Mari Evans 

An influential member of the 1960s Black Arts movement, which included Amiri Baraka, Gwendolyn Brooks, Nikki Giovanni and Etheridge Knight, Evans’ previous books include I Am a Black Woman, Nightstar and A Dark and Splendid Mass. She edited the first significant collection of black women’s poetry, the ground-breaking Black Women Writers (1950-1980). Evans has been a voice — and a force — writing, teaching and speaking out on a range of issues. Clarity as Concept collects essays she has written for a variety of publications over the years. A few excerpts follow.

On God, from “Family as Foundation”
I knew He heard me, but He remained silent. I kept on praying. God and I always had an on-going relationship; we still do. I knew I could depend on Him, that He would watch my back. He still does; I never feel like I’m tackling the world alone. So as I prayed I knew I just had to be cool. He would let me know when and how to move.

When I was 5 I knew that life was a game one played and that controlling the board or the pieces would be difficult. Nobody told me that, I just understood it. And I knew that the game board was about color and control, and nobody had ever said that to me, but I knew it. And at 5 I was neither subtle nor discreet.

Indianapolis, from “Where We Live”
For the span of my memory this has been a city of opposing wills, two faces firmly set toward different directions — one covertly determined to maintain the status quo, to continually block any access to power, or to parity; the other advocating an active morality and its right to inclusion as an equal entity rather than a colonized one. This has been a city of perpetual confrontation, however cloaked, between the powerless and those who influence, control, and engineer the city’s movement in its inexorable and often ruthless march toward “greatness,” a word for which my definition will hardly suffice.

The art of listening, from “How We Speak”
Listening is a special art. It is a fine art developed by practice. One hears the unexpressed as clearly as if it had been verbalized. One hears silence screaming in clarion tones. Ninety decibels. Hears tears, unshed, falling. Hears hunger gnawing at the back of spines; hears aching feet pushed past that one more step. Hears the repressed hurt of incest, hears the anguish of spousal abuse. Hears it all. Clearly, listening is a fine art. It can translate an obscure text into reality that walks, weeps and carries its own odor. Listening can decode a stranger’s eye and hear autobiography. Listening can watch a listless babe and understand the absence of future, the improbability, in fact, of possibility. Listening, more often than not, is a crushing experience.

Cultural offerings, cultural choices
No one taught me to be proud of myself, but every Sunday night my father came to my room and asked for my shoes, and every Sunday morning I would find them outside my door, blindingly white or brilliantly polished depending on the season. I wore three braids, not cornrows, spent what seemed to me too much precious time standing still while the right twist was given to my ribbons, and learned to put one foot out front when posing for snapshots. The camera never clicked until the foot was right, and I, sensing the insouciance of the pose, decoded that message along with others my environment provided. All of them spoke to me of myself and wrapped me in a cultural ambiance that sang of excellence and love. They were, for me, part of an eclectic way of experiencing the world. Cultural offerings, cultural choices.

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David Hoppe

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