Black Men Speaking



Black Men Speaking

This edition

"Black Men Speaking." Ed. Charles Johnson and John McCluskey, Jr. Art by Jacob Lawrence. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1997. 216 pp.

Table of contents

● Charles Johnson / Preface
● John McCluskey, Jr. and Charles Johnson / Introduction

● Joseph W. Scott / Making a Way Out of No Way
● John McCluskey, Jr. / Harlem Montage: A Group Interview
● Wilbert Jordan / Five Friends
● Peter J. Harris / Testimony of a Good Nigger
● Don Belton / Voodoo for Charles
● Ellis Marsalis / Singular Voice, Several Sounds
● Yusef Komunyakaa / Four Poems [1. Slam, Dunk, & Hook; 2. Songs for My Father; 3. To Have Danced with Death; 4. Copacetic Mingus]
● Michael O'Neal / The Real Deal
● David Nicholson / What It Feels Like to Be a Problem
● Charles Johnson / "The Second Front": A Reflection on Milk Bottles, Male Elders, the Enemy Within, Bar Mitzvahs, and Martin Luther King Jr.


Reviews and notices of anthology

● Harris, Nora. "Library Journal" (1997)
"The past few years have seen the publication of a number of excellent books about the black male experience, including Henry Gates's Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man (LJ 2/15/97) and Herb Boyd and Robert Allen's Brotherman (LJ 3/15/95). This anthology, edited by National Book Award winner Johnson and educator McCluskey, intends to join that notable group. The ten chapters display a wide variety of styles, voices, and perspectives. But rather than enrich us with that diversity, the book comes across as unfocused and diffuse. Some chapters, such as Joseph W. Scott's "Making a Way Out of No Way" and Johnson's "The Second Front," are compelling. Unfortunately, their impact is lost in the tedious interviews, lengthy ramblings, and earnest exhortations that make up the rest of the book. Libraries that have strong African American collections may find that the good outweighs the banal here, but most libraries would be better served by purchasing one or both of the other titles listed above.--Nora Harris, Corte Madera Regional Branch Lib., Cal."
● "Kirkus Reviews" (1 June 1997)
"More American black men are in prison than in college. They are more likely than whites to die violently and young. Is the American black man an ``endangered species''? National Book Award winner Johnson (Middle Passage, 1990) and fellow novelist McCluskey (Mr. America's Last Season Blues, 1983) spent seven years collecting these original writings. Unfortunately, the perspectives provided here on this important question--with the exception of Yosef Komunyakaa's award-winning poetry and Don Belton's affecting essay, ``Voodoo for Charles''-- are mostly tired and trite. The common thread throughout is the bleak reality of the lives of African-American males and their negative portrayal in the media. Often lacking identity and self-respect, many black men are said to perceive themselves as ``niggers.'' And those who do make it are accused here of too often being preoccupied with pursuing material success while ignoring social concerns. The writers ponder whether the underlying cause of this crisis is institutional racism, the educational system, economics, the lack of role models, or an insidious combination of all of the above. (Ironically, with few exceptions, African-American females don't emerge any more positively here than their male counterparts. Black mothers are often portrayed as abusive to their sons, dismissive of their needs, and incapable of instilling moral standards.) Gangs became the surrogate family to a generation of young men growing up without fathers and with mothers who are, at most, marginal to their lives. Their music is rap as it ``reflects the realities of the judicial system, prison, the police, and our failure as Black men to listen and reach out to young men and validate their worth.'' Despite the urgency of the subject matter, there isn't much here that hasn't been expressed more eloquently elsewhere. (10 b&w photos of art by Jacob Lawrence)."
● Lewis, William Henry. "Diverse: Issues in Higher Education" 11 July 2007. Web.
"The book may lose a few readers with some of its extreme or exclusive perspectives. But it will win others through the range of its approaches and its sheer candor. It is nothing if not honest. Right or wrong, for better or for worse, the honesty of these men provides a tone that may be missing from the recent wave of writing on the African American man. . . . Non-Christians may find little for themselves in this book, where Christianity is considered a necessary salve for the wounds that afflict African American men. Feminists may also be uncomfortable with the attempt to empower Black men because women are sometimes viewed as a conflicting element to that empowerment. Some Black women will question the need for gendered solidarity and be put off by the resentment, anxiety and skepticism directed at them. And although some Black male homosexuals may find solace in the attempts to affirm, reconstruct, or mend the notion of what it is to be a man, others may be disappointed to note that the editors and writers of Black Men Speaking seem to envision a Black male coalition that has little room for the African American gay community."
● "A Must-Read Book for All." "Indianapolis Recorder" 14 June 1997: 3. Hoosier State Chronicles.
"What makes this collection unique is the editors not only bring together essays by men of letters, but they also asked professionals who “work in the field” with young, at-risk Black men to write about their experiences and concerns. The result is by no means a monolithic view, although all agree that Black men face a crisis today of staggering proportions and that men of the older generation must offer young Black men ways to negotiate out of the morass of despair and low self-esteem that are the results of overt or insidious racism. . . . 'Black Men Speaking' presents the true and complex stories of real people attempting to thwart forces of cynicism and pessimism and to forge rituals of survival and renewal. It is important reading for Blacks and whites, men and women, young and old."

Item Number


Item sets