A digital future for Black poetry at JMU, thanks to new $2 million grant

JMU News

by Ginny Cramer

JMU alumnus (then student) Norman Jones III presenting as part of the “Innovating the Archives” class at the Furious Flower Poetry Center 25th anniversary celebration at the National Museum for African American History in September 2019.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded James Madison University $2 million over four and a half years to secure the digital future of the Furious Flower Poetry Center, the nation’s first academic center devoted to Black poetry. This generous grant will support the Center’s internationally recognized leadership and provide for archival description, digital preservation, and global access to an extensive archive of Furious Flower poetry and spoken word performance videos held by JMU Libraries Special Collections. The grant will help to strengthen and enhance the Center’s web and scholarly publishing infrastructure in partnership with open access and digital scholarship initiatives at the JMU Libraries. This work includes Furious Flower’s trailblazing literary journal The Fight & The Fiddle. Furious Flower and JMU Libraries staff have planned all aspects of the project together. The partners will implement a new model of integrated library support for a living, academic center for the arts with archival components. This model, developed as part of a prior planning grant, will be centered in the needs and insights of Black poets and their related scholarly and creative communities.

“It is really gratifying to know that this grant from the Mellon Foundation will help us to nurture, recognize, and support Black poets by building a sustainable digital framework for the Furious Flower Archive,” said Dr. Joanne V. Gabbin, Furious Flower Executive Director and Professor of English.

“The Mellon Foundation’s investment has helped us grow from a history of individual collaborations and friendships into a true institutional and organizational effort,” said Dr. Bethany Nowviskie, Dean of Libraries, JMU’s Senior Academic Technology Officer, and Professor of English. “This is hard, necessary work that goes beyond mere preservation and access,” she added. “It is based in equity and shared understanding, aimed at repairing historical imbalances and building a better future.” Nowviskie and Gabbin serve as the project’s principal investigators.

University President Jonathan Alger noted the grant “will build great capacity for digital engagement in the JMU Libraries and will position Furious Flower for continued growth and success. A continued Mellon Foundation investment in making the archival treasures held in JMU Libraries' Special Collections available to scholars, students, and poetry lovers worldwide will bolster our campus vision for JMU as the national model of the engaged university: engaged with ideas and the world.”

The Furious Flower Poetry Center is housed within JMU’s distinguished College of Arts and Letters. Its mission is to ensure the visibility, historical preservation, and critical consideration of Black poets in American letters; to cultivate poetry appreciation among students of all levels; and to support Black poets at all stages of their careers. JMU Libraries has supported the Center as part of its mission to serve the university through research services, digital scholarship, publishing, preservation, instructional design, media production, and academic technologies. The library’s Special Collections department houses Furious Flower’s extensive and unique audiovisual, print, and manuscript collections, as well as the papers of Dr. Gabbin, the Center’s founder. Funding from the Mellon Foundation will help support videography, digital collections technology, and the participation of poets in Furious Flower’s fourth major field-building conference, to be held in 2024. It will also fund four full-time positions in Furious Flower and Special Collections, and enable a search for the library’s first tenure-track curator for Black Arts and Culture.

Contact: Ginny Cramer, cramervm@jmu.edu540-568-5325 

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Published: Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Last Updated: Thursday, January 4, 2024

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