Archive for December, 2014

Robert R. Taylor biography featured in Journal of Architectural Education

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014 by Brian Seidman

Robert R. Taylor and Tuskegee: An African American Architect Designs for Booker T. Washington by Ellen WeissA new review in the Journal of Architectural Education calls Ellen Weiss’s biography of African American architect Robert R. Taylor “a vital addition to architectural history, African American studies, the history of education, history of the South, and that of campus architecture.”

In the Volume 68, Issue 2, 2014 edition of the Journal of Architectural Education, University of Miami professor Katherine Wheeler examines Robert R. Taylor and Tuskegee: An African American Architect Designs for Booker T. Washington by Ellen Weiss, published by NewSouth Books in 2012. The richly illustrated biography relates Taylor’s life and early education, but most importantly his early 1890s appointment by Booker T. Washington to the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (later Tuskegee University) to teach and help design the institute’s buildings. Weiss interprets Taylor designing the buildings, as well as the students helping to build them, as a progressive act, not only bolstering the campus but also serving as a point of racial pride in defiance of strengthening Jim Crow laws.

Wheeler writes that Weiss’s book deftly details “the challenges black architects faced in the South after the Civil War, as well as underlining the importance of architecture’s role in promoting racial equality. Architecture at Tuskegee was, as Weiss rightly notes, ‘a fist against the sky’ (p. 87).”

Wheeler continues, “Taylor’s position at the institute was an important one. He was initially hired to teach drawing in addition to designing institute buildings. Weiss makes an excellent point when she notes the importance of drawing at Tuskegee. Drawing not only facilitated understanding but also the planning of the work, which would have resonated with blacks who recognized that ‘slave artisans worked under white direction alone and therefore did not plan their own work’ (p. 42). Drawing, like architecture, held power, as both Washington and Taylor were well aware.”

The review notes that Robert R. Taylor and Tuskegee is a dual biography of both the architect and the school. The book is complemented by “wonderful archival images of Taylor, the students, and the buildings that capture the growth and formality of the campus. … [Weiss] is also careful to tease out the possible meanings of a building and describes Taylor’s architecture in vivid language.”

Wheeler concludes that “while Taylor may never be a household name among nonarchitects, he certainly deserves recognition in our surveys of architectural history and his designs for Tuskegee. We must include him and his colleagues to present the history of the profession in all its facets. Likewise, we must recognize as Taylor did the power of architecture as not just a setting for, but also an agent of, change.”

The Journal of Architectural Education is a publication of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA). Download a PDF of the Robert R. Taylor review.

Robert R. Taylor and Tuskegee: An African American Architect Designs for Booker T. Washington, by Ellen Weiss, is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

NPR’s Here and Now interviews Voices Beyond Bondage editor Erika DeSimone

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014 by Lisa Harrison

Voices Beyond Bondage: An Anthology of Verse by African Americans of the 19th Century

Voices Beyond Bondage editor Erika DeSimone was interviewed last week on National Public Radio’s “Here and Now.” In a lively exchange, DeSimone told host Peter O’Dowd about the 19th century African American literary movement celebrated in her newly published anthology, co-edited with Fidel Louis. Only recently have scholars even begun to look at the verse that appeared in scores of black-owned newspapers dating from the antebellum and postbellum periods. Not surprisingly, says DeSimone, readers have been intrigued by the beauty and strength of the poems within the book’s pages.

“There was a whole movement of poetry writing by African Americans of the 19th century . . . almost every single black-owned newspaper in the nation carried a poetry column,” DeSimone enthused. In response to Dowd’s expression of surprise, DeSimone observed that at the start of the Civil War, roughly 10% of slaves were literate. Many black Americans during the period either learned to read and write in free schools in the North or were taught by family members and friends. In poetry, she added, African Americans gave voice to joy and pain and to the harsh experiences of their lives.

The “Here and Now” interviewed coincided with a Massachusetts book tour for co-editors Erika DeSimone and Fidel Louis. They took their anthology on the road talking to appreciative audiences at two Boston Public Library branches — Mattapan, in Mattapan, MA, and Grove Hall, in Dorchester, MA — and also to Boston’s Museum of African American History.

To hear the interview and a sample of pieces featured in the anthology, visit NPR’s “Here & Now.” Voices Beyond Bondage is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

ArtsATL interviews three-time Georgia Author of the Year Ted Dunagan

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014 by Lisa Harrison

The Salvation of Miss Lucretia by Ted Dunagan

Young adult author Ted Dunagan, winner of the Georgia Author of the Year for his first three novels, starting with A Yellow Watermelon, was interviewed recently by ArtsATL. The amiable author chatted with Sarah Sacha Dollacker about his childhood desire to become a writer and the inspiration for his books. The semi-autobiographical stories focus on the friendship between two boys, one white and one black, who work together to rid their rural community of criminals in exciting adventures reminiscent of the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. The characters Ted and Poudlum are based on and have the actual names of the author and his boyhood best friend.

In the interview, Dunagan recalled, “I’ve wanted to be a writer my entire life, but I didn’t have the opportunity to start until about 10 years ago. I didn’t start out writing about my childhood. When I first started writing seriously, I had an editor working with me. I kept showing her what I was working on, and she kept telling me that it was terrible.

“One day, she said, ‘Didn’t you grow up picking cotton? Write about that.’ I didn’t actually pick that much cotton, but I realized that I grew up in a unique time and place. She encouraged me to write about my memories.”

Dunagan has been nominated for the 2015 Georgia Author of the Year Award for his latest novel, The Salvation of Miss Lucretia. He is working on the fifth book in the series as his young fans eagerly anticipate reading the further exploits of Ted and Poudlum.

Heaven and Earth Collide author Alan Cross quoted in Washington Post; book reviewed on Bill Tammeus’s Faith Matters blog

Friday, December 5th, 2014 by Lisa Harrison

When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus by Alan CrossAlan Cross, author of When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus, was quoted recently in a Religion News Service article on current events in Ferguson, Missouri and New York that ran in papers across the country, most prominently in the Washington Post.

Cross was one of several important religious figures interviewed. Echoing the theme of his book, he noted that “what often happens when white evangelicals try to speak into this is that we continue to think first in terms of our own position. We should consider what people in the black community are saying, what are they going through, what is their experience.”

When Heaven and Earth Collide also recently received an excellent review on Bill’s ‘Faith Matters’ Blog by Bill Tammeus. In a piece that compares Evangelical support of racial segregation to other “subversions of Christianity” throughout history, Tammeus says that When Heaven and Earth Collide “is a necessary book by a man steeped in the white evangelical tradition but willing to expose what went wrong there. It would be easy for Christians in a different tradition to call down shame on those white Southerners for their failures, but every tradition has its own failures that need this kind of intense scrutiny so they don’t continue into the future.”

When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus is an important contribution to the discussion of relations between the races from a Gospel perspective. It’s available from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.