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Yesterday, I regretted discarding five boxes of LPs. These were choice

 albums I spent  more  than forty years collecting.



Books by Jerry W. Ward  Jr.

Trouble the Water (1997) / Black Southern Voices (1992) / The Richard Wright Encyclopedia (2008)  / The Katrina Papers

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Making Peace with the Loss of Things

TKP: 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 22nd birthday.

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 once more.

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 unsatisfactory CDs.

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 that.

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.

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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 formthe 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 historylies 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

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



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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 (Politics and the English Language), 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.

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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

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


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The 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  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 18 May 2012




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