I have the November 2011 edition of UMOJA Magazine in my hands to hold the precious memory of my first and only time to be on the cover of this stellar magazine. I was nearing the end of my term as Madison Poet Laureate. As the first African American poet to ever earn this honor, Ms. Milele put me on the cover and included a photo essay and “Hats Off” column about me. The cover photo is a photograph of me smiling and it has my most famous poem, “Southern Love” written beneath my smile. Inside, she pulled nine photos from her library and even I was astonished that she captured me with every day, wonderful folk as well as the famous that came through Madison. I am in a photo with Kenyan writer, Ngugi wa Thiongo and one of the best African American poets ever to write, Sonja Sanchez.
When Ms. Milele wrote “She is perhaps the most well-known Black artist in Madison, as people easily recognize her name as she moves through the Village finding unexpected places to recite poetry and encourage others to express themselves through this art form,” I felt like I had been given the McArthur Grant in recognition of all the poetry that I wrote to give voice to young and old. Her public recognition of my poetry that seeks to “encourage, inspire and remind” made me very happy. The McArthur grant is called the “genius grant” and it is anonymously awarded to people who transform the world through their art. While no one from this committee has recognized me or the hidden voices of Black writers in Wisconsin, Ms. Milele did, and she put me on the cover of her beloved UMOJA Magazine. This was high praise indeed.
Ms. Milele, and I never once called her by her first name because of the respect and regard I held for her, was a phenomenal publisher and editor. I was a feature writer for her for many years, as well as a Poetry Editor for a few years. I loved being the Poetry Editor because that was the time I could be wildly creative. She devoted the April issue entirely to poetry since it is National Poetry Month. In April, I could highlight Black poets from around Wisconsin and especially in Madison. The April edition was also the time we clashed as artist versus publisher/editor. I would tell Ms. Milele that each poem had to be published exactly as the poet wrote it, and she would always change the lines based on the space she allotted for the work. That difference of opinion was never solved and so I ended my tenure as editor amicably.
As a feature writer, I had specific deadlines to meet after traveling to interview fascinating Black people in our community. One of my most interesting interviews was talking to Bryan Foster when he first opened his funeral business, Foster Funeral Services, in Madison. He did the interview in front of an occupied casket. I left knowing that although I am heaven bound when I leave this earth, I am not that comfortable around the dead laying right in the room.
Ms. Milele supported artists well in a variety of genres and I miss her.
When President Donald Trump wanted to speak at his rally on Juneteenth Day in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I thought of her and wondered what she would have said about him being in her hometown. She is the person who told me about the murder of Black millionaires and their business in 1921. I always knew I would miss her so I wrote this poem for her when she was still alive. Thank God love never dies and for me, she is alive inside the words of my poem.
Fabu Phillis Carter, is an artist professionally known as Fabu, in Madison. She is a poet, columnist, storyteller, and teaching artist who writes to encourage, inspire and remind. The first African American, Madison Poet Laureate (2008-2012), she continues to share the Black experience living in the South, the Midwest and in Africa.
Ms. Milele Chikasa Anana
She loves walking in the wind
Using her loud voice to propel change
For the voiceless, those silenced
By race, gender or economics.
She lives pushing against the norm
With straight fire
Shooting from her belly
Through her open mouth.
She must be heard, understood,
Not for herself but for the benefit of
Her Black people.
She was who she is
Before she purchased UMOJA magazine
To further the dream
Of positive words with beautiful art.
Give her honor as she sits
An elder who fought long and hard
With love in her heart for any
Who sought freedom for Black people.
Remember her eating succulent grapes,
Hunched over her computer
Snapping photos at events
Whirling thru the community, looking.
Leaving a legacy of searching for the best
In Black people as a behind-the-scenes
Who spoke truth to Madison power.
Let these respectful words kiss you now
“Hold your frail, precious body gently
Talking about the good years
“Past and present
As you sing a song of remembrance
Hidden inside our connected hearts
Sweet music born of lived experiences
With Ms. Milele Chikasa Anana.