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An Evening with Legends at IUPUI 

click to enlarge Amiri Baraka - SUBMITTED PHOTO

The Etheridge Knight Festival, in conjunction with the IUPUI English Department's Rufus & Louise Reiberg Reading Series, presents a one of a kind literary event on Tuesday, April 19: An Evening with the Legends. Four essential artists from the Black Arts Movement will take the stage: Amiri Baraka, Mari Evans, Haki Madhubuti and Sonia Sanchez, who come together to honor the late great Gwendolyn Brooks with a reading of their respective works.

The night will also include a pre-reading VIP reception, a video of poet Etheridge Knight, expressions in movement and dance, and an art exhibit showcasing the work of Joseph Holiday and his daughter Mijiza Yaa Soyini. Following the performance will be an autograph session with the artists where books will be available for purchase.

Baraka, Evans, Madhubuti and Sanchez were all active voices in the Civil Rights Movement and continue to be important figures for awareness and change within the African American community and beyond. While they have been brought to the stage this April for their poetry, all have written in other genres, including essays and plays. Each has fearlessly taken on rotating roles of activists, educators and artists, combating racism and prejudice in his or her own way and working to improve the lives of African-Americans and other minorities worldwide.

Evans is a Midwestern native and Indianapolis local who authors children's books and plays as well as poetry; she also actively works for prison reform. Poems like her anthologized "I am a Black Woman," published at the height of the Black Arts Movement, simultaneously celebrate African-American femininity and demonstrate the power that comes from surviving and thriving as a minority.

Sanchez, born in Birmingham, Alabama, in the geographic heart of the civil rights movement, has written over sixteen books of poetry and prose. She created and taught the first course that formally examined the work of black female writers as a literary body, a field that is now accepted as a mainstream course of study. Her 1985 book Homegirls and Handgrenades won the American Book Award, and she has lectured at hundreds of universities and read her work worldwide.

Madhubuti had the honor of engaging in a thirty-year friendship and mentorship with the late Gwendolyn Brooks, and recently published a book of poems inspired by that relationship. He founded Third World Press to publish the work of African-American writers such as Brooks, Baraka, and Evans in a time when those voices did not have a formal, in-print venue.

Baraka's pedigree is the most controversial, having written plays such as "Dutchman," that depict a white woman's seduction and murder of a young Black man, and "Arm Yrself or Harm Yrself," a work of protest against police brutality. One of his most provocative pieces is "Somebody Blew Up America," a poem that questions the foreknowledge of 9/11 that certain members of the political elite may have been privy to, and pushes its audience to examine the terrorism that exists in the homes, businesses, and history of our country before making accusations. The lines of this poem led to a verbal battle between Baraka and the governor of New Jersey, and a demand from detractors that he step down from his place as that state's Poet Laureate.

Etheridge Knight Jr. was another poet of the Black Arts Movement. His first book of verse was published while he was in prison. Poets such as Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks helped to shape his work, and his poems show a deep respect for the oral tradition of poetry, as they truly come to life when performed out loud.
It is fitting that these four artists come together for An Evening With The Legends, as Baraka, Madhubuti and Sanchez were directly involved with Knight's release from prison, and Evans is an advocate for restructuring the prison system.

Etheridge Knight, Inc. exists to uphold the arts for young people, at-risk youth, and the incarcerated. It organizes and sponsors events year-round.

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