“The Future of the Arts, with an Eye on the Past.” That’s the motto for Willow’s grand vision for its upcoming decennial (okay, that’s still a strange word to me–i.e., Willow’s 10th anniversary). Watch for announcements on our upcoming multidisciplinary Arts Residencies. Our new era kicks off with the first-ever Weeksville Summer Arts Residency July 27-29. This will be a one-of-a kind experience, with master classes, craft talks, readings, and performances, and a tour of the Hunter Fly Road Houses of Weeksville, a 19th century African American community of founded in 1838 in Brooklyn, New York.
After years of putting on events, it started dawning on Randall and me exactly where we’ve been hosting, especially after the LitFest in Chicago’s Bronzeville. Somewhat unconsciously, we’ve been centering our events in locales that have cultural and historical significance. I know it was probably rooted in me in my early years with the Detroit Writers Guild and our first major project, a poetry photo book on Detroit’s Paradise Valley. I’ve been hosting various events in the district ever since, particularly at the Carr Center, and in 2010 we expanded activities into its historic counterpart, Idlewild, where our conference enabled modern-day writers to trace the paths of great writers, thinkers, entertainers, and athletes, including Zora Neale Hurston, W.E.B. DuBois, Charles W. Chestnutt, and heavyweight champ Joe Louis. During its golden age, roughly 1915-1960, these two exclusive African American communities produced a surge of entrepreneurial, intellectual and artistic development. This fall, we will be hosting the Paradise Valley/Idlewild Residency at the Carr Center, featuring Denise Miller. We will also return to Chicago’s Bronzeville.
Next February, we’ll be taking a stroll to some of Duke Ellington’s homes in the U District of Washington, D.C. during AWP. Our list of destinations will grow…grow with us.
The Weeksville application deadline is June 30 via Submittable. Limited scholarships are available.
IreadYA! Week, sponsored by Scholastic
As we close this out “I read YA” week, guest blogger Curtis L. Crisler explains why there’s still a great disparity when it comes to YA books for young black male readers. Crisler’s bestselling Dreamist: a mixed genre novel, is geared towards today’s youth, a unique genre-bending narrative of the life of one remarkable young man, Charles Malik Jacobs.
While the popularity of YA lit is at an all-time high, the number of books featuring protagonists of color remains extremely low. YALSA’s “Best Fiction for Young Adults 2014” shows that only 3% of characters in the books on their list were categorized as “Black.” Walter Dean Myers’ recent New York Times op-ed cites stats revealing that less than 3% of children’s books were about black people. The industry perception is that young black males are not reading, so fewer resources are put into publishing books for them. One could wonder as they browse any YA section and never see a young black male face on the cover if that has anything to do with it. Add to that the lack of subject matter that speaks to their experiences as young men of color in America. Through my work, I hope to continue to converse with young black male readers to reverse this trend. Dreamist is a universal coming-of-age narrative, but I believe it provides a rare glimpse into the mind of a young person of color, something I feel is lacking in today’s mainstream YA lit. In the words of my protagonist, Malik as he learns to overcome his fears about leaving his old life behind and creating a new life for himself:
“There is nothing fading away in my life. Everything is becoming better, newer. I see beyond the fear. I accept my responsibilities. For change is change.”
I believe that readers of color should see themselves living and breathing in the books that they read, and not just as wise or wily character sketches, but as fully developed protagonists and main characters. The future of YA lit is promising, indeed, but there’s a greater promise yet to be fulfilled.
Curtis L. Crisler is the author of Tough Boy Sonatas (winner of the Eric Hoffer Award) and two other books, Pulling Scabs and WONDERKIND, a poetry collection on the musical genius of Stevie Wonder. A Cave Canem Fellow and Pushcart Prize nominee, Crisler is an assistant professor of English at Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne. He will be featured this fall as the “Future of African American Poetry” during Furious Flower’s decennial celebration at James Madison University.
As our team prepares for the release of the long-awaited new book of poetry by Gary Copeland Lilley, we find ourselves taking a moment to pause and reflect on the tragic event that informs this collection, the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898. The 115th anniversary of this event will occur this fall, and Gary’s mission is to shed more light upon this pivotal moment in American history. High Water Everywhere tells the somewhat lesser-known story of discord in Wilmington, North Carolina in the wake of Reconstruction after the Civil War: white supremacists staged a coup d’etat two days after a fusionist government consisting of a white mayor and biracial city council were elected to office. This act of overthrowing an elected government is arguably the only known coup in United States history. Hear the story in Gary’s own words from an interview in 2011:
A few years ago I read a tiny notice in a prominent newspaper apologizing for its participation, as part of the propaganda wing, in a campaign that led to the 1898 massacre of African-Americans in Wilmington, NC. I had never heard of it. It is not taught or talked about in the state. I was born in North Carolina, and returned to the state when I was twelve to live in a segregated community and to attend its segregated schools. I did not understand why we blacks were living under a system of apartheid. That was in 1963.
History shows that following the Civil War the south experienced the social conflicts that arise with fundamental change: the hopes of newly freed citizens juxtaposed against the desires to preserve the old antebellum ways. The self-proclaimed White Supremacy Campaign ended Reconstruction and put muscle into Jim Crow. Its leaders became the state’s governors and congressmen. That North Carolina event, the political maneuvering and the massacre, altered the trajectory of freedom, and it remains the only coup d’etat in American history. I have chosen, I am compelled, to bring that history forward, further into the light, through the medium that I have—poetry. With that goal I have tried to create a series of poetic dispatches. (from “Notes on the four poems,” Willow Springs Literary Magazine, 2011)
With High Water Everywhere, Gary has honored his promise to tell such an important story.