“While I Breathe, I Hope”

Dum Spiro Spero is the motto of South Carolina. It is something that I have thought about a lot growing up there. I thought about what breath and hope mean and how it is possible to stand an eternity being ever watchful for something better over the horizon. I have had hope for a long time that my state, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, would be better– more equal, more racially aware, more financially prosperous, more like it looks on the outside. I love my home but it often seemed antagonistic towards me–it abused me. Even walking the streets of beautiful Charleston, I could not help but remember that most of the slaves who entered the U.S. came through this place. I understand what would have made Denmark Vesey want to kill and burn Charleston down to the ground. For many, it is a small thing–removing the confederate flag from the state house grounds, but for me it has reignited hope–hope that we will finally be free and feel that this land is ours. Nikky Finney, also a native daughter, captures my feelings aptly in her poem “A New Day Dawns”:

 It is the pearl blue peep of day. All night the Palmetto sky was seized with the aurora and alchemy of the remarkable. A blazing canopy of newly minted light fluttered in while we slept. We are not free to go on as if nothing happened yesterday, not free to cheer as if all our prayers have finally been answered today. We are free, only, to search the yonder of each other’s faces, as we pass by, tip our hat, hold a door ajar, asking silently who are we now? Blood spilled in battle is two-headed: horror and sweet revelation. Let us put the cannons of our eyes away forever. Our one and only Civil War is done. Let us tilt, rotate, strut on. If we, the living, do not give our future the same honor as the sacred dead – of then and now – we lose everything. The gardenia air feels lighter on this new day, guided now by iridescent fireflies, those atom-like creatures of our hot summer nights, now begging us to team up and search with them for that which brightens every darkness. It will be just us again, alone, beneath the swirling indigo sky of South Carolina, working on the answer to our great day’s question: Who are we now? What new human cosmos can be made of this tempest of tears, this upland of inconsolable jubilation? In all our lifetimes, finally, this towering undulating moment is here.

Nikky Finney

The Gullah / Geeche Experience

Writing as Community Action E-book: Re-Imagining Black Masculinity, Ending Sexual Violence

Valerie June’s “Workin Woman Blues.” Normally I don’t listen to music when I write but this song has been haunting me as I work on my novella “Work.” Valerie Jane embraces her southerness and blackness here for a truly unique sound. Love it!

It betrays a poverty of ambition if all you think about is what goods you can buy instead of what good you can do.” —Barack Obama, Morehouse Commencement 2013

Writing becomes your temple and you just move in and make sure everything flows and the right divinites are in effect. —Paul D. Miller, Rhythm Science

Reading Home

On Twitter, I had this exchange:

@ProfClaiborne: “@fallen7627: “They were so beautiful. And they stood like men.”– Toni Morrison (Home, 2012),”/ I love that line! Home is a beautiful novel

And Home is a beautiful novel. As I think about how to describe it, I find it really difficult except to say that this book is magic, it must be magic because even months after reading it I find that I cannot stop thinking about it and I find that I still cannot put into words what this book means to me. I still feel it. In some deep part of me this book lives, the same way that Ralph Ellison’s book stayed with me long after I read the lines, “I am an invisible man.”

To say that I am a fan of Toni Morrison is to put it mildly. I have written and teach classes on Morrison. I have an appreciation of the complexity of Morrison’s novels and I think that her novels have been necessary in the way that we understand what it means to have an African American identity in the 20th and 21st Century.

This book is necessary. I think that people do this novel/novella a disservice in comparing it to other novels by Morrison. She writes in many genres, including plays, children books, and operas.

Home is its own thing–part poem, part historical fiction, part essay on spirituality and family dynamics. Don’t read it as if it supposed to be Song of Solomon, which is an epic novel. Read it as what it is in this time and place. There is so much value in this work that I think can only be seen in reading and re-reading.

Next semester I will teach this work again and I am sure I will love this novel in new and different ways. Offer yourself the same opportunity.


A video by the Very Smart Brothers about what distinguishes bougie black girls from other black women.

I’ve Never Seen Porgy and Bess

Porgy and Bess Poster

I’ve never seen Porgy and Bess. Of course, there is an element of racism that never really made me think that it was possible  to enjoy this opera/play without guilt.  However, curiously I decided to name my blog  based on lyrics from the iconic tune “Summertime.” One thing that I am clear of, having not seen the film, play, or opera however is that there is nothing easy about living in the 1920s, being both poor and black, and being in Charleston, SC. I am from South Carolina and I love my home state. However, I am not immune to the sheer awfulness of it too. How African descended people have always been so much of this place but excluded and punished for their presence at the same time. Charleston is a beautiful city, one of my favorite travel destinations– along with Paris and San Francisco. It is a city that shows that it is equal parts provincial and cosmopolitan–grand enough for a fashion week, but awful enough to still have largely segregated black and white populace, where so many families live in abject poverty blocks from million dollar homes. So this blog is going to be an homage to my home and also a recognition that being black and from South Carolina is not all about singing and dancing. It is not okay if “I’ve got plenty of nothing.” I want to read the novel Porgy and maybe even see the movie, but I just know that when black people who are also Southern are presented in movies, usually it is so problematic that I will end up writing a dissertation-like diatribe only on the problems of black Southerness in film. Beasts of a Southern Wild was so bad that I literally had to consider whether the people who were raving about it saw the same movie.

I want this blog to be about the writing life and the subject matter that I am drawn to write about. For some reason, in the 10 years that I have tried to write about the Gullah/Geeche heritage it has been so hard. In some ways I think that I need to counter all the awfulness that has already been produced. It is difficult. Instead of just trying to write in a vacuum, I will start with what is out there and hope that is enough. So daily blogging is the challenge. We will se what emerges.

The story that you don’t know is more powerful than the one you do. All I have is a picture of when and where someone lived and died. The rest, if there is a rest, is hearsay. The gaps in the history –unsearchable by google.

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