Last Friday I went to the latest offering of Culture Shock, a most wonderful dance party put on semiannually by folks from UMass' Social Justice Program. They throw a great party while also communicating a heavy social message. This time the theme was Masquerade, in honor of Carnival, New Orleans, and Black History Month. "This is the month when we get to narrate the fucking story!" cried Julius from the stage. "Now, when I say go, I want to you all to yell out the name of a Black individual who has influenced you." We yelled. "Ok," he said, "now that we have gotten some spirits in the room, let's get on with it...."
The name I called out was Langston Hughes. There are plenty more current Black poets and writers who've inspired me (Patricia Smith's performance last year at Smith College was one, and hearing Tracie Morris do her "sound based poems" at Goddard in January was amazing), but Hughes was the first to influence me. The list of questions in "A Dream Deferred" are so potent, and challenge the reader more than simple statements would.
This past Martin Luther King Day, I was supposed to go to work. We didn't get it as a day off because they had "traded" it for the Friday after Thanksgiving so that we could have a long weekend. I did appreciate that long weekend, but it bothered me that Martin Luther King Day is forced to be the most flexible, the most disposable holiday. It would have been inconceivable to "trade" away President's Day. So, as my act of observance, I chose a poem by Hughes, "I , Too, Sing America," and put it on my desk by the front door for eveyone to see. I was glad, in a way, that I'd been challenged by the situation to mark the day in my own way, because if I had gotten the day off, as most people do, I would not have made so public a display of that poem.