Seeding The Future

Furious Flower Ramps Up For A Busy Year

Posted: January 24, 2014

Past Furious Flower attendees have included Kevin Young, Haki Madhubuti, Lucille Clifton, Nikki Giovanni, Kalamu ya Salaam and Trudier Harris. (Photo by Courtesy Photo)
Sincere Jordan, 9, (center) takes part in a camp offered by the Furious Flower Poetry Center, which celebrates African American poets and poetry. (Photo by Nikki Fox / DN-R, File)
Raphael Villacrusis (center) teaches children hip-hop moves during poetry camp Aug. 6, 2012. (Photo by Nikki Fox / DN-R, File)

James Madison University’s Furious Flower Poetry Center will soon be appropriately located on the newly-named Martin Luther King, Jr. Way, a move that signifies the start of a busy year at the organization.

The center was originally borne out of a conference on black poetry held in 1994, an effort by Dr. Joanne Gabbin, executive director of the center, to honor poet Gwendolyn Brooks. After all, Furious Flower’s name comes from Brooks’ poem, “The Second Sermon on Warpland.”

Five years later, Gabbin founded the center following the overwhelming success of that first conference.

The center’s third conference — they now occur once a decade — will be held Sept. 24-27 at JMU.

In addition, the center hosts reading series, bringing at least four poets or performers to campus each year, a summer camp for middle-school students, a summer seminar for either high school teachers or undergraduates, and many other events.

Coming up on the schedule is a talk by the center’s relatively new assistant director, Elizabeth Hoover, who started at the organization a year ago this month.

Her presentation, titled “Furious Flower: A Revolution in African American Poetry,” will be held at 1 p.m. in the Grand Meeting Room at Massanutten Regional Library’s main branch in Harrisonburg.

“The most important thing for me at that program is just to share the poem that I really love and give people the opportunity to find the poem that they might fall in love with,” said Hoover, who earned a combined master’s in creative writing and English literature from Indiana University. “I have a lot of poems memorized, and I love the fact that they feel like resources that I can carry with me. I want to help other people meet their next favorite poem.”

The talk is part of an effort by the center to branch out into the community even more than it already does. Later this year, the group will hold a presentation at Court Square Theater.

Hoover wrote the current mission statement for Furious Flower, which starts like this: “To cultivate, honor, and promote the diverse voices of African American poets by making the genre accessible to a wide audience and collaborating with education and cultural institutions, literary organizations, and artists.”

Upcoming Conference
Registration is open for the three-day conference in September.

The center will present lifetime achievement awards to seven poets, and around 35 additional poets will give readings throughout the event.

Hoover estimated that about 360 people will register for the conference, which provides the registrant with tickets for the two concerts that will bookend the event.

A show held at the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts the evening of Sept. 24 will feature the JMU Chorale and the Morgan State Choir performing original pieces based on work by African American poets.

The concert on the evening of Sept. 27 will feature Ravi Coltrane — son of famed saxophonist John Coltrane and pianist Alice Coltrane  — and include jazz, poetry and dance.  

“Usually, we get crowds of about 1,100 to 1,300 at those,” Hoover said.

For more information or to register for the conference, visit or call 568-8883.

Contact Candace Sipos at 574-6275 or