An ‘Unapologetically Black’ Celebration of Black Writers

Ifa Bayeza, the sister of Ntozake Shange, addressing the National Black Writers Symposium (Photo by Keishel Williams via Bklyner)

The 2019 National Black Writers Conference Biennial Symposium, held Sunday at Medgar Evers College, brought standing-room only crowds to the sessions, writes Keishel Williams in Bklyner.

The attendees were excited, engaged, and unapologetically black as they embraced the day’s special guests and speakers.

“I always feel extra black when I come here,” Jamal Joseph, playwright, director, and producer announced to a delighted audience before his panel discussion “Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Contemporary Plays by Black Writers: From the Page to the Stage and Screen.”

The gathering was anchored by a tribute to the late Ntozake Shange, best known for her play, “for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf.” Shange’s sister, Ifa Bayeza, delivered the keynote address. Bayeza said she had been approached many times to deliver remembrances of her sister since Shange died last October, but when she was approached in December by Dr. Brenda Greene, executive director of the Center for Black Literature and the National Black Writers Conference, she knew this would be the right time and venue.

“I chose this occasion, the national black writers conference at Medgar Evers College in [Shange’s] beloved Brooklyn, to attempt to contemplate the legacy of my sister,” Bayeza started. “A writers conference honoring writers. A black writers conference celebrating the voices of the diaspora. This is the perfect place to remember and to champion all of those elements that Zake represented: writers, writing, blackness, womanhood.”

Bayeza painted strong imagery of what it was like for her sister, as well as herself, as Shange struggled and thrived almost concomitantly while living with bipolar disorder. This contributed to Shange’s genius and her life tribulations.

Walker Sands, an emerging novelist and poet, came all the way from Washington, D.C. for the symposium to “bring out the writer” in him. Bayeza’s speech moved him.

“She gave a full picture of an artist and spoke openly about her sister’s work and struggle and where those two things met,” Sands said. “She saw where that art came from and still celebrated her as a big sister.”

Williams writes that Bayeza’s address was “more like a performance piece than a speech,” and that it moved many to tears. Go to Bklyner for more on the symposium.

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