Tuesday, May 31, 2011


"Faster than a speeding bullet.
More powerful than a locomotive.
Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

Look! Up in the sky!
It's a bird. It's a plane. It's Superman!

Yes, it's Superman - strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman - who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel with his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights the never ending battle for Truth, Justice and the American Way".

If I have heard this quote once, I must have heard it at least a hundred times. When I think of this quote, however, Kent Clark as Superman does not come to my mind. What comes to my mind are three incredible women who were able to help change the course of  women's history, help bend the pendulum of literature from White men, and birth and raise nine women in the "dirty South" and I mean the DIRTY Jim Crow South. All three women fought for "the never ending battle for Truth, Justice and the American way", doing this all while being mild mannered, very much like Kent Clark. Let's briefly discuss Sojourner Truth, Toni Morrison, and my momma: Nettie Armstead Stallworth.

Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth, whose given name was Isabella Baumfree, was born a slave and was bilingual. Image a slave being bilingual. Well, she was! She spoke Dutch and English. She luckily ended up in the state of New York, and New York began the gradual abolition of slavery in 1799.  Sojourner's master promised to free her, but he reneged on that promise. REALLY!!! So, "Superwoman Sojourner" decided to run away, or as she put it, walk away.  As time went on, I am cutting her story a little short, she decided to become a traveling preacher. Now, anyone who knows anything about "religious people" know that being a woman preacher has been frowned upon for years, but to try  and be one in 1843 and make money doing it, truly makes Sojourner a "Superwoman."  She also had the audacity, being an ex-slave, to stand at the Ohio's Woman's Right Convention in the year of  18 and  50 and say "I can work as much and eat as much as man, when I could get it, and bear the lash as well -- and ain't I a woman" in her famous "Ain't I a Woman Speech."  This sho nuff makes Sojourner Truth a "Superwoman". "She didn't leap tall buildings in a single bound" like Superman, but she did help to start changing the way that African American women were viewed, and that definitely puts her in the "Superwoman" category.

Toni Morrison
Now, my all time favorite who made my vision board, Toni Morrison, definitely qualifies to be in the category with "Superman."  I am really pondering which one of her writings put her in this category: Sula, The Bluest Eye, Love, or my all time favorite Song of Solomon. Okay, I'm being bias, but really, everything that she has written puts her in the "Superwoman" category.

Please allow me a few minutes to digress and talk about Song of Solomon.  I taught this novel for the first time this year, and I must say that I had a ball.  My students and I dissected this novel the same way that a scientist dissects a rat. One of my students, in her digital portfolio, stated that "this was an awakening experience, not that I didn't not know that my people (African Americans) were capable of writing scholarly novels, my previous teachers just never embraced the novels as Ms. Stallworth did."  Another student stated that "I got more out of Song of Solomon, than I have out of any other book I have read."

Back to my point! Historically, schools have mainly focused on White male writers: William Faulkner, William Shakespeare, F. Scott Fitzgerald, just to name a few.  Don't get me wrong, I love these guys and their writings, but I know that there are some women writers who deserve to be in the ranks with these men: Zora Neale Hurston, Virginia Wolfe, Tananarive Due, and of course, Toni Morrison. Toni Morrison, has firmly established herself in the rank with these men and has started the literary pendulum to shift towards women.  Her works are studied in Colleges, Universities, and High Schools across this country, and she has even made the AP English exam. So, I don't have to say much more about why she is a "Superwoman."  She may not be "faster than a speeding bullet," but when a  person can began to shift the literary pendulum, that definitely puts a person in the "Superwoman" category.

My momma, Nettie Armstead Stallworth

Now, my momma, Nettie Armstead Stallworth, name is not in any history books, and she may never be talked about on television or the Internet, except in this blog, but she definitely qualifies to be a "Superwoman."  Raised in the rural South, she met my daddy, LJ Stallworth, and they went on to have nine girls.  That was not a typo, they had nine girls and no boys.  My momma would clean the house, wash and fold clothes, and cook breakfast and dinner, we ate lunch at school, without a single complaint. Now, only a "Superwoman" could do this. She would press our hair, pick vegetables from a mile long garden, and can the vegetables, without saying a "murmuring word."  Now, doing all these tasks definitely makes my momma a "Superwoman."

After my daddy died, my momma made the decision to leave the house that we were raised in despite what anyone thought.  Not only did she leave our childhood house, she left the state and moved to Georgia. This women had the audacity to leave all that she knew and start a new life in her 70s, she even briefly, had a boyfriend. Now, that's a whole 'nother blog that I may get to later. She is not "more powerful than a locomotive," but she did successfully raise nine strong girls with my Daddy, and this definitely puts her in the category of "Superwoman."

So, I can't take anything away from Superman; he really was Super. However, there are other Superheros, some are known and others are unknown, but their imprints will be left on the world forever.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Joplin, Missouri

I've been watching and hearing about the devastating tornadoes that hit Joplin, Missouri. I've never visited Joplin, Missouri, but something about the name really rung a bell. Then, I had that ah ha moment: Joplin, Missouri is the birth place of Langston Hughes.

I really wonder what would happen if Langston Hughes' name was attached to this devastating storm in Joplin, Missouri?  Would the literary giants all come together and do some type of benefit concert? Let's try and  envision the benefit concert: Nikki Giovanni would recite a poem about the devastation and say something radical about the media and their lack of attention given to Joplin.  Maya Angelou would stand and say "behold, behold" and many other heartfelt words that would make the relief money pour into Joplin.  There would be many other local and well known writers who would stand and say radical and not so radical poems, and it would end with thousands holding candles and raising tons of money in the memory of Langston Hughes to benefit the victims of Joplin, Missouri.

Does anyone else out there ever have these random thoughts and ideas. Holler at me!

Maya Angelou

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Big Sea

Today, I am writing my first blog, and I am bubbling over with excitement. I am calling this blog THE BIG SEA after a very important person in the literature world: Langston Hughes. In his autobiography titled The Big Sea, Langston states that "Literature is a big sea full of many fish." This quote just about sums up my feelings about literature.  There is a "fish" out in the "big sea" for everybody. 

Langston Hughes
Langston Hughes

So, today is the day after Oprah's last show, and I am sad about it. I am reflecting on the number of authors and their books that Oprah have literally blown up or made bigger when she selected their books as her book club selection. Here is a list of some of my favorite Oprah picks:
  1.  Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
  2. The Story of Edward Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
  3. Night by Elie Wiesel
  4. A Million Little Pieces by James Frey
  5. Sula by Toni Morrison and
  6. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
This season, Oprah selected the novel A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, and I must admit that I am a sucker for the classics. This idea struck me as I was driving to my job that I absolutely love, a high school English teacher, that using Oprah and her book club was a fabulous way to get my students interested in reading this classic novel. As I scurried into school, I was soooooo excited. I knew that I needed to pitch this idea to the students in a way that would make them feel that they were making the decision to read this novel, and this would put the responsibility of mastering this text on them.

I marched into the classroom and told the students that they were very bright students whom I wanted to challenge more. I let them know that I wanted them to read a novel and share their ideas with the world through the Oprah website. I also let them know that I really, really, I mean really was hoping that Oprah would see our posts and invite us on the show for this last and final season. 

The students loved the idea of reading with the world and sharing their ideas with someone besides me. I printed the questions and bookmarks from the Oprah website and distributed the books. I put them on a reading schedule, and we began the journey of reading A Tale of Two Cities.  

As we were reading, I used the tips from Oprah's website to introduce new words and idea. Every time that I received an email from Oprah's Book Club, I would let the students know that Oprah emailed me. They quickly informed me that she had emailed them as well since they all had joined the book club.

So, we were reading and reading and posting answers to the questions on the Oprah website when out of nowhere I got an email from an Oprah producer who stated that she wanted me to send her my telephone number. I was very skeptical about this email, I mean, a producer wants my number, RIGHT!  I forwarded the email to my preacher sister, Tracy, and I knew that she would be able to use her heavenly powers to decipher the truth and let me know if I should send my number. With her seal of authenticity, I emailed my number to a producer for the Oprah Show. 

Laying on my sofa, on an "Easy Sunday Morning" as stated by Lionel Richie, an unknown number showed up on my caller ID. I normally don't answer those unknown callers, but I thought "This could be someone from the Oprah Show" and sure enough, it was.  I jumped off the sofa, and I ranted and raved about my students, the novel, and how we really wanted to be on the show. The producer wanted me to send her some pictures of my students and me. So, I went to school and got permission to take pictures of the students, and I sent them to Oprah.  Boy, was the entire school excited: "We were going to the Oprah Show." 

We finished the novel and waited and waited to hear from the producer. The Oprah Show ended yesterday, and we never heard from the producer; however, the ultimate goal was reached: TO GET HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS TO ENJOY CHARLES DICKENS.

Thank You Oprah, you have had more of an impact on people than you will ever know.

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