ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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Indeed, the last two decades of the 20th century are the first time that educated African

Americans did not have to literally fight for official recognition as American citizens.

The result of today's social reality is that the social content of much of our literature has shifted



Books by Kalamu ya Salaam


The Magic of JuJu: An Appreciation of the Black Arts Movement  /   360: A Revolution of Black Poets

Everywhere Is Someplace Else: A Literary Anthology  /  From A Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans Poets

Our Music Is No Accident   /  What Is Life: Reclaiming the Black Blues Self

My Story My Song (CD)


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What Renaissance?

By Kalamu ya Salaam

Pre-Obama, some well-meaning person asked me my opinion of the so-called "New Black Renaissance." My short essay in reply is below. Now that we are in the new millennium and Obama is the President of the United States, we might ironically say that the child was born but the mother died. The "new" Black is literally a mixed blessing. I have not bothered to change anything that I said pre-Obama because a priori is de facto on time (translation: ain't nothing changed, not really)


A renaissance is a "re-birth." So what are we talking about? A resurgence of Black literature? Like what, like when? Are we going back to the days of the Negro Renaissance, which was itself a marketing ploy of middle class Blacks and their White patrons?

The term "renaissance" was lifted from Marcus Garvey who was calling for a rebirth of African culture and self-determination. But the Negro Renaissance, just like today's renaissance, was not about self-determination but rather about integration and the pleading of an educated middle class that "we, too, are Americans / humans / artists / whatever, just like you." What I see is not a renaissance but rather a petition for acceptance.

We Africans in America have never before had such a large and literate Black middle class. Today, a significant number of us have a meaningful level of disposable income. To go with the cash and credit cards, we also have a desire to see middle class values affirmed. Make no mistake, we have had a middle class before, but it was not large. We have had literate people, but the majority was not middle class, was not White college educated in mainstream views and values. Indeed, the last two decades of the 20th century are the first time that educated African Americans did not have to literally fight for official recognition as American citizens.

The result of today's social reality is that the social content of much of our literature has shifted. Some would argue that we have split into black professionals on the one hand, and a black underclass on the other hand, and that the literature of today reflects that split among our people.

If we look at the state of Black literature we see the popularity of romance and self help books—manuals designed to tell us how to make it and be happy in America (a country which allegedly no longer legally and officially practices racism). The romance is the belief in the individual, thus we are looking for "my" soul mate, "my" dream job, "my" own business, etc. ad nausea.

From a more critical perspective, there is no Renaissance in Black literature—what we have are novels either focusing on the trauma of life in the ghetto or offering a road map on how to escape the ghetto, physically and psychologically; self help manuals on doing business with and just like the descendants of those whose business historically was the trade in our black bodies and the exploitation of our Black labor.

The so-called Black literary Renaissance, like its sibling, "smooth jazz," is a sort of hybrid funk without feeling, without the sweat of struggle, a cigarette dangling from its lips, a shot of liquor in its hand, and a self-centered view of the world. What we don't have are major publishing companies and nationally distributed literary journals that are of us, for us, and by us. Even those of us who self publish tend toward winning recognition from the status quo.

The hard truth is that there is no other place to go. If we don't become part of the mainstream, we end up in the wilderness. For those of us who are trying to maintain a course of independence and self-determination, we are like Du Bois proverbial Negro with a double consciousness. We remain marginalized by economic considerations; literally unpopular and unpaid. I understand the reasons behind the choice made by many, even as I obstinately choose a different direction. A true Black Renaissance will happen when we get back to the principles of self-determination, self-respect, and self-defense.

Right now, I do not see any Black Renaissance. Nothing is being reborn, except our own collaboration in the extinction of anything and everything that might be identified as both Black and opposed to the status quo.

Source: WordUp

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Guarding the Flame of Life (Kalamu ya Salaam) / Toni Morrison Presses For Writers' Freedoms (audio)

New Orleans Jazz Funeral for tuba player Kerwin James / They danced atop his casket Jaran 'Julio' Green

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Track List
1.  Congo Square (9:01)
2.  My Story, My Song (20:50)
3.  Danny Banjo (4:32)
4.  Miles Davis (10:26)
5.  Hard News For Hip Harry (5:03)
6.  Unfinished Blues (4:13)
7.  Rainbows Come After The Rain (2:21)/Negroidal Noise (15:53)
8.  Intro (3:59)
9.  The Whole History (3:14)
10.  Negroidal Noise (5:39)
11.  Waving At Ra (1:40)
12.  Landing (1:21)
13.  Good Luck (:04)

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music website >
writing website >
daily blog >
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Men We Love, Men We Hate
SAC writings from Douglass, McDonogh 35, and McMain high schools in New Orleans.

An anthology on the topic of men and relationships with men

Ways of Laughing
An Anthology of Young Black Voices
Photographed & Edited by
Kalamu ya Salaam

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Black Music in America—ca. mid-1970s

This tremendous educational documentary from the mid-1970's examines the priceless contributions of African-Americans to musical heritage, so closely tied to their unique history in the United States. From Africa upon slave ships captive immigrants brought with them melodies, cadences and rhythms that inarguably gave rise to music considered 'modern' today. 

Beginning with the genius Louis Armstrong's triumphant return to Ghana in the late 1950's, we trace the evolution of music from West Africa to the Virginia colonies of the early 1600's. Over the next 400 years, as this distinct root of American culture takes hold, incredible clips of filmed performances by Mahalia Jackson, Josephine Baker, Bessie Smith, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, and Duke Ellington illustrate the black experience.

Contemporary musicians such as Nina Simone, BB King, Cannonball Adderly (w/ Joe Zawinal - Mercy, Mercy, Mercy), and Sly & the Family Stone, along with a funky-ass filmed number from an as-yet-undocumented-on-the-internet off-Broadway production called "The Me Nobody Knew" punctuate the memory of the past, the spontaneity of the moment and determination for the future. 

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Marcus Garvey "Africa For The Africans"  /  Look For Me in The Whirlwind 

 Marcus Mosiah Garvey  / Marucs Garvey Speech

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Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance

By Houston A. Baker


Mr. Baker perceives the Harlem Renaissance as a crucial moment in a movement, predating the 1920s, when Afro-Americans embraced the task of self-determination and in so doing gave forth a distinctive form of expression that still echoes in a broad spectrum of 20th-century Afro-American arts. . . . . Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance may well become Afro-America's 'studying manual'.Tonya Bolden Davis,


Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance is a stunningly original book. opposing the view of earlier critics, such as Nathan Huggins, that the Harlem Renaissance was a failure. professor Baker redefines modernism and establishes a case for a distinctly Afro-American version of that movement. . . . Rejecting the limitations of a traditionalist approach to modernism, Baker proposes the concepts of 'mastery of form' and 'deformation of mastery' as more suitable strategies for the interpretation of Afro-American discourse.Faith Pullin, Times Higher Education Supplement

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#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—WashingtonPost

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don't know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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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

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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

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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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ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)



posted 10 June 2010




Home   Kalamu Table  Short Stories

Related files: Alabama   /  Clifford Brown: You Get Used to It  /  And Then They Laughed  /  Kalamu ya Salaam: A Primary Bibliography  Some New Light on the Garvey Movement   Garvey on George Schuyler  

African  Fundamentalism   Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance  The Omni-Americans   Albert Murray on Ralph Ellison & the Aesthetics of Writing