In recognition of April as National Poetry Month and Celebrate Diversity Month, we note that among those honored at the National Black Writers Conference on March 31 were two African American poets. They are Ishmael Reed, known for his poetry and other forms of writing, and Nikki Giovanni, long cherished for her poetic gifts. It was an evening that brought together some of the most gifted black poets of the last half-century.
Haki R. Madhubuti, the poet formerly known as Don L. Lee and founder/publisher of Third World Press (one of the publishers featured on DiverseBooks.net), introduced Reed noting that he predated the Black Arts Movement to which Lee and others gave voice in the late 1960s and beyond. Reed, a MacArthur Fellow, is also a novelist, essayist, playwright and educator.
In the ceremony at Medgar Evers College, City University of New York, in Brooklyn, Madhubuti called Reed a “genius of a man” and proclaimed him as “one of premiere poets of 20th and 21st centuries.”
Giovanni could not be present because she was on an international travel assignment for Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University where she teaches, but she sent a videotaped acceptance.
The other awardees were Ngugi wa Thiong’o, a Kenyan-born writer and literature professor at the University of California at Irvine, and Dr. Howard Dodson, historian and curator who headed the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture until his retirement last year. It was recently announced that he is coming out of retirement to be director of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center and of the Howard University Library System. (No known kinship to me.)
Among those speaking at the ceremony, was another renowned poet, Sonia Sanchez, who wept as she read her original tribute in verse to Thiong’o.
The poets honored, and many others, are represented in selections available through Diversebooks.net, notably Conversations with Ishmael Reed, $19.80, and Conversations with Nikki Giovanni, $22.50, both from the University of Mississippi Press. The books are part of a series the publisher has produced that compile interviews with a diverse spectrum of literary figures.
Among other poets featured in the “Conversations with” series and offered on DiverseBooks.net are Audre Lorde, Derek Walcott, Elizabeth Bishop, Gwendolyn Brooks, James Baldwin, Robert Penn Warren, Sherman Alexie and Yusef Komunyakaa: