Praising poetic pioneers


By: Logan Pierce, Editor-in-Chief

In honor of Black History Month, a Spoken Word poetry recital was held in the Raider Room Tuesday, Feb. 21. The works of famous black poets were featured, including Langston Hughes and Rita Dove.

I, Too by Langston Hughes

I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

Monique Bruner, professor of federal government, conducted the event. Students, faculty and staff took turns at the podium reciting their favorite poems or original compositions, and reflected on the sacrifices made in the lives of black poets.

Prolific poets past and present

Born James Langston Hughes in 1902, this prolific poet gained notoriety for his insightful portrayals of black life in America from the twenties through the sixties. In 1930 his first novel, “Not Without Laughter,” won the Harmon gold medal for literature.
In his later years, Hughes was deemed the “Poet Laureate of the Negro Race,” a title he encouraged. When Hughes died in 1967, he left behind a legacy of poetry. In addition to poems, he penned 11 plays and an acclaimed autobiography, “The Big Sea.”

Born in 1952, Rita Dove was the daughter of the first black research chemist who, in the 1950s, broke the race barrier in the tire industry.
In 1993 Dove was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States and Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, making her the youngest person, and the first black poet, to receive the highest official honor in American letters. Dove held this position for two years.
In 1994, she read her poem “Lady Freedom Among Us” at the ceremony commemorating the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Capitol and restoration of the capital dome.
In 1993, Dove joined the faculty of the University of Virginia, where she holds the chair of Commonwealth Professor of English.

Sharing a love of writing 

There were also local authors at the event that gave presentations on the required steps to become a published author. Derrick Sumral, a local author, spoke on the joys of self-expression, through the written word. In his book, “The Voyage of Cultivation,” Sumral presents an autobiography through poetry, exploring his emotions and feelings regarding a wide variety of everyday experiences as they affect him.

Derrick Sumral shares his experiences on the path to publication with students, faculty and staff at the second annual Black History Month spoken word poetry recital. Photo by Logan Pierce

Sumral talked about publishing, book selling and book signing. He listed several steps for success.
1. You need to be prepared in all aspects. You have to be prepared financially, so start saving now.
2. You have to be strategic. What are publishing companies offering you, and for how much? More often than not, you get what you pay for. Be cautious with contracts. It’s not good to give up the rights to your work. These are your words. Don’t give them up.
3. You need to network. One of the most effective practices is word of mouth.
4. Be free, personal and approachable. People are attracted to smiles and good attitudes. Don’t be stone-faced. If your body language includes folded arms that tells people you’re unapproachable.
5. Always be yourself. Don’t try to be anybody else.

Knowledge is rewarded

The event concluded with words of advice for aspiring writers. “Read a book every day,” Bruner said.

In addition to events throughout the month of February, a Black History Month quiz was posted on D2L. More than 375 students took the quiz, with 17 answering all questions correctly. The names of all those with perfect scores were put in a drawing for an Amazon Kindle, with Jeremiah Vaughn winning the prize.

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