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“Black Rootedness” poets prepare for performances of anthology

If you read Black Rootedness or are interested in how poetry can be a bridge, then you’re in luck because Karla Brundage has taken the book on the road.

Karla Brundage is a poet, activist, and educator based in Oakland who has been creating anthologies for nearly two decades. “Since Hurricane Katrina, really” Brundage shares as we meet on Zoom one cold, January morning. 

She’s also the lead editor of Black Rootedness: 54 Poets from Africa to America (Elyssar Press 2022). We’re grateful for her time to share exciting updates with us, especially regarding two upcoming performances of the book – and the power of bringing poets together, united by a theme.

“I think of these anthologies as histories based in activism. The first anthology, Words Upon the Water, was a poetic response to the hurricane–the devastation, the impact, the emerging aftermath… everything.”

–Karla Brundage

After that anthology, Brundage saw the power of creating anthologies and “bringing together voices united around some kind of theme. I’ve kind of been hooked since,” she says. When the time came to find a publisher for Black Rootedness, Brundage was concerned about finding a publisher.

“I submitted to Elyssar Press with my fingers crossed, but also aware that few publishing houses will even consider anthologies for their press. Elyssar Press had published a multi-author anthology before, which gave me hope.”

Black Rootedness: 54 Poets from Africa to America is a complex anthology that has inspired multiple performances.

It can be difficult for anthologies to get published

One problem many editors of anthologies face is finding a publisher. Part of this is a marketing and demand problem: multi-author anthologies do not sell as well as novels, for example. 

Additionally, many anthologies emerge as collections by a publishing house itself, featuring solely authors published by that same house. A House Called Tomorrow: Fifty Years of Poetry by Copper Canyon Press is a beautiful example of this type of anthology.

Luckily for Brundage, the team behind Elyssar Press was onboard with her anthology right away. This anthology hit home instantly,” Founder of Elyssar Press, Katia Aoun Hage, shares. “As someone born in Cameroon and living in the US, I was immediately drawn to the conversation between the poets. The stark differences of perspectives about life, family, work, and society was such a refreshing way to open my understanding.”

“Poetry can be an equalizer for cross-cultural exchanges” reflects Brundage

The model for an anthology like Black Rootedness already existed. Ever busy with multiple creative projects at once, Brundage had been leading cross-cultural poetry exchanges for years through the nonprofit West Oakland to West Africa–WO2WA, for short.

WO2WA connects members of the African diaspora with each other and seeks to sustain those connections–often through artistic mediums and travel. 

“Notes to Gogo” by Ifeanyichukwu Onwughalu on page 209 of Black Rootedness facing part of Kevin Dublin’s poem “The Colors of Her New Life” on page 208.
“Notes to Gogo” by Ifeanyichukwu Onwughalu on page 209 of Black Rootedness facing part of Kevin Dublin’s poem “The Colors of Her New Life” on page 208.

“For African poets and American poets to be together in the same anthology is important–and I think I’m the main person spearheading that in the United States. It’s rare for Kenyan poets, for example, to be published in the United States alongside American-based poets. And vice versa. The cross-cultural conversations in Black Rootedness are also really special.” 

The paired poems – which are calls and responses to each other – form a time capsule around topics like love, identity, Black American identity, Ghanaian and Kenyan culture, connection, structural injustices, and the call for social change.

Global poetry exchanges are essential

Black Rootedness also features several poet laureates in the collection, including Tongo Eisen-Martin, Poet Laureate of San Francisco, and Ayodele Nzinga, Poet Laureate of Oakland.

“This is the most important work in Black poetry right now,” adds Eisen-Martin, speaking to the cross-cultural dialogue within each exchange. 

–Tongo Eisen-Martin

Global poetry exchanges are not without challenges. Once she had the paired poems and it was time for editing, Brundage navigated questions like, “Are we using British English or American English in the anthology? How can we relieve writers of the burden and colonialistic nature of rigid punctuation but also have consistency?” And Brundage also shared how while poetry can be deeply healing, it isn’t without its own legacies and political decisions.

“I’m not trying to say that ‘writing poetry is easier’ than other forms of creative expression, because that’s not true. I’m saying that poetry can be a vehicle to get to the heart of it, to get toward freedom, and to continue exchanging ideas. In that way, poetry is essential.”

Sir Black (left) and Karla Brundage (right) perform at the Goethe Centre in Accra. Photo by Kumi Rauf of Travelling.Black.
Sir Black (left) and Karla Brundage (right) perform at the Goethe Centre in Accra. Photo by Kumi Rauf of Travelling.Black.

Brundage has orchestrated several, upcoming performances of “Black Rootedness” in both San Francisco and Oakland  

If you read Black Rootedness or are interested in how poetry can be a bridge across diasporas and continents, then you’re in luck because Brundage has taken the book on the road. 

On Saturday, May 4, at the Red Poppy Art House, “Late Walking, Revolutionary Talking” will be onstage from 11a.m. – 12:30 p.m., as part of the San Francisco International Arts Festival. Early Bird tickets also come with a special brunch so order before March 31st.  

Then, August 9 and 10, join Brundage at BAM House in Oakland, where she will be part of a choreo-program alongside Oakland Poet Laureate, Ayodele Nzinga, and many more poets who have poems in this anthology. 

Follow Karla Brundage on Instagram and buy Black Rootedness to support vital, cross-cultural exchanges. You can also further your impact by donating directly to WO2WA to support future poetry exchanges on the horizon.

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