By Kristina Robinson
The last time I was Uptown, I felt a force like gravity propel me toward the two apartments I lived in there. The first one sat up high on the third floor of a huge house. The large, enclosed-porch provided a birds- eye- view of the neighborhood and the big hurricane windows made it an excellent greenhouse. Standing outside, it was almost as if I expected to see myself sitting up there, feet kicked up on the glass. For a moment, I believed I could walk right into my old life. Let down, yet oddly satisfied, I continued my trek up Carondelet, sun beating into my back, my whole body wringing wet. As I walked my old route to work, a couple horns beeped and I smiled at the familiar faces behind the wheel. What I was doing Uptown in the first place was meeting with MelaNated, a collective of young writers of color, founded by jewel bush in 2010. Made up of native New Orleanians and transplants from other cities, we are black; we have roots in India, Malaysia and the Philippines.
This particular Saturday morning when I was craving, mourning, really, my old life, MelaNated met just steps from big, yellow, antebellum home that was my last residence in this part of town. Sitting in that circle of writers, I realized that I had reached the precise place where my old life and the new one stretched out in front of me and met. Love is a hoop, a sacred circle that can’t be broken.
I spoke recently to Kalamu ya Salaam, currently leading the NOMMO Literary Society, a workshop for black writers, he has agreed graciously to host MelaNated’s first public reading. A living literary legend, a real New Orleanian, and a writer I truly admire, Salaam along with fellow writer Tom Dent founded BLKARTSOUTH, the southern wing of the Black Arts Movement. Salaam’s awards include national and regional awards for poetry, play writing, literary criticism, cultural criticism, and radio production. Salaam has served on numerous panels and boards, including NEA Literature panels. He has read his poetry and lectured at universities, community programs and institutions worldwide.
Kiswahili for “pen of peace”, Kalamu ya Salaam has focused his career around the concept of ,l’homa universal, the “all sided man”. A Black humanist in the tradition of DuBois, he writes in the spirit of the community by remaining a public intellectual engaged in both the art and the social circumstances that create it. We spoke briefly, but he left me with much to chew on. I asked him why he thought collectives for people of color are important. For Kalamu, “what we accomplish as a part of groups, as social formations, is the most significant aspect of our journey through life. For black folk in the United States the major art form is the music and the music’s always been collective.”
It’s in this tradition that I walked up those blistering streets Uptown, past the ghosts of my former lives, to sit in the company of others and share the words history has written in the palms of our hands. Our first public reading will be held on June 1 at the New Orleans Museum of Art at 7pm. Come and sit in and walk forward into one of the oldest human traditions…sharing.