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The 15th National Black Writers Conference To Discuss Art as Activism

Poet Jessica Care Moore and actor Adesola Osakalumi discuss the importance of the conference.

The Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College of CUNY will partner with Akila Worksongs for the 15th National Black Writers Conference, to start virtually on November 11, 2020 and run through Saturday, November 14, 2020, after being rescheduled from the spring due to COVID-19. 

This year’s theme is Activism, Identity and Race: Playwrights and Screenwriters at the Crossroads, highlighting how Black writers expand our understanding of the human condition, in America and worldwide.  

Among honored guests and panelists are Talib Kweli, Stanley Nelson, Carl Clay, Dominique Morisseau, Stanley Nelson, Voza Rivers and Richard Wesley.

Recently, the Shadow League got on the horn with actor, choreographer, and singer Adesola Osakalumi, who will moderate the panel on “The Playwright and Screenwriter as Activist”, which will also include Keith Josef Adkins, Ngozi Anyanwu (invited), Liza Jessie Peterson, and poet, singer and author Jessica Care Moore.

“The panel that I’m moderating, is a discussion with tastemakers and people who shape the dialect, who shape the discourse,” said Adesola, who starred in “Fela” on Broadway. “The theater, for the last few weeks, has been a great incubator for much of the talent that is making thought-provoking work that is not only entertaining, but it’s shifted the way a lot of people look at us as a people, how people view the arts, and how people view our culture.” 

The Shadow League: ”What role do you believe the Black arts movement will play in shaping the opinions of the current, as well as future generations? 

Adesola Osakalumi: “I think that is why we have begun a change in terms of representation, in terms of diversity. There’s been a call to arms holding systems to task for a lack of diversity. You see, in particular, playwrights now getting involved in writing television and writing films. Plays are immediate and tend to pass on or have to be remembered because you don’t see them recorded as much. Whereas on the television and film side those things are eternal.” 

TSL: The legacy of those Black things created today on television and film? 

AO: “Generations will see what the mindsets were, what the talking points of the day were, and what were the things that people were taking care of and wanting to discuss. Because, as you said, there are a lot of drastic changes, we see people resistant to let go of old approaches and old systems, and it is the arts and entertainment that has been really vocal in galvanizing people’s thoughts and enabling people to look at things confidently with a right and a voice to make these things different.” 

Jessica Care Moore, executive producer of Black WOMEN Rock! is a daughter of the Black arts movement, but she most certainly is much more. It seems like only yesterday she got a standing ovation at the Apollo Theater.

Today, she’s living the life of an activist artist — for reals though. 

“I’ve been doing this for years. Dr. Brenda M. Greene is my friend and I’ve always admired the work that she’s doing at Medgar Evers College,” Moore, told The Shadow League. “When I was living in New York, I was a member of the National Black Writers Conference. Since I’ve left New York, whenever they ask me to come, I’m there.”  

Dr. Greene, Executive Director, Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College

 

Black screenwriters and playwrights are changing the ‘master narratives’ in Black theater and film. In a culture that is driven and shaped by race, class, politics and the media, they are the documentarians, creative writers and artists who are providing a Black gaze and a critical lens from which to view the lives of Black people.

They are debunking stereotypes, uncovering assumptions and making visible what has been invisible and silenced. They are raising the consciousness of our nation by using their pens as instruments to critique the social and political climate in our nation. This conference will provide a way to create community conversations that will engage Black playwrights, screenwriters, literary professionals and the public, in discussions on new directions and the evolving narratives in Black film and theater.

Dr. Brenda M. Greene

 

TSL: Speak about the legacy of The National Black Writers Conference after 15 years, please.

Jessica Care Moore: “I’ve done readings there. I’ve been there with Sonia Sanchez, with Amiri Baraka, and countless poets I love and admire. Also, what I love about this conference is it is multi-generational. You have the contemporary poets but also the elders. You don’t always see the mix at other conferences. Dr. Green also does a great job of bringing poets who are more well known in the academic world, authors, and also performance artists. I’m also a daughter of Gil Scott Heron.”  

TSL: How does culture move us forward when oftentimes artists aren’t recognized as having legitimate political voices? 

JCM: “I am part of the culture that moves art forward. So, I know that doesn’t always translate to the politicians. People who are the activists, quite often, don’t always recognize us. We’re the ones who really have been on the frontlines for many years, just doing the work, being inside of schools. Artists as activists, I’m a Black arts movement baby.”  

“Art is not for art’s sake,” she continued. “Art is to change the world through the people. My voice has been a highly political one. The Governor of Michigan just appointment me to the Michigan Council of Arts and Culture. That’s something where government is recognizing the need for parity on these boards and putting Black artists in these spaces where previously they didn’t think it was necessary.  People try to blow off poets and writers, but let me tell you something, poets are very important because we are the voice connected to the community if we’re doing our job correctly.  Not all poets, but the ones out here doing the real work. We’ve always been on the frontline of this stuff.”  

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