Oct. 7, 2003

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Contact: Barbara Watkins, KU Continuing Education, (785) 864-7881.

NEH grant extends KU's Langston Hughes poetry project to 20 national sites

LAWRENCE -- The University of Kansas has received a $224,959 one-year grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to create the Langston Hughes National Poetry Project at 20 sites nationwide.

Maryemma Graham, KU professor of English, and Barbara Watkins, KU Continuing Education project manager, are co-directing the national project that extends the legacy of Langston Hughes, the African-American poet and writer, to sites in nine states and Washington, D.C.

Officially titled "Speaking of Rivers: Taking Poetry to the People," the grant provides not only for poetry discussion groups but also for a Web site. Graham said the Web site will extend the public discussion of Hughes' legacy that began in 2002 with a celebration of his 100th birthday in Lawrence. Hughes (1902-1967) lived in Lawrence and in Topeka during his childhood.

The NEH grant will support poetry circles at five sites in Lawrence, one each in Wichita and in Kansas City, Mo.; two each in Seattle and San Diego; and one each in nine more cities across the nation. The poetry circles will include 20 to 25 people from all walks of life, particularly adults who have a passion for reading but have had few opportunities to meet poets and join poetry discussions. Typically the circles will meet four times.

"Reading Hughes, as we discovered throughout his centennial year (2002), is as much a public act as a private one," Graham said. "He appeals to audiences of all generations, races and nations, and interest in his work cuts across socioeconomic lines."

Graham said she believes Americans have found renewed interest in the power of poetry since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001: "Our primary goal is to promote poetry as a living, dynamic, humanistic art and to increase public access to poetry through focused discussions in informal settings."

Describing Hughes' poetry as a gift to the American people, Graham said, "Today's audiences rarely experience the power of the printed word in poetic form. Our project seeks to reclaim the preeminence of poetry in our lives, to reconnect poetry to its social and cultural function."

Graham said she would like to see the national project continue to expand beyond the 20 sites supported by this grant, which ends Sept. 1, 2004.

In addition to the poetry circles, the NEH grant will support development of an online and print version of a resource kit for the poetry circles. Finally, the grant also supports a Web site, http://www.kuce.org/hughes.

This is the second NEH grant Graham has received to develop the Hughes National Poetry Project. She received an NEH planning grant in fall 2001 that supported a Web site that helped promote an international symposium on Hughes and laid the groundwork for the expansion of the poetry circle model.

In addition, the Kansas Humanities Council helped fund a complementary project, directed by John Edgar Tidwell, KU associate professor of English, that created six poetry-circle sites across Kansas in fall 2001 and spring 2002. Those sites were in Lawrence, Topeka, Iola, Independence, Hays and Norton. Response to the October 2001 poetry circles at the Lawrence Public Library was twice what had been expected, and two groups were formed. Finally, the "Langston Hughes Reader's Guide," which was prepared for the Kansas poetry circles, will be expanded for use in the national project.

Facilitators for the national poetry circle sites will attend a planning workshop in Lawrence Oct. 31 through Nov. 1. The organization of each poetry circle will be announced by the local facilitators this fall.

Sites in Lawrence and the facilitators are:

 • Audio-Reader Network at KU, Janet Campbell, director of Kansas Public Radio and of Audio-Reader Network at KU
 • Douglas County Jail, Brian Daldorph, KU assistant professor of English
 • St. Luke A.M.E. Church, Joyce McCray Pearson, director of KU's Wheat Law Library
 • Haskell Cultural Center and Museum at Haskell Indian Nations University, Bobbi Rahder, archivist/curator
 • VanGo Mobile Arts Inc., Lynne Green, executive director
 • Wichita, ArtsCorp, Maaskelah Chenyere-Jeng

And in these cities:

 • Atlanta, Moor Epics: The Poetry Planet, Jessica Care Moore
 • Baltimore, Enoch Pratt Public Library, Judy Cooper/ Margaret Reid
 • Chicago, Gillard Institute, Lisa Gillard
 • Colorado Springs, Colo., Colorado College English department, Adrienne Seward
 • Corona, N.Y., Langston Hughes Community Library, Andrew Jackson
 • Jackson, Miss., Pierian Literary Society at Jackson State University, Leigh McInnis
 • Kansas City, Mo., Southeast Branch Public Library, Gabriele Otto
 • New Orleans, Nommo Literary Society, Kalamu Ya Salaam
 • New York City, City Lore, Steven Zeitlin
 • San Diego, Calif., Malcolm X Public Library, Theresa Ford, and at the Sankofa Bird Inc., Tchaiko Kwayana
 • Seattle, at the Central District Forum Arts/Richard Hugo House, Stephanie Ellis-Smith, and at the Langston Hughes Cultural Art Center, Jacqueline Moscou
 • Washington, D.C., Humanities Council of Washington, D.C., Ethelbert Miller


Born in Joplin, Mo., Hughes grew up in Lawrence and finished high school in Cleveland, Ohio. After spending a year in Mexico with his father, Hughes moved to New York City and enrolled at Columbia University. He would graduate a decade later from all-black Lincoln University. Hughes became involved in a literary revolution known as the Harlem (New Negro) Renaissance. For most of his adult life, Hughes identified with New York, where he lived, wrote and died. His first poem, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," established Hughes as the voice of his era and epitomized the humanistic values that he honored throughout his life. Over the next 50 years, Hughes established himself as an internationally renowned poet, experimenting with a wide variety of folk forms and idioms. Hughes published 45 books, which, aside from the poetry, included two autobiographies and and two novels. His first novel, "Not Without Laughter," is set in Lawrence and was translated into more than eight languages.


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