In the spirit of the nascent National Poetry Month, the Africana Studies and Research Center sponsored a poetry reading showcasing the work of the famed poets, activists and authors, Amiri Baraka and Sonia Sanchez. The event, taking place in Goldwin Smith yesterday, was a part of the yearlong celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the ASRC.
The speakers’ work in activism and writing made them exemplary individuals to speak at such an event, according to organizers.
“Both Sanchez and Baraka have been part of that journey not only as teachers and important figures in the Africana/Black studies movements, but also as creators whose texts have become classics within the academy… They both have paved the way and were the sounding off board for future artists and activists,” Rachel A. Moore, administrative assistant of the ASRC, said.
Sanchez, born Wilsonia Benita Driver in Birmingham, Ala. formed writers’ workshops for her peer poets in New York City. She later became heavily involved in the teaching of Black Studies in universities, specifically as a professor at San Francisco State University. As a poet, Sanchez has written and published more than a dozen books of poetry. Her work has earned her recognition in the forms of nominations for a NAACP Image Award and a National Books Critics Circle Award. She is also the winner of an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation.
Baraka, born Everett LeRoi Jones in Newark, New Jersey, first published a book of poetry in 1961 titled, Preface to a Twenty-Volume Suicide Note. His work, known for its controversial topics, has been published for about 50 years. He has earned numerous awards such as the Rockefeller Foundation Award for Drama, a lifetime achievement award given to him by the Before Columbus Foundation, and the PEN/Faulkner Award.
Baraka read poems from his book Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music. He stated that through his various types of poems, his intention was to “try to raise peoples consciousness."
Next, Sanchez selected poems to recite, several of them coming from her book titled Morning Haiku. She stated that her main goal in reading her poems was to teach individuals to “move on the level of peace.”
Natalya Johnson grad said that the joint message the poets expressed was a need for education in the arts for younger generations.
“We need to make sure that we start early in teaching the importance of reverence for past accounts of expression." Johnson said.
Sanchez and Baraka have influenced the role of poetry in culture not only the African-American community, but America as a whole, according to Prof. Salah Hassan, Africana studies, and director of the Africana Studies and Research Center. He added that they are considered to have brought a “great face” to African-American creativity.
Mwalimu Abdul Gulu Nanji, senior lecturer of the ASRC, said that the main message that the University community should take away from the writings and activism of Baraka and Sanchez is “to realize the power of words is more than the power of weapons. Change can be made through the power of words.”