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Ronald L. Fair: Many Thousand Gone: An American Fable (Library of America, 2023 - originally published by Harcourt, Brace & World, 1965)

No more auction-block for me,/ No more, no more;/ No more auction-block for me,/ Many thousand gone” – from the Negro Spiritual, quoted in the epigraph to Ronald L. Fair’s ‘American Fable’  

In his Introduction to Library of America’s reprint of Many Thousand Gone, praised by The New York Times as “one of the most beautifully written books” of the 1960s, W. Ralph Eubanks, currently at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, writes:

“What if Black people in an isolated corner of Mississippi were removed from the influence of three wars (the Civil War, WWI and II), migration, and modern broadcasting? What if slavery had not ended there in 1865 but persisted for another one hundred years into the 1960s? That premise stands as the basis of the nightmarish tale Ronald L. Fair weaves together in the pages of his first novel.”

Lenard D. Moore: Long Rain (Wet Cement Press, 2021)

If you are familiar with the following publishers: Carlton Press, North Carolina Haiku Society, St. Andrew College Press, Les Hombres Press, Red Moon Press, WorldTech Press, Mountains and Rivers Press (and Blair), Wet Cement Press, and Cuttlefish Books –, then you are likely to be the owner of all nine books and chapbooks of poetry published between 1982 and 2023 by North Carolinian Lenard D. Moore.

Writing and experimenting with many literary genres, Moore (b. 1958) is probably best known for his work with (African) American versions of traditional Japanese forms, like haiku and tanka. And this year’s publication of A Million Shadows at Noon (Cuttlefish Books, 2023) – a haiku sequence commemorating the historic, if somewhat controversial, Million Man March of African American men on October 16, 1995, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. – marks 41 years of effort.

Mona Lisa Saloy: Black Creole Chronicles (University of New Orleans Press, 2023)

What is all this about Mona Lisa and Nat King Cole? At least part of the answer can be found in the poem Nat King Cole Babies and Black Mona Lisas, in what we could call the first volume of Mona Lisa Saloy’s ongoing chronicles of Black Creole culture in New Orleans, Louisiana: Red Beans and Ricely Yours (Truman State University Press, 2005).

Nat King Cole (1919-1965) from 1956 to 1957 hosted NBC, the National Broadcasting Company’s The Nat King Cole Show, the first nationally broadcast television show hosted by an African American. It was cancelled after just one season for lack of sponsors, few sponsors willing to be associated with a Black entertainer. (“Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark” – Nat King Cole).

Short lived. But long enough for a number of ‘Black Mona Lisas’ to be born to parents listening to jazz pianist-turned-singer Nat King Cole’s version of the 1950 #1 hit on the pop-charts. And Saloy remembers “Nat King Cole singing to me,” thinking Mona Lisa was his lover, like Sweet Lorraine.

"What Beauty We Now Have" ... ; or, Taking a look at the late Carolyn Marie Rodgers and her Eden Press poetry

Poetry, the Chicago-based magazine founded by poet and critic Harriet Monroe in 1912, in Volume 221, Number 1, October 2022, features a 34-page special section: “What Beauty We Now Have,” on the poetry of the late Chicago poet Carolyn Marie Rodgers (1940-2010) published by her own imprint, Eden Press, on what section editor Andrew Peart calls “a largely unseen body of work.”

But why did Carolyn M. Rodgers choose to self-publish her poetry? After all, publishing regularly from the late 1960s in John H. Johnson’s Negro Digest/Black World, edited by Hoyt W. Fuller, she quickly became a rising star in the Black Arts Movement, a co-founder in 1967 of Don L. Lee/Haki R. Madhubuti’s Third World Press (now in its 56th year), the publisher of her first two volumes of poetry, Paper Soul (1968) and Songs of a Black Bird (1969), a founding member of Chicago’s OBAC/Organization of Black American Culture’s Writers’ Workshop, as Andrew Peart writes, and the author of one of BAM’s most influential critical essays, Black Poetry – Where It’s At (1969).

"We Can't Breathe" ... ; or, Remembering Ronald Fair

In the essay Remembering Ronald Fair, published in Common Reader, 29 September 2020, author Cecil Brown (the bestselling novel The Life and Loves of a Jiveass Nigger (1969) and Stagolee Shot Billy (2003), about the legendary ‘badman’) remembers encounters with Ronald L. Fair and argues that "the Black expatriate’s novels, Hog Butcher and We Can’t Breathe, are more timely than ever.”

He quotes Chicago critic and editor Richard Guzman’s reaction on his website to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on 25 May 2020: “Another ‘I-Can’t-Breathe’ incident.” A phrase Richard Guzman borrows from the title of Ronald L. Fair’s 1972 novel We Can’t Breathe, Fair’s most autobiographical, rich with details about the lives of transplanted Black southerners (like Fair’s parents) and that of their children who grew up in Chicago during WW II and after.

Much Ado About a Name; or, Revisiting Carter G. Woodson's The Mis-education of the Negro

In Much Ado About a Name, his Appendix to the 1933 edition of The Mis-education of the Negro, historian and polemicist Carter G. Woodson ridicules a “highly educated” Negro much concerned as to what the race should be called: Africans, Negroes, colored people, or what?

“If others will agree to call Negroes Nordics, he thinks, he will reach the desired end (solving the race problem) by taking a short cut … Many of this class suffer mentally because of the frequent use of “offensive expressions” in addressing Negroes. When dealing with them, then, one has to be very careful. For this reason our friends in other races have to seek guidance in approaching us.”