Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Giving a voice through Augustana’s African American Read-In

Oshan Hamal
Professor of Education Mike Egan sings “Redemption Sing” by Bob Marley during the African American Read-In event held at the Brew on Feb 29, 2024.

The African American Read-In has been an annual event at Augustana since the 1990s but had a few gap years until Lucas Street, the director of the Reading and Writing Center, brought the event back in 2015. It continued to be off and on until 2020 and has since been running consistently with plans to continue to be an annual event for years to come. 

On the last day of Black History Month, Feb. 29, Augustana hosted the annual African American Read-In. Hosted and organized by the Reading Writing Center (RWC), the event lasted from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and featured readings from several African American poets and authors. These works were read by students and faculty, who had the opportunity to sign up for time slots to read the works of their choice to the audience in the Brew. 

Street said that the read-in is a great way to uphold the RWC’s values of anti-racist practices through literature written by African-American authors and poets.

“Just by being able to have work by Black authors and Black artists performed and read nonstop for hours in a public space really upholds diversity and inclusion,” Street said. “I think one of my favorite things about this is when I started helping put this thing together back in 2015, I would talk with other faculty and we’d be like, gosh, I wish I’d known more of these artists.”

The African-American Read-In is not just an Augustana celebration, but an event celebrated globally by several other universities and communities. It was started in 1990 by Jerrie Cobb Sott, a member of the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English and has continued to make impacts world-wide for just over three decades.

Rebecca Wee, a professor of English, said that the read-in is a great way to encourage students to stand up and speak out. 

“I just firmly believe in the importance of giving voice to voices,” Wee said. “It’s not easy to get up there and read a poem about difficult and hard experiences. But in one of my classes, after a few people got up to talk, more joined. And it just made them feel braver, so a bunch that I never expected to go up there and read did.”

Faculty members Alex Crawford, Farah Marklevits and Garrett Traylor listen attentively to a piece during the African American Read-In event held at the Brew on February 29, 2024.

Kai Swanson, special assistant to the president, said that the read-in also serves as a chance for Augustana students to expand their interests and their knowledge on lesser-known artists in the Black community.

“For example, there is Amanda Gormon, who was the poet laureate that read at Biden’s inauguration,” Swanson said. “This isn’t a name that pops up in a majority of spaces in culture. So maybe, when a student walks by and they hear a work by Amanda Gormon, they might think to look her up and expand their education.”

With over 25 people performing and reading at the read-in, Augustana’s community continues to grow and expand in inclusion and diversity, hopeful for the future of this event and for the future generations of the campus community. 

“It’s one of my favorite days of the year,” Street said. “It’s just exciting to see so many people come together and just share in a love of literature.”

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