A. R Flowers
(b. 1951), novelist, essayist, and cultural activist.
A native Memphian, Arthur Flowers's writing integrates regional African American culture, including blues music, hoodoo spirituality, Delta dialect, and oral traditions. His delving into the local, linguistically and culturally, is evocative of Zora Neale Hurston (who makes a cameo appearance in his first novel), Langston Hughes, and Ishmael Reed. Moreover, attending John O. Killens's (founder of the Harlem Writer's Guild) writing workshop at Columbia University over a span of thirteen years has clearly influenced Flowers. Killens believed that art is a form of propaganda and that it can have decolonizing uses. The workshop inspired Flowers to cofound (with others, including Doris Jean Austin and B. J. Ashanti) and to act as executive director of the New Renaissance Writer's Guild in New York. Flowers also founded a literary workshop in Memphis called the Griot Shop.
Flowers's writings can be placed in a historical continuum of activism: for him, writing is political because it is a powerful factor in shaping values and behavior. His novels and workshops therefore provide an arena for reconceptualizing African American identity; they are linked to notions of the social responsibility of the artist as an ideological orchestrator. It is in this vein that Flowers describes himself as a literary hoodoo man and as a literary blues man.
His first novel, De Mojo Blues (1985), describes the physical and emotional journeys of three dishonorably discharged Vietnam veterans. Each character chooses a different path in his quest to redefine both masculinity and power: Mike attends law school and becomes active in business and politics; Willie D. works as a community activist in New York; and Tucept HighJohn apprentices hoodoo in Memphis in order to learn how to influence the mental and spiritual energies in others. Flowers's prose and dialect evoke the authenticity of place and character of the Black Power era. He captures a part of the African American community in a moment of transition and restructuring, and his use of arhythmic bluesy prose allows the reader to view both the characters and the culture from within.
Another Good Loving Blues (1993) captures another period of transition—the Great Migration—and, again, Flowers emphasizes creative survival in the face of change. Narrated by a griot named Flowers, the novel focuses on Melvira Dupree (a conjure woman) and Lucas Bodeen (a blues man). It is part love story, part fable (Flowers integrates oral traditions of parable, folktale, and toasts), and part quest for artistic authenticity. The subtext reveals many of the difficulties facing African Americans during this period of increased racial tension and violence. Flowers's prose again evokes blues music and the region.
Flowers identifies with his characters because his writing is based in his lived experiences (in Vietnam and as a blues musician, for example). Most importantly, however, in both his novels and his writing workshops, Flowers directly links participation in and knowledge of African American cultural heritage to racial consciousness.
Vivian M. May