Delta Symposium

On April 7, 2014

The A-State campus vibrated with talent last week as some of the nation’s most distinguished scholars and artists arrived for the 20th annual Delta Symposium.

This year’s theme, “Diversities in the Delta,” centered on the history and culture of the region. The conference kicked off on Wednesday with “Talking about Diversity,” a discussion about the Delta’s rich history, and ended with the Roots Music Festival on Saturday.

The symposium offered multiple opportunities for students to get involved, including numerous writing workshops, master classes and forum-style dialogues. A major topic of discussion last week was blues music – from multiple music showcases to award-winning speakers. The keynote presentation was given on Thursday evening by Adam Gussow, an acclaimed blues harmonica player and scholar, who currently teaches at the University of Mississippi. On Friday evening, the scholastic portion of the symposium came to a close with a poetry reading by Yusef Komunyakaa, a world-renowned poet known for his remarkable ability to express beauty in tragedy.

Faye Cocchiara, interim chief diversity officer and associate professor of management, described Komunyakaa’s writing style as an infusion of jazz, giving voice to his life experiences. Komunyakaa is a Pulitzer Prize recipient and is currently a distinguished senior poet and global professor at New York University.

Komunyakaa presented works that showed his profound jazz and blues influences and spoke about what type of music provided inspiration to him.

“I was thinking about the essence of the blues. That’s what the conference is about,” Komunyakaa said. “I suppose if I have to define my own situation, it would be somewhere between Delta blues and the Deep South.”

The floor was open for questions after the poetry reading, at which point Komunyakaa shared his knowledge and methods with the audience.

“There’s nothing that’s really taboo to write about, but one has to have a system of aesthetics,” he said. “I’m interested in the images in poems as opposed to the statements, because images are deceptive.”

When it comes to what part blues plays in writing, Komunyakaa said the blues transverses many different terrains the way poetry does.

Sara Rickman, a senior English major of Conway, said Komunyakaa’s poetry reading was her favorite part of the symposium. She said it is important to invite prominent scholars to speak with students.

“It provides a lot of connection opportunities for the students. It’s really helpful for us to understand what’s out there,” Rickman said.

Michal Horton, a master’s student in English from Searcy, volunteered for the symposium. She agreed that the chance to meet professionals from outside the community was beneficial.

“I got to speak with Dr. Komunyakaa before, and it’s so great to hear how he started out. To see the origin, the beginning, it’s really encouraging,” Horton said.

Komunyakaa concluded his presentation by referencing a point made by the late American author James Baldwin.

“One has to know what is happening around him in order to know what’s happening to him,” he said.

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