Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Split This Rock Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism 2013

Eliza Griswold wins inaugural prize

On November 1, Split This Rock presented the inaugural Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism, sponsored by the CrossCurrents Foundation, to Eliza Griswold at a beautiful gala ceremony. The event at the Goethe-Institut in DC was attended by well over a hundred guests and highlighted not only the phenomenal work of Eliza Griswold, but also that of award finalists Jorge Argueta, Elana Bell, Tim Z. Hernandez, and Wang Ping. 

Sarah Browning, executive director of Split This Rock, kicked off the evening and was followed by a riveting performance by Kosi Dunn, Hannah Halpern, and Amina Iro of the DC Youth Slam Team. 

To view more photos of the event please visit Split This Rock's Facebook page here (FB membership not required!). 

We also presented the following slideshow as part of the program, to highlight Griswold's work collecting and translating the folk poems of Afghan women, as well as the powerful work of the four finalists, Jorge Argueta, Elana Bell, Tim Z. Hernandez, and Wang Ping. The Freedom Plow Award honors and celebrates a poet doing innovative and transformative work at the intersection of poetry and social change.


E. Ethelbert Miller presented the award to Griswold, with the following words:

SPLIT THIS ROCK (this link will take you to E. Ethelbert Miller's page) 

There are times when language turns to the writer for comfort. There are times when it asks for forgiveness. Too often words begin in secret and slowly navigate through the streets of our society.

In a troubled and dangerous world the writer cannot wait at the station of history waiting for change to arrive. It is activism which nudges us, pushes us, compels us to do the work to make our world a better place.

This evening we honor the work as well as the writer.
We honor the writer in order to encourage the work to continue.

Life like poetry leans towards revision, the struggle for perfection, the reaching and the desire to make things better...

This is how one comes to the work of the person we honor this evening.

This evening we celebrate poetry, we break and share bread.
We know that words inhaled and exhaled are essential to people as air.

No one should suffocate because of the absence of beauty surrounding them.

Langston Hughes was a witness to the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North; blues and jazz dancing in and out of his work. To be a New Negro in the 1920's was to embrace the modern world. Unfortunately the Great Depression of the 1930's brought despair and poverty to many across the land. It was during this time of dark sadness that Langston's voice - split this rock. It was his voice that encouraged citizens to keep their hand on the Freedom plow. Hold on.

From the land to landays, from America to Afghanistan. From Langston to Eliza, there is still a word called hope. There is still a dream. Hold on.

Eliza Griswold, reporter, activist and poet is here this evening. She is here to receive an award that acknowledges her innovative and transformative work at the intersection of poetry and social change. Her voice encouraged other women's voices to push aside the curtains of silence - to express themselves - to split this rock of fear and overcome the weight of submission.

Martha Collins, Carlos 
Andrés Gómez, and I have been proud to judge the first Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism.While making the selection we were reminded of the glorious work being done by poets around the country. Poets are not living and writing on the sidelines. They are engaged in trying to change the world. One poem strikes a match. One poem is a spark. One poet can push or pull us into tomorrow.

The future is bright because of Eliza Griswold. The poet Elizabeth Alexander always reminds us to keep the word "fabulous" in our vocabulary. To use it when one needs to use it. I need to use it now.

I introduce the fabulous poet and activist Eliza Griswold.

This year's Freedom Plow Award was a tremendous success and we greatly look forward to the next! Many thanks to everyone who made this incredible event possible, especially the award's primary sponsor, the CrossCurrents Foundation and cosponsors the Beacon Hotel, the Goethe-Institut Washington, and the Institute for Policy Studies. A shout-out to the award judges, to all the volunteers, and to everyone who came out to celebrate. What a night!

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