Books by Jerry W. Ward Jr.
Trouble the Water
Black Southern Voices (1992) /
The Richard Wright Encyclopedia (2008) /
The Katrina Papers
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Making Peace with the Loss of Things
April 4, 2006
By Jerry W. Ward, Jr.
On April 3, 2006 you had to
contemplate emptiness, the oddly bounded space of air in
the Grand Canyon. You have been near the Grand Canyon.
You did not have time during your last visit to Arizona
to have the eyegasm of viewing this natural wonder. You
view it in your head. The spacescape is composed of
memories of National Geographic photographs and frames
from various films. Your visual recall is superior to
your memory of the steak you had in Chicago for your
Yes, taking out debris from your
house yesterday dredged up the young you and your
solitary celebration of being 22. If you want to know
why that should have happened, ask God. Do not ask me. I
have little patience when it comes to explaining
emptiness to people. Most people can not deal with the
topic without assuming a fatal fetal position.
The house is almost completely empty
of contents. The workers have begun to tear up the
ruined floors. They will attack the mole-infested walls
next. They will destroy closets in order to make them
new. They will destroy the smell of dying in the house.
The house is being robbed of its integrity, its
personality. However good it might look in late
summer—providing, of course, that the hurricane season
does not finish what Katrina, Rita, and inadequate
levees and floodwalls tried to accomplish in August
2005—it will not look right.
However good it might look, it will
only be a costumed ghost of the home you first slept in,
in June 2003. The new walls and new floor and new
electric wires will have no memory of the jubilation
when 50 or 60 friends came in 2003 to warm the house.
The new walls will speak post-Katrina, a language of
emptiness that is intimate and vulgar. They will
address, in late summer, the most dysfunctional aspects
of the transforming New Orleans and their anger that the
wrong person was elected mayor. They will only speak if
weather does not make you homeless and houseless yet
A friend reminded you on Sunday
that nature will continue to sponsor hurricanes in the
Gulf Coast region. He said those of us who rush to
repair may live to regret.
Please. May we have one regret now
and deal with regrets to come when they arrive?
Yesterday, I regretted discarding
five boxes of LPs. These were choice albums I spent more
than forty years collecting. With dry eyes and a wet
heart, I consign my music to the curbside. My music is
trash. LPs, cassettes, and many CDs have become trash.
Emptiness pains like a fishbone caught in the throat.
You can have more CDs, but you are not fond of CDs.
Aretha Franklin does not sound right on a CD. She sounds
corrected. So too do Stevie Wonder, Duke Ellington,
Louis Armstrong, and Stevie Ray Vaughn. "Cold Shot."
Perhaps classical music sounds very good on a CD.
Classical music is, after all, hypercorrect.
But Clifford Brown, Buddy Guy, Esther
Phillips, Lynn Gold, Cassandra Wilson, Jerry Butler, the
soundtracks of The Color Purple and For
Colored Girls . . . and Shaft, and Tommy
James and the Shantells are not hypercorrect. They, the
recorded traces of their creation, are human in the
grooves. When you want to hear Roland Kirk's Oleo,
you must hear the grooves and scratches. It took you
twenty years to begin to understand the musical
structures of Oleo, and you do not want to have
that pain and pleasure cheapened by a CD.
Only the original recording of
"Crystal Blue Persuasion" can evoke the heat, sweat,
terror, and comrades of Viet Nam. It was in Viet Nam
that you first hear the song. And you were so overjoyed
when you found the recording for $5.00 at a flea market
in Jackson, Mississippi. All you have now are aurally
Damn you. Grow up. Admit only live
music is really worth the listening.
Today you regret that yesterday you
threw away all the volumes of poetry you had collected
since 1969. You are deeply hurt that all the signed
copies of books by Margaret Walker were destroyed. I
suppose you can live on the memory of having had long
telephone conversations with Margaret about Demonic
Genius. The rare and valuable sit in disgrace on
many curbsides in New Orleans. Fanon's title The
Wretched of the Earth (it sounds so much better if
you translate the original French title as "The Damned
of the Earth") wounds you again and again. Some of
your neighbors are more wretched than you are. Remember
To hell with memory. Memory does not
recover your collection of OBSIDIAN. Memory does
not restore your issues of Negro American Literature
Forum, CLA Journal, African American
Review, Negro Digest/Black World, New
Literary History, Southern Quarterly. You
will never again have your precious Black Box
cassettes. It is strange. Emptiness fills you. It is
strange. As you dump one load of the poetry chapbooks
and poetry volumes from the wheelbarrow, two chapbooks
fly to the sidewalk. They are works by Dudley Randall
and Audre Lorde.
You lovingly gather them up for
deposit in a safe, dry place. There is a message here.
The English language needs a new word: MISSAGE.
The second message is this: For several years you had
considered starting the Project on the History of Black
Writing database by using your collection of
hard-to-find or totally limited, self-published poetry
books. The dream deferred is now your dream
destroyed. Live with the emptiness.
Katrina and the Army Corps of
Engineers (who had very weird notions about what New
Orleans deserved). They laugh at hubris. They laugh at
you. Water invades your eyeballs. Man and nature have
conspired to leave a grand canyon in your person. They
have stolen years of investment. You are 22 again in the
plenitude that is not. Now, go and find comfort.
Given that you find hope meaningless and disgusting,
hang on to charity and faith. You were able to write
this in the emptiness of your house. Have faith. It will
be an act of charity when something slouches into New
Orleans to fill your grand canyon of emptiness.
* * *
The Katrina Papers is not your
average memoir. It is a fusion of many kinds of
writing, including intellectual autobiography,
personal narrative, political/cultural analysis,
spiritual journal, literary history, and poetry.
Though it is the record of one man's experience of
Hurricane Katrina, it is a record that is fully a
part of his life and work as a scholar, political
activist, and professor.
The Katrina Papers provides space not only for the traumatic events but
also for ruminations on authors such as Richard
Wright and theorists like Deleuze and Guattarri. The
result is a complex though thoroughly accessible
book. The struggle with form—the search for a
medium proper to the complex social, personal, and
political ramifications of an event unprecedented in
this scholar's life and in American social history—lies at the very heart of
The Katrina Papers . It
depicts an enigmatic and multi-stranded world view
which takes the local as its nexus for understanding
the global. It resists the temptation to simplify
or clarify when simplification and clarification are
not possible. Ward's narrative is, at times, very
direct, but he always refuses to simplify the
complex emotional and spiritual volatility of the
process and the historical moment that he is
witnessing. The end result is an honesty that is
both pedagogical and inspiring.—Hank Lazer
The Richard Wright Encyclopedia (2008)
is a marvelous resource! It's not like any
encyclopedia I've seen before. Already, I have spent hours reading
through the various entries. So much is there: people, themes,
issues, events, bibliographies, etc., related to Wright. Yours is a
monumental contribution! The more I read Wright (and about him), the
more I am amazed at the depth and breadth of his work and its impact
on the worlds of literature, philosophy, politics, sociology,
history, psychology, etc. He was formidable!
Floyd W. Hayes
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What Orwell Didn't Know
Propaganda and the New Face of American Politics
By Andras Szanto
Propaganda. Manipulation. Spin. Control. It has ever been thus—or has it? On the eve of the 60th anniversary of George Orwell's classic essay on propaganda (
), writers have been invited to explore what Orwell didn't—or couldn't—know. Their responses, framed in pithy, focused essays, range far and wide: from the effect of television and computing, to the vast expansion of knowledge about how our brains respond to symbolic messages, to the merger of journalism and entertainment, to lessons learned during and after a half-century of totalitarianism. Together, they paint a portrait of a political culture in which propaganda and mind control are alive and well (albeit in forms and places that would have surprised Orwell). The pieces in this anthology sound alarm bells about the manipulation and misinformation in today's politics, and offer guideposts for a journalism attuned to Orwellian tendencies in the 21st century.
Politics and the English Language
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The Gardens of Democracy: A New American Story
of Citizenship, the Economy, and the Role of Government
By Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer
American democracy is informed by the 18th century’s most cutting edge thinking on society, economics, and government. We’ve learned some things in the intervening 230 years about self interest, social behaviors, and how the world works. Now, authors Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer argue that some fundamental assumptions about citizenship, society, economics, and government need updating. For many years the dominant metaphor for understanding markets and government has been the machine. Liu and Hanauer view democracy not as a machine, but as a garden. A successful garden functions according to the inexorable tendencies of nature, but it also requires goals, regular tending, and an understanding of connected ecosystems. The latest ideas from science, social science, and economics—the cutting-edge ideas of today—generate these simple but revolutionary ideas: (The economy is not an efficient machine. It’s an effective garden that need tending. Freedom is responsibility. Government should be about the big what and the little how. True self interest is mutual interest.
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The White Masters
of the World
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
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Ancient African Nations
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Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /
George Jackson /
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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding
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update 18 May 2012