It says, "Penn State Lives Here," and at least for Oct. 25 & 26 it seemed we really did. Every other year, Penn State hosts another conference in our series CELEBRATING AFRICAN AMERICAN LITERATURE, and after several conferences devoted to prose (during the course of which we managed to slip in several poets) it was time for an entire conference on African American and Caribbean poetry. The faculty of English, the conference staff and student volunteers did a wonderful job of putting this together, under the leadership of Lovalerie King and Shirley Moody Turner. After the obligatory welcomes, the conference started off with a keynote by Erica Hunt, introduced by Grant Jenkins. That was followed immediately by the first reading, featuring Ishion Hutchinson (who had just been announced as a Whiting Award winner earlier in the week), introduced by Laura Vrana. Those two events set the tone for what was to follow; couldn't have asked for better framing of the weekend's discussions.
I have to say that current and former PhD students from Penn State did exemplary work. Their papers were the equal of work done by scholars far further into their careers. Our guest scholars presented us with many surprises. Who knew that Tsitsi Jaji would play the piano and sing as part of her work on musical settings of poems? J. Peter Moore, who I had met at Duke just days earlier, offered insightful analysis of an important, overlooked bibliographic fact: the version of a poem in Gwendolyn Brooks's Near Johannesburg Boy dedicated to Haki Madhabuti had first appeared in 1965 as a contribution to a celebration of Abraham Lincoln. Every panel I attended afforded such revelations and instigations.
We closed the conference with a reading from Kwame Dawes, after which I got Keith Leonard and Meta Jones to contribute to my little meme.
and thanks to Howard Rambsy for this one photo of me without my camera . . .