Veteran local poetry promoter releases first book
More than two decades after he began promoting the poetry and spoken-word works of Los Angeles writers through his organization SoulVisions, Sunji Ali has finally produced a book of his own poems and will introduce it during a book signing and open reading the afternoon of April 10 from 2 to 4 o’clock at Zahra’s book store. The book, “Obama Dreamwalk,” is a self-published effort and represents the evolution of Ali as a poet, writer and playwright. “I see myself as the continuation of the Black cultural revolution of the ‘60s; the culmination of the Negritude movement of the ‘20s; and the Black consciousness that started in the ‘60s,” explained Ali, who was introduced to the whole Black poetry movement during his college years at University of Califonia-Berkeley.
“My work is a continuation of the struggle to have a Black identity and self determination; to have Black people on top again like they were in the ‘60s, and in a way that they are not now.”
Ali, who turns 68 this year, is noted most for his jazz and blues poems but also includes a number of political poems in his repertoire that will be published in this first of two planned volumes.
“Mandela’s Morning” is an example of one of his political works, says the poet, who was profoundly impacted by the South African leader’s release from prison, and wrote the poem, when he (Mandela) won the presidency of the country. Ali, who was at Berkeley when poets like John Echos (Broadside Poets), Sonya Sanchez, and Nikki Giovanni made the campus part of their regular circuit, said he was similarly moved when Obama was elected president.
“As Mr. Obama first began to run, and then when he won, it was overwhelming to see,” explained Ali, who came to Los Angeles to pursue a master’s in Black studies at University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA), and was driven by the loneliness he experienced at the school to explore his own interest in poetry beyond admiring others. Obama’s win was, in essence, a dream come true, added the poet, who said much of his own life has been based on the hopes and dreams of people like his mother, who came to California, after dreaming of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Completing “Obama Dreamwalk” has taken almost five years, and the volume includes about 40 works. It is a celebration of noted people like Thelonious Monk, highlighted in the piece “Blue Monk,” and John Coltrane, who is honored in “To Be,” taken from the song of the same name. The book chronicles Ali’s evolution as a poetry/spoken word lover into a poet and writer with his own voice and interpretations.
Quiet spoken, but determined, Ali is proud of the contributions he has made to keep poetry alive in Los Angeles and to lay the foundations for organizations like the World Stage and the Ladera Poetry Showcase to grow.
But now after years of promoting others, he is stepping to the forefront and showcasing his own work.
Zahra’s is located t 900 N. La Brea Ave. in Inglewood.
Richard Blanco, the poet who likes to describe himself as being made in Cuba, assembled in Spain and imported to the United States, will serve as the inaugural poet when President Barack Obama takes the oath of office for a second term this month.
Blanco will be the first Latino, the first openly gay person and the youngest poet to serve in the highly coveted role.
A statement from the inaugural committee said Blanco was chosen because the power of his poetry is rooted in American identity.