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Event to honor late poet Amiri Baraka

Fri, 02/14/2014

LAWRENCE — The Langston Hughes Center, the Department of African & African American Studies and the University of Kansas community will honor and remember Amiri Baraka (1934-2014), a poet, playwright, novelist, music critic and political activist.

The commemoration, Remembering the Art, Politics, and Legacy of Amiri Baraka, will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18, at Alderson Auditorium in the Kansas Union.  The event will consist of commentary and readings by Tony Bolden, associate professor of African & African American Studies; Darren Canady, assistant professor of English; Nicole Hodges Persley, assistant professor of theatre, and William J. Harris, associate professor of English and editor of the influential “The LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader” (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1991).

Widely recognized as the father of the Black Arts Movement in Harlem in the 1960s, Baraka is author of more than 40 books of essays, poems, drama, fiction, memoirs, music history and criticism. A political activist, Baraka’s commitment to social justice as an American writer is widely respected.

Baraka’s first volume of poetry, “Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note,” was published in 1961, and his most recent book, Razor: Revolutionary Art for Cultural Revolution, was published 2011.

In 1963, Baraka’s signature study of African-American music was published in “Blues People: Negro Music in White America.” That same year, he established himself as a playwright with the publication of “Dutchman,” a controversial drama that won an Obie Award and later was made into a film.

His long list of books range from “Selected Poetry of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones,” published in 1979, to “The Music” written by Baraka and his wife, Amina, also a poet, and published in 1987, to a recent collection of essays “The Essence of Reparations,” published in 2003. The essays explore what Baraka suggests will “become a 21st century watershed movement of black peoples” involving the issues he has been addressing for many years — racism, national oppression, colonialism, neo-colonialism, self-determination and national and human liberation.

Baraka is poet laureate of New Jersey and had taught at Yale University, Columbia University and the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He is the subject of documentary films including Mario Van Peebles’ “Poetic License” and St. Clair Bourne’s “In Motion: Amiri Baraka.”

His many literary prizes and honors include the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, the James Weldon Johnson Medal for contributions to the arts, the Langston Hughes Award from the City College of New York and grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.



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Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening.

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Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner From KU News Service: http://bit.ly/1awodaa Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening. To her surprise, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little was on the other end of the call letting Koehn know she had been named a 2015 Harry S. Truman Scholar. Koehn is the 18th KU student to be named a Truman Scholar and the only 2015 recipient from the state of Kansas. Earlier this month, she was also named a 2015 Udall Scholar. And in spite of a distance of more than 10,800 kilometers and 11 time zones, Koehn’s thrill from hearing the news from the chancellor came through loud and clear. “Ashlie’s experience at KU epitomizes a quality undergraduate experience. She challenged herself in her coursework, exposed herself to different research opportunities, studied abroad in Germany, Switzerland and Kyrgyzstan, and participated in both student government and community service projects,” Gray-Little said. “This is quite a year for Ashlie. Her hard work is a wonderful reflection on her and also a great reflection on the university, and we all congratulate her.” Each new Truman Scholar receives up to $30,000 for graduate study. Scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government. Koehn, a member of KU’s nationally recognized University Honors Program, is majoring in environmental studies, economics and international studies. Her goal after earning her KU degree is to pursue a master’s degree in economics at either the London School of Economics or the University of Reading, with a focus on the economics of climate change. In 2014, she received KU’s Newman Civic Engagement Award for her work establishing the Coalition against Slavery and Trafficking. Her involvement with the issue was sparked by Hannah Britton, associate professor of political science and women, gender, and sexuality studies, who hosted national conference on contemporary slavery at KU three years ago. “Ashlie and I met several times to think about what KU students could contribute to the issue of slavery and human trafficking, and the result was her founding of KU CAST,” Britton said. “After a year as president, Ashlie successfully handed the organization over to the next student leader. She demonstrated her strong leadership qualities by setting a unique goal and then pursuing it with her sense of passion, engagement and dedication. No matter the country or context, her leadership strength is evident in her coursework, her public service and her work experiences.” The University Honors Program works with a campus committee to select KU’s nominees for the Truman Scholarship and supports them during the application process. Anne Wallen, assistant director of national fellowships and scholarships, noted it was an amazing ruse to pull off the surprise. Originally, the call was set up to be between Wallen and Koehn. “I was totally not prepared to be greeted by Chancellor Gray-Little, but it was an amazing surprise for sure,” Koehn said. “As a first-generation student, it took time to learn the collegiate system, but my parents taught me to be resourceful and independent from a young age and KU and the Kansas Air National Guard have provided me with the opportunities to drive me into the future, both at graduate school and in my career. I plan to use the Truman Scholarship to pursue a career as an environmental economist helping to shape future trade agreements and leverage action on important international environmental issues, particularly concerning climate change.” Koehn also had a surprise of her own for the chancellor — the meal she was helping to prepare was not exactly typical Kansas dinner fare. On the menu with her host family in Kyrgyzstan on Monday was a traditional Kyrgyz meal called Beshbarmak, or “five fingers,” because you eat it with your hands. The dish is made of horse and sheep and was being prepared as a birthday celebration for Koehn’s host mom. Chancellor Gray-Little, as she signed off from Skype, made sure to encourage Koehn to enjoy her Beshbarmak. Koehn is the daughter of Rodney and Carolyn Koehn of Burns. She graduated from Fredric Remington High School in Moundridge. She is an active member of the Kansas Air National Guard and currently on leave while studying abroad in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She is a member of the KU Global Scholars Program and a past member of the Student Senate. In addition to being named a 2015 Truman and Udall scholar, she was named a 2014 Boren Scholar and Gilman Scholar and in 2013 was named the Kansas Air National Guard Airman of the Year.


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