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.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Obama on my mind

Claudia over at The Bottom of Heaven hipped me to this blog :Literary Obama. I have been quite struck by the degree to which the Obamas have inspired the creation of artwork of all kinds. For my part, I've found myself thinking of Barack and Michelle as I work on my new novel, which features an African-American character who (like myself) was educated at a prep school. I know the similarities between my background and Michelle's are a big part of why I love her so much. But I've been wondering what other folks are thinking. Are you finding the Obamas popping up in your imaginative life? How? We'd love to know.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What blogs should we be linking to?

Hey Ringshout community,

We started our blog roll--but like we keep saying, we don't know everything. Let us know blogs that deal with high-quality African-American literature that we ought to have on our roll. Throw 'em down there in the comments section. Thanks!

Oxford American gets black

Check out the Oxford American issue on Race--lots of exciting voices, both new (Solon Timothy Woodward and Jamey Hatley, among others) and more established (ZZ Packer and John Holman and other folks).

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sign Of The Times

Since I wrote in last year about why we should use the "L" word when describing black literary works, I've been thinking more about the need to name things. Do we really need to be so overt? No one ever sees signs that say, "literary white fiction", after all.

Yet, when I'm driving upstate with my family along a familiar highway, I often see those bright orange detour signs that let you know the road is under construction, that changes are going on, and that you have to turn here to get where you want to go.

That's how I think of black literary works these days -- under construction. It's not like it was, back in the day when the very fact that a black writer was published meant that a vetting process had occurred and the work was of a certain ambition and quality. Morrison, Walker, Baldwin, Bambara, et al,, had to be good or their books wouldn't be in print. Not so true now. All kinds of black books are getting published -- literary, yes, but also pulp fiction, genre fiction, popular and street. Some of that work is ambitious and some of it's not. So how does a reader inch through the pile up?

Road signs.

Labeling something as "black literary fiction/non-fiction" is a corrective, a temporary measure for the particular times that we're in. Just like on a highway, at some point the signs will be removed when the new thing is in place. Meanwhile signage helps. It helps the reader navigate a bookstore; it helps the bookstore promote certain kinds of work; it helps young African American writers aspire to have their own books in that section of the bookstore; it helps professors of AA lit discover new books they can add to their syllabi; and it helps publishers clarify what it is they're publishing. Voila! Everyone's expectations get managed.

I think of labeling as a navigational device, a GPS of black literary works.

RingShout itself is a road sign. We want to identify ambitious work by black writers so there's no mystery about what it is, no claim that it doesn't exist or can't be found, no excuse to let it linger on the shadowy back roads of our culture.

I certainly wish, as an emerging writer, I'd had some kind of tool to help me navigate my way -- nothing like a good road sign to get you where you want to go. Or need to be.

Bridgett M. Davis

Friday, March 13, 2009

Mr. Johnson's Syllabus

Here's the kind of thing that Ringshout hopes to inspire--it's all about us talking to each other!

Andy Johnson, an MFA student and instructor at the University of Alabama came up to me after our AWP panel. We talked a bit about ways to get the word out about our literature and about what Ringshout might accomplish. And then he took our conversation home and made it work! Here's what he posted on our Facebook page:
"After our conversation, I developed a syllabus for this course and submitted it. (no word yet) Here are my texts:(readings)
The Portable Promised Land, Toure

The Known World, Edward P. Jones

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, ZZ Packer

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz

The Fall of Rome, Martha Southgate

Native Guard, Natasha Trethewey

Hoops, Major Jackson

Fahanomeon, Fahamou Pecou

Dreams From My Father, Barack Obama

Truth: Red, White, and Black, Robert Morales and Kyle Baker

What is the What, Dave Eggers, with Valentino Achak Cheng



Chapelle’s Show

The Queens of Comedy

Def Poetry Jam

The Boondocks


The New Danger, Mos Def

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Lauryn Hill

He still hasn't heard whether or not the course is approved but let's hope so--send encouragement to him via FB or leaving comments here or on his blog. And please use this to inspire you--what works by African-American writers would you want to teach/see taught?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Working with our future leaders

This past Tuesday, I began volunteering as a writing coach at The Posse Foundation, a remarkable youth development group. I met 11 really terrific kids, almost all black and/or Hispanic, who are going to be the leaders of the next generation. What's so terrific about Posse is that they find kids who are potentially strong leaders, put them through a demanding application process and then at the end of it, working in concert with several colleges, provide the students with a full 4-year scholarship! I'm working with the Babson College posse. What's more, the kids attend as a cohort and spend the 9 months prior to college entrance building community and learning what it will take for them to succeed in college.

What does this have to do with Ringshout, you ask? Well, I believe that this kind of volunteering, using our writing skills, is the kind of thing that will let the next generation know that there are black writers out there, doing their thing and caring what happens to the next generation. It's a minimal commitment--6 sessions--but it has big payoffs. Posse Foundation has offices in New York, DC, Atlanta, LA and Boston. To learn more you can email .