Mari Evans panel celebrates the life of the famous writer

Mari Evans (courtesy of the Indianapolis Recorder)

What is the best way to honor a legendary writer nearly a year after she has passed away? How about a forum with her closest friends and colleagues?

Emory Libraries recently hosted a poetry reading and panel discussion honoring Mari Evans, who was a poet, writer, dramatist, and a key figure in the Black Arts Movement. Nearly 100 people attended the event, which was held in the Jones Room in the Woodruff Library.

Although Evans passed away on March 11, 2017, at age 97, her memory was alive and well at this unique event.

Organized by Charmaine Bonner, the visiting archivist for African American collections at Emory University, the event provided a sampling of Mari Evans’ work and a scholarly discussion of her lasting impact from a personal perspective.

One of the pieces in Emory Libraries’ Mari Evans exhibit, curated by Christell Victoria Roach and Charmaine Bonner.

Each member of the three-person panel was not only a friend of Mari Evans, but also a colleague in some professional capacity.

Dr. Joanne Gabbin, professor of English at James Madison University who founded the Furious Flower Poetry Center, worked with Mari for decades.

Dr. Bettye Parker Smith, a retired provost emeritus at Tougaloo College and writer of African-American history and culture, worked with Mari as a fellow writer.

Dr. Althea Tait, assistant professor of English and African-American studies at the College of Brockport, got to know Mari toward the end of her life as both a friend and colleague.

Dr. Opal Moore, an active writer and retired professor of literature and creative writing from Spelman College, moderated the panel discussion. Former director of the Rose Library, Rosemary Magee, opened the event.

Christell Roach, an Emory PhD student in literature and creative writing and editor-in-chief of Black Star Magazine, read poetry she created for the event and introduced students from Emory and Spelman who read Mari Evans poetry.

There were also remarks by Dr. Gregory C. Ellison II, an associate professor in Emory’s Candler School of Theology, who considered Mari Evans as a grandmother figure, and by Mari Evans’ actual grandson, Eric.

“I have always been inspired by her writings,” said Bonner, “especially the way she empowered black women. She worked so hard as an advocate and activist for those who lacked a voice, such as children or those in the prison system. She accomplished all of these things while raising her family alone.”

The event was co-sponsored by the Stuart A. Rose Library, the Emory Creative Writing Department, the Emory English Department, the James Weldon Johnson Institute, and Fearless Dialogues, a non-profit organization affiliated with Dr. Ellison.

Evans’ collection of papers is held in the Rose Library.


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