Why Fertile Ground is an Important Work
by Kalamu ya Salaam

These Are The Lyrics, Our People Are The Music


WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO THE SPIRIT OF BLACKNESS, the spirit of doing for self? the spirit of us astral traveling, sending our audacious imagination probes into the deepest of space potentials and possibilities? oppressed, yes, but steady fighting back. exploited, no doubt, but always creating something innovative-what ever happened?


Fertile Ground - Memories and Visions
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by Kalamu Ya Salaam (Editor), Kysha N. Brown (Editor)

ISBN: 096538540X
Pub. Date: June 1996
Format: Paperback, 288pp
Publisher: Runagate Press

Read a description of Fertile Ground

Why are we waiting for others to publish us, pick over our words and tell us what we were thinking, what we meant, what’s going on?

Fertile Ground is our answer to these questions.

We created this publication not simply to showcase our own writing but really to empower black literature through rounding up some of the most creative work we could find. we have put writers together with graphic artists and photographers-and we mean writers at all levels, from a polyphony of planes: political an,sis to love poems, memoirs to science fiction, straight exposition to some wild ’what the hell was that!" shit. whatever we are doing in our effort to shape literature blackly.

I’ve been involved with Black literature for a long time (since 1969 i have worked as an editor, publisher or print production manager), hence i was able to request material from some of our major voices whom i have come to know both professionally and personally over the decades. i give great thanx to al I of the writers who generously responded. oftentimes when you send out a call you don’t get back the best stuff, but you will see as you go through this collection, nobody was slouching off their mediocrities. this is kicking work from very busy, very creative writers who care enough to send you (via fertile ground) their very best. also, i travel a lot, and as i run across hip work i keep a mental note and follow up whenever i can. i guarantee you won’t find more than a handful of other literary journals with the eclectic mix of writing and graphics that we have here.

Moreover, the fact that two workshops (Carolina, USA and Liverpool, England) are spotlighted is no accident. while we wanted to feature our own workshop, we also wanted to shine the spotlight on what others are doing in the south and in other parts of the black world. we plan for each issue of fertile ground to feature work from at least one southern and one non-USA black writing workshop. the attempt is to maintain a balance between propagating black writing from the south and presenting the best we can find from all over the planet.

The ’memories and visions" theme is also no accident. where we come from? where we going to? those are the two major coordinates of black existence. where we at now is meaningless without the past/future context.

While i don’t plan to single out specific pieces for comment, i must say a word about the Stephen Henderson essays. it is criminal that his work has gone unpublished since the late seventies. after you check out what brother Henderson has to say, i’m sure you will agree that the section title ’a deeper understanding" is an understatement. but the fact that Henderson’s work goes unpublished is a direct reflection on the state of mainstream and academic publishing, and more so on the relative paucity of black independent publishing.

WE PEOPLE, ESPECIALLY THOSE OF US WHO ARE WRITERS, ARE more dependent on the status quo than we’ve ever been since the turn of the century (and you can quote me on that!). for a variety of valid reasons, ranging from geography to the military dominance of our oppressors, maroonage (i.e. running away to live independent of the slave system) has seldom been an option ’within" the united states. thus, even conceptualizing living independent of euro-centric purview has been difficult. nonetheless, we don’t have to completely capitulate in the name of some sort of proverbial pragmatism. we do have the option of doing for self, of working their farm/plantation/job/corporation while maintaining a side plot of our own. this is the 90s. if we don’t do for self, who’s fault is that?

In contemporary literature it’s almost like a majority of us have nothing to say unless it be broadcast, published, recorded or otherwise produced by our enemies or their next of kin (some of whom are cool, a few of whom are straight-up righteous). yet, the question remains: when will we have our own? every Black writer who is successfully publishing with a mainstream house ought to publish at least one book with a black publisher and/or (preferably both) directly finance the development of black publishing. i know the counter arguments. the discouraging realities. the economic strictures of publishing black. but i also know that it’s a matter of heritage, survival and development. it’s up to us to do for us; it’s been that way in america since 1619, and for the foreseeable future it looks like ditto".

The two leading black literature journals (African American Review and Callaloo) are published by mainstream universities. then there is Eugene Redmond’s Drumvoices coming out of Southern Illinois University and Warpland coming out of the Gwendolyn Brooks Center at Chicago State University, led by Haki Madhubuti and Joyce Ann Joyce. although there are other journals associated with schools, we don’t have many independently produced, community-based, nationally circulated, unabashedly and unapologetically black, straight up political literary journals which actively advocate self-determination, self-respect, and self-defense for black people. (and if you have to ask, what does that have to do with literature, well…)

In any case, read Stephen Henderson first. in fact, stop reading this, go directly to Henderson’s work (page 130), and come back here after you check out Henderson…

…now, you see what i mean? a deeper understanding.

Okay. here’s the 411. 90% of the work was done by kysha brown and me. i did all of the initial phone and letter contact and the follow-up with the non-new orleans writers. most of the optical character scanning and initial typing was done by kysha. i took the lead on design and layout (with kysha shadowing my every step). we shared the business responsibilities. workshop members and friends (thanks lynn) did a portion of the proofreading; kysha and i did the balance.

Literary journals are generally done by a few people working as a dedicated team, or else it’s a real professional set-up, meaning a paid staff of people doing a bunch of the grunt work. but regardless of how it is done, putting a hip journal together is hard work. the absence of people with the necessary combination of 1) editorial and production skills, 2) the will to do the work, 3) the time to put in the long hours-i mean ’loooooonnnggg" (like work all day at your gig, then work on fertile ground from 5:30 p.m. until 2:00 a.m. for two weeks), 4) contacts with a broad range of writers, 5) a degree of personal commitment necessary to surmount the numerous obstacles and 6) the maroon guttiness necessary to dare to do great and/or innovative work without monetary remuneration or recognition from the establishment. the lack of any one of those elements will generally result in mediocre production at best. indeed, one reason more quality black literary journals aren’t done is because the doing is difficult, expensive and beyond the means and dreams of most of us.

Production-wise, we used a paperport scanner (for ocr input), an epson 800c scanner, a mac av 660 computer with quark express layout software and photoshop graphics software. a few of the articles were sent to me via email. after designing the cover, we had color separated negatives done at orleans colour graphics house. we sent cover film and an optical disk containing the layout in quark to bookcrafters, our printer. this is to say, two people did what five years ago would have required many more people and much more money than we had for this project.

Money. Wel I now, i decided to stake the start-up costs out of my own pocket (winning a 1996 louisiana state university $2500 playwriting fellowship was fortuitous in this regard). kysha kicked in for a healthy chunk and that covered our basic printing bill. we decided to raise the balance through $100 patron sponsorships. we solicited friends, colleagues, associates, people we knew with dinero, you name it, but we did it without the proverbial grants and establishment philanthropic support (which may sound noble, but it’s not-even if we wanted the grants, being a first time publication, we weren’t eligible for most grants). the real “bottom line” is that we have to raise our own capital. there is no such thing as establishment funding for alternatives to the establishment. i mean if they directly fund your existence then you are not really an alternative, you are part of the establishment, and regardless of what you may say or think you are doing with the money, your existence is predicated on their existence. you become part and parcel, the left wing of, but still connected to, the predatory eagle. moreover, you become an advertisement for their liberalism which is really but another name for cooption. which is what it is, but the brutal question remains: when we gon get our own?

we decided on an annual for two reasons; 1) didn’t want to bite off more than we could actually chew, swallow, digest and continue; 2) wanted to make a major impact in terms of including a wide range of work in an attractive format. the major precedent that i thought of was a 70s black anthology/journal called amistad (i think two issues were published).

I BELIEVE IN BLACK LITERATURE-SOCIALLY COMMITTED and/OR culturally grounded, black (i.e. african-heritage) writing and am willing and able (give thanx to all who came before me) to put my body and soul where my mind and fantasies are. i also believe in our own ability to create, produce and dessiminate black literature. and if we can’t, then we ought not even be talking about being black.

Ultimately, it’s about US-our people, Africa’s children, here in the usa, on the continent, elsewhere in the western diaspora and wherever in the world we reside-us. it’s all about bringing clarity and inspiration, instructions for the destruction of both our external enemies as well as our internal defects. for the deconstruction of our historic colonialization, enslavement and exploitation. for the reconstruction of a whole, healthy and interdependent people. towards this end, each of us has a duty, which we fulfill as best we can, or, which, through ignorance, inaction, confusion or neglect, we ignobly betray (more likely we do a little of both, hopefully more of the former and less of the latter). each of us can and should make a positive difference. should add to the uplift of downpression, assist in the dismantling of our exploitation, and be vigilant in seizing every opportunity to commit random acts of beauty and goodness both on social and individual levels. each of us should. and by doing what we can we will thereby shine a little light which will invariably inspire others/us.

and the writing up in here, well it’s all just the lyrics to our people’s songs of love and struggle.