“But as I have asserted the relativity of the “time” and the “place” and having reduced the experience of “self” to a state of consciousness, this must be considered, above all, a record of a voyage of the mind” – Vincent O. Carter, in his Introduction to the 1973 edition of his memoir
Originally published by the John Day Company in 1973 to “abysmal sales,” after almost half a century Dalkey Archive Press has finally reissued Vincent O. Carter’s The Bern Book: A Record of a Voyage of the Mind in a paperback edition.*
In his preface to the new edition Harvard scholar Jesse McCarthy calls it “one of the ‘shadow books’ of African American literature … those missing works, both real and imagined, which haunt the tradition like a phantom limb” – ‘shadow books’ a phrase he borrows from Kevin Young, poet and editor of African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song (Library of America, 2020).
“Hush now, don’t explain / You’re my joy and pain / My life’s yours, love / Don’t explain / …” – from the Billie Holiday/Arthur Herzog Jr. song Don’t Explain (1944)
Most people will know much more about jazz singer Billie Holiday (1915-1959) than about poet Naomi Long Madgett (1923-2020). But if you do know something about Madgett, it might surprise you that she took a line from Billie Holiday’s Don’t Explain as the title for her last collection of poems, subtitled Love Poems, released shortly before she passed away on November 5th at 97.
The daughter of a Baptist minister, her 2006 autobiography Pilgrim Journey (Lotus Press) was reviewed by Professor and Chair of Africana Studies at Wayne State University, Melba Joyce Boyd, as “honest reflections” on “encounters with love, difficult marriages, racial injustice, class conflict within the black community, the joys of motherhood (her daughter, Jill Witherspoon, is a published poet), a near fatal automobile accident, and the curious satisfaction of being a poet.”
“So is it true, Barack, that you are going to be our first African president of the United States? Ah, that would make us all verrry proud!” – a playfully mischievous Bishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize winner 1984, and Chairman of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Committee, 1996-1998
At 768 pages, Barack Obama’s A Promised Land is only the first released of a two-volume memoir (Obama had originally planned a single volume at some 500 pages), this one including his run for the US Senate and covering the first term, January 2009 to January 2013, of his presidency.
Released simultaneously on 17 November 2020 in English and 18 other languages (Danish included) out of a planned 24 announced by Penguin Random House, the book has been praised everywhere as a brilliant political and personal memoir, but also for its literary qualities.
“She was exactly what we’d been waiting for, this “skinny Black girl, descended from slaves,” showing us our true selves, our human heritage, our heart … As her words washed over us, they healed our wounds and resurrected our spirits” – Oprah Winfred in her foreword to Amanda Gorman’s The Hill We Climb (Viking, 2021), Gorman the sixth and at twenty-two America’s youngest presidential inaugural poet
As we look at the printed version of Amanda Gorman’s poem, The Hill We Climb, delivered on the occasion of the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as president and vice-president of the United States of America on 20 January 2021, we may be looking in the wrong direction.
It is a poem steeped in American and African American history, past and present, using or alluding to the rhetoric found in foundational documents of American democracy ...
Last year, 2020, novelist Walter Mosley (1952-) won the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and this year he has just published Blood Grove, book number fifteen in the Easy Rawlins mystery series, and the first new Easy Rawlins in five years. With a total of more than 50 titles to his name, the recognition seems well deserved.
Walter Mosley started out as the new Raymond Chandler (or Dashiell Hammett) with the classic Devil in a Blue Dress (1990), the first of his Easy Rawlins mysteries. Then he decided to write a new book every year (see the non-fiction This Year You Write Your Novel, 2007), ending up sounding more like Ross McDonald.
In 1941, Richard Wright had just published Native Son (1940), and a few years earlier Zora Neale Hurston had brought out Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), both novels now recognized as classics of African American literature.
While Hurston’s novel could be said to point back to, or be a late masterpiece of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, Wright’s Native Son inaugurated a new era of social realism.
Three minor 1930s novelists of the rural South, whose novels are excerpted in The Negro Caravan, would seem to span the years in between: George Wylie Henderson (1904-1965), George W. Lee (1894-1976), and Waters Edward Turpin (1910-1968).