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A Few Poets in the State You Need to Know

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By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times

Get to know these Birmingham-area poets.

Kwoya Fagin Maples 

Kwoya Maples

Maples, 39, teaches in the creative writing master’s degree program at her alma mater, the University of Alabama, and is the author of “Mend,” a poetry collection that sets out to explore the feelings of the 19th century, enslaved Black women who were experimented on by James Marion Sims, a doctor commonly known as the father of modern gynecology. “Mend” is historical persona poetry, Maples said.

“The goal with historical persona poetry, for me, is to display humanity, to not allow the reader to compartmentalize experiences that people have had throughout history,” she said.

At age 13, Maples said she found poetry after encountering the work of famed poet and activist Maya Angelou.

“I fell in love with poetry at that point,” Maples said.

“Mend” was a finalist for both the 2019 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Poetry and the 2019 Housatonic Poetry Award. Before its publication, “Mend” was also a finalist for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Donald Hall Prize for Poetry in 2017. Maples has been published in numerous journals, including Blackbird: An Online Journal of Literature and the Arts, Obsidian: Literature and Arts in the African Diaspora, and the Berkeley Poetry Review. Maples also published a chapbook, “Something of Yours,” in 2010.

For more information about Kwoya Fagin Maples, visit https://kwoyafaginmaples.com.

Tina Braziel

Tina Mozelle Braziel

Braziel, 49, leads the Ada Long Creative Writing Workshop at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). The workshop puts 30 high school students together with essayists, novelists, and poets to create and critique new work.

Student work is then published in the program’s yearly anthology, “The Writer’s Block.”

Braziel, who grew up in Alabama’s Pell City and Lincoln, got into poetry when her “small Christian school” wanted to put together an anthology of creative writing with other similar schools.

“They asked us to write something, so I wrote a poem and turned it in. Then, the teacher came to me afterward and was like, ‘Tina, we wanted you to write your own poem.’ And I was like, ‘But I did.’ At that moment, I realized it was something that I was pretty good at,” said Braziel, who noted that it wasn’t until later, after graduating from college, that she really got into working as a poet.

Braziel won the 2017 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry for her book, “Known by Salt,” and has been published in Poetry, The Cincinnati Review, and Southern Humanities Review, among other journals. In 2017, she served as an artist-in-residence at Hot Springs National Park, located in Garland County, Arkansas. She is married to novelist and UAB professor James Braziel.

For more information about Tina Mozelle Braziel, visit https://tinamozellebraziel.com or follow here on Twitter at https://twitter.com/tinamozelle.

Salaam Green 

Salaam Green

Green, 45, who grew up “reading under an old tree” in Greensboro, Alabama, advocates for mental healing through writing, something she said she learned when she hit a depressive low after a divorce in 2010.

“I found a writing class in Birmingham, Women Writing for Change, … [where] I sat on this lady’s red couch and began to write myself back together again—on the couch with other women, writing once a week, just for myself,” said Green, who is executive director of the Literary Healing Arts (LHA), an organization she founded to “promote the healing power of words.”

Green also serves as an artist-in-residence at UAB Hospital, a position that gives her the opportunity to work with hospital residents and “give people hope and healing while the world is turning upside down,” she said.

Green has been featured in publications like the Birmingham Poetry Journal and the Birmingham Arts Journal.

For more information on Salaam Green and the Literary Healing Arts, visit https://theliteraryhealingarts.com, or follow Green on Instagram at https://instagram.com/theliteraryhealer.

Elizabeth Hughey

Elizabeth Hughey

Hughey, 47, is a published poet and a co-founder and programming director for Desert Island Supply Co. (DISCO), a nonprofit that helps Birmingham City Schools (BCS) students improve their writing skills.

One of DISCO’s largest programs is the Woodlawn Writer Corps, where 700 BCS student writers meet weekly to explore the connections poetry and language share with other areas of study, such as history and science. Each year, DISCO publishes an anthology of the students’ work.

Hughey founded DISCO in 2010, alongside her husband, Chip Brantley, an author and co-creator of the NPR podcast “White Lies.” Through working the nonprofit, Hughey has seen how students can use advanced language skills beyond poetry.

“They’re not just going to be poets,” Hughey said. “Learning how to use your words is going to allow you to advocate for yourself and for what you believe and to protest …, to use your words as the tools you need, to have your words serve you, however that might be.”

In Hughey’s latest work, “White Bull,” she created a collection of poems using the words of the infamous Theophilus Eugene “Bull” Connor, Birmingham’s former Commissioner of Public Safety, who was staunchly anti-Civil Rights. Hughey said the idea came from a personal flee from and eventual return to the city.

“I left Alabama, swearing I would never come back,” she said. “When I got back from being out of the South completely, I didn’t really realize that things hadn’t changed, that the Civil Rights era was not in the past, but we’re still living it right now.”

Hughey said poetry has always been “my art,” having started writing during her days at Mountain Brook Junior High School. Teaching middle school kids, she said, has made her reconsider her early work.

“Embarrassingly, my mom has a framed poem of mine from the seventh grade,” Hughey said. “I think it’s called ‘The Day the Sun Didn’t Wake Up.’ … I teach seventh graders now, and I’m so impressed with how much more mature their poetry is, in the seventh grade, than mine was back then.”

For more from Elizabeth Hughey, follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/lizhughey.

Desai Ogada 

Desai Ogada

Ogada wears many hats. In addition to writing and performing poetry in Birmingham, Ogada is also the co-founder of the Kenya-based Lagnet Theatre Company and an automotive technician for Mercedes-Benz.

Much of Desai Ogada’s poetry is available at https://desaiogada.wordpress.com