Cover image for Black ink : literary legends on the peril, power, and pleasure of reading and writing
Title:
Black ink : literary legends on the peril, power, and pleasure of reading and writing
ISBN:
9781501154287
Edition:
First 37 Ink/Atria Books hardcover ed.
Physical Description:
xxiv, 244 pages ; 24 cm
Contents:
Our first stories / Reading matters / Suspected of having a book / Nine years deprived of a sheet of paper / A whole race begins to read / The Negro in literature and art / Books and things / Poetry is practical / The business of the writer / Turning point / Lessons in living / Morehouse College / The site of memory / Where are the people of color in children's books? / Reading for revolution / Twenty-one / A temporary library in a small place / What is an African American classic? / New Black scribe / MFA vs. POC / Create dangerously / How to write / From Jamaica to Minnesota to myself / I once was Miss America / The mecca / The danger of the single story / What books mean to me
Genre:
Summary:
Spanning over 250 years of history, Black Ink traces black literature in America from Frederick Douglass to Ta-Nehisi Coates in this masterful collection of twenty-five illustrious and moving essays on the power of the written word. Throughout American history black people are the only group of people to have been forbidden by law to learn to read. This unique collection seeks to shed light on that injustice and subjugation, as well as the hard-won literary progress made, putting some of America's most cherished voices in a conversation in one magnificent volume that presents reading as an act of resistance. Organized into three sections, the Peril, the Power, and Pleasure, and with an array of contributors both classic and contemporary, Black Ink presents the brilliant diversity of black thought in America while solidifying the importance of these writers within the greater context of the American literary tradition. At times haunting and other times profoundly humorous, this unprecedented anthology guides you through the remarkable experiences of some of America's greatest writers and their lifelong pursuits of literacy and literature. The foreword was written by Nikki Giovanni. Contributors include: Frederick Douglass, Solomon Northup, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Malcolm X, Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King, Jr., Toni Morrison, Walter Dean Myers, Stokely Carmichael [Kwame Ture], Alice Walker, Jamaica Kincaid, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Terry McMillan, Junot Diaz, Edwidge Danticat, Colson Whitehead, Marlon James, Roxane Gay, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Colson Whitehead. The anthology features a bonus in-depth interview with President Barack Obama.
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Summary

Summary

Spanning over 250 years of history, Black Ink traces black literature in America from Frederick Douglass to Ta-Nehisi Coates in this masterful collection of twenty-five illustrious and moving essays on the power of the written word.

Throughout American history black people are the only group of people to have been forbidden by law to learn to read. This unique collection seeks to shed light on that injustice and subjugation, as well as the hard-won literary progress made, putting some of America's most cherished voices in a conversation in one magnificent volume that presents reading as an act of resistance.

Organized into three sections, the Peril, the Power, and Pleasure, and with an array of contributors both classic and contemporary, Black Ink presents the brilliant diversity of black thought in America while solidifying the importance of these writers within the greater context of the American literary tradition. At times haunting and other times profoundly humorous, this unprecedented anthology guides you through the remarkable experiences of some of America's greatest writers and their lifelong pursuits of literacy and literature.

The foreword was written by Nikki Giovanni. Contributors include: Frederick Douglass, Solomon Northup, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Malcolm X, Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King, Jr., Toni Morrison, Walter Dean Myers, Stokely Carmichael [Kwame Ture], Alice Walker, Jamaica Kincaid, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Terry McMillan, Junot Diaz, Edwidge Danticat, Colson Whitehead, Marlon James, Roxane Gay, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Colson Whitehead.

The anthology features a bonus in-depth interview with President Barack Obama.


Author Notes

Stephanie Stokes Oliver is the author of Daily Cornbread: 365 Secrets for a Healthy Mind, Body, and Spirit ; Seven Soulful Secrets for Finding Your Purpose & Minding Your Mission ; and Song for My Father: Memoir of an All-American Family . Formerly the editor of Essence , and founding editor-in-chief of Heart & Soul , she started her magazine career at Glamour . For more information, see StephanieStokesOliver.com.

Nikki Giovanni is one of the most decorated poets of our time. She is the recipient of seven NAACP Image Awards, a National Book Award, a Caldecott Honor, a Coretta Scott King Award, and a Grammy nomination. She is the author of three New York Times bestsellers as well as many poetry collections for children and adults. You can visit her online at Nikki-Giovanni.com.


Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

A passion for books pervades every page of this anthology of black writers' reflections on reading and writing. Without the weight of a hefty textbook, this anthology acts as an enticing introduction to African-American writing from the 19th century to the present. Oliver's approach is kaleidoscopic, encompassing Solomon Northrup clandestinely making ink by "boiling white maple bark," Frederick Douglass swapping bread with poor white children for reading lessons from them, Martin Luther King discovering Thoreau and Gandhi, and Stokely Carmichael discovering African history. Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, and Zora Neale Hurston are here, along with such non-U.S.-born writers as Edwidge Danticat and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Oliver (Song for My Father) keeps the focus sharply on matters literary: Jamaica Kincaid mourns the loss of her childhood library to a storm, Terry McMillan finds an Afro-American-literature class in his first-year college course catalogue, and Ta-Nehisi Coates gorges himself on Howard University's library. Additionally, Junot Díaz describes seeking, and then creating, "a safe supportive environment" for writers of color, and Colson Whitehead issues witty and practical writing rules. This work of discovery, recovery, and uncovering is, for any reader, an eye-opener. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Kirkus Review

Writers testify to the significance of reading and writing in their lives.In a well-chosen selection of essays by black writers from Frederick Douglass to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and including a candid interview with book-lover and author Barack Obama, former Essence editor Oliver (Song for My Father: Memoir of an All-American Family, 2004, etc.) offers ample testimony to the power of the written word. For slaves coming from disparate African countries, it is likely, writes poet Nikki Giovanni in her foreword, that the first word they had in common was "sold." Stories, many told through song, evolved from a need to form a community: "We write because we are lonely and scared and we need to keep our hearts open." Oliver divides the essays, most excerpted from longer works, into three sections: "The Peril, 1800-1900," represented by Douglass, Solomon Northrup, Booker T. Washington, and W.E.B. Du Bois; "The Power, 1900-1968," which includes Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes, stars of the Harlem Renaissance; James Baldwin; Malcolm X; and important contemporary writers, such as Nobel Prize-winning Toni Morrison, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.; Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Walker; and prolific bestseller Maya Angelou; and "The Pleasure, 1968-2018," which features acclaimed, multiple award-winning writers (several have been awarded MacArthur Fellowships) such as Junot Daz, Roxane Gay, Colson Whitehead, and Ta-Nehisi Coates. Walker reveals that poetry lifted her from suicidal depression. Morrison sees her work as an extension of and "complement" to slave narratives. Gay writes about her love of the Sweet Valley High series of young-adult novels, whose "blond and thin and perfect" characters were models of all she wanted to be. Daz writes of his despair in Cornell's MFA program, where lack of diversity among the faculty and "the students' lack of awareness of the lens of race" threatened to silence him. Oliver's cogent author introductions contextualize each piece, making the anthology an informative overview of African-American literature.Revelatory, often moving essays by impressive writers. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Library Journal Review

This collection brings together excerpts, essays, and interviews by 25 black authors, including legends in the canon and newer writers such as Edwidge Danticat, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Roxane Gay, Colson Whitehead, and Marlon James. Written between 1845 and 2017, the works range from memoirs on the power of reading during slavery and emancipation to narratives of how certain books and authors shaped these writers' lives and straightforward advice on composition; all address the centrality of literacy to black liberation, both personally and politically. Many of these pieces, such as those by Maya Angelou, Frederick Douglass, and Malcolm X, will be familiar to those steeped in black history and literature. In an effort to be a tight and fast-moving read, some samples feel disjointed excerpted from their original books, and the very brief introductions to each piece are at times lacking in necessary historical context. But taken as a whole, this survey of what it means to be a black reader and writer is an important and long overdue project. VERDICT An essential collection for readers and students of black history and literature.-Kate Stewart, Arizona Historical Soc., Tucson © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Black Ink INTRODUCTION Reading Matters STEPHANIE STOKES OLIVER Collectively, the pieces here serve as a testament to the will, the struggle, and the difference that learning to read, and then taking pen to paper, and now fingers to computer, has made in American history. It's hard to believe that the relaxing, recreational endeavor of reading a good book that so many of us savor and take for granted was, for more than two hundred years, not only illegal for most African Americans enslaved in many states of the South, but also punishable by death. When it comes to voting rights, Black parents often admonish their grown children to be sure to exercise their freedom in every election, because people died in the fight to obtain the right to vote. The proof is not disputed. Black-and-white newsreels of African Americans being terrorized by state troopers, police dogs, and firehoses during protest marches against disenfranchisement in the 1960s have been continuously and dramatically included in documentaries and other films and news programs. They tell the story that riveted the nation's consciousness and caused American presidents to act. The story of the struggle for full literacy among African Americans has yet to be documented as thoroughly. The purpose of Black Ink: Literary Legends on the Peril, Power, and Pleasure of Reading and Writing is to help fill that void. Much like the griot of African oral history--the revered storyteller of the tribal history, what we would call now the keeper of "institutional memory"--we honor this struggle for literacy by passing on the words and wisdom of the writers included here. We have collected twenty-five of the most elite, brilliant, and wise Black writers of the African diaspora, voices that tell the story of the plight to read, write, and publish throughout generations of our nations. Of course, there are many, many more Black writers, authors, essayists, journalists, and academics that could have been included to make a multivolume comprehensive work. However, we endeavored to provide a satisfying sampler of pieces that may motivate the reader to dig deeper and check out the original books from which these works were excerpted, as well as to explore additional Black authors and essays not included. Individually, the authors of Black Ink possess what Dr. Greg Carr, chair of the Afro-American Studies program at Howard University, calls the "deep critical literacy and content mastery necessary to meet intellectual curiosity, spur academic growth, satisfy the need to know, and to act to transform one's self and the world." Collectively, the pieces here serve as a testament to the will, the struggle, and the difference that learning to read and then taking pen to paper, and now fingers to computer, has made in American history. As poet Nikki Giovanni, one of America's foremost literary legends, so brilliantly reminds us in her foreword, the first word in that foreign language, English, understood by the captive ancestors on these shores just may well have been "SOLD." In my favorite of Nikki's poems, "My House," she evokes the African American loss of our mother tongue in the transport across the Middle Passage and in our oppressive New World from which I feel we have never fully recovered: english isn't a good language to express emotion through mostly i imagine because people try to speak english instead of trying to speak through it . . . Starting in the early 1800s, over approximately twenty-five decades up to today, the twenty-five writers of these expository essays of Black Ink explain to us the struggle and the joys of overcoming the challenges of reading and writing. They are: Frederick Douglass, Solomon Northup, Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Malcolm X, Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King Jr., Toni Morrison, Walter Dean Myers, Stokely Carmichael [Kwame Ture], Alice Walker, Jamaica Kincaid, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Terry McMillan, Junot Díaz, Edwidge Danticat, Colson Whitehead, Marlon James, Roxane Gay, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and President Barack Obama, in an exclusive interview with New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani. These pieces reflect the phenomenal African American progress from when it was illegal to learn to read--and Frederick Douglass resisted, escaped, and claimed his freedom--up to the election of our first Black President of the United States, an avid reader and mega-bestselling author. The voices are classic and contemporary, historic and avant-garde. Some reflect the unique perspective, sensibility, and wisdom of the immigrant. Many of the writers were born in the African and Caribbean diaspora and relocated to the United States, such as Stokely Carmichael (Trinidad), Jamaica Kincaid (Antigua), Junot Díaz (Dominican Republic), Edwidge Danticat (Haiti), Marlon James (?Jamaica), and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria). Others were born in the States and eventually found a place that felt more like home elsewhere and died there, including W. E. B. Du Bois (Ghana) and James Baldwin (France). Stokely Carmichael, who grew up in New York City, made his transition in Guinea, in West Africa. Within the larger American literary tradition, Black voices are often marginalized or included as tokenism. Here, they are front and center, loud and clear, humble and proud, humorous and dead serious. Like ink itself, Black Ink is what gives us common ground whether in the ink made with tree bark by Solomon Northup (author of Twelve Years a Slave) to write a letter that would secure his freedom in 1853 or in the digital ink of our e-readers that now allow us to download novels, such as Colson Whitehead's highly acclaimed The Underground Railroad, awarded the National Book Award (2016) and the Pulitzer Prize (2017), and chosen in 2016 by Oprah's Book Club. Oprah Winfrey's book discussion group, launched in 1996 during the successful twenty-five-year run of her internationally viewed television program, and her influence on the world of publishing, is another phenomenon of Black literary achievement. "In the black" is a positive financial term of success, to which we all aspire. As the editor of Essence and, later, editor in chief of Heart & Soul magazine, I had the special honor of assigning and editing feature pieces by great authors. My interest in reading literature was passionately developed while taking an African American lit course at Howard University. I graduated the year that Toni Morrison edited the groundbreaking historical collection The Black Book (an inspiration for this anthology). After college, working as a junior editor at one of the top women's general interest magazines, Glamour, I was swept into an exciting time of emerging female voices in publishing: Nora Ephron was humoring us with her collection of essays, Crazy Salad; Toni Morrison was publishing her third novel, Song of Solomon; Alice Walker published an essay in Ms. magazine about rediscovering the work of Zora Neale Hurston. At Essence, I worked with a brilliant team of predominantly Black women editors who reveled in their duty to present to the African American reading public the best and brightest African American writers. Essence succeeded in providing a home for our literary writers who may not have been applauded at all or as often by the White-run literary magazines of the day. Many of the writers first published in Essence were then able to secure major book publishing deals. And those who were recognized by the publishing world relied on us to spread the word of their new releases. In those premillennial times, before celebrities dominated magazine covers and the center-well features of publications, it was writers, readers, and thinkers who were revered. There wasn't one celebrity in whose company I would have preferred to be over author and poet Maya Angelou. When her memoir The Heart of the Woman was published in the mid-1980s, I had the plum assignment to interview her in her North Carolina kitchen as she made spaghetti. I learned that for Angelou, poetry was not just a professional pursuit but also a personal passion. When my daughter was born, she sent the gift of her favorite poems to share with my child--not bound volumes, but a thoughtfully chosen "anthology" of photocopied pages from books and magazines that have been saved and cherished as much or more than any of her published books. On the handwritten note attached Angelou wrote to Anique, "I pray you grow strong, well, and beautiful . . . and with this poetry of joy!" There was no greater delight conducting a photo shoot than at the Cincinnati home of Nikki Giovanni, and noticing her wall-to-wall bookshelves had been personally organized according to the Dewey decimal system. When Alice Walker became the first Black woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and also to grace the cover of Essence in dreadlocks--on a September fashion issue, no less--it was a great moment for the magazine. James Baldwin was still highly regarded in 1987, and showed his love for the magazine, writing an original piece for Essence at the time of his untimely passing that remains unpublished to this day. In 1992, when Terry McMillan drew crowds of Black women readers that formed lines around the block of bookstores at which she read from Waiting to Exhale, she made publishing history. The next year, when Toni Morrison became the first African American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, it was a triumph for the world of letters and the literary aspirations and achievements of a people. I recall a lovely party thrown in her honor at the Gracie Mansion home of the first Black mayor of New York City, David Dinkins, Morrison's Howard University classmate. Black Ink endeavors to replicate the feeling of being in the room with them and others. Many of the authors are novelists. Their award-winning and bestselling books are works of fiction from the brilliant imaginations and shared memories of genius minds. In curating the anthology, I attempted to discover their interior worlds. What personal, real-life experiences informed their work? As a journalist, I wanted to know what drove the early authors to learn to read, then what motivated the later ones to break down barriers to be published. I wondered what made it possible to overcome the seemingly impossible racism to evolve from what Langston Hughes biographer Arnold Rampersad describes as the "literature of necessity to the inclusion of leisure." Zora Neale Hurston wrote novels, but in her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, excerpted here, she lamented that "Negroes were supposed to write about the Race Problem." Novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warned almost seventy years later in a TED Talk speech that gained international attention, about the danger of the benign neglect of diversity and the feigned privilege of the literary lie of the "single story." The strength of Black Ink is in the common knowledge among the writers of the power of inserting our diverse experiences into the "mainstream" and the courage to make change with words. ---- This collection of essays has been carefully curated from memoirs, book introductions, newspaper articles, speeches, and media interviews. Some of the selections from book-length works were meticulously condensed. Reprint permissions were painstakingly obtained from the authors, agents, and publishers. Black Ink is presented in three parts: "The Peril," "The Power," and "The Pleasure." The order of the pieces is chronological from the birth of each writer, with the exception of Frederick Douglass, who was born after Solomon Northup, but because his memoir was published first, and exposes the danger of "reading while Black" when it was illegal, we have put his story as the lead. The last section, "Pleasure," is called that because this generation does enjoy a degree of being able to read and write what they please, as Roxane Gay's delightful story expresses, and Colson Whitehead's humorous take on "How to Write" offers. However, the seriousness of the essays of Junot Díaz, Edwidge Danticat, and Marlon James could also fall under the heading of "Purpose." Life has progressed for the better for African Americans since the founding of the United States of America. These two dozen of our top, most elite writers across that time share from the heart their personal stories of inspiration and motivation in literacy and literature. Their cumulative freedom of expression, literary achievements, Nobel Prizes, Pulitzer Prizes, National Book Awards, NAACP Image Awards, and even Presidential Summer Reading Lists exemplify what poet Maya Angelou describes in her poem "Still I Rise" as "the hope and the dream of the slave." The presidency of Barack Hussein Obama gave us a glimpse of the manifestation of that hope and dream. In 2008, the United States elected not only the first African American president, but also a most prolific author in chief. Like Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, published in 1845, Dreams from My Father is President Obama's excellent coming-of-age memoir. Released exactly 150 years later when Obama was just thirty-four years old and embarking on his political life, Dreams goes into great detail about the importance of books in developing his Black identity. New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani described Dreams from My Father as surely the most "evocative, lyrical, and candid autobiography written by a future president." Her 2009 essay "From Books, New President Found Voice" went on to state it "suggests that throughout his life he has turned to books as a way of acquiring insights and information from others--as a means of breaking out of the bubble of self-hood and, more recently, the bubble of power and fame. He recalls that he read James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and W. E. B. Du Bois when he was an adolescent in an effort to come to terms with his racial identity . . ." Of all the books Obama read that helped shape him, he wrote in his memoir, "Only Malcolm X's autobiography seemed to offer something different. His repeated acts of self-creation spoke to me; the blunt poetry of his words, his unadorned insistence on respect, promised a new and uncompromising order, martial in its discipline, forged through sheer force of will." Years later, near the end of his second term in office, the president spoke of how his love of literacy and his international upbringing allowed him to find common ground with world leaders. In 2016, at the funeral of former Israeli president and prime minister Shimon Peres, President Obama said that he and Peres "shared a love of words and books and history. And, perhaps like most politicians, we shared too great a joy in hearing ourselves talk. . . . But beyond that, I think our friendship was rooted in the fact that I could somehow see myself in his story and maybe he could see himself in mine." That, I feel, is a most important part literature plays in our lives. In print books, we can study and cultivate greatness. We can learn about one another in the safety of our own homes and the privacy of our electronic devices, without concern over saying the wrong thing or being politically incorrect. With audiobooks, we can listen in on great storytelling, sans the current intrusion of the arguing and rancor of media talking heads. Reading gives us knowledge and wisdom that can bring us together to make change for the better in our lives, our communities, our countries, and our world. Reading matters. Writing matters. Enjoy. Excerpted from Black Ink: Literary Legends on the Peril, Power, and Pleasure of Reading and Writing All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.


Table of Contents

Nikki GiovanniStephanie Stokes OliverFrederick DouglassSolomon NorthupBooker T. WashingtonW. E. B. Du BoisZora Neale HurstonLangston HughesJames BaldwinMalcolm XMaya AngelouMartin Luther King Jr.Toni MorrisonWalter Dean MyersStokely Carmichael [Kwame Ture]Alice WalkerJamaica KincaidHenry Louis Gates Jr.Terry McMillanJunot DíazEdwidge DanticatColson WhiteheadMarlon JamesRoxane GayTa-Nehisi CoatesChimamanda Ngozi AdichieMichiko Kakutani
Foreword: Our First Storiesp. xiii
Introduction: Reading Mattersp. xvii
The Peril | 1800-1900
Suspected of Having a Bookp. 3
Nine Years Deprived of a Sheet of Paperp. 13
A Whole Race Begins to Readp. 25
The Negro in Literature and Artp. 41
The Power | 1900-1968
Books and Thingsp. 49
Poetry Is Practicalp. 57
The Business of the Writerp. 67
Turning Pointp. 73
Lessons in Livingp. 81
Morehouse Collegep. 93
The Site of Memoryp. 99
Where Are the People of Color in Children's Books?p. 111
Reading for Revolutionp. 117
Twenty-Onep. 127
A Temporary Library in a Small Placep. 135
What Is an African American Classic?p. 143
New Black Scribep. 155
The Pleasure | 1968-2017
MFA vs. POCp. 163
Create Dangerouslyp. 173
How to Writep. 187
From Jamaica to Minnesota to Myselfp. 193
I Once Was Miss Americap. 199
The Meccap. 207
The Danger of the Single Storyp. 215
Bonus Feature
What Books Mean to Me: President Barack Obama an Interviewp. 225
Permissions and Creditsp. 237
Acknowledgmentsp. 241