African American

#tbt: Aimé Césaire, “ no race has a monopoly on beauty…”

This week’s  Throwback Thursday selection is an excerpt from Aimé Césaire’s long poem Notebook of a Return to a Native Land (2001), edited and translated by Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith. Wesleyan University Press also published a bilingual edition of Césaire’s original 1939 Notebook in 2013, edited by A. James Arnold and Clayton Eshleman.


cesaire TBT



And we are standing now, my country and I, hair in the wind,
my hand puny in its enormous fist and now the strength is not

in us but above us, in a voice that drills the night and the
hearing like the penetrance of an apocalyptic wasp. And the
voice complains that for centuries Europe has force-fed us with
lies and bloated us with pestilence,
for it is not true that the work of man is done
that we have no business being on earth
that we parasite the world
that it is enough for us to heel to the world whereas the work
of man has only begun
and man still must overcome all the interdictions wedged in
the recesses of his fervor and no race has a monopoly on beauty, on intelligence, on
and there is room for everyone at the convocation of conquest
and we know now that the sun turns around our earth lighting
the parcel designated by our will alone and that every star falls
from sky to earth at our omnipotent command.


AIMÉ CÉSAIRE (1913–2008) was best known as the co-creator of the concept of négritude. His long poem Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, written at the end of World War II, became an anthem for Blacks around the world.

CLAYTON ESHLEMAN is a professor emeritus at Eastern Michigan University and the foremost American translator of Aimé Césaire. He is the author of The Grindstone of Rapport / A Clayton Eshleman Reader and translator of The Complete Poetry of César Vallejo. He was also the editor of Sulfur.

ANNETTE SMITH is an Emeritus Professor of Literature at the California Institute of Technology. Besides publishing books and articles on various aspects of colonialism and racism, she has co-authored with Clayon Eshleman three previous translation of Aimé Césaire.

César Vallejo, cuatro paredes de la celda / Four Walls of the Cell

Today’s Throwback Thursday poem is from César Vallejo’s Trilce, first published in Peru in 1922, the year after the poet spent 105 days in prison for allegedly instigating a partisan skirmish in his hometown, Santiago de Chuco. Trilce is still considered one of the most radical Spanish-language avant-garde poetry collections ever written. Wesleyan’s edition of the book was translated by Clayton Eshleman and published in 2000. Eshleman was awarded a National Book Award for his co-translation of The Complete Posthumous Poetry, and was a Griffin Prize finalist for The Complete Poetry of César Vallejo. A voluminous edition of Vallejo’s writing is newly available from Wesleyan: Selected Writings of César Vallejo. This new collection, edited by Joseph Mulligan, contains some poetry and a vast number of prose pieces translated to English for the first time. There are articles documenting Vallejo’s travels in Soviet Russia, personal correspondences, and excerpts from several of his plays as well as from his his novel El tungsteno / Tungsten, a work addressing the oppression of indigenous Peruvian miners.



From Trilce


    Oh las cuatro paredes de la celda.
Ah las cuatro paredes albicantes
que sin remedio dan al mismo número.    

    Criadero de nervios, mala brecha,
por sus cuatro rincones cómo arranca
las diarias aherrojadas extremidades.

     Amorosa llavera de innumerables llaves,
si estuvieras aqui, si vieras hasta
qué hora son cuatro estas paredes.
Contra ellas seríamos contigo, los dos,
más dos que nunca. Y ni lloraras,
di, libertadora!

     Ah las paredes de la celda.
De ellass me duelen entre tanto, más
las dos largas que tienen esta noche
algo de madres que ya muertas
llevan por bromurados declives,
a un niño de Ia mano cada una.

     Y sólo yo me voy quedando,
con la diestra, que hace por ambas manos,
en alto, en busca de terciario brazo
que ha de puilar, entre mi donde y mi cuando,
esta mayoría inválida de hombre.


     Oh the four walls of the cell.
Ah the four bleaching walls
that inevitably face the same number.

     Breeding place for nerves, foul breach,
through its four corners how it snatches at
the daily shackled extremities.

     Loving keeper of innumerable keys,
if only you were here, if only you could only see unto
what hour these walls remain four.
Against them we would be with you, the two of us,
more two than ever. And you wouldn’t even cry,
speak, liberator!

     Ah the walls of the cell.
Meanwhile of those that hurt me, most
the two long ones that tonight are
somehow like mothers now dead
leading a child through
bromowalled inclines by the hand.

     And only I hang on,
with my right, serving for both hands,
raised, in search of a tertiary arm
to pupilize, between my where and my when,
this invalid majority of a man.

CÉSAR VALLEJO (1892–1938) was born in the Peruvian Andes and, after publishing some of the most radical Latin American poetry of the twentieth century, moved to Europe, where he diversified his writing practice to encompass theater, fiction, and reportage. As an outspoken alternative to the European avant-garde, Vallejo stands as one of the most authentic and multifaceted creators to write in the Castilian language.

Announcing “Why Haiti Needs New Narratives: A Post-Quake Chronicle” from Gina Athena Ulysse

Mainstream news coverage of the catastrophic earthquake of January 12, 2010, reproduced longstanding narratives of Haiti and stereotypes of Haitians. Cognizant that this Haiti, as it exists in the public sphere, is a rhetorically and graphically incarcerated one, the feminist anthropologist and performance artist Gina Athena Ulysse embarked on a writing spree that lasted over two years. As an ethnographer and a member of the diaspora, Ulysse delivers critical cultural analysis of geopolitics and daily life in a series of dispatches, op-eds and articles on post-quake Haiti. Her complex yet singular aim in Why Haiti Needs New Narratives is to make sense of how the nation and its subjects continue to negotiate sovereignty and being in a world where, according to a Haitian saying, tout moun se moun, men tout moun pa menm (All people are human, but all humans are not the same). This collection contains thirty pieces, most of which were previously published on Haitian Times, Huffington Post, Ms Magazine, Ms Blog, NACLA, and other print and online venues. The book is trilingual (English, Kreyòl, and French) and includes a foreword by award-winning author and historian Robin D. G. Kelley.


Gina Athena Ulysse is an associate professor of anthropology at Wesleyan University. Born in Haiti, she has lived in the United States for over thirty years. A performance artist, multimedia artist, and anthropologist, she is the author of Downtown Ladies: Informal Commercial Importers, a Haitian Anthropologist, and Self-Making in Jamaica. Robin D. G. Kelley is the Distinguished Professor of History and Gary B. Nash Endowed Chair in United States History at UCLA.

“Five years after the earthquake that razed Haiti, feminist anthropologist Ulysse reclaims the cultural narrative of her homeland from its simplification and distortion by mainstream news coverage. In her trilingual (English, Kreyòl, French) collection of op-eds, essays, reviews and news articles…Ulysse rejects the colonial framework through which Haiti is often viewed and reasserts the validity of its sovereignty.”
Ms. Magazine, Spring 2015

The Driftless Connecticut Series is funded by the Beatrice Fox Auerbach Foundation Fund at the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving,

Praise for Why Haiti Needs New Narratives:

“Ulysse’s clear, powerful writing rips through the stereotypes to reveal a portrait of Haiti in politics and art that will change the way you think about that nation’s culture, and your own.”
—Jonathan M. Katz, author of The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster

“This is a beautifully written and profoundly important work of engaged anthropology. Gina Ulysse steps bravely into the public domain bringing a nuanced and sophisticated analysis of things Haitian to a large group of general readers as well as to a broad audience of scholars. Publication of this book marks a kind of “coming of age” for anthropological bloggers and public anthropology.”
—Paul Stoller, author of Yaya’s Story: The Quest for Well-Being in the World

“Gina Athena Ulysse’s compilation, Why Haiti needs New Narratives: A Post-Quake Chronicle, is the gut-felt testimony of an insider/outsider that resounds as a thunderclap in the desert. Trapped in the alienating context of sterile academia, neoliberal political economy, populations displaced, shock therapy and general geopolitical shifts, the author’s gift of polysemy opens horizons. Through thought, action, word, poetry, song . . . flow yet unbounded prospects.”
—Rachel Beauvoir-Dominique, professor, Université d’Etat d’Haïti

“Taking us through entangled and liberating possibilities, Gina Ulysse introduces us to Haiti, the kingdom of this world. Embedded in the interstices of words and other aesthetic sensibilities that summon the past into the present, the powerful promise of a people is revealed. Ashe.”
—Arlene Torres, coeditor of Blackness in Latin America and the Caribbean

“The sense of urgency that pervades these essays is palpable. Similar to her performances, Ulysse rings the alarm, fills the room in our head with deafening sound, a one-woman aftershock.”
—Robin D. G. Kelley, from the foreword


Wesleyan UP @ AWP2015—Minneapolis


Wesleyan University Press @ AWP2015—Minneapolis

Friday, 4/10: 1:30–2:45pm
A Tribute to Gerald Vizenor
w/ Heid Erdrich, Kim Blaeser, Gordon Henry Jr., Margaret Noodin, & Gerald Vizenor
Room 208 C&D, Level 2
Anishinaabe writers will read selections from Gerald Vizenor’s vast body of work and reflect on how this elder statesman of Anishinaabe literature influenced and supported their own work. Vizenor’s political writing, nationalist poetry, and history-steeped novels will be represented in this tribute, fittingly held in his homeland of Minnesota. Panelists will reflect on Vizenor’s role as a mentor and teacher who enabled generations of Native writers to find their voice.
Read more here.

Saturday, 4/11: 10:30–11:45am
Wesleyan University Press Poetry Reading
w/ Rae Armantrout, Sarah Blake, Heather Christle, Honorée Jeffers, and Fred Moten
Room 101 H&I, Level 1
A dynamic reading reflecting the breadth of Wesleyan University Press’s esteemed poetry series. These five poets represent diversity of age, race, aesthetics, and poetic voice, and are among the strongest voices in poetry today. Each engages his or her subject matter in distinct, unexpected ways through the use of language and imagery. Their work contemplates popular culture, history, ethics, race, and politics, as well as their personal experiences.
Read more here.

Book Signings @ WUP booth 907

Heather Christle — Thursday, 4/9: 1–2pm

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers — Friday, 4/10: 11am–12pm

Gerald Vizenor — Friday, 4/10: 3:30–4:30pm

Rae Armantrout & Sarah Blake — Saturday, 4/11: 12:30–1:30pm

Fred Moten — Saturday, 4/11: 2–3pm

Offsite Events

[Not organized by Wesleyan. Wesleyan authors, past and present, are included.]


Wednesday, 4/8: 7pm
BOMB & Two Dollar Radio Present:
Rae Armantrout, Sarah Gerard, Ian Dreiblatt, & Nicholas Rombes
Magers & Quinn Booksellers, 3038 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55408
More info here.

Wednesday, April 8th, 7:30-8:30pm
Women’s Caucus Reading
Readings by Joy Harjo and Natalie Diaz. Introduction by Heid Erdrich.
Augsburg College, Satern Auditorium, 22nd Ave. South & South 7 1/2 Street, Minneapolis
More info here.

Thursday, 4/9: 6pm
Presenting: Tender Buttons, Black Radish Books, Ugly Duckling Presse, and Station Hill
Lee Ann Brown is reading from Bernadette Mayer’s Sonnets (Tender Buttons)
514 Studio, 514 North 3rd Street Suite 101, Minneapolis
More info here.

Thursday, 4/9: 8pm
Rain Taxi Benefit at Walker Art Center, Greatest Hits Reading
Peter Gizzi, Pierre Joris, Forrest Gander and many others.
Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis
More info here.

Thursday, 4/9: 7:30pm–1am
VIDA Awards, Motionpoems Film Screening, & Dance Party
Sarah Blake’s poem “A Day at the Mall Reminds Me of America” was used in Ayse Altinok’s short film, included in the Motionpoems screening.
Skyway Theater, 711 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis
More info here.

Thursday, April 9: 7:30–9:30pm
Hick Poetics Anthology Release
Forest Gander is among the participants
Patrick’s Cabaret, 3010 Minnehaha Avenue, Minneapolis
More info here.

Saturday, 4/11: 6pm
The Volta Book of Poets
Fred Moten and Evie Shockley are among the sixteen readers.
Harriet Brewing, 3036 Minnehaha Avenue, Minneapolis
More info here.

#tbt: Tricia’s Rose’s Black Noise

This week’s Throwback Thursday post, the final post for our Black History Month series, features one of Wesleyan University Press’ best-selling titles, Tricia Rose’s Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America. Rose’s book is one among many published by Wesleyan on African American music and musicians. Other books include Monument Eternal: The Music of Alice Coltrane, by Franya J. Berkman, on the life and work of Alice Coltrane as a composer, improviser, and guru; the classic text Music of the Common Tongue: Survival and Celebration in African American Music, by Christopher Small, who explored the origins, nature, and function of music in human life; and Jazz Consciousness: Music, Race, and Humanity, by Paul Austerlitz, who provides a scholarly argument to support the theory of a wide-reaching jazz consciousness—an aesthetic of inclusiveness—considering jazz within the African diaspora and in varying transnational scenes, from Finland to the Dominican Republic.

 MusicArt copy

In Black Noise, Rose grapples with the lyrics, music, cultures, themes, and styles of rap music, and discusses the most salient issues and debates that surround it. She writes, “Rap music brings together a tangle of some of the most complex social, cultural, and political issues in contemporary American society. Rap’s contradictory articulations are not signs of absent intellectual clarity; they are a common feature of community and popular cultural dialogues that always offer more than one cultural, social, or political viewpoint. These unusually abundant polyvocal conversations seem irrational when they are severed from the social contexts where everyday struggles over resources, pleasure, and meanings take place.”

In the following excerpt, Rose discusses the deep political implications present in rap music:

Rap music is, in many ways, a hidden transcript. Among other things, it uses cloaked speech and disguised cultural codes to comment on and challenge aspects of current power inequalities. Not all rap transcripts directly critique all forms of domination; nonetheless, a large and significant element in rap’s discursive territory is engaged in symbolic and ideological warfare with institutions and groups that symbolically, ideo­logically, and materially oppress African Americans. In this way, rap music is a contemporary stage for the theater of the powerless. On this stage, rappers act out inversions of status hierarchies, tell alterna­tive stories of contact with police and the education process, and draw portraits of contact with dominant groups in which the hidden tran­script inverts/subverts the public, dominant transcript. Often rendering a nagging critique of various manifestations of power via jokes, stories, gestures, and song, rap’s social commentary enacts ideological insubor­dination.

In contemporary America, where most popular culture is electroni­cally mass-mediated, hidden or resistant popular transcripts arc readily absorbed into the public domain and subject to incorporation and in­validation. Cultural expressions of discontent are no longer protected by the insulated social sites that have historically encouraged the re­finement of resistive transcripts. Mass-mediated cultural production, particularly when it contradicts and subverts dominant ideological posi­tions, is under increased scrutiny and is especially vulnerable to incorpo­ration. Yet, at the same time, these mass-mediated and mass-distributed alternative codes and camouflaged meanings are also made vastly more accessible to oppressed and sympathetic groups around the world and contribute to developing cultural bridges among such groups. More­ over, attacks on institutional power rendered in these contexts have a special capacity to destabilize the appearance of unanimity among powerholders by openly challenging public transcripts and cultivating the contradictions between commodity interests, (“Docs it sell? Well, sell it, then.”)and the desire for social control (“We can’t let them say that.”) Rap’s resistive transcripts arc articulated and acted out in both hidden and public domains, making them highly visible, yet difficult to contain and confine. So, for example, even though Public Enemy know pouring it on in metaphor is nothing new, what makes them “prophets of rage with a difference” is their ability to retain the mass-mediated spotlight on the popular cultural stage and at the same time function as a voice of social critique and criticism. The frontier between public and hidden transcripts is a zone of constant struggle between dominant and subordinate groups. Although electronic mass media and corporate consolidation have heavily weighted the battle in favor of the powerful, contestations and new strategies of resistance are vocal and contentious. The fact that the powerful often win does not mean that a war isn’t going on.

Rappers are constantly taking dominant discursive fragments and throwing them into relief, destabilizing hegemonic discourses and at­tempting to legitimate counter hegemonic interpretations. Rap’s con­testations are part of a polyvocal black cultural discourse engaged in discursive “wars of position” within and against dominant discourses. As foot soldiers in this “war of position,” rappers employ a multifaceted strategy. These wars of position are not staged debate team dialogues; they are crucial battles in the retention, establishment, or legitimation of real social power. Institutional muscle is accompanied by social ideas that legitimate it. Keeping these social ideas current and transparent is a constant process that sometimes involves making concessions and ad­justments. As Lipsitz points out, dominant groups “must make their triumphs appear legitimate and necessary in the eyes of the vanquished. That legitimation is hard work. It requires concession to aggrieved populations…it runs the risk of unraveling when lived experiences conflict with legitimizing ideologies. As Hall observes, it is almost as if the ideological dogcatchers have to be sent out every morning to round up the ideological strays, only to be confronted by a new group of loose mutts the next day.” Dominant groups must not only retain legitimacy via a war of maneuver to control capital and institutions, but also they must prevail in a war of position to control the discursive and ideological terrain that legitimates such institutional control. In some cases, dis­cursive inversions and the contexts within which they are disseminated directly threaten the institutional base, the sites in which Gramsci’s wars of maneuver are waged.

In contemporary popular culture, rappers have been vocal and un­ruly stray dogs. Rap music, more than any other contemporary form of black cultural expression, articulates the chasm between black urban lived experience and dominant, “legitimate” (e.g., neoliberal) ideolo­gies regarding equal opportunity and racial inequality. As new ideologi­ al fissures and points of contradiction develop, new mutts bark and growl, and new dogcatchers are dispatched. This metaphor is particu­larly appropriate for rappers, many of whom take up d-Og as part of their nametag (e.g., Snoop Doggy Dog, Tim Dog, and Ed O.G. and the Bull­ dogs). Paris, a San Francisco-based rapper whose nickname is P-dog, directs his neo-Black Panther position specifically at ideological fissures and points of contradiction:

P-dog commin’ up, I’m straight low
Pro-black and it ain’t no joke
Commin’ straight from the mob that broke shit last time,
Now I’m back with a brand new sick rhyme.
So, black, check time and tempo
Revolution ain’t never been simple

Submerged in winding, dark, low, bass lines, “The Devil Made Me Do It” locates Paris’s anger as a response to white colonialism and positions him as a “low” (read underground) voice backed up by a street mob whose commitment is explicitly pro-black and nationalist. A self­ proclaimed supporter of the revived and revised Oakland-based Black Panther movement, Paris (whose logo is also a black panther) locates himself as a direct descendent of the black panther “mob that broke shit last time” but who offers a revised text for the nineties. Paris’s opening line, “this is a warning” and subsequent assertion, “So don’t ask next time I start this, the devil made me do it,” along with his direct address to blacks “so, black, check time and tempo,” suggest a double address both to his extended street mob and to those whom he feels are respon­sible for his rage. “Check time and tempo” is another double play. Paris, a member of the Nation of Islam (NOI) is referring to the familiar NOI cry, “Do you know what time it is? It’s nation time!” and the “time and tempo” based nature of his electronic, digital musical production. Later, he makes more explicit the link he forges between his divinely inspired digitally coded music and the military style of NOI programs:

P-dog with a gift from heaven, tempo 116.7
Keeps you locked in time with the program
When I get wild I’ll pile on dope jams.

Speaking to and about dominant powers and offering a commitment to military mob-style revolutionary force, P-dog seems destined to draw the attention of Hall’s ideological dogcatchers. Although revolution has never been simple, it seems clear to Paris that not only will it be televised, it will have a soundtrack, too.

Tricia Rose is Professor of American Studies at University of California at Santa Cruz. She is also the author of Longing to Tell: Black Women Talk about Sexuality and Intimacy.

#tbt: “a big train roaring through a long tunnel”

 Afam-wup-tbtBlog-pic copy

In honor of Black History Month, this week’s Throwback Thursday sheds light on some of the African American and Caribbean intellectual and scholarly works published by Wesleyan University Press. Not only has Wesleyan published a number of scholarly works that fall into the category of African American and Caribbean studies, we also recently became the distributor of works by the formative Jamaican-American author and journalist, J.A. Rogers. In keeping with Wesleyan’s tradition, we are very excited about a groundbreaking book coming this May, Why Haiti Needs New Narratives, in which Wesleyan anthropology professor Dr. Gina Athens Ulysse explores many facets of the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010.

There are many highlights in Wesleyan’s African American and Caribbean Studies list, from film scholar Christopher Sieving’s Soul Searching: Black-Themed Cinema From the March On Washington to the Rise of Blaxploitation, which examines African American commercial cinema prior to the advent of more commonly known “blaxploitation” movies, to seminal older works by renowned historian George M. Fredrickson, The Black Image in the White Mind and The Arrogance of Race.

Today’s excerpt is from Horatio T. Strother’s The Underground Railroad in Connecticut. Though it was published in 1962, the book maintains its relevance in today’s conversations about the development of slavery and abolitionism in America. Strother’s book is based on the masters thesis he wrote as a graduate student at the University of Connecticut. Having held a long fascination with what, as a child, he’d imagined as “a big train roaring through a long tunnel,” he persisted with the project, despite being told that there was not enough information available to form a cohesive thesis. Strother defied this warning and went on to uncover new material on the subject. At a time when the oral tradition was not held in high regard by mainstream scholars, Strother made a bold decision to include oral accounts of first generation descendants of people involved in the shepherding of escaped slaves. Sadly, Strother died in a tragic swimming accident at age 44, cutting short a promising academic career.

In Chapter 3 of the book, Strother describes the lives of three slaves who escaped to Connecticut. The first is William Grimes, whose life in Connecticut and eventual decision to purchase his own freedom is described in the following excerpt.

from The Underground Railroad in Connecticut:

But Grimes found it difficult to make a living in east­ern Connecticut, so he returned to New Haven. There he found work at Yale College, shaving, barbering, “waiting on the scholars in their rooms,” and doing odd jobs for other employers on the side. Six or eight months later he heard that a barber was needed at the Litchfield Law School—Tapping Reeve’s famous establishment—and there he went in the year 1808. He became a general serv­ant to the students and was also active as a barber, earning fifty or sixty dollars per month. “For some time,” he said, “I made money very fast; but at length, trading horses a number of times, the horse jockies would cheat me, and to get restitution, I was compelled to sue them; I would sometimes win the case; but the lawyers alone would reap the benefit of it. At other times, I lost my case, fiddle and all, besides paying my attorney…. Let it not be imag­ined that the poor and friendless are entirely free from oppression where slavery does not exist; this would be fully illustrated if I should give all the particulars of my life, since I have been in Connecticut.”

Back in New Haven in the year 1812 or 1813, Grimes met and soon married Clarissa Caesar, a colored girl whom he called “the lovely and all accomplished.” She was also a “lady of education,” teaching him all the reading and writ­ing he ever knew. Because his situation was not entirely safe—he was still a runaway slave and still, before the law, his master’s property—Grimes and his bride returned to “the back country” of Litchfield, where they bought a house and settled down. And just as he had feared, his owner eventually learned of his whereabouts and sent an emissary, a brisk and rude fellow called Thompson, to re­claim him. This man confronted the fugitive with a plain choice: he could buy his freedom, or Thompson would “put him in irons and send him down to New York, and then on to Savannah.” Grimes described his state of mind and his subsequent actions as follows:

To be put in irons and dragged back to a state of slavery, and either leave my wife and children in the street, or take them into servitude, was a situation in which my soul now shudders at the thought of having been placed. … I may give my life for the good or the safety of others, but no law, no consequences, not the lives of millions, can authorize them to take my life or liberty from me while innocent of any crime. I have to thank my master, how­ ever, that he took what I had, and freed me. I gave a deed of my house to a gentleman in Litchfield. He paid the money for it to Mr. Thompson, who then gave me my free papers. Oh! how my heart did rejoice and thank God.

Thus William Grimes became a free man, to live out the rest of his long life as his own man in a free state. Yet, as he came to set down his memoirs in later years, he viewed the condition of slavery and the condition of freedom in a somewhat ambivalent light:

To say that a man is better fed, and has less care [in slavery] than in the other, is false. It is true, if you re­gard him as a brute, as destitute of the feelings of human nature. But I will not speak on the subject more. Those slaves who have kind masters are perhaps as happy as the generality of mankind. They are not aware what their condition can be except by their own exertions. I would advise no slave to leave his master. If he runs away, he is most sure to be taken. If he is not, he will ever be in the apprehension of it; and I do think there is no induce­ment for a slave to leave his master and be set free in the Northern States. I have had to work hard; I have often been cheated, insulted, abused and injured; yet a black man, if he will be industrious and honest, can get along here as well as any one who is poor and in a situation to be imposed on. I have been very fortunate in life in this respect. Notwithstanding all my struggles and sufferings and injuries, I have been an honest man.

Read the rest of Chapter 3 here to learn more about Grimes, as well as two other former slaves who utilized the Underground Railroad.

We hope our readers will join us in celebrating Black History Month this February, with some great books!

#tbt: A note from Langston Hughes

This small flyer was recently unearthed from files relating to our 1962 publication The Underground Railroad in Connecticut, by Horatio T. Strother.


Wesleyan’s esteemed editor, José Rollin de la Torre Bueno, was seeking Hughes as a pre-publication reader for the book. Hughes regretted that he could not act as a reader, being busy with his own projects and on account of having:

..been away a great deal from New York…twice to California, twice to Africa, and having just now come back a few weeks ago from abroad…. I have just sent to the press my book on the NAACP; now I have one other long overdue book deadline to meet, not counting the numerous magazine articles and other things that I have promised. While I was away, mail piled up to the ceiling and I have now in front of me at least a half dozen new books in proofs and others that publishers have sent me that I have had no more than a chance to glance at.

The above flyer, advertising Hughes’s gospel song-play, Black Nativity, accompanied his letter. On the reverse there is a hand-written note explaining that the play would be performed in Spoleto, Italy. The European debut of the play was at the Spoleto Festival. Then the play moved to London, where it was taped for a television special by the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company.

#tbt: Evie Shockley’s “ode to my blackness”

Throughout the month of February, we will be celebrating Black History Month. Today’s Throwback Thursday post is a poem by Evie Shockley: “ode to my blackness,” from her collection the new black. Wesleyan University Press has published the works of many notable African American and Caribbean poets. Some recent books include Testimony, by Yusef Komunyakaa, The Little Edges, by Fred Moten, and Zong!, by M.NourbeSe Philip. We are pleased to announce that the long out of print book She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks, also by Philips, will be reissued by Wesleyan in the fall, with a new foreword by Shockley. And don’t forget we have a new book from Honorée Jeffers, The Glory Gets, coming this spring!

Poetry Banner


ode to my blackness

you are my shelter from the storm
and the storm
my anchor
and the troubled sea
* * *
nights casts you warm and glittering
upon my shoulders some would
say you give off no heat some folks
can’t see beyond the closest star
* * *
you are the tunnel john henry died
to carve
i see the light
at the end of you the beginning
* * *
i dig down deep and there you are at the root of my blues
you’re all thick and dark, enveloping the root of my blues
seem like it’s so hard to let you go when i got nothing to lose
* * *
without you, I would be just
a self of my former shadow

Evie Shockley is an associate professor of English at Rutgers University and the author of a half-red sea, the chapbook The Gorgon Goddess, and Renegade Poetics: Black Aesthetics and Formal Innovation in African American Poetry.

#tbt: Martin Luther King in Connecticut

January 19th will mark the annual celebration of the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This week’s Throwback Thursday post is dedicated to Dr. King, his time spent in Connecticut (both as an unknown student and as a national leader), and the reaction of Hartford residents to his tragic assassination.


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. addresses Wesleyan students in 1963. Courtesy of Wesleyan University.
Read one student’s memory of the visit here.

This first passage is from an essay by Connecticut historian Stacey Close, “Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Connecticut, and Non-Violent Protest.” The essay, found in African American Connecticut Explored, explains the impact of Dr. King on African Americans in Connecticut and, in turn, the influence of Connecticut residents on the Civil Rights movement. It begins with the story of King’s first trip to Connecticut.

As a teenager in 1944 Martin Luther King, Jr. became part of a long tradition of southern students venturing to Connecticut to spend the summer working in the state’s tobacco fields. The teenager joined a group of students from Atlanta, Georgia’s Morehouse College at work on a Simsbury, Connecticut, farm. In My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King recalled that her eventual husband experienced an incredible sense of “freedom” while in Connecticut. Unlike in the South, King and other southern youth ate in restaurants and visited local theaters without having to deal with the horror of legalized segregation. Coretta Scott King argued that the opportunity to lead devotional services with other students that summer started Martin on the road to becoming a minister. This visit to Connecticut had a major impact on the teenage King, but his relationship with Connecticut did not stop there. Later efforts by Connecticans would make important contributions to the non-violent civil rights movement he led in the South. People from Connecticut would frequently travel south to bolster the civil rights movement, and Dr. King’s visits to Connecticut would helped to support and transform African American communities in urban areas here.

In addition to Close’s essay, and other essays dealing with Civil Rights era Connecticut, we find historian Cynthia Reik’s moving essay, “What Would Dr. King Want You to Do?” Her essay deals with King’s tragic assassination and the reaction of school children in Hartford.


Hartford mayor Ann Uccello with students, 1968. Hartford History Collection, Hartford History Center, Hartford Public Library

On Thursday evening, April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. In response, riots erupted in Hartford’s North End. People were angry about the lack of progress on King’s dream: integrated education, housing, a fair judicial system, and jobs. Republican Mayor Ann Uccello, the first woman elected mayor of a Connecticut municipality and the first woman in the U.S. elected mayor of a capital city, went into the rioting area in a police cruiser on Thursday evening against the advice of most of her administration, carrying but not wearing a riot helmet. The Hartford Times reported that she toured the public housing complexes, “mingling with the people, trying to let them know the city cared.”

The police cordoned off the North End and used massive doses of tear gas to quiet the rioters. Residents in the city’s West End reported that the tear gas was so heavy that it drifted to Elizabeth Park. Showing the extent to which the city was divided, one Fox Scholar graduate of Hartford Public High School, Tom Smith, then attending college nearby, drove to join his family in the North End to share their sorrow but was turned away by police.

Friday morning, after extensive rioting, when Hartford Public High School (where I was a teacher) opened at 7:30 a.m., John Gale (Hartford Public High School class of 1969) recalled that many students remained outdoors, uncertain as to whether it was appropriate to enter the school. The student body was then about 50 percent African American, 15 percent Latino, and the rest white. The principal of Hartford Public High, Dr. Duncan Yetman, came outside to address the reluctant students, asking the question, “What would Dr. King want you to do?” Most students came inside and went to their homerooms for attendance. Over the P.A. system, Dr. Yetman gave students the option of remaining for a regular day or coming down to the office to phone home for parental permission to leave school. For two hours students tied up the office phones, making arrangements to leave.

Instead of going directly home, however, four hundred or more students walked down Farmington Avenue to St. Joseph Cathedral and asked the rector, Monsignor Father John S. Kennedy, to hold a memorial service for Dr. King. Msgr. Kennedy agreed. During this impromptu service, The Hartford Courant’s David Rhinelander reported, Kennedy said, “the Rev. Dr. King was a great black man. He was ‘perhaps the greatest man of his generation.’”

Visit the book page to learn more about African American Connecticut Explored, which covers the state’s African American history from the Colonial era through the Civil Rights era. A full list of topics covered is found at the book page.



Haiti, 5 Years Later: “Tout moun se moun, men tout moun pa menm.”

January 12, 2015, marks the fifth anniversary of the catastrophic magnitude 7.0 earthquake that struck Haiti. The epicenter was near Léogane, approximately 16 miles west of the capital city, Port-au-Prince. By the January 24, 2010, at least 52 aftershocks measuring 4.5 or greater had been recorded. The death toll has been estimated at between 200,000 and 300,000 individuals lost. Hundreds of thousands of homes and commercial buildings were destroyed. In short, Haiti was devastated. Haiti—a country already in a precarious position given its centuries-long history of national debt, unfair trade policies imposed by outside nations, and the other, often unhelpful, foreign interventions.



Wesleyan University Press will release Why Haiti Needs New Narratives: A Post-Quake Chronicle in May of this year. The author, Haitian-American anthropologist Gina Athena Ulysse, makes sense of the discussions surrounding her homeland in the wake of the tragedy of the earthquake and its aftermath, including the battle against cholera, the mistreatment of Haitian women and children, and the nation’s ongoing political turmoil. As Robin D.G. Kelley points out in his foreword to the book, “Ulysse wants to know how we arrived at this point, when Haiti is treated much like the random bodies of homeless people, whose deaths we’ve come to expect but not mourn?” You can read an excerpt from Ulysse’s work here, a piece titled “Haiti’s Future: A Requiem for the Dying,” dated February 4, 2010.

As Ulysse makes clear, in order to have a meaningful discussion on the state of Haiti today, one must look to the past. On January 1, 1804, Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared Haitian independence—the outcome of a successful slave revolt. Although Haiti would now be free, France and other European powers forced the island nation to pay 150 million francs in reparations for the loss of “property” in slaves and land. Western powers refused to trade with Haiti, hoping to choke the life out of a black free state. Today, unfair trade practices continue to plague Haiti and its workforce—not to mention the long history of oppressive and genocidal acts committed against Haitians by the government of its neighbor, The Dominican Republic.

Ulysse also looks at the treatment of Haiti in both the press and popular media. Haiti is often, mistakenly, seen as a dark “other.” Voudou, the prominent earth-based religion of Haiti, is often mis-interpreted, mis-appropriated, and maligned as “Voodoo,” seen by European-Americans as a dark and dangerous power. While Haiti remains the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, to restrict the nation to dystopian narratives of desperation obscures the complexity of the republic and comes dangerously close to dehumanizing Haitians.

Why Haiti Needs New Narratives is largely a reaction to mainstream news coverage of the catastrophic quake of 2010. Ulysse observed that much coverage reproduced longstanding narratives of Haiti and stereotypes of Haitians. In response, she embarked on a writing spree that lasted over two years, and a resulted in a large body of dispatches, op-eds and articles on post-quake Haiti. As an ethnographer and a member of the diaspora, Ulysse delivered critical cultural analysis of geopolitics and daily life in Haiti, with the aim of making sense of how the nation and its subjects continue to negotiate sovereignty in a world where, according to a Haitian saying, tout moun se moun, men tout moun pa menm (All people are human, but all humans are not the same). Why Haiti Needs New Narratives contains thirty pieces, most of which were previously published in and on Haitian TimesHuffington PostMs MagazineMs BlogNACLA, and other print and online venues. The book is trilingual (English, Kreyòl, and French) and includes a foreword by award-winning author and historian Robin D.G. Kelley. It will be published on May 25, 2015.

Today, Haiti continues to be rocked by political turmoil in the form of protests over the delay of elections. Read more about the protests, calling for the resignation of President Michel Martelly, here. The need for better infrastructure and health care continues. You can view recent photographs from Haiti, here, provided by Susan Schulman for The Guardian newspaper.