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Black arts to the tenth power: living legend Sonia Sanchez is the literary headliner in the 10th season of the 10-day National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta.

THE LITERARY ARTS WILL BE WELL REPRESENTED AT THE 10TH season of the National Black Arts Festival (NBAF), a 10-day, citywide explosion of creative outpouring and cultural pride that drew 800,000 people from around the country last year. The theme of this year's event, coming July 16-25, 2004, is "Sister Fire: Creative Expressions of Women of the African Diaspora" Although the NBAF always presents beloved legends, up and comers in music, dance, theater, media and the visual arts, the written and spoken word also receive their just due.

This year, the festival will honor poet-griot Sonia Sanchez as a Living Legend with a celebration at the elegant Alliance Theatre. "She is creating a CD, The Full Moon of Sonia, a blend of poetry, blues, jazz, gospel, spoken word and acoustic hip-hop--kind of Sonia Sanchez unplugged in concert with a very lush musical feel" says Laura Greer, assistant artistic director for the festival.

Acclaimed writers Edward E Jones, author of 2004 Pulitzer prizewinning The Known World, and Barbara Chase-Riboud, author of Hottentot Venus, winner of the American Library Association's 2004 Best Fiction Prize, will discuss their craft and read from their works at and Woodruff Arts Center's Rich Auditorium and the High Museum/Hill Auditorium. The author bell hooks and other leading black feminist scholars will present a symposium titled "Bearing Witness: Women, Culture and Politics" at Spelman College. As always, Nia Damali will gather dozens of authors for readings and signings at Medu Bookstore in Greenbriar Mall.


In keeping with the festival's multigenerational vision, the female emcee summit "Beyond the Bling" hosted by hip-hop artist Toni Blackman will light up the 7 Stages Theater in the artsy Little Five Points neighborhood.

In other genres, the family friendly festival, which offers many low-cost and free events, will present songstress Nancy Wilson in concert ha Chastain Park; acting legend Diahann Carroll starring in the musical Bubbling Brown Sugar at the glitzy Fox Theater in midtown; popular artist/author Faith Ringgold, who was commissioned to create a collector's print, will speak at Rich Auditorium; renowned photographer/visual artist Carrie Mae Weems will be the focus of a special exhibition at Spelman in the city's West End; and True Colors Theater will present the Langston Hughes classic Tambourines to Glory at the Alliance Theater as part of their debut season.

The Children's Village at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center, on famed Auburn Avenue, will feature Atlanta schoolchildren presenting lessons about the Harlem Renaissance on a street from Harlem that they have recreated. Greenbriar Mall in southwest Atlanta and Underground Atlanta downtown will be teeming with visual delights in sprawling artists' markets that offer prints, paintings, clothing, jewelry, baskets and dozens of other treasures.


The NBAF began as biennial event in 1988, and 2003 marked the first year the festival became annual. Attendance grew from around 500,000 in 2002 to nearly 800,000 last year, and despite a tough economy and cutbacks in the arts, the founding artistic director, Stephanie S. Hughley, has steered the festival into the black.

Last year's festival paid tribute to the life and legacy of W.E.B. Du Bois and the 100th anniversary el his classic book The Souls of Black Folk. The spirit of the NAACP founder and Renaissance man permeated the air as multitalented author/scholar Thulani Davis led a powerful staged reading she created from The Souls of Black Folk. A group of local actors, which included poetry sensation Georgia Me, interpreted the work.

Literary Duets had writing veterans Pearl Cleage, Paule Marshall and Ntozake Shange presenting talents they appreciated Nikky Finney (The World Is Round, Inner Light Publishing, January 2003), Tayari Jones (Leaving Atlanta, Warner Books, August 2002), Margaret Cezair-Thompson (The True History of Paradise, Dutton, July 1999), and Kevin Young (Jelly Roll: A Blues, Knopf, January 2003). "It was really great to be at an event with some of the writers you admire most, where the conversation was artistic rather than commercial," Cleage said afterward.

Valerie Boyd, whose book Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston (Scribner, December 2002) has been hailed as the definitive biography of a literary pioneer, said that her most memorable moment was during the 2003 Literary Duets when Marshall, Thompson and Young "had an insightful and instructive conversation about balancing the writing life with actually making a living. All three make their livings as college professors--and I remember Mar shall saying, with her understated eloquence, something like 'I can think of worse ways to make a living than spending time with young writers and helping them to develop their craft.' And that's exactly what Marshall was doing on that stage in Atlanta last summer, and so many of us younger writers were just lapping it up, trying to imbibe every morsel of her wisdom."

Reading at the festival was more than simply a career affirmation for Tayari Jones, an Atlanta native now living in Illinois. "When I was in college, I'd always go to the NBAF; that was the first place I'd ever seen a 'real' black writer up close,"' she says. "So being one of the authors in the festival made it kind of a homecoming for me."

Another high point of last year's festival was the "Poetry of Emcees: A Conversation" session moderated by poet Jessica Care Moore (The Alphabet Verses: The Ghetto, Moore Black Press, June 2003). The discussion brought together an intergenerational panel of the nation's top emcees with some of the great poets who influence the hip-hop generation. "We're in a Renaissance now, a new birth," says Abiodun Oyewole of The Last Poets. "Poets and rappers, at this moment, have only one thing to do because words are so powerful. And that one thing is to heal the planet."

The power of words will continue to serve as a thread for the many jewels of artistic expression that make up the nation's largest black arts event. Bring your family, join your friends and revel in a summer treat that is truly food for the soul. TaRessa Stovall, coeditor of Proverbs for the People: Contemporary African-American Fiction, (in paperback August 2004), lives in southern New Jersey.

What: The National Black Arts Festival

Theme for 2004: "Sister Fire: The Creative Expression of Women of the African Diaspora"

Where: Atlanta GA.

When: July 16-25, 2004

Who: Authors invited include Edward R Jones, Barbara Chase-Riboud and Sonia Sanchez and others, More than 800,000 attendees

Getting There: The Renaissance Hotel downtown at 590 West Peachtree Street, is the festival's host hotel, and Delta as the official airline, is offering special NBAF rates. For more details, go to
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Author:Stovall, TaRessa
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Geographic Code:1U5GA
Date:Jul 1, 2004
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