Where did the semester go? Every teacher says that and I’m no different. I’m backing teaching Afrofantastic, my course on Afrofuturism and a Readings in Popular Literature course all about Black Comics. I’m also taking on the role as Val Berryman Curator for American History at the MSU Museum. My focus, not surprisingly, will be examining science and culture connected to the Black Imaginary.
I presented a paper entitled “Mapping the Black Comic Imaginary: The Gunhawks, Black Goliath, and Racial Retrenchment in Marvel Comics” at 2019 Comics Studies Society meeting at Ryerson University on July 26th. In this paper, which spins out of my ongoing work cataloging black superheroes, I examined Reno Jones and Kid Cassidy: The Gunhawks! published by Marvel Comics in 1972. In approaching this project, I was drawn to the “conservative” narratives I saw structured in this series. Gunhawks ran from October 1972 to October 1973. The premise offered two protagonists, Reno Jones, an African-American born into slavery and Kid Cassidy the son of his master. In the premise, Jones grows up on a Georgia plantation, “raise like a son” to the master. Educated alongside the master’s own son. Indeed, so strong is his loyalty he stays on the plantation at the outbreak of the Civil War. He even goes so far as to join the Confederacy after his master is killed by Union soldier and his childhood sweetheart is “stolen” by Yankees.
Clearly, the premise of the series is ripe for examination. I got great feedback and now I hope I can find the time to make revisions for publication. As is always my hope, I consider how I can apply some digital methodology to thinking about this comic. I hit upon the idea of mapping the letters from “The Hitching Post” the letter column from the comic. There is much that can be gained from close reading of fan letters in comic studies, but one element of this comic is how the narrative of racial reconciliation being articulate here is playing to the reading public. Here, I map the location of the letters from The Hitching Post. The writers include their address and that allowed me to create this map. I have chosen segment from each reader that indicate sentiment found within.
The letter column was small, usually two to three letters and address where not always included. Of course, it is likely more letters were sent in, but they chose the “best” for publication. As you can see, there is a pattern that emerges when you examine these letters on a map.
Can you see it?
Thursday - Friday, January 30 - 31
Theme: What is Afrofuturism?
The transformative success of Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon calls our attention to the visionary scholarship and innovative practice at the heart of Zora Neale Hurston’s legacy. Hurston’s ability to see beyond the limitations imposed by white supremacy has long marked her as a leading figure who championed the centrality of black knowledge and action. The power of the black imagination and Hurston’s legacy of documenting it make her a foundational figure and calls our attention to the long legacy of the black imaginary that shapes the Afrofuturism we celebrate today. In the spirit of Hurston’s legacy and the vital conversations she continues to inspire, the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities has embarked on a five-year exploration (Festival 2020-2024) of meaning and praxis around Afrofuturism. From its inception, the term “Afrofuturism” followed a path championed by Hurston and other black scholars and artists that sought to call our attention to the vastness of black potentialities. Defined in 1994 by Mark Dery as “speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of twentieth-century technoculture,” Afrofuturism as a field of contemporary study has evolved. Recognizing its deeper roots, Professor Alondra Nelson has called our attention to how Afrofuturism is a “canopy for thinking about black diasporic artistic production” and urged us to consider how Afrofuturists allow us to think about the “subject position of black people” in the world.
The Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community, Inc. (P.E.C.), presenter of the annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities (ZORA! Festival), the Michigan State University Consortium for Critical Diversity in a Digital Age Research (CEDAR), and the University of Central Florida Center for Humanities and Digital Research (CHDR) invites scholars to submit papers and mediated projects for the ZORA! Academic Conference, January 30-31, 2020, on the theme of “What is Afrofuturism?” We welcome papers exploring the dynamic dimensions of Afrofuturism from theoretical and/or historical perspectives and will be especially attentive to work that considers past, present, and emerging scholarly investigations of the black speculative practice. Participants are encouraged to engage the literature and discourse of their respective fields; while, at the same time, they will present their findings in public forums accessible to academics in other disciplines, as well as being intellectually stimulating for a general audience.
Presentations will be limited to 15-20 minutes. Abstracts are due October 14th.
Abstracts can be submitted online via Google Forms. URL: http://bit.ly/CFPZORA2020
Information on conference venue and schedule will be available upon completion of submission review and participant notification. Questions about the ZORA! Festival academic conference can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Questions about the ZORA! Festival academic conference can be directed to email@example.com.
The summer is about relaxation…kidding. I’m playing catch up and planning grand plans. I’m developing projects that blend teaching, research, and service into a holistic experience. Bold words, but the reality is that I made the jump to Michigan State University with the goal of doing more. Afrofantastic, my Afrofuturism course, was designed around the idea of producing a project, the original course structure envision assignment linked to outcome related to that final project. Each assignment gave students a chance to build understanding and apply that to critical making project that balanced individual intepretation and scholarly debates about Afrofuturism.
Arrivals 1 & 2 is a demo I created to get them to think through an assignment called Iconography. For better or worst, 21st century learner often are not comfortable without an example to follow. Think of this as “The Curse of Structured Learning” or” I’ve been tested for years and everything I am suppose to know I was told and I could just repeat it back and get an A.” The last part was snarky (this is my blog, not your blog). Anyway, the unstructured learning can be stress inducing. This is why my syllabi are so long. They have a lot of explantation about what we are doing and why. This is a necessary part of my process. Part of the syllabus process is laying the groundwork around what, how and why we do. Yet, at the end of the day, there is a grey area. I often can’t predict outcomes, every person is different and the decision for each individual class create a culture that organically creates its own kind of language of learning and doing. I think I have probably burned through some lifeforce doing classes this way (again, this my blog and I am geeky). Nonetheless, I feel like I’m at a crucial moment in the summer down/prep time.
Planning for next fall’s Afrofantastic has to take into account the class is projected to be double the size of my first year class (100 instead of 50) and I’m getting back to practices that were more common to me class practice at my old job. So, more hands, more archive driven, and more public engagement around the material.
If you are interested in Afrofuturism, MSU will be the place to be in the Fall. I’m bringing John Jennings and Stacey Robinson, aka Black Kirby to campus in September and the Utopian Studies Society meeting will happen in October. I have other things in the work, that I will be rolling out in the fall.
Wish me luck!
Reframing History started out as kind of digital documentation and evolved into an ongoing digital conversation. Season 1 was defined by the local history project. When I started this project, I did not know I would be working in Michigan the next academic year. I was envisioning a Digital History class that would have a podcast at it core and I wanted to test the Anchor app to make it. The process continues!