Mari Evans: An Oral History

Posted on Posted in HBW

Over two days in March 2013, the Project on the History of Black Writing conducted what would become the last formal interview Mari Evans gave. Alysha Griffin (former HBW Special Projects Coordinator) and Shayn Guillemette (former Graduate Assistant) visited Mari Evans at her residence in Indianapolis, IN. This interview was later transcribed by the Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas.

This unpublished interview served as the basis for our GEMS tribute video. We welcome you to view the interview in its entirety as we continue to reflect on the legacy and contributions of Mari Evans.



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ICYMI: Late Women Trustees of the Writers Club to Be Honored

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Dr. Lena J. Weathers

[East St. Louis, IL]– Dr. Lena Jane Weathers (1930-2017), who was a lifelong resident of East St. Louis and an invaluable leader and patron of this community, will be honored along with four other late trustees of the Eugene B. Redmond Writers Club on Tuesday, March 21.

The free event will take place at 6:00 pm in Room 2083 of Building “B” on the ESL/SIUE Higher Education Campus, 601 J.R. Thompson Drive 62201. Founded in 1986, the Writers Club turned 30 in 2016.

Other trustee-honorees are poet-novelist-scholar Margaret Walker Alexander (1915-1998); poet-autobiographer-actress-filmmaker Maya Angelou (1928-2014); Pulitzer Prize-winning former Illinois Poet Laureate & novelist Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000); and ESL native daughter Barbara Ann Teer (1937-2008), founder of the National Black Theatre of Harlem. Brooks’s centennial is this year.

Members of the Writers Club’s Soular Systems Ensemble—Roscoe “Ros” Crenshaw, Salim Kenyatta, Charlois Lumpkin (Mali Newman), Darlene Roy (Club prez), and Jaye Willis—will perform “kwansabas” in honor of the trustees. Special guests and an art/photo exhibit will also be part of the program.

Current Club trustees include Avery Brooks, Haki R. Madhubuti, Walter Mosley, Quincy Troupe and Jerry W. Ward, Jr. Other deceased trustees: Amiri Baraka (1934-2014) and Raymond R. Patterson (1929-2002).

In addition to having appeared here as guests of the Club, trustees also served on the editorial board of Drumvoices Revue, a literary-cultural journal formerly co-published by the Club and SIUE’s English Department.

One of the Club’s signature inventions is the “kwansaba,” a poem of “sevens”–seven lines, seven words per line, with each word having no more than seven letters. Exceptions to the seven-letter rule are foreign terms, proper nouns and quoted words or passages.

Of the trustees, Dr. Weathers and Dr. Ward have written kwansabas. Others have been the subject of special issues of Drumvoices where they were honored with kwansabas.

Eugene B. Redmond

Hundreds of examples of the form appear in Drumvoices and dozens of other publications. In the past couple of years alone, three volumes of poetry–by Tara Betts, Treasure Shields Redmond and Darlene Roy—have been devoted wholly or in part to the kwansaba.

Writer Henry Lee Dumas (1934-1968), for whom Eugene B. Redmond has served as literary executor for the past 48 years, is the Club’s patron saint.

For information about the March 21 program or the Club, call 618 650-3991; write EBR Writers Club at P.O. Box 6165, ESL, IL 62201; or email:

CALL FOR SOURCES: Mississippi Renaissance Syllabus

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The Project on the History of Black Writing presents the Mississippi Renaissance Syllabus, an electronic teaching and learning resource on Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Richard Wright, Margaret Walker, Jesmyn Ward and Mississippi literary culture in general.


Our 2017 Black Literary Suite focus on the Mississippi Renaissance placed it in conversation with other literary periods, such as the Harlem Renaissance, the Chicago Renaissance, and the Southern Renascence. We have explored why Mississippi is important to Black writing, the commonalities in form, content, and symbols found in Black Mississippian texts, and what historical, social, economic, etc., conditions have heavily influenced this writing. Through the Mississippi Renaissance Syllabus, we hope we will continue this thoughtful exploration and analysis.


We invite your contributions to the syllabus here: Call for Sources


Related publications in any genre, film, and other visual and performance arts are welcomed and encouraged. We are interested in highlighting the cultural productivity of the authors and critical responses to their work, especially as it pertains to racial, class, and gender politics, as well as how Mississippi settings and influences interact with our current political moment.

Remembering Derek Walcott

Posted on Posted in HBW, Shelia Bonner

[Shelia Bonner]

Derek Walcott
23 January 1930-17 March 2017

Derek Walcott’s poetry explores the African diaspora and the many ways chattel slavery impacted his identity as a young man growing up on the British, colonized, island-nation of Castries, Saint Lucia. His “A Far Cry from Africa” is one of several poems that addresses the complexities of identity. As Dr. Dance so eloquently writes, Walcott’s poetry has inspired many artists and writers across the world. Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao opens with an excerpt from the poet’s “The Schooner’s Flight,” one of Walcott’s highly anthologized verses. In a 1995/96 article in Connotation, Mary C. Fuller writes, “This poem has come to serve as a representative or even defining moment in the corpus of Walcott’s work, articulating central preoccupations and methods. As Shabine’s self−description suggests, the poem’s protagonist claims a kind of representative status as well”. Walcott’s body of poetry— multilayered in themes concentrating on memory, ancestral history, place, and identity —won the poet a Nobel Prize in 1992.

Walcott’s writing career started at a young age, and his first poem was published at age fourteen. In the New York Times, William Grimes writes, “Mr. Walcott was always conscious of writing as a man apart, from a corner of the world whose literature was in its infancy.”

Derek Walcott, one of the literary world’s great poets, died March 17, 2017, at the age of 87.

Certainly we all know that we have lost one of our greatest (and most honored) poets, dramatists, directors, painters, teachers, and thinkers. During his long career (which began when he was a child) he transformed Diasporic and world literature in ways that we have only begun to recognize and appreciate. I am grateful that I had a chance to study and teach his works, to interview him, to host him at VCU and UR, to have him as a guest in my home, and to be inspired by his example.

– Dr. Daryl Dance, Professor of English Emerita, Virginia Commonwealth University & University of Richmond


Shelia Bonner is an American Studies doctoral student at the University of Kansas.

HBW Supports: Global History of Black Girlhood Conference

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March 17-18, 2017, University of Virginia

The Global History of Black Girlhood Conference will gather an interdisciplinary network of scholars to frame the emerging field of black girl history.  The project grows out of the History of Black Girlhood Network, an informal collaboration among scholars researching the experiences of black girls from the sixteenth century to present in Africa, the Americas, and Europe.

For more information



Posted on Posted in Guest Blogger
[Jerry W. Ward, Jr.]
(Mari Evans, July 16, 1923-March 10, 2017)
After a zillion sounds, stone-washed clean;
after broadly casting such truths to people;
after taming music into measure of mind;
after making bronze lyrics of ancient black,
you came to return space to origin.
You left a stern, eternal  crystal watch.
You left warning days vital as nights.
March 11, 2017