Moorland Spingarn Research Center Hosts 2022 International Black Writers Festival – The Hilltop

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Dixa Ramirez-D’Oleo, Akiba Solomon, Tricia Hersey and Nikole Hannah-Jones discussing Hannah-Jones’ 1619 Project alongside moderator Natalie Hopkinson. Photo by Darius Osborne.

The MSRC International Festival of Black Writers, organized by the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center (MSRC), kicked off on Friday 7 October. The three-day festival was a throwback to Howard University’s great literary tradition.

Launched as the Moorland Foundation in 1914, the FRSC holds one of the world’s largest databases for various documents, artefacts and photographs. Throughout history, MSRC has been one of the first research facilities in the nation to make connections and propose theories using historical information to explain, study and contemplate the black experience in within the African Diaspora. The festival was inspired by the National Black Writers Festival, which also began at Howard University in 1974, by Dr. Andrew Billingsley, Dr. Haki R. Madhubuti (panellist), Dr. Stephen E. Henderson and Dr. John Killens.

For the first time in 39 years, the event was held on the campus of Howard University through the FRSC.

Festival attendees in 2022 heard about student writers, featured by Amistad—Howard University’s literary arts journal. There were panels of esteemed poets, essayists, editors, professors and journalists – some of them the Howard alum – where the panelists described their origin stories as writers and gave a overview of their work.

“I am deeply grateful to the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center and all the organizers who are supporting this homecoming opportunity,” said Dr Eleanor Traylor. The graduate professor and former head of the university’s English department declared her love for the university during her commencement address. “To salute the phenomenal beauty of the house that I have never left and will never leave.”

“HU?” she asked the crowd. “You know,” everyone replied.

Traylor was joined by Dr. Haki Madhubuti and Paul Coates, two pioneers of black literature, during a panel discussion titled “The Shoulders We Stand On: The Black Literary Tradition.” As founders of two of the oldest independent black publishing companies in the world, Third World Press and Black Classic Press, Madhubuti and Coates were described by fellow panelists as orchestra conductors.

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“For me, the word conduction contains images of forerunners, guides of the way, leaders of the way, true precise directors, [and] agents for a change,” Traylor said.

Dr. Dana Williams, Dean of the Howard Graduate School, acted as panel moderator. After reading an excerpt from WEB DuBois’ speech, “The Domain and Function of Negro College”, she spoke of the importance of learning from those who laid the literary foundations.

“For me, being at Howard, first as a graduate student and then as an English faculty member, it’s that elder and learner model that has been so important in how I came into the world.”

Professor Nikole Hannah-Jones, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist and Howard University Knight Professor of Race and Journalism, continued a similar sentiment during a panel discussion on the second day of the festival.

“Reading works like the autobiography of Ida B. Wells gave me a sense of bravery to write and placed me in a framework of resistance where I could continue to add to the groundwork of those who challenged and fought society at the time,” she said. . “I could never separate myself from this heritage.”

Professor Hannah-Jones spoke to an all-female panel of decorated scholars, writers and journalists, including Dr Dixia Ramirez-D’Oleo, Akiba-Solomon and Tricia Hersey. The discussion was moderated by Howard alum, Dr. Natalie Hopkinson, associate professor of media, democracy and society at American University.

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Short story and poetry readings followed. Ta-Nehisi Coates hosted as audience members were led on a spiritual nap journey by Tricia Hersey, felt the words of Ashley Jones, Alabama’s Poet Laureate, and imagined themselves as characters in the new by Merone Haderos, “The Suitcase,” from his first collection of stories, “A Meal at Home for These Hard Times.”

The following panel, moderated by Jonothan Gray, analyzed and deconstructed the various works of the decorated panel composed of Jonquilyn Hill, Natalie Moore, Derecka Purnell and Carole Boyce Davies. The topic of discussion quickly morphed into Today’s Progressive Conversations and how their respective pieces helped give a platform for representation and perspective to be shared.

Hill, Senior Producer of Explainer Audio at Vox, spoke in depth about how these conversations help us understand different perspectives and gather genealogical information within the African Diaspora.

“Ten years ago we never would have had a conversation about abolition on public radio…these are conversations I hear in my community, put this on the table and out there for everyone Hear it,” she continued.

Next, “What’s Going On,” a student writer from Howard led a discussion, looking at current applications and examples of timeless issues facing the black community. Moderated again by Dana Williams, the students talked about their different inspirations, goals and impacts they want to have in the community through their future work.

Renowned art critic Simone White highlighted the importance of analyzing artwork from different genres and generations in an ongoing discussion titled “The Uses of Writing to Confront Black Realities.” She, alongside Jonathan Gray, Darlene Taylor and Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, spoke about literature as a broad interpretation of reality and how it helped open doors of self-reflection and unpack different traumas that the black community keep persevering.

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“Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower was written in 1993 and hit the bestseller list in 2018, there are people reading it, trying to come to terms with this ‘new world’ and here is this artwork that’s been waiting for them all along,” said Jonathan Gray. “That’s part of the power that these artworks hold.”

The event was streamed live and posted on Howard University’s Youtube platform, taking place in person at the School of Social Work on campus.

Copy edited by Jadyn Barnett

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