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Brenda Greene: Her World is Literature

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Professor Brenda Greene wasn’t introduced to black literature until she was a freshman at NYU.

“There was a part of me that was disappointed,” recalls Greene. “That I had been educated, and had a good education…but I didn’t know about the literature that black writers were producing.”

As an English major in the midst of the black arts movement, Greene made up for lost time and took up courses in black literature. One of the first books that made an impression on her was Marita Golden’s memoir, “Migrations of the Heart,” about growing up in Washington D.C., finding love, and journeying to Africa.

“Finally in reading black literature, I could read about the experiences of people who looked like me and who had similar stories,” says Greene. “I began to see the history, the historical experience and began to see myself reflected in the literature.”

As she earned her a Ph.D. in English with a concentration in Education, Greene dedicated herself to the mission of integrating black literature into all levels of the public school educational system.

“I didn’t want anyone to go through what I went through,” Greene says. “To have an entire public school education and never read about themselves.”

In 2003, Green became the executive director of The Center for Black Literature at CUNY Medgar Evers College, an institution whose mission is to expand, broaden, and enrich the public’s knowledge and aesthetic appreciation of black literature.

The Center for Black Literature has hosted many events, readings and programs for students and the public to fulfill this mission. One initiative is called “The Re-envisioning Our Lives through Literature Program” where 350 high school students read a work and then perform before an audience through poems, skits, and essays and then put on a showcase.

“Our young people are not reading,” Green says. “And part of the reason why they are not reading is because they don’t see the benefits and what it can do for them intellectually and what it can do for them creatively and of course it helps increase your critical thinking skills.”

In addition, Greene is also a Leadership Associate for the National Network for Educational Renewal, the editor of several publications, and host of a weekly radio program, Writers on Writing, which spotlights writers from the African Diaspora.

This Thursday, March 29, The Center for Black Literature will host the 11th bi-annual National Black Writers Conference (NBWC), a tradition that has taken place at Medgar Evers College since it was founded by John Oliver Killens in 1986. The conference gathers people from all aspects in the literary world—writers, booksellers, agents, editors, students, educators and the community at large—to discuss issues, themes and the current state of black literature. This year’s conference theme is "The Impact of Migration, Popular Culture, and the Natural Environment in the Literature of Black Writers.”

Participants for this year’s conference include poet Nikki Giovanni, novelist and essayist Ishmael Reed, poet Sonia Sanchez, with performances by singer and songwriter Toshi Reagon and more.

“I strongly believe that when we talk about American literature or world literature, we have to make the conscious decision as educators to balance the curriculum,” says Greene. “To make sure those voices are being represented.”

Brenda Greene has devoted her life toward empowering generations of writers, authors and poets to come.