Black Fire—This Time: Volume 1 | Edited by Kim McMillon | Willow Books | March 15, 2022
The literary anthology Black Fire—This Time: Volume 1, published last spring, perfectly captures the spirit of sankofa, a word from the Akan people of Ghana that roughly translates to “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.”
Black Fire—This Time, published by the Willow Books division of Aquarius Press in Detroit, pays homage to previous “anthologies that were reports about the state of Black writing arts at the time of their publication,” writes the volume’s editor, Kim McMillon. She cites the influence of Alain Locke’s anthology The New Negro, which was published in 1925 at the height of the Harlem Renaissance.
The Aquarius Press anthology also pays tribute to Black Fire, a 1968 anthology edited by Amiri Baraka and Larry Neal that signaled the beginning of the Black Power movement in America and, as McMillon writes, amplified the new sentiment “Black is Beautiful. Black is Powerful. Black is Home.”
At nearly 500 pages, Black Fire—This Time features work from many of America’s greatest and most influential wordsmiths, including Gwendolyn Brooks, James Baldwin, Haki Madhubuti, Sonia Sanchez, Margaret Walker, Wanda Coleman, Quincy Troupe, Lucille Clifton, Henry Dumas, and Askia Touré.
The anthology also offers new works by writers who are not so well-known nationally, including Triangle writers Lenard Moore, Darrell Stover, and Lamont Lilly, with a nod to the celebrated Camille T. Dungy, the Denver, Colorado–based poet who earned her master’s degree from UNC Greensboro.
Moore is primarily a haiku poet and edited the 2020 literary anthology by the Carolina African American Writers Collective All The Songs We Sing, which was reviewed by the INDY.
Moore’s “Summer Blues for George Floyd,” which is featured in the book, begins with a note of yearning for the children Floyd left behind after his murder by Minnesota police ignited a racial reckoning across the United States and globally: “I wish you were here for your children / Tall, treelike to guide them / You don’t know how bad we just hurt / Our nerves sting above the hem.”
No less powerful is “assata: general shakur” by Lilly, an uncompromising activist who ran for vice president of the United States in 2016 on the Workers World Party ticket: “they would like us to forget / the likes of her sacrifices / one dark woman / well-dressed in plaid shadows / called afro-freedom.” Meanwhile, Stover, a poet, cultural historian, and lecturer of Afrofuturism at NC State University, offers a reflection of his mentor and close friend, Amiri Baraka, along with “Another Trane,” a poem that honors the loveship shared by the jazz icons John and Alice Coltrane: “Love interludes between play / Preacherly their piano and sax / Raised in notes of the spirit.”
Dungy’s “This’ll hurt me more” contains the telling observation “America, there is not a place I can wander inside you and not feel a little afraid.”
“Our editors selected a vast array of contributions from all over the country, and not only in Black neighborhoods,” publisher Heather Buchanan wrote in a press release for the book, “but the work from North Carolina certainly stands out as poignant, purposeful, and uncompromising.”
Black Fire—This Time serves up generous portions of essays and plays, but poetry is the main entrée. It’s a fitting coda for National Poetry Month.
“In 20 years or so when future anthologists produce an anthology that will reflect a future state of Black writing,” literary icon Ishmael Reed writes in the volume’s introduction, “they will find this one hard to surpass.”
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