The conference is hosted by the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College out in Brooklyn, and was created in 1986 by John Oliver Killen’s, the same man who helped founded our little Guild back in 1950. The event, 3 days of affordable yet pricelessly informative and inspiring panels and workshops offers some of today’s best African American thinkers and scribes, like Edwidge Danticat and Charles Johnson. In addition, this year the Center for Black Literature, the HWG, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, in a run up to the main event, is honoring the 100th birthday and life’s work of civil rights activist and literary lion John Oliver Killens.
Killen is not only one of the Guild’s forefathers but also:
Author. Activist. Educator. Mentor. Social critic. The invaluable contributions of John Oliver Killens remain foundational to the continued growth of African-American letters. Author of novels, essays, articles, short stories, plays, and screenplays, his writing has been translated into more than a dozen languages. His first novel, Youngblood, considered a classic of social protest fiction on par with Native Son and Invisible Man, was met with critical acclaim and thrust him onto the national stage. That the novel was published the same month in 1954 of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling aptly contextualizes his career. Killens considered it his duty as an artist to disrupt the sociopolitical landscape of racist America. He had a strong and committed "belief in the revolutionary power of writing and the need for people of color to bring their stories to light."*
Free, John Oliver Killens at 100 will be held two weeks before the NBWC on March 17th from 6:30-8:30 will feature everyone from Dr. Brenda Green of the CBL, independent editor Malaika Adero, Woodie King, Jr. of the New Federal Theater, and our own Cynthia Kitt, among others. Friends, family, and admirers will take the stage to share personal reflections and dramatic readings from Killen’s work. It is a special event, for a very special man who deserves his place in the literary cannon and the civil rights movement to be recognized, remembered and rejoiced.
That said, although we are overjoyed to be a part of John Oliver Killens’ 100th birthday celebration, and there are many other wonderful male writers associated with the Harlem Writers Guild including John Henrik Clarke and Walter Christmas, it’s also Women’s History Month and we’d be remiss if we didn’t shout the praises of the many women of the Guild.