Black Women Writers Panel

carolyn holdbrook

Carolyn Holbrook

Photo by bfreshproductions, for Intermedia Arts

On Sunday, September 27, writer, activist, and community member Carolyn Holbrook led the first of three discussions and readings with Minnesota Black women writers, on the politics and poetics of our writing lives.


(l-r) Mary Moore Easter, Tish Jones, Shannon Gibney, Andrea Jenkins, Lori Young-Williams, and Pamela Fletcher

Photo by Ibrahim Hirsi

It was truly a magical afternoon, featuring local luminaries such as Andrea Jenkins, Tish Jones, Pamela Fletcher, Lori Young-Williams, and Mary Moore Easter.


Catch MinnPost’s article on it here.

NPR was there as well, and is producing a segment with the talk this week. A link will be posted here when it is up.

In the meantime, don’t miss the other two upcoming talks, which promise to be just as engaging as the first:

Sunday, October 4, featuring Caribbean writers, at 2:30 p.m.

Facebook event page here.
Sunday, November 15, featuring African writers, at 2:30 p.m.

Facebook event page here.

Check out the flyer: As Curated By More than a Single Story.


Shannon, Ananya Chatterjea, Hui Nui Wilcox, and Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley wrote a creative and critical essay together, about dance as labor, as an expression of the truth of women of color’s lives, in the new anthology CRITICAL TRANSNATIONAL FEMINIST PRAXIS, edited by Amanda Lock Swarr and Richa Nagar (SUNY Press, 2010).

The essay is titled, “So Much to Remind Us We Are Dancing on Other Peoples’ Blood: Moving Towards Artistic Excellence, Moving from Silence, Moving in Water, with Ananya Dance Theatre,” and features sections in multiple voices about our experiences carving out a safe and productive space for women of color to explore differences and similarities, learn each other’s cultural histories, and build something larger than ourselves.

Check it out, and/or buy a copy here.

We will also be presenting and discussing this piece in a panel at the upcoming NWSA (National Women’s Studies) Conference, November 11-14, in Denver.

Learn more about Ananya Dance Theatre here.

Iron Lady ‘Wows’ Sold-out Crowd

(left to right) Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs Dean Brian Atwood and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf laughed as she was answering a question on why Sirleaf was such a successful leader. A member of the sold out Northrup Memorial Auditorium audience yelled out "because she's a woman." Sirleaf was awarded an honorary doctor of laws and gave a speech detailing the progress Liberia is making under her watch.

“Every stumbling block became a steppingstone,” Liberian President
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said during a Twin Cities visit.

Tribune, April 11, 2009

Africa’s “Iron Lady” — Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf —
electrified a sold-out crowd Friday at the University of Minnesota,
capping weeks of excitement among local Liberians.

Sirleaf, the first woman elected to lead an African nation, is on a
national tour to promote her memoir. She used her historic stop in
Minnesota, the state with the largest Liberian population in the
country, to build support for her vision of a prosperous Liberia.

During her talk at the U’s Northrop Auditorium, Sirleaf expressed
support for permanent residency and possible dual citizenship for the
thousands of Liberians living in the U.S. who were granted special
immigration status during the country’s long civil war.

She told the crowd that as much as she wants Liberians to return and
help rebuild the country, Liberia is not ready to absorb all of them at

“While we welcome them back, we know it takes time and they’ll have to
plan it,” she said, acknowledging that many have been in the United
States for so long that they have children who were born here. The crowd
cheered in response.

A guest of the University’s Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public
Affairs, Sirleaf joined an elite group of dignitaries that has included
President Bill Clinton and the Dalai Lama. She also received an honorary
doctor of laws degree from university officials.

After her speech, she met privately with leaders of several Twin Cities
companies and colleges to discuss possible partnerships. She wants to
build a pipeline of support between Minnesota and Liberia, said Wynfred
Russell, a leader in the local Liberian community and a member of the
Minnesota group that planned Sirleaf’s visit.

Her visit has a special significance in Minnesota, which has 20,000 to
30,000 Liberians, most of them living in Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn

It also came on the heels of a decision by President Obama to extend
the deadline by a year for those Liberians living in the United States
legally on a temporary immigration status and who faced deportation last
month. Their supporters say they will now push for legislation that
would make it possible for them to attain permanent residency.

Perhaps the most memorable moment of the speech by the Iron Lady — who
joins other female world leaders to carry that nickname, including
Margaret Thatcher and Indira Gandhi — came when Humphrey Institute Dean
J. Brian Atwood asked her where she gets her courage.

“I don’t know how to answer that,” Sirleaf said, pausing.

A woman from the audience then bellowed: “Because she’s a woman!”

Atwood and Sirleaf laughed, the audience cheered and Sirleaf, waiting
for the applause to die down, finally said: “I think she said it all.”

Catherine Vonleh, of Brooklyn Center, was among the roughly 5,000 who
snagged a ticket to the event.

Her green, traditional African wrap and top had a populist touch to it
with a photo of Sirleaf plastered on the front, surrounded by the words
“First African Woman President. Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.”

“I’m wearing it with pride and dignity,” said Vonleh, who is originally
from Liberia and has been living in the United States since 1986.

A longtime fan of Sirleaf’s, she said this was the first time she’s
ever seen her speak in person and the experience was overwhelming at
times. “I cried in there today!” she said.

A group of students from St. Cloud State University were among those
who traveled to listen to Sirleaf.

“I’ve never seen a lady that powerful,” said Una Ankrah, 21, whose
parents are from Liberia. “She’s Liberian and she’s a woman. It’s
touching for me to see that. It’s very motivational.”

Added her friend, Helmie Teketay, 23: “I’m Ethiopian. She’s not just a
role model for Liberians. She’s a role model for the whole of Africa.”

Allie Shah * 612-673-4488

Almost meeting Ellen!

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

I’m so excited! One of my heroines, Liberian Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, will be speaking on the University of Minnesota campus tomorrow, Friday, April 10.

Johnson Sirleaf is the first democratically-elected woman head of state on the African continent, and has by all accounts been doing a tremendous job to help lift her country out of the morass of its recent 15-year civil war.

Since her election in 2006, she has eliminated the national debt, tripled the national budget, and begun a massive campaign to bring basic infrastructure like electricity, running water, transportation, capital projects, and public education back online — and actually, make them more functional and democratic than they were in the pre-war era.



Humphrey Institute to Host Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf at University of Minnestoa

The Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs will present the 2009 Distinguished Carlson Lecture featuring Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, at 2 p.m. on Friday, April 10, at Northrop Memorial Auditorium. Doors open at 1 p.m.


Internationally known as Africa’s “Iron Lady,” Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was the first woman democratically elected to lead an African nation. She previously held several positions at the United Nations, including serving as the first woman to lead the Development Project for Africa.

During the military dictatorship of Samuel Doe, Johnson Sirleaf was charged with treason and imprisoned. She has since been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civil award, for her personal courage and unwavering commitment to expand freedom for and improve the lives of people in Liberia and across Africa.

“Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s story is one of courage and breakthrough,”says Humphrey Institute Dean Brian Atwood. “We traveled together to Africa and I saw firsthand the respect she generated. Standing for President in a country emerging from civil war takes a great deal of courage. Then came the breakthrough: she was the first woman ever elected as an African head of state.We are fortunate indeed to welcome her back to Minnesota to tell her magnificent story as the Distinguished Carlson Lecturer.”

President Sirleaf’s speech is free and open to the public, but SOLD OUT. A rush line will form at the Northrop Auditorium Box Office beginning at 1 p.m.

Note: No backpacks, no recording, and no cameras for security purposes.