Scholars Lorna Goodison, John Keene, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi and Suzan-Lori Parks to Receive $165,000 Windham-Campbell Prizes From Yale University


Lorna G (photo via

The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University has announced the eight winners of this year’s Windham-Campbell Prizes in the fields of fiction, nonfiction, drama, and poetry. Each winner will receive a $165,000 prize at an international literary festival at Yale in September.

Four of the eight winners of this year Windham-Campbell Prizes are Black. Three have ties to academic institutions in the United States.

Lorna Goodison, a winner of a poetry prize, is a professor emerita at the University of Michigan, where she served as the Lemuel A. Johnson Professor of English and African and Afro-American studies. She currently serves as poet laureate of the nation of Jamaica. Professor Goodison has published 13 collections of poetry including Supplying Salt and Light (McClelland & Stewart, 2013).

John Keenes (photo via

John Keene, a professor of English at Rutgers University-Newark is the recipient of a Windham-Campbell Prize in the fiction category. He is the author of the short story collection Counternarratives (New Directions, 2015) and the novel Annotations (New Directions, 1995). Professor Keene received a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and a master of fine arts degree from New York University.

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (photo via

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, a native of Uganda who now lives in England, won a prize in the fiction category. Her debut novel Kintu (Transit Books, 2014) tells the parallel stories of the fall of a cursed bloodline—the titular Kintu clan—and the rise of modern Uganda. Dr. Makumbi earned a Ph.D. in African literature from Lancaster University in England. She has taught creative writing at several universities in the United Kingdom.

Suzan-Lori Parks

Suzan-Lori Parks won an award in the drama category. She is a professor of creative writing at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. Parks is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. She is a former MacArthur Foundation “Genius Award” winner. Professor Parks was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for her play “Topdog/Underdog.” In addition to her plays, Parks is the author of the novel Getting Mother’s Body (2003).


Civil Rights Leader and Educator Clara Luper Has Department Named in her Honor at University of Oklahoma

Civil Rights Leader and Activist Clara Luper (photo via


The University of Oklahoma has announced that it is recognizing educator and civil rights leader Clara Luper by naming the department of African and African American studies in her honor.

Known as the “Mother of the Oklahoma Civil Rights Movement,” Luper led a sit-in at the segregated lunch counter at the Katz Drug Store in Oklahoma City in 1958. She later led campaigns for equal rights in employment opportunity, banking, open housing, and voting rights.

David L. Boren, president of the University of Oklahoma, said that “we honor Clara Luper as a trailblazer for human rights and as a symbol of the university’s commitment to equal opportunity for all people.”

Clara Luper was born 1923 in rural Okfuskee County, Oklahoma. She graduated from an all-Black high school and then enrolled at historically Black Langston University in Oklahoma. She earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1944. She later earned a master’s degree in history education at the University of Oklahoma.

Luper taught history in high schools in Spencer, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma City for 41 years. She was the first African American vice president of the Oklahoma City Social Science Teachers Association and the first African American vice president of the Oklahoma County Teachers Association. Luper also hosted her own radio show for 50 years.

A state highway bears her name and the Clara Luper Scholarship Program has been established at Oklahoma City University. More on the life of this civil rights pioneer can be found in her autobiography Behold the Walls (1979).

Clara Luper died in 2011.


Producer/Director Deon Taylor Launches Dark Circus Banner, Sets Snoop Dogg-Produced Series “The Thrill”

Deon Taylor (Gabriel Olsen/FilmMagic/Getty Images)

by Mia Galuppo via

Producer/director Deon Taylor and his Hidden Empire Film Group have launched a new shingle, Dark Circus, that will produce film and television content aimed towards urban audiences, with a focus on the comedy and horror genres.

The first project set up under the banner is a Snoop Dogg-produced horror anthology series, The Thrill. It centers on a mysterious hotel, The Last Stop Inn, situated on a lonely stretch of foreboding highway, where the unlucky guests who check in each week struggle to understand the supernatural events that unfold during their stay.

The first feature release under the new label will be The House Next Door, the previously announced sequel to Meet the Blacks. Taylor directed the comedy that stars Mike Epps and Katt Williams.

“We have the resources and market expertise to deliver branded content with a unique voice — one that speaks to an urban audience,” said Taylor. “I won’t say that this market is underserved, as there are a great deal of films still finding their way to the marketplace. However, our intention is to raise the bar with Dark Circus and create an enduring brand. Partnering with Snoop on this first anthology series will have us coming out of the gates strong, and we couldn’t be more excited.”

Taylor — who directed and produced the upcoming Paula Patton-starrer Traffik and is attached to direct the police drama .38 — runs Hidden Empire with partners Roxanne Avent and Robert F. Smith.


Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios Acquires Weather Channel

Byron Allen (photo via

by Cynthia Littleton via

Adding another pillar to his growing TV and film portfolio, Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios has reached a deal to acquire cable’s Weather Channel in a transaction valued at about $300 million.

Entertainment Studios is buying the Weather Group, parent company of the cabler and the Local Now streaming service, from Comcast and private equity giants Blackstone and Bain. That group purchased Weather Channel for $3.5 billion in July 2008. The digital operations of Weather Channel were acquired in 2015 by IBM in a deal pegged at around $2 billion.

“The Weather Channel is one of the most trusted and extremely important cable networks, with information vitally important to the safety and protection of our lives,” said Allen, who is chairman-CEO of Entertainment Studios. “We welcome the Weather Channel, which has been seen in American households for nearly four decades, to our cable television networks division. The acquisition of the Weather Channel is strategic, as we begin our process of investing billions of dollars over the next five years to acquire some of the best media assets around the world.”

The Weather Channel, which made its on-air bow in 1982, is one of cable’s most well-known brands but its linear prospects have been challenged by the ubiquitous availability of weather-related data via digital sources. Nonetheless it’s a big step for Allen’s company, which already operates eight linear TV channels including Pets.TV, Comedy.TV and Cars.TV that target niche audiences. Weather Channel will be the most widely distributed outlet in Allen’s portfolio.

“We are excited to join Entertainment Studios, and we are especially proud to be part of one of the largest emerging global media companies,” said Dave Shull, CEO of Weather Channel. “Byron Allen’s purchase of our innovative and forward-thinking organization will increase the value we bring to our viewers, distributors, and advertisers.”

Allen’s Entertainment Studios has also been moving aggressively in the independent film arena in recent years with the launch of Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures. Last year the fledgling distributor saw respectable box office returns last year from the thriller “47 Meters Down” and the Western “Hostiles.” Allen Group is the sole owner of Entertainment Studios.


Emmy Award-Winning Actor/Writer/Producer Lena Waithe Covers April Issue Of ‘Vanity Fair’

by Danielle Jennings via

The last year has been a whirlwind for actress/writer/producer/creator Lena Waithe. After making history by being the first black woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series (for the Netflix hit Master of None,) creating the new Showtime hit series The Chi and co-starring in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming film Ready Player One. Waithe is living her best life and now she can add Vanity Fair cover girl to the list.

You might as well get used to seeing and hearing about Lena Waithe for years to come, as the young Hollywood power player is breaking down boundaries and providing top-tier work with each project. As she covers the April 2018 issue of Vanity Fair magazine, Waithe gets candid about her career, her future and being a queer POC.

Excerpts from Lena Waithe x Vanity Fair interview:

[On how life has changed since her Emmy win]: “How has the Emmy changed me? It got me all these meetings that I go in and say I’m too busy to work with you—you should have hollered at me. You can take my call when I call you about this black queer writer over here who’s got a dope pilot, or this person over here who’s got really cool ideas, or this actress who’s really amazing but nobody’s seen her.”

[On being a black writer in Hollywood]: “The hardest thing about being a black writer in this town is having to pitch your black story to white execs,” she says. “Also, most of the time when we go into rooms to pitch, there’s one token black executive that sometimes can be a friend and sometimes can be a foe. I wonder if they think it makes me more comfortable, if that makes me think that they’re a woke network or studio because they’ve got that one black exec. It feels patronizing. I’m not against a black exec. I want there to be more of them.”

[On being a black gay woman in Hollywood]: “Being black and gay, having dreadlocks, having a certain kind of swag, and dressing the way I do,” she explains, she is sometimes told by certain well-meaning admirers or fashion wannabes, “ ‘That’s dope, you’re cool.’ I don’t feel validated by that. . . . I don’t want to be White. I don’t want to be straight. I don’t want to blend in. . . . I try to wear queer designers who happen to be brown and makin’ shit.”

In addition to her other projects, Waithe also just got the greenlight for her TBS series Twenties which is loosely based on her early years in Los Angeles and tells the stories of three black women making their way in Hollywood.


Paula Mae Weekes, The 1st Woman President of Trinidad and Tobago, Takes Office

Paula Mae Weekes (photo via

by Tiffany McGee via

For the first time, the twin island Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago has a woman president. After an electoral college win in January, Paula Mae Weekes, a retired Court of Appeal judge was sworn in on Monday, Latin American network TeleSUR reported. Weekes’ inauguration makes Trinidad the only nation in the region to have a woman as head of state after Chile’s Michelle Bachelet vacated her position on March 11.

Obstacles still remain

Despite making history, Weekes is taking office at a challenging time for the nation, known best for its Carnival and for robust oil and natural gas exports. She replaces Anthony Carmona who leaves behind an extremely high murder rate — nearly 400 people in Trinidad have been victims of homicide in in 2017, according to the Trinidad Guardian. She’ll also have to take on an increasing unemployment rate, which rose to 5.3 percent in the second quarter of 2017, Trading Economics reported.

In her inaugural speech, she pledged to take on these and other problems head on. “None of us is blind or foolish enough to deny that Trinidad and Tobago is going through dark times, but I echo the words of C.S. Lewis when I say: ‘this a good world gone wrong but it still retains the memory of what ought to have been’.”

Weekes, 59, worked in both the public and private sectors after graduating law school. Beginning in 1982 she worked in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for 11 years before going into private practice.  In 1996, she became a judge at the Criminal Division of Trinidad’s High Court, and in 2005 she was promoted to the Court of Appeal. She also served as Justice of Appeal in Turks and Caicos for three years. She was also Chancellor of the Anglican Church, where she oversaw all finances.

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Ava DuVernay to Direct DC’s Superhero Epic ‘New Gods’

Ava DuVernay (photo via

by Dave McNary via

Ava DuVernay is stepping into the superhero universe. The filmmaker has come on board to direct “New Gods” at Warner Bros. as part of the studio’s DC Extended Universe. “New Gods,” based on the DC Comics series of the same name, is aimed at creating a new universe of properties for the studio. Created and designed by Jack Kirby, the comic was first released in 1971.

The movie marks the second major superhero tentpole directed by a woman, following another DC property: Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman.”

DuVernay directed Disney’s “A Wrinkle in Time,” becoming the first woman of color in Hollywood to helm a live-action film with a production budget of $100 million. The time-travel fantasy has grossed $42.2 million in its first six days in North America.

The New Gods are natives of the twin planets of New Genesis and Apokolips. New Genesis is an idyllic planet ruled by the Highfather, while Apokolips is a dystopia filled with machinery and fire pits ruled by the tyrant Darkseid. New Genesis and Apokolips call themselves gods, living outside of normal time and space in a realm known as the Fourth World.

Half a dozen “New Gods” series have been published following the original. The most recent, “The New 52,” was issued in 2011.

DuVernay also directed the Oscar-nominated documentary “13th” and the civil-rights drama “Selma.” She is the creator and executive producer of the OWN series “Queen Sugar.”

“New Gods” would be a major addition to the DC Extended Universe, which Warner Bros. launched in 2013 to take advantage of the massive DC library and compete with Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe. The DCEU launched with 2013’s “Man of Steel,” followed by “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” “Suicide Squad,” “Wonder Woman,” and “Justice League,” which was the lowest grosser of the five titles, with $657.9 million worldwide.

“Aquaman,” starring Jason Momoa, is the next title in the DC Extended Universe, set for release on Dec. 21. The studio is also moving ahead with a “Wonder Woman” sequel with Gal Gadot and director Jenkins returning. The pic hits theaters on Nov. 1, 2019.

In the wake of the box office under-performance of “Justice League,” Warner Bros. is re-organizing the DC film operations by promoting Walter Hamada to president of DC-based film production in an effort to exert more quality control over its big-screen efforts. Toby Emmerich, who was promoted in 2016 to president and chief content officer at Warner Bros., worked with Hamada at New Line, which he ran before moving over to the main studio.

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