A panel discussion at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville will mix literature and activism, history and art, politics and multiculturalism.
It also will give emeritus professor of English Eugene B. Redmond a chance to show off the new Eugene B. Redmond Collection and Learning Center in Lovejoy Library.
“I always knew I was giving my collection to SIUE, but I thought it was going to go down in the basement with all the other collections,” he said this week, laughing.
Instead, SIUE created a three-room center with exhibit, research and archival space open to the public. It houses thousands of poems, manuscripts, books, photos, letters, awards, posters, news clippings, magazines, fliers and other items that Redmond has created or collected over the years.
The center opened in October, allowing the 78-year-old poet, teacher and activist to finally clean out his Fairview Heights home.
“It’s a wonderful, wonderful gift that Dr. Redmond has given to us,” said Regina McBride, dean of Library and Information Services. “I’m personally committed to preserving the culture and history surrounding the university, and East St. Louis is part of that.”
Redmond grew up in East St. Louis and maintains close ties with the city and its residents. But he also has been a force in the national Black Arts Movement.
The panel discussion will feature four poets and thinkers discussing the Black Lives Matter movement at 2 p.m. Tuesday. All are members of the Eugene B. Redmond Writers Club, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary. Admission is free.
Panelists include poet and photojournalist Roscoe “Ros” Crenshaw; writer and retired social-services employee Charlois Lumpkin; activist, poet, spoken-word artist and motivational speaker Jaye P. Willis; and moderator Darlene Roy, a poet who has served as club president since the beginning.
“The Black Lives Matter movement, born out of the Trayvon Martin killing in Sanford, Florida, gained momentum after a rash of police killings of blacks in other U.S. cities, including New York, Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore, Chicago and elsewhere,” according to a press release.
You won’t believe this, but I have more than 50 firsts. Back in those days, if you went anywhere or did anything and you were black, you were a first at something. So much was closed.
Eugene B. Redmond on breaking barriers
“However, as panelists will demonstrate, the killings and subsequent movements have deep historical precedents and profound implications for present and future thinking (and action), especially regarding race, police-community relations, politics, education, the arts and other issues of civility and social justice.”
Redmond has had a long relationship with SIUE. He began attending the university in 1957, the year it opened, and served as first black editor of The Alestle student newspaper.
Redmond went on to earn a master’s degree at Washington University in St. Louis and received an honorary doctorate at SIUE. He has studied, taught, lectured, consulted and marched all over the United States and in Africa.
“You won’t believe this, but I have more than 50 firsts,” he said. “Back in those days, if you went anywhere or did anything and you were black, you were a first at something. So much was closed.”
Redmond stopped by the center earlier this week, wearing a gray sport coat with a coconut-shell necklace and one of his trademark “kufis” (African caps) made of Nigerian cloth.
Fabric from other hats — as well as T-shirts, vests and military uniforms — are part of a colorful quilt sewn by East St. Louis artist Edna Patterson-Petty to reflect his life experiences. It hangs at the center.
Glass cases contain items ranging from a tattered copy of Redmond’s first novel, “A Superb Obituary,” which he wrote in the 1950s while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps and never published; to a wooden plaque naming him Poet Laureate of East St. Louis in 1976.
Photos show him with writer Maya Angelou, dancer Katherine Dunham, singer James Brown and media mogul Oprah Winfrey.
Angelou threw a party at her New York home in 2011 to raise money for the center. Contributors included talk-show host Tavis Smiley, novelist Toni Morrison and late poet and playwright Amiri Baraka.
“We have approximately 150 photographs that Dr. Redmond has taken and given to SIUE,” McBride said. “My favorite is a picture of Maya Angelou and Sonia Sanchez. They’re facing each other, and they’re nose to nose, forehead to forehead. It’s very human and personal, and I can feel the power emanating from it.”
SIUE librarian Marlee Graser’s job is to organize the collection and make it more accessible and usable by researchers. She has processed about 15 percent of it.
Glaser, 28, has been most impressed by Redmond’s notebooks full of poems, handwritten in pencil with scribbled edits and margin notes. She also enjoyed reading the typed transcript of a 2006 interview he conducted with Angelou.
“It really speaks to their relationship,” Glaser said. “They were very close, and it was a symbiotic relationship. He spent a summer at her residence in Winston-Salem. It was almost like a writing residency.”
Redmond retired in 2007 after 17 years at SIUE. He also taught at Oberlin College in Ohio, California State University, Sacramento (with sabbatical stints at Lagos State University in Nigeria, Leiden University in the Netherlands and University of Wisconsin-Madison); Southern University and A&M College in Louisiana and Wayne State University in Detroit.
Redmond is perhaps best known among poets for inventing the “kwansaba” with help from fellow writers. It’s a poetic form with seven lines of seven words with each word containing no more than seven letters.
People who attend the panel discussion will hear examples. According to the press release, the kwansaba will be used to “illustrate the importance of verse — and literature generally — in creatively capturing, understanding, averting, redirecting and possibly treating social stress and violence.”
At a glance
- What: Black Lives Matter panel discussion
- Who: Eugene B. Redmond Writers Club, SIUE English Department, Black River Writers Press, Drumvoices Revue and East St. Louis Cultural Revival Campaign
- When: 2 p.m. Tuesday
- Where: Eugene B. Redmond Collection and Learning Center, Lovejoy Library, second floor, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
- Admission: Free
- Information: Call 618-650-3991 (or 618-650-5710 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. weekdays) or email firstname.lastname@example.org