Thursday, December 3, 2009

A classic re-issued

Check out this reissue of The Black Book. It's a key classic everyone should know--and just in time for the holidays!

We're proud of her

Okay, we've gotta blow the horn a little for one of our own: Bridgett Davis's story, Lagos, adapted from her novel in progress, is in Narrative magazine. You can read it here for a modest donation. Yay, Bridgett!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Black book blues

Bernice McFadden raised an interesting and troubling question in her blog a couple of weeks ago. Here's what she had to say.

You may not know me, or my novels, because I am a member of a growing band of African-American writers of literary fiction who are slowly disappearing..... I don't rightly know why publisher’s market fiction written by African-Americans ONLY TO African-Americans - but it has become common practice. And by doing this, they've placed all AA authors in one box forcing them to compete for the attention of ONE audience.
The word that has been coined to describe what is happening to AA writers is: Seg-Book-Gation

You can read the an article about her post here and her whole letter here
'Round the same time, Virginia DeBerry posted "An Open Letter to Oprah" on her blog, lamenting similar problems. Clearly, something's going on out there and it's not good. Yes these authors want to sell copies of their own books--all us authors want that--but they are touching on a problem that is pervading the industry right now. Don't want to just sit and cry but do need to think about where we go from here--and hey, Oprah's going off the air in two years. She ain't gonna save us.
So what will? Thoughts?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Need we say more?

The Washington Post had a revealing profile of modern master Edward P. Jones this weekend. Check it out.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Push, Precious, Percival, "Pafology": A DIY Ringshout Salon Kit

Here at Ringshout, we're all about people buying black books, talking black literature, taking black literature seriously. And heaven knows, folks is talking about Precious, which led us to thinking of the novel from whence it came. We here at Ringshout wanted to offer folks a way to get people together to talk about both Push, the novel that the film is based on, and Erasure, Percival Everett's novel that, shall we say, takes the publishing industry to task for the way that African-American poverty is portrayed.

On December 6, Eisa, Bridgett, Chris, Alison and I (and about 15 folks we know) are going to get together at my (Martha's) house and talk about these two books, the film and the way black pathology is played, overplayed, played with in these texts. We'll eat, drink and talk—and hopefully leave enlightened and inspired to do it again with another book and to read some more.
I can't have everybody over to my house but there's no reason you can't do this very thing where you are. All it takes is some space, a few bright folks and some good questions. The links below form a tool kit you can use to have your own Push/Percival Salon. We hope to put kits like this up about different books on a quarterly basis to keep the discussion going about books by African-Americans. If you do have a salon, we'd love it if you'd post about it on your own blogs and send us a link or post on our blogspot about it.

Here are some helpful links: Salon 101: Thanks to the website of Guilt and Pleasure magazine for this extremely specific, detailed and useful guide to how to put on a rockin' salon.

Bloggers speak: An interesting dialogue from Racialicious (thanks for that headline, guys!) and thoughts on Erasure from Janice Erlbaum's blog

Wikipedia entries on Sapphire , Percival Everett and Push

I'm not even gonna kind of try to list all the commentary about the film that's out there--folks done gone crazy!--but here are two pieces that represent the general camps of discussion. Pro: Erin Aubry Kaplan at Salon. Con: Armond White at New York Press.

And finally, some questions to guide your discussion of the books--here at Ringshout, we like to keep the focus on the books.

In what ways does craft function--or not--in both of these novels? How well do they succeed or fail as examples of the fiction writers art?

Is Erasure a successful critique of the publishing industry? Of Push? Of a certain kind of literature/writer? How so or how not?

Where do you think Push fits into the long tradition of narratives about raped and abused black women? In what ways is it honest? In what ways is it dishonest?

What do you think it is about Push that has so captured people's imaginations, both as a book and as a movie?

What do you think is to be learned from the enormous commercial success of Push--and the relative lack thereof of Erasure--about contemporary literary culture?

Let a thousand salons bloom! And let us know how it goes.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Penn State rocks!

Just got back from a wonderful literary conference at Penn State called "Celebrating Contemporary African-American Novels since 1988" It was fabulous--the level of discourse, as the theorists like to say and the excitement about engaging seriously with literature was truly inspiring. This conference was particularly exciting because I, Mat Johnson and Alice Randall were all there as contemporary practitioners, mixing it up with the theorists. Here are some photographs and impressions from a fellow conferencee (and Penn State prof.)

Particularly impressive was the level of thought that went into the various papers presented--check out these abstracts. I was also in attendance at a panel on teaching Af-Am literature that raised interesting questions about how to engage with the place of hip-hop literature in the class room--does it have one? If so, what is its place? As uncomfortable as it might make some of us, students coming up have this literature as a frame of reference. They've got to be taught to look at it thoughtfully. Also interesting was a panel on pedagogy that looked at a number of ways that contemporary texts can be taught--I was particularly interested in the various approaches taken.

All in all, the conference was a beautiful thing. I can't wait until the next one.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

2009 National Book Award Finalists



Bonnie Jo Campbell, American Salvage (Wayne State University Press)

Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin (Random House)

Daniyal Mueenuddin, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders (W. W. Norton & Co.)

Jayne Anne Phillips, Lark and Termite (Alfred A. Knopf)

Marcel Theroux, Far North (Farrar Straus and Giroux)


David M. Carroll, Following the Water: A Hydromancer's Notebook
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Sean B. Carroll, Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the
Origins of Species
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Greg Grandin, Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City
(Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt)

Adrienne Mayor, The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates,
Rome's Deadliest Enemy
(Princeton University Press)

T. J. Stiles, The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt
(Alfred A. Knopf)


Rae Armantrout, Versed (Wesleyan University Press)

Ann Lauterbach, Or to Begin Again (Viking Penguin)

Carl Phillips, Speak Low (Farrar Straus and Giroux)

Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, Open Interval (University of Pittsburgh Press)

Keith Waldrop, Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy (University of California Press)

Young People’s Literature

Deborah Heiligman, Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith (Henry Holt)

Phillip Hoose, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (Farrar Straus and Giroux)

David Small, Stitches (W. W. Norton & Co.)

Laini Taylor, Lips Touch: Three Times (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic)

Rita Williams-Garcia, Jumped (HarperTeen/HarperCollins)

Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters
Gore Vidal

Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community
Dave Eggers

The Winner in each category will be announced at the 60th National Book Awards Benefit Dinner and Ceremony at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City on Wednesday, November 18. Satirist, comedian, and actor Andy Borowitz will emcee the event.

For more information about the Finalists as well as National Book Awards Week events, visit

Press inquiries, call Sherrie Young (212) 685-0261 or email

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Victor LaValle Reads His New Novel, Big Machine

Feel free to come out to any and all events! It would be great to see you.


OCTOBER 14 6:30 PM New School
Wollman Hall, Eugene Lang Building, 65 West 11th Street, 5th floor (enter at 66 West 12th Street)

OCTOBER 19 7:00 PM Barnes & Noble
86th & Lexington Ave - Writers on Writing: In Conversation about Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man w/ Asali Solomon and Michael Thomas

OCTOBER 20 5:30 PM Rutgers-Newark
Paul Robeson Gallery, 350 Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard, Newark NJ w/ Salvatore Scibona

OCTOBER 27 7:00 PM Pacific Standard Bar
82 Fourth Avenue - Brooklyn, NY - between St. Marks and Bergen Streets. w/Robert Lopez

Monday, October 12, 2009

Novelist Sarah Wright Passes On

We are mourning the passing of Sarah Wright. Her obituary from the New York Times is enclosed for your information and also her obituary from the Amsterdam News. Please save the date -- November 14th --for a memorial service to celebrate her life. More details to follow.
October 4, 2009

Sarah E. Wright, Novelist of Black Experience in the Depression, Dies at 80

In 1969 Sarah E. Wright, a Maryland-born writer living in Manhattan, published her first novel, “This Child’s Gonna Live.” Issued by Delacorte Press, it portrays the lives of an impoverished black woman and her family in a Maryland fishing village during the Depression. Often compared to the work of Zora Neale Hurston, the novel was unusual in its exploration of the black experience from a woman’s perspective, anticipating fiction by writers like Toni Morrison and Alice Walker.

“This Child’s Gonna Live” was hailed by critics around the country and named an outstanding book of 1969 by The New York Times. Reviewing it in The Times Book Review earlier that year, the novelist Shane Stevens called it a “small masterpiece,” adding: “Sarah Wright’s triumph in this novel is a celebration of life over death. It is, in every respect, an impressive achievement.”

Ms. Wright never published another novel. She died in Manhattan on Sept. 13, at 80; the cause was complications of cancer, her husband, Joseph Kaye, said. Today “This Child’s Gonna Live” remains highly regarded in literary circles though little known outside them.

The novel centers on Mariah Upshur, the wife of a black oysterman on the Maryland shore. Set in the fictional community of Tangierneck in the early 1930s, it unsparingly depicts the hunger, disease, racism and hard labor that were the stuff of daily life.

Capable, sensual and fiercely determined, Mariah engages in an interior dialogue with Jesus throughout the book. In the opening passage, she prays for a sunny day so she can earn money in the fields, where the young potato plants “weren’t anything but some little old twigs and promises.”

Mariah is pregnant with her fifth child. She has already lost one child in infancy and before the book is out will lose another. She dreams of escaping Tangierneck, “a place of standing still and death,” and is adamant that her new child will live.

While novelists like James Baldwin, Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison had explored the black male experience, Ms. Wright’s novel was among the first to focus on the confluence of race, class and sex. Republished by the Feminist Press in 1986 and again in 2002, “This Child’s Gonna Live” remains in print today.

Not every reviewer embraced the book. Writing in Harper’s Magazine in 1969, the critic Irving Howe called its style “overwrought.” But many others praised Ms. Wright’s densely interwoven poetic language, her deft use of local dialect and her ability to convey the extraordinary predicament of being black, female, rural and poor.

“It’s a very difficult novel in a lot of ways,” Jennifer Campbell, an associate professor of writing studies at Roger Williams University, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. (Professor Campbell wrote the afterword to the novel’s 2002 edition.) “It’s very, very painful to read: the pain of not being able to keep your children safe, of not being able to feed them properly, of not being able to give them two pennies for the Halloween celebration.”

Ms. Wright spent about 10 years working on a second novel but did not complete it, her husband said last week.

She scarcely seems to have had time. Besides working full-time as a bookkeeper, Ms. Wright taught, lectured and was a past vice president of the Harlem Writers Guild. She published critical essays; a volume of poetry, “Give Me a Child” (Kraft Publishing, 1955, with Lucy Smith); and a nonfiction book for young people, “A. Philip Randolph: Integration in the Workplace” (Silver Burdett, 1990). She was deeply involved in political causes, protesting everything from the Vietnam War to South African apartheid to the present war in Iraq.

There was something else, Ms. Wright’s husband said, that kept her from the second novel: the anguish of writing the first. For the story of the Upshur family, though its characters were composites, was in large measure Ms. Wright’s own.

Sarah Elizabeth Wright was born on Dec. 9, 1928, in Wetipquin, Md., a historically free black community on the eastern shore. Her father, like Mariah’s husband, was an oysterman; her mother, like Mariah, shucked oysters and picked crops. Sarah had nearly a dozen siblings, several of whom died in childhood. She began writing poetry when she was about 8.

After graduating from Salisbury Colored High School, Sarah entered Howard University, where she became editor of the newspaper. She left before graduating, her husband said, “because she was literally starving.” Her parents had no money to send her for food.

“When Sarah went off to Howard, they had no idea what it meant in terms of the financial requirements,” Mr. Kaye said last week. “They gave her oilcloth that they thought she could barter with other people to obtain what she needed.”

Ms. Wright moved to Philadelphia in the late 1940s and to New York a decade later. There, in a three-room apartment on the Lower East Side, she began work on “This Child’s Gonna Live.”

“That took such a toll on her, because she was forced to dredge up painful childhood memories that she thought she had run away from when she left the community,” Mr. Kaye said. “Death just seemed to be a constant companion in her childhood, and the spirit of death just hovered over the community.”

Besides her husband, Ms. Wright, who was known in private life as Sarah Wright Kaye, is survived by a son, Michael; a daughter, Shelley Chotai; three siblings, Wanda, Howard and Gilbert; four grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

She also leaves behind a box containing the manuscript of her unfinished novel, the second installment in a planned trilogy about the people of Tangierneck. During the decade she worked on the book, Ms. Wright never discussed it, even with her husband.

Mr. Kaye has not opened the box. To judge from the heft, he said, it contains several hundred pages. From a chapter he found elsewhere, the novel appears to concern Bardetta Upshur, Mariah’s daughter — the child who was meant to live, and did.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company


Sarah Wright, noted author and activist, passes

By Herb Boyd

Special to the AmNews

Photo: Paul Robeson, center, shares a moment with Sarah Wright and an unidentified onlooker.

In Sarah E. Wright’s magnum opus, This Child’s Gonna Live (1969), her protagonist, Mariah Upshur, is in the process of wrestling with Satan before finding her special sanctuary. “I’m in your service, Lord,” Mariah prayed. “Clean my soul. Clean my mouth that I may speak your words.”

The Lord heard Mariah’s prayer in the same way He must have attended to Wright’s artistic quest because the novel is a prose-poem of beauty and eloquence that will have to stand since Wright is no longer with us. Wright made her transition September 13 after a prolonged illness.

A writer of extraordinary feeling and compassion for the downtrodden, a woman and activist of unwavering honesty and conviction, Wright was as committed to her writing as she was to the struggle for civil and human rights. Still, closest to her heart were the causes of peace and the liberation of her people.

Like her idol Paul Robeson, she saw no separation between her art and her politics—they were a unity of resistance against injustice.

Almost immediately upon arriving in Philadelphia in the 1950s from the Eastern Shore of Maryland where she was born and raised, and from Howard University which she attended, Wright immersed herself in the fight against racism and homegrown fascism. With her poetry and picket signs she was a constant presence along with those who demanded freedom and justice for W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson and others targeted and arrested during the dark days of McCarthyism and the Cold War.

This determination continued with renewed fervor when she became a member of the Harlem Writers’ Guild, joining her considerable talent and integrity with John Oliver Killens, Rosa Guy, Grace Edwards, and Louise Meriwether.

In his assessment of her signature novel, Killens’ noted that it wasn’t a “pretty book,” but an “overwhelming metaphor of the Black experience…all the more powerful and truthful for having a protagonist who is a Black woman of unparalleled heroism in this white, racist, capitalistic, male-supremacist society.”

Together, as you might imagine, Killens and Wright were a formidable duo in the Guild, organizing seminars and conferences, conducting workshops, and the list of writers who acquired their skills and launched their careers under their stewardship provides a glimpse at the African American literary canon.

“Sarah was a great help to fledgling and established writers,” said Grace Edwards, a prolific author and current executive director of the Guild. “Whenever she showed up at our meetings, people paid attention because they knew she was a serious artist with a deep concern about their development. We respected her as a writer and her leadership, which was invaluable.”

Louise Meriwether, another stalwart in the Guild and noted for her novel, Daddy Was a Number Runner, was equally expressive in her praise for Wright and her contributions to the Guild. “Sarah was exceedingly generous with her time and interest,” she said in a phone interview. “What a remarkable spirit she possessed. She was a very meticulous author and poet, very concerned about getting the right word in the right place. And she was a good cook.”

Wright’s ability in the kitchen was only exceeded by her work with the pen, something her husband, Joe Kaye is quick to confirm. “Yes, Sarah was a fantastic cook, but she could do so many things around the house; she could fix things and make things; her versatility was practically unlimited,” Kaye sighed.

“But what I will miss most about her is her unimpeachable integrity, her sense of honesty and always seeking the truth,” Kaye continued.

Some of the that truth can be found in her poetry, and her other books, including Give Me a Child, a collection of verse co-authored with Lucy Smith, and her biography of A. Philip Randolph.

A public tribute to her life and work will be held on Saturday, November 14 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Ethical Culture Society where all those who, as she did, believe in the possibility of achieving a “world worthy of human beings” may pay her tribute.

Marcela Landres Interviews Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa About her Debut Novel

1. Saludos
While many Latinos have African roots, our literature doesn't always reflect
this. In addition to the glorious writing, Daughters of the Stone by Dahlma
Llanos-Figueroa is a notable debut novel because it represents a beautiful
and substantial addition to the legacy of Afro-Latino stories and storytellers.
To learn more, read this month's Q&A with Dahlma.

Helping Latinos get published,
Marcela Landres

2. Q&A
Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa was born in Puerto Rico and raised in New York
City. She taught in the New York City school system before becoming a
young adult librarian. Dahlma has won the Bronx Council on the Arts
and BRIO Awards, as well as a Literary Arts Fellowship. She lives in the
Bronx. For more information, visit

Q: Which author or book inspires you, and why?
A: Isabel Allende and Toni Morrison are my greatest inspirations. They
use innovative and lyrical language to tell stories that help readers come
to a new understanding or connect them with very personal aspects of
their lives. I especially love the fact that their books can be read on many
levels and therefore can be revisited over and over again.

Q: Why do you love to write?
A: I love to write because I love exploring the lives of my characters. I
enjoy creating a world in which they can grow and share themselves with
my readers. Once they are created, they often take me in directions that
are new and totally unexpected. The outcome is a wonderful surprise and
a learning lesson to me.

Q: Who is your agent and how did you meet him/her?
A: My agent is Susan Schulman and I met her at the annual International
Women's Writers Conference at Skidmore. It's a wonderful environment for
supporting and inspiring women writers.

Q: What is your writing ritual?
A: I get up at the crack of dawn, light a candle and some incense, and do
my meditations. Often, my writing comes out of images that come to me
during this quiet time. Then I turn to my journal and record all the thoughts
that have come to me. By the time I get to my computer, I have already
done the most creative part of my work.

Q: Other than honing their craft, what advice would you give to Latino
writers looking to land a book deal?
A: My advice to emerging writers is to find a writing community. Given
the realities of writing today, our world could so easily become a
computer screen and a room in which we sit alone. I've found that while
these are important, opening myself up to the constructive criticism and
supportive response of other writers is just as important. Also, this is the
way to make connections and begin the networking you will need in the
future. Silence and contemplation is crucial, but community is as important.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

ringShout's Martha Southgate Hosts Panel with Three "Young, Gifted, and Black (Male) Writers"

Young, Gifted and Black Men: Writer’s Who Rock (In Brooklyn)

By Chinyere Osuala

There’s an exclusivity that Park Slope, Brooklyn boasts, that makes it different, makes it stand out. No, it’s not the strollers, or the young married couples, or the yuppie-ness, it is the amount of writers, famous writers at that, who call this affluent Brooklyn neighborhood home, including Jonathan Safran Foer, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Pete Hamill. The number of cafes and writers’ spaces—even for kids—make this college-town-without-a-college a place where writers can thrive and focus on their next masterpiece.

This is the environment that esteemed Brooklyn writer Martha Southgate, author of Third Girl from the Left, thought would be a great place to feature innovative and diverse black voices.


Author Martha Southgate, left, presents the "Young, Gifted Black Male Writers" gathering in Brooklyn on October 1, with fellow authors, from left, James Hannaham, Clifford Thompson, and Victor LaValle. Photo: Chinyere Osuala

On October 1, Southgate curated the book reading and discussion,” Young, Gifted and Black (Men),” in the Old Stone House, a Park Slope recreation center. The featured writers were James Hannaham, journalist and author of God Says No; Victor LaValle, author of The Big Machine; and essayist Cliff Thompson, whose first novel, Signifying Nothing, was released in April. The event was hosted by Brooklyn Reading Works, a program that seeks exposure for emerging and notable scribes living in the area.

“I thought it would be really exciting to bring three African-American writers here,” Southgate said, “There are some interesting writers in the community, out there and I like to get them out there.”

The reading took place in a salon-like room inside the reconstructed Dutch-stone farmhouse located inside of Washington Park. Under its two-sided sloped roof, the lights beamed down on the thirty black chairs set up for guests and on the Trader Joe’s cheese and wine that host Louise Crawford, founder of Brooklyn Reading Works, made sure to mention on her blog

Please read more about Martha's evening with Victor LaValle. James Hannaham, and Cliff Thompson by going to

Monday, September 28, 2009

Reading List for Date With a Book's Caribbean Literaure Book Club

Dear Booklover,
So many books, so little time!
This year, we continue to examine and celebrate the Caribbean experience at home and abroad. And we begin with Frantz Fanon's classic work, Black Skin, White Masks, which, though published more than 50 years ago, still resonates today.
In Anna In-Between, Elizabeth Nunez delves into the perennial issue of integration/alienation, separation/belonging that is the immigrant experience.
Ekwueme Michael Thelwell brings Stokely Carmichael back to life in Ready for Revolution, a sweeping homage to the Trinidadian civil rights leader, activist and revolutionary.
Althea Prince disects love relationships in Ladies of the Night.
Alejo Carpentier shows us that those in positions of power can be brought down when they disregard the people who choose them to lead in The Kingdom of This World. Jan Carew strikes a similar note in his cautionary tale of greed and class conflict in postcolonial Guyana, Black Midas.
Caryl Phillips, In the Falling Snow, and Austin Clarke in More, echo the theme of separation/belonging, and Malcolm Gladwell shows us, in Outliers, how successful people can be when opportunities are given to them.
Hope you will consider lending your voice to this discussion this year.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

2009 – 2010 Reading List

October 18, 2009 Black Skin, White Masks, Frantz Fanon (Martinique)

A major influence on civil rights, anti-colonial, and black consciousness movements around the world, Black Skin, White Masks is the unsurpassed study of the black psyche in a white world. Hailed for its scientific analysis and poetic grace when it was first published in 1952, the book remains a vital force today. “[Fanon] demonstrates how insidiously the problem of race, of color, connects with a whole range of words and images.” — Robert Coles, The New York Times Book Review

November 8, 2009 Anna In-Between, Elizabeth Nunez (Trinidad & Tobago/USA)** Elizabeth will be in attendance

Traveling back to her Caribbean island home on vacation from her high-pressure job as a book editor in Manhattan, Anna Sinclair is predisposed to be at odds with the vast dichotomy between her two worlds. Not only does the languid pace of tropical life take some adjustment but Anna is perennially frustrated by the fractious relationship with her mother, taking quick umbrage at the hypercritical woman's subtle faultfinding. So it goes until the day when her normally proper and reserved mother swallows her pride and reveals the hideous lump that has deformed her breast. Shocked by her mother's life-threatening condition, appalled by her father's seeming indifference to his wife's deteriorating health, Anna struggles to convince her parents to return with her to New York, where her mother can receive proper care.

January 17, 2010 Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael, Michael Thelwell (Jamaica)

The firebrand civil rights leader who led the call for Black Power in the 1960s looks back on nearly five decades of protests and freedom fighting in this passionate, posthumous autobiography. In collaboration with his friend Thelwell (a professor of Afro-American studies at the University of Massachusetts), Carmichael, who died in Guinea in 1998, traces his path from immigrant child of Trinidad to charismatic U.S. student activist and unrepentant revolutionary. The story is told largely in Carmichael's own stylish, often thunderous, first-person words and is named for the telephone greeting that the author used for much of his life. It covers the full sweep of events that shaped Carmichael's life: his years at the elite Bronx High School of Science and Howard University; summers spent registering black voters in Mississippi and Alabama; personal encounters with such leaders as Martin Luther King, James Baldwin and Malcolm X; and his sudden decision in 1969 to relocate to Africa and change his name to Kwame Ture. Carmichael also addresses controversial issues that surrounded him as a young civil rights activist: his splits with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Black Panthers, and reports of ideological struggles with the pacifist King all "[u]tter, utter nonsense," he insists.

February 21, 2010 Ladies of the Night, Althea Prince (Antigua/Canada)

Ladies of the Night is set in Toronto and Antigua. With women's loves and lives as their focus, the stories contain dramatic twists and turns: some humorous, others shocking and disturbing, all leaving a haunting melody behind. The Toronto stories capture the issues women face as they walk the ground of intimate and family relationships in that city. The Antiguan setting of some of the stories are reflective of Prince's insight into relationships, captured in her novel and essays. The characters reveal their different ways of managing a range of struggle, pain, rage, love and pure unadulterated joy. The humour of some stories complement the plaintive sadness and emotionality of the strings some other stories pluck.

March 21, 2010 The Kingdom of this World, Alejo Carpentier y Valmont (Cuba)

A few years after its liberation from French colonial rule, Haiti experienced a period of unsurpassed brutality, horror and superstition under the reign of the black King Henri-Christophe. Through the eyes of the ancient slave, Ti Noel, The Kingdom of This World records the destruction of the black regime – built on the same corruption and contempt for human life that brought down the French – in an orgy of voodoo, race hatred, erotomania, and fantastic grandeurs of false elegance.

April 18, 2010 In the Falling Snow, Caryl Phillips (UK/St. Kitts)

Keith—born in England in the early 1960s to immigrant West Indian parents but primarily raised by his white stepmother—is a social worker heading a Race Equality unit in London whose life has come undone. He is separated from his wife of twenty years (whose family “let her go” when she married a black man), kept at arm’s length by his seventeen-year-old son, estranged from his father, and accused of harassment by a co-worker. And beneath it all, he has a desperate feeling that his work—even in fact his life—is no longer relevant.

May 16, 2010 Black Midas, Jan Carew (Guyana)

Astonishingly vivid, bawdy, and tempestuous, this novel is a cautionary tale about greed and class conflict in postcolonial Guyana. Comparing ruthless 20th-century prospectors to the long-ago Spanish explorers who raped a continent in their quest for El Dorado, the novel follows the dreams and delusions of Aron Smart, a youth orphaned early in life and brought up on a farm by his grandparents who impressed upon him the value of an education. When Aron’s schooling is cut short after a reversal of fortune, however, he becomes deeply discouraged by his lack of opportunity and decides to follow in his father’s footsteps as a diamond prospector. He quickly becomes very rich—his companions in the mines call him “Shark”—and he is determined to use his new wealth to buy his way into the middle class. But Aron is out of his element in the world of property and prestige, and, cheated of his fortune, he returns to the interior, mining with a reckless madness that leaves him terribly maimed in an accident—and causes him to dream of returning to his grandfather’s life, built on the solid rhythms of farming and caring for the land.

June 20, 2010 More, Austin Clarke (Barbados/Canada)

At the news of her son BJ’s involvement in gang crime, Idora Morrison, a maid at the local university, collapses in her basement apartment. For four days and nights she retreats into a vortex of memory, pain, and disappointment that becomes a riveting expose of her life as a Caribbean immigrant living abroad. While she struggled to make ends meet, her deadbeat husband, Bertram, abandoned her for a better life in New York. Left alone to raise her son, Idora has done her best to survive against immense odds. But now that BJ has disappeared into a life of crime, she recoils from his loss and is unable to get out of bed, burdened by feelings of invisibility.

July 18, 2010 Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell, US/Can/Jamaica

Now that he's gotten us talking about the viral life of ideas and the power of gut reactions, Malcolm Gladwell poses a more provocative question in Outliers: why do some people succeed, living remarkably productive and impactful lives, while so many more never reach their potential? Challenging our cherished belief of the "self-made man," he makes the democratic assertion that superstars don't arise out of nowhere, propelled by genius and talent: "they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot." Examining the lives of outliers from Mozart to Bill Gates, he builds a convincing case for how successful people rise on a tide of advantages, "some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky."

** Elizabeth Nunez will be in attendance ***
Marcia M. Mayne
Founder, Date with a Book®
Caribbean Literature Book Club
P 646.290.9212 : F 646.290.7088 : M 646.541.2543
Find Yourself in a Book

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Percival Everett gets his props

Anybody who knows me (Martha) knows how much I love Percival Everett's novel Erasure. It is a brilliant examination of just how black pathology has been marketed and merchandised by larger industries--and sometimes by ourselves. It shoots directly at at Sapphire's Push (now back in the news because of Precious, the upcoming movie based on the novel) and it scores--big time. It's also hilarious.

I haven't yet read Everett's latest I Am Not Sidney Poitier --out the end of this month--but it's getting great initial word of mouth. And if you haven't read this guy--make a point of it. When you talk about ambitious fiction by a contemporary African-American writer, he's one you should mention. Let's hope this book is his breakout.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Guest Essay: Clifford Thompson on Authors Doing it For Themselves

Friend of Ringshout Cliff Thompson has recently self-published his first novel Signifying Nothing. It's both thoughtful and original--and by no means the first novel he's written. He's been working hard and skillfully at fiction writing for a long time and has had short stories and nonfiction published in numerous fine magazines and journals. But no major publisher would take this book. That was rough--until he got tough. I asked him to share some of his thoughts on the long and sometimes difficult road to self-publishing and he sent me this. In this rapidly changing literary environment, I think what he raises here is something we all need to think about. We'd love to know your thoughts.

In early 2005 I was lucky enough to be able to take a four-month, unpaid leave from my day job. My aim was to finish my novel, which I’d been writing until then at an average rate of a paragraph a day. A father of two, I have a very supportive spouse, or my little adventure would not have been possible. I was also lucky in that the four months went well. I immersed myself in my characters and in the constructing of the story, and I completed the manuscript. Signifying Nothing, as the novel is titled, follows what happens when Lester Hobbs, a developmentally disabled man who has not spoken a word in his nineteen years, begins shouting rhymed observations and memories – raps – of life with his family. The book is really about the family’s other members, who are forced to make life adjustments because of Lester, before and after he begins to rap.
It was when I tried to sell my novel that my luck ran out. I queried fifty literary agents, sending each a synopsis and the first page or so of the book. A handful asked to see the whole novel; of those, a couple thought it was “obviously a quality manuscript” (to quote one) but didn’t think they could sell it in the current publishing climate. I also made, or tried to make, direct contact with editors and publishers – twenty-eight in all. Some didn’t respond at all. One editor just didn’t seem to get what I was doing. A couple of others, like the agents, thought the book was very good but couldn’t see getting it past their marketing departments and didn’t feel up to trying. Still others liked it okay but offered criticism, which might have been helpful, if their comments hadn’t contradicted each other.
After all that, I had what I felt was a fine novel, and . . . well, not much else, except a decision to make. I could just forget the whole thing. I could go on spending $30 a pop to have the book copied and sent to this agent or that editor, hoping that one day, maybe, a publisher would call – and that I wouldn’t be too old and deaf to answer the phone. (I was already in my mid-forties – not old, but not young.) Or, instead of trying to change the publishing world’s collective “No” to a “Yes,” I could say “Yes” to myself. In other words, I could self-publish.
It is not always easy to decide that you’re right and the rest of the world is wrong. (Part of what makes it hard is the knowledge that mental institutions are full of people who have arrived at the very same decision.) But in the end you either believe in what you’re doing or you don’t. I did, and to prove it, I handed $600 to the print-on-demand company iUniverse. Before I knew it, Signifying Nothing was available.

Seth Meyers once said about landing a spot on Saturday Night Live that it’s foolish to view it as a culmination; rather, it’s the start of a lot of work. In a way, and on a much humbler level, the same is true of self-publishing a novel. Signifying Nothing now had a cover, which signified – what? If it was to mean anything, I had to get very busy to put the word out. So far, I have emailed everyone in my address book; started a Facebook account and tried to “friend” everyone I’ve ever said “hello” to in my life; made sure my book gets mentioned in the contributors’ notes for freelance articles I’m publishing; contacted my college alumni magazine; sought out readings; tried to get the book mentioned on literary and other blogs; and, most ambitious of all, started a blog of my own.

Part of the work for a self-published author, too, is readying yourself for the responses you get. Some people you tell about your project will offer a heartfelt, “Hey, that’s great!” Others will give you a blank look, or, worse, a smile oozing with pity or embarrassment. I find it helpful to remember that the content and value of the book do not change with each person’s reaction to hearing about it. And it is the book itself that matters.
Besides: the stigma attached to self-publishing, while not dead, is showing signs of grave illness. Part of it, I think, is that the Internet has blurred the distinction between traditional publishing and the do-it-yourself kind. In the old days, self-published authors (a few of whom went on to success) sold their books out of the trunks of their cars; but with the availability of print-on-demand books through the Internet, a reader purchases my novel the same way she might buy The Da Vinci Code. Gradually, the question becomes not “Did he publish it himself?” but “Is it good?”

I also feel that for black authors, self-publishing fits rather neatly into a tradition. African-Americans as a group are the original do-it-yourself people, making a way where none existed -- from the Underground Railroad, to the invention of jazz (and just about every other kind of American music), to the careers of self-taught and self-styled artists such as Melvin van Peebles, to one career path that led from community organizing to the White House. And until mainstream publishers begin taking more chances on what readers might like – a development that seems to be a ways off – self-publishing may come to seem a more and more viable option, a way for new and different works to make it into the light.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Final panel post--I promise

So if you couldn't make it through the video, here's a little sum-up of the panel that I wrote for the website of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund The Defenders Online, edited by the estimable Stacey Patton. That big, honkin' picture of me? Didn't mean to bogart. That was the art director's call--I sent 'em a few things, not all of which featured me.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Colson makes the cover

A rare event: A black American novelist on the cover of the New York Times Book Review. It happened in 2007 to Michael Thomas. And this week, to Colson Whitehead in a laudatory, thoughtful review by Toure of his newest novel Sag Harbor.

Whitehead's work, in particular, seems to bring out the philosophical in those who write about it, that which considers what it means to be a "black writer," perhaps because of his sturdy unwillingness to be pigeonholed, to apologize and because of his intellectualism. Sag Harbor is being hailed as his most emotional, "sentimental" book. You can see Whitehead talk about the book himself here.

We at Ringshout are also interested in Toure's call for more "post-black" fiction. Can it only be written by folks under 40 (a note from Martha Southgate: as a 48-year-old novelist, I like to think the answer is no)? What does it mean? Do we need to define it? Should we quit worrying about all this and simply write what we like? Thoughts are welcome.

Friday, May 1, 2009

And finally, James Hannaham

Here's James Hannaham speaking--sorry you can't see him. He's a real cutie. But what he has to say is well worth listening to. His new novel God Says No is just coming into stores--it's well worth reading. Again, Emily Bernard and Stanley Crouch precede this post.

Stanley Crouch speaks on Obama

Here's what Stanley Crouch had to say at our panel (Emily Bernard is in the post below this one, James Hannaham will be in the one above).

Day 102: After the Panel

Our panel on Wednesday night was a raging success. About 60 or 65 people were in attendance to hear provocative, innovative, interesting discussion about black writing in the age of Obama, Obama as symbol, Obama as incredibly disciplined guy, Obama as name--all Obama all the time. The event lasted more than an hour so we can't post it as a whole (don't have that streaming capacity yet) But we have posted each of the panelists short presentations both here and on YouTube. (forgive the quality--but hey, at least you can hear it!) We hope to receive audio of the entire event soon and will share that with you as soon as we can. But for now, you can start with Emily Bernard's thoughtful comments about Obama as symbol. And don't forget, you can read our work (on a host of issues) in Best African-American Essays 2009

Monday, April 27, 2009

On Obama's 100th day, black books rule!

If you're in or around NYC this Wednesday the 29th (our new Prez's 100th day in office), don't miss our panel on Black Writing in the Age of Obama at McNally Jackson books. It's a great store and a great line up: Martha Southgate hosting, James Hannaham, Emily Bernard and Stanley Crouch all offering up their thoughts. All have essays in the new anthology Best African-American Essays 2009 . Be there or be square!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Danzy Senna's Tour for Where Did You SLeep Last Night? A Personal History

Los Angeles
Sunday, April 26, 2009 @ 1:30 p.m.
Los Angeles Times Festival of Books
Rolfe Hall 1200
With Jennifer Baszile and Lise Funderburg, moderated by Erin Aubry Kaplan. The panel is titled "Memoir: Bloodlines"

Thursday, June 04, 2009 @ 7 p.m.
Eso Won Books 4331 Degnan Blvd.

San Diego
Wednesday, April 29 @ 4:30 p.m.
UCSD Department of Literature
Vis Arts Performance Space
La Jolla, CA

Monday, May 18, 2009 @ 7 p.m.
Vroman's 695 E. Colorado Blvd.

West Hollywood
Tuesday, May 19, 2009 @ 7 p.m.
Book Soup 8818 Sunset Blvd.

Corte Madera
Wednesday, May 20, 2009 @ 1 p.m.
Book Passage 51 Tamal Vista Blvd.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 @ 6 p.m.
Boston Public Library 700 Boylston Street

New York
Wednesday, May 27, 2009 @ 7 p.m.
In conversation with Rebecca Walker. New York Public Library Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers Fifth Ave. and 42nd St.
***Tickets for this event can be purchased online:

Thursday, May 28, 2009 @ 7 p.m.
Barnes & Noble Upper West Side 2289 Broadway at 82nd St.
Los Angeles

Please click on the following site for more information about the book and for book tour updates.

Monday, April 20, 2009

And the big prizes keep on comin!

We must take a moment to congratulate playwright Lynn Nottage , author of the superb Ruined at the Manhattan Theatre Club (if you are anywhere near NYC, don't miss it!), and Annette Gordon-Reed (who we just congratulated a couple of days ago for her Guggenheim on their taking home 2009 Pulitzer Prizes! Well done, sisters, well done!

Beyond The Skin Trade

Check out writer Victor LaValle's essay in the latest issue of BookForum. It's a witty, slightly hilarious and oh-so-insightful answer to the probing question: Is black nationalism relevant in the age of Obama?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Better late than never?

We'd like to (belatedly) congratulate 2009 Guggenheim Fellows Chris Abani, Jabari Asim, Annette Gordon-Reed and Terrance Hayes. Kudos to all--that's a tough one to get!

Tiphanie Yanique--remember that name

Here at Ringshout, we love to celebrate the successes of young black writers who've got the skills to pay the bills (well, literary fiction doesn't pay that many bills but that's not why we love it). Anyway, we're pleased to announce that Tiphanie Yanique has sold her short story collection How to Escape from A Leper Colony to Graywolf Press for publication in March 2010. That's a long time to wait--if you want to check out Tiphanie's work sooner than that, check out her prizewinning chapboook The Saving Work from Kore Press.

These days Graywolf (located in St. Paul MN) publishes some of the most interesting African-American writers out there, among them Jeffrey Renard Allen and Percival Everett. And they're a non-profit organization. Are non-profits and small presses where non-best selling, non-white literary fiction will be found in the future? We wonder. Your thoughts are welcome.

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Good Read

Check out OpeningChapters, a new website launched by writers David Haynes, Tonya Johnson and Rosalyn Story.

Their aim is high: to publish evocative sample chapters and long excerpts by black literary writers past and present. Each month, they'll feature one current, one classic and one "lost gem" of African American fiction. What's nice is that the site not only creates exposure for writers, but builds an impressive archive too. Gotta love that.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Felicia Pride's blog--check it out

Felicia Pride, black book blogger extraordinaire, has just begun a regular blog on The Root. This first piece, "If We Ruled The World" is a witty examination of where book publishing is and where we are in it (I'm quoted, I'll admit, but that's not why it's good) Her blog is gonna be a regular feature. Add it to your feed.

Monday, April 6, 2009

One For The Poets--and the Prosers

I know, I know, Ringshout is all about African-American fiction and nonfiction (see mission statement below). But our guiding light, our role model, an organization we absolutely love is Cave Canem (and executive director Alison Meyers is one of our founding circle and an absolutely amazing nonprofit exec, poet and all-round cool person) So if you're in NYC or know anyone who is, let them know about this event on Thursday. It's gonna be good. And if you're not on Cave Canem's mailing list, think about it. Good poetry is crucial--even to us prose writers.

Odds and Ends

A few new and notable books on the horizon: First up, E.Ethelbert Miller's new memoir The Fifth Inning--one of our finest poets considers his life thus far, using the grand old game a a metaphor. Then in late May, there's Percival Everett's latest I Am Not Sidney Poitier which is a faux memoir of a guy who looks a lot like the famed actor. Percival is one of our most prolific and thoughtful writers--this one is sure to be worth checking out. Also due in late May is James Hannaham's God Says No, which is a hilarious and heartfelt debut novel. Full disclosure: I (Martha Southgate) blurbed this book--but only because it's fabulous! Pre-order and enjoy when it's available. We hope to have James in this space soon.

On another note altogether: We'd like to hear from you MFA students out there--What do you like about your programs and what would you change? What do you say when your mostly white classmates just don't know what to say about your work? How do you (or can you in the future) help each other out? Let us know.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Ernest J. Gaines wants to give you money

Hey, African-American novelists with a book published during 2008--the Ernest J. Gaines Foundation has a prize for you. Go here to find out details.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

RIP John Hope Franklin

As everyone knows by now, Dr. John Hope Franklin has died. You can leave a message of condolence or thoughts about the man here. Everyone should take a moment to remember this African-American historian, writer and hero. Tayari Jones has a nice reminiscence on her blog.