In celebration of the interdisciplinary artist and historian Thulani Davis’ new poetry collection, Nothing But the Music, a launch party of performances and conversations is set for tomorrow, December 3, at 7:30 p.m. ET. The occasion is as historic and thrilling as the lineup of artists joining the livestream: Roscoe Mitchell of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Greg Tate of Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber, Pulitzer-winning composer Anthony Davis, author Tobi Haslett, Yale theater professor Daphne A. Brooks, playwright Jessica Hagedorn, and NYU performance studies professor Fred Moten.
Davis’ poetry is as vivid and profound as her subjects: the sounds, contours, and characters of avant-garde jazz and soul of the ’70s and ’80s. The many instruments and registers she excels at—playwright, journalist, librettist, novelist, and screenwriter—converge in her current role as Afro-American Studies professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. But she’s been a public educator since long before the academy, awards, and articles. For Davis, a pioneering Village Voice editor and writer, the act of writing is an act of discovery and recovery—of history, information, and places. It’s also an act of documentation in a democratic sense. Her genealogy-memoir, My Confederate Kinfolk: A 21st-Century Freedwoman Discovers Her Roots, reveals the entrenched dynamics of power around family, race, and gender.
Though best known for her librettos in Amistad and Malcolm X and her Maker of Saints and 1959, she’s increasingly recognized as a visionary in the Black Arts Movement alongside Jayne Cortez, Sonia Sanchez, and Davis’ longtime friend Ntozake Shange. I could go on—about the care, the craft, the eye for joy, grief, and resilience—and I will in an upcoming dive into Davis’ works. For now, register for the Zoom. Pick up Nothing But the Music from Blank Forms Editions.