NYU Professor and Novelist Zadie Smith to Receive Langston Hughes Medal for Writing

Zadie Smith (photo via lithub.com)

via jbhe.com

Zadie Smith, the acclaimed novelist who is a professor of creative writing at New York University, has been selected to received the Langston Hughes Medal from the City College of New York. The medal honors writers of poetry, drama, fiction, biographies, and critical essays from throughout the Black diaspora. Professor Smith will honored on November 16 at City College’s annual Langston Hughes Festival.

Previous winners of the Langston Hughes Medal include James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Walter Mosley, Gwendolyn Brooks, Octavia Butler, August Wilson, and Edwidge Danticat. Smith is the author of five novels including her latest work Swing Time (Penguin Books, 2016). She also published an essay collection Changing My Mind (Penguin Books, 2009) and writes frequently for the New Yorker magazine and the New York Review of Books.

A native of London, Professor Smith is a graduate of Kings College of the University of Cambridge. She joined the faculty at New York University in 2010.

Source: Zadie Smith of New York University to Receive the Langston Hughes Medal : The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education

Harlem Playwright Shaun Neblett to Honor Works of Malcolm X and Lorraine Hansberry at I, Too Arts Collective

Lorraine Hansberry and Malcolm X share a birthday on May 19 (photos via dnainfo.com)

by Dartunorro Clark via dnainfo.com

HARLEM — In an age of resistance and Black Lives Matter, a local writer is looking to the past to unpack present-day issues.In an ode to civil rights icon Malcolm X and playwright Lorraine Hansberry — both of whom share a May 19 birthday and a Harlem connection — writer Shaun Neblett is unveiling a play based on the pair’s works on Friday.

The play “Happy Birthday Malcolm and Lorraine!” will feature sets of vignettes performed by several up-and-coming playwrights who will discuss contemporary topics, such as gentrification. Since the two subjects share the same birthday, Neblett wanted to fold their ideas and words in with the work of current writers, whose “journeys have been paved by Malcolm and Lorraine’s spirit and relentless drive to sharpen the black psyche,” he said. “Beyond creating a great show, we are sending their spirits our gratitude and keeping their important teachings alive,” he added.

In doing research for the play, Neblett said he discovered a letter at Harlem’s Schomburg Center that Hansberry wrote to her local newspaper when she was living in Greenwich Village, saying that “people were coming into her community and trying to take over.” “It really speaks to the gentrification that people are dealing with today in Harlem,” said Neblett, who founded the Changing Perceptions Theater.  Another captivating draw for Neblett is the play’s location: the home of Langston Hughes, another historic Harlem figure.

The East 127th Street home was renovated and has been leased by a group of artists — called the I, Too Arts Collective — since last year to preserve Hughes’ legacy. “It’s just all a real sort of nucleus for this event and the meaning of it and the purpose,” Neblett explained. “They all fought in their own way to empower the black psyche.” Hansberry and Malcom X also have Harlem ties. He spent some of his most formidable years in the neighborhood, and she moved there in the 1950s, later writing “A Raisin in the Sun,” whose title was based on a poem by Hughes.

“They were both revolutionaries and they just went about the way they fought for liberation in different ways,” Neblett said, “but their ideas and thoughts were the same.”

“Happy Birthday Malcolm and Lorraine!” premieres Friday, May 19, at 8 p.m. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the door or online. The show will take place at the I, Too Arts Collective at the Langston Hughes House, 20 East 127th St.

Source: Harlem Playwright to Honor Work of Malcolm X and Lorraine Hansberry – Central Harlem – DNAinfo New York

Writers Rally to Save Langston Hughes Home in Harlem via Crowdfunding

Langston Hughes (photo via theroot.com)

article by Angela Bronner Helms via theroot.com

The home occupied by one of the great leaders of the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes, still stands on 127th Street in Harlem today.  Hughes used the top floor of the home as his workroom from 1947 to his death in 1967; it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

The current owner, who remains anonymous, listed the unoccupied dwelling for $1 million (which still has his typerwriter on a shelf) a few years ago, but it did not sell.  CNN Money reports that in a rapidly gentrifying New York, the home is now worth over $3 million.

Now that it’s on the market, writer Renee Watson has started an Indiegogo campaign to raise $150,000 to rent the home and turn it into a cultural center.

Over 250 people, many of them black writers, have given money in support and so far, the initiative to save Hughes’ house has raised almost $34,000.  “Hughes is deeply influential and important not only to me, but many writers of color,” says author Jacqueline Woodson, winner of the National Book Award for Brown Girl Dreaming, which opens with a Hughes poem.

Watson says she has spoken to the owner, who says she would definitely sell it, but “like me, she doesn’t want it to become condos or a coffee shop.”

To donate to the fund, please go to the I, Too, Arts Collective Indigogo page.

To read full article, go to: Black Writers Rally To Save Langston Hughes Home

AALBC.com’s 50 Favorite African-American Authors of the 20th Century

(photo via aalbc.com)

article via aalbc.com

1,826 readers cast votes back in 2001 for their favorite African-American authors. Here we share the 50 authors who received the most votes ranked in the order of the total number of votes received.  Below are the top 15.  To see the rest, go to: http://aalbc.com/authors/top50authors.php?

# 1 — (6.24%) Toni Morrison # 2 — (5.42%) Zora Neale Hurston # 3 — (4.82%) Maya Angelou # 4 — (4.71%) J. California Cooper # 5 — (4.33%) Alice Walker # 6 — (3.94%) Langston Hughes # 7 — (3.72%) E. Lynn Harris # 8 — (3.56%) James Baldwin # 9 — (3.23%) Terry McMillan # 10 — (3.18%) Bebe Moore Campbell # 11 — (2.74%) Richard Wright # 12 — (2.57%) Walter Mosley # 13 — (2.52%) Eric Jerome Dickey # 14 — (2.41%) Sheneska Jackson # 15 — (2.19%) Octavia Butler —Copyright AALBC.com.

Source: AALBC.com’s 50 Favorite African-American Authors of the 20th Century

Early Recording Found of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” Speech

“It is awe-inspiring and gives you goosebumps on your arms,” Jason Miller, a poetry professor at North Carolina State University, told USA TODAY Network about hearing the recording for the first time.

King gave the speech on Nov. 27, 1962, before a crowd of about 1,800 people in Rocky Mount, N.C. While the Rocky Mount speech is not as well known, it includes many similarities to the famous August 1963 version King gave from the Lincoln Memorial.

The Rocky Mount speech was covered by local newspapers, but an audio recording was not known to exist until Miller found it while researching his book Origins of a Dream: Hughes’s Poetry and King’s RhetoricThe book explores the connection between Langston Hughes’s poetry and King’s speeches.

The box where the tape was found was rusted and the plastic reel was broken, but the recording itself was in great shape and has been digitized, Miller said. The tape is 55 minutes long and includes three of King’s most famous phrases — “Let freedom ring,” “How long, not long,” and “I have a dream.”

Miller said that kind of intentional rhetorical practice is a sign of a “master orator.”  In the process of researching, Miller was able to confirm that Hughes’ work, and specifically the poem “I dream a world,” influenced King’s speeches.  “They knew each other, exchanged letters and Dr. King incredibly revered Langston Hughes,” he said.

Understanding what inspired King’s words and how they changed over time is important, according to Miller. “It sheds light on what is easily the most recognizable speech in American history,” he said.

And the message of King’s Rocky Mount speech holds up today, he said.  “The central part of Dr. King’s speech was talking about access to the ballot and voting rights,” he said. “And as you know that’s as important today as it was in 1962.”

Miller is working on an online annotated version of the Rocky Mount speech that will be published for the public in November.

article by Lori Grisham via usatoday.com

Harry Belafonte Receives Academy’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award

belafonte_article_story_large

According to Deadline.com, Harry Belafonte was honored last night at the Sixth Annual Governors Awards of the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.  Belafonte received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award and during his speech, galvanized the industry crowd by asking them to aim higher.

Belafonte gave one of the all-time great acceptance speeches at the Governors Awards, citing Hollywood’s often-shameful power to influence attitudes, and challenging the heavy-hitters in the room to instead create works that allow global audiences “to see the better side of who we are as a species.”

He reminded the crowd about “Birth of a Nation,” the early “Tarzan” films (depicting “inept, ignorant Africans”) and “Song of the South,” as well as the industry’s cowardice during the McCarthy hearings. He also referred to the industry’s decades-long treatment of Native Americans in films, “and at the moment, Arabs aren’t looking so good.” The industry doesn’t like trouble-makers and “on occasion, I have been one of its targets.”

But he said that “today’s harvest of films yields sweeter fruit,” citing “Schindler’s List,” “Brokeback Mountain” and “12 Years a Slave” as examples. He also thanked such inspirations as Langston HughesJames BaldwinEleanor Roosevelt and Paul Robeson, quoting the latter’s statement that “Artists are the gatekeepers of truth” as well as the radical voice of civilization.

He then called Sidney Poitier to the stage, recognizing the actor’s role in changing public attitudes toward blacks. And he added that he hopes things will improve this century: “Maybe it could be a civilization game-changer.”

Other Governors Awards winners were 94 year-old actress Maureen O’Hara, legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, and masterful screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere gave a moving tribute to Hollywood’s “forgotten” writers.

article by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (follow @lakinhutcherson)

2013: A Breakout Year for Black Films

“FRUITVALE STATION” Ariana Neal and Michael B. Jordan star in a film based on the 2009 killing of a young man in Oakland, Calif. (Cait Adkins/Weinstein Company)

LOS ANGELES — Musical. Romance. Epic history. Social drama. Christmas comedy. After years of complaint and self-criticism about the shortage of prominent movies by and about black Americans, film companies are poised to release an extraordinary cluster of them across an array of genres in the last five months of 2013.

At least 10 new films will be released, including several awards contenders, from both independent and major distributors, like the Weinstein Company, Fox Searchlight and Universal Pictures. Even some of those who made this year’s movies have been caught by surprise.

“You tell me!” said the director and screenwriter Lee Daniels, when asked how so many black-driven films had materialized at once. His historical drama “The Butler” — based on a real-life White House butler who served eight presidents — is to be released by Weinstein on Aug. 16. “I’m working in my own bubble, I come up for air, and there they are,” Mr. Daniels said.

Black filmmakers say the wave of 2013 releases was built in large part on the creativity that has flourished on the independent-film circuit, which has become a laboratory of sorts for more prominent African-American-themed productions. Writers and directors have been sharpening their skills on indie films the last several years while waiting for big distributors to regain interest.

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