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Black poetry is the focus of this year's Austin African American Book Festival

Three Black women pose for a photo together. One of them is holding the book "Reclamation" by Gayle Jessup White, who is in the center of the group.
Eric Coleman Photography
Last year, the festival featured Gayle Jessup White (front center), author of "Reclamation," as the principle speaker.

At the Austin African American Book Festival happening Saturday, founder Rosalind Oliphant is spotlighting literary works that reflect the lives of Black communities in Austin and beyond.

"Community programs are so important," Oliphant said. "So many of us learned about African-American history, about Black poets, about Black books from somebody in the community."

The free festival kicks off at 10 a.m. at the George Washington Carver Museum and Library and is entering its 18th year with the theme “Black Feeling, Black Talk: Activism in Poetry and Prose.” This year's theme is inspired by the work of keynote speaker Nikki Giovanni, who will be interviewed and sign copies of her work at the start of the day.

The festival has a child-focused lineup and an adult lineup. There are opportunities for festival-goers of all ages, including the chance to choreograph a dance inspired by a poem with China Smith, founder of Ballet Afrique, and create art with author and illustrator Don Tate. The adult program features a poetry slam open mic and a discussion panel on the freedom to read banned books. All discussions center recognizing, uplifting, and sharing Black experiences — from struggles to triumphs — and transforming the experiences into meaningful activism.

The event will happen rain or shine. More information about the featured authors, activities, and vendor marketplace can be found on the festival’s website.

Confucius Jones and Fresh Knight of KUTX’s The Breaks interviewed Oliphant alongside author and participant Terry P. Mitchell last week. The full conversation can be found on or wherever podcasts are found.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Confucius Jones: What is your participation in the festival and what are your feelings about this year's book festival?

Terry P. Mitchell: Three years ago, I came to Dr. Roz and said, “Hey, I want to write a children's book.” Who better than the festival founder and author and literary advocate who better than to get advice from?

One of the biggest items that we wanted to push forward was archiving Black history, Black leaders that had come before us. What I felt would be most impactful is learning from the leaders of which are directly from the place of which I was born and raised. Also, being able to understand the environment of which we are here in Black Austin, so that we can continue that work versus constantly having to start from scratch.

Full circle, three years later, I asked to be a part of the festival, the biggest African-American book festival.

Fresh Knight: These days, we’re seeing a huge backlash against books that are wanting to be taught on the banned book list. How do y’all feel about that?

Rosalind Oliphant: One of the activities at the festival is a panel discussion about banned books. One of the things we tried to do at the festival is [that] it's an opportunity for us to talk, but it's also an opportunity for us to think about advocacy and activism. We can spend a lot of time talking, and we do, and that's good. And that can be therapeutic. But we also like to have people from the audience, the academics, the presenters, to give some substantive ideas that we can use to work individually and collectively to advocate, to move the work forward.