Lost to History – Unfamiliar Faces: Francis E.W. Harper

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Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Richard Wright, and Zora Neale Hurston are among many peoples list of powerful writer influences. Throw in Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Octavia Butler, and Langston Hughes and you have a dream team of the world’s most quoted, most copied, and most talked about black writer contributors of all time. A name you won’t hear is Francis Ellen Watkins Harper, poet, author, and abolitionist.

“My home is where eternal snow Round threat’ning craters sleep, Where streamlets murmur soft and low And playful cascades leap. Tis where glad scenes shall meet My weary, longing eye; Where rocks and Alpine forests greet The bright cerulean sky.” – Forest Leaves, Yearnings for Home by Frances E.W. Harper

Frances was a writer and poet born free to free parents in Baltimore and attended a school for blacks that was ran by her Uncle. Frances wrote poems and went on to publish her first collection in 1845, Forest Leaves. Years later, Frances taught domestic duties at Union Seminary in Ohio which was run by John Brown, the devout abolitionist who held strong opposing views of slavery. Brown, a white man, was a conductor of The Underground Railroad and The League of Gileadites, an organization established to help runaway slaves escape to Canada. As a result, naturally Frances got involved in the abolitionist movement and The Underground Railroad becoming a lecturer who went on tours with such men as Frederick Douglas.

In 1854, Frances published Poems of Miscellaneous Subjects, which featured one of her most famous works, “Bury Me in a Free Land”, and in 1859 made literary history with “Two Offers” which made her the first African-American female writer to publish a short story.

Harper died of heart failure on February 22, 1911, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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Phillis Wheatley

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Alrighty then, let’s get started. Of course, those who know me, even slightly, know that I’m a “365 day a year black history frantic”, but I love black history month because its the time of year where black people’s minds are the most open and willing to be in tuned with back history and that, despite how small it may seem, is worth investing in. Yes, I am saying that you (black people) should invest in your people’s minds. If ever you can capture a moment where they are most in tuned, you should do so. Yayy.

So, without further ado, let’s get started.

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First up is Phillis Wheatley, first (recognized) black writer. AND (yes and) she was a poet. So, I don’t know, that’s like extra credit or something write? ( I can spell right, I just didn’t on purpose…duh). OK, my humor is not funny, which is why I’m not a comedian…on to Wheatley…

The First African American Writer

The first African American Writer is a statement I say lightly. I say it lightly because we do not know if she was the first. She is only recorded as the first because her work was published and that makes it legitimate in this society. So, as the first recorded black woman writer, Phillis was the first to make a name for herself while still under the bondage of slavery. Brought from Africa as a child and sold to a Boston merchant, Wheatley spoke no English initially (as didn’t many of her people) but by the time she was sixteen, under the tutorship of her owners, had mastered the language. Her interest in literature led her to write and publish Poems on Various Subjects in 1773.

I Promise You a Woman

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I promise you
a woman.
You see I know what kind of girls you’re used to
I know that
little black girls can’t appreciate you like I can
see
I know that
those little girls you’re used to
doesn’t know what you’ve been through cause
kindergarten fingers on small hands don’t know how to hold you
like I do
see
she pushes buttons on your heart like that
cause she’s not hip to the fact that a man
can lose focus too
but see she’s just a little girl so
she plays catch with your emotions
cause she feels that if she hits you hard enough
you’ll start coughing up tokens for her to play games with
see
I know that your body to these little girls is merely a myth
and every trip to your mouth is a quiz enveloped in living water
that she ain’t learned how to swim in yet
so she apologizes for getting lost in your kiss
and every vibration of your body simply doesn’t make sense to her
and every word of truth coming from your lips
is like a puzzle that she ain’t figured out yet
you see she’s insecure because what she’s selling has failed
and its cause the way you love to her is reminiscent of fairy tales
see
they mistake my trust for you as some kind of façade
don’t know what a real man is so they think you’re a God
to me
mistaking the heavenly embrace of your arms for wings
cause I told ‘em I’m willing to fly away with you
mistakenly discerning that you grant me wishes like milky ways & stars cause
they see me praying for you
but that’s because I’m not a little girl
so wishing upon stars we don’t have to
but your mind they can’t dissect
and your ways are hidden from them like the life of insects so
she dismisses you as too perfect & she ain’t ready for all that yet
you see I know
what kind of girls you’re used to
but what I promise you
is a woman

I promise you support sweeter than any tea you could fathom
you see I promise you words of love
not temper tantrums
I know what kind of girls you’re used to
so I promise to appreciate every inch of you
Because what I promise you
is a woman
I promise to be strong so when it comes to bearing my burdens
sweetie you don’t have to
because I promise to help and not hinder you
I promise to cry tears on your shoulders
so I can properly communicate with you
And I promise to bear soldiers and little soliderettes for you
And I promise that temptation won’t attempt to temp you
cause aint no way little girls gonna love you the way that I do
you see I promise
not to walk in your shoes
cause I’m woman enough to know that you’re the head of me
but like the neck I support you
I promise not to distrust you like they do but we gonna talk about it
and when were done
I’m gonna feed you
cause I know that I can be satisfied by the same living bread
that satisfies you
So I’m gonna love you
Beause what I promise you
I promise you
not a little girl,
but I promise you
a Woman

Writer’s Quote Wednesday – Richard Wright

I missed you guys last week! I feel soo behind. Now, enough whining. 🙂

For today’s episode of Writer’s Quote Wednesday, I take my inspiration from one of my favorite authors, Richard Wright:

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Yes indeed. Richard Wright is another one of my favorite authors (Native Son was simply amazing, a powerful read) and his words speak truth. I try to keep in mind, when I’m writing, that the constant understanding of self; the appreciation of self, and the confidence, not with conceit but with courage, are not optional for success; it is needed. While the defining moment of what that success entails varies, I know that my writing career hinges, in large part, to what I believe I can do. If I believe it is possible to write a novel, that I can do. If I do not believe it is possible, that I will not do. And so, I am only limited by that which I limit myself. I can choose to starve myself out of the endless possibilities before me, or I can feed on them and grow as a writer. Who I am always and must be illuminated in everything that I do. The moment it doesn’t and I, for whatever reason, begin to sacrifice that self-realization, everything I have will begin to diminish. I will be then in a kind of literary poverty.

Novelist Richard Wright, photographed in New York City, March 21, 1945, just after publication of his autobiography,
Novelist Richard Wright, photographed in New York City, March 21, 1945 (AP Photo/Robert Kradin)

About The Author:

African-American writer and poet Richard Wright was born on September 4, 1908, in Roxie, Mississippi, and though he was only able to get a ninth grade education, he loved reading and eventually published his first short story at the age of 16. Later, he found employment with the Federal Writers Project and received critical acclaim for Uncle Tom’s Children, a collection of four stories. He’s well known for the 1940 bestseller Native Son and his 1945 autobiography Black Boy. Wright died in Paris, France, on November 28, 1960.

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That’s it for this weeks installment of Writer’s Quote Wednesday. Would you like to join us? Click the pic to find out how!

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Writer’s Quote Wednesday – If You Don’t Define Yourself

Yayy I’m back :). Time to get back into the swing of things. What better way to start than with Writer’s Quote Wednesday. This week, I take my inspiration from Audre Lorde. And since I just came back from a Stage Play, I thought it’d be fun to use the picture of me on the set in my costume right before going onstage lol.

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“If you don’t define yourself for yourself, you’d be crunched into other people’s fantasies of you and eaten alive.” – Audre Lorde

When it comes to writing, and also to life, what sets one person apart from another are those individual qualities that are specific to that person. There is uniqueness about each of us and our style of writing that defines our work and defines also who we are as individuals. It is a kind of branding that does not have to be created, it already exists. We just have to discover it. There is a lot of good advice out there and a lot of good living examples to follow, but if you do not yet know who you are as a person and as a writer; if you do not yet know what sets you apart from the rest; if you have yet to define yourself, it is easy to get lost in all the opinions and philosophies and false images of who everyone perceives or desires you to be. Many invoke what others are expected to see. As a result, they lose sight of a definition of self. They cannot find the voice that is exclusive to them because they are trying to be a mirror reflective of someone or something else.

While I disagree with many of Audre’s views, I enjoy this quote because it is a constant reminder, for both my personal as well as my writing life, to be true to myself no matter what. I also chose this particular quote because my next book deals with mixed ancestry and it is noted that Audre Lorde’s mother could pass for white, while her father was darker than the family would have liked. Lorde is therefore among many African Americans to have experienced in some way the question of the colored line.

About the Author:

220px-Audre_LordeLorde was born in New York City to Caribbean immigrants from Barbados and Carriacou, Frederick Byron Lorde and Linda Gertrude Belmar Lorde, who settled in Harlem. Lorde’s mother was of mixed ancestry but could pass for white, a source of pride for her family. Lorde’s father was darker than the Belmar family liked and only allowed the couple to marry because of Byron Lorde’s charm, ambition, and persistence. Nearsighted to the point of being legally blind, and the youngest of three daughters, Audre Lorde grew up hearing her mother’s stories about the West Indies. She learned to talk while she learned to read, at the age of four, and her mother taught her to write at around the same time. She wrote her first poem when she was in eighth grade.

Audre Lorde was a Caribbean-American writer, poet, essayist, etc. and her poetry was published very regularly during the 1960s — in Langston Hughes’ 1962 New Negro Poets, USA; in several foreign anthologies; and in black literary magazines. Her first volume of poetry, The First Cities (1968), was published by the Poet’s Press. She died in 1992 at the age of 58.

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That’s it for this week’s episode of Writer’s Quote Wednesday. Be sure to check out Silver Threading to join in on the fun. Just click on the pic below!

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http://silverthreading.com/2015/05/06/writers-quote-wednesday-the-buddha/

Black Beauty

**A little History on this Poem**

This is a 12 year old poem. It has since been revised but this is the original copy that I wrote back when I was a sophomore in High School. It was entered into a contest and it won. I was then to fly to Rio Nevada for the award ceremony but I could not afford to go. I have since performed it many times throughout my High School career at assemblies and talent shows. For me it was my first poem. It was the first poem I wrote that really spoke about something deeper than my personal adolescent issues and reached beyond the childhood perspective I was used to writing about. It was also my first Spoken Word poem, the first poem I ever shared while standing before an Audience. Today I would like to share it with you. (Keep in mind I was only like 15 when I wrote this so bear with me lol):

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BEAUTY
Wake up Black beauty!
Look up black beauty!
And see the mountain range
Stand up Black beauty, know your name
Be the Sun that shines,
I clothe in your sweetness, I see in your eyes
I notice your strength and weaknesses that lies
Time has gone and we have grown,
into these skies of disguise
we are Earth’s insects, its flies.
Walking this ground with our black feet,
sitting at tables eating our black meat,
it is beauty we see.
Working our black railroads
While listening to stories retold
Watching as oceans and seas travel for miles and miles without smirks or smiles,
licking greedy lips,
waiting for boats and ships to please its hips
we are the ground walked upon
We sing and cook with soul offering any hungry person a bowl
We realize the importance of education
that we had before civilization
that we had before coming into the truth of our very own nation.
A nation of many different colors and sizes,
all of various secrets and surprises
We are the proud combination of dark skins,
from small twos to plus sized tens,
we are ALL beautiful.

Live Words

Anoint my imagination with the personification of sound
let it walk its way through my memories so we may build dreams as infinite as the sky
bless my brain with a physical manifestation of text
do not speak to me
or translate my feelings into emoticons
but metamorph into the vibration you wish to kiss upon the air
my brain knows nothing of the perception your voice wishes to thrust upon it
knows nothing of the influence illuminating from your lips like pulsing heartbeats
but can I feel you?
can I taste the odor of sadness or touch the lines of focus creeping upon your face
can I decipher the laughter sliding down the back of your throat
will your actions cover me in its hands and bring me into its bosom
or will I risk the sloppily handled trust you left laying next to the distorted frequencies coming out of your mouth
can I take this moment and bond with the authenticity of your words
do you live them
or will they melt away on the palates of your tongue
will they be sweet to the bones, bursting forth like conception but without birth
will we ever get to see the ripened ovaries of flowers with seeds
will we taste the pressure of fruit when it collides with living words
dance with the displacement of mechanical waves
and love
will we love?
or will your words fall barren against the crackling darkness of a cloudy heart
when I read your words can I hear them?
will you speak words

or will you live them?