"Black in the Middle" Virtual Book Conversation Series: Pt. 2, "Past"

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Contributors to the new anthology from Belt Publishing, "Black in the Middle," respond to questions about neglected histories

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RSVP for Part One: "Home" (12/12/20) and Part Three: "Now" (2/13/21)

Join us for part two of a three-part Virtual Book Conversation Series with contributors to Black in the Middle: An Anthology of the Black Midwest! January's event features the "Past" panel and will include Leslie Barlow, Joe Boyle, Beverly Cottman, Brian G. Gilmore, Michelle S. Johnson, Phyllis M. May-Machunda, David Weathersby, and Yvonne.

What stories have been missed or neglected in traditional tellings of black history and/or American history? What are the historical precursors to our contemporary moment? How might contending with the past lives of black midwesterners, including the very recent past, allow us to reckon with deeply uncertain futures?

Copies of Black in the Middle are available here on our ready-to-ship website, which also has a wide selection of recommended and best-selling books, store merch, book subscription boxes, and more. You can request specific books you don't see on the site through this form, too. All orders ship from our store in Pittsburgh.

You can also purchase Black in the Middle, as well as several of these contributors' books, on our list for recent and upcoming events. Check out our curated lists and picks on our main affiliate page, or use the search bar in the upper center-right to look for any book. (Using the book's ISBN usually works best.)

This event will be hosted on Zoom. You'll receive the link to the Zoom meeting the day of the event via email. Free registration/ticket sales will end at 6:30pm ET on 1/16. Please email if you miss this cut-off and need a ticket. For questions, check out our FAQ for events here.


About Black in the Middle:

Essays about the Black experience in Middle America

Black Americans have been among the hardest hit by the rapid deindustrialization and accompanying economic decline that have become so synonymous with the Midwest. Since the 2016 election, many traditional media outlets have renewed attention on the conditions of “Middle America,” but the national discourse continues to marginalize the Black people who live there. Black in the Middle brings the voices of Black Midwesterners front and center. Filled with compelling personal narratives, thought-provoking art, and searing commentaries, this anthology explores the various meanings and experiences of blackness throughout the Rust Belt, the Midwest, and the Great Plains. Bringing together people from major metropolitan centers like Detroit and Chicago as well as smaller cities and rural areas where the lives of Black residents have too often gone unacknowledged, this collection is a much-needed corrective to the narrative of the region.

About tonight's contributors:

Leslie Barlow is a visual artist, educator, and space facilitator living and working in Minneapolis, MN. In her visual art practice, Barlow's current work uses figurative oil painting to share stories that explore the politics of representation, identity, otherness, and race. Barlow actively exhibits her work throughout the United States and is currently working towards an exhibition of a new body of work that will be shared at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in early 2021. In 2019 she was awarded both the McKnight Visual Artist Fellowship and the 20/20 Springboard Fellowship, and in 2020 was a recipient of the MSAB Cultural Community Partnership Grant. This summer she joined a collective of public artists (Creatives After Curfew) to create and facilitate community mural work in response to George Floyd’s murder and in solidarity with the subsequent unrest and uprising. She currently teaches at the University of Minnesota, helps run the organization MidWest Mixed, and she also supports emerging artists as the Director of Studio 400. 

Joe Boyle teaches American history at Morrison R. Waite High School in Toledo, Ohio. He spent 10 years teaching at Rogers High School, proudly serving the students of Spencer-Sharples. He is a graduate of Bowling Green State University with a B.A. in History and an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction.

Beverly Cottman is an interdisciplinary artist creating at the intersections of literary, visual, and performance art. As storyteller Auntie Beverly, she delivers wisdom of the ages through stories, folktales, and fables rooted in African and African-American traditions. Her storytelling presentations pass on values and celebrate culture. Her workshop sessions support and encourage participants to create compelling narratives that educate, enlighten, and entertain. Beverly’s literary works explore the joys of everyday life and express gratitude for the kinship of family and friends. Her creative endeavors are gifts from the ancestors.

Brian G. Gilmore teaches social justice law in the Clinical Law Program at Michigan State University College of Law. He is originally from Washington DC and the author of four collections of poetry, including the latest, come see about me, marvin (Wayne State University Press), a Library of Michigan Notable Book for 2020. He is a columnist with The Progressive Media Project (The Progressive - Madison, Wisconsin). His book, We Didn't Know Any Gangsters, is a 2014 NAACP Image Award nominee and a 2015 Hurston-Wright Legacy Award nominee. 

Michelle S. Johnson serves as a public scholar in the fields of Black history, literature, and cultural production, and applies her identity as a public scholar in cultural studies programs and classroom environments. Centering the power of storytelling, Johnson consults on Black history projects that document the people, narratives, and places of Black autonomy, and she researches, writes, curates, develops exhibits, performs, and lectures for academic and public settings. Johnson has been involved in numerous creative collaborations with poets, musicians, playwrights, and interview subjects. Her forthcoming releases include “Black Shapings: Memory, Documentation and Tradition in Saginaw, Michigan, African American Migration, and Smaller Midwestern Cities” in the Middle West Review and “Rooster,” a short story in Midnight & Indigo. Johnson has been named a 2021 Rubinger Fellow to establish The Cultural Land Trust as part of LISC’s support of innovative community development initiatives.

Phyllis M. May-Machunda is a 6th generation Black Midwesterner, whose research interests include African American folklore and music traditions, emphasizing artistic traditions of African American women and children in the Midwest and South; and multicultural and social justice education. She earned her Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Iowa; M.A. and Ph.D. in Folklore/Ethnomusicology from Indiana University-Bloomington, and just completed 30 years as Professor of American Multicultural Studies at Minnesota State University Moorhead. She has published articles, curated exhibitions, co-facilitated community-based social justice education programs, and before moving to Minnesota, worked as a folklorist/curator at the Smithsonian Institution.

David Weathersby is a filmmaker and the founder of City Vanguard, an arts organization that produces community-based documentaries for educational and cultural institutions. As a director, he has produced films, documentaries, music videos, and video art projects. His past projects include the documentaries Got the Love, Jazz Occurrence, Thee Debauchery Ball, and The Color of Art. His work has been featured on The Africa Channel, WTTW and various film festivals including Pan African Film Festival, San Diego Black Film Festival, Roxbury International Film Festival, Chicago Onscreen, Chicago South Side Film Festival, Collected Voices Film Festival, Black Harvest Film Festival, Image Union Film Festival, and The Chicago Short Comedy Film Festival. In 2018, he was awarded a Black Excellence award for best director by the African American Arts Alliance of Chicago and in 2019, his documentary Thee Debauchery Ball won the best feature film at the Black Harvest Film Festival and Chicago South Side Film Festival.

First poetry editor at two pioneer feminist magazines, Aphra and Ms., Yvonne has received NEAs (poetry/1974/1984), a Leeway (fiction/2003), a Pushcart Prize (vol. 6), a BRIO award (1990) and other honors. Recent print poetry publications include: Black in the Middle: Anthology of the Black Midwest (Belt), Geez: Bone & Breath (Geez), CV 2- Canadian Poetry (vol. 43, no. 2), Home: An Anthology (Flexible), Horror USA: California (Soteira), Is It Hot In Here Or Is It Just Me? (Social Justice Anthologies), Quiet Diamonds 2019/2018 (Orchard Street), 161 One-Minute Monologues (Smith&Kraus), Bosque #8 (Bosque), Event (49.1), Yellow Arrow Journal (vol.5.2), Philadelphia Stories, Dappled Things, Metonym, Burningword Literary, Bryant Literary, Pinyon, Nassau Review, and Foreign Literary Journal #1. She is the author of an epic trilogy: Iwilla Soil, Iwilla Scourge, Iwilla Rise (Chameleon Productions). Selected online listings can be found at:

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