What We Make

English 360: Philadelphia Stories

A FAN LETTER TO YOLANDA WISHER- Elizabeth Cahill
Dear Yolanda

 

Philadelphia is a silver thimble, your poetry the burnishing cloth in you hands, making the pock-marked landscape shine. Your words, twinned in the grid streets, reveal the city as your maker and muse. I could not imagine a better poet laureate.

 

In “A Love Letter to Philadelphia,” you first beckon the reader into your stepfather Doug’s army green sedan. We buckle up alongside of you and ride through the Philadelphia of your childhood. With theatrical detail, you lift the curtain up onto different scenes, a teenage girl looking smart in a tennis dress struts through The Gallery, a proud woman riding a stallion down Morris street, children on their way to school, the hard rock kids you want to bring with you. Memories and dreams, make me think of long L rides when the mind wanders to marvelous realms.

 

You turn to snippets of history that put the city into context: railroads, Harriet’s Tribe, black-bottomed beats. Philadelphia has always been a city of freedom, from oppression, and of expression.

 

I, your reader, had one foot in your poem and another in my own Philly stories. Before 215, my area code was 610. Rattling in the backseat of my dad’s truck or sitting demurely alongside my mom on the R5, I too came to the city as a girl, making it my home as a young woman. In “5 South 43rd, Street Floor 2” I romp alongside of you and your companion through my old stomping ground. Risqué Video has since closed, and there are a few more farm to table restaurants, but Makkah Market is still cooking that chicken wrapped pita and $1 samosas.

 

In this piece you drop the violence that punctures the hum of progress. It brings me to the hot summer nights when the streets are sparks from ignition, “One night, a man was shot and killed on this block.” I’m assuming it was summer. Killadelphia is no random moniker. This is a tough city.

 

My poetry professor talks about creating small doors into big ideas. Just by describing a normal routing “But not today. Today is one of those days to come home from walking in the world, leave the windows open, start a pot of black beans.” Living life, is an act of defiance. Fear should not govern us. Beat on.

 

“Writing w/Strangers A Poetry for the People in Philadelphia” you tell the story of your call to action, and wink to us to follow suit, “I believe there’s a poetry for everyone, and it will lead you to a tribe of your own making.” Taking initiative as a grad student, building on the work of June Jordan, you founded a grassroots poetry movement in the city! I discovered my “tribe” of poets while living in Oakland CA, not far from Berkley. Your Gay Zurawski, Martin Wiley, Nijme Dzurinko, and Heather Rion Starr were my MK Chavez, Cassandra Dallet, Hollie Hardy, and (the late) Pagan Neil. Wading through footsteps on the wet banks of undergrad, fighting back currents to find a place for poetry has been a major challenge since returning to Philadelphia.

 

I hope by reading more of your work, I will find a comfortable stoop to start out on.

 

Thanks!

 

Your reader,
Liz

 


 

ELIZABETH CAHILL is a finance major at Drexel University. She was a member of Gabriella Ibieta’s spring 2016 Philadelphia Stories.

 


 

RESPONSE TO: “A LOVE LETTER TO PHILADELPHIA” BY YOLANDA WISHER- Rosalyn Cliett

 

At the first read, the poem sounded like gibberish, even though a very skillful reader read it, and one who is a Poet herself, so it was no fault of the reader, but of my own. Because of the title of the poem, “A Love Letter to Philadelphia,” and what my expectation was differed so much from the artist, because I too love Philadelphia. So I attempted to read it again, it still wasn’t clear but it was a little better. I realized I had to get past the love I have for her, so after I prayed and sat down in a quiet atmosphere and started to read, I could see there was such a collage of material, such a mixture of elements made her writing complex. But the material Yolanda drew from, I became intrigued by the things that captured her mind’s eye.

 

I realized some of our familiar places and some of the things we’ve seen and our differences. Which reminded me of a message a former Pastor preached
entitled, “It’s All in How You See It,” which taught that nothing at first glance is what it looks like. Why, you ask? Because, you have to sift through all of the ism’s and schisms, your fears and opinions which blocks, you from seeing and hearing correctly. So before you take another look, ask God (The Creator) to clear the blinding smoke that you may see and hear, with the understanding.

 

I am very familiar with the different labels that people have tried to brand our city with throughout time, which I refuse to adopt. I call her Philly. And I found her description of Venango Street interesting, and I quote “Venango was a poisonous fruit of word, cassava-sweet, which is a South American plant, when processed right could be sweet if not poisonous.” Then Yolanda continues to uncover the dark side of the city, which I have seen all too often, but that was not my Philly. You see, we were not only in two different places in Philadelphia, but the artist seems to crave something from her that she didn’t seem to get, until she started to hear her beyond her illnesses, her diseased conditions, disorders andweaknesses, and I quote “And then I started to really hear you, beyond pity and promiscuity” once the connection was made with the Creator and not just the creature.

 

I already told you I call her Philly. Philly is a beautiful city with all her diversities, colleges, and parks. There’s diversity in the people, the food, and in her opportunities, even her seasons. Where I grew up the houses were built in 1925 colonial style homes, and every house had a tree in front of it, displaying her beauty in different shades of green. The beauty of Yolanda is, she not only saw the cancerous cells in the city that burdens her to want to become part of the cure.

 


 

ROSALYN CLIETT is a native resident of Philadelphia who loves to write and do anything creative. “I came to Dornsife to use the computers at KEYSPOT. Writers Room and the side-by-side course Philadelphia Stories are not only exciting, they are stretching me—and both are essential to my destiny.”

 


 

MR. JOLLIE AND HIS POSSE- Carin Knight Spotted Eagle the Oldest Butterfly

 

Be very careful with Teacup Chihuahuas because they can disappear right under one’s nose. Especially, when, they aren’t on a leash. The following happen to me one afternoon… I was walking Mr. Jolly our family teacup Chihuahua when he suddenly disappeared. I looked high and low for him but could not find him for the life of me. I climbed fences and walked several blocks calling his name without any success.

 

Finally I was so bummed out I decided to go to my favorite place in Hockessin, Delaware to walk around in tranquility. Walking at this wildlife refuge always made me happier but this visit was extremely challenging. After a two hour hiatus I decided to drive home. As I was traveling down the road a pseudo-gps voice inside my head suggested I ‘drive a more scenic route’. During Labor Day I particularly noted as I was driving pass a church with no cars in the parking lot but the front doors were wide open. I felt, an incredible synergy as I drove by and decided to turn the car around and go back to the parking lot to investigate. Still very bummed out thought this might do me some good. Later I discovered I was inside the very first Catholic parish in Glen Mills, Pa built 1835… Saint Thomas of the Apostle.

 

I drove up to the front door and parked the car directly at the parish step.It was a very small tabernacle and I didn’t see anyone outside so I decided to go in. I went in marveled at the beautiful antique Tiffany art stain glass windows. I walked up to the first pew and sat quietly until I noted a little book. Opened the book to read the message for that day. Lo! and behold that dates homilies title the following words, reading them suddenly slapped me beside my brain… “SELF FORGIVENESS”! I continued to read the content and instantly became madder than I was before arriving. I thought to myself … I had to lose the dog to be reminded … ‘self-forgiveness?’ Pondering, why the internal anger I felt?

 

Suddenly I felt warmth of the ray of sunlight beaming through the window I sat beneath so I looked up. To my surprise the stain glass image was highlighted with a sunny, heavenly glow… I saw an irradiated Tiffany stain glass angel dressed in red with the sun shining illuminating its face. I looked intensely at the Angel as I began speaking out loud the following: I stated… “Gabriel—I believe you know where, who and what street Mr. Jolly is at!! and if you wanted to: you, could lead me directly to him”! Didn’t give it much more thought as I was leaving the tabernacle returning to my car. I decided to drive back to the place Mr. Jolly first disappeared. I knock on a few doors in that area; spoke to a few people outside,questioning if they had seen a little dog wandering. No one responded yeah.

 

Then a pseudo GPS voice inside my head said… ‘Lighten up! Go to that local bar a couple doors away and have a wine cooler, which I did. When I entered the establishment a young lady sitting there commented… “I remember you…” she continues speaking “when she was little girl she lived in the same block I live (and stated she) always admired me.” Now I am really bummed out and tell her the story of what had happened in that neighborhood about 7 hours ago. She responded… “people think this is a nice neighborhood but I bet your dog has been sold by now”. Wow I am really feeling emotionally worse after listening. Deciding to leave the bar before drinking, half of the wine cooler. I get back into my car to drive home.

 

As I opened the car door a GPS voice inside my head suggested as I proceeded it coached…” don’t go looking for Mr. Jolly were you went before… don’t speak to the group of children playing in the upcoming streets corner, just make a left and drive forward quietly.” I obeyed… as I slowly drove my car down a street I had never driven or walked during the prior thirty years of living in the region. Stopping the car at the stop sign I began to until the pseudo GPS voice inside my head loudly said ‘BACK UP’ (mind you I am in the middle of the intersection but there are no cars behind me)… so I back the car up… and the GPS voice continued instructing me to “make a right, drive slowly”. So I make the right and at an extremely slow speed I drift down the street almost like I am upon a magic carpet. My head was mysteriously turned towards the right a little.

 

Suddenly out of nowhere… a very corpulent women is opening her screen door and walking out of a house, down her front step with my dog, Mr. Jolly in her hands. ECSTATICALLY! AMAZED at what I was looking at… the GPS voice inside my head quickly continued to instruct me ‘First, to SETTLE DOWN,’ (note my heart was racing about the possibilities) Plus this inner voice was pre-warning me not to engage in all the things my excited mind just wanted to do example… ‘not to blow the horn, not to slam on brakes but quietly pull my car over and park it in front of the house’. Which I did! By that time the lady had walked down the steps and was gently placing the Teacup Chihuahua on the ground. I thought the dog sure looked exactly like Mr. Jolly because of his unique markings but I wasn’t sure.

 

I quietly walked over to the fence around their front yard. The lady was still bent over and hadn’t stood up when I decided to call Mr. Jolly’s name out loud as I stood very close to the fencing. Once I did that that Mr. Jolly let out a happy playful yappy bark and came running full speed towards were I was standing jumping up and down as if to say rescue me. When he came happily running towards the fence I knew that was Mr. Jolly. I grabbed him and pulled him through the fence’s wooden slates. As I was holding him in my arms Mr. Jolly began licking me with excitement I said to the lady still bending over but now looking at me with an amazed expression… “you, just got this dog less than seven hours ago and he is not mine, he belongs to my family and I loss him and I am taking him back home where he belongs. An Angel named Gabriel told me where he was exactly, the house number, street and who and now Mr. Jolly, is leaving with me”. By that time the ladies husband was standing inside the front door laughing telling his wife “I told you that dog belonged to someone”. I said “yes’ GABRIEL (guess that was the inner GPS voice that had been instructing me) I walked back to my car with Mr. Jolly and we quickly drove away.

 


 

CARIN KNIGHT SPOTTED EAGLE THE OLDEST BUTTERFLY spends timein Indian and First Nations Reservations. Carin began writing poetry in 1989 and has accumulated 597 typed poems. She has written eight children’s books and is currently working on an environmental comedy titled Mr. Jolly and His Posse. She was a member of Gabriella Ibieta’s spring 2016 Philadelphia Stories.

 


 

ELEMENTS- Melanie Dante

1. Time
isolated
kinetic motion
chaos bonded frenzy
static core to stoic edge
raw emotion
memories
discarded dreams
ambitions
intentions
things to do tomorrow
not forgotten tho obviously
fragmented broken
nostalgic debris
blight of human potential
yesterdays all truly gone
today does not exist

 

2. Fire
there is a fire burning
etched metal engraving
industrialized tattooed markings
demanding some deeply rooted meaning
to the emptiness that burns an eternal flame
desperately in need of light
is the human spirit

 

3. Ice
cold labyrinth
frozen electrical impulses
recognize
define
a connection so cold it burns
laser light
negative image
transposed metal gaze
it is frozen
into a perfect reflection

 

4. Space
in the space time continuum
there is no need to define emotion
just as there is no day moving night forward
it is always an eternal endless moment in stopped yet repetitive motion
which – after each repetition – is redefined by some hypothesis
passion vs reason
space – the empty space
between two points theorized
where everything stops for a moment
including breath & heartbeat
feel it?
there –
deep within gut or groin
a fight between bile blood then oxygen

 

5. Elements
there is a fire burning
deep inside each and every cell
feeding off nutrients – consuming oxygen
starving the soul
oh – Yes
there is fire burning
in the vacuum of the space time continuum
contrasting chill penetrating freeze
defining the point of origin
deep within the core
raw emotion shares
jagged nostalgic debris
black heart of pure truth
stained innocent offering
perfumed poison of Narcissus
etched eternal
revealed distortion
emotion bleeds hot
yes – Emotion bleeds heavy
dark crevices
emotion burning
blinding view
into a once frozen labyrinth

 


 

MELANIE DANTE was a member of Gabriella Ibieta’s Spring 2016 Philadelphia Stories.

 


 

ESSENCE OF ZADIE SMITH- Joanna Lanning

 

Zadie Smith made a huge impression on me as an individual, as a writer, as a lecturer, as a mother, as a person, who can express simple joy of life as well as humane cognitive dissonance of her compositions. She will remain in my mind as a remarkable personality, passionate for writing, being able to express her unique point of view at many matters. Her relationship with writing is very personal and still not fully discovered. Every little emotion, image or story is carefully captured and expressed by realistic substance of her style.

 

I will also remember her as a bold person, sophisticated enough to manifest her British blackness so distinct from African blackness or North American blackness. During the lecture she testified that her writing is somehow universal, however she mainly writes for the Black audience, because that is her identity. I believe it takes courage and time to be confident about your own writing, its context, its style, and tone. Smith is confident about her writing, although she keeps the distance to herself and leaves some room for learning from other writers. Writing is like a journey full of joy, adventures and undiscovered places. Every piece of written word can be full of hesitations, weaknesses, and pains. A writer always has a feeling when selection of words was too strong or it could have been said different way.

 

Smith derives her inspiration from writers who express their freedomagainst canons, social trends and common expectations; who can express their freedom by perverse gestures in the traditional cultural and social contexts. She values savage gardens of unconventional and provocative artwork. Then she can draw a clear line how she depicts world in her own compositions.

 

There is no plan in her actions and the way she expresses herself. However, she is not only organized with her thoughts, but also presents herself as incredibly vocal and sensual individual. Her mindfulness and ability to share her experiences with others makes her phenomenal speaker and an interesting writer.

 

Smith is a fast thinker. Her reading was fabulous. Yet again, I have heard the hysterical realism, the patient pity about the men who travel from town to town, from city to city, form village to village and take what they want. No one can stop them. No one even tries. Realism expressed by fiction.

 

Zadie Smith is made by fiction. She believes that fiction is even better than herself.

 

When you write, there is that naked truth about yourself and the others, which illuminates your best form and becomes the best gift for the readers. Smith claims that “a book is a person’s best self,” because writing it is not self-centered. It is about others; for others. That is why there is more human in her creation. Yet, divine!

 


 

JOANNA LANNING is an accounting major at Drexel University. She was a member of Gabriella Ibieta’s Spring 2016 Philadelphia Stories class.

 


 

ON ZADIE- Diana Hillengas

 

On May 5, 2016 Zadie Smith delivered the sixth annual Drexel University College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Lecture. She read an unpublished short story “Two Men Arrive in a Village” and then answered questions pre-submitted by students and posed by an interviewer on stage. The interview was most revealing when it became clear that some questions were based on assumptions that Zadie Smith does not share. When asked at what age she knew she was a writer, her response was that “writing is a practice, not an identity” and “not a knowledge set but an experience.” She added that “being a reader is an identity that means something to me” and further that while not all readers become writers, all writers have to be readers first. She said we should be open to reading different kinds of things, including things which are outside what we feel drawn towards, because you never know what you may discover. When asked the extent to which her writing reflected her own experience she was quite emphatic that she was not deeply attached to her own identity in her writing. She feels that one of the reasons to write fiction is the “freedom to lie” and to explore being people completely different from herself. When asked what exercises she gave her students she said she just wants her students “to write decent English sentences.”

 

When she speaks of the architecture of a book it gives me a sense that a book is a building with rooms to be explored, and that the experience is likely to be different for each reader. This concept of reading as individual experience was further reinforced by Zadie Smith’s idea of “re-reading” into the “gift” or “inheritance” that is a piece of writing. I take this to mean that re-reading is the act of extracting personal meaning from a writer’s creation.

 

Zadie Smith’s short story was open-ended and she said her writing is open-ended because of the subjectivity of experience, mixed-up with memory. She also agreed with Toni Morrison that a writer is always writing for someone. She revealed that she is always anxious when writing, and each book is a new experience. She thinks value in writing derives from anxiety in writing but warns that you have to “avoid that tipping point where you don’t write at all.”

 

Zadie Smith is against generalizations. She will talk about a specific book but not books in general, either written by others or by herself. In writing one book she had a quotation as her screen saver because she found those words freeing. When the interviewer asked for a quote that Zadie Smith found freeing, the reply was that for each book different words are freeing. When talking about the literature that she teaches in her own courses she emphasized that what makes a writer great is different for each writer. As an example she said that Kafka wrote great sentences and Muriel Spark wrote great sentences but they are very different kinds of sentences.

 

The story she read to us was intended as the opposite of a local story —it wastrying to be a story for all times and all places. But for Zadie Smith the opposite of specific is not general but rather a choice among specificities. Her two men were said to arrive maybe walking, maybe barefoot, maybe booted, maybe together on a motorcycle … carrying perhaps machetes, or knives, or swords, or guns… at sunset when the village women were returning from the fields, or the desert, or the snowy mountain slopes, or the river… When asked to leave us with a “bridge of words” Zadie Smith could not think of anything at all, so it was an open-ended lecture.

 


DIANA HILLENGAS was a member of Gabriella Ibieta’s Spring 2016 Philadelphia Stories.

 


 

RESPONSE ESSAY: THE PRICE OF A CHILD– Sherry Jane E. Alindogan

Lorene Cary’s chapter is beautifully written and very compelling. Its description of the characters’ emotions and the physical detailed description of the environment were amazingly familiar. Ginnie’s utmost desire to be free from slavery coupled with her mental anguish to remain a slave and not lose her baby was both poignant and ominous.

I felt Ginnie’s desperation to seek aid for her escape and also felt her utter hopelessness and anger when faced with rejections such as the hotel’s housekeeping employee who did not offer any assistance. I felt Ginnie’s self-hatred for feeling like a wretched coward when the ugly dragon of hopelessness would show its head. I felt the fear in Etta, the confusion in Mattie, and myriad emotions of each character as they prepared to assist Ginnie’s freedom.

I find it uplifting to hear William Still mention the word, “Superb black” which he referred to an old midwife’s sage advice as he offered comfort and relief to Ginnie to take a deep breath. It is a stark contrast from what Ginnie used to hear about colored woman such as herself. She grew up knowing that she was mere property, and no more than that. The act of taking a deep breath, beyond the physical act of releasing the tension that had gripped her body and mind, signifies the turning point of her life, going forward to unknown territory.

We all need help now and then as we learn, grow, and decipher the complexity of our lives. We cannot go through life in a vacuum. We all need courageous people such as Passmore Williamson and William Still of the Vigilance Committee to give us a boost to move forward when we are stuck in our situations that cause us great distress.

I connected with Ginnie’s plight to freedom, not just physical freedom, but freedom from all the emotional shackles created by people who were her primary caretakers. The crave for release, the desire to have the power of choice to live your life, and the longing for happiness, is what we all want in our lives. It is not only the ultimate American Dream but it is a dream of all individuals. The power of choice is a God given right that every individual should be allowed to practice; however, it is the humans who destroy humanity.

Work Cited:
Cary, Lorene. The Price of a Child. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing
Group, 2011. Print.


SHERRY JANE E. ALINDOGAN was born in Manila, Philippines and raised in Polillio Island by her maternal grandparents. She attended Central High School in Philadelphia until her sophomore year and graduated from Blue Mountain Academy, in Harrisburg, PA. She has a BA from Temple University. She is an avid reader, swimmer, martial artist, traveler, and a professional student.


RESPONSE ESSAY: THE PRICE OF A CHILD– Varun Padmanabhan

The excerpt from The Price of a Child describes the freedom of a slave and her two children in Philadelphia in great detail; this causes a strong emotional reaction along with other connections because it is so close to home.

The first emotional reaction I faced when reading The Price of a Child was surprise. Typically, when learning about conditions for slaves, the terrible punishments such as fear of the master, hunger, etc. are described; however, this was not completely the case in this story. The relationship Ginnie had with her master, Jackson Pryor, surprised me because it was a different connection than the one I had previously while learning about the connection between slave and master. First, Ginnie felt comfortable enough to go to Pryor to negotiate going on the trip to Nicaragua (Cary 4). Additionally, when the pair, along with two of Ginnie’s children, was at the hotel in Philadelphia, Pryor made it a point to order them food and see that it got to their room (Cary 13), which did not seem like typical slave treatment. Just to see a master interacting with their slave in such a way was a surprise to me.

Another emotional reaction that I had when reading this excerpt is anxiousness and fear. This occurs in the second chapter when Ginnie is faced with a decision of freedom. The entire situation was very tense and had me on the edge of my seat while I was reading it. Throughout the beginning and middle of the chapter, I was feeling anxious wondering if Nig-Nag would pass along the proper messages to the correct people, and also to see if everything would get done before Ginnie was leaving with Master Pryor (Cary 39-41). After that was accomplished, the scene on the dock also had me nervous and a little bit scared for Ginnie’s future. Jackson Pryor reacted extremely poorly towards Ginnie being told she could be free, “ ‘This woman is going to New York,’ Pryor bellowed. ‘New York, y’hear? And you have no idea of her circumstances. No idea.’ This he shouted at her, right in her face, so that it made the onlookers jump” (Cary 47). For a little while I thought that Ginnie would be paralyzed with fear because of Pryor, so I was anxious to get to the end of the chapter to see what she decided to do. When she was finally on the carriage, however, I felt a sense of hope for her future and what would come next of her.

I mostly felt connected to this story because of the location in Philadelphia. Reading about the different places I am familiar with, like the Delaware River, Camden, Harrisburg, and how the city is set up with the cobblestone streets, the perfect grid of the city, and the brick homes (Cary 16), made the story more real for me knowing that the freeing of slaves happened right where I live. Having this connection to the story aided in the emotional reactions that I faced because it made them stronger and kept my interest while reading.

Work Cited:
Cary, Lorene. The Price of a Child. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing
Group, 2011. Print.


VARUN PADMANABHAN is a graduating senior majoring in marketing at Drexel University. Varun has completed three co-ops and has participated in Drexel’s baseball club program for five, years earning 1st and 3rd team all region honors.


RESPONSE ESSAY: “HOOPS”- Osaze Bem

My reactions to this poem are to my childhood and the memories of different deliveries to our home. We had a milkman who gave my mother credit. We were able to get milk, eggs, orange juice, cheese and bread. I remember waking up during the cold winters of the 1950’s and eating eggs and toast for breakfast before school, which was difficult because during the cold winter my Dad was the only one durable enough to walk through the snow and ice.

The vegetable man delivered watermelons, groceries, bananas, peaches and pears. Our vegetables that we ate were colored greens, with kale and pork oils for seasoning. I also remember a fisherman delivery porgies, flounder and cat fish, he also had the corn meal seasoning.

I will not forget how fortunate we were to receive credit among difficult deliverymen in my neighborhood because my dad was a construction worker and we were able to afford credit. I can smell the various aromas coming out of the kitchen and throughout the house, there were the friends who came during the dinner hour and I would share food after my family finished eating, especially my dad.

Work Cited:
Jackson, Major. “Hoops.” Hoops. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2006.
Print.


OSAZE BEM was born and raised on 34th Street & Mantua Avenue in West Philadelphia. He went through the public school system and was an x-ray technician for twenty-five. He received a BS in business administration and management from Philadelphia University and now works for the city of Philadelphia Health Department as training and education specialist. He is am a community activist.


RESPONSE ESSAY: “ON DISAPPEARING”- Kristine Bohnhoff

“On Disappearing” is a poem about memory, collective and personal, and yet isalso about violence. One’s ancestors do not disappear because they continue on through their descendants. The community, family history, and culture are perpetuated even though individuals die. Ancestors are celebrated, remembered, and cherished. In part, his ancestors have not disappeared because he pays tribute to them and how they have “given [him] freedom…”. Jackson also ties his continued existence to his writing—he has not disappeared because someone somewhere is reading his work. Death itself is not enough to make disappearance happen.

Violence is, specifically, dehumanizing violence: “war makes people disappear like chess pieces.” Not just because they have died, but also because they are not dying as humans. They are reduced to pieces on a game board that are pushed around by generals; their potential and futures are cut off by senseless violence committed and orchestrated by strangers. The only other mention made of an actual disappearance is in connection with Jasper, Texas, a reference to the lynching of James Byrd, Jr. in 1998. The perpetrators of the crime were members of a white supremacy group and at least one openly admitted that he didn’t regret what he had done (this was beating a man, chaining him to a truck, dragging him for miles so that his head and one arm were ripped off— after which they attended a barbecue). How could he not regret taking the life of another human being so horrifically? The answer is because he simply did not see Byrd as fully human. Jackson gives two examples of dehumanizing deaths: the impersonal and the personal. Disappearance, which is a loss of life and humanity, can happen on a mass scale (the Holocaust, Khmer Rouge in Cambodia), or on a smaller scale (the thousand upon thousands of lynching’s in the South). What makes these ‘disappearances’ is that denial of humanity. Not just the violence, not even the loss of the lives those who died might have had, but the wiping out of their humanity. It is soldiers and civilians in war zones being reduced to “chess pieces” rather than thinking human beings; it is a father being brutally murdered and mutilated by strangers simply for being black. When we forget that others are human, that they have ambitions, hopes, families, and feelings, they disappear— it is connection that maintains existence even after death.

Work Cited:
Jackson, M. “On Disappearing.” Poem-A-Day. Robert Lee Brewer. New York:
Academy of American Poets, 2013. Print.


KRISTINE BOHNHOFF was born in Northern California and is graduating from Drexel this year. She hopes to obtain a PhD in anthropology.


RESPONSE ESSAY: “LETTER TO BROOKS: SPRING GARDEN”- Johngeline Ferguson

The poem by Major Jackson, “Letter to Brooks: Spring Garden” is the name of a subway station stop in North Philadelphia along Broad Street, which runs North to South. I will use one word describing my feelings, “elated.” Why? Because I have read the poetry books written by Gwendolyn Brooks in grade school. I remember looking at her photo on the back cover of the book, her photo depicted the look of a teacher and I soon discovered that she was a teacher. She just had that image, the glasses, her clothes, and her neatness.

I can connect my childhood experiences in Stanza 3 and Stanza 5,“Smiles, when you have forgotten the Irish Man”, although I am familiar with this section of the city, North Philadelphia, in Cobbs Creek section there was also an Irishman, Mr. Ike. Our Irishman sold, butter, silver and, maintain trout, cutfish, checkers, and porgies displayed on ice, scales for weighing, newspaper an brown paper bags for packing. Years ago, and I mean many years ago, everyone knew the Irishman Mr. Ike sold his fresh fish in our neighborhood; and there were no flyers or announcements. It was just word of mouth, everyone knew what day the Irishman was coming. Most of the neighbors supported him because the fish was fresh and passed the eye test.

Today, this is not a reality in this neighborhood. No more Mr. Ike, we now buy our fish from the supermarket. However, most of us, as a family and religions tradition, still eat fish daily or on Friday. I can say this— I remember hearing Mr. Ike’s loud voice announcing his presence “Fish Man”, “Fish Man”, “Fresh Fish” for sale.

Like the weather girls? All in together, girls,
January, February, March, April

The above lines are from a jump rope game; this too is another experience I can connect to. Outdoor activity for children during playtime at home and schoolgirls and some boys too would play this jump game. This game kept us in (physical) shape, movement of both arms and legs, jumping up and down, singing together the rhyme of this jump rope game. What fun we had, and sometimes the boys would play too. And sometimes you could be part of a jump rope competition in this activity. It’s lots of fun and great prizes!

Today most school-aged children probably jump rope during Physical Education class and not as much when they go home. There are so much more technological games being played. No time for jump rope.

Work Cited:
Jackson, Major. “Letter to Brooks: Spring Garden.” Hoops. New York: W.W.
Norton & Company, Inc, 2006. Print.


JONGILENE FERGUSEN is a community gardener and fiber and abstract artist. Her pastimes are reading, listening to music, and playing the guitar and drums. She lives in Philadelphia with her cat, Bones.


RESPONSE ESSAY: URBAN RENEWAL XVII – Carlos Hernandez

In Major Jackson’s set of poems, several themes are explored and in each poem there are parts that lead to personal reflection and connection to the emotions and ideas being conveyed. In Major Jackson’s poem, “Urban Renewal XVIII,” he eloquently gives the audience a perception of the narrator’s thoughts and as can be inferred through the style and text, this “high school experience” and play on words vividly resonates with feelings I can connect to my own experiences as a young man.

The poem opens with an all too familiar setting, that of being “flattened…against the wall” at school where I have found myself plenty of times, observing those that pass by with the reoccurring thought in my head: am I too being observed, or does my flatness enable my invisibility (3-4)? Sometimes when you people-watch, it is almost too easy to find yourself observing in a manner which pushes these complicated and meticulous speculations to take over your thought process. Jackson’s character further explores these thoughts as the poem continues, where adjectives take precedent in providing great insight into the character’s persona and the types of things he acknowledges at school.

We see throughout the poem that as the character watches his youthful female peers, he so vividly shares with us their appearance and how well it defines his perception of them. With their “cloud sea of élan” so apparently supported by their “swagger…[and] blue-tinted sunglasses and low-rider jeans,” it is easy to see how ones’ vision itself can produce an aura that we associate with the things we crave (4, 7-9). Here we see the character craving this coolness and flare…have we not all craved this before? Absorbing his thoughts as my own, it is so easy to understand how by using imagery, Jackson gives the character and myself the ability to equally experience in that moment what he is feeling. This “[celebration of] youth” is one that permeates my experiences as a young man even though indeed there were often “snubs and rebuffs” (16). The unknowing, the guessing, the allure that youth reflects upon me and the character only has drawn me further into the abyss I refer to as the “craving”. Where I differ from the character however is in his tendency to “avoid what [he] fears” for even when I found myself flattened against the wall observing anyone, if there was fear… I saw it as motivation (17).

Work Cited:
Jackson, Major. “Urban Renewal XVIII.” Hoops. New York: W.W.
Norton & Company, Inc, 2006. Print.


CARLOS RAUL HERNANDEZ is a junior international business and economics student at Drexel who—until moving to Philadelphia five years ago—grew up in a large Hispanic family in Los Angeles, California. Now on his own and working through school, he is determined to make it as an interpreter and plans to study international marketing in graduate school.


RESPONSE ESSAY: “LETTER TO BROOKS: SPRING GARDEN”- Shenita Patterson

 

 

“Letter to Brooks: Spring Garden” was written in 2006 and is extremely reminiscent of summer days in the 1990’s. The bright memory of people in the community, young and old, engaging in their favorite outdoor activities was very familiar. Jackson briefly mentioned the “pitter patter” of young girls playing rope in the 5th stanza. The song that he revealed was a game that I personally played quite a bit of growing up. Songs and games, such as this one, were very important in building and maintaining friendships and being communal with associates.

 

 

The lines that state, “the jump ropes’ portentous looming, their great, aching love blooming” is a personal favorite within this piece. It gives off an idea that through this exhilarating game, young girls are able to lose themselves in their engagement. I can speak from experience; playing double with young girls is a great way to grasp an understanding of various temperaments. How seriously one may take the game to how determined one may be to learn how to jump well. Although it’s a recreational activity, if you look closely you can watch young girls “grow up” and face their juvenile adversities while playing.

 

 

In the 2nd stanza Jackson writes, “When you have forgotten wide-brimmed hats, Sunday back-seat leather rides & church, the doorlock like a silver cane…” This was another vivid example of nostalgic imagery. Reading this section reminded me immediately of riding in the backseat of my grandparents’ car, heading to church, staring out the window during that short ride that felt like forever. The backseat of their old car, that I cannot remember the model of, felt huge. The seasons determined how comfortable I would be; in the winter they would not be warm until the car ride was over and in the summer a towel would have to be put down to protect your legs.

 

 

Jackson does a very warming job of illustrating common memories for many to be able to find themselves. He repeats, “when you have forgotten…” in the beginning of a few of the stanzas and it’s like an invitation down memory lane. He mentions the fish man, and while I have been told stories about the fish and fruit man, they do not coincide with my upbringing. The “Mr. Softee” ice cream truck with an instrumental that will never be forgotten. The history of the prices of his soft serve ice cream and endless debates on whose favorite was the best order. Childhood summers in Philadelphia can be bright, innocent, and multifaceted depending on your upbringing.

 

 

Work Cited
Jackson, Major. “Letter to Brooks: Spring Garden.” Hoops. New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2006. Print.


SHENITA PATTERSON is a twenty-something Philadelphia native. Since graduating in 2011 with her BA in sociology she has worked primarily with youth, especially those experiencing homeless. After neglecting a long lost love for writing and poetry, Shenita plans to share knowledge and light through words.


 

 

RESPONSE ESSAY: “ON DISAPPEARING”- Griffith Ridgeway

 

 

Although Jackson’s poem is titled “On Disappearing,” the recurring phrase is “Ihave not disappeared.” What does he mean when he says “our ancestors…also have not disappeared”? What is the reference that reads: “In Jasper, TX you can disappear on a strip of gravel”(Jackson)? What do you think Jackson is saying in this poem?

 

 

In Major Jackson’s poem titled “On Disappearing”, Jackson primarily discusses the notions of extensionality and spiritual self-preservation. Jackson does this by referencing how his ideas, his love, and his work continue to live and thrive outside of his physical space. Furthermore, Jackson contemplates the struggles we face in coming to terms with our eventual demise and disappearance. We are plagued with the futility of life and overtaken by the magnitude and scale of our world.

 

 

Jackson challenges the traditional boundaries of self by explaining the pieces and fragments of his life that continue to be dispersed through his love, work, and dreams. For Jackson, the ‘self’ is something that goes beyond our immediate sensate world and includes the non-corporeal and spiritual. Lines in the poem such as “My wife quivers inside a kiss/My pulse was given to her many times” (13-14), as well as “In my children, I see my bulging face/pressing further into the mysteries” (34-35) display Jackson’s point clearly— the force of our lives come to inhabit and occupy the minds and hearts of others; our identities are fluid and open to influence of others’ existence. Our lives are inextricably linked with the thoughts and dreams of our fellow human beings. Furthermore, Jackson emphasizes the struggles we face in coming to terms with our own eventual mortality; that, in spite of being born into a structured and pre-organized world with many of the great human discoveries said and done, we are still stricken with an ailing drive to achieve immortality through greatness. In my favorite lines of the poem, Jackson takes this idea further by considering the feelings and experiences that were endangered by our ancestors: “The chunks of bread we dip/in olive oil is communion with our ancestors,/who also have not disappeared. Their delicate songs/I wear on my eyelids. Their smiles have/given me freedom which is a crater/ I keep falling in” (15-20). I love the metaphor of the final line— the vision of freedom as a slippery crater. The metaphor of the crater captures both the enormity and danger of freedom.

 

 

Jackson introduces a particularly interesting series of lines in the seventh stanza, “When we talk about limits, we disappear. In Jasper, TX you can disappear on a strip of gravel” (47-48). The first line ostensibly connects with the idea that our ‘self’ extends beyond our immediate space. Jackson appears to tell the reader that we decide the limits of our self. He follows this line by, in an out of fashion way, explaining that you can disappear in Jasper, TX. This line baffles me because it breaks the mold and the hopeful, contented tone of the poem. If death does not necessarily cause us to disappear, but our self-limitations do, then what could happen in the town of Jasper, TX to cause someone to vanish? Immediately my thoughts jump to racism given that Texas is a southern milieu and that Jackson contemplates the freedom as a crater earlier in the poem.

 

 

Humanity’s shared sense of emptiness and futility is temporarily overcome in Jackson’s inspirational “On Disappearing.” In spite of our overwhelming fear, we may take salvage in the fluid nature of our identities. Additionally, by understanding our ‘self’ as the final arbitrator of the extent and power of our existence, we can limit the spread of our vain battle for self-preservation.

 

 

Work Cited:
Jackson, M. “On Disappearing.” Poem-A-Day. Robert Lee Brewer. New York:
Academy of American Poets, 2013. Print.


GRIFFITH RIDGEWAY hails from Roanoke, Virginia and moved to Philadelphia after graduating from James Madison University with a BA in philosophy and BS in biology. He currently works as an AmeriCorps*VISTA at Henry H. Houston Elementary School where he organizes school and community partnerships. He hopes, at all times, to live with courage and candor.


 

 

RESPONSE ESSAY: THE TWELVES TRIBES OF HATTIE– Sophia Balter

 

 

The excerpts from The Twelve Tribes of Hattie were filled to the brim with emotions of all sorts. There were the emotions of new beginnings, old endings, and the mysteries of what is to come. In the first chapter you see Hattie optimistically beginning a new chapter of her young life in Philadelphia with her lover August and her two newly born children, Philadelphia, and Jubilee. By the end of that chapter however, you see her happiness and excitement fade away along with her children’s lives. Throughout the chapters we read, Hattie displays a sense of independence that was rare for a young African American woman of her time.

 

 

During just the first chapter of the novel, you learn so much about Hattie through her arrival in Philadelphia, and her children’s deaths. You see how she was young and ambitious – that she wanted something more for herself, and most importantly for her children. August was almost a vehicle for her escape from the south, a way in which to get the freedom she wasn’t exactly sure existed just yet. As soon as she steps foot into Philadelphia, she immediately grows aware that this place is much different from where she grew up. She sees that African Americans are treated for the most part just like anyone else, and that there isn’t as much stigma, racism, and race battles as there were where she was from. She sees Philadelphia as a new beginning filled with hope and everything that she ever dreamed of. As a result of this she names her children after Philadelphia, and her feelings of Jubilee for the new chapter of her life. Shortly after arriving in Philadelphia however, her twins get extremely ill with Pneumonia and pass away in her arms after days of her trying everything she could to keep them alive. I feel as if during the death of her firstborn children, her dreams are shattered and her hope dissipated. She no longer saw Philadelphia as a place of hope, but rather a place of hope gone wrong.

 

 

In the second excerpt, you really see how Hattie’s children’s deaths affected her life, especially between her and August. It seems to me that after her children’s deaths, she began to live her life in a state of misery, which later led to her affair with Lawrence. Even though she went on to have more children with August, you can tell through her actions that it wasn’t for August, it was more or less for herself. After she leaves August, her only worry is for her children, whereas for August her actions made him consider and reevaluate everything in his life. Both characters seem very confused and afraid of the emotions they have, especially towards each other, but neither knows what to do about them. Lawrence was an escape route for Hattie, but it took spending a car trip with him to know that that path wasn’t right for her either. Out of the chapters that we read, one can really grasp a feel for the characters and the struggles that they have gone through, and will continue to go through. I fairly enjoyed these chapters, because they were filled with emotion and you could really get a sense of what it would have been like to be an independent African American woman starting a life for herself.

 

 

Work Cited:
Mathis, Ayana. The Twelve Tribes Of Hattie. New York: Knopf Doubleday
Publishing Group, 2013. Print.


SOPHIA BALTER was born and raised in South Jersey. A psychology student at Drexel University, she works at Garland of Letters, a new age book store on South Street, and loves reading. In her free time, she enjoys making tie dyes and spinning fire poi.


 

 

RESPONSE ESSAY: THE TWELVES TRIBES OF HATTIE– Norman Cane

 

 

After witnessing the murder of her father and the theft of his blacksmith shop by racist white people in Georgia, Hattie, her mother and her two sisters flee. Upon reaching their destination, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Hattie senses that the city is nowhere as prejudiced as her former place of residence. She marries at a young age. She has two children. She embraces a celebratory mindset and names her children Philadelphia and Jubilee. Philadelphia symbolized Brotherly love and Jubilee the signing of theEmancipation Proclamation.

 

 

Initially the children were healthy and her husband was helpful and sought employment. Then tragedy intervened. Her children caught pneumonia. She frantically tried to save their lives. They die. With their deaths, the concepts of love, freedom, and the benevolent north vanish. Hattie’s spirit is shattered. Her husband works when he feels like it and becomes a womanizer.

 

 

She leaves her children- with the exception of one, Ruthie, the child of her lover- with August and accompanies her lover, Lawrence, to Baltimore. They intended to send for her other children when they were settled.

 

 

Harriet returns to Philadelphia, I believe, for two reasons: guilt and the fact that she realizes that her lover, a gambler, was as unstable as her husband. Each of her remaining children suffers tragedy.

 

 

My parents migrated from rural South Carolina to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1938. I was born in 1942. Each summer, I spend 2 months on my grandparents’ farm in South Carolina; therefore, I was able to reside in both the North and the South each year. I experienced the life styles of both the southern and northern Afro Americans. As a consequence, I could relate to the story line presented in the Ayana Mathis debut novel, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie.

 

 

I have heard stories of how successful African American business owners in the south were either murdered or run out of the area after having had their property stolen by the power to be. I have also heard stories about blacks having to flee the South because they had violated a code or series of codes that white people had specifically set-up for them to follow.

 

 

Two such cases involved my family: An uncle had to flee South Carolina because he had gotten into a physical confrontation with a white boy, and a third cousin had to abscond because of a relationship with a white woman. He was rowed from South Carolina across the Pee Dee River into North Carolina by my maternal and paternal grandfathers. Having been raised in Philadelphia, I can also relate to the experiences Hattie had in Philadelphia.

 

 

Years ago, it was not uncommon for Afro American families to have many children. Because of the decadent cultural norms and aloofness displayed by the inhabitants of the North, as compared to the social conservatism and community unity that prevailed amongst their counterparts in the South, Hattie’s children had a greater propensity to become engage in abnormal social activity—as well as become socially and psychologically disturbed.

 

 

Work Cited:
Mathis, Ayana. The Twelve Tribes Of Hattie. New York: Knopf Doubleday
Publishing Group, 2013. Print.


NORMAN CAIN was born in 1942 and raised on Olive Street in West Philadelphia. He graduated in 1964 from Bluefield State College in West Virginia where he majored in social science and minored in English. A retired social worker, teacher, father of five and grandfather of seven, he is active in several writing groups, including the Best Day of My Life So Far at the Germantown Senior Center.


 

RESPONSE ESSAY: THE TWELVES TRIBES OF HATTIE– Carol McCullough

 

 

The Philadelphia in Ayana Mathis’s Twelve Tribes of Hattie echoes the promise of hope presented in Lorene Cary’s The Price of a Child as well as contrasts the rural south. Hattie Shepherd headed northward to the New Jerusalem, as her Georgia preacher called it, landing in Philadelphia in 1925 at the beginning of the mass exodus of Blacks from the south knows as the Great Migration. This Philadelphia was already filled with people and bustling with commotion, a bigger city than her home back in Georgia. Upon her arrival she marveled at witnessing a civilized exchange between a Black female customer and a white male flower vendor, and she watched Black people walk proudly on the sidewalks with their heads held high, never having to defer to whites as they passed. Although this big city was not the Promise Land after all, the freedom from overtly menacing violence led her to vow to her mother she would never go back.

 

 

The harsh northern winter ultimately claimed Hattie’s infant twins in Philadelphia and Jubilee. With no intervention beyond eucalyptus steams, camphor rubs, ipecac sips and a doctors consultation, eventually the fever of pneumonia snuffed out their young lives, but not before Mathis could show the depths of their mother’s love: “She did not know how to comfort them, but she wanted her voice to be the last in their ears, her face the last in their eyes.” She kissed their foreheads. She “called them precious; she called them light and promise and cloud.” Hattie “felt their deaths like a ripping in her body” (Mathis 13). This eloquent description of the twins’ passing touched me almost to the point of tears because it brought to mind for just a moment the memory of my witnessing the deaths of the twin influences on my early life’s development: my mom and dad. Though almost a quarter century apart, I was there for both transitioning’s, and I understand Hattie’s inability to bear her children’s suffering as she heard the “wet gurgling deep in their chests” (Mathis 13).

 

 

By 1951 Hattie had several more children and had, in fact, borne a child (Margaret) called “Ruthie” to a man other than her husband August. At their relationships beginning, when she was only 15, she only liked August “because he was a secret from her mama, and because it thrilled her to go out with a country boy she thought beneath her” (Mathis 84). She was “a high yellow” girl who fascinated him, but “after his conquest, the thrill wore off for both of them” (Mathis 89). They both would never be the same after their twins’ deaths. There was anger but no tenderness; stepping out and blame. August felt that if she would just stop hating him for one day, he could garner the strength to do right by her (Mathis 40). Instead, he stayed out partying at night clubs and juke joints with women who “didn’t mean anything” but “just made his life a little more livable from one day to the next” (Mathis 87), for the heat of an argument about electric bill money having been spent at a juke joint, after a cast iron skillet was thrown and dodged, it was revealed that August was not Ruthie’s father. He told Hattie to get out, so she took the baby, met her lover Lawrence Bernard and they set off to Baltimore with Hattie promising to return for the other children. But Lawrence had his flaws, too, primarily gambling. Hattie had hoped he’d be her “safe port” in her stormy life (Mathis 93). He was accustomed to addressing the now as opposed to planning and preparing for a future filled with children. She left Lawrence and returned to August for the children. At chapter’s end August had resigned himself to their having had too many disappointments and too much heartbreak, being beyond forgiveness and love (Mathis 106).

 

 

Sad with so many children caught in the crossfire between them. Their domestic discord certainly connects to contemporary times. Verbal shots fired, dreams dashed, children taken prisoner in what is certainly not “The Promise Land.”

 

 

Work Cited:
Mathis, Ayana. The Twelve Tribes Of Hattie. New York: Knopf Doubleday
Publishing Group, 2013. Print.


CAROL MCCULLOUGH is a transplanted West Virginian who has lived in Philadelphia for two decades and now resides in Mantua. She received a BA in language arts from Marshall University. She is currently re-writing her life story.


 

 

RESPONSE ESSAY: THE TWELVES TRIBES OF HATTIE – Caya Simonsen

 

 

I found this piece particularly emotional and challenging to read. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie gives us insight into a poor African American mother’s saga with her twelve children. In Philadelphia and Jubilee, we learn about her first children, twins that die as babies from pneumonia. It is heart-wrenching to watch this mother’s struggle to save her children. As the chapter opens, she is giving the children medicine from the doctor as well as her own home remedies. Though her children are very sick, Hattie still has hope of saving them, and they themselves represent hope in her life: “Hattie knew her babies would survive. Though they were small and struggling, Philadelphia and Jubilee were already among those luminous souls, already the beginning of a new nation” (Mathis 9). Unfortunately this hope dissolves into a frenzied fight for her children’s lives, then futility, then despair, as she breaks the medicine tube and cuts herself in a desperate attempt to save her children, then runs over to the neighbor’s house for help, “only to end up in another bathroom just like her own, with a woman as helpless…as she was” (Mathis 13). When both babies died, “she felt their deaths like a ripping in her body” (Mathis 13). The emotionally captivating nature of the piece caused me to feel my own grief when reading of the babies’ deaths.

 

 

The chapter entitled “Ruthie” is emotionally charged in a different way. As the reader, we watch Hattie decide to leave her husband August for her lover Lawrence, the father of one of her children. This chapter seems much less about the child than about Hattie’s own journey and what she wants for her life given her constraints as a mother. What particularly struck me about this chapter was how Hattie provided financially for her children while August spent much of his money on entertainment; right before Hattie leaves she says to August: “’ They owe you something by now. All the clothes my children aren’t wearing and the shoes not on their feet are paying the juke’s light bill’” (Mathis 95), expressing her frustration with this situation. I also found it particularly interesting that both August and Lawrence consider what kind of father and husband they are, and how they have lived up to and failed their standards for how they should fulfill these roles; also how they justify their behavior when it is less than what these standards they set for themselves are.

 

 

My work as a family law paralegal helps me to relate to this piece on a more personal level. I work with many parents, mostly mothers, who are fighting every day for their children—how to provide for them financially, emotionally, and with the best care and circumstances, often when they feel the father has not done his part to be supportive and to be involved in the children’s lives. Mothers I work with are fighting against poverty, violence in their neighborhoods, situations of domestic violence, and involvement of Child Protective Services to keep their children well, with them, and intact as a family. I think that there is a very special bond between mother and children that is displayed clearly in this chapter and that I see in my work: Hattie’s strong instinct to fight and do everything necessary for her children. This is particularly evident in the chapter about Hattie fighting for Philadelphia and Jubilee, but is also apparent from the chapter on “Ruthie” when we learn how Hattie has provided financially for her children and is the glue that keeps the family together in terms of performing the household chores as well. This work is a reflection on family, mother-child relationships, and how a mother’s relationship with men affects her children.

 

 

Work Cited:
Mathis, Ayana. The Twelve Tribes Of Hattie. New York: Knopf Doubleday
Publishing Group, 2013. Print.


CAYA SIMONSEN is a resident of West Philadelphia. She graduated from Haverford College in 2014 with majors in political science and Spanish. She is
currently a Haverford House Fellow, through which she works at Philadelphia Legal Assistance as a family law paralegal. Caya enjoys baking, cooking,
traveling, and exploring different neighborhoods in Philadelphia.


 

 

RESPONSE ESSAY: THE TWELVES TRIBES OF HATTIE– Kiera Wilson

 

 

The two selected chapters from, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, highlight the personal growth of both Hattie and her relationships with August, Lawrence, and her children. It also illuminates some of the nuances of relationships, expectations driven by social norms, and a significant difference between the roles of men and woman.

 

 

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie open up with Hattie’s move to Philadelphia and the entry into a new kind of world. It is full of mixed emotions, strainedrelationships between her mother and sisters, and the gritty drive that it really takes to live in Philadelphia. Once off the train, Hattie encounters what may seem like a new world and she makes up her mind to stay: “Four Negro girls walked by, teenagers like Hattie, chatting to one another. Just girls in conversation, giggling and easy, the way only white girls walked and talked in the city street of Georgia” (Mathis 11). A sentiment she later ponders with thoughts around her sister and the death of her mother.

 

 

Hattie works tirelessly to keep her children well while struggling with pneumonia, but it is in between her faithful and alert moments that we get a grasp of Hattie, her dreams, and what keeps her afloat in the steam filled house on Wayne Street. Her understanding of how quickly your life’s work and valuables can be taken grips her and moves her forward through her life: “Hattie’s father was not two days dead, and at that moment the white men were taking his name plaque from the door of his blacksmith shop and putting up their own (Mathis 9).

 

 

While not articulated in the text, Hattie shows an immense amount of gritbetween the early 1920’s to her quick move to Baltimore in the 1950’s. It is her drive and almost severe anger that draws August to her initially. It is her fierceness and ability to be the mortar among stones that focuses a long and torrent relationship between her and Lawrence. The death of her twin children in Philadelphia and Jubilee, while crushing and, “ripping into her body,” somehow bound her to progress, where August struggled to reconnect to their life together. Hattie’s bravery is a mark of her success (Mathis 13).

 

 

The selected chapters also introduce us to the role of men and woman. We understand August and Hattie’s relationship a bit more, and from August’s perspective. He shares his thoughts on becoming a family man and the heartbreaking loss of his twin children. When Hattie said she was pregnant, August decided then and there that he wanted to be a family man. He would become an electrician and marry Hattie, who was, after all, one of the prettiest girls in Germantown. However, August compares himself to other men and allows the social norms of the time dictate his ethical standards for his relationship. August never really grows into the shoes of a true family man and remains the same young boy who sought after Hattie as a conquest.

 

 

We also have a brief time to know Lawrence and we can see some significant differences in their approach to a relationship with Hattie. Lawrence seems to have some steady work, but still falls into similar standards when it comes to his vice, gambling. Neither man is up to Hattie’s standards.

 

 

Work Cited:
Mathis, Ayana. The Twelve Tribes Of Hattie. New York: Knopf Doubleday
Publishing Group, 2013. Print.


KEIRA WILSON currently works at Princeton University with an ambitious group of students to plan programs including Breakout and Pace Council for Civic Values. Hailing from the sleepy town of Bellefonte PA, she still enjoys hiking and camping with her dog, Wynn. Holding a BA in psychology from Guilford College and an MS in education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, she is a die-hard lover of Carolina BBQ.


 

 

RESPONSE ESSAY: “BUCK” – Norman Cain

 

 

MK Asante’s memoir, Buck, is a riveting, rhythmic, prosy, hip hop laced coming of age narrative that captures his young adult years on the mean streets of Philadelphia. Additionally, the Memoir captures his candid memories of a dysfunctional family and how he discovered his writer’s voice and self-worth as an alternative high school student in the wealthy Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia.

 

 

While the derogatory definition of Buck describes a highly adventurous young Black man who is prone to anti-social activities, the term can also convey sentiments of endearment. In Afro America, ‘Buck’, can be preceded by a variety of adjectives, among them: Young, town, make and wild.

 

 

Throughout his memoir, Asante illustrates how the preceding adjectives used to describe Buck were a part of his life. As a young buck, he is the leader of a group of boys who are prone to violent behavior. Once he blew up a car. Metaphorical Buck towns mentioned in his memoir are Broad and Olney, Erie and Girard respectively.

 

 

These are the intersections that are rife with underworld activities; these are the intersections that he frequented; these are the intersections where he sold drugs, solicited sex and employed and unsavory life style. His non-conformist behavior is not only confined to the aforementioned intersections of Philadelphia, they extend to a variety of other areas of the city as well. His life becomes being a disciple of buck wildness and making bucks.

 

 

The turning point in Asante’s life arrives when he becomes a student at the non-traditional Crefeld School in the affluent Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia. There he finds solace, becomes acquainted with Kerouac, Whitman, Hurston, Baldwin, Ginsberg and other authors whose philosophies, love of adventure and quest for truth matched his mindset. He decides that he wants to become a writer; however, his Wild Buck ways still persisted.

 

 

His best friend is killed, perhaps by the same drug dealers that he owes$3,000 to. It was at this point that his interests begin to change. He becomes interested in hip hop and poetry, performs at an underground spoken word venue that feature upcoming stars like poet Ursula Rucker, the poet/singer Jill Scott and the world renowned Roots band. This was his beginning of a productive life.

 

 

I feel that Asante initially experienced a misguided existence because hisfamily was dysfunctional. His father, a world-renowned Afro American scholar was absent. His mother suffered from suicidal notions. His brother, who was his mentor, was in jail. His sister was in multiple mental institutions. Asante did not have guidance; therefore, he had no sense of purpose until he enrolled in the Crefeld School.

 

 

To the dismay of peers and family, in my youth, I have been what is known as a wild buck. During that period of my life was to use the vernacular “in the street.” Moving helter skelter into its ravine of Bacchanal did not make the fatal mistake of not returning to so called normalcy. Luckily, I knew how far to take my “Buck Wildness.” Eventually, I was employed by several agencies that dealt with troubled youth: Young Bucks. My street and professional experiences have allowed me to have an appreciation of Asante’s book.

 

 

Work Cited:
Asante, MK. Buck. New York: Random House Publishing Group, 2013. Print.


 

 

RESPONSE ESSAY: “BUCK”- Christopher Collins

 

 

When Asante attends the alternative school, his new found freedom allows him to make crucial discoveries about life and himself. Had he continued along his previous trajectory, he probably would have continued getting into trouble while struggling to find his purpose in life. However, entering a welcoming environment like Crefeld fostered an educational experience for Asante that opened him up to new possibilities and created an entirely different prospective on life.

 

 

When Asante begins at the alternative school, it’s much different from his previous experiences in school. It looked like a gingerbread house than a school, and the students looked weird, too. More importantly, the school was less restrictive and seemingly more trusting of the students. “There was no bell, no guards, no metal detectors, everything here is different”, he writes (Asante 19).

 

 

In his two previous schools, Asante struggled. He felt like everything—his teachers, the administration, and the entire system in general—was against him. So, he fought it. He broke the rules, and, since he was shown no respect, he gave no respect in return. Not only did this get him into trouble, but also it prevented him from getting anything out of his education.

 

 

At the alternative school, it was different. In one assignment, he was given a blank sheet of paper and asked to write something. He thought it was a joke. He was shocked he wasn’t given anything specific to write about, and had no idea what to do. He was never given such flexibility and freedom for an assignment at his other schools, and was excited by the new possibilities. Asante writes, “I stare at the blank page, an ocean of white alive with possibility. I hear myself take a breath then exhale deep, like I just rose fromunderwater” (Asante 21). This new freedom changed his life.

 

 

Following the assignment, Asante decides he loves to write and wants to become a writer. Because of this, his teacher recommends he read more books, which Asante begins to love as well. He loves how empowering developing a vocabulary can be. He writes:

 

 

Now I see why reading was illegal for black people during slavery. I discover that I think in words. The more words I now, the more things I can think about. My vocab and thoughts grow together like the stem and petals of a flower. Reading was illegal because if you limit one’s vocab, you limit their thoughts. They can’t even think of freedom because they don’t have the language to. (Asante 229)

 

 

Work Cited:
Asante, MK. Buck. New York: Random House Publishing Group, 2013. Print.


CHRISTOPHER COLLINS is a graduating senior majoring in economics at LeBow College of Business, Drexel University.


 

 

RESPONSE ESSAY: “BUCK”- John Dobbs

 

 

Buck was about a troubled young teen living in urban America, specifically Philadelphia throughout the mid 1990’s to early 2000’s. It describes vividly the cultural scene of Philadelphia at the time and I cannot help but relate to this story. In fact, out of all the stories we have read so far, I not only related to this one the easiest, but I also found this to be my favorite reading by far. So much so, that I actually went online to read a free online copy of it. From the readings we see the main character, named Malo, going through trials and tribulations of a normal teen. Whether it was getting his first real love’s name, Nia, or rebelling in a way most teens usually do, as well as, most trials and tribulations that are left hidden and untold. Why are they untold? Isn’t every story worth hearing? Who cares how eloquently the words flow from sentence to sentence, if it’s a good story, than that means it’s a good story. Unfortunately, I do not believe my opinion holds much weight. Otherwise, more stories would get out there.

 

 

What moved me the most, though, were the letters that Malo’s mother,Amina, wrote to herself. They were deep. They were real. They were the storiesof a woman who could see everything going on around her, but she too was lost. So lost she couldn’t even speak up about how broken her family was becoming. She was so desperate to do something, but all she could do was write. She saw and ever so desperately wanted to tell her oldest son, Uzi, it’s wasn’t his fault, to hold him, to say she loves him. But she couldn’t, so she only wrote. What she wrote is how she noticed her son steal her car; she wondered if this was heading towards more bad decisions in the future, or if this was just natural boy behavior. She stated that he would do whatever he wants to anyone and no matter what she says it’s useless, that her bond is disconnected.

 

 

I connected with this story because it was real. Life is harsh. Life can be cruel. Life can be short. It can be chaotic to almost anyone for any reason at any time. Many burdens are cast on many shoulders everyday, one can only fathom the very reason a person crumbles, but to me it is understandable. Few have the strength to get up and rise from a breaking point. Life is about the choices one can make and an outlook one can have through any obstacle. Malo saw a point in his life later in the book where he found a passion and he turned his life around. He found that his voice was something. That he could make it work if he sat down and let the words take over. They would help write and fill his blank page. They would provide him with the words that will help him write down his story.

 

 

Work Cited:
Asante, MK. Buck. New York: Random House Publishing Group, 2013. Print.


JOHN DOBBS was born in Philadelphia in 1992. He is the son of Mary Dobbs and brother to Lauren and Maureen Dobbs. He graduated from Salesianum and
currently attends Drexel University.


 

 

RESPONSE ESSAY: “BUCK”- Brandon Janits

 

 

Buck is a memoir by MK Asante. It demonstrates the kind of hardships that he had experienced as he was growing up. The story expresses the struggles of a young African American boy named Malo. He was born and raised in the streets of Philadelphia. Malo was also put into a school knows as Friends. However, Malo wasn’t always given the correct guidance from his peers or his parents. This was based on the reality of most African Americans and their lack of education. At the time, Malo’s brother Uzi was in Arizona. It seemed he had been forced to develop his own identity away from his family. The mother ended up in the hospital and was diagnosed with an illness that affected her way of thinking; the father was an African American professor who would often disappear without notifying where he was going. This would be difficult for Malo as he was forced to mainly learn for himself.

 

 

As Malo’s mom was at the hospital, he opened up her diary with a sense of interest. He would discover his mom’s past, as she would have stories of being depressed. In essence that it had led her to possible attempts for suicide. The mom’s diary provided Malo the explanation of their family’s story. As the mom states, “My oldest son is away and my home has become the house of secrets” (Asante 59). Malo would also come to learn that his brother Uzi was being held in the Arizona State Prison Complex. This came at a surprise as he answered the phone hoping it was a girl named Nia. Malo’s mom would eventually come home to realize Uzi has been sentenced to twenty-five years in prison. This caused her to start shaking involuntary.

 

 

Malo writes a story of his past experiences with the intentions of inspiring young individuals. It’s to show that no home is filled with perfect people. However, as a young African American, he expresses the kind of behaviors that are taught and experienced from prior generations. People tend to behave as much as they’re guided. For instance, the father considers each American
holiday a celebration of shame. Though Malo is an individual who is still learning, it’s likely to discourage him with negativity. This will automatically manipulate his thoughts on American holidays. I believe the father should have guided Malo to show some character even if others criticize him. This goes a long way to build up his characteristics as an individual. In essence that African Americans are already predominantly targeted. I feel bad for young individuals like Malo because they are forced to experience life the hard way.

 

 

Work Cited:
Asante, MK. Buck. New York: Random House Publishing Group, 2013. Print.


BRANDON JANITS is a graduating senior, majoring in Criminal Justice. He hopes tostart his career as a law enforcement officer and plans to continue his education in graduate school.


 

 

RESPONSE ESSAY: “BUCK” – Carol McCullough

 

 

MK Asante’s writing presents the reader with a shot of what life is like for many young African American men, aka young bucks, in Philadelphia. In the interview, “BUCK Tells of Wild Childhood in Killadelphia,” he says that his memoir is about education—miseducation, reeducation, self education, street education—and the differences between school and education (Interview, p. 3). He tells of bad experiences in a couple of schools that relied upon regurgitation of rotely memorized facts as indicators of student achievement, where his intellectual potential was neither recognized not stimulated or challenged. It was not until he was expelled from Friends’ Select and enrolled in Crefeld, an alternative high school where eccentricity and difference in (learning) style was taken into account, that his talent was recognized, nurtured and allowed to shine through. His English teacher helped him make the breakthrough discovery that he could write “sentences that flow like water, then…ride the word waves into new perceptions, new ideas” (Buck, p. 206).

 

 

Asante is now a professor of writing and film as well as a hip-hop artist, an award winning talent and published author who has lectured throughout the US and the world. But things could have turned out very differently for this young Philadelphian had he not received help learning to harness the power of his own potential and discovered his own purpose. He found that purpose in writing: first, learning that he could write in his future, spelling out his destiny in sharp strokes (Buck, p. 202), then later telling the story for other people going through similar situations—for “the kid who had never read anything that’s resonated with him,” who has never seen himself acknowledged in anything (Interview p.5). He could have turned out like some of the other Young Bucks he hung around with—maybe dead, or imprisoned, or drugged-out roaming the streets searching for that unattainable something. But an English teacher (shout out!!) challenged him with a blank white page and the words, “Write Something,” which set his creative mind free—to sprint, to dive in, to take his best shot—not in sports , but in writing and consequently, in life.

 

 

Asante learned to build a strong foundation for his writing by reading widely. Since his previous schools had done nothing of substance to foster a reading habitat, he was “starved” and “hungry for words, phrases, stories, and knowledge.” He recognized the power to take him on a “journey,” setting him off on a “voyage into a new land” (Buck, p. 226). He practiced writing all forms—poetry, stories, songs, essays, rhymes—to speak fluently to people in whatever language they understood (Buck, p. 231).

 

 

Asante then came to understand the power of literacy and the threat itposes on external control systems. Illiteracy is a form of mental slavery. Without owning word power, people’s minds are enshackled. They can never be totally free because they lack the language to formulate the thought process to break free. This holds true even today. When schools fail kids, they most likely grow into “failures” themselves, unless some very specially enlightening forces intervene in time. It is heart-wrenching to imagine the loss which would have occurred had not Asante become empowered to find his voice—and his way. It is heart-breaking to know that this happens even today in Philadelphia. That is why those in a position of knowledge and enlightenment must not turn their backs on the masses but instead, reach out a hand to uplift someone else so that there might be a ripple of positive change.

 

 

Asante’ story is so REAL, so PHILLY, a pungent slice of life in the city. When I read his description of the Broad Street Line at Olney—its people and sounds and sights—it was as if I were there, or had at least seen it all before at another stop on another day. In fact, the day I read of the young bucks “bustin” the dozens at each other, ogle-eyeing young women at the stop, getting their hopes up to be verbally shot down rapid fire, where Malo sighted the lovely Ms. Nia and rode to the Spring Garden stop with her just to get a chance at getting her number, this was the same day of “The Brawl,” an actual real life occurrence at Spring Garden Station. A student was repeatedly kicked in the head and one guy fell down into the track area during a massive after school fight reportedly started over a girl. (Art reflects life reflects art, endlessly.)

 

 

Philly has its own flavor, its own rhythms and style. It is distinctive, often dangerous, yet it can be dazzling as well. Take for instance, his chapter 43, “The Five Spot.” Captured on Black Lily night. “All types of peeps” are catalogued Whitman-style: “beautiful brown girls with Coke hips and tribal tats…backpackers…braids dreds, weaves, perms, baldies, everybody nappy, happy” (Buck, p. 239). This is the place that birthed Ursula Rucker and Jill Scott and nursed Black Thought and ?uestlove after CAPA. They were all Philly’s own. And MK—aka “Malo”—rocked it back to the beginning, spittin his jawn called BUCK, setting his own story free.

 

 

Work Cited:
Asante, MK. Buck. New York: Random House Publishing Group, 2013. Print.


RESPONSE ESSAY: “BUCK”- Griffith Ridgeway

 

 

In Buck: A Memoir, author MK Asante reflects on his tumultuous childhood experiences in the city of “Kill-adelphia.” As Asante navigates puberty and comes into maturity, he finds himself deeply confused and troubled by both racial politics and family drama. Ultimately, Asante explains this story to be both a coming of age and a triumph over the structural evils of the world. At one crucial point in Asante’s academic career, a teacher empowers Asante. In one brief moment, Asante is inspired to quite literally find his own self-authorship, both in terms of his freedom and writing. Ultimately, this is a transformative moment for Asante as he sheds the stereotypes and pressures of his neighborhood and burgeons into a scholastically voracious high school graduate, By the close of the excerpt, both Asante and his family have overcome significant hardships.

 

 

Threatened and disheveled in his two prior schools, MK Asante findshimself at an alternative high school for non-traditional students. Caught in the first day of class, his English teacher hands him a pen and paper. Instead of offering a prompt or guiding his thoughts, she simply requests that he write. From the lens of literacy theory, this point serves as a major turnaround for Asante’s cognitive and emotional development. Both figuratively and literally, Asante assumes a position of “self-authorship” in his life; he takes ownership of his freedom and begins to write his own destiny in the same way he finds love in writing and self-expression. In chapter 4, “Friends or Foes”, Asante explains his confusion and self-loathing in a wonderful metaphor using Philadelphia’s “LOVE” park, “they say we can’t skate LOVE even though it’s public” (Asante 39). Asante feels confined and lost as a result of his family’s misfortunes and his unsuccessful school life. Typically, Love is thought of as an emotion readily available to everyone—children especially; however both family and educators neglected Asante’s well being. As Asante’s insides wither from desertion, he laments and yearns for the notion that love is meant for everyone. Ultimately, this is a story of triumph as Asante pushes through a world of mistreatment and actualizes as an emotionally stable and intellectually competent young man. Asante’s own coming of age coincides with the emotional stability of his mother.

 

 

As Asante undergoes the challenges of teenage life, his mother meanwhile feels similar stresses and pains. She is the product of years of neglect and the future of Asante. Asante’s mother helps to highlight a key theme in the book: the power of purpose. Both Asante and his mother suffer through significant turmoil, but ultimately are able to connect with a greater sense of purpose and meaning. Purpose pushes Asante to a profound new level of thought and discipline, while purpose also finally convinces his mother to push past her depression and fight for a better life. The book carries a significant tone of self-ownership and taking responsibility for one’s actions. Asante is mangled and damaged until he is able to take ownership of his identity and push back against the negative pressures of his life. However, with that said, Asante’s tone is also very self-righteous and accusative. He challenges the authority of several very well respected institutions (e.g. the Friends Select school in Center City which is well-known for its Quaker roots. Racism, while still possible and prevalent, would be significantly less likely there. At no point does he truly take responsibility for his disrespectful and silly behavior. Throughout the book he continues to justify his actions and scorn authority. However, I both hope and expect that this behavior is simply a reflection of what he thought rather than what he thinks.

 

 

In conclusion, Asante’s moment of enlightenment led to a profound change in both the well-being of himself and his mother. As he comes to learn, freedom is granted to all, but owned by few. While his narrative was very touching, by the end of the story I felt rather under confident in the legitimacy of his claims and his credibility as a narrator.

 

 

Work Cited:
Asante, MK. Buck. New York: Random House Publishing Group, 2013. Print.


RESPONSE ESSAY: “BUCK”- Caya Simonsen

 

 

For me, one of the most powerful parts of what we read of Buck were the journal entries from Amina. It is powerful that these journal entries are from Amina’s actual journal and are paired alongside Asante’s recounting of events; in addition to offering the perspective of a second narrator these journal entries provide a window into life for mothers who are struggling with depression and other types of mental illness. Specifically, I will be discussing her journal entry detailing when she leaves Daudi at the airport.

 

 

The details Amina gives about how hard this decision was for her revealsthe complexity of the decisions that parents make on behalf of their children as well as her love for Daudi. Amina is frustrated by her own inability to control Daudi and to set him on a better path: “why can’t Chaka and I get a grip on things?” (Asante 61). I think this feeling is very common for parents who have children who are going through difficult problems and feel a sense of powerlessness over their children although they also feel that they should be able to control their children more. Then Amina makes this decision to send Daudi to Arizona to stay with his uncle—this is a last-ditch decision, as Amina seems to feel that Chaka has not abandoned her in her attempts to do her best by Daudi (Asante 62). Amina has doubts about this decision, “My brother has problems of his own” (Asante 62), and also seems conflicted about her motivations in sending Daudi away, “Am I doing this to please Chaka?” (Asante 62). However, despite the fact that she is second guessing this decision, in the end she seems to think that it is necessary to do this, to demonstrate this type of tough love towards Daudi though it hurts both of them. She likens dropping him off at the airport to other times when she has had to leave him for his own good—at nursery school when he was younger—but laments the fact that she cannot accompany him to this new place: “I want to travel beside Daudi on his collar, whispering on his ear…” (Asante 63). I think that this back and forth that Amina has with herself about this decision is very telling of the painfulness of decisions that parents often have to make for the best interest of their children.

 

 

Also fascinating in this passage is Amina’s self-resolve to better her psychological state in order to help her children. In this journal entry she very clearly accepts that she bears responsibility towards her children and needs to find a way to provide the support that they need even though she is suffering psychologically: “I must get stronger so I can be there for my sons…My strength is my light and both of my sons need me” (Asante 63). At the same time we know that she is fighting serious depression, from our background knowledge that Amina has had several suicide attempts as well as from the text: “I want to go home and sleep for seven days and seven nights…I have to resist going into a black hole and never seeing light” (Asante 63). With these statements, Amina is either saying that she has to resist suicide or depression so strong that she is not functional and disappears from the world into herself. I think this self-resolve to get better for her sons is both touching and telling of the struggle that many parents dealing with mental health problems face.

 

 

Finally, I was struck by how poetically Amina writes about her grief in leaving Daudi. She says, “I want to forget that pain can be so intimate” (Asante 63). This simple statement is so telling of the depth of feeling that she is experiencing, but it is also a beautiful statement about emotional pain that can be applied to many people’s experiences of pain. Additionally, it is very poetic when Amina compares the inside of her body to the weather, and how her inner pain was transformed into tears as she walked away from Daudi: “the tears that were raining inside of me began to fill up the spaces in my eyes and then envelop my face until I couldn’t see. I can’t say how the weather is today but I know that inside me, it is raining” (Asante 64). Amina’s journal entry is as beautiful as it is deep; I am not surprised that with the publishing of this book people began to ask Asante when his mother was going to publish her own book.

 

 

Work Cited:
Asante, MK. Buck. New York: Random House Publishing Group, 2013. Print.

English 360: Philadelphia Stories