Friday, January 11, 2008

What is ringShout?

Welcome to our temporary internet home. Thanks to Ann Leamon for telling us that we could use Blogger in this way until we get our site up. Watch out for updates!

Our Mission

Founded in 2007 by a group of writers, editors and booksellers,
ringShout: A Place for Black Literature
is dedicated to recognizing, reclaiming and celebrating
excellence in contemporary literary fiction and nonfiction
by black writers in the United States.

Why the name ringShout?

One of the first dances created by
Africans brought to America as slaves
in the 1700s, the ring shout was a
sacred circle dance of salvation that enabled
a community to find perserverance,
provided solace and rejuvenation,
and sheltered many early nuances of
Africanist culture and practice.

Adapted from Thea Nerissa Barnes,
The Association of Dance of the African
Diaspora Dictionary 2005-2006

We hope that our ringShout can be the same for serious, skilled black writers creating ambitious fiction. We also want to assert our centrality to all facets of the American experience, literary and otherwise.


Christopher Chambers said...

It's been a long time coming/But a change gonna come.
--Sam Cooke

Bravo and call on me anytime.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Brothers and Sisters at RingShout,

As a writer and activist, I definitely support your efforts, but I do have a question, a sisterly pushback if you will.

I am one of those writers whose work lies in the middle. As an activist, I made a conscientious decision to write popular fiction as a way to raise socio-political issues among an audience of readers that might not otherwise engage them (and yet has the most to lose by their lack of engagement.) Indeed, one can employ the urban vernacular (not to be confused with the profane, least of all for its own sake) and still write deeply about the human condition. However, it is this ambition to grapple with substantive themes and a respect for craft that makes me identify with those who squarely place themselves in the literary camp. Quite frankly, I am adamant about distinguishing myself from street lit. Indeed, as a hip hop activist, it infuriates me when street lit is referred to as "hip hop fiction" in an effort to unilaterally equate hip hop with criminality and promiscuity and that criminality and promiscuity with "authentic" Blackness.

Yet I don't know if -- based on what I write alone -- if the literary crowd would embrace me. I don't know if solely based on my titles, covers, storylines and pen name, any of its members would even read a word to discover that, no, I'm not trafficking in the stereotypes and gratuitous sex and violence. That I truly am striving to meet readers where they are and take them some place better.

I can't tell you how many times I have sat on a panel with literary kin who seem just as surprised as white folks by my ability to speak the King's English and substantively even fearlessly discuss politics. Indeed, I think some of these folks have been upset with me for publicly shattering their prejudices about what a hip hop novelist is because it disrupts the false "them vs. us" dichotomy in which they are so deeply invested. One of your members, Eisa Ulen, has been a distinct exception to what has been an ongoing and increasingly disheartening experience.

Beyond the books I write, I have made genuine efforts to walk my talk on this. Currently, I have teamed up with Jennifer "JLove" Calderon, Elisha "E-Fierce" Miranda, and Marcella Runnell Hall to self-publish a curriculum based on our books called CONSCIOUS WOMEN ROCK THE PAGE: USING HIP HIP FICTION TO INCITE SOCIAL CHANGE. I have worked and hope to continue to work with Felicia Pride of BackList to create dicussion guides that will support educators who want to bring their students from street lit to classics. Indeed, we had decided that perhaps the best way to do this was to identify "bridge novels" from writers such as Ernesto Quinonez, Kalisha Buckhanon, Kenji Jasper and myself to name a few; work that we feel will appeal to fans of street lit, yet because of the command of craft and the depth of themes, can move them closer to the works of, say, James Baldwin or Zora Neale Hurston. Elisha Miranda and I co-founded a nonprofit organization in East Harlem to support women of color who want to seize the power of entertainment to promote social justice. (By the way, is there room for Afro-Latin@s in your cipher or is your movement only about African American literature?)

So if there is such a sharp line between the commercial and literary, where do writers like me and my peers belong? Does such a line serve any of us - writers and readers alike in general, and specifically those of us from communities that have been long underrepresented or misrepresented?

In any event, let's dialogue and make change.

Gwynne said...

If you can affect a modicum of change away from this passion for urban "literature," You will have made a lasting contribution to the African-American community and to this country.
Gwynne Forster.Author