Monday, July 28, 2008


Once we'd all been disoriented and reoriented, unpacked and unjetlagged, the PALF organizers organized our way over to the W.E.B. DuBois Center for the official opening of the Literary Forum, marked by music and poetry.

After an invigorating welcome from the Jazz Tone All Stars (a pickup group from the Chelsea Hotel combining American and African musicians) we got down to the poetry.

First up was Keorapetse Kgositsile. I'd first read his MY NAME IS AFRIKA, attracted by the introduction written by Gwendolyn Brooks, back when I was twenty. I fianlly got to meet him a few times during the years when I was doing research at UCLA and Kgositsile was living and teaching in the area, still in exile from the Apartheid regime. He returned to South Africa with the advent of majority rule and he now serves as South Africa's Poet Laureate. Showing the spirit he'd exhibited in his young years in America as a close cousin of the Black Arts Movement, Kgositsile treated us to a strong dose of moral encouragement along with his poetry.

Another of the readers was my Penn State Altoona colleague Patricia Jabbeh Wesley. Following the conference, Patricia was going to Liberia to visit her family home for the first time since she was forced into exile by warfare eighteen years ago.

The one poet I was hearing for the first time was a tornado out of the midwest, Tyehimba Jess. I'd seen his work in places like OBSIDIAN III and had been hearing rumors of his performances for years, so it was great to be able to put a face together with the verse at long last.

Friday, July 25, 2008


One of the most energetic participants in last April's Georgetown conference on the arts in the Civil Rights Era (see April posting below) was the wonderful Barbara Ann Teer.
So you can imagine my shock when I saw this morning's NEW YORK TIMES with the news that Barbara Teer has died at age 71.
Teer hit the world of theater with explosive force as a young actress, but she quickly wearied of the stereotypical roles that were offered her. During the Black Arts Movement she was one of those who took the idea of institution building seriously, and so she founded the National Black Theater, still going today. Teer was always a theatrical personality; she was also always a generous person dedicated to the furtherance of artists. In 2008 she was still trying to live up to the goals she set for herself and for black theater in her 1968 manifesto establishing the criteria by which she was to work the rest of her career.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun
and have a hamburger and a malted and buy
an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets
in Ghana are doing these days
--Frank O'Hara

well . . . that was before my day, and I never thought the copies of NEW WORLD WRITING I saw were especially ugly . . . but I have been intrigued by Ghana's writing scene ever since reading Kofi Awoonor as a young student . . . I had many other reasons to harbor dreams of visiting Ghana of which I will write later, but the poetry alone was enough to make me leap at the chance to journey to Ghana as part of the Pan African Literary Forum.

The Forum is a curious hybrid of writers' conference and creative writing study abroad program. It is the brainchild of Arthur Flowers and Jeffrey Renard Allen, who first spoke of organizing such a multinational opportunity for writers while at another conference in East Africa. Jeff spoke to me about it not too long after, but I was still surprised at how quickly these two got things up and running. In short order they had hired staff, scraped up funding, organized an accompanying book drive and writers' contests --

The culmination of their efforts was an ambitious program of readings, lectures and workshops at a variety of venues spread across Accra and environs over a two week period. Writers from the USA, Ghana, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and elsewhere came together for the kind of exchange that is hard to come by at MLA or AWP -- I was there to give a lecture and a reading, but I got far more from my daily conversations with the other writers -- those unplanned meetings that sprout up in the margins of any good conference.

In the coming days I'll be posting more photos and recording samples from the readings.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

from GHANA

Sitting on the coast in Accra
I read
"we are passing the coast of Africa"
But that was written
To Tom Raworth
(Who I just saw last week)
Some forty odd years ago