July 16, 1919|
|Occupation||Writer, poet, teacher|
Mari Evans (July 16, 1919 – March 10, 2017) was an African-American poet, writer, and dramatist associated with the Black Arts Movement. Evans received grants and awards including a lifetime achievement award from the Indianapolis Public Library Foundation, and her poetry is known for its lyrical simplicity and the directness of its themes. A scholar, she also wrote non-fiction and edited Black Women Writers (1950–1980): A Critical Evaluation (Doubleday, 1984), an important and timely critical anthology devoted to the work of 15 writers. Evans died at the age of 97 in Indianapolis, Indiana, on March 10, 2017.
Education and teaching career
Born in Toledo, Ohio, Evans was 10 years old when her mother died, and she was subsequently encouraged in her writing by her father, as she recalls in her essay "My Father's Passage" (1984). She attended local public schools before going on to the University of Toledo, where she majored in fashion design in 1939 but left without a degree. She began a series of teaching appointments in American universities in 1969. During 1969–70, she served as writer in residence at Indiana University-Purdue, where she taught courses in African-American Literature. The next year, she accepted a position as an assistant professor and writer-in-residence at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, where she taught until 1978. From 1968 to 1973, she produced, wrote and directed the television program The Black Experience for WTTV in Indianapolis. Later, she wrote that the program was her attempt to represent African Americans to themselves. In 1975, she received an honorary degree from Marian College. Evans continued her teaching career at Purdue (1978–80), at Washington University in Saint Louis (1980), at Cornell University (1981–85), and the State University of New York at Albany (1985–86).
Although her most renowned book of poetry, I Am a Black Woman, was published in 1970, many of her poems preceded the Black Arts Movement, while coinciding with the Black Arts poets' messages of Black cultural, psychological, and economic liberation. Themes of loss, struggle, pride, and resistance are common in Evans' poetry. In her later work, she began to use experimental techniques and incorporate African American idiom in ways that encourage readers to identify with and respect the speaker. Evans spoke of the need to make Blackness both beautiful and powerful. In her poem "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.” She is also well known for the line: "I have never been contained except I made the prison."
Primarily known for her poetry, Evans also wrote short fiction, children’s books, dramas, and essays.
- Where is all the Music (1968) OCLC 119992
- I am a Black Woman (1970) ISBN 9780863163142, OCLC 232624035
- Night Star 1973–1978 (1981) ISBN 9780934934077, OCLC 6791209
- A Dark and Splendid Mass, Harlem River Press (1992) ISBN 9780863163135, OCLC 702366001
- Continuum, Black Classic Press (2007) ISBN 9781933491165, OCLC 940364042
- J.D. (1973) ISBN 9780380003488, OCLC 2573915
- Jim Flying High (1979) ISBN 9780385141307, OCLC 4593207Dear Corinne, Tell Somebody! Love, Annie: A book about secrets (1999) ISBN 9780940975811, OCLC 248502909
- Rap Stories (1974)
- Singing Black: Alternative Nursery Rhymes for Children (1998) ISBN 9780940975804, OCLC 39254707
- “I’m Late”: The Story of LaNeese and Moonlight and Alisha Who Didn’t Have Anyone of Her Own, Just Us Books, (2006) ISBN 9781933491004, OCLC 64627091
- Rivers of My Song (1977)
- Eyes, an adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston's novel Their Eyes Were Watching God (1979)
- Portrait of a Man (1979)
- Boochie (1979)
- The Pro (1979)
- Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation, Doubleday, 1983 ISBN 9780385171250, OCLC 1005475874
- Black Women Writers: Arguments and Interviews, London: Pluto Press,1984 ISBN 9780745300184, OCLC 18799981
- Clarity as Concept: A Poet's Perspective: a collection of essays, Chicago: Third World Press, 2006. ISBN 9780883782316, OCLC 238628840
Awards and honors
- 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
- Featured on Ugandan postage stamp, 1997
- Nominated for a Grammy Award for her liner notes to The Long Road Back to Freedom: An Anthology of Black Music, 2002
- African American Legacy Project of Northwest Ohio Legend Honoree, 2007
- Indianapolis Public Library Foundation's Lifetime Achievement Award, 2015
- Mural of Mari Evans by Michael "Alkemi" Jordan, August 2016
- Kovacik, Karen, "Mari Evans at 90", No More Corn, July 16, 2013.
- Davis, Victoria T., "Poet, activist Mari Evans dies at age 93", RTV6, March 12, 2017.
- The Concise Oxford Companion to African American Literature. Andrews, William L., 1946–, Foster, Frances Smith, Harris, Trudier, Oxford University Press. New York: Oxford University Press. 2001. ISBN 9780199916498. OCLC 49346948.
- Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., Smith, Valerie, 1956– (eds.). The Norton Anthology of African American Literature (Third ed.). New York. ISBN 9780393923698. OCLC 866563833.
- Adams, Dwight. "Late Indianapolis Poet Mari Evans Leaves Legacy of Social Justice". Indianapolis Star. Retrieved March 11, 2017.
- Sullivan, Erin, "Evans, Mari E.", BlackPast.org.
- "Mari Evans", Answers.com.
- "Mari Evans, a writer and a teacher", African American registry.
- Dorsey, Jr., David E., "Evans, Mari", in William L. Andrews, Frances Smith Foster and Trudier Harris (eds), The Concise Oxford Companion to African American Literature, OUP, 2001, p. 134.
- Chen, Wei-Huan, "Indiana poet Mari Evans receives lifetime achievement award", Indystar, October 8, 2015.
- Davis, Victoria T., "Indianapolis-based poet, Mari Evans, honored with art mural on Mass Ave", The Indy Channel, August 11, 2016.