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Kalamu ya Salaam: Cosmic Deputy: poetry and context 1968-2019 (University of New Orleans Press/Runagate Press, 2020)

… all cosmic deputies must commit/ a minimum of fifty-five/ random acts of kindness a day …/… freely offering/ unprovoked displays of beauty, must/ never sell what should be given …/ – Kalamu ya Salaam

In Perfection of Beauty, his preface to Cosmic Deputy, poet Afaa Michael Weaver (Spirit Boxing, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2017) quotes Kalamu ya Salaam’s haiku # 58: black people believe/ in god, & i believe in/ black people, amen. Praising the “zen terseness” of a poem that has “a sterling clarity in a language nuanced by the subtleties of Black religiosity, formal and secular.” 

The poetry of Kalamu ya Salaam, Afaa Michael Weaver writes, reveal “a spirit planted deeply inside a faith in the beauty of blackness, a sensibility … that eschews anything that would diminish the sacredness of Black culture.” Weaver continues: “The regional capital of Black culture … is New Orleans … his love of African American culture is his love of New Orleans, and his love of New Orleans is his embodiment of the precious history of Black people.”  

Claude McKay: Romance in Marseille (Edited and introduced by Gary Edward Holcomb and William J. Maxwell, Penguin Classics, 2020)

Romance in Marseille is the second novel by Claude McKay (1889-1948) set in the Vieux Port of Marseille*, then and now the second largest city in France. The first, Banjo (Harper & Brothers, 1929) – a rambling, picaresque tale of life among an international cast of mostly black sailors, dockworkers, drifters, prostitutes, and struggling artists and intellectuals debating colonialism, racism, and Marcus Garvey’s Back-to-Africa movement – was subtitled A Story Without a Plot.

This second novel – written between 1929 and 1933 but published only now, see “Hiding in plain sight” below – with roughly the same diverse cast of characters, does have a plot.  

Stowaway fiction(s). Claude McKay’s novel opens like this: “In the main ward of a great hospital Lafala lay like a sawed-off stump and pondered the loss of his legs.”

Charles Johnson, editor: Anthology of Black American Literature (Chicago Quarterly Review, Volume 33, 2021)

Novelist Charles Johnson (Middle Passage, 1990, Dreamer, 1998 – a fictional examination of the final years of Martin Luther King, Jr.,) has guest-edited an anthology of African American literature as a special edition of the Chicago Quarterly Review, featuring twenty-seven poets, storytellers, essayists, and artists, each dancing to his/her own drummer, a “cornucopia of creativity by some of the best artists at work in America today,” Charles Johnson writes in his Editor’s Note.

In Remembering Stanley Jeffery Renard Allen paints a fascinating, complex and critical portrait of maverick essayist and cultural critic, the late Stanley Crouch (1945-2020), his jazz criticism a.o., especially Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker ...

African American Poetry Beyond English; or, The Example of Sybil Kein

In the Random Notes article on The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry, edited by Rita Dove, we wrote: “We are talking about American poetry in English only.”

A survey from 2008-2010 shows that most Americans, 79,7%, speak only English at home, while 12,6% report that Spanish is the main language spoken. Looking below at ‘African American poetry beyond English’, to Spanish we must add French, or French Creole, a language that has a long history in Louisiana, even as French – like all other American languages aside from English and Spanish – account for less than one percent of American spoken languages (see note below).  

The Spanish influence on African American (or American) poetry comes mainly via the Caribbean and countries ‘south of the border’ with large populations of Spanish-speaking  people ...

Effie Lee Newsome's Nature Poetry for Children Revisited

Effie Lee Newsome (1885-1979) is often considered to be the first African American poet to write poetry exclusively, or primarily, for children.   

Her career as a poet is closely tied to The Crisis and its editor, scholar and civil rights leader W.E.B. DuBois. According to Wikipedia Effie Lee Newsome began working with DuBois on The Crisis as early as 1917, contributing to DuBois’ The Brownies’ Book, his short lived monthly magazine for children (1920-1921), for which poet and novelist Jessie Redmon Fauset wrote the dedicatory poem: “To children, who with eager look/ Scanned vainly library shelf and nook,/ For History or Song or Story/ That told of Colored Peoples’ glory,–/ We dedicate The Brownies’ Book.” From 1925 to 1929 she was given her own Crisis-column for children, The Little Page ...

When Melvin Van Peebles Read His Obituary; or, The passing of a pioneer

In George Alexander’s book of interviews with thirty two African American filmmakers, Why We Make Movies: Black Filmmakers Talk About the Magic of Cinema (Harlem Moon/Broadway Books, 2003), Melvin Van Peebles tells the following anecdote: “I’ve got this great foolproof system in the morning. I look at the paper, I read the obituaries. If I’m not there, I get out of bed.”

On 21 September 2021 Van Peebles must have read his own obituary. He did not get out of bed. Born in Chicago in 1932, he was 89 years old when he passed away in his home in New York.