The Poetics of Self Determination

A conversation with poets and publishers about the historical intersection of poetry and social movements


Fields of Knowledge
  • Artistic legacies
  • Performance
  • Social Justice

Organizing Institutions



Daniel Tucker

Opens to public





4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Slought is pleased to announce "The Poetics of Self Determination Movements," a conversation with poets and publishers about the historical intersection of poetry and social movements, on Friday, September 23, 2016 from 6:30-8:30pm.

Over the last nine months, the Organize Your Own: The Politics and Poetics of Self Determination Movements project has addressed the history of the dispossessed and working-class white activists in Chicago and Philadelphia during the 1960s and 1970s, with a particular focus on the Young Patriots Organization and the October 4th Organization. These groups sought to organize their own communities against racism, inspired by Stokely Carmichael, the leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Notably, Carmichael remarked in 1966 that "One of the most disturbing things about almost all white supporters of the movement has been that they are afraid to go into their own communities–which is where the racism exists–and work to get rid of it. They want to run from Berkeley to tell us what to do in Mississippi; let them look instead at Berkeley. . . . Let them go to the suburbs and open up freedom schools for whites."

This event explores work by contemporary artists, poets, and writers that similarly engage the Black Power movement's mandate to "organize your own" community against racism. Exploring the question of what "your own" might mean, this book connects some of the concerns dealt with in the 1960s and '70s to the conversations and social movements around racial justice happening today.

The event at Slought will begin with a presentation by Mark Nowak about the historical intersection poetry and social movements, followed by a panel of Marissa Johnson Valenzuela, Anthony Romero, Mariame Kaba, and Sam Gould. The program will also celebrate the release of three books published in conjunction with Organize Your Own, including a project catalogue (published by Soberscove and edited by Anthony Romero, based on the exhibit and event series curated by Daniel Tucker) and two books of poetry (Society Edition's Time of the Phoenix and Thread Makes Blanket's poetry by Anna Martine Whitehead). We will also be joined by catalogue designer Josh MacPhee and publisher Julia Klein.

read more

Sam Gould will represent Beyond Repair and the poetry imprint Society Editions. In December of 2015 Red76 opened a multi-year initiative, Beyond Repair, a book shop and publishing site to serve as a "creative civics lab" for the 9th Ward of Minneapolis, MN.

Marissa Johnson-Valenzuela's poetry and prose has been recognized by The Leeway Foundation, Hedgebrook and others, and can be found in print and online. She is a 2015 Lambda Literary Fellow and is the founder and primary obsessor at Thread Makes Blanket press, which publishes a range of historical and creative work including Dismantle, the VONA/Voices anthology.

Mariame Kaba is an organizer, educator and curator and the founder and director of Project NIA, a grassroots organization with the long-term goal of ending youth incarceration. In 2016 Kaba received the Ella Baker/Septima Clark Human Rights Award from Division B of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). She is also a 2016 Soros Justice Fellow.

Mark Nowak is an award-winning poet, social critic, and labor activist, whose writings include The New York Times "Editor's Choice," Shut Up Shut Down (2004, afterword by Amiri Baraka), and the acclaimed book on coal mining disasters in the US and China, Coal Mountain Elementary (2009), that Howard Zinn called "a stunning educational tool."

Anthony Romero is an artist, writer, and organizer committed to documenting and supporting artists and communities of color. He currently teaches at Tyler School of Art at Temple University and in the Social and Studio Graduate Programs at Moore College of Art and Design.

On The Street

In conjunction with the event, we are sharing an online exhibition of photos from Keep Strong Magazine (1975-1980).

On the Street was a recurring section in Keep Strong, the magazine of the Intercommunal Survival Committee. Keep Strong began publishing in July 1975 and continued monthly publishing until 1980.

Each month, random people on the streets of Chicago's Uptown neighborhood were asked their opinions about a specific question. Their photos were taken and their answers taped and transcribed. This became the monthly "On the Street" column.

The primary goal of Keep Strong magazine was to provide an opportunity for poor white people to see their day-to-day struggle to survive alongside the struggles of Black and other poor and working peoples, in order to create and heighten a sense of commonality and mutual respect.

These images and thousands more were scanned from the archives of Helen Shiller by the student-workers at Columbia College's Leviton Gallery, in conjunction with the Organize Your Own project.


Major support for Organize Your Own has been provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, with additional support from collaborating venues including The Averill and Bernard Leviton Gallery at Columbia College Chicago, Kelly Writers House's Brodsky Gallery at University of Pennsylvania, Slought, Asian Arts Initiative, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and others.

"Now more than ever we need words to help us think through that which cannot be thought. Poetry can help lift the ceiling from our brains so that we can imagine liberation."

— Mariame Kaba, "Imagining Freedom"

"So in contrast to a vertical and hierarchical literary landscape, the objective of what follows is not an engagement with the history of canonized poets and elite arts organizations, but the employment of what I've taken to calling a people's history of poetry and the poetry workshop. It is an analysis of more populist poetries produced during the same period by the non-canonized, non-elite, including school children in Brooklyn, inmates at Attica prison in the months following the riots, and social move- ment activists from the Black Panther Party, the Weather Underground, and the Young Patriots Organization."

— Mark Nowak, "Panthers, Patriots, and Poetries in Revolution," from Organize Your Own