Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Newark-Essex Black Pride Panel

Earlier this evening, as part of Newark-Essex Black Pride, I participated in a panel discussion titled "Literary Workshop: Why Do You Write/Read, and How Do You Succeed?" The event, sponsored by the wonderful Fire & Ink, took place at Essex Community College in Newark, and the other panelists were novelist, children's literature author and publisher Cheril N. Clarke; poet and performance artist Yvonne Fly Onakeme Etaghene, and short-story writer Tawanna Sullivan. Scholar-activist Darnell Moore moderated.  A fifth panelist, Reverend Kevin Taylor, was not able to attend.

Before a decent-sized and enthusiastic audience each of us read a snippet of or talked about our work, then responded to a series of questions from Darnell, before he quickly opened up the floor. Some of the questions were when did we begin to think of ourselves as writers; how I balanced research and imagination in the novel I'm working on; what black, LGBTQ or black LGBTQ writers had influenced us; and what particular experience had changed our lives as writers and awakened something in us. I particularly enjoyed learning about the other writers' work (though I knew a little about Fly, having met her down at the Fire & Ink III: Cotillion conference), and how they connected it to their views of community and activism.

It was also refreshing to reconnect, as I find myself less able to do these days, with that (vast) part of the literary world from which I emerged, which is to say, the non-academic (though ironically enough this occurred at an institution of higher education) or, as put in a previous post, "third way," community-based writing.  (I should note that this isn't to say that these writers have no connections to academe; I know both Fly and Darnell do.  But that their aims and audiences in many cases lie outside academe's halls and walls.) So often in public discussions of writing, and frequently within the university, at least in my experience, this sector of the literary world goes unmentioned unless it factors into what is often an historical discussion about a given writer or group.  Small-press, community-based and self-publishing, however, are flourishing, and very well may assume even greater importance as technological and economic temblors destabilize the New York-based publishing world.

All in all, a great evening, and many thanks to Redbone Press Lisa C. Moore for the invitation to participate, and to all involved with Newark-Essex Pride who made this event possible!

Yours truly, Cheril Clarke, Darnell Moore, Tawanna Sullivan, and Yvonne Fly Onakeme Etaghene

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