Saturday, April 14, 2012

Dark Room Reunion Reading @ Poetry Foundation

Last Thursday evening, the Dark Room Writers Collective, founded 25 years ago in Cambridge, Massachusetts, by Thomas Sayers Ellis, Janice Lowe and Sharan Strange, after the death of James Baldwin (1924-1987), and of which I was a member for many years (I joined during the very first, remarkable season of their reading series, in 1988, after having seen Tom's high-top fade around town and learned about them at my barbershop, who told me he thought it was a "bookstore," which sent my hiking my 22-year-old behind halfway across Central Square to see these books I thought they'd be selling), had a reunion reading at the Poetry Foundation's stunning headquarters in downtown Chicago.

The reading convened only a small number of the many writers, artists, and creative folks who were members or affiliates over the years, a tally that numbers in the dozens, among them Tisa Bryant, Carl Phillips, Tracy K. Smith, Adisa Vera Beatty, Trasi Johnson, Artress Bethany White, Aya de León, Ellen Gallagher, Noland Walker, Muhonjia Khaminwa, Kambui Womble, and many others; nevertheless, present were Thomas, Sharan, Nehassaiu de Gannes, Major Jackson, Natasha Trethewey, and Kevin Young, as well as yours truly. The Poetry Foundation's Stephen Young opened the event, and eminent poet and my Northwestern colleague Ed Roberson offered an introduction, before turning the floor over to artist, poet and culture worker Krista Franklin who, in Dark Room fashion, was the local poet who joined us in offering poems. Poet and photographer Rachel Eliza Griffith took photos, and Janice Lowe also was present to bring the spirits back and dancing. Many of the great poets living in Chicago (and I'm going to miss some names) also came out to catch the set.

Though I was a participant and am usually halfway to some other place at readings, this event felt wonderfully grounding in so many ways, a homecoming (even in the exquisite interiors of the Poetry Foundation), as I have seen and sometimes read with several of these writers over the years, but not together with them in over a decade,  and I felt myself overcome each time one of them took the stage to read, offer reminiscences, dedicate poems, call out the ancestors, bring the noise. One of Thomas's charges, alongside the bootstrap writing, workshopping and reading all those years ago, was to bumrush the show, something that he and many others, including the many, many exceptional established and emerging figures who passed through the Dark Room's doors, set into motion for all of us, and for that I will always be grateful to him. I'm already getting verklempt, so instead of spilling tears here, I'm going to post some photos, including a few from the following day, when we dropped by Parrish Lewis Photography, where photographer Lamont snapped some photos.

Natasha Trethewey
Natasha Trethewey

Ed Roberson, Kevin Young, Natasha Trethewey, Nehassaiu de Gannes
Ed Roberson, Kevin Young, Natasha Trethewey, Nehassaiu de Gannes

Thomas Sayers Ellis
The impresario, Thomas Sayers Ellis ("ain't it funky, y'all?")

Major Jackson
Major Jackson

Ed Roberson (back), Kevin Young (l-r), Natasha Trethewey, Nehassaiu de Gannes, Major Jackson
Kevin (leaning forward), Ed, Natasha, Nehassaiu, Major

Sharan, in reflection
Sharan in reflection

Sharan Strange reading
Sharan reading

Krista Franklin & Ed Roberson taking notes
Krista Franklin and Ed

Thomas Sayers Ellis
iPad drawing of Thomas

Sharan, sitting serenely, as she's being photographed by Lamont
Sharan, serene, as Lamont photographs her

Tom photographing Rachel Eliza with the Dark Room Reunion talisman
Thomas, photographing Rachel Eliza (with the reunion series talisman)

Thomas photographing the Dark Room Collective Reunion Tour's honorary watermelon
Tom, photographing the Go-Go-melon

Self-Portrait with self-portrait
Tom's portrait of me, with self-portrait

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