Raising Up Creative Voices

Join us as we celebrate this year’s University Press Week with the theme #RaiseUP. This year’s theme highlights the role that the university press community plays in elevating authors and subjects that bring new perspectives, ideas, and voices to readers around the globe.

Art Is Everything (January 2021) is a witty and unconventional new novel that explores the painful but rewarding development of a mid-career artist on the margins. It’s by Yxta Maya Murray, one of the most imaginative voices in the literary world today and an example of the creative voices Northwestern University Press is proud to celebrate.

Amanda Ruiz is a queer Chicanx performance artist who is madly in love with her muse and girlfriend, a wealthy and pragmatic actuary named Xōchitl. Both Xōchitl and Amanda’s father are her pillars of inspiration and support as she navigates her career and prepares for a residency at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. But when Amanda loses those most important to her and endures a traumatic event, she reevaluates her purpose as an artist. Written as a series of Wikipedia entries, Yelp reviews, and Instagram essays that merge revelatory confession with sharp art criticism, Art Is Everything is filled with unique prose that highlights the value of publishing out-of-the-box narratives.

“Amanda Ruiz romps through an art infused life of love, loss, and redemption, inviting the reader on a wild, exhilarating ride.” —Carla Trujillo, author of Faith and Fat Chances

Yxta Maya Murray

Set against the backdrop of the L.A. art world, Art Is Everything delves into the work, meaning, and criticism of art and the creative process. Murray herself is an accomplished art critic, and her work can be found in Artforum, ARTnews, Artillery, and other periodicals. Readers will enjoy following Murray as she seamlessly uses her knowledge of the art world to paint a portrait of an artist on the cusp of a creative breakthrough.

Art Is Everything is a powerful new work to usher in a new decade. It is a shining example of the importance of uplifting creative voices and cultivating new stories for all audiences.

Parneshia Jones Appointed Director of Northwestern University Press

FOR RELEASE: Sept. 11, 2020

Parneshia Jones Appointed Director of Northwestern University Press

Evanston, Ill. — Sarah M. Pritchard, the Northwestern University Dean of Libraries and the Charles Deering McCormick University Librarian, has announced the appointment of Parneshia Jones as the new director of Northwestern University Press (NUP) effective September 21. “Since joining NUP in 2003,” says Pritchard, “Parneshia has developed a unique record as a leader on campus, in the Chicago area, and in the broader world of books and letters. She is the ideal leader both to build on NUP’s traditional strengths and to continue the advances that the Press has made in Black studies, critical ethnic studies, performance studies, and other subjects that enhance the university’s academic mission and commitment to social justice and inclusion.”

Evanston native Jones is currently Editorial Director for Trade and Engagement at NUP, where she has also served as an acquisitions editor and sales manager. A published poet, she revitalized the press’s storied TriQuarterly imprint, developing its award-winning poetry list with acquisitions including Head Off & Split by Nikky Finney, winner of the 2011 National Book Award; Incendiary Art by Patricia Smith, winner of the 2018 LA Times Book Prize and 2017 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award; Forest Primeval by Vievee Francis, winner of the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award; and Anagnorisis by Kyle Dargan, winner of the 2019 Academy of American Poets Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize.

In addition to her publishing work, Jones is on faculty in the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing Program. She is also a past president and board member of the Cave Canem Foundation. Her contributions to the Chicago literary community were cited by NewCity in their 2019 list “Lit 50: Who Really Books In Chicago 2019.” She also serves on the advisory board of ShoreFront Legacy Center, a nonprofit organization and foundation that documents African American history on the North Shore of Chicago. Jones becomes one of only two Black women currently leading a university press.

“I am so grateful to come full circle at Northwestern University Press,” Jones says. “My love for the literary world started within the mahogany walls of Third World Press, and my continued apprenticeship in publishing has been guided and supported by Northwestern, my brilliant NUP colleagues, and the unwavering  publishing community. In the words of the great poet, Gwendolyn Brooks, ‘We are each other’s magnitude and bond.’ I step into this role deeply humbled by the magnitude of these special bonds.”

Northwestern University Press is the scholarly and trade publishing arm of the university. The Press publishes important works in philosophy, the performing arts, fiction, poetry, Black studies, critical ethnic studies, Slavic studies, literary criticism, literature in translation, and Chicago regional books. The Press’s award-winning imprint, TriQuarterly Books, is devoted primarily to contemporary American fiction and poetry.

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The Nigrescent Beyond

by Ricardo A. Wilson II

Despite New Spain’s significant participation in the early transatlantic slave trade, the collective imagination of the Mexican nation evolved in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to understand itself as devoid of a black presence. In The Nigrescent Beyond, author Ricardo Wilson proposes a framework for understanding this psychic vanishing of blackness and thinks through how it can be used to both productively unsettle contemporary multicultural and postracial discourses within the United States and further the interrogations of being and blackness within the larger field of black studies.

The following is an excerpt from The Nigrescent Beyond: Mexico, the United States, and the Psychic Vanishing of Blackness (Northwestern University Press; July 2020) by Ricardo A. Wilson II.

Contemporary conversations revolving around ideas of blackness in the post-revolutionary Mexican context cannot escape the gravity of the future. Eduardo Urzaiz’s 1919 novel Eugenia: Esbozo novelesco de costumbres futuras, a work that both centers on and critiques the eugenics movement and the drive toward a perfect society, may be seen to represent a certain starting point in this regard. Published six years prior to José Vasconcelos’s world-building La raza cósmica, it brings to life Villautopia, the capital of the Subconfederation of Central America, in the year 2218. Born in Cuba and raised in Mérida, Mexico, Urzaiz was a physician with expertise in both obstetrics and psychiatry. He was an early supporter of birth control and coeducation and played a substantial leadership role at all levels of the then-developing educational system in the Yucatán.[1] This diversity of thought finds space in Eugenia, an elusive work framed as a love story where the value of modernization and an aesthetically grounded philosophy of procreation, the role of indigeneity in this future, and the concept of utopia itself are left productively unsettled. As such, the work forces a valuable contemplation. However, despite the somewhat nuanced and progressive nature of the futuristic sketch it provides, an idea of blackness rests on solid and antiquated ground. In Urzaiz’s imagination, Booker T. Kuzubé and Lincoln Mandínguez, two pejoratively named black doctors from the fictionalized Hottentot nation in Africa, come to Villautopia to learn of its eugenic practices and prevent “the evolutionary stagnation of their race.”[2] And here we hear the anachronistic echo of Vasconcelos’s straight-faced visioning of a fifth race synthesized from what he understood as White, Black, Native American, and Asian components that shaped Mexican racial thought (and Latin American thought more broadly). As many who study Latin America know, it is a synthesis that in many ways constrains the indigenous component and disappears the black.

Urzaiz’s black doctors are described, “like those of their race,” as having “formidable cannibal-like teeth” and a developed custom of “sleeping anywhere at any time.”[3] And while much of the legible world has been remade by Urzaiz (there exist the Confederation of the Americas and the Euro-Asian Confederation, for example), the system of “Africa” does not contain the possibility of such revision. So here, after a series of scenes that make up only a few pages of the novel, ends the narrative’s investment in any idea of blackness. It is either a blindness to or, if reading generously, a spot-on description of the cultural moment. In either case, there is no relief or subtlety to produce a vacillation or a rethinking in regard to the role of blackness in this (almost) aesthetically pure future. And while some of the scholarship surrounding Eugenia does address these few scenes, and this includes the work done by the editors and translators of the important 2016 English critical edition, this scholarship does not go much beyond noting that the representation of blackness by Urzaiz was clearly influenced by the eugenics movement. It is a scholarship apparently conditioned by a relative loss for words when interrogating what may lie beneath the surfacing of these representatives of Hottentot. And while my concern in the pages that follow is not with Eugenia as an object, the novel’s narrative does demand that a future blackness be not only nonexistent within the bounds of what one might argue to be a surrogate Mexico but manifested beyond this border as irrevocably backward in nature. This demand very much aligns with my interest in understanding Mexico as a space that collectively understands itself, and is largely understood by those looking in, as devoid of any substantial blackness. In other words, it is helpful to start with the fact that we have caught up with the vanishings of Urzaiz’s futures.

… In this book I construct a framework that facilitates an examination of this psychic vanishing in the Mexican context in order to think through how this might nurture and open up related discourses within the field of a United States–facing black studies … Mexico’s much longer trajectory concerning postraciality and the disappearance of black radical possibility gives clarity to the relation between ideas of blackness that remain legible and acceptable within the boundaries of a collective liberal imagination and those settling on the other side of this boundary that would otherwise compromise this imagination. Following this, I look to the center (not periphery) of several popular and canonical texts (literary, cinematic, archival, etc.) to find flashes of this nonpresence in order to sharpen an understanding of the question, How, in this contemporary moment, can a text be read to tell the story of something that has to have no story? [4] My project, however, remains distinct from those that have been drawn to the intersection of ideas of vanishing and race via theoretical frameworks grounded in haunting. Productive as these frameworks can be, I wish to move toward an unreadable fragmentation and away from the underlying assumptions of recoverability, however limited, that an idiom inflected by haunting implicitly presents. The work is thus a modeling of a practice of reading that honors and encourages the disruptive possibilities offered by a sustained, if anxious, awareness of what I understand as the nigrescent beyond, or that which lies, irretrievable, beyond the horizon of the process of vanishing itself. As such, nigrescence, the process of becoming dark, is mobilized to articulate the contours of a barrier at the limits of a collective liberal imagination, beyond which certain radical black matter(s) has become and is becoming unreadable even as one reads.

[1] Eduardo Urzaiz, Eugenia: A Fictional Sketch of Future Customs: A Critical Edition. Edited and translated by Sarah A. Buck Kachaluba and Aaron Dziubinskyj (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2016), xx-xxvi.

[2] Ibid., 27

[3] Ibid., 28, 32.

[4] The italics are a refashioning of Frank Wilderson’s question “How does a film tell the story of a being that has no story?” See Red, White, and Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2010), 28.

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Ricardo A. Wilson II

RICARDO A. WILSON II is an assistant professor in the Department of English and affiliate faculty in the Program in Comparative Literature at Williams College.

“50 Concepts for a Critical Phenomenology” – Table of Contents

This week, NU Press travels to Pittsburgh for the annual SPEP meeting, where we’ll introduce 50 Concepts for a Critical Phenomenology. Edited by Gail Weiss, Ann V. Murphy, and Gayle Salamon, the book is attracting an unusual amount of attention. “Anyone who questions the vitality of contemporary phenomenology as a site of radical questioning,” said How to Read Sartre author Robert Bernasconi, “will find the perfect antidote in Fifty Concepts for a Critical Phenomenology. The rich variety of marginalized perspectives represented here is a valuable corrective to so many works of philosophy that have gone before.” In response to the interest in the book, now on sale on our website, from online retailers, and bookstores with exceptional philosophy collections, we’re pleased to offer below the table of contents to this rich collection.

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An excerpt from “50 Concepts for a Critical Phenomenology”

The passage below is the introduction to 50 Concepts for a Critical Phenomenology edited by Gail Weiss, Ann V. Murphy, and Gayle Salamon, available now from Northwestern University Press. The book will be featured at the press’s exhibit at the upcoming meeting of the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy. 

50Concepts3DIntroduction: Transformative Descriptions

“How could an anthology possibly have a central perspective?” —Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Signs

Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception begins with a question: “What is phenomenology?” Nearly three-quarters of a century later, this question remains unanswered. Our volume does not propose to answer it but rather to honor its generative insight, an insight that Merleau-Ponty inherits from Edmund Husserl’s Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, namely that the philosopher is a “perpetual beginner.” As a philosophical tradition, phenomenology has privileged wonder, ambiguity, and curiosity over the Cartesian drive toward certainty, determinacy, and indubitability. One of phenomenology’s most axiomatic methodological commitments is the refusal to accept the taken-for-grantedness of experience. This commitment entails the perpetual interrogation of the most familiar features of our everyday experiences, not to deny them but in order to know them better. Like literature, history, and anthropology, phenomenology has yielded rich descriptions of lived experience. Phenomenology is marked by a faith that such descriptions can disclose the most basic structures of human existence, including temporality, perception, language, and intersubjectivity. As these structures are brought into relief, our understanding of our own experiences is transformed, and our deepest assumptions about our very being in the world may be challenged.

The fifty concepts that appear in this volume exemplify the continuing fecundity of attunement to lived experience and its structuring conditions that have been a hallmark of the phenomenological method. Together they also expand our understanding of phenomenology’s potential far beyond its classical horizons. Our intellectual landscape has now been significantly shaped by disciplines that did not exist when phenomenology’s foundational texts were being written. It is our conviction as phenomenologists that the diverse disciplinary perspectives offered by feminist theorists, critical race theorists, queer theorists, decolonial and indigenous scholars, disability studies scholars, and others are crucial for phenomenology’s future. They are also producing exciting readings of the phenomenological canon from marginalized perspectives that breathe new life into its foundational texts. By illuminating constitutive aspects of human existence that challenge the universalizing tendencies of philosophy, they bring new accountability and new promise to the practice of phenomenology.

A central Husserlian tenet is that an experience can never be understood or described in isolation. This means not only that our experiences are interconnected but also that xiv Acknowledgments they are always generated from particular places, times, and cultural milieus. More specifically, Husserl claims that there is a dynamic and reversible figure/ground structure to all experience whereby in focusing on an individual phenomenon, all else necessarily recedes into a more or less indeterminate background. This holds true not only for perceiving and conceiving but also for imagining, judging, willing, valuing, and feeling, that is, for the many different ways we are intentionally oriented toward the world around us. The figure/ground structure, he asserts, is itself situated within multiple horizons of significance, including temporal, spatial, social, historical, cultural, political, and institutional horizons. These horizons actively inform our experience and for the most part do so prereflectively, without our explicit awareness. Nonetheless, they exert substantial influence in determining what becomes the figure and what remains the ground. Merleau-Ponty, focusing on the primacy of perception, describes the ways in which perceptual patterns become sedimented over time as embodied habits. Habits can render the world comfortable, familiar, and predictable even though, as several entries in this volume remind us, they necessarily limit our horizons, foreclosing some perspectives and possibilities by privileging others.

Contemporary phenomenologists increasingly recognize that these foreclosures are a function of structural, political, and institutional inequities that are internalized as personal biases and habits. This insight has inspired a critical phenomenology, one that mobilizes phenomenological description in the service of a reflexive inquiry into how power relations structure experience as well as our ability to analyze that experience. Critique is not critical if it refuses to situate itself, to recognize the limitations and liabilities of its own perspective. A critical phenomenology draws attention to the multiple ways in which power moves through our bodies and our lives. It is also an ameliorative phenomenology that seeks not only to describe but also to repair the world, encouraging generosity, respect, and compassion for the diversity of our lived experiences. Such a project can never be an individual endeavor, moreover, but requires coalitional labor and solidarity across difference.

The authors collected in this volume range from distinguished scholars revisiting some of the terms they have coined or made famous to newer voices who are actively working to expand the boundaries of what counts as philosophical inquiry. These thinkers bear varying degrees of fidelity to phenomenology as a method and a tradition; however, as their entries reveal, each offers rich phenomenological insights that open up new horizons for critical phenomenology. This volume is intended as a resource and also as an invitation to you, our readers, to join us in the interrogation of both the familiar and the unfamiliar, whether in experience, thought, or perception. In so doing, we make the familiar newly strange and bring the unfamiliar in closer, even while preserving its alterity. Such a critical phenomenology—whatever it may become—disrupts sedimented patterns of thinking and perceiving, creating the conditions of possibility for new and unpredictable futures.

Gail Weiss, Ann V. Murphy, and Gayle Salamon Santa Fe, New Mexico, November 2017, and North Pomfret, Vermont, March 2018

50 Concepts for a Critical Phenomenology is available now on our website and in person at the annual meeting of the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy in Pittsburgh, PA from October 31–November 2.




A Poetry in Community: Rivers, Songs, “Miracle Marks”


“Mira dances, how can her ankle bells not dance?/…I am at Hari’s feet; I give him body and soul./ A glimpse of him is water: How thirsty I am for that!” – Mirabai (as translated by Robert Bly)

Living is full of thirsts, our drawn days of summers, the body aching for company, soul-witness, democracy, justice. When I am thirsty, I sip on Mira, imagine her playing the ektara, diving into devotion, into lines that would become poetry, would become song, would become holy.

How do we make a moment holy? How do we live in the moment? How do we live on in the moment?

One way through is song. When I imagined my book launch for Miracle Marks, I dreamt of garba, dance & poetry – lyrics alive – an interaction, a twining traditions of poet-saint Mirabai, a threading of body & language, spirit & heart, lineage & now. I’m grateful to Aditi Dhruv and Kuldeep Singh, two exquisite dancers who brought my poems to life on June 29. Our work together was not echo but thrum, an ecstasy I like to conceive Mira would have enjoyed, would have delighted, would, too, have sung.

In more ways than one, the Miracle Marks book launch was collective song. As a social practice artist, interaction and engagement is vital to me. After pooling songs from friends & community, I created a Spotify playlist riffing on themes in Miracle Marks – goddesses, rivers, women, liberation. This playlist, River – Miracle Marks Book Launch, threaded the evening, weaving a community of voices through the launch. To everyone who added to the collective play, I am grateful.

These days, when I am thirsty, I go back to this playlist, to the river of time & feeling before, and drink anew from what may be possible, what art makes possible, what community makes possible, what songs of liberation make possible.

If you’d like to experience my work & share song, reach out for book readings, events, and workshops at purvipoets@gmail.com. Find Miracle Marks here and more on my work at http://purvipoets.net and @PurviPoets on social media.

Excerpt: ‘The Meaning of Harold’ from SACRED GROUND

sacred-ground.jpgIn 1968, when Dr. King was killed, Harold was in the Illinois House. He introduced a bill in the Illinois legislature to create the Martin Luther King Holiday. Illinois became the first state in the Union to create this holiday, long before it was a federal law. Harold had to gain the support of a mixed group to pass it. It took a person with the charisma, the intellect, and the political skills of a Harold Washington to make that happen. He took pride in this particular legislative accomplishment.

Harold had immense political know-how, serving in the Illinois House from 1964 until 1976, when he was elected to the Illinois Senate. Following the death of Mayor [Richard J.] Daley, Harold made an early attempt to run for mayor of Chicago in 1977. I worked hard on his campaign, but he was trounced in the Democratic primary that time around. He only carried two wards, even in his own community. But we still knew the time was getting ripe. After Daley died in office, and Wilson Frost was prevented from assuming his duties by the white politicians, the black community was coming together. Jesse Jackson brilliantly mobilized black entertainers to boycott ChicagoFest as a demonstration of black outrage at the white power structure.

After Jane Byrne won the Democratic primary for mayor of Chicago, I worked for her. She couldn’t go anywhere in the black community without one of us; we decided to support her because we felt this would be an opportunity to break the old machine. I personally had to walk Jane Byrne into public housing projects and orient her and advise her on the issues. Of course when the time came for her to take office, all her appointees to the housing authority and the school board were conservative and white. Although Byrne ran as a feminist, and became the first female mayor, she was not interested in equity. African Americans remained shut out.

Meanwhile, in 1981, Harold made a successful run for the United States House of Representatives, representing the Illinois First Congressional District until his election as mayor in 1983. Now, it was during the 1980s that I served on the First Congressional District Office’s Education Task Force, with local and national political implications. And because I was close to Harold, I played a role in managing his mayoral campaign, helping to register voters through groups like the People’s Movement for Voter Registration and United Black Voters of Illinois.

During that period, I met Zenobia Johnson, a member of Harold’s First Congressional District Housing Task Force. Zenobia was also a Chicago public school teacher, active in the A. Philip Randolph Institute, an organization addressing civil rights issues on the labor front. I did not overlook her beauty or her vivacious personality.

Again, at that time I was co-chair of Harold’s First Congressional District Education Task Force. Those were intense times, packed with wall-to-wall meetings, rallies, and strategy sessions. We ran countless trainings, knocked on innumerable doors. Zenobia says that we courted, married, and honeymooned during the height of the voter registration campaign and mayoral race in 1982. Happily, she recalls my being very gentlemanly and courteous in my courting of her. We’ve now been married for more than three decades.

Making “Atmospheric Embroidery” by Meena Alexander


atmospheric-embroideryWhat goes into the making of a book?  Memory, dream, desire and always the pressure of the present whether overt or as undersong, lacking which composition could not come into being. And each time it feels like a new beginning, starting from scratch.

I wrote the first draft of the title poem in Provincetown, during a summer of violent storms, sunshine and sudden senseless deaths. The poem is underwritten by migrancy, worlds cut and coupled that one carries around in one’s body. And it is here that the art of Alighiero Boetti with its uncanny doublings comes in. Haunted by his embroidered art work ( ‘I mille fiumi piu lunghi del mondo’) that hung on the wall at MOMA, I kept seeing the names of rivers I had known, the Ganga of my birthplace,  the Nile in Khartoum, the Mississipi – Missouri in Minneapolis. The title is an homage to my father who taught me to love and respect the atmosphere, so threatened now. From my earliest childhood appa taught me the names of clouds, winds and waters.




There is a moment I have turned over and over in my head. I am standing on deck on the SS Jehangir, deep green waves of the Indian Ocean crashing all around. I have broken free of my mother and stand clutching the white railings of the ship. I am dressed in a pink frilly frock with embroidery on the yoke and skirt. The dress whirls about my legs, a froth of organza and lace, wind whipped. Amma had brought it along and tucked it in at the bottom of her leather suitcase, all ready for my fifth birthday. A week and a half earlier we had set sail from Bombay and were bound for Port Sudan where my father a meteorologist would meet us. This was just after Bandung, the historic Afro-Asian Congress of non-aligned nations that met in that Indonesian City. There was an accord between India and Sudan for technical assistance which was how my father ended up traveling to Khartoum. For almost the next decade a half, I travelled back and forth between continents. At eighteen I flew to England to study at a university there. Still that first sea voyage marked me forever, its hieroglyphs of loss and longing filled with meanings I am still trying to decipher.




On board the ship my mother tongue Malayalam and the Hindi I knew from earliest childhood shot out of one ear and the English around me changed utterly. There were white people, clusters of them speaking the language in a strange way. They kept away from us, almost as if the brown of our skin would spread and sully them. When we landed Arabic poured in and later I had friends who also spoke French. In this mingling of languages I understood dimly that there was so much that could not be spoken and that rich, even sorrowful awareness of the unsayable has been with me ever since. Out of this, poetry comes. This fine art of distilling language is also one that is predicated on silence.

I wanted to add that my handwriting can border on the illegible, much to the annoyance and perhaps fascination of others. I attribute this to my attempt as a teenager to perfect a script that would flow in between the borders of the Roman script, the Arabic script and the curvatures of Malayalam, the language of Kerala. It was as much calligraphy as anything else and how well its served me in my adult life is an open question.

Perhaps my poems are like that too, slipping between the lines of separate nations, continents of migration and settlement. Perhaps poems make up steadfast places for me. My body on the other hand is marked as that of a person of color, someone who is bound to a difficult and fractious existence, constantly drawn in, longing to be part of a whole, yet time and again cast out, till that tension has come to coexist with and seems inextricably bound to the idea of belonging.




I think back to mapmaking this book involved.  There are poems that like sign posts stand out for me. ‘Moksha’ evokes the gang rape in Delhi of the young woman Jyoti Singh Pande. Those who did not know her name and those who did called her ‘Nirbhaya’, which means ‘without fear . There is the cycle of Darfur poems based on drawings by children from the war zone. Growing up in Khartoum I had friends from Darfur. Where are they now, I wonder? The poem ‘Univocity’ opens with an epigram from Whitman, Word over all, beautiful as the sky! It starts in Provincetown, flows into my childhood in India and back again into the present of composition.  The last poem is ‘Crossroad’. I wrote it in the immediate aftermath of the presidential election. In its first version, it had the title ‘Winterlight’. I read it out standing on the steps of the New York Public Library as part of ‘Writers Resist’ gathering organized by PEN American Center, January 15, 2017.

The spine of this book of poetry is ‘Indian Ocean Blues’. At its simplest it was triggered by that childhood ocean crossing. I could not have composed the poem without the inspiration of Aimé Césaire’s Cahier d’un Retour Au Pays Natal. Time and again I heard the waves beat in his lines. One sea leads to another I wrote in response. Perhaps our migrant selves are the true marks of being and a steady place, what we constantly long for, is nothing but a palimpsest of time, on which we scrawl ourselves through these vulnerable moving bodies.

I started  the poem at home in the north of New York City, in my apartment not far from the edge of Fort Tryon Park with its exquisite heather garden and winding green passages. I completed the poem in Shimla, in the foothills of the Himalayas in what had been the summer palace of the British. Raj Shimla an old town of wood and stone filled with bustling villas and chock full of tour buses, cars and pedestrians, still bears a certain melancholy charm.

In childhood I learned the story of Sita, heroine of the Ramayana, cast out by her lordly husband Rama. The earth her mother tore open to give her refuge. In my imagination she slips into the earth of Manhattan island, through the crevices of Inwood marble and appears in metamorphic form, on the other side. Time whorls into space, disparate worlds merge in a shimmering whole which is what memory mingling with desire can sometimes grant us. In just this way a child crossing the Indian Ocean encounters Bras Coupe, the brave African American who escaped slavery, organized others to resist and had his arm chopped off in punishment


He rises

Cloaked in amaranth petals

A big man, his wounds



In the course of  composition, over the space of a year or so, I kept listening to the music of Vijay Iyer, in particular his album ‘Solo’ which I had carried with me to India. Through the miracle of email I sent drafts of my poem to Quincy Troupe, all the way in Harlem. He bore patiently with me as I chopped and changed lines. When it was done the poem was published in the journal Black Renaissance/ Noire. The poem is now woven in separate sections through the whole book. While `Crossroad’ is the last full poem, a tiny final section of `Indian Ocean Blues’ which I have called `Lyric Ego’ makes for a fragile, provisional closure.


Interview: Second to None Series Editor Harvey Young

Welcome to Northwestern University Press’s blog, Incidental Noyes, written here at our home on Noyes Street in Evanston next to Lake Michigan. One of the most important niches that university presses occupy in the book world is that of regional publishing. University presses bring to light a panoply of local and regional American stories that would otherwise be unknown or soon forgotten, despite the fact that many of the most illuminating and emblematic of American stories are local ones. In the hands of gifted writers and editors, the lives of individuals and their local communities can reveal the sweeping landscape of American history. Few cities embody that sweep more than Chicago.

In this edition of Incidental Noyes, NU Press editor-in-chief Gianna Mosser interviews Harvey Young, editor of the Second to None series, which invites projects that spotlight the spirit of Chicago and its people in an engaging, widely accessible, and historically accurate manner. These alternative, underground, and yet-to be chronicled stories will reveal the connective tissues that make up the real Chicago.

What role does regional publishing play at a university press as opposed to mainstream publishers?

A university press differs from a mainstream publisher in that it commits to cultivating a lifelong relationship with readers who are also neighbors. It is the primary steward of their stories and histories. In addition, a university press, attuned to local complexities, can best present life in a city as a mosaic, comprised of individual but ultimately integrated stories.

What makes Chicago such a vibrant place to tell stories?

Chicago has swagger. It has always been and continues to be a destination city for hard-working people who are willing to do whatever it takes (legal or otherwise) to realize their dreams. The streets of Chicago were walked by an endless cast of characters who profoundly impacted the region and the nation: Al Capone, Oprah Winfrey, Kanye West, and more.



What kind of stories make for the best regional books?

The best stories spotlight the uniqueness of Chicago—its particular challenges and extraordinary blessings. In some cases, this engagement can be explicit such as accounts on the miraculous rise of the city and, of course, its rebuilding after the Great Fire. In most others, it is implicit, a background feature: how neighborhood settlement (and segregation) created particular experiences; how the sports passions and culinary tastes of residents create an identifiable regional identity.

What other university presses do you admire for their regional publishing efforts?

I greatly appreciate the work of The University of Michigan Press. Their regional books tell the story of that part of the Great Lakes and spotlight the pride of place that Michiganders have. I am grateful for the efforts of the University of Florida Press for their commitment to telling very local histories that have been overlooked.

You often write on scholarly topics for popular audiences. What strategies do you use to deliver your expertise in a way that keeps people interested?

Popular writing is public storytelling in a very traditional sense. A speaker stands before a community of listeners who want to be engaged. The aim, in writing, is to remove barriers that block absorption into the story. Feature distinct characters with bold voices. Paint a colorful picture of the city as a backdrop.

HARVEY YOUNG is the editor of the Second to None: Chicago Stories trade series. He is author of four books, including Embodying Black Experience, winner of “Book of the Year” awards from the National Communication Association and the American Society for Theatre Research, and coauthor of Black Theater is Black Life: An Oral History of Chicago Theater. Until January 2018, Young was Professor and Chair of Theatre at Northwestern University. He is now Dean of the College of Fine Arts at Boston University. He is the current president of Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE).

Books that Celebrate and Complicate the Black Experience in Chicago

Black leaders, artists, and intellectuals have been instrumental in shaping the city of Chicago. As we celebrate Black History Month, we’ve curated a reading list that encourages engagement with Chicago’s history through the lens of Black ideas, culture, and resistance. With these previously published and forthcoming titles we hope to continue the work of enriching and reshaping Black history and intellectual traditions.

The Wall of Respect: Public Art and Black Liberation in 1960s Chicago

Edited by Abdul Alkalimat , Rebecca Zorach, and Romi Crawford


The Wall of Respect, beautifully designed and abundantly illustrated, is a book long overdue for an often overlooked milestone in American art and culture.” —The Chicago Tribune

The Wall of Respect: Public Art and Black Liberation in 1960s Chicago is the first in-depth, illustrated history of a lost Chicago monument. The Wall of Respect was a revolutionary mural created by fourteen members of the Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC) on the South Side of Chicago in 1967. This book gathers historic essays, poetry, and previously unpublished primary documents from the movement’s founders that provide a visual guide to the work’s creation and evolution.

The Wall of Respect received national critical acclaim when it was unveiled on the side of a building at Forty-Third and Langley in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. Painters and photographers worked side by side on the mural’s seven themed sections, which featured portraits of Black heroes and sheroes, among them John Coltrane, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and W. E. B. Du Bois. The Wall became a platform for music, poetry, and political rallies. Over time it changed, reflecting painful controversies among the artists as well as broader shifts in the Civil Rights and Black Liberation Movements.

At the intersection of African American culture, politics, and Chicago art history, The Wall of Respect offers, in one keepsake-quality work, an unsurpassed collection of images and essays that illuminate a powerful monument that continues to fascinate artists, scholars, and readers in Chicago and across the United States.



you-need-a-schoolhouse“A moving, inspirational story about an important link in the historical chain that led to the civil-rights movement and a new, more truly democratic chapter in American history.” —Kirkus Reviews


Booker T. Washington, the founder of Tuskegee Institute, and Julius Rosenwald, the president of Sears, Roebuck, and Company, first met in 1911 at a Chicago luncheon. By charting the lives of these two men both before and after the meeting, Stephanie Deutsch offers a fascinating glimpse into the partnership that would bring thousands of modern schoolhouses to African American communities in the rural South in the era leading up to the civil rights movement. Trim and vital at just shy of fifty, Rosenwald was the extraordinarily rich chairman of one of the nation’s largest businesses, interested in using his fortune to do good not just in his own Jewish community but also to promote the well-being of African Americans.




The End of Chiraq: A Literary Mixtape

Edited by Javon Johnson and Kevin Coval

end-of-chiraq“Because this book focuses on the lived experiences of Black and Brown Chicagoans, it draws on the voices, literary cues, and artist expressions that are part of their lives. As a Black Chicagoan, I was thrilled to see the rhythms and use of Chicago slang (tha’ go and Chiraq) used in this book. It captures a unique voice, which readers (especially Chicago readers) will find compelling.” —Rashad Shabazz, Associate Professor, Social Sciences at Arizona State University


The End of Chiraq: A Literary Mixtape is a collection of poems, rap lyrics, short stories, essays, interviews, and artwork about Chicago, the city that came to be known as “Chiraq” (“Chicago” + “Iraq”), and the people who live in its vibrant and occasionally violent neighborhoods. Tuned to the work of Chicago’s youth, especially the emerging artists and activists surrounding Young Chicago Authors, this literary mixtape unpacks the meanings of “Chiraq” as both a vexed term and a space of possibility.




Hog Butcher: A Novel

by Roland L. Fair


hog-butcher“If the novel were longer, and more naturalistic, it could become the final part of a Chicago trilogy, the first two-thirds having been written by James T. Farrell and Nelson Algren; for, like the work of these two men, Hog Butcher offers a view of the city’s shame.” —Saturday Review


It’s summer on the South Side of Chicago, and ten-year-old boys Earl and Wilford are frequently courtside watching their role model Nathaniel “Cornbread” Hamilton as he prepares to leave for college on a basketball scholarship. Their world comes crashing down in an alley when two cops—one white, one black—mistake Cornbread for a fleeing burglary suspect. What follows threatens to tear apart the community. Earl and Wilford know what happened, but will they stand up for their hero in a city in which power trumps justice, and each player must decide whether to fold to the system, or risk losing it all?




bridges-of-memory“Black has produced compelling oral history certain to stand alongside classics on black Chicago that start with St. Clair Drake and Horace Clayton’s Black Metropolis.
Library Journal


In their first great migration to Chicago that began during World War I, African Americans came from the South seeking a better life–and fleeing a Jim Crow system of racial prejudice, discrimination, and segregation. What they found was much less than what they’d hoped for, but it was much better than what they’d come from–and in the process they set in motion vast changes not only in Chicago but also in the whole fabric of American society. This book, the first of three volumes, revisits this momentous chapter in American history with those who lived it.




bridges-of-memory-volume-2“Black has captured the voices of the near past, and they tell a story as contemporary as our own: that success only comes with struggle, that progress is possible only when our history is both reflected and recognized in our contemporary lives.” —Booklist


In the second volume of Bridges of Memory, historian Timuel D. Black Jr. continues his conversations with African-Americans who migrated to Chicago from the South in search of economic, social, and cultural opportunities. With his trademark gift for interviewing, Black–himself the son of first-generation migrants to Chicago–guides these individual discussions with ease, resulting in first-person narratives that are informative and entertaining.




Harold! Photographs from the Harold Washington Years

Photographs by Antonio Dickey and Marc Pokempner, text by Salim Muwakkil


harold-“This wonderful book of Marc PoKempner’s and Antonio Dickey’s photographs of Harold Washington and the rocky road he traveled to the Mayoralty, plus the perceptive commentary of Salim Muwakkil — is a natural for any thoughtful Chicagoan to have around the house. It has everything: charm, wild kicks in the groin by his opponents, and hope. It is a winning book, not only for African-Americans but citizens of all complexions and faiths.”—Studs Terkel

This handsome book captures in words and pictures the powerful emotions that circled around one man in Chicago in the early 1980’s: Harold Washington. More than one hundred pictures, from candid shots on the campaign trail to triumphant public appearances, give readers a window onto a man who won over an entire city. Washington’s mayoral win represented a faltering of the previously all-powerful Chicago Machine, and his campaign was a part of a larger civil rights crusade that forged unity in the black community in Chicago.




Where I Must Go: A Novel

by Angela Jackson


9780810151857“A novel of deep humanity, tenderness, and wisdom, a delight to read, and a work of great significance for American literature.” —Reginald Gibbons, author of Creatures of a Day, 2008 National Book Award Finalist for Poetry


Lyrical, penetrating, and highly charged, this novel displays a delicately tuned sense of difference and belonging. Poet Angela Jackson brings her superb sense of language and of human possibility to the story of young Magdalena Grace, whose narration takes readers through both privilege and privation at the time of the American civil rights movement.

The novel moves from the privileged yet racially exclusive atmosphere of the fictional Eden University to the black neighborhoods of a Midwestern city and to ancestral Mississippi. Magdalena’s story includes a wide range of characters—black and white, male and female, favored with opportunity or denied it, the young in love and elders wise with hope. With and through each other, they struggle to understand the history they are living and making. With dazzling perceptiveness, Jackson’s narrator Magdalena tells of the complex interactions of people around her who embody the personal and the political at a crucial moment in their own lives and in the making of America.




In the sequel to Where I Must Go, Angela Jackson continues the remarkable story of Magdalena Grace. As a black student at the predominantly white Eden University, Maggie found herself deeply involved in conflict. Now, out in the wider world, she and her beloved Treemont Stone evolve into agents of change as they become immersed in the historical events unfolding around them—the movements advocating for civil rights, black consciousness, black feminism, the rights of the poor, and an end to the war in Vietnam. Rendered in prose so lyrical and luminous as to suggest a dream, Roads, Where There Are No Roads is a love story in the greatest sense, celebrating love between a man and a woman, between family members, and among the members of a community whose pride pushes them to rise up and resist. This gorgeously written novel will resonate with readers today as incredibly relevant, uplifting hearts and causing eyes to water with sorrow and delight.


earl-b.-dickerson“This biography sheds welcome light on the man who sat to the left of Martin Luther King at the 1963 March on Washington. Blakely’s straightforward biography makes a meaningful contribution to African-American and Chicago history.” —Publishers Weekly

At fifteen, Earl Burrus Dickerson stowed away on a train in Canton, Mississippi, fleeing the racial oppression of his native South. But Chicago, the boy’s destination, was no haven of racial fairness and equality. His flight north was in fact the beginning of a journey that would last a lifetime–and would forever pit Dickerson against the forces of racial injustice. Earl B. Dickerson’s story, told here for the first time, is one of courage and character, of remarkable accomplishment in the face of terrible odds; it is also emblematic of the twentieth-century struggle for civil rights–a crucial chapter of African American history as it was lived by one uncompromising individual.



The Hippodrome

by Cyrus Colter

hippodrome“In the tradition of his fictional ancestors, Dostoevsky and Faulkner, [Colter] has produced a work which uses the world of everyday reality in a manner beyond the scope of journalism or sociology–as an entrée to the soul.” —


James Park Sloan, Chicago Sun-Times

Set in a Chicago seething with physical and psychological violence, Cyrus Colter’s The Hippodrome is an examination of power and exploitation and their entanglement with sexuality. Yeager has murdered his wife and her white lover. Fleeing the police, he is both offered refuge and held captive in the Hippodrome, a ghetto house where a troupe of blacks stage sexual theater for white audiences. Colter’s subtle treatment of the subject matter, and his careful delineation of his character’s motives, make The Hippodrome a classic of modern fiction.