Jean Valentine Reading at Boston University

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“I am poling / my way into my life. / It seems / like another life,” reads the late poet Jean Valentine from her poem “La Chalupa, the Boat” in this 2010 video recorded at Boston University. Valentine is the author of fourteen poetry collections including Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems, 1965–2003, which won the National Book Award, and Break the Glass, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. She died at the age of eighty-six on December 29, 2020.

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Adrienne Rich

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“There’s a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill / and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows…” In this 2009 video, pioneering feminist poet Adrienne Rich reads her poem “What Kind of Times Are These?” at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. Rich died at the age of eighty-two on March 27, 2012.

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National Book Foundation’s Literarian Award to Carolyn Reidy

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“You knew that she was motivated by the basic concept that we’re here for a short while, and we have to make sure we make it about something larger than just ourselves.” In this video from the 2020 National Book Awards Ceremony, authors and colleagues speak about the influence of Carolyn Reidy, the late president and CEO of Simon & Schuster, who was honored with the National Book Foundation’s 2020 Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community. Reidy died on May 12, 2020 at the age of seventy-one.

Weighted Words

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“I come here to talk about metaphor, language, and reality—not too ambitious.” In this 2013 TEDx Talk, the late Daniel Menaker speaks about his mother, who was an editor at Fortune magazine, his love of language, the significance of metaphor, and how phrases become clichés. The venerable writer and editor died at the age of seventy-nine on October 26, 2020.

John Lewis on March

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“When people say nothing has changed, we’re trying to say through March, come and walk in my shoes.” In this 2013 Politics and Prose Bookstore video, the late congressman and author John Lewis speaks about the personal experiences that led to the creation of his award–winning graphic memoir trilogy March, cowritten by Andrew Aydin and illustrated and lettered by Nate Powell. Lewis died at the age of eighty on July 17, 2020.

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Mahogany L. Browne Reads Ntozake Shange

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“Whatever shall i do with my dead / my tombs & mausoleums / these potted plants tended by strangers...” Mahogany L. Browne reads “for my dead & loved ones” and “Blood Rhythms - Blood Currents - Black N’ Blue Stylin’” by Ntozake Shange, and her own poem “Black Girl Magic” at a tribute for Shange at New York City’s 92nd Street Y.

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Remembering Toni Morrison

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“Language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names.” The life of Nobel laureate and Pulitzer Prize–winning author Toni Morrison is remembered through this 2004 interview for CBS Sunday Morning highlighting what was most important to her: being a mother and a writer. Morrison died at the age of eighty-eight on August 5, 2019.

Poets on How They Got Started

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“When I did begin to make connections with poets, everything opened up for me,” says the late Holly Prado in this Poetry.LA video interviewing noted Southern California poets, including William Archila, Chiwan Choi, Marcia de la O, and Douglas Kearney, on how they got started in their writing careers. Prado died at the age of eighty-one on June 14, 2019.

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Binyavanga Wainaina

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“I want to live a life of free imagination.” In this video, Binyavanga Wainaina describes his dream for Africans to tell their own stories and be set free of certain traditional systems and structures. The Kenyan author and gay rights activist, who won the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2002, died at the age of forty-eight on May 21, 2019. For more from his work, read an excerpt from his memoir, One Day I Will Write About This Place (Graywolf Press, 2011).

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