By Janice K. Neal-Vincent
For the last seven years Robert Luckett, Jackson State University’s director of the Margaret Walker Center, has been instilling academic achievement in students by continuing the Creative Arts Festival.
The festival came into existence as a result of a 2005 trip to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis that generated discussion about a possible conference. Upon returning to campus, students were given ten questions to research based upon theories of communication. These questions sparked attention from faculty and students across campus, thereby giving rise to the First Annual Spoken Word Creative Fest/Conference.
Two high schools, Natchez and Piney Woods Country Life School, competed with original orations, poetry and storytelling. Charles C. Chiplin was the first artist-in-residence who shared his book Roads from the Bottom and original poetry. Since its inception the conference has grown with national scholars, artists and activists who have come highly qualified to challenge students to realize their potential as they delve into issue-oriented materials regarding civil rights, human rights and the human condition.
Cornelius Eady, professor of English and the Miller Family Endowed Chair in Literature and Writing at the University of Missouri-Columbia, delivered this year’s keynote address in the JSU Student Center Theater. Co-founder of Cave Canem (with Toi Derricote), a national organization for African American poetry and poets, Eady has authored eight books. The scholar addressed a number of themes while sharing many poetry selections.
In his challenge to students to become proactive in their immediate surroundings and society at large, Eady focused on victimage rhetoric; whites’ perceptions of blacks; whites’ values thrusted upon blacks; blacks becoming reflections of white supremacy; black mutation of systematic structures; mythological perversion of blacks; traditional placating for black survival; mechanisms by the white power structure to wipe out the black race; and meeting places for connection and discussion about blackness.
This year’s two-day event, which was held April 12 and 13, had eleven concurrent sessions with thirty student presentations that acknowledged multiple themes and perspectives. The sessions’ entries were composed of poetry, essays, visual art, round table discussion and the 30th of May documentary which revealed the untold story of an African American-led Memorial Day tradition in the Deep South that flowed to the Civil War.
Recipients of the Margaret Walker Award submitted essays and were all JSU students. Ranks and paper titles included: first place – Brittany Keys – Triggers; tying in second place were – Lynda Hasberry – Silent Culture among African Americans and Maya Miller – A Black Woman Growing Up in the South; and third place – Brittany Latham – The Reclamation of Queer Diaspora Literature.
Renowned poet and former JSU student Charlie Braxton engaged in a round table discussion. MADDRAMA Performance Troupe, founded and directed by Mark G. Henderson, rendered an original theatrical performance. Luckett remarked, “The festival was founded to do the type of work that Margaret did when she was here and to provide an outlet for students. I am pleased with quality of student participants and the people we have had to come to participate.”
Helen Crump, Ph.D co-coordinated, with Robert Luckett, the 2017 Creative Arts Festival. Next year’s scheduled featured artist is Frank X Walker, professor of English at the University of Kentucky and former Poet Laureate of Kentucky.
Janice Neal-Vincent, former coordinator of Speech Communication Studies at JSU, is founder of the Spoken Word Creative Arts Festival. For inquiries contact Robert Luckett at 601-979-3935 or 601-826-8600.