As I read about the written works of Mr. Kalamu Ya Salaam and his achievements, an indescribable feeling of joy and pride welled up in my depths of my soul. Followed by a deep desire to keep on pressing my pen against the white blankness of creativity that was waiting for me to snap out of this life funk that has consumed me for the past year, but Mr. Salaam inspired me. I was so caught up in researching his works to the point I almost forgot t share his good news!
Named by the New York Times, the “Blue Collar Pen,” PEN Oakland has announced the winners of the 30th Annual PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Awards. And New Orleanian Kalamu Ya Salaam is among them, receiving the 2019 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles for his book Be About Beauty.
PEN, which should really be referred to as the less catchy PPEENJH, is an international organization that helps support poets, playwrights, editors, essayists, novelists, journalists, and historians. PEN International has been fighting for the freedom of expression since 1921 and supporting artists since 1963.
The 2019 PEN Oakland Award winners will be formally recognized on Saturday, Dec. 7, at the Rockridge Library in Oakland.
Be About Beauty is a collection of selected writings that celebrates human beauty and goodness. Through essays, poetry, and speeches, ya Salaam distills his years of wisdom, reflecting on a career built on art and activism, which strove to create community while resisting the powerful who worked to tear it apart. Intensely personal and refreshingly honest, Be About Beauty covers topics close to the artist’s heart: public education, jazz, Black art, Mardi Gras Indians, WWOZ radio, community, and the past and future of New Orleans and its culture.
PEN Oakland Josephine Miles awards, named for the late poet and Professor at The University of California at Berkeley, were created to provide recognition for outstanding literary achievement from the entire spectrum of America’s diverse literary community.
The award honors well-known and emerging authors for excellence in multicultural literature.
About Kalamu ya Salaam
Kalamu ya Salaam was born Vallery Ferdinand III on March 24, 1947, in New Orleans, Louisiana. He attended Carleton College (1964-1969), and Delgado Junior College from which he earned an A.A. (Associate Arts) degree in business administration. Mr. Salaam is a professional editor/writer, filmmaker, producer, and arts administrator. He served as a senior partner in the New Orleans based public relations firm of Bright Moments Inc. (1984 – 1996) and is a co-founder (with Kysha Brown) of Runagate Multimedia, Inc. He is the founder and director of the NOMMO Literary Society, a New Orleans-based Black writers workshop. Salaam is also the founder and moderator of e-Drum, an informational listserv for Black writers and diverse supporters of literature worldwide.
He is the recipient of a 1999 Senior Literature Fellowship from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts; a 1998 Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities Award, a 1997 Mayor Marc Morial’s Arts Award, the 1995 Louisiana Literature Fellow and guest editor of “The Music” (Vol. 29, #2) special issue of the African American Review . He is the poetry editor for QBR: The Black Book Review.
Mr. Salaam is the leader of The WordBand, a performance poetry ensemble. He and musician Fred Ho comprise The Afro-Asian Arts Dialogue, a poetry/music duo. H the producer and scriptwriter for Crescent City Sounds (WGBH Radio Boston), a nationally syndicated, weekly, one-hour radio program of New Orleans regional music carried by over 70 radio stations. He is also a radio producer and DJ for WWOZ, 90.7FM, in New Orleans. As well as a record producer with AFO Records, a New Orleans independent record label.
In May 1992, Kalamu ya Salaam produced NEW WORLD POETS for the Houston International Festival in Houston, TX. The program consisted of three concert readings of poetry by African American poets Jayne Cortez, Haki Madhubuti, Thomas Meloncon, Puerto Rican poet Tato Laviera, Native American poet Jack Forbes, Asian American poet Genny Lim, and Chicana poet Evangelina Vigil-Pinon. The program was recorded by Mr. Salaam. In November 1989, Kalamu ya Salaam produced A NATION OF POETS for the National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta, GA. The program was a concert reading of poetry by Amiri Baraka, Pearl Cleage, Wanda Coleman, Mari Evans, Haki Madhubuti, Kalamu ya Salaam, Sonia Sanchez, and Askia Muhammad Toure. The program was recorded under Mr. Salaam’s direction and videotaped for broadcast on the Atlanta PBS affiliate. Mr. Salaam is the producer of A NATION OF POETS cassette and CD.