Posted in Events, tagged Arkansas, Arkansas Literary Festival, Great Migration, Isabel Wilkerson, Jazz, Jim Crow, John Coltrane, Little Rock, Miles Davis, Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, The Warmth of Other Suns, Thelonious Monk on April 14, 2011 |
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During the Arkansas Literary Festival, Isabel Wilkerson described her efforts to give high school students a sense of the oppressive, invasive restrictions enforcing the racial stratifications that drove many black Americans to seek freer, less confined lives by leaving the South and heading north and west in the Great Migration, the subject of her book The Warmth of Other Suns. Everyone has already heard about separate white and “colored” drinking fountains and whites-only restaurants, she said. For those too young to grasp the full extent of the racist caste system of the past, she sought examples to which those just learning to drive could relate. Some states forbade black motorists from passing white ones, regardless of how slow they might be moving. She sees youngsters’ bafflement over such ridiculous rules as a sign of progress.
Wilkerson provided other illustrations to drive home just how unrelenting – and absurd – Jim Crow legislation was. Speaking at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock, she cited a law that required court rooms to have separate bibles for black and white witnesses to place their hands on when swearing to tell the truth; she described a trial’s delay when one of those books could not be found.
To give her audience a sense of how different the world would be if the Great Migration had not occurred, Wilkerson asked listeners to imagine the state of music, and culture generally, if Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk had either never existed or never been able to become the great musicians they did. If those artists’ parents had not moved north, we might never have heard their music, she observed. It probably never would have been made. I’m not sure if this particular thought experiment would resonate with 21st-century teenagers, most of whom probably don’t listen to jazz, but it sure struck a chord in me.
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Posted in Events, Fighters & Writers, tagged Joe Louis, Boxing, Fighters & Writers, Middleweight champion, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou, Jermain Taylor, Little Rock, Arkansas Literary Festival, Kevin Brockmeier, Eliza Griswold, Charlaine Harris, David Sedaris, Isabel Wilkerson, Road trip, Arkansas on February 16, 2011 |
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In the early 1990s, before we were married, my wife and I took a two-month road trip, driving through twenty-two U.S. states and making a brief dip into Mexico. Since then, we’ve traveled together in many other areas of the United States (and elsewhere), but as of this writing there remain several states I’ve not yet visited. I’d like to see them all, and this spring I’ll move closer to that goal.
In April, I’ll read from Fighters & Writers at the Arkansas Literary Festival in Little Rock. The schedule for the event is slated for release in mid-March. The website – http://www.arkansasliteraryfestival.org/ – lists other 2011 participants, such as Kevin Brockmeier, Eliza Griswold, Charlaine Harris, David Sedaris and Isabel Wilkerson.
As if going somewhere I’ve never been and being a part of such an august assembly of authors weren’t enough, I also look forward to the festival because Arkansas’s literary and boxing heritage make it an exceptionally suitable setting for a Fighter & Writers reading. Though Maya Angelou was born elsewhere, she spent a good part of her childhood in the state, and in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings she recalls neighbors crowding into her uncle’s store in Stamps to listen to Joe Louis fights on the radio. Former middleweight champion Jermain Taylor was born in Little Rock and, I believe, still lives in the area. Perhaps I’ll meet fighters as well as writers when I’m in town.
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