“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” -Toni Morrison
This Saturday at 7pm, Goddard College will host The Salutation!, the culminating event of the We Do Language Symposium, which has been happening at various locations throughout the state from September 15 to September 21. This symposium was organized by Toussaint St. Negritude as a “statewide opportunity for Vermont artists of African descent to collectively bear witness to the excellence of our own humanity, and the indomitable sanctuary of our spirits, as is so brilliantly reflected through the works of Toni Morrison.”
Saturday’s free event will feature readings from poet Major Jackson, Rajnii Eddins, as well as a performance from the Afrofuturist jazz duo Jaguar Stereo, as well as a roundtable discussion about the influence of Toni Morrison and the role of art and literature in mitigating racism and inspiring change.
Major Jackson is the author of four books of poetry, including Roll Deep (2015), Holding Company (2010), Hoops (2006) and Leaving Saturn (2002), which won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize for a ﬁrst book of poems. A recipient of the Pushcart Prize, Whiting Writer’s Award, and numerous other honors, Jackson is the Richard Dennis Green and Gold University Distinguished Professor at the University of Vermont, and serves as the Poetry Editor of The Harvard Review.
Poet and spoken word artist Rajnii Eddins, whose book “Their Names Are Mine” was released earlier this year, and Jaguar Stereo, the Afrofuturist collaborative project of bass clarinetist and poet Toussaint St. Negritude and bassist Gahlord Dewald, are active throughout the state of Vermont and both performed at the Haybarn Theater in May as part of the Unsilent: Political Poetics event.
Serving as both a tribute to Toni Morrison and a celebration of Vermont’s black community, this symposium is intended to hold space, to act as a meeting place as much as a presentation. Other events in the symposium have included a “Voices of Color” reading at the Light Club Lamp Shop in Burlington, roundtable discussions around black health and black speech at the North Branch Café in Montpelier, and an evening of jazz, poetry, and experimental music at Community of Sound in Burlington.
All of these events have featured conversation highlighting the vibrancy and diversity in Vermont as well as the racism and prejudice that continues to marginalize it. St. Negritude says:
Following Toni Morisson’s example of unerringly, unbudgingly speaking in her own voice from her own black perspective, I deliberately organized this myself, with a determination to put this symposium together with as little of the “white gaze” as possible, which meant no funding, no other help.
Beyond performance, I really want the symposium to be about dialogue. Especially in terms of racial conversation, for Vermonters and particularly for white Vermonters. Because I think that there is already too comfortable a position among white people here in terms of saying, “Okay, you’re the black person who is enduring all this. Oh I’m with you, I’m down with you, but I’m going to sit here with my arms folded and let you do the work and I’ll listen to you talk about it.” That does not work. It’s never worked.
It can be uncomfortable for people, I understand that. But we’ve got to talk.
Not only does this event feature the words of Toni Morrison, Major Jackson, Rajnii Eddins, and Toussaint St. Negritude—the ways that they “do language”—it offers a space for all of us to do language together, to speak, to listen, and to get to know each other.
We’ve got to talk.