An Anthology of African American Poetry
Edited by Keith Tuma, with photographs by Lynda Koolish
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Rainbow Darkness: An Anthology of African American Poetry gathers poems by a range of established and newer African American poets including Jeff Allen, Wanda Coleman, C. S. Giscombe, Terrance Hayes, Kim Hunter, Honorée Jeffers, Nathaniel Mackey, Harryette Mullen, Mendi Lewis Obadike, Reginald Shepherd, Timothy Siebles, Evie Shockley, Lorenzo Thomas, Natasha Trethewey, Anthony Walton, Crystal Williams, and Tyrone Williams, and essays by Herman Beavers, Aldon Nielsen, Kathy Lou Schultz, Evie Shockley, and Lorenzo Thomas.
The anthology grew from poems and talks presented at Marjorie Cook Conference on Diversity in African American Poetry held at Miami University in September 2003. The anthology hopes to extend the conversations that took place at the conference to another, larger audience.
Rainbow Darkness is edited by Keith Tuma, author of Fishing By Obstinate Isles: Modern and Postmodern British Poetry and American Readers.
Advance Praise for Rainbow Darkness
“The poems and essays in Rainbow Darkness allow us to sample how diversity functions in contemporary African American poetry. The anthology urges us to ponder ‘diversity within diversity’ rather than binaries that castrate serious thought. The work of the poet, to echo Lorenzo Thomas’ plenary address, is to find ‘the words to go with the music.’ As one reads Rainbow Darkness, however, the sense that music is plural intensifies; now it is probable that musics seek poets who can best use words to lessen our existential wretchedness. For anyone who has a genuine interest in poetry, Rainbow Darkness provides some of the evidence required to understand the impact of multiple consciousness on the traditions of African American poetry.
—Jerry W. Ward, Jr.
Editor of Trouble the Water: 250 Years of African American Poetry
“We who gathered at this conference, and you who read this anthology, have a richer, fuller sense of the vast possibilities of African American poetry, precisely because so many different voices were brought together. Potential cacophony, potential choir.” —Evie Shockley
Rainbow Darkness was reviewed by Maria Damon in the Winter 2006/2007 issue of Rain Taxi.
About the Contributors
All of the photographs below — except those of Crystal Williams, Kathy Lou Schultz, and Lynda Koolish — by Lynda Koolish.
Born in Chicago in 1962, Jeffery Renard Allen is currently an Associate Professor of English at Queens College of The City University of New York and an instructor in the MFA writing program at New School University. He has published two books, Harbors and Spirits, a collection of poems, and the novel, Rails Under My Back, which won The Chicago Tribune’s Heartland Prize for Fiction. Other awards include a Whiting Writer’s Award and an honor for Pioneering Achievements in Fiction from the African American Literature and Culture Association. His essays, reviews, fiction, and poetry have appeared in numerous publications and anthologies, including Poets & Writers, Ploughshares, Bomb, The Antioch Review, Hambone, StoryQuarterly, Callaloo, Other Voices, Notre Dame Review, Review, XCP: Cross Cultural Poetics, 110 Stories: New York Writes after September 11, and Step into the World: A Global Anthology of Black Literature. Forthcoming books include Stellar Places, a second collection of poems, and Bread and the Land, a book of stories. Allen is also at work on a new novel, Song of the Shank, a narrative based on the life of the brilliant and controversial nineteenth-century pianist and composer Blind Tom.
Herman Beavers is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, where he also serves as Acting Director of of the Center for Africana Studies during the 2004—05 academic year. He received his BA in Government, Sociology, and Creative Writing from Oberlin College (1981). He went on to the Graduate Writing Program at Brown, where he received the MA in Creative Writing (1983). In 1985, he received an MA from the Afro-American Studies Program at Yale Univeristy and in 1990 completed his doctorate in American Studies, also at Yale. He has been at the University of Pennsylvania since 1989. Since arriving there, he has authored the book Wrestling Angels into Song: The Fictions of Ernest J. Gaines and James Alan McPherson (U of Penn Press, 1995), as well as over 25 articles and book chapters. He has guest-edited issues of both African American Review and Narrative and he has either served or is serving on the editorial boards of American Literature, Modern Fiction Studies, Modern Literary Studies, and African American Review. His creative works include the chapbook A Neighborhood of Feeling as well as poems that have appeared in Rain, Black American Literature Forum (now African American Review), Dark Phrases, The Cincinnati Poetry Review, Cave Canem I and II, Callaloo and most recently, Xconnect.
Wanda Coleman’s fiction currently appears in Crab Orchard Review, Fiction International, High Plains Literary Review, Obsidian III, Other Voices and Zyzzyva. New poems appear in 88: A Journal, Poetry International and River Styx. She is a former columnist for the Los Angeles Times Magazine. Her recent books from Black Sparrow Press are Bathwater Wine, winner of the 1999 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, Mambo Hips & Make Believe (a novel), and Mercurochrome: New Poems, bronze-medal finalist in the National Book Awards 2001. She received a California Arts Council fellowship in poetry in 2002. She is C.O.L.A.’s first literary fellow, Dept. of Cultural Affairs, Los Angeles, 2003-04 in fiction. Her new books are Ostinato Vamps, Pitt Poetry Series 2003-2004, and Wanda Coleman’s Greatest Hits: 1966-2003, Pudding House Press, 2004. The Riot Inside Me: More Trials & Temors (autobiographical prose) is forthcoming (Godine, 2005).
C. S. Giscombe teaches in the MFA program at Penn State. His recent poetry books include Here and Giscome Road. Into and Out of Dislocation is a collection of Giscombe’s essays. Works in progress include a poetry book about the midwest, Prairie Style, and a prose book about trains and train metaphors, titled Traveling Public.
Eric Goodman, who directed the Marjorie Cook Conference on Diversity in African American Poetry, teaches in and directs the Creative Writing program at Miami University. He has published four novels: Child of My Right Hand (Sourcebooks, 2004); In Days of Awe (Alfred A.Knopf, 1991); The First Time I Saw Jenny Hall (William Morrow, 1983); and High on the Energy Bridge (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1980). Other publications include a handful of short stories and non-fiction pieces in national publications including Saveur, GQ, Travel & Leisure, Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine, Buzz, Glamour, Life, and Self.
Terrance Hayes is the author of Hip Logic (Penguin 2002) and Muscular Music (Tia Chucha Press, 1999) and has been a recipient of many awards and prizess including a Whiting Writers Award, the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, a National Poetry Series award, a Pushcart Prize, a Best American Poetry selection, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. Wind in a Box, his third book, is forthcoming from Penguin in the spring of 2006. A South Carolina native, Hayes lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with his family and is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Carnegie Mellon University.
Kim Derrick Hunter was born in Detroit to African American working class parents in 1955. He has been a factory worker, a security guard, a middle school teacher and a street outreach worker. But most of his adult life has been spent working in media, primarily television and radio. The major influences on his work have been Cummings, Baraka, surrealist film and the post-industrial Detroit poetry scene. His work has appeared in a variety of journals including: Triage, Hipology, The Metro Times, Dispatch, Graffiti Rag and +R (Plus D’art). Past Tents Press published Hunter’s first collection of poems, borne on slow knives, in 2001.
Both a poet and a fiction writer, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers has published two books of poetry, The Gospel of Barbecue and Outlandish Blues. She has won an award from the Rona Jaffe Foundation, and poetry fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. Her work has appeared in American Poetry Review, Brilliant Corners, Callaloo, Indiana Review, Iowa Review, The Kenyon Review, and New England Review. A native Southerner, Honorée now lives in Oklahoma where she teaches at the University of Oklahoma and is at work on her first novel.
The work of photographer Lynda Koolish is in the permanent collections of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the Hormel Center of the San Francisco Public Library, the San Diego State University Library, the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library, and the University of California Department of African American Studies. Her photographs have been widely exhibited, including one-woman shows at the Schomburg, the Jewett Gallery of the San Francisco Public Library, the San Diego State University Library, the University of California Townsend Center for the Humanities, the Salt Lake City Public Library, the Modern Language Association, the American Literature Association, and the Rosenberg Gallery at Goucher College. She also been in group shows at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City, and at 871 Fine Arts Gallery in San Francisco. Currently a Professor of English and Comparative Literature at San Diego State University, she is the author and photographer of African American Writers: Portraits and Visions, a University Press of Mississippi collection of photographic portraits and literary biographies.
Born in Miami, Florida, in 1947, Nathaniel Mackey grew up, from age four, in California. He is the author of five chapbooks of poetry, Four for Trane (Golemics, 1978), Septet for the End of Time (Boneset, 1983), Outlantish (Chax Press, 1992), Song of the Andoumboulou: 18-20 (Moving Parts Press, 1994) and Four for Glenn (Chax Press, 2002), and three books of poetry, Eroding Witness (University of Illinois Press, 1985), School of Udhra (City Lights Books, 1993) and Whatsaid Serif (City Lights Books, 1998). Strick: Song of the Andoumboulou 16-25, a compact disc recording of poems read with musical accompaniment (Royal Hartigan, percussion; Hafez Modirzadeh, reeds and flutes), was released in 1995 by Spoken Engine Company. He is also the author of an ongoing prose composition, From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate, of which three volumes have been published: Bedouin Hornbook (Callaloo Fiction Series, 1986; second edition: Sun & Moon Press, 1997), Djbot Baghostus’s Run (Sun & Moon Press, 1993) and Atet A.D. (City Lights Books, 2001). He is editor of the literary magazine Hambone and co-editor (with Art Lange) of the anthology Moment’s Notice: Jazz in Poetry and Prose (Coffee House Press, 1993). He is the author of two books of criticism, Discrepant Engagement: Dissonance, Cross-Culturality, and Experimental Writing (Cambridge University Press, 1993; paper edition: University of Alabama Press, 2000) and Paracritical Hinge: Essays, Talks, Notes, Interviews (University of Wisconsin Press, 2005). His awards and honors include the selection of Eroding Witness for publication in the National Poetry Series, a Whiting Writer’s Award in 1993 and election to the Board of Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets in 2001. He was awarded the National Book Award for Poetry in 2006 for Splay Anthem (New Directions). He is Professor of Literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Tracie Morris is a poet who has worked in a variety of genres including print, multimedia installation, recorded work, visual media and live performance. She holds multiple degrees from Hunter College, CUNY and New York University. Morris has taught at Queens College, CUNY, SUNY Purchase and Sarah Lawrence College.
Harryette Mullen’s poems, short stories, and essays have been published widely and reprinted in over 40 anthologies. Her poetry is included in the latest edition of the Norton Anthology of African American Literature and has been translated into Spanish, French, Polish, and Bulgarian. She is the author of six poetry books, most recently Blues Baby (Bucknell, 2002) and Sleeping with the Dictionary (University of California, 2002). The latter was a finalist for a National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, and Los Angeles Times Book Prize. In 2004 she received an award from the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts. She was born in Alabama, grew up in Texas, and now lives in Los Angeles, where she teaches at UCLA.
Aldon Lynn Nielsen is the Kelly Professor of American Literature at Pennsylvania State University. His books of criticism include Integral Music: Languages of African American Innovation, Black Chant: Languages of African American Postmodernism, Writing Between the Lines, C.L.R. James: A Critical Introduction and Reading Race. He was the first winner of the Larry Neal Award for poetry, and his volumes of poetry include Mixage, Vext, Heat Strings, Evacuation Routes and Stepping Razor. The anthology Every Goodbye Ain’t Gone, which he co-edited with Lauri Ramey, is forthcoming from the University of Alabama Press.
Mendi Lewis Obadike is the author of Armor and Flesh: Poems and the libretto for an internet opera entitled The Sour Thunder. Her text-based new media art has been commissioned by the Whitney Museum of American Art, Yale University, and the New York African Film Festival and Electronic Arts Intermix, among other institutions. She received a Rockefeller New Media Award to develop TaRonda, Who Wore White Gloves, an opera which explores black codes of conduct. She will develop Four Electric Ghosts (an opera based on Amos Tutuola’s novel My Life in the Bush of Ghosts and the video game Pac Man) in Toni Morrison’s Atelier at Princeton in the fall of 2005. Mendi lives and works with her husband Keith in the New York metropolitan area.
James W. Richardson lives, creates, and teaches in Atlanta, Georgia, where he is completing his dissertation, “Theorizing a Diasporic Aesthetic in African American and Jewish American 20th- Century Autobiography.”
Tim Seibles is the author of Hammerlock, Body Moves and Hurdy-Gurdy. His newest collection, Buffalo Head Solos, has just been released by the Cleveland State University Poetry Center. He is a former NEA fellow and received an Open Voice Award from the 63rd Street Y in New York City. His work has been featured in anthologies such as Humor Me, Role Call, Outsiders, and The Poets’ Grimm. He has led workshops for Cave Canem — a retreat for black writers —and for the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation. He lives in Norfolk, Virginia, where he is a member of Old Dominion University’s English Department and MFA in Writing faculty.
Kathy Lou Schultz’s collections of poetry and experimental fiction are Some Vague Wife (Atelos Press), Genealogy (a+bend press), and Re dress (San Francisco State University) — winner of the Michael Rubin Award. Her work has recently been published in Fence, Hambone, and Biting the Error: Writers Explore Narrative (Coach House Press). She received her MFA from San Francisco State University and is currently an advanced PhD student in English at the University of Pennsylvania where her research focuses on Afro-Modernist poetry. She is a co-founder of the journal Lipstick Eleven.
Reginald Shepherd is the editor of The Iowa Anthology of New American Poetries, published by the University of Iowa Press in 2004. His fourth book of poems, Otherhood, was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2003; it was a finalist for the 2004 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and for a 2004 Lambda Literary Award. His other books, all published by Pittsburgh, are Some Are Drowning, winner of the 1993 Associated Writing Programs’ Award in Poetry; Angel, Interrupted, a finalist for a 1997 Lambda Literary Award; and Wrong. Winner of a 1993 “Discovery”/ The Nation Award, Shepherd has received grants from the NEA, the Illinois Arts Council, the Constance Saltonstall Foundation, and the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, among other awards and honors; his work has also appeared in four editions of The Best American Poetry. He currently lives and writes in Pensacola, Florida.
Evie Shockley is the author of The Gorgon Goddess (Carolina Wren Press, 2001). Her poetry also appears in print and online in African American Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Brilliant Corners, Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam, Callaloo, Crab Orchard Review, Hambone, HOW2, nocturnes (re)view of the literary arts, Poetry Daily: Poems from the World’s Most Popular Poetry Website, and other journals and anthologies. She was awarded a residency at the Hedgebrook Retreat for Women Writers in 2003 and belongs to several poetry communities, including Cave Canem, the Lucifer Poetics Group, and the Carolina African American Writers Collective. Shockley, who earned her PhD at Duke University in 2002, is Assistant Professor of English at Wake Forest University. Her current academic projects include a book tentatively titled Gothic Homelessness: Domestic Ideology, Identity, and Social Terror in African American Literature and an investigation of the relationship of race and innovation in African American poetry.
Lorenzo Thomas (1944-2005), one of the leading poets and critics of his generation, died on July 4th, 2005 as this book was in production. His reading and plenary talk were among the highlights of the conference, and in recognition of his role as friend and guiding spirit to many poets and scholars at the conference, this anthology is dedicated to his memory. Lorenzo Thomas is the author of Extraordinary Measures: Afrocentric Modernism and 20th-Century American Poetry (named a 2001 Choice Outstanding Academic Book) and several collections of poetry including Dancing on Main Street, Chances Are Few, and The Bathers. He also edited Sing the Sun Up: Creative Writing Ideas from African American Literature. Thomas was Professor of English at University of Houston-Downtown.
Natasha Trethewey is the author of Bellocq’s Ophelia (Graywolf, 2002) and Domestic Work (Graywolf, 2000). Her third collection, Native Guard, is forthcoming from Houghton Mifflin. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Study Center, the NEA, and the Bunting Fellowship Program of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. Her poems have appeared in such journals and anthologies as American Poetry Review, Callaloo, Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, New England Review, Gettysburg Review, and The Best American Poetry 2000 and 2003. Currently, she is Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing at Emory University. During the 2005—2006 academic year, she will hold the Lehman-Brady Joint Chair Professorship of Documentary and American Studies at Duke and UNC Chapel Hill.
Keith Tuma is the author of Fishing by Obstinate Isles: Modern and Postmodern British Poetry and American Readers (Northwestern, 1998). He is the editor of Anthology of Twentieth-Century British and Irish Poetry (Oxford, 2001) and co-editor of Mina Loy: Woman and Poet (NPF, 1998) and Additional Apparitions: Poetry, Performance & Site-Specifity (The Cherry-on-Top Press, 2002). His essays on British, Irish, American, and Anglophone poetry have appeared in many journals and in a number of books edited by others, including Assembling Alternatives: Reading Postmodern Poetries Transnationally and The Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century English Literature. His poems and performance texts have appeared in journals including Chicago Review, Notre Dame Review, Open Letter, Poetry Salzburg, The Gig, nth position, Flights, Famous Reporter, and in the anthologies 100 Days and Onsets. His chapbook of poetic squibs and epigrams Topical Ointment was published by Slack Buddha Press in 2004. Critical Path: Into the Bush, the first volume of an ongoing collaboration with cris cheek and William R. Howe, appeared in 2003. He is currently Editor of Miami University Press, Professor in the English Department and Associate Dean of the College of Arts & Science at Miami University.
Anthony Walton is the author of Mississippi: An American Journey. He teaches at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.
Crystal Williams, a native of Detroit, Michigan, is the author of Kin and Lunatic. Her work appears in many journals and anthologies, including 5AM, Callaloo, Ms. Magazine, Indiana Review, Court Green, American Poetry: The Next Generation, Poetry Nation, and Beyond the Frontier. She holds degrees from NYU and Cornell University.
Tyrone Williams teaches literature and literary theory at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. Recent publications include two chapbooks, AAB (Slack Buddha Press, 2004) and Futures, Elections (Dos Madres Press, 2004).