By Gabriela Laracca
On Feb. 15 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the Multicultural Center’s Unity Room will be holding the 6th Annual National African American Literature Read-in here at KU. This is the 6th year Dr. Ellesia Blaque of the English Department will be hosting and reading her original poems focused on the black experience. Featured poets Karen Moore and Robert “Brotha Blaze” Murray will also present.
According to the National Council of Teachers of English at ncte.org, “the National African American Read-In is the nation’s first and oldest event dedicated to diversity in literature.” It was established in 1989-90 by the Black Caucus of the NCTE in effort to ensure literature was regarded as a significant part of Black History Month.
In the spirit of carrying out this tradition, Blaque said “It is important [that] we focus on the literature inked by Black Americans because no one knows our experience better than us and for most of our time here, someone else outside of our community keeps writing about us; we don’t really produce history books very often… true history of the people is in what they write and the lengths they have to go through to write [those] things.”
While attending Temple University in 1998, Blaque met Murray because he lived in the same neighborhood as her. After reading his several binders’ worth of poetry, she tried to convince him to publish but he never did. They eventually lost touch when she moved to Detroit for graduate school.
Fortunately enough, by the time they had reunited years later, Murray had been presenting his poetry publicly and Blaque had established her own publishing house titled Banned Books, LLC. with a sole purpose to “publish the work of writers whose focus centers on African American, American or Ethnic American life in fiction, short fiction, poetry and academic scholarship,” according to her website. Blaque agreed to, and is currently in the process of, publishing Murray’s first poetry book from which he will be reading at the event.
In an event that Blaque called “fortuitous,” she met Karen Moore while at a restaurant after complimenting her on her unique Afrocentric hairstyle. After discussing the African American Literature Read-in, Moore presented some original poetry on the spot and Blaque was sold. She asked her to be a featured poet.
Come celebrate Black History Month with talented poets and honor this historic, nationally-practiced tradition. Everyone is welcome to read works of Black literature at the read-in whether it be an original work, an excerpt from a book brought from home, or from the collection that will be provided.
Blaque described the event as “a bridge between cultures.” She encourages all students, faculty and staff to “come and walk that bridge… because that’s what it’s there to do, to share stories, to discuss through literature [the] true life of the Black experience so people can walk away and possibly change their expectations and archetypes of who we are as a people.”
Following the read-in, a reception for the poets will be held where their books will be on sale.