Write Now gets it right now

Seminars: In its third year, Coppin literary conference draws crowds.

March 15, 2002|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN STAFF

we had to hip

cool-cool/ super-cool/ real cool

that

to be black

is

to be very hot.

-- Haki Madhubuti, writing as Don L. Lee

Lucille Clifton's dictum that "the proper subject matter for poetry is life" could be the watchword of Write Now 3, the third annual African-American Literary Experience conference beginning today at Coppin State College.

Clifton and Haki Madhubuti, both self-taught poets who have achieved national -- and international -- renown, exemplify the reach of the potpourri of literary endeavors under way at the conference.

Clifton, now Distinguished Professor of Humanities at St. Mary's College of Maryland, won the National Book Award with her poetry collection, Blessing the Boats.

And about 35 years ago, Madhubuti turned a mimeograph machine and $400 into Third World Press, which began publishing such poets as Gwendolyn Brooks, Amari Baraka, Sonia Sanchez and about 23 books by Madhubuti himself. Now, Third World Press is "the oldest continuously operating black publisher in the country," according to Black Issues magazine.

Both poets will be honored at noon tomorrow with the conference's Literacy Legacy Award. Clifton, a three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee and former Maryland poet laureate, will read from her work. Madhubuti, who was mentored by the much-revered Brooks, will present a poetry workshop for the first 20 or so writers who sign up. All told, there will be about four dozen workshops, panels and performances spread over two days.

Write Now was started three years ago by Robin Green-Carey, owner of Sibanye, an Afrocentric bookstore at 4043 W. Rogers Ave., and by Ann Cobb, a professor in the humanities department at Coppin. They thought the conference fit into the college's mission of involvement with the urban community. (Coppin is at 2500 W. North Ave., and most events will be held in the Tawes Center.)

"This conference draws so many people from the Coppin community," Cobb says, by which she means more or less the entire city. "We get them to the campus and they participate."

The conference was popular in its first year, and keeps growing. Last year, well-attended workshops on scriptwriting, genealogy and self-publishing were allotted just 90 minutes, and participants complained they weren't long enough. "We needed the classrooms for the next session, so we had to evict them," Green-Carey says. "So they all went out into the hallway and carried on."

So this year, the sessions were extended to at least three hours.

The conference begins today with a scriptwriting workshop led by Toni Lee, an independent filmmaker from Atlanta. The workshop will last all day, by popular demand.

"Last year we did this, but only for three hours," Green-Carey says. "And the attendees complained long and loud: `It was not enough time. We need a full day.'"

The workshops cover topics as diverse as "Da Dream Team," which will be conducted by hip-hop artists, and "Contemplative Voices" conducted by the Rev. Elaine Sykes from the Coppin humanities department. Another session, "Philosophy as Revealed Through Literature," will explore issues raised by Sartre, Kafka and Voltaire.

The presenters also range from teen-agers to octogenarians.

Brother and sister Donovan and Sierra Myers, both 15 years old, have jointly published a book of poems. (Sierra wrote it, Donovan illustrated it.) They'll lead another discussion of hip-hop -- "Hip Hop Nation: Youthful Voices."

And DeWilda Hairston, an 81-year-old author who has written of her grandfather's life in slavery, will assist with the genealogy workshop conducted by Vivian Rigby, a Kansas City writer who has traced her heritage back to Africa.

"That's what's so phenomenal," say Green-Carey. "You've got from the high school student to their great-grandparents telling their stories. It's not just limited to hot young authors. It's something for everyone."

There's even a Dreams Realized workshop for people who have only dreamed of writing a book."You don't think about writing a book," Green-Carey says. "You write it! Writing is an active sport, not a spectator sport."

It ends at 5:30 p.m. tomorrow with a jazz cafe and Poetry Slamma Jamma in the Tawes Center. Twenty poets will have three minutes each to read their stuff. There will be cash prizes, and the winner's work will be featured on the Web site of Black Words Publishing Co.

"It's great fun," says Cobb.

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