In a warm lecture hall, University of Kentucky professor Adam Banks bounced and spoke with the cool cadence of a spoken-word poet, dropping gems on technology, funk and black freedom.
Born and raised in Cleveland, Banks returned to the city to argue that Stevie Wonder’s 1972 album, “Talking Book,” is a master key to black rhetoric, literacy, innovation and contemporary engagements with technology. As he stood on the campus of Case Western Reserve University, blocks from the John Hay High School he attended as a teen, Banks seemed keenly aware of geography and beginnings as he performed his presentation: “Talking Back to the Book: Critical Digital Literacies in African American Rhetorical Traditions.”
He called Wonder’s work “a funk sermon,” an infusion of new technologies, innovation and cultural pride. Funk music, he insisted, gives African Americans a framework for assessing our identities. “The boldness, the wildness, the stank of funk forces us to remember the full range of who we be, and often, forces the rest of the society to confront more of that range, that rage, that joy, that pain, that pleasure of who we be.”
Bridging the gap between the civil rights era and the black power era, “Talking Book” came out at a time when “black communities all over the country were refiguring their relationship with the United States,” Banks said.
Linking Wonder and other masters of funk to today’s rhetorical spaces, Banks described Facebook and Instagram as places where creativity and free dialogue can flourish, as it did among musicians in a studio. “That’s an example of a free space,” he observed. “It can’t be policed.”
Such places contrast with the “incessant testing, punitive mind-set and folk funding the de-funding of public education” that bedevil American schools today. And those free spaces, existing outside traditional academic environments, can be created and expanded almost anywhere. For years, Banks has hosted “community cyphers” in bars and church basements, giving lessons on blogging and social media so participants could develop a voice on their own terms. Whether using Twitter to support the #BlackLivesMatter movement or simply retweeting humorous memes, these acts link to black oral traditions such as hush harbors and “signifying.”
“There’s a relationship between innovation and tradition,” Banks insisted. “Just because there’s a lot of wild stuff happening right now, doesn’t mean it just grew. It comes from somewhere….that’s a wonderful assurance. Even if I don’t understand some things that are happening, that’s always a way in.”
As the George Zimmerman trial draws to a close, the simmer of daily conversation on social media has heated to a boil. And comments are growing sharper in anticipation of a verdict in a case that began the night of Feburary 26, 2012, when an unarmed Trayvon Martin was fatally shot by Zimmerman, who is claiming self-defense.
Now, a simple way to indicate support of Trayvon Martin’s family is spreading across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles. Instead of the typical signature photos of happy, smiling individuals, people are switching their profile pictures to a simple black square.
The “Justice For Trayvon Martin” Facebook Page turned its profile photo black Thursday evening. “We are blacking out our profile photos in a showing of love, unification and solidarity in support of Trayvon Benjamin Martin,” the page designer wrote. With more than 200,000 fans on the page, the notion spread quickly.
I asked one woman why she changed her picture. “As the mother of a black male…it is the least I can do to show my support to Trayvon’s family,” she responded. “Supporting the blackout might not change a thing, but on this day in history, it will show that I stood up in support of a mother who no longer has her son.”
Isabel Wilkerson posted the above photo and the following message on her Facebook page – seems she has a superfan out there!
Deepest gratitude at this special time to every person who has embraced this book and the inspiring message of the Great Migration. Filled with joy for whoever created what is shown in this picture: an edible edition of The Warmth of Other Suns created with love and care by an anonymous fan. This greeted me in my room at the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco, where I was to speak in the City Arts and Lectures series.
Neither the event organizers nor the hotel said they knew how it got there or who had gone to such trouble to create or commission it. However it got there, this was the work of a professional: a 4×6 piece of white chocolate covered with a filmed copy of the book’s cover. Thank you to whoever created this and delivered it to me. There are angels out there! Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!
Everything today is social. From watching the Emmys, All this social media has given rise to Twitter chats (the 2012 version of the 90s chat rooms. In a Twitter chat, different users send messages to the group using a previously agreed-upon phrase preceded by a hashtag (for example, #reading). By using that hashtag, it creates a link to all the messages sent by those members.(Here’s a more thorough explanation here).
If you’ve got a lot to say about books and literature in general, give an online chat a try. You’ll be able to meet other people with the same taste in books as you and will learn more about your favorite authors. If you’re shy about joining in the conversation, it’s perfectly fine to simply sit back and listen to what other people are saying until you are more comfortable.
If this sounds interesting to you, here are a few online chats for book lovers. If you’re on Twitter, join in – maybe you’ll find some recommendations and discover your new favorite book. If you do not have a Twitter account, you can sign up for one here.
#Litchat – Brings readers and writers together for fun and fast 1-hour Twitter chats, M-W-F, 4 pm EST.
#FridayReads – Each Friday, readers all over Twitter share what’s on their nightstand.
#poetry – Poetry lovers meet up for a discussion on their favorite poets and poems at 8 p.m. CST on Thursdays.
#BlackLitChat – A monthly chat about works from multicultural authors (open to everyone) Sundays at 9 p.m. EST
The whole world is social networking like crazy and so are we! We enjoy having this space here to talk about matters in the literary world, but we also like to chat with you on a more day-to-day basis.
Join us on Facebook where we have:
Whatcha Reading Wednesday, where we share what books are on our newsstand that week
News and events of your (and our) favorite authors
Rare and behind-the-scenes photos from your favorite authors
Being able to communicate directly with your favorite writers and authors is probably one of the best uses of Twitter. Here, we’ve rounded up some Anisfield-Wolf winners you can find tweeting and answering questions from their readers. Click on the tweets to see their full profiles.
A recent New York Times article examines the relationship between readers and authors in the social media landscape. Previously, the divide was rather clear: authors write the books and readers gobble them up. There wasn’t much mingling besides the occasional book signing or speaking engagement.
But now with the social atmosphere cultivated by Web 2.0 tools like Facebook and Twitter, readers can interact with their favorite authors like never before, and authors can have a more direct involvement in the marketing of their books. Moreover, authors can get feedback that is more personal than an Amazon.com review or an anonymous post on a message board.
When they use social media, authors have as many personae to choose from as they do in their other writings. Some strike poses that effectively increase the distance between them and their readers, foiling voyeurs. Gary Shteyngart (4,187 followers), whose first tweet was posted on Dec. 1, is charming yet enigmatic (“grandma always said to me, ‘boytchik, do not start a meth lab.’ but i guess i had to learn the hard way”), and often writes in the voice of his dog (“woof!”). When I asked if he enjoys interacting with readers on Twitter, Shteyngart responded: “There are so many clever people out there. I love each one of them. Many times I laugh with them.” Humor is common and welcome in authorial tweets. One of Twitter’s funniest is Mat Johnson (39,712 followers), who told me he consciously becomes “Mat Johnson, author and humorist,” on Twitter. (“Teenagers hanging out at a playground, laughing to each other at how ironic they’re being. I want that made illegal.”)