9/11 Commemorative VOICES Reading Series Concludes

The Voices Reading commemorative 9/11 Series concluded with two readings, held on Oct. 13 and Oct. 27. Crowds of students came to Daugherty-Palmer Commons (DPC) to hear two prominent poets, Laila Hallaby and Amiri Baraka.

Laila Hallaby was born in Lebanon to a Jordanian father and American mother, and drew from her heritage to write “West of the Jordan”, her first novel, published in 2003.  According to Hallaby, her second novel “Once in a Promise Land” follows the story of Jassim and Salwa, who left the deserts of their native Jordan for Arizona, each chasing mirages of opportunity and freedom. Although the story does not directly touch Ground Zero, the couple cannot escape the “dust cloud of paranoia settling over the nation” Hallaby said.

Hallaby read several poems on hope and culture, and an excerpt from her novel,“Once in a Promise Land.” The excerpt included a section of the introduction that was left out of the paperback version of her book. The excluded prose used an airport luggage check as a metaphor for removing stereotypes and misconceptions, just as one would remove shoes while going through security, and recommended that the reader do so before beginning the novel.

“No turbines or violent culture” Hallaby said.

“I keep thinking about how things have changed and where we have gotten to in the past ten years,” Hallaby added. She went on to read an article she wrote about the incident earlier this year in Tucson, Arizona, when congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in a supermarket.

“I do not live in fear of crazed gunmen or terrorists” Hallaby said. “Though I do worry about planes crashing. Quite often my heart skips when I hear a plane’s engine as it prepares to land a few miles away.”

Hallaby has always believed that if other people could see her world from the inside, then they couldn’t have “such ridiculous and negative stereotypes” she said.

The 9/11 series concluded with Amiri Baraka, a well-known American poet since the 1960’s
and former poet laureate of New Jersey. Jeffrey Coleman, Associate Professor of English introduced Baraka as a “renowned and sought after author.”

“Suffice to say, Amiri has been writing extremely provocative literature since the sixties and is still writing amazing things,” Coleman said. “His last book, not including the one that came out this week, won the American Book Award. It’s a book about the African-American presence in American classical music.”

Baraka has written over 40 books of essays, poems, drama, and music history and criticism, and is a revolutionary political activist. According to Baraka’s website, his influences include musical orishas such as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, and Sun Ra to the Cuban Revolution, Malcolm X and world revolutionary movements.  Baraka is also known for being the founder of the Black Arts Movement in Harlem in the 1960s.

Baraka read several powerful and musical poems including his famous piece “Someone Blew Up America.” According to Baraka, the poem made headlines when the governor of New Jersey and others demanded his resignation as the state’s Poet Laureate after a reading of the poem at the Dodge Poetry Festival. The first few lines caused controversy as they referenced to those who knew beforehand about the New York City World Trade Center bombings in 2001.

“These are very weird times that we live in,” Baraka said. “It is very important for us to be conscious. Don’t let the world pass you by; you wont even know its happening. The dumbest thing I can image is you being in the world and not even knowing how it works.”

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