Three years ago, Sojourner Kincaid Rolle invited me to read poetry with her at the Community Arts Center in Carpinteria. I was impressed when she said she enjoys helping new poets. Sojourner has held several residencies teaching poetry to kids at Franklin Elementary School, teach to young people both through arts grants and through the public libraries. She is the writing coach for teens with City at Peace and she teaches literature, to college students. She continues to influence generations of Santa Barbara residents through her poetry and teachings.
Last summer, she stepped in for a professor at UC Santa Barbara and taught a course on Black Women Writers. She finds the experience of sharing her knowledge of African-American literature and culture rewarding and enjoyable. Sojourner was especially thrilled to teach the book, for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange. During the fall the film version of the choreo poem debuted. Like Shange, Rolle’s writes performable poems. “My work in playwriting is often based on my written poems and reflect my relationship with the community and culture from a Black Womanist perspective,” she said.
When I first met Sojourner in 2003, I was an actress in a ten-minute play, by Leo Cabranes-Grant, and she was the director and playwright of, both were part of Santa Barbara Blues, a production by Dramatic Women Theater Company of Santa Barbara. Of all of her staged works, she is most proud of, a play about the transatlantic slave trade. This full-length play, based on a 12-poem cycle, was commissioned by and co-written with Bob Potter, a seasoned dramatist. Sojourner credits the community of Santa Barbara for allowing her poetry, plays, and creativity to blossom.
“There’s something unique about Santa Barbara, some serendipity. I pursue things I am interested in and doors are not closed. In Santa Barbara, you don’t have so many people wanting to do what I’m doing. People don’t see me as a threat therefore I am not in competition. It’s a form of service to the community; it’s my calling
When she’s not writing, teaching or presenting her plays, Sojourner promotes her poetry. She has been a poet for 30 years and has lived in Santa Barbara for 25. “I have my place in Santa Barbara, my niche,” said Sojourner, “I’ve accomplished having six plays produced at mainstream theatre with the help from people who believed in me. The North Carolina native says she put together her first chapbook of poems on a typewriter. “My first good poems were written out of the pain and angst of attending law school.”
Her seminal endeavor , The Black Street Project, began as an open challenge to Allen Ginsburg. Rolle’s Black Street takes on Ginsberg’s “Howl” and his famous opening, “I’ve seen the best minds of my generation... dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix.” What started as a three-poem CD, has turned into a full-length poetry collection and forthcoming exhibition. She intends to tour this project around the world and perhaps to develop a curriculum on Black History using references in the poem. Rolle says offers institutional images of Harlem and Harlem as a spiritual existence, “it evokes memory for people who remember and teaches those who never knew this history.”
Next year, the Karpeles Library will host “Black Street,” an exhibit, featuring Rolle’s poems and other ephemera as well as paintings by Babatude Folayemi, January 7 through April 30. La Bloga readers in Los Angeles can hear Sojourner read at the San Gabriel Library, January 22. Find out more about Sojourner Kincaid Rolle events on her Facebook website, she’s come a long way from her typewriter days.
I’ll be singing in Las Posadas, Friday, December 17 at 7pm at El Presidio de Santa Barbara, 123 East Canon Perdido. I also have the pleasure of reading with Sojourner this Sunday, December 19 at 4pm at the Book Den, 15 East Anapamu Street, downtown Santa Barbara. Join me and finish the week with posadas and poetry.