Monthly Archives: May 2016

A Tale of Two Cities

It was the best of times. But also… the best of times?

Troy-Community-Emotions

The first bookstore I connected with on twitter when I announced the publication of Speculative Blackness was Red Emma’s in Baltimore. They’re a radical bookstore and cafe run as a worker’s cooperative: an actually existing alternative to capitalism. We had arranged the reading for May 12, 2016. May Day would have been ideal, right? I set up a reading at Giovanni’s Room for that date and another at Wooden Shoe Books & Records for later in the month… I figured I would have to travel from Philly to Baltimore after a day of teaching, and that would be an adventure. But I didn’t know at the time that my application for a Career Development Award would be successful and I’d be participating in a swank awards luncheon the same day!

13062091_1292117260818375_4819005502176552248_nI made dog-care plans for the evening, rescheduled some stuff for my afternoon class, and did what I do any time I have a huge, busy, lengthy day that requires me to be on the whole time, like when I’ve done campus visits for jobs: I told myself, “I am having the greatest day ever/This is the best day of my life.” It really works!

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Dog Blog: The Week of Writing

The short narrative below emerged out of a panel during the Week of Writing at Drexel University. This is one of my department’s signature events, and I’m always impressed (and slightly concerned) by how much my colleagues do to promote the many roles of writing in our lives.

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Brutus is much smaller, which always worries me because a small dog can’t get away from a medium-sized dog if they get into a fight. I’m an overprotective dog parent–not because my dog is fragile or can’t take care of himself but because the fact that he barks *all the time* embarrasses me. It occurs to me that this is just dog shaming; ask a three year old what sound a dog makes, and they’ll not only tell you they bark, they’ll actually make the sound a dog makes: woof woof. That’s what a dog says.

See n Say

The panel in question was organized around the topic Healing & Writing. The writing activity was devised by Dr. Ted Fallon, a psychoanalyst. Other panelists included poet Lisa DeVuono and my colleagues Ken Bingham and Jill Moses. At Dr. Fallon’s prompting, we took a few minutes to write about any salient moment from our everyday life — at first I was going to ask what salient meant, in case the students present felt the need to know — to demonstrate how our conscious and unconscious mind work together to organize our sensory impressions, thoughts, and memories, like a filmmaking endeavor, using the raw material of the “day residue” we encounter in our waking hours. We perform this in a purely imaginative way in dreams, but we also utilize these same processes in order to turn the moments we experience into memories, or narratives. This becomes especially evident when we write our experiences.

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So, I see my dog sniffing and being sniffed by this four- (five? fifteen?) week-old Yorkie puppy, and at first I’m worried, so I go stand near him to make sure nothing happens. As usual, my dog stands really close to me, because he’s saying “mine! This is my dad!” But the puppy is doing the same, probably because he’s very gregarious and hasn’t yet developed a fear of humans. He’s probably from a breeder. My dog is a rescue–he’s been through some things. Long story short, I hold my dog by his harness so that he can bark and growl all he wants but not bite, and then he and Brutus end up rolling around on my feet, and Banneker’s* loud, growling bark changes over to a high-pitched, friendly bark. They’re friends now.

All of this resonated pretty strongly with what I’ve been teaching my students over the past couple weeks in the Literary Theory course. I don’t subscribe to any singular school of thought when it comes to literary interpretation (as you can tell from my book), but I can appreciate how psychoanalysis provides a set of tools for understanding how we think, learn, feel, and communicate, individually and socially. Dreaming, and some forms of writing, ostensibly involve free association processes that connect the “day residue” with imagery derived from the unconscious. The dream-image (or the sign) mobilizes materials from the unconscious in forms that are allowed to move past the censoring bar of the superego by forming arbitrary, but potentially meaningful iterations of our deeply-felt desires and fantasies. In this case, writing about the small dog’s hyperactive attention to my dog and my dog’s surprisingly good behavior under the circumstances provided a way for me to associate the events of the morning with my anger at the neighbors who used to complain about my dog barking and my underlying wish to prove to them, and really anyone, that I am a good enough dog dad.

The Week of Writing and other programs and traditions emerging out of the Drexel Publishing Group have their online presence at 5027mac.org. They publish The Painted Bride Quarterly literary magazine and The 33rd, the anthology used in the first-year writing program at Drexel. I’ll have something in print in The 33rd in the coming months. Stay tuned.

*My dog is named Benjamin Banneker.

Because birds, that’s why

The notion of “hobbies” is sometimes odd, for academics lucky enough to parlay our interests into careers and for those of us who live in the intersection of multiple cultural/political spheres.Critique-of-Everyday-Life-Set-2d9a22256e9ee8494f9ea33ce73c21e0 The separation of life itself into “work” and “everyday life,” or the separation of everyday life from the life of the mind, is artificial. Or, so Lefebvre would have us believe. At any rate, birding is my hobby, so here are some birds.

Some of the coolest-looking birds are fairly common, like this Northern Cardinal.IMG_2978

It’s like the starter bird. It’s the state bird of many U.S. states, probably because a) birders would choose rare, difficult-to-identify, drab-looking, and/or impossible-to-find species and b) they’re not allowed to choose the Baltimore Oriole, which is Maryland’s state bird, the greatest state bird, and the only redeeming quality of the state qua The State. But when you’re in a city, you don’t often get to see your feathered neighbors. There are all manner of issues implicated in the availability of nature to people who have to work for a living–and according to Lefebvre, I can’t even tell if that group includes me–but among those issues are segregation, transit infrastructure, climate, and resource allocation. Some good sites to investigate these questions are here and here. And of course, the fact that I am birding while Black is never far from my mind. I could tell you stories. But instead, I’ll let the birds do the tweeting. In Brooklyn, my go-to urban birding sites are Marine Park (which I have now ruined by telling you about it) and Prospect Park (which is fine). Here are this weekend’s finds, from the latter…

IMG_2852 That’s a Red-tailed Hawk! This is the bird that makes the sound you think of when you think of the sound an eagle makes. It was being harassed by (or harassing) a much smaller bird. Birds are sort of dicks.

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A Wood Thrush! This is one of my favorites. Only around seasonally, but it has a beautiful voice. And spots! Like, that is a legit bird. You have to identify it. Robins and Bluebirds are thrushes, too. The other thrush that I see in Prospect Park is the Hermit Thrush, which has lighter spots–I’ve also seen a Veery, which has the faintest spots of these types. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Swainson’s Thrush, but they’re in the mix, too.

IMG_2920 This is a whole grip of American Goldfinch. I don’t know what the collective noun for Goldfinch is, so I decided it should be “a grip.” Or, a passel. I don’t care. There were a lot of them, like, a congregation. They on an ultralight beam.

IMG_2958 I’ve come around to recognizing that female Mallards are quite as beautiful as male Mallards, often more so. The patterning makes them seem more woodsy, which I appreciate a great deal. There are also many Wood Ducks in the park, but none this time around.

IMG_2992IMG_3001 This is a Northern Waterthrush.* Kind of a gem. It’s actually a wood warbler, but I have no idea why birders name things in the most confusing way possible. But it’s a nice find. It’s in the appropriate habitat, at least. *There’s another variety of Waterthrush (also a warbler because they are not thrushes at all, thanks birds) that overlaps with this one’s range, the Louisiana Waterthrush, but I’m fairly confident this is the former.

IMG_3042 Now we’re warbling! This is a Yellow-rumped Warbler. They’re everywhere this time of year. I saw a great number of them at my go-to urban birding spot in Philly, which will probably be the source of my next bird photobomb. These visitors are pretty adorable. But not nearly as adorable as…

IMG_3053 IMG_3065This guy! A Common Yellowthroat. These are two good shots from the several I managed to get by stalking him for 15 minutes or so, and obtaining dozens of very bad photos of him hopping away or going directly behind a branch. But you can see why–so impressive-looking. The mask is for fighting crime. Warblers are the vigilantes of the Passerine birds.

IMG_3088 IMG_3079This, however, is not a vigilante. It’s a Black-throated Green Warbler. It resembles the Townsend’s Warbler, which is its western counterpart–I met a couple (of humans) in the park confused by this issue, once. At least some parts of this bird’s name are accurate, and the other parts are at least plausible, birders use the terms “green” and “blue” loosely.

That’s all for this go-round. Except this parting shot!

Sign of the Times

Pleased to report that I just received a print copy of the April 28th edition of Times Higher Education, which features an interview with… me! Karen Shook, Books Editor, conducted this interview via email and asked really thoughtful questions about what I’ve read, what I’ve been reading, and what I will be reading.CameraZOOM-20160505141610568

I talked about the fantasy novels by Lloyd Alexander that I read when I was a kid and the José Eduardo Agualusa novel I’m teaching in my Global Black Lit class in a few weeks.

Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 3.07.43 PMShelf Life is a fortnightly column that features a scholar with new writing discussing their reading habits and experiences. I’m pretty sure this is the first fortnightly thing I’ve ever done.
Previous editions have featured (holy crap) David Harvey, Kaitlynn Mendes, and Deborah Rhode. Needless to say, it’s a tremendous honor to be included in this distinguished company, and I really appreciate the effort to spotlight younger, more diverse voices. If they start down that road with me, you can be pretty sure you’re next–yes, you! I’m fairly confident I’m right about this for someone who reads this blog, since I happen to know a good number of emerging scholars and authors of color. main

I’m especially happy to spread the word about Speculative Blackness across the pond… but also, peep the institutional affiliation: Drexel University. All press is good press, right?

Read the interview here.

Afrofuturism & Queer Futurity in effect

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Philadelphia is the home of some of the best creative minds making Afrofuturism a reality in the present. I had the honor of reading alongside Rasheedah Phillips, author and founder of The Afrofuturist Affair at Giovanni’s Room bookstore, now owned & operated by Philly AIDS Thrift.

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Speculative Blackness is the theory, and writings like Rasheedah’s are the practice. Above, here are a couple examples of the great work happening in the genre: Black Quantum Futurism and The Recurrence Plot (now I’ve got the complete set!)

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The stage was set for a great event, and we both brought our A game, I think. In addition to the store’s awesome staff and the people who came out to hear the reading and learn from/about our books, the occasion gave me the opportunity to meet one of my esteemed colleagues in person: digital humanist & historian Dr. Jessica Marie Johnson. I also met Marlon MacAllister, freshly-minted author of the new book Meld Resistance. He is starting a new thing called #Gardenpunk, which sounds awesome.

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One awesome thing about this reading was the opportunity to share sound as well as the word. Rasheeda shared sound from the soundtrack to her works created by Moor Mother Goddess.

We ended up having a wonderful Q&A involving our different theories of time, time/space collapse, and . I concluded my talk by playing a little-known record by the subject of Chapter 2 in Speculative Blackness: Nichelle Nichols.

There’s a place where love can’t find you

You’ll be safe from the warmth of June

They’ll never see the spark

That’s hidden in your heart

On the dark side of the moon

Next stop: Red Emma’s Bookstore & Cafe in Baltimore! RSVP, see you there.