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In episode 137 of Berkeley talks, two UC Berkeley alumni – poets Samiya Bashir and Solmaz Sharif – discuss Poetry for the People, a program founded by award-winning poet, activist and longtime Berkeley teacher June Jordan.

This Feb. 28 discussion was part of Berkeley’s African American Studies department. Critical Conversation Series 2021-22: Celebrating the Life and Legacy of June Jordan. The discussion was moderated by Chiyuma Elliot, poet and assistant professor of African-American studies at Berkeley.

The conversation started with Bashir, associate professor of creative writing at Reed College, and Sharif, assistant professor of English at Arizona State University, reading some of their favorite poems by Jordan and sharing their own work. Then they discussed how Poetry for the People – a program that invited writers of all levels to write and present their own poems – shaped their lives and influences their teaching today.

“I think poetry for the people has always influenced my teaching,” Bashir said. “…When I got into academia, there’s something about the need for openness, the need for more than… it’s not fair, you go to class and maybe you write a poem. It’s a commitment. We have to do readings, we have to do things, we have to work together, we have to rely on each other, we have to hurry, we have to congratulate each other, we have to build something, and we have to must respond to ourselves and to the world.”

Listen to the full conversation in Berkeley talks episode, “A Conversation on Poetry for the People”.

Watch a video of the conversation on the Department of African American Studies YouTube page.

See more Critical Conversations 2021-22: Celebrating the Life and Legacy of June Jordan.


This press release was produced by UC Berkeley News. The opinions expressed here are those of the author.