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for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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a sea of young faces looked up at me. waiting. to see what i was going to do. what i had to say.

and about five minutes later young folk were up dancing and shouting out in unison.



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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where in the world is kalamu

(October 13 -19)


it's early thursday morning, i'm sitting at gate b4 in the nashville airport on my way to madison, wisconsin. yesterday i returned to nashville from clemson, south carolina. got in about 4:30pm. had time to wash some clothes, finish up a rough cut on a video about students at the center's retreat in clemson this weekend and a rough cut of our first listen to the people video interview with adrinda kelly. adrina is a sac graduate from mcdonogh #35 high school in new orleans who went on to graduate from harvard and who has been working as an editor at mcgraw hill publishing in new york city. adrinda has not lived in new orleans for over seven years, but she found herself thrown into an identify check by katrina and its aftermath.

our second interview was done in clemson with maria hernandez, a 16-year-old, high school senior who was in the superdome and had ended up in tulsa, oklahoma. maria is afro-cuban. we have three hours of interview with over three hours of b-roll. my goal while on the road is to rough cut the maria interview down to a half hour, forty-five minutes at the most. but first i have to finish loading about four hours of tape onto an external hard drive. this is really going to be a working trip.

i'll spend three days in madison, then it's on to plymouth, new hampshire, which is one of only a handful of continental usa states that i have never visited. while in new hampshire, i will be joined by ashley jones, the lead cinematographer for listen to the people. on monday ashley and i will interview niyi osundare and his wife. they are from nigeria. niyi is an internationally recognized poet and a fine english teacher. he was working at the university of new orleans. his house is located a couple of blocks from the london avenue canal, which experienced a levee breach during katrina. niyi and his wife, akemi, were almost drowned and barely escaped with their lives. they lost everything and barely got out of their house alive. niyi now works at a small college in new hampshire. more on niyi later on.

after new hampshire, ashley and i go over to burlington, vermont. i do a gig at the university there set up by a person i've yet to meet, willi, and by fellow poet major jackson, whom i got to know when he did a short stint at xavier university three or four years ago. after burlington, ashley and i hook up with jim randels, who is the founder and co-director of students at the center. the three of us are meeting with folk at breadloaf up in middlebury, vermont. trying to establish collaborations with douglass high school.

yall know i'm still fuming about the destruction of public education in new orleans. anyway, this meeting is an attempt to do the hard work of re-establishing public education in a major american city where the school board has decided to go the charter school route. if this is what "they" mean by rebuilding new orleans, then it is clear they don't mean to include poor blacks who previously comprised the bulk of the student body.

after breadloaf, jim returns to clemson, ashley returns to jackson, mississippi, and i go on to chicago for a saturday (by then its 22 oct.) presentation at the gwen brooks conference. sunday i head back to nashville for a few days downtime before heading off to the next leg of the tour, which will take me to boston for a mini-residency at m.i.t. and then to clemson for a symposium on public education in new orleans and then to baltimore for a presentation at the pratt library on nov. 4th, and then to dallas, texas for the third eye conference on saturday, nov. 5th and then back into nashville for a brief rest.

so that's what i'm up to over the next two or three weeks... yeah, it's mad crazy busy. ya know, as exciting as it may sound, it's not all that exciting. old bands don't tour well. at these moments i think about duke ellington keeping a band together on the road and touring for over fifty years. it's incredible. that's an inspiration for me to keep pushing.

on another note: big ups to all my supporters, friends and comrades out there in the world. your donations and support in the immediate aftermath have made it possible for me to function at a higher level than before katrina. it's an amazing paradox. last night over dinner my wife, nia, and i talked a bit about our future. what next? where to? how to? no conclusions yet, just trying to feel our way through, trying to ascertain the possibilities and options. but in talking with nia, i came to a stronger appreciation of all of you out there who are helping me through this difficult period.

asante sana (thank you very much)... i promise to keep pushing, to stay productive, and to make the best possible use of the resources and support extended to me. i wouldn't wish our circumstances on anyone, but if anyone does find themselves in similar circumstances, i certainly hope that they have a circle of friends and well-wishers who embrace them as strongly as i have been embraced by all of you. thank you so very much, and now, let's get it on and keep it going!

a luta continua, kalamu (October 13)

p.s. if our paths cross, please holla at me. i sometimes look grumpy and rough, but i really would love to get and give a hug.

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somewhere in the world kalamu on the road--17 oct 2005


i'm in new hamsphire. it has been raining all night. when i flew into manchester yesterday morning, pools of standing water were clearly visible. there has been flooding in the southern part of the state, which is where ashley jones and i are headed in a couple of hours to interview nigerian poet/professor niyi osundare and his wife, akimi (sp?).

i'm in the middle of a ten day swing that started in madison, wisconsin and will end this coming saturday at the gwen brooks conference in chicago with intervening stops in burlington and middlebury, vermont.

in madison i was featured at the wisconsin book festival and the guest, along with jessica care moore-poole and her husband kenyatta at a series of spoken word events organized by youth speaks. madison was wonderful, exciting. youth speaks, led by willie ney, organizes high school youth using spoken word. their primary emphasis is on the stage and the cipher as sanctuary—a space and time when youth can freely express themselves  and fellowship with one another. there were teams from ann arbor, michigan, from chicago, from minneapolis/st. paul, and from madison. a lot of energy was in the air. and at 58, i felt right in my element because that's working with high school students is what i do on a day to day basis in new orleans--or what i did before katrina.

one little highlight: at the conclusion of a workshop i did on saturday, we walked/marched about a half mile to the next venue for a feature reading by jessica care moore-poole, who did a workshop prior to mine. there was a buzz in the air from the two workshops. and young folk being young folk, they were full of energy, feeding off the buzz and excited, within a block of leaving where we were, the beautiful cool but not uncomfortable autumn afternoon was filled with chants of: we gonna walk away and we ain't going back!

the chant reflected a commitment to a future, a future that participants wanted to make happen. a future where all people are respected and where racism and discrimination are not tolerated. block after block, we marched, we chanted. and then a sung refrain in counterpoint sprung up: you're all i need to get by. and another counterpoint: revolution. all three strands intermingling. eight or nine short blocks later we were in front of the orpheum theatre and two rappers alternated freestyling over the three chants... it was a moment. a good moment. a real good moment.

at the madison book festival i saw youth speaks national artistic director march bamuthi joseph give a stirring presentation just prior to isabel allende. didn't get to hear allende's presentation because we were wisked off to another youth speaks event that was going on at the same time in a different venue, at the second venue bamuthi was featured in a twenty minute piece that combined dance, drama and spoken word. he was very, very impressive. i followed bamuthi and did "words have meaning/but only in context."

i think i caught the youth by surprise, following bamuthi's athletic performance (my man was jumping and pirouetting and doing all kinds of amazing dance steps—and his physique was cut and sculpted). bamuthi had received a standing ovation and then i was introduced as "the elder" and was supposed to follow up on that. a sea of young faces looked up at me. waiting. to see what i was going to do. what i had to say. and about five minutes later young folk were up dancing and shouting out in unison. words. have meaning. but. only in. context. we had a ball. from there they did individual performances. the first one by emma isabel was the strongest—declaiming a young woman's right to live in a rape free environment and realizing the realization of that right would require that she fight for her right to live rape free.

another memorable moment was talking with isabel allende backstage for about five minutes. what did we talk about. the environment. that's where a major struggle is taking place worldwide. everywhere. global corporations against the people/against the environment. more on that later. ms. allende is a strong personality.

my feature presentation was reviewed at length:  read that review.

saturday night did a cameo at the slam finals. did "flying home" (a critique of "one nation under god"), some haiku, and ended up deputizing a crowd of 700 cosmic deputies. it was a blast. kenyatta's got it on video (both the slam finals cameo and my feature presentation). hopefully, at some point we'll get a chance to share that with folk.

stayed up all night. getting the new breath of life music website online and then doing e-drum and then trying to catch up on emails. left the hotel at 5am to catch an early flight over to new hampshire, arrived in manchester, drove up to plymouth about a hour and a half away, fifteen minutes after getting there climbed up on stage to give a presentation about katrina. after a brief intro, i broke it down to a circling of the chairs and we had a conversation with about twenty or so people, meeting and greeting and answering questions.

the format we used was i gave a very brief overview after introducing myself and then asked that we go around the circle, each person introducing themselves and asking whatever question they wanted to ask or making whatever statement they wanted to make. i emphasized that no question was off-limits or too stupid or silly to ask. and ended up being a wonderful exchange. as the circle ended, the last person to speak, who was sitting to my right, we had started off going to my left, turned out to be a nurse who specialized in trauma care and who had been to iraq, and who volunteered when katrina hit, just went down to new orleans on her own, worked for a minute at the airport and then was assigned to work at a shelter in baton rouge.

she spoke about the importance of connecting with people, about not just putting on plastic gloves, shoving needles and pushing pills and avoiding human contact, about learning people's names and looking them in the eye, and asking them what happened as she treated them. and, oh yeah, calling for a national health care plan. she just looked like a slender, middle-aged, ordinary white woman. from looking at her you had no idea of what she thought or what her experiences were. it was inspiring.

gotta push, back on the road to go interview niyi. time permitting, will report back on how the interview went. tomorrow we head out to burlington, vermont. a luta continua, kalamu

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kalamu--interview with niyi & kemi at franklin pierce college (October 18)


just a quick note as we prepare to leave new hampshire this morning on our way to burlington, vermont. the interview with niyi and his wife kemi was excellent. ashley and i spent the day with them at franklin pierce college in the southwestern part of new hampshire. it's a small, liberal arts college. was surprised to learn that there are four or five students there from new orleans. franklin pierce took them, offered full scholarships. people all across the country have responded to katrina with extreme generosity.

our interview lasted approximately two and a half hours. there are some very touching moments and a couple of great insights... we are working hard to get the listen to the people fully operational within the next month or so, so we can begin sharing excerpts from (if not the entire) interviews.

on one level it's draining (& expensive) pushing from place to place at this pace, but on the other hand it's exhilarating to make this contribution to documenting an important part of our people's history. thanks to all who are helping us along the way. every speaking engagement contributes to enabling us to complete this work. i am determine that this part of our history gets fully documented and distributed. more in a minute... on our way to burlington... kalamu

quick note from kalamu in burlington, vermont (october 19)

when we arrived at the airport ashley and i took a cab to the hotel where we are staying. the cab driver was from somalia. he said, i'm so glad to see you. he is living in burlington, after first landing in chicago. he liked chicago, but prefers burlington. it is so quiet here, i like that.

from the air, burlington is easily larger than anything we saw in new hampshire. i've been here before, but after new hampshire, now have something in the region to use as a comparison. this is also howard dean's state. on the way to the manchester airport in new hampshire to come to burlington i spoke with angel, who was driving us, and she felt that howard dean was a strong leader but probably too strong for most americans to vote for.

seeing black people in new hampshire, just from our short visit was like finding drinkable water in new orleans during katrina, i.e. a rarity.

by the way, burlington is further north than manchester, yet we had to fly south to new york city and then take another commuter plane northward to burlington. both legs of the trip were on prop planes, not jets. i'm sure there are--well, let me stop speculating, there may or there may not be commuter flights between the largest city in new hampshire, manchester, and the largest city in vermont, burlington, but then again, there might not be... which raises the question of trains as mass transit and why america doesn't invest in a rail system. rail is not only more economical for transport of people and goods, it's also much more environmentally friendly than literally millions of cars chocking up the atmosphere and using obscene amounts of petrol. the next time you're on a freeway, notice how many cars have one person in them...

anyway, when we checked into the hotel, the sister at the desk who waited on us was from rwanda, via belgium. ashley spent a semester abroad in belgium. they talked briefly about that. how did we know she was from rwanda. we didn't. i asked.

when i travel and i meet black folk on the road in out of the way places, i listen carefully and if i detect an even minor accent or difference in phrasing, i inquire. and we exchange greetings. invariably folk are happy to be acknowledged for who they are.

but there is another connection other than my native curiosity, being from new orleans at this moment i feel a kinship with "refugees" from around the world, and, of course, the feeling is intensified for brothers and sisters of african descent.

when ashley asked abdi, the cab driver, had he returned to somalia, he responded he could not go back because of the civil war. his family had been killed. he had fled to kenya and was now here with his wife, plus his children were elsewhere. the cab fell silent. for various, and somewhat similar reasons, none of us are returning home. our home has been destroyed...

i plan to be back in new orleans for a program on november 11th. my wife has been back twice (i was always on the road when she would take the weekend trips). my elder son went in last weekend to salvage what he could--he lived in the east, the part of new orleans that was under water. my younger son, who works for the army corps of engineers (he's a civil engineer, does computer mapping) is back in new orleans during the week and joins his family in atlanta on the weekends--no public schools are open. even if he found adequate housing for a family of six--which is not easy right now--he could not easily move back because there are no public schools open. jefferson, a neighboring parish has schools open but then he would have to deal with transportation, and so forth and so on, and... none of the reports i have been getting back are encouraging for the working class and poor people returning to the city any time soon...

you look at abdi or the sister behind the counter at the sheraton or ashley and i pulling our roller-bags behind us and we look like average african americans making it, working or obviously with some money (or we wouldn't be staying in a hotel). i'm sure people would mistake us for normal. american normal. we are not. we may look normal. but tell you what, inside the body of every normal looking person who shares similar circumstances, i.e. not being able for whatever reason to return home (or worse, not having a home to return to), inside each of us beats a heavy heart. we are not normal. my biggest fear at this moment is that my condition will become normal. that it will become normal for me to feel the way i feel. to live the way i live.

to quote one of my students. to quote my daughter-in-law. to quote all of us, to one degree or another: i want my life back...

meanwhile, we push on. more in a minute... a luta continua, kalamu

created 13 October 2005

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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The Persistence of the Color Line

Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency

By Randall Kennedy

Among the best things about The Persistence of the Color Line is watching Mr. Kennedy hash through the positions about Mr. Obama staked out by black commentators on the left and right, from Stanley Crouch and Cornel West to Juan Williams and Tavis Smiley. He can be pointed. Noting the way Mr. Smiley consistently “voiced skepticism regarding whether blacks should back Obama” . . .

The finest chapter in The Persistence of the Color Line is so resonant, and so personal, it could nearly be the basis for a book of its own. That chapter is titled “Reverend Wright and My Father: Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism.”  Recalling some of the criticisms of America’s past made by Mr. Obama’s former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with feeling about his own father, who put each of his three of his children through Princeton but who “never forgave American society for its racist mistreatment of him and those whom he most loved.”  His father distrusted the police, who had frequently called him “boy,” and rejected patriotism. Mr. Kennedy’s father “relished Muhammad Ali’s quip that the Vietcong had never called him ‘nigger.’ ” The author places his father, and Mr. Wright, in sympathetic historical light.

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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

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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 9 February 2012




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Related files: kalamu on the road  9 oct 2005    kalamu update 30 sept 2005   The Storyteller of New Orleans  by Elizabeth D.