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International Black Writers Festival to focus on the role of Black creatives in democracy

The theme of Howard University’s upcoming International Black Writers Festival, “Why We Gather,” reexamines the importance of Black voices in a mainstream white society.

2023 International Black Writers Festival promotional flier. Photo Courtesy of the 
Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University.

The International Black Writers Festival is scheduled to take place at Howard University’s Founders Library from  Sept. 27-29. The conference is being convened by the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center and the Center For Journalism and Democracy at Howard.

This year’s theme, “Why We Gather,” reexamines the role of Black writers and journalists in contemporary American society. The three-day event features various panels and examines topics such as recent banned books throughout the nation, efforts to build a Black university and the role of Black journalists in an eroding democracy. 

“In increasing numbers, Africans and people of African descent in the U.S. serve as professors, deans, and presidents at predominantly white colleges and universities,” according to an announcement released by the conference organizers. 

As a result, the event will explore what constitutes Black art and literature, and identify important political themes and issues in modern society, given the current intellectual environment of inclusion.

“The theme relates to the necessity of Black writers gathering to heal, breathe, relax and share support with one another,” Tricia Walker, the award-winning author of “Nana Akua Goes To School,” told The Hilltop.  

“It is very important to have Black voices entering the predominantly white publishing world for [a] myriad [of] reasons,” Walker said, emphasizing the significance of the convening.

The event includes multiple Black literary writers and renowned journalists such as Ta-Nehisi Coates, Nikole Hannah-Jones and Dr. Ibram X. Kendi. The event will be a collective of writers from across the globe to discuss the importance of Black growth within the journalism and creative writing industry. 

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“It is important for Black voices to carry the Black student within a white mainstream that is constantly striving to wash it away,” professor, activist and award-winning author of the international bestseller “How to be an Antiracist,” Kendi told The Hilltop.

“It is important to be strong-willed in expressing your voice, while also being open to editing and improving your voice,” Kendi said regarding the conference’s theme and the importance of speaking out against inequality in U.S. society. 

The festival takes place prior to Banned Books Week, an annual week-long celebration of the freedom to read which challenges access to banned and/or censored books at schools. 

According to the American Library Association (ALA), there were over 1,000 censored library books in 2022, which was the highest number since the inception of the ALA. Books on the constantly updated list include Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple,” Toni Morrison’s “Beloved”  and James Baldwin’s “Go Tell it on the Mountain.”  

“I hope to gain more knowledge and [receive] a list of texts I can read,” Jordyn Taylor, a senior journalism major from Ohio, said. “I also want to gain a bit of community on campus from the students that do attend. I love a good intellectual network.” 

The inaugural festival in 2022 highlighted the complexity and beauty Black writers and journalists experience as they write about the global Black experience around the world. The upcoming festival aims to continue this discussion and to identify potential solutions for the advancement of Black people in various writing forms.

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“We have stories to tell and things to say that everyone can benefit from. When we are not in those spaces, our stories are left out or told by others who may do [us] a disservice or tell them incorrectly,” Walker said.

The festival seeks to empower student writers to engage and think about the future of democracy within journalism and creative writing. 

“I feel like I’m still learning to write [and] I feel like I am constantly transitioning. It will look much like the past: having the courage to write the facts,” Kendi said. 

The event will also focus on the future of Black writers in the U.S., while discussing the history of the Black Press Archive and the importance of preserving African American newspapers and the Black scholars that made them possible. 

“I believe that the future of writing as a Black woman is brilliantly and radiantly bright. This is partly because I am an optimist, but also because the work I see Black women turning out is phenomenal and it is in demand,” Walker said. “We are leaders, trendsetters, movers, and shakers in the world and [people] know, whether they want to or not.” 

Copy edited by Whitney Meritus

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