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Poet uses writing to shed light on forgotten moments

When A. Van Jordan, the next speaker in the University of Houston-Victoria/American Book Review Reading Series, was growing up in a working-class black community, he would hear stories about people who tried to bring change or do something different and eventually were forgotten.

A. Van Jordan

“As a boy, I thought those stories were just apocryphal tales told by old people,” the poet said. “But as I grew up, I began to have similar experiences, and I realized the importance of passing those stories down to future generations.”

Jordan, the Robert Hayden Collegiate Professor of English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Michigan, will read from some of his work during a UHV/American Book Review Reading Series presentation at 11 a.m. Oct. 24 in the Alcorn Auditorium inside UHV University West, 3007 N. Ben Wilson St. The event is free and open to the public.

“A. Van Jordan uses his writing to weave complex, fascinating content together,” said Jeffrey Di Leo, ABR editor and publisher, and dean of the UHV School of Arts & Sciences. “His work challenges the typical perspective and encourages readers to look beyond their everyday, common knowledge.”

Jeffrey Di Leo

The poems in Jordan’s poem collection, “The Cineaste,” use films as a lens to examine the human condition, Jordan said. One of the poems explores the film “American Gigilo,” which had an impact on how he viewed the concept of masculinity when he was young.

“When I saw the film, something in me knew it was different and important,” he said. “When it came out, most of the film representations of masculinity were about tough loners like Clint Eastwood, and women were just a garnish to their lives. But here was a man with a fancy car and great clothes, and he loved women and was vulnerable. I’d never seen that before.”

Much of Jordan’s work is based on his research into stories about historical figures who are not well known or who are nearly forgotten, he said. “The Cineaste” stemmed from his research into Oscar Micheaux, a black film director and producer during the early days of film. He made both silent and sound films and was the first black man to write, direct, and produce both a major feature-length film and a sound feature-length film with at least 44 films to his credit.

Jordan’s research became the poem “The Homesteader,” named after one of Micheaux’s films. The poem explores Micheaux’s journey from a homestead farmer to a filmmaker and his perspective of and response to the controversial film “The Birth of a Nation,” which featured the Klu Klux Klan as heroic figures and portrayed black characters as conniving and abusive. In contrast, Micheaux’s films portrayed black characters as serious protagonists striving for a better life.

“I’m often looking for moments in history that are important but forgotten by most of society,” Jordan said. “I want to reclaim those moments and allow people to see the world around them in a different light. It’s an opportunity to look inward as we reexamine those moments.”

Other writers scheduled for the fall UHV/ABR Reading Series are:

Amaranth Borsuk, Nov. 14 – Borsuk is a poet, scholar and book artist working at the intersection of print and digital media. Her most recent volume is “The Book,” an exploration of a technology people think they know intimately. She is the recipient of a National Education Association Expanded Artists’ Books grant for the collaboration “Abra,” a limited-edition book, and free iPad and iPhone app that recently received the Turn on Literature prize for electronic literature. She has collaborated on installations, art bookmarklets and interactive works, and is the author of five books of poetry. She teaches in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington Bothell, and serves as associate director of the Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and poetics.

Nick Montfort, Dec. 5 – Montfort’s computer-generated books of poetry include “#!” (pronounced “shebang”), the collaboration “2×6,” “Autopia,” “The Truelist” (in Counterpath’s “Using Electricity” series) and “Hard West Turn.” He has six books out from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, most recently “The Future.” He performs and shows digital artwork internationally, and his projects include “Taroko Gorge” and the collaborations “The Deletionist” and “Sea and Spar Between.” Montfort runs the micropress Bad Quarto. Further underground, he is lead organizer for the demoparty Synchrony and MCs as Doc Mofo. He is a professor of digital media at MIT, where he directs The Trope Tank, and he lives in New York.

ABR is a nonprofit, internationally distributed literary journal published six times a year. It began in 1977, moved to UHV in 2006 and has a circulation of about 10,000. The journal specializes in reviews of works published by small presses.

Authors will be available after each reading to sign copies of their books. Each author also will meet with students and attend a community reception.

For more information about the UHV/ABR Reading Series, call the ABR office at 361-570-4101 or go to www.americanbookreview.org.

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973, offers courses leading to 70 bachelor’s, master’s and specialist degree programs and concentrations in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.