Category: Books

BOOKS: New Biography “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom” Focuses on the Man and his Voice

by Jennifer Szalai via nytimes.com

Time has a way of sanding off the rough edges of historical memory, turning even the most convulsive, contentious lives into opportunities for national triumphalism and self-congratulation. With “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom,” the historian David W. Blight wants to enrich our understanding of an American in full who, for more than half his life, wasn’t even legally recognized as such. Now that Douglass is enshrined on his pedestal, shorn of what made him “thoroughly and beautifully human,” Blight notes how the “old fugitive slave” has been “adopted by all elements in the political spectrum,” eager to claim him as their own.

Plenty has been written about Douglass in the 200 years since he was born, not least by Douglass himself, who recounted his life story in three autobiographies — a paper trail of memoirs that Blight deems “both a pleasure and peril” for the biographer. In tracing an arc from bondage to freedom, Douglass cast himself as a “self-made hero,” Blight writes, while leaving “a great deal unsaid.” A number of other books have filled in the gaps — exploring Douglass’s relationships with the women in his life, for instance, as well as his fraught and transformative friendship with Abraham Lincoln — but Blight’s is the first major biography of Douglass in nearly three decades, making ample use of materials in the private collection of a retired doctor named Walter O. Evans to illuminate Douglass’s later years, after the Civil War.

Blight, who has edited and annotated volumes of Douglass’s autobiographies, undertakes this project with the requisite authority and gravity. The result is comprehensive, scholarly, sober; Blight is careful to tell us what cannot be known, including the persistent mystery of Douglass’s father (who was most likely white, and may have been Frederick’s mother’s owner). On the stuff that’s known, Blight is an attentive if sometimes fastidious guide, poring over speeches and texts with the critical equivalent of a magnifying glass. Douglass, Blight says, was a “man of words,” making this book “the biography of a voice.”

That voice took shape and sharpened over time, but it would return again and again to the banks of the Tuckahoe River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born in 1818. Twenty years a slave, then almost nine years a fugitive; as Douglass himself described it in his autobiographies (having adopted his new surname from a Sir Walter Scott poem), the first decades of his life were both thrilling and terrifying. Until his abolitionist allies helped to purchase his freedom in 1846, everything he did felt provisional; he lived with the incessant fear of someone who could be plunged back into captivity at any moment.

Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/17/books/review-frederick-douglass-prophet-of-freedom-david-blight.html

Literature Professor Aaron Oforlea Wins Creative Scholarship Award from College Language Association for Debut Book

Dr. Aaron Oforlea (photo via news.wsu.edu)

via jbhe.com

Aaron N. Oforlea, an associate professor in the English department at Washington State University, has won the Creative Scholarship Award from the College Language Association for his debut book, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison and the Rhetorics of Black Male Subjectivity (Ohio State University Press, 2017). The international honor recognizes excellence in literary criticism.

According to Dr. Oforlea, he got inspiration for his book came from his interest in “how African American men achieve their dreams and goals despite racism.” His work examines two of his favorite authors and analyzes their respective African American characters and how they navigated their challenges. Upon receiving the award, he stated, “To win the award, I think for me it’s validation that I’m on the right track, that my work is making an impact in the field.”

Professor Oforlea is the only African American in his department and the only African American literature scholar at Washington State University. He has taught at the university since 2007 and was promoted to associate professor in 2013. Prior to coming to Washington State, he was a postdoctoral fellow in the department of English at Santa Clara University in California.

Dr. Oforlea holds a bachelor’s degree in English language and literature/letters from California State University, Chico and a Ph.D. in English language and literature/letters from Ohio State University.

Source: https://www.jbhe.com/2018/10/aaron-oforlea-wins-award-from-the-college-language-association-for-his-debut-book/

Henrietta Lacks, Source of Famous HeLa Cells, to be Honored with Building at Johns Hopkins University

Henrietta Lacks (photo via nbcnews.com)

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

According to the Associated Press, Johns Hopkins University and the family of Henrietta Lacks announced a new building on the school’s campus in East Baltimore will be named after the woman whose cells were taken without her consent and widely used in revolutionary cell research.

News outlets report the building will support programs promoting research and community engagement. Lacks died of cervical cancer in 1951 at the university where researchers soon discovered her cells reproduced indefinitely in test tubes.

For decades, it was not widely known that a black woman who was a patient at Hopkins was the unwitting source of the famous HeLa cells. It was only once Rebecca Skloot’s book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, was published in 2010 that Lacks’ story gained national attention. Oprah Winfrey subsequently produced and starred in a 2016 HBO biopic of Lacks’ life.

The announcement was part of the 9th Annual Henrietta Lacks Memorial Lecture, NBC 4 reports. Lacks’ granddaughter, Jeri Lacks, says the honor befits her grandmother’s role in advancing modern medicine.

Last year, the city of Baltimore designated October 4 as Henrietta Lacks Day to recognize the contributions of the woman behind the HeLa cells.

Michelle Obama Announces 10-City Book Tour for “Becoming”

by Tonya Pendleton via blackamericaweb.com

NEW YORK (AP) — Michelle Obama will visit 10 cities to promote her memoir “Becoming,” a tour featuring arenas and other performing centers to accommodate crowds far too big for any bookstore.

The former first lady will begin at the United Center in her native Chicago on Nov. 13, the book’s release date. She will finish at the American Airlines Center in Dallas on Dec. 17, Live Nation and the Crown Publishing Group announced Wednesday. In between, appearances will include Barclays Center in New York City, the Pepsi Center Arena in Denver and The Forum in Los Angeles.

Obama and former President Barack Obama each have been working on memoirs, for which they negotiated a multimillion dollar deal with Crown. No date has been set for his book, although it’s expected in 2019.

You will have to register via the link below between now and September 18, to buy tickets that go on sale on September 21st. VIP packages and Meet and Greet tickets will be available as well.

Tour Dates – Tickets available HERE. 

11/13 – Chicago, IL @ United Center

11/15 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Forum

11/17 – Washington, DC @ Capital One Arena

11/24 – Boston, MA @ TD Garden

11/29 – Philadelphia, PA @ Wells Fargo Center

12/1 – Brooklyn, NY @ Barclays Center

12/11 – Detroit, MI @ Little Caesars Arena

12/13 – Denver, CO @ Pepsi Center Arena

12/14 – San Jose, CA @ SAP Center

12/17 – Dallas, TX @ American Airlines Center

Source: https://blackamericaweb.com/2018/09/12/michelle-obama-announces-10-city-book-tour/

Science Fiction Author N.K. Jemisin Makes History at the Hugo Awards with 3rd win in a row for Best Novel

N.K. Jemisin set a record winning a third Hugo in a row for best novel. (N.K. Jemisin)

by Michael Schaub via latimes.com

The winners of the Hugo Awards, considered some of the most prestigious science fiction and fantasy literary prizes, were announced on Sunday, with science fiction author N.K. Jemisin making history as the first writer ever to win the best novel award three years in a row.

Jemisin won the prize for “The Stone Sky,” the third book in her “Broken Earth” trilogy. The previous two books in the series, “The Fifth Season” and “The Obelisk Gate,” both won the best novel award as well.

During her acceptance speech at the World Science Fiction Convention in San Jose, CA, Jemisin said, “I get a lot of questions about where the themes of the Broken Earth trilogy come from. I think it’s pretty obvious that I’m drawing on the human history of structural oppression, as well as my feelings about this moment in American history.”

But she also sounded a note of optimism.

“I want you to remember that 2018 is also a good year. This is a year in which records have been set,” Jemisin said. “A year in which even the most privilege-blindered of us has been forced to acknowledge that the world is broken and needs fixing — and that’s a good thing! Acknowledging the problem is the first step toward fixing it. I look to science fiction and fantasy as the aspirational drive of the Zeitgeist: We creators are the engineers of possibility. And as this genre finally, however grudgingly, acknowledges that the dreams of the marginalized matter and that all of us have a future, so will go the world.”

Jemisin’s fans took to Twitter to celebrate her historic hat trick. Among them was her cousin, the television host and comedian W. Kamau Bell, who noted that Jemisin’s books have yet to be adapted into film:

Television producer Shonda Rhimes responded to Bell with a link to a year-old Deadline story about “The Fifth Season” being adapted into a TNT television program, and Jemisin replied.

Nnedi Okorafor took home a non-Hugo award for best young adult book for her novel “Akata Warrior.”

A full list of this year’s winners is available at the Hugo Awards website.

Read more: http://www.latimes.com/books/la-et-jc-nk-jemisin-hugo-awards-20180821-story.html

HISTORY: Library Science Pioneer Dorothy Porter Wesley Created Archive at Howard University that Structured New Field of Africana Collections

Dorothy B. Porter (photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1951)

by Kara Bledsoe via daily.jstor.org

For more than 150 years, Howard University has been associated with the highest caliber of scholarship on the African diaspora. Howard’s legacy as a hub for the intellectual exploration of Blackness is widely appreciated in the Africana subset of academia. Lesser known is the woman who conceived and facilitated the development of Howard’s wealth of archival resources into one of the primary centers for the study of people of African descent. The story of Dorothy Porter Wesley, a pioneer in the field of library and information science, is also the story of the triumphant beginnings of a new discipline. As a result of Porter’s vision and dedication, Black special collections began to occupy more prominent roles in their institutions, allowing engagement with historically marginalized narratives through the palpable past.

The Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, an administrative unit containing the libraries, university archives, museum, and additional special collections at Howard University is the realization of a vision from centuries past. During Reconstruction, former Union general Otis Howard and his supporters in Washington D.C., founded the university that bears his name. From its inception, the school was to have a library. The first board members, many of whom were prominent figures in the local Black community or wealthy northern abolitionists, donated swaths of manuscript material, mostly concerning Africa and abolitionism.

These contributions reflected a wave of interest in studying Black history that coincided with the introduction of Black historical societies across the country in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In significant numbers, the Emancipated were reclaiming a history that white supremacy attempted to erase. After hundreds of years of white people in the United States denying Black people their agencies, histories, languages, and cultures, the very act of consolidating materials for study was radical, and the undercurrent of this practice is the genesis of a dedicated examination of Blackness.

Growing in an ebb and flow of major donations and smaller, continuous gifts, the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center evolved from a one-room study in 1917 to a large-scale Foundation by the turn of the century. The University accepted donations of personal libraries and papers, including first editions and other rare texts and writings from Howard and his contemporaries. The generosity of donors was not unique to the University. Wherever freedmen settled, one of the first institutions in their communities was a school, and teachers were highly regarded. Additionally, wealthy, white, northern philanthropists felt strongly that contributing to the education of the formerly enslaved would partially atone for the “earthly torment” of the Atlantic Slave Trade. In these respects, the origins of Howard’s collections are comparable to those of peer institutions, although the school’s Du Boisian ethos differentiated it from its primarily vocational contemporaries.

By the 1930s, Howard University was one of the premier academic establishments for Black elites and their progeny. Sixty-five years removed from enslavement, the first generation of Howard graduates made way for a new crop. Among this number was Dorothy Porter.

Born on May 25, 1904, to a middle-class family in Virginia, Dorothy Louise enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle, supported by her parents, the Burnetts. Her father Hayes Joseph Burnett, was a physician, and her mother Bertha (née Ball) was a tennis pro-turned-homemaker. As a girl, Porter’s family moved to suburban Montclair, New Jersey, where she and her three younger siblings grew up. In 1923, Porter moved to Washington, D.C., to attend Miner Normal School, receiving a diploma two years later.

An avid bibliophile and writer, Porter earned a bachelor’s degree from Howard, then made her way to New York at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, where she became acquainted with some of the movement’s biggest names. Throughout her education, she coupled her passion for Africana with her interest in cataloguing and preservation. She persevered through discouragement and discrimination, becoming the first Black woman to receive a library science degree from Columbia. Continue reading “HISTORY: Library Science Pioneer Dorothy Porter Wesley Created Archive at Howard University that Structured New Field of Africana Collections”

2018 American Book Awards Honor Cultural Diversity

This combination photo of book cover images shows “City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771-1965,” by Kelly Lytle Hernandez, from left, “The Dawn of Detroit: A Chronicle of Slavery and Freedom in the City of the Straits,” by Tiya Miles and “South of Pico: African American Artists in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s,” by Kellie Jones, which are among this year’s American Book Award winners for works reflecting the country’s diversity. (University of North Carolina Press, from left, The New Press and Duke University Press via AP)

via seattletimes.com

NEW YORK (AP) — Books on human caging, early Detroit and African-American culture in Los Angeles are among this year’s winners for works reflecting the country’s diversity.

The American Book Awards were announced Monday by the Before Columbus Foundation, founded in 1976 by author-poet Ishmael Reed.

Winners included Kelly Lytle Hernandez’s City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771-1965 and Kellie JonesSouth of Pico: African American Artists in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970sTiya Miles was cited for her history The Dawn of Detroit.

Other recipients were Victor Lavalle for The Changeling: A Novel, Valeria Luiselli for Tell Me How It Ends, Tommy Pico for Nature Poem and Rena Priest for Patriarchy Blues.

Author-filmmaker Sequoyah Guess was given a lifetime achievement award. The poets-musicians Heroes are Gang Leaders were cited for oral literature and an Editor/Publisher Award was given to the late Charles F. Harris, who championed the works of Alice Walker, Nikki Giovanni and other black writers.

Source: https://www.seattletimes.com/entertainment/books/american-book-awards-honor-cultural-diversity/?

Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga to Star in Adaptation of Nella Larsen’s Harlem Renaissance Era Novel ‘Passing’

The Hollywood Reporter recently reported that Ruth Negga (“Loving”) and Tessa Thompson(“Sorry to Bother You”) will star in a film adaptation of Nella Larsen’s novel “Passing.”

Larsen’s novel explores the practice of passing as a race different from one’s own. “Passing” focuses on childhood friends, Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry, who reconnect in adulthood. Kendry passes as White, but longs for connection with Redfield and her life in Harlem’s Black community. The friends’ obsession with one another pushes their lives together in ways that prove risky for both women.

The critical acclaim that “Passing” earned after its 1929 publication cemented Larson’s legacy among the most celebrated authors of the Harlem Renaissance.

Thompson, who is of Afro-Panamanian and Mexican descent, and Negga, the daughter of an Ethiopian man and Irish woman, will portray the pair at the center of the story. Rebecca Hall, a British actress of partial Black ancestry, will direct.

Source: https://www.colorlines.com/articles/tessa-thompson-ruth-negga-star-passing-adaptation

OPINION: Why I’m Here For the Badass Black Women of San Diego Comic-Con 2018

by Maeve Richardson

As GBN’s resident biracial, millennial nerd, I place a lot of importance on diversity at Comic Con and in the entertainment industry.

Pop culture has the power to influence how people see the world around them, and, thankfully, there are people in the entertainment industry who understand this and work to make content that showcases the positive aspects of diversity and uniqueness.

A prime example of this content is Steven Universe, an out-of-this-world show that isn’t afraid to show just how diverse this planet really is.

On the surface, Steven Universe is a cartoon about a boy trying to save the world. But on a deeper level it’s a show about love and friendship, and a show that teaches kids lessons about healthy relationships, anxiety, and how important it is to be true to yourself. Estelle, who plays Garnet (the fierce leader of the Crystal gems and fusion of LGBTQ+ couple Ruby and Sapphire), killed it at the Superheroes of Body Positivity Panel this Comic Con.

Estelle, along with the rest of the Crewniverse (people who work on Steven Universe) recently participated in Dove’s Self Esteem Project. Rebecca Sugar, the creator of Steven Universe and Estelle joined Dove on the Panel to talk about body positivity and open up about their own experiences with body image. “My body works, it’s gorgeous. It gets me from point A to point B. If someone, doesn’t like my body, that’s too bad,” Estelle explained.

Another show featured at Comic-Con was Black Lightning, a badass superhero show that celebrates Black Americans. Series co-creator Mara Brock Akil took the stage to express that “celebrating our culture is important to remind us that we are also a part of the fabric of American culture. Tracking our history and our path is important.”

Amandla Stenberg (photo by Gage Skidmore)

Then there are the women of the Women Who Kick Ass Panel. Amandla Stenberg, who I’ve been a fan of since their portrayal of Rue in The Hunger Games, said “The topic of ‘strong female roles’ is tricky. There’s an awareness I have. I create representation because of the accessibility I have. When it comes to roles there is a give and take time. We continue to sacrifice in order to see the representation we want.” I will definitely be purchasing a ticket for their new movie The Darkest Minds.

And of course, there’s Regina King, who will be starring in HBO’s new Watchmen series. “There weren’t many like me kicking ass. I was a Lynda Carter fan. Even though Wonder Woman was wearing a skimpy outfit, she had ownership and confidence that exuded female strength,” Regina King explained about her own experiences with superheroes.

For me, cartoons and superheroes have shaped core aspects of my personality and morality, so it means a lot to me to see so many badass women of color involved in so many amazing projects share their experiences.

Octavia Spencer, LeBron James Limited Series About Madam C.J. Walker Lands at Netflix

Octavia Spencer/LeBron James (photo via variety.com)

by Debra Birnbaum via Variety.com

It’s official: Octavia Spencer and LeBron James’ limited series about entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker has landed at Netflix. The streaming outlet made the announcement at its Television Critics Assn. press tour session Sunday.

The project is executive produced by Spencer and James. Spencer will star in the eight-episode series, which is based on the book “On Our Own Ground” by A’Lelia Bundles, Walker’s great-great-granddaughter, who will also serve as a consultant.

The series will recount the untold story of how Walker, a black hair care pioneer and mogul, overcame hostile turn-of-the-century America, epic rivalries, tumultuous marriages and some trifling family to become America’s first black, self-made female millionaire.

Walker, the daughter of slaves, was orphaned at age seven, married at 14, and widowed at 20. She spent two decades laboring as a washerwoman, earning $1.50 a week. Everything changed, though, following Walker’s discovery of a revolutionary hair care formula for black women. By the time she died in 1919, she had built a beauty empire from the ground up, amassing wealth unprecedented among black women.

“Black Nativity” directory Kasi Lemmons will direct the pilot and also executive produce, and Nicole Asher will write. Janine Sherman Barrois and Elle Johnson will also serve as executive producers, along with SpringHill’s Maverick Carter, and Zero Gravity’s Mark Holder and Christine Holder.

The Holders optioned the book from Bundles in early 2016, and Spencer pursued the part aggressively once she learned of it. With the Oscar winner attached, William Morris Endeavor Agency pitched the series to James as his production company’s entryway into prestige TV.

“It’s so exciting for all of us to keep building SpringHill, see it mature, and continue to find its voice. We are really focused on growing with authenticity and substance,” Carter said. “For us, this is totally about great stories and great partners. Partnering with Octavia to tell the story of Madam C.J. Walker is the ideal first project for SpringHill to take an important step into scripted drama.”

Source: https://variety.com/2018/tv/news/octavia-spencer-lebron-james-madam-cj-walker-netflix-limited-series-1202889368/

The Good Things Black People Do, Give and Receive All Over The World
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