New digital library to support black poetry at JMU

jmuA $150,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will allow James Madison University’s College of Arts and Letters and the JMU Libraries to deepen their partnership.

Through a joint “Flowerings Project,” centered around the digital future of the Furious Flower Poetry Center, the collaborators will develop and disseminate a new model for integrated library and educational technologies support of a living, academic center for the arts with digital archives, research and performance components.

“This partnership is a giant step toward making the resources of the Furious Flower archive accessible to a global community of poetry lovers,” said Furious Flower director Joanne Gabbin, “We are excited to begin this work.”

JMU’s Furious Flower Poetry Center is the world’s oldest academic center devoted solely to African American poetry. It just celebrated its 25th anniversary and the publication of an electrifying, new anthology of poetry and criticism edited by Gabbin and assistant director Lauren Alleyne—Furious Flower: Seeding the Future of African American Poetry—which will launch with a special event open to the public on Feb. 19th at 4 p.m., Hall of Presidents.

This year of grant-funded work is primarily designed for deep transformation within the Libraries, focused on strengthening its digital services, but encompassing equity and inclusion, space considerations, teaching and learning innovations, sustainability and more. It is meant to lead to more holistic and uplifting support for Furious Flower and all of the Libraries’ faculty projects and partners.

“We’re so grateful to the Mellon Foundation for this opportunity,” said Dean of Libraries Bethany Nowviskie. “Through a year-long period of shared learning and planning, we will strive to make the Libraries’ support relationships—both with Furious Flower and other campus collaborators—more coherent, inspiring, and impactful.”

The Flowerings Project is also designed to position the Furious Flower Poetry Center, now housed within JMU’s distinguished College of Arts and Letters, for continued international visibility and growth, while raising broad awareness of the challenges facing similar centers and programs operating within predominantly white institutions.

The support model the Libraries will develop strives to center the needs of the scholarly and creative field of Black poetry. Its creation will help build the authentic understandings, cultural competencies, technical workflows and organizational structures necessary for the Libraries and other campus collaborators to partner more powerfully with the Center, a multivalent, scholar- and artist-driven program whose reach has extended from local and regional spaces to the nation and world.

Participants in the Mellon planning grant will be assisted in their work by a diverse group of invited, external experts and consultants, who will visit JMU periodically through the course of the year.

The grant also supports travel and learning for JMU Libraries and Furious Flower-affiliated faculty and staff. The final grant deliverable will be a white paper documenting the partners’ goals, process, experience and preliminary outcomes for the benefit of other university libraries, digital humanities centers and campus educational technology providers.



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