Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Celebrating Poets and Busboys and Other Writers Who Inspire and Champion Us

Today is the birthday of Alice Walker. I've written here about Walker's influence on me, and Muriel Rukeyser's influence on Walker. I had forgotten that Langston Hughes had also helped Alice Walker. Today's archived section of The Writer's Almanac tells us that Hughes was an early champion of her writing, after someone (who?) sent him one of her short stories. Go here to read, and before you scroll down, enjoy that wonderful poem of Nikki Giovanni's that celebrates great teachers, poetry, and reading.

And so, today seems a good day to celebrate not only Alice Walker, but also Busboys and Poets, that Washington D.C. restaurant whose name was inspired by Hughes' time as a busboy at the Wardman Park Hotel in the 1920's. I think of Busboys and Poets as a D.C. institution, which it is, if a restaurant that didn't exist before 2005 can be thought of as an institution.

Early on, the founders of the restaurant wanted to be part of the community, a resource. And now, they're facing a bit of backlash, as some poets claim that the restaurant isn't paying their poets enough. My first thought: if they're paying poets, they're doing more than most people. If you want to read the whole story, you can go here. Perhaps it's a failure of my imagination, but I'm thrilled that any place will give poets a space in which to read, much less pay. When I went to the White Pines reading on Thursday, we had a whole section of the restaurant with a door that closed all to ourselves. And sure, we spent a lot of money on food and drink, but we only occupied about a third of the space. If the restaurant hadn't had the reading, they'd have probably made more money with more patrons filling all the tables and coming and going.

It's a great space. The room is long, but not narrow, with a bit of a stage up front.

Here you see the stage, with a table and a chair, with a candle and fresh flowers.

Above, Susan Rich reading from The Alchemist's Kitchen. Below, Kelli Russell Agodon, reading from Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room.

Lots of people took lots of pictures afterwards. I've always loved the kind of pictures like the one you see below. These kind of pictures always make me wish I had been there. And now I get to be in one of those pictures! We were standing under a rosy light--ah, if only we could always stand in this rosy light.

from left to right: January O'Neil, Kelli Russell Agodon, me, and Susan Rich.

Above, you see how the restaurant's poetry space looked if you stood at the stage and looked back towards the door: candles on every table, art on the walls--a beautiful place!

At the front of the room on a side wall is a big mural, with inspirational messages and pictures of influential African-Americans from the pages of history.

All in all, a great night in a great place that has become such an important community resource. Alice Walker once said, ""Writing saved me from the sin and inconvenience of violence." It's wonderful to have places like Busboys and Poets, places where we can celebrate the writing that saves us from violence, the writing that bathes us in the rosy light of hope and keeps that light of hope from being extinguished.


Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks for the recap of the reading! I was soooooo bummed to miss it!

Kells said...

I loved how the photo of us came out (and we are arranged by height!)

I also love how you took photos of the wall. I should have paid more attention to the details of that place.

Thanks so much for coming!

It was great to meet you in person!

Kristin said...

Thank you Kelli, for your comment and your link on your blog--and for a great reading and your graciousness as poetry hostess that night. Does that term sound demeaning? I didn't mean for it to. I was impressed with how you talked to everyone and made us all (well, me, at least) feel special and welcomed.

Sorry that we couldn't have experienced this together, Sandy. Here's to better weather and meeting in person and fun experiences next year!

January said...

Great photos! So nice to see you in D.C. :)