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American Indian Studies Hosts Oklahoma Poet

November 2, 2009

This past week American Indian Studies at the University of Illinois hosted Chicago poet Quraysh Lansana.  Now, you may be wondering why the headline reads, “Oklahoma Poet.”  It’s simple.  Quraysh Lansana is an Okie from Enid, but like many of us, he left his birthplace to seek his artistic fortunes elsewhere.  And did he ever!

Quraysh is the author of five books of poetry, and he is also the director of the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing at Chicago State University where he is also an associate professor.   According to poet Renny Golden in the forward of Lansana’s latest poetry collection, bloodsoil (sooner red), 2009: “His voice, imagery, and spare lyricism are influenced by poets Lucille Clifton, Sterling Brown and Walt Whitman.”

Lansana’s other books include cockroach children: corner poems and street psalms (1995) and Southside Rain (2000) and They Shall Run (2004), a collection of poems based on the life of Harriet Tubman. He is the author of a children’s book, The Big World (1999), and co-editor of Dream of a Word: The Tia Chucha Press Poetry Anthology (2006) and Role Call: A Generational Anthology of Social and Political Black Literature and Art, published in 2002.  On October 29, Quraysh gave a hot reading to an audience of around 30 at the IUB, a bookstore on the Illinois campus.

While in Urbana-Champaign, Quraysh also visited the Native American House and gave a short reading from a work-in-progress about Oklahoma.  He is collaborating with two other Okies, uh-hum, poet and scholar Dean Rader, and me.  Dean is one of those superstar Okies, too.  He’s the author of four books.  He left Weatherford, Oklahoma years ago to find fame and fortune in Texas, New York, Texas again, and now California where he is an associate professor in English at the University of San Francisco.  I know, I know, we all left Oklahoma and wound up teaching in English departmentlands.  Anyway, check out Dean’s blog, The Weekly Rader, it’s savvy and smart, and from time to time a little Okie-ness slips in to his posts. (I like.)

The three of us are working on a book that includes personal poems about growing up in Oklahoma, essays, and historical accounts of our state, (frankly a place that was never meant to be what it became.)  As early as the late 1880s, statesmen and scoundrels alike were hoping to carve up the land every which way.  It’s no wonder why we’re all a little . . . . . . you fill in the blank.

Stay tuned for more reports on our progress and tribulations as we write this dang book.  (Here’s where you can mimic my Okie accent.)

Pictured here, left to right, are some of the people who attended Quraysh’s reading and talk at NAH last week.  AIS-host poet Quraysh Lansana

Kathy Perkins, (IL theater department and wonderwoman lighting expert), Louellyn White, (Mohawk). Lou and I ran into each other at a recent protest against, the Chief. Ask Lou about it.  She’s a post-doc at AIS this year.  Cheryl Cash and John Low are my friends.  John (Pokagon Band Potawatomi Indian Nation) is a visiting assistant professor this year at AIS.  John McKinn, (Maricopa) is the associate director of AIS.  (I keep asking Mckinn for a raise.)  Then, standing, Quraysh Lansana, and Geoff Summers, a creative writing major, fiction, at the University of Illinois.

We did take time for eating while Quraysh was in town.  Pictured below are my colleagues, creative writers David Wright, and Audrey Petty at Kofusion in downtown Champaign, IL.  (Quraysh is in the middle.)  Goodness knows we’re all foodies!

PS: Stay tuned for my next report on the Washington summit President Obama is hosting on November 5, with leaders of American Indian tribes; over 550 natives are invited to attend.  The first of its kind. (Well, not really, but watch for my report, anyway.)

Quraysh-D-A_1

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