Toni Morrison, The reining queen of American literature, blessed the borough of Brooklyn last weekend serving as the Honorary Chairperson for the 10th Annual Black Writers Conference at Medgar Evers College.
Morrison, who was the first Black woman and the first African-American to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1993, and also won a Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for her novel “Beloved,” was the big draw. But the four-day literary conference, which ran from March 25-28th, featured something for everyone, including literature and writing workshops for elementary-, middle- and high-school students and elders and forums with an A-list of journalists, agents and writers. Music and spoken-word lovers were treated to a concert with performances by the legendary Gil Scott-Heron, Talib Kweli, and Gary Bartz.
The theme of this year’s conference was And Then We Heard the Thunder: Black Writers Reconstructing Memories and Lighting the Way. It was a message meant to inspire aspiring writers to pick up the torch from literary legends like Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, and Kamau Braithwaite and carry it to an illuminating literary future.
Also in attendance were some of the leading voices of today such as Cornel West, James McBride,Touré, Edwidge Dandicat, Karen Hunter, Kevin Powell and a host of others.
Powell, who was a featured speaker at the conference said, “The first time I came here was in 1990-91 when I had first moved to New York City and I know that I wanted to be in a community of writers because I had a lot of questions about how do you get published. How do you get representation? Where do you find an agent at how do you actually get it out there and keep it in stores? and so I think these conferences are extremely important because it enforces our traditions. It’s been incredible to be in the same space as a Sonia Sanchez, Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou … you know all the people I’ve seen pass through here over the years.
Before the conference started mainstream press outlets wondered aloud about the need for a Black Writers Conference in the Age of Obama when Black writers are being successfully published across all genres.
But the heated and passionate debates throughout the halls of Medgar Evers proved otherwise. Subjects ranged from the lack of Black editors, publishers and black writers taught in schools; the impact of the internet and social networking sites on the reading and writing of the public; the impact of Hip Hop, popular culture and activism on literature produced by Black writers and the ways that Black writers have responded to politics war, natural disasters and environmental issues made it clear that a conference specific to Black writers may be more necessary than ever.
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