Sapphire, M.F.A., '97, Returns to Brooklyn College to Read New Works, Monday, September 27

Sapphire, M.F.A., '97

Sapphire was a student in the Brooklyn College M.F.A. program when she received the MacArthur Foundation Scholarship in Poetry in 1994, the same year she placed first in Downtown Magazine’s Year of the Poet III Award. She is the author of two books of poetry, Black Wings and Blind Angels (1999), and American Dreams (1994), which was cited by Publisher's Weekly as "one of the strongest debut collections of the nineties." On Monday, September 27, she will read from 2 to 3:30 p.m. in the Occidental Lounge in the Student Center in an event cosponsored by the Wolfe Institute, the M.F.A. Program in Poetry, and the Department of English.

Her greatest success came with the publication of her novel, PUSH (1996). Immediately acclaimed as one of the decade's most unforgettable prose debuts, the story of sixteen-year-old Claireece Precious Jones riveted audiences with its bleak vision of urban life and the narrator's unapologetic use of a gritty vernacular. PUSH won the Book-of-the-Month Club Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction, the Black Caucus of the American Library Association's First Novelist Award, and in England, the Mind Book of the Year Award.

Born Romona Loftis in Fort Ord, California, Sapphire took her name in the 1980s, during the height of the New Age movement. A Harlem resident since 1983, she spent a decade teaching literacy to children and adults and cleaning houses for a living while perfecting her craft as a performance artist at the Nuyorican Café and other venues. Sapphire graduated cum laude from the City College of New York in 1992 with a degree in dance.

Sapphire's work is marked by an overt political and spiritual sensibility. She uses current events, the work of other artists and scholars, testimonies and histories, popular black urban culture, and her own life as inspiration and context. Having been compared to Langston Hughes and Audre Lorde, Sapphire is particularly strong in her ability to evoke, in detail, the moments when a body devastated by a history of abuse and oppression begins to resemble a person looking at herself and recognizing a self in motion. Sapphire's poetry and fiction have appeared in numerous journals ,including The New Yorker, Spin, Bomb, and The Black Scholar.

 

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