It’s (Almost) New Years, So Click On This

Happy New Year, y’all!

Or, like, in two days.

First, I want to thank everyone for the wonderful support of my blog. When I started this blog, I didn’t know what I was doing. I just knew I had some things I wanted to get off my chest, and I hoped people would listen. Well, it’s been almost three months, and I still don’t know, but I have had over three thousand hits! I can’t believe it. I thought only my mama and her dog would be reading. I am really overwhelmed by the love. I appreciate y’all so much.

I don’t have any real new New Years’ resolutions, just the same ones from last year.  But here they are:

1) I want to make substantial progress on the three books I am working on. One’s poetry, one’s fiction, and one’s a critical anthology on black poets and poetics that I am co-editing with Herman Beavers.

2) I want to continue to lose weight and be more healthy. I do exercise and try to eat right, but I don’t do either nearly as much as I should. Maybe sixty percent of the time. So I am aiming for ninety-five percent this year. I don’t want one hundred percent because everyone needs a little decadence in her life.

3) I want to continue to be more peaceful and work on ways to eliminate stress. This has been a good journey for me and I am still walking this path. I’m toying with taking up yoga, but in the meantime, I have given up cussing folks out. I think that’s a good beginning, don’t you?

4) I want to be more loving and supportive of the people in my life. I still talk way too much and listen too little. Listening more is a goal for the New Year.

5) I want to shop less and save more. Enough said.

6) I want to give my Creator more of the glory and stop feeding my ego so much. I don’t know if I can conquer the ego thing, but I really am committed to the Creator thing. It’s an ongoing kind of love.

And that’s it!

So I have some links to carry you into the New Year. Let’s start with ones that make me happy.

Yale accepts FOUR black children—or, I should say young people, but I am over thirty-five so they are “kids” in my mind—and all of them are from the same womb. Maybe one day, I won’t get excited and proud when I see that people who look like me are doing great things, but this is not that day.

Yay in the fight AGAINST homophobia and the fight FOR recognition of the humanity of all people! Two Argentinian men become first same-sex married couple in Latin America. It’s happening, y’all. The world is changing for the better, one person at a time, or in this case, two. Love is a beautiful thing.

Thanks to super fabulous writer and blogger Carleen Brice for letting me know about Leonce Gaiter’s piece in the Huffington Post “Rejecting the Publishing Ghetto.” Now, let me say that I am as tired as the next black writer with the “Negro Section” of bookstores, and also, the tiny commitment of the white publishing establishment to black books.  Gaiter’s piece was thoughtful and provocative, but I’m more than a little tired with this discussion, too.

Let’s remember that the white publishing industry only cares about making money, so if that’s the case, how can we black folks get our hustles on and stop singing the “We Shall Overcome” remix? Let’s stop itching for a scratch already, and let’s stop whining to the white folks about the bookstores and begging them to do something, and get our Proactive on, shall we? Carleen did. She invented “National Buy a Book by a Black Author and Give It to Somebody Not Black Month.”

The literary magazine Mosaic needs your support. There are so many of y’all out there who complain about “urban literature”—aka, the “Mama I’m in Love with a Gangster and I’m Rayray’s Baby Mama, Too” genre—but educated and/or literary black folks, we have to do more than just complain. Give up a fried chicken dinner and Diet Coke and give five dollars to Mosaic. Oh, so I’m stereotyping that all black folks eat fried chicken? Well, then, give up your coq au vin dinner with the bottle of Sauvignon Blanc on the side and give ninety-five dollars then. But whatever you do, give some money to Mosaic. It is tax deductible and your donation helps promote great black writers and provide workshops. And it’s a classy publication, too. Real classy.

The Poet Dennis Brutus has died. I know that I talk about racism ALL THE TIME, thus the heading of “race” up at the top of the page, but so did Dennis Brutus. He was a hell of a white man, and I mean that in the best possible way. He was jailed in the same place where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, and all for speaking out against Apartheid. This is what I mean by white folks challenging white privilege in order to make the world a better place. He put his life on the line; he didn’t just criticize other people from the safety of an academic cocktail party. This brother was not only a friend to black South Africans, but he was a friend to humanity.  RIP Mr. Brutus, and thank you for everything you did.

And finally, start your New Year right by writing, and then submit to American Short Fiction’s Contest. You need to get the lead out after eating everything in sight and sitting around letting it soak into all your arteries. You didn’t do a thing over the holidays but burp. Now’s the time to get writing and submitting again. And if you want to change the world just a little teeny bit, you have to put something down on that page. You can do it. I know you can.

And in the meantime, I will see y’all next year!

Love, Honorée

You Gotta Read This: Black Nature

It’s officially the Christmas holidays, and I hope it doesn’t disappoint you to know I’m not really a cocoa-drinking, sitting-around-the-tree-and/or-fire kind of sister. And let’s not even talk about participating in Kwanzaa. I don’t knock it, but I like my made-up holidays to be several hundred years old before I become a willing zealot. No offense, y’all.

I like to spend a lot of time by myself over the holidays, taking stock of my life, and giving thanks to my Creator for the year I’ve been allowed to keep living. And I tend to read a lot.

This year, I’ve been taking the time to go through a beautiful anthology edited by one of my Sister poetry-pals, Camille T. Dungy, Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry (University of Georgia Press, 2009). I promise you, one day I will talk about a book I haven’t written or one that I’m not in, but I am in Black Nature. I was really flattered when Camille asked me to be in the anthology, alongside many other seriously super-bad black writers. I never really considered myself a nature writer, but neither do a lot of other black writers, either. That’s part of why Camille’s anthology is so important—it destroys stereotypes about African American culture and writing.

I’m also sort of jealous that Miss Camille thought of this idea for this book before I did. In case you didn’t know, my ego is so big, I believe that  I should be the one who invents all important ideas first when it comes to writing. Me and Toni Morrison, that is. And when that doesn’t happen, I get real salty. This anthology is so good, I was like, “Dang! How come I ain’t think of this first?!”

So you know, I mean it when I say, “You gotta read this.”

Photo Credit: Ray Black

Aside from Black Nature, Camille T. Dungy is author of Suck on the Marrow (forthcoming from Red Hen Press, January 2010) and What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison (Red Hen Press, 2006), and co-editor of From the Fishouse: An Anthology of Poems that Sing, Rhyme, Resound, Syncopate, Alliterate, and Just Plain Sound Great (Persea, 2009). Camille has received fellowships from organizations including the National Endowment for the Arts, the Virginia Commission for the Arts, Cave Canem, the Dana Award, and Bread Loaf Writers Conference. She is associate professor of Creative Writing at San Francisco State University. And check her out on her brand new website: www.camilledungy.com

That is her official bio. Let me also say this: Camille beats out most other sisters I know for the hardest working black woman in poetry–a Jane Brown, if you will. She is surpassed only by a couple others—besides me, of course! I don’t want to hurt nobody’s feelings, so I won’t say who the other two are.

And she’s just a real nice lady, too. I like my writers nice as well as brilliant. I try to be fair, but I don’t really believe I’m going to focus on any book written or edited by somebody I can’t stand. This is my blog, so that’s my choice, I believe.

Honorée: Miss Camille, I know everyone asks you this question in interviews, but I need to know, anyway: what made you think about compiling an anthology on African American nature writing?

Camille: I was mostly minding my own business, delivering a reading of some poems about the undeveloped California landscape where I grew up and talking about how race and region and history and gender influenced my comfort levels in the natural world.  An acquisitions editor from The University of Georgia Press approached me after my reading and said he’d never really thought about black people writing about nature before.  Did I think I could come up with a couple more poets who did the same thing?  I said I figured I could manage that. Three years later we have Black Nature, which collects 93 of us: 180 poems and 11 excellent prose introductions.

H: Most people I know—and this includes black folks—aren’t aware that African Americans write/have written about the natural world. Do you think this is because, today, African American seems to equal “urban?” And why do you think that is?

C: In the introduction to Black Nature I speak directly to this question.  In the early part of the 20th century the majority of North America’s black populations relocated from the rural south to the urban north (or urban western cities like Oakland and Los Angeles).  That population distribution has remained relatively constant through this first decade of the 21st century, though it has begun to shift again in a pattern I am eager to track in the coming decades.

So, yes, I think the mere fact of where population centers reside has a lot to do with how our presence in and writing about the natural world has been erased.  I also think that there have been conscious and unconscious efforts to separate people from the land.  I mean, nature doesn’t have to equal wild or rural.  What about all those birds that lived in the trees just outside my San Francisco apartment?  What about the downstream repercussions of polluted watersheds? But it might behoove certain systems of oppression to keep African Americans removed from nature.  Black people might begin to feel a connection to the land once a communion was (re)established, and, well, the Lord isn’t making anymore land.

H: Do you think this anthology will open up perceptions about black writing, specifically what “black is or can be”?

C: I hope so!  I hope so!  I sincerely and truly hope so.  There’s a hilarious video to be found on the internet wherein Blair Underwood, on a hike, is dogged by a string of white hikers who can’t believe a black man is out on the trail with them.  Then photographers from Vibe come along to check him out too.  It’s hilarious and heart breaking.  I hope Black Nature can help expand our understanding of the broad array of interactions African American can have and have had with the natural world.  I refuse to accept limitations, and for too long perceptions of what blacks do and how we write have been dangerously limiting.  I certainly can’t fix all of these false perceptions, but hopefully this anthology will address some.

H: The anthology covers four hundred years of black nature writing. Why did you feel the need to go back that far?

C: Black poets have a long tradition of incorporating treatments of the natural world in their work, but it is often read as political, historical, or protest poetry—anything but nature poetry.  It was crucial to me that Black Nature reveal this connection from the very beginning of our experience on this continent so readers could begin to rethink presumptions about who writes about nature and how.  When Phillis Wheatley writes, in “On Imagination,” “Northern tempests damp the rising fire,” she is talking about both the weather patterns of New England and the cultural climate in Boston, a cultural climate that allowed the enslavement of a brilliant young woman who might, in a different “climate,” have aspired to be practically anything.

H: And who is the most fabulous black 16th century nature writer you know?

C: Leo Africanus, the 16th century scholar and diplomat who Yeats channeled in the early 20th century and who some say was the model for Shakespeare’s Othello had some pretty amazing things to say about the world.  But since I’ve been focusing pretty specifically on American poetry for the last three years, I had to move forward in time to the 18th and 19th centuries.  I’ll repeat my great admiration for Phillis Wheatley. Throughout her work she makes surprisingly lovely and often provocative references to the natural world.  Moving a bit further forward in history, I’d say George Moses Horton, who was born in North Carolina around 1797 and earned money by using his considerable poetic talents writing for the Southern gentry who attended The University of North Carolina before the Civil War. Even further forward still, Albery Whitman (1851-1901). I was happy to be able to include a fairly long section of his epic poem, Twasinta’s Seminoles; or, Rape of Florida, in this anthology.

H: Many of the writers in the anthology are contemporary and know each other because, well, the black writing scene is so small. This sort of page gathering of black writers took place during the Black Arts Movement and the Harlem Renaissance as well. Did you arrange your anthology like this on purpose?

C: I must admit, sometimes during the process of editing this anthology I thought of and referred to The Book of American Negro Poetry (ed. James Weldon Johnson), The Poetry of the Negro (eds. Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps), The Black Poets (ed. Dudley Randall), The Garden Thrives (ed. Clarence Major) and the many other groundbreaking (pardon the pun) African American poetry anthologies I grew up reading.

Developing within the post-Civil Rights Movement, post-Black Arts/Black Power Movement poets created new ways to thrive. I hope the “page gathering” in this cycle as well as throughout Black Nature has the capacity to make the same sort of mark as some of the anthologies that have shaped me most as a reader and writer. If that’s what you mean, then, yes, I arranged my anthology like this on purpose.

H: What do you feel is accomplished by having living black writers “speak” to each other?

C: I guess what I’d have to say is that I think, as writers, we’re always speaking to each other.  Whether we know it consciously or not. We’re speaking to living writers, but we’re also speaking to writers long passed.  And I’m not just talking about black writers either.  Many of these poems directly confront the likes of Wordsworth and Thoreau and Christopher Marlowe and commune with John Clare and Walt Whitman and Neruda and Virgil.  The moment we choose to write we enter into a conversation with the ages.

H: Can you give us a poem of your own that embodies your love of nature?

C: I want to take this opportunity to say that not all the poems in Black Nature are about a love of nature. My own work demonstrates a great deal of this ambivalence.  The newest collection of my own poems, Suck on the Marrow (due from Red Hen Press on January 15, 2010!), is set in the 1850s.  Some characters are enslaved on Virginia farms, others escape through woods using dead animals to throw slave tracking dogs from their human scent trails, still others watch migrating birds return to Philadelphia nests each spring knowing all the while their kidnapped, forcibly enslaved loved ones will never return home.  So, though I am always reverent of nature in my writing, I am not sure it would be accurate to say my writing, or much of the other writing in Black Nature, always reveals an ecstatic or uncomplicated love of nature.

Here’s a poem that speaks more directly to your question.  This poem is from my first book, What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison, and can be found in a section of Black Nature called “Nature Be With Us.”

Language


Silence is one part of speech, the war cry

of wind down a mountain pass another.

A stranger’s voice echoing through lonely

valleys, a lover’s voice rising so close

it’s your own tongue: these are keys to cipher,

the way the high hawk’s key unlocks the throat

of the sky and the coyote’s yip knocks

it shut, the way the aspens’ bells conform

to the breeze while the rapid’s drum defines

resistance.  Sage speaks with one voice, pinyon

with another.  Rock, wind her hand, water

her brush, spells and then scatters her demands.

Some notes tear and pebble our paths.  Some notes

gather: the bank we map our lives around.

Click on This: Soul Mountain Retreat

Photo by Allison Hedge Coke

There’s a pretty place in New England called Soul Mountain Retreat. It sits in a beautiful little town in Connecticut and writers visit there to find a quiet spot. They have a kitchen to cook their meals and a nice room with clean, cute sheets and a desk. They walk the picturesque grounds to find peace, and most importantly, they have time to write. And they can do all this for free.

Yes, I said, FREE. That’s deep, right?

A friend of mine, Marilyn Nelson, started the retreat because she’s a writer herself—she’s even been nominated for the National Book Award for poetry—and she knows how important it is to have time away from the pressures of home to gather your words.  Once a year, she sponsors an African American poet, so you know this place must be really special. Marilyn lives at Soul Mountain, and she runs it by herself. This is a labor of love, y’all.

This is also the end of the year, and Marilyn needs y’all to do her a solid. She needs a donation to keep Soul Mountain going.

Ok, don’t leave me yet to go to another blog!!!!  You do not need to go to that cooking site to find one more recipe for spiced gingerbread men. You’ve already gained enough holiday pounds.

Oh, wait, that’s me. My bad.

Anyway, I know it’s Christmas time, and you have to get a present for your mama and all them bad [insert expletive adjective] kids of your sisters and brothers. I know everybody is broke right now because of the economy, and I know everybody is begging you for something. But if you are a writer, or even if you just like to read—and I know you like to read, otherwise you wouldn’t be visiting this blog—think about the important work that Marilyn is doing.

I don’t want to encourage you to be cheap, but if you can only give $5, that’s better than nothing. I gave them a little more than that, and I might be having to eat peanut butter sandwiches until I get paid next week. But I need to lose the weight anyway. I’ve already told you about the gingerbread men; don’t ask me for anymore information, please.

So I’m passing the hat around. Giving a little change will feel good to your spirit, and guess what? It’s a tax-deductible donation. Doesn’t that make it a little better?

Here’s the link for you to click on. Come on now, you know you really want to give.

When you do give your ducats, don’t forget to leave me a comment, so you can let everybody know who’s the Big- Baller-Shot-Caller up in this camp: that’s right, that would be you, baby.

Party People in the House: Click on This!

Hey y’all, I am finally back on the prairie and recovering from my long drive from Tennessee. Ordinarily, it would have been only nine hours, but it turned out to be thirteen. The problem is, I hit some wrong button on my GPS, and it sent me all the way through the backwoods of Arkansas. I was scared. (Or as they say in St. Louis, I was scuured.) I won’t lie.

Worst Moment Number One? When I drove through “Fargo, Arkansas” and started having a panic attack remembering the movie Fargo. I was like, “Please God, don’t let nobody pull out a chainsaw on me!”

Worst Moment Number Two? I really, really, really had to use the bathroom and drove up to what seemed to be a little construction company house. When I stopped the car and put my hand on the door handle, a pit bull calmly and cheerfully walked up to car.

No, I did not pee-pee there.

I have some news/links for you. Let’s start with the sublime and move on to the ridiculous.

And drumroll, please……Ms Lucille Clifton, my FAVORITE POET EVER, has won the 2010 Robert Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America! “Miss Lucille” (as I call her) is just a super-bad sister extraordinaire and has been holding it down for black women, American poetry, and humanity in general for over thirty years. And, she’s literally responsible for my poetry career: she was the judge for my first book of poetry, The Gospel of Barbecue; I won from over 1000 entries. But let me tell you, Miss Lucille has helped countless other poets around this country, too. Her generosity of spirit and her no-nonsense approach to being a good person in this world and encouraging others to do the same is why I have loved her unabashedly for eleven years.

I gotta stop now, before I get in a groupie space, which is so easy to do when talking about Miss Lucille. But, you know, I got my pride. Sort of.

This has been a good week for black poetry: Myronn Hardy just won the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Poetry for his book The Headless Saints (New Issues, 2008). A nicer brother you cannot find, and just deep all around. I love being able to talk about him and Lucille Clifton in the same breath, because I’m pretty sure Myronn will be talked about in the same good ways thirty years from now.

Houston, Texas elects its very first openly gay mayor, Annise Parker. This proves that not everybody in Texas has lost their [insert expletive adjective] minds. This also proves that, despite the dis-ease of homophobia, some people refuse to let hatred lead them in the voting booth, and instead, decide on their assessment of quality. Ms. Parker might prove to be a good mayor or she might prove to be a bad mayor, but at least, she has been given the chance.

And in crazy publishing news, Publishers Weekly has a featured cover story on African American writing. However, the picture they have chosen for said cover is just wrong in so many ways. All that is missing is a picture of Goldie the Pimp in the background, brandishing his big ole gun.

Then you go inside the magazine, and the cover story mentions Dolen Perkins-Valdez’s new book, Wench, which they describe as follows: “In the pre-Civil War south, four white female friends visit a free-territory resort in Ohio that also attracts slaveholding men and their enslaved mistresses.”

Ahem. Dolen’s book is about slavery. And the female friends are of African descent. Lord, Jesus, come on by here.

On Twitter, a guy tweeted about none of the books in the Afro-pick issue would be remembered because of the cover. Let’s prove him wrong: Here’s a link to Dolen’s book, Wench. Buy it and spread the word.

And finally, what’s the deal with Tiger and all the ladies? I mean, this sounds like a skanky “Twelve Days of Christmas” remix.

Now, can we all talk about the pink elephant in the room? I know this is just a hot buttered mess with cheddar cheese and sour cream on it, and I am not trying to defend Tiger’s nasty ways.  But let’s keep it real: if Tiger were married to a non-white-yet-equally-fine-as-his-white-wife woman and allegedly engaging in extra-marital consensual sex with mildly attractive black women, do you think this would be all over the news all over the world? In other words, do you think anybody would even care about all them women he was rolling around in the bed with if they weren’t white and his wife wasn’t white, too?

Before you say, “Yes,” let’s talk about when Michael Jordan was cheating on Juanita, just a few years back. Do you even remember what I’m referring to?

Unh-huh.

But that aside: Tiger, it’s called a condom, Baby. Since I’m grown, I am not ashamed to say that I got plenty—and they have not expired, either. I’d be happy to loan you some before your next big night out.

I Miss Y'all, So Click On This

Dear Y’all:

I have not stopped blogging. I’m traveling through the rural South, and Lord, the internet access is sketchy at best. I have to drive some serious distances to get WiFi that doesn’t block the blog. So forgive my absence.

I will be back with a new full blog entry on December 8, 2009–in five days. In the meantime, if you miss me like I miss you, here’s a recorded short story for you of mine to listen to. It’s called “All Them Crawfords,” and it appeared a while back in Verb: an Audioquarterly. It will tell you all you need to know about how country I am.

I’ll see you next week, y’all.

Love,

Honorée

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