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February 4, 2004

Award-Winning African-American Poets Tim Seibles and Honorée Fanonne Jeffers to Read at Smith

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. -- Smith College will present a poetry reading by two award-winning African-American poets: Tim Seibles and Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. The reading will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 17, in Stoddard Hall Auditorium and is free and open to the public.

Born in Philadelphia in 1955 to a high school English teacher and a biochemist, Seibles' love for Greek and Roman mythology and dreams of writing science fiction novels were balanced by a driving ambition to become a professional football player. Drawn to Southern Methodist University for football, he found his way to poetry while an undergraduate there. He later completed a master's degree in creative writing at Vermont College.

Seibles' streetwise, syncopated poems zero in on such wide-ranging subjects as basketball, sex, dogs, race in America and the inner thoughts of cartoon characters. "This is not a poetry of a highfalutin violin nor the somber cello," wrote Sandra Cisneros, "but a melody you heard somewhere that followed you home." Reginald McKnight testifies, "... you'll at times feel bruised, at times made love to. I read a lot of poetry. I've never read poetry like this." Seibles moves, as he says, "between the polarities of delight and rage."

In addition to his five books of poetry, most recently "Hammerlock" (1999), Seibles' poems have appeared widely in journals such as The Kenyon Review and Black American Literary Forum, as well as in the anthologies "Outsiders," "Verse and Universe," "In Search of Color Everywhere," "A Way Out of No Way" and "New American Poets in the 90s."

Seibles lives in eastern Virginia, where he teaches in the Master of Fine Arts Program at Old Dominion University.

Jeffers' first book, "The Gospel of Barbecue," was chosen for the 1999 Wick Prize for Poetry by Lucille Clifton, who called it "sweet and sassy, hot and biting." This collection -- finalist for the 2001 Paterson Poetry Prize and Converse College's 2002 Julia Peterkin Award winner -- is rich with flavor and music, but also with stories of personal and political violation. "I hear people and I feel them inside of me, inside my skin," she says. "The people who come to me come because I understand and I've been there. They are voiceless."

Jeffers credits "the courageous authors who spoke to me in my childhood" for her own inspiration -- writers like James Baldwin and Audre Lorde -- and dedicates her second volume, "Outlandish Blues," "to Mama and Mr. Langston Hughes." She also acknowledges -- and the poems reflect -- her large debt to many black recording artists, including Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Aretha Franklin. The book is full of fiery and forthright lyrics that burst from the page into song. "Outlandish Blues" explores the "blue notes" shared by the secular and spiritual traditions and features such diverse characters as Dinah Washington and Lot's Wife. Despair is met with wit and grace and sweaty honesty: "I don't write uplifting poems. The uplift is in the survival."

A founding member of Cave Canem, the writers' colony for African-American poets, Jeffers is recipient of awards from the Rona Jaffe Foundation and the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund for Women and has been a fellow at Breadloaf and MacDowell colonies. While she grew up in Kokomo, Ind., and currently teaches at the University of Oklahoma, Jeffers was educated at Talladega College and the University of Alabama and ended up spending some 20 years in Alabama, which she still considers home.

The reading will be followed by book-selling and signing. For more information, call Cindy Furtek in the Poetry Center office at (413) 585-4891 or Ellen Doré Watson, director, at (413) 585-3368.


Office of College Relations
Smith College
Garrison Hall
Northampton, Massachusetts 01063

Marti Hobbes
News Assistant
T (413) 585-2190
F (413) 585-2174

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