By Shamya Hill | Before the Center for Black Literature’s September 16 event, I did not know anything about John Oliver Killens. I had never even heard his name. A quick google search showed me he was an African American fiction writer from Georgia and had books published such as Youngblood (1954) and And Then We Heard the Thunder (1962). He also founded the National Black Writers Conference, started with him in 1986 and is continued today by Dr. Brenda Greene.
However, it wasn’t until attending the event and hearing Malaika Adero, Arthur Flowers, Keith Gayard, S. Pearl Sharp, and Ishamel Reed talk about him that I realized how passionate he was about the art of storytelling, and the importance of remembering history, specifically due to Arthur Flower’s performance. Flowers performed a beautiful presentation showcasing the importance of oral tradition. One of the specific ways in which our people told stories and remembered the stories from the past was through oral tradition. We believe it is important to tell stories about our past to give people the tools needed for the future.
Attending the event reminded me of a past similar event I attended. I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Stacey Patton, and she told me that “not telling the truth is treason on our ancestors.” Not telling the truth about Black stories and allowing a specific narrative to be the main representation of black people is treason on our ancestors. Black people must tell black stories, so the narrative that is presented to the world is a narrative that exemplifies the authentic culture of African Americans. Black people must remember that we were the first storytellers, and we must continue the tradition. I am happy to learn the tools needed to continue the tradition and to write the truth for others.
Shamya Hill is a food lover and English Major at Medgar Evers College, CUNY.