African American Literature & Culture Festival


On September 24th, President Obama will officially dedicate the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall.  Tucked into one of the inaugural exhibits, “A Sense of Place”, is a section on the cultural importance of Oak Bluffs in the African American cultural landscape; several of our patrons’ family artifacts will be shown.  We at the OBPL thought this was a perfect time to launch a festival celebrating our town’s rich traditions
 The Festival will celebrate all manners of Black writing and culture, highlighting in particular (though not exclusively) people or ideas with connection to our town’s unique community.




Thursday, August 4

6 PM – 8 PM: AALCF  & Ted Joans Collage Show Opening Reception: Ted Joans Collages – Dr. Rotapep’s Teducation in life, poetry & totem animals
Friday, August 5

10 AM – 10:45 AM: Kevin Parham 

10:45 AM – 11:30 AM: Cheryl Finley

11:30 AM – 12:30 PM: Jessica Harris

1:30 PM – 3 PM: Reggie Wilson/ Fist & Heel Performance Group Talk

3 PM- 5 PM: Duncan Caldwell
Saturday, August 6

10 AM – 11 AM: An Appreciation of The Cottagers on their 60th Anniversary

11 AM – 12 PM: Robert C. Hayden

1:30 PM – 2 PM: Caroline Randall Williams

2 PM – 3 PM: Don West + Kenneth Cooper

3 PM – 4 PM: Alice Randall

4 PM – 5 PM: MV Spirituals Choir


Ted Joans

ted joans

Dr. Rotapep’s Teducation in life, poetry, and totem animals is a collection of Ted Joans collages curated by Duncan Caldwell, which will hang for the duration of the Festival. The late Ted Joans was “a Beat Generation poet whose work drew from the African-American oral tradition and blended black consciousness with avant-garde jazz rhythm (NYT)”. His painting ”Bird Lives” hangs in the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco.
Kevin Parham

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Kevin Parham is the author of the award-winning memoir, The Vineyard We Knew—A Recollection of Summers on Martha’s Vineyard, which is an engaging story about the summers he spent on the Vineyard with his family during the turbulent 1960s.  After an extensive career in the entertainment industry as a professional musician, Kevin decided to pursue his new-found passion for writing. Keeper of the East Bluff Light is his first novel. Kevin currently resides in Plymouth, Massachusetts with his wife, Olivia.
Cheryl Finley


Trained in the History of Art and African American Studies at Yale University, Cheryl Finley is Associate Professor and Director of Visual Studies in the Department of the History of Art at Cornell University. Dr. Finley’s research has been supported by an Alphonse Fletcher Sr. Fellowship, the Ford Foundation, the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, Harvard University, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In addition to her expertise in contemporary African American and African Diaspora art history and visual culture, Dr. Finley has had career-long interests in the art market, cultural tourism and film studies.
Jessica Harris

j harris

According to Heritage Radio Network, there’s perhaps no greater expert on the food and foodways of the African Diaspora than Doctor Jessica B. Harris. She is the author of twelve critically acclaimed cookbooks documenting the foods and foodways of the African Diaspora. In her more than three decades as a journalist, Dr. Harris has written book reviews, theater reviews, travel, feature, and beauty articles too numerous to note. She has lectured on African-American food and culture at numerous institutions throughout the United States and Abroad. In 2012, Dr. Harris was asked by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture to conceptualize and curate the cafeteria of the new museum which is being built on the Mall in Washington DC that is scheduled to open in 2015 and is a member of the Kitchen Cabinet at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.
Reggie Wilson

r wilson

Reggie Wilson/Fist and Heel Performance Group is a Brooklyn-based dance company whose mission is to create, research, develop, and present new performance work that investigates the intersections of culture and movement practices. The Company’s body-of-works draw from the spiritual and mundane traditions of Africa and its Diaspora; Fist and Heel believes in the potential of the body as a valid means for knowing.  An inaugural Doris Duke Artist, Reggie Wilson is a graduate of New York University, Tisch School of the Arts (1988, Larry Rhodes, Chair). He has studied composition and been mentored by Phyllis Lamhut; Performed and toured with Ohad Naharin before forming Fist and Heel.  He has lectured, taught and conducted extended workshops and community projects throughout the US, Africa, Europe and the Caribbean.
Duncan Caldwell


Duncan Caldwell is the Lecturer, Doctoral module, Muséum National d´Histoire Naturelle (Paris), a Guest lecturer at University Seminar on the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, Columbia University (New York), at the Doctoral program, Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture (Nantes) and Fellow, Marine and Paleobiological Research Institute (Vineyard Haven).  He will be presenting,  for the first time in English, new research titled The Magic Trumpeter – An exceptional BaKongo statue & its links with Jazz & World War I.
The Cottagers


The Cottagers, Incorporated was formed in 1956 by a group of African American women homeowners on Martha’s Vineyard. The organization now has one-hundred women who are Vineyard homeowners and whose mission is to promote education, a sense of cultural pride and the value of service to the community for the people of the Island.
Robert C. Hayden


Robert Hayden is a historian, author, and educator, who has contributed to African American historiography for thirty-five years. He is the author, co-author, and editor of nineteen books and special publications in the field. Alongside his historical research, writing and teaching, he served for thirty-two years in numerous educational positions – as an ethnic studies curriculum developer and as a project administrator in urban school projects across the country. He is the founder and president of RCH Associates that provides African American history services and resources to educators and a range of public and private institutions, organizations and community groups. Residing on the Island of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, he served on the Oak Bluffs Historical Commission from 1998 to 2000. He is the national secretary of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) and the founding president of the Martha’s Vineyard Branch of the ASALH.
Caroline Randall Williams

Caroline R Williams

Caroline Randall Williams is a poet, cookbook author, and young adult novelist. She received her MFA from the University of Mississippi, where co-authored the Phillis Wheatley Award-winning The Diary of B.B. Bright, Possible Princess and the NAACP Image Award-winning Soul Food Love. A Cave Canem fellow, her poetry has been featured in several journals, including The Iowa Review, The Massachusetts Review, and Palimpsest. Lucy Negro, Redux (Ampersand Books, 2015), is her debut collection.
Don West


Don West is a photographer and newsman, likened to a peoples’ historian, who has worked for UPI, the Bay State banner and many international assignments. He served as Nelson Mandela’s photographer during his first visit to Boston, and has been called upon to cover special events of President Obama’s campaign around New England.
Kenneth J. Cooper


Kenneth Cooper is a Pulitzer Prize winner, has been a newspaper reporter and editor for nearly 30 years, specializing in government, politics and social policy, at the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Knight Ridder, St. Louis American and St. Louis Post-Dispatch. In 1984, Cooper, then 28, shared a Pulitzer Prize in special local reporting for his role in producing “The Race Factor”, a Boston Globe series that examined institutional racism in Boston.
Alice Randall

Alice RandallWednesday Jan. 8, 2014, in Nashville in Tenn.

Alice Randall is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels The Wind Done Gone, Pushkin and the Queen of Spades, Rebel Yell, and Ada’s Rules. With her daughter Caroline Randall Williams she has published the young adult novel, The Diary of B.B. Bright, Possible Princess and the cookbook Soul Food Love. Born in Detroit, Michigan, raised in Washington, D.C., she has lived most of the last thirty years in Nashville, Tennessee where she has been Writer-in-Residence at Vanderbilt University for the past decade. She first came to the Vineyard in 1979. Her first trips to the island  she was based in Edgartown or Oak Bluffs, for the past fifteen years in Chilmark. Every night in Nashville she sleeps beneath a landscape by Harlem Renaissance artists Aaron Douglass titled“ Oak Bluffs.” Randall graduated from Harvard in 1981 and holds an honorary doctorate from Fisk University. She is the proud owner of a first edition of the original Cottager’s Cookbook which she inherited from her daughter’s great grandmother.
M.V Spirituals Choir


James E. Thomas is founder and president of U.S. Slave Songs Project. He serves as principal narrator for events and as director of the Spirituals Choir. He has given presentations in Germany, Brazil, Austria, Sweden, Africa, and various locations across the United States. Since 1976 he has been the founder-director of the American Red Cross Chorus at Red Cross national headquarters in Washington, D.C. He has also recruited and directed military choirs in Vietnam and Germany.  Presentations are an eloquent mix of music and stories about where the slave songs came from and what they meant to their singers.