Front Cover of W.E.B. Du Bois
Boston, Summer 1907,
in conjunction with 3rd Annual Meeting of Niagara Movement
courtesy of the Department of Special Collections and Archives,
W.E.B Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Volume 54, Issue 3
“A great song arose, the loveliest thing born this side the seas. It was a new song. It did not come from Africa, though the dark throb and beat of that Ancient of Days was in it and through it. It did not come from white America—never from so pale and hard and thin a thing, however deep these vulgar and surrounding tones had driven. . . . It was a new song and its deep and plaintive beauty, its great cadences and wild appeal wailed, throbbed and thundered on the world’s ears with a message seldom voiced by man.”
Thus W. E. B. Du Bois, on the feeling of freedom in the four million, a famous passage from his Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-80.
WITH THIS ISSUE, we incite you to take the above quote out of context. We submit, in short, that in Du Bois himself a great song arose — his intellect quite possibly “the loveliest thing born this side the seas.” We do so a half-century after the great man’s death, and we do so in partnership with the “Du Bois in Our Time” project: a symposium at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and exhibition at the University Museum of Contemporary Art. Many of the artists contributing to the exhibition are featured within these pages, and we imagine the symposium’s thinkers in dialogue with them as well.
We editors, in curating this magazine and its legacy, have been taught time and time again to respect the work of our predecessors, which is quite often simply inspiring. Rarely more so, in fact, than when, in order to select a few for recirculation, we took the time, and had the pleasure, of re-reading the dozen or more essays published over the years on the work of W. E. B. Du Bois. (Editors invariably face a variety of challenges, though when writers the caliber of Anthony Appiah and David Blight don’t make your short list, well . . . those are the problems you want.) The pages we’ve chosen to reprint here begin with an autobiographical essay from Du Bois himself; it first appeared in our magazine’s very first volume. We follow with reminiscences about Du Bois from the eminent historian John Hope Franklin. Then in short order we submit essays by Jean Fagan Yellin, Kathryne V. Lindberg, and Dale Peterson: their contributions will expand your sense of Du Bois’s ongoing contribution to world history, showing the relevance of his work to women’s rights, to the fight against fascism, and even to the Russian soul. And finally — before we bring you the artists — we offer up a meditation by Ekwueme Michael Thelwell on the history of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst: our home as well as that of the W. E. B. Du Bois archive.
Given the power and magic of Du Bois, it will be no surprise that much of our issue’s remaining fiction, poetry, and essays gyrate through his wake. Certainly in Karen An-Hwei Lee’s nesting lines, and in Geffrey Davis’s searing memory work. Themes of mourning, memory, and place are taken up again by Elizabeth Young, as we present the first half of her essay on Edwin Romanzo Elmer. We also bring you the second of a three-parter from Gary Amdahl — eloquent witness to the deconstruction of self and world in a foreign land called California. Sometimes, though, when the world seems out of joint, as we learn from Eugene Dubnov, all one really needs is to talk to a cat. Du Bois, unlike Dubnov, doesn’t say much on this subject, though we may claim such silence as itself catlike, and suspect that the domesticated feline, beloved by Egyptians, was in fact his totem animal. In any case, as Marina Bilbija presciently points out, the great scholar was far ahead of his time; particularly in connecting affect to history, reading song as a record of suffering. Here Du Bois anticipates Thomas Sayers Ellis, as the poet provides us sheet music for the GoGo dance community in our nation’s capital, finding in its music “a sound for the town, the sound of struggle, a cry we need and love.”
In Black Reconstruction, writing at the end of one World War and in anticipation of another, Du Bois traced the conflagration then tearing the Old World to pieces directly to the prior exploits of New World Masters, noting that Europe “will and must go back to the basic principles of Reconstruction in the United States during 1867–1876 — Land, Light and Leading for slaves black, brown, yellow and white.” Yet never one for undue optimism, already in 1935 he also added a cautionary note: any possible rebuilding “will and must” follow this path . . . “whether it comes now or a century later.”
Now, a century later, we may thus yet hope to follow the vision of W.E.B. Dubois. In our time.
To be continued . . .
1. Du Bois, W. E. B. 1935/1998. Black Reconstruction in America, 1860–1880. New York, NY: Free Press (pp. 125; 635).
2. Bilbija, Marina. Democracy’s New Song: Black Reconstruction in America, 1860–1880 and the Melodramatic Imagination. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 2011 637: 64. (http://ann.sagepub.com/content/637/1/64)
A Negro Student at Harvard University at the End of the 19th Century
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois: A Personal Memoir
By John Hope Franklin
Du Bois's Crisis and Women's Suffrage
By Jean Fagan Yellin
W. E. B. Du Bois's Dusk of Dawn and James Yates's Mississippi to Madrid
By Kathryne V. Lindberg
Notes from the Underworld: Dostoevsky, Du Bois, and the Discovery of Ethnic Soul
By Dale E. Peterson
Du Bois in His Time (and Ours)
By Ekwueme Michael Thelwell
By Radcliffe Bailey
Held February 23, 2013
By Mary Evans
In the End
By Brendan Fernandes
A Despoliation of Water
By LaToya Ruby Frazier
Algorithms, Apparitions, and Translations
By Julie Mehretu
By Ann Messner
Still images from Star of Ethiopia
By Jefferson Pinder
Darkwater — of Beauty and Death
By Tim Collins
Darkwater — of Beauty and Death
Hair Portrait Series #4, and Hair Portrait Series #5
By Mickalene Thomas
A Garden for Du Bois
By Carrie Mae Weems
Meditation on Skin
By Karen An-Hwei Lee
My Last Love Poem for a Crackhead, #23
By Geffrey Davis
What I Mean When I Say Farmhouse
By Geffrey Davis
By Geffrey Davis
Selections from Crank Shaped Notes
By Thomas Sayers Ellis
By Martha Collins
By Tara Bray
San Luis el Brujo, Part Two
By Gary Amdahl
dang tou bang he: this is a timely warning
By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingde
Of Useless Knowledge
By Margara Russotto, translated by Peter Kahn
Of Useless Knowledge
By Margara Russotto, translated by Peter Kahn
By Andrew Nurkin
Mourning Pictures and Magic Glasses, Part One
By Elizabeth Young
From Her Deathbed Harriet Bailey Chronicles the Fifth and Final Trek of Her Son Frederick Douglass
By Adam Tavel
Table of Contents
Introduction, by Jim Hicks
W. E. B. Du Bois, A Gathering
A Negro Student at Harvard at the End of the
19th Century, an essay by W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois's Dusk of Dawn and
James Yates's Mississippi to Madrid,
an essay by Kathryne V. Lindberg
Notes from the Underworld: Dostoevsky,
Du Bois, and the Discovery of Ethnic Soul,
an essay by Dale E. Peterson
Du Bois in Our Time, A Portfolio
Art by Radcliffe Bailey, Mary Evans, Brendan Fernandes,
LaToya Ruby Frazier, Julie Mehretu, Ann Messner,
Jefferson Pinder, Tim Rollins & K.O.S., Mickalene Thomas,
and Carrie Mae Weems
My Last Love Poem for a Crackhead, #23,
What I Mean When I Say Farmhouse, and
Divorce Means, three poems by Geffrey Davis
Selections from Crank Shaped Notes,
lyric prosisms by Thomas Sayers Ellis
Tiny Women, a poem by Martha Collins
Inlaw, a posm by Tara Bray
San Luis el Brujo, Part Two, a story by Gary Amdahl
dang tou bang he : this is a timely warning,
a poem by Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingde
Of Useless Knowledge, a poem by Margaret Russotto,
translated by Peter Kahn
Triptych, a poem by Andrew Nurkin
Mourning Pictures and Magic Glasses, Part One,
an essay by Elzabeth Young
From Her Deathbed Harriet Bailey Chronicles the
Fifth and Final Trek to Her Son Frederick Douglass,
a poem by Adam Tavel
Notes on Contributors
GARY AMDAHL is the author of Visigoth (stories) and I Am Death (novellas) and The Intimidator Still Lives In Our Hearts (stories). A novel, Across My Big Brass Bed will be published in January of 2014, by Artistically Declined Press. Other novels and collections will follow each January thereafter, making seven volumes in The Amdahl Library Project. His poetry, translated and original, is being published by Spolia in Berlin.
RADCLIFFE BAILEY, the Atlanta based artist, explores American memory and history to encourage healing and transcendence through art. His collage-like images of photographs, colors, numbers, and objects as well as his installations evoke and reference the past in an authentic, contemporary articulation. Bailey’s works has been shown internationally.
TARA BRAY is the author of Mistaken for Song (Persea Books, 2009). Her most recent poems have appeared in journals including Poetry, Colorado Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, The Southern Review, and Cincinatti Review.
MARTHA COLLINS is the author, most recently, of White Papers (Pittsburgh, 2012) and the book-length poem Blue Front (Graywolf, 2006); she has also published four earlier collections of poems and two collections of co-translated Vietnamese poetry. She is currently editor-at-large for FIELD magazine and an editor for Oberlin College Press.
GEFFREY DAVIS holds an MFA (2012) from Penn State University, where he is completing a doctoral dissertation on American poetics. His debut collection, Revising the Storm, won the 2013 A. Poulin Poetry Prize and will be published by BOA Editions in April 2014. A Cave Canem Fellow, he has also received the Dogwood Prize in Poetry, the Wabash Prize for Poetry, and the Leonard Steinberg Memorial/Academy of American Poets Prize. He has poems forthcoming or featured in a variety of journals, among them Crazyhorse, Greensboro Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Mid-American Review, Mississippi Review, Nimrod International Journal, and Sycamore Review. He considers the Puget Sound area “home”—though he’s been raised by much more of the Pacific Northwest, and now by Pennsylvania as well.
LYNN DOMINA is the author of two collections of poems, Corporal Works and Framed in Silence, and the editor of a collection of essays, Poets on the Psalms. Her recent work appears or is forthcoming in The Southern Review, Arts & Letters, The Gettysburg Review, The Paterson Literary Review, and many other periodicals. She currently lives in the western Catskill region of New York.
Best remembered for his classic The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. DU BOIS was the most important public intellectual in the United States during the last century.
EUGENE DUBNOV was born in Tallinn and educated at Moscow and London Universities. He taught English Literature and was Writer-in-Residence at Carmel College, Oxfordshire, and a Wingate Scholar in London. Two collections of his poems in Russian came out in London; his verse and prose in English translation and written in English has appeared in periodicals world over, as well as in a number of European and North American anthologies; nine of his short stories have been broadcast on the BBC. A collection of his poems in English, translated by Anne Stevenson with the author, will be published by Shoestring Press, UK, in autumn 2013.
MARY EVANS is a Nigerian born artist, living in London. Her work focuses on ideas of identity, alienation, and assimilation of immigrants from Africa in European countries. She is fascinated by “what they are forced to learn, and relearn, what they choose to remember and forget, how they are irrevocably changed.” She tries to express her own identity, which is a union of African and European elements, in her work.
BRENDAN FERNANDES was born in Kenya. Of Indian heritage, Fernandes is based in Toronto and New York. Brendan investigates the concept of authenticity as an ideological construct. One of his video installations was recently featured in the New York Guggenheim exhibition “Found in Translation.”
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN was a historian of the United States and a chaired professor of history at Duke University. Best known for his work From Slavery to Freedom; among his many other publications are Race and History: Selected Essays, 1938-1988, and The Color Line: Legacy for the Twenty-first Century. In 1995, In 1995, he received the first W.E.B. Du Bois Award from the Fisk University Alumni Association and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.
LATOYA RUBY FRAZIER was born and raised in Braddock, Pennsylvania. Her work is informed by late 19th- and early 20th-century modes of representation in documentary practice. With an emphasis on postmodern conditions, class, and capitalism, Frazier investigates issues of propaganda, politics, and the importance of subjectivity.
NORA HICKEY is an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of New Mexico. Originally from Milwaukee, WI, she is now enjoying the burger joints and mountains of Albuquerque. She currently serves as Editor-in-Chief of Blue Mesa Review and her poetry and non-fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Booth, Mid-American Review, Court Green, Puerto del Sol and DIAGRAM.
PAUL R. HUNDT is a retired corporate lawyer who splits his time between Southampton and Larchmont, New York. His work has appeared in Ducts.org, Notre Dame Magazine, Oxford Magazine and the Palo Alto Review. In his spare time he enjoys hiking, bird watching and saltwater fishing.
PETER KAHN is a professional translator living in Vermont. He has translated works of fiction and nonfiction by numerous Latin American and Spanish writers. His fiction and poetry translations have appeared in various publications, including Grand Street, Gastronomia, Santa Barbara Review, Modern Poetry in Translation and several anthologies.
JULIE MEHRETU was born in Ethiopia, raised in Michigan, educated in Senegal and Rhode Island, and lives in New York and Berlin. Her art covers issues such as family history, migration, geography, home, war, cultural history, and personal narrative. Her works have been widely shown in Europe and the United States.
ANN MESSNER is a New York based artist whose work, since the late 1970s, has focused on the relationship between the individual body and the larger social body as encountered within public space or discourse.
Helming Squircle Line Press as its founding editor, DESMOND KON ZHICHENG-MINGDE is the author of I Didn’t Know Mani Was A Conceptualist, and The Arbitrary Sign, forthcoming in 2013. He has edited more than ten books and co-produced three audio books, several pro bono for non-profit organizations. He is the recipient of the PEN American Center Shorts Prize, Swale Life Poetry Prize, Cyclamens & Swords Poetry Prize, Stepping Stones Nigeria Poetry Prize, and Little Red Tree International Poetry Prize. An interdisciplinary artist, Desmond also works in clay. His ceramic works are housed in private collections and museums in India, the Netherlands, the UK, and the US.
KAREN AN-HWEI LEE is the author of Phyla of Joy (Tupelo Press, 2012), Ardor (Tupelo Press, 2008) and In Medias Res (Sarabande Books, 2004), winner of the Norma Farber First Book Award. The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, she lives and teaches in southern California, where she is a novice harpist. She earned an M.F.A. from Brown University and Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Berkeley.
Labor rights activist, cyclist, and music enthusiast KATHRYNE V. LINDBERG was a professor of English at Wayne State University. The author of Reading Pound Reading: Modernism After Nietzsche, she was also co-editor of America's Modernisms: Revaluing the Canon: Essays in Honor of Joseph N. Riddel and Bobweaving Detroit: The Selected Poems of Murray Jackson.
JUSTIN LUMLEY was born in 1955 in Bishop’s Stortford, England, and studied Russian at the University of London. He first met Eugene Dubnov when they both took part in a production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. Through a varied career that included teaching English in four countries, founding a linguists’ club and many years of proofreading and editing, Justin has kept an interest in Russian literature. He has been working with Eugene Dubnov since 2004.
ANDREW NURKIN's poetry has appeared in North American Review, Drunken Boat, Rattle, Solstice, Peregrine, and elsewhere. Recipient of the Solstice Poetry Prize, a SLS Fellowship, and two Pushcart nominations, he holds his MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and degrees in English and religion from Duke and Yale. Originally from Atlanta, he lives in New Jersey.
DALE PETERSON is the author of Up From Bondage: The Literatures of Russian and African American Soul (2000) and The Clement Vision: Poetic Realism in Turgenev and James (1975). He teaches and writes frequently about Nabokov and has enjoyed a career at Amherst College as the Eliza J. Clark Folger Professor of English and Russian.
JEFFERSON PINDER, a Washington D.C. based artist, currently teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Pinder seeks to find black identity through his experimental videos and feature films that reference music, videos, and musical theater.
TIM ROLLINS AND K.O.S have worked with students in the South Bronx for over 30 years. Rollins developed a collaborative strategy that combines lessons in reading and writing with the production of works of art. His works has been internationally exhibited.
REBECCA RUKEYSER is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her work has appeared in ZYZZYVA.
Born in Italy, Venezuelan poet and translator, MARARA RUSSOTTO graduated from the Central University of Venezuela, where she was a professor for several years. She has translated poetry and essays by Brazilian and Italian writers, such as Cecília Meireles, Oswald de Andrade, Antonio Candido, Claudio Magris, Giuseppe Ungaretti, and Alfonso Gatto, among others, and has published eight books of critical essays. As a poet, her eight collections include Erosiones extremas (Editorial Universidad de Costa Rica, 2010), Del esplendor (Editorial Tiempo Nuevo, 2009), and Obra poética (Ediciones El otro el mismo, 2006). She received a Fulbright scholarship (1998), the LASA (Latin American Studies Association) Montserrat Ordóñez Award (2007) for her collection La ansiedad autorial, and was recently a writer in residence at the Chateau de Lavigny International Writer's Residence (Ledig-Rowohlt Foundation) in Switzerland. Currently, she is an Associate Professor of Latin American Literature and Culture at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, working on poetry and women writers with interdisciplinary and multicultural perspectives.
ADAM TAVEL received the 2010 Robert Frost Award, and his forthcoming collections are The Fawn Abyss (Salmon, 2014) and Red Flag Up (Kattywompus, 2013), a chapbook. His work has appeared in West Branch, Indiana Review, Zone 3, South Dakota Review, The Minnesota Review, and The Cincinnati Review, among others. He is an associate professor of English at Wor-Wic Community College on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
MR Contributing Editor EKWUEME MICHAEL THELWELL was the founding chairman of the Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amhers. His vision and gifts have shaped many of the most essential pages published in this magazine over the past half century. Thelwell was active in the civil rights movement, participating in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). His novel The Harder They Come (1980) has become a Jamaican classic, and his political and literary essays are collected in Duties, Pleasures and Conflicts (1987).
MICKALENE THOMAS, a New York based artist, is best known for her elaborate paintings composed of rhinestones, acrylic and enamel. Thomas introduces a complex vision of what it means to be a woman and expands common definitions of beauty. Her work stems from her long study of art history and the classical genres of portraiture, landscape, and still like.
JEAN FAGAN YELLIN, Distinguished Professor Emerita of English at Pace University, New York, is a scholar of nineteenth-century U.S. literature and culture. Born in the Middlewest and raised in a radical newspaper family, where she learned something about gender, race, and class in America, she received her PhD at the University of Illinois. A pioneer in African-American and gender studies, she is best known for her work Harriet Jacobs, Author of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.
ELIZABETH YOUNG is the author of Disarming the Nation: Women’s Writing and the American Civil War and Black Frankenstein: The Making of an American Metaphor, and co-author of On Alexander Gardner's "Photographic Sketch Book" of the Civil War. She is Professor of English at Mount Holyoke College.
CARRIE MAE WEEMS has focused on family relationships, gender roles, the histories of racism, sexism, class, and various political systems. Her work is found in major museum collections across the country. Her retrospective exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum will tour the country through 2014.