August 19, 2010
By J.T. MORAND
The conversation between Haki Madhubuti and Kevin Coval is being
billed as a dialogue between two accomplished poets.
But, it may really be like a conversation between father and son,
only with the father being African-American and the son being Jewish
The focus of the conversation on Aug. 26 at Unity Temple in Oak Park
is supposed to be on Madhubuti's most recent works, Liberation
Narratives: New and Collected Poems, and his memoir, Yellow Black:
The First Twenty-one Years of a Poet's Life. But, Madhubuti, who has
written more than 20 books, many of them poetry on the black
experience in America, wants the audience to realize what a special
talent Coval is.
Coval, who is the founder of Louder Than a Bomb: The Chicago Teen
Poetry Festival, considers Madhubuti his mentor and friend. Coval has
performed at schools and theaters all over the world, including The
Parliament of the World's Religions in South Africa, The African
Hip-Hop Festival: Battle Cry, and has served as artistic consultant
on Russell Simmons' HBO Def Poetry Jam. He wants the audience to
appreciate the elder poet.
"He's one of my mentors," Coval said. "Part of mentorship is friendship."
Madhubuti, a significant figure in the Black Arts Movement in the
mid-1960s, is also founder and publisher of Third World Press, the
largest publishing company of black literature that started with just
a mimeograph machine in a South Side basement in 1967. He's also an
educator, having founded the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black
Literature and Creative Writing at Chicago State University.
"I'm a cultural father to Kevin," Madhubuti said. "I admire his work
and I told him he's an excellent poet. He's not afraid of black
people and he does a lot of work with young people."
He added, "I saw in Kevin the spirit I had at his age."
Besides promoting each other as great poets, Madhubuti will read from
Liberation Narratives and from Yellow Black.
Madhubuti said Liberation Narratives is a collection of his best
poems over the past 44 years, and he'll probably read some of his
most recent works.
Yellow Black, he said, is a narrative about the relationship between
him, his mother, his sister and his father.
"My father, tangentially," he said, "because my dad was never there."
Although he experienced sad moments in the first 21 years of his life
-- his mother worked in the sex trade in the 1950s, became a drug
addict and died from an overdose when he was 16 -- Madhubuti said he
used those experiences to form an idea of what he didn't want to
become, set positive goals for himself and worked until he achieved
His reading of Black Boy, by Richard Wright, turned him onto
literature and Louis Armstrong's trumpet-playing turned him onto
music. Both literature and music turned him onto poetry.
But, Madhubuti wants to hear from Covel during the conversation and
will urge the younger poet to read from his own works, Slingshots (A
Hip-Hop Poetica) and Everyday People.
"I'm concerned about Kevin," Madhubuti said. "I want him to be
successful. This is a small investment in his continued development
more so than my own."
Coval said while he grew up in Northbrook, he came from a
working-class family, and his parents struggled to keep him in the
Northbrook school system.
He first became interested in poetry while listening to hip-hop
music, which made references to prominent black figures, such as
Malcom X, he didn't know about. After hearing the names, he went to
the library to research them. That's where he discovered the Black
Arts Movement and learned of Madhubuti.
Coval said he'd like to read a new poem called "How to Teach Poetry
in the Chicago Public Schools."
"I want Haki to hear it," he said.
Conversation with poets Haki Madhubuti and Kevin Coval
7:30 p.m. Aug. 26, at Unity Temple, 875 Lake St., Oak Park. $5, which
also goes toward purchase of a book. (708) 386-9800,
www.booktable.net. Sponsored by Friends of the Oak Park Public
Library, Unity Temple Restoration Foundation, The Book Table and