SPOTLIGHT ON AFRICAN AMERICAN AUTHOR DONALD GOINES

DONALD GOINESAfrican American author, Donald Goines was born in Detroit, Michigan on December 15, 1936. He came from a middle-class background, where his parents ran a laundry business. According to stories told to him by his mother—Myrtle Goines—the family was descended from a sexual encounter between Jefferson Davis and a slave. At age 15, Goines lied about his age in order to join the Air Force, where he fought in the Korean War. During his service, Goines developed a heroin addiction which he continued after his being honorably discharged from the military during the mid-1950’s. In order to support his addiction Goines committed multiple crimes, including pimping and theft, and was sent to prison several times. While serving time in Michigan’s Jackson Penitentiary, he began writing. He initially attempted to write westerns, but decided to write urban fiction after reading Iceberg Slim’s autobiography “Pimp: The Story of My Life”.

Goines continued to write novels at a fast-tracked pace to support his drug addictions, with some books taking only a month to complete. His sister Joan Goines Coney later stated that Goines wrote at such an accelerated pace in order to avoid committing more crimes and based many of the characters in his books on people he knew in real life.
In 1974 Goines published Crime Partners, the first book in the Kenyatta series under the pseudonym, “Al C. Clark”. Holloway House’s chief executive Bentley Morriss requested that Goines publish the book under a pseudonym in order to avoid having the sales of Goines’ work suffer due to too many books releasing at once. The book dealt with an anti-hero character named after Jomo Kenyatta that ran a Black Panther-esque organization to clear the ghetto of crime. In his book The Low Road, Eddie B. Allen remarked that the series was a departure from some of Goines’ other works, with the character of Kenyatta symbolizing a sense of liberation for Goines.

“Inner City Hoodlum”, which Goines had finished before his death, was published posthumously in 1975. The story, set in Los Angeles, was about “smack”, money and murder.
On October 21, 1974 Goines and his common-law wife were discovered dead in their Detroit apartment. The police had received an anonymous phone call earlier that evening and responded, discovering Goines in the living room of the apartment and his common-law wife Shirley Sailor’s body in the kitchen. Both Goines and Sailor had sustained multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and head. The identity of the killer or killers is unknown, as is the reason behind the murders. Popular theories involve Goines being murdered due to his basing several of his characters on real life criminals as well as the theory that Goines was killed due to his being in debt over drugs.
Goines was later buried with his mother placing several of his books in his coffin.

DOPEFIEND
PERSONAL NOTE:

The highest selling genre among African Americans is Urban Fiction or Urban Lit. As a fan of Goines’ work, he was the first author in this genre I read. His work(s) have helped to shape and influence many of today’s Urban Fiction authors. It is my shared opinion that Donald Goines’ is the quintessential “Father” of Urban Fiction/Urban Lit.

 

BIBLIIOGRAPHY

Kenyatta series
• Crime Partners (1974) [as Al C. Clark]
• Death List (1974) [as Al C. Clark]
• Kenyatta’s Escape (1974) [as Al C. Clark]
• Kenyatta’s Last Hit (1975) [as Al C. Clark]

STANDALONE NOVELS

Dopefiend (1971)
Whoreson (1972)
Black Gangster (1972)
Street Players (1973)
White Man’s Justice, Black Man’s Grief (1973)
Black Girl Lost (1974)
Eldorado Red (1974)
Swamp Man (1974)
Never Die Alone (1974)
Cry Revenge (1974) [as Al C. Clark]
Daddy Cool (1974)
Inner City Hoodlum (1975)

MUSICAL INFLUENCES
Goines’ writing has had an impact upon several people, with several rappers inserting mentions of Goines and his writing into their lyrics. In his 1996 song “Tradin’ War Stories”, rapper 2Pac writes “Machiavelli was my tutor, Donald Goines my father figure”. Ludacris mentions Goines in his 2006 song “Eyebrows Down”. AZ compares himself to Donald Goines’ work in “Rather Unique,” with the line, “Your mind’s boggled but I’m as deep as Donald Goines’ novels.” Nas also named the song “Black Girl Lost” on his sophomore album It Was Written after the book by Goines. Goines’ books are also utilized in several prison literacy programs and his novel “Dopefiend” has been taught in a Rutgers University class.

FILMS
Some of Goines’ works have been adapted into film. His book “Crime Partners” was turned into a 2001 film starring Ice-T, Snoop Dogg, and Ja Rule, and in 2004 his book “Never Die Alone” was also released as a film starring DMX.

GRAPHIC NOVEL
In 2006, a graphic novel adaptation of the book “Daddy Cool” was released by Holloway House.

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SPOTLIGHT ON AFRICAN AMERICAN AUTHOR CHESTER HIMES

CHESTER HIMESChester Bomar Himes was an African American writer born in Jefferson City, MS, on July 29, 1909. His parents were to Joseph Sandy Himes Sr. and Estelle Bomar Himes; his father was a peripatetic black college professor of industrial trades and his mother was a teacher at Scotia Seminary prior to marriage.

At age twelve, Himes’ father began teaching at Branch Normal College (now the University of Arkansas). He and his brother Joseph Jr., were made to sit out a gunpowder demonstration by their mother as punishment for bad behavior. The boys decided to conduct the experiment without adult supervision, which resulted in an explosion that blinded Joseph Jr. The aftermath of this tragedy had a profound effect on how Himes viewed race relations later in life. When Joseph Jr. was rushed to the nearest hospital, he was denied treatment due to his race.

“That one moment in my life hurt me as much as all the others put together,” Himes wrote in The Quality of Hurt:
“I loved my brother. I had never been separated from him and that moment was shocking, shattering, and terrifying….We pulled into the emergency entrance of a white people’s hospital. White clad doctors and attendants appeared. I remember sitting in the back seat with Joe watching the pantomime being enacted in the car’s bright lights. A white man was refusing; my father was pleading. Dejectedly my father turned away; he was crying like a baby. My mother was fumbling in her handbag for a handkerchief; I hoped it was for a pistol.”

A short time later, the family settled in Cleveland, Ohio. His parents’ marriage was an unhappy one which eventually ended in divorce.
Himes attended East High School while in Cleveland. Later, during his time as a freshman at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, he was expelled for playing a prank. He was arrested in 1928 for armed robbery and sent to Ohio Penitentiary. He was sentenced to hard labor for 20 to 25 years.
While in prison, Himes wrote a number of short stories, which were eventually published in national magazines. Later, he would state that his prison writings and publications were a means of earning respect from guards and fellow inmates. It also helped him to avoid personal violence.

Himes’ first stories appeared The Bronzeman magazine starting in 1931. His work later appeared in Esquire magazine in 1934. Of particular note was a story titled, “To What Red Hell”. His debut novel “Cast the First Stone”, dealt with the catastrophic 1930 prison fire Himes witnessed while serving time at Ohio Penitentiary. It was published almost ten years after it was written, most likely due to Himes’ unusually candid treatment—for that time period—of a homosexual relationship. Originally written in the third person, it was rewritten in the first person in a more “hard-boiled” style (which Himes would eventually become famous for) and posthumously republished unabridged in 1998 as “Yesterday Will Make You Cry”.

Himes was transferred to London Prison Farm that same year and in April 1936, was released on parole into his mother’s custody. He continued to write following his prison release, while working part-time jobs. It was during this period that he came into contact with author, Langston Hughes. Hughes facilitated Himes’s contacts with the world of literature and publishing.

In 1936 Himes married Jean Johnson (who he later divorced), Four years later, he moved to Los Angeles, where he worked as a screenwriter and also produced two novels, “If He Hollers Let Him Go” which contains many autobiographical elements — is about a black shipyard worker in Los Angeles during World War II struggling against racism, as well as his own violent reactions to racism. His next novel, “The Lonely Crusade” that charted the experiences of the wave of blacks who were part of the Great Migration. Himes’s novels encompassed many genres including the crime novel/mystery and political polemics, exploring racism in the United States. His work centered on African Americans in general, especially in two books that are concerned with labor relations and African-American workplace issues. He also provided an analysis of the Zoot Suit Riots for The Crisis, the magazine of the NAACP.

Hines screenwriting career came to an abrupt halt Jack Warner of Warner Brothers heard about him and said, “I don’t want no niggers on this lot.”
Himes later wrote in his autobiography:
“Up to the age of thirty-one I had been hurt emotionally, spiritually and physically as much as thirty-one years can bear. I had lived in the South, I had fallen down an elevator shaft, I had been kicked out of college, I had served seven and one half years in prison, I had survived the humiliating last five years of Depression in Cleveland; and still I was entire, complete, functional; my mind was sharp, my reflexes were good, and I was not bitter. But under the mental corrosion of race prejudice in Los Angeles I became bitter and saturated with hate.”

By the 1950s Himes had decided to leave the United States and settled permanently in France. Himes like the country in part due to his popularity in literary circles. While in Paris, Himes’ was the contemporary of the political cartoonist Oliver Harrington and fellow expatriate writers Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and William Gardner Smith.

Himes was most famous for a series of Harlem Detective novels featuring Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones, New York City police detectives in Harlem. The novels feature a mordant emotional timbre and a fatalistic approach to street situations. Funeral homes are often part of the story, and funeral director, H. Exodus Clay is a recurring character in these books.
The titles of the series include “A Rage in Harlem, The Real Cool Killers, The Crazy Kill, All Shot Up, The Big Gold Dream, The Heat’s On, Cotton Comes to Harlem, and Blind Man With A Pistol”; all written between 1957-1969.

COTTON COMES TO HARLEM“Cotton Comes to Harlem”, was made into a movie in 1970, which was set in that time period, rather than the earlier period of the original book. A sequel, “Come Back, Charleston Blue”, was released in 1972, and “For Love of Imabelle” was made into a film under the title “A Rage in Harlem”, in 1991.

It was in Paris in the late 1950s that Chester met his second wife Lesley Himes, née Packard, when she was assigned to interview him. She worked as a journalist for the Herald Tribune, where she wrote her own fashion column, “Monica”. He described Lesley as “Irish-English with blue-gray eyes and very good looking”. In her, he found someone who didn’t judge him for his race and he also admired her courage and resilience.

In 1958 he won France’s Grand Prix de Littérature Policière and a year later, Himes suffered a stroke, which led to Lesley quitting her job so that she could nurse him back to health. She cared for him for the rest of his life, and worked with him as his informal editor and proofreader. After a long engagement, they were married in 1978.

Lesley and Chester faced adversities as a mixed race couple living in that time period however, they were resilient and prevailed. People close to the author recalled his life with Lesley as one filled with unparalleled passion and great humor. Their circle of political colleagues and creative friends included; Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Malcolm X, Carl Van Vechten, Pablo Picasso, Jean Miotte, Ollie Harrington, Nikki Giovanni and Ishmael Reed. Their Bohemian life in Paris eventually led them to the South of France and finally on to Spain, where they remained until Chester’s death in 1984.

Some within the publishing industry regard Chester Himes as the literary equal of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Ishmael Reed has said, “[Himes] taught me the difference between a black detective and Sherlock Holmes” and it would be more than 30 years until another Black mystery writer, Walter Mosley and his Easy Rawlins and Mouse series, had even a similar effect.

In 1996, his widow Lesley Himes went to New York to work with Ed Margolies on the first biographical treatment of Himes’s life, entitled The Several Lives of Chester Himes, by long-time Himes scholars Edward Margolies and Michel Fabre, published in 1997 by University Press of Mississippi. Later, novelist and Himes scholar James Sallis published a more deeply detailed biography of Himes called “Chester Himes: A Life (2000)”.

A detailed examination of Himes’s writing and writings about him can be found in “Chester Himes: An Annotated Primary and Secondary Bibliography” compiled by Michel Fabre, Robert E. Skinner, and Lester Sullivan (Greenwood Press, 1992).

Himes was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.

In May 2011, Penguin Modern Classics in London republished five of Himes’ detective novels from the Harlem Cycle.

On a personal note:

Chester Himes, along with Walter Moseley and Robert B. Parker were HUGE influences on my writing in terms of both content and style. I owe these men a great debt and I honestly don’t think that I’d be a writer today, had I not experienced reading their work(s).

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

If He Hollers Let Him Go, (1945)
Lonely Crusade, (1947)
Cast the First Stone, (1952)
The Third Generation, (1954)
The End of a Primitive, (1955)
For Love of Imabelle, alternate titles The Five-Cornered Square, A Rage in Harlem, (1957)
The Real Cool Killers, (1959)
The Crazy Kill, (1959)

AUTOBIOGRAPHIES:

The Quality of Hurt (1973)
My Life of Absurdity (1976)

 

 

BLACK HISTORY MONTH BOOK REVIEW #3

warmth_other_suns_211This is the last book review in conjunction with Black History Month and even though Black History Month ended yesterday, I am honored to review Isabel Wilkerson’s “The Warmth of Other Suns.”

In keeping with the common thread throughout my February blog posts, I found it poignant that this book dealt with the Great Migration. Wilkerson explores the 55 year journey of African Americans from 1915 to 1970, as they abandoned the cotton fields of the Jim Crow south in search of greater opportunity to the North. It was this movement which led to the birth of the Harlem Renaissance, the founding of Bronzeville in Chicago aka “The Black Metropolis.”
“The Warmth of Other Suns” is Isabel Wilkerson’s first book. For those familiar with my previous blog posts, The Harlem Renaissance and black writers in general, the book’s title is borrowed from the Richard Wright’s work. Wright himself fled Jim Crow Mississippi in the 1920s seeking greater opportunities which would never have been realized had he stayed in the south.
The book was based on more than a thousand interviews, but written in a captivating novel-like style that made me find it hard to think of as non-fiction while I read it. At 622 pages, it’s not a quick read, but certainly well worth the time I invested in reading it. Given the climate for non-fiction works, Wilkerson’s book is Blue Rose rising from a crack in the concrete. The book earned her the respect and recognition of scholars and an interview with Oprah, which lends to its credibility and merit.
Wilkerson gives us another outlook on exactly what The Great Migration meant and its significance to US History. This often ignored facet of American History takes a backseat to the arrival of European immigrants as they made their way to the US via Ellis Island, but is also vitally important. However, in today’s society, those black migrants who braved the journey north are viewed as a more modern version of those same Europeans who flooded America’s shores in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Wilkerson states in her work that what was a common trait amongst them was their resolve and heroic determination to deal with what life gave them in hopes of a better future. It was then no surprise that according to census data, blacks who left the South were far more educated than those who stayed. This helped to create and strengthen the black Middle Class as black migrants had higher employment rates, than their Northern-born cousins, and more stable families, indicated by lower divorce rates and fewer children born outside of marriage.
Wilkerson says, the well-known “migrant advantage” has worked historically for Americans of all colors.
The book gives the stories of real people who lived through this era and gives the reader a sense of kinship to them. I felt as though I were a part of the history as it unfolded. We follow the journey of three blacks from the south, the story of each unfolding in a different decade of the movement and each detailing a different destination. This storytelling style allowed her to explore the migration during its span of 60 years and the various destinations of blacks after their departure of the south.
Ms. Wilkerson is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist—for her work at The New York Times in 1994—who currently teaches journalism classes at Boston University. With this book she has written a well-researched and authentic account of a neglected piece of our culture. The Great Migration is not only an important component in our history as a nation and especially blacks, but also an important part of Wilkerson’s own backstory as her parents left the South to settle in Washington D.C. which had its own impact on her life.
I highly recommend for any off my followers to read this book as it is an investment in our personal banks of historical knowledge and something worthy of passing along to generations to come.
COMING SOON!!!
Review of David Russell’s “Inanimates”.

A RECENT HISTORY OF BLACKS IN JOURNALISM

Be sure to check out NABJ and support black media!

Be sure to check out NABJ and support black media!

This is the final Black History Month blog post for 2013! The weekly posts were so well received that this is likely to become an annual occurrence, so thank you to all of you who liked the posts!I will be looking at blacks in journalism.

Black journalists were largely only hired by black presses, which were small and only serviced the black community. Mainstream presses were no different than any other industry and continuously refused to hire blacks.

When the Civil Rights Movement gained national interest during the 1960s, as a large number of American inner cities became the sites of urban riots, black journalists who were employed by black presses were finally able to gain employment with the mainstream media.

The newsrooms of mainstream news sources were nearly all white back in 1968. The National Commission on Civil Disorders warned that America was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white, separate and unequal.” The bias was reflected with impunity in the mainstream news media. At this time, blacks held less than 1% of newsroom jobs across the country.

Unfortunately, the black presses suffered from the integration it had long championed and as a result, many black presses ceased publication altogether. The once prosperous major black presses simply couldn’t compete with the extensive coverage provided by mainstream television networks and major newspapers, as well as the higher salaries they provided their newly hired black journalists.

According to a Huffington Post article, “The Chicago Defender’s weekly circulation fell from a high of 257,000 in 1945 to 33,000 by 1970. The Pittsburgh Courier shrunk in the same period from a high of 202,000 to 20,000.”

These developments as well as the time frame they occurred, tie into the Great Migration which has been a prevalent theme in the Black History Month posts I’ve written this year. However, in this instance we find that while looking for better opportunities, many black journalists inadvertently caused black news sources to suffer and virtually die. The impact this had on the black community was devastating not only because it eliminated a large number of jobs, but also because we as a community were no longer in a position to report on those things which affect our day to day lives and to accurately relay facts without the stereotypical slant that mainstream media is infamous for.

In recent years, there appears to be a reverse migration of sorts which has many black journalists returning to their roots as it was. A good portion of these moves were facilitated by layoffs and buyouts within the mainstream media outlets, but others were fueled by the black journalists own disillusionment with mainstream media and/or their desire to focus on issues which have a greater impact upon the black community.

Regardless of the reasons, black journalists are turning the tide and switching paths from black presses to the mainstream media to plot their course back home. Many mainstream outlets are even creating black oriented ventures like NBC’s The Griot, which I personally subscribe to and find quite informative as well as Huffington Post’s Black Voices.

However, on the flip side of things, this reverse migration has garnered attention and new talent to black-oriented media, but also has a negative impact on the diversification of mainstream media.  I suppose the laws of physics are hard at work here, in that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

What started as a trickle has since turned into a flood of movement.

According to an article in the Huffington Post titled, “Black Journalists Quitting Mainstream Outlets, Returning To Black Press, “Sylvester Monroe resigned in 2006 as Sunday national editor at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and, two months later, joined the staff of Ebony magazine. In 2008 the renowned byline of Jack E. White, the first black columnist at Time magazine, began to regularly appear on The Root, where Lynette Clemetson, formerly of The New York Times and Newsweek, was managing editor. By March of this year when Constance C. R. White, once an influential New York Times fashion writer, was named editor in chief of Essence, the trickle had swelled into a river of prominent African-American journalists streaming to black-oriented media. The names of veterans like Lynette Holloway and E. R. Shipp, formerly of The New York Times; Teresa Wiltz, Natalie Hopkinson, and Michael Cottman, all of The Washington Post; Joel Dreyfuss, formerly of Fortune and PC Magazine, and Amy DuBois Barnett of Harper’s Bazaar and Teen People, are turning up in places like Ebony, Jet, and Essence; at BlackAmericaWeb.com, a division of Reach Media, Inc.; and at The Root, the online site spearheaded by Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates Jr. and published by The Washington Post Company.”

It is held that at one time blacks come into journalism driven by a passion to accurately report on issues in their communities, which explains the return to black press.  They could perhaps use the skills and experience they had gained while employed with mainstream media and apply it to black oriented media and improve its deteriorated reputation and standing.

As Black History Month 2013 comes to an end, I encourage everyone to take the time to expand their minds and broaden their horizons with a look into news sources outside of the mainstream, so that you may form a more informed opinion on things that occur within our country and around the world. Support black news sources and the men and women who work within the industry, but as always take whatever you receive with a grain of salt and an open mind.

THE HISTORY OF BLACK WRITERS IN POETRY, LITERARY FICTION & ROMANCE (PART TWO)

BLACK WRITERS IN ROMANCE & LITERARY FICTIONIn this week’s blog post, I’m celebrating the rich history and influential accomplishments of black writers of poetry, literary fiction and romance.

This is Part Two of a two-part post.

Black writers continued to flourish even beyond The Harlem Renaissance and on into the Civil Right Era.

During a time known as The Great Migration—which began after World War I and continued through 1970—many blacks moved from the South and headed North in search of greater opportunities and equal treatment.

Many ventured to large northern cities like Chicago and Northern Indiana, where they found work in factories and other industries.

The migration from the south gave rise to a new sense of independence within the Black community and contributed to the growth of black urban culture developed during the Harlem Renaissance. It also sparked the growing Civil Rights movement which had a powerful impact upon the voice of that era, ranging from the 1940’s through the 1960’s.

The activists of the Civil Rights movement in their efforts gave the writers of the time a platform in which to address issues such as ending segregation, racism and to develop a new sense of Black Nationalism.

A profound writer of this period was James Baldwin, whose work addressed issues of race and sexuality. He is perhaps best known for his novel Go Tell It on the Mountain. He wrote stories and essays which were personal reflections that examined the nature of being both black and homosexual when neither was accepted in American society and culture.

Baldwin wrote nearly 20 books, which included Another Country and The Fire Next Time.

Another writer of that era was Richard Wright. He and Baldwin were friends and he called Wright “the greatest Black writer in the world for me”. Wright is perhaps best known for his novel Native Son (1940), which told the story of Bigger Thomas, a Black man who struggled for acceptance in Chicago.

Baldwin was so impressed by the novel that he titled a collection of his own essays Notes of a Native Son, in reference to Wright’s novel. However, their friendship fell apart due to one of the book’s essays, “Everybody’s Protest Novel,” which criticized Native Son for lacking credible characters and psychological complexity. Among Wright’s other books are the autobiographical novel Black Boy (1945), The Outsider (1953), and White Man, Listen! (1957).

Another novelist of this period was Ralph Ellison, best known for his novel Invisible Man (1952), which won the National Book Award in 1953. Even though he did not complete another novel during his lifetime, Invisible Man was so influential that it secured his place in literary history. After Ellison’s death in 1994, a second novel, Juneteenth (1999), was pieced together from the 2,000-plus pages he had written over 40 years. A fuller version of the manuscript will be published as Three Days Before the Shooting (2008). Jones, Edward, The Known World, 2003 Carter Stephen, New England White 2007 Wright W.D. Crisis of the Black Intellectual, 2007.

During the Civil Right Era, there was a rise in the number of black female poets, one of the most notable being Gwendolyn Brooks, who became the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize. It was awarded to her for her 1949 book of poetry, Annie Allen. Along with Brooks, other female poets who reached a level of notoriety during the 1950s and ’60s are Nikki Giovanni and Sonia Sanchez.

Also during this time, a number of playwrights came to attain national attention, most notably Lorraine Hansberry, whose famous play A Raisin in the Sun focuses on a poor Black Chicago family living and went on to win the 1959 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award.

Another noteworthy playwright who gained attention was Amiri Baraka. She was known for writing controversial off-Broadway plays. In more recent years, Baraka has become known for his poetry and music criticism.

A number of important books and essays dealing with human rights were penned by the Civil Rights leaders. Martin Luther King, Jr‘s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is a leading example.

In the 1970s, black literature began to reach the mainstream as works by black writers continually reached best-selling and award-winning status. This was also during this time that the work of African-American writers finally came to be recognized by academia as a legitimate genre of American literature.

As part of the larger Black Arts Movement, which was inspired by the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements, African American literature began to be defined and analyzed. A number of scholars and writers are generally credited with helping to promote and define African-American literature as a genre during this time period, including fiction writers Toni Morrison and Alice Walker and poet James Emanuel to name a few.

Other black writers of note are:

Toni Cade Bambara

Gayl Jones

Alex Haley

Rasheed Clark

Ishmael Reed

Jamaica Kincaid

Randall Kenan

John Edgar Wideman

Maya Angelou

Rita Dove

Cyrus Cassells

Natasha Trethewey

Thylias Moss

Ntozake Shange

Ed Bullins

Suzan-Lori Parks

August Wilson

Edward P. Jones

David Anthony Durham

Tayari Jones

Kalisha Buckhanon

Mat Johnson

ZZ Packer

Colson Whitehead

Chester Himes

Walter Mosley

Hugh Holton

Ernest J. Gaines

Samuel R. Delany

Octavia E. Butler

Steven Barnes

Tananarive Due

Robert Fleming

Brandon Massey

Charles R. Saunders

John Ridley

John M. Faucette

Sheree Thomas

Nalo Hopkinson

A recent explosion of black romance writers has occured in before unprecedented rates. While the genre is not highly represented by blacks, there are several of note.

Gwen Forster, Brenda Jackson, Carmen Green, Beverly Clark, Celeste O. Norfleet, Kayla Perrin, Donna Hill and Marcia King-Gamble to name a few.

A resurgence of the Urban Lit genre has become popular amongst black writers and readers  alike. Some of the most prominent names are:

Eric Jerome Dickey

Kimberla Roby Lawson

Carl Weber

Mary B. Morrison

Bebe Moore Campbell

E. Lynn Harris

Terry McMillan

The undisputed title “Queen of black erotica,” goes to Zane. Her novels have been best sellers and also garnered her a cable series based upon her popular Sex Chronicles series.

Black/African-American literature has enjoyed additional attention due largely to the efforts of talk-show host Oprah Winfrey. She has continually leveraged her fame to promote literature through Oprah’s Book Club. Oprah has brought African-American writers a far larger audience than they might otherwise have received.

BLACK HISTORY MONTH BOOK REVIEW #2

14290517_121006023000The Man in 3B
by Carl Weber
Review by John F. Allen

What do you get when you combine popular 80’s sitcom, 227, Desperate Housewives and Boyz ‘n the Hood, with a splash of Clue? You get more than what you bargained for, which is more than your average Urban Lit novel. That’s what you’ll find in Carl Weber’s The Man in 3B!

When Daryl Graham aka The Man in 3B moves into a Jamaica Queens apartment building, all the females lose their minds and the men become jealous lunatics. Apparently this brother is finer than wine, all that and a bag of chips and the cat’s meow, with all the women—from eighteen to eighty, married and single—wanting to claim the title of Pussy Galore. He’s also everything every brother wants to be with a charisma that they will never possess.

Many of the female residents are in dysfunctional and broken relationships and see Daryl Graham as Doctor Feel Good/Mister Big Stuff, the cure for what ails them and just the right prescription to fill their empty lives with HOT SEX!

The front stoop of this New York walkup is gossip central, where mostly all of the building’s female residents congregate to chinwag about the latest, greatest dirt going on in and around the building. They also stake out the entrance for any chance to catch a glimpse of Daryl, whom they all have professed a burning desire to sleep with. Because of this, he is quickly welcomed into the building with much more than friendly neighbor affection, weaving his way into each of the tenants’ lives.

Enter Connie, the overweight and sexually frustrated wife of Avery Mack, a down on his luck former mortgage broker whose disgust in Connie’s appearance is readily apparent and quite mean-spirited. A chance encounter leads to Daryl offering to help Connie in her mission to lose weight and possibly save her disintegrating marriage. However, Daryl’s charisma is not lost on Connie and his flirtations begin to make her feel attractive, appreciated and more confident than she’s felt in years.

Enter Avery, whose disgust and lack of sensitivity to his wife leads him to ask for a divorce. He is plunged into a further downward spiral when he gets in over his head with a bad element. Avery’s only concern is to reclaim the luxurious lifestyle he once had and he’s determined to achieve that goal by any means necessary. Despite his contempt for Connie, he becomes jealous of Daryl for showing interest in her and for how she’s decided to take control of her life and move on without him.

Enter Benny, a smart, shy and sheltered young man who strikes up an unlikely friendship with Daryl and begins to look up to him as a role model, much to the dismay of Benny’s father, Ben—a local firefighter and resident “Histress,” to the ladies of the building. When their time together becomes more frequent and Benny approaches his twenty-first birthday, he begins to reevaluate his life and his identity as an adult.

Enter Krystal, Daryl’s first love, who calls him back into her life for sexual escapades after years apart. While Daryl wants to be in a serious relationship, Krystal only wants to have fun. What she doesn’t tell Daryl is that she’s involved with another man who she has no intentions of leaving. Krystal abruptly leaves Daryl hanging when her current boyfriend proposes and unwittingly ends up moving into the same building where Daryl lives. She tries to use this situation to her advantage as she wants Daryl to continue ringing her bell, yet also make things work with her fiancé, but Daryl’s not having any of that and sends her packing.

Everything is hunky dory until someone is murdered…

Everyone becomes a prime suspect as many of the residents have means, opportunity and motive. This throws everyone into a tizzy and deepens the mystery that surrounds exactly who Daryl Graham really is and what about him brings out such passionate emotions in those who encounter him.

The plot of this novel is tightly wound and while Daryl serves as the nexus to the other characters, Weber is able to give each and every one a unique and distinctive voice. The transition from Urban lit to Whodunit is masterful and I applaud Weber’s ability as a writer to pull it off. I was so invested in the discovery of what happened next, I almost forgot at times it wasn’t a Walter Mosley mystery novel I was reading. Where’s Socrates Fortlow when you need him?

The mystery surrounding Daryl Graham and how his presence and influence has affected everyone in the building are just some of the reasons you’ll want to keep turning the pages to find out what happens next.

The Man in 3B is filled with interesting, dysfunctional characters with plenty enough personality to keep the reader intrigued and invested from start to finish.

I’ve been a fan of Carl’s work from his first novel, “Lookin’ for Luv.” He has failed to disappoint me with his writing and I encourage you to take a look at each and every one of his novels.

But if you want to know all the juicy details and the fate of these well-developed characters in The Man in 3B, you’ll have to read the book!

STAY TUNED! Next week I review “The Warmth of Other Suns,” by Isabel Wilkerson!!!

THE HISTORY OF BLACK WRITERS IN POETRY, LITERARY FICTION & ROMANCE (PART ONE)

BLACK WRITERS IN ROMANCE & LITERARY FICTIONIn this week’s blog post, I’m celebrating the rich history and influential accomplishments of black writers of poetry, literary fiction and romance.

This is Part One of a two-part post.

The history of black writers is rarely acknowledged before the Harlem Renaissance in mainstream America. Although that period was a great time of growth for blacks in the arts, the history of black writers goes much farther back.

In 1746, Lucy Terry—a black slave in Deerfield, MA—wrote the ballad, “Bars Fight”. The piece wasn’t published until 1854 in The Springfield Republican with an additional couplet and again in Josiah Holland’s History of Western Massachusetts, 1855.

Noted poet Phillis Wheatley’s book, “Poems on Various Subjects”, was published in 1773, prior to the War of Independence. She holds the honor of being the first African American to publish a book and the first to achieve an international reputation as a writer. Wheatley was born in Senegal, but at age seven was captured and sold into slavery. She soon mastered the English language and began writing. Her poetry earned the praise of many leading figures of the American Revolution including George Washington. The validity of her works were often challenged as the white people of the time found it hard to believe that a black person was capable of such refined writing.

The credit for the earliest works of fiction by African American writers goes to William Wells Brown and Victor Séjour. Not very many people know of these men and because of the times in which they lived (1800’s), it is no surprise.

Brown was a prominent abolitionist, lecturer, historian, playwright and novelist during the 1800’s. His novel Clotel (1853) is considered the first novel written by an African American. The novel was published in London, where Brown lived at the time. He was also a pioneer of various literary genres, including travel writing and drama.

Sejour was born in New Orleans as a free man, but moved to France at the age of nineteen. While there, he published his short story “Le Mulâtre” (“The Mulatto”) in 1837. It has the distinction of being the first known work of fiction published by an African American however, it was written in French and published in a French journal, and had no apparent influence on later American literature. Unfortunately, Séjour never returned to African-American themes in his subsequent works.

As time progressed, slavery ended and blacks were attempting to fit themselves into a society which shunned them, a significant period marked a creative surge within the black community. The period was known as the Harlem Renaissance, and ran from 1920 to 1940. Based in the Harlem community in New York City, the Harlem Renaissance was part of a larger peak of social thought and culture within the African American community.

During this time, the US experienced a growth of African American literature and art. It was a turning point for black literature as prior to this time; books written by African Americans were primarily read solely by other blacks. An abundance of Black artists, musicians and others produced classic works in various fields from jazz to theater. However, this movement spurred black literature, fine art and performance art to be absorbed into mainstream American culture, although it can be argued that perhaps the period is best known for the literature that came out of it.

Some of the most renowned writers of this period were: Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, & Zora Neale Hurston to name a few. Hughes first received attention in 1922 with the publication of The Book of American Negro Poetry. The work was edited by James Weldon Johnson as an anthology which featured the work of many of the period’s most talented poets, such as Claude McKay.

McKay went on to publish three novels, Home to Harlem, Banjo and Banana Bottom, as well as a collection of short stories.

Zora Neale Hurston was another prominent figure of the Harlem Renaissance. She wrote the classic novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God in 1937. Her works ranged from anthropology to short stories and novels, but unfortunately they fell into obscurity for decades. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that her work was rediscovered thanks to a 1975 article by Alice Walker published in Ms. Magazine.

Despite the fact that by and large Hughes and Hurston were the two most influential and recognizable writers of the era, others became well known also, such as: Jean Toomer, author of Cane—a collection of stories and poems about rural and urban lives of blacks. Dorothy West was another whose novel, The Living is Easy, examined the life of an upper-class black family.

Countee Cullen was also a writer of note, whose poems described the everyday life of blacks. His works include: Color (1925), Copper Sun (1927) and The Ballad of the Brown Girl (1927).

Other known authors of this period were: Wallace Thurman, author of the novel The Blacker the Berry: A Novel of Negro Life (1929), which focused on intra-racial prejudice between lighter skinned and darker skinned blacks.

Frank Marshall Davis, whose poetry collections, Black Man’s Verse (1935) and I am the American Negro (1937), were published by Black Cat Press, and earned him critical acclaim.

This concludes Part One of The History of Blacks in Literary Fiction and Poetry. Part Two will be featured in the blog post scheduled for next Monday, 18 February 2013.

Friday, 15 February 2013 I will post my review of Carl Weber’s The Man in 3B, STAY TUNED!!!