The Henry Madden Library hosts two events to celebrate African American poetry in January. First is a writing workshop with assistant professor of English Venita Blackburn on Sat., Jan. 23 and then a poetry slam with former Fresno poet laureate Bryan Medina on Thurs., Jan. 28th. Both events are virtual, free and open to students, faculty and staff, and the community. 

Madden Library received a grant from the Library of America’s Lift Every Voice project in partnership with the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Lift Every Voice: Why African American Poetry Matters is a national program dedicated to enhancing appreciation of the extraordinary range and richness of the 250-year-long African American poetic tradition.

“The library is a place of learning and discovery. With the Lift Every Voice programs we seek to expand, engage and honor the achievements of our African American community. These events offer our community an opportunity to gather in celebration and learning,” says Ginny Barnes, the First-Year Experience librarian who wrote the grant. “In light of our current challenges, our goal for these programs is to provide our campus and community with some catharsis through artistic expression and space to celebrate the power of our voices.”

Lift Every Voice programs are:

SOLD OUT! Sight Unseen: Poetics of Black Identity

Writing workshop with Venita Blackburn
Sat., Jan. 23 10:00-11:30 a.m.

Celebrate African American poetry with a reading, discussion, and creative writing workshop led by Fresno State professor and writer Venita Blackburn.

Poetry is a mysterious tool. It breaks apart our language in order to communicate. Poetry within the Black tradition must subvert all norms even the ones created for its own survival. Literature of this world is irreverent and divine, ecstatic and tragic. The workshop will investigate the range of Black Identities and experiences through the mystery of poetry. We will utilize the Lift Every Voice Project Reader developed by Kevin Young, which contains legendary voices such as Paul Laurence Dunbar and Nikki Giovanni then explore the ecstatic language of new legends such as Morgan Parker and Danez Smith. The goal is to surrender ourselves to the sacred histories as we write and then imagine fiercely into the future.

Venita Blackburn
Works by Venita Blackburn have appeared or are forthcoming in Apogee, Iowa Review, Foglifter, Electric Literature, the Paris Review and others. She received the Prairie Schooner book prize for fiction, which resulted in the publication of her collected stories, Black Jesus and Other Superheroes, in 2017. In 2018 she earned a place as a finalist for the PEN/Bingham award for debut fiction, finalist for the NYPL Young Lions award and recipient of the PEN America Los Angeles literary prize in fiction. She is founder of the literary nonprofit Live, Write (, which provides free creative writing workshops for communities of color. Her home town is Compton, California, and she is an Assistant Professor of creative writing at California State University, Fresno.

Lift Every Voice: Poetry Slam 

Community poetry slam with Bryan Medina
Thurs., Jan. 28  7:00-8:30 p.m
Register for the Poetry Slam via EventBrite
Join us for an evening of Slam poetry! Ten poets will be competing. The guest judges will vote on their favorite and choose a winner.

Join us for an evening of slam poetry hosted by former Fresno poet l aureate, Bryan Medina. Not familiar with slam? We will introduce you to the roots of this oral performance through the voices of 10 poets connected to the California Central Valley. Five judges from the community will vote on their favorite poets and choose a winner.

Bryan Medina
Bryan Medina has been a fixture of the Fresno literary community for over 19 years. A former student of United States Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, his poetry has graced stages in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Kansas City. He founded the Inner Ear as a way to free poetry from the confines of academic institutions, making it accessible to all. Bryan has been awarded two City of Fresno Commendations for contributions to Fresno’s rich artistic and cultural heritage and has been featured as one of the four “Fresno Poets” from writer Nick Belardes’ Distinguished Valley Writers series as well as appeared in journals such as Poetry, Flies, Cockroaches, and Poets, In The Gove, The San Joaquin Review, Jubilee, and Invisible Memoirs and was an Honorable Mention in the ‘06 Larry Levis Poetry Prize. He is a recent graduate of Fresno Pacific University and plans to teach Special Education.

To receive updates and news about the Lift Every Voice events, please fill out our Save the Date form.

For more information or special accommodation, please contact Ginny Barnes,

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