A MESSAGE from DR. BRENDA M. GREENE
Thank you for participating in the virtual 15th National Black Writers Conference (NBWC2020): Activism, Identity and Race: Playwrights and Screenwriters at the Crossroads, an historic gathering, presented by the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College, CUNY. Your presence as writers, scholars, performance artists, faculty, students, and lovers of literature, theater and film helped us to realize the dream of the late novelist and literary activist John Oliver Killens, founder of the National Black Writers Conference at Medgar Evers College in 1986. Killens had a dream to bring Black writers together each year to discuss the state of Black literature.
We’ve expanded that dream by remembering and honoring our iconic literary writers, artists, scholars, and institution builders at our biennial conferences and symposia. We paid tribute to Chadwick Boseman and Toni Morrison at the 15th NBWC, and we presented Carl Clay, Dominique Morisseau, Stanley Nelson, Voza Rivers, and Richard Wesley with National Black Writers Awards in theater and film.
Langston Hughes wrote: “Hold fast to dreams for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.” Today, more than ever, in the midst of a pandemic, in a world of social unrest, and in a society that attacks our democracy, we need to hold on to our dreams. I was reminded of our dreamers as Chief Baba Neil Clarke opened our Awards and Tribute program with libations and called out the names of the literary writers, artists, and scholars who have transitioned. I was also reminded of the importance of saying their names aloud so that they could be remembered.
Our pre-Conference programs featuring challenges of women playwrights, a discussion of the film The Hate U Give, and Black writers on activism laid the foundation for a magnificent and glorious four days of distinguished writers, scholars and performance artists. Beginning with the Opening Keynote, For the Culture with Talib Kweli and jessica CARE moore, we continued with scholarly panels on the Conference theme of activism, race and identity in Black film and theater. Our Dr. Edith Rock Workshop presentation by our elders provided us with home remedies that represented all aspects of Black culture. On Friday, we opened with a Town Hall and an insightful discussion on the role of the media, critics, and reviewers of Black plays and film. We continued on Friday and Saturday with roundtables on the impact of hip-hop and popular culture on Black plays and screenwriting, the value of telling our own complex stories, defying stereotypes in Black films and plays, writing plays and films from the Black gaze, the playwright and screenwriter as activist, and the current state of Black theater and film. Spoken word artists, our modern-day griots, participated in a poetry slam and poetry café. And our Keynote Summit with Woodie King Jr., Stanley Nelson, Voza Rivers, and Ngozi Anyanwu was one of the great highlights of the Conference.
The guest speakers of the 15th National Black Writers Conference: Activism, Identify and Race left us with many maxims that will guide us as we continue to hold fast to our dreams and to do the good work of writing and telling the many faceted and complicated stories of Black people throughout the African diaspora. A few of them are noted below:
- Lest we forget. Remember our ancestors and build upon their legacy.
- Writing has the power to heal, liberate, and transform our lives. Create counter-narratives that represent the complexity of the Black experience throughout the African diaspora.
- Race is an important part of the American landscape. Create narratives from the Black gaze and protect the integrity of the Black gaze.
- Cultures don’t survive without art. Create art that feeds the spirit and celebrates the life of Black America by designing strategies for survival and prosperity.
- Engage in intergenerational conversations that respect, support, and chart the paths for Black playwrights and screenwriters.
- Safeguard and continue to strengthen our cultural institutions. Black theater and film have survived because of the determination of our institutional builders to persist, despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
- Support our writers, artists, and cultural workers. Buy their books and attend their readings and performances.
- Dream a world and hold fast to your dreams.
Excerpts from selected panels, roundtables, and discussions of our Conference are on the Center for Black Literature YouTube page at here
Though NBWC2020 is complete, we have more programs ahead of us. Consider attending our upcoming Center for Black Literature events. Details are coming soon:
- Wild Seeds Writers Seminar and Talkshops (Saturday, January 9, 2021)
- Winter Wild Seeds Writers Retreat (Thursday, February 18 to Sunday, February 21, 2021)
- NBWC 2021 Symposium. A Tribute to Paule Marshall (Saturday, March 27, 2021)
Thank you once again. It takes a village to host a Conference and the village has worked tirelessly to bring this Conference to you. I thank the Center for Black Literature (CBL) staff; our presenting partner, AKILA WORKSONGS; our NBWC steering committee members; our CBL Advisory Board; and our program sponsors, partners, and media friends. I also thank the Office of NYC Council Majority Leader Laurie A. Cumbo, the Office of NYC Council Member Inez Barron, the CUNY Office of Academic Affairs, Con Edison, the Office of Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams, the Amazon Literary Partnership, and BK Reader for their sponsorship of this Conference.
Lastly, I encourage you to support the programs of the Center by making a donation via the Center for Black Literature’s website. No amount is too small. Go to Donate to make a tax-deductible donation today.
Stay safe, be well, and think about how you can be a force in charting the way forward.
Brenda M. Greene
Founder and Executive Director
Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College, CUNY