American Audacity: Literary Essays North and South (Writers on Writing)


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The Colonel has the flag in the silence. He slowly waves the flag, thinking this is the first time it may hold true meaning for them. A few black women add their voices. Suddenly, many.


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The Colonel quiets the white people so that only black people are singing. The Schoolteacher continues to sing, and so does the Surgeon. Let freedom ring. This is war, the Colonel smiles.

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More than 35 people died, mostly black men. The bodies all around began to cook and swell in the heat: fingers the size of pickles, forearms rising like loaves until as big and gamy as hams festering in the noontime sun. When the Secesh police began their rounds, Lazarus got to crouching, then creeping, until — at last — he had to lie down among the dead, coffining himself between two fallen neighbors, readying himself for the shot to the head. The white Republicans could not get votes over the Confederate Democrats without colored men, nor could the colored man get the vote without the whites who fought against the Confederate Redeemer cause.

Needling choruses of gallinippers hiving above yards of bursting flesh. Rodents hurrying forth with their ratchet scratching at wounds. Midges inspecting tonsils on display. Then there was the nearly silent sound of worms at work, underworld missionaries unsewing men from their souls. The dead were to lie out in the hundred-degree heat until another wagon became available, and there was to be martial law for the rest of the night, lasting who knew until when.

A jolting ride over cobblestones, banquettes, undone roads, bricks from the riot left in the middle of the street, while the whole hospital was filled with big moans, the smell of grease and camphor, wet wool and kerosene. They rolled him onto a flat cot, then put yet another man on top of him and jostled them both through a dark corridor. It scared him to death to be so in the dark, and try as he might to push the dead man off him, he could not. They carried him into a room, a place that was even more foul-smelling than the stench of bodies swelling in the sun.

It was later revealed that for research purposes, the men were denied drugs that could have saved them. Upon closer inspection, the leaf her 2-year-old was attempting to put in his mouth in the middle of the playground on that lovely fall day was in fact a used tampon. She snatched it from him and Purelled both of their hands before rushing them back to their apartment on Dean. She put him in the bath and scrubbed, and by the time her husband found them, they were both crying. Back then, leaning into her fears, describing them, had given her some comfort, but then they had Booker and suddenly the worst looked so much worse.

Would it make you feel better if we called the doctor? She shook her head. She comes by her hypochondria and iatrophobia honestly. When she was growing up in Alabama, people still talked about their grandfathers, fathers and brothers who had died of bad blood. That was the catchall term for syphilis, anemia and just about anything that ailed you. Instead, from to , researchers watched as the men developed lesions on their mouths and genitals.

Watched as their lymph nodes swelled, as their hair fell out. Watched as the disease moved into its final stage, leaving the men blind and demented, leaving them to die. All this when they knew a simple penicillin shot would cure them. All this because they wanted to see what would happen. For years afterward, her grandmother refused to go to the hospital. Like many women, she was nervous about giving birth.

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All the more so because she was doing it in New York City, where black women are 12 times as likely to die in childbirth as white women. And in that very statistic, the indelible impression of Tuskegee. The lingering, niggling feeling that she is never fully safe in a country where doctors and researchers had no qualms about watching dozens of black men die — slowly, brutally — simply because they could. Instead, she tries to turn off the little voice in her head, the one that wants to know: How exactly do you cure bad blood?

Yaa Gyasi was born in Ghana, raised in Huntsville, Ala. In , Isaac Woodard, a decorated year-old Army sergeant, was severely beaten by white police officers while taking a bus to meet his wife. He was still wearing his uniform. Accused of drinking with other soldiers on the bus, Woodard was arrested on a charge of drunk and disorderly conduct and denied medical assistance.

The attack left him permanently blind. Keep an eye on the restrooms. Straight peeps and trans peeps, black peeps and white peeps, we all have to go sometime. Isaac Woodard, in full uniform, boarded a bus in Georgia, heading home to his wife in Winnsboro, S. Ninety-eight miles away from the town in which I was raised, Sergeant Woodard asked the driver if there was time to use the restroom. This was near Augusta, S. Keep an eye on the history of black veterans in America.

On the thousands that were attacked, assaulted, killed. Because they were black. Because they were in uniform. Because they had the audacity to believe that leaving this country to fight for it would indeed make it a better place for them to return to. Keep an eye on a white Southern bus driver conceding to a black man.

American Audacity: Literary Essays North And South (Writers On Writing)

At a later stop, Sergeant Woodard was ordered off the bus by the local chief of police, Lynwood Shull, and another officer. Lynwood beat him blind. At trial, Shull admitted to blinding Woodard. After 30 minutes of deliberation, an all-white jury acquitted him. Keep an eye on the long, bleak legacy of police brutality against black men. It happened in America. It happened when many of us were living. It happened again and again. Four young girls were killed, and at least 14 people were injured. Years later, three of the four conspirators were brought to trial and convicted; the fourth died before he was tried.

I think. I hope. Hold still, Carole, or else this sash will never sit right! Now you do mine. Almost eleven. Oh, I got it: ethereal. A nightmare rocks me awake, and then fourteen words: Brevity. As in four girls; Sunday dresses: bone, ash, bone, ash, bone. The end. My darkening girl. Had they lived beyond that morning, all the other explosions. The sentences I rescue from that nightmare, I make a poem.

Four names,. Cynthia Wesley. Carole Robertson. Denise McNair. Revision is a struggle toward truth. For such terrible brevity — dear black girls! She is a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Camille T. Bow: Shutterstock. The organization, declared an enemy of the government by J. Anything that wants to be can be a panther. The black lion or ocelot, the black cheetah or cornrowed uptown girl sprinting up her neighborhood block just like one, in dogged pursuit of the future world.

In this frame, I imagine Huey and Bobby as boys in the sense of gender and genre alike, an unbroken line reading: my life is an armor for the other. Before black berets or free breakfasts, then, there is friendship. Before gun laws shifting in the wake of organized strength, leather jackets shimmering like gypsum in the Northern California twilight — or else magazine covers running the world over, compelling everyday ordinary people across the spectrum of context or color to sing who wants to be a panther ought to be he can be it — there is love. The panther is a virtual animal. The panther strikes only when it has been assailed.

The panther is a human vision, interminable refusal, our common call to adore ourselves as what we are and live and die on terms we fashioned from the earth like this. Our precious metal metonym. Our style of fire and stone. In , During the s, hip-hop evolved as an art form in the South Bronx.

Was it the loud distorted bass of a speaker rattling my windowpanes, beckoning me from my bedroom to a late-afternoon party in the schoolyard at P. Or maybe it was the exuberance of teenagers streaming down my block toward what promised to be the end-of-the-summer jam. Following the laughter, I found myself at one of those pop-up parties where everything felt improvised. The turntable was powered by jumper cables winding from the lamppost to the sound system, and the sparkling concrete was an unlikely dance floor.

The schoolyard was so packed with hot, sweaty black and brown bodies that I had to scale the chain-link fence just to get a glimpse of the D. Everybody was dancing with a furious urgency, driven on by the spontaneous bursts of inspiration that tumbled from the M. Plucking records from a stack of milk crates, the D. Scratching and mixing, his hands created syncopated rhythms that hit our ears like musical bombs. Said Hey! The M. His words, a provocation to be loud and unapologetically ourselves. How could we know that the braggadocio of this young black M.

Rumors were flying that the Crazy Homicides, a Puerto Rican street gang, were going to battle the Tomahawks.

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The danger added an edge of excitement, but the music brokered the peace — no one dared interrupt the reverie. Hard rocks, B-boys and B-girls in coordinated outfits wore the names of their crews proudly splashed across their T-shirts, the lettering rendered in thick graffiti markers or colorful iron-on decals. Jockeying for space, they formed spontaneous dance circles to show off their intricate moves.

Popping and rocking, their bodies contorted in impossible and beautiful shapes that at once paid tribute to their African ancestors and the rebellious desire to be seen and heard in a city that had overlooked the majesty of their presence. Then a dancer lost in the moment bumped the D. An argument ensued — tempers that had been simmering throughout the evening threatened to bubble over.

But the D. Just as the M. Someone used a wrench to turn on the fire hydrant, and we all ran through the water to cool down our overheated bodies — the ritual cleansing marking an official ending to the party, but not the movement. Lynn Nottage is a playwright and screenwriter. She has received two Pulitzer Prizes and a MacArthur fellowship, and she is currently an associate professor at Columbia School of the Arts. In , the Rev. My older sister, Rae, makes me write words every night before I go to bed.

Tonight, I want to write five million because of this speech by Jesse Jackson, a black man with big, beautiful eyeballs. Those words made Rae, Mama, Granny and our whole church so scared we had to leave. When we got in the van, Rae told me that Ronald Reagan came to Mississippi to offer white folks an all-you-can-eat buffet of black suffering. Dafinas, who worked on the house with us this summer, stayed to watch the speech, too.

All of us watched Jesse Jackson say the names of people I never heard of at school. He talked about Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner. He talked about lesbian and gay Americans having something called equal protection under the law. He talked about powerful coalitions made of rainbows.

When we walked out of the Barnett house, a house we were building, in a white neighborhood where none of us would ever be allowed to live, I watched Dafinas and Rae hug for eight seconds. On the way home, I asked Rae why she seemed so sad. And work. And love. I told Rae that I liked her more than apple Now and Laters.

But if believing in rainbows makes us love better, then rainbows can be just as real as work. And the land and the black and brown folks under those rainbows, we will one day be free.

American Audacity: Literary Essays North and South (Writers on Writing) American Audacity: Literary Essays North and South (Writers on Writing)
American Audacity: Literary Essays North and South (Writers on Writing) American Audacity: Literary Essays North and South (Writers on Writing)
American Audacity: Literary Essays North and South (Writers on Writing) American Audacity: Literary Essays North and South (Writers on Writing)
American Audacity: Literary Essays North and South (Writers on Writing) American Audacity: Literary Essays North and South (Writers on Writing)
American Audacity: Literary Essays North and South (Writers on Writing) American Audacity: Literary Essays North and South (Writers on Writing)
American Audacity: Literary Essays North and South (Writers on Writing) American Audacity: Literary Essays North and South (Writers on Writing)
American Audacity: Literary Essays North and South (Writers on Writing) American Audacity: Literary Essays North and South (Writers on Writing)

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