Monday, September 29, 2014

Center for Black Literature at MEC, CUNY
The CBL Presents: The John Oliver Killens Reading Series FALL 2014
"SOS Calling all Black People"

An Evening with Sonia Sanchez

Thursday October 9, 2014 from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM EDT
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Medgar Evers College, CUNY
Medgar Evers College, CUNY
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Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College, CUNY
John Oliver Killens Reading Series 

Thursday, October 9, 2014
6:30 pm to 8:30 pm
"SOS - Calling All Black People"
An Evening with Sonia Sanchez

Medgar Evers College, CUNY
Founders Auditorium
1650 Bedford Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11225

Sonia Sanchez is an award-winning poet, activist, scholar, and is professor emerita of English at Temple University and was honored as Philadelphia's first Poet Laureate in 2011. She is a coeditor of the recently published SOS-Calling All Black People: A Black Arts Movement Reader(Univ. of Massachusetts Press, 2014), a major anthology of readings from the Black Arts Movement, edited with John H. Bracey Jr. and James Smethurst. Professors Bracey and Smethurst will join Sanchez on the program.



Thursday, November 13, 2014
6:30 pm to 8:30 pm
"Portrait of an Icon, Stokely Carmichael"

Medgar Evers College, CUNY
 Edison O. Jackson Auditorium
1638 Bedford Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11225

Limited Seating

Author and Professor of History Peniel E. Joseph will talk discuss and sign copies of his recently published book,Stokely: A Life (Basic Civitas Books, 2014).
Stokely Carmichael, the charismatic and controversial Black activist, stepped onto the pages of history when he called for "Black Power" during a speech one Mississippi night in 1966. A firebrand who straddled both the American Civil Rights and Black Power Movements, Carmichael would stand for the rest of his life at the center of the storm he had unleashed that night. InStokely, preeminent civil rights scholar Peniel E. Joseph presents a groundbreaking biography of Carmichael, using his life as a prism through which to view the transformative African-American freedom struggles of the twentieth century...A nuanced and authoritative portrait,Stokely captures the life of the man whose uncompromising vision defined political radicalism and provoked a national reckoning on race and democracy."


Charles R. Larson
September 26, 2014
Edward E. Baptist’s brilliant book, The Half Has Never Been Told, soars because of the author’s decision to root his analysis in the human dimension.

During the 1930s, the WPA sent out workers to interview men and women who had been slaves before the Emancipation Proclamation. It was 72 years after slavery had been abolished and the interviewees were old but their memories were still vivid. When probed by an interviewee, Lorenzo Ivy responded, “Truly, son, the half has never been told.” After the Civil War, black life during slavery was sanitized, deodorized and, above all, reported by Caucasians—not by the people who had toiled under the murderous system. To a certain extent, that one-sided view has persisted. Historians of the South—largely while men—continued the subterfuge. And even recent attempts to set the record straight have followed in the steps of their predecessors: a chapter on families, one on women, etc., looking at groups instead of individuals.

Hence, the need for Edward E. Baptist’s monumental examination of slavery, presented in an entirely new way, extensively through the voices of the slaves themselves.  Baptist has not simply read the WPA interviews but, apparently, every other account of what happened, particularly the many slave narratives published before and after the end of slavery. And, then—what is most original here—he has organized his own account by using parts of the body; for slavery was, above all, an affront to the basic dignity of the corporal body. These are the chapter titles: “Feet,” “Heads,” “Right Hand,” “Left Hand,” “Tongues,” “Breath,” “Seed,” “Blood,” “Backs,” and “Arms”—largely parts of the body. The Introduction (“The Heart”) and the Afterword (“The Corpse”) complete the picture.

The first chapter (“Feet”) begins,
“Not long after they heard the first clink of iron, the boys and girls in the cornfield would have been able to smell the grownups’ bodies, perhaps even before they saw the double line coming around the bend. Hurrying in locked step, the thirty-old men came down the dirt road like a giant machine. Each hauled twenty pounds of iron, chains that draped from neck to neck and wrist-to-wrist, binding them all together. Ragged strips flapped stiffly from their clothes like dead-air pennants. On the men’s heads, hair stood out in growing dreads or lay in dust-caked mats. As they moved, some looked down like catatonics. Others stared at something a thousand yards ahead. And now, behind the clanking men, followed a marching crowd of women loosely roped, the same vacancy in their expressions, endurance standing out in the rigid strings of muscle that had replaced their calves in the weeks since they left Maryland. Behind them all swayed a white man on a gray walking horse.”

The men (often with a thousand pounds of iron connecting them) were part of a coffle, enslaved migrants walking seven or eight hundred miles, chattel property, being moved from the north to the south because the profits when they were sold to their new owners were one hundred percent. The slave trade in Africa no longer mattered because slaves in the more northern states (Virginia, especially, but also Maryland) were reproducing so quickly that they created an entire new source of labor. Baptist gives the year as 1805, and states that eventually a million slaves were herded this way to the South. Tobacco farming in the North was less profitable than cotton farming in the South. “The coffle chained the early American republic together.” Slaves walked and walked for five or six weeks, performing their ablutions as they moved. There wasn’t an iota of dignity for the men. Baptist refers to the entire procedure as a “pattern of political compromise” between the North and the South and notes that eight of the first twelve Presidents of the United States were slave owners.

The movement of such huge numbers of slaves to the part of the country that could more productively use them was a “forced migration” grounded on “forced separations, violence, and new kinds of labor.” Equally disturbing—and this is the thesis of Baptist’s magnificent book—“all northern whites had benefited from the deepened exploitation of enslaved people.” Thus, there are no chapters on the African slave trade or the Middle Passage here, but a focus instead on what might be called the second stage of slavery in America. The movement to the deep South would continue for years because of increased productivity of the slaves themselves. In the North, one hand usually sufficed for their work (the dominant hand) but cotton picking required the complicated dexterity of both hands working together.

Moreover, as the country expanded, Southerners made certain that many of the new states further west became slave states where cotton production could continue. So Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia were soon augmented by Texas, Arkansas, and eventually Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona, Union territories permitting slavery. It was a nasty balance but it permitted the growth of cotton plantations across the country as well as the steadily increasing cotton industry throughout the entire world (“massive profits from textile manufacturing”—not just in the United States.) Cotton became the “global economy’s most important raw material.”

The plantation owners developed something known as the “pushing system,” forcing the cotton pickers to increase productivity. There were quotas and severe punishments for those who failed, and if a slave had a day when he (or she) picked more than any other day, that became his (or her) new daily quota. Torture for failed quotas was endemic.  All white people in the country benefitted, even though some northerners insisted they were no part of it.
Baptist is not afraid to refer to the entire system as “stealing.”  “If you want torule a person, steal the person. Steal him from his people and steal him from his own right hand, from everything he has grown up knowing. Take her to a place where you can steal everything else from her: her future, her creativity, her womb.” In such a system there can be no good slave owners, only bad ones. “Stealing can never be an orderly system undergirded by property rights, cushioned by family-like relationships. There is no balance between contradictory elements. There is only chaos and violence.”

Fortunately, by the 1820s, there were increasing pronouncements from white Americans that slavery had to end. And there were increasing narratives published by slaves who had escaped that showed their limited number of readers just how appalling the entire system was.  As I said earlier, Baptist relies on these accounts extensively, plus the isolated reports of a number of attempted revolts such as Nat Turner’s. Christianity was also added to the fray, both as a justification of slavery, by some, and hope for many slaves who had been converted.

In spite of the enormous profits from cotton, it was not an uninterrupted trajectory of economic stability. Banks often lent out more money than they should have, using slaves as collateral. There was often economic turmoil. By the late 1830s, “In response to these clear incentives, enslavers created still more ways to leverage slaves into still more leverage. They mortgaged the same collateral from multiple lenders. They used slaves bought with long-term mortgages to bluff lenders into granting unsecured commercial loans. Above all, they kept buying more slaves on credit. Even if they ran into problems, they figured they would still win, because they could sell their assets. For the slave prices were still rising.”

Inevitably there were panics, collapses, including one that began in Texas, in 1837. Then things bounced back again. Half of the country’s economic activity was related to slavery. By 1850, there were three million slaves in the country. There were years of bitter arguments in Congress about the viability of the entire system. The Compromise of 1850 (another further balancing of slave areas with non-slave areas) simply continued the precarious holding pattern. There were major compromises over runaway slaves, the famous Lincoln/Douglas Debates, John Brown’s execution—dark days for the country. Then in 1860, Lincoln won the election and southern states began to secede. Baptist remarks, “The South did not believe that the North would fight.”

Most of the rest of the story is familiar, as grim as what happened before the end of the Civil War. Black soldiers had pushed the balance. “Their service in battle had saved the nation,” though not necessarily to the benefit they had anticipated. It wasn’t long before the South began imposing major restrictions on black people, the insidious “Jim Crow” laws. Other than a brief period immediately after the war, almost all black people were “shut out of the political system.” Baptist observes, “Slavery and its expansion had built enduring patterns of poverty and exploitation. This legacy was certainly crystal clear in [the] early twentieth-century South. African-American households had virtually no wealth, for instance, while a substantial portion of the wealth held by white households, even after emancipation, could be traced to revenue generated by enslaved labor and financing leveraged out of their bodies before 1861.”
When you consider the long-term effects of slavery, reaching into our world today, it is possible to say that the lives of African-Americans are substantially better than they have ever been before, but when you examine the actual economics impacting black people’s lives, you see a much different picture. Numerous articles in the press during the past few years provide a bleak picture of black people’s living situations. The gap among races widened during the recent economic recession. According to an article in The New York Times in August of this year, “The net worth of the average black household in the United States is $6,314, compared with $110,500 for the average white household, according to 2011 census data. The gap has worsened in the last decade, and the United States now has a greater wealth gap by race than South Africa did during apartheid.” That’s as damning an indictment of the long-term results of slavery in America as possible and something to consider when reflecting on the half-assed analyses of the recent riots in Ferguson, Missouri.

Edward E. Baptist’s brilliant book, The Half Has Never Been Told, soars because of the author’s decision to root his analysis in the human dimension. The book transcends anything that has previously been written about slavery. Dozens of individual slaves are named in the study and their lives successfully worked into the lengthy narration of the legacy of slavery in our country. In short, Baptist has humanized the lives of American slaves, liberated them from one of the most inhumane systems mankind ever devised.  The entire country needs to do the same.
Edward E. Baptist: The Half  Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism
Basic Books, 498 pp., $35.00
Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C.  Email:

News from Fukushima
News from Margaret Wrinkle:

Sunday, September 28, 2014


This might be one of the reasons why peace talks don't go anywhere in the Middle East.
This is a problem not just in Israel but also in our own country. It's gets back to a key question we must always ask ourselves - what is the role of government?  Who should protect a nation's security?

Someone who takes an oath or someone who simply gets a paycheck?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Pope Francisco receives a letter about the case of the three Cuban anti-terrorists still imprisoned in United States
During a gathering with the Pope, Father Antonio Tarzia, of the Association Cassiodoro, and Professor Luciano Vasapollo, Professor at the University La Sapienza, delivered a letter to the pontiff calling for the return of Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, and Ramón Labañino to their homeland.
Guerrero, Labañino, and Hernández were arrested on September 12, 1998, in the city of Miami along with Fernando González and René González, who have returned to Cuba after serving their entire sentences.

The text of the letter reiterates that its intention is to seek awareness of the Pope and the Vatican about the history of these men, who went to the United States to prevent terrorist acts against the Cuban people that were planned with total impunity by individuals and violent groups residing in the South of Florida.

Father Tarzia and Professor Vasapollo, members of the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5, have collaborated "for a long time in the campaign to find a solution for the three Cubans imprisoned in the United States".

An international campaign in solidarity with Gerardo, Ramon and Antonio and against terrorism is taking place until October 6 and has resonated in more than 40 countries.

(Source:  Prensa Latina)
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International Committee for the Freedom of
the Cuban 5

Friday, September 26, 2014

Poetry FoundationNewsletter

September 26, 2014

Ben Lerner

Ovid and Marty McFly

How Ben Lerner’s new novel dissolves into a poem.

About the Shark

How do we see ourselves in animals?
Poems of Jewish Faith and Culture

Poems of Jewish Faith and Culture

For Rosh Hashanah
Wallace Stevens

Wallace Stevens: “The Emperor of Ice-Cream”

The chilly heart of a whimsical poem




LITERARY ACTIVIST AT WORK: Poet Lore 125th Anniversary- Folger Shakespeare Library - September 15, 2014

E. Ethelbert Miller

At his best, Mr. Holder stepped up and said things that Mr. Obama could not or would not say. And in wielding the muscle of his office, in a job of exasperating complications and irreconcilable conflicts, Mr. Holder has worked to increase justice for many of America's most dispossessed or forgotten citizens.

    - Editorial -The New York Times, September 26, 2014

September 26, 2014
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This week we offer Chen Chen's poem, "Set the Garden on Fire." We present this poem in acknowledgement of the phenomenal People's Climate March in New York City that occurred this past weekend. Read more about activities in DC and elsewhere you can get involved with here.

We have been featuring eco-justice poetry in the Poem of the Week series all month. The poems are an early peek at a book of poems being edited by Melissa Tuckey in collaboration with Split This Rock: Ghost Fishing: an Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology, to be published by the University of Georgia Press in 2016. The anthology will examine the many ways that social justice issues intersect with the environment. We hope you'll be moved and moved to action. 

In earth justice and poetry,
Split This Rock
Poem of the Week: 
Chen Chen

Set the Garden on Fire

for Jeanette Li

My friend's new neighbors in the suburbs
are planting a neat row of roses
between her house & theirs.

Her neighbors smile, say the roses are part
of a community garden project, that's all.
But they whisper, too--whisper plans for trees,
a wall of them. They plant rumors
that her house is hiding illegals, when it's aunts
& uncles, visiting. They grow tall accusations
fed by talk radio, that her house was bought
with drug money, not seventeen years of woks
sizzling, people serving, delivering, filing,
people scrubbing, refilling, running--her family
running the best restaurant in town.
Like with your family, my friend says, once we
moved in, they stopped calling us
hardworking immigrants.
Friend, let's really move in, let's

plunge our hands into the soil.
Plant cilantro & strong tomatoes,
watermelon & honey-hearted cantaloupe,
good things, sweeter than any rose.
Let's build the community garden
that never was. Let's call the neighbors
out, call for an orchard, not a wall.
Trees with arms free, flaming
into apple, peach, pear--every imaginable,
edible fire.

Come friend, neighbor,
you, come set the garden on fire
with all our hard-earned years, tender labor
of being here, ceaseless & volcanic
making of being here, together.

Used by permission.

Chen Chen is a University Fellow in poetry at Syracuse University, where he also serves as Poetry Editor for Salt Hill. His work has appeared/is forthcoming in The Massachusetts ReviewDIAGRAMConnotation Review,PANKChelsea StationCURA: A Literary Magazine of Art & ActionNepantla: A Journal for Queer Poets of Color, among other places. He has received fellowships from Kundiman, Tent: Creative Writing, and the Saltonstall Foundation.



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