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FREEDOM FORUMS 2017 : A Conversation on Freedom: Personal, Artistic and Civic

What do words like freedom and democracy mean, today?

 

On Tuesday, September 26, 2017, at Federal Hall, New York, Alexis De Veaux, Jericho Brown, Tina Chang & Aja Monet held a public participatory conversation on “Freedom: Personal, Artistic and Civic”.

The rhetoric of the past year’s presidential election cycle raised the specter of a divided America, the fallout and reverberations of which seem to threaten our basic democratic ideals and values. With fear and marginalization of the other on the rise, how can we rekindle our commitment to the ideal of freedom, and what does freedom in America even mean? What freedom means to them as writers, individuals and as citizens. They will share their work and that of others who have inspired them, sparking an open conversation with the audience.

Freedom Poets

Poets

Alexis De Veaux’s work in multiple genres is nationally and internationally known and has been published in five languages. She is the author of Warrior Poet, A Biography of Audre Lorde (W.W. Norton, 2004), which won several prestigious awards including the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation Legacy Award, Nonfiction, the Gustavus Meyers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights Outstanding Book Award, and the Lambda Literary Foundation Award for Biography. Her novella Yabo (Redbone Press, 2014) won the 2015 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction and a 2016 National Book Foundation Summer Reading book.

Jericho Brown is an associate professor of English and creative writing at Emory University. He is the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award and fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Brown’s first book, Please (New Issues 2008), won the American Book Award. His second book, The New Testament (Copper Canyon 2014), won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was named one of the best of the year by Library Journal, Coldfront, and the Academy of American Poets.

Tina Chang is the first woman to be named Poet Laureate of Brooklyn. She is the author of two poetry collections, Of Gods & Strangers (Four Way Books, 2011) and Half-Lit Houses (Four Way Books, 2004), and the co-editor of the W.W. Norton anthology Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond (2008). She is the recipient of awards from the New York Foundation for the Arts, Academy of American Poets, Poets & Writers, the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, and the Van Lier Foundation among others. 

Aja Monet is an internationally established poet, singer, performer, educator and human rights advocate whose craft is an in-depth reflection of emotional wisdom, skill, and activism. The youngest individual to win the legendary Nuyorican Poet’s Café Grand Slam title, she is recognized for combining her spellbinding voice and powerful imagery on stage. Her books of poetry include My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter (Haymarket Books, 2017), Inner-City Chants & Cyborg Cyphers (e-book, 2015), and The Black Unicorn Sings (Penmanship Books, 2010).

The event was followed by a book signing by the poets and included Alexis De Veaux’s Yabo, Jericho Brown’s The New Testament, Tina Chang’s Of Gods & Strangers and Aja Monet’s My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter.

NOTE: 
Freedom Forums is presented by the National Parks of New York Harbor Conservancy, the primary nonprofit partner of the National Parks of New York Harbor. It is organized by Harbor Conservancy Literary Arts Advisor Debora Ott and sponsored by a Humanities NY Vision/Action Grant and by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

“Breath Erotica” – “we have poetry so we will not die of history”

Introduction to Love | Hope | Community
Sexualities & Social Justice in the Caribbean, Online Multimedia Edition

With thanks to Rosamond S. King & Angelique V. Nixon – Co-Directors, Caribbean International Resource Network   for inviting myself and Alexis De Veaux to be part of this event.

 

“Breath Erotica” (Visual Story)

by Alexis DeVeaux and Sokari Ekine

I pray for us
as evening glides over
implore the gods
pray for us pray
for this breathing
planet the milky way
dreams us
into galaxy
no need for heaven
this is how it started:
way out beyond we
below
the sweet of your lips
dipped in promise
anxieties claim us
bark and skin
what we cannot
remember we give birth
to
“we have poetry so
we will not die
of history”

Continue 

 

“Thats What Poets Do”…For June Jordan

June and Alexis, 1996. [Photo credit, Jon Snow]

Freedom Fighter

 

“That’s what poets do….. we worry words..”

June Jordan, April 23, 2000

 

Sometimes it would happen when we were out being “running buddies” (that’s what J called our friendship) at a political event or poetry reading. It could happen during a visit to one of her beautiful, immaculate Brooklyn apartments. Most of the time though it would be a late night phone call that would turn our “running buddies” thing into a thug thing: so-and-so had done her wrong. So-and-so had to pay for that. She’d already ironed and creased her jeans (looking good was important, even in battle). Said she’d wait for me to do the same. Then meet her, and go kick some butt. I idolized J, so a wrong to her was a wrong to me. Half the time I was grateful when “the enemy” wasn’t at home, couldn’t be found, shrunk at the sight of her. Or when we’d laugh ourselves almost comatose until she calmed down, and realized the absurdity of a prominent social activist – her – being arrested on some silly assault and battery charge.

In time, I understood that J had this deeper thing about sovereignty. Being sovereign was not just about the liberation struggle in South Africa, the Sandinista movement in Nicaragua, the state of black America, the anti-nuclear proliferation movement or the Palestinian Liberation Front, all of which were among her priorities when she lived in New York City in the 1980s.   Being sovereign was basic to her humanity, fundamental to a principled way of living. She believed in and advocated for her own self determination; whether the context was working out the kinks of loving and being loved, sweating out the next sentence of whatever she was writing, having beauty in her life or resisting any actual or possible personal harm.   As she embodied it, poets have to ‘worry words” because the sanctity of being human is the bravery of speech.

She published thousands of words in the form of 28 books; persisting as a writer in spite of the fact that she was under-recognized in some literary quarters. There are far too many who do not know her name, do not know the trembling bravery of her poems and essays. There are far too many who do not know what it meant for her to stand sovereign.

June Jordan’s poems, essays, commentaries in The Nation and other publications, children’s books, plays, audio recordings, her only novel (His Own Where, 1971) and even her troubling memoir (A Soldier: A Poet’s Childhood, 2000) are evidence of a deeply brilliant, passionate spirit. And they are blueprints for radical social change. We need only to read them to figure our way out of the mess this country is currently in. J would be the first to say we have a president we did not elect. The first to say we have been duped by the prostitution of patriotism and have acquiesced to living in “Newmerica”, where a shadowy “war on terrorism” encourages citizens to spy on each other. She would be the first to remind us of the Declaration of Rights, the Constitution, the right of the people to resist “taxation without representation.” She was a true freedom fighter.

She would be sovereign. Now more than ever

Alexis De Veaux

 

Originally published in “The Women’s Review of Books” October, 2002.

“Audre Lorde Days” & “Conversations in Color”, New Orleans

Tuesday 14th March

Alexis recently took part in two events in New Orleans.  The first took place at Tulane University, as part of the annual Audre Lorde Days,2017” organized by the Office of Gender and Sexual Diversity, Alexis presented a keynote address “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotics of Activism”

 

During the Fourth Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, in August, 1978, Audre Lorde delivered her paper, “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power.”(1) A groundbreaking meditation on power in the context of social change, “Uses of the Erotic” outlined Lorde’s theory of the role of eros, “the personification of love in all its aspects […] personifying creative power and harmony” (2) as a source of power […] that can provide energy for change. ” (3) While addressing the corruption of the erotic in women’s lives in particular, in western culture; its difference from the pornographic; the “internal sense of satisfaction […] to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire;” (4) Lorde made specific her argument that the “suppression of the erotic as a considered source of power and information” (5) was antithetical to a radical life.
How many of us think of the erotic as an “internal sense of satisfaction” when we think of making social change, of organizing and protesting, of resisting the powers that be? How many of us today, proponents of this “new” intersectional feminism, thirty nine years after Lorde introduced her theory of the erotic, as a change agent, think of the pleasure implicit in that “sense of satisfaction”? How many of us think of pleasure as political?
(1) Lorde, Audre. “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” Sister Outsider, Essays and Speeches (Trumansburg, New York: The Crossing Press, 1984), 53-59
(2) “Uses of the Erotic,” p55
(3) Ibid, p53
(4) Ibid, p54
(5) Ibid, p53

On March 16, Alexis was joined by writer, Bernice L. McFadden as guests of the  Amistad Research Center’s monthly “Conversations in Color” panel. The two writers discussed “Black Women Writers and the Re-Imagination of American Culture” at the Ashe Cultural Arts Center in New Orleans.  Watch the full conversation:

 
 

 

 

Alexis and Bernice also participated in a discussion on WBOK Radio:Good Morning Show” with Oliver Thomas,  “Conversations in Black”