By Zuri Hadi
The literary magazine that emerged during the Harlem Renaissance will live on at Rider, thanks to On Fire: A Literary Journal of the African Diaspora.
The original 1926 publication, Fire, addressed issues including jazz and blues, homosexuality, free-form verse and a concept of black beauty relating to Afro-centricity as opposed to Euro-centricity. Unfortunately, the first issue of Fire was also its last because it failed to sell enough copies.
The concept was revived in 1968 through Black Fire, an anthology of 178 selections of poetry, essays, short stories and plays from more than 75 cultural and political leaders.
The brain behind the University’s revival of these publications is freshman Rance Robeson II. Its release is scheduled for April. Robeson aims to obtain works that speak of life’s extraordinary pains and truths.
“On Fire is a very ambitious project,” said Dr. Mickey Hess, associate professor of English. “With the recent hate-speech incidents in one of Rider’s dorms and on the Latino Student Organization’s Facebook[.com] page, On Fire is an important forum for conversations about race on this campus.”
Hess will stand as the faculty adviser for the production of the first issue this spring. The publication’s mission is to offer an opportunity for writers and artists to be published in a contemporary journal worthy of mass-market retail.
On Fire is asking for poetry, prose, essays, fiction, non-fiction, interviews, visual art, photography, monologues and one-act plays that will be sorted into the six featured categories. The categories include Hip-Hop Conversations, Stoop Talk, Did You Know, Limelight: It’s Showtime, Real Talk: Social and Political Issues and lastly, Art! Works!
As editor-in-chief, Robeson will oversee submissions.
“I will approve everything,” he said. “However, everyone is wearing the hat right now [since we are just getting started]. But major decisions will go through me.”
Senior Taniya Hood, who serves as senior editor, is in charge of finding authors and developing manuscripts. Additionally, Hood will carry out editorial plans according to financial goals.
The final member of the editorial staff, senior public relations chair Michael Young, will focus on promoting the journal nationally and internationally. That task includes making and distributing flyers, recruiting artists and promoting the organization through all media outlets.
“I think On Fire is a good idea,” Young said. “It’s something Rider needs. It’s a legacy that should bring attention and awareness to minorities and everyone on campus.”
Robeson also hopes that On Fire will attract minorities to attend Rider and perhaps even gain as much popularity as Callaloo, a literary journal that publishes original works by black writers worldwide and is published by The Johns Hopkins University Press.
“I have African-American friends that went to Johns Hopkins University just for Callaloo,” Robeson said.
Since beginning promotions in October, On Fire has received five submissions, including a foreword from Dr. Pearlie Peters, professor of English, and an interview that Hess will include in the Hip-Hop Conversations section.
“I’m contributing an exclusive interview I did with Jus Rhyme [Jeb Middlebrook], who won 3rd place on VH1’s The White Rapper Show,” Hess said.
Hess met Middlebrook prior to his first appearance on the VH1 reality show when he wrote a chapter on Run DMC for Hess’ book Icons of Hip-Hop. On Fire is the only publication that will receive this interview.
Although On Fire may seem like it will be an immediate hit, the editorial board sees some obstacles arising. The first, integral in the publication’s success, is getting the Rider community to submit creative works. The second is for the publication to gain funding. However, Robeson remains confident.
“I think On Fire will be successful in a year’s time,” he said. “The most challenging issues are going to be the first two [since they are so new to everyone]. Everyone wants to be in the show, but no one wants to produce it.”