Tyehimba Jess came home to Karamu House to lift up “Olio,” his magnificently engineered collection of poems that explore black voices in the decades from Civil War times to the start of World War I. Many of the poems can be read from back to front, at a slant and via every other line, in a welter of sense-making and sensibility.
A sold-out crowd flocked to the historic theater during Cleveland Book Week to hear Jess showcase the historic voices that flow through every page of “Olio,” which won both an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize. He used a screen projector to show how the works unfold multiple meanings in varied directions.
As preamble, two artists from Twelve Literary and Performative Arts — Mary Barrett and Damien McClendon — recited their explosive original work, while Daniel Gray-Kontar opted for a nontraditional introduction to Jess, performing pieces from Jess’ first poetry collection, “Leadbelly,” with backing from the jazz band MOSHURO. Sponsor Lydia Munell of Brews + Prose praised the vitality of hearing poems in a cathedral, in a museum, at a boxing ring, at Karamu and in a planetarium – all sites where Anisfield-Wolf and her organization have collaborated.
“One thing I’m going to come back with is Cleveland knows how to throw a party,” Jess said. “Y’all know how to get down.”
View the event in full below and join our mailing list to be among the first to hear the lineup for Cleveland Book Week 2018.