It's Lit: Black Table Arts
Black Table Arts first began as the Free Black Table Open Mic in January 2015. Free Black Table is a free-of-charge, all-ages open mic dedicated to the writings of black artists and people of color. The success of this initial open mic led founder Keno Evol to not only plan more, but to consider other ways he could expand the conversation. “Could we have a blog that goes beyond poetics and pays tribute to prose and politics? Could we have dialogue? Could we teach?” The answers were yes, and Black Table Arts was born.
Today, Black Table Arts is an emerging arts-based organization that seeks to conjure other worlds through black art by connecting creatives and cultivating volume in Black Life. “We hold space for that to happen in multiple ways: through places like the Free Black Table Open Mic, through places like Black Lines Matter [a black/POC centered writing meetup], through black poetry readings, through panel discussions. We try to think of rooms we can conjure to get black and POC creatives to chop it up and talk about various things. From sustainability, to alternatives to police, to dream justice.”
Evol, who considers himself a “poet who teaches,” first discovered poetry through the programming of TruArtSpeaks. “That was the catalyst for me to learn that the poem goes beyond the page. That it can be used as a tool to organize, and a tool to teach.” Evol continued to say, “I think facilitating time and space for people to articulate their own identities, for people to articulate their principles, what they care about, their social location...is incredibly important. One of my favorite writers, James Baldwin, wrote that he knew if he could describe it, he could conquer it.”
Both of Black Table Arts's regularly recurring programs are designed to facilitate this time and space for discussion and articulation. “Free Black Table, for example, is not just open mic. We pose questions...we have trivia...we really talk with folks.” Furthermore, spoken word inherently fosters communication and community because it "requires a performer, you have to see someone. Spoken word requires a voice, you have to hear someone. It’s important that we see each other. Spoken word can also provide a dialogue after the poem, because it’s a live experience.”
Black Lines Matter, which just began this month, is a free and public writing meetup designed to get people talking about craft and politics. “We’re talking about black protest poetry and producing writing out of that. We’re looking at poetic works, but the things that the participants write don’t have to be poetry.”
When I asked Evol if he thought poets, or artists, had a responsibility to address politics, he responded, “I think humans do.” In terms of poetry, Evol challenges the Twin Cities to think about the following: “Do we tolerate poems that are racist? Or sexist? Or perpetuate violent narratives? Or are Islamophobic? Do we tolerate those poems? Do we raise questions around those poems? Do we know the definitions of racism, of transphobia? Can we detect them in our writing, and in other people's writing?”
“I would love to see public displays that showcase our principles, in terms of people who are going to be targeted in 2017. I want to see the biggest poetry readings against the Muslim ban. I want to see panel discussions of black writers, to see people who are pushed to the edges of culture to raise their voice. And for poetry, the literary arts, to be the host of that. What is the Loft going to host in 2017 that displays their moral compass? And not just the Loft but the Guthrie, or the Minneapolis Institute of Art, or high schools, or whatever.”
In general, Evol thinks “the Twin Cities is a good space to be a writer. I think that it’s cool, there’s a lot of stuff going on, there’s a lot of spoken word/open mics going on. Check out Reverb open mic, check out the Free Black Table, check out Fox Egg Gallery, check out the Loft.” And don’t forget to read too. Evol recommends “Danez Smith, Ross Gay, Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, Audre Lorde, Nikky Finney, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Patricia Smith, Aziza Barnes, Angel Nafis, Donte Collins.”
What can we expect from Evol, and Black Table Arts, in the future? “In my imagination I’m like a professor at 35. I would love to teach at a university one day. But I love spots like Black Lines Matter. I love spots like Reverb spoken word open mic, Free Black Table, stuff like that. I feel like I’m doing what I’m meant to do when I’m in those spaces. And I want Black Table Arts to be able to maybe give out grants to young black writers. That’s the goal.”
Don’t miss these upcoming Black Table Arts events!
Keno Evol is the founder and executive director of Black Table Arts. Evol teaches Black Voices at Washburn, offered through TruArtSpeaks, a course centered on providing MPLS students with an opportunity to engage with black literature, theory and the craft of poetry. He is currently an editor at The Loft Literary Center Manuscript Critique Services. Evol has received numerous grants and competed nationally as a spoken word artist.
Sara Krassin is a Minneapolis based poet, editor, and bibliophile. She currently serves as Poetry Contest Editor for the Water~Stone Review, reads submissions for Jellyfish Highway Press, and interns at The Loft Literary Center in Marketing & Communications. Her poems have appeared in Third Point Press, Artemis Journal, and The Sand Canyon Review. Find her at @MsKrassin.