April 25, 2019  

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Southern Quarterly Edition Honors Black History Month

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The current issue of Southern Quarterly, "African American Identities."

The current issue of the Southern Quarterly, titled "African American Identities," celebrates Black History Month. Edited by University of Southern Mississippi Distinguished Professor of English Philip Kolin, it contains scholarly essays on black literature, art, music as well as original poetry by four distinguished black authors plus a bibliography on black architects.

The first three articles concentrate on how key black novels/texts have investigated African American struggles, identities, and triumphs -- James Weldon Johnson's The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912), Zora Neale Hurston's first novel, Johan's Gourd Vine (1934), which Carl Sandberg called "unforgettable and priceless"; and Shirley Anne Williams' neo-slave narrative Dessa Rose (1986).

Writing on Hurston, Helen Yitah, who teaches at the University of Ghana, argues that we need to view the Great African Migration to the North not in exclusively geographic terms but in psychic ones. In his essay entitled "Mammy Ain't Nobody’s Name,” Angelo Rich Robinson shows how Williams’ slave narrative deconstructs a white racist culture that erased the identity of mammies through the very fictions it created by making these women members of a white family.

This issue also features the work of artist Lois Mailou Jones, whose prolific career spans over seven decades and whose courage challenged and changed the segregated world of art. Cornell University art historian Cheryl Finely focuses on Jones's Southern landscapes and portraits and features seven of Jones's celebrated canvases, including her anti-lynching painting Mob Violence/Meditation. Jones's South is reflected in her paintings about North Carolina, Haiti, and the greater African Diaspora.

Following Finely's keen observations is Kolin's interview with Dr. Chris Chapman, M.D., Jones’s godson, confidant and managing director of her estate. Chapman provides invaluable information about her paintings, masks, and designs which are exhibited in major galleries around the world.

Honored by American presidents as well as heads of state in the Caribbean, Europe, and Africa, Jones’s art reflected the landscapes and residents of these regions and, according to Chapman, can be divided into various stages depending on where she painted. One of her paintings was recently used by the HBO producers of Treme as an emblem of black heritage for African Americans living in post-Katrina New Orleans.

Celebrating African American music, this issue contains an essay by distinguished dramatist Ifa Bayeza, whose Ballad of Emmett Till (2008) earned her national recognition. Bayeza explains how she transformed her novel, Some Sing, Some Cry, into a musical drama, Charleston Olio, and thereby expanded the significance of a musical genre, the olio, that referred to songs and dances performed on stage as minor entertainment during scenery changes for the main production.

Bayeza's Olio is rich with lyrics, which she incorporates into her article and song, revealing how African Americans, trapped in slavery in both antebellum and modern times, express their dreams of escape, emancipation, and selfhood.

Kolin has also included an "African American Poetry Miscellany" with original works by renowned poets (three of whom are Mississippians)--Natasha Trethewey, Mississippi's Poet Laureate and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry; Sterling D. Plumpp, blues poet and winner of the Richard Wright Award for Literary Excellence, who writes about memories of his grandfather being lynched; Claude Wilkinson, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, whose poems pay tribute to African American photographer Gordon Parks; and Duriel Harris, an experimental poet and co-founder of the Black Tool Collection, who provocatively expresses the anxieties black artists face in authoring their identity.

The Southern Quarterly also includes a bibliography on archival resources for studying black architects as well as book reviews of African American writers, including Richard Wright.

This issue marks Kolin's debut as the editor of the Southern Quarterly. An internationally recognized Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams scholar, he has served as a guest editor for three issues of the publication.

Now in its 50th year, The Southern Quarterlyisan independent journal of the arts in the South published at Southern Miss since 1962. It is one of the first journals devoted to the interdisciplinary study of Southern culture. To order a copy of this African American Identities issue of the Southern Quarterly, online visit www.usm.edu/soq/