By Allison Campbell-Jensen

Actors on set: Penumbra Theatre Company. Seven Guitars [production records] (Box 6, Folder 15). 2002 - 2003. University of Minnesota Libraries, Archie Givens, Sr. Collection of African American Literature., umedia.lib.umn.edu/item/p16022coll203:13295 Accessed 25 Apr 2022.
Penumbra Theatre Company. Seven Guitars production records. 2002 – 2003. University of Minnesota Libraries, Archie Givens, Sr. Collection of African American Literature.
Yes, yes:  We’ve all heard the line, “April is the cruelest month.” This year, in Minnesota, with snow falling up north and trees holding back their leaves as they await warmer weather, the sometimes-spring month seems particularly heavy with anticipation.

While we await the true spring, let’s take a trip into the commemorations that happen during April.

Did you know that this is not only National Poetry Month, April also is Jazz Appreciation Month, and Arab-American Heritage Month (just designated by President Biden in 2022). That’s a lot to unpack — but we have more than a week left in April to appreciate, listen, learn, and read (aloud, preferably).

It’s all happening at the Libraries

Stretch your definitions a bit and take a look at the holdings of the Givens Collections of African-American literature. Among the treasures are works, show programs, and other memorabilia from famed playwright August Wilson.

Wilson’s years in St. Paul are described in the Saint Paul Almanac: “…in those early ’80s years before Lloyd Richards and Yale Rep turned up, August Wilson sat on neighborhood barstools and wobbly café chairs, smoking and brooding and, bit by bit, building stories inside him. He didn’t drive, so he walked a lot, or took the bus. A solitary figure—always in a suit and tie, dressed like a 1930s itinerant bluesman—he’d tromp the streets of Saint Paul, arguing out character conflicts in his head.”

The result? Many of his 10 plays about African American life in the 20th century, including the renowned “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” were written right here. They can be heard as poetic, jazz- and blues-infused expressions of pain and love derived from the Black experience in America.

Newly honoring Americans of Arab heritage

Graywolf Press. Program: An Evening of Poetry, Celebrating the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of Graywolf Press, 1999. University of Minnesota Libraries, Upper Midwest Literary Archives.
Graywolf Press. Program: An Evening of Poetry, Celebrating the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of Graywolf Press, 1999. University of Minnesota Libraries, Upper Midwest Literary Archives.

Among our millions of books, archive materials, and histories of displaced persons, we find evidence of the lives and impacts of Arab-Americans. One of many outstanding examples is Ralph Nader, crusader for consumer safety.

Ever since he published “Unsafe at Any Speed,” in 1965, he has carried the flag for ordinary folks. You can thank him for seatbelts in cars. He has not put on the brakes: One of his more recent books is “Crashing the party: taking on the corporate government in an age of surrender” (published in 2002, available in Wilson Library and, on the Duluth campus, at the Martin Library).

Perhaps you’ve read her poem “Kindness” or “Every day as a wide field, every page”? Naomi Shihab Nye was born in St. Louis. Her father was a Palestinian refugee and her mother an American of German and Swiss descent. Nye spent her adolescence in both Jerusalem and San Antonio. She wrote about the experience in a young person’s book, “Habibi,” held in our Kerlan Collection of Children’s Literature.

Her Poetry Foundation bio notes: “Nye’s experience of both cultural difference and different cultures has influenced much of her work. Known for poetry that lends a fresh perspective to ordinary events, people, and objects, Nye has said that, for her, ‘the primary source of poetry has always been local life, random characters met on the streets, our own ancestry sifting down to us through small essential daily tasks.’”

She also wrote: “Poetry calls us to pause. There is so much we overlook, while the abundance around us continues to shimmer, on its own.”

Somewhere there’s music … that’s where you are

Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald headshot. University of Minnesota Libraries, Performing Arts Archives.

Through our U of M Libraries, you can check out audio recordings of Ella Fitzgerald, Chick Corea, and Grant Green, to name just a few jazz greats. It must be said, however, that the amazing streaming services of our Music Library can only be accessed by members of the U community or via our Libraries computers.

Want to hear some hot music? For an essential, huge, and time- and mind-bending session, go to Alexander Street’s Jazz Music and bebop around. The “Ultimate Anita O’Day” could be just your ticket to the foremost American contribution to the world’s music.

Music librarian Jessica Abbazio suggests that you check out some trippy historical and contemporary writing about jazz through the RIPM Jazz Periodicals database online. RIPM (LeRépertoire international de la presse musicale) was founded in 1980 under the auspices of the International Musicological Society (IMS) and the International Association of Music Libraries, Archives, and Documentation Centres (IAML). Its mission? To preserve and to provide access to 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century periodical literature dealing with music, and to facilitate and encourage research based on this press.

Wait — there’s more! Go to the Music Library’s homepage for more resources, including a Getting Started guide for those new to the U of M Libraries’ music-related holdings of all genres.

And remember: We don’t need to confine ourselves to April to celebrate jazz, poetry, and those of Arab-American heritage. Don’t mope around, looking out the window at April showers. Instead, recharge: Take a walk around your Libraries website.

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