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Institute for teaching African-American poetry awarded national grant

Thursday, September 27, 2012

LAWRENCE – A grant awarded to a University of Kansas researcher from the National Endowment for the Humanities will spur the creation of an institute on reading and teaching African-American poetry.

The project is led by Maryemma Graham, a University Distinguished Professor in the Department of English in the KU College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. The institute, “Don’t Deny My Voice: Reading and Teaching African-American Poetry,” will be open to college and university teachers from across the country. NEH awarded $189,000 to support the program.

The institute will be guided by experts in the field and supported by the archival resources of KU’s Project on the History of Black Writing and the Furious Flower Poetry Center at James Madison University.

Graham founded and continues to direct the Project on the History of Black Writing, located within KU’s Department of English, which is the only archive of its kind and has been in the forefront of black literary studies and inclusion efforts in higher education for 29 years. This grant marks HBW's seventh from NEH and the fifth national institute in its 14-year history at KU. The institute will be coordinated by Sarah Arbuthnot Lendt, Project on the History of Black Writing grant specialist and KU English instructor.

“Don’t Deny My Voice” comes at a time of resurgence in interest in contemporary poetry, its expanded production and wide circulation. The program at KU will provide participants with an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of the range, diversity and popularity of African-American poetry, and to engage in projects for teaching and further research.

The institute will focus on the history and transformations of African-American poetry in cultural and social contexts over three critical periods: 1900-1960, 1960-1980 and 1980-present. Participants will examine the creation, production and performance of poetry, and consider new methods for reading, teaching and interpreting. This institute will be driven by key questions and themes focusing on the nature of black poetry in addition to those raised by individual presentations and panel discussions.

KU faculty working with Graham include Anthony Bolden, associate professor of African and African-American studies; Joseph Harrington, associate professor of English; William Joe Harris, associate professor of creative writing; Jill Kuhnheim, professor of Spanish and Portuguese; and J. Edgar Tidwell, professor of English.

Faculty from other institutions include Joanne Gabbin, director of the Furious Flower Poetry Center at James Madison University, Howard Rambsy II of Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville and Jerry W. Ward Jr. recently retired from Dillard University in New Orleans and currently an adjunct research associate, Department of English.

Scheduled for July 14 through Aug. 3, regular sessions of the institute will meet each weekday. A number of public events will occur during the institute, including a weekend field trip to nearby Kansas City that will include visits to the American Jazz Museum for a poetry slam and discussion with Kansas City poets. Participants will view the Furious Flower Poetry Center’s four-part video anthology over the course of the three weeks, with discussions following the films.

Collaboratively designed projects and subsequent webinars will extend the conversations and the application of knowledge gained from the institute beyond its three-week run. Webinars will be open to the public and will feature a group of intergenerational award-winning poets, including Rita Dove, Nikki Giovanni, Terrance Hayes, Liegh McInnis, Ishmael Reed and the 2012 U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Tretheway.

For more information, visit the Don’t Deny My Voice website.

The Department of English is part of the KU College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, which brings together the research and insights of more than 50 departments, programs and centers. In total, the College employs more than 50 percent of the Lawrence campus faculty.