Notes from the 2012 Black Writers Conference
The Eleventh National Black Writers Conference, March 29 – April 1, 2012 at Medgar Evers
College was an educational and spiritual experience.
NOTES by, Cyd Charisse Fulton:
The Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College, CUNY made it possible to network in a Black literary river and the experience was a baptism for my awakening. Black
culture was at the helm of the scholarly ship and my trip began on March 30th
through April 1st.
Medgar Evers Community College, Founders Auditorium was the field for presentations and discussions. On Friday, March 30, 2012, participants were engaged by films regarding activism in black art. One of the features was a poignant creation, "The Life and Times of Little Jimmy B." It is a short film by Alison McDonald about a young writer who exists during the Depression in Harlem and how he seeks and finds acceptance outside of his family by way of the most
unorthodox means and people. There was also a screening of "I Leave My Colors Everywhere," a film produced by Julia de Boer and directed by Tami Ravid. This film inspires empowerment of
women to take a stand against injustices. The urging is manifest through the heart and poetic outspokenness of woman living in Amsterdam. The crème de la crème was the film "Sonia Sanchez: Shake Loose Memories," directed by Jamal Joseph and Rachel Watanabe-Batton. This piece is a rhythmic mirror of the life of political activist and poet, Professor Sonia Sanchez. Well into the evening there were readings by poets such as Tyehimba Jess and Haki Madhubuti. Jess astonished the audience with a gazal poem from his book "Leadbelly." A gazal can be read horizontally and vertically starting from top or bottom, and with repetition of specific lines
from stanzas. A panel discussion about the late Malcolm X prepared food for thought.
On Saturday, March 31, 2012, there were instructional workshops for teachers to
engage in professional development strategies. A panel discussion regarding the migration of Black writers to the African Diaspora opened my eyes to the necessity for global interaction. It is a means to be historically informed to define Black culture in literary work. Technology such as teleconferencing, social media and the like allow for global communication, but to touch flesh on the soil of such places and Africa and Europe lends way to truth in writing about
memorable moments because language is the key to memory and the definition of
reality. One panelist spoke about cultural memory through the vein of economics.
It was asserted that those at the top of the mountain do not see things in the same manner as those at the bottom of the mountain. Africans were forcibly disconnected from their heritage. Therefore, out of the memories, a new music was created, such as spirituals, Jazz and other
documented forms. All of which comes from those at the bottom of the mountain thus making an impact on history and artistic development.
A different panel discussion about politics and popular culture, and their influence on Black literature was extremely informative because it revealed that choices made in Black culture are political. Writing is a political act because it is a means of expression regarding social and cultural ideals. Black voices expressing something that is attempted to be oppressed is a political act because it is a response to who they are, where they exist and who they aim to be. One panelist emphasized that the everyday lives of Black people are political of themselves. In further discussion of the topic, it was noted that in every era, the politics of America for
Black Americans comes in to play through literature. You can see the mindset of African Americans based on the books in heavy rotation whether sold by street vendors or in major
bookstores. People are uplifted and motivated when literature contains substance and when books express about Black culture contain an exploitive nature, it seems that is where Black people believe themselves to be. Pop culture affects Black communities.
Late Saturday afternoon, Tavis Smiley graced the stage of Founders Auditorium to
discuss books, media and culture. He thanked the College officials and staff
for a fine job of putting the conference together. Mr. Smiley followed by asking the audience,
“Can I keep it real?” He thanked C-Span Network for their coverage of the event and noted, “BET ain’t here. TV One ain’t here.” Tavis brought it to our attention not criticize those networks, but to illustrate the necessity for Black companies to support positive Black endeavors. He
also went on to say, “You can’t lead folk if you don’t love folk.” It was the intent of Tavis Smiley to show the importance of reading and how writes should think about the industry and how
books are presented to the public. Writers should be prepared to be creative about what they produce. Stop thinking success means making a million dollars. Do the work that needs to be
done to benefit the masses. Challenge and introduce concepts. One point that
resonated was, Black people in media are more important and necessary now than ever. America is not post-racial, therefore Black media will ask specific questions and tap on specific issues
that other media owned companies would not do.
An award program took place Saturday evening to honor the achievements of Dr. Howard Dodson, Nikki Giovanni, Ngugi wa Thiongo’o, and Ishmael Reed. Representatives from the offices of the Mayor, Governor and Borough President were in attendance. Also in the auditorium were activists and artists such as Dr. Cornell West, Professor Sonia Sanchez, and more. Recipient Nikki Giovanni sent her thanks via Skype because she was in Switzerland carrying out educational duties. A beautiful V.I.P. reception was held in the Skylight Café of the College where
dignitaries and artists mingled. A Jazz ensemble gently serenaded as finger food, wine and discussion passed lips.
On Sunday, April 1, 2012, the final day of the conference, there were several literary talk shops to choose from such as poetry, creation of non-fiction, publishing and more. Many were instructed
by panel participants and published authors. There were more panel discussions regarding social media and the responsibility we as writers must consider when using Twitter, Facebook and
even emails. These are documented mediums that can have negative repercussions.
Aside from the panel discussions, readings, award ceremonies, etc. there were book signings and vendor tables abound.
The conference ended with an official finale where thanks and praise were expressed.
Participants are sure to remember that if we do not preserve and create Black literature,
our history will be re-written and most of it will disappear.