Category Archives: Book Reviews

‘Death, With Occasional Smiling’ by Tony Medina / Songs of Black Lament and Love

Review by Truth Thomas
The Skinny Poetry Journal

July 6, 2021 at 9:00 a.m. EDT

Tony Medina does with apparent ease what most people cannot do at all—prolifically composing fresh, compelling work, both in Spanish and in English.  In Death, With Occasional Smiling, his latest collection, he offers readers a moving view of what critical race theory would look like if it took the form of poetry. I make this point, because critical race theory is essentially a documentation of the blues—the social blues of racism that permeates every aspect of American culture. Certainly, the horror of racism, playing out in the lives of Black and Brown people in the United States, is unfettered in its historical and ongoing brutality. Though some folks choose not to see it, Tony Medina is not one of those people. Particularly, in terms of chronicling modern day lynchings, the poems in this volume hit like Mike Tyson in 1985.

“Father, Son Arrested in the Death of…” is a piece that fills the early pages of his full-bodied book with a genealogy of race-based terrorism.  The poem references Ahmaud Arbery’s murder in Georgia, though not by name, it speaks to the names of all the murdered—and martyred, so tragically. For those who may not be familiar with the family tree, which embodies, and emboldens, such evil, this poem is a history lesson, that begins with these words: 

Racism is an heirloom passed down through
Generations like a retrovirus

A rifle handed from father to son
Aiming to please some deep-seated heated

Urge to violate rape maim hurt some thing

Like James Baldwin, Gwendolyn Brooks, and a multitude of great writers before him, Medina makes it plain that Black life in America is an abnormal normality, a halfway freedom riding, a daily kind of death (although we sometimes laugh to keep our sanity from snapping). Also, much like those notable figures, it’s clear that his work springs forth from a decidedly beautiful mind. In a myriad of forms (eintou, diptychs, triptychs, odes, and elegies) he paints strikingly vivid pictures that are gut wrenching, of worlds he has come to know. These poems are richly informed by the Black Arts Movement and Nuyorican poets—of which, he is a beacon. This is especially true in his politically themed verses. In “After Pelosi’s Dropkick,” his humor and social commentary are protest marches in a pen:

After Pelosi got through with Trump all he could do was spit out
            some teeth, look
cockeyed and confused, swat aimlessly at stars, and mumble,
            Covfefe, Covfefe,
Trump folded like Mumbo Sauce on greasy-ass fries.
Covfefe is Russian for “To Cave.”
Covfefe is Russian for Rosebud.
COVFEFE is Trump’s anti-LGTBQ policy known as Don’t Ask
Can’t Spell…

Pelosi laced up her Timbs and STOMPED Trump’s off-white ass
            into the White House lawn
            until a wall formed around his toupee.

There is tremendous range and a theatrical quality in the breadth of Tony Medina’s poetry. This book, that captures many sobering snapshots of early twenty-first century Black life, is no exception. With that in mind, if Broadway ever launches a production based on his catalog of work, it would be wise to fend for a front row seat. However, until that good show opens, Death, With Occasional Smiling, now lighting up the literary stage at Indolent Books, should more than tide over any thoughtful soul in search of a stunning, transformational, artistic experience.

Death, With Occasional Smiling
by Tony Medina
Indolent Books, paper, 132 pp. $20.00


Truth Thomas is a singer-songwriter and poet born in Knoxville, Tennessee and raised in Washington, D.C.  He studied creative writing at Howard University and earned his MFA in poetry at New England College.  His collections include Party of BlackA Day of PresenceBottle of Life, and Speak Water, winner of the 2013 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry.  His poems have appeared in over 150 publications, including: Poetry MagazineGhost Fishing: An Eco-justice Poetry AnthologyRinging Ear: Black Poets Lean South (A Cave Canem Anthology), and The 100 Best African American Poems (edited by Nikki Giovanni).  He is the founder of Cherry Castle Publishing, creator of the “Skinny” poetry form, a former writer-in-residence for the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo), and the managing editor of The Skinny Poetry Journal


‘The Dandelion Speaks of Survival’ by Quintin Collins / Review by Dr. Rosetta Codling

Poet Quintin Collins, author of The Dandelion Speaks of Survival: Cherry Castle Publishing, 2021. 66 pages.

The Dandelion Speaks of Survival
Poems by Quintin Collins
Rosetta Codling, Ph.D.

In short, this is a diverse and uniquely beautiful collection of poetic gems. Beauty transcends diversity. This the lesson of The Dandelion Speaks of Survival. From the bowels of the city’s concrete, a flower…a dandelion…. defies convention and nature to spring forth. It is, simply, beauty triumphing over adversity. This is the message sent to us in Quintin Collins’ poetry collection. He announces, “This is Where You Belong” and it is in Chicago, in Atkins Park, and it is in Chris’ backyard. The concrete summons you in “After the Towers Fell, Black Boys Felt American.” You belong in New York on Baker Street and witness the smoke on Pulaski Avenue. But there are more seeds to be planted in Collins’ poem “Sag.” You lumber, you launch, and you have the security of a safety pin that evolves to become a life preserver in the form of a rope, provided by a teacher.

Things blossom further in Quintin Collin’s poetic bouquet. “The Barber Chair” is an ode that springs from the concrete cracks. This selection is about the ultimate union among men in the traditional barber shop. The fraternity of male kinship springs forth here because “Elsewhere, only a woman/gets this close to your blood.” There are challenges in any given city. There are obstacles in every given city. And there is the drive to defy the known barriers. There, within, is the poetry of Quintin Collins.


Dr. Rosetta Codling is a freelance literary critic. She has written reviews for the Ama Books, the Manhattan Book Review, the San Francisco Book Review, the Journal of African Literature, Autres Modernites, and She has obtained scholarships and fellowships from Queens College (NYC), Teachers College/Columbia University (NYC), and the Open University (UK). She retired (in 2006) as a secondary school teacher and Adjunct Professor of English for over 30 years in New York. However, she attends global conferences and continues to write professionally. In addition, she now is an Adjunct Associate Professor of English at Herzing University in Atlanta, Georgia.



Order at Cherry Castle Publishing: The Dandelion Speaks of Survival

‘Indiana Nocturnes’ by Curtis L. Crisler and Kevin A. McKelvey / Review by Truth Thomas

INDIANA NOCTURNES, by Curtis L. Crisler & Kevin A. McKelvey
(Nebo Publishing, paper, 2020. 85 pages, $15.95.)

Honest conversations about race between Blacks and Whites in America are about as common as hunger running away from a steak. In books of poetry, as well as any other aspect of life in the United States, this is true. Poets Curtis L. Crisler and Kevin A. McKelvey, hoosiers to the core (one Black, one White, respectively), engage in such cultural discussions with courage — and without pretension. Indiana Nocturnes is their deliberate attempt to demonstrate both how separate — and yet similar we all are — through a literary concert that features two distinct poetic songs of ourselves. The implied racial and cultural dialectic that takes place within the pages of this book is notable for its authenticity and resonance of dual realities. Crisler writes of gripping urban farmlands in lines that often place humor on the point of thematic daggers. A glimpse into his “Hollywood B-Side,” makes this plain, as he writes:

Rudy Ray Moore’s
karate kicked so slow I could make a fried-

bologna sandwich before his foot hit the floor.
I knew he’d never catch my black ass in one
of his flicks. Maybe white actors couldn’t see
him—they never hid behind cars or trees

at night, trying to make it home.

McKelvey’s poetic scene-setting is as expansive as the Indiana flat lands where most of his work comes to life.  His imagery is as rich as sweet corn and as multi-layered as shingles on a rooftop. Indeed, although the two authors are framed in wholly different Indiana worldviews, both Crisler and McKelvey “see” each other in this book in ways that are fruitful — far from venomous screams across hate-filled canyons. Theirs is a book of unselfish poetic solos and duets that honor the salient and intertwined beauty of two halves of the heartland whole. McKelvey speaks to that healing geometry in the poem, “On Cliffcrest Dock Near The Dassier Cabin, Isle Royale National Park,” where readers find these words:

We see water and life differently when we stand above it.

And from “Standing and Seeing,” he goes on to say:

I can look through a window in my house,
through windows in the next house,
and see an apartment building two doors down.
As a kid I could see evergreens
at my elementary school three miles away.
Proximity doesn’t matter.
People can create their own cure for a place.

To declare a poet’s poems inaccessible, is sometimes seen as a literary term of endearment.  In the context of Indiana Nocturnes, I will not lead myself into that temptation. Suffice it to say that in the same way that people and cultures are complex, Crisler and McKelvey’s poems reflect a comparable range and complexity.  Full disclosure: Readers will find no name tags linking poems with their authors in the book proper — not until its final curtain call. To that extent, identifying who exactly is speaking can be somewhat of a challenge. However, the challenge is well worth the effort. The poems are equal parts literary concert and parable. Two quite culturally different Indiana voices ultimately become one voice, one humanity, one joy — much to the joy of joy itself.

TO order, go to: The Nebo Media Group


Truth Thomas is a singer-songwriter and poet born in Knoxville, Tennessee and raised in Washington, D.C.  He studied creative writing at Howard University and earned his MFA in poetry at New England College.  His collections include Party of Black, A Day of Presence, Bottle of Life and Speak Water, winner of the 2013 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry.  His poems have appeared in over 150 publications, including: Poetry Magazine, Ghost Fishing: An Eco-justice Poetry Anthology, Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South (A Cave Canem Anthology), and The 100 Best African American Poems (edited by Nikki Giovanni).  He is the founder of Cherry Castle Publishing, creator of the “Skinny” poetry form, a former writer-in-residence for the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo), and the managing editor of The Skinny Poetry Journal.

The Dandelion Speaks of Survival by Quintin Collins / Review by Curtis L. Crisler

Collins, Quintin. The Dandelion Speaks of Survival, Columbia, MD: Cherry Castle Publishing, 2021. 66 pages.

Quintin Collins’s debut poetry collection represents release—a personification of voices from the mosquito, a suicide note, hip-hop freestyle, code-switching, the afro, the washcloth, the dandelion, and narrators who are witnesses to this vascular world of beautiful and ugly wonderment. Quintin impregnates The Dandelion Speaks of Survival with a brume of language—reverberating our ears with smoked, apple-wood, bacon sizzling in a hot, black, cast-iron skillet. No matter if you down with pork or not, it smells delicious.

In the titular poem, “The Dandelion Speaks of Survival,” the personification is melodic. There’s a luxuriant language with the juxtaposition of nature confronted by manmade tools and wording that cuts—that “shears,” “snaps,” and “poisons.” This is the confrontational (life and death) shared between a weed and a Black man. Yet, with vulnerability comes restoration. Also implied in this poem, Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”—defying heartache and sorrow, hearing her belt out, “Oh, no, not I! I will survive. Oh, as long as I know how to love I know I’ll stay alive.” The disco high-hat and snare drum against a back beat with a melodious piano quivering out its truth, all underneath Gaynor’s turbulently defiant lyrics. Yet, this is not all the poem exemplifies. In another act of genius, Quintin summons one of the greatest line breaks in poetry, Miss Lucille Clifton’s “won’t you celebrate with me.” She wrote, in her ending:

come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

Quintin replicates Clifton’s sentiment. Many in Chi-town still do due diligence to Clifton’s declaration, as well as what the first African American Pulitzer Prize winner Gwendolyn Brooks represented—contin-uing vying for individual and collective Black voices. Quintin even replicates Miss Clifton’s line break. His narrator believes:

I survive. I survive. I survive. I survive
again and again.

Throughout the trauma of life, survival’s what we do. Therefore, be it organic or not, the allusion of the dalliance with Gaynor, Clifton, and Brooks demonstrates Quintin as a practitioner with an eclectic ear—using his language, history, and his love for women’s voices (his mother and grandmother) to articulate the ambience and bittersweetness of Black existence.

In “Ice Cream Economics” he directs us to some sweetness. He moves in and through us, as the Ice Cream truck bombards our ears, jerking our heads—rubbernecking and swiveling because it just got real:

You chase melody. Xylophone reverberations
crawl up Ravisloe Terrace. Sneakers percuss
sidewalks. Pause Double Dutch
hi hats, basketball timpanis. Screen
doors slap like cymbals. Faster tempos

The lyrical play in “Ice Cream Economics” elucidates the backbeat and rhythm of summer as children are told to either come in or go out, but you ain’t gone be slamming my door all damn day. It’s a cacophony as exhilarating as the kinetic energy of bodies participating in the breathing of air. This is universal, no matter the neighborhood, for the most part. And if not, Quintin lets us come behind the curtain. He continues…

as kids bolt. Pockets maraca
nickels, quarters, dimes. Adolescents
drumroll right up to the window.

And you are there, in Quintin’s cinemascope, an actor in the scene—a witness next to the narrator—putting your hand out for Mama to give you some change for ice cream—negotiating how fast you can run on the hot asphalt to obtain “Choco Tacos,” “Bomb Pops,” or “Good Humor strawberry shortcake”—returning before anything got a chance to even try to melt.

“Ice Cream Economics” is a reprieve from the ulcers, the blood draws, and the IVs, where the “immune cells attack healthy tissue,/internal wounds open.” “The Body’s Betrayal” and “Only Pussies Bleed” unveil a black boy’s vulnerability as his body bleeds from his anus, only adding to the external repercussions of shame the narrator takes on by other boys who call him a girl.

“Sold As-Is” seems the crux or thematic metaphor in Dandelion Speaks of Survival—revealing what Quintin’s narrator hears…

one final thing                   i should tell you                  people have died
in the house             some natural causes
some murders
but if you don’t believe              in ghosts              or oppressed people
then you have nothing
to worry about

Is this not America? Capitalism? All the different tribes currently beefing? Only here, we are looking through the poet’s lens, with a particular set of skills, honing the foci on Chi-town, and all those “homes” (all those bodies). These are not new goods. They are “being used and abused and served like hell” (Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five “The Message”) in a capitalist system where a profit must be made. Why does he want us to see this? What does “Sold As-Is” really mean? To the seller? The buyer? Isn’t it about what we will and will not accept? Quintin is Louis and Clark exploring this midwestern landscape; yet, he is also Sacagawea and York, giving us its truth and its culture. 

The narrator of these poems addresses the internalization and affirmation that black lives matter like all other lives. In “Signs of Life”

You smile
to promote the lie that you’re not afraid of death,
that your notions of long life weren’t in a pile of ash

Only if death, and only if gaining freedom through death, were not poised implications for redemption in boys named Brandon, Chris, Keith, Toine, or Quintin.

Quintin’s vulnerability and love for place takes us back, then moves us forward, singing names we take for granted. In one of the meccas of blues, “We pull off to the shoulder,/ unaware of what we’ve done wrong.” The “we” are just trying to make it home after being pulled over by police. Dandelion Speaks of Survival is our access home. Quintin’s writing so “we” all make it home.


Curtis L. Crisler is Professor of English at Purdue University Fort Wayne. He is the recipient of a residency from the City of Asylum/Pittsburgh (COA/P), the recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA), Soul Mountain, a guest resident at Hamline University, and a guest resident at Words on the Go (Indianapolis). Crisler’s poetry has been adapted to theatrical productions in New York and Chicago, and he has been published in a variety of notable magazines, journals, and anthologies.


(Curtis L. Crisler / photo by Lou Bryant)

Order your copy of The Dandelion Speaks of Survival from Cherry Castle Publishing today. 

The Ski NNY [Poetry Anthology] Book Review by Rosetta Codling, Ph.D.

The Skinny Poetry Anthology Edited by Truth Thomas
Review by Rosetta Codling, Ph.D.

The Ski NNY (2019) is the latest issue from Cherry Castle Publishing. It is, by far, the most lyrically aesthetic from the house of Cherry Castle. Truth Thomas is the creator of the Skinny genre. It is, perhaps, an urban haiku, framed in eleven volcanic lines which surge forth. The eleventh line and the last line must be repeated using the same words from the first and opening line. The composer, Truth Thomas, does lend liberty to rearrangement. But the second, sixth, and tenth lines must be identical. Thomas, also, stresses that: “All the lines in his form, except for the first and last lines, must be composed of a single word.”

Does this all sound daunting? Yes. Is it difficult to achieve? Yes. However, the subjects of these harmonious creations are the more tedious to bear witness to. Yet, the poets in this collection do so fearlessly.

“the glint of gas oven or America’s Concentration Camps” (with acknowledgment to “who” by Sylvia Plath) is the opening ‘sonata poem’ of this collection. This poem is disarming and starkly real. Debasis Mukhopadhyay is a poet true to his mentor Sylvia Plath. The words drip and drape across the page conveying the erosion of the human spirit. In short, terse, verse, America is indicted for crimes against humanity on a single page of history.

“Jail Cell Diaries” is an entry in this collection that invades the soul in variation mode. This poem is a chronicle of 21 days of unjust incarceration. The varied repetition of words, in each stanza, are branded upon the page for the reader. “Freely…free…delirium…cry…sleep…dropped…guiltocent…dropped” are the words which descend upon the reader, slowly. Jen Schneider, the poet, paints an image that lingers long after the cell doors…open and close, again.

But, this collection is not without wit. Pam Desloges’ “Skinny Skinny” reminds the reader what lies beneath the meter and the meaning of a poem. She entreats us to explore the “nouns” and “bony verbs” absorbed in a text. She uses food imagery to aid in our envisioning of “low-carb adjectives” that are consumed in sectional, lean forms.

This collection is a whole. This collection is in harmony. This collection stands alone. Thank you, Truth Thomas, for delivering truths in many lyrical tones.


Rosetta Codling is a freelance literary critic. She has written reviews for the Ama Books, the Manhattan Book Review, the San Francisco Book Review, the Journal of African Literature, Autres Modernites, and She has obtained scholarships and fellowships from Queens College (NYC), Teachers College/Columbia University (NYC), and the Open University (UK). She retired (in 2006) as a secondary school teacher and Adjunct Professor of English for over 30 years in New York. However, she attends global conferences and continues to write professionally. In addition, she now is an Adjunct Associate Professor of English at Herzing University in Atlanta, Georgia.


(Shaggy Flores, Nuyorican Poet/Scholar)

Order your copy of The Skinny Poetry Anthology from Cherry Castle Publishing today. 

Book Review: Hairway to Heaven: Tales of a Neighborhood’s Truths

Hairway to Heaven: Tales of a Neighborhood’s Truths
Review by George Clack

Derek Alderman, a geographer at the University of Tennessee, has been keeping track of streets in the United States renamed after Martin Luther King Jr. He’s now counted more than 900. In her new short story collection from Cherry Castle Publishing, Hairway to Heaven, Patty Somlo has chosen to focus on the residents of one Martin Luther King Boulevard, an actual street in Portland, Oregon.

In Somlo’s telling, Portland’s MLK feels reminiscent of MLK Boulevard in Baltimore, a hard-scrabble, low-income neighborhood in the process of change. Somlo’s MLK was once a street of jazz clubs, now long gone, and the neighborhood is just beginning to gentrify a bit. There are panhandlers and hustlers, rehabbed alcoholics, churchgoers, men who hang out in the barber shop, hardworking Mexican-immigrant families, the remnants of an African-American middle class, and a few white folks moving in.

Hairway’s 15 short stories take a classic form, what is usually called a story cycle – that is, stories set in one place in which characters appear and reappear, sometimes as the protagonist and in other stories as a secondary character. In a good story cycle, each story should be able to stand alone, but added together, the stories will have a cumulative power that offers a vibrant portrait of a particular community at a particular time. Story cycles have been around a long time. In American literature courses, you’ll run across Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio (1919) and William Faulkner’s Go Down, Moses (1942). More recent examples that have won critical acclaim and popularity include Gloria Naylor’s The Women of Brewster Place, Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine, and Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge.

A few of Somlo’s stories are brief character sketches, but most work through a repeated motif – people are more than they seem to be at first glance. Or put a different way – everybody deserves to be listened to. Horn Man, the panhandler on the corner, was once a great jazz musician. The hardworking Mexican paterfamilias Elidio is susceptible to obsessive lust for his sexy cousin. Ali, the convenience store owner, is perhaps not the bad son his mother back in Egypt thinks he is. Through her use of the close third person point of view and the occasional firstperson narrator, Somlo manages to get inside the heads of a vast variety of characters.

Among the more ambitious stories is “Angelina, the name of the baby left in a bus shelter on MLK early one morning. Somlo shifts the point of view throughout the story, relating the action from the perspectives of a young white women walking her dog and a 63-year-old nurse on her way to work who together discover the baby. Somlo also flips sympathetically to the mind of the harried mother who couldn’t get the baby to stop wailing and then to the father who left the apartment because he couldn’t stand the crying and finally to a gay man living in artists’ housing in a neighborhood in which he’s fearful of going outside.

“Missing” is perhaps the most complexly layered story in the collection. It’s the tale of faithful Mavis Trent, a woman in her 80s still waiting for the return of her beloved husband from the Korean War. Howard Trent, that dashing husband, turns out not be quite the person she has held in memory all those years. What gives this story its oomph is the firstperson narrator, a white woman journalist, new to the neighborhood, who becomes friends with Mavis and then fascinated with tracking down the truths behind her story.

As its protagonist, the title story features Leticia Williams, an ex-alcoholic. Leticia is one of the neighborhood rehab center’s success stories; she finds Jesus and the entrepreneur within herself in the course of the story, creating a combination hair salon and storefront church that she cleverly names Hairway to Heaven.

Somlo writes the straightforward prose that one might expect from an ex-journalist. Here’s a sample from “Hairway to Heaven,” Somlo describing the moment when Leticia begins to take control of her life.

Now Leticia Williams would be the first to agree with Willie Washington that the devil had tempted her, even after she’d shaken hands with Jesus. But as time went on, the memory of that handshake kept assuring Leticia there might be another way to soothe the raw ache in her belly crying out for a drink and then another and another one after that, when some little thing didn’t go right and a world of sorrow threatened to come crashing down. After a couple of relapses and with that memory’s help, Leticia started to take charge.

Instead of running to the corner store and buying a bottle of booze the minute some man broke her heart, as nearly every man managed to do, Leticia sat herself down in the little apartment she’d gotten, thanks to the government, and lit some candles. Leticia had candles of all sizes and colors. mostly in glass, some that were scented. By the time she was done lighting candles and blowing out matches, the apartment smelled like carnations and long-stemmed roses.

That’s when Leticia sat down and quieted her mind. She started breathing in and out, as she’d been taught to do in some anger management class a long time ago. The breath coming in through her nose smelled so sweet and flowery, Leticia couldn’t help but imagine herself in a beautiful garden. With her mind’s eye, she watched the breath travel down into her lungs and enter her belly, where it swirled around, easing the old raw hurts before dropping to her legs. The breath eventually made its way down to her bare feet and toes, at which point she brought it up through her legs again.

Somlo is a former journalist who lives in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco. This is her second published story collection, after The First to Disappear in 2016. She also has a memoir, When Trapped Behind Clouds: A Memoir of Quiet Grace, in print.

Hairway to Heaven
By Patty Somlo
114 pp. Cherry Castle Publishing. $14.99.
Click Here to Order.

Photo by Richard L. Fung (c) 2018

Patty Somlo is the granddaughter of immigrants, She grew up in a military family that moved constantly. Her nomadic childhood has fueled her passion for writing about immigrants, refugees, the homeless and the dispossessed. Somlo spent ten years as a reporter, including at Pacific News Service, where her articles were picked up by major newspapers throughout the country, before concentrating on short fiction and creative nonfiction. Her journalistic focus on social issues reporting continues to inform her fiction.

George Clack is a writer, ex-magazine editor, and reviewer who lives in Columbia, MD. He teaches literature courses at Howard Community College and for the Johns Hopkins/Osher Program. Clack is also a member of IndivisibleHoCoMD’s Immigration Action Team; the editor of a weekly email newsletter, “Immigration News”; a board member of a Columbia-based literary magazine, the “Little Patuxent Review“; and blogs on creative writing under the name RasoirJ at Previously, he had a long career with the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Information Agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts as an editor of magazines, books, and Internet content.

Book Review: Freedom Ground of the Cosmic Underground

Freedom Ground of the Cosmic Underground
Review by Truth Thomas

The Cosmic Underground: A Grimoire of Black Speculative Discontent is an Afrofuturist manifesto, and a Black Speculative Arts Movement (BSAM) guidebook. In it, ideas and images are artfully arranged to inform and, hopefully, neutralize the arsenic-like effects of racism on the brutalized body of all black humanity. Featured in the invocation-like pages of this ambitious anthology, readers will find a stellar array of graphic art, essays, poetry, interviews, micro-fiction, and comics. The artwork consistently dazzles. Indeed, this collection aspires to be many things—and it largely succeeds. Arguably, the most intriguing theme that permeates the book is the suggestion that there is no segregation in the space/time continuum as it pertains to the vibrant black past, present, and freedom bound future.

If I were to attempt to describe this anthology in musical terms, I would say it is a kind of afro/techno/hip-hop/jazz—but not exactly. Art can never be pinned down like a butterfly on a page. Although the collection clearly has improvisational qualities in its expression of thoughts and illustrations, it cannot be so easily categorized. Cosmic Underground, edited by Dr. Reynaldo Anderson and John Jennings, with an introduction by Greg Tate, is its own new music—its own new thing. And that “thing” is a movement that embodies concepts that are entirely fresh and gaining strength in the black artistic and intellectual community. It is palpable and energizing evidence of Afrofuturist art as the art of activism in the early twenty-first century.

As I have previously publicly noted, when I was growing up in the 1970s, there was only one black person in space: Star Trek’s Nyota Uhura. She was fine, and I loved her. Still, that was it. No other black people existed in the stars, either on television or in the movies as permanent fixtures. It was widely understood that in Hollywood, and in life, space travel imaginings were exclusively the purview of white people. This was the zeitgeist of times. Indeed, within the context of school-based American history lessons, people of color were relatively nonexistent. Black folks only came into view within the framework of slavery. So, before we were enslaved, just as was the case on Gene Roddenberry’s Starship Enterprise, we had tokenism as our future and redaction as our much-instructed past. Any textbooks that taught otherwise were (by and large) not a part of mainstream curricula in school systems in the United States.

Back then to be a black American meant that you were the outhouse of America. Much as is the case in 2018, black Americans in the 1970s were systematically disenfranchised, oppressed, and repressed. Then as now, people of color were routinely murdered by the police (as well as by many other white people who were not badged as civil authorities). Few, if any of those folks doing the killing ever faced any punishment for their crimes.  In fact, long before Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Sandra Bland were essentially lynched by “law enforcement” in America, names like Bernard Whitehurst, Jr., Arthur McDuffie, and José Campos Torres also made that tragic list (Osborne: Dugger: Rincon). I mention all of this because “the problem of the [twenty-first] century” to borrow from W.E.B. Du Bois remains “the problem of the color-line” (Du Bois 19). Undoubtedly, the editors of the Cosmic Underground are keenly aware of this reality. It shows in the work. Black freedom thought, in response to racism worldwide, is presented as what it has been for centuries: ongoing.

It bears mentioning that even after America has seen the election of its first Black President in Barack Obama, few textbooks are written today (especially in the context of Humanities studies) that address the reality of contemporary racism in the context of that continuance. Certainly, fewer books still document black speculative thoughts about countering racism as a global phenomenon—particularly those written by African American scholars and published by black-owned presses. In that light, the significance of Cosmic Underground to the global community of color cannot be overstated.

Notwithstanding my excitement over this work, it strikes me that many young people (younger African Americans and those in the African Diaspora) will probably not find the academic language and intellectual excursions in the anthology accessible. As I know the editors of this collection aspire to arm current and future generations of black people with hope for an emancipated future, I find this realization regrettable. Not far from where I am writing this review (North Eutaw Street, in Baltimore), many young black boys are working the squeegee hustle at traffic lights just off of Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. Long and differing definitions of Afrofuturism would likely not be a subject that they would give an ear to for very long. Those kids, stranded in a digital desert are trying to eat, much like many poor black folks in D.C. and many other parts of the country. In that light, Cosmic Underground would not likely be the book that they would easily embrace (although the comics that the collection references would no doubt be of great interest).

However, to be fair, I can think of few books that address serious space/time reflections that are meant to be as easily consumed as popcorn. Perhaps that is as it should be. Great art, great science, great music, all have depth. What Anderson, Jennings and Tate have created in this anthology also has a similar aesthetic and intellectual depth. References to: Sun Ra, Bree Newsome, John Coltrane, Octavia Butler, Nnedi Okorafor, Michelle Alexander, MF Doom, George Clinton and many other scholars, artists and activists, frame the pages of their book like paintings in an art gallery unveiling. In that context, I think it is right to say that Cosmic Underground is, undoubtedly, very filling food for thought. It is something to be celebrated—and repeatedly taught—and boldly acknowledged for what it is: documentation of black visibility, moving in the past, stirring in the present, and actively creating a timely freedom future.


Cosmic Underground
Edited by Reynaldo Anderson and John Jennings.
Introduction by Greg Tate.
240 pp. Cedar Grove Books. $26.71.
Click Here to Order.

Dr. Reynaldo Anderson is an Associate Professor of Communication and Chair of the Humanities department at Harris-Stowe State University in Saint Louis Missouri and serves as an executive board member of the Missouri Arts Council. He is the Past Chair of the Black Caucus of the National Communication Association (NCA). He has previously worked for international prison reform with C.U.R.E. International in Douala, Cameroon, and as a development ambassador in Ghana.  Anderson publishes extensively in the area of Afrofuturism, communication studies, and the African diaspora. He is the executive director and co-founder of the Black Speculative Arts Movement (BSAM), a network of artists, curators, intellectuals, and activists.

John Jennings is Professor of Media and Cultural Studies and a Cooperating Faculty Member in the Department of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside. His work centers around intersectional narratives regarding identity politics and popular media. Jennings is co-editor of the Eisner Award-winning essay collection “The Blacker the Ink: Constructions of Black Identity in Comics and Sequential Art” and co-founder/organizer of The Schomburg Center’s Black Comic Book Festival in Harlem.

Greg Tate is a writer, musician and producer, who lives in Harlem. From 1987-2005 he was a Staff Writer at The Village Voice. Tate’s  writings on culture and politics have also been published in The New York TimesThe Washington PostArtforum and  Rolling Stone. He has been recognized as one of the “Godfathers of Hiphop Journalism.” His books include Flyboy In The ButtermilkBrooklyn Kings-New York’s Black Bikers(with Martin Dixon), Midnight Lightning: Jimi Hendrix and The Black Experience, and Everything But The Burden–What White People Are Taking From Black Culture  His most recent book was published by  Duke University Press:  Flyboy 2: The Greg Tate ReaderHis forthcoming book, Beast Mode: 20 Iconic Gods and Monsters of the Late Twentieth Century Black Atlantic is contracted to FS&G.

Truth Thomas is a singer-songwriter and poet born in Knoxville, Tennessee and raised in Washington, DC. His collections include: Party of Black, A Day of Presence, Bottle of Life, Speak Water, winner of the 2013 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry, and the critically acclaimed children’s book, My TV is Not the Boss of Me, with illustrations by Cory Thomas. His poems have appeared in over 150 publications, including: Poetry MagazineThe Journal of Hip Hop Studies, and The 100 Best African American Poems (edited by Nikki Giovanni) Thomas has been writing reviews since 2008. He is the founding editor of Cherry Castle Publishing.

New book rising: Ghost Train by Matt Borczon

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“The easy option would be… poetry from beyond the front line, words from the warzone, the art of the aftermath, a warriors words lock & load…all would be true but too easy, and they would sell this collection short; here’s the harder truth, these are honest poems that the Great War poets Wilfred Owen and Robert Brooke would recognise as truth.” – Neil S. Reddy, Miffed and Peeved in the U.K.

Matthew Borczon is a writer and Navy sailor from Erie Pa, his book A Clock of human Bones won the Yellowchair reviews chap book contest in 2015. His work has appeared in many online and print journals including: Red efts, dissident voice, dead snakes, big hammer, anti heroin chic, drunk in a midnight choir, the beatnik cowboy and others. He is married with 4 children and 3 jobs. Life keeps him very busy.

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Book Review: A Needed Uprising: “Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness”


A Needed Uprising: “Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness”

Review by Truth Thomas

One of the first noticeable aspects of both science fiction and speculative fiction is that, for the most part, black people are absent in those narratives. Traditionally, Eurocentrism is the sun around which future focused literary imaginaries revolve.  Whether one considers “Star Trek” in the 20th or 21st centuries, for example, black folks are cast as happy sidekicks on spaceships of white supremacy.  As a result of the poisonous legacy of slavery, non-white people all over the world are envisioned as marginal human beings in the context of literature, film, music, and technology–if we are envisioned at all.  To a significant extent, black people are chained to alien, invisible, less-than-ness identities in the world. In spite of that reality, we are here, have been here, and are on our way to a liberating “away mission” of our own deciding. This point is made profoundly clear in Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness, edited by Reynaldo Anderson and Charles E. Jones.

Indeed, in one of the many essays that punctuate the anthology, David DeIuliis and Jeff Lohr write, “Afrofuturism imagines positive futures that, through speculative discourse, sever the shackles of slavery’s shadow” (177).  Their entry is entitled “Rewriting the Narrative: Communicology and the Speculative Discourse of Afrofuturism.” It abounds with black and hopeful future thought. For this reason and a multiverse more, Afrofuturism 2.0 has enduring noteworthiness because it explicitly promotes the idea that black people must first imagine themselves free to be free.

Mark Dery coined the term “Afrofuturism,” and describes it by saying that it, “…fosters the artistic practice of navigating past, present, and future simultaneously” (Dery 1994). Lisa Yaszek puts it thusly: “‘Afrofuturism” addresses themes and concerns of the African Diaspora through a technoculture and science fiction lens, encompassing a range of media and artists with a shared interest in envisioning black futures that stem from Afrodiasporic experiences” (Yaszek 2006). Certainly, the “range” of media and artists, that editors Anderson and Jones have chosen to highlight in featured essays, is rich and thoughtful. Historic and contemporary expressions of Afrofuturism in visual art, hip hop, film, technology, theology, and Africana Women’s Science Fiction are gripping. Esther Jones’ reflections in that latter Afrofuturist area are particularly magnetic as she explores science fiction in conjunction with Narrative Medicine. Another essay that shines is “The Real Ghosts in the Machine,” by Ricardo Guthrie.  In that piece, he compares and contrasts themes of Afro-Pessimism and Afrofuturism in the films I, Robot and DETROPIA.  Guthrie writes,

In many documentary and sci-fi films of the last twenty-five years, urban America is depicted as a site of decay…overrun by savage hordes who destroy civilization or worse: persisting as the hapless inheritors of urban jungles in which no “white” citizen can survive. Heroic reconquests by whites yield semblances of hope for the future…Future urban life is clearly a white projection of racial fears and hopes of conquests to come. (45)

Guthrie’s observations are as sobering as they are timely, especially in light of the 2016 presidential election and Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” montra. In view of his broad support from white supremacist organizations (Mahler 2016), his slogan is, most certainly, a simple code for “Make America White [Dominated] Again.” Arguably, Trump has cast himself in the role of anti-afrofuturist hero–one who works to conquer black savages so that the future white world can survive.  For Trump, and too many like him, the Afro-Pessimist ship is his primary mode of space travel. Thankfully, in the interest of overcoming racism, Guthrie documents efforts–again, both past and present–where black filmmakers have seized control of their own thematic vessels.

Some of the many highlights in this book have to do with explorations of contemporary black artists like Wangechi Mutu, Sun Ra, Janelle Monae, and an interview with fiction writer Nneid Okorafor that closes out the anthology. What is particularly appealing about these elements of Afrofuturism 2.0 is that (a) the historical and contemporary artists featured are already Afrofuturist time travelers and (b) the language that frames the examination of their work is straightforward.

Undoubtedly, within the context of diction, there are elements Afrofuturism 2.0 I wish were more accessible. Its editors and authors are scholars, and the language contained in the anthology–for the most part–reflects its academic genesis.  Points raised in the book that promote the advancement of people of color are of vital importance.  Making that freedom-speak as plain and powerful as a Malcolm X speech would have benefitted multitudes of black people in need of reading hope (which is something I am sure all of those involved with this anthology sought to do).

Nonetheless,  as a textbook and educational resource on the subject of mapping the future black imaginary, it represents a significant literary achievement. It’s scholarship is absolutely astounding–a work of passion, creativity, and excellence–plus it’s pretty. I highly recommend it as a book to include in Africana studies curriculums worldwide.  I say that because the impact of slavery and colonialism on people of color continues to have a global death-baiting impact. In many areas of the planet where black people currently abide, they have been brought there, placed there, planted there like aliens. Author tobias c. van Veen mentions this the fourth chapter of the Afrofuturism 2.0 entitled “The Armageddon Effect.” Very pointedly, he writes, “[for Africans as abducted aliens] there is no ‘normal’ to return to” (64).  I agree–but there may be a way forward. Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness may prove to be one such vessel–a very durable literary conveyance to a future black freedom.

Dr. Reynaldo Anderson

Dr. Charles E. Jones



Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness
Edited by Reynaldo Anderson and Charles E. Jones
240 pp. Lexington Books. $75. Kindle $67.99.
Click Here to Order: Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness
Truth Thomas’ poetry collections include: Party of Black, A Day of Presence, Bottle of LIfe and the NAACP Image Award-winning Speak Water. Thomas has been writing reviews since 2008. He is the founding editor of Cherry Castle Publishing.