Decent People Action Alert

This afternoon one of my Twitter-friends tweeted about a racist t-shirt for sale at The design is one of the “top ten viewed designs” on

Because I don’t want to get sued for copyright infringement, I have not posted the t-shirt on my blog, but you can see it by clicking this link.

As you can see (once you click the link), the t-shirt uses a nonstandard version of the word “renege” to slyly–but not sly enough–refer to President Obama by the “n-word.” Other examples of nonstandard words would be “irregardless” or “conversate”—only this nonstandard word signifies something mean and low down about a Black person. Maybe this seems like a small thing, but I am not yet desensitized to blatant racism just yet.

The seller keeps leaving comments about “free speech” and “patriotism” but there is a difference between someone being a “patriot” and someone being a racist. Or even someone being a Republican and someone being a racist.

Trust me, I know. I once was in love with someone who voted for George W. Bush. Twice. Yes, he was Black, and yes, I do wonder what was wrong with him, first, and then me for loving him, but still, he wasn’t a racist.

Several Twitter-friends and I have posted comments objecting to the offensiveness of the t-shirt, but the seller  just keeps deleting the comments, including the one I posted telling him/her that I was an English teacher and had looked up the word in the Oxford English Dictionary, only to find it was nonstandard. So, clearly, it is time for Decent People Action.

I am asking that the readers of this blog contact Zazzle’s Customer Service by phone or email to complain and ask that they take this racist t-shirt down for sale. Also, I hope y’all would encourage others to do the same.

Please call 1-888-8ZAZZLE (892-9953) or (408) 983-2800 during the hours of Mon – Fri: 8AM – 6PM PST(11AM – 9PM EST) and complain. To email, click this link and fill out the form and complain

Either way, please complain–and often, until the t-shirt is taken down for sale. When you contact Zazzle’s customer service PLEASE BE VERY POLITE AND DO NOT CUSS ANYBODY OUT. The last thing we want is to act rude when we’re complaining about someone else’s rudeness.

The Sister-Poet Numbers: Count Number Two

Recently, I wrote a blog post about a Black male poetry colleague of mine, Major Jackson, and how I felt as if he erased me from Black poetry history in an interview in Poets and Writers; he mentioned attending the very first retreat of Cave Canem African American Poets in 1996, but only mentioned the two other men (besides himself) to attend that year and to publish poetry books. He did not mention me, the only woman out of the first group of 1996 Cave Canem fellows to have made an ongoing career in poetry. I felt the oversight was, well, sexist.

That blog post–Count Number One in the Black Poetry World– set off a firestorm. Actually, “fire” is not the right first syllable of that word, but as you know I try not to curse on the blog. (In real life is another story.)  After the post, I was attacked for criticizing Major Jackson; criticizing Cave Canem, the most influential Black poetry organization there is out there; and just generally being a Black-male-poet-hating, evil heifer who needed several bouts of therapy, a good drink– and some good something else, too.


I will admit that I have been vocal over the years by what I have viewed as favoritism in the Black poetry world for the Brother-poets. And I’m one of only a few Sisters who will make those charges in public—and in print. I’m not counting whispering as “public.”

I don’t criticize other Sisters for not being vocal, though; it’s understandable when they remain silent, considering the attacks that have been leveled against me recently. Not that I can’t handle them. Let’s be clear about that. But I have had some serious support from some Sister-writers, some White women writers, and actually a few Brothers, too. And, of course, my mama. And that support makes me stronger.

So those Sisters who remain silent out of fear don’t bother me.–No, the ones who bother me are the Sisters who join in on the attacks. And there were several to do that. And the ones who really bother me are those who have ribbed me up to talk about these issues of sexism and then desert me when I need some backup.

Sidebar: I gotta tell you, nothing is more annoying than Black women who encourage my “courageous truth-telling spirit” in my poetry and then, they don’t understand that what happens in real life is, like, the truth.


But the talk of sexism against women writers of all complexions in the “mainstream” writing world—not just poetry– has been all over the blogosphere lately. has run several pieces, one just recently by Meghan O’Rourke.

And yesterday, Cate Marvin and Carol Muske-Dukes published another piece.

Last week in Huffington Post, Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner talked about the way that reviewers at the most prestigious publications (especially the New York Times Book Review) ignore women writers when it comes to reviews.

Weiner said the following:

‎The [NY]Times tends to pick white guys [to review]. Usually white guys living in  Brooklyn or Manhattan, white guys who either have MFAs or teach at MFA programs…white guys who, I suspect, remind the Times’ powers-that-be of themselves, minus twenty years and plus some hair.

And there are several women writers associated with the fabulous, sassy women writers’ site who have joined the discussion, too. The poets Erin Belieu and Cate Marvin are the co-founders, and they are in the midst of compiling a count of how many women of all complexions have won prestigious awards, etcetera. They are still tallying up those numbers.

However, I want to help the conversation by looking at the numbers of African American female poets, too; surely, this is a very specific target group, but it is my specific target group, after all. Now, I’d like to include the numbers for Sister fiction writers as well but I need help with that. So any of my readers who are Sister-fiction writers and who don’t mind being public on this issue–because I’m not gone work with somebody in private–just give me a holler. I will be so grateful.

So, I decided to start with one of the most prestigious fellowships there is, the Fine Arts Work Center of Provincetown, Massachusetts. FAWC gives you an eight-month fellowship which includes a monthly stipend and a rent-free place to stay, including utilities.

Now let’s talk about the numbers. Here goes.

Did you know that in the entire forty-one year history of the Fine Arts Work Center—since they started admitting writers and not just visual artists—there  have only been eight Black poets to have won this prestigious fellowship?

And did you know that not one of those eight Black poets are female?

That’s right, no Black women poet has ever been a fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center.  If you can tell me differently, please leave a comment below.  I went through the entire list, but I may not have recognized a name. There is always a chance that I made a mistake. You can read the list here.

[NOTE: On 9/16/10 A Facebook Friend pointed out that I was wrong that not one Black woman poet has won. Donna K. Rushin–who goes by “Kate Rushin” now– won thirty-three years ago and was in residence 1977-78. And Brenda Marie Osbey won a year-long FAWC fellowship twenty-three years ago and was in residence from 1987-88. Thus, it has been twenty-three years since a Black woman poet has won a year-long fellowship at FAWC. Not quite as bad as “never” but still, that’s pretty bad. ]

Here are the names of all the Black male poets I could locate who have been fellows at FAWC:

1980 Yusef Komunyakaa

1982 Cyrus Cassells

1991 Timothy Seibles

1995 Thomas Sayers Ellis

1999 Ronaldo Wilson

2000 Major Jackson

2004 Tyehimba Jess

2007 John Murillo

[Second update 9/16/10 One of my readers just let me know in the comments that there is a new Black male poet who is currently a 2010-2011 Fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center. His name is Marcus Wicker.]

I want to be clear about why I think this information matters. First,  if you go to the FAWC website and you look at the list of names, you will recognize some of the most famous and canonized poets in American poetry. The Fine Arts Work Center provides an entry into the elite, top-tier group of American Poets. Here’s what they say on the website.

Past Fellows have won virtually every major national award in their respective fields, including the Pulitzer, MacArthur, Whiting, Pollock-Krasner, Tiffany, Prix de Rome, Guggenheim, NEA, and National Book Award.

Those writing awards listed above come with a lot of money, money that could buy you time to take off from your job to write your book, while still paying your rent, your bills,  and the weekly charge for your babies’ daycare.

Get the picture? Those that get these type of awards are usually more productive writers than those of us who don’t. Then you can use those awards to barter for a raise if you are teaching in academia–so you finally pay off your student loans with the capitalizing interest. So wanting these awards is not about “classism” or “elitism.” It’s about survival of the productive artist. Believe that.

Second, I don’t have some personal beef that makes me perversely keep bringing this stuff out. I’m concerned about why Black women poets don’t get the same attention as Black male poets and since I’m a Black woman and a poet, sure, this is personal, but it’s not some beef, it’s some politics.

However, I also want to be clear that, just because Black males get the lion’s share of attention, that’s still very little attention overall for Black poets.

That said, though, I don’t think it’s fair to expect us Sisters to keep quiet and wait–and wait and wait– just so the Brothers can go first and get their little bit before us. I don’t think it’s fair, especially when I hear very few of the Brother-poets I know–like, three, out of  hundreds– speaking up for Sisters and against Black male privilege in the poetry world in public and in print.

Again, whispering does not count as public, especially if that’s your “sensitive, conscious” rap when you’re trying to impress a Sister to get yourself some. Sugar, please. That’s a game from a dusty player’s handbook left in the attic of a minor poet of the Black Arts Movement.

Anyway, how many well-known, powerful Black male poets are mentoring Black female poets right now–writing them letters of recommendation for jobs and large-purse fellowships, writing blurbs for the backs of their books, giving them the inside information they need to further their careers along, talking to editors at their prestigious New York presses to get those women published, “walking” those women’s poems over to the best journals, and mentioning their names in interviews in high profile magazines as the “poets to watch”?

How many Black male poets are standing by us Sisters?

Because just about every Sister-poet I know is working with a Brother-poet  and helping to nurture his career in some kind of way, and throwing every bit of influence she has behind him. But that’s what we’ve always done in some capacity in this community for Black men. We’ve always looked out for them. Why should the poetry world be any different?

[Stay tuned for Count Number Three of Black Women Poets. Come on—you know you want to know!]

Good Sister Watch: Riché Richardson

Riché Richardson lecturing to children at E.D. Nixon Elementary School in Montgomery, AL

This week I thought I would start this week off right! I wanted to introduce y’all to the art of a good friend of mine, Riché Richardson.

Born and raised in Montgomery, Alabama, Riché received a B.A. from Spelman College in 1993 and a Ph.D. from Duke University in 1998.  She spent ten years on the faculty in the University of California system, and is currently an associate professor at Cornell University.  Her first book, Black Masculinity and the U.S. South:  From Uncle Tom to Gangsta, which was selected as an outstanding title by both Choice Books and Eastern Book Company in 2008, was published by the University of Georgia Press in 2007, where she also co-edits a books series entitled “The New Southern Studies.”   Her essays have appeared in American Literature, the Mississippi Quarterly, the Forum for Modern Language Studies, Black Renaissance/Renaissance Noire, TransAtlantica, and NKA.

So now, y’all know that Riché is a seriously smart “Black Library Girl” type of sister. But what you also need to know is that Riché an otherworldly talented artist. Twenty-two of her art quilts were featured in a solo exhibition at the Rosa Parks Library and Museum Gallery in Montgomery, Alabama from July-September, 2008, and are the subject of a short film made in Paris by Géraldine Chouard and Anne Crémieux entitled A Portrait of the Artist (2008).

JoAnn and 'Junior Man': Easter Sunday, Montgomery, Alabama, 1954" Family Series

Her art quilts featuring President Barack Obama and the First Lady Michelle Obama were among works selected for the historic “Quilts for Obama” exhibition at the Historical Society in Washington, DC curated by Roland Freeman.  In January of 2009, she served as a “Cultural Envoy” of the U.S. Embassy in France through a grant from the U.S. Department of State in their Speaker Series in tandem with the Paris opening of the national quilt exhibition touring France entitled Un Patchwork de Cultures, which reflected on the shared history of the U.S. and France with an emphasis on Louisiana and the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina.

And for a real treat, click below to watch the first part of a documentary on Riché—if you want to watch the full documentary, visit her artist blog. It’s seriously sassy!


Happy Rosh Hashanah (Since Last Night), Y'all!

This is my second post today, and I think it is right on time for me. Today, faith was on my mind. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam began in the same place, and all espouse the belief in one Holy Creator.

That’s so sassy, to me.  If not to you, please don’t get mad and leave mean comments for me, under anonymous names. (“Disappointed”, you know who you are!:-)

Last evening at Sundown, Rosh Hashanah began, which is the Jewish New Year–which is a fabulous holiday (again, at least to me). I meant to post last night, but of course, my mind was bad. But, technically, we are still in the first day of Rosh Hashanah–at least we are out here on the prairie because the sun doesn’t go down until late in the summertime. So I hope I will be forgiven.

These past few days have been ones of upheaval and yes, some pain, but this morning, I awoke feeling brand new–all shiny-like–and ready for a new time and a new woman’s life. In the Old Testament, it speaks of the ram’s horn–the shofar– being blown on Rosh Hashanah, to signal liberation, return and renewal.

I think of the notion of liberation as joy, but for real, it is not always joyful. Sometimes, it takes pain to let you know it’s time to set some things or people or feelings aside. And sometimes, it takes pain to alert you, a new battle has begun. A liberation from but sometimes, a liberation to, so to speak.

And for me, a return is not always the greatest. There have been some painful times in my girlhood and early womanhood. Yet, my faith and poetry have been constants, and so, I have decided to return to those. And finally, renewal is a journey I have been on for some time, and I hope it will always be a road I will travel.

This Jewish New Year, keep the song of the horn in your mind. And I wish all of you whatever gifts you need.

Hug Your Black History–Hug A Koran

Years ago, I was on a train going from Chicago to New Orleans for the AWP Conference. It was a few months after the 9/11 attacks and I was still afraid to fly.  At dinner one evening, I sat in the dining car with a young Brother and an older White man. They got to talking about the 9/11 attacks and then, started bonding over hatred over Muslim people. They just kept going on, until I told them they were both bigots and disgusted me.

I told the Brother, “And I’m surprised at you especially, Black Man. Don’t you know a few years ago, people were talking this way about us?” The Brother waved his hand at me dismissively and he and the White man started back talking, giving each other amused glances at my expense.  I don’t remember everything that was said in their conversation, but I know the phrase of “real American” kept coming up.

As the ninth anniversary of 9/11 draws near, there has been a whole bunch of crazy (re)surfacing. Apparently, there is some minister, Terry Jones of Gainesville, Florida who is planning to burn the Koran on September 11th, just two days from now. He is claiming his “freedom of speech” to justify this hateful act. President Obama has tried to get this man not to do this, because it would just inflame some Muslims.

That the Koran burning would be “inflammatory” is the President’s official stance. My stance is this: what kind of lowdown individual—a Preacher for God’s sake—calls himself a Christian and a human being and then defiles someone else’s sacred beliefs by desecrating their holy book?

Sidebar: You know sometimes when I’m reading my Bible I just keep flipping through it to figure out, am I just reading a wrong translation of the New Testament? Maybe that’s why I have three different translations, because I keep wondering where all this hatred is coming from. It certainly isn’t sanctioned by my Jesus—who appears in the Holy Koran as a prophet, by the way.

But then my Jesus had a nappy Afro and a dark tan. He was from the Middle East, after all, and that’s right next to Africa. Apparently, some of these so-called Christians didn’t get that memo either.

And apparently, some Americans don’t know that Muslims have been part of American society since the very beginning of “American.”  Recently, an article on the Mother Jones website discussed the graves of enslaved Africans in New York City, and that strings of blue beads were found as part of some of the recovered items; it is speculated that these beads might be Muslim prayer beads. However, among slavery historians it is common knowledge that many Africans kidnapped into slavery believed in Islam–and continued to believe.

But what many don’t know is that some of these graves where those blue beads were found were located underneath what are now the ruins of the World Trade Center. To read a more detailed history of the New York City African Burial Ground, click here. I know it’s true, because my colleague at University of Oklahoma, Lesley Rankin-Hill was one of the anthropologists who worked on that African Burial Ground project for several years.

Sidebar: And that gravesite was not the only one for kidnapped and enslaved Africans that was “forgotten” and built over. This has happened all up and down the Eastern Seaboard. And if I got started talking about the Native American burial grounds that have been defiled all around this country, and the Native artifacts that have been taken by grave robbers, I’d be here for a few weeks writing this blog post.

I’ve never visited that memorial for the African Burial Ground in New York City, but I have visited the Colonial African Burial Ground in Newport, Rhode Island, a cemetery that is taken care of in a very honorable way.  It’s called “God’s Little Half-Acre.” My visit was sobering and sad, but at the same time, lovely. There weren’t very many gravestones—most were of wood. Some graves just had a big sink in the earth. and I made sure not to step on those.

It’s interesting to me that, in this country, the “restart” button is always hit whenever it’s convenient in regards to our “sacred history.” The ruins of World Trade Center have been called “sacred ground.” And indeed  they are, but the 9/11 attacks are not the first time that ground held dead bodies. That ground has been blessed for a long, long time.

It’s time “real Americans”  remind these religious bigots who are (continually) messing up our country that “never forget” didn’t start for some of us nine years ago. For some of us, it’s been going on for centuries.

Rest in Peace, Jefferson Thomas of the Little Rock Nine

The Little Rock Nine

Today, Jefferson Thomas of the Little Rock Nine has passed away, reports Along with eight other African American teenagers, Mr. Thomas integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957.  (That is him in the picture; he is young man standing all the way to the right in the second row.) He was in tenth grade, and neither he nor the other students were allowed to participate in extracurricular activities at their new school.

The integration of Central High was the first nationally publicized test of Brown v Board of Education, which was decided in 1954 (and argued by Thurgood Marshall, later the first Black U.S. Supreme Court judge) and legally desegregated U.S. public schools.  Below is a video that gives a short history of the Little Rock Nine; this documentary was done by a brilliant ninth grader, Shea Higgins.

Rest in peace, Mr. Thomas. And thank you so much, Brother.



How Do We Help Black Boys In School?

Most of the African Americans I know are concerned about the dismal high school graduation rates for young Black men, which are now below fifty percent. It’s something that concerns me because I’ve seen the impact of males dropping out within my own family.

Recently, Mark Anthony Neal blogged about this issue over at Here’s an excerpt from that post:

Though there are examples of “boys being boys” that deserve heavy scrutiny and critique, particularly in relation to male gender privilege and personal interactions with women and girls, the racialized dynamic of boyhood in America means that White males are viewed, as Ferguson puts it, as “naturally naughty” while black boys are seen as “willfully bad.” In this context the behavior of Black boys takes on adult attributes and their transgressions, according to Ferguson, “take on a sinister, intentional, fully conscious tone, that is stripped of any element of childish naïveté.”

This dynamic is more fully manifested in the criminal justice system, where young Black men are incarcerated for minor infractions, whereas their White peers are more often offered counseling in response to comparable infractions. Black families are often complicit in this process by endowing boys with monikers like “little man” or “big man” in response to the absence of adult males in the family. Additionally the Black male body is also policed as the gestures associated with the performances of Black masculinity are often viewed by teachers as evidence of insubordination and disrespect. This is also a situation that affects Black girls, whose performances of “Black Girlness” are often read as examples of insolence.

Though this post discusses racism toward Black males in the education system, Brother Neal offers some real–and new–solutions, ones  that don’t just end up at the same stale brick walls. This post was seriously eye-opening and you can read the rest of the post by heading over to

An (Erased) Week in Black Poetry History

Mt. St. Alphonsus Retreat Center

Last Saturday, I arose feeling fabulous. I bounced up out of bed and made me a café au (soy) lait and settled in with my latest issue of Poets and Writers Magazine, which had an interview with a brother-poet, Major Jackson. His latest book, Holding Company, is out right now from W.W. Norton.

Major and I go way, way back. He and I were among the first group of fellows from the renowned Cave Canem Workshop/Retreat for African American Poets; I saw in Poets and Writers that Major had mentioned that wonderful week in June all of us shared fourteen years ago at Mt. St. Alphonsus, a former monastery turned Catholic retreat center in Esopus, New York; the center perched on the banks of the Hudson.

Also, Major had mentioned two other folks besides him from that week to publish books, A. Van Jordan and Terrance Hayes, both of them men. But he didn’t mention me, the only woman fellow from that week to have had a successful career in poetry. That was pretty upsetting, to say the least.

For those of you who don’t know about Cave Canem, let me give you some history. The workshop/retreat was founded by the poets Cornelius Eady and Toi Derricotte in1996. The very first Cave Canem took place in a former monastery in Esopus, New York, a small town that sits on the Hudson River winding through the Catskill Mountains.

There were thirty of us total including two faculty members, two visiting poets, the director of the workshop retreat (also the wife of one of the founders), one week-long poet in-residence, twenty-three fellows and Father Francis Gargani, who ran the retreat center and who was the finest priest I had ever laid eyes on. And by the way, he is still fine, fourteen years later. It must be all that clean living.

The first day was intense and strange, at least to me. We sat around in a circle and started giving our back-stories. When we got to Renée Moore, she started weeping. I remember feeling shaken and confused by the sight of all those Black poets sitting around the circle. I had never experienced this scene, intellectually, emotionally, or any other kind of way. Vincent Woodard, our sweet departed soul, cried as well. He was the spiritual center of our group.

One night, several of the fellows decided to walk down the hill from the monastery to the river. It was blinding dark—no light anywhere on the path—and a few feet down the hill we realized we had no flashlights, but we couldn’t see to walk back. Some of the older people had stayed up the hill, like Miss Carrie Allen McCray (passed now as well) who was eighty-two and who needed her rest.

We had to hold each others’ hands in a chain and walk carefully. Someone said, “I wonder if this is what the runaway slaves felt like.” It was a sobering thought, because I was scared of the dark. But I had my friends to keep me safe, especially Herman Beavers, the first Black male feminist I ever met. I heard Van Jordan’s baritone somewhere. And James Richardson, who remains the most brilliant individual I have ever met, was bringing up the rear.  John Frazier was somewhere in that group, too.

At the bottom of the hill, Hayes Davis and D. J. Renegade made a bonfire. Elizabeth Alexander was down there, kicking it with us, even though she was officially famous and not a fellow but a poet-in-residence. And then, I started singing Aretha songs—with my little one and a half octave range. Rachel Harding was a lovely soprano so she took the notes I couldn’t hit.

At the end of the week when we left the monastery, I drove Hayes and Major back to Philadelphia where they both lived, because I had a rental car. We had such a good time in the car, just laughing and talking and cutting up. After we dropped Major off in Germantown, I stayed overnight with Hayes and his father, Mr. Earl (now late), who was an otherworldly brilliant and beautiful artist.  Mr. Earl bought us a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken and I was so relieved. I was from the South and I had hoped those Northern Negroes didn’t want to eat something all chi-chi. And just like southern folks, Mr. Earl gave the blessing before we began to eat.

Over that next year, some of the 1996 fellows wrote me snail mail letters and I saved them all. I have letters from Van, Hayes, Yona Harvey (who married Terrance that next year), Toi, Herman—and a baby picture of Herm’s firstborn child. Sherry Lee sent us all pictures that she had taken and made into a calendar.

And I have a letter that Major wrote me. He was just starting his career back then, but I knew he would be famous one day. In the letter, he talked about having dinner with a few poets, all of them famous, and I was so proud of him.

Now, I could discuss the sexism of Major’s interview in Poets and Writers, in which Major apparently erased the entire memory of not only me, but all the other Black women—his Sisters—at that week-long workshop retreat, including the founder Toi Derricotte and Elizabeth Alexander, the woman who composed—from scratch—a poem she read at Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration.

I could talk about why the only Sister out of the 1996 Cave Canem Fellows’ Group to make a career as a poet—that would be me—was not mentioned.  And he’s not the only Black male poet to erase other Black women; that history of sexism goes back a long time. And believe me, I will talk about that and in great and detailed length, but that discussion is for a later time.

Finally, I could remind that Negro that I let him ride back to Philly in my rental car for free, because I don’t recollect that he gave me no gas money.

For now, though, it’s really about a time lost. I was a girl then, a very young (minded) almost-twenty nine, and that first Cave Canem was the only time in my entire life where I felt truly loved and accepted by other Black people—or people, period.  I was completely wrapped up in joy.  I know it sounds silly, but that week seemed like one of those sunlit scenes from a film, out of time and place. A scene you hope will go on and on.

Over the years, I’ve remembered the love I shared with all those people, but I can’t remember all the names. One reason is that, if you go on the Cave Canem website’s mission page, there is a “history” section, but no list of the original fellows from that year. Which is pretty sad and strange considering that we Black folks hold history in such high esteem, because much of our history has been taken from us.

Some of the people I haven’t mentioned by name are: Sarah Micklem, Omari Daniel, Ronald Dorris, Valerie Jean, Afaa Michael Weaver, Patricia Spears Jones, and Lorelei Williams. But I know I have forgotten at least two people and that makes me really sad.

Over and over, I’ve gone to the Cave Canem website hoping for a list of the names of the original folks from 1996, but the list is never there, or at least, not where I can find it. Somewhere in an archive there are records of all those Black poets who helped to make Cave Canem what it is today—for better or for worse—but it would be nice if I didn’t have to search out that place to find a record of such a beautiful time. It would be nice if those six joyful days were fully honored.