Her Story Matters: African American poet Nikki Giovanni comes to Mary Baldwin for Renaissance Rent Party

The event emphasizes women’s leadership and empowerment through interdisciplinary interpretations of women and the Harlem Renaissance.

Associated Press

STAUNTON – When students, faculty, staff and community members enter Mary Baldwin University’s Student Activities Center at 6 p.m. Friday, March 17, they’ll find themselves transported to a 1920s New York brownstone rent party at the heart of the Harlem Renaissance.

Recreating the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s

According to press release from Mary Baldwin’s College for Women, soul food and speakeasy style drinks will be served. Walls will be hung with large, cloth paintings from MBU art students rendered in the style of female era-icons like Augusta Savage and Selma Burke. Theatre students in historical garb inspired by period-correct Black fashion will portray those artists — and a cast of other prominent figures from one of the 20th century’s most important cultural movements. 

The jazz band Algodon from Richmond will perform swing and blues tunes as Ella Fitzgerald and Ma Rainey take turns on the mic. Authors like Zora Neale Hurston will talk poetry and give readings. Josephine Baker will offer how-tos on popular dance moves like the Charleston. Elders from the local Black community will teach and host card games. All while internationally revered African American poet, writer, and activist Dr. Nikki Giovanni mingles as a guest of honor. 

How the Harlem Renaissance shaped Giovanni’s work

Later, Giovanni will give a short talk about how the Harlem Renaissance shaped her own work, its powerful community of artistic women, and the cultural significance of rent parties — which were held as housing fundraisers for community members in need. 

The talk will be followed by a dialogue led by University of Washington assistant professor of educational leadership, Dr. Billie Sankofa Waters, a leading scholar of Giovanni’s work. The discussion will touch on activism, the power of personal narrative, motherhood and more, according to the release.

“Our aim is to create a fun and interactive learning experience that brings this history to life in a manner that really resonates with students,” said history department chair and Mary Baldwin College for Women dean, Dr. Amy Tillerson-Brown, who spearheaded event-planning. “We’re inviting them to immerse themselves and explore the theme of women’s empowerment through this incredible movement and community.”


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