As we start traversing our path through the new year, I want to take the opportunity to look back at some of my favorite posts from the past year. This retrospective will contain, in no particular order, the five posts that are my favorite from the 94 posts that appeared in 2015. The posts on this list will include ones from this blog as well as the posts I wrote for the Ernest J. Gaines Center’s blog. So, without further do, here are my five favorite blog posts. In the comments below, let me know which post(s) you would place on this list. 

To celebrate the 100th blog post on the Ernest J. Gaines Center’s blog, I decided to do something special, conduct interviews with two nationally renowned scholars who have written on Ernest J. Gaines and his work. The interviews appeared in two separate posts, and both are great introductions to discussions that arise when reading Gaines’s work or literature in general. During my interview with Dr. Keith Clark, professor of English at George Mason University, we discussed his initial introduction to Ernest J. Gaines’s writing. This came when he taught a class as a graduate student, and he found “The Sky is Grey” in Richard Barksdale and Keneth Kinnamon’s anthology of African American literature. As well, we spoke about the role of college athletes on campuses. In the conversation with Dr. Valerie Babb, professor of English at the University of Georgia, we again spoke about her initial introduction to Gaines. Rather than experiencing Gaines in the South, she encountered him in New York during her formative years. The discussion also turned to the film adaptations of Gaines’s work and how those could be incorporated into the classroom. These are only a small sampling of the topics that each conversation covered. For more, watch the videos in the link above. 

Last year, I devoured Louisiana native Arna Bontemps’s fiction, reading four of his books and writing six blog posts on them. I did not write one on God Sends Sunday, a migration narrative that would fit perfectly in with the “Migration and African American Literature” syllabus. Our of all of the posts that I did about Bontemps, I would have to say that my favorites deal with Black Thunder, a novel that fictionalized Gabriel Prosser’s thwarted slave rebellion. In these posts, I write about stylistic elements in Bontemps’s novel, specifically his use of multiple points of view in a chapter that leads up to the rebellion and his use of stream of consciousness throughout the novel. For both of these elements, I tie the work together with Gaines’s A Lesson before Dying and Jean Toomer’s Cane. Until last year, I had never read any works by Bontemps, except for some of his work on the Harlem Renaissance. After reading his fiction, I see him as an author that should be studied broadly. Originally published in the 1930s, Black Thunder did not take off until the 1960s due to its representation of strong African American male characters It would be interesting to examine the reception of this novel and what that receptions says about the cultural milieu of the period when it initially appeared and the one where it saw a resurgence. 

When I attended a conference last April, a presentation introduced me to the collection of FSA and OWI photos available on the website. When looking at literature from this time period, or literature that retrospectively looks back to the period, the photos provide a great visual context for readers and students alike. For this post, I write about the benefits of using the photos in the classroom setting and I look at a couple of different examples. I examine images in relation the Ernest J. Gaines’s “A Long Day in November” and “The Sky is Gray,” Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path,” and Carson McCullers’s Refelctions in a Golden Eye. As stated, the database contains images from all over the country. For future work, I would love to use this site to show students images that could relate to Bontemps’s God Sends Sunday or Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time. Let me know what images caught your attention in the comments below. 

Recently, I wrote two posts on Genarao Kỳ Lý Smith’s The Land Baron’s Sun, a book of poems that chronicles the life of Smith’s grandfather, his seven wives, and their descendants both before and after the fall of Saigon. In the first post, I write about the false promise of the American Dream that awaited those who came to American after Saigon’s fall. Rather than experiencing opportunity, immigrants faced oppression and racism that saw them as others, people who could not, no matter how hard they tried, climb the social ladder to make a better life for themselves and their families. The second post contains an interview with Smith. Here, Smith talks about the American Dream, the connection of divinity with nature, the role of food, and other topics that appear in The Land Baron’s Sun. Along with this, the post includes a video of Smith reading poems from the book while images of his grandfather and family play in the background. These images, like the FSA and OWI ones, visually contextualize Ly Loc’s story. 

In this post, I discuss one of my favorite passages from Gaines’s oeuvre, the section where Aunt Clo compares Aunt Fe’s departure with that of an uprooted tree. This passage, placed among the strictly narrative sections of the story, creates an indelible metaphorical image of the tree and Aunt Fe. On a personal level, this section makes me think about how much the past remains, no matter how hard I try to replace it or move on. It reminds me that wherever I am, when I leave that place, a piece of me will stay behind and a piece of that place will lodge itself into my very being. To me, this is the beauty of Aunt Clo’s section; it is a poetic description of remembrance and “progress.” What makes this post special, apart from the discussion, has to be the audio clip that accompanies it. The clip comes from a late 1960s reading of the story by Gaines himself. Gaines’s voice adds depth and lyricism to the Aunt Clo’s section, providing a greater appreciation for Gaines’s imagery and technique. 

There are more posts that I could highlight, but for me these are the ones that maintain a place in my thoughts from the past year. What posts did you like from the previous year? Let me know in the comments below. 

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