Honoring Toni Morrison and Vermont’s Black Poets

 “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”

-Toni Morrison

Saturday September 21 at 7pm, Goddard College will host The Salutation!, the culminating event of the We Do Language Symposium, which has been happening at various locations throughout the state from September 15 to September 21.  This symposium was organized by Toussaint St. Negritude as a “statewide opportunity for Vermont artists of African descent to collectively bear witness to the excellence of our own humanity, and the indomitable sanctuary of our spirits, as is so brilliantly reflected through the works of Toni Morrison.”

Saturday’s free event will feature readings from poet Major Jackson, Rajnii Eddins, and Reuben Jackson, as well as a performance from the Afrofuturist jazz duo Jaguar Stereo, as well as a roundtable discussion about the influence of Toni Morrison and the role of art and literature in mitigating racism and inspiring change.

Reuben Jackson [Photo by Stephanie Seguino]

Reuben Jackson, who is well known to many Vermonters as the former host of Friday Night Jazz on VPR, graduated from Goddard in 1978 and served on the faculty from 2010 to 2011. A jazz scholar and music critic, Reuben has served as the curator of the Smithsonian’s Duke Ellington collection and has written reviews for  The Washington Post, Washington City Paper, Jazz Times, Jazziz, and on National Public Radio. His book Scattered Clouds: New and Selected Poetry will be released by Alan Squire Publishing on October 1.

Major Jackson is the author of four books of poetry, including Roll Deep (2015), Holding Company (2010), Hoops (2006) and Leaving Saturn (2002), which won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize for a first book of poems.  A recipient of the Pushcart Prize, Whiting Writer’s Award, and numerous other honors, Jackson is the Richard Dennis Green and Gold University Distinguished Professor at the University of Vermont, and serves as the Poetry Editor of The Harvard Review.

Poet and spoken word artist Rajnii Eddins, whose book “Their Names Are Mine” was released earlier this year, and Jaguar Stereo, the Afrofuturist collaborative project of bass clarinetist and poet Toussaint St. Negritude and bassist Gahlord Dewald, are active throughout the state of Vermont and both performed at the Haybarn Theater in May as part of the Unsilent: Political Poetics event.

Jaguar Stereo: Toussaint St. Negritude and Gahlord Dewald

Serving as both a tribute to Toni Morrison and a celebration of Vermont’s black community, this symposium is intended to hold space, to act as a meeting place as much as a presentation.  Other events in the symposium have included a “Voices of Color” reading at the Light Club Lamp Shop in Burlington, roundtable discussions around black health and black speech at the North Branch Café in Montpelier, a film screening at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library and an evening of jazz, poetry, and experimental music at Community of Sound in Burlington. 

All of these events have featured conversation highlighting the vibrancy and diversity in Vermont as well as the racism and prejudice that continues to marginalize it.  St. Negritude says:

“Following Toni Morisson’s example of unerringly, unbudgingly speaking in her own voice from her own black perspective, I deliberately organized this myself, with a determination to put this symposium together with as little of the “white gaze” as possible, which meant no funding, no other help. 

Beyond performance, I really want the symposium to be about dialogue.  Especially in terms of racial conversation, for Vermonters and particularly for white Vermonters.  Because I think that there is already too comfortable a position among white people here in terms of saying, “Okay, you’re the black person who is enduring all this.  Oh I’m with you, I’m down with you, but I’m going to sit here with my arms folded and let you do the work and I’ll listen to you talk about it.”  That does not work.  It’s never worked. 

It can be uncomfortable for people, I understand that. But we’ve got to talk.”

Not only does this event feature the words of Toni Morrison, Major Jackson, Rajnii Eddins, Reuben Jackson and Toussaint St. Negritude—the ways that they “do language”—it offers a space for all of us to do language together, to speak, to listen, and to get to know each other.

We’ve got to talk.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s