Poetry and the power of words took center stage on Wednesday night at the opening of Philly's 12th annual First Person Arts Festival.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison; Rita Dove, former poet laureate of the United States, and Philadelphia's own poet laureate, Sonia Sanchez, talked about their art form and the motivation for their writing before a packed house at Drexel University's Main Auditorium.
The three women sat on living room couches on a stage decorated with flowers, setting the scene for an informal conversation among the noted writers. The event was billed as "Conversation & Song: Walking the Laureate Road." Philadelphia native Ruth Naomi Floyd provided the "song" portion of the evening, singing soulful, sultry jazz performances in a deep soprano.
Sanchez, whom Scribe Video Center's Louie Massiah said "has made peace fashionable" through her poetry, acted as moderator for the hour-long conversation.
Their talk spanned topics such as the modern nature of rhetoric, the Black Arts Movement, and the quirks and hardships of leading a life full of words. Their tone was generally familial and lighthearted, the authors playing off of each others' jokes, even when discussing serious issues. When the topic turned to racial politics, Morrison said, "There are no races, just socially constructed power plays," garnering many murmurs of agreement from the audience.
Both Morrison and Dove noted a lack of literary characters who resembled themselves growing up, and cited that as a reason for first picking up the pen.
"I wanted to write the book I wanted to read," said Morrison.
As for her inspiration for her work Thomas and Beulah, Dove said, "It wrote me, I didn't write it."
The night ended with the authors fielding questions from audience members, whose laughs and cheers punctuated the conversation throughout the evening.
Sanchez is scheduled to appear at the festival again, on Nov. 14, alongside activist Angela Davis for an event titled "The Politics of Poetry."
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