Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and as many of us take off to spend time with family and close friends readying our waistlines for turkey, macaroni & cheese, lasagna, greens, candied yams, pumpkin pie and an assortment of other goodies, I find the time we spend being grateful, a fleeting, yet still very essential part of this holiday. So I urge you to take a minute, actually ten, to please watch Nikky Finney’s acceptance speech that she gave last week for winning the 2011 National Book Award for Poetry for “Head Off and Split.” She thanks her ancestors, slaves who didn’t have the rights to read or write, for giving her the spirit of a poet writer. Her speech is moving because she not only remembers these ancestors, but she summons them to rejoice with her and also, probably more importantly, to take their spiritual bow for fighting against this injustice so that other Black folks would come down the line to not only write, but be lauded as the best of all writers. Check it out. It’s better than hot buttered biscuits and will fill your soul as justly as that oyster cornbread stuffing will fill your belly. Happy Thanksgiving!
Below is an excerpt:
“We begin with history– the slave codes of South Carolina 1739. A fine of $100 and six months in prison will be imposed for teaching a slave to read and write and death is the penalty for circulating any incendiary literature. The ones who longed to read and write, but were forbidden—who lost hands and feet; were killed by laws written by men who believed they owned other men. Words devoted to quelling freedom, insurgency, imagination, all hope.”
“Tonight these forbidden ones move around the room as they please, they sit at whatever table they want, wear camel-colored field hats, tomato-red kerchiefs. Some have just climbed out of the cold, wet Atlantic just to be here. We shiver together. If my name is ever called out I promised my girl poet self, so too would I call out theirs. To be in your company is to brightly burn. I heard this said once and it haunts every poem that I write: ‘Black people were the only people in the United States ever explicitly forbidden to become literate.’”