Commemorating Black History Month at Red Hen Press!

Happy Black History Month from Red Hen Press! We want to celebrate and amplify the work of Black authors. We commit ourselves to uplifting Black voices, an ongoing process that is not limited to a singular month.

Our plan is to feature our Black authors’ responses to questions about the role of literature in the context of Black history, as well as share their many literary achievements through book excerpts and other author features. We will also highlight Black-owned, indie bookstores and businesses throughout this month!

Scroll down to learn more!

The History and Future of Black Literature: A Black History Month Event, 2/24/21

It’s been a pleasure highlighting these Black voices and businesses this month, and we look forward to continuing to do so every month moving forward! Don’t forget to join us for this incredible event!

Tune in for a Black History Month event featuring Red Hen authors with forthcoming books, Khalisa Rae and Dexter L. Booth, at 3:00 pm PT, February 25th! You can access the event here!

This reading and conversation focuses on the history and future of Black literature, especially in the context of the effect Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman is having on poetry and visibility in this country. This event will highlight our partnership with the Peauxdunque Writer’s Alliance and our new Ann Petry Award, which awards book publication, a $3000 award, and a four-week residency at The Community Library’s Ernest and Mary Hemingway House in Ketchum, Idaho for a Black prose writer.

You can also watch the reading and conversation below!

Excerpt- Camille Dungy, author of WHAT TO EAT, WHAT TO DRINK, AND WHAT TO LEAVE FOR POISON, 2/22/2021

What to Eat, and What to Drink, and What to Leave for Poison

I.
Only now, in spring, can the place be named:
tulip poplar, daffodil, crab apple,
dogwood, budding pink-green, white-green, yellow
on my knowing. All winter I was lost.
Fall, I found myself here, with no texture
my fingers know. Then, worse, the white longing
that downed us deep three months. No flower heat.
That was winter. But now, in spring, the buds
flock our trees. Ten million exquisite buds,
tiny and loud, flaring their petalled wings,
bellowing from ashen branches vibrant
keys, the chords of spring’s triumph: fisted heart,
dogwood; grail, poplar; wine spray, crab apple.
The song is drink, is color. Come. Now. Taste.

Douglas Manuel, author of TESTIFY, 2/17/2021

How has BLM affected the literary / publishing communities this past year? Have you seen significant changes, and if not, what is there still left to be done?

I think BLM has affected literary/publishing communities a great deal. Because of the attention the movement has garnered, more and more people are learning the nomenclature of the movement, publishing voices from more diverse communities, and attempting to be more equitably minded when it comes to editors, publishers, readers, marketing, and almost all factors in publishing. Of course, we still have so very much work to do, but I can feel the thawing of some of the problematic workings and machinations that were plaguing the literary and publishing world when it comes to the color line.  

Are there any new / upcoming authors whose work you are following?

Like some many others, I’ve found myself really enraptured with Tommye Blount’s Fantasia for the Man in Blue.  “Arcane Torso on Grindr” blows my mind every time I revisit it, and I have been teaching it often. I love teaching that poem alongside Rilke’s “Archaic Torso of Apollo” and Justin Phillip Reed’s “I Have Wasted My Life.” Intertextuality say what! So dope!

Who is one role model that you admire?

My older cousin, Derek, has always been a real inspiration to me. He’s part best homie, part big brother, and part father figure. He’s always been someone who has shown me how to be a strong and responsible Black man.

Excerpt – ABRACADABRA, SUNSHINE, Dexter L. Booth, 2/11/2021

Catch a sneak peek of ABRACADABRA, SUNSHINE, out June, 1st, 2021:

How We Make Art

I spent the morning painting
cardboard trees. Jagged spears
that did not lay well
under the mouth of scissors.

I mangled the beer box

until there was only a forest of rockets
and bombs displaying alcohol
labels under thin films of acrylic.

The horizon is sharp and angled
now. I’ve planted corrugated pine in the living room.

At sunset they look like searchlight cones,
mini drag beams from an army of UFO abductions,
tepees made of flayed alien skin, anything

but your eyes

                returning to point and say what you see is
growing dull now that you’ve been
probed and abandoned
            in the dark woodlands of memory.

Abracadabra, Sunshine

Imagine
the children who are little and far enough away
they measure their lives by the gallons
of dirty water they bring home,
checking their height yearly
against the hulls of abandoned tanks
to understand that

even the native body is foreign,
even the peaceful mind at war.

I am attempting
to form an argument—

Cafe con Libros – Brooklyn, NY 2/10/2021

Photo source: https://www.pw.org/reading_venues/cafe_con_libros

This week we are featuring Cafe con Libros, the ideal place to grab a book AND a cup of coffee! In addition to offering a wide selection of books, Cafe con Libros provides an uplifting, intersectional feminist space for the community.

You can order a book from them today and support a bookstore run by womxn of color!

Donna Hemans, author of TEA BY THE SEA, 2/8/2021

Is there anything specific you do to celebrate this month?

Black history and culture are so ingrained in who I am that I don’t relegate my celebration to a single month. I live Black History Month every day, and so I don’t do anything special or significant—I carry on as I do every other day of the year. 

What is one book about Black history or that incorporates Black history that you think everyone should read?

There are so many, and on any given day my answer will be different. But I’m reading Maaza Mengiste’s The Shadow King now, and I highly recommend it for the beauty of the language, the way it incorporates the 1935 invasion of Ethiopia, portrays an Ethiopian girl in the midst of a war and the role women played in the war. And it reminds us of the lingering effect of imperialism and colonialism on black history and culture. 

To what extent do you consider writing as a social practice that can enact tangible change?

Following the racial justice protests last summer, sales of books that probed related issues skyrocketed, and in many pockets across America people began looking more closely at steps they can take to make meaningful change. We’re still a long way away from seeing all of those tangible, meaningful changes—especially in the corporate world—but writing and stories are an important part of that process. 

Excerpt – GHOST IN A BLACK GIRL’S THROAT, Khalisa Rae 2/4/2021

Catch a sneak-peak of GHOST IN A BLACKGIRL’S THROAT, out April 13th, 2021:

Mahalia Sings to Freedom

“still a reason to shoot

then investigate, still
a reason to attach false
crimes to my name. Always
a barely human body. 

How I arrived here
will be a mystery”

Ghost in a Black Girl’s Throat

“You will be
the bended knee in their American
Dream, and they will stitch your mouth

the color of patriarchy, call it black girl magic when you rip
the seams. Southern Belle is just another way to say:
stayed in her place on the right side of the pedestal.” 

Old Capitol Books – Monterey, CA 2/3/2021

Photo source: https://www.oldmonterey.org/news/2020/04/save-old-capitol-books

Happy Black History Month! Red Hen is featuring Black-owned indie bookstores throughout this month to celebrate! First up, Old Capitol Books in Monterey, California!

Want to learn more about Black history? We bet you can find plenty of resources at Old Capitol Books. They have the largest selection of books in these areas: feminism, LGBTQ+ topics, ethnic studies, and Black history! The shop also serves as a community space, hosting art and literature related events.

Order a book care package from them today, and support a Black-owned business while learning about important topics! it’s a win-win!

Allison Joseph, author of CONFESSIONS OF A BAREFACED WOMAN and LEXICON, 2/1/2021

How has BLM affected the literary / publishing communities this past year? Have you seen significant changes, and if not, what is there still left to be done?

How has BLM affected the literary community? I’m not really sure, because I think the question has it backward. There’s always been black and brown people writing poetry, telling stories, making songs. Black Lives Matter existed as a philosophy long before the “BLM movement” as we know it today. One only need look to writers such as Claude McKay, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Etheridge Knight, and so many others to know that writers have always felt that Black Lives Matter.  As for significant changes, I’m not sure what you mean. Institutional change takes decades and BLM has only been in force a few short years. 

Are there any new / upcoming authors whose work you are following?

As for emerging black writers, I love the work of Tiana Clark. There’s just so much beauty and honesty in her poetry. As for established poets, the success of Honoree Fanonne Jeffers thrills me. Natasha Trethewey continues to be great. 

Who is one role model that you admire?

I have long admired Gwendolyn Brooks, Nina Simone, Anna Deveare Smith, and a slew of music figures from the blues and folk traditions: Bessie Smith, Odetta, Joan Armatrading, etc. A lot of black women artists persist in making beauty in a world that scarcely values them. I draw courage and inspiration from such figures.

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