I considered myself exercising patience and restraint when I resisted paying additional shipping fees to receive my order of Barack Obama’s bestselling book, A Promised Land, just one day after it came out on November 17, 2020. Having opted for the longer arrival time of approximately 2 weeks at the much cheaper cost of “Free Shipping,” I did not expect to receive the book until either the end of November or early December. So imagine my surprise and #gratitude when it showed up November 19, just 2 days after the release date.
There’s no question A Promised Land is one of the most significant, if not THE most significant, memoirs of the modern era. Because of Mr. Obama’s direct involvement with public events which have shaped much of America’s and the world’s history in this first half of the 21st century, it could not have been otherwise.
A Parallel Literary Journey
In the photograph above, I have placed A Promised Land between 2 of my own most recent books: Dreams of the Immortal City Savannah and Greeting Flannery O’Connor at the Back Door of My Mind. The reason is not because I megalomaniacally imagine myself to be as famous or influential as the 44th president of the United States of America, but to commemorate a parallel literary journey through some extraordinary shared history. It is also my way of having a little social distance holiday fun with the great man himself.
Upon his election to the Oval Office 2008, I wrote the first (“There upon A Bough of Hope and Audacity”) of several poems about Barack H. Obama’s historic achievement. During my time as a national cultural arts columnist for AXS Entertainment, I wrote a number of articles documenting responses to Mr. Obama’s first term as president (with now #PresidentElect Joe Biden as his vice president). The proliferation of what we now frequently refer to as disinformation and misinformation prompted me to coin the term guerrilla decontextualization for the extreme nihilism directed against him and his family. Many Americans were not certain he would still be here to write and publish this book. The fact that he did endure to tell his remarkable story in A Promised Land is something totally worthy of celebration and gratitude.
Harlem Renaissance Centennial 2020-2030
A shortage of compelling topics to address via books, blog essays, podcasts, fine art, photography, electronic gaming, and other creative media has not been among the traumatizing events unleashed upon humanity in the year 2020. Painful history-altering occurrences have, however, included the following: a very stubborn and deadly COVID-19 pandemic, the resulting economic crisis, further evidence of climate change in the form of murderous fires in California, riots in cities across America in response to #2ManyLivesGone2Soon, and political unease in the face of an uncertain future.
Incorporating reports on important public happenings into ongoing projects has long been among the better practices at Bright Skylark Literary Productions. It goes back at least as far to the days of my former AXS National African-American Cultural Arts column when I created art graphics for my news stories. Articles sometimes included original poetry to enhance editorial impact. Where the year 2020 is concerned, the following steps have been taken:
Although taking the above steps did not erase the different social, political, and environmental ills currently dogging the world, I like to think they contributed to the process of helping move things in a better healthier direction.
Receiving feedback about content published on a cultural arts website like Bright Skylark Literary Productions is always a good thing so I appreciate visitors who have expressed disappointment over the lack of posts usually presented every February in celebration of Black History Month (officially ordained by the U.S. Government as African-American History Month). Sometimes we find ourselves too engaged in living the unfolding history of the present moment to address the exemplary achievements of the past. At least that’s how it has been with me lately.
As indicated in the previous post I am currently scheduled to give a lecture at the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home in May. Presenting a lecture on such an iconic author, even when preparing to publish a book in conjunction with the same, is not something which can be done (not by me anyway) haphazardly. It has required extensive focus and tapping a few reserves of stored energy. Which is why I’m grateful that while I was concentrating on O’Connor’s work, folks at the WW Law Community Center Branch Library in Savannah, Georgia, were featuring a display of my book Dreams of the Immortal City Savannah along with a poster for it in honor of Black History Month. An administrator asked if I would be willing to take a few photos at the library. I agreed.
A Literary Photo-Op
To accomplish our shared mission, I went to the library (where I have conducted research many times) and took with me about a dozen books which I had either written, co-written, edited, or contributed to, plus just as many literary magazines containing writings by me. I had never assembled my various publications for photographing so was kind of stunned by the variety and quantity, from the slender first paperback edition of I Made My Boy Out of Poetry and early volumes of the Savannah Literary Journal, to shiny hardback copies of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance, ELEMENTAL The Power of Illuminated Love, and the Civil War Savannah Book Series. Included in the creative mix was a 1992 edition of the African American Review and a more recent poster rendition of the book cover for Dreams of the Immortal City Savannah.
Even more amazing was realizing copies of ESSENCE Magazine and numerous other publications––not to mention online articles, essays, and blog posts––were not included in the display. If ever I felt tempted to criticize myself for not having done more (thus far) as an author, there before me was considerable evidence of a substantial effort. So having put it all together, the librarians took a number of photos, some of them showing me with the books and some of the books by themselves. The lighting was not the best for picture-taking but it turned out to be a good way to continue a very special Bright Skylark Black History Month tradition.
© Harlem Renaissance Centennial 2020
Journalist Patricia C. Stumb, in a 1999 Connect Savannah news magazine story titled “Peace, love & blessings…,” wrote of how I “found worldly consciousness in the heart of [my] hometown.” Her observation was surprisingly precise because during that period while living in Savannah, Georgia, I had indeed become more aware of my hometown on the global scale of things. I had also become more cognizant of myself as an author whose influences and inspirations tended often to derive from regions far beyond it.
However, expanded consciousness or not, there was no such thing as overlooking the profound thematic shift that occurred in the city’s history when Floyd Adams became its first African-American mayor in 1996. That event prompted the composition of these lines:
By way of an African wind
The thematic transition grew even more powerful in 2003 with the election of Otis Johnson as mayor of the city and in 2011 when Edna Branch Jackson won the office. Up until this point, too much of the story of African Americans in Savannah had been one of a people continuously oppressed and suppressed by history itself. Different industries (such as film) and individuals benefited economically from that history but Blacks native to the city have rarely done so to any significant degree.
The Re-Historicization of a Narrative
The elections of Adams, Johnson, and Jackson created a thematic evolution that has helped the city prepare for even more dramatic and culturally inclusive demographic shifts already in progress. Call it the re-historicization of a narrative that dates back at least to late 1800s Reconstruction.
It was then that the privileges of freedom bestowed upon African-Americans certain political and social responsibilities pertaining to both themselves and their lighter-hued brothers and sisters. They learned what all before and since then have had to learn: democracy is not simply a license to indulge individual whims and proclivities. It is also holding oneself accountable to some reasonable degree for the conditions of peace and chaos that impact the lives of those who inhabit one’s beloved extended community.
The years had been a long time coming before citizens of Savannah could begin to envision new sociopolitical dynamics that involved something other than oppression in its various nefarious forms. Leadership has never been an exact science but it has always found itself particularly challenged when tasked with elevating one segment of a society onto a level more politically, socially, and economically equitable with another.
However, the 2015 bid for power and history in Savannah is about more than practicing leadership to balance weighted scales. It is about giving shape to an historical context capable of sustaining progress on multiple fronts. It is about negotiating changes which some may find difficult to accept but which in fact cannot be avoided. Fortunately, city residents can choose between two excellent candidates for the tasks at hand: contender Eddie DeLoach and incumbent Mayor Jackson. A run-off election between the two is slated for December 1, 2015.
Video Notes on Past and Future Growth
Contemporary award-winning author of classically-styled works in history, poetry, creative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and journalism.