Swirling Words

Bobbie Ann Howell

[Photo of Walter Dean Myers courtesy of Jim Laurie]

I confess. . .it has been several months since my last blog. In an effort to find something worthwhile to share I let time swiftly flow by as events surrounding the Vegas Valley Book Festival swung into action. Words, ideas, stories, poetry, were swirling around the valley at break neck speed, or so it seemed to me. Planning, committees, meetings, things added and deleted from countless lists of to do and done.  Working to create an event of literary interest for as broad an audience as possible, on budget, with a group of partners, is a high goal.  Each of the participants wanting to succeed and hoping the events will have meaning, depth, and provide a good deal of enjoyment as well. 

Working such programs sometimes does not let you actually go to the program, but this year I had on my list to attend several sessions including the Spark! Youth Poetry Writing and Recitation Competition.   Seven high school students were the finalists from the group that entered the writing competition, and it was so lovely to see them take to the stage and recite their work; the poems presented gave a glimpse of the life of the young poets.  So brave and refreshing to see young people step up and give voice to their thoughts on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.  To hear a parent say, “This is my daughter the poet” made all the work worthy, and I know that other such moments were happening throughout the day in big and small ways.  Connections made and conversations had, books signed and taken home or planned as special gifts. The gift of ideas, thoughts, words of meaning, curiosity, imagination, empathy, fantasy, fact, fiction, knowledge arranged in thousands of different ways, what fun!

Leaning about things, people, and places is a great byproduct of working for Nevada Humanities. I got to learn more about QR (Quick Response) Codes – the little square pattern that is found looming everywhere – which are a type of barcode to be scanned by smart phones and lead to a specific web location.  We used them to take poetry directly to the smart phone of anyone who scanned the poetry t-shirts we gave away at the First Friday Cyber Poetry Launch.  Five poets created video, audio, or text works that we assigned a Cyber Poetry page on the Nevada Humanities web site, and you can view, or hear their works on-line.  Check it out.  I am now making QR codes for lots of things and putting them on buttons, magnets, bookmarks, etc… some with our blog site or donation link, or the Online Nevada website to see who stops by and finds us via this little box.

Right after the book festival I had a chance to attend the National Humanities Conference in Birmingham, Alabama.  I always like to learn about and see other areas of the country, and I had not been to Birmingham before.  The fight took us over the desert just past the Grand Canyon with it’s geology in full view as the sun sunk low in western sky accentuating the shapes and colors through the clouds we headed east across the continental divide with the night chasing away the day. I love looking at the landscape from the air and I usually pay the extra fee to get a window seat in hopes of a clear day and new vistas.  

Birmingham was filled new vistas and events marking the 50th Anniversary of the civil rights movement where many young people marched in protest of the segregation laws that led to the fateful day in 1963 when four young girls lost their lives when the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed.  Thinking about the fact that it was only fifty years ago a man found it acceptable to place a bomb under the stairs at a church and kill children kept washing over my thoughts.  How close this history is to our parents and us.  We were able to meet some of the people who were there, who worked years to bring the bombers to justice, as they told their story from the place where it happened.  Reflecting on the events, the need to find ways to remember and understand the history of our nation, and where we are going together, was a theme throughout the week.  If you haven’t thought or learned about these events or what it means to be a citizen lately, take a moment and seek out their stories. They lead the way to freedom, and that is still a beautiful word that has a very high cost.

Related Links:

50 Years Forward

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

Birmingham: 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham