Thu, Mar 07, 2002 - Page 11 News List

African-American poet broadens horizons

Afaa Michael Weaver brings his perspective as a black American to Taiwanese students, who generally have little access to writers outside of the mainstream

By Monique Chu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Afaa Michael Weaver will recite his poetry on March 20 at Fu Jen Catholic University.

PHOTO: GEORGE TSORNG, TAIPEI TIMES

In a deep baritone voice and an unabashedly direct way, Afaa Michael Weaver recited his poetry for his Taiwanese and American audience one late February evening in Taipei as a flutist improvised music in the background.

"Weaver's poems were marvelous," said writer and poet Ko Ching-hwa (柯青華), better known by his pseudonym Ying-ti (隱地), recalling the poetry reading.

As part of the reading, the Baltimore-born Fulbright scholar led his audience to explore his world of poetry, enticing them to share his memories of foreign travels, his former life as a blue-collar worker, and his father's first baseball game.

"Tall and black-skinned as he is, Weaver doesn't look like a poet," said Ko, founder of Elite Publishing (爾雅出版社). "But I sensed that poetic eyes that lay deep in his heart after reading his poetry."

Weaver's poetry reading was part of AIT-sponsored events for US national African American month in February. Associated with this was also a round-table discussion on a recently published book entitled Harlem Renaissance by current Taipei resident Kelly King Howes, which draws attention to the cultural diversity of the US.

"In Taiwan and other places, the book can deepen your understanding of our cultural diversity," Howes said.

"Just because it went into hiding for a few decades doesn't mean it wasn't significant," said Howes of the movement that took place in New York City more than 70 years ago which saw great artistic and intellectual achievement in the African-American community.

Weaver also highlighted what he saw as the legacy of the Harlem Renaissance. "Harlem in the 1920s was regarded by blacks around the world as the capital of the black community," said the 50-year-old poet.

According to Weaver, the Harlem Renaissance also gave birth to Negritude, the movement that called for post-colonial struggle which began to gain momentum in Paris in the mid-1920s.

Moving beyond the two AIT cultural events, Weaver's six-month stay in Taiwan can perhaps further educate locals interested in exploring African-American culture at large.

"I am glad that more and more African Americans are coming to Taiwan to teach, because they bring more cultural diversity into campuses," said Perng Ching-hsi (彭鏡禧), professor and dean of the department of drama and theater at National Taiwan University (NTU).

Weaver, Alumnae Professor of English at Simmons College in Boston, is currently teaching American modern drama and American modern poetry at NTU, as well as creative writing at Taipei University of the Arts (TUA).

In view of the focus on mainstream Western writers in Taiwan's English literature departments, Weaver brings with him a different kind of syllabus.

Fresh from Weaver's three-hour drama class on Monday afternoon, 24-year-old graduate student Liu Yi-lin (劉怡麟) detailed what she described as Weaver's rather unique approach to drama.

"He spent the first hour or so analyzing the social context of the play," Liu said of the class' discussion on Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night. "It's something I seldom paid attention to in the past."

To explain the plight and struggle of immigrants to the US, Weaver "illustrated a lot of experiences faced by African Americans to help us understand the Irish Americans," Liu added.

Liu's classmate Chen Jin-cun (陳晉村) had his own observations. "Many playwrights on [Weaver's] syllabus are foreign to me," Chen said. "I supposed they're not mainstream writers, and I'm looking forward to getting to know them."

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