Below is a response to Furious Flower’s 25th Anniversary Celebration from former and current HBW staff members and affiliates:
Portia Owusu, Ph.D., Visiting Assistant Professor / ACES Fellow of English in the Department of English at Texas A&M University: The second day of the celebration demonstrated the community aspect of the Furious Flower Center since activities involved both invited guests and the general public. The day begins with a tour of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). The Museum is incredibly impressive in all aspects, but overwhelming because of the sheer wealth of material and information it presents to visitors on African-American cultural history. However, beginning the second day of the program at the NMAAHC was appropriate because it provided contexts for the conversations between the poets and audience who gathered later in the afternoon at the Oprah Winfrey Theatre.
The first panel, with Kwame Dawes, Evie Shockley, Meta DuEwa Jones, John Bracey, and Nagueyalti Warren, focused on critical perspectives and directions in contemporary African-American poetry. Shockley read an essay that discusses the different ways that African-American poetry over the years have experimented with style. This was followed by John Bracey, a historian, who talked about the place of history in African-American poetry and then read from his work. The day culminated with over twenty poets, including Nikki Giovanni and Sonia Sanchez, who read their works in front of an audience of poets and readers at the Heritage Hall of the NMAAHC. After this was a reception that brought the poets and the audience together. In an informal setting, poets interacted with readers, signed books and answered questions. Observing these interactions, the comfort and ease that gelled conversations between some of the world’s best- known poets and their readers, affirmed the importance of the work that the Furious Flower Center does. It illustrated that Black poetry is living and active; that it exists to speak to the experience of communities. It also stressed the importance of supporting organizations like Furious Flower’s who take the business of Black poetry seriously and work tirelessly to promote it.
Mona Ahmed, B.A., B.S., current Office Manager for the Project on the History of Black Writing and alumna of the University of Kansas: The second component of the anniversary celebration consisted of a fun-filled day at the NMAAHC. The itinerary included a tour of the museum, workshops, two panels, and poetry readings. It was a surreal experience to tour the museum and explore the exhibits. The NMAAHC did an amazing job curating many exhibits from the Middle Passage to the Black Lives Matters Movement.
I was in awe to see Harriet Tubman’s shawl and Nat Turner’s bible. Growing up, my secondary education curriculum briefly touched on Black history. Even with the bare knowledge I was taught, I never got the opportunity to interact so closely with artifacts from those particular eras. Furious Flower could not have chosen a better place to host their anniversary celebration. For someone who was not alive during the Black Arts of the movement,
it was great to tour the Black Arts Movement exhibit and later listen to poets like Nikki Giovanni and Sonia Sanchez, who were contributors to the movement. To be able to come together and celebrate Black poetry at the NMAAHC with poets from and after the Black Arts Movement and to see how each generation of poets are shaping the narrative of Black poetry in their own lens was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
My favorite part of the celebration was listening to the Estwatini poets read their work. Furious Flower had met the five poets in 2018 when they traveled to Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) to participate in workshops held by the Arts Envoy Program. Each poet brought in a different perspective from love, African culture, spirituality, and activism. I am grateful to have not only attended the Furious Flower 25th celebration but to have been able to meet many poets and see the advancement and the future of Black poetry.
Lacey McAfee, Ed.S., Pennsylvania School Psychologist, and former Communications Specialist and Office Manager at the Project on the History of Black Writing 2010-2014: The next day was spent at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, where you traveled back through time working your way from the slavery era to current times. Reliving history and thinking about what has happened throughout time to so many Black men, women, and children, as well as the continuance of injustices in current times. This was definitely a somber but important museum to experience. After leaving the exhibitions, I was pulled into a room with James Madison University students and was asked to share my thoughts on Furious Flower, who I was excited to see most, and how I had learned about Furious Flower. I shared with the students that I learned many of the poets and authors discussed over the weekend through my time at HBW, working with the novels, magazines, anthologies, and at times many professors and poets that were in attendance at the gala.
I finally wrapped up my time listening to panelists that included Evie Shockley, Kwame Dawes, Meta DuEwa Jones, John Bracey, and Nagueyalti Warren that further talked about their perspectives and shared words of wisdom as well as some of their own pieces. Although I only was able to experience a portion of the events that occurred over the weekend, I was truly amazed at being able to be exposed to such powerful artists and their work during the 25th anniversary.
Portia: In school, I feared poetry. I found it inaccessible: the language too difficult and the subject matter too abstract for my liking. Because of this, I steered away from the genre, believing that only selected few knew how to write, read and appreciate it. Things changed, however, when I was introduced to African-American poetry as an undergraduate. Encountering Langston Hughes’ pride of heritage in “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”; the specters of history in Robert Hayden’s “Middle Passage” and the sea of the wisdom in the works of Maya Angelou, I began to enjoy poetry. These works, among others, spoke to me in ways that other texts did not and through them, I realized what I had been missing all those years was exposure to texts that reflected my experiences. The Furious Flower Center, an academic program and organization, recognizes this and for twenty-five years, has worked hard to promote African-American poetry, connecting readers with writers, preserving African-American literary heritage and advancing a new generation of poets.