[AAS21 Podcast] Episode #13: Black Pulp Fiction’s Uncanny Origins

Tuesday, Jul 10, 2018

 

Podcast Transcript:

(00:00) [music plays]

Eddie: Welcome to the AAS 21 Podcast. I'm Eddie Glaude and I'm the Chair of the Department of African-American studies here at Princeton University. I'm delighted to have joined me today my dear colleague Kinohi Nishikawa. Professor Nishikawa specializes in African-American Literature and Modern Print Culture, his work has been supported by Woodrow Wilson Nation Fellowship Foundation. The US Department of Education and The National Endowment for the Humanities and we're delighted, uh, to have his first book Street Players, Black Pulp Fiction and the making of literary underground, due out in November of 2018 with the University Of Chicago Press. 

Street Players takes us to the center of Black Pulp Fiction within the Los-Los Angeles Publishing Holloway House and from the 19--late 1960's until it close in 2008, Holloway House specialize in cheap paperback books like Iceberg Slim’s Pimpin’, Donald Goine’s Daddy Cool. Uh Street Players explores how this world, the Black Pulp Fiction was produced, received and recreated overtime and across different communities and readers, it’s an amazing read. His also working on a major project, I believe tentatively titled Blueprints For Black Writing African-American Literature and Book Design which considers the important yet often overlooked raw book design from typography to paper quality to cover art.

This important role is played in shaping modern African-American literature. Professor Nishikawa's essays and articles, elaborate on- on all of this with specific case studies of black book, and periodic history and his article, the archive of its own Black Politics Independent Publishing and the Negotiations. One that Catherine Newman, Best Essay award from the Society for the study of the multi ethnic literature of the United States.

(02:00) Welcome Professor Nishikawa. How you doing?

Kinohi: I'm doing great. Thanks for having me.

Eddie: Man, I hope I got all of that right.

Kinohi: You did.

Eddie: So let's- let’s jump into this, I mean, 'cause I'm really fascinated by the particular nature of your interest and how you locate that interest in-in-in the specific work you do. So talk a little bit about, uh, how you came to have an interest in the history of the book and print culture as such in particularly uh African-American print culture.

Kinohi: That's a great question Eddie, you know, I'm a first generation college student, so I don't take so called book learning for granted--

Eddie: [laughs] 

Kinohi: --as it were, you know, I grow up reading, um, comic books, pulp Stephen King. [laughter] Things of that nature and transitioning into reading for grade or reading to write papers was a big thing for me and taking notice of the different cultures of the book that I had both grown up with and learn how to inhabit and learn how to negotiate in college, um, really expose me to thinking about the ways in which the production of tax is not neutral. The literature that we are given has to be sort of funneled through a complex historical process of um, winnowing and selection then dissemination.

Eddie: Uh-hmm.

Kinohi: And so early on college I knew that I was interested in asking meta questions about the literature that was given to me. Not simply what this text mean but how it came to me. How was it produce? How it was selected and in what form was I consuming it, uh, in-in the dorm room or in the classroom. And so that early (04:00) interest re- really, which really came from my own sort of, um, unfamiliarity with reading for-for school , um or-or reading it in a higher level than- than simply for entertainment uh, then feed into my graduate studies where I happen to study with great faculty and Duke University's program in literature. I was asking precisely these questions not just with African-American literature but really with literature with large.

Eddie: Uh-hmm.

Kinohi: Uh, the program in literature has a strong sort of mark stress tradition.

Eddie: Right.

Kinohi: Um, from Jamison to, um to-to younger scholars and I also happen study with major cultural study scholars such as Wahneema Lubiano--

Eddie: Right.

Kinohi: --Janice Radway, who help me understand how could I ask this questions of a particular literary tradition namely African-American literature, um, and focus my attention on-on books publishing in that tradition.

Eddie: So this, I mean, so this-this- this journey to the book um have everything to do about with your own unique formation, uh, first gen, uh, so am I in interesting sort of ways and-and the kind of residual trace of that- of that initial step, right kind of impact or gate, um, how does it inform? 'Cause I think it-- I mean this question may sound a bit weird 'cause or I don't want to make you know, the genetic fallacy here but how does it inform the way which you navigate the archive? Uh, your choice of literatures 'cause you said you know, the kinds of books you were reading, uh, before you embark on your college career, um, and you have a fascination with-with pulp fiction, Black Pulp Fiction of and I-I-I tend see those that connection so, so talk a little bit about right, the way in which you approach the archive and why you decided to choose uh to work with this genre of writing as oppose to (06:00) um “high literature” as it were?

Kinohi: That’s a great question and given where I came from, I knew that there was a way of taking seriously. Uh, sort of lower forms of literature such as pulp crime fiction, romance fiction.

Eddie: Uh-hmm.

Kinohi: Um, in the college classroom and I knew that going into graduate study such that the very first course that I taught it to, my very first course that I taught at the- this level was titled Black Popular Fiction. I already known I wanted to do some version of book history and print culture studies remember from- from undergrad and Juanima and Jen really sort of help prepare me to enter to the classroom to really think about the black literary tradition, not from your standard bearers or from your canonical figures but from below as it were. And so the first course I thought was titled Black Popular Fiction and there, I really tried to do a broad survey of African-American literature from the ground up. From Chester Himes through Alice Walker and Terry McMillan all the way up to Ellen Harris, uh, with pit stops, uh--

Eddie: [laughs]

Kinohi: Um, I—in-in Black Pulp Fiction along the way Iceberg Slims and Donald Goines and what I discovered is that teaching it from this angle really still got us into asking questions that are important to the study of literature in general.

Eddie: Like what? Like how so?

Kinohi: Not just like how do text mean but particularly for the African-American literary tradition. How is an author like Chester Himes, thinking about urban housing, thinking about residential segregation, thinking about police brutality, not necessarily an highbrow literature but in his crime series with Kofina [?] Johnson and Greg Digger Jones, be red (08:00) comes to Harlem which is also by the way, a meditation on the back of Africa.

Eddie: Right. Right. Right.

Kinohi: [laughs] Speaking of UNIA, so even in a popular form, we could still talk about big questions that were used to sort of locating in higher forms of literature.

Eddie: So let me press a little bit more. So you can do this work that is typically associated with reading, uh, “high literature”. It can be done in a genre like pulp fiction so you could ask the same questions in these different domains but does it mean to choose one domain more than the other? Right? It could very well be the case that you're just interested in the question and you happen to ask it in place A as oppose to place B but there seems to be a politics, um, or not necessarily a politics a set of, um, norm of commitments that bring one side interview as oppose to another. Now, I've already kind of hinder that kind of biographical part right? This is the part that you grow up reading the stuff that was kind of close to you. But why ask the questions with this literature as oppose to traditional stuff?

Kinohi: The fact that I started asking this questions in the classroom is not incidental to this because it was only by showing students that what they are reading in their down time could in fact be taken seriously and-and sort of mind for what they have to say about this figure of questions. It was by doing that I got to see how-- in some ways, all types of reading involve a certain kind of reading. 

Eddie: Uh-hmm.

Kinohi: But because of the way the culture industry and forms of symbolic capital are set up were taught by institutions to value only certain kind of readings over others.

(10:00) Eddie: Right.

Kinohi: Right? And the first generation college student, I grow up reading literature that you weren't supposed to take seriously. That’s not inherent to the literature its how institutions have defined it. But when I taught a course of reading essentially and showed students the amazing work that this books were doing in their own right, um, it almost open a window to them into literature at large. He said, "If I can read Himes and Terry McMillan and Ellen Harrison this way, by God, can’t I take those same strategies of reading and apply to invisible man and apply it to Toni Morrison and apply it to so called higher forms of literature that happen to be tackling the same questions.” For many of my students recognizing that E. Lynn Harris’s invisible life is a direct re-scripting of invisible man, uh, but set in a sort of gay romance genre was revelatory, right? 'Cause it actually spear them to read invisible man--  

Eddie: So--

Kinohi: --by way of gay romance.

Eddie: So do you have to view to this abuse [?] people like me of the kind of assumption that-that you know writing isn't as-as elegant that uh craft, uh, is kind of compromise, uh, that's not as technically uh robust that the depth of thinking you know, so what-- how do you convince, 'cause you know sometime-I can be a snob when it comes to this things you know, to-- you said it can be an entry into literature, broader literatures at the level of craft, technique and the likes, so how do you manage, uh, you know, moving from Sapphire to Toni Morrison or something like that? 

Kinohi: I totally take that point.

Eddie: [laughs]

Kinohi: I have to be honest with you Eddie, when I first read Waiting to Exhale in undergrad.

Eddie: Uh-huh.

Kinohi: My instinct was to sort of push back against it. I really didn't like it.

Eddie: Right.

Kinohi: At first, and I read it my senior year and what's interesting is that, (12:00) by then, I already come to appreciate, remember right?

Eddie: Right, right.

Kinohi: Was the first gen but over three years I come to appreciate what canonical literature could-could sort of give me as-as a student and um, when I encounter Terry McMillan, my senior year, I- I was already pushing back on it in a way that I perhaps wouldn't have, uh, when I was a bit younger but what I came to realize in graduate school, my push back had to do with not recognizing McMillan’s genre codes. 

Eddie: Uhhh, okay. Okay.

Kinohi: I couldn't appreciate romance fiction.

Eddie: Read it for what it is.

Kinohi: Read it for what it is.

Eddie: Oh, okay.

Kinohi: You know, the quality of writing often isn’t as good but in some ways, asking that question of these books is exactly the wrong thing to do. These books are working within genres and in fact its popular fiction that shed lights on the questions of genre in ways that can illuminate the literary field with large in my experience. 

Eddie: Say more about it. It's fascinating. How so?

Kinohi: To write good popular fiction, you almost have to have master the codes of genre in a way that even you know-- even card artist would struggle to do.

Eddie: Hmm.

Kinohi: It's a form of writing that is so attune to a formula to the different benchmarks that you need to hit, um, in order to produce a certain effect emotional or otherwise that there an- actually an art to that there is a craft to that. That is not reducible to quality of writing but is much more about recognizing the codes and how well these authors meet them. This is what made Chester Himes such a masterful writer of crime fiction right? And McMillan and Harris (14:00) wonderful writers of romance fiction because as much they writing about big questions willing to African-American life. They did so in a way that was so attune to genre codes that readers, everyday readers could pick up on them because they knew the steps that they have to be taking, uh, satisfying conclusion to a mystery or resolution of romantic conflict. They knew those things had to be taken up and resolve in a way that was satisfying in the level of genre.

Eddie: Does really help for one last question about method and approach, you mention Jamison and Jamison and-and Wahneema Lubiano um, you know, when I read your work I see, um, what could be described and I think given your intellectual-intellectual lineage rightly describe as the kind of materialist approach but not as reducible to that. So, say a little bit about right, how you come to this text? Um, and-and which your way of reading, I mean we're getting something but I wanna see-- I wanna hear more explicitly how you situate yourself within this, um, school of thought out of which you come if that makes sense. 

Kinohi: It does make sense and what the graduate program in literature and in particular Professor Lubiano and Professor Radway--

Eddie: Yeah.

Kinohi: --thought me to do, was to- was to not take for granted the status of literature itself as this universal timeless category that we come to and study and-and learn to sort of take apart, um, but more or less leave intact. In some ways, my education in Duke was about questioning what defines literature as such. Uh, Janet at the time had just come off from doing a wonderful book on the book of the month club.

Eddie: Uh-hmm. (16:00)

Kinohi: And middlebrow’s aesthetics when Juanima for her entire career--

Eddie: Right.

Kinohi: --has sort of move between genres and registers to think about ways in which black politics, black social life are encoded and everything from Spike Lee to Toni Morrison.
Eddie: Uh-hmm.

Kinohi: So, this were models, for me in thinking about the African-American literary tradition not as something that we can only encounter through ontologies but it's something we encounter as a living dynamic tradition that has been produce by many hands.
Eddie: Uh-hmm.

Kinohi: And that has been targeted to a wide range of readers. Not all of them African-American and that' the important part of the story that I tell in my scholarship but none the less, gives a broader shape and a-a more expansive imagination to African-American literature then if we just simply encounter it as disembody text on the page.

Eddie: Yeah.

Kinohi: The process of making it, decimating it in readers taking it up and doing at their will of it, that's a dynamic story that my materialist approach to the literature always tries to get out. 

Eddie: Yeah, do-do you it-it offers interesting kinds of response to Kenneth Warns with what‘s African-American literature right? I mean, it seems to me that she would have answer to that question in a way that-that would push him a bit, am I wrong? [chuckles]

Kinohi: You're not wrong, to the extent that African-American literature is constantly being made and remade, it continues to exist.

Eddie: [laughs] Exactly.

Kinohi: The-the definition of it is not eminent to disembody text.

Eddie: Right.

Kinohi: Is about the making of it and the remaking of it for different audiences overtime.

Eddie: So I mean, this takes us, it's a beautiful transition to, um, uh, Street Players. It's a gorgeous book. (18:00) Um, I love--

Kinohi: Thank you, I love the design.

Eddie: I love the design, I mean, you know, you could tell that she-- you have demanded a kind of attentiveness to this. Is somewhat. Now, this is a social history. Talk a bit of how, uh, what draw you to the Holloway House and this two white men who, uh, fascinating characters in this story. Talk a little about that. 

Kinohi: I'd be glad too. Street Players is what you say as social history and it's a social history of black exploitation before it was ever called that.

Eddie: Yeah.

Kinohi: And long after the movies known as Black Exploitation finished its cycle.

Eddie: Hmm.

Kinohi: I was drawn to Holloway House precisely to this teaching experience I related to you, I first taught, Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines in that class and--

Eddie: [laughs]

Kinohi: --they're novels that I taught by far elicited the most impassioned shall we say responses out of all the books we study that semester again which ran from Himes to Ellen Harris, um, and I knew that there was something there about the way my students responded to this two books--

Eddie: Hmm.

Kinohi: --that's first of all most people weren't even aware of in a sense that this books had a underground circulation, um, that many academics much less ordinary readers wouldn't have known of, but that the quality of passion in responding to this texts also showed me that, it was something about black social life that this books were speaking to, capturing, um, responding to that mirrored a-a sort of story of history in its own right so that course lead me to thinking about where do this books come from and who was this independent (20:00) publisher based out in Los Angeles that not only produce this individual novels but produce hundreds of titles over, um, a couple of dec- a handful of decades, um, that could probably define under the label Black Pulp Fiction and what did it mean. How did it matter that it had a monopoly over Black Pulp Fiction.

Eddie: So this was the house--

Kinohi: This was the house, this was the house and that's why I made a link to black exploitation.

Eddie: Uh-hmm.

Kinohi: Because the house which was owned by-by two white man Bentley Morrison and Ralph Weinstock, had commercial interest in Black Pulp Fiction that cannot be divorced from the way the books were taken up by African-American readers in the 70's and 80’s.

Eddie: So, what is Morris and Weins- Weinstock cashing in on, right? I mean the arc of the book is really fascinating right there is sense on which uh they have a monopoly on-on publishing this books uh and they're trading on all sorts of periot [?] kind of views of race, in sex, and uh in some ways um inhabiting stereotypes. Why stereotypes of-of-of black life, of-of black men, of- of the black you know gangster of the black criminal however one of this crap. So talk about this evolution from uh that initial moment to where you end up in the book, where is that quite that something um radically different. Tell that story.

Kinohi: They did indeed start publishing Iceberg Slim for reasons that emphasize the perience of the story he had to tell about his pimping life in (22:00) Chicago.

Eddie: Yeah.

Kinohi: Uh-hmm. And part of the story I tell in Street Players is what their commercial investment in that perience was in 1967. It’s a story that for all the folks who have written on Black Pulp Fiction, it’s a story that they have been cautious about telling, in part because it challenges our sense of how an authentic black popular culture can arise and where it might originate from. Over time particularly in the 1970s and with the rise of the second author I’ve mentioned Donald Goines who amazingly published 16 titles in a matter of 4 years. It’s only with his rise that we begin to see Black Pulp Fiction as it's produce by Holloway House turning toward an African-American audience and really marketing the fiction toward black readers because it did not start off that way right hence the commercial investment in perience. And in some ways the story of the genre from there on out is the story of how African-American readers who also African-American authors begin to take ownership of the genre. In ways that exceed what Morris and Weinstock can imagine for it. Such that by the 1980s we're seeing folks like Tracy Marell many people might know him today as ice tea actually reading Iceberg Slim, re-reading him and creating art and a whole another kind of artistic persona out of that experience of reading pimp and transforming it into rap. But it's only when black readers become black authors, become black artist and sort of own that literature for themselves that we begin to see a sort of breakaway from Morris and Weinstock’s influence on [crosstalk] Black Pulp Fiction. (24:00)

Eddie: So you trace the arc of this kind of um-um re— ho--how would white could describe this resignification, this re—

Kinohi: Reappropriation.

Eddie: Reappropriation of-of um Black Pulp Fiction for-for ends that-that take us in a different direction. Uh but it's fascinating to me that- that Morris and Weinstock would take off in ‘66, right? Am I right in that- in that accusation ’67, ‘66?

Kinohi: 1967. 

Eddie: 1967. I mean from ’67 to ‘80, that's so- that’s so interesting period. And we're taught this the height of black power, right? So what is the relationship between and what—let-let me say it, let me ask it differently we know that one of the features of black power is a turn too, right? A certain under—a certain representation of the black community, right? Is it-- in some ways is it—is a rebellion against certain middle class norms, certain ideas of respectability as like trying to account for Richard Pryor's humor, right? We're gonna find art in-in-in the salty [?] language of everyday life, right? What does it mean for Morris and Weinstock to take off in that initial phase during this period?

Kinohi: It's a really odd convergence.

Eddie: Yeah. 

Kinohi: And one of the sort of scenes of the book, um lands on Larry Neal's response to Iceberg Slim, which is very harsh. 

Eddie: Yes, of course it would be. Right.

Kinohi: And in his poem Brother Pimp, uh which is dedicated to Slim he has harsh words for someone who would exploit his community for profit. 

Eddie: And Larry Neal of course is black arts movement one of its central theories does it were, right?

Kinohi: One of its central theories.

Eddie: Right.

Kinohi: The same volume in which that poem appears Amiri Baraka writes the introduction.

Eddie: Fascinating.

Kinohi: And even though he doesn't name Slim explicitly, the (26:00) the way in which he sort of approving Brother Pimp, suggest that he's in full agreement with Larry Neal. So, in some ways ideologically, Black Pulp Fiction is the complete opposite of black power. But the reason why it takes off is that on a deeper level, okay beyond the sort of textural discourse, the pleasures of narrative, the pleasures of genre, the pleasures of scene black heroes and anti-heroes in crime fiction, espionage fiction, gang fiction, these things actually do tap into the culture in ways that ideology alone can't capture. So at the same time that Black Pulp Fiction has a very vexed relationship to black power and cultural nationalism, at the level of the pleasures it affords, it's in fact being taken up by millions of readers.

Eddie: So what do you think about it at the level of the representation of the masculine. Do they converged a depth because we know there's a kind of hyper masculinity that defines black power in so many ways, right? And-and the kind of masculine is the mentions of- of the pose of these, of the figures in-in this books. What do you think? Am I- am I reaching here but talk how about, how is masculinity, black masculinity represented, I mean Iceberg Slim is one example but how is it being represented in-in this text and interesting sorts of ways.

Kinohi: In a word, self possessed. It is a reclaiming of black manhood on the level of the pleasures that genre forwards that we haven't seen up to that point and that only in some domains of I would say music and possibly in latter date (28:00) urban fiction, uh-uh we come to see sense but really for its time it reclaims a self possessed black masculinity in ways that stand out from everything else that's being produced. It is- it is the anti fluctuates. 

Eddie: It is the anti fluctuates. 

Kinohi: In a-in a certain way, and-- 

Eddie: Unpack that. What does that mean, unpack that?

Kinohi: Coming out of ‘67, right? So this is again it's important to note that this proceeds black exploitation.

Eddie: Right.

Kinohi: ‘67 your coordinates are less shaft who is you know who won't uh come onto the scene for another uh 4, 5 years. But your coordinates are fluctuate.

Eddie: Right.

Kinohi: Right. And your coordinates are a certain civil rights and formed respectable middle class black masculinity that you may see challenge here and there and things like Claude Brown's Manchild in the Promised Land, now connects us autobiography but that you don't, you know, you don't really see much else besides that. Black Pulp Fiction comes along and reclaims a kind of self-possessed black masculinity um, and-and here's the key it does it serially, so it does it over a number of books and not just one. Um it took them a while-- it took Holloway House a while for them to figure this out and how to do this. Um for a while it was only Iceberg Slim and a handful of other authors who were publishing with them but one- once they saw the popularity among black produce themselves, they started publishing serial fiction. 

Eddie: Uh-hmm.

Kinohi: The adventures of a particular hero or anti-hero over a number of books so that these fantasies, these reclamation of black masculinity could be drawn out over time.

Eddie: So once-once Holloway House realizes is that a black reading public is actually commercially profitable, um we begin to see the shift so there's- there is the kind of (30:00) money could be made uh by these black readers, right, um but in terms of the writing itself, I mean do we see a shift you talked about Robert Pack telling his story, by the time we get to Donald Goines do we see him kind of writing with a wide gaze in mind or is he, is the writing still kind of trying to reveal something to a uh white, a white audience or has the writing turn towards black folk not just simply because they buy the book but because now they can just speak to them without having to worry about um certain assumptions by white folks about who and what we are. 

Kinohi: One of the key arguments of the book which has yet to be sort of made by other scholars who studied the genre, is that it's in fact Goines' writing that shifts the genre toward a black reading public that's what index is it. And what does he do that's different from Slim. He writes according to formula. 

Eddie: Ahh.

Kinohi: Slim is writing in a way that's more of a kind of standalone book that's being put out there for the perient gaze of a largely white reading public. But Goines gets Holloway House a model for how they genuinely write black formula fiction and in his books that sort of turn the genre away from that white gaze toward a black reading public that really just wants to have pleasurable formula fiction like you know books that can satisfy certain benchmarks. Um, serially over any number of titles and his- he becomes the model for how to write Black Pulp Fiction for a black reading public um after the early 1970s.

Eddie: That's fascinating. So Holloway House close the shop around 2008. (32:00) Uh Street Players ins, um by in some ways charting the residual traces of-of-of that run, how might we kind of identify those traces on our own current moment?

Kinohi: Most explicitly, in urban fiction um the key shift that we see beginning in the 1990s is African-American woman saying, you know we really, we do have Aurellius Walkers or Tony Morisson. Heck we even have our Turn Mcmillans but what we don't have is a female counterpart to Black Pulp Fiction, to Iceberg Slim, to Donald Goines and so what you see are women like Vickie Stringer, Teri Woods begin to sort of publish, self-publish their own what they called urban fiction in the 1990's and that of course birth a movement of independent self-published African-American authors. Many of them women producing their own sort of hybrid, uh-uh sort of crime and romance fictions that we now call street fiction, urban fiction, hip hop literature. And what did that do to Holloway House, it took away a vital part of their niche, their black, their ability to market to a black reading public. So it's no coincidence that when urban fiction really starts to-to peak in the late 90's and early ‘00s, Holloway House begins to falter and of course there's things like internet sales and-and competition with other media. But really the fact that black women need this genre their own and decided not to publish with Holloway House (34:00) but to self-publish really spell the end of Holloway House's monopoly on the genre. So urban fiction is a really important legacy of this that in fact decisively turn the genre away from monopolistic control.

Eddie: And are there any kind of carryovers in terms of themes, in terms of, what does it mean to go from that kind of hyper masculine his works of-of Iceberg Slim and even Donald Goines to-to black women writing urban fiction. What- what happens at the level of content here?

Kinohi: In my opinion you see a profound re-orientation of perspective because even-even if a lot of the settings, look or sound similar sometimes, right? Hip hop tracks sort of that a lot of urban fiction, um the perspective of coming from a woman sometimes a gay man, sometimes lesbian, these fundamentally shift what Holloway House had been marketing, right, since roughly the early 1970's and it fundamentally moves away from uh, a sort of default position of self-possessed black masculinity. 

Eddie: Uh-hmm.

Kinohi: You just don't have that notion of defending that, of reclaiming that as your default anymore. Um you have perspectives of uh incarcerate-- incarcerative woman who have their own issues to deal with, um in terms of domestic issues, in terms of crime and criminal justice that are qualitatively distinct from the ways in which Slim and Goines narrate their own experiences of incarceration. And I would argue that it's an improvement on it precisely because it opens up that perspective away from reclamation and-and um sort of identifying with (36:00) a singular black character and more opening it up to a cast of characters, right, black women in general. It's not a coincidence that some of the classic urban fiction titles involve not just one hero or anti-hero but a cast. 

Eddie: Right. Right.

Kinohi: Um two women, three women or more. 

Eddie: Wow. So, Street Players is now or has been birth. The second project, how's it coming?

Kinohi: I am actively at work on it and I'm excited about it.

Eddie: Yeah. Yeah.

Kinohi: Because it takes my interest in approaching African-American literature through a materialist slang. And turns it on something that it's paradoxical on the one hand it's the most visible part of the book, it's cover, it's tight face, and yet also somehow it's most invisible in that we tend to take these things for granted and not comment on them explicitly.

Eddie: Uh-hmm.

Kinohi: And it's asking what would a history of African-American literature look like through the lens of design.

Eddie: Yeah.

Kinohi: Through the lens of how books, African-American author books have been designed over roughly a century.

Eddie: Okay I'll wait for that. Um as we come to a close um one can't help but note the journey uh first gen, reading books that you could put in your back pocket and here you are, now, writing about all of that. What can you tell a student who's searching uh for that subject matter that will animate her practice. What can you tell her about you know the kind of advice that you could offer her given your own journey to now?

Kinohi: You know it's important to me that I link my methods to history of black study scholarship which would include the (38:00) bibliographers such as Arthur Schamberg, Dorothy Porter Wesley, which would include literally historians put to real life our book history such as Charles T. Davis, the first African-American tenure track faculty member at Princeton and of course Arnold Rampersad. You know it's important for me to show how my methods derive from a long genealogy of what might be called black bibliography. My predecessors took up these methods because they recognize that African-American literature was not seen as a literature in their time, was not seen as a coherent body of work produced by novelists, poets, journalists over time, right, that deserve the kind of consideration one would give to say Shakespeare, Melton, or Elliot. So for them, book history, bibliography, and in Rampersad's case biography was a way of legitimating what had long been, first of all not thought about. And when it was thought about, was dismissed, right as not as important as canonical literature, the literature we anthologize.

So for students who wants to see herself in this tradition I would say that these methods in fact legitimate what other people might consider sub-literary or not worthy of attention because the methods are neutral over the question of literary value, right they're more interested in questions like how these works operate, to whom they're being targeted and where and why they're being taken up. In short evaluating literary works on their own terms. And once you learn how to use materialist methods which again have a long genealogy that's length not only to Mark's literary criticism but to black studies. I think it can be incredibly liberating to take something you long considered freebie list or something you wouldn't dream of reading in college and say, my goodness what kind of work is this book doing. And how might these methods help me understand what it's doing, right? And the intellectual to say (40:00) nothing of the creative and effective pleasures it affords um and how can I understand these things on their own terms.

Eddie: There you have it. Thank you for joining us for this discussion today. I would like to especially thank Professor Kinohi Nishikawa for joining us this week. This man-- a special thanks to Courtney Bryant for providing the music to this podcast, to the staff of the Department of African-American studies here at Princeton, our Office Manager, April Peters. Our Event Coordinator, Dionne Worthy. Our Social Media Specialist, Alison Bland and our Technical Specialist and Audio Engineer, Elio Leo. Remember you can find this podcast and more by visiting our website, aas.princeton.edu. Until next time, thank you. 

[music plays]

[ends]

 

 

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