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Comedian Marsha Warfield: ‘Celebrating All of the Things I Am”

Prof. Neal and Marsha Warfield seated on stageBy Camille Jackson

If Marsha Warfield could organize a dream comedy tour with anyone – dead or alive – who would she bring?

“Not the dead ones. Five days on a tour bus – can you imagine?” said the Chicago-born comedian, who was in town for one night as a special guest for Prof. Mark Anthony Neal’s comedy class.

After the laughs died down, she answered seriously.

“I would do a woman’s tour. A diverse woman’s tour, with all different kinds of women – lesbians, urban women, women of a certain age, black women…” Warfield said. “It would be dedicated to celebrating all of the things I am.”

Neal and Warfield’s public conversation paid homage to Warfield’s long and prestigious career in comedy. She knew Dave Chappelle, Eddie Griffin and Chris Rock when they were teens, still “wet behind the ears.” She was there when “Robert [Townsend] and Keenan [Ivory Wayans] said they were going to make a movie” about the struggle of black actors, a film that would become Hollywood Shuffle.

She, like many of her generation, was inspired by Dick Gregory, the rare example of a black comedian on television in his time. Gregory is the subject of Duke’s AAAS 331 course, “Dick Gregory and the History of Black Comedy,” taught by Neal. The course features guest appearances by professional comedians, critics and screenings of rare and/or classic films.

On Thursdays, the 6:15 p.m. class meets at the NorthStar Church of the Arts (220 W. Geer St.) and is free and open to the public. Registration is not necessary but RSVPs are requested. On Thursday, Oct. 10, Neal will host Bassey Ikpi, author of “I’m Telling the Truth But I’m Lying. Learn more


Nearly two dozen members of the Duke and Durham community joined Neal’s class last Thursday evening at NorthStar to hear the semi-retired comedian who has worked alongside comedy legends such as Redd Foxx, Richard Pryor and Paul Mooney.


On Mooney, who was the head writer for “The Marsha Warfield Show”:

“Paul has a body of work and contribution that can’t be unacknowledged. He wrote for everybody and I worked with him on all different kinds of things.

“He did his comedy on purpose. He could have done “The Tonight Show,” for comedians who need a laugh, a giggle, a ‘teehee’ and a ‘ha-ha’ every 30 secs, but he didn’t.

On learning from Richard Pryor:

“I did not write, I did not write “The Richard Pryor Show”! I don’t know where that rumor came from. It’s an honor for me, but it kinda takes away from the fact that there was a writer’s table… But I would have loved to get that check.

“Being in his presence was worth the price of admission but to get to work with him was to learn how to do ensemble comedy. … I was very, very fortunate.”

On working on NBC’s “Night Court”:

“I had been doing standup for about 12 years and I had done pretty well. … I was happy to get the job. It was not one of those things where I had people writing stereotypically for me. They always wrote regular stuff and I said it how I said it.

“A couple of times I would have some input. I would have Roz in African garb when she was not in uniform. I had Maxine Douglas [her character on the sitcom, “Empty Nest]” in a kente cloth lab coat.”

On the challenges of being a lesbian in Hollywood:

“[Being closeted] was just the way it was. It was an imposition. But remember I did not come into my own understanding of myself until my 20s, after I had my first relationship with a woman. It didn’t feel like a burden. I had to travel my own road. …I was uncomfortable with ‘out’ women. I had no real understanding of why I was different. … I was mad at my mother for a long time because she knew before I did.

“It breaks my heart that someone can’t live as themselves. We are living in the world among straight and gay our whole lives, why are we pretending?”

On “whiny-ass comedians” and the art of stand-up comedy:

“PC culture comes from people who grew up in a very safe environment. The Comedy Club allowed safe comedy where you were guaranteed laughs. …I’m not naming names… they have a rhythm and a formula. But that’s not what stand-up is. [The audience doesn’t] know you and they don’t care and you make them listen and make them laugh. If you can do that then you don’t worry about PC and this, that and the other. I worked in pig kicker bars on gravel roads and the truck headlights were the spotlight. Stand in your truth and take your lumps. [Comedians] are being coddled into believing that they are owed laughs and owed acceptance.

“People think stand-up is easy because everyone has gotten a laugh in their life. There is an art to making people accept what may be unacceptable. They may not be predisposed to hear what you’re saying. … If they aren’t laughing the fault is with you. The audience owes you nothing. They agreed to pay and showed up. They lived up to their obligation. You told them you were funny and could hold their attention and if you don’t that’s not their fault. Audiences haven’t gotten soft, comedians have. Someone needs to slap them and say do your job.”

What Inspired A Death in Harlem?

Karla Holloway, the James B. Duke Emerita of English and professor of African & African American Studies and Law, describes what inspired her to write A Death in Harlem.

In A Death in Harlem, Holloway weaves a mystery in the bon vivant world of the Harlem Renaissance. Taking as her point of departure the tantalizingly ambiguous “death by misadventure” at the climax of Nella Larsen’s Passing, Holloway accompanies readers to the sunlit boulevards and shaded side streets of Jazz Age New York. A murder there will test the mettle, resourcefulness, and intuition of Harlem’s first “colored” policeman, Weldon Haynie Thomas.

Kerry Haynie Elected Chair of Academic Council

Kerry Haynie TeachingFrom Duke Today:

Kerry Haynie, associate professor of political science and African and African-American Studies, was elected the new chair of the Academic Council this past Thursday.

Haynie will succeed current chair Don Taylor, who finishes his two-year term on July 1. Haynie defeated Mark Anthony Neal, James B. Duke Professor of African and African-American Studies, in a closed ballot vote.

Both candidates had long records of university service. Haynie, who also serves as director of Duke’s Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Social Sciences, has served multiple terms on the council and has been a past member of its executive committee. Neal is currently serving on the executive committee.

He has also served on a number of presidential and provostial committees and council committees, such as the President’s Working Group on Community and Dialogue, the Provost’s Committee on Reimagining Doctoral Education, the Undergraduate Education Committee of the Board of Trustees and the Academic Council’s Diversity Task Force.

As council chair, he will take the lead in guiding the faculty’s role in shared governance at the university.

In other council news, Dr. Geeta Swamy, vice dean of the School of Medicine and associate vice provost for scientific integrity, presented revisions to the Misconduct in Research policy in Appendix P in the Faculty Handbook.

The revisions provided clarification of policies, some of which went beyond regulatory requirements while others weren’t aligned with routine practice. It confirmed that the policy was applicable to university researchers other than faculty members.

In addition, the definition of research misconduct is limited to falsification, fabrication and plagiarism, while removing other kinds of misconduct, such as deviations from standard practices.

Swamy noted that some misconducts, such as harassment, are not covered by this policy but both Duke and by national professional associations will continue discussing them. The topic of faculty behavior has been a regular part of the council discussions this year, and it’s likely some new policies will come out of that work.

“These are things we are working toward, but they are separate from this research misconduct policy,” she said.

Black Joy As Resistance: Why I Do What I Do

Professor Yaba Blay created the social media campaign, #ProfessionalBlackGirl.
Dr. Yaba Blay

Professor Yaba Blay, founder of #ProfessionalBlackGirl, will give a talk on Duke’s East Campus Monday evening.

The talk, “Black Joy As Resistance: Why I Do What I Do,” will be held at 6 p.m., April 16th, in the Friedl Building’s Jameson Art Gallery. Filmmaker Natalie Bullock Brown and local independent artist Natasha Walker Powell will join Blay in the discussion.

The event is free and open to the public, with nearby parking available. Light refreshments will be served.

Blay will discuss her online campaigns, #PrettyPeriod, a visual celebration of dark-skinned Black beauty, and Professional Black Girl, a web series and online community celebrating everyday, around-the-way Black girl magic. Blay will highlight how she uses Black joy as a methodology for resistance.

Blay is the Dan Blue Endowed Chair in Political Science at North Carolina Central University and has authored (1)ne Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race. A professor and ethnographer, her scholarship centers on Black racial identity, Black aesthetic practices, and Black beauty, with particular attention given to hair and skin color politics.

Named to The Root 100, an annual list of top Black influencers, Blay is one of today’s leading voices on colorism and global skin color politics. Her commentary has been featured on CNN, BET, MSNBC, NPR, The New York Times, Ebony Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Root, Huffington Post Live, Colorlines, and elsewhere.

For more information, email dcore@duke.edu.

Introduction to Black Code Studies: Wild Seed in the Machine

Excerpted from The Black Scholar, Vol. 47, Aug. 2017

By Jessica Marie Johnson and Mark Anthony Neal

Black Code Studies is queer, femme, fugitive, and radical. As praxis and methodology, it waxes insurgent. It refutes conceptions of the digital that remove black diasporic people from engagement with technology, modernity, or the future. It centers black thought and cultural production across a range of digital platforms, but especially social media, where black freedom struggles intersect with black play and death in polymorphic and polyphonic intimacy.

Black Code Studies roots itself in the challenge of living in the wake of black people rendered inhuman, non-existent, and disposable by the slave ship, the plantation, the colonial state, the prison, the border. Facing devastation again and again, black folks need in and for each other becomes both time-traveling desire and reservoir knowledge. As Gumbs shows, our oracle work seeps up and through tools, structures, analog and digital architecture we were never meant to survive much less occupy.

When Cramer and Raengo declare that “black code studies emerges as a way to prepare black studies for an increasingly complex set of cultural rhythms and temporalities,” they capture the context in which this special issue appears in your hands. “Black Code” was conceived at a particular moment in the history of race—or, perhaps more apropos, Blackness—and the digital. In 2002, Alondra Nelson gathered geeks, freaks, and global nerds of color around “Afrofuturism.” Their work—and Nelson’s listserv organizing praxis—pre-dated social media platforms like Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook. Broadband was not a “public” good yet.

Fifteen years later, protecting and imagining Black Futures is a rallying cry in the face of immediate and structural racial violence. When new platforms or syntax (i.e., hashtags) appear, as Conley shows, black feminists reappropriate them for their own use despite having been created by tech companies for capitalistic pursuits. Protecting our black digital presence is about protecting a future in which our physicality may not matter in the same way that it has in the past.

As praxis, Black Code Studies moves beyond the dyad Black + Digital, transgressive as that pairing has proven to be. It is the viral blackness that, described by Wade, “subverts social hierarchies by putting the needs and desires of Black bodies at the center.” It is the #Blktwitterstorians hashtag, created by Brown and Crutchfield to highlight black historians and history. It is blackness as a deep humanism and affect(ion) that confronts, as Driscoll shows, the biopolitics of the hexadecimal, and, as Greene-Hayes and James discuss, the biopolitics of organizing and everyday antiblackness.

Black Code Studies rejects formulations of Black Studies that tie intellectual production only to institutional structures or the digital humanities only to grant-seeking projects with university affiliations. Black thought, art, and activist work manifests in many forms. Barely scratching the surface, this special issue represents the possibilities and difficulties digital work faces within existing academic publishing models and of constraining Black Code Studies to text form. Although the work in this special issue appears in analog form, the contributors gathered here include practitioners and non-practitioners, whose projects beyond these texts we encourage you to explore, engage, and participate in. We thank you, all of you, for your work.

We conspire to abscond. We will shapeshift into being again. Soon.

New Duke Graduate Course: Hip Hop in the House of Hall


This fall, Professor Mark Anthony Neal will teach a new graduate course at Duke University – “Hip-Hop in the House of Hall: Critical Readings in Hip-Hop Studies.”

The fall 2017 course will be held Mondays at 6:15 p.m. in Friedl 216.

The course will examine the roots of the field of Hip-Hop Studies in the groundbreaking scholarship of cultural theorist Stuart Hall.

Born in Jamaica, Hall wrote and lectured extensively on race, identity and social change in Great Britain.

“Three months at Oxford persuaded me that it was not my home,” he told the Guardian in 2012. “I’m not English and I never will be. The life I have lived is one of partial displacement. I came to England as a means of escape, and it was a failure.”

Hall passed away in February 2014 and by then had come to be known as “the godfather of multiculturalism.”


Cultural Studies 1983: A Theoretical History
by Stuart Hall and Jennifer Daryl Slack

Black Studies, Rap, and the Academy
by Houston A. Baker Jr.

Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America
by Tricia Rose

Representing: Hip Hop Culture and the Production of Black Cinema
by S. Craig Watkins

The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness
by Kevin Young

Shine: The Visual Economy of Light in African Diasporic Aesthetic Practice
by Krista A. Thompson

Muslim Cool: Race, Religion, and Hip Hop in the United States
by Su’ad Abdul Khabeer

Religion in Hip Hop: Mapping the New Terrain in the U.S.
Edited by Monica R. Miller and Anthony B. Pinn

In The Break: The Aesthetics Of The Black Radical Tradition
by Fred Moten

Parodies of Ownership: Hip-Hop Aesthetics and Intellectual Property Law
by Richard L. Schur

Stare in the Darkness: The Limits of Hip-hop and Black Politics
by Lester K. Spence

Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop
Edited by Jeff Chang

When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip-Hop Feminist Breaks It Down
by Joan Morgan

Home Girls Make Some Noise!: Hip-Hop Feminism Anthology
Edited by Gwendolyn D. Pough, Elaine Richardson,  Aisha Durham and Rachel Raimist

A Fireside Chat with Rakim

DCORE Co-Director to Interview Hip-Hop Legend During Art of Cool Festival

By Micah English

One of hip-hop’s most revered legends, the Long Island-born emcee “The God MC” Rakim Allah will be in Durham this weekend for the 4th annual Art of Cool music festival. Rakim will participate in a fireside chat on the impact and creative process of his classic album “Paid in Full” with radio host Combat Jack and DCORE co-director Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of black popular culture.

The free conversation will take place at 2:10 p.m., Saturday, April 29, in the American Underground Bullpen.

A featured artist at this year’s festival alongside Common, the Revive Big Band and George Clinton, Rakim is widely regarded as one of the most influential emcees of all time. As one half of the hip-hop duo Eric B. & Rakim, he received mass acclaim after the release of “Eric B. Is President” in 1986. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the duo’s first album Paid in Full, which dropped the following year and continues to be regarded as a hip-hop standard for enthusiasts of the genre around the globe.

Rakim will honor the legacy of “Paid in Full” by performing the album in its entirety, backed by a local jazz band assembled by festival co-founder, Al Strong.

“Rakim is performing with a live band during the festival, and I’m excited to witness the energy and flow of that performance. Rakim has set a standard among hip-hop for his techniques and rhymes, and I think it’s interesting to see the influence he’s had in hip-hop today,” said Chelsey Bentley, the festival’s director of marketing and public relations.

Neal, a professor of African & African American Studies and English, and host of the weekly webcast, Left of Black, teaches courses on black masculinity, popular culture and digital humanities. He co-teaches The History of Hip Hop with Grammy Award-winning producer Patrick Douthit, aka 9th Wonder. This semester the course highlights the anniversary of “Paid in Full.”

The festival aims to provide a remixed experience of the Black American Music Festival, featuring forward thinking jazz, alternative soul and mature hip hop in its mission to expand the audience of jazz as well as innovative thought.

Last year’s festival drew over 8,200 spectators, and 60 bands and presenters in 10 venues with an economic impact projection of $1.9 million for the city of Durham.

Those who didn’t purchase festival tickets can still participate in the public events. For more information about the Art of Cool and its programming and events, visit www.aocfestival.org.



Still Hidden?: Race + Gender and Invisibility in the STEM Fields

A Conversation About Access and Mentoring

April 19, 2017
Ahmadieh Family Conference Hall (Room 240)
John Hope Franklin Center
Free and open to the public. Light lunch served.


Rochelle Newton, Ed.D.
Senior Manager, IT
Duke Law School


Mark Anthony Neal, Ph.D.
African and African American Studies
Duke University

  • Women and people of color are underrepresented in many areas in public and private education, especially in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields.
  • According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, “Women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, but only 29% of the science and engineering workforce.”
  • Minority women comprise fewer than 1 in 10 employed scientists and engineers.


Neal To Deliver Inaugural Trinity Distinguished Lecture

My Mother Gave Me This Big-Ass Name: A Black Scholar in the Mix

Professor Mark Anthony Neal
3:00 p.m., May 4, 2017
Penn Pavilion
Reception immediately afterward

Mark Anthony Neal holds appointments in the departments of African & African American Studies, and English. He is the founding director of the Center for Arts, Digital Culture and Entrepreneurship and co-directs the Duke Council on Race and Ethnicity.

Through his research and public scholarship, Mark challenges audiences to engage with the ideologies of black popular culture. He seeks to understand how the music, television, film and literature of African diaspora cultures impact the societal and cultural norms of the United States and around the world. Mark hosts the phenomenally successful video webcast Left of Black, which is produced in collaboration with the John Hope Franklin Center at Duke, and authors the NewBlackMan (in Exile) blog.









































Author/activist/alumnus Neal to speak at Writers@Work residency

From Fredonia College:

Dr. Mark Anthony Neal, a Duke University faculty member, author and Fredonia alumnus, will explore activism and the use of social media during a two-day Writers@Work residency on Sunday and Monday, Feb. 19 and 20.

Students will have numerous opportunities – a public talk, lecture/discussion session and writing workshop – to hear Dr. Neal’s perspectives on how communication is carried out in an evolving digital world. His presentations will differ from past Writer@Work sessions by focusing on Twitter activism and writing in a digital world.

“At a volatile and important time in our country, we’ve seen our students at Fredonia continue to engage in political dialogue, activism and outreach. Not only is Dr. Neal a distinguished professor with multiple publications, he also brings with him an expertise in writing about and for social justice,” said Katie Szwejbka, an organizer of the Writers@Work series and graduate assistant in the Department of English.

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