I’ve recently begun teaching in the inner-city, so I thought I might find reading material for my freshman from the Bronx Biannual: The Journal of Urbane Urban Literature. Although I soon discovered that the explicit content guaranteed that these weren’t stories I’d casually give fourteen-year-old students, this issue contains great reading for the more mature reader.
In the introduction to this second issue, the editor Miles Marshall Lewis says that “the intention with Bronx Biannual is to publish both celebrated and unsung writers on a variety of subjects germane to the black aesthetic.” This volume fulfills that goal, in stories as diverse as Bahiyyih Davis’s about a girl’s obsession on how to best handle her unruly hair, to Staceyann Chin’s poem which observes New Orleans’s decrepit state and begs for blacks to vote, to keely a. abel’s “Broke-Down Princess,” which tells the story of a pre-teen with a preoccupied mother and jailbird father who is swept into committing sex with multiple older men. This last story creates a powerful, heartbreaking effect by switching perspectives between the mother and her daughter.
These stories are not to be taken with a cup of tea or a grain of salt; many are tales which demand at least an emotional response from the reader. One of my favorite selections is Sekou Writes’s “Love, Rage, and Volswagons” in which he recounts an act of racism done to him by the police. Although the content is pertinent and controversial, it is the form which drew me into this piece. Writes infuses a narrative in between sections of a poem he wrote expressing his frustration at the occurrence: “I’m not the nogoodnigga they mistook me for / I’m not a nigga at all / I’m just…me.” The poem then halts as narration begins: “I was shocked it was even possible for anyone to mistake me for a criminal…I’d had many a philosophic conversation about racism, mostly as an abstract and distant idea.”
Bronx Biannual is an intense journal, ideal for anyone interested in current, urban literature or poetry.