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With Juneteenth Event, Black Writers Aim To Protest Through Their Art

Black Writers Read, live and online June 19th, is the brainchild of several western Massachusetts writers. The event began as a response to a Trump campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, originally scheduled for the same day. June 19 is Juneteenth, a day that marks the end of slavery in the U.S. 

"We were like — we need to do something to counteract that and that's how we came up with Black Writers Read," said poet, performer and playwright Nicole M. Young.

The Trump event was moved to another day, but Young said the timing for her event was still good. In a way, Black Writers Read is another response to the Black Lives Matter movement, she said. You can bring attention to police brutality against Black people by protesting, and you can also make art.

"Like many of my favorite stand-up comedians, they always say, 'You can open a lot of conversations if you can get [the audience] to laugh.' And I want to do that through my art," Young said. "Not to get them to laugh, but to get people to think."

Young will host Black Writers Read from her home in Windsor, Connecticut. She plans to read some of her own work, and introduce about 20 writers during the evening, who will read from almost every single genre you can imagine, she said.

Beyond the one night reading, Young and others are working to get the literature of emerging Black writers on the map. The event was initially intended for writers living in the Pioneer Valley, but once the sign-up link got on Facebook, the event grew from there.

"So we have a writer from Seattle, Washington, one from Texas, one from my hometown in Detroit," Young said.

Others will join from Brooklyn and Boston — and Christopher Sparks will join from Northampton. Sparks plans to read something he wrote this week tied to the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. 

Sparks and Young write together; they recently started Valley Society, described as "a writing and social group for Black writers of the Pioneer Valley." Among their programs: an emerging writer fellowship program.

"Those things began last year," Sparks said. "Things that we could not have understood the importance of, arriving at just this moment, so that lo and behold, we threw together an event."

Juneteenth to Sparks is usually a quiet and personal time. He said it's nice this year the day is becoming more popular. But given the historical record of violence against Black people, he said, observing Juneteenth is just a start.

This story was updated at 5:12 p.m. on June 19, 2020, to reflect a change to the AP and NPR style guides calling for Black to be capitalized.

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