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Third Conference on Women Writers of African Descent

Will Honor Jayne Cortez &
Feature Angela Davis, Sapphire, Evelyne Trouillot, and 50 others
this May in Accra, Ghana

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New York, NY – The Organization of Women Writers of Africa (OWWA) and New York University, in collaboration with the Mbaasem Foundation, will present Yari Yari Ntoaso: Continuing the Dialogue – An International Conference on Literature by Women of African Ancestry. This major conference will put writers, critics, and readers from across Africa, the USA, Europe, and the Caribbean in dialogue with each other in Accra, Ghana, May 16‐19, 2013.

The public can help support authors’ participation at

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/318981

OWWA is deeply saddened by the loss of its President and Co‐Founder, Jayne Cortez, the amazing poet, performer, and activist described by The New York Times as “one of the central figures of the Black Arts Movement.” Cortez was the driving force behind the first two Yari Yari conferences, and OWWA and NYU’s Institute of African‐American Affairs have committed to presenting the third Yari Yari as scheduled in Jayne’s honor.

The conference will consist of panels, readings, performances, and film screenings, and will be devoted to the study, evaluation, and celebration of the creativity and diversity of women writers of African descent. Fifteen years after OWWA’s first major conference, Yari Yari Ntoaso continues the dialogue of previous Yari Yari gatherings, which were the largest events of their kind, putting hundreds of women writers and scholars of African descent in dialogue with thousands of people. Confirmed participants come from more than a dozen countries, and include individuals who have been Poet Laureates and won a variety of other awards. (See the list of participants below.)
OWWA is actively fundraising to cover the costs of Yari Yari Ntoaso, and the Cortez/Edwards family encourages donations in Jayne’s name to OWWA. Donations are tax-deductible and can be made at http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/318981 or mailed to P.O. Box 652; Village Station; New York, NY 10014.
Yari Yari Ntoaso is FREE to everyone who wants to attend; attendees should register
online at http://www.owwainc.org where information about travel discounts and logistics are also available. Updates will be posted regularly on OWWA’s Indiegogo site and Facebook page.

OWWA Mission Statement:
The Organization of Women Writers of Africa, Inc (OWWA) was founded in 1991 by Jayne Cortez of the USA and Ama Ata Aidoo of Ghana for the purpose of establishing links between professional African women writers. OWWA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit literary organization concerned with the development and advancement of the literature of women writers from Africa and its Diaspora. OWWA is also a non‐ governmental organization associated with the United Nations Department of Public Information (UNDPI). Board members include Louise Meriwether, J.e. Franklin, Maya Angelou, Rosamond S. King, Margaret Busby, and Maryse Condé.
Confirmed Participants as of January 2013:
Anne Adams (USA) – Scholar of African literature
Ama Ata Aidoo (Ghana) – Fiction writer, OWWA CoFounder
Esther Armah (Ghana, UK, USA) – Journalist, playwright, radio host
Bibi Bakare (Nigeria) – Publisher
Samiya Bashir (Somalia/USA) – Poet
Sokhna Benga (Senegal) – Novelist, children’s author
Tara Betts (USA) – Poet
Carole Boyce Davies (Trinidad & Tobago/USA) – Scholar of African diaspora literatures &
cultures
Prof. Joanne Braxton (USA) – Scholar of AfricanAmerican
poetry
Margaret Busby (Ghana/UK) – Editor, publisher
Gabrielle Civil (Haiti/USA) – Performance artist, poet
Jayne Cortez (USA) – Poet, OWWA CoFounder
Angela Davis (USA) – Scholar of prison abolition
Phillippa Yaa de Villiers (South Africa) – Poet, performer
Latasha N. Diggs (USA) – Performer, poet
Camille Dungy (USA, SFSU) – Poet
Alison Duke (Canada) – Filmmaker
Ira Dworkin (US/Egypt) – Scholar of AfricanAmerican
literature
Zetta Elliott (Canada/USA) – Fiction writer, scholar of literature & publishing
Donette Francis (Jamaica/USA) – Scholar of Caribbean literature
Gladys M. Francis (Guadeloupe/USA) – Scholar of African & Caribbean literature
Kadija George (UK/Sierra Leone) – Publisher, poet
Wangui wa Goro (Kenya) – Translator, poet
Philo Ikonya (Kenya) – Author, journalist
Rashidah Ismaili (Benin/USA) – Poet
Tayari Jones (USA) – Novelist
Madhu Kaza (India/USA) – Fiction writer
Fatou Keita (Cote d’Ivoire) – Children’s author
Jason King (USA) – Scholar of music & popular culture
Rosamond S. King – Poet, Performance Artist, Yari Yari Ntoaso Conference Director
Kinna Likimani (Ghana) – Blogger
Fungai Machirori (Zimbabwe) – Blogger, activist
Michelle Martin (USA) – Scholar of children’s literature
Roshnie Moonsammy (South Africa) ‐ Arts administrator
Micere Mugo (Kenya) ‐ Playwright, poet, scholar of African literature & orature
Angelique Nixon (Bahamas) – Scholar of literature & tourism, poet
Wura‐Natasha Ogunji (Nigeria/USA) ‐ Performance artist
Nnedi Okorafor (Nigeria/USA) – Young adult novelist
Tess Onwueme (Nigeria)‐ Playwright
Hermine Pinson (USA) – Poet, scholar of AfricanAmerican
literature
Sapphire (USA) – Poet, novelist
Lola Shoneyin (Nigeria) – Novelist, poet
Eintou Springer (Trinidad & Tobago) – Poet, playwright
Cheryl Sterling (USA) – Scholar of African & diaspora literature
Veronique Tadjo (Cote d’Ivoire/SA) – Novelist
Coumba Touré – Author (Mali) – Children’s author
Evelyne Trouillot (Haiti) – Novelist
Wana Udobang (Nigeria) – Journalist, blogger, radio host
Gina Athena Ulysse (Haiti/USA) – Performance artist, scholar of Caribbean anthropology &
blogger
Crystal Williams (USA) – Poet
Christopher Winks (USA) – Scholar of Caribbean literature

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Up at 2am. I’ve *never* had insomnia like this before. Once a month I’ll have a restless night but I’ve never found myself progressively losing sleep like this. It was happening in Brooklyn, too—over the past couple of months I started to wake at six, then five, then four. So what could it mean? Around 4am this morning I decided that it must be related to my ancestor search. Each time I find another generation and reach farther into the past, I lose an hour of sleep! The only good thing about this is that I have moments of lucidity while self-directing my waking dreams. I realized this morning that I want to open a museum. Not just an arts center, but a museum. What I haven’t found here in Nevis so far is a critical, comprehensive examination of slavery. The perspective of colonizers and slave owners is still being privileged—the one ghost story that’s mentioned in the tourist material I’ve gathered is a white woman whose fiance shot her brother in a duel and then proposed to another woman. So she shut herself up in her great house and now haunts the crumbling remains. THAT is the ghost story we’re supposed to care about? I realize the intent is not to alienate tourists who are primarily white, but I think it’s a mistake to assume that whites don’t want to know the truth about slavery. In fact, the greater risk is getting too deep, too graphic, and turning the past into another kind of exotic artifact. I mean, we have to have a conversation about language—what’s in a name? Why does the word “plantation” trigger positive associations for tourists and negative associations for me? I can already see a panel in my museum that will list “Ways to Be a Better Tourist.” All the grant-writing experience I’ve been accumulating will come in handy because I’ll need a major grant to make this happen. Everything prepares you for what’s next. I’ve been teaching this course on neo-slave narratives, and now I can select the best slavery novels for my museum bookstore. I’m going to enlarge those slave registers and line the walls with them. I’ll find an artist to develop a rendition of the mass suicide that took place in 1736 when 100 slaves jumped from the Prince of Orange slave ship anchored off the coast of Nevis. The history book I’m reading suggests it was a “cruel joke” that prompted an enslaved man to board the ship with his owner and tell the slaves that they were to be eaten once they were taken ashore. Maybe what he really said was, “Life as a slave on this island is unbearable,” and the newly arrived Africans decided death was the better option.

Ok, I better get myself ready to go. Alexander Hamilton House, lunch with Amba, and then all that other stuff. And maybe another nap on the beach…

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Join Us for a Post-National Black
Writers Conference (NBWC) Event
featuring
NBWC Past Participants
TAVIS SMILEY
and CORNEL WEST

Meet Tavis Smiley and Cornel West
at a Fundraiser for the
Center for Black Literature

Friday, April 20, 2012
6:30pm
The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College
695 Park Avenue (at E. 68th Street)
(between Park & Lexington Avenues)
New York, NY 10065


POVERTY THREATENS OUR DEMOCRACY
Smiley and West take on the “P” word—poverty. During this compelling lecture and book-signing they challenge all Americans to re-examine their assumptions about poverty in America-what it really is and how to eradicate it.

Join Tavis Smiley and Cornel West

on Friday, April 20, 2012

at a lecture & book signing for

The Rich and the Rest of Us

a Fundraiser for the Center for Black Literature

Get Your Tickets In Advance & Buy Now!
$35 (includes book)
$25 (without book)
Go to www.CLSJ.org and click “Donate”
[Online ticketing administered by the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College (CLSJ)].

We thank you for your continued support of
the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College!
For more information, call 718.270.4811
or visit www.centerforblackliterature.org

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Each year The Brotherhood/Sister Sol co-sponsors an educational panel that focuses on solutions to the educational crisis we face in New York City – and indeed throughout the nation. The inadequate level of education provided to the children of this nation who are most in need is the pre-eminent civil rights issue of our time. Each year our educational panel has been filled to capacity and each evening has been a truly powerful night that has moved from the normal platitudes and simplistic debate to real discussion.

On Tuesday, March 6th, at 7:30, we are co-sponsoring this important event with The Metropolitan Center for Urban Education at New York University.

This event is freebut you must register for what promises to be a rich conversation focused on results, solutions and big picture thinking:

The Metropolitan Center for Urban Education at New York University & The Brotherhood/Sister Sol present…
Looking Ahead: What is working in New York City for Educating Our Children?

Moderator:

  • William C. Rhoden, Columnist, The New York Times


Panelists:

  • Dr. Merryl H. Tisch, Chancellor, New York State Board of Regents
  • Dr. Pedro A. Noguera, Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education, New York University & Executive Director, Metropolitan Center for Urban Education
  • Khary Lazarre-White, Esq., Executive Director & Co-Founder, The Brotherhood/Sister Sol
  • Zakiyah Ansari, Parent Organizer, Coalition for Educational Justice
  • Avram Barlowe, Teacher, Urban Academy Laboratory High School


…at New York University’s Kimmel Center, 60 Washington Square South, 10th floor auditorium

You can register and get more information here: http://edpanel.eventbrite.com/

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I don’t want to talk about the situation in Arizona—the white woman governor poking her finger in the president’s face, the need for brown-skinned immigrants like me to carry ID at all times, and now the banning of books that do nothing more than tell the TRUTH. I wrote about the dismantling of the Mexican American Studies Program in a post I’ve submitted to a Canadian government blog—if it gets published this week, I’ll let you know. I wrote about Wednesday’s “Teach-in” in emails to my colleagues at work. I plan to talk about it when classes start tomorrow because I doubt my students are aware of the pressure across the country to do away with Ethnic Studies in schools AND universities. But I’m sorry to say that right now I don’t want to blog about it here. I’ll just point you to Edi’s fabulous list of links, which includes the important work Debbie Reese is doing over at AICL. I’ve asked my college to order a copy of Precious Knowledge and will screen it this semester as part of our Ethnic Studies Film Series. It’s not enough, but it’s a start. Because we all have a choice at moments like these: do something, or do nothing.

 

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(l-r: J.E. Franklin, Rosamond King, Louise Meriwether, Angela Davis, Pamela Booker, Rashidah Ismaili, me)

On Monday I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Angela Davis; she was being filmed by OWWA (Organization of Women Writers of Africa) and that interview will be added to their collection at the Schomburg. We gathered at NYU at the Institute for African Affairs and Rashidah Ismaili started the interview by asking Dr. Davis to reflect on her childhood and the early influences in her life. We learned that both of her parents were school teachers and so Davis grew up in a home where she was encouraged to read and grow—she and all of her siblings left home as teens, with Dr. Davis going to New York for her last two years of high school. She moved in radical circles and learned from her family members not to talk to the FBI—a lesson that came in handy when she was later arrested as a fugitive. The remark that most stood out to me was Dr. Davis’ assessment of her parents’ vision for her; more than once she stressed the importance of the imagination and the need for young people to “not be too ensconced in the present.” Dr. Davis’ mother fought to secure an education for herself and then made sure her children understood that they had to prepare for a reality that didn’t yet exist. The interview ended with a Q&A and Pam asked an intriguing question about the Buddhist principle of mindfulness: how do you stay present in each moment if you’re constantly looking ahead? That’s a big challenge for any creative writer because we spend so much of our time dreaming; as a writer of historical and speculative fiction, I’m often lost in the past or the future, and it can be difficult to stay on top of your responsibilities (like grading!) when you’re trying to produce work that will hopefully create change. My question was related to an ongoing conversation I’ve been having with some friends on what it means to be an “ethical professor.” One friend’s college is considering merit pay, but if all faculty at the school are being underpaid, what does a two thousand dollar bonus for a handful of profs do to advance equity? Some friends teach two courses per semester and some teach three; right now I teach four, and others in the community college system teach five or six. That kind of teaching schedule doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for activism! The academy is a conservative institution, so how can one be a radical and/or create change without being changed by the institution? Dr. Davis said she often heard academics who insisted they would do the work they really wanted to do just as soon as they got tenure—or just as soon as they got promoted—or just as soon as….and on it went. “What matters,” she said, “is to do the work wherever you are.” In other words, don’t make excuses and don’t let institutional constraints hold you back. Build community—that was her advice—build a network so that when things go awry, you’ve got people who will lift you up and support your work. Later at lunch I talked to the elder members of OWWA and told them about the challenge of teaching effectively with 38 students in the class. Yes, one professor can make an impact, but how much greater would that impact be if the students who most need quality instruction had a lower student to professor ratio? I’m often torn between wanting to do more for my students and wanting to get my own work done—that’s been especially true this semester since my next book’s in production and certain things need my attention. I wrote three sentences last weekend and wished I could disappear and immerse myself in that new project but I can’t. Not until winter break. And maybe that will be my new writing schedule; maybe I’ll only write short pieces that can be completed while I’m not teaching. Audre Lorde says poetry is the most “economical” art form because women can write it on the train, while doing laundry, while the kids are napping…maybe poetry and novellas are in my future. Today would be my day off but I’ve got a training at work so off I go. If I grade my last midterms on the train, I’ll have a weekend FREE of grading!

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I’m a little worried about this bog. The semester’s about to start and I just created a blog for my job (check it out: CESatBMCC); I might need to take a break from Fledgling so that I can wear my professor hat all the time. Then again, do I ever really take it off? I’m sure topics will come up that I can’t fully address on the work blog. This weekend I feel like I’ve been swept away…Hurricane Irene was pretty much what I expected—more of a tropical storm that didn’t really disturb my life in any significant way (thanks to everyone who checked on me just the same!). Woke up this morning and the rain had already stopped and the wind was blowing gently enough for the windows to be reopened. I didn’t lose power and I have food in the house but with the entire NYC transit system shut down, there isn’t anywhere to go. So I’m doing what I usually do on a Sunday afternoon: daydreaming, writing, and watching PBS. A friend asked if I would be getting cable now that I’m working full-time; I’d like to get BBC America (no, not to watch Idris Elba) but it’s hard to imagine anything on cable really competing with the programming on PBS. Global Voices is one of my favorite shows and they’ve got a great fall line-up. I just watched the tail end of a film about Robert Kennedy’s visit to South Africa in 1966 (RFK in the Land of Apartheid). He concluded his visit with a speech at the University of Witwatersrand and these lines jumped out at me:

There are those who say that the game is not worth the candle – that Africa is too primitive to develop, that its peoples are not ready for freedom and self-government, that violence and chaos are unchangeable. But those who say these things should look to the history of every part and parcel of the human race. It was not the black man of Africa who invented and used poison gas or the atomic bomb, who sent six million men and women and children to the gas ovens, and used their bodies as fertilizer. Hitler and Stalin and Tojo were not black men of Africa. And it was not the black men of Africa who bombed and obliterated Rotterdam and Shanghai and Dresden and Hiroshima.

Genocide is not foreign to Africa, of course, but in that moment and in that space, it was incredibly powerful to have a white man speak those words. I want to warn my students away from racial chauvinism but there are moments when the comparisons are necessary. Anyway, my head’s full of other things but maybe I’ll try turning to the new novel. I’m incorporating current events like the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the massacre in Oslo. And now Irene will have a place in the story as well…

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My good friend Shadra Strickland has a new book out: White Water by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein. It’s available today and the illustrations are amazing! Shadra kindly took a moment out of her busy schedule to answer some questions about the book:
In the blogosphere there has been a sense of fatigue when it comes to Civil Rights Movement stories, and this is your second project from that era (Our Children Can Soar). How do you approach this particular historical moment and what strategies do you use to create illustrations that seem “fresh”? 
Funny, I don’t think of OCCS being a Civil Rights Movement book. The pioneers in the book do span across that time period, but it isn’t solely about the Civil Rights Movement. When creating the Ruby Bridges painting in OCCS, I did have to focus on one moment in time which was a lot more challenging for me, especially given the fact that Norman Rockwell’s The Problem We All Live With is the iconic image of that historical moment. My goal in that painting was to add to the heart of Ruby Bridges’s story. I read her autobiography, watched the movie, and read Steinbeck’s account of her first day at school. In the end, the most significant moment was when she bravely crossed the threshold of an all white school. The challenge of coming up with a new perspective is what added to the freshness I think. I was able to add my own ideas to the narrative, which is really important. I have learned that it isn’t enough to just reiterate in pictures what the author is already telling us.
My goal in every project is to visually tell an interesting and coherent story and I approached White Water from that angle first. If anything, I was hesitant to add fantasy elements in the art because I didn’t want to trivialize the events in the story. I was also against using the same linear devices in White Water that I used in Bird. But thinking about childhood and how imagination is impervious to the harsh realities of life, I felt more confident in telling the story with a few visual surprises that relate solely to the wonder of being a child. When I build a character, I think a lot about their internal world. Michael was very courageous and smart. I thought he probably read the Sunday funnies and had a hero from one of the strips. I researched the local Opelika comic strips but couldn’t find anything that I could really use in my art. I then thought of my cousin and how growing up he was never without army men or action figures. It made sense to me that Michael would look to similar symbols of courage as well.
You’ve won so many awards–the most recent being the Ashley Bryan Award–yet you’re still in the early stages of your career. Talk about the impact of earning such acclaim and the future you see for yourself in the changing world of publishing.
Awards are terrifying and exciting all at once. They are fantastic for boosting the ego and validation, but they also make me extremely competitive with myself and self-aware. I always want to see growth in my work, but the awards that I have been honored to accept give me a heightened sense of responsibility in what I do—from the type of stories I accept, to how I tell a story visually. They also make me aware of the impact that picture books have on people’s lives and how far reaching they are. When I share a book like Bird or Hurricanes with a stranger and they are moved to tears, it’s quite humbling.
I can’t predict the future. I do know that I will continue making books and telling stories for as long as I can and I will continue to grow and challenge myself as an artist. If I need to stop making books and find another outlet for my work, so be it. My mantra is simple: do good work and the rest will follow.

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One of my goals in writing about black history is to ignite the imagination of urban kids—many of whom walk past historical monuments every day without understanding or appreciating their significance. Ship of Souls will come out next year and since the book is dedicated to my cousin Kodie (who lives in Canada), I decided to make a short film for him featuring all the sites mentioned in the story. Today I stopped by the African Burial Ground monument and was lucky to find Ranger Doug Massenberg on duty—I first met Ranger Doug a couple of years ago and had the privilege of taking his fantastic tour of lower Manhattan. His passion for African American history is evident—and contagious! I’m definitely sending my students here for an assignment; my college is just a few blocks away and yet I wonder how many students (and faculty members) have stopped to pay respect…if YOU haven’t visited the African Burial Ground museum and monument, put it on your bucket list now. It’s necessary viewing…

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Today’s the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which sounds sort of ridiculous since we all know that battle’s been going on for CENTURIES. But it can’t hurt to draw attention to this issue, and 2011 *is* the International Year for People of African descent. I like this essay posted on the FEDCan blog:

Very few people feel comfortable talking directly about discrimination, unless in very abstract terms. I expect that most Canadians would agree with the statement: “Racists are bad, and I’m definitely not racist.” In fact, lots of people choose to wear Racism: Stop It! buttons on March 21, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. A large part of the problem is Canadians’ self-understanding of our identity; we are nice people. So how could we allow bad things like racism to exist here?

That’s a huge hurdle to overcome—Canadians thinking they’re too nice to be racist.  I’m excited about my upcoming trip to Toronto in April, and look forward to introducing Canadian children to my books.  Jill at Rhapsody in Books recently posted a really nice review of Bird; it’s so gratifying to know my first book still resonates with readers.

Lastly, you won’t want to miss Doret’s fabulous guest post at Kidlit Celebrates Women’s History—she’s got lots of great recommendations if you’re looking for books about the important contributions made by women of color.

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