William Michaelian

Poems, Notes, and Drawings

Tag Archive for ‘Library of America’

In Lieu Of

Ralph Waldo Emerson and William Wells Brown are both in Europe now, seeing the sights, meeting people, writing their observations and travel notes. One is a free man, wondering what freedom really is. The other is a fugitive, who knows what freedom is, or thinks he does. This leaves us to ask the reader of these two books if he knows. And he replies by saying that whatever he knows, […]

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Knowing and Not Knowing

While reading Emerson’s journal this morning, I came to a one-line entry of such a painful, personal nature that even now, almost two hundred years after it was written, I feel I have invaded the poor man’s privacy. Yet I am glad I read it. Had I been the editor, I would have thought long and hard about including it, but I am sure I would have done so — […]

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William Wells Brown

The Library of America volume devoted to the writings of William Wells Brown begins with his 1847 Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave. I’ve read twenty-eight of its forty-five pages thus far. And while it has revealed no general detail about slavery that I haven’t already encountered, the simple, stark clarity of Brown’s writing, coupled with his frank honesty in terms of his personal regrets and easily forgiven […]

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Their Eyes Were Watching God

Saturn and Jupiter have become intimate with the horizon. They are lights glowing in a cabin in the woods, one in the loft, the other on the table beside an open book. Reading Their Eyes Were Watching God is like living through a hurricane. In Zora Neale Hurston’s novel, God is a hurricane. And fate is a rabid dog. Life, though, is a song on the lips of love. What […]

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Two Hundred or Two Thousand

Having finished today the two-volume set of Harlem Renaissance novels, I’ve decided to add one more voice from the time to this phase of reading — that of Zora Neale Hurston. One novel of hers will suffice for now: Their Eyes Were Watching God. It’s her best known, and one of several included in Library of America’s two-volume edition of her writing.* Then I will move on to William Wells […]

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Black Thunder

Halfway through, I am haunted by Arna Bontemps’ Black Thunder. Knee-deep in mud, I am shaken by the roar, the clouds, the lightning, the rising streams. The shadows are alive. The horses scare me. Everything is an omen. I want to be free — as free as a bird, as free as Thomas Jefferson — free from the lash, free from the trunk of a tree. I pick your crops. […]

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The Conjure-Man Dies

Rudolph Fisher’s The Conjure-Man Dies is an interesting, entertaining, beautifully and concisely written detective novel set in 1930s Harlem. It’s spiced with psychology and suspense, humor, wit, and just the right amount of scientific, philosophical, and medical knowledge. Like his main character and sleuth, Dr. John Archer, it’s clear that Fisher — a physician himself in addition to being a gifted student and musician — was no mean observer. His […]

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Emerson, Thoreau, and a Compost Pile

In addition to the Harlem Renaissance novels and Thoreau’s journal, I have begun reading the two-volume edition of Emerson’s journal published ten years ago by the Library of America. Reading Emerson’s words aloud, as I do Thoreau’s, is more than a daily exercise in tongue and skill; the vibrations in my chest and skull create a conversational, dreamlike, philosophical intimacy that makes me feel we are together in the same […]

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Canvas 468 — Not Without Laughter

Langston Hughes’ll cure your blues — give em to you too. Say you don’t want em?but you do — you do, like all the boys and girls. Greasy cold fish sandwich,box a crackerjacks — his trumpet and his banjo’ll cut you through and through. Twister blew his front porch then set it in a field — kingdom of a front porch,flat dab in that field. Blew his door off like […]

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The Blacker the Berry

This bright frosty morning, the world smells like a million lonely breakfasts. “November Postcard” Songs and Letters, November 15, 2008 . The Blacker the Berry You’re too dark. You’re too light. You’re the wrong shade of brown. So it goes, from Boise to Los Angeles, from Los Angeles to Harlem, in the sad story of the very black Emma Lou Morgan, as plainly, painfully, and artfully told by Wallace Thurman. […]

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