Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Urban Fiction Breaks Through: Harlem Book Fair 2013

This summer I had the pleasure of attending the Harlem Book Fair, the nation’s largest African American book festival, whose aim is to honor and celebrate the rich literacy history of black authors. Located between New York Public Library’s Countee Cullen library auditorium and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, thousands were in attendance to partake in music, panel discussions, food and workshops. Since the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, Harlem has been known as a major African-American cultural center, on the cutting edge of black life and culture which was in full effect in this year’s offering.

One of the more lively panel discussions featured three well-known urban fiction authors, Albert “Prodigy” Johnson, one half of the hip-hop phenomenon Mobb Deep; bestselling author of Eviction Notice and Animal, K’wan; and New York Times bestselling author of Murderville 2: The Epidemic and The Dopeman’s Wife, JaQuavis Coleman. Yes, he is one half of the husband and wife writing team JaQuavis and Ashley, authors of the white hot series, The Cartel. Infamous Lives, Infamous Stories: Doing Hard Time on Main Street – Urban Fiction Breaks Through provided a platform for the three authors to contextualize their experiences as writers in the larger historical movement of African American entrepreneurship, authorship and self-determination. While best known as Prodigy, one half of seminal hip hop duo, Mobb Deep whose dystopian street tales were shocking considering the duo’s youth when they created their first album. Prodigy was deeply influenced by his grandmother, Bernice Johnson, owner of Bernice Johnson Cultural Arts Center Queens. In an era when there were seemingly few successful African-American women business owners, she managed to own several prime pieces of real estate while establishing an important creative space for black artists. Alumni of her school include the Tap Dance Kid, Savion Glover and Michael Jackson’s choreographer, Michael Peters.

Because rapping is essentially storytelling, the leap into writing fiction which reflects on and mirrors both popular culture and contemporary African-American thought and issues, was not a difficult one for Prodigy. Writers JaQuavis and K’wan’s path to writing was more traditional-the former began writing stories in grade school, and the later developed an interest in writing while employed as a broker. These three authors share a determination to infuse a cultural aesthetic into the urban-lit tales they create. As a group of writer under 40 years of age, they have drank deeply from the “keep-it-real” aesthetic of hip hop culture but have also drawn strength from the collective experiences of African-American writers to craft fiction that expresses our unique experiences. K’wan and JaQuavis have become successful writers because they’ve developed a narrative in their storytelling that rings true to their readers. K’wan’s Hood Rat series depicts the lives of young women who sleep around to get what they want in life-the consequences of which are drama filled. And JaQuavis’ most successful series, The Cartel, follows a group of high profile drug dealing men and the women who love them. The street tales these three authors write about continue to draw more and more fan who wait with baited breathe for the next book in the series to be released.

Titles for further reading:


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

National Poetry Month

"It is difficult to get the news from poetry,
yet men and women die miserably every
day for lack of what is found there."
~William Carlos Williams

With the publication of Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral in 1773, Phillis Wheatley was vaulted into fame both in England and the U.S. colonies. Wheatley’s talent carved out a place for herself and other African American women poets and writers within the literary landscape. Phillis Wheatley was born in The Gambia in Africa and sold into slavery. She was brought to the states when she was 7 or 8.  She has long been deemed the first African American poet. Jupiter Hammon was actually the first African American to publish a poem, but Wheatley was the definitely the first African American woman to publish a book of poems.

Phillis Wheatley led the way for modern day black female poets to speak their truths in words that enlighten, uplift, chastise and frame the world in a literary context.

This April, National Poetry Month, the African American Center honors Phillis Wheatley, and all the other glorious and insightful female poets that came after.

An Hymn To The Morning

The morn awakes, and wide extends her rays,

On ev'ry leaf the gentle zephyr plays;

Harmonious lays the feather'd race resume,

Dart the bright eye, and shake the painted plume.

Ye shady groves, your verdant gloom display

To shield your poet from the burning day:

~Phillis Wheatley


Life and works of Phillis Wheatley : containing her complete poetical works, numerous letters, and a complete biography of this famous poet of a century and a half ago

The poems of Phillis Wheatley

My name is Phillis Wheatley : a story of slavery and freedom

After Mecca" : women poets and the Black Arts Movement

Black American women poets and dramatists [electronic resource]

American women poets

Color, sex & poetry : three women writers of the Harlem Renaissance



Toi Derricotte

Gwendolyn Brooks

Lucille Clifton

Nikki Giovanni

Nikki Finney

Rita Dove

Thulani Davis

Audre Lorde

June Jordan

Evie Shockley

Aracelis Girmay

Ntozake Shange

Thursday, March 22, 2012

My literary Quest to Find Me

Who am I as a black woman? Wow, this is a question that I could and may ponder for the remained of my life and still not be able to answer with certainty. I believe that defining who I am or want to be as a “woman” is fairly easy in today’s world. As a woman, I am smart, independent, nurturing, and assertive—and not intimidated by definitions of who society thinks I should be to hide any of these qualities. Ok, so I am confident with that. But now, here comes the challenge. Who am I as a black woman? While most people would not consider this to be much different than the question of a woman—it really is. Compared to other women, I can see my physical differences. I have dark skin, coarse hair, thick hips and thighs—but besides that who am I intellectually, socially, and soulfully.

Something I have always adored about literature is that it gives us the opportunity beginning at a young age to build our own character based on the heroines we read about, while empathizing with the tragic experiences that most closely relate to our own. At the age of 27, I have begun making my final transitions into adulthood. I spend a lot of time reflecting on characters from past novels that I have read, and relating their experiences to my own. A novel that really helped to kick start my journey of self-discovery is, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. If you have read it, you are aware it is not an uplifting tale of triumph in the face of adversity. The Bluest Eye was written in 1970, and was Toni Morrison’s first novel. The story is about a year in the life of a young black girl, named Pecola, in Lorain, Ohio, set in the Midwest as well as in the years following the Great Depression. Pecola Breedlove prays every day for beauty. Mocked by other children for the dark skin, curly hair, and brown eyes that set her apart, she yearns for normalcy, for the blond hair and blue eyes that she believes will allow her to finally fit in. Yet as her dream grows more fervent, her life slowly starts to disintegrate in the face of adversity and strife. The book addresses powerful issues about race, class, and gender.

When I finished reading this book, I gazed in the mirror for a long time. Reflecting back I thought of instances where I had manipulated my features to conform to what beauty I believed it was suppose to be. I recall relaxers burning my scalp, wearing long sleeve shirts in the summer to beat the suns tanning rays, and even scheming as to how I could buy color contacts when they first came out. This conundrum of thoughts made me feel ashamed. Ashamed that I was so blinded by what I perceived as beauty to not recognize that it was staring right at me in the mirror. Comedian Chris Rock said that the one thing he learned from creating his documentary, Good Hair, is that women want so badly to be beautiful. I would be a liar if I said that he was not 100% correct. But as a black woman, my ideals and standards of beauty must run further than the color of my eyes or texture of my hair. My beauty must be about embracing and celebrating my Afro centricity intellectually, socially, and soulfully.

~Jaiden Williams
African American Center Intern-
Library School Student
{The African American Center would like to know what literary works has helped you define your identity or has moved you to remember it's message long after the book was done and closed? Leave a comment and share your literary journey with others.}


African American women have for hundreds of years shouldered the brunt of being a double minority, having to overcome the prejudice against both their sex and their race. That they have attained the level of achievement that they have today is both a wonder and a miracle.

Black women writers have been the authors of some of the earliest African American writings. Phillis Wheatley was the first published African American woman poet having published her book Poems on Various Subjects in 1773. Lucy Terry is the author of the oldest known piece of African-American literature: "Bars Fight". Although the poem was initially written in 1746, it was not published until 1855. Writers such as Angela Weld Grimke, Zora Neal Hurston and Nella Larsen all of the Harlem Renaissance followed the tradition of strong African American women writers, leading the way for the Gwendolyn Brooks, Lucille Clifton, Octavia Butler, Toni Cade Bambara, Mari Evans and others that came after.

Below find a list of women authors that carry on the tradition of African American letters-

Angelou, Maya

Bambara, Toni Cade

Brand, Dionne

Parker, Pat,

Lorde, Audre

Davis, Angela

Walker, Alice

Morrison, Toni

Naylor, Gloria

Guy, Rosa

McMillan, Terry

Golden, Marita

Dungy, Camille

Rankine, Claudia

Foster, Sharon Ewell

Berry, Deidre

Wesley, Valerie Wilson

Ray, Francis

McClain-Watson, Teresa

Cleage, Pearl

Monday, January 30, 2012


Jimmy Winkfield
(Natl Museum of Racing)
THEY WERE FIRST: African Americans in Sports
2/18/2012 - 4/12/2012

Genius comes in many forms- some people are mental giants, others are gifted in the realm of creativity others are physical geniuses gifted with a physical prowess that allows them to be the best at athletic competitions and games. 

For Black History Month 2012, I wanted to focus on the great athletes that have come out of the African American communities, wanted to highlight the athletic giants that led the way for the current LeBron James, Venus and Serena Williams, Tiger Woods and so forth. 

Someone came first- some African American athlete was the first to be chosen, was the first to run faster, jump higher, the first to show that African Americans could compete with whites on the playing field if given a chance, the first to show that girls could throw like the boys. This exhibit is for them and for sports enthusiasts everywhere.

When first beginning the research for the They Were First: Blacks in Sports exhibit, a concerted effort was made to seek out as many sources as possible to help in putting together the exhibit. Below find just a few titles that were used as the basis of research.

The great black jockeys: the lives and times of the men who dominated America's first national sport
The Great Black Jockeys is the first book about the lives of forgotten jockeys. In The Great Black Jockeys, the exploits and courage of America's earliest and best athletes are finally remembered.

Wink : the incredible life and epic journey of Jimmy Winkfield /
This vivid biography of a great black jockey who was banned from American racing, and who found a new life in Europe during turbulent times.

A hard road to glory : a history of the African-American athlete
A Hard Road to Glory, a three-volume work is an authoritative treatment of the history of Black athletes in the US. Each volume is thoroughly illustrated with multiple glossy inserts.

Say it Loud: an illustrated history of the Black athlete
Say It Loud pays tribute not only to such household names as Jackie, Ali, Venus, and Serena but to the forgotten many who made their success and glory possible.

Out of the Shadows: a biographical history of African American athletes
The original essays in the comprehensive collection examine the lives and sports of famous and not-so-famous African American men and women athletes from the nineteenth century to today.

Fleet Walkers Divided Heart: the life of baseball’s first black major leaguer
Moses Fleetwood Walker was the first black American to play baseball in a major league.

The Most Famous Woman In baseball: Effa Manley and the Negro Leagues
From 1936 to 1948, Manley ran the Negro league Newark Eagles that her husband, Abe, owned for roughly a decade.

The California Winter League : America's first integrated professional baseball league
The California Winter League was the first to bring together Negro League teams and white professional teams in one league. This work is the first complete history of the California Winter League from its murky beginnings around 1912 to its golden years from 1924 to 1935 to its final demise in the mid 1940s.

Charging the net : a history of Blacks in tennis from Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe to the Williams sisters
The detailed, yet highly accessible history of blacks in tennis from the 1940s to the present is also the story of the modern game from a new viewpoint. Players from Australia, Africa, and France are included, as well as African Americans.

African American golfers during the Jim Crow era
Authors Dawkins and Kinloch reconstruct the world of segregated African American golf from the 1890s forward. Along the way they show the pivotal role of heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, who said the toughest fight of his life was against segregated golf.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Black History Month Event 2012

"State of SF" Black History Month event with a host of panelists, community, business and distinguished leaders and speakers talking to a range of topics such as: Regionalism, Local Decision Making, African American Out-Migration,

The Crisis of Men & Boys of Color, Quality Jobs & Labor Issues and Equity Strategies & Community Benefits

The discussion will be focused towards coming up with solutions to the issues and challenges.

Black Power Mixtape, produced by SF native Danny Glover will also be shown.

Black History Month Event 2012

This is a workshop for those who want to know more about their ancestors but do not know where to start. Tracing your family tree is an interest as old as time. Although genealogy was once considered to be the pursuit of royalty and nobility, it has now been taken up by people in walks of life. There is a keen interest by all classes to know more about their heritage and ancestors from which they descend.