After the passing of Detroit poet laureate Naomi Long Madgett in December, a group of artists and activists gathered to consider her successor. One name that has continued to rise in that conversation was that of poet and activist Dr. Gloria House, also known as “Mama Aneb.”
Malik Yakini, a local musician and activist, said the honor of poet laureate should go to someone who has been active in the arts community for a long time and has made an impact on the city and people in the community.
“Mama Aneb has touched and inspired so many different people around her, students, poets, activists, just regular people in the city,” Yakini said. “It’s hard to think of someone better to follow” Naomi Long Madgett.
Yakini started a Facebook group and letter writing campaign to help get House named the city’s next poet laureate. Yakini is asking those who have met or worked with House to share endorsement letters with the city’s Office of Arts, Culture and Entrepreneurship by next Monday.
House has published books since the early 1980s and taught at Wayne State University, the University of Michigan-Dearborn and the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. She also taught elementary and high school students in Detroit’s African-centered schools, according to Kresge Arts in Detroit. House received the Kresge Eminent Artist Award in 2019.
House has been involved in numerous social justice movements throughout her life — Black Arts and Consciousness movements, anti-police brutality, justice for Cuba. She also protested Detroit’s water shutoffs, among other human rights and anti-war causes. She first got involved in the 1960s civil rights movement when she attended free speech protests at the University of California, Berkeley.
She then began teaching in Selma, Alabama, and worked with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC. She drafted SNCC’s statement against the Vietnam War, which was among the first public statements opposing the war by a civil rights organization.
Yakini said it’s the intersection of her poetry and social awareness that make her ideal for the role right now.
“She not only has a profound understanding of the struggle for liberation of African people in the United States, but she also has a profound understanding of how that struggle is connected to international struggles for justice,” Yakini said. “Her poetry and her other writings are informed by that deep and broad, national and international historical political and cultural understanding.”
Detroit multimedia artist Sabrina Nelson believes House should be the next poet laureate, too. Nelson describes House as a “calming and mystical” presence, and compares her work to the late Toni Morrison and poet Sonia Sanchez.
Nelson has known House for over 30 years, and said she is still in awe of her writing. In 2017, House released “Medicine,” and Nelson said that book, in particular, got her through hard times.
“I read it over and over and over again after my father died in April of COVID, and it was so powerful, it felt like (House) was in the room with me,” she said.
Nelson thinks House is the perfect person to step into the position left by Long Madgett’s passing last year.
“In so many ways, I think she’s like walking medicine, and if we don’t acknowledge that while she is here and give her these accolades and flowers, then we’re doing a disservice to her and ourselves,” she said.
Detroit poet and author Joel Fluent Greene agrees. House deserves the title because of her civic and community engagement, Greene said.
“This isn’t something she’s asking for, this isn’t something she nominated herself for, and it’s not like she is sitting back talking about things she has done in the past,” Greene said. “People in the community recognize her work. She is still so active in the arts community here in Detroit.”
Greene has only met House a handful of times and doesn’t know her personally, but he says her reputation and support for Black artists precedes her.
“So many people I know and work with and look up to all say so many great things about (House), it’s hard to ignore someone who influenced so many different people,” he said.
Yakini encourages anyone who has been touched by House’s work or her life to send letters of support to the city’s Office of Arts, Culture and Entrepreneurship by February 15. Have you met House or read her work? What’s your favorite poem of hers? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter @BridgeDet313, and don’t forget to subscribe for FREE to get more content about your city.