The Asheville Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. held a virtual celebration of the National African American Read-In, a national event established by the National Council of Teachers of English in 1990, dedicated to diversity in literature and making literacy a significant part of Black History Month.
Since then, the event has reached more than six million participants. Dr. Jerrie Cobb Scott, the founder of the African American Read-In, stated that, “It is important for all of us to see ourselves in books.”
Poet A. Van Jordan, Professor in the Department of English Language & Literature at the University of Michigan, was the special guest. Dr. Jordan earned his MFA at Warren Wilson College, where he also taught. He has written five books of poetry.
Jordan’s poetry is influenced by music, film, race, history, and pop culture. He read from his books The Homesteader, The Cineaste, and Macnolia. Weaving together the voices of multiple speakers. The Homesteader follows Oscar Micheaux from a homesteader to becoming the most successful African American filmmaker of the 20th century.
Mr. Jordan also shared the story behind his book Macnolia. After reading about her in a newspaper article, he decided to tell her story in poetic form. In 1936 Macnolia Cox became the first African American finalist in the Scripps National Spelling Bee Competition. She was among the final five when the sponsors decided they did not want her to win. They gave her the word “nemesis,” which was not on the list. She misspelled it, and was prevented from winning. The precocious child who dreamed of becoming a doctor was changed irrevocably.
Through poetry, Jordan tells her story in a poignant nonlinear narrative, illustrating the power of a pivotal moment in life. When Mr. Jordan discovers an African American who is the first, he said, “I want to unearth that moment and shine some light on it. I think about those moments, how they happen, and how those moments repeat themselves.”
In addition to Jordan’s presentation, Nina Simone’s “Young, Gifted, and Black” was the prelude to participants sharing some of their favorite poetry. Amanda Gorman’s poem “In This Place” was superbly performed by Carol Goins, Tina Joyner, Jackie Simms, Deborah “Dee” James, Anita White-Carter, Amy Wiesner, and Georgia Shannon. “Ego Tripping” by Nikki Giovanni was presented by Nicole Cush, and Ms. Jacquelyn Hallum performed James Weldon Johnson’s “Judgement Day” from his book God’s Trombones,” before the event ended with the playing of “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.
Tiffany Iheanacho, President, said the Read-In will become an annual event during Black History Month. The virtual event can be viewed on the Asheville Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Facebook page.
Eula Shaw, Chair of the Arts and Letters Committee, remarked, “Poetry has always been one way of recording history. I love the tradition. Reading and reciting poems can be an exciting, fulfilling way to explore past events. Mr. Jordan’s poetry lets you see it, feel it, and hear it.”