Poetic Republic

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Oklahoma-born poet Quraysh Ali Lansana says the vast Oklahoma sky inspired him to imagine big. Photo by Gay Pasley, Courtesy of Quraysh Ali Lansana.
Oklahoma-born poet Quraysh Ali Lansana says the vast Oklahoma sky inspired him to imagine big.
Photo by Gay Pasley, Courtesy of Quraysh Ali Lansana.

Friday, Oct. 10

Before Quraysh Ali Lansana taught at Julliard, created an urban literacy workshop in Chicago or wrote eloquent poetry, he was a little boy in Enid, Okla., with a wild imagination.

The youngest of six children, Lansana was exposed to the power of music and poetry at an early age through his older siblings and his upbringing in church. He also recalls being very aware of race and its implications even as a child. Lansana was raised in the politically tumultuous 1960s. He saw his parents battle
discrimination and his older sisters and brother integrate their school systems.
“Racial matters have certainly had an impact on who I am and how I think, morally,” says Lansana.

As he matriculated through high school and later at the University of Oklahoma, he kept these experiences and lessons of cultural sensitivity close to him. Writing became the perfect medium for his expression.

“A lot of folks [in Oklahoma] decide not to engage because they don’t feel that their voices will be heard or because they just don’t want to get involved.”

Lansana marveled at the writings of many of the black poets and novelists from the first half of the 20th century and grew more eager to produce politically evocative prose and poetry himself.

In the late ‘80s, Lansana left the Sooner State for the Windy City, where he still lives today. Since moving to Chicago, Lansana has earned a Master of Fine Arts degree, written five poetry books, edited eight anthologies and taught in the drama division of The Juilliard School. He also created a number of writing and literacy workshops for inner city youth.

Lansana credits the progressive and racially diverse environment of Chicago for much of his success. He says he wishes that his home state was more responsive to social justice issues like those unfolding in Ferguson, Mo.

“A lot of folks [in Oklahoma] decide not to engage because they don’t feel that their voices will be heard or because they just don’t want to get involved,” says Lansana.

He still has an enormous amount of love for Oklahoma.

Lansana will celebrate the release of his new book of poetry, The Walmart Republic, by hosting a launch party and reading at Oklahoma City University. The event will be at 6 p.m. on Oct.10 in the Great Hall of the Tom and Brenda McDaniel University Center.

Lansana continues to process the world through his writing. While the last 25 years in Chicago have been instrumental in the continued growth of his imagination, he knows that its roots go deeper.

“I believe the big Oklahoma sky had a lot to do with it,” he says. “There’s a lot of room to dream and imagine.”

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