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An evening with the legends

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Next week Indianapolis residents will have a chance to witness a special and unforgettable moment in history.

Four of the nation’s most celebrated African-American poets and literary artists will appear on the same stage for the first time.

Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Haki Madhubuti and Mari Evans are all scheduled to appear during An Evening with the Legends, presented by the 21st Annual Etheridge Knight Festival of the Arts.

The festival is free and will take place April 19 at the Indiana Landmarks Center, 1201 N. Central Ave.

“These people are true legends, and I can’t imagine that at any other given time you would see four individuals who were active in the arts movement of the 1960s all appearing at the same time,” said Eunice Knight-Bowens, Etheridge Knight’s sister and founder of the annual festival named in his honor.

Each year the festival is held in support of the local arts community and in memory of Knight, an Indianapolis poet and author known nationally for his contributions to American literature.

Knight-Bowens said creating a “legends theme” for the festival came from her friend Karen Moore, and securing Baraka, Evans, Madhubuti and Sanchez for the event was not an easy process.

“Some people didn’t believe we could get it done,” Knight-Bowens said. “I’m the type of person that has determination – not much money, but determination – so we were able to eventually synchronize everyone’s schedule and nail down a date.”

In addition to sharing their own works, Baraka, Evans, Madhubuti and Sanchez will honor acclaimed Pulitzer Prize winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks, who inspired Knight and many other accomplished literary artists.

Participants in the festival will be able to also enjoy artistic expressions through dance, a video of Etheridge Knight and an exhibit by Indiana artist Joseph Holiday and his daughter, poet Mijiza Yaa Soyini.

Plenty of CDs and books from the featured artists will be available, and participants can stay for a once in a lifetime autograph session after the event.

Those who would like an opportunity to spend more time with Baraka, Evans, Madhubuti and Sanchez can attend the Meet and Greet the Legends VIP reception, which will be held before the festival.

The featured poets are all recognized by many people as literary and cultural icons, both within and outside the African-American community.

Baraka, a poet and political activist, is best known as the founder of the Black Arts Movement that was launched in Harlem during the ‘60s. Some of his best-known works include “Blues People,” a study of African-American music, and his play, “The Dutchman.” He has worked as professor of African Studies at the State University of New York and was inducted into the American Academy of the Arts and Letters.

Evans is best known for her award winning poetry, but is also a well-respected educator, playwright and author of children’s books and plays. Some of her most popular works of poetry include “Night Star,” “I Am a Black Woman” and “A Dark and Splendid Mass.”

Madhubuti, a leading poet, educator and publisher, was also a pivotal figure during the Black Arts Movement, and has become one of the world’s best selling authors of poetry and non-fiction. The African American Family in Transition, Don’t Cry, Scream! and Run Toward Fear are among his most celebrated works.

Sanchez emerged as an influential poet, activist and scholar during the height of the civil rights movement. She has lectured at over 500 college campuses across the U.S., and is well known for her work as a professor of English and Women’s Studies at Temple University.

Some of Sanchez’s best-known poems include “Homegirls and Hand Grenades,” “Under a Soprano Sky” and “Love Poems.”

Knight-Bowens said her brother would be happy knowing that Baraka, Evans, Madhubuti and Sanchez, who were all friends of his, are coming together to not only honor him and Brooks, but to keep the legacy of African-American literary arts alive.

“He would like the idea of what we’re doing,” Knight-Bowens said before laughing and adding, “Then he would try to tell me how to run it, you know, being the older brother.”

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