In honor of the 75th anniversary of the Yale University Press publication of the book For My People, the Margaret Walker Center celebrated with poet and author Airea D. Matthews.
In 2016, Matthews became the first African-American to win the Yale Younger Poets Prize for her book of poetry Simulacra since Margaret Walker in 1942.
Walker was the first African-American to win the Yale Younger Poets Prize for her notable poem For My People, and the book of poetry by the same name. Seven years later, Walker began working as a faculty member at Jackson State University in the Department of English.
In 1968, Walker founded the Institute for the Study of the History, Life and Culture of Black People. The Institute was later renamed in her honor, the Margaret Walker Center.
JSU instructor Laura Miller began the anniversary celebration with a reading of the poem For My People. Afterward, Tyler Harden, president of the Outspoken Arts Collective, introduced Matthews as the Yale Younger Poets Prize winner. Matthews shared a variety of poetry readings with the audience before engaging in conversation with moderator Maryemma Graham.
During her dialogue, Matthews encouraged aspiring poets and writers to stay persistent.
“Concentrate on your work. When you focus on the work itself and let it guide you your work will remain true, and good things will happen for you. Never give up. The biggest problem with most poets and writers is that they give up. Stay the course,” Matthews said.
Matthews further said she is continuously inspired to focus on the artistic legacy of Walker’s poems and books through her own work. With a sense of deep gratitude, she explained how diligence and hard work led to her coveted honor.
Matthews also addressed her concerns that it had been 74 years since an African-American won a national writing prize of this magnitude. With great persuasion, she stated, “The gates are opening for all sorts of people, not just along the lines of race and gender but all sorts of perceived identities. And, so I would just say to think long-term and have a long aim. It will happen. Hopefully, it won’t be another 74 years.”
The Margaret Walker Center is an archive and museum located at JSU. It’s dedicated to preservation, interpretation and dissemination of African-American history and culture.
For more information about the Margaret Walker Center, visit the Margaret Walker Center.