Mari Evans

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Mari Evans (born July 16, 1923 in Toledo, Ohio) is an African-American poet, living in Indianapolis.

Education and employment[edit]

Evans attended the University of Toledo, where she majored in fashion design in 1939. The fashion design major did not hold her interest and she left the University of Toledo without a degree. She began a series of teaching appointments in American universities in 1969. During 1969-1970, she served as writer in residence at Indiana University-Purdue, where she taught courses in African-American Literature. The next year, Evans accepted a position as the writer in residence at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. From 1968 to 1973, Evans produced, wrote and directed the television program The Black Experience for WTTV in Indianapolis, Indiana. She received an honorary degree from Marian College in 1975. Evans continued her teaching career at Purdue (1978–1980), at Washington University in Saint Louis (1980), at Cornell University (1981–85), and the State University of New York at Albany (1985–1986).

Life's work[edit]

Mari Evans has written several poems, short fiction stories, children’s books, and theatre pieces. She is known for her many poems. One, called "When In Rome", is taught in many high schools and college English classes. The poem ends, "I'm tired of eatin' what they eats in Rome." The last line provides the poem with its famous title. It is a dialogue poem, between Mattie and her possible slave owner, offering her unfamiliar foods in the pantry. She is also well known for the line "I have never been contained except I made the prison." Although her first and most renown book of poetry, "I am a Black Woman" was published in 1970, many of the her poems preceded the Black Arts Movement by about 10–15 years. Many of Evans's poems coincide with the Black Arts poets' message of Black cultural, psychological, and economical liberation; however, Evans does not fully align her writing with the movement. In “I am a Black Woman,” the second stanza reads: “I am a black woman tall as a cypress strong beyond all definition still defying place and time and circumstance assailed impervious indestructible.” Evans spoke of the need to make Blackness both beautiful and powerful.

Other books of poems and poetry include:

  • Night Star 1973–1978 (1981)
  • Where is the Music (1968)
  • A Dark and Splendid Mass, Harlem River Press (1992)
  • I am a Black Woman (1970)
  • Continuum, Black Classic Press (2007)

Children's books include:

  • Dear Corinne, Tell Somebody! Love, Annie: A book about secrets (1999)
  • Jim Flying High (1979)
  • J.D. (1973)
  • Singing Black: Alternative Nursery Rhymes for Children (1998)
  • Rap Stories (1974)

Theatre pieces include

Community service[edit]

Mari Evans is an activist for prison reform. She is against corporal punishment. She works with theater groups and local community organizations.

Awards and honors[edit]

John Hay Whitney Fellow, 1965-66
Woodrow Wilson Foundation Grant, 1968
Indiana University Writers Conference Award, 1970
First Annual Poetry Award, Black Academy of Arts and Letters, 1970
Copeland Fellow, Amherst College, 1980
National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1981-82
Photo put on Ugandan postage stamp, 1997
Nominated for a Grammy Award for the liner notes she wrote for The Long Road Back To Freedom: An Anthology of Black Music, 2002 African American Legacy Project of Northwest Ohio Legend Honoree 2007