“democracy and freedom began bouncing all over the world/
like bad checks”
—Oakland novelist and poet Ishmael Reed, from New and Collected Poems, 1964-2007
Left: This mural in Longfellow features the first stanza of Reed’s poem “Let Oakland Be a City of Civility.” Reed’s work, and this poem in particular, has been described as possessing “a deconstructive and ironic patriotism.” Right: Another local mural worth a visit this month or any month: the Women of the Black Panther Party Mural, a creation of the West Oakland Mural Project, completed last year just in time for Juneteenth. The project, based on the tenets of the #SayHerName movement that brings awareness to the names and stories of Black women and girls who have been victimized by racist police violence, is a public art piece open to all. It includes a 1000-square foot “mini museum” on the first floor, open to visitors via pre-scheduled appointments (the museum and mural are part of a private home). Go here to learn more about the project and donate.
From groundbreaking activism and social movements to visual art, music, scholarship, scientific research, technology, and literature, the Bay has been, and continues to be, indelibly shaped by the work of Black creators and visionaries. In honor of Black History Month, we’re sharing some local events, projects, links, and reading recommendations whose impact will inspire, challenge, and galvanize us far beyond February.
- For the San Francisco Chronicle, fest speaker and novelist Vanessa Hua speaks to Bay Area Black authors (Jerry Craft, Jewelle Gomez, and more) about their reading recommendations, especially in light of recent book bans targeting Black writers’ work and the concerted efforts to stifle teachings about racism and structural inequality in American classrooms.
- The Mercury News’ Lisa Herendeen recommends 10 Bay Area Black History Month events taking place in the second half of February. We’re especially excited about the outdoor community events, including the Black Joy Parade in Oakland on the 27th and the Black History Month Community Hike in Castro Valley on the 19th.
- We’re a fan of SFMOMA’s podcast “Raw Material,” which they describe as “a collaboration with new storytellers every season to surface distinct perspectives in the arts and culture scene.” During Season 7 of the podcast, entitled “Visions of Black Futurity,” the mic was passed to East Oakland artist Babette Thomas. To complement the season, Thomas also curated a selection of text, media, and audio on mining archives and elevating the stories of Black Bay Area pioneers.
- If you’re looking for some excellent online reads about literary craft, we loved novelist Brandon Taylor’s fiercely smart, layered take on the “trauma plot” debate that started with The New Yorker’s Parul Sehgal; as well as this Lithub interview with “Heavy” memorist Kiese Laymon, unpacking the nuances of revision as “an act of love.”
- And if you’re just looking for some good old-fashioned spellbinding storytelling, check out this excerpt from short story writer Nafissa Thompson-Spires’ bitingly satirical epistolary piece “Belles Lettres,” as well as her thought-provoking Lithub essay on navigating readers’ responses to her book Heads of the Colored People, and “Belles Lettres” in particular.
Tell us which books, events, artworks, and podcasts have been inspiring you throughout the month!