2017 National Black Writers Conference Biennial Symposium

“Our Miss Brooks: A Centennial Celebration”

Saturday, March 25, 2017; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Medgar Evers College, CUNY; Founders Auditorium

1650 Bedford Ave.

Brooklyn, NY 11225


Soré Agbaje is a 21-year-old, Nigerian-American poet. Agbaje is a 2016 Urban Word Alumni Fellow, 2015 Cambridge Writer’s Fellowship recipient, a Scholastic Silver Key Art and Writing recipient, and the 2014–2015 NYC Poet Ambassador. She is a member of the United Nation’s NGO and artist initiative “I Sell the Shadow.” Agbaje has been blessed to perform in spaces such as the United Nations, Columbia University, New York University, Lincoln Center, the Queens Museum, Apollo Theatre, New York Live Arts, and more.  Her poetry has been featured on Russell Simmons’ All Def Poetry for National Poetry Month, For Harriet, and more. She has worked with BuildOn, a nonprofit organization that runs youth service afterschool programs; and a workshop on violence against women for the Commission on the Status of Women conference. She has brought her message of social change to world leaders such as Graca Machel Mandela and former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Gordon Brown. This past May, Agbaje was commissioned to perform poetry and teach social justice/global development-based workshops in Denmark for the Women Deliver Conference. Agbaje is also a playwright who has performed her self-written, one-woman show, “Bringing Back My Girl,” Off Broadway. Her latest play, “Countdown,” was put up by the Wild Project through the theater program Conscious Language.


Herb Boyd likes to define himself as a triple-A man—activist, author, and academic. As an author, he has written numerous books but he is also a prolific journalist and his articles have appeared in such publications as the New York Amsterdam News, the Final Call, Essence, Our Time Press, and The Network Journal. In 1995, with coeditor Robert Allen, Boyd received the American Book Award for Brotherman: The Odyssey of Black Men in America.  With Haki Madhubuti, he was one of four editors of By Any Means Necessary—Malcolm X Real, Not Reinvented, and he also coedited The Diary of Malcolm X, with Malcolm’s daughter Ilyasah Shabazz, and both books were published by Third World Press. A noted authority on Black studies, Boyd has taught for nearly 50 years at institutions of higher learning, and currently is an adjunct professor at City College of New York in Harlem where he lives. We should add that Boyd’s latest book is Black Detroit—A People’s History of Self-Determination, published by Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins, and is slated for release in June.


Cheryl Clarke is the author of five books of poetry: Narratives: poems in the tradition of black women (1982; digitized, 2014); Living as a Lesbian (1986/2014), Humid Pitch (1989), Experimental Love (1993), and By My Precise Haircut (2016), available from The Word Works Press. With Steven G. Fullwood, she coedited To Be Left with the Body (2008), one of a series of communal works for Black gay and bisexual men produced by AIDS Project/LA. She served as an editor of Conditions (1981–1990), a feminist journal of writing with an emphasis on writing by lesbians. Since 1979, her writing has appeared in many publications, among them the iconic This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (eds. Anzaldua and Moraga, 1982) and Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology (ed. Smith, 1984). She recently presented with writer Alexis De Veaux at the conference “Black Portraiture[s] III: Strains of Histories and Cultures,” held in Johannesburg, South Africa, November 17–19, 2016. Clarke’s poetry will appear in the forthcoming anthology Reading Queer: Poetry in a Time of Chaos.


Shirley V. H. Cooper was born in Kingston, Jamaica, to Violet A. Huggupp and Oscar B. White. Those two last names were melded together by Shirley’s mother when, in 1946, she migrated to America.  Cooper graduated from Franklin K. Lane HS and attended Brooklyn College for two years in the 1950s before she pursued her dream of working for the airlines.  She became one of the few African-American women to work for American Airlines as a stewardess.  Leaving American, she went to work for Pan Am and moved through the ranks from reservation clerk to assistant director for Charter Marketing until Pan Am was dissolved. Cooper traveled around the world twice in the 1960s and ’70s. Although retired, she’s now enjoying giving her time to her church.


Angela Jackson is a poet, playwright, and novelist. In 2017, her novels Roads, Where There Are No Roads (Northwestern University Press) and A Surprised Queenhood in the New Black Sun: The Life and Legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks (Beacon Press) will be published. Winner of the Shelley Memorial Award of the Poetry Society of America, she was also awarded two American Book Awards: one for poetry, Solo in the Boxcar Third Floor E (1985), and one for fiction, Where I Must Go (2009). Jackson was also awarded a Pushcart Prize in 1989. Jackson’s books And All These Roads Be Luminous: Poems Selected and New (Northwestern University Press, 1998) was nominated for the National Book Award and It Seems Like a Mighty Long Time (Northwestern University Press, 2015) was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and the Pen Open Book Award.


Quraysh Ali Lansana is author of eight poetry books, three textbooks, three children’s books; editor of eight anthologies; and coauthor of a book of pedagogy. He is a faculty member of the Writing Program of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a former faculty member of the Drama Division of The Juilliard School. Lansana served as director of the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing at Chicago State University from 2002 to 2011, where he was also associate professor of English/creative writing until 2014. Our Difficult Sunlight: A Guide to Poetry, Literacy & Social Justice in Classroom & Community (with Georgia A. Popoff) was published in March 2011 by Teachers & Writers Collaborative and was a 2012 NAACP Image Award nominee. His most recent books include The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip Hop w/Kevin Coval and Nate Marshall (Haymarket Books, 2015) and The Walmart Republic w/ Christopher Stewart (Mongrel Empire Press, 2014). Forthcoming titles include: A Gift from Greensboro (Penny Candy Books); Clara Luper: The Woman Who Rallied the Children w/Julie Dill (Oklahoma Hall of Fame Press, 2017); Revise the Psalm: Work Celebrating the Writings of Gwendolyn Brooks w/Sandra Jackson-Opoku (Curbside Splendor, 2017); and The Whiskey of Our Discontent: Gwendolyn Brooks As Conscience and Change Agent w/Georgia A. Popoff (Haymarket Books, 2017).


Dr. Haki R. Madhubuti is an award-winning poet, essayist, educator, founder, and publisher of Third World Press. He is the author of more than 30 books of poetry and nonfiction including YellowBlack: The First Twenty-One Years of a Poet’s Life; Liberation Narratives: New and Collected Poems 1967–2009; Honoring Genius, Gwendolyn Brooks: The Narrative of Craft, Art, Kindness and Justice; and the best-selling Black Men: Obsolete, Single, Dangerous? The African American Family in Transition. A longtime community activist and institution builder, Dr. Madhubuti is a cofounder of the Institute of Positive Education and the cofounder of four schools in Chicago. He retired in 2011 after a distinguished teaching career that included Chicago State University and DePaul University, where he served as the Ida B. Wells-Barnett University Professor. Dr. Madhubuti’s most recent books are Honoring Genius, Gwendolyn Brooks: The Narrative of Craft, Art, Kindness and Justice and Taking Bullets: Terrorism and Black Life in Twenty-First Century America. 


Marilyn Nelson is the author or translator of 17 poetry books including Faster Than Light: New and Selected Poems, 1996-2011 (LSU Press, 2012) and the memoir How I Discovered Poetry (Dial Books, 2014). She is also the author of The Fields of Praise: New and Selected Poems (LSU Press, 1997), which won the 1998 Poets’ Prize; Carver: A Life in Poems (Front Street imprint of Boyds Mills Press, 2001), which won the 2001 Boston Globe/Hornbook Award and the Flora Stieglitz Straus Award; and Fortune’s Bones (Front Street, 2004), which was a Coretta Scott King Honor Book and won the Lion and the Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Poetry. Nelson’s honors include two NEA creative writing fellowships, the 1990 Connecticut Arts Award, a Fulbright Teaching Fellowship, a fellowship from the J.S. Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the Frost Medal. She was the Poet Laureate of the State of Connecticut from 2001 to 2006.


Rebecca Plunkett is a retired certified childbirth educator, a former certified nurse midwife, and a registered nurse. Her career spans more than 40 years. She was educated in Jamaica, England, and the United States. She writes short stories, poems, and essays. Her hobbies are reading, gardening, traveling, crocheting and knitting, and attending the many cultural events and venues New York City has to offer.


While residing in Brooklyn, New York, Kesed Ragin has gained the reputation of being a true wordsmith, a charismatic speaker, and exemplary thinker of his time. In 2005, Ragin earned a spot on The Urban Word NYC Youth Slam team and took first place at the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Festival. One year later, Ragin went on to earn a slot on the world-renowned Nuyorican Poets Café Slam Team in 2006, and then the Urbana Slam Team two years later. In 2008’s National Poetry Competition, Ragin won the 2008 Group Piece Finals with a poem titled “N1663R.” During the past few years, Ragin has conducted successful writing workshops throughout the inner city and has performed with the likes of Abiodun Oyewole (of The Last Poets), Grammy Award-winning group Arrested Development, Saul Williams, numerous Russell Simmons’ Def Poets, Dead Prez, and many more. Ragin has been seen on NY1 News, ESPN, HBO, NBA Channel, Africa Channel, Sundance Channel, Fox 5 News, Brooklyn 12 News, featured in a K-Swiss online campaign, “Law & Order,” and the Sprite “Spark” commercial for the 2010 Slam Dunk Contest. He has also traveled internationally, including places such as London, Jamaica, Bermuda, Canada, Mexico, and Africa doing spoken word. Activist by birth and performer by nature, Ragin continues to show life through creative expression and meditation, changing the world one poem at a time.


Born in St. Thomas, U.S.V.I., and raised in Apopka, Florida, Nicole Sealey is the author of Ordinary Beast, forthcoming from Ecco in Fall 2017, and The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named (Northwestern University Press, 2016), winner of the 2015 Drinking Gourd Chapbook Poetry Prize. Her other honors include an Elizabeth George Foundation Grant, the Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize from The American Poetry Review, a Daniel Varoujan Award, and the Poetry International Prize, as well as fellowships from CantoMundo, Cave Canem, MacDowell Colony, and the Poetry Project. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker and elsewhere. Sealey holds an MLA in Africana Studies from the University of South Florida and an MFA in creative writing from New York University. She is the executive director at Cave Canem Foundation.


Kel Spencer is a well-rounded figure in entertainment, education, business, and the community. His pen has garnered Grammy, Soul Train, and MTV Video Music Award nominations, as well as won an American Music Award. Working on chart topic projects with corporate tie-ins has allowed Spencer to grow a unique perspective on writing, branding, and cultural awareness. This perspective has also prompted his Pens of Power youth program in schools in New York City. As a New York City high school all-star, Spencer (while attending Morgan State University) set aside football for his desires in education, entertainment, and entrepreneurship. While new projects (including music, film, and adjunct professorship) are on the horizon, Spencer continues to blaze an artistic trail toward future mogul status.


Presentation of Papers

Black Poetics and Black Protest in the Writing of Gwendolyn Brooks (Sponsored by the College Language Association)

The College Language Association, founded in 1937 by a group of Black scholars and educators, is an organization of college teachers of English and foreign languages that serves the academic, scholarly, and professional interests of its members and the collegiate communities they represent. Thabiti Lewis is associate professor of English at Washington State University Vancouver; he teaches contemporary American literature, specializing in multicultural literature and Black American literature. He is author of Ballers of the New School: Race and Sports in America (Third World Press, 2010), Conversations with Toni Cade Bambara (University Press of Mississippi, 2012) and editor of the forthcoming collection Chicago and the Black Arts Movement from Northwestern University Press.



Kameelah L. Martin is associate professor of African American Literature at Savannah State University. She is the author of two monographs, Conjuring Moments in African American Literature: Women, Spirit Work, & Other Such Hoodoo (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) and Envisioning Black Feminist Voodoo Aesthetics: African Spirituality in American Cinema (Lexington Books, 2016).





Lillian-Yvonne Bertram is a 2014 recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Poetry fellowship. Her most recent book, Personal Science, is forthcoming from Tupelo Press in 2017. Her first book, But a Storm Is Blowing from Paradise (Red Hen Press, 2012), was selected by Claudia Rankine as the 2010 Benjamin Saltman Award winner and was a 2013 poetry nominee for the Hurston/Wright Foundation Legacy Award for Outstanding Works of Literature Published by People of African Descent. Her second book, A Slice from the Cake Made of Air, is forthcoming from Red Hen Press. Winner of the 2012 Phantom Limb Press Chapbook Contest, her chapbook Cutthroat Glamours was published in 2013. She is one-sixth of the poetry collective Line Assembly. She has been in residence at the Vermont Studio Center, the Montana Artists’ Refuge, has received fellowships from Cave Canem and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and is the recipient of a United States Embassy Grant for a writing residency at the International Ventspils Writers’ and Translators’ House in Ventspils, Latvia, in 2014. The 2009-2011 Gaius Charles Bolin Fellow at Williams College, her poetry, prose, photography, and digital stories have received numerous awards and have appeared widely in journals such as Black Warrior Review, Callaloo, Cream City Review, Court Green, Diagram, Gulf Coast, Harvard Review, Indiana Review, Jubilat, Mid-American Review, Narrative Magazine, Oh No, Subtropics, Sou’Wester, Tupelo Quarterly, Twelfth House, and more. She holds degrees in creative writing from the University of Utah, where she is the current managing editor of Quarterly West; the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and Carnegie Mellon University. She was a predoctoral diversity fellow at Ithaca College and the Viebranz Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at St. Lawrence University for 2015–2016. She is currently an assistant professor of creative writing in the MFA program at University of Massachusetts Boston.


Eve Dunbar is an associate professor of English at Vassar College (Poughkeepsie, New York). Dunbar is the author of Black Regions of the Imagination: African American Writers Between the Nation and the World (Temple University Press, 2012) and is currently at work on a manuscript tentatively titled “Monstrous Work: African American Women Writing Life and Labor Beyond Sovereignty,” which explores the writings of Zora Neale Hurston, Dorothy West, Ann Petry, and Gwendolyn Brooks.




Jennifer D. Williams is an assistant professor of English and Women’s and Gender Studies at Morgan State University. Her research focuses on the interrelationships between gender, sexuality, race, and class, particularly as they intersect with urban geographies and cultural memory. Her book project Intimate Cities: Black Women’s Urban Literature After WWII addresses these overlapping issues. Her recent article “Black American Girls in Paris: Sex, Race, and Cosmopolitan Desire in Andrea Lee’s Sarah Phillips and Shay Youngblood’s Black Girl in Paris” is published in Contemporary Women’s Writing journal.





Jerome Jordan, born and raised in Brooklyn, started singing at the age of four. When he was five years old he began to play the drums. At the age of 10, he picked up the violin and the viola, while in junior high school. Around this time, he also began to play keyboards. Upon discovering the guitar at the age of 13, Jordan, found the instrument that would complement his singing and on-stage antics. While growing up, ’70s soul and rock and ’80s new wave, punk and hip-hop were his inspiration information. In the mid- to late 1990s, Jordan began to take New York City by storm, playing and singing in such New York powerhouse groups as Funkface, Tamar-Kali, Maya, The Screaming Headless Torsos/Strawberry Acid Lab featuring guitar wizard David “Fuze” Fuizcinscy, Rha Goddess, Lisala, Abbey Dobson, Shelley Nicole, N’Dea Davenport, and with jazz cellist Nioka Workman’s Ebon’s Jam. Jordan also played and sang with Columbia recording artist Jeni Fujita, Island/Def Jam/American recording artist Saul Williams, Sony Independiente recording artist D.J. Punk Rock and Jive recording artist Mystikal. He has played guitar on recordings for Mary J. Blige, Brand New Heavies, Soul II Soul, Cleopatra, Big Pun, Ginuwine, Mark Morrison, The Wu Tang Clan, Conner Reeve, Hinda Hicks, and the list continues.


Grand Prize winner of the 2008 Jazzmobile Vocal Competition, Queen Esther continues to perform internationally with her mentor harmelodic guitarist James “Blood” Ulmer in various projects, including his iconic free jazz group Odyssey, as she forges her own sonic path with her jazz collective and her Black Americana outfit The Blue Crowns. Released in 2015, her critically acclaimed album “The Other Side” —“…the most exciting Afro-Americana album of the year.” (Paste Magazine) —is garnering airplay worldwide. Recent performance highlights include: Under The Cherry Parade in a Day (You Sexy MF): Burnt Sugar Arkestra Freaks Prince’s Post Purple Rain Songbook at The David Rubenstein Atrium/Lincoln Center; Hot Jazz Age: From the First Jazz Recording to the Dawn of Swing at Dizzy’s/Lincoln Center; the after-party for Jason and Alicia Hall Moran’s “Forever Gershwin” at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.; and the 11th Biannual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island.


Haitian-born, Brooklyn resident, and musical artist Val Jeanty blends vodou samples, chants, and inspirations with profoundly contemporary electronica to create a music that is both deeply rooted in Haitian cultural traditions and thrilling in its freshness. Electronic music composer/percussionist/turntablist, Jeanty evokes the musical esoteric realms of the creative subconscious. She incorporates her African Haitian musical traditions into the present and beyond, combining acoustics with electronics and the archaic with the post-modern. Her “Afro-Electronica” installations have been showcased in New York City at the Whitney Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Village Vanguard; and internationally at SaalFelden Music Festival in Austria, Stanser Musiktage in Switzerland, Jazz à la Villette in France, and the Biennale Di Venezia Museum in Italy.


Queen God Is (pronounced kween-god-iz) is an international poet, MC, artistic director, and performance art therapist whose work serves a host of communities seeking transformation through art. With a holistic approach to content and development, her interdisciplinary work engages intergenerational audiences in dialogue and activism that extend beyond the page and stage. Inspired by the challenges and triumphs of her own creative process, Queen founded QGUniversity in 2001, an International, Traveling School of Healing Arts and Creative Activism.  Her creative and facilitation processes have been documented by MTV Radio, NPR, BBC, WBAI, MSG Network, Channel 13’s  “Many Voices” and the HBO documentary series Brave New Voices  to name a few.