Kent reads, Kent writes with read aloud series

Ellen Kirtner

Pan-African Studies Professor Mwatabu Okantah said he has seen literature and poetry cross cultural lines, giving individuals a chance to explore cultures other than their own.

Okantah, director of the Center for Pan-African Culture, was the first presenter in an ongoing spoken aloud series presented by the library called “Kent Reads, Kent Writes, Kent State.”

The informal event brought students, faculty and staff together in the May 4 Resource Room of the Library to explore poetry and learn more about the inspiration behind Okantah’s work.

Okantah read pieces from several of his published works, including his most recent release, “Reconnecting Memories: Dreams No Longer Deferred” and his 1984 release “Collage.”

He said his work is akin to that of a storyteller, and that all the pieces he shared Thursday gave the audience a deep insight into the people and places Okantah has encountered in his life.

One piece was written for a man who lived in Okantah’s Cleveland neighborhood.

“For the most part, he came out when the sun came down,” Okantah said of the poem titled “He Howls in the Night.”

The poem opens with a loud howl, and Okantah was met with laughter after asking, “Can I do that in a library?”

Okantah attended Kent State University for his undergraduate education, and he said he began school in 1970 after the May 4 shootings by the National Guard.

“I was here for all the repercussions. I arrived on campus the first day campus reopened after having been closed down that spring,” Okantah said.

One of his pieces dealt with his life experiences at Kent State, while at the same time his childhood friend went to Vietnam.

“White boys turned to black blues in search of the soul their own history stole from them,” Okantah read. “I had gone off to college, Big Daddy went off to Vietnam. Neither of us came home the same.”

Okantah’s final reading was from a piece commissioned about Cheikh Anta Diop, an African historian, linguist and physicist who influenced the work of Pan-African Studies today.

He said he was asked to explain the African-American experience to the people of Africa, and he was unsure how to respond until a trip to Nigeria.

He met a woman there who was not familiar with African-American history and wanted to know about where he and his ancestors had come from.

“It is because of our living dead that I speak,” he read. “Africa – what is Africa to me?”

Jason Washington, a freshman English major, said this event was his first live poetry experience, though he was already a fan of Okantah’s written work.

“I had read his poetry before, and it’s powerful,” Washington said. “I thought I’d see it first hand.”

The spoken aloud series, featuring students, faculty and staff performing either original or previously written poetry, fiction and non-fiction, will continue in two weeks in the Wick Poetry Corner. It will continue throughout the fall and spring semesters.

Assistant Professor Jamie Seeholzer, who is also a librarian at the University Library, is the coordinator of the series. She said the events are meant to be relaxed settings for students to learn about works they might not otherwise hear.

Seeholzer said the library is currently planning speakers for the spring semester, and she is accepting nominations for speakers via e-mail.

More information on the continuing “Kent Reads, Kent Writes” series is available at

Contact Ellen Kirtner at [email protected].