Civil rights poet shares memories (Video)

Carolina Astrain By Carolina Astrain

Nov. 29, 2012 at 5:29 a.m.
Updated Nov. 30, 2012 at 5:30 a.m.

Poet Jake Adam York takes questions from an audience after giving a reading at the University of Houston-Victoria on Thursday.

Poet Jake Adam York takes questions from an audience after giving a reading at the University of Houston-Victoria on Thursday.   Carolina Astrain for The Victoria Advocate

She dabbed the rims of her eyes with a brilliant green napkin.

Area musician Lois Davis was moved to tears after a reading by poet Jake Adam York at the University of Houston-Victoria on Thursday afternoon.

Davis said she admired the tribute York's poetry made to deceased family members in his final poem, "Grace," which he read to a medium-sized crowd nestled inside Alcorn Auditorium.

York was the final author for American Book Review's fall reading series.

The series started at UHV in 2006, and the University of Colorado Denver creative literature professor was the 56th speaker to approach the dark, wooden lectern to read from his collection of work.

Just a few hours before getting on an airplane to Texas, York learned he was to be awarded $25,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts, an independent federal agency supporting artists that has been responsible for some of the money fueling the local reading series.

York, whose work focuses on themes relating to memory, civil rights movements and race, said he plans to use the endowment to fuel his travels to historical sites of lynchings, memorials and other locations key to his writing.

The professor said he has no plans to take a hiatus from the classroom.

"Teaching others about the past keeps me in the process of where I have to explain things," York said. "It's good for my work."

The Alabama native opened with a poem about what it was like being dressed as a black panther mascot for his high school football games and drew a slight parallel to the activist group of the same name.

"No one thought it was weird because, like the panther, it had always been there, hanging in the closet of the mind, easy as jersey for anyone to don," the poet read. "And because our riots were two decades past, and our postcard lynching another 60 years and Atlanta, and Memphis and Montgomery three hours hours away, like Lanesboro where the panthers backed into their corners started fighting back, far enough beyond the lights no one thought about Huey, Pete or Stokely when patrolled the sidelines, dark arms waving to wake the whole blank town to make them raise their fists and scream."

Wearing a plaid tie and button-down shirt, the author became emotional toward the end of his poem, "Grace," recalling meals spent with his uncle, father and grandmother.

"I thought it was very moving," Davis said. "Remembering people is very important."

Mark Ward Sr., an associate professor of communication at UHV, asked the author why he chose to write stories about African-Americans in the United States despite his white background.

"American history is made up from two different communities. I could tell it from the whites' perspective, but that would just be from the killer's perspective," York said. "We want to remember the violence, but I don't want to perpetuate it."



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