Category: Books

New Year’s Day

 

 

January 1 is always the same

A bacchanal of sound and fury

Signifying something ineffable

Precisely timed though

Imprecisely valued

 

We pause to notice the flow

Of time’s endless river

Hoping to gain some measure

Of how far we’ve sailed

Or at least gratitude

 

To be journeying for

One new day

One new month

One new year

One last chance

 

 

 

A poem by Franklin Oliver

 

© Gayle Force Press 2015

 

 

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On the Death of Elie Wiesel

 

In considering the death of Elie Wiesel, I want to recognize the contributions Wiesel made to the world. He won the Nobel Prize for Peace, wrote and taught for decades and constantly stood on the side of the oppressed.

 

His most enduring work is the book Night. It’s a fascinating and horrifying look into the realities of life in Nazi death camps. Part of the power of the book is that its author survived the Holocaust and was here to tell us about it.

 

Night is not a straight history textbook and although it is intimately connected to Wiesel’s experience, now that Wiesel is dead, that connection is certain to falter and diminish. Probably sooner rather than later.

 

I think the process will be this. Night has already moved from being labeled an autobiography and is now often categorized as a memoir. Eventually it will move into the realm of historical fiction. (Did everything happen exactly? Didn’t he use some quotes? How could they be accurate?) And as the living memory of the Holocaust fades altogether, Night will become considered fiction. At some time in the not distant future, it will be forgotten as factual.

 

I'm confident this process will happen because anti-Semitism is alive and well. The same lies, misinterpretations and stereotypes that allowed much of Europe to embrace the Shoah in the 1940s continue to exist and receive sanction by important people all over the world.

 

(Ask for info if you don't believe me.)

 

That's why it is imperative that people of good will all over the world use the occasion of Elie Wiesel's death to celebrate his life, his accomplishments, his work and his story. To celebrate the continuing existence of the people of the book. And to ALWAYS challenge those who would obscure the truth.

 

Elie Wiesel has dramatically improved the world with his life. Let us commit ourselves to continuing to improve the world on the occasion of his death. Make sure the ripples he sent forth are amplified.

 

 

Forever.

 

 

 

© Gayle Force Press 2016

 

February 22 Booker T. Washington

 

This Black History Month I’m Grateful for Booker T.
Washington

 

 

“No race can prosper until it learns that there is as much
dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.”

 

-Booker T. Washington

 

 

Booker T. Washington is a complicated and towering figure in
the history of Black America. Although Washington was born a slave, he died as
the most prominent Black person in America. In the interim, he created a
previously unmatched legacy of accomplishment.

 

 

Washington is most closely associated with Tuskegee
Institute, the school he led from its inception until his death. Tuskegee is
located in the deep southern state of Alabama and continues to exist as an Historically
Black College (HBCU). Founded in the Jim Crow era, Tuskegee specialized in
skilled labor training (a fact that eventually drew the ire of people like WEB
DuBois
who wanted Blacks to explore the liberal arts) in an attempt to make
Blacks more economically valuable. The school eventually became one of America’s
pre-eminent Black colleges. Washington himself was a graduate of Hampton
Institute, another HBCU, where he was trained as a teacher. Washington’s career
served as a model for many Blacks as he transitioned from poverty to Tuskegee.

 

 

The most significant public moment of Washington’s career
was 1895’s Atlanta Address. In this speech, Washington seemed to accept Jim Crow
segregation policies and restrictions on voting as long as Blacks were granted
a measure of economic and educational opportunity. Washington was challenged by
DuBois and others who wanted to press for increased social justice but
Washington seemed convinced that Black safety was in constant jeopardy as seen
by the dramatic rise of the Ku Klux Klan and increase in lynchings after
Reconstruction.

 

 

Although Washington is frequently viewed as too accommodating
to White supremacists there is a strong line of argument that suggests his
public statements were an attempt to minimize the White fear of social change.  It is now known that Washington spent years secretly
raising and funneling money toward legal challenges of the Jim Crow regime.  

 

 

Washington became generally perceived as the leader of Black
America after his Atlanta speech and became connected with important leaders in
business and politics. Many of these relationships helped lead to the
foundation and perpetuation of schools for Black children throughout the
country. Eventually, there were more than 5 000 schools funded through Washington’s
network of donors. Tuskegee also received incredible financial gifts and
attention. Tuskegee’s successes led to a visit from President William McKinley.

 

 

After his 1901 autobiography Up From Slavery, Washington
became even more widely known. One of the fruits of this success was an
invitation to dinner from the new President, Theodore Roosevelt. Washington was
the first Black to be so honored. Roosevelt invoked the wrath of White America
by hosting Washington in the White House and both men received intense
criticism for this interaction.

 

 

The legacy of Booker T. Washington continues to be a
challenging one, filled with interpretive possibilities. If nothing else, it is
clear that Washington created an important institution and attempted to create
the best possible future conditions for his race and for his country.

 

 

Today I am grateful for Booker T. Washington. You should be
too.

 

 

FDO

 

 

February 17 Olaudah Equiano

 

This Black History Month I’m Grateful for Olaudah Equiano

 

 

“But is not the slave trade entirely a war with the heart of man? And
surely that which is begun by breaking down the barriers of virtue involves in
its continuance destruction to every principle, and buries all sentiments in
ruin!”

 

Olaudah Equiano

 

 

Equiano was a native Nigerian who was sold into slavery as a
child. His autobiography, The Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, is
often considered the founding document of the genre of slave narrative. Slaves
like Harriet Jacobs and Frederick Douglass followed in Equiano’s footsteps by
sharing their own stories.

 

 

Equaino’s harrowing tale of being kidnapped as a ten year
old helped introduce White Americans to some of the worst elements of the slave
trade. Reading this young man’s story of terror (he worried that any people who
stole other people were likely cannibals!) caused some to reject Northern
participation in the African slave trade.

 

 

Equiano’s storytelling was also an early indicator of the
intellectual ability of Blacks. When it became clear that Equiano wrote his own
story, some of the rationales for African enslavement were substantially
undercut. Although his fame in England far surpassed his limited recognition in
the United States, Equiano made important impacts that continue to resonate
into modern works like Alex Haley’s Roots.

 

 

Today I am grateful for Olaudah Equiano. You should be too.

 

 

FDO

 

 

February 16 Zora Neale Hurston

 

This Black History Month I’m Grateful for  Zora Neale Hurston

 

 

Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not
make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the
pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”

 

-Zora Neale Hurston

 

 

Hurston was the kind of multitalented thinker who helped
validate the name of the Harlem Renaissance. At various points in her life,
Hurston was best known for being a prominent anthropologist, highly acclaimed author
and a dedicated folklorist.

 

 

With her fictionalized books being rooted in specific
real-life experience, Hurston paved the way for contemporary writers like Alice
Walker, Jodi Picoult and Toni Morrison. Hurston’s ability to translate spoken
diction into written language helped introduce an authentic Southern Black
vernacular into traditional literary forms. The richness of Hurston’s language
seemed to move her beyond the dialect poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar and
Langston Hughes who also attempted to represent the spoken voices of the south.

 

 

Despite having once been out of print, Hurston is now
considered an artistic foremother for feminist and womanist writers, thanks to
Walker’s efforts at reclaiming Hurston’s legacy. In the past forty years,
Hurston has moved from being virtually forgotten to holding a prominent place
in the American literary canon.

 

 

Hurston’s novels are among the earliest
examples of Black women existing in the center of their own stories. Her female
characters may be buffeted by the harsh winds of racism, poverty and sexism by
their dignity remains intact.

 

 

Today, I am grateful for Zora Neale Hurston. You should be
too.

 

 

FDO

 

 

February 5 W. E. B. DuBois

 

 

This Black History Month I’m Grateful for W.E.B. DuBois

 

 

“The problem of the
twentieth century is the problem of the color line.”

 

-W.E.B. DuBois

 

 

This quote is from “The Souls of Black Folk”, one of the most
important articulations of the possibilities and struggles of Black people in
America. In it, DuBois coined the term “double consciousness”, creating a
concept that retains currency in Black communities a century later.  


W.E.B. DuBois provided us so many contributions that he’s
nearly impossible to characterize. He was a prolific author, renowned educator,
social activist, political philosopher and prominent anti-colonialist. In his
remarkably long life, DuBois served as a bridge between the worlds of Frederick
Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr.  


Early in his career, DuBois helped Blacks to shift away from
Booker T. Washington’s focus on schooling to learn skilled trades toward a
focus on academic knowledge based education.  His encouragement of artistic and cultural
accomplishment combined with his concept of a “Talented Tenth”* made DuBois a primary
inspiration for the Harlem Renaissance.


While it seems odd now, Dubois died as something of a social
outcast. This was largely because his politics were considered too radical by
mainstream Black Americans. By the early 1960s, he’d become convinced that Pan-Africanism
was the best way for American Blacks to respond to racial oppression in the U. S.
 In much of his writing and thinking,
DuBois anticipated and inspired the Black Power movement.  


DuBois is best known today as one of the founders of the
NAACP and Niagara Movement. As important as those developments have been, they
are only a small part of W.E.B. DuBois’ many legacies.

 

 

Today I am grateful for W.E.B. DuBois. You should be too.

 

 

FDO

 

 

*- the idea that it is the responsibility of the best and
brightest Blacks to work toward the improvement of their race, lifting others as they go

 

 

 

 

February 3 David Walker

 

This Black History Month I’m Grateful for David Walker

 


". . .they want us for their slaves, and think nothing
of murdering us. . ."


-David Walker

 

 

I know less about David Walker than any other person I’ll
write about this month. That’s in part because he died in 1830 and largely
because there are very few historical records concerning him. We know that he
was a free Black man who died at only 35 and under mysterious circumstances.
Even now, Walker’s contributions to the US are subtle and have generally been
condemned when noticed. That’s because David Walker was scary!

 

Walker’s main contribution to American life was his Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World.
The Appeal was the clearest possible
call for a violent revolt overthrowing slavery. It is not coincidental that Nat
Turner’s revolt followed soon after the Appeal nor is it coincidental that the
rights of free Blacks were limited in response to Walker.

 

While all these
individual elements were largely negative, Walker forced everyone in the
country to recognize the possibility that there would never be a strictly political
solution to slavery. Instead, while America crafted political agreements like
the Missouri Compromise that divided the country into slave and free regions,
some in the country were willing to force America toward change.

 

In some important senses, Walker’s descendants include
Turner, John Brown, Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. All these men
eventually concluded that only violence would end the scourge of slavery in
America. Unlike those others, however, Walker remains marginalized in American
history. His early, prophetic vision of America’s future process did not come
to pass exactly as he imagined. Fortunately, much of his vision of America’s possibility
did.

 

Today I am grateful for David Walker. You should be too.

 

 

FDO

 

 

Lessons of Andrew Johnson

 

I’m reading an interesting biography of Andrew Johnson by Annette Gordon-Reed. Her primary contention is that Johnson was a wonderfully talented man who rose far beyond the expectations of his birth. Johnson utterly failed to recognize that his ability to transcend his station came from the sheer accident of his Whiteness.

 

Johnson’s intense disdain for the aristocrats of the South was almost entirely about the status of poor Southern Whites. He never connected the condition of poor Whites and poor Blacks who were slaves then newly freed people. It’s sad that the poor of America’s 21st century still struggle so much to make cross-racial coalitions.

 

It's amazing that we can still learn so much from one of the 19th century's most dramatic failures.

 

 

FDO

 

Unpierced

 

…the words here deployed are equivalent to blanks in a loaded gun: they make the same sound but do not pierce us in any way.

 

Alyssa Pelish

 

 

I have begun feeling this way about my poetry. The only folks who seem pierced by my poems are the ones who hear them from my lips or, lacking proximity, in the voice their minds’ ears have labeled as mine. Either way, it’s about connection. Connection with me, not the words themselves. Knowing me and believing they understand the genesis of those poems allows the words to matter.

 

Maybe this just means my words are not the right ones. Perhaps it means that most of us only allow people to pierce us; we don’t allow ideas to do the same.

 

 

FDO

 

Bush’s Book Part 2

 

Where are the articles comparing Karl Rove’s book to George W. Bush’s book?

Since Rove seems to have fictionalized some of his account, does Bush correct the story? Are the trouble spots, uh, I mean, decision points, critical ones? Have we already decided that we just don’t care anymore? Never mind. I shouldn’t ask the question if I can’t accept the answer…

 

FDO