Red Clay and Blue Skies
I have just come back from the red clay of Alabama. Tuskegee University. Booker T. Washington, Tuskegee Airmen, and George Washington Carver Land. A haven of quiet black audacity and accomplishment.
I have been to see a President and a First Lady, Dr. Benjamin Payton and his beautiful wife, my Link sister, Thelma Payton. Dr. Payton retires this coming June. He’s served Tuskegee ably for 28 years. I wanted to say goodbye and well done. They worked me hard at Tuskegee. Everyone works hard at Tuskegee. That’s the Tuskegee way. I taught three different one and one half hour classes, two before a marvelous lunch, one after; was driven back to my beautiful on campus room in the historic and elegant Kellog Center by the first lady herself, then changed just in time for a reception at the Carver Museum where I gave another short talk, followed by formal address to students sponsored by the Student Government that evening at seven.
We talked about African-American coded languages; spirituals being used by people wanting to get in the underground railroad; we talked about parody; and we talked about coded parody; we talked about cakewalks; and we talked about Emmet Till, and Mamie Till; we talk about the novels Push and The Coldest Winter Ever. We talked about the state of black literary fiction.
We talked about the importance of able , hardworking readers to writers who wish to fully engage complexity.
I proposed a 32 dollar challenge to the Tuskegee Students. I challenged them to find two African-American novelist that meet the following criteria: 1)the novelist must be someone they think is writing about something important; 2) the writer must be living; 3) the writer must be someone who isn’t currently on the best seller list. And after they find their two novelists that matter, but are not widely recognized, I want them to buy their books; preferably in hardback on Amazon. Depending on which novels you choose 32 dollars will buy two hardbacks or a hardback and a paperback. Once a year. Every year year.
10,000 books sold is a great number for black literary fiction. As we move toward the hundred anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance I want to be moving toward 100 African American novelists writing literary fiction, serious fiction, in whatever language they choose, or form they define and decide, selling 10,000 books a year.
And I want to do that by asking African-American readers to spend 32 dollars a year more on literary fiction.
There are over 40.7 million African-Americans. I’m looking for 500,000. There are over 2.3 million black college students in America. And there are 1.2 million African-Americans with advanced degrees. 500,000 readers who want to help reshape the publishing landscape to make it profitable to publish significant black voices should not be hard to find.
A Renaissance to rival the Renaissance. If every African-American above 18 and above the poverty line spent 32 dollars a year more on novels that matter written by African-Americans, we will get it done.
This matter because profound stories, profound novels, sustain. They help us maintain our moral compass. They help us remain or become aware of realities other than our own. They help us see deeper into our own reality. They preserve significant cultural aesthetics and knowledge and they help us evolve new aesthetics and develop new knowledge.
Going into that red dirt got me close to my brand of radical conservatism. Recognizing that Education and Healthcare are the two greatest challenges this nation faces and African-Americans as a people face I’ve got a three part plan for me and my people inspired by my visit to Tuskegee:
1) Get married and stay married
2) Read more, write more, buy more books
3) Walk a mile every day, once a week walk with someone who needs to walk a mile but won’t do it alone.
Simple as ABC, 1,2, 3, it’s a plan I believe both Booker T. and W.E.B. would sign off on. The Payton’s who are approaching their fiftieth wedding anniversary are great examples of people who have done all of the above all of their life. I’m getting started today. I’ve got one and two down—but I going to get real busy working number three improving my health to support the economic health of the country. Let’s Walk, Read, and Grown-up Love our way into a sky-bright tomorrow improbable and powerful as the brown airmen arising out of Alabama flying life changing missions over Europe.