Jaki Shelton Green — North Carolina’s first African American and third woman poet laureate — spoke about freedom and more at a Monday reading and conversation hosted by the UNC Department of English and Comparative Literature.
The event, “A Reading, Conversation, and Q&A with Jaki Shelton Green,” was held over Zoom as part of the Frank B. Hanes Writer-in-Residence series. The program honors the late Frank Borden Hanes Sr., a longtime supporter of the creative writing department at the University.
Green said the reading of six of her poems was dedicated to Randall Kenan — a UNC graduate, professor and author who died in August 2020.
She started the reading with the poem “An Eclipse of Skin,” which discusses slavery and lynching.
“I wanted to start there because, as a free being in a culture that does not necessarily acknowledge me as free, it is always important for me to bring the ancestors into this space,” Green said.
She then read “i know the grandmother one had hands,” which she wrote during a poetry residency with North Carolina women on death row.
Later, she read “Oh My Brother,” which she wrote in submission for the Poetry of Lamentation Online Anthology. Green said the anthology project was formed to convey solidarity with families whose loved ones were murdered by law enforcement.
Green said she wrote the final poem she read, “Letter from the Other Daughter of the Confederacy,” while she watched the news on the night Silent Sam was toppled in August 2018.
"But this confederacy, this conversation, I’m inside of it too," she said. "And I consider myself this other daughter because this land is my land, as well. Too many people like me also fought behind that flag.”
The reading was followed by a conversation between Green and the moderator, UNC School of Law professor Gene Nichol. Green, a professor at Duke University, spoke about how her teaching extends beyond the classroom.
“For me, it’s important as the poet laureate of North Carolina to validate for people whose voices have been trudged upon, whose voices have been silenced, erased, muted, whose stories have sometimes been retold, reimagined through a different lens," Green said. "It’s important for me to have these people get excited about their own stories and understand the worthiness of their voice.”
Daniel Wallace, the UNC director of creative writing, concluded the event by asking Green how her position as North Carolina’s poet laureate has impacted her and her work.
“I can be the researcher, the historian, the documentarian, the poet who reframes the news because someone has to tell it so we feel it," Green said. "Someone has to tell it so we remember it. And that’s what I do.”
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