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Book Review: Step into a World: A Global Anthology of the New Black Literature

Step into a World: A Global Anthology of the New Black Literature
by Kevin Powell



Publication Date: Sep 29, 2000
List Price: $50.00 (store prices may vary)
Format: Hardcover
Classification: Fiction
Page Count: 496
ISBN13: 9780471380603
Imprint: Wiley
Publisher: Wiley
Parent Company: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


Read Wiley’s description of Step into a World: A Global Anthology of the New Black Literature

Book Reviewed by Kevin Powell


The Following is the List of Contributors to This Amazing Volume


Toyin Adewale is a native of Emure-Ekiti, Ekiti State, Nigeria. Born in 1969, she has absolutely no faith in zodiac signs. One night when she was 13, after a teenage spat with her parents, she put pen to paper to record her point of view and discovered she could write. She writes because she must, dreams swim in her, the swirling passion and pain and joy of her people, her life and the lives around her, all these come tumbling out because they refuse to be caged. She insists art is for life's sake. In a terrain where publishers don't like to risk their money on poetry, she is the happy author of Naked Testimonies (1995), Die Aromaforscherin (1997) and Flackernde Kerzen (1999), a work of prose.

Jane Alberdeston-Coral'n was born in November 1968 on what was once known as Boriken, post-Colon-ization's bamboo canopied, salt-skinned Puerto Rico. Army-taught the Pledge of Allegiance before the alphabet, Jane moved with her family around the globe. In 1995 she landed like a flamboyan seed-pod in Washington, DC. Here she found then lost her heart in the black writer's community which flourishes easy as runaway dandelions on the White House lawn's clipped and perfect arse. She braved overwhelming shyness reading in a local dive's slam competition, then bunjee-jumped into performing at the much-loved "Its Your Mug" Poetry Cafe, Gala Hispanic Theatre, Nuyorican Poet's Caf', Whitney Museum (NY), Philadelphia's Painted Bride. She was published most recently by Bilingual Review Press and The Drumming Between Us. Chapbooks The Waters of My Thirst and The AfroTaina Dreams are still in circulation. Her current pound of flesh, Of Skin and Shadows, is still cooking in the pot. A Cave Canem fellow 1998-2000, she still lives in DC.

Born in 1966 of a union between a thugging Muslim-to-be and a virginal future Jehovah's Witness, Donnell Alexander shed the husk of Sandusky, Ohio to become the greatest juco success story this side of Latrell Sprewell. He cut his writing molars in the 1990s West Coast alternative press, appearing in the major California newsweeklies, as well as various hip-hop journals. To sate his interest in all facets of popular culture, Alexander even briefly wrote for ESPN The Magazine. This writer publishes because he's from the same terrain as most Americans, and his journalism, at its best, transcends the media noise that insists humanity ain't about shit. He lives in Brooklyn.

Elizabeth Alexander—I was born in 1962 in Harlem, New York, and brought up in Washington, DC. I have lived, studied, and worked up and down the eastern seaboard as well as in Chicago, and am now settled in New Haven, Connecticut. My work is teaching and writing. I have published two books of poems, The Venus Hottentot (1990) and Body of Life (1996), as well as many essays and articles on African-American literature and culture. I am presently finishing a third book of poems and a collection of essays. I write because words come to me and voices speak to me, asking to be recorded, and because I love to wrestle with shapes and language, and because writing is how I seem best able to contribute to others, and to honor and manifest what the ancestors (mine and ours) have worked for, hoped for, and died for.

Harry Allen
Calling myself Media Assassin affirms that writing is best served as an act of transformative violence. When I was first published—in Brooklyn’s The City Sun, then The Village Voice, where “Hip-Hop Hi-Tech” originally appeared (“It blew my mind,” Dr. Tricia Rose said, while researching her seminal Black Noise)—one of my aims was to someday produce work so inflammatory that reading it in public might be deemed a seditious act.

I could claim that my intentions were formed by the circumstances of my birth: New York City, the ’60s, just five days after John F. Kennedy’s life, and white America’s widely fabled innocence, both evaporated in an ethereal, pink mist from the president’s fatal head wound.

But my objectives rise, instead, from the inevitability of my death. Living in Harlem, promised less life than a Bengali peasant, I’ve long concluded that the task of every sane Black writer is to educate and excite, inform and infuriate; not to placate, or to reassure, but to leave a bloody mess. —Harry Allen

Jeffery Renard Allen—A writer has but one calling: to search out the distant reaches of the human heart. Reach the universal through the immediate and the particular. The Black writer shines his black light into all the dark and funky corners of our experience. Born in 1962, I was raised in South Shore, a black Chicago ghetto which on the surface appeared to be more-than-ghetto with its neat lawns and well-kept courtyard buildings. For twelve years, I put in work at the University of Illinois at Chicago, leaving in 1992 with a Ph.D. in English (Creative Writing), then moved to New York City to accept a full-time gig at Queens College, where I am presently an Associate Professor of English. I have been fortunate enough to publish two books, Harbors and Spirits, a collection of poems with a compact disc of me reading the entire text, and Rails Under My Back, a novel. I am presently completing Stellar Places: One Hundred Poems, and Shadow Boxing: A Novel in Stories. I am also at work on a novel, Hours of the Seeds. In the Far Rockaway section of Queens, I live, breath, and write.

Born in 1960 in New York City with roots in Barbados, Hilton Als has been described as “a genius ashamed of nothing.” Als is a staff writer at The New Yorker. The essay which appears in this anthology, “GWTW,” first appeared in Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America. Als’ first book, The Women, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. He is currently completing another, also for Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Als is a graduate of the High School for the Performing Arts, and attended Columbia University. He lives in Manhattan. When asked why he does what he does, Als responded, simply, “Why I write: It defines me.”

Angela Ards learned a love of words kneeling bedside, listening to her mother pray. She was born in Dallas in 1969, raised on James Cleveland, religious Aretha, Sam Cooke before he backslid, and speaking in tongues. "You can tell she goes to church," a teacher told her mother, when, at 3, she led (coerced?) her nursery school class in a spirited testimony and praise service. Her name, "Angela Ann"—bestowed by her big sister, Roslyn—means "graceful messenger," and she writes because it's always felt like the Universe's plan. A true Aries with Aquarius rising, she is a free spirit with deep passions that she's pondered and probed in the pages of The Village Voice, The Nation, Emerge, The Source, Ms., and the anthology Still Lifting, Still Climbing: African American Women's Contemporary Activism. The Haywood Burns Fellow at the Nation Institute and an editor at Ms., she lives in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

Jabari Asim—I am a journalist whose work has appeared in a number of anthologies, including In The Tradition, Brotherman, Soulfires, and The Furious Flowering of African-American Poetry. A dedicated husband, father, nerd, intellectual, “race man” and baseball fan, I’m not one of those sexy, hot-button scribes whose work is destined for big sales and widespread attention. I admire many of those writers and have often fervently wished that I might someday join their ranks, but it ain’t gonna happen. That doesn’t deter me, however, because obscurity does, in fact, have its own rewards. For example, there’s . . .and . . .well . . .okay, I’ll have to get back to you. Born in St. Louis in 1962, I grew up cheering the Gas House Gang and learned to take the work seriously while regarding my own neurotic self with a healthy sense of humor. Reasons I write: 1) few things make me happier; 2) I never learned to hit a curveball; 3) it beats waiting tables; and 4) I have no other marketable skills.

Erin Aubry—I write about politics and culture, and sometimes obviously about myself, but I've discovered that writing about the first two things together very often describes me more intimately than I can. This is both empowering and eviscerating. Black people by definition, by history, are still the avatars of American politics and culture, though we now struggle with the public expression of the individual, not the archetype or the mouthpiece; this will be the cultural battle of the twenty-first century. I do battle in Los Angeles, where I was born (in ‘62) and raised. I've written for the Los Angeles Times, have been a staff writer at New Times Los Angeles and am now staff writer at the L.A. Weekly. I've freelanced for Contemporary Art Magazine, London Independent on Sunday and Black Enterprise, to name a few publications. I've had essays anthologized in Adios, Barbie (Seal Press) and Mothers Who Think (Simon & Schuster). I've also written and performed poetry throughout Los Angeles.

Kevin Baldeosingh was educated at the University of the West Indies, and also got a degree there. After teaching for three years, he applied for a part-time position as a newspaper columnist with the Trinidad Express. His application letter began, "There are only two writers who people actually buy the newspaper to read. I propose to become the third." As a result of being so brass-faced, Express editor-in-chief Owen Baptiste hired Baldeosingh full-time as an editorial writer and columnist. After three years, a conflict between management and his journalistic ethics led to his resignation. He then worked as a feature writer and assistant editor at the Trinidad Guardian. After three years, a conflict between management and his journalistic ethics again led to his resignation.

Baldeosingh was starting to see a pattern here. He now makes his living as a freelance writer. His two published novels are The Autobiography of Paras P and Virgin's Triangle. The first novel is a satire on politics, religion, media, social mores—in fact, just about everything. The second novel is a romantic comedy that begins “Thinking about sex and money,” and proceeds from there. Baldeosingh likes squash, volleyball, tennis and the women who play them. Born in 1963 in Trinidad, he considers himself young and single, but hopes to get older one day. He writes because it gives him that bubbly, contented feeling that lesser men get from drinking champagne.

Ras Baraka has been called “one of the most consistent, courageous, and insightful activists of his generation.” The son of revered poet-activists Amina and Amiri Baraka, Ras continues in that prominent legacy of art and community activism. Born in 1969 in Newark, New Jersey, Ras hails from a family who has lived in the city for over 70 years. As an artist, Ras independently released his debut spoken-word CD Shorty for Mayor in 1998. He is re-launching the project in 2000 with plans for national and internet distribution. One of its highlights is the never released single “Hot Beverage in Winter,” which features Grammy-winning songtress Lauryn Hill, who weaved Baraka's vocals throughout both The Score by The Fugees and on her own The Mis-Education of Lauryn Hill. Co-editor of In The Tradition (with Kevin Powell), presently Ras is working on a second book and teaches fifth grade in the Newark public school system. His love for teaching is matched only by his passion for political equality. A former candidate for Mayor and the City Council, he plans another City Council bid in 2001.

Born in Hollywood, California in 1974 under the sign of Aquarius, Stefani Barber spent her first years in a part of Los Angeles known, for various reasons, as “The Jungle.” An only child, she and her parents moved throughout "South-Central" until one of their neighbors, who had a habit of passing out in his driveway, brought his trade a little too close to home, and the Barbers settled in the complacent working-class suburb of L.A. known as Carson. In the summer of 1990, she was named a California Arts Scholar, and attended the California State Summer School for the Arts, where she first came to believe in her identity as a poet—and began writing to attest to her growing political, social and sexual consciousness. Two years later, she escaped her Catholic high school and made her way to the Bay Area by way of Mills College in Oakland, where she got her first taste of organizing and hunger-striking. Now a graduate student at San Francisco State University, she performs non-socially-redeeming office work and dreams of being the world's sexiest salsera. She lives and loves in San Francisco.

Paul Beatty—I was born in Los Angeles in 1962. Raised on kung fu triple features, samurai movies with no swordplay, V-8, Philly cheesesteak sandwiches from Al's Sandwich Shop, and my mother's frayed paperback library. I write because I'm too afraid to steal, too ugly to act, too weak to fight, and too stupid in math to be a Cosmologist. As a result two volumes of poetry, Big Bank Take Little Bank and Joker, Joker, Deuce, and two novels, The White Boy Shuffle and Tuff.

A native of Atlanta, Valerie Boyd was born in 1963 on December 11. Using her Sagittarian qualities of seriousness and purposefulness, she is writing a forthcoming biography, Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston (Scribner), because she feels called to do so. Her articles, essays and reviews have appeared in Ms., The Oxford American, Emerge, Creative Nonfiction, The Washington Post and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she works part-time as an editor and book critic—despite her astrologer’s advice to avoid a sedentary job. For her work on the Hurston biography, she was awarded a 1999 fellowship from the Howard Foundation of Brown University. To remain in touch with her inner callings, she meditates every day.

Charlie Braxton—Right now I am being attacked by a brigade of little green men who want me to tell you that I may or may not have been born in McComb, Mississippi, in 1961. They force-fed me some type of cornbread laced with a funny tasting substance that is compelling me to write down the first thing that comes to my mind. Damn! I hate doing bios. Excuse me. I mean, I don’t like writing about myself. The major reason why I write is because the ancestors demand that I tell the truth. My captives insist that I am some sort of poet, playwright. They tell me that I am also a journalist and that I have had some things published in various magazines and journals such as the Black Nation, Catalyst, Cut Banks and anthologies such as In The Tradition, Soulfires and Catch The Fire!!! They also want you to know that I am currently being held up in a city called Jackson, Mississippi. Excuse me again. Huh? Okay, I'll tell ‘em…no need to go postal on a brother.

When Daphne A. Brooks was 12-years-old, she dreamed of flipping the script on Siskel and Ebert, Pauline Kael, and Kurt Loder. Toting a dog-eared blue notebook to multiplex matinees and arena concerts at the Circle Star Theatre, she left behind a paper trail of mad scribblings about Purple Rain and Doug E. Fresh. Term papers on Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, and the band Living Colour would prove joyful and career-altering distractions in college and grad school at U.C.-Berkeley and UCLA. Born in 1968 and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area by her educator parents, Brooks now spends her time teaching courses on African-American literature and popular culture at the University of California, San Diego. She's also writing a book on black performance in the 19th century. She holds high hopes of one day organizing a coalition for black folks who love baseball and who like to rock.

Tisa Bryant sent the editor this brief note as she was preparing to take a month-long journey to India: “I couldn’t get too flossy with the bio; too pressed for time right now, and all that comes to mind is weird, unrelated stuff.” That said, Tisa Bryant is a Boston native living well in San Francisco, where she is working on several projects to bring critical attention to avant-garde women writers of color. Her work has appeared in Clamour, Chain, Kenning, Blithe House Quarterly, and the anthology Children of the Dream: Our Own Stories of Growing Up Black in America (Pocket Books, 1999). Tisa’s work will appear in the anthologies Beyond The Frontier (Black Classics Press) and What Is Not Said. A chapbook, Tzimmes, is forthcoming from A+Bend Press. The editor notes that Tisa’s family migrated from Barbados and she was born somewhere in the vicinity of the late 1960s and the early 1970s.

Born in 1968 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, me, Shonda Buchanan, AKA Nyesha Khalfani, was raised shoeless, in a family of seven, all of us without a hint of guile, yet fiercely protective, same as the black moist earth that covers the landscape. Between pretending we were the Silvers and running away from home, my siblings loved hard and loud all the way across Kalamazoo, flinging one sister to Alabama, a brother to Arizona, another to Las Vegas, and me to Los Angeles, where I now reside, write and remember the poetry of their poker-hand lives. Paying my bills as an associate editor of a black magazine and freelancing for the L.A. Weekly, I write because my kin and my ancestors, both African and Native American, have placed their stories in my hands. I can't do anything else as well or as important as this. I am working on capturing several ancestors in my first novel, Baring Cross. Over the years, I've published varying episodes of these and my personal tales in The Drumming Between Us, Caffeine Magazine, Venice Magazine, and in the anthology The Fire This Time.

Paul Calderon was coaxed from the womb on the heels of the Watts Riots with much appreciated efforts from a Central American hairstylist and a Chicano mailman. As a child in L.A., the eternal glowing hot ambers of race influenced Paul heavily. While still trying to make sense of it all, he allowed himself to be swindled into the Air Force. He aimed high but missed. After adjusting his crosshairs, he wrote, produced, and directed plays. Looking for something true to grasp, Paul returned to Los Angeles and received a degree in philosophy. It was an opportunity for him to again attempt to make sense of the ashes of rebellion that over twenty years later still erupted into flames. Paul is noted for his use of poetry as a means of transcendental soul travel. His work has been published in numerous anthologies and literary journals. Paul’s time now is spent strategically spreading the still hot ambers over the silver screen.

I, Adrian Castro, am a poet, performer, and interdisciplinary artist. I was born in 1967 in Miami from Cuban and Dominican heritage, a fact that has provided fertile ground for the rhythmic Afro-Caribbean style in which I write. I articulate the search for a cohesive Afro-Caribbean-American identity, and I honor myth on one hand and history on the other. I also address the migratory experience from Africa to the Caribbean to North America, and the inevitable clash of cultures. These themes reach their climax in their declamaci'n: the circular, call-and-response rhythm of performance with a whole lot of t'n-t'n k'-k' pulse. I am the author of Cantos to Blood & Honey (Coffee House Press), and I’ve been published in a host of anthologies. I am the recipient of several grants and fellowships including NewForms Florida and Florida Invididual Artist Fellowship, as well as several commissionings from the Miami Light Project and the Miami Art Museum. I am, too, a practicing herbalist and Babalawo.

Veronica Chambers was born in 1970 in Panama, where her people came from Jamaica, Martinique and Costa Rica to build the Panama Canal, not to mention this bridge called her back. She is the author of five books for adults and children including the critically acclaimed Mama's Girl and Marisol and Magdalena: The Sound of Our Sisterhood. A culture writer at Newsweek, she has also written for The New York Times Magazine, Esquire and Harper's Bazaar. The easy answer to why I write is because I love books and I want to add my voice to the chorus of singing that bellows across the ages and pages: Phyllis Wheatley's sweet soprano, James Baldwin's tenor, Toni Morrison's strong, clear alto.

Farai Chideya sees writing as both revolution and evolution. The daughter of a Zimbabwean journalist and a Baltimorean teacher, she grew up reading books like They Came Before Columbus and Before the Mayflower—with the Hobbit trilogy thrown in for good measure. Her work as a magazine and television journalist has sometimes made her an accomplice to the stereotyping of African-Americans. She must have written Don't Believe the Hype: Fighting Cultural Misinformation About African-Americans to ease her guilty conscience. Her second book, The Color of Our Future tracks an America rapidly becoming "majority-minority." Born in 1969, Chideya resides in New York City.

Cheo Hodari Coker (born 12/12/72) has loved writing from the moment he first realized that he wasn't going to be the next Charlie Parker. But it was reading music books by Ross Russell, Nelson George, and Amiri Baraka, and talking to his high school idol, writer Robert Marriott, that made him realize that he could maybe make a contribution behind the scenes as a writer. Coker decided that writing about the new be-bop, "hip-hop," was his ticket, and when he picked up his first issue of The Source during the Spring of 1990, his life was altered forever. He would eventually pen pieces for RapPages, Vibe, Spin, Rolling Stone, Urb, The Bomb, and, yup, The Source. From 1995 to 1997 Coker was a staff writer for The Los Angeles Times Calendar section where he did everything from hang out with pimps in Washington, DC, with the Hughes Brothers, to interviewing The Notorious B.I.G. 36 hours before his fatal March 9, ‘97 shooting. Around this time he had a crazy idea for a screenplay about the music industry, and with his uncle, veteran screenwriter Richard Wesley (Uptown Saturday Night), created the gritty hip-hop thriller Flow, which he sold to New Line Cinema. It will be produced and directed by John Singleton.

Wayde Compton—The first black population of my home province moved en masse from San Francisco to Victoria in the spring and summer of 1858, fleeing persecution in California and seeking gold, suffrage, and equal rights under the Union Jack in British Columbia. Some of them did find a little gold. Most of them returned to the States after the Civil War and the abolition of slavery. I was born in Vancouver in 1972, and I didn’t descend directly from those blacks, but I inherited their false-start history. I was born to a white mother from Toronto and a black father from Philadelphia, and then adopted by a similar set-up—my white Vancouverite mother and my black father from Houston, Texas. So the personal and the public drive my interest in settlement, dispersal, voice, and authenticity, my regionalized, racialized I. “If,” as Paul Beatty writes, “niggers could fly,” British Columbia would be the layover capital of the world. My first book of poems is 49th Parallel Psalm (Arsenal Pulp Press, 1999). I’m currently at work editing Bluesprint: An Anthology of Black British Columbian Literature and Orature, and a novel, Boxing the Compass.

Ricardo Cortez Cruz [born 1964 in Decatur IL] relishes the compositions done from his coffin He writes novel ideas Straight Outta Compton [called one of 1992's best efforts by The Nation] Five Days of Bleeding his pointing finger turning into a phonoGRAPHIC needle his rap (Gil Scott-Heron "B-movie"-like lyrics of social protest) Shure enuff embedded in nouveau grooves exploring the thin lines of black skin He keeps digging into and collecting more disturbing parts of violence Premature Autopsies (Tales of Darkest America) suggests BODIES NEVER LIE period; cuts pieces have appeared in New American Writing, Fiction International, African American Review, Postmodern Culture, The Kenyon Review, a Norton anthology, and Obsidian II. Schooling half-white college students, etc. at Illinois State in black English he moves the crowds spitting messages for the record as if his life his very lively hood depends upon it

Ten Things About Edwidge Danticat:

  1.  She was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 1969.
  2. She now lives—mostly—in Brooklyn, New York.
  3. She is the oldest child, and only daughter, among four siblings.
  4. She is the very proud aunt of Nadira, and Karl Ezekiel Danticat.
  5. She hates talking on the phone.
  6. She is the author of two novels Breath, Eyes, Memory, and The Farming of Bones and a collection of short stories Krik? Krak! (Maybe that's three things)
  7. She is the editor of a collection of essays called The Butterfly's Way: Voices from the Haitian Dyaspora in the United States.
  8. She loves to read and tries to read a chapter in a book, a short story, or an essay each day.
  9. She loves writing—
  10. But hates writing bios.

Born in Berkeley, California in 1971 and raised on major seventh chords, tofu burgers, orthodox Marxism, and public transit, Eisa Davis began her first screenplay, Cockleburrs in my Sock, at age 6. She broke the record for the 25-yard breaststroke in Birmingham, Alabama a year later. philosophy but was increasingly drawn to the schizoid joys of theatre. After graduating, she moved to Los Angeles then New York to pursue her Master's in acting and playwriting at the Actors Studio School. Eisa has contributed to The Source, Rap Sheet, and the anthologies To Be Real and Letters of Intent. A recipient of fellowships from the Mellon Foundation, the MacDowell Colony, and Cave Canem, her most recent work is Paper Armor, a play about the ill-fated Mule Bone collaboration between Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Louise Patterson. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Kwame Dawes was born in Accra, Ghana to a Jamaican novelist father and a Ghanaian scupltor mother. There he learnt the taste and smell of the yoyi and discovered Jamaica in songs and folk tales that his father told. The clan of five children and parents moved to Jamaica in 1971 when Kwame was nine. Kingston, pulsing with reggae, flirting with socialism and fighting the legacy of colonialism was the site of Kwame's awakening as an artist, poet, and playwright. He has lived in various places and has published six collections of poetry, a seminal work on reggae and art titled Natural Mysticism, and is awaiting publication of two novels and a collection of short stories. Though Kwame is labeled variously as a poet, fiction writer, academic, editor, playwright, musician and artist, he knows that ultimately he is nothing but a storyteller who is constantly seeking to write his Christian faith and his historical self into moving art. In fall 2000 his latest collection of poems, Midlands, a series of poems that feed on the landscape of South Carolina and that of Jamaica, will appear with Ohio University Press. The manuscript was selected by Eavan Boland as the winner of the Hollis Summers Poetry Prize.

Jarvis Q. DeBerry was born in September 1975 and grew up in Holly Springs, Mississippi, where he read lots of books, played kickball with his 30 cousins and listened to his family tell funny stories at high volumes. He studied engineering at Washington University in St. Louis before ditching that program to study English. An editorial writer at the Times-Picayune newspaper in New Orleans, DeBerry’s work has appeared in Speak the Truth to the People, an anthology of the NOMMO Literary Society. DeBerry writes because “If I didn’t, I’d be even more verbose which would chase all my friends away.”

Junot Diaz was born in the Dominican Republic, three years after the Dominican Revolution was crushed by U.S. Marines. As a child he watched a U.S.-backed security apparatus eliminate what remained of the Dominican Left. He immigrated to the U.S. in the mid-Seventies, endured plenty of post-Vietnam War racism, worked in a steel mill, delivered pool tables and believes that global elites centered in Europe and North America are the true enemies of planetary democracy. He is the author of Drown; his fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, African Voices and Best American Short Stories 1996, 1997, and 1999.

Debra Dickerson—I write to sing the song of the black working class. I was born in St. Louis, in 1959, to escaped sharecroppers. I'm still trying to get over that, mostly by writing about the world those migrants made. My escape route? The Air Force. Those polyester-wearing rednecks taught me how to be me—my talent was too valuable for them to waste, so they didn't. They tried to make a damn general out of me. Stayed twelve years and didn't start writing until my thirties. Now, as a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, I write about black life in publications like Talk, The Village Voice, Good Housekeeping, Salon, The Washington Post, Essence, Vibe and The New Republic. Much as we complain about being invisible, my writing often upsets my fellow Negroes. This both saddens and amuses me. Go on and get mad, but I still win awards and get included in other Negros’ anthologies. “Disappearing Acts” won the New York Association of Black Journalists First Place award for Personal Commentary in 1999; “Who Shot Johnny” was included in The Best American Essays 1997. And my memoir of political and social conflict within the black community, An American Story, was recently published by Pantheon.

Tananarive Due (b. 1966)—The daughter of two Civil Rights activists, Tananarive Due was 14 when she realized that writing might save her life: In 1980, several white police officers were acquitted for beating black motorcyclist Arthur McDuffie to death. While Miami's inner-city went up in flames, Due wrote an essay, "I Want to Live," about the world she wanted to live in, free of bigotry—and the knot burning in her chest went away. (Her mother told her she was lucky she could write, because the people rioting in the streets had no other outlet for their pain and frustration.) Due would eventually study journalism and creative writing at Northwestern University, then obtain a Master’s degree from the University of Leeds, England, specializing in the literature of the Nigerian civil war. A former features writer and columnist for The Miami Herald, Due published her first novel, The Between, in 1995. Her second book, My Soul to Keep, was published in 1997 and named one of the best novels of the year by Publishers Weekly. Due’s current effort, The Black Rose, based on the life of Madam C.J. Walker, is a historical novel written in conjunction with the Alex Haley Estate. (Haley had always intended to write about Walker, the first black female millionaire, before he died in 1992). She will publish The Living Blood, a sequel to My Soul to Keep, in early 2001. Due lives in Longview, Washington, with her husband, science fiction novelist Steven Barnes.

Trey Ellis—I was a faculty brat so we moved around every six years or so. I was born in 1962 at Howard University while my father was finishing up medical school. We moved from there to the University of Michigan to Yale to Columbia by the time I was in the tenth grade. I attended Andover, the oldest boarding school in the country, but now made infamous by the Bushes pere and fils. When I was there you'd have a hard time finding even one Republican, I swear. I then went to Stanford where I majored in creative writing and it was there that I began Platitudes (1988), my first novel. Home Repairs followed in 1994 and Right Here, Right Now in 1999 which won an American Book Award. I have also written several screenplays including HBO's The Tuskegee Airmen for which I was nominated for an Emmy. I am also proud of my essays including "The New Black Aesthetic."

When Ekow Eshun was 11, he wanted to grow up to be Spiderman. Unable to find a radioactive spider he decided to become a journalist. Which meant having a voice in a society that prefers to condemn black people rather than listen to them. He was born in London in 1968, the son of parents who emigrated to Britain from Ghana. Ekow is a journalist, broadcaster and cultural critic. From 1996-99 he was editor-in-chief of Arena magazine, and from 1993-96, assistant editor of The Face. Ekow likes to say what he thinks and hates being described as articulate—as if that's a novelty in a black person.

Bernardine Evaristo—I was born in London in 1959 to a Nigerian father and white English mother with further umblical attachments to Ireland, Germany and Brazil. I spent my childhood inhabiting other people's lives through books and pretending to be someone else at the local youth theatre. The black presence in Britain goes back to at least the Roman occupation 2000 years ago, yet it is a history that is only now being uncovered. This is what spurs me on to write: to put the books on the shelves that were not there when I was growing up. My books are a poetry collection, Island of Abraham (1994), and a verse novel Lara (1997), which won the EMMA Best Novel Award. I am also featured in many anthologies and magazines, and my forthcoming verse novel, The Emperor's Babe, will be published by Penguin/Hamish Hamilton in Spring 2001. A full-time writer, I tour world-wide giving readings, having completed 18 international trips in the past two years. I now reside with my current husbands, eunuchs, soothsayers, sycophants and a harem of rugby players in a bedouin tent in Notting Hill, London.

Christopher John Farley
“So, you written that bio, man?” “Nah.” “What’s up?” “Just got this thing about bios.” “What?” “You include a bio and it like recontextualizes the piece.” “Recontextualizes the piece? What’s this recontextualizes the piece bullshit?” “I tell people I was born in 1966 in Kingston, Jamaica, I tell people I went to Harvard or that I’m a senior writer for Time magazine, and they’ll like read my work differently.” “Check it out, check it out—this shit’s simple. Where you from?” “I don’t want to say.” “You just said the shit a second ago.” “That was a different context.” “Okay, what’s the name of your first novel?” My Favorite War, published in hardcover by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. The Washington Post called it “one of those rare jewels,” and Terry McMillan said she liked it too. It’s available in paperback from Ecco Press for $13. It makes a great stocking stuffer….” “Okay, okay, enough. You know, on second thought, I think you need to like, keep your shit on the down low and let your work speak for itself.” “See? That’s what I’m saying….”— Christopher John Farley

Nikky Finney was born in Conway, South Carolina in 1957, at the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean. She was raised in several different small towns all across the state. Choosing to remain in her beloved southland, she graduated from Talladega College in Talladega, Alabama. Her first book of poems, On Wings Made Of Gauze, was published in 1985. She has been published in the anthologies, In Search Of Color Everywhere (1994), I Hear A Symphony (1994), Spirit and Flame (1996), and Bloodroot (1998). The 1999 anthology, The Bluelight Corner, takes its name from a line found in her poem, “The Turtle Ball.” She works and writes in Lexington, Kentucky, where she is a founding member of a community-based writing collective, The Affrilachian Poets. And she is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Kentucky. Finney’s second book of poetry, Rice, won the PEN American Open Book Award in 1999. She is also the author of Heartwood (1998), a collection of short stories written especially for literacy students. Two new books of poetry are forthcoming. Nikky Finney travels extensively, meets with young writers, and reads her work, and conducts numerous writing workshops at universities and arts festivals, as well as around kitchen and coffee tables.

Ruth Forman—I was born in 1968 in Cape Cod by deep woods and deep water, raised later in Rochester, New York under a cruel urban sky. Been writing poems since age seven, lost interest when taught the beauty of poetry lay in structure, not content. Rediscovered it, though, at UC-Berkeley as something personal, tangible, and a way to fly. Been writing ever since. Studied with greats like Ishmael Reed, June Jordan and Yusef Komunyakaa. From each I learned a different beauty and truth. Now in Los Angeles, I write to keep magic in my life. Hope some gold will dust the fingers of those who read We Are the Young Magicians and Renaissance. I find strength in the company of an ever expanding fleet of young writers of color, and I credit my vision and inspiration from voices not only before me, but those singing at this very moment. We are not individuals, but a chorus.

Lynell George—Some say I write in the wilds. That Los Angeles is without spirit, center or core. That it is all talk and flash and quick-cut moments —no quietude and certainly no substance. That it is the quarrelsome child cast to the farthest corner, constantly carrying on, throwing tantrums for attention. But as a native, born in 1962, I constantly box with the city and its issues and I’m proud of how it belligerently redefines itself—refuses definition. A writer’s perfect sparring partner. No better place/moment to be a journalist where race and culture and language and crisis constantly converge before they converse. Out of it has come various meditations: No Crystal Stair: African Americans in the City of Angels (Verso/Anchor 1992/’93). My work has appeared in various publications including Vibe, Essence, L.A. Weekly (staff writer 1987-1993), Newsday, and The Boston Globe. I’ve been the recipient of the National Association of Black Journalists’ award for 1992’s best hard-feature for a series on Black independent schools. Currently, I’m a staff writer for The Los Angeles Times where I piece together the mosaic of race, culture and art. Why do I write: “I write to try to understand Why?”

Danielle Legros Georges arrived on these shores armed only with the English word fish. She would later add such terms as rope, trope, and microscope to her linguistic arsenal. Born in 1964 in Gona'ves, Haiti, and reborn in Mattapan, Massachusetts, U.S.A., Georges wrestled with crocodiles, circumvented the jaws of Boston busing, outmaneuvered ruffians, and when unable to do that, outran them—in her youth. She has since developed a mean look, a bad reputation, and credits in publications including The Beacon Best of 1999, The Butterfly's Way, Encarta Africana, The American Poetry Review, Black Renaissance/Renaissance Noire, and The Caribbean Writer. Georges writes, she says, “Where the tongue in my mouth fails me. . . writing is both a lwa that rides my head and a demon I am forced to feed. . .” For immediate nutrition, she works, happily, as a college instructor and editor in Boston.

Brian Gilmore—all writers only have one story to tell. the writer just keeps telling his/her story differently. my story begins a few years after my birth in 1962 in washington, dc. one Saturday morning my father cut off our house television. my brothers and i had been watching "tarzan.” he told us how stupid we were for watching such an absurd program. my father eventually stopped most of the television watching in our home and replaced our television time with books like the narrative of the life of fredrick douglass. my mother loves the written word. not only did she read to us all the time, but we were constantly tested on our "english" and vocabulary. by 1985, reaganomics was real and apartheid was being crushed in south africa. i began to write poetry. i was attending a racially- hostile, mostly white college away from washington and its uplifting "chocolate city" culture. my father sent me some "dubois" books to read. my mother always read my poetry and critiqued it. in 1993, third world press published my collection of poems entitled elvis presley is alive and well and living in harlem. my second collection, jungle nights and soda fountain rags: poem for duke ellington,will be published in 2000 by karibu books.

Cege Githiora was born in Mang'u, Kenya, in 1966. He lived in Mexico for 6 years and backpacked through Mexico and several other countries of Latin America. Cege profoundly believes that Africans and those in the Diaspora are branches of the same tree and he writes fiction, essays and poetry about this tree in G'k'y', English, Swahili and Spanish. Some of his research was published in Conexoes, an African Diaspora Research Project Newsletter at Michigan State University. Cege’s poems and short stories appear regularly in The G'k'y' Journal of Literature and Culture, and M'tiiri, edited by Kenyan writer and activist, Ng'g' wa Thiong'o. Currently Cege teaches African Languages and Culture at Boston University. “I write,” he says, “for education and inspiration.”

Malcolm Gladwell was born in England in 1963 and raised in Canada, in a small farming town called Elmira in the southern Ontario Bible-Belt. Elmira had one bar (the Steddick), one Jew (Harry Coblentz), one black (Malcolm's mother) and twenty-three Protestant churches. He escaped first to the University of Toronto, and then to the United States, where he worked at The Washington Post for nine years, first as a business reporter, then as a science reporter, and finally as the paper’s New York bureau chief. Since 1996, he has been a staff writer for The New Yorker. In 2000, he published his first book, The Tipping Point, an examination of social epidemics. He lives in New York, and considers himself a stealth negro: white enough to pass, but black enough to know better.

Born in North-Brabant, in 1970, Scotty Gravenberch was welcomed by his grandmother as the next phase in a then 150-year running experiment of trans-ethnic gene swapping. In the 15 years that followed his parents took him for a world-wide run through Western civilisation, touching base on well-known settlements such as El Paso, Sidney, Blomberg and Maarssen. Scotty’s aesthetics proved to be a “projection screen” for locals, categorising him each time as the country’s national minority. This strange quality of human fantasy pushed him to reflection. He has written a range of articles, discussion papers for NGOs, short stories, and he edited a book on the Dutch folklore figure Zwarte Piet (Black Pete). Scotty is currently an Amsterdam- based editor for the “The Blue Light,” a weekly television show on media culture.

dream hampton was born on the East Side of Detroit, and she celebrated her first birthday the day the Attica rebellion came to a naked, murderous end. Her father's nickname was “Soul” and he spent much of the seventies in pink foam rollers. Hustlers and their sister-friends would always ask her "Ain't you Soul's baby?" to which she would reply "mmm-hmm." dream was also raised by a loving mom from Indiana, a stepfather who loved Bird, and the Kubrick catalog. Throughout her teens and much of her twenties dream had a deep love affair with hip-hop, which has since ended. She’s been published in The Source, Vibe, The Village Voice, Ego Trip, Essence, RapPages, Spin, The Detroit News, and Parenting. Now the true love of her life is her daughter, who is named after Nina Simone.

Duriel E. Harris—After 10 years out east, I've returned to my native Chicago to face my demons & to pull off a doctorate while teaching and writing in opposition (to what?: hostile counter-narratives lap at life/cacophony gnaws belly/perpetually birthing itself). My writing, my self becoming self-fragmented/(w)hole-pushing witness, joy-backside-suffering, makes its way in print and performance shouting: we are. (Shouting: Buy my chapbook, but there are miles! Read Obsidian III!) Ahem. In summer '99 (blessing), it took me to Cave Canem, to folk, to Black Took Collective—we are, we take, will not be eaten—& as of late it returns me to Funk, my pulse/percussive muse (beat)/always already unknown changing & same (mythology: Xmas '69, I fell from my mother's body upon the tail of movements). My writing, my self becoming self, is PoMoFunk (fo mo funk), voicings & vernacular evidence, transgressing.

Yona Harvey was born in the stubborn light of Ohio, 1974. Shy and tender-headed, she survived her suburban upbringing (peppered with Pentecostal sermons) and escaped to a city made of chocolate. She craved the sweet and ugly stories of her people and learned to kindle them with memory. She married a man not frightened by her recipes, calls her daughter a flower, and currently lives in New Orleans. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Testimony, Catch the Fire!!! Obsidian III: Literature in the African Diaspora, Indigo, Speak the Truth to the People, and Beyond the Frontier. The first girl "caught" with underarm hair in sixth grade and the last girl permitted to see R-rated movies, Yona writes to embrace the awkwardness and humor of Black life; she cannot stop.

Terrance Hayes is an utter failure as a mute. There are haiku tattooed across his tongue. Fashioned out of graphite & invisible ink, he sprang from the ear of an unwed mother circa 1971, in a condemned South Carolina hospital. Several moons later Muscular Music (Tia Chucha Press, 1999) was born. In the last year he has won a $35,000 Whiting Emerging Writers Award, a $5000 Kate Tufts Discovery Award & various other potentially damaging spoils, not only because of his poetry, but his legendary good luck. Presently dwelling in wild-ass New Orleans, Louisiana, Hayes is wooed daily by the song & spirit of his muse, Yona, & the coos of their Libra daughter, Ua Pilar. He writes things down because he suffers chronic forgetfulness. Whenever you see smoke drifting from his mouth, it means a poem has caught fire in his gut.

On the 14th day of May, 1966, in the sleepy south of Nigeria, a cry pierced the pastoral veil of the town of Oleh, Delta State, to announce the birth of Ogaga Ifowodo. Christened Ezekiel to sustain the Hebrew tongue, he translated that name into Isoko, his native language and God did not take offence! It was his fate to study law and also to devote too much time to reading the wrong books, poetry, and student activism. The latter earned him indefinite suspension from university and delayed his admission to the finishing law school until a month to the bar exams. In his fourth form, his poem won first prize in an annual school contest. He is author of Homeland & Other Poems, winner of the 1993 Association of Nigerian Authors poetry prize; Madiba (forthcoming), and Homeland: A German-English issue of Selected Poems. In 1997/98, he was detained for 6 months by the great dictator, General Abacha. But the PEN centres of Germany, Canada and the USA thought a "security risk" was the very kind of person for honorable society; the latter even named him recipient of the 1998 Barbara Goldsmith Freedom-to-Write Award. He was also given the Free Word Award of the Netherlands-based Poets of All Nations. He lives in Lagos and works with a human rights NGO in the foolish belief that POWER and the Consumer Society can be prevailed upon not to breed poverty and misery for the overwhelming number of earth's inhabitants.

Esther Iverem—It has slowly dawned on me the reason for my 1960 birth and childhood in North Philly: shuttling between the speakeasy-cabaret-Johnnie Walker Red existence of my father's family and the holy ghost-testifying-choir singing folks on my mom's side. They, the streets, roaches and the deconstruction of capitalism all prepared me to know the world in its entirety. Everything else—USC, Columbia, The Wilmington News-Journal, The New York Times, New York Newsday, poetry readings, anthologies, performances with Fred Ho, marriage-childbirth-divorce, a phat-ass fellowship from the National Arts Journalism Program, The Washington Post, now BET.com—has been a way station after being launched into the world, skinny and anemic, by an always lover who told me to fly. I write to have voice in a world that wants to create us, frame us and speak for us from the outside. I write so we are not annihilated culturally, spiritually and politically. My book is The Time: Portrait of a Journey Home, a collection of poems and photographs, which I think accomplishes my other writer's goal: to leave some intelligent record of a black woman's life in my time on earth. After Philly, L.A. and New York, I am now camped out in Chocolate City with my son Mazi and working on a collection of cultural criticism that you should see this year. I am flying. I am a child of Oya—woman warrior, wife of Shango and the spirit of the wind.

Lisa Victoria Chapman Jones/Victoria, after the queen; Chapman after my great-great-grandmother, Delphia Chapman, who was once enslaved in America and whose untimely death at age 105 was caused by fire/born the year Purlie Victorious opened on Broadway/grew up between the East Village and Newark/daughter of writers/granddaughter of a post-office supervisor and a social worker/made literary debut at age seven reciting poetry on stage at the Negro Ensemble Company Theater/former Village Voice columnist/author of Bulletproof Diva: Tales of Race, Sex, and Hair/day job: screenwriter/working on a new book/favorite biblical romance: Jacob and Rachel/plan to be reincarnated as Fredi Washington/if I were a love song, I’d be sung by Marvin Gaye and Delroy Wilson.

With no tummy-tuck, no breast implants and no rhinoplasty in her past or immediate future, Sarah Jones is gravely jeopardizing her shot at the head-waitress position at a local Hooters franchise. The NYC-based writer/actress, who was born in Baltimore, Maryland (pronounced MURR-lind) in 1973, is trying to balance her passion for crabcakes and long-winded anecdotes, gifts from her daddy, with the Joni Mitchell habit and freckles she picked up from her Irish-German-Caribbean mama. Her work knows neither shame (she won the 1997 Nuyorican Poets Cafe's Grand Slam, performed her solo show Surface Transit off-Broadway, appears on the Lyricist Lounge Vol. 1 hip-hop/poetry compilation, and once worked on an MTV sitcom) nor loyalty to either the stage (Lincoln Center, The Public Theater, HBO Workspace, Aaron Davis Hall) or the page (A Gathering of the Tribes, The Village Voice, The Source, the self-published Your Revolution). Jones appears in Spike Lee's film, Bamboozled, is at work on her second play and first novel, and will continue to travel via Surface Transit, winner of the HBO U.S. Comedy Arts Festival's Jury Award for Best One-Person Show, while the rest of the world takes its time discovering the touchable, bouncing and behaving finesse of dreadlocks.

Allison Joseph—I was born in London in 1967, but I never saw the country because my Jamaican-born mom and Grenadian-born dad left England when I was three-months-old. We moved to Toronto, then settled in the Bronx in 1971. I went to the Bronx High School of Science, where, believe it or not, the hallways were full of poets. Then I went to Kenyon College in Ohio, a school famed for its literary reputation—a reputation that was pretty male and all white until I arrived. I graduated, self-respect intact, and went to Indiana University, where I had the great pleasure of studying with Yusef Komunyakaa. I published my first book, What Keeps Us Here, in 1992—it won the Women Series Poets Prize from (now-defunct) Ampersand Press. Soul Train (Carnegie Mellon, 1997) and In Every Seam (Pitt Poetry Series, 1997) were follow-up volumes. I now teach creative writing at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. Teaching and writing are like air to me—I can't do without either—so I'm a happy woman.

John R. Keene
Concepts: freedom, strangeness, anarchy, avantgardism, chance:: born in MalcolmXSelmaMarchdeathyear in apartheidcity (stlouis) USA::reared to Jazz, romancatholicism, TV, R&B and disco, punk(s)rock, 1970s hope & failure, Reaganism, cheap drugs, AIDS, hiphop, "end of..."::studied in parochial/prep schools, streets and suburbanculdesacs, Harvard, NYU::editor, author, amateur artist, work in AA Review, Code, Hambone, Kenyon, Ploughshares, Washington Post Book World, on line, etc.::member of the Dark Room, Cave Canem::fellowships from Mass Arts Foundation, NY Times Foundation, Yaddo, Bread Loaf::published ANNOTATIONS (New Directions, 1995)::honors--Critics' Choice Award, Fund for Poetry, AGNI/John Cheever Prize, Best Gay American Fiction::lives in NJ {partner CurtisJAllen}::writing working living loving::concepts--simultaneity, indeterminacy, mysticism, blackness as a vast cultural and historic field::
—John R. Keene

Born in New York City in 1962, Robin D. G. Kelley drifted between Harlem, Seattle, Pasadena and Los Angeles, California, until he landed a job as Professor of History and Africana Studies at New York University. When Kelley isn’t trying to play the piano or living out his poetry or explaining what his middle initials stand for, he spends his spare time writing articles and books. His last book, Yo’ Mama’s DisFunktional!: Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America (Beacon Press, 1997) was selected by The Village Voice as one of its top ten books of 1998. He is currently writing a book on jazz pianist/composer Thelonious Monk. Kelley once confessed: “I became an historian in search of the truth, but the more I write the more I realize that ‘facts’ don’t yield real truths. As a writer I’m only beginning to plumb the depths of the unconscious, the soul, the spirit, surreality. Twelve years and four books later, I feel like I’m just getting started.”

I am a first-generation American, born in Boston in 1968 and now living in San Francisco. Name: Arnold J. Kemp. My parents insisted that I practice reading and writing from day one. My mother comes from Panama (her parents from Trinidad), is fluent in Spanish and was determined that I not speak in a monotone, that being the opposite of the rolling Rs and music of her native Spanish. My father, on the other hand, comes from Nassau, Bahamas and was raised speaking “The Queen’s English.” He was determined that I only speak that language and detested any sign of singing in my speech. Once the parental commands were ingrained, I was left in a funny place as a writer, sort of standing between two worlds. The excitement of that balancing act keeps me interested in writing. My work has appeared in Callaloo, Three Rivers Poetry Journal, Agni Review, Mirage #4/Period[ical], River Styx, and Eyeball. I am a practicing visual artist and curator.

Jake Lamar—I was born in 1961 and grew up near Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York. After graduating from Harvard in 1983, I served a six-year sentence writing for Time magazine before escaping and devoting myself to writing books. In 1991 I published Bourgeois Blues—the title is taken from a famous Leadbelly song—a memoir about my relationship with my father and our experiences as black men in America. Since then I’ve focused on fiction, publishing a satiric thriller about American racial politics, The Last Integrationist, in 1996, and Close to the Bone, a multiracial romantic comedy set during the O.J. Simpson trial, in 1999. My new novel, a murder mystery titled If 6 Were 9, will be published in March 2001. In September 1993 I came to Paris, France for what has turned out to be a permanent visit.

Q: Why do I write?
A: Writing serves pretty much the same function in my life as oxygen.

Victor D. LaValle (1972-)

When I was young my best friend and me would run through Flushing, Queens like we were dying the next day. One early afternoon my boy and I walked up Colden Street to find Stavres, a girl, outside. If we were seven she was four. We asked her where her ball was that she was always bouncing. Stavres said she didn't know. I asked if we could play together. When she agreed I took the chance and pointed to one standard city sight: dog shit. Prodding her, then pleading, we got that kid bent over the tidy brown mass.

Pick it up, I said, with my friend laughing. Pick it up. She took it. We urged Stavres back to her house and then the sound of mother coming. And we said for Stavres to go show her. When she did the mother yelled baldly like she didn't recognize her daughter. Shut the door from her girl even as Stavres stood quietly, bearing a gift. And this is why I write. Because it's true I'm the boy laughing in the street, but you're the mother who shut the door. And I love ugly, so I love you.

My book, slapboxing with jesus, is in your bookstore.

Itumeleng oa Mahabane, Johannesburg, South Africa—I’m a school drop-out born on May 14, 1974. While people were attending lectures I pretended to write a novel. It was coming well, in terms of volume, but I wasn’t sure even John Grisham’s publishers won’t read more than the first line. So when it became clear I was destined to be little more than an uneducated bum with the phrase “paradigm shift” in his vocabulary, I began having visions of high school reunions with my private school peers, many of whom were at Ivy League or other prestigious institutions of higher learning all over the world. I realised that I would have to find an alternative. So I enrolled in a journalism crash course. Then I worked as a cadet journalist at the country’s most prestigious weekly which is now the country’s most trashy and reactionary weekly. Since then I’ve been a TV listing journalist—if you can call it journalism. I’ve been a media officer for an arts festival. I’ve been a media officer for the Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan Council. I’ve been a scriptwriter: one feature still to be produced, two educational television shows, and one pilot docu-drama. Then I managed to land a gig pretending to be editor of the most boring but officially the most pretentious culture magazine in the country; and somehow I’ve landed up as contributing editor—read: mid-stream journalist with fancy title—at the most dubious business and current affairs journal in the country.

Shara McCallum—I began to write, I think, first out of the need to cohere the story of the life I had been given, ostensibly by my parents. My mother was a Venezuelan-Jamaican woman, my father a Jamaican man of mixed African, Indian and European descent. Both were Rastafarians and raised my sisters and I as such while we lived in Jamaica, where I was born in 1972. I moved to America around the age of nine, the same year my father died. Removed from the country, language, culture and even family structure I had before known created a space in me that, when I first started to write, I looked to poetry to fill. The moment I became a writer though was the moment I realised not only the ability of a poem to tell some kind of "truth" but also the power of poetry to lie. Poetry has taught me how to write myself into being and counter fragmentation throught the lie of wholeness a poem constructs. As a Jamaican-American woman, as a white-skinned black person, as a child now woman of different languages, heritages and cultures, poetry and the process of becoming have been intertwined. Poetry is what has allowed me to live these hybridised spaces, these identities in conflict, and to move away from the sentimental "tragedy of the mulatta" or of any figure of "exile."

Editor’s note: Shara McCallum currently lives in Tennessee where she teaches in the MFA program at the University of Memphis. Her first book, The Water Between Us, won the 1998 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize. Her poems have won an Academy of American Poets Prize, been nominated for three Pushcart Prizes and have appeared in several journals.

Though he was once married, it is rumored that Tony Medina is still a virgin. In 1991, he popped his literary cherry with the publication of his first collection of poetry, Emerge & See. He went on to bust a few more: No Noose Is Good Noose, Sermons from the Smell of a Carcass Condemned to Begging, and Memories of Eating. He also edited the award-winning anthology, In Defense of Mumia, and helped produce Catch the Fire!!! Born in the South Bronx of a Puerto Rican family tree, in 1966, he’s traveled far and wide to settle just a few train stops away, in Harlem. When he’s not out trying to save the world with his poetry, passion, and politics, you can find him giving repeat performances for his English students at Long Island University, in Brooklyn.

Jessica Care Moore is a writer/poet/scorpio/mommy/publisher born in 1971 to an English mum and an Alabama daddy. Raised on the Westside of Detroit, her desire to know and later tell everybody’s business landed her writing jobs in television and print media. In 1995 she packed up her purple Ford Ranger and moved to Brooklyn to let everybody on the East Coast know how one of Motown’s biggest motor mouths gets down. She made her-story in 1996, and became an Apollo legend, after winning a record five times in a row with her poetry. Not bad for a Midwest baby. She is the founder of Moore Black Press, which boasts noted authors such as Saul Williams and Sharrif Simmons. She is the author of her own book, The Words Don’t Fit In My Mouth, and is working on her second release, The Alphabet Versus The Ghetto. A blind man once told her she looked like Ntozake Shange. She wants to know what this means. She writes so she won’t hurt anybody. She wants to be a rock star and is busy recording her first musical release with her poetry/rock/hip-hop band, Detroit Read (pronounced like the color). She lives in Harlem with her two favorite fish, Sharrif and Omari Simmons.

Lenard D. Moore was born in 1958 on the black drum-beating earth of Jacksonville, North Carolina, where his literary roots are, but he currently lives in Raleigh. Although LDM no longer runs the 440-yard dash or chases his cousin's runaway pony, Moore's footsteps linger for his Gemini daughter to paint onto canvas, while his heart drums haiku. In boyhood, while listening to his grandfather's storytelling, Lenard felt words catch fire in his own throat. The aroma of Lenard's father and mother cooking collards, frying chicken, steaming rice, simmering gravy, and baking cornbread lodged in his memory. Chopping weeds and hilling/healing corn and peanuts in his great-grandmother's fields, Moore felt an enormous kinship with the earth. Consequently, he was inspired to document those grab-you-by-the-neck stories. Mr. Moore's quest to define the world has led to the publication of his acclaimed poetry book, Forever Home. His works have also appeared in The Garden Thrives, Trouble The Water, and The Haiku Anthology. A winner of the 1997 Margaret Walker Creative Writing Award, LDM is also the founder and executive director of the Carolina African American Writers' Collective. He teaches Poetry Writing at North Carolina State University.

Joan Morgan
Jamaican-born, South Bronx-bred, I was brought into life in 1965, into a typically Caribbean household that subscribed to the belief that children were meant to be seen and not heard. Bucking against that tired tradition was my earliest act of rebellion. Writing has been my longest. I learned early that a black woman's voice is a seductive and powerful thing. My way to flex when racism and sexism threaten to render us invisible. I've been writing about hip-hop, gender issues and pop culture for more than a decade—a minor miracle, if you consider the fact that the grueling process of writing is one that I never managed to love. The best of our craft have a reverence for words that can be, at times, debilitating. The better you get at this hustle the harder it seems to be. Still, I've managed to win a few awards: an NABJ award for my article on the Central Park Jogger Rape Case and an EMMA from the National Women's Political Caucus for my coverage of the Mike Tyson Rape Trial. My work has appeared in The Village Voice, Spin, Essence, Notorious, Madison, Ms., and Vibe, where I was a staff writer. Like most writers I've got a few hustles: I'm an author, an Editor-at-Large for Essence, and I frequently lecture on the college circuit. I gave birth twice in 1999: in March to my first book When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: my life as a hip-hop feminist, and then in July to son Sule. We live in Brooklyn with my husband.
—Joan Morgan

Writing for Bruce Morrow is like eating: he gets cranky—downright mean and evil—if he doesn’t do it. He wakes up every weekday morning at 7:15 AM, writes a sentence or two, goes to work at Teachers & Writers Collaborative in New York City, writes letters and grant proposals, eats a light lunch, goes to the gym, reads email, the paper, and lots of journals, goes home at 5:30 PM, and writes—hopefully, more than a couple of sentences—until midnight. On weekends he gorges on words. In 1996 he co-edited Shade: An Anthology of Short Fiction by Gay Men of African Descent. His next project is a novel with recipes for roast turkey, cornbread stuffing, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, and candied sweet potatoes. Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1963, to a mother who really knows how to throw down, his work has appeared in numerous publications, including Callaloo, Blithe House Quarterly, The New York Times, and the anthologies Speak My Name, Go the Way the Blood Beats, and Men on Men 2000. He’s still famished.

Samwiri Mukuru
I was born in Kenya on the first of August, 1977. I am a Ugandan citizen now residing in West Lafayette, Indiana. I study at Purdue University with my wife Christine Reksten. My father thought he was born for the single cow his father owned. After all, who would tend to them after his father’s passing? I thought I was born for my mother; as the last of six children I was determined to be her company. After all, who would entertain her as the house grew empty? We were wrong, my father and I. I was born for my mother and the world she lives in. I was born to keep her stories and mine. I was born to let our stories drift through the world. As I grew I became aware of the importance of memory. My father worked for an international company and we moved from country to country. I carry India, Uganda, Kenya, and America in my thoughts and remember them by writing. Purdue University has opened many creative doors for me but, as I graduate soon, the time for change has come. I am determined to go to graduate school and begin a novel. I am ready to let the world hear my mother’s stories. My only hope is that the world is ready for me.
—Samwiri Mukuru

Mark Anthony Neal was birthed in the “Boogie-down,” about a month after the '65 black-out, raised by AC and 'lil Lena, on grits, corn bread, fried chicken, The Mighty Clouds of Joy and sista Aretha. Lil' Lena use to play Nikki's "Truth is on the Way" twice a day. Bruh been writing since the age of 8, about the same time he bought his first Sam Cooke album. Bruh been digging old souls since, like Ishmael, that 'lil cat LeRoi, sista Sonia, and that pimp-daddy race man Marvin G. Some time ago bruh thought him could be a Ph.D. Him now Ph.D. working in the trenches of New York's capital, wit' little luv, but a whole lotta attitude. Bruh wrote a book, called it What the Music Said: Black Popular Music and Black Public Culture. Bruh thought he should do it again. Soul Babies: Black Popular Culture and the Post-Soul Aesthetic be out in a little bit. Bruh also married a little church gal. She from the Boogie-down too. She think he cuss too much. They gotta little girl, affectionately known as the baby-girl diva. Sis already got serious needs, so a bruh gotta write and write and write.…

Mukoma Wa Ngugi was born in 1971 to Kenyan parents in Evanston, Illinois, but left shortly afterwards and therefore says his knowledge of the United States is purely fetal. Currently finishing his MA in Creative Writing at Boston University, Mukoma has written all his life and doesn't see how life can be lived without a creative outlet: Creativity shapes the world as the world does shape creativity. Writing for him thus becomes most powerful when fuelled by social activism. Because writing is primarily about human relations, isn't our struggle against tyrannies (and tyrannies come in many forms) part of writing? He hopes that those who read his works will be moved in some way to reflect on their own lives, to reflect on their own environments, and become more conscious. Mukoma has thus far authored Hurling Words at Consciousness (a collection of poetry), Consciousness Before Dawn (political African fiction), and Conversing with African (political African theory). He is presently a member of the Boston-based African Writers Group.

Widely considered one of the most important African voices of our generation, Ben Okri is a Nigerian writer residing in London. He was born in Minna, Nigeria, in 1959, and moved to England by age 18, with his first novel completed, Flowers and Shadows. Since then Okri has published twelve other works of fiction, essays, and poetry, including the Booker Prize-winning The Famished Road, which is excerpted in this collection. Of the novel The Wall Street Journal said it is “Something approaching a masterpiece of magic realism...” And in a New York Times Book Review Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. called The Famished Road “A dazzling achievement for any writer in any language.”

I've been writing my whole life. Even if I just started getting the words down on paper five years ago. I work for The Washington Post which likes to bring its people in with the appropriate awards and experience and fanfare to announce them. I didn't have any of that, so I announced myself: Lonnae O'Neal Parker was born on in 1967 on the segregated South Side of Chicago. It's a place she's been trying to recreate for years because she likes the idea of a black world—with the option to travel. She graduated in journalism from Southern Illinois University in 1988, and attended grad school at Howard. In 1991, she joined the Post and primarily answered phones while she laid back in the cut. She was a sales aide, news aide, editorial aide, summer news intern. After that, there was a one-year internship, then six months of a two-year internship writing obituaries before she landed in the "Style" section writing primarily about youth culture, popular culture, and race. Some say she's arrived. They underestimate her journey.

Born during the war in Vietnam, G.E. Patterson toddled through anti-war rallies on the campus of a small liberal-arts college in Minnesota and dreamed nightly of life as a landscape painter in maritime Canada. Instead, he was shipped to safety in the hills and woods of rural southwestern Arkansas and home-schooled in Latin and Greek and animal husbandry. On his way to what would become the first of many pilgrimages to Cape Breton, he was waylaid by high school, college, French, Italian and Brazilian-Portuguese. Now working as a translator, art commentator, yoga teacher and poet, he divides his time between rural and urban Minnesota, the San Francisco Bay area, and Seattle. He writes because there are things he can't say any other way. Graywolf Press published his first book of poetry, Tug, in 1999.

Willie Perdomo
My grandfather, Pellin Eulogio Perdomo, was a traveling troubador. I had an uncle, Lole Grande (my cousin Jeanette’s father) who was a guitarist. My other uncle, Lole Chiquito (they called him Manteca) who, if you let Mami Carmen tell it, was one of the baddest congeros in New York City but fucked up because he wanted to shoot dope instead of play with Tito Puente. My father, William Perdomo, Sr., played some conga, too. Mami Carmen Perdomo (formerly Carmen Iris Lopez) is an avid journal keeper as well as a loyal note- taker of forecasts from her favorite astrologer, Anita Cassandra. I think I got my poetry from their music. I was born in 1967. Manhattan. Grew up in East Harlem. My first book, Where A Nickel Costs A Dime (Norton) was published in 1996. My work can also be found in anthologies such as Boricuas, In The Tradition, Listen Up! and Aloud! I been all over the country, some of Europe, shot videos, published, won grants and awards, and all that good shit, but nothing compares to that feeling when someone reads your work, or hears you read, and they are changed forever. Siempre palante, nunca patras.
—Willie Perdomo

I, Phyllis Alesia Perry, decided to come into the world as a black Southerner, late 20th-century version. I think the when (March 8, 1961) and the where (Atlanta) were good choices. I grew up in Alabama; I grew up in Tuskegee. Black people seem to spring out of the very soil there. Journalism was my trade before my novel, Stigmata, was published in 1998. Sixteen years, four newspapers, one Pulitzer Prize for editing duties. So I have had a lot of things come out in newsprint, but the novel was the scariest thing I ever did (including a couple of surgical procedures). Scarier still, it was published overseas, too, so there are people in Germany, Great Britain, The Netherlands and Spain reading it and probably not getting it. It’s won the Georgia Author of the Year Award, first novel category, and been nominated for the Quality Paperback Book Club New Voices Award. But I try not to think about those too much. Too scary. I write because “The voices have made it crystal clear that these flimsy things, these words, are the only things standing between me and insanity.”

Carl Phillips was born in 1959, in Everett, Washington. He spent much of his childhood moving around the world—his father was in the Air Force—before settling in Massachusetts, where he went to high school, graduated from Harvard, and taught high school Latin for almost ten years. Phillips is the author of four books of poetry: In the Blood, Cort'ge, From the Devotions, and Pastoral. A fifth book, Spoils, Dividing, is forthcoming. The recipient of awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, the Library of Congress, and the Academy of American Poets, he divides his time between St. Louis—where he is professor of English and of African and Afro-American Studies at Washington University—and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where he and his partner (landscape photographer Doug Macomber) spend their summers. He says, “I began writing as a means of having a portable world I could call my own, given how often my family moved. Later, I wrote because I couldn’t find what I wanted to be said being said anywhere else, by anyone else. I still can’t find that—so I still write.”

My name is Scott Poulson-Bryant. Not only am I a writer, but I played one on TV. I was born (in 1966) and raised in Long Island, New York, and as happy as those suburban days were, I spent a whole lotta time daydreaming about living and writing in more far-flung places like London or the East Village. I studied at Brown University; I apprenticed at The Village Voice (which got me to the East Village; and I wrote for Spin (which got me to London), Rolling Stone, Essence, and The New York Times before becoming a founding editor of Vibe magazine. Along the way I reported on music for VH1, sold a screenplay, wrote a gloriously unpublishable novel, and fell in love hundreds of times. By the time this book is in your hands I will hopefully be out of Manhattan and in London, full-time, putting the finishing touches on A Black History of White People, a publishable novel. Why do I write? I write because it’s all I know how to do.

what the deal, this is Kevin Powell, AKA kepo1, sitting in a kinko’s in los angeles right this second; while chasing other cats down for their bios, been avoiding writing my own. kinda like writing your obituary, ya heard? was born a year after Malcolm was blown away and two years before a rifle stifled MLK. only child of a young single woman who greyhound-ed it from a southern shack to a northern tenement. i’ve wanted to be a writer since i was a shorty of 11. ma-dukes took me to the greenville public library in jersey city, new jersey—where I was pimp-smacked into life—most Saturdays. i overdosed on music, TV, sports, hemingway, poe, shakespeare, and so much candy i would see spots with my eyes closed. thought my childhood was one long misery session, complete with hunger, violence, and rage. got to college on a financial aid package but i have made several trips back to the gutter because there is no safety net for field negroes with rebellion on the brain. no matter, childhood dream fulfilled: this anthology is book number four and the name done been in vibe, code, ms., rolling stone, essence, the washington post, and elsewhere. i write ‘cuz my moms now asks me to spell and pronounce words for her and ‘cuz my maternal grandparents could not read. i write ‘cuz i wanna be free before i die, knowhati’msayin’?

Patricia Powell was born in Jamaica in 1966. She didn't always know she wanted to be a writer, even though she was an avid daydreamer and her favorite novel was John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress. In college, she started off as an Economics major, and when that failed switched to English and began writing her first novel. Patricia Powell’s three novels—Me Dying Trial, A Small Gathering of Bones, and The Pagoda—have received a P.E.N. New England Discovery Award, a Bruce Rossley Literary Award, the Publishing Triangle's Ferro-Grumley Award and a Lila-Wallace Readers Digest Writers Award. Patricia Powell holds degrees from Wellesley College and Brown University. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts and teaches at Harvard University.

Dreamt into flesh by his parents, Rohan Preston entered the world in a rural hamlet in St. Mary, Jamaica, in 1966, four years after independence and two years before the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. He rebelled against Catholicism at 12, the year he joined his parents in Brooklyn, New York, and later found a nourishing spirituality in literature and culture as well as in other sanctuaries. He recently completed a semiotics 12-step program, and now regularly shows the holes in his Yale English degree in his capacity as lead theater critic at the Star-Tribune in Minneapolis. In his poetry, Preston hopes to channel new forms from one root like his maternal grandfather who grafted different plants onto one tree that bore many fruits. Though his poetry has been published in such journals as Drumvoices, Eyeball, Ploughshares and TriQuarterly, and in the books Dreams in Soy Sauce and Soulfires: Young Black Men on Love and Violence (which he edited with Daniel Wideman), his work springs from and is written for family. He writes to distill his experience and hopes to continuously fall into the eyes of his wife and their three-year-old daughter.

Howard Rambsy II has visions. He hears silenced voices, sees seemingly invisible things. No, he’s not crazy. Instead, he’s a black writer concerned about representations of African American life and culture. Born in 1976 and raised on the dusty streets of Jackson, Tennessee, Howard graduated from Tougaloo College in Mississippi. Like his literary inspiration Richard Wright, Howard sees himself as a cross between a native son and one of the country’s outsiders, thus he began writing to satisfy the American hunger that so many Southern-born black boys must deal with. In the beginning, he published creative pieces here and there, but made his first sustained efforts as a writer/journalist for The Mississippi Link, an African American news weekly. Recently, he made a move north as he became a graduate fellow in the American and African American literature program at Pennsylvania State University. Through poetry and prose, Howard seeks to explore meanings, to resound blackness, and to somehow make a difference that will really make a difference.

There are billions of souls in the world and some of us are almost to be touching the depths of how it is and what it is to be human. On the surface we exist but just beyond is existence. I write to articulate the felt experience. My first book of poems, Nothing in Nature is Private, existed in the experience of Black, Jamaican, person, woman in a bruised world. My second, The End of the Alphabet, makes a kaleidoscopic journey through the will to existence. I think sometimes I am too private, too lonely in my heart, but my mind rows constantly as if involved in a public disturbance. When poet Paul Celane writes “pray Lord, pray to us, we are near,” I feel he speaks of me and I with him in talking to God. There are some of us who are constantly mending our hearts, I write into that mending, my writing is that mending. Anyway, here I am, Claudia Rankine, born in Jamaica, in 1963, here is my art.

Vancouver, Canada, in 1964 , a city of modernity on the edge of wilderness. Vanessa Richards is born 10 days early, 20 minutes after her Viennese mother reaches the hospital. She has always travelled with speed. In the swimming pool her Trinidadian father turns around to resume his lesson in floating to find her paddling in the deep end. Her namesake, a genus of butterflies known for migratory prowess. A child prone to musing and reconaissance. A Chinook wind carries a directive from the mountain top. Her assignment? Storyteller and a biological imperative to blend. Her photos have been published, the first film has been made, many songs have been sung, the performance is ongoing and the pages appear in The Fire People, Bittersweet, 360 Degrees—A Revolution of Black Poets, IC3, Straight No Chaser and Stress. In 1992 she relocated to London, England, where she is Joint Artistic Director for multi-media performing arts company, Mannafest. Committed to culture and educational works as a means for Metamorphasis, backbone and beauty.

Kristina Rungano’s name comes up often around discussions on brilliant and iconoclastic post-colonial African writers. Born in Zimbabwe in 1963, Rungano wrote a good deal of poetry by the time she was 18, and published her first volume of poetry, A Storm is Brewing, in 1984 (Zimbabwe Publishing House). Rungano’s words are visual manifestos on life, love, land, and the on-going search for freedom, both personal and political. Many of Rungano’s pieces are blunt assessments on the plight of women in Africa, which might explain why she has moved from and to her native Zimbabwe on several occasions. Rungano obtained a diploma in Computer Science in England and her work has been featured in numerous anthologies, including The New African Poetry, African Women’s Poetry, and The Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry.

Tijan Sallah—I was born on March 6, 1958 in Sere Kunda, The Gambia; the fourth child in a family of seven. I attended St. Augustine's High School—an all-male school ran by Irish Holy Ghost Fathers. Joseph Gough, an Irish priest and English teacher, sparked the initial fires in me to write. From Gambia, I came to the U.S. in 1977. I completed a Ph.D. in Economics in 1987. I’ve taught at several American universities, and I am currently a Senior Economist on Rural Development in the Middle East Department of the World Bank. My published books include: When Africa Was a Young Woman (poems, 1980); Before the New Earth (short stories, 1988); Kora Land (poems, 1989); Dreams of Dusty Roads (poems, 1993); New Poets of West Africa (anthology, 1995); Wolof (ethnography, 1996) and The New African Poetry (anthology coedited with Tanure Ojaide). I am presently finalizing a biography of the noted African novelist, Chinua Achebe. I write because I have stories to tell: short and tall stories. I write because I am in love, I am in love with all the flowers of Africa that explode in a radiant rage because people ignore their beauty.

Danzy Senna was born in Boston in 1970. She has since lived in many cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Istanbul, Brooklyn, London, and Tijuana. Though nobody has seen hide nor tail of Senna since the publication of her first novel, Caucasia, in 1998, she did in fact write a second novel, entitled Snow in Alabama, which was only published in German. Currently, she is rumored to be living in the back woods of Montana, in a hut with no running water, heat, or electricity, and a pack of rabid mongrels (half-Pit Bull, half-Labrador) to keep her company. There, she is said to be working feverishly on her third novel, which her publicist says is about “the evil that women do.”

Angela Shannon’s heritage stems from the red soil of Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she was born in 1964. Playing where sparse grass left a balding spot, Shannon would create stories instead of mudpies. Years later, Shannon would learn of the 1921 Riot from her great-grandfather. Our family’s church, Mt. Zion, was burned, but we rebuilt it. Shannon focuses on rebuilding, on extending a voice to silences, which includes Tampa, Florida, where she later grew up; and the culturally-rich Chicago, where she began to pen down poems. Her poetry covers intricate weavings of past and present and has been recited in church halls, and published in journals like TriQuarterly, Ploughshares, and Crab Orchard Review, and in anthologies such as Powerlines: A Decade of Poetry from Chicago’s Guild Complex and Catch The Fire!!! Shannon continues to polish her craft as an MFA candidate at Warren Wilson College. She’s proud of the accolades that have come her way but Shannon’s greatest joy as a poet has been witnessing the spirit of a poem move like memory across a face. Shannon resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with her husband and daughter.

Renee Simms

is tattered scribe is voice
is slim hands
that bring you food
is shiny smile in dusty ofc
is whatever / is whatever
to live

live enuf to write
live enuf to catch
memory as it falls
black as Detroit 1967:
a baby screamin thru riot fire

baby grows up
lives electric in L.A.
& screams her memory in Black Love
beats her memory in The Drumming Between Us

she all percussive heat
she a 1999
Pen West Emerging Voice
she a million stories
chattering over coffee
laughin up this culture
of city bricks &
mauve dreams

Danyel Victoria Smith was born on the longest day of 1965 in Oakland, California. Chatty and bookish, she was, from the word Go. Dropped out of Cal-Berkeley, worked at Copymat and at Saks, interned at the local newsweekly. Got mesmerized by MC Hammer, En Vogue, Too Short, DJ Quik, but mostly Digital Underground—and then she got married. Moved to New York in ’93, wrote for the places that seemed official, went to Vibe as music editor, and then she got divorced. She went to Northwestern for the fellowship, and back to Vibe as editor-in-chief after that, and is now at Time, Inc. (figuring that out) and teaching at the New School. She’s also thinking of her future which will include having more faith, as well as being a professional chef and a novelist, a friend and a lover and a responsible daughter and a good sister and better writer. Hey—you have to claim it, right? Say it, pray it—make it.

I am Taigi Smith, the only child of Debbie born in 1972, and granddaughter of women named Ethel and Marion. I am a child of San Francisco, a descendant of Pennsylvania blacks and Indians, an offspring of women with calloused hands, strong backs, and hardened feet. There are stories in my head that plague me when they are ignored; words in my mind, vivid pictures that beg to be validated. I write because as a network news journalist living in Brooklyn, New York, I have seen more, heard more, and been more places than I ever thought possible. The need to write these stories overwhelms me, and more than anything else, I fear that I will forget these things when I grow old. I must immortalize these experiences so that the people who come after me will know what life was like way back when. Just as Debbie, and Ethel, and Marion have verbally immortalized themselves through me, I must eternalize myself through words. I am haunted by the need to be remembered, driven by the desire not to forget. My work has been published in Testimony: Young African Americans on Self-Discovery and Black Identity and The San Francisco Chronicle.

Patrick Sylvain—I was born in 1966 on the once revolutionary soil of Haiti where Machetes, rifles and swords taught the French and the rest of the colonial world a serious lesson in human dignity and the will to be free. Despite the current problems in my home country, I still live by this will to be forever free and to struggle for humanity. Since the age of 12, I've been a wordslinger and now, with much preparation from various institutions and exposures to various folks, I am even more committed to the word. I am a word hunter, hunted by words and I am using words to expose the vowels and consonants screaming in the night. I emigrated to Massachusetts in December 1981. Since that new beginning, I have been a Conant Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where I earned my Masters in Education. I currently work as a bilingual public school teacher in Boston. I am also a video-photographer who worked as a special researcher with the PBS documentary series FRONTLINE. I also serve as a guest lecturer on "Poetry as a Political Discourse" at Tufts University’s Experimental College. I am a former member of the Dark Room Collective and a founding member of the Haitian American Writers Coalition. And I've been fortunate to have been published in various publications, including: Beacon Best Of 1999, Ploughshares, Agni, Essence, Caribbean Writers, Massachusetts Review, and Compost, where I co-edited a special issue on Haitian writers.

Natasha Tarpley—I was born in 1971, in Chicago, Illinois. I started writing by watching my mother work on her electric typewriter, which was stored in a hard black shell of a box that looked like a miniature suitcase. From her, I learned that words can take you further than anything on wheels or wings ever could. I write as a means of traveling, within and beyond myself. Writing is also my anchor, a touchstone, the way I make sense of this life’s journey. I am the author of three books: a family memoir, Girl in the Mirror: Three Generations of Black Women in Motion (Beacon Press, 1998); a children’s book, I Love My Hair! (Little, Brown & Co., 1998); and an anthology, Testimony: Young African Americans on Self-Discovery and Black Identity (Beacon Press, 1995). My work has been published in The Washington Post, Essence, Emerge, and Giant Steps, an anthology. Currently, I live in New York City.

Lisa Teasley was born in 1962, in Los Angeles, to a Panamanian mother and an American Midwestern (Cleveland) father. She spent a portion of her childhood in Durham, North Carolina, drowning ants and racing turtles. Later, after graduation from UCLA, journalistic stints, marriage and the birth of her daughter, she would spend 5 years in New York re-living the Carolina metaphor. Her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in the anthologies In The Tradition; An Ear to the Ground; Women For All Seasons; and in the forthcoming Beyond the Frontier, Brown Sugar and 100 Black Kisses. Her work has appeared in numerous publications such as Between C & D, Rampike,Catalyst, L.A. Weekly, the new renaissance, Great River Review, Rohwedder, and Washington Square. Teasley’s fiction awards: May Merrill Miller, the National Society of Arts & Letters, and the Amaranth Review. Her articles and book reviews have appeared in One World , The Los Angeles Times, Details and The Washington Post. Currently living in Los Angeles, Teasley, a painter as well, exhibits extensively throughout the country. Her oil on canvas or wood portraits represent the tactile side to her obsessive exploration of the hideous and the gorgeous in human nature.

Jervey Tervalon—I was born in New Orleans on 11-23-58. I came to California with a banjo on my knee when I was 4, just in time for the slew of L.A. riots about to happen. I went to half-asset schools; a nun-teacher decided that I was retarded at the Holy Name of Jesus Christ. I wept. That was in the first grade, after my mother threatened to rip the nun's veil off. I was off to the public schools in L.A. where I tried not to get stomped to death. It was cool. Then off to UC-Santa Barbara where frat boys and blonde chicks ruled. I got a rep as a writer and never looked back. Fourteen years later, and after grad school at UC-Irvine, I sold my first novel. I live in Altadena, below where John Brown's son is buried. After two novels and a collection of stories, I am currently trying not to write now, suspecting that it might be the right thing. But soon, like the Invisible Man, I'll spring back out of my hole ready to do battle.

Imani Tolliver—a yellow tub in the living room lined with pillows hold my earliest memory. i am thankful for it. i am two. it is 1967. my palms, the udders wading me through this story from the thin l.a. river to the gasp and burp of the potomac. along the way, I folded my story into a few books and journals. i fellowed a while in the fountain at the folger, read shakespeare in the reservoir across from founder’s library. shared what i know about the power of voice, of story to children and grown folks, same. on the hudson one summer, toi told me that my beauty lies where i hold my shame, my scar. so i kept writing and telling. the atlantic eased me onto the soft collar of the pacific where black dolphins swallowed tears for my dead father. i decided to keep all these stories in one place. calling it Pink. i write to see and speak. to love.

Tour' was born in Boston in 1971, the year Frazier knocked out Ali, Al Green first said, “I'm so tired of bein’ alone,” and Shaft stuck it to all the suckas. At an American university that doesn’t deserve to be named he fell into protest poetry and, determined to expand the complexity of the discussion of Black people, he ran to New York. Now a Contributing Editor at Rolling Stone, his work has appeared in The New Yorker, Playboy, Callaloo, and The Best American Essays of 1999. He studied at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Creative Writing and and now lives in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. When not writing tales for his upcoming short story collection Sugar Lips Shinehot, The Man With The Portable Promised Land and Other New Urban Legends, he plays hardcore guerilla tennis.

Natasha Tretheway—In 1965 miscegenation was still illegal in Kentucky, so my parents crossed the river into Ohio to be married. I was born in 1966 and spent my earliest years in Gulfport, Mississippi. We lived among the shanties and shotguns in the black section of town known as North Gulfport, just outside the city limits. The famous Highway 49 of blues songs cut right through the middle of our community, dividing it. Thus, these crossings and divides are the themes I try to grapple with in much of my work. And as my parents divorced a few years later, I am also interested in absences, in memory and forgetting, our common language of loss. I've received a fellowship in poetry from the NEA, I won the Cave Canem 1st book prize (selected by Rita Dove, and recently published by Graywolf Press), and some of my poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Callaloo, New England Review, and The Southern Review. Presently, I am an assistant professor of English at Auburn University in Alabama.

Eisa Nefertari Ulen—1968 was almost done the day I let my mother know she should push me out into this world. A swirl of Philadelphia snow danced through air, and we felt her muscles tight against her sea, tight against me. We women flex to conjure new life. When I was five I first drew a line of words (about tepees and tulips) into story. Now I've twisted around enough words to craft my first novel, Spirit's Returning Eye, thanks to a 1995 Frederick Douglass Center Fellowship and a 1999 residency scholarship from the Provincetown Fine Arts Center. I've sat in my sacred space while Fort Greene dances outside my window, pushing and pulling against the page: articles, reviews, essays—a wish, a confession, a tribute. A plea for our elders anthologized right here. I write and feel the surround of force against brown bodies, dreaming about sistahs in the flex of hot battle, faces turned upward, smiling, catching the stuff that dances on air, cool inside.

“Words are like clay, we model them with our fingers,” Yvonne Vera says. “A word does not rot even if it is buried in the mouth for too long.” Vera was born in Bulawayo, in Zimbabwe. Date: 19 September 1964, and raised in the thorn bushes of the Matebeleland veld. Vera writes against the centuries of silence which African women have endured. Her novel, Butterfly Burning, is published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in New York. She is also the author of Under the Tongue, which won the Commonwealth Prize for literature, Africa Region, 1997. Additionally, Vera is the 1999 winner of the Swedish Prize "Voice of Africa.” Her other two novels are Without a Name and Nehanda. Why Don't You Carve Other Animals is her collection of short stories. She is the editor of Opening Spaces—An Anthology of Contemporary Writing by African Women. Vera is a Ph.D. graduate of York University in Canada and currently works as the Director of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Bulawayo.

Marco Villalobos was born under quetzalcoatl the feathered serpent in 1973 and spent his Woodl'n, Califas, childhood learning about heart among con men, homeboys, and barrio grandmothers full of love. He’s studied academic and antidemic alphabets and today writes “to get plymouth rock and ivory towers the fuck up off my back.” He moved to Crookl'ndia, New Jork, in order to escape a Tijuana deportation and has since become a National Hispanic Scholarship Fund recipient with work at Indieplanet.com, Brooklyn Bridge magazine, Stress magazine, and various small press publications, none of which matter more than the now defunct Tortilla.

Writing because the ancestors and the unborn tell her to, Teresa N. Washington was born in Peoria, Illinois, 1971. She is a Ph.D. candidate and Assistant Lecturer at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria. Her work has appeared in The Literary Griot, The Griot, Obsidian II, The Third Eye, The Estrella Mountain Community College Literary Magazine, Southern Exposure, Oxford Town, The Daily Mississippian, and A Festival of Poetry, an anthology she co-edited with Adebayo Lamikanra for their “First Annual O.A.U. Poetry Festival.”

Colson Whitehead/born in 1969 in New York City/graduated from Harvard in 1991/has written for numerous publications, including The Village Voice/his first novel is the widely acclaimed The Intuitionist/Walter Mosley said “This extraordinary novel is the first voice in a powerful chorus to come”/The Washington Post Book World proclaimed “....Whitehead carves out an exclusive space for himself in America’s literary canon...”/Blending classic and postmodern fiction styles, The Intuitionist, excerpted in this collection, deconstructs language, race, and the imagination like Ellison and Morrison/Whitehead lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Daniel J. Wideman—I was born, illegally, in Philly in 1968 (Pennsylvania: one of thirty-four states where “mixed marriages” were still banned by law). Grew up in a family of griots and ballplayers so I've been writing and running forever. I write because it's the only way I've found to remember what I never knew. Since stirring the waters as co-editor of the anthology Soulfires in 1996, my work has appeared most prominently in Callaloo and in the anthologies Outside the Law: Narratives of Justice in America; Black Texts and Textuality; and Giant Steps. After chasing knowledge in Providence, Rhode Island, London, England, and Accra, Ghana, I bailed out of grad school and Chicago in 1996 and headed south. I now live, write, hoop, and watch PBS (but not Mr. Rogers) with my daughter Qasima in North Carolina.

Kevin Young was born in 1970 in a town he does not remember. This partially explains the title of his first book, Most Way Home, winner of the National Poetry Series and the Zacharis First Book Prize from Ploughshares. To Repel Ghosts is Young’s second book of poems, an urban epic based on the work of the late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat; excerpts were featured on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” and in the Beacon Best of 1999. Most all Young’s “people” hail from Louisiana, which has the same red clay as his current home, Athens, Georgia, where he is associate professor of English and African American Studies at the University of Georgia. Recently Young edited Giant Steps: The New Generation of African American Writers, an anthology of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction published by Harper-Perennial in February 2000.

Self-Portrait: Radcliffe Bailey, The Cover Artist

My name is Radcliffe Bailey, son of Brenda and Radcliffe Bailey. I was born in 1968 in Bridgeton, New Jersey. When my brother Roy and I were 4 and 5, my parents decided to move to Atlanta to give us a different environment. I pretty much consider myself a Southern person. I have been very influenced by my surroundings: the soul of the South rubs off on people. I was pretty much raised in all-black schools. After high school I went to a white college, the Atlanta College of Art. It was a strange experience, but I learned how to deal and politic on a whole other level.

My first encounter with art was through my great-aunt. She had traveled all over the world, and she was an artist, although she was not known. Then also my mom is an artist and actually taught art classes at one time. I was considered dyslexic and my mom knew I wasn’t so she created this other school for me. That’s how I came to art. It was not through school. It was strictly my family.

To me it is evident that my family influences my art. I took the basic skills of working with wood from my grandfather. I took the improvisation of creating things mechanically from my father, who I often worked on cars with. My father also built my parents’ first house, so the building aspect in my art comes from my dad. In terms of my great-aunt here was this person with a very sophisticated style that I could not comprehend until now. My great-aunt was fly for an older lady: fly in how she dressed and carried herself. She did not look like a person who conformed. That contributed more to my personality and how we as artists carry ourselves in the sense that we express ourselves and have an identity on a whole different level. Identity as an individual and as a group of people.

Besides them, I also observed people like Jacob Lawrence. My mom took me to meet him when I was in middle school. I also met James Van Der Zee around that same time. Growing up in Atlanta and seeing black people living there and passing through was like a sense of power, it inspired me. I felt there was a large group of black people who had my back.

People ask me why do I paint. It is like asking people why do they live, why do they eat, why do they speak? As a kid, I remember being very insecure about my voice, about what I had to say. I think I was insecure because I thought very few people felt like me. Now with art I actually get to talk about things that I never thought I would talk about. As an artist, I am interested in the narrative, but I am not interested in being too literal. Like the blues, there is always a narrative, but there are layers too and it is not as literal as some people think.

My work is in the collection of many prestigious museums, but I don’t mention that much. What I am proud of is my first show when I was still a college student. But what is most important to me healthwise, what makes me think, spiritually, in a different way, is the music I am trying to create in the back of my head.



Black Power Line










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