Toni Morrison and What Our Mothers Couldn’t Say | The New Yorker

“My mourning mind, compromised and searching for coincidence, processes the age Toni Morrison was when she died, eighty-eight, as two infinity signs, straightened and snatched right-side up. If we are Morrison-fearing, as some others are with their icons, well, we were socialized by her novels. What an experience, to be mothered on one plane by our Beloved. It’s a plane that occupies the thorny reserve of memory. If you asked your mothers questions about your origins, they responded with irritability. Actually, you knew better than to ask. One thing about being a black girl is, by the time you come around, and your body awakens to feeling historically out of sorts, the matriarchs have been worn out. Their patience to “do language” has dried up. You have been born late to the mystery. Catch up, but how? Morrison motioned to us and got us up to date.

You are always too young to read Morrison. I was eleven. A teacher had grown concerned. From what I can recall of the report, my eyes glazed over in class and I was sinking into my desk, falling inexplicably ill. “Maybe this will make you feel better?” my mother asked. The copy of “The Bluest Eye” that she gave me was distended, graffitied with epiphanies. It had been assigned to her in an E.S.L. class at Kingsborough Community College, burdening her for all time with a misleading impression of the potential of English. Out of a “discredited vocabulary,” as Morrison once termed it, the author coaxed out a superior written tongue—one that, I more than suspect, each black woman writer who has come after her mimics, to varying degrees. My own mimicry was, at first, automatic. That summer, I stayed indoors, truly possessed. I transcribed the whole of “The Bluest Eye,” in notebooks and on loose-leaf paper, at least a dozen times. I memorized whole chapters. My finger pads melted. I ingrained the beat of the novel into the movement of my right wrist.

For years, it went on like this: I would become withdrawn, and my mother would hand me “Sula,” then “Jazz,” then “Beloved.” My early readings of the novels were hungry misuses. Her novels were the boundary between herself and her readers, an instrument of intellectual self-protection, but we violated the boundary, almost deliriously. By the time I was reading Morrison, the novel had allegedly lost its status as an influential factor in the making of society. We didn’t know that. Morrison was our celebrity; it was only right that she appear on “Oprah.” We were poor in imagination, trained to think of our histories as sociological math. Morrison invalidated the lie, which taints black minds especially, that our people are either one way or the other. To her, we were naturally literary and epic. I got inebriated on the image of Pecola Breedlove, who “was a long time with the milk,” soused by a community’s predilection for a certain kind of beauty. The ghost in “Beloved,” swelling as she threatened to overcome the spiteful home at 124 Bluestone Road, made us think gothically. I wanted to build a retreat in the woods, like Denver. I thought that I was destined, one day, to become a Sula Peace, leaving home, and returning under the shelter of a great hat, carting havoc just under my breast.

In a foreword to “Sula,” Morrison wrote, “Outlaw women are fascinating—not always for their behavior, but because historically women are seen as naturally disruptive and their status is an illegal one from birth if it is not under the rule of men.” It is too seldom acknowledged that the greatest novelist this country has ever produced was a single black mother. She had two sons, one who passed before she did, and how many daughters? We know that it is problematic, or maybe just self-indulgent, to claim her as mother. And yet, if the business of mothering is to broker the link between two generations, then what else can she be? During her childhood conversion to Catholicism, she chose the confirmation name that eventually led to “Toni”: Saint Anthony, the patron of the lost. An old-fashioned loss lives between my mother and me, and we tend to it. Ghosts have visited her, and human dramas have haunted her, and erotic moments have freed her, and for reasons both altruistic and proud she will not express these stories to me. I have my own things she will not know. We are secretive. We talk to each other through intermediaries, and their names are Baby Suggs, Guitar, and Milkman. We talk to each other through Morrison.

  • Doreen St. Félix is a staff writer at The New Yorker.

    Read more »

 

Source: Toni Morrison and What Our Mothers Couldn’t Say | The New Yorker

An Introduction to the Black Arts Movement | Poetry Foundation

“Black Arts Movement poet and publisher Haki Madhubuti wrote, “And the mission is how do we become a whole people, and how do we begin to essentially tell our narrative, while at the same time move toward a level of success in this country and in the world? And we can do that. I know we can do that.”

Source: An Introduction to the Black Arts Movement | Poetry Foundation

Remembering Octavia Butler on her Birthday φ The Ubuntu Biography Project

Today is a special day. Wishing the giant spirit of OCTAVIA BUTLER a very happy birthday

Today, a woman of untold brilliance, insight, and vision was born, a woman whose literature changed not only my perspective, but my life.

Octavia Butler was born on this day in 1947 (to February 24, 2006), She was an celebrated American Science Fiction author, who excelled in a genre with few African-American women. She won both the Hugo and Nebula awards. In 1995, she became the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant.Octavia Estelle Butler was born and raised in Pasadena, California. Her father Laurice, died when she was a baby, and Butler was raised by her grandmother and her mother (Octavia M. Butler), who worked as a maid in order to support the family. She grew up in a struggling, racially mixed neighborhood. According to the Norton Anthology of African American Literature, Butler was "an introspective, only child in a strict Baptist household" and "was drawn early to science fiction magazines such as “Amazing”, “Fantasy”, “Science Fiction”, and “Galaxy” and soon began reading all the science fiction classics. Nicknamed “Junie,” Octavia Butler was paralytically shy and a daydreamer, and was later diagnosed as being dyslexic. She began writing at the age of ten "to escape loneliness and boredom"; and when she was twelve, she began her lifelong interest in science fiction.  After earning her associate's degree from Pasadena City College in 1968, she enrolled at California State University in Los Angeles. She eventually left CalState and took writing classes through a UCLA extension. She would later credit two writing workshops for giving her "the most valuable help I received with my writing”.  She participated in The Open Door Workshop of the Screenwriters' Guild of America, West, a program designed to mentor Latino and African American writers. Through Open Door, she met the noted science fiction writer Harlan Ellison in 1969.  She also had high praise for her time in The Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop, where she first met Samuel R. Delany.  She remained, throughout her career, a self-identified science fiction fan, an insider who rose from within the ranks of the field. For some writers, science fiction serves as means to delve into fantasy. But for Butler, it largely served as a vehicle to address issues facing humanity. It was this passionate interest in the human experience that imbued her work with a certain depth and complexity. In the mid-1980s, Butler began to receive critical recognition for her work. Butler won the Nebula Award for Best Novel, “Parable of the Talents” in 1999, the Hugo and Locus Awards for Best Novelette, “Bloodchild” in 1985 and the Hugo Award for Best Short Story for “Speech Sounds” in 1984.  In 1995, Butler received a "genius" grant from the MacArthur Foundation, which allowed her to buy a house for her mother and herself.  She has been inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.  In 1976, Butler published her first novel, “Patternmaster.” This book was the first in a series of works about a group of people with telepathic powers called Patternists. Other Patternist titles include “Mind of My Mind” in 1977 and “Clay's Ark” in 1984. In the late 1980s, Butler published her Xenogenesis trilogy—“Dawn” in 1987, “Adulthood Rites” in 1988 and “Imago” in 1989. This series of books explores issues of genetics and race.  To insure their mutual survival, humans reproduce with aliens known as the Oankali. Butler received much praise for this trilogy. She went on to write the Parable series, which includes the novels “Parable of the Sower” in 1993, and “Parable of the Talents” in 1999. In 1999, Butler abandoned her native California to move north to Seattle, Washington. She was a perfectionist with her work and spent several years grappling with writer's block. Her efforts were hampered by her ill health and the medications she took. After starting and discarding numerous projects, Butler wrote her last novel “Fledgling” in 2005. In an interview by Randall Kenan, Octavia E. Butler discusses how her life experiences as a child shaped most of her thinking. As a writer, Butler was able to use her writing as a vehicle to critique history under the lenses of feminism. In the interview, she discusses the research that had to be done in order to write her bestselling novel, “Kindred.” Most of it is based on visiting libraries as well as historic landmarks with respect to what she is investigating. Butler admits that she writes science fiction because she does not want her work to be label or used as a marketing tool. She wants the readers to be genuinely interested in her work and the story she provides, but at the same time she fears that people will not read her work because of the “science fiction” label that they have. The nearly reclusive Octavia Butler died unexpectedly in February of 2006 at her home in Seattle after falling and sustaining a head injury. With her death, the literary world lost one of its great storytellers. She is remembered, as Gregory Hampton wrote in Callaloo, as writer of "stories that blurred the lines of distinction between reality and fantasy." And through her work, "she revealed universal truths."   Much has been written recently about Octavia E. Butler’s sexual orientation Many obituaries recognized her as “both a Black and Lesbian science-fiction writer” All references seem to link to an unsourced Wikipedia post.  She has been described by some close friends as bisexual, as asexual, and as heterosexual. She apparently never discussed any lesbianism publicly.  There is even a discussion with Octavia Butler and fellow Black sci-fi author Samuel Delaney on the MIT website where he briefly talks about being a gay man. It would seem natural that Octavia Butler might have used the opportunity to acknowledge that she was a lesbian, but she did not mention it in that discussion.  Dr. Ron Buckmire, a math professor at Occidental College, very near where Miss Butler lived until her move to Seattle, writes in his blog his reflections on her passing. He says that he knew her casually and does remark that she was a lesbian. Whatever her orientation, she was a gifted and inspiring writer whose work impacted and inspired the lives of many. The Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship was established in Butler's memory in 2006 by the Carl Brandon Society. Its goal is to provide an annual scholarship to enable writers of color to attend one of the Clarion writing workshops where Butler got her start. The first scholarships were awarded in 2007. In April 2014, it was announced that two new stories by Octavia E Butler had been discovered among her papers at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, and that the stories are set for release this summer. We remember Octavia E. Butler on this day in celebration of the 67th anniversary of her birth, and in appreciation for her brilliant writing, her unique and pioneering spirit, and for her many contributions to our community. Copyright © MMXIV Stephen A. Maglott.  I’m not fond of lawyers, but I have one anyway.  She insist that I inform you that permission to share this biography or any portion thereof, on an online service or blog other than Facebook, must be granted in writing by yours truly (Stephen Maglott).  Please feel free however, to share this post with others on Facebook. * If you enjoy these biographical tributes to same-gender loving/Trans men and women of African descent, please “like” the Ubuntu Biography Project page!  And then go back and select “Get Notifications”.  (https://www.facebook.com/UbuntuBiographyProject) Thank you.

Octavia Butler φ In the spirit of remembrance, talk about your favorite work by Butler. φ

 

Octavia Butler was born on this day in 1947 (to February 24, 2006), She was an celebrated American Science Fiction author, who excelled in a genre with few African-American women. She won both the Hugo and Nebula awards. In 1995, she became the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant.

Octavia Estelle Butler was born and raised in Pasadena, California. Her father Laurice, died when she was a baby, and Butler was raised by her grandmother and her mother (Octavia M. Butler), who worked as a maid in order to support the family. She grew up in a struggling, racially mixed neighborhood. According to the Norton Anthology of African American Literature, Butler was “an introspective, only child in a strict Baptist household” and “was drawn early to science fiction magazines such as “Amazing”, “Fantasy”, “Science Fiction”, and “Galaxy” and soon began reading all the science fiction classics.

Nicknamed “Junie,” Octavia Butler was paralytically shy and a daydreamer, and was later diagnosed as being dyslexic. She began writing at the age of ten “to escape loneliness and boredom”; and when she was twelve, she began her lifelong interest in science fiction.

After earning her associate’s degree from Pasadena City College in 1968, she enrolled at California State University in Los Angeles. She eventually left CalState and took writing classes through a UCLA extension. She would later credit two writing workshops for giving her “the most valuable help I received with my writing”. She participated in The Open Door Workshop of the Screenwriters’ Guild of America, West, a program designed to mentor Latino and African American writers. Through Open Door, she met the noted science fiction writer Harlan Ellison in 1969. She also had high praise for her time in The Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop, where she first met Samuel R. Delany. She remained, throughout her career, a self-identified science fiction fan, an insider who rose from within the ranks of the field.

For some writers, science fiction serves as means to delve into fantasy. But for Butler, it largely served as a vehicle to address issues facing humanity. It was this passionate interest in the human experience that imbued her work with a certain depth and complexity. In the mid-1980s, Butler began to receive critical recognition for her work.

Butler won the Nebula Award for Best Novel, “Parable of the Talents” in 1999, the Hugo and Locus Awards for Best Novelette, “Bloodchild” in 1985 and the Hugo Award for Best Short Story for “Speech Sounds” in 1984. In 1995, Butler received a “genius” grant from the MacArthur Foundation, which allowed her to buy a house for her mother and herself. She has been inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.

In 1976, Butler published her first novel, “Patternmaster.” This book was the first in a series of works about a group of people with telepathic powers called Patternists. Other Patternist titles include “Mind of My Mind” in 1977 and “Clay’s Ark” in 1984.

In the late 1980s, Butler published her Xenogenesis trilogy—“Dawn” in 1987, “Adulthood Rites” in 1988 and “Imago” in 1989. This series of books explores issues of genetics and race. To insure their mutual survival, humans reproduce with aliens known as the Oankali. Butler received much praise for this trilogy. She went on to write the Parable series, which includes the novels “Parable of the Sower” in 1993, and “Parable of the Talents” in 1999.

In 1999, Butler abandoned her native California to move north to Seattle, Washington. She was a perfectionist with her work and spent several years grappling with writer’s block. Her efforts were hampered by her ill health and the medications she took. After starting and discarding numerous projects, Butler wrote her last novel “Fledgling” in 2005.

In an interview by Randall Kenan, Octavia E. Butler discusses how her life experiences as a child shaped most of her thinking. As a writer, Butler was able to use her writing as a vehicle to critique history under the lenses of feminism. In the interview, she discusses the research that had to be done in order to write her bestselling novel, “Kindred.” Most of it is based on visiting libraries as well as historic landmarks with respect to what she is investigating. Butler admits that she writes science fiction because she does not want her work to be label or used as a marketing tool. She wants the readers to be genuinely interested in her work and the story she provides, but at the same time she fears that people will not read her work because of the “science fiction” label that they have.

The nearly reclusive Octavia Butler died unexpectedly in February of 2006 at her home in Seattle after falling and sustaining a head injury. With her death, the literary world lost one of its great storytellers. She is remembered, as Gregory Hampton wrote in Callaloo, as writer of “stories that blurred the lines of distinction between reality and fantasy.” And through her work, “she revealed universal truths.”

Much has been written recently about Octavia E. Butler’s sexual orientation Many obituaries recognized her as “both a Black and Lesbian science-fiction writer” All references seem to link to an unsourced Wikipedia post. She has been described by some close friends as bisexual, as asexual, and as heterosexual. She apparently never discussed any lesbianism publicly. There is even a discussion with Octavia Butler and fellow Black sci-fi author Samuel Delaney on the MIT website where he briefly talks about being a gay man. It would seem natural that Octavia Butler might have used the opportunity to acknowledge that she was a lesbian, but she did not mention it in that discussion. Dr. Ron Buckmire, a math professor at Occidental College, very near where Miss Butler lived until her move to Seattle, writes in his blog his reflections on her passing. He says that he knew her casually and does remark that she was a lesbian. Whatever her orientation, she was a gifted and inspiring writer whose work impacted and inspired the lives of many.

The Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship was established in Butler’s memory in 2006 by the Carl Brandon Society. Its goal is to provide an annual scholarship to enable writers of color to attend one of the Clarion writing workshops where Butler got her start. The first scholarships were awarded in 2007.

In April 2014, it was announced that two new stories by Octavia E Butler had been discovered among her papers at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, and that the stories are set for release this summer.

We remember Octavia E. Butler on this day in celebration of the 67th anniversary of her birth, and in appreciation for her brilliant writing, her unique and pioneering spirit, and for her many contributions to our community.

Copyright © MMXIV Stephen A. Maglott. I’m not fond of lawyers, but I have one anyway. She insist that I inform you that permission to share this biography or any portion thereof, on an online service or blog other than Facebook, must be granted in writing by yours truly (Stephen Maglott). Please feel free however, to share this post with others on Facebook.

* If you enjoy these biographical tributes to same-gender loving/Trans men and women of African descent, please “like” the Ubuntu Biography Project page! And then go back and select “Get Notifications”. (https://www.facebook.com/UbuntuBiographyProject) Thank you

OCG Black History Note: 10 African-American Authors Everyone Should Read

2/18/2012 @ 11:10AM |

10 African-American Authors Everyone Should Read

Frederick Douglass    Frederick Douglass (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The majestic Maya Angelou, whom I met years ago at San Francisco’sGlide Memorial Church, once remarked, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Sadly, this agony was once common to millions of African-Americans, whose stories often went untold or unheard, let alone published and read by the world.

Nevertheless, many inspiring and irreplaceable voices heroically surfaced over the years. They belong in the canon of great American authors not solely because of their race, but because they deftly address the perennial concerns of all humanity.

It’s Black History Month, in case you forgot. Not Taiwanese-American NBA Basketball Player Appreciation Month (read: Linsanity), as it might appear from news reports. In that spirit, below find ten African-American authors whose works should rest prominently on every educated American’s bookshelf (or Amazon Kindle,Barnes and Noble Nook, or Apple iPad). Moreover, please consider these authors for great books discussion groups, not just in February, but also every month of the year.

To punctuate their support of Black History Month, Questia is offering a reference work about each author below completely free for a month. See the link after each description.

The Ten Most-Read African-American Authors:

1. Langston Hughes was an American poet, novelist and playwright. He is best known for his work during the 1920s Harlem Renaissance. With famous poems such as “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” and Crotty fave, “Let America Be America Again,” Hughes proudly depicted the lives of poor blacks through the invention of what was called “jazz poetry.” Factoid: my Monk Media client, jazz label Motema Records, was formerly located inside Harlem’s Langston Hughes House. Free reference work: [Arnold Rampersad, ed. The Collected Works of Langston Hughes. Donald B. Gibson, Author.]

2. Richard Wright authored what were considered “controversial” novels in his time, including Crotty fave Native Son. In 1945, Wright penned the best-seller Black Boy, a seminal portrayal of one black man’s search for self-actualization in a racist society. It paved the way for other successful black writers. Free Reference Work: [“Shouting Curses”: the politics of “bad” language in Richard Wright’s ‘Black Boy.’ Jennifer H. Poulos, Author.]

3. Toni Morrison is a Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist. She is celebrated for novels with epic themes and richly detailed characters, such as in The Bluest EyeSong of Solomon and Beloved. Though, for better or worse, Ms. Morrison is best known for her memorable, though misunderstood, quote, “Bill Clinton is our first black president.” Free Reference Work:  [Toni Morrison’s World of Fiction. Karen Carmean, Author.]

4. Zora Neale Hurston was an American folklorist, anthropologist, and author of four novels and over fifty short stories, plays and essays. Her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God was written during her fieldwork in Haiti with the Guggenheim Foundation, which provides grants to professionals in the creative arts. Free Reference Work: [Zora Neale Hurston and a History of Southern Life. Lori Robison, Author.]

5. Frederick Douglass was a strong public speaker and, after escaping from slavery, prominent leader in the abolitionist movement. Douglass also authored several compelling autobiographies that detailed his experiences in slavery. He served as a striking counter-example to slaveholders’ claims that blacks did not have the intellectual capacity to function as free and independent citizens. Free Reference Work: [Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: His Early Life as a Slave, His Escape from Bondage, and His Complete History. Frederick Douglass, Author.]

6. Alice Walker is an author and activist, best known for the critically acclaimed novel The Color Purple, for which she was awarded a Pulitzer Prize. It was turned into a successful Steven Spielberg film co-starringOprah Winfrey, and later into an excellent Broadway musical. Walker was involved in the Civil Rights movement and participated in the 1963 March on Washington. Free reference work: [Alice Walker: ‘Color Purple’ Author Confronts Her Critics and Talks about Her Provocative New Book. Charles Whitaker, Author.]

7. W.E.B. Du Bois was the first African-American to earn a doctorate from Harvard. He was a member of the early 20th century African-American intellectual elite and helped increase black political representation. He was a co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and served as editor for its magazine, The Crisis, to which he contributed many essays. Free reference work: [The Souls of W.E.B. Du Bois: New Essays and Reflections. Lawrence A. Burnley, Author.]

8. Ralph Ellison was a literary critic, scholar and writer. He wrote Shadow and Act, a collection of political, social and critical essays. He served as a professor at Rutgers University and Yale University. In addition, he received a National Book Award in 1953 for his book Invisible Man, which was chosen in 1998 by the Modern Library Association as one of the top 100 Best English-language Novels of the 20th CenturyInvisible Man ranked 19th, ahead of Richard Wright’s Native Son at 20th. Free Reference Work: [Heroism and the Black Intellectual- Ralph Ellison, Politics, and Afro-American Intellectual Life. Jeffrey Gaffio Watts, Author.]

9. August Wilson is an American playwright best known for The Pittsburgh Cycle (often referred to as his “Century Cycle”), which consists of ten plays set in different decades highlighting the black experience throughout the 20th century. Free Reference Work: [Raising the Curtain Again. Phil W. Petrie, Author.]

10. James Baldwin was a novelist, poet and essayist. He explored the unspoken intricacies of racial, sexual and class distinctions in Western societies throughout 20th century America. His novel, Go Tell It On the Mountain, ranked 39th on the MLA list. Free Reference Work: [Contemporary African American Novelists: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Emmanuel S. Nelson, Editor.]

Let me know what you think in the Comments area below. Moreover, feel free to track me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, and follow me on Forbes to receive regular dispatches from the front lines of global education. I am also launching email newsletters on Education, Politics, Culture, and Travel. In addition to summaries and article links, Crotty Newsletter subscribers will receive breaking and market-making news before anyone else. My “Crotty on Education” newsletter, in particular, will include links to videos and podcasts by experts in the field, high-level research reports, plus the invaluable Crotty on Education Stock Index. You can subscribe to Crotty Newsletters here: www.jamescrotty.com/newsletter.html