Eugene Redmond's essential presence in American letters can be measured equally as a writer, editor, mentor and theorist. While a professor of English and poet-in-residence at California State University, Sacramento, from 1970 to 1985, Redmond won an NEA Creative Writing Fellowship, an Outstanding Faculty Research Award, a Pushcart Prize, and served as a visiting professor in Africa and Europe.
Redmond returns to Northern California this week for a series of readings from his new volume of collected writing, "Arkansippi Memwars: Poetry, Prose & Chants, 1962-2012."
"Arkansas and Mississippi are where my people come from," Redmond said of his book's title.
"Most of the people around here have people from down there," Redmond said of his home in East St. Louis, Ill., where he was named poet laureate in 1976.
Redmond released several volumes of poetry while living in Sacramento including "River of Bones and Flesh and Blood" (1971), "Songs From an Afro/Phone" (1972) and "In a Time of Rain & Desire: New Love Poems" (1973), all published by Black Writers Press, which Redmond established with young writing colleagues Sherman Fowler and Henry Dumas.
When Dumas was tragically shot and killed in 1968, Redmond began serving as the literary executor of the Dumas estate, working with Toni Morrison on publishing much of the prolific Dumas' poetry and prose.
Redmond began writing with a Eurocentric sensibility garnered from his studies at Washington University, where he earned his master's in English literature.
"One of my professors there told me I needed to stop reading T.S. Eliot because I read him over and over," Redmond said. "I asked him how long I should stop for and he said, 'Forever!' "
His early interest in Eliot not withstanding, he has always fused a love and deep appreciation of African American culture with his creative and academic sensibilities.
Redmond considers himself a griot or "recorder of deeds" in the African tradition and his poetry has always had basis in musical rhythm.
"Early on I often name-checked artists in my work, James Brown, the Temptations, John Coltrane," Redmond said. "Later there was just more a general musical feeling in the writing."
Redmond has even created his own poetic form called the "kwansaba."
"It's seven lines of seven words per line, of which no word, except proper nouns, can have more than seven letters," Redmond said. "Kwansaba" comes from the words "Kwanzaa" and "Nguzo Saba," which are the seven principles of Kwanzaa.
While Redmond's poetry established his artistic voice, in 1976 Doubleday published his seminal academic work "Drumvoices: The Mission of Afro-American Poetry, a Critical History." A rigorously researched survey of poetry from 1746 to 1976 that required eight years of study, the book delves into what Redmond wrote was the "complex web of beliefs, customs, traditions and significant practices that tie diasporan black cultures to their African origins."
Redmond returned to East St. Louis in 1986 and has been a professor at Southern Illinois University since 1990.
His book of poetry "Eye on the Ceiling" (1991) won an American Book Award and in 1993 Pan-African Movement USA awarded him a Pyramid Award for lifetime contributions to Pan-Africanism through poetry.
Redmond's good friend Maya Angelou once said about him, "His sermons on black beauty, black brotherhood and black romance have their roots in the black Baptist church, the Apollo Theater and the Blues joints. Preach it."
What: Eugene Redmond reads his latest volume of collected writings "Arkansippi Memwars: Poetry, Prose & Chants 1962-2012." Guest poets include Charles Curtis Blackwell, Straight Out Scribes and Vincent Kobelt.
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Brickhouse Art Gallery, 2837 36th St., Sacramento
Tickets: $5, $7, $10
Information: (916) 475-1240
What: Second annual "Drumvoices for Ahaji: A Festival of the Arts" featuring a panel discussion, drumming, vendors, poetry, art displays, book signings, and music, with Eugene Redmond, David Covin, Maasai Hatten, Lisa A. Lacy, Lawrence Dinkins a.k.a. NSAA, Tchaka Muhammed, Lori Jean Robinson, William A. Parker and many more.
When: 2-5 p.m. Saturday
Where: Women's Civic Improvement Club of Sacramento 3555 Third Ave., Sacramento
Tickets: $5-$15 Call The Bee's Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120; Follow him on Twitter: @marcuscrowder.