January 14-15, 2012–
Atlanta’s ‘Freedom Writers’ Salute ‘Civil W/rites/Lights’:
Martin Luther King, Jr.,’Drumvoices Revue’ & EBR Writers Club
By Roscoe “Ros” Crenshaw,
Drumvoices News Service: 618 650-3991
“Dear Eugene, What fun to hang a bit with you, and celebrate all that you are, and all whom you have supported, inspired and charged with The Work.”
“I thoroughly enjoyed your reading and the your poetry … You are one funny, sassy, funky, intellectually sharp-as-a-tack Brother!!”
–Mary Louise Patterson
“Drumvoices” and MLK-inspired Civil w/rites/lights lit “ancestrails” with poetic contrails January 14-15 in Atlanta. At the center of these activist-, literary-, and culturally-powered events were the 20th anniversary of Eugene B. Redmond’s award-winning journal “Drumvoices Revue,” the 25th birthday of his namesake—and East St. Louis,IL-based Writers Club, the Sesquicentennial of ESL, the 36th birthdays of both EBR’s tenure as Poet Laureate of his hometown and the release of his landmark critical study, ”Drumvoices: The Mission of Afro-American Poetry,” and his important efforts at propelling the legacies of writer Henry Dumas (1934-1968), dancer-author-activist Katherine Dunham (1909-2006), and music-style innovator Miles Dewey Davis III (1926-1991), his ESL homeboy.
The multi-arts two-day festival, part of the city’s King Holiday Celebration, was curated by Charmaine Minniefield, of Ori Productions, with assistance from Ralph Cheo Thurmon, leader of Atlanta’s “Writing in the Circle” workshop, and Randall Burkett, curator of African American Collections at Emory University. Presented in partnership with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History, and the Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library at Emory, the festival took place in the King Historic District and at Emory. Generous support of Fulton County Arts Council and Emory ‘s Annual King Holiday celebration helped “Drumvoices” roll to the “call.”
Using an “ancestrail” arc—“From Freedom Riders to Freedom Writers King Holiday Literary Festival”—Minniefield “roled” out stellar scribes for a workshop, readings of the ‘drum circle’ poets, an interview with Redmond (by Dr. Richard Long), an autograph party for the poet, and a Burkett-hosted “afterglow” on the campuses of the Auburn Avenue Library and Emory. (As the ‘drum circle’ continually expands, “Drumvoices” is truly shaping a new generation of literary exploration.)
Following a Thurmon-driven workshop on Saturday, Feb. 14, at the Auburn Library, during which Thurmon and EBR traced the “history of the history of modern Black literary movements” and “surveyed the contemporary Black literary canvas,” participants and guests segued into the ‘drum circle’ via an African-Caribbean-inspired repast. Then, welcomed again by activist, writer, and historian, EBR; and writer, educator, and Ifa (Yoruba) priest Thurmon, “Drumvoices” poets and authors elevated ancestors, enriching the “art”-mosphere with their language lessons.
Artists sharing ‘jewels of thought’ included: Sherman Fowler, poet (“Negro Digest”/“Sou’wester”), philosopher, media engineer, Henry Dumas protégé, and EBR Writers Club co-founder; “maestro” Ike Padgett, musician/educator whose soprano saxophone is heard on “Bloodlinks and Sacred Places” (Redmond’s 1973 LP) and who labored in the Sacramento/Northern California “cultural fields” with EBR during the 1970’s; Dr. Janice Liddell, poet, playwright, children’s author, former English Prof. at Clark Atlanta U., and now Assistant VP/English Prof. at Atlanta Metropolitan College; Alice Lovelace, warrior-poet and lead editor of “CRUX: A Conversation in Words and Images from South Africa to South USA” and “100 Poems of Solidarity for Haiti”; Dr. Georgene Bess Montgomery, critic (“The Spirit and the Word”), biographer of Mari Evans, and English Prof.
at Clark Atlanta U.; Dr. Pamela Plummer, poet (“Obsidian”/“Bum Rush the Page”), visual artist, and Assistant Prof. of Social Work at Alabama A & M University-Birmingham; and Opal Moore, oft-published poet (“The Notre Dame Review”/“Callaloo”), novelist, critic (“Cambridge History of African American Literature”), and English Prof. at Spelman College, who in an email wrote: “Dear Eugene, What fun to hang a bit with you, and celebrate all that you are, and all whom you have supported, inspired and charged with The Work. I did not know that Georgene Bess was one of yours! But I’m not surprised.
… You’ve still got it! And still givin’ it.”
Redmond described the weekend as one spent “applying the wisdom of literary and activist ancestors to the task of carving out possibilities for the future.” Indeed, bearing out his prophecy were 14-year-old Zora Indigo Montgomery who sang Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” and 16-year-old Awodola Thurmon who offered Beyonce’s “One + One” and Nina Simone’s “Feelin Good”, delighting workshop, repast, and ‘drum circle’ “gay”-therings. Poetically complementing these young songbirds was “Croquettes and Corn,” a power-filled spoken arts piece by Baba Falaye, a Thurmon protege. EBR also said he saw the marvelous visual art of Lynn Marshall-Linnemeier (Unravelling Miss Kitty’s Cloak—a memorial to 19th century slave Catherine Andrew Boyd) as “more than just a backdrop for the reading, but a stunning and provocative work of art.”
The next day at Emory, Civil w/rites/lights and “ancestrails” again created poetic contrails, this time in Woodruff Library’s Jones Room—featuring a conversensitive ‘Drumtalk’ by eye-cons EBR and esteemed ‘renaissance’ thinker-writer-Francophone scholar Dr. Richard A. Long. The interview followed an EBR poetry reading billed as “I On The Drum: Drumvoices Speak,” during which Redmond revealed that his words were dedicated to families: He then “familistically”/poetically honored those of Thurmon, his own nephew
Donahue Redmond (and wife Judy), Fowler, and Padgett (all of whom were in the audience). Along with these evocations, he also invoked Dumas, Dunham and Miles
During the “inner” view, Long probed EBR about his 40-year-plus friendship with Maya Angelou—who in 1970 proposed this to Redmond: “Be my brother forever”—and his deep connections to Dunham and EBR Writers Club muse Dumas, whose literary estate EBR has executed for four-plus decades. Noting that both he and EBR were guests of two lavish Oprah-hosted birthday bashes for Angelou, Long also delved into the EBR classic critique, Drumvoices: The Mission of Afro-American Poetry— published in 1976, the same year he was named Poet Laureate of East St. Louis. An energetic Q&A, brisk book sales and signing sessions, and a finale (“afterflow”) provided by Randall Burkett topped off the drumspeak Sunday. But not before poet Kevin Young, curator of Emory’s Schatten Gallery
exhibition, “Shadows of the Sun: The Crosbys, The Black-Sun Press, and The Lost Generation,” led exciting tours.
Summing up Emory’s Drum-Sunday in an email, guest Mary Louise Patterson wrote to Redmond: “I heard you at the Woodruff Library yesterday and then again at Randall and Nancy’s. I thoroughly enjoyed your reading and the your poetry. It was marvelous. You are one funny, sassy, funky, intellectually sharp as a tack Brother!! You’re also very
down to earth, warm and real.”