Excerpt: Litquake Report-Back: Oakland Afro-Surrealists Sighted in San Francisco

Literary Reading Review: McSweeney’s Variety Show featuring Boots Riley, Oct. 17, Z Space; “We Are Mystic Detectives About To Make An Arrest” hosted by D. Scot Miller, Oct. 18, Aldea Home.

October 20, 2014 by Eric K. Arnold for Oakulture.com

The next night saw “We Are Mystic Detectives About to Make An Arrest,” an Afro-Surrealist reading during Litcrawl, hosted by D.Scot Miller, author of the “Afrosurrealist Manifesto.” In his manifesto, Miller explains that Afro-Surrealism isn’t like the European Surrealism of Dada or Dali, and it’s not the African Surrealism of Leopold Senghor’s negritude movement, either. Nor should it be confused with Afro-futurism, which focuses on science, technology and a timeline which hasn’t yet happened.

“Afro-Surrealism,” Miller writes, “is about the present…  Concentration camps, bombed-out cities, famines, and enforced sterilization have already happened. To the Afro-Surrealist, the Tasers are here. The Four Horsemen rode through too long ago to recall.”

Some may see the origins of Afro-Surrealism in the novels of Chester Himes, but as Miller pointed out Saturday night, the term was actually coined by the late Amiri Baraka, and counts Ishmael Reed (who coined the phrase which served as the reading’s title) as among its influences.

In addition to Miller, the lineup included my good friend Malcolm Shabazz Hoover, Ayize Jama-Everett, Michael Warr, and Mike Sabb. All were brilliant, whether reading short stories or poems, all of which spoke to the black experience as it’s happening now. The event attracted a standing-room-only crowd which filled every corner of Aldea Home, an uber-upscale home furnishing store—call it Bed, Bling and Beyond—where, for a $10,000 purchase, Design Consultants are available to help rich hipsters fulfill their aesthetic needs, while the less-monied resort to one-star Yelp reviews to vent about poor customer service and alleged racial discrimination.

Anyway, the ironic surrealism of an Afro-Surrealist reading on Valencia St., the symbolic center of post-gentrification SF, a city whose African American population has steadily been siphoned away to next-to-nothingness, wasn’t lost on Miller. He joked that the event might have temporarily raised the city’s black demographic numbers by a percentage point or two, which is either a) not funny; or b) funny but sad, depending entirely on your perspective.
It’s also ironic that it took a cadre of Oakland folks to bring blackness to Litquake. Taken together, the two readings showed that there’s plenty of life left in the Black Arts movement, and that Oakland has to be considered a fertile incubator for the contemporary version of that movement. While Riley and Miller’s readings added something Litquake was otherwise missing, they represent just the tip of the iceberg: there’s much more (mostly unheralded) literary talent in the Town, just waiting to be discovered. So while Litquake generated more interest in the Afro-Surrealist movement, one hopes its aftershocks will continue to reverberate and shine more light on Oakland’s black authors.