we are celebrating our first black president, and grieving the resurgence of white supremacy, we have to keep the rebuilding of the great city of New Orleans at the front of our minds–and public policy. Without that place, there would be no jazz: just think on that for a minute. Here is an interview with renowned citizen of New Orleans and jazz musician Terence Blanchard on NPR. And there’s a free concert, too, for you to download! Let me say that his CD, A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina), was just life-altering for me. I am not playing with you.

Don’t you know all black folks look alike? Contessa Brewer at MSNBC thought so. Lord, have mercy, you know if we have a long enough memory that we are seeking reparations for slavery (and yes, you can count me in that group), this white lady on the news will never live this thing down. I feel sort of sorry for her, but I do bet you that’s the absolute last time she makes that mistake.

This is a shameless-plug-for-black-art link: I hope by now, y’all have gone to Amazon.com and ordered your copy of Mythium Literary Journal. If you haven’t, please do so immediately. Or better yet, go to the journal’s website and find out how to get a year’s subscription. It’s very reasonably priced!

One of my favorite black men in the world, Cornel West (the pointing brother above) has a new memoir out, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud. You know it’s deep. You know it’s black. You know it’s spiritual. Here’s an interview with him about the new book, and of course, he’s dropping major science—and dimes.

A debate about the new black Barbie. At least she’s chocolate. We’ve come a long way, haven’t we? Now, we have little black girls wanting to barf up their breakfasts in order to be unrealistically skinny, too. All together now: Yay!

You Gotta Read This: Mythium

Front Cover of the First Ever Mythium Issue!

My first “You Gotta Read This” feature is on Mythium, a brand new literary journal focusing on writers of color, founded by Crystal Wilkinson and Ron Davis. When I say you gotta read this, I’m serious as some gumbo from the French Quarter.

Wait a minute: before you get turned off by the words “literary journal,” I want you to go back and read the blog posts I’ve put up over the past almost two weeks. In your short history with me, have I ever not kept it real with you? Enough said.

As a “poet and writer,” I read as part of my job; but as a certified “stone-cold regular sister” I want to read literature because I want to enjoy the writing, too. I don’t want to read literature because I’m supposed to—because it’s like oatmeal and good for me and will lower my bad cholesterol. I want my literature to make me feel good (and not just because my doctor says it will.) I believe there are a lot of people out there like me—of all complexions—who love good literature wherever they can find it, whether they are people who are writers or people who just love to read.

But you don’t just read great literature, you buy it, at the bookstore or online. Or at least, we writers really hope you do. Why? One word: bills-to-pay. (That was a compound word, but you get the message.) And you spend your money on literature, the way you do most things you think are worth it. Plus you know it’s worth it when when you read it, so when you open up Mythium, this fabulous new journal, you’re going to say, “Dang! Honorée was so right.”


Full disclosure: I’m in this inaugural issue of Mythium, but so are twenty-seven other writers—way more fabulous than I am, for real, and this is no false modesty—including Michael Harper, Opal Palmer Adisa, and Reginald Harris. (If you haven’t heard of those writers, don’t be ashamed. But you do need to get to a library, like, immediately, post-haste.)

Now, back to the founders of Mythium, Ronald Davis and Crystal Wilkinson. Crystal is the author of two books of fiction, Blackberries, Blackberries (2000) and Water Street (2002), both published by Toby Press. Water Street was a long-list finalist for the prestigious Orange Prize and short-listed for a Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation Legacy Award in fiction. Blackberries, Blackberries was named “Best Debut Fiction” by Today’s Librarian magazine. Crystal is a faculty member in Spalding University’s low-residency MFA writing program and is currently serving as Visiting Professor and Writer-in-Residence for Morehead State University. She is a member of the Lexington, Kentucky-based writing collective, The Affrilachian Poets. Ronald (aka: upfromsumdirt) is a lauded visual artist, graphic designer, poet and full-time hermit influenced equally by lies, half-truths, mythology, politics and candy. He is currently photoshopping a host of prestigious credentials in preparation for a 2016 run for the presidency as the founding member of the political party, the right-handed gris-gris guild (anansi is its official mascot). Supposedly, he types pretty fast for a fat guy, the relevancy of which is being hotly debated. Also, he is au pair for secrets & shadows. And in the tradition of the athlete when confronted with the camera: Hi, mama; I love you!

Ronald and Crystal

Ronald and Crystal

Honorée: What made the two of you decide to start Mythium?

Mythium: Toni Morrison said once that if there is a book you want to read that isn’t out there yet, then write it. We found that after we had read journals [that focus on writers of color] like Callaloo, African American Review and a few others. And we spent a lot of time pilfering through mainstream literary journals in search of the writers of color.

H: Yes, it’s hard to find “us” in the literary journals. Sometimes you have to search very hard. On your website, it states that Mythium has a focus on “indigenous and diasporic” voices. Why did you both believe this focus was important?

M: “Indigenous” often equates to “non-white” or to plant and animal life in the academic realm; you never hear the phrase “indigenous Parisians.” So that is our collective call-for-fellowship to those cultures and “diasporic” for those of us honoring our ties to places of our various Origins.

H: The journal has a funky, quirky aesthetic—the artwork is just beautiful. How did you decide on the look for the journal, and who is the artist?

M: We are funky, quirky folk. No doubt about that but the visual aesthetic (with a bit of pinching and prodding from Crystal) is pure upfromsumdirt (Ron Davis). He’s our art director and the style is reflective of his personal aesthetic.

H: Well, I just love it! What sort of “feel” did you want for the literary selections you included in this inaugural issue?

M: Variety! Works that reset the baseline for literature from the gaps. We felt as though we had fallen into this vast pot of excellent literature that was guaranteed to be passed up from our mainstream counterparts. We have no doubt that this inaugural issue is full of not only prize-winners but work that holds up the banner for how diverse writers of color are.

H: There are a lot of literary journals out there. What do you think sets Mythium apart from those other journals?

M: We are not really trying to set ourselves apart. We are trying to bring it all together. Sort of glue (hopefully) that skillfully fills the vast gaps especially where the celebration of the cultural voice is concerned.

H: What are your goals for this journal?

M: It’s our child, we just want the best for it… for it to be happy and find a loving relationship with someone who respects it.

H: When does your submissions period start, and what sort of work are you looking for?

M: We accept submissions on a daily basis, but we do place limits to our reading periods. The reading period for Spring 2010 began October 1, 2009 and will last for 3 to 4 months. Writers should always check our website for submission updates.

H: Where can we find the journal?

M: Ideally, wherever you look! Amazon and Barnes and Noble carry us, and your favorite online retailer should have us or at least be able to order us, but readers can always subscribe directly for the best rate by going to the website. And make sure your local bookstore and library have Mythium. Ask somebody to order it!

H: Is there anything else important that you want us to know about Mythium?

M: That it goes good with plantains and coffee. Plus, we’re very grateful for the feedback, interest and support we’ve received from the Literary Community – authors, students and the voracious reader. Thank you.

Note: Because there are so many great people in the inaugural issue of Mythium, it was impossible for Crystal and Ronald to choose which selection from the journal to excerpt. Click here for a list of the writers appearing in the inaugural issue of Mythium.

Mike Tyson, Stop Crying Already

Before you read any further, I should remind you that I am a womanist/black feminist. And for all you people who think that a “womanist” is something else than a “black feminist,” please read your copy of Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens.

As a womanist/feminist, and thus, someone who believes in the empowerment of women, and black women in particular, I have a real problem with the rape and physical abuse of black women, and thus, I have a problem with the black male rapists and physical abusers given continuing sanctuary in my community. Over a decade ago, I was trained as a battered women’s counselor and worked as one, too, so I know a little bit about this whole issue.

That’s why I have a problem with Mike Tyson, our latest black abuser-du jour. I’m asking you: why the heck is Mike Tyson the subject of an award-winning documentary and the toast of the Hollywood film set? Why is he all up on the TV—on Oprah, no less—soliciting sympathy, and why on earth does his bid for sympathy seem to be working?

I’m not here to debate Mike’s guilt as a rapist. First, I believe he was guilty and second, if you don’t believe he was guilty, one blog post from me isn’t going to change your mind. I know a lot of black people still don’t believe that Mike Tyson raped Desiree Washington, even though he was found guilty by a jury of his peers and went to jail for that crime.

I remember when the charges against him came out and even after he went to jail, all sorts of people in the black community were in his corner. It wasn’t fifty percent in his corner and fifty percent in Desiree’s corner, like when Brad Pitt was caught cheating on Jennifer Anniston with Angelina Jolie and there were people who had t-shirts made up to say which woman’s “team” they were on. No, mostly everybody black was on Mike’s team. (The same thing happened with OJ Simpson, and I’ll just let that sad piece of information marinate with you.)

To many, Desiree Washington’s name is still synonymous with “race traitor” in the black community. But even if you don’t believe Mike Tyson raped Desiree Washington—even if you think she tried to renege on a legally binding contract with Mike Tyson which included giving him sexual favors—Mike’s been abusive in other ways toward others. For example, he bit off Evander Holyfield’s ear in public. (And so, logic might go, if he did that in public to a man who was just as strong and big as he was, what would he do in private to a woman who didn’t have as much strength?) Further, Robin Givens has maintained, for a long, long time, that Mike Tyson beat her and also, in her 2007 book, Grace Will Lead Me Home, she alleges that he raped her as well.

I remember back in the day when Mike was married to Robin, my friends and I talked about how annoying she was. The clipped, bill collector voice, the seemingly constant need for attention. She was just a person who got on your nerves. But somehow, my friends seemed to think that, since she was annoying, it was all right for Mike to abuse her. I never thought that.

I have members of my family that get on my nerves. And if you think that people on my job don’t get on my nerves —which, by the way, if you are from my job and you are reading this blog, I really, really love having that job and I need me a raise, too—you are sadly mistaken. But if I went around beating down people just because they got on my nerves, I’d be doing a bid for aggravated assault on the chain gang right now.

Again, people get on my nerves all the time, but since I don’t let my “id” lead me around by the nose, I don’t go around jumping on people whenever the feeling gets good to me. So why is it ok that Mike Tyson jumps on people and brutalizes them, and why do we feel sorry for his inability to control his anger and rage? Why do we keep running behind Mike Tyson, trying to make him into the saint he is not? Is it the lisped voice? Is it because he’s got that sad, confused, tatooed look about him? Is it his background as a kid with no responsible, kind black male role model around? Is it the wrongs that Don King committed against Mike, in addition to Don wearing that unfortunate hairdo of his?

Or is it that, in the cases of Desiree and Robin, black women and their bodies simply don’t have any worth at all in American society at large, and the black community specifically, so what is the big deal anyway?

I don’t feel sorry for Mike Tyson the criminal. Yes, it was horrible when his baby girl died, and I felt sorry for his and his wife’s personal loss. Nothing is worse than the death of a child. However, as someone who adheres to logic, I know that Mike’s personal tragedies, no matter how great, don’t excuse his crimes. One does not have anything to do with the other.

There are a lot of people out there with bad childhoods—and some of them are black men—and many of them don’t hurt people physically, let alone ask for second chances for the hurt that they’ve doled out over the years. But I hear you asking me, “Honorée, don’t people deserve second chances?”

Yes, they do, if they ask for forgiveness and make amends.

Here are the universally acknowledged rules for forgiveness, at least as I understand them: If, after wronging the community—and a crime against the body of a black woman is a crime against the community as a whole, just as it is when you harm a black man’s body—someone wants to be incorporated back into the community, he or she must make amends to the person wronged. Forgiveness by and acceptance into the community does not occur in anticipation of these amends, it is as a result of these amends. That’s if somebody is going to take advantage of community sanctuary. First, of course, he or she needs to go to jail.

Now, if the person who has committed a wrong against the community is not seeking sanctuary, and wants to go someplace else and live among those “someplace else” people then he or she can just get to stepping, and no amends are necessary.

Those are the rules of forgiveness, but the problem is no one has ever applied those rules to Mike Tyson, yet we are letting him right back in the door of our black community, saying, “Well, he went to jail. He’s already made his amends.” Yet, amends to the women he hurt are not necessarily erased by jail time. Jail time consists of amends to the state, not to the person wronged. The state doesn’t get to decide the worth of a particular black woman’s body—she does. And in America’s past, it wasn’t even an actual crime against the state to rape, much less hit, a black woman. (Click here and here.)

Further, Mike has never admitted to wrongdoing against either Desiree or Robin in the first place, jail time or no jail time. He has never said, “I’m sorry” without backtracking. Instead, he says, “Feel sorry for me; these are the reasons why I did these things.” But there are no justifications for raping someone or beating somebody down, and to insist there are justifications is to continue the trauma that was inflicted upon the victims of Mike’s abuse.

For example, Mike says he and Robin “beat each other up.” (To my knowledge, he’s never addressed her charge of rape against him, either to confirm or deny it). Have you ever seen Robin Givens? She’s a petite little thing. She can’t weigh more than a hundred and ten pounds. This teeny, tiny lady is the person Mike Tyson says he “fought with”? Mike didn’t say, “She sneaked and threw a pot of hot grits on me while I was sleeping.” No, Mike said, they “beat each other up.” Unh-huh, Mike.

And Mike still denies raping Desiree Washington. He even called her bad names in the documentary that was made to rehabilitate his image. Even if he wants to continue denying raping Desiree, did Mike have to call that sister out of her name in front of a film crew? And does his response to his abuse(s) of Robin and his convicted rape of Desiree seem like the actions of person who has changed significantly as a human being?

I don’t expect James Toback, the white guy who made the documentary on Mike, to have sympathy for black female rape victims or survivors of domestic violence; he doesn’t belong to my community, after all. I’m not accusing him of being a bad person or a racist. I don’t even know that man, and maybe he thinks he’s doing some sort of social service for black folks. Clearly, whatever his intentions, he just doesn’t get it.

But what I can’t comprehend is why we in the black community are so willing to press the restart button—time and again—for men who hurt black women. For instance, why would somebody like Oprah, a black woman who’s supposed to be an advocate for women and girls, give a venue for publicity to Mike Tyson, a man who has admitted to physically hurting black women—who has bragged about it in print, and now on film? And, by the way, why would she give a venue to Jay-Z, who calls black women “bitches and hoes” in his “music”?

Side bar: I still don’t believe you can be a musician when you can’t sing or carry a tune; read music; or play an instrument, even if it’s just “hambone” on your chest and thighs. You can go on ahead and leave nasty comments for me below, but when you do, please explain in detail your reasons for disagreeing with me, because I need that information.

I don’t wish to characterize black women as passive participants in our lives. We aren’t. Many times, black women are our own worst enemies: we usually don’t muster the same sympathy for our own tragedies as we do for those of our sons, fathers, lovers and brothers. We won’t believe other black women’s testimonies, we downplay what really happened or we blame our sisters for their own abuse.

When we black women are trying to deal with the wreckage of female bodies and minds in our community, we will say about another sister who has been raped or abused, “She must have done something to deserve it.” Or we say, “It could have been worse. At least he didn’t kill her.”

Those are always our consolation prizes, aren’t they?

Click This, Baby, on Thursday

p_vanclief_stefanonI have a new blog essay coming up (very, very soon), and I’m hoping you won’t want to miss it, but in this short meantime (while I try to finish a new poem and some pages on my novel) here are some links for you:

Lord, the black hair thing. White folks are just discovering it—bless their hearts—and I suppose this is why “mainstream” magazines are going overboard publishing stories about our gorgeous locks. What About Our Daughters defends little, adorable Zahara Jolie-Pitt (and her hair) from Newsweek’s big old, mean self.

Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon and Carl Phillips are finalists for the National Book Award for poetry! Two—count them—two people of African descent as finalists! I have been feeling happy, surprised, and nearly faint for a whole day. Remember when one black human being equaled only three-fifths of a person? Well, now we’re two-fifths of the finalists for one of the most prestigious literary prizes in poetry in the country. How you like us now, drafters of the American Constitution?

The Nobel Prize jury defends giving President Obama the Peace Prize. With two wars going on in the Middle East, and several thousand more troops just sent to Afghanistan, I’m not sure I agree with their reasons, but wasn’t this a very nice gesture?—And look, I love Barack (and Michelle, and the little Michelles) like Peter loved the Lord, so don’t leave mean comments for me. I can disagree with him sometimes. (Barack ain’t Black Jesus, you know.) And as long as he gets my vote, I’m sure my displeasure doesn’t bother him in the least.

From New Black Man: Morehouse College, an all-male historically African American College (HBCU) institutes a new, hardcore dress code for their students. It’s an old-fashioned policy, but I kind of get where the president of the college is coming from. However, home training can’t start when you are eighteen and go away to college, and one of the “don’ts” on the dress code list can be construed as anti-gay.

Liberty Hultberg, a mixed-race lady, didn’t know her biological father was African American until she was an adult. Catch her utterly fascinating story on Heidi Durrow’s/Fanshen Cox’s Mixed Chicks Chat. This regular podcast discusses the mixed-race experience and it’s wonderful. (Click the “latest story” button when you get to the website).

French Vogue features a 14-page spread of a white model in blackface. No, I am not playing; I’m serious here. This is a classic “have these Europeans lost their (insert expletive adjective) minds?” moment. I know we have Rush Limbaugh and them over here breaking fool daily, but for real, they are making kind, non-racist, sane white folks feel bad over there in Europe on a regular basis. Rather how law-abiding black folks feel when Ray-Ray is arrested for crack possession and they put him on the six o’clock news. This is usually the point where somebody says, “What you looking at me for? He ain’t related to me.”

Please come back and visit me soon—and often. I really appreciate the (surprisingly) enthusiastic support!

*HUSTLE ALERT UPDATE! University Teaching Job!*

The DEADLINE  for this is OCTOBER 15, 2009!

(When they say, “Review of applications begins October 15, 2009,”  they mean, get your stuff in by that day.  You are not famous and they are not going to wait on you. So, you need to overnight your materials, alright?)

Assistant Professor of Creative Writing (Fiction)

The Program in Creative Writing in the Department of English, University of Alabama, invites applications for a tenure-track Assistant Professor of English to teach fiction writing in our thriving MFA program and undergraduate creative writing minor. We seek a fiction writer with significant magazine publications and/or one or more published book(s), demonstrated excellence in teaching, and an appropriate graduate degree. The typical teaching load is 2/2, plus thesis supervision. All creative writing faculty members take turns directing the MFA program after tenure. In addition to undergraduate and graduate workshop courses, our faculty teach a wide variety of self-designed literature and/or creative writing classes investigating aspects of literary genre, history, and form. To get a sense of our rigorous and innovative curriculum, flexible approach to genre, faculty, graduates’ accomplishments, and lively local culture, visit our website at www.as.ua.edu/english/08_cw/. Position begins 8/16/10.

Send letter of application, vita, writing sample, and three letters of recommendation to Dr. Wendy Rawlings, Search Committee Chair, Assistant Professor (Fiction) Search, Department of English, The University of Alabama, Box 870244, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0244. Review of applications will begin OCTOBER 15, 2009, and continue until the position is filled. The University of Alabama is an Equal Opportunity/ Affirmative Action employer.

Assistant Professor of Creative Writing (Nonfiction)

The Program in Creative Writing in the Department of English, University of Alabama, invites applications for a tenure-track Assistant Professor of English to teach nonfiction writing in our thriving MFA program and undergraduate creative writing minor. We seek a nonfiction writer with significant magazine publications and/or one or more published book(s), demonstrated excellence in teaching, and an appropriate graduate degree. The typical teaching load is 2/2, plus thesis supervision. All creative writing faculty members take turns directing the MFA program after tenure. In addition to undergraduate and graduate workshop courses, our faculty teach a wide variety of self-designed literature and/or creative writing classes investigating aspects of literary genre, history, and form. To get a sense of our rigorous and innovative curriculum, flexible approach to genre, faculty, graduates’ accomplishments, and lively local culture, visit our website at www.as.ua.edu/english/08_cw/. Position begins 8/16/10.

Send letter of application, vita, writing sample, and three letters of recommendation to Professor Michael Martone, Search Committee Chair, Assistant Professor (Nonfiction) Search, Department of English, The University of Alabama, Box 870244, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0244. Review of applications will begin OCTOBER 15, 2009, and continue until the position is filled. The University of Alabama is an Equal Opportunity/ Affirmative Action employer.

*HUSTLE ALERT* October 15, 2009 Writers' Deadlines!

IVYE0n1fSince this blog is brand new, this is the very first time I am issuing a notice for writers out there to “get their hustles on.” I hope to have a running series of Hustle Alerts, but if I miss something, you can visit Tayari Jones’s blog. Tayari is completely fabulous and has won many awards for her writing—and she’s a great dresser, too! She’s been blogging a long time and her blog is off the chain (or whatever the kids are saying these days). If you don’t know about her, shame on you.

Sidebar: before I go any further, just because it says “gender” and “race“at the top of my blog doesn’t mean this blog is only for black women, and it doesn’t mean that I’m only urging African American women to get their hustles on, either. Women—and men—of all complexions must get their hustles on. Last I heard, white people had to pay bills, too, but now, if that’s not the case, I’m planning a march on Washington immediately.

Now back to business: The Amy Lowell Traveling Scholarship deadline is approaching rapidly, on October 15th. This is a fabulous award that provides $50,000 for a full year to do nothing but write for a full calendar year. Can you believe that? There’s a catch: you have to leave the North American continent for the whole year and can’t come back unless there’s an emergency. And, the dollar isn’t what it once was, but look, $50,000 equals over 30k of Euros in Europe. Further, if you are black, and you want to go to the African continent, on $50,000 you can live like the Queen or King of all your Afrocentric fantasies. And if you’re not black, well, you can still shack up with the Queen or King of all your Afrocentric fantasies.

There have been some great folks who’ve won the Amy Lowell Scholarship, like Elizabeth Bishop and Galway Kinnell, but did you know there’s only been one African American poet to win since 1953? That was Reginald Shepherd. I have high hopes this year. Maybe with a black/bi-racial/tanned-in-Italy president, the people on the Amy Lowell board of trustees will make that extremely courageous, ostentatiously radical move of having two black winners of the scholarship in its fifty-six year history. (I have a dream.)

Here is the link to the Amy Lowell website, and in addition, there are several other important writer deadlines coming up, so here’s the link to the Poets and Writers database, which is free to search, so there is no excuse for your laziness.

Besides the October contests, the job market fall season is coming up for all creative writers. If you have any questions—again, no matter what complexion you are—that you want me to try to answer on the blog, please send me an email. The address is on the right. If I can’t answer your questions, I will say so, but if I can, I will be happy to. Some of you out there don’t have mentors, and I like to keep people from making stupid mistakes, if at all possible, like people did with me, back in the day. (Thank goodness.) We black people in the “over thirty-five” category call that “pulling somebody’s coat.”

Which reminds me, when you are submitting your poems to those contests, please keep those abstract anagram poems about dog poop on the sidewalk to yourself. I know your workshop said they really liked those poems, but guess what? They were lying to you, Baby.

Phillis Remastered: or, Hey Y'all, I Started Me a Blog!

Image from Dartmouth College

Image from Dartmouth College

The address of this blog comes from something I wrote a couple of years ago, about black poets: “We’re living Phillis’s life remastered.” The “Phillis,” of course, refers to Phillis Wheatley, the eighteenth-century American poet and really, the mother of African American literature. She was kidnapped from Africa as a child, and was a child prodigy. In 1773, she published her book, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. When that happened, as Henry Louis Gates said in his book, The Trials of Phillis Wheatley, she was the Oprah of her time.

Phills Wheatley is someone I’ve been thinking about for the past two years. Believe it or not, I started the journey of writing a book-length series of poetry about her because of Don Imus. Remember him, the shriveled-up, rude geezer who referred to the members of the Rutgers University Women’s Basketball team of “nappy-headed hoes”? I do! And most of the sisters I know remember, too. It was as if Imus had snatched off the last screen of modesty we had, exposing our shame to the world. And we were ashamed, even though we really shouldn’t have been. (Why is it the person being called something nasty feels the shame, when the name-caller is the one who should bear it?)

I strongly believed then (and now), as many black women believed (and still believe), that Imus found his nerve to talk about us from observing some of our own men. That’s right, the brothers, black men, whatever you want to call them. The men in the African American community. Not all of them, mind you, but a significant number. Many of our fathers, brothers, lovers, and sons had been referring to us as “bitches” and “hoes” for so long in their records or, if they weren’t musicians, they were buying and listening to those records. Meanwhile, the sisters had been trying to ignore it. We had been trying to be better ladies so we wouldn’t be the “bitches” or “hoes” the hip hop artists were referring to in their songs.

Side bar: have you ever been at a party and had one of those woman-dogging songs come on and seen any sister raise her hand and say, “That’s me! I’m it! I’m that bitch and hoe you’re talking about! And thank you for recognizing me for what I am! Thank you so much!”

Anyway, when what I like to call the “nappy-headed hoes debacle” occurred, there was Snoop Dogg, rapper extraodinaire and paragon of black intelligentsia, trying to defend rap music, all while toting his pimp cup around:

“It’s a completely different scenario…[Rappers] are not talking about no collegiate basketball girls who have made it to the next level in education and sports. We’re talking about ho’s that’s in the ‘hood that ain’t doing sh–, that’s trying to get a n—a for his money. These are two separate things.”

Okay, Snoop, you know what? Next time, please don’t defend me, Baby. I got this.

Others—historians, cultural critics, talking heads on TV, and a bunch of others in the African American community—didn’t exactly defend hip hop, but they did remind us: this hasn’t been the first time black women have been called out of their names, remember? When black women got off the slave ship, they were called “wenches,” which is the archaic equivalent of “whores.”

So let’s recap: Don Imus was just upgrading an archaic term to contemporary times, bless his racist, sexist, shriveled-up little heart.

What I’m saying isn’t new. All the issues I’m raising about hiphop’s misogyny—or in plain speak, just breaking fool—toward black women have been talked about over and over for the past couple of years. But that last bit, about the slave ship, now that gave me pause. Which started me to reading, and the more I read, the more I had to keep coming back to America and Europe in the eighteenth century, the slave trade, the Age of Enlightenment, and how black women fit into it all. It’s a lot of stuff to think about, and I can’t do it all in one blog post.

So, as a black woman who also happens to be a poet who also happens to be interested in the origins of race- and gender-based hatred and discrimination, there’s no way I could ignore the eighteenth century, what I call the “Age of Phillis Wheatley.” That’s how I started the journey of writing a book based on her life and times.

In the process, I’ve started thinking about how she connects with me. She was a poet, a black woman, a woman very interested in the political goings-on and upheavals of her time. She was interested in spreading love and humanity, and she was a deeply spiritual person. Sometimes, she felt alone in the world, but she kept reaching out to people through her creative work. I’d like to imagine that she and I would be friends if we met now, although I’m sure she’d be just a little bit more classy than I am.

Miss Phillis believed in connections. I became a writer, first a poet, and now, also a fiction writer, because I wanted to connect with people, to say something beyond my own insulated world. And I’ve made my voice heard a little, and that’s been a great thing. A real blessing.

Something happened to me along the years, though: I discovered that I don’t want to just keep having the same conversations with all the same people: with only formally educated people, or only college professors, or only professional writers, or only people my own age, or even only with people who only look like me. This is the reason I’ve started this blog.

I don’t believe that I’ll change the world with a blog, but I do know that I want to connect with people outside of my own insulated world, just like Miss Phillis.

Sometimes, I’ll blog about gender or race or both—because I’m black and a woman, not either/or. Sometimes, I’ll blog about writing or music or art, a bit of beauty I found in the world. Sometimes, I’ll give advice to young writers about getting their hustles on in the writing world, the way the older writers did with me back in the day. Sometimes, I’ll lead the reader to another blogger, who can say something better than I can. Sometimes, I’ll just speak my piece about something that’s getting on my last, damned nerve.

And if you’re feeling what I have to say—or even if you’re not—in the tradition of the African American church, just go on and give me a witness, from time to time: leave a comment for me below.