Harry Ransom Center hosts Poetry on the Plaza to commemorate Black History Month

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Photo Credit: Nikita Sveshnikov | Daily Texan Staff

In honor of Black History Month, the Harry Ransom Center is showcasing black artistic achievements from the past and present. 

About thirty students and guests gathered outside the Center on Wednesday for Poetry on the Plaza, a poetry reading that brought historic and current writers of color into conversation. 

Roger Reeves, award-winning poet and associate English professor, and Stephanie Lang, writer and program administrator for the Warfield Center for African and African American Studies, recited their own work and pieces that have inspired them.

“It’s always good to read the poems that have made you,” Reeves said. 

 

On the HRC’s second floor, The Fugitive Findings collection brought archival materials of writers of color to light, including a James Baldwin letter to his editor and first-edition copies of material from Harriet Jacobs 

The poets at the event engaged with the struggles of the poets whose works sits behind the glass upstairs. Reeves pointed out that Paul Laurence Dunbar, whose first-edition work is featured in the collection, faced difficulties in the 1800s that are still concerns, as demonstrated by a review of Dunbar’s work in the Atlantic Monthly. 

“(The reviewer) spends half of the review commenting on how dark (Dunbar) is,” Reeves said. “You’d be surprised that hasn’t stopped. I can show you reviews that happened last year that comment on what the poet looks like, and therefore, this poetry must be authentic. We haven’t gotten that far away from the 19th century.”

The curators of the Fugitive Findings collection — Diana Leite, comparative literature graduate student, and Gaila Sims, American studies graduate student — said they hope students who visit their collection find not only inspiration but a spark for future inquiry.

“Black History Month is a really wonderful and fun time, but I think there’s something so special about seeing the physical objects that these authors created and sent away,” Sims said. “So that’s one of the most special parts of the (display) cases for me. But also we want students to feel interested in coming and doing their own research.” 

Their display will remain on view until March 29. 

The Center’s director Steve Enniss said the wealth of documents in the Center chronicles the cultural legacy of African Americans, and students would benefit from celebrating Black History Month here.

“We honor best those who have come before us, by remembering,” Ennis said in an email.