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JMU poetry pioneer wins Circle of Excellence award

Executive director and founder of the Furious Flower Poetry Center at James Madison University, Dr. Joanne V. Gabbin, has helped thousands of students, poets and emerging writers find their voices.

jmu forbes centerGabbin is this year’s recipient of the Circle of Excellence in the Arts Award, presented at the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts at James Madison University on Thursday, June 15, 2017. The award is co-sponsored by the Forbes Center, the Arts Council of the Valley, and College of Visual and Performing Arts at JMU.

“Dr. Gabbin is a major contributor to the artistic vitality of the Shenandoah Valley, and it is an honor to present her with this year’s Circle of Excellence in the Arts Award,” says Regan Byrne, Executive Director of the Forbes Center.

Gabbin joined JMU as a professor of English in 1985, formally bringing the study of African-American literature to the university. While serving as the director of JMU’s Honors Program in 1994, Gabbin had a dream of bringing together poets, educators, scholars, and community members for a conference on African-American poetry. The Furious Flower Conferences were born and have grown to become the largest convening of African-American poets and scholars in the world. Each decade, poets gather from across the United States, Africa, Europe, and the Caribbean, along with hundreds of conference attendees.

In 2005, JMU formally established the Furious Flower Poetry Center, the first academic center in the nation dedicated to African-American poetry. Gabbin signed on as the executive director, and has gone on to build key relationships with scholars, poets and corporate partners. She oversees special projects/events and fundraising efforts for the Center, which partners with educational and cultural institutions, community and literary organizations, as well as artists to host seminars, poetry readings, arts camps for elementary and middle school students, and performances for the general public. The Center also develops multimedia materials for classroom and individual use.

Gabbin was inducted into the International Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent in 2005, and has received over 40 awards for excellence in teaching and scholarship. She is the author of Sterling A Brown: Building the Black Aesthetic Tradition and the children’s book, I Bet She Called Me Sugar Plum. Gabbin is the founder of Wintergreen Women Writers’ Collective, which she organized in 1987 to promote scholarship and support among African American writers. She is also the owner of 150 Franklin Street Gallery in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Comprised of the Dorothy Thomasson Estes Center for Theatre and Dance and the Shirley Hanson Roberts Center for Music Performance, the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts at James Madison University is committed to fostering interdisciplinary programs campus-wide that impact the creative process positively by encouraging dialogue about the intersection between society and the arts, and by valuing multicultural and community engagement and arts education in the broader Shenandoah Valley.

The Arts Council of the Valley (ACV) champions diverse artistic expression and promotes the arts as fundamental to a vibrant community. ACV provides memorable arts experiences for individuals in the City of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County through our visual, literary, and performing arts programs, educational opportunities, and grants.