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IMG_1767There’s a reading tonight hosted by the Pan-African Writers Association (PAWA) but I was simply too tired to attend; I think jet lag is finally setting in so I opted to stay at the hotel, order room service, and work on my presentation on “configuring the past and present.” I can hear a preacher screaming “Hallelujah!” outside—there must be a church nearby. I’m watching Ghana TV and a women’s show, The Standpoint, just ended—the Oprah equivalent Dr. Gifty had guests and experts on to discuss life after your husband’s death. This has been a day of death, in a way—today’s program ended with an emotional tribute to Jayne Cortez, OWWA co-founder who passed suddenly last December. I only met Jayne twice but it was clear to me that she was a formidable woman. I was surprised to find myself shedding a few tears during the tribute; I watched Ama Ata Aidoo being helped to her feet—someone holding her cane, someone else holding the mic so her hands were free to hold the bowl—and then she spoke in Fante because she knew Jayne wouldn’t want a libation prayer to be said in English. She had to pause midway to pull a kerchief from her blouse and it was very moving to see this elder weeping for her lost friend. They met in the 1970s so that’s a friendship that lasted nearly fifty years, and I couldn’t help but think to myself, “That will be us someday.” I feel so blessed to be here with my close friends—my life has been enriched and enlarged because of these incredible black women who don’t have the anxiety issues that make me too risk-averse and too content to stay at home. Would I have come to Ghana without them? Maybe, but I’m grateful that they continue to “lift me as they climb.”

IMG_1753I don’t think I can do justice to the four panels I attended today. The first was on getting your work out into the world, and moderator Tara Betts (right, with Camille Dungy) drew rich insights from the three panelists. Latasha Diggs (below right, with Gabrielle Civil)reminded us that it’s not *always* about the book—having one doesn’t make you legitimate, doing the WORK and getting it out there (by yourself, if necessary) is what matters most along with building community. How can you ward off competition between you and your fellow writers? Hang with musicians and other artists working in different media. Kadija George Sesay, publisher of Sable magazine, urged self-publishers to register their publications and get an ISBN/ISSN; that means your work can be catalogued, archived, and then you can be certain that you’re IMG_1754leaving a record behind.

IMG_1759During the brief break Michelle Martin and I went down to the book vendors and did a bit of shopping. No more books! I think I’ve bought ten so far, mostly for my nieces and nephew, though I got a couple of novels for myself today. It’s so wonderful to have the authors sign their books, too. I had lunch with Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro and was thrilled to get an English translation of her novel, Carapace. She and her partner Zulma also wrote out a list of Afro-Latino women writers whose work is available in English. I want to add more Latina content to my Black Women in the Americas class. I was disturbed to learn that Yolanda and Zulma were harassed and threatened in the Osu market earlier this week, but it was wonderful to learn that their homeland of Puerto Rico recently passed legislation protecting the rights of LGBT people. Maybe the jetlag is making me emotional or maybe it’s just being in the presence of so many amazing women—I feel protective of everyone! Protective and powerless at the same time. I should switch gears and go work on my talk because these are the issues I want to address: is it enough to rewrite history, to write black women back into the historical record through art and/or scholarship, or must we MAKE history ourselves? I feel like history is made by women who are bolder than me, but maybe that’s just what I want to believe…

IMG_1745The afternoon panel on Africa, the diaspora, and children’s literature was great. One Ghanaian panelist talked about the need to ensure that girls on the continent have access to education—whether it’s in a traditional school, via cell phone, or on the radio. Another Nigerian panelist, Akachi Ezeigbo, talked about her decision to write girls as heroines in her books for young readers, and Michelle Martin captivated the audience with her slideshow and talk on hair politics in children’s picture books. Deborah Ahenkorah doubled as panelist and moderator and had a chance to share her innovative strategies for getting books into the hands of Ghanaian kids. “If we can send a man to Mars, we can ensure that Ghanaian children have culturally relevant, quality books!” Stay tuned for an interview with Deborah in the next day or two…

The fourth panel was intense; four writers talked about their activism and the ways they channel the ancestors in order to better serve their community around issues like environmental justice and domestic violence. You can learn more about the important, community-based projects coordinated by Angelique Nixon’s nonprofit Ayiti Resurrect. Moderator (and friend!) Ira Dworkin moderated and gave us all an update on the challenges facing women writers in Egypt. You can learn more about the threats facing Mona Prince here.

Ok, time to turn in. I haven’t actually left the hotel compound yet so I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s lineup, which includes a performance by Wura-Natasha Ogunji, Rosamond S. King, and Gabrielle Civil. We start here and then finish at the seashore…

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IMG_1716My good friend Gabrielle says an artist must learn to “cultivate selfishness.” This is particularly difficult for women of color artists, but my friends and I are actively working at making space in our lives for our art. I wrote 1500 words this weekend and spent part of today cutting sections of The Deep that no longer work with the constantly evolving narrative. I’ve completed eight chapters, which means I have just three to go (according to my outline, which also changes), and last night I had a vision of the novel’s conclusion—yes, I *saw* it and only hope that image stays in my mind *and* works with the unfolding chain of events. Creating time to write means leaving plenty of time in each day for dreaming, and that means I’ve had to learn to say NO even when part of me wants to say YES. Last November I was set to moderate a panel at the second A Is for Anansi conference at NYU when I received an invitation to conduct a writing workshop for Girls Write Now on the exact same day. I accepted the invitation and in the middle of the conference dashed up to 34th St. to talk about how I write historical fiction. Today I made it until 4pm before a chronic condition required me to lie down. I’m on a twelve-hour cycle it seems, because the same pain woke me up at 3:30am this morning. When the pain subsided, I decided to run some errands. The store was just two train stops away so I decided to walk home and I’d only gotten two blocks up Flatbush Avenue when a breathless young white woman popped in front of me and asked, “Are you an author?” I nodded and she told me that she and her mentee had attended my writing workshop at Girls Write Now last fall and they had used my definition of sankofa (“there is no shame in going back to retrieve something of value you’ve left behind”) as the opening line of their short story. That made my day and I told Samantha (the mentor) how much I respected her commitment to mentoring a young woman—I was there for just 45 minutes, but she’s doing the real heavy lifting, showing up week after week to help that young writer grow. I do worry that some of my NOs will catch up with me someday, and Scorpios do tend to have an “all or nothing” approach to life. I’ve given up cake for Lent, which is good, but that seems to have increased my consumption of caramels. I’m aiming for balance—I bought two bags of caramels at the store *and* two snack packs of fruit (with no sugar added). I took the train to the store but walked home. I had friends over for Downton Abbey‘s finale last night but managed to enjoy a sumptuous tea without breaking my cake fast. I pulled out of a faculty writing group but found a faculty mentor who shares my scholar/novelist identity. I’m withdrawing from an advocacy group but will continue to contribute until a replacement can be found. It’s all about balance and making sure that I continue to do for others even as I reserve dreamspace for myself…

 

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images “‘The current unbroken/ the circuits kept open’: Connecting Cultures and the Commonwealth”

The 16th Triennial ACLALS Conference, St. Lucia, West Indies, August 5 –9, 2013

In “Sometimes in the Middle of the Story,” a poem that revisits the perilous event of the Middle Passage, the eminent Walcott scholar, Edward Baugh, gives primacy to the connecting currents of the “ocean” as a central motif. While the sea is viewed as an archive of history as Nobel Laureate and St. Lucian poet, Derek Walcott has argued, Baugh mobilizes this metaphor to both recognize the traumatic beginning of the colonial encounter in the Caribbean and the rich “refashioning of futures” of cultural connections that the Middle Passage engendered. No doubt the colonial encounter of slavery and indentureship in the Caribbean could have led to cultural enclosures, but in Baugh’s view, “the paths of ocean” represent connecting currents between and beyond the cultures of Africa, Asia, Europe and the Indigenous Caribbean.  The sea, in particular, the Atlantic Ocean, was a site of treacherous travel and trade, yet that very sea is a source “connecting us still”.

Not all colonial encounters carry with them the violence of such ruptures; but whether we had traumatic or benign beginnings, we wonder what future consequently has been imagined for these and other Commonwealth lands? What global zones of power and influence haunt the seemingly ecumenical and liberal discourses of cultural exchange? What cultural connections and disconnections have emerged over time? Whose cultural currents are unbroken: whose cultural circuits have been kept open? What is the currency of indigenous language and linguistic legacies? In the commingling of cultures in the postcolonial circuits of exchange, what is the relationship between indigenous and outside cultures? Is the implicit comparative critical lens fostered in early postcolonial theory still viable? What do these connecting comparisons obscure or reveal?  What is the relationship between economic currencies and cultural circuits? What are the historical and critical currents that mark postcolonial and commonwealth studies at this time? What connections are there between different genders, sexualities and ecologies? How valuable is the more recent deployment of concepts of desire, intimacy and affect to postcolonial and Commonwealth studies? What useful connections can be made between such disciplinary paradigms as globalization, diaspora and cultural studies to Commonwealth and postcolonial literature and language studies? In general, how might literary and language studies help us to understand the value of cultural connections and disconnections throughout the Commonwealth?

The 16th Triennial ACLALS Conference invites scholars working in a variety of media (literature, linguistics, film, the visual and musical arts and popular culture) to present papers on the theme, “‘The current unbroken/ the circuits kept open’:  Connecting Cultures and the Commonwealth,” on the questions raised above, and on a range of topics including those listed below:

Historical and cultural currents in the Commonwealth

The common wealth of nations

Identity, currency and the practices of cultural consumption

Currents in language studies

The currency of cultures and/or Cultural Studies

Linguistic circuits and circuits of identity or cultural exchange

Cultural circuits and economic currency

The Currency of trade and travel

Circuits of violence/brokenness/trauma and cultural discourse

Discursive cultural circuits on gender and sexuality

Middle Passages and stories in the middle

The Black Atlantic and the Commonwealth

Connections/disconnections throughout the Commonwealth

Circling definitions: Commonwealth? Postcolonial? Postnational?

Waves of critical, cultural or linguistic practice

Short-circuiting genre: literary experimentation?

Island currents, global changes: conversations across the Commonwealth

Imagining Commonwealth futures

FINAL EXTENDED DEADLINE: Abstracts of maximum 300 words for papers of 20 minutes duration, and maximum 400 words for three-paper panels (with the names of the panelists) which engage with these and other relevant questions along with a short bio not exceeding 100 words should be submitted to ACLALSCONFERENCE2013@gmail.com by 28 February 2013. N.B. As of December 30, 2012, acceptance letters will be sent on a “first come, first served” basis and there are limited spaces.

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Third Conference on Women Writers of African Descent

Will Honor Jayne Cortez &
Feature Angela Davis, Sapphire, Evelyne Trouillot, and 50 others
this May in Accra, Ghana

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New York, NY – The Organization of Women Writers of Africa (OWWA) and New York University, in collaboration with the Mbaasem Foundation, will present Yari Yari Ntoaso: Continuing the Dialogue – An International Conference on Literature by Women of African Ancestry. This major conference will put writers, critics, and readers from across Africa, the USA, Europe, and the Caribbean in dialogue with each other in Accra, Ghana, May 16‐19, 2013.

The public can help support authors’ participation at

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/318981

OWWA is deeply saddened by the loss of its President and Co‐Founder, Jayne Cortez, the amazing poet, performer, and activist described by The New York Times as “one of the central figures of the Black Arts Movement.” Cortez was the driving force behind the first two Yari Yari conferences, and OWWA and NYU’s Institute of African‐American Affairs have committed to presenting the third Yari Yari as scheduled in Jayne’s honor.

The conference will consist of panels, readings, performances, and film screenings, and will be devoted to the study, evaluation, and celebration of the creativity and diversity of women writers of African descent. Fifteen years after OWWA’s first major conference, Yari Yari Ntoaso continues the dialogue of previous Yari Yari gatherings, which were the largest events of their kind, putting hundreds of women writers and scholars of African descent in dialogue with thousands of people. Confirmed participants come from more than a dozen countries, and include individuals who have been Poet Laureates and won a variety of other awards. (See the list of participants below.)
OWWA is actively fundraising to cover the costs of Yari Yari Ntoaso, and the Cortez/Edwards family encourages donations in Jayne’s name to OWWA. Donations are tax-deductible and can be made at http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/318981 or mailed to P.O. Box 652; Village Station; New York, NY 10014.
Yari Yari Ntoaso is FREE to everyone who wants to attend; attendees should register
online at http://www.owwainc.org where information about travel discounts and logistics are also available. Updates will be posted regularly on OWWA’s Indiegogo site and Facebook page.

OWWA Mission Statement:
The Organization of Women Writers of Africa, Inc (OWWA) was founded in 1991 by Jayne Cortez of the USA and Ama Ata Aidoo of Ghana for the purpose of establishing links between professional African women writers. OWWA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit literary organization concerned with the development and advancement of the literature of women writers from Africa and its Diaspora. OWWA is also a non‐ governmental organization associated with the United Nations Department of Public Information (UNDPI). Board members include Louise Meriwether, J.e. Franklin, Maya Angelou, Rosamond S. King, Margaret Busby, and Maryse Condé.
Confirmed Participants as of January 2013:
Anne Adams (USA) – Scholar of African literature
Ama Ata Aidoo (Ghana) – Fiction writer, OWWA CoFounder
Esther Armah (Ghana, UK, USA) – Journalist, playwright, radio host
Bibi Bakare (Nigeria) – Publisher
Samiya Bashir (Somalia/USA) – Poet
Sokhna Benga (Senegal) – Novelist, children’s author
Tara Betts (USA) – Poet
Carole Boyce Davies (Trinidad & Tobago/USA) – Scholar of African diaspora literatures &
cultures
Prof. Joanne Braxton (USA) – Scholar of AfricanAmerican
poetry
Margaret Busby (Ghana/UK) – Editor, publisher
Gabrielle Civil (Haiti/USA) – Performance artist, poet
Jayne Cortez (USA) – Poet, OWWA CoFounder
Angela Davis (USA) – Scholar of prison abolition
Phillippa Yaa de Villiers (South Africa) – Poet, performer
Latasha N. Diggs (USA) – Performer, poet
Camille Dungy (USA, SFSU) – Poet
Alison Duke (Canada) – Filmmaker
Ira Dworkin (US/Egypt) – Scholar of AfricanAmerican
literature
Zetta Elliott (Canada/USA) – Fiction writer, scholar of literature & publishing
Donette Francis (Jamaica/USA) – Scholar of Caribbean literature
Gladys M. Francis (Guadeloupe/USA) – Scholar of African & Caribbean literature
Kadija George (UK/Sierra Leone) – Publisher, poet
Wangui wa Goro (Kenya) – Translator, poet
Philo Ikonya (Kenya) – Author, journalist
Rashidah Ismaili (Benin/USA) – Poet
Tayari Jones (USA) – Novelist
Madhu Kaza (India/USA) – Fiction writer
Fatou Keita (Cote d’Ivoire) – Children’s author
Jason King (USA) – Scholar of music & popular culture
Rosamond S. King – Poet, Performance Artist, Yari Yari Ntoaso Conference Director
Kinna Likimani (Ghana) – Blogger
Fungai Machirori (Zimbabwe) – Blogger, activist
Michelle Martin (USA) – Scholar of children’s literature
Roshnie Moonsammy (South Africa) ‐ Arts administrator
Micere Mugo (Kenya) ‐ Playwright, poet, scholar of African literature & orature
Angelique Nixon (Bahamas) – Scholar of literature & tourism, poet
Wura‐Natasha Ogunji (Nigeria/USA) ‐ Performance artist
Nnedi Okorafor (Nigeria/USA) – Young adult novelist
Tess Onwueme (Nigeria)‐ Playwright
Hermine Pinson (USA) – Poet, scholar of AfricanAmerican
literature
Sapphire (USA) – Poet, novelist
Lola Shoneyin (Nigeria) – Novelist, poet
Eintou Springer (Trinidad & Tobago) – Poet, playwright
Cheryl Sterling (USA) – Scholar of African & diaspora literature
Veronique Tadjo (Cote d’Ivoire/SA) – Novelist
Coumba Touré – Author (Mali) – Children’s author
Evelyne Trouillot (Haiti) – Novelist
Wana Udobang (Nigeria) – Journalist, blogger, radio host
Gina Athena Ulysse (Haiti/USA) – Performance artist, scholar of Caribbean anthropology &
blogger
Crystal Williams (USA) – Poet
Christopher Winks (USA) – Scholar of Caribbean literature

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Today began with a migraine but ended with some great news—I found out that I’ve been accepted into CUNY’s Faculty Fellowship Publication Program, which will enable me to spend the spring semester focusing on The Hummingbird’s Tongue. Around noon today, when I could bear to sit at my sun-soaked desk, I scanned and printed out an illustration by Leonard Weisgard from The Little Island. Now, up on the wall, I’ve got an 1871 map of Nevis, an 1817 slave register, the logo for my future Black Dog Arts Center, my partially-completed family tree, and this image:

I spoke with my aunt in Nevis this morning and learned some good and bad news. The good news is that my citizenship application was approved—on my birthday! So I am now a citizen of Nevis. The bad news is that my aunt’s doctor found a mass during her colonoscopy and she has to have surgery next week. I hope to hear soon about a grant I applied for that would fund a trip to the Caribbean in January, but I’m thinking I should just go ahead and book the ticket now. Until I get there I’m sending love and prayers and positive vibes across the sea…

Are you wondering what to get that special someone for the holidays? Why not support Hands Across the Sea, a nonprofit that provides books for Caribbean children? Sonita Daniel, Director of the Nevis Library Service, let me know that Hands Across the Sea has selected Nevis to receive donated books this year so any amount you give will help to provide books for children in Nevisian schools and community centers. I’ve got a school visit early tomorrow morning and think I’ll put the honorarium towards the Steel Pan Band package, which includes a “Selection of 35 hardcover titles from well-regarded Caribbean niche publishers.” Other packages range from $10 – $2500.

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If you didn’t attend the 2012 A Is for Anansi conference at NYU last weekend, you missed a chanced to meet the future president of the United States. Sirah Sow (left) was one of three outstanding teens that wowed the audience on Saturday morning’s “If I Ruled the World” panel. She and her aunt also attended the post-conference brunch where a smaller group of participants shared our impressions and suggestions with the two organizers, Jaira Placide and Rashidah Ismaili. Most of us agreed that our main challenge this year was attendance. The panels were tighter, the speakers were diverse and engaging, but ultimately we were preaching to the choir—and a small choir at that. It’s possible that the lingering effects of Hurricane Sandy prevented some local people from attending, though I met one determined attendee who knew she was coming whether or not her power was restored. The US publishing industry is based in NYC, and white editors claim they’re desperate to find more black writers, yet how many of those editors took advantage of this FREE event? Did the storm prevent ALL of the major kidlit journals from covering the conference? This year four legends in the field were honored: Ashley Bryan, Pat Cummings (right, photographed by Sandra Payne), Eloise Greenfield, and William Loren Katz. Will the readers of Horn Book, School Library Journal, Booklist, and Publisher’s Weekly get to read about the honoring of these literary luminaries? They deserve to know about this one-of-a-kind conference yet I didn’t see any press in attendance. When my panel was over, Dr. Meena Khorana approached me and asked for a copy of my paper; Dr. Khorana is the editor of Sankofa: a Journal of African Children’s and Young Adult Literature and they plan to cover the conference—but again, that’s preaching to the choir. How do we engage those who most need to hear our message? The presidential election is over, thank goodness, and the conversation has since turned to the shifting demographics in the US and the obvious anxiety of many members of the dominant group. In class I try to explain to my students that dominance isn’t tied to numbers—under slavery, small groups of whites controlled much larger groups of blacks. So when racial minorities combine to become the statistical majority in this country, it doesn’t automatically follow that whites will lose their dominance. White supremacy is so entrenched in our institutions that it will take decades to root it out. I think what we’re going to see over the next few years is a circling of the wagons—anxious whites fearing the loss of power and privilege will retreat further into their all-white world and do whatever they can to “keep the horde at bay.” Meanwhile, people of color and their allies will have to keep moving forward, holding fast to the belief that “we shall overcome someday.” On this rainy morning I’m not feeling particularly optimistic. But it was definitely energizing to spend the weekend with so many talented writers and scholars and activists (above: Tony Medina, Nnedi Okorafor, Michelle Martin, & me). Ibi Zoboi took this great shot of our fantasy panel, and I’m hoping she will do a write-up of the entire conference on her blog (below: me, Vicky Smith, Nnedi, Stacy Whitman, and Ivan Velez, Jr.).

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The Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College
of City University of New York

Call for Papers
Honoring the Life and Work of Toni Cade Bambara
Sponsored by the National Black Writers Conference
2013 Biennial Symposium

Saturday, March 30, 2013
Founders Auditorium, Medgar Evers College
10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Toni Cade Bambara (1939-1995), author of such titles as Gorilla, My Love, The Salt Eaters, and Those Bones Are Not My Child, was a remarkable writer, social activist, educator, feminist, and filmmaker. The legacy of her contributions to the African-American literary canon has rightfully earned her the distinguished reputation of being not only a gifted story teller but also an amazing truth teller.
We invite proposals on one of the following topics:

(1)  The authenticity of portraits of Black women and children as agents for social and political change as they are represented in Bambara’s short stories and novels.
(2) The significance of Bambara’s work as a community advocate and how her travels abroad helped to define her role as an activist and a feminist.
(3)  The impact of Toni Cade Bambara’s works on the African-American and American literary canon

Interested faculty, independent researchers, and students should forward a one- to two-page proposal with literature references by January 15, 2013, E-mail to: writers@mec.cuny.edu.

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