Thulani Davis

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Thulani DavisThulani Davis is a writer and an interdisciplinary artist who creates text in a wide range of forms. Davis grew up in the 1950s in Virginia, where her parents taught at Hampton University. She was educated at Barnard College, the University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia University. In college, she was “schooled” for her first spoken word performance by Gylan Kain and Felipe Luciano of the original Last Poets, and considers them among the many poets of her artistic lineage—a list including Amiri Baraka, June Jordan, Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes, Robert Hayden, and many before them. Over the course of Davis’s long and diverse artistic career, she has worked as a performance poet and artist, documentarian, essayist, novelist, and playwright. She is the author of My Confederate Kinfolk (2006), Maker of Saints (1996), which won an American Book Award, Malcolm X: The Great Photographs (1993), 1959 (1992), a novel and nominee for an Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and others. Davis is also the librettist for the operas Amistad (1997) and X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X (1986), which, according to The New Yorker “has brought new life to America’s conservative operatic scene, being a work at once genuinely new, musically and theatrically effective, and concerned with matter that, still inflammatory years after Malcolm X’s assassination, is kept before us each day in New York’s streets….The work is gripping, and it is unlike any other opera.” She has worked as a reporter for the San Francisco Sun-Reporter and an editor for the Village Voice, and co-founded, with Joseph Jarman, the Brooklyn Buddhist Association. At present, she is teaching playwriting part-time at NYU and starting another book.

the attach could not be seen by night

this little phase
keeps on the same way
without variety
jazz and compromise
making blue snow grow at the windows
mohair fumes clog my throat like cats
flames pounce without burning
shadows gather in parkas at my back
turn so i can see your face
stand where i can see you man
should someone phone
i will tell whoever it is
i cannot escape this night
even saxophones do not dry
light the brown sweat
terror in white doorways
under multicolored covers
there is no way to sleep
with the phone
falling off the hook
the blaring beep of warnings
do not leave your house
do not stay home
this is the contradiction
of when i live
even fanfares and flourishes
do not announce a truce
with our personal assailants
without variety blue dust
blood traces in floor wax
black fog and nappy lint
colorless wax spreads broad
tears across all the windows
some permanent weather
happened to this building
some misplaced coal mine
had its disaster here
and i am alive inside



Let Freedom Ring | April 17, 2008
Symposium IV | Advancing American Ideals: Democracy as a Goal for the Arts