Meet poets at the frontlines of protest movements fighting for the right to speak freely and without fear of persecution.
Poetry is frequently used as a tool in protest movements to inspire, unite, and mobilise support. From Black Lives Matter and women’s liberation to protest movements in Myanmar and Afghanistan, poetry holds the power to gather crowds during a rally, or grab attention online. Poets can offer support and guidance in the most challenging, tragic or dangerous situations. Join Myanmarese-British poet ko ko thett and poet and scholar Dr Choman Hardi for a live poetry reading and conversation about the power of poetry in protest movements. The event will be chaired by Index on Censorship deputy chair Kate Maltby.
In celebration of Banned Books Week 2021 with the theme “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us,” Index on Censorship and the British Library invite you to explore the role of poetry in protest. What role does poetry play in protest movements? And can poetry be a form of protest in its own right?
Kate Maltby is the Deputy Chair of the Index on Censorship Board of Trustees. She is a critic, columnist, and scholar. She is currently working towards the complesion of a PhD which examines the intellectual life of Elizabeth I, through the prism of her accomplished translations of Latin poetry, her own poems and recently attributed letters, and her representation as a learned queen by writers such as Shakespeare, Spenser and Sidney.
ko ko thett started publishing poems in samizdat format at Yangon Institute of Technology in the early 1990s. After a brush with the authorities in the December 1996 protests, he left Burma, led an itinerant life in Asia, Europe and North America and moved back to Myanmar in 2017. He has published several collections of poems and translations in Burmese and English. His poems have been translated into a dozen languages and are widely anthologised. He now lives in Norwich, UK.
Dr Choman Hardi is an educator, poet, and scholar known for pioneering work on issues of gender and education in the Kurdistan region of Iraq and beyond. After 26 years of exile, she returned home in 2014 to teach English and initiate gender studies at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS), where she also served as English department chair in 2015-16. She is the author of critically acclaimed books in the fields of poetry, academia, and translation. Since 2010, poems from her first English collection, Life for Us (Bloodaxe, 2004) have been studied by secondary school students in the UK as part of their English curriculum. Her second collection, Considering the Women (Bloodaxe, 2015), was given a Recommendation by the Poetry Book Society and shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Collection. Her translation of Sherko Bekas’ Butterfly Valley (ARC, 2018) won a PEN Translates Award.
This roundtable conversation will focus on the historical challenges to gender expression, sexuality, and free speech in Alabama, including how these challenges play out through the experiences of LGBTQ+ writers from the state. This panel will explore the unspoken, speak the unspeakable, and open doors into the present.
This discussion is being presented in partnership with the ACLU of Alabama.
Brontez Purnell is a writer, musician, dancer, filmmaker, and performance artist. He is the author of a graphic novel, a novella, a children’s book, and the novel Since I Laid My Burden Down. Recipient of a 2018 Whiting Award for fiction, he was named one of the 32 Black Male Writers for Our Time by T: The New York Times Style Magazine in 2018. Purnell is also the frontman for the band The Younger Lovers; the cofounder of the experimental dance group the Brontez Purnell Dance Company; the creator of the renowned cult zine Fag School; and the director of several short films, music videos, and most recently, the documentary Unstoppable Feat: Dances of Ed Mock. He recently released his current novel 100 Boyfriends (MCD x FSG). He won Lambda Literary’s James Duggins Outstanding Mid-Career Novelist Prize in 2021. Born in Triana, AL, he’s lived in Oakland, CA for 19 years.
Born in Selma and raised in Centreville, AL, Minnie Bruce Pratt came out as a lesbian in Fayetteville, NC in 1975. She received her BA from The University of Alabama the year after segregationist Gov. George Wallace “stood in the schoolhouse door,” and her Ph.D. from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1979. Her books and poems have received awards from the Academy of American Poets, the American Library Association, the Poetry Society of America, Lambda Literary, and The Publishing Triangle. Her second book, Crime Against Nature, about losing custody of her children as a lesbian mother, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.
An anti-racist, anti-imperialist women’s liberation activist, Pratt co-authored Yours in Struggle: Three Feminist Perspectives on Anti-Semitism and Racism (1984) with Barbara Smith and Elly Bulkin. Her essay from that volume, “Identity: Skin Blood Heart,” has been adopted in hundreds of college classrooms as a teaching model for diversity issues. Along with lesbian writers Chrystos and Audre Lorde, she received the Lillian Hellman/Dashiell Hammett Award given by the Fund for Free Expression to writers “who have been victimized by political persecution.” She is a managing editor of the Workers World/Mundo Obrero newspaper, and lives in her hometown in Alabama and in Central New York. Her most recent book is Magnified (Wesleyan University Press, March 2021), dedicated to her partner and spouse, Leslie Feinberg, trans activist and theoretician.
Joi Miner, 39, is a mother of two beautiful daughters from Montgomery, AL (currently residing in Birmingham, AL). She is a full-time author-preneur: editor, performance poet, storyteller, and sexual assault and domestic violence activist, who loves spending time with her family, hosting shows, and listening to good music. Miner loves writing engaging stories and plot twists that keep her readers at the edge of their seats.
Emrys Donaldson’s work has recently appeared in Electric Literature, TriQuarterly, Passages North, Redivider, and The Rupture, among other venues. Donaldson holds a BA summa cum laude from Cornell University and an MFA from The University of Alabama. Donaldson is an assistant professor of English at Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, AL.